- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

Last week, we toured the AFC as training camps opened. Now, with every team set to hit the field by Monday, let’s look at the biggest questions facing each of the 16 NFC teams this summer.

East

• New York Giants: Is Eli Manning ready to become an elite quarterback in his third season? How much does new cornerback Sam Madison, 32, have left? Is linebacker LaVar Arrington going to return to Pro Bowl form after two frustrating years with the Redskins?

• Washington: Will new receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El fix the Redskins’ biggest weakness? Can quarterback Mark Brunell, who turns 36 in September, stay healthy and effective? How will coach Joe Gibbs handle someone else (Al Saunders) calling the plays?

• Dallas: How soon before Terrell Owens explodes? Or will the combustible receiver behave himself in his first year in Big D? Can the Larry Allen-less O-Line protect statue-like quarterback Drew Bledsoe? How much will kicker Mike Vanderjagt help?

• Philadelphia: Are all the injured standouts (Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Lito Sheppard, Tra Thomas) good as new? How will the Eagles respond to the crash from NFC champs to the division basement? Is Reggie Brown ready to become a No. 1 receiver?

North

• Chicago: Were the surprising 2005 Bears for real or the result of a weak schedule? Can quarterback Rex Grossman make it through a season in one piece? Why did a team with such a snoozer of an offense draft for defense?

• Minnesota: Was that 7-2 finish with quarterback Brad Johnson, 38 in September, a fluke? Is newcomer Chester Taylor a No. 1 back? Can the Vikings play enough defense for new coach Brad Childress in order to win the division for the first time since 2000?

• Detroit: Is career assistant Rod Marinelli right as a first-time head coach at 57? Can former Rams mastermind Mike Martz bring out the best in receivers Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams? Is Jon Kitna, who turns 34 in September, the answer at quarterback?

• Green Bay: Will quarterback Brett Favre, 37 in October, regret coming back for another year after the disaster of 2005? Will cornerback Charles Woodson and rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk be difference-makers for new coach Mike McCarthy’s defense?

South

• Tampa Bay: Will the home playoff loss to Washington be a motivator or a downer? Is this truly quarterback Chris Simms’ team considering his 7-6 record as a starter? Can receiver Michael Clayton bounce back from a lousy second season?

• Carolina: Can Steve Smith and equally voluble receiver Keyshawn Johnson co-exist? Will DeShaun Foster and rookie back DeAngelo Williams share the load? Is defensive tackle Kris Jenkins 100 percent after blowing out a knee in the 2005 opener?

• Atlanta: Is new quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave the right man to teach Michael Vick the West Coast offense? Do the Falcons have any legitimate wideouts? How much carryover is there from the 0-4 record against the Bucs and Panthers in 2005?

• New Orleans: How much will having a true home again help erase the ugliness of 2005? Is Reggie Bush the next Marshall Faulk? Is replacing quarterback Aaron Brooks and coach Jim Haslett with Drew Brees and Sean Payton as smart as it seems?

West

• Seattle: Are the NFC champs going to be the first Super Bowl loser in six years to return to the playoffs? How much will the offense miss All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson? How much impact will former San Francisco linebacker Julian Peterson make?

• St. Louis: How big will the adjustment be to a Martz-less offense? Can the aging line make new coach Scott Linehan’s offense work? Can Haslett plug the holes in the long-porous defense?

• Arizona: Will signing James give the long-downtrodden Cards the “Edge” they’ve been missing? Will Kurt Warner become unnerved looking over his shoulder at rookie quarterback Matt Leinart? Will the sold-out new stadium be an on-field boon?

• San Francisco: Will quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, take a leap forward after an ugly debut or is he the next Ryan Leaf? Will winning their last two games last year mean anything to the 49ers? How do they replace Peterson?

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