1999 NFL Preview
Weekly lineup

 Monday, September 6
Who will ruin the threepeat?


As the Broncos prepare to make a run at an historic threepeat, it's time to size up Denver's biggest competition for 1999.

We asked ESPN's NFL experts to make the case for four contenders who might have a chance to end the Broncos' run.

Here's a look at a formidable foursome that will have a big impact on the road to Atlanta.

Jacksonville Jaguars   Minnesota Vikings
'98 RECORD: 11-5 | AFC Central champs

By Mike Golic
Special to ESPN.com

I love Jacksonville, and I think the Jaguars are going to the Super Bowl. The Jags offense is one of the most potent attacks in the league.

Fred Taylor (pictured above) is a very good running back. They have great receivers, plus a great quarterback in Mark Brunell. And they have one of the best offensive lines in the league. Giving up a receiving tight end like Pete Mitchell might hurt the Jaguars a little bit, but Kyle Brady has been doing very well down there.

Their defense was the weak point last season, but now former Carolina coach Dom Capers takes over and brings his terrific schemes. Capers will get the most out of Bryce Paup, who will go back to the pass-rush style he used to post 33 sacks in a three-year span in Buffalo. Capers will run a 4-3 defense, but he will use some 3-4 looks to let Paup rush the quarterback. Plus, the Jags added a young cornerback during the first round of the draft in Fernando Bryant and an All-Pro safety in Carnell Lake.

With healthy bodies on this defensive line, Capers should be able to improve the defense immensely. That's what's going to be able to get them over the top and get them to the Super Bowl.

Plus, Jacksonville has a good schedule and plays in a fairly weak division. Tennessee and Pittsburgh should be contenders, but the rest of the teams in the AFC Central -- Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland -- probably won't compete for the playoffs.

The big question for Jacksonville is injuries. They've had success with backup quarterbacks in the past, but Brunell runs the show, and he must stay healthy. Last year, they lost all four of their defensive tackles, and injuries just killed them.

One concern for the Jaguars is both of their coordinators accepted head-coaching job elsewhere during the offseason. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron went to Chicago, and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer became the Browns head coach. But Capers is a great addition to lead this defense, and offensively they still have all the same weapons in place.

  RECORD: 15-1 | NFC Central champs

By Andrea Kremer
Special to ESPN.com

Remember the movie "Men In Black" when the agents had that little device they would hold up in front of people to wipe out their memory? Get that device for the Vikings offense. Tell Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter, Randy Moss (pictured) and Robert Smith to forget about 15-1; don't mention the NFL record for points; know that Moss isn't going to surprise anyone this season. The only thing they should remember is the pain and humiliation of being upset one game shy of the Super Bowl.

I don't put much credence in the preseason, but the Vikings have looked as though they expect to win without the drive and determination to back it up. Players told me that last season they'd enter games just assuming they'd put up 40 on an opponent. That's supreme confidence. But they built up to that, and this year will be different. Of the various free-agent defections on both sides of the ball, the biggest loss might turn out to be offensive coordinator Brian Billick.

Defensively, much has been made of the loss of cornerback Corey Fuller who signed with the Browns. Second-year man Ramos McDonald is adapting quickly as the starter and faces similar pressure that newcomer Jimmy Hitchcock encountered last year when he was on the hot seat. Depth in the secondary is suspect, although the strength lies in safeties Robert Griffith and Orlando Thomas.

As with every team, the true test of the Vikings' championship mettle will come down to weathering injuries. The injury-prone Smith was selected to his first Pro Bowl and missed only two regular-season games in '98. His health is vital. Jake Reed is already nicked up in the preseason, but on the flip side, Green contends an improved Moss will emerge this season since he will be completely recovered from a sore ankle which hampered him in his record-setting rookie year.

All these warts notwithstanding, the Vikings must be considered favorites to represent the NFC in Atlanta. And they should build off of the emotion generated by the unceremonious way their '98 season ended. They just can't expect this campaign to be a carbon copy of last year -- it must be even better.

New York Jets   Miami Dolphins
'98 RECORD: 12-4 | AFC East champs

By Sean Salisbury
Special to ESPN.com

The biggest reason why the Jets could unseat Denver this year is Bill Parcells. In every sport, there are difference-makers who are worth a handful of wins each year. In the NFL, Parcells is at the top of the list.

Parcells somehow wills his team to win. But it's neither will nor luck. Parcells is a preparation fanatic who knows every button to push. He knows which player to hassle, which player needs a kick in the rear-end and which player needs a pat on the back. It all starts there.

Last year, Vinny Testaverde showed how well he can play when he has confidence. I thought when Testaverde and Parcells got together, it would be a water and oil mix, but that wasn't the case. They are on the same page, and I expect Testaverde to play well again this season, putting up more big numbers.

The way Parcells has assembled the Jets has been huge. He has also gone out and acquired key players like Steve Atwater this season and Bryan Cox last year. He has a nice blend of youth and experience. The players will play their hearts out for Parcells. He's an old school coach; for a veteran who's loyal to him, Parcells will find a way to give him a couple more years if that player can help the football team.

There aren't many major negatives with the Jets, but this team is old at certain positions. And I'm concerned about the backup quarterback position. They waived Scott Zolak, and Ray Lucas isn't a proven backup. Parcells traded for Rick Mirer, whose confidence has plummeted since his rookie year. Maybe Parcells can have the same effect on Mirer that he had on Testaverde. I think that's what he's banking on.

It's so hard for a starting quarterback to finish 16 games that it is an aberration when it happens. If Testaverde only plays 13 games in the AFC East, the toughest division in football, two or three losses could be the difference between getting home-field advantage and winning the division or settling for the wild card.

Regardless, the Jets can run the football and play defense. They have a workhorse back in Curtis Martin, a ball-control receiver in Wayne Chrebet and a deep threat and control receiver in Keyshawn Johnson. They have a tight end, Eric Green, who can catch the football and dominate the line of scrimmage. The Jets also have a stingy defense and solid special teams.

Even if they don't look too spectacular, the Jets have what they need at every position. They do a little bit of everything well, and that should sustain them in the end for a run at Denver's title.

  RECORD: 10-6 | AFC wild-card team

By Merril Hoge
Special to ESPN.com

When you're trying to win a championship, all the parts have to be equally effective. With an outstanding defense and improving offense, the Dolphins have an excellent chance of unseating the Broncos this year.

The Dolphins might have been the best defensive team in the NFL last year. If they continue at that level and can be just as aggressive at the corner positions, with Terrell Buckley and Sam Madison challenging on every down, they will be difficult to attack through the air. Miami's front seven has a great mix of athleticism, size and power, making them just as tough against the run. On defense, the Dolphins have what it takes to win a championship.

Offensively, they have started to put the pieces together. The Dolphins have one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game, Dan Marino, who will make great decisions and precise throws. Marino will do whatever is required in the passing game. He just needed receivers to step up.

The Dolphins have needed speed and experience at receiver, a void they filled with the acquisition of Tony Martin. The chemistry between Marino and Martin might be a little bit of a question mark at first, but it's showing signs of developing in the preseason.

The passing game might not be as big a concern as the running game because of the injuries they have had, especially Cecil Collins' ankle injury. Collins, who should be ready for the opener, adds power, strength and agility. The big rookie can get a yard on his own, which is what the Dolphins have lacked. Karim Abdul-Jabbar will be physical and play hard, but he's not as consistent as you'd like because he physically can't do it. Collins complements his physical ability with excellent speed.

Through the addition of guard Kevin Gogan, the Dolphins have tried to create an offensive line that's more aggressive in attacking the line of scrimmage and getting after defenses to create running lanes for their backs. Collins' versatility as a power and speed back adds a dimension that mixes well with an attacking offensive line.

An effective Collins will give the Dolphins the balance in their running attack that they need to win a Super Bowl. But he must be able to rebound from his ankle injury.


Garber: Threepeat quite a feat

A second shot at three in a row