NFL season proved exciting; What’s next?

What another exciting football season we encountered! You have to love the word parity. Just about every team was in contention for the playoffs, just like last season. No one expected the Bengals, Panthers, Seahawks, Cowboys, or Chiefs to make a run at divisional titles, much less the playoffs.

At the beginning of the 2003 football season, most people thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense would continue its dominance into this season, but that wasn’t the case as they struggled to an 8-8 finish.

Some also thought the “Greatest Show on Turf” (St. Louis Rams) would be back and ready to make a Super Bowl run, but they fell at home in the second round of the playoffs to the Carolina Panthers. Here are my season awards:

Most Improved Team Award:

The Cincinnati Bengals. I could have given this award to Bill Parcells and Dallas Cowboys, but the Cowboys have had winning seasons the past two decades. Marvin Lewis is just what the Bengals have been missing since the Sam Wyche era. He turned the laughingstock of the league for the past 15 years into a winning team. Who would have thought the Cincinnati Bengals would be competing for a playoff spot going into the final game of the season? The future looks bright for Lewis and the Bengals.

Most Disappointing Team Award:

The Oakland Raiders. I actually thought the old-timers could make another run at the Super Bowl, but injuries, age, and lack of discipline took a toll on this team. The Raiders have too much talent to be a 44-12 team. I think they will rebound next season with a good NFL draft, some key free agency acquisitions this off-season, and resign their key players. The New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also qualify for this award.

2004 Season Preview:

The AFC East will be a very competitive division again. I’d like all four teams to improve. The Dolphins will finally get to the playoffs and the Patriots will get stronger. I’d also like the Jets to be competing for the division, if Pennington can stay healthy.

The AFC North will be very competitive as well. The Bengals will be out to prove to the league that last season was no fluke. Bill Cowher will have the Steelers in contention again. Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis will definitely be fired up after their early first round exit from the playoffs. The Browns will struggle again if their defense doesn’t improve.

The AFC South will feature the Titans and Colts battling for the division

again. But look for the Jags and Texans to possibly make a run at the playoffs as both of their quarterbacks now have gained much-needed NFL experience.

The AFC West will be an interesting division to watch. The Raiders will be back. The Chiefs will continue putting points on the board, but also will continue giving up a lot if its defense doesn’t improve. The Chargers will struggle all season and will finish last. I think next year Bronco fans will be wishing for John Elway to come out of retirement after Jake Plummer has a dismal season.

The NFC East will be the most competitive division. It will be interesting to see how Joe Gibbs handles his first season back after being away from the game for twelve years.

Is Tom Coughlin’s discipline just what the New York Giants need? Look for Donovan McNabb to make a run at the MVP award. Bill Parcells and the Cowboys will be in the playoff mix again if their running game improves.

The Chicago Bears will be a very improved team under Lovie Smith in the NFC North division.

Will next season be Brett Favre’s last if he doesn’t get the Packers to the Super Bowl?

I think Mike Tice will be fired if he doesn’t get the Vikings to the playoffs. The city of Detroit will be calling for Lion’s GM Matt Millen’s head if he doesn’t get this team to an 8-8 season and some road wins.

Has the Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s defense been exposed or are they overrated? I think if their defense gets run over again, next season could be a rebuilding year for them.

If Michael Vick stays healthy, the Falcons will be in contention again for the playoffs.

The Panthers will repeat as division champions if everyone stays healthy and if they play with the same passion and intensity.

The Saints will struggle on defense, but look for Duece McAllister to make a run at the 2,000 yard mark if healthy.

In the NFC West, look for the firing of Mike Martz if hecontinues to make bad decisions and play calls. The Seahawks will be very explosive on offense and, with some confidence, I look for them to finally win some road games.

The Cardinals will struggle again and Denny Green will be wishing he was working back in the studios with ESPN. How will the 49ers handle life without Terrell Owens?