08/27/2006

JIM THOMAS

Rams 2006 record: 9-7

Scott Linehan gets the program back on track, but not enough to earn a playoff berth.

Steven Jackson, over/under, 1,300 yards rushing: Over


Even with questions at fullback and tight end, improved line play and greater commitment to the ground game will make it happen.

Newcomer who will have the biggest impact on the Rams' defense: SS Corey Chavous

Say goodbye to missed tackles. Chavous will hit people and get his teammates lined up right.

Biggest difference-maker to change teams: Terrell Owens | Dallas

T.O. will behave himself, kind of. Bill Parcells will make sure, kind of.

First starting QB to lose his job: Rex Grossman | Chicago

Brian Griese will be starting ahead of Grossman in Chicago before the first frost.

First coach to get canned: Brian Billick | Baltimore

Despite his reputation as an offensive guru, Billick has lived off the Baltimore defense for years.

Most surprising team to win a division: Detroit

The M&M Boys, Marinelli and Martz, click as the Lions rule a mediocre division.

Don't laugh, this team could win the Super Bowl: Washington

Joe Gibbs has knocked the rust off as he enters his third season back in the game. Remember, the third year was the charm for a guy named Dick Vermeil.

***BILL COATS***

Rams 2006 record: 8-8

More disciplined overall and better defensively under new coach Scott Linehan. But the schedule is so tough, any finish of .500 or better has to be considered a success.

Steven Jackson, over/under, 1,300 yards rushing: Over

After begging for the ball the past two seasons, Jackson will get it enough this year to push him over.

Newcomer who will have the biggest impact on the Rams' defense: DT La'Roi Glover

Veteran is a run-stuffer, which is the area that plagued the Rams' woeful defense the most in '05.

Biggest difference-maker to change teams: Terrell Owens | Dallas

Crusty coach Bill Parcells keeps T.O. in line, milking his considerable ability for all it's worth in a major boost to the Cowboys' attack.

First starting QB to lose his job: Jake Plummer | Denver

The Broncos have first-round pick Jay Cutler in the wings, and after Plummer's postseason swoon last year, coach Mike Shanahan won't hesitate to make a change.

First coach to get canned: Brian Billick | Baltimore

Many figured he wouldn't survive the offseason after the Ravens tumbled to 6-10 last year.

Most surprising team to win a division: Detroit

Don't bet the mortgage on it, but the NFC North is hardly a powerhouse division. If Mike Martz can rev up the offense, the Lions could sneak in.

Don't laugh, this team could win the Super Bowl: Dallas

QB Drew Bledsoe, who proved last year that he's not finished, has a new target in T.O., who could ramp up the offense enough to effectively complement the Tuna's always-stout defense.


***KATHLEEN NELSON***

Rams 2006 Record: 9-7

My gut says 8-8, but that's so noncommittal, and I think they're too good to be 7-9.

Steven Jackson over/under 1,300 yards rushing: Under

History indicates that he's likely to miss a game or two because of injury.

Newcomer who will have the biggest impact on the Rams' defense: DT La'Roi Glover

The line needed strength and stability. Glover will provide both, on and off the field.

Biggest difference maker to change teams: Adam Vinatieri | Indianapolis

He was the difference in two Super Bowl victories for the Patriots; he's bound to have an effect in a measly regular-season game or two.

First starting QB to lose job: Chad Pennington | New York Jets

Provided he starts the Jets' season opener, that is.

First coach to get canned: None

No one will lose a job in the season, but the Cowboys' Bill Parcells will quit before Jerry Jones and T.O. have a chance to fire him. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher won't be far behind.

Most surprising team to win a division: Kansas City

Trent Green, Larry Johnson and Tony Gonzalez could form a successful trio. The defense must improve, and Denver must run out of luck.

Don't laugh, this team could win Super Bowl: Chicago

IF Rex Grossman lives up to his promise. IF he finds someone to throw to and someone else to hand off to, and IF the defense plays as it did last year. That's a lot of ifs, but all are in the realm of possibility.