1999 NFL Preview
Weekly lineup

 Tuesday, September 7
Ten things to watch in '99
By Mark Malone
Special to ESPN.com

 The balance of power clearly has shifted to the AFC. You can put the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos together and then flip a coin to determine the Super Bowl champion.

 Dan Marino
In his 17th season, Dan Marino might get another shot at the Super Bowl.

The Broncos, without John Elway, are probably the most talented and experienced team, but no NFL club has won three Super Bowl titles in a row, and with the change at quarterback, I think a threepeat is unlikely to happen this season.

Miami has the best defense of the four teams. The Jaguars' Fred Taylor might be the best running back in the NFL this year. Plus, Jacksonville has made a huge commitment to the defense and is as explosive as any team in the NFL. I still like Bill Parcells' Jets in a dogfight with Miami for the AFC East title.

But the following is my Super Bowl choice, plus nine other predictions of what to look out for in '99:

1. Dan Marino will finally win a Super Bowl.
As an old AFC guy, I will make this prediction with my heartstrings and take Miami. I'd love to see Marino finally win a championship. I think it would be great for football and great for Dan.

Jimmy Johnson has a history of winning championships in his fourth year. He has everything in place, but the running backs have to remain healthy, as does receiver Tony Martin. If those things happen, the Dolphins are as tough as any team in the NFL. I think it would be a great story. I like Marino's chances. It will depend on the health of the receivers and Collins.

2. Some young quarterbacks will emerge.
Not the rookie quarterbacks. I wouldn't expect them to be productive this year. But Peyton Manning should move to the next level of quarterbacks in his second season. He has the players around him in Indianapolis to get there. The Colts don't have much depth, but they have some offensive talent, especially with the addition of rookie running back Edgerrin James.

Steve McNair falls into the same category as Manning. There's Dan Marino, Drew Bledsoe, Steve Young and Brett Favre in the upper tier of quarterbacks. Then there's everyone else below them. But the next generation of good young quarterbacks, like Manning and McNair, will take the next jump. I put Manning, though, at the forefront.

3. Trent Dilfer might be this year's Doug Flutie.
Well, Dilfer doesn't run around and improvise like Flutie does. But in terms of a player who has been kind of written off, like Flutie was before last year, Dilfer has a chance to have a big year.

Some say he's overrated and the Buccaneers can't go any place with Dilfer. From what I've seen on film, he continues to improve and mature. The big key for the Bucs last year was they couldn't keep their receivers healthy. If players like Warrick Dunn, Bert Emanuel and Reidel Anthony stay healthy, I expect Dilfer to do some great things.

4. The Seahawks and Titans will be surprise teams.
The team I originally liked as a surprise team was the Rams, but that was before Trent Green's season-ending injury. With Marshall Faulk, Az-zahir Hakim, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Adam Timmerman and Orlando Pace to go with Green, the Rams could have easily averaged 28-30 points a game and won the NFC West. I don't know if that's possible now without Green.

I like Seatttle, which missed the playoffs last year by one game on the Vinny Testaverde blown TD call. I don't think Mike Holmgren's team has all the parts yet to contend, but I think they can be second-best team in the AFC West. The Seahawks will present some teams problems.

I think another team that's ready to move forward is Tennessee. The Titans' hopes depend greatly on Steve McNair and the health of their receivers. But both Seattle and Tennessee should be in the playoffs this year.

4. The Chiefs will be the most disappointing team.
I think Kansas City's disappointment will continue. There was a belief by Gunther Cunningham that the Chiefs lost some focus, but they lack some talent. Defensively, I think they will be in trouble, losing Dale Carter to the Broncos. Elvis Grbac, in the 49ers system and with the people around him there, could be successful. But put him in Kansas City with the Chiefs' personnel, and he's going to struggle.

Cunningham wants to run the ball more and not stretch the field like they tried to do last year. They don't have any speed on the outside, with Andre Rison, Derrick Alexander and Joe Horn.

Now, tight end Tony Gonzalez has sustained a knee injury that could have him out a while. The offensive line is a problem, and rookie John Tait, who ended his lengthy holdout, will be worthless this year.

They should have trouble in a somewhat tough AFC West. The Chiefs could easily go 6-10, and we're not used to seeing that out of Kansas City.

5. Dick Vermeil is the coach on the hottest seat.
Green's injury made things more difficult for Vermeil, who is such a good guy and has worked hard to get that franchise over the hump to be a real contender.

Jeff Fisher is also on the hot seat in Tennessee. After three 8-8 seasons, it's time to step up. The Titans have the new stadium, so it's important for the team to endear itself to the Tennessee fans.

Pete Carroll is another hot-seat coach, not only because the Patriots haven't done particularly well, but I hear there's some grumbling in the locker room. The release of Willie Clay didn't go over well. The players have to believe in what the coach is telling them. If they don't believe, it's really difficult. Carroll needs to win, but it will be tough with the injuries at running back and linebacker.

6. Tony Martin will be the best offseason addition.
The addition of Martin is huge for Miami. The Rams' Marshall Faulk is another big acquisition, but Martin will end up being bigger because Dan Marino will be able to utilize his speed. I don't know if Kurt Warner can utilize Faulk to his fullest in St. Louis. With Green there, Faulk had another shot at 1,000 yards rushing and receiving.

What is it that the Dolphins lacked? They lacked a big-time runner who can gain 1,300 yards. And they needed some speed down the field. They might have the former in Cecil Collins, but Martin will give Miami the latter in terms of speed on the outside.

7. Scott Mitchell will be the worst offseason addition.
The Baltimore Ravens were dying for quarterbacks, and they got both Mitchell and Tony Banks. I don't think Mitchell will be any better in Baltimore than he was in Detroit. He might even be a little worse. He earned a new $3 million contract after being benched last year in favor of a rookie. I don't think Baltimore upgraded itself.

I also think the Saints overpaid for guard Wally Williams (five years, $18.5 million). Another overpaid player, in terms of his production, is defensive end Chad Bratzke, who signed with the Colts (six years, $30 million). Indianapolis needed help, and Bratzke is an upgrade, but not at that pricetag. He's a journeyman who will play every down, but I think he got a lot of his 12½ sacks by virtue of playing on the same line as Michael Strahan and others. He won't have the same caliber of players around him in Indianapolis.

8. Champ Bailey will be the biggest impact rookie.
Cecil Collins, if he's healthy, could end up the Rookie of the Year. But Bailey, the Redskins' rookie cornerback is impressive. I've watched him in the preseason, and he looks like a 21-year-old Darrell Green. He's fast, breaks on the ball, looks like he's been playing five years in the NFL.

I'd choose Bailey over Collins because of Collins' background -- he might not see 16 games. The safe bet is Bailey.

9. Fred Taylor will be the NFL's MVP.
I hate to pick against Brett Favre or Terrell Davis. The Jaguars could fall short of the Super Bowl and Taylor still could rush for 1,900-2,000 yards. He is a special player who can catch the ball and has unbelievable explosion.

His durability is a question mark because he didn't play 16 games last year, but he'll touch the ball a lot this year. The Jaguars are so balanced with the pass, and they have such a good offensive line that Taylor won't run against many nine- or 10-man fronts. So he'll have a chance to bust some big runs, even in passing situations on draw plays. It would be good for the game to have Taylor have an MVP-type year.

10. Instant replay will be good, just not perfect.
Each year that replay has come back, the officials don't overturn many plays early on. As the season progresses, the number of overturned plays increases. I think that is a byproduct of officials not wanting Big Brother looking over their shoulders.

Unfortunately, the new replay system doesn't fix or kill all your ills, but I think to a certain extent it will provide a safety net so a team doesn't get robbed from its rightful place in the playoffs, like the Seahawks a year ago. I think the officials will continue to work out the kinks. The officials aren't even sure what the rules are, and they keep tweaking them a bit. But I like the fact that the replay system doesn't interrupt the flow of the game as it did in the past.

Here are the two adaptations I would recommend: Make teams redo a play if it's a bad call involving a touchdown, even if the extra point has already been kicked, and teach the crews to not blow their whistles so quickly. Let the play work out so you can go back and correct the wrong without there being an inadvertent whistle stopping the play, like the Jerry Rice fumble in the playoffs last year.

Former NFL quarterback Mark Malone is the host of NFL2Night on ESPN2.


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