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NFL Long Shots

   by Bryan Leonard - 06/18/2006

Last week I looked at some of the dogs of the NFL. Here are a few potential long shot teams that might not be expected to be a Super Bowl contender, but some offseason moves may have helped them to surprise. After all, the 1998 Rams went 4-12 and won the Super Bowl a year later, the Ravens came out of nowhere to win in 2000 and the Patriots went from 5-11 in 2000 to winning it all a year late.

Dolphins (30-to-1): Year one under Nick Saban was a rousing success. The Dolphins were solid in many areas, with a balanced offense (14th overall) and a consistent defense that allowed only one team to score 30. They also carry a 6-0 Su, 4-2 ATS run into the new season. All the more remarkable is that Saban accomplished a 9-win season without a good quarterback.

The big story was the acquisition (for nothing, really) of former Vikings star QB Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper had a terrible 2005 season with a season-ending knee injury, but is only 29-years old and in 2004 he passed for 4,717 yards, 39 TDs and 11 INTs! WRs Chris Chambers (82 catches, 1,118 yards) and Marty Booker will benefit, and they have a workhorse running back in Ronnie Brown, the No. 2 overall pick in 2005. If Culpepper comes back healthy, Miami has a shot with a veteran defense, a balanced offense and a competent, fiery young coach who has already won a national title in college (LSU).

Cowboys (20-to-1): Dallas has three things in its favor. 1) The offense is a veteran unit; 2) The defense is young, hungry and improved considerably last season; 3) Bill Parcells is the coach. A year ago Parcells rebuilt the defense with guys like LB Demarcus Ware and Dallas ranked 10th in total defense. This offseason they needed to address problems on the offensive line, so they added versatile offensive lineman Kyle Kosier, 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Jason Fabini, and they hope Flozell Adams recovers from the injury that knocked him out last season.

The offense has a lot of veteran talent like QB Drew Bledsoe, WR Terry Glenn, teamed with young stalwarts TE Jason Witten and RB Julius Jones. And they signed two offseason free agent loud mouths in kicker Mike Vanderjagt and WR Terrell Owens. Vanderjagt may not be clutch in the postseason, but he improves the kicking game. Owens will be kept in line by the Tuna or shipped out. Despite the distractions, he significantly upgrades the passing game. This appears to be a veteran team built to make a playoff run for this season. One other thing in their favor: The NFC is far more a wide-open race than the AFC.

Bengals (20-to-1): All the talk has been on whether Cincy QB Carson Palmer can return after that serious knee injury in the opening minute of the playoff loss to Pittsburgh. And that is the biggest concern. With him, this is one of the best offenses in the NFL, balanced and explosive.

However, what has been overlooked is what the Bengals have done this offseason on defense. They added free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams, a 6-foot-4, 335-pound three-time Pro Bowl selection who is a run-stuffer. He started every game for the Super Bowl champion 2000 Ravens. In the draft they got South Carolina CB Jonathon Joseph and DE Frostee Rucker (USC). The previous year they upgraded the linebacker spot with Georgia LBs David Pollack and Odell Thurman. All this team needs is improved defense to take the next step, and they are moving in the right direction.

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