Let's Play 17 - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
Publish date:

Let's Play 17

After missing the playoffs in 2004, these three teams also could rebound this year and get back into the postseason

RAVENS: The defense, which ranked sixth in the league last year, will be even better now that Baltimore is going back to a 4-3. The 3-4, which was the team's base defense the past three seasons, wasn't really right for linebacker Ray Lewis (left), who needs room to dodge blockers. If Samari Rolle, the new right corner, is anywhere near his old self, this could be one of the league's most formidable secondaries--three Pro Bowlers (Rolle, Chris McAlister and Ed Reed) and an up-and-comer in Will Demps. The offense has a solid line, a punishing running game and the best crew of wideouts in franchise history, thanks to the addition of free agent Derrick Mason and first-round draft pick Mark Clayton. The big question is quarterback Kyle Boller, but if he has anything close to a breakout year, Baltimore will be tough to stop.

COWBOYS: The defense switches from a 4-3 to Bill Parcells's preferred 3-4, and the guy who will make it go is nosetackle Jason Ferguson, late of the Jets. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones flew to Memphis to meet with this formidable free-agent run-stuffer and persuade him to take $9 million. Add to the mix rookie first-round draft choices, linebacker Demarcus Ware and defensive end Marcus Spears, and Parcells has the makings of something special. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe has some good football left in him if he gets protection and doesn't feel that he has to do it all himself.

CHIEFS: They changed defensive coordinators before the 2004 season instead of changing personnel, and the results were the same under Gunther Cunningham as they'd been under Greg Robinson--miserable. This off-season Kansas City decided that one element was lacking in its quest to stop people: speed. Cornerback Patrick Surtain was obtained in a trade with the Dolphins. Kendrell Bell, a quick and explosive linebacker, came over as a free agent from the Steelers, and the first round of the draft brought Derrick Johnson, the quickest linebacker on the board and one of the fastest Chiefs at any position. With a high-powered offense keyed by the best line in the business, any improvement on defense should get K.C. to the postseason. --Paul Zimmerman