Coach's Corner

Pre-season NFC predictions to assist you in your betting pools.

NFC: The state bird of Minnesota should be the mosquito. Nasty, viscious, bite-through-khaki, man-eating creatures that see golfers as dinner. My biggest disappointment after a week in central Minnesota was how even these hardy Swedes have given the field to the bloodsucking pest. I went into a local convenience store, certain they'd have -- after centuries battling this vermin -- some local, sure-thing mosquito killer. The only thing on the shelf? Off. That's it, Off. Minnesota mosquitos make love to the scent of Off. It makes them hum. My bloody, itching legs are proof.

NFC Central

Vikings: To read Minnesota papers, you'd think the AFL-style air show in the HHH Metrodome will be lucky to win a game or two. But the once-conservative Vikings now take a George Patton approach to the game -- let the enemy worry about what I'm going to do him! Denny Green's going to put up 30 points a game and see if you can outscore him. The pickup of Jeff George was brilliant. The Vikings will roll through the Central.

Green Bay: I don't get this Ray Rhodes thing. How does a guy who did an awful, Dave Wannstedt-type job in Philly become head guy in Green Bay? Well, Ron Wolf's supposed to be a genius and I just write a column. We shall see. Packers' first three draft picks were DBs, which tells you all you need to know about Minnesota. They can't outscore the Vikes, and, unhappily, they can only play the Bears -- whom they haven't lost to since the advent of the T formation -- twice.

Chicago: Being a Bears fan's a hard road -- I know. I figure ridding the team of Wannstedt, a football debacle of biblical proportions, has got to be worth 3-5 wins... if my mom were coaching the team. Adding five games to the four Chicago won last year equals nine. Good for third place, maybe second.

Tampa Bay: I've been a Dilfer defender for years. No more. It's clear. The jury is in. He's a bum. The Bucs are a mirror opposite of the Vikes. All defense. No offense.

Detroit: Yawn. Put Martha Reeves at corner, I might wake up. The Ravens of the NFC.

NFC East

The East, circa '98, may have been the worst division since the early Twenties ... before pro football. This year they don't look much different than the rest of the league: pervasive mediocrity.

Giants: As long as Kerry Collins gets hurt early, I like NY, for once entering the season with no injured receivers.

Dallas: My wife thinks I'm scum to root against Wayne McGarrity. I'll live with it. If you wear that damn star on your head, you are the enemy. Enmity aside, I love Aikman. He's the best QB in the game. Has any team ever been so indebted to three players for so many years of success?

Arizona/Washington/Philadelphia: Garbage time. I don't believe a Bidwell can run a successful team. Last year's success in Arizona was, I think, a fluke. Norv Turner's done nothing but lose in Washington. Time to join Dave in Miami. The only name known to me on the Philly roster is Norm Johnson, an elderly place-kicker. Good luck to new coach Andy Reid. Old Ray didn't exactly leave the cupboard full of cookies.

NFC West

The 49ers must now share the carcass with another predator. Atlanta: I really like Atlanta. A lot. With a big if. If Chris Chandler stays healthy for most of the season, which he probably won't. Backup QB Tony (Who?) Graziani's eyes looked as blank as a man facing a firing squad when he saw Chandler writhing on the ground.

49ers: The Norman Rockwell Niners have become, according to SI, "soulless mercenaries." Their signing of Lawrence Phillips and Charles Haley made me sick ... but that's the game today. If Atlanta falters, the Niners, with a still potent attack, win in an old-time cakewalk.

St Louis/ Carolina/ New Orleans: This triumvirate makes the East's three look like real pro teams. The Rams stunk before losing Trent Green (who wouldn't have helped much) for the season. They'll be hard pressed to equal last year's four wins. I made sure I was home to watch Ricky's first pro carries. He looked great. Too bad he's going to be in and out of the lineup all year. The Saints are talentless at skill positions. They won't equal last year's six wins. The Land of Nod plays host to the Carolina Panthers, worst team in the league. Between these triplets, their cumulative win total might not equal Atlanta's.

Last week I inadvertently left out the Cleveland Browns. Since I hated the way the league and the media and the easily led public pandered to the poor city and fans who were robbed of their team by that bad, bad man Art Modell, maybe it wasn't really inadvertent. Nobody cried a single croc tear for Houston when the Oilers left. They're still begging the league for a team. Modell may or may not be more of a jerk than his peers (I doubt it) but he begged, pleaded, and performed fellatio on city fathers for years to get a new stadium. It took him calling the city's bluff before the elders saw the light ... though nobody ever said maybe old Art was right. I will root against the Browns.

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