Chicago Bears

1998 result: 4-12, fifth in division.

Coach: Dick Jauron, first NFL season.

Key acquisitions: QB Cade McNown (first-round draft pick, UCLA), T Blake Brockermeyer (Panthers), DE Jamal Duff (Redskins), DE Clyde Simmons (Bengals), QB Shane Matthews (49ers).

Key losses: S Marty Carter (Falcons), T Andy Heck (Redskins), QB Erik Kramer (released, Chargers), DE Carl Reeves (Broncos), LB Andre Collins (released), LB Jim Schwantz (released).

Outlook: The Bears haven't been to the playoffs since 1994 and haven't had a Pro Bowl player since 1993. Chances are good that both streaks will continue. They jettisoned last season's primary quarterbacks, Kramer and Steve Stenstrom, and now have McNown, Matthews and Jim Miller, none of whom has done anything notable as a pro. Matthews, with his two quarters of regular season experience, may start until McNown learns to make good decisions, but McNown likely will play a lot. Curtis Enis, healthy and slimmer, should bolster the running game. DT Jim Flanigan and aging veteran Simmons are marquee players on a defense that had just 28 sacks. Tom Carter and Walt Harris are solid cornerbacks, but might not be good enough against the division's strong wide receivers.

Schedule

September

12 Kansas City, 1

19 Seattle, 1

26 at Oakland, 4:15

October

3 New Orleans, 1

10 at Minnesota, 1

17 Philadelphia, 1

24 at Tampa Bay, 1

31 at Washington, 1

November

7 at Green Bay, 1

14 Minnesota, 1

21 at San Diego, 4:15

25 at Detroit, 12:40

December

5 Green Bay, 1

12 Open date

19 Detroit, 1

26 at St.Louis, 1

January

2 Tampa Bay, 1

Detroit Lions

1998 result: 5-11, fourth in division.

Coach: Bobby Ross, 14-18 in two seasons with Lions (61-51 in seven seasons overall).

Key acquisitions: QB Gus Frerotte (Redskins), CB Kevin Franklin (Raiders), RB Greg Hill (traded from Rams), DT James Jones (Ravens), LB Chris Claiborne (first-round pick, USC).

Key losses: RB Barry Sanders (retired), T Aaron Gibson (first-round draft pick, Wisconsin -- out for season with shoulder injury), LB Rob Fredrickson (Cardinals), QB Scott Mitchell (Ravens), OL Jim Pyne (Browns).

Outlook: As if things couldn't get any worse after Sanders's retirement, the preseason was marred by injuries. Rookie RB Sedrick Irvin, who some expected to start, is out with a foot injury and the 6-foot-4, 375-pound Gibson needed surgery. Also, starting C Mike Compton has a sprained knee and is questionable for the opener, and starting RT Tony Ramirez, who replaced Gibson, has a sprained ankle. Hill, who was acquired Aug. 31, probably will start. Second-year starting QB Charlie Batch and WRs Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton will have to carry the offense in Sanders's absence. Claiborne should make an impact on the defense, especially in pass coverage. But the Lions were 25th in the league against the run last season.

Schedule

September

12 at Seattle, 4:15

19 Green Bay, 1

26 at Kansas City, 1

October

3 Open date

10 San Diego, 1

17 Minnesota, 1

24 at Carolina, 1

31 Tampa Bay, 8:20

November

7 St. Louis, 1

14 at Arizona, 4:15

21 at Green Bay, 1

25 Chicago, 12:40

December

5 Washington, 1

12 at Tampa Bay, 1

19 at Chicago, 1

25 Denver, 4:15

January

2 at Minnesota, 1

Green Bay Packers

1998 result: 11-5, second in division (lost to 49ers in first round).

Coach: Ray Rhodes, first season with the Packers (29-34-1 in four seasons overall).

Key acquisitions: G Raleigh McKenzie (Chargers), KR-PR Desmond Howard (Raiders), DE John Harris (Eagles).

Key losses: DE Reggie White (retired), WR Robert Brooks (retired), LB Lamont Hollinquest (Chiefs), QB Doug Pederson (Eagles), RB Travis Jervey (49ers), G Adam Timmerman (Cardinals), WR Derrick Mayes (Seahawks).

Outlook: The Vikings and their standout wide receivers knocked the Packers off their accustomed perch atop the division last season, and Coach Mike Holmgren bolted to run the Seahawks. Rhodes has a capable offense with QB Brett Favre, RB Dorsey Levens and WR Antonio Freeman, but the defense might not be the same without White, who led the NFC with 16 sacks last season. Second-year DT Vonnie Holliday will have to keep improving after making eight sacks last season. Green Bay drafted cornerbacks in the first three rounds, but it's not known if Antuan Edwards, Fred Vinson and Mike McKenzie can step right in. They might have to.

Schedule

September

12 Oakland, 1

19 at Detroit, 1

26 Minnesota, 4:15

October

3 Open date

10 Tampa Bay, 8:20

17 at Denver, 4:15

24 at San Diego, 4:05

November

1 Seattle, 9

7 Chicago, 1

14 at Dallas, 4:15

21 Detroit, 1

29 at San Francisco, 9

December

5 at Chicago, 1

12 Carolina, 1

20 at Minnesota, 9

26 at Tampa Bay, 4:15

January

2 Arizona, 1

Minnesota Vikings

1998 result: 15-1, first in division (defeated Cardinals in NFC semifinals, lost to Falcons in NFC championship game).

Coach: Dennis Green, 71-41 in seven seasons with the Vikings.

Key acquisitions: DE John Burrough (Falcons), QB Jeff George (Raiders), LB Corey Miller (Giants), QB Daunte Culpepper (first-round draft pick, Central Florida).

Key losses: QB Brad Johnson (Redskins), DT Jerry Ball (Browns), LB Dixon Edwards (Dolphins), CB Corey Fuller (Browns), DE Derrick Alexander (Browns), FB Charles Evans (Ravens), DE Dimitrius Underwood (first-round draft pick, Michigan State -- left team, now with Dolphins).

Outlook: They have an almost unstoppable receiving unit with Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. And last season they ranked second in the league in total yardage and first in points per game (34.8) and third-down efficiency (51.4 percent). But behind the deep passes, high scores and the raised expectations is Minnesota's dirty little secret: the defense, which gave up just 18.5 points per game last season and scored five touchdowns, might struggle. The Vikings lost starters Ball, Alexander, Fuller and Edwards. They will be replaced by DT Tony Williams and Burrough (both reserves last season), CB Ramos McDonald and LB Kailee Wong (two years' experience each).

Schedule

September

12 at Atlanta, 4:15

19 Oakland, 1

26 at Green Bay, 4:15

October

3 Tampa Bay, 1

10 Chicago, 1

17 at Detroit, 1

24 San Francisco, 1

31 at Denver, 4:15

November

8 Dallas, 9

14 at Chicago, 1

21 Open date

28 San Diego, 1

December

6 at Tampa Bay, 9

12 at Kansas City, 8:20

20 Green Bay, 9

26 at N.Y. Giants, 1

January

2 Detroit, 1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1998 result: 8-8, third in division.

Coach: Tony Dungy, 24-24 in three seasons with the Bucs.

Key acquisitions: QB Eric Zeier (Ravens), P Mark Royals (Saints), DT Anthony McFarland (first-round draft pick, LSU), QB Shaun King (second-round pick, Tulane), K Martin Gramatica (third-round pick, Kansas State).

Key losses: K Michael Husted (Raiders), S Charles Mincy (Raiders), FB Lorenzo Neal (Titans), P Tommy Barnhardt (Saints).

Outlook: The final three losses of '98 were by a combined 12 points. Many blame QB Trent Dilfer for the failure to make the playoffs. He had a mediocre year (2,729 yards passing, 74.0 rating, 15 INTs), and faced challenges from Zeier and King in camp. But he saved his starting job, at least for now. A new offense, featuring the shotgun and three- and four-receiver sets, will help Dilfer spread things. RB Warrick Dunn and FB Mike Alstott combined to rush for 1,872 yards last season, but Dunn scored just two TDs and Alstott fumbled five times and had a hip injury. The defense, second in the NFL, should be excellent again. McFarland should contribute alongside Warren Sapp, and the secondary will improve with FS Damien Robinson's return from a broken arm.

Schedule

September

12 N.Y. Giants, 4:15

19 at Philadelphia, 1

26 Denver, 1

October

3 at Minnesota, 1

10 at Green Bay, 8:20

17 Open

24 Chicago, 1

31 at Detroit, 8:20

November

7 at New Orleans, 4:05

14 Kansas City, 1

21 Atlanta, 1

28 at Seattle, 4:05

December

6 Minnesota, 9

12 Detroit, 1

19 at Oakland, 4:05

26 Green Bay, 4:15

January

2 at Chicago, 1