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Top 10 Story Lines of 2004

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H02

Hands Off

Everyone around the league is wondering whether the passing offenses will dominate, aided by a new interpretation of old rules that will emphasize keeping defensive backs from grabbing wide receivers. An immediate indication could come from Thursday's Colts-Patriots season opener, a rematch of the AFC title game that played a role in prompting the league's competition committee to act.

Sophomore QBs

The prized rookies -- the Giants' Eli Manning, the Chargers' Philip Rivers and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger -- open the season on the bench. But last year's prized rookies -- the Bengals' Carson Palmer, the Jaguars' Byron Leftwich, the Ravens' Kyle Boller and the Bears' Rex Grossman -- are starters. Quarterbacks drafted in the first round are too expensive to leave out of the lineup for more than one season.

Can the Patriots Repeat?

New England, winner of two of the past three Super Bowls, enters the season as the unquestioned favorite to win another title. The Patriots won their final 15 games last season, 12 in the regular season and three in the postseason.

Gibbs's Return

The winner of three Super Bowls with the Redskins, Gibbs has brought some of his coaching cronies with him. His offensive system remains in use around the league, and last year his nemesis, Bill Parcells, reversed the Cowboys' fortunes in his first season. But, at 63, will Gibbs's body allow him to work the sort of around-the-clock schedule that helped to make him so successful the first time around?

The Eagles Go for Broke

Will the Eagles' high-priced offseason additions of WR Terrell Owens and DE Jevon Kearse put them in the Super Bowl after three straight losses in NFC championship games?

Roy Williams vs. Roy Williams

A prospective Pro Bowler wide receiver faces the Pro Bowl safety when the Lions play at Dallas on Oct.31. The Cowboys were one of last season's pleasant-surprise teams, and Detroit hopes that its array of talented youngsters on offense -- Williams, fellow WR Charles Rogers, RB Kevin Jones and QB Joey Harrington -- puts it into that category this season after going 10-38 over the past three seasons and losing its past 24 road games, an NFL record.

The Trial of Jamal Lewis

The Ravens' tailback is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 1 in Atlanta on drug-related charges. The trial is expected to last about two weeks. Coach Brian Billick has said he doesn't think it would be prudent for Lewis to play on weekends while the trial is taking place during the week. With Lewis, the Ravens could be a Super Bowl team. Without him, their offense might not be good enough.

T.O. vs. the Ravens

Owens, who spurned Baltimore in the offseason to orchestrate a trade to Philadelphia, faces the Ravens on Halloween at Lincoln Financial Field. When the two teams met in the exhibition season, Owens caught an 81-yard TD pass from QB Donovan McNabb on the Eagles' first offensive play.

Kurt Warner

The two-time league MVP for the Rams is holding a spot for Manning with the Giants. Does he have anything left?

Can the Chiefs Stop Anyone?

Kansas City has a Super Bowl offense but a defense that was embarrassingly bad during last season's playoffs. New defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been asked to fix the unit without significant player upgrades.

-- Mark Maske

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