2004 NFL SEASON PREVIEW – NFC SOUTH

NFC South

Listed in order of 2003 finish


BB: Bill Barnwell : ED: Ed Agner : PR: Phil Rippa


 

panthers04

CAROLINA PANTHERS
(2003 Record: 11-5, lost in the Super Bowl)

Key Additions: LB Jessie Armstead (kinda), CB Artrell Hawkins, DT Rod Walker, LB Brandon Short

Key Losses: CB Reggie Howard, CB Terry Cousin, S Deon Grant, T Todd Steussie, TE Jermaine Wiggins, WR Kevin Dyson, LB Greg Favors, OL Kevin Donnally, T Adam Meadows, G Jeno James, LB Jessie Armstead (IR), DE Shane Burton (IR)

BB: If there is anything guaranteed in the NFL this year – the Carolina Panthers will not make it back to the Super Bowl. Even beyond the whole fluke-team-doesn’t-return-to-the-Super-Bowl thing, the Panthers got significantly worse in the offseason at two spots.

PR: Why I agree that the Panthers aren’t going back to the Super Bowl, I will say that I really like this team. I mean I am all about John Fox and I just love the style of football they play. Plus, it is nice to have one team in the NFC that I don’t despise with every fiber in my body.

ED: I too rooted hard for the Panthers last season – and I don’t even care for the smashmouth. When Steve Smith is the only despicable person on your team, you’ve done well. That said, yeah, the Panthers become pumpkins again this season.

BB: The Panthers’ offensive line has been absolutely decimated. Kevin Donnally retired at the age of 114 to open a series of surgical clinics with Bruce Matthews and Mark Schlereth (this is good because it gets him off of my TV). Jeno James is gone, presumably to become an Eagles running back. The Panthers signed Adam Meadows from Indianapolis to take one of those spots…only for Meadows to retire after finding out that he’d have to undergo major surgery on his shoulder months after signing his new five year deal (in all fairness to Meadows, he did return his signing bonus in full). The Panthers new starting right tackle…is Matt Willig.

PR: Nothing like saying “Hey! All you second year players. You are starting now”. Now is the time we find out if Jordan Gross was worth all the hype and the first round pick last year. I wonder if Jeff Mitchell can block for five?

ED: C’mon, it’s only Jake Delhomme they’re protecting. It’s not like the Panthers have put any money into that flu– Oh. Right.

BB: Meanwhile, the Panthers have decided to adapt to the new emphasis on the five-yard rule by getting rid of all their cornerbacks who are worth anything. Sure – Ricky Manning Jr. is still there and he had his Larry Brown moment. He’s opposite first round pick Chris Branch…who might just get picked on a little bit. Maybe. After that, the Panthers have…drivel. Terrence Shaw! Dante Wesley! Artrell Hawkins! Wheee! Passing yards! QB ratings! Toast!

PR: Who is Chris Branch? Did you mean Colin Branch? Or I am guessing you meant Chris Gamble. Gamble is starting right out of the gate. I won’t say anything else because I fear another Ed hates Ohio State rant. Has John Fox given Dave Thomas a call? Even the dead white one might improve that collection of rift-raft.

ED: No Ohio State hate rant here. I actually like Gamble a whole lot. He just doesn’t have the technique yet to be a great corner. He DOES have everything else, though. Give him a year or two and he could be a world beater. But I saw him spun in circles by too many slow, white Big 10+1/77*352-1206 wide outs for me to think he could stand a chance with a Randy Moss at this stage in his career. By ’06, though, he has a legit shot at being the next Ty Law.

BB: I enjoy that everyone is on the Steve Smith bandwagon now when I had him on my fantasy team three years ago. Ah, great for my team, never going to watch film with him. Ever.

PR: I had Steve Smith on my fantasy team several times. Unfortunately, it was the wrong Steve Smith and the wrong sport.

ED: I feel a new liver spot growing every time I hear the name Steve Smith and first think of the old Raiders fullback. You all get the hell offa my lawn.

BB: And yes – Rodney Peete and Chris Weinke are STILL the backups to Jake Delhomme.

PR: Is Weinke as old as Peete? It seems that way. I think the Jake Delhomme dream is officially dead. Tom Brady trademarked this gimmick and I don’t think he is going to share.

ED: Weinke still has the minor league experience so he can always get a job with the Cowboys.

BB: On a bright note, the Panthers have one of the strongest fullback tandems in the league with Nick Goings and Brad Hoover. Too bad you can only really use one at a time.

PR: You disrespect Stephen Davis. Michael Westbrook isn’t around to suckerpunch him so all is good. DeShaun Foster will give the Panthers that two-headed running game that will drive fantasy owners insane. The extra fullbacks don’t help either.

ED: How often do you think Joe Gibbs fantasizes about having Stephen Davis as a Redskin? I’m guessing four-five times a week in between dreams of Jeff Gordon and a bottle of Valvoline.

BB: The Panthers’ offense really lacks depth. What doesn’t it lack? Donald Hayes, which in itself is amusing. The strength of this team, though, is very much the defense.

PR: What about Rod Smart??? XFL!!! HE HATE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yeah, I think it is time for that to die.

ED: Ahh, XFL. I loved you so. Well, kinda. OK. No. Not really.

BB: The Panthers trot out a very deep and effective defensive line with Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker bookending Kris Jenkins. There are guys like Shane Burton, Rod Walker, Kavika Pittman, and Brentson Buckner in reserve.

PR: Heck, the depth is really amazing when you consider that Burton is now out for the season. A bunch of teams would be starting Kavika Pittman right now if they had him.

BB: Likewise, the linebacking corps is pretty solid as well. Dan Morgan does a good job of imitating a guy from On Any Given Sunday.

PR: For every one involved you hope it isn’t the ready to be crippled, drugged out Lawrence Taylor or the guy who loses the eye. Dan Morgan as the guy with the love of alligators works though.

BB: Will Witherspoon and Mark Fields – who beat cancer (Fields at least – Witherspoon didn’t but I’m sure he’s probably double-tough too) are joined by Brandon Short, Jessie Armstead, and Vinny Ciurciu in the middle of the defense.

PR: 2000 Giants REPRESENT~! Brandon Short is probably going to be the guy I miss the most from the Giants this year. I liked Michael Barrow and he made a million tackles but he is, wow, seven years older than Short and more prone to injuries. Oh, and speaking of injuries, Jessie Armstead is out for the season. Whoops!

BB: Carolina’s first six weeks: Green Bay, at Kansas City, bye, Atlanta, at Denver, at Philadelphia. Ouch. I mean – sure, Atlanta isn’t that good, but the odds of Vick being healthy in week 3 are higher than they are in later weeks. There is a distinct possibility the Panthers could start this season 0-5 and finish 8-8.

PR: They will beat Kansas City. I don’t buy the KC improved defense hype. Also they are playing Atlanta at home coming off a bye. Still, the NFL sure didn’t like that pluky underdog run to the Super Bowl last year and took steps to prevent it. Yeesh.

ED: Yeah. You’d a-thought Delhomme was partially responsible for the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction the way the Panthers are getting reamed by the schedule makers. Easy schedule or tough, the Panthers are bound for a decline, especially with a really-really bad O-line. I can see the D keeping them in every game but I can also see Delhomme leading the league in concussions. Of course, this isn’t the world’s toughest division, so…yaneverknow.


 

saints04

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
(2003 Record: 8-8, missed the playoffs)

Key Additions: FB Aaron Stecker, FB Sam Gash, CB Jason Craft, DT Brian Young, OL Jamar Nesbit

Key Losses: TE Walter Rasby, FB Terrelle Smith, CB Dale Carter, CB Derek Ross, C Jerry Fontenot, RB Lamar Smith

BB: I don’t care how good they are, if your two top additions in the offseason are both fullbacks, there are problems.

PR: Geez, did John Carney missing that extra point really stun them that much? How do you do NOTHING?!?!?!?! At least the Colts blew all their money on Peyton Manning, so they had a reason. Oh wait, the ‘Aints did sign Brian Young to hopefully shore up the run defense. WHOO-HOO!!! I will say this Young signing a four-year deal for only $10 million might end up being a bargain but still that is one uninspiring offseason. It might be more excusable if the team went like 12-4 last year. I guess NO loves itself some .500 ball.

BB: So let’s get the Saints situation out in the open. The oft-spoken truth about them is that they fade in the winter, but they’re not any worse – they’re actually better in December. Then it’s that there’s cancers in the clubhouse – well, the Saints signed them. Their fault. Dale Carter’s not with a team for a reason. Oh wait – he’s with the Ravens. Right. So is it Jim Haslett’s fault? Is it the team’s fault? Maybe this team just isn’t…that good. Maybe.

BB: How did Aaron Brooks end up like Aaron Brooks and Shaun King like Shaun King? Now granted – I never fell for the Shaun King hype. But really? Is there that much of a difference here?

PR: I really enjoy how we are each making the Shaun King joke somewhere throughout this preview.

ED: And that’s BEFORE we even got to the Cardinals preview.

BB: On offense the weakness of the Saints is the interior of their offensive line – Kendyl Jacox? LeCharles Bentley? Montrae Holland? Victor Riley’s a pretty dominant anchor to begin with, but the rest of the line is trouble.

PR: Wow, not only is Jerry Fontenot not dead but still in the league. He lost his starting job to Bentley (OHIO STATE ALERT. LOOK AWAY ED!) which either really points out the decline in his abilities or the craziness of the Saints for putting their faith in Bentley. Heck, turns out the Fontenot even lost his spot on the roster. Way to kick an old man when he is down.

ED: Hell freezes over Part II – I like me some LeCharles Bentley. Yes. I do. You draft an Ohio State O-lineman you tend to get the goods. You draft an Ohio State player elsewhere and you may as well have Minnesota’ed your pick away.

BB: Let’s say Deuce McAllister tears his ACL this year. The Saints backups are Stecker and Ki-Jana Carter. Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.

PR: Along those same lines, when the OL falters and Aaron Brooks is eating hamburgers through a straw, the backup QBs are Todd Bouman and J.T. O’Sullivan. I am still trying to wrap my head around the notion that they have no QB named Billy Jo. The game of football has changed…

BB: Donte’ Stallworth yadda yadda third season yadda yadda breakout yadda yadda.

PR: Aww… were you that bitter over Joe Horn’s antics last year that you refuse to even acknowledge his existence? Yeah, that was one ugly, ugly Sunday Night game. Plus, they have JEROME PANTHON~! err… PATHON~! He is all set to contribute a couple of catches before he blows out his knee… again.

ED: I take it that fielding one of the most boring teams on Earth is the Saints way of getting back at the city of New Orleans for owing them 10 Double-Extra-Large. *shrug* Whatever works for them. I can’t care enough to bother.

PR: The Tight Ends are fun. Maybe this will be the year Boo Williams becomes consistently reliable. Or at least live up to his great name. And remember when everyone was all over Ernie Conwell’s junk because he was in the Rams offensive juggernaut? Man, the TEs on this team steal a lot of TDs from the wideouts – Williams and Conwell had 7 combined last year, all wideouts not named Joe Horn had a combined 8.

BB: The Saints linebacking corps isn’t very hot either. James Allen and Derrick Rodgers bookend rookie MLB Courtney Watson. There are several positions where starting a rookie isn’t too bad. DL and OLB are probably the easiest, the right side of the scale. The left side of the scale are CB and MLB. This is not going to work well.

BB: The defensive backfield for the Saints is pretty gosh darn there though – even if Tebucky Jones is the defensive Michael Pittman.

PR: I am guessing this is the year Ashley Ambrose’s body completely falls apart. 34… man, I didn’t realize that writing these previews were going to depress me so.

ED: Yeah. Looking at the Saints is depressing enough before you had to mention Ambrose’s age.

BB: The Saints biggest strength after their skill position players was their defensive line…so they used their first rounder on Ohio State DE Will Smith. Oh Eeeeeed?

PR: The Saints decided that they needed to get them one of those. (I really am sorry…)

ED: Drafting Ohio State O-lineman = good idea. Drafting Ohio State D-lineman…Wave to your fans Big Daddy Wilkenson.


 

bucs04

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
(2003 Record: 7-9, missed the playoffs)

Key Additions: WR Joey Galloway, FB Greg Comella, TE Dave Moore, OL Derrick Deese, G Matt Stinchcomb, RB Charlie Garner, LB Keith Burns, G Matt O’Dwyer, LB Jeff Gooch, P Josh Bidwell, OL Todd Steussie, CB Tom Knight, QB Brian Griese, RB Jamel White, OG Darrell Russell, CB Mario Edwards, LB Ian Gold, DE Lamar King, WR Bill Schroeder, WR Tim Brown

Key Losses: RB Thomas Jones, FB Aaron Stecker, LB Nate Webster, QB Shaun King, P Tom Tupa, LB Dwayne Rudd, S John Lynch, WR Karl Williams, OG Warren Sapp, T Cornell Green, TE Roland Williams, S David Gibson, OG Darrell Russell (awww), DB Tom Knight, G Jason Whittle, WR D’Wayne Bates, S Scott Frost (awwwww), Kerry Jenkins (IR), DE Lamar King (IR)

BB: So Jon Gruden leaves Tampa Bay, wins a Super Bowl, has a bad season, and now he’s STAMPING HIS IMAGE ON THE TEAM!!! Maybe the fact that they won a Super Bowl in a year where Gruden had very little player selection is irrelevant. Maybe Gruden’s image involves no first round picks since the Buccaneers had to give them up to acquire him. Maybe dictionaries in Tampa Bay don’t come with a definition for “smug”.

ED: I won’t delve too deeply into my Chucky love-hate here. That’s something that I’ll need years of counselling to resolve. I give him a TON of (and probably too much) credit for reshaping the Raiders in the mid-to-late-90’s by weeding out the cancers/idiots – Ahh, the misguided Jeff George era. But I also recognize that he’s no X’s and O’s genius whatsoever – yeah, that Pats playoff game may tear me apart emotionally forever and I need to blame Gruden more for that than I generally do. And while that Super Bowl win had as much to do with Tony Dungy as it did Chucky (with a large dash of Rich Gannon helping out his old coach), Phase II of the Tampa Bay Chucky years really intrigues me as far as trying to understand how good Gruden really is. All I know for sure is that NO ONE in the NFL loves his VETERAN PRESENCE~! more than Chucky. And I’m not certain if that’s good or bad.

BB: I know I’m supposed to buy the Chris Simms hype. I know Brad Johnson won a Super Bowl. I know Brian Griese likes alcohol. But I’d still want Jason Garrett starting if I had money on this team. Aww…his Giants stint pleased me to no end. Even if he was stinky.

PR: I love me some Jason Garrett but he really is living off those couple of super-sub wins for almost six years now. It is LaRussaesqe. Mind you, he didn’t stick around with this team either confirming that we or the TB front office are idiots.

ED: I’ll never get the Chris Simms hype. But I never got the Phil Simms hype either. Sorry guys. And I really don’t get the hype about any other warm body holding down a QB spot here. But hey, if Chucky could make Rich Gannon useful, I’ll cut them all a break…for now.

BB: Point in case about Gruden – he’s basically revamped the offensive line because they were unhappy with its performance…on the way to a Super Bowl. As a result there is a whole lotta lotta depth on this OL – Cosey Coleman, Kenyatta Walker, and Matt O’Dwyer are backups, with Jason Whittle traded back to the Giants last week.

PR: I would have preferred the Bucs trading the Giants some of their depth from other positions but I don’t mind getting Whittle back. O’Dwyer, a good signing in principal, is on the PUP list so who knows if he will be healthy to provide any sort of contribution this year.

ED: Gruden’s M.O. has always been to get a good and big O-line in place then work from there. I find it pretty funny how Chucky can usually get a good line together out of scrubs, cast-offs and marginal talents on the quick when a Buffalo or somebody has no clue how to find anyone who can block.

BB: If you can explain the appeal of Mike Alstott to America then I can give you $5.

PR: He is white. You can paypal me the $5.

ED: And there again is the problem with going third on these.

BB: I don’t know how Tim Brown will do this year, but…if the Raiders say you are past your prime and too old to play regularly…damn, man. Just damn. That’s gotta hurt.

ED: Oh, the tear that streams down my cheek.

PR: The WRs have provided all the entertainment this offseason. Keenan McCardell has decided that he enjoyed the season Keyshawn had last year so he wants to replicate it. Only quicker. So he isn’t reporting and the Bucs aren’t that eager to have him in. Hence part of the reason for signing Tim Brown. Sylvester Morris crippled himself yet again. Maybe he should be the one going in on a group house with Yatil Green. Joey Galloway was the return on the Keyshawn investment if you will. Joe Jurevicius is still white and fragile (I sense a pattern here.) Michael Clayton v.2.0 is Tampa’s key rookie. Yeah, this is gonna be interesting.

ED: Hey, where’s the Charles Lee love? Remember, he’s the guy who stepped in for Keyshawn and showed the rest of the league – except for Dallas, of course – how easily replaceable the black Ricky Proehl was? If he does nothing else, that’s enough.

BB: If Ian Gold recovers from his injury, it’ll be the Buccaneers best signing. If he doesn’t…there’s always Jason Garrett.

PR: Aww… I am sure Bill didn’t react well to that cut. Of course, Jason Garrett > Jim Miller so there is hope.

BB: Since the Buccaneers didn’t have a first or second round pick in the draft, there’s no significant rookie help – the third and fourth-rounders are, as of right now, depth at DB.

PR: Umm Bill… Michael Clayton says hi. I am intrigued by TB taking the route of raiding the Ivy league for offensive depth. BOOK SMART~! I also would like to believe that maybe the Bucs version of Will Allen will turn out better than the Giants version. Oh wait – he is from Ohio State. Nevermind.

ED: You tempt me so. But I have to live here, so I will pass.

BB: So have the Buccaneers gotten better? I don’t think so. If Gruden can get everyone on the same page, and Gold is healthy, they go 10-6. Whe….if he doesn’t, we are looking at 6-10 and the possibility of the U of Miami team being able to beat them.

PR: It is in all of our best interests to root for the Bucs to beat the Redskins in week one otherwise we needed to bunker in against another round of “JOE GIBBS IS JESUS!!!”

ED: The Bucs intrigue me more than they should. I’m not ready to write them off just yet – especially in this division. I can’t see how letting Sapp and Lynch go can hurt them considering their age and physical condition, so the D should actually get better than it was last year. The question is the offense again. And there are too many age-filled question marks there for me to feel too confident about the Bucs. I love me some Tim Brown and Charlie Garner but man…what Bill said. I wish them both the best but…IIIIII dunno. Fortunately for the Bucs, the schedule makers cut them a break by giving them the Raiders, the Cards, the 49ers, the Chargers and the Bears so there’s five gimmies. I can see at least a Wild Card spot here, but that’s just me.


 

falcons04

ATLANTA FALCONS
(2003 Record: 5-11, missed the playoffs)

Key Additions: Michael Vick’s fibula, CB Jason Webster, DT Ron Coleman, LB Eric Johnson, OL Eric Beverly, WR Dez White, TE Hunter Goodwin, QB Ty Detmer, CB Aaron Beasley, LB Jamie Duncan

Key Losses: CB Ray Buchanan, LB Sam Rogers, CB Juran Bolden, TE Brian Kozlowski, G Travis Blackley, QB Kurt Kittner, LB Keith Newman, CB Tyrone Williams, CB Derek Ross, WR Woody Dantzler

PR: Kurt Kittner I think was on all 32 NFL teams at some point this summer.

ED: Naw, he was too young for the Raiders.

BB: All you cornerbacks out…all you other cornerbacks in.

BB: I am of the mindset that Atlanta had the best offseason of any of the four teams in this division. Michael Vick got healthy, Atlanta made some good signings, got rid of a lot of flotsam, picked a guy (who is out six weeks but still) who has a ton of upside in the first round at a need position, and improved their team in pretty much every position except MAYBE linebacker.

BB: There’s, shockingly, a lot to like here. Atlanta’s DEEP at wide receiver with Peerless Price, Dez White, first rounder Michael Jenkins, and Brian Finneran.

PR: Deep? Really? Price was the Free Agent bust of last season. But we will assume that was a fluke and he will be back to normal this year. Dez White makes a perfectly okay #3 guy but he has only been healthy for one full season so far in his career. Brian Finneran is still white and gimpy. Jenkins is a rookie so who knows what’s going to happen with him. I will give him the benefit of the doubt. But I won’t call the Falcons deep at receiver. Unless you know something about Jimmy Farris and Terrence Edwards that I don’t. Well, to be fair, neither one of us is factoring in Alge Crumpler at Tight End who is the best option on the team.

ED: WEST COAST OFFENSE~! Sure, that still won’t help Price fight off the double teams. That’s all up to Dez White and I’m with Phil in seeing him as mostly a #3 type guy. Unless Finneran has the season of his career, I’m not sold on this recieving unit too much. But, then again, if the Falcons are serious about going with the West Coast Offense, that might help the lesser recievers AND make Warrick Dunn more valuable.

BB: TJ Duckett seems ready to step up into a true starter’s role. Vick is going to be Vick. Sure – the line sucks – but that’s what Vick is for.

PR: How many years are we going on now where Duckett is supposed to overthrow Warrick Dunn and be a 1000 yard back? Of course, maybe the blame should be placed on Dan Reeves for not just handing the job to Duckett. Those 11 TDs sure look nifty for fantasy owners.

ED: I like a Duckett-Dunn double headed RB monster, personally. If the Falcons are going to stick with the West Coast Offense, I can see Dunn in the Roger Craig/Charlie Garner type role and Duckett in the Tom Rathman/Tyrone Wheatley spot. Considering the lessers of the recieving corps here, I can see Dunn putting up decent numbers thanks to the passing game…IF he says healthy. Why anyone would think Dunn can stay injury free at this point in his career, I don’t know.

BB: Even with DeAngelo Hall’s injury, there’s still a lot of depth at DB. By depth – I mean players I’ve heard of. Hey, Allan Rossum went to Notre Dame. Kevin Mathis…he was a starter once. Tod McBride too! And Derek Ross…is fast. Right. Jason Webster’s a pretty good CB but he shouldn’t be your top guy.

PR: Well, Tod McBride didn’t make the cut. Jason Webster sure is… tiny. I swear I think Jim Mora Jr. pimped his scrappiness. That is worrisome. Hey, Aaron Beasley is there too. Whoo-Hoo!!! Youth Movement!

BB: The big hole in the Falcons defense is at linebacker – does Chris Draft start at MLB? Does Keith Brooking move inside and Eric Johnson start? Does anyone really know? Or care?

ED: Supposedly the linebackers are going to be Matt Stewart on the strong side, Draft in the middle and Brooking on the weak side. There, I know that but I don’t really care.

ED: I would argue that the D-line is no stronger than the linebackers. Rod Coleman was a nice pick-up to help the D-line’s pass rush, but he’s probably one of the poorest run stoppers you’ll ever see for a DT. The fact that I always confused him with good pass rushing/bad run stopping LB Eric Barton when both were Raiders says a lot about Coleman. Or Barton. Or something. Elsewise on the D-line you have LDE Patrick Kerney and a lot of mediocrities/injury risks on the right side. That’s not really going to help keep the shakiness of the LB’s from being exposed.

PR: I believe that Ellis Johnson managed to make it an entire preseason without retiring once. But that is purely speculative on my part.

BB: Travis Hall might be the best Travis in the entire world.

PR: Hmm…. Travis Minor, Travis Taylor, Travis Phelps, Travis Fryman, Travis Driskill, Travis Lee, Cecil Travis, Randy Travis, hmmm… Bill might be on to something here. Though I think Travis Best might claim that he wins this by default.

ED: I’ll stick with Travis Bickle, thank you.

BB: Hey – I am impulsive. Why not? Falcons win the division, lose in the second round of the playoffs. Hooray football.

PR: Was this impulse before or after remembering that Jim Mora Jr. was the coach? Their schedule also does them no favors. A playoff birth might be dicey if they need wins the last few weeks of the season. Last three games – home vs. Carolina, at New Orleans, at Seattle. Opening day whipping the Niners will probably also give the fans a false sense of hope.

ED: I have no idea what to expect from the Falcons, to be honest. They picked up a funky schedule in that they got six pretty easy games (San Fran, Arizona, Detroit, San Diego, the Giants and Raiders) sprinkled in there in between some beast teams, so with any luck whatsoever an 8-8 record is not impossible. It all comes down to what they can do in division games and I can see the Falcons hanging with Carolina and the Saints easily enough. So I imagine the division will come down to Altanta and the Bucs and I dunno. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Falcons win the division. Then again, nothing in this division makes me as happy as Squints kissing Wendy Peppercorn either so…Feh. Stupid boring South divisions.


 

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