NFL Preview 2004
4 ARIZONA CARDINALS
Dennis Green is in a hurry to win, but with an untested quarterback and a 35-year-old running back, progress will be slower than he expects
Tough Guys
Every team wants them, and every coach cherishes the ones he's got. They deliver hits that change a game's momentum and withstand blows that keep drives alive. In the following pages, behold the NFL's toughest.
Dr. Z's All-Tough Team
When it comes to players with grit, here's the lineup Paul Zimmerman wants on his side--22 lunch-pailers who play hurt and never take a down off. You won't find situational pass rushers here or wide receivers who won't block or cornerbacks who don't hit. Just a bunch of guys taking pride in doing the dirty work
2 New York Jets
The defense has a whole new look, with an aggressive coordinator and a handful of rookies who are being counted on to contribute immediately
3 Buffalo Bills
New coach Mike Mularkey has some tricks up his sleeve for an offense that has a couple of new weapons, but first he has to straighten out the line
4 Miami Dolphins
A shocking retirement and a season-ending injury turn a perennial playoff contender into an also-ran with more questions than answers
1 Baltimore Ravens
The education of quarterback Kyle Boller continues, with a run at another Super Bowl hinging on whether he can master the position
2 Cincinnati Bengals
As running back Rudi Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer move front and center, hopes are high for ending a 14-year playoff drought
3 Pittsburgh Steelers
The architect of the old Blitzburgh defense returns to energize a faltering unit, but lacking playmakers the team will struggle to make the playoffs
4 Cleveland Browns
Getting released by the 49ers could turn out to be the best thing for Jeff Garcia and his new team, which needed a leader at quarterback
1 Tennessee Titans
A pair of franchise cornerstones are gone, but nobody's pushing the panic button--not with league co-MVP Steve McNair running the show
2 Indianapolis Colts
There's a youth movement afoot in the secondary as Tony Dungy tinkers with a unit that learned a lesson from the Patriots last year
3 Jacksonville Jaguars
Comfortable as a drop-back passer and slimmed down, Byron Leftwich looks to pick up where he left off last year for this dark-horse contender
4 Houston Texans
Tired of being labeled with the E word, the newest franchise only wants to see expansion in the win column--and a revamped defense is the key
1 Kansas City Chiefs
The old defensive coordinator has been succeeded by the old head coach, but will that be enough to fix a unit that was embarrassing a year ago?
2 Denver Broncos
One way or another the Trade, like the Drive, will go down in team history. The onus is on Champ Bailey to make it a happy memory
3 Oakland Raiders
In a major renovation project, the dilapidated defense has been turned over to a former Pats assistant and a crew of veteran free-agent pickups
4 San Diego Chargers
Who knows what the future holds for this team? Until a pass rusher is found and a quarterback is developed, there's no end in sight to the losing
1 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Two understudies move into starting roles in the secondary, having to cover for departed veterans in the glare of a run at the Super Bowl
2 WASHINGTON REDSKINS
With the return of Joe Gibbs and the trade for an elite running back, the franchise looks to its former offense to recapture its former glory
3 NEW YORK GIANTS
A couple of stopgap veterans and a rookie are called on to toughen up and add depth to a line that was more offensive than effective last season
4 DALLAS COWBOYS
Vinny Testaverde throwing to Keyshawn Johnson? Sounds like 1998 in N.Y., but it's 2004 in Big D as some old Jets try to rev up a sluggish offense
1 MINNESOTA VIKINGS
With the addition of a hard-hitting corner, the secondary takes the lead in trying to turn a weak defense that blew a playoff berth into a strength
2 GREEN BAY PACKERS
With time running out on the league's best quarterback-running back combo, it may be now or never for Brett Favre, Ahman Green & Co.
3 DETROIT LIONS
Quarterback Joey Harrington has been surrounded with talented, young skill players, but it will be at least a year before this team makes a jump
4 CHICAGO BEARS
New coach Lovie Smith delivers an aggressive, opportunistic defensive scheme that should make star linebacker Brian Urlacher even better
1 CAROLINA PANTHERS
A team that thrives on its great chemistry gets a big boost when its catalyst--and best linebacker--returns after beating Hodgkin's
2 ATLANTA FALCONS
After a frustrating first season with the team, Peerless Price welcomes the return to health of Michael Vick and a new pass-happy offense
3 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
After three seasons of underachieving, the players say they've buckled down and eliminated the distractions that kept them out of the playoffs
4 Tampa Bay Bucs
Coach Jon Gruden got rid of some old headaches but may have created a few more by putting together an offense that won't get better with age
1 Seattle Seahawks
The pieces are in place for a title run, but there's a catch: A talented trio of wide receivers can't let the opportunity slip through their fingers
2 ST. LOUIS RAMS
He has a swagger that comes with the starting quarterback job and a huge new contract. But can Marc Bulger get the offense cranked up again?
3 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The price of cost-cutting: After shedding six offensive starters, the former powerhouse hangs its hopes on a still-developing defense
PVR
PLAYER VALUE RANKING
Air and Space
2004 Olympics
Sticks and Groans
The vaunted 4x100 relay teams both came up short for the first time in Olympic history, but the U.S. still reached the top of the medal heap
Dawn of an Era
Saving her best for last, Dawn Staley showed the U.S. women, on and off the court, the way to a third straight gold
Third World
There's more to U.S. men's basketball's bronze medal finish than a better class of opponents. But will changes be made?
GOLDEN OLDIES
In a fitting tribute to Mia Hamm and four other veterans, the U.S. women's soccer team showed its pluck with an overtime rally
The Race Just Started
Running ahead of schedule, China made a move on the Olympic powers in Athens. As host in 2008, it expects to dominate
BASEBALL
MOUND MAKEOVERS
Thanks to Leo Mazzone, the Braves' Jaret Wright has made a remarkable turnaround. Here are four other former underachievers enjoying career years thanks to some magic from their pitching coaches
The Life of Reilly
Departments
Minority Rule?
Move over, Venus and Serena. The next generation of African-American stars is surging through the junior ranks