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NFL 2000 Preview - NFC Central

By: James Alder
Dateline: August 17, 2000

The NFC Central looks like it may belong to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year, with the rest of the division up for grabs. The Bears seem to be on the rise and the Packers and Vikings could end up anywhere from contender to disaster. With three teams depending heavily on a second-year quarterback's performance, this season could be a tough one to predict.

Here's how I see the NFC Central Division going into the season:

Chicago Bears

The success of the Chicago Bears in 2000 will depend primarily on two key factors. The first factor will be the performance of second-year quarterback Cade McKnown. Will he be able to handle running the Bears' surprisingly potent offense or will his inexperience be the Bears' downfall?

The other key factor will be the performance of the defense. The Bears' secondary was picked apart last year while the defensive line failed to mount any kind of consistent pass rush to help them out. The Bears responded by bringing in several free agents to fill the holes.

As I mentioned, Cade McKnown has been handed the reigns to the Chicago offense. He has the potential to be a star in the NFL if he can become more consistent, and with the stable of receivers he has to throw to, that day could come soon. He also showed a lot of poise for a rookie when he was given the opportunity to play last year. If McKnown should prove to be too inconsistent this year, then Jim Miller will be given a shot at the job. Miller was very effective last year in the few chances he had before being suspended and Shane Matthews, last year's opening day starter, is also very good at running the offense.

The Bears need to balance out their offense with an improved running game which they hope a healthy Cutis Enis will give them behind a very solid offensive line. This could be a make or break year for Enis, who has yet to show any game-breaking ability. Enis will also see time at fullback with James Allen seeing more time at halfback.

One of the Bears' stongest areas is their group of wide receivers. Curtis Conway went to San Diego via free agency, but his presence will not be missed much. Marcus Robinson emerged as one of the best big-play receivers in the league last season to take Conway's position as the go to guy. Eddie Kennison was signed during the off season and will give the Bears another deep threat. They also took speedster Dez White with their third-round pick. The Bears, at times, will throw five quality receivers at you and dare you to cover them all.

Chicago's defense was one of the worst in the league last year so the Bears made several moves to fill the holes with some of the better free agents available. The pass rush was very weak so they signed Phillip Daniels who recorded nine sacks and 108 tackles for Seattle last year. Jim Flannigan and Mike Wells are strong at tackle and Brian Robinson has shown signs of becoming a solid player. Also, Clyde Simmons will see action as a pass rush specialist.

The Bears used their first-round pick to grab linebacker Brian Urlacher and if the first two preseason games are any indication of his ability, then it looks like they made a great choice. In the secondary Chicago added safety Shaun Wooden from Miami and cornerback Thomas Smith from the Buffalo Bills. The defensive unit should be much better overall this year.

In two years Dick Jauron has dramatically upgraded the talent level of the Chicago squad. The overall team speed is much quicker and and they have some athletes that should become impact players. They may even compete for a playoff spot this year.

Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How Will They Finish?

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