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Don't Start Believin': Debunking Five NFL Myths for 2009

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Don't Start Believin': Debunking Five NFL Myths for 2009
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

If Malibu Stacy is right when she tells us, "Thinking too much gives you wrinkles," NFL pundits should be one baby-faced bunch.

The sheer volume of chatter surrounding the league has rendered the expenditure of brainpower while offering up football analysis strictly optional. You don't need to dig deep to pick up a working knowledge of the league. The odds are excellent that if you want an opinion on a given topic, someone's already come up with one for you.

The upside of this endless universe of gridiron commentary is it's extremely easy to learn a lot without burning through too many neurons. The downside is an echo chamber in which half-baked ideas are introduced and amplified until they become downright deafening.

We're going to make an effort to stop a view of those runaway platitudes in their tracks. Below, we have five bits of myth, opinion, and innuendo pertaining to the 2009 season bandied around this offseason like God wrote 'em on a tablet and handed 'em to Moses.

Some crop up from year to year, while others are mere flavors of the month. All of them sound pretty good when you first hear them.

When you get below the surface, however, all of them make you sound about as bright as Malibu Stacy.

 

Myth: The NFC South Champion Is Cursed

In case you haven’t already heard from every last pundit picking the Saints this year, the NFC South has never crowned a repeat champion or sent a team to the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Count SI.com’s Don Banks and ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski among the notables quoting this tidbit of pseudo-wisdom in their predictions for the division. And it's true: The 10 playoff teams in the history of the South have gone oh-fer the following season.

But if you're making the case against Atlanta and Carolina, this "trend" is one flimsy piece of evidence. The South has been around for seven seasons, meaning there have been a grand total of six opportunities for a repeat champ.

Discounting last year's winner based on that sample size is like saying a quarterback who misfires on six passes in a row will never record a completion again.

The Chicago Cubs have a streak to worry about. So do Englishmen at Wimbledon. NFC South hopefuls are dealing with nothing of the sort.

There are legitimate reasons to pick New Orleans this year, but history isn't one of them.



Myth: The NFC North Is the League's New Powerhouse

Before an angry mob of red-blooded Midwesterners marches up Interstate 94 with pitchforks in hand, let me be clear: I like the North this year. I expect strong seasons from two of the top three teams in the division (Vikings, Packers, Bears) and wouldn't be surprised to see all three compete for playoff berths.

With that said, let's pump the brakes a bit on the hype machine.

SI's Peter King picked the Bears to reach the Super Bowl and labeled the North the league's "new power division." ESPN's Kevin Seifert (admittedly a bit of a homer) tabbed both NFC wild card teams to emerge from the division. The Packers have become a top-10 mainstay of power rankings far and wide.

Those are some bold predictions for a division that has managed one playoff victory in the past two seasons. Let's not forget, if the Lions had managed to win even one or two divisional games last year (they came close against the Vikings and Bears), there's an excellent chance the North would have crowned a 9-7 champion.

Such is the fine line between debating whether the division is football's best or whether it is among the worst. Throw in a schedule that includes showdowns with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and the road to supremacy doesn't look so smooth.

Every pundit who waxes poetic about the North begins thusly: "We shouldn't put too much stock in how teams look during the preseason, but..."

Don't get suckered in by the "but." Every contender in this division has serious issues. The Bears need to reverse a major decline on defense. The Packers need to install a new scheme. The Vikings need to install a new quarterback.

Before we get too excited, let's see how they perform in games that count.

 

 
Myth: We Can Pencil in the Eagles among the Elite

Want to witness the quirks of public perception in action? Look no further than the tale of the two birds who battled it out in last season's NFC title game.

Last year's Cardinals went 9-7 and made the Super Bowl. Last year's Eagles went 9-6-1 and just missed out.

Arizona's offseason was relatively quiet, while Philadelphia's was punctuated by big gains (Jason Peters, Michael Vick) and big losses (Brian Dawkins, the late Jim Johnson).

So what exactly makes the Eagles a trendy pick to win the conference, while the Cardinals are a trendy pick to lose their own division? Five ESPN writers said the Iggles will make the trip to Miami; eight said the Cards will miss the playoffs.

The hate for 'Zona stems from the idea that Super Bowl losers are bound to suffer (we'll cover that myth a little later). The love for Philly stems from an astonishingly short memory.

Halfway through last season, in the aftermath of the 13-13 debacle in Cincinnati, this Eagles team was dead and buried. Andy Reid was hanging on by a thread. Donovan McNabb was on the bench.

Even in Week 17, Philly's playoff scenario was desperately grim. The Eagles needed to beat the Cowboys and Oakland needed to beat Tampa Bay, and Chicago or Minnesota had to lose.

Credit the Eagles for taking advantage of their breaks and putting together a nice run, but be careful not to lionize a team that escaped a very average season by the slimmest of margins and enters this year with some very substantial losses to overcome.



Myth: The Broncos Are in for a Brutal Year

It's not hard to understand why Denver's stock has plunged in the offseason. A Super Bowl-winning head coach and a rising star at quarterback are out; a 33-year-old wunderkind and a four-year-old rising star at wideout are in.

But the smoke coming out of the Mile High City has been far worse than the fire.

Once you get past the talent drop-off from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton (which is considerable), the Broncos have improved in multiple areas of need. Brian Dawkins, Alphonso Smith, and a healthy Champ Bailey will help a defense that coughed up the third-most points in the league last year. Knowshon Moreno will help an offense that couldn't find a feature back.

Suddenly, there's light at the end of Brandon Marshall's tunnel—and at this point, finding a happy ending to that debacle would provide an emotional lift akin to winning the lottery.

Josh McDaniels could be a stud or a dud, but he only has to be average to match Mike Shanahan's .500 record over the past three seasons. Shanahan didn't have any answers when the team fell apart late last year, so in terms of recent history, the bar isn't all that high.

The Broncos still need a pass rush—then again, they needed one last year too, and still almost made the playoffs. They still need to see if Orton (or Chris Simms) can be an effective short-term solution at quarterback.

But there's more talent in Denver than people think. There should be more hope, too.



Myth: The Super Bowl Loser Is Doomed

If the Panthers and Falcons are getting a raw deal thanks to the NFC South repeat nonsense, the Cardinals are taking an outright beating at the notion teams who lose the Super Bowl are bound to fall apart the following season.

As I mentioned before, half of a 16-member panel of ESPN writers picked the Redbirds to stay home for the postseason. People who cover the NFL for a living are lining up to elevate the Seahawks (based on the conviction that last year's injury-fest was the exception, not the rule) and Niners (based on Mike Singletary's ability to drop his pants) ahead of the defending NFC champs.

Why? The hangover. The curse. The morning-after syndrome. Listen to some people, and you'd think teams that lose the title game are obligated by rule to sit the next season out in shame. Even I mentioned the phenomenon in my NFC preview, out of sheer laziness (though I didn't pick against Arizona).

In reality, we're dealing with another case of mistaking recent history for all of history.

Over the past 10 years, Super Bowl losers have certainly struggled. Just two of them made the playoffs the following year (the 2006 Seahawks and the 2000 Titans).

In the decade before that? Seven out of 10 Super Bowl losers made it back to the postseason. That's nine out of 20 teams, dating back to 1989. You might as well flip a coin.

Want to make sweeping predictions about this year's Cardinals based on a historical stat? Look at how 9-7 teams that make the Super Bowl fare the following season.

I'm talking about your 1979 L.A. Rams, of course, who went 11-5 in 1980 to make the playoffs.

If that doesn't scream "lock" for the Cardinals, I don't know what does.

 

This article is also featured on Purple Reign, a part of MTR Media. For more on the NFL, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.

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