The big question on everybody’s mind leading up to the opening game of the NFL season is always, “Who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl this year?” So as I thought about that question, like every other football fan, I decided to break down each team in the AFC and the NFC. Last year when I went with this approach, I came up with the Steelers from the AFC (right on!) and the Cowboys from the NFC (ouch!). Since this approach included the eventual Super Bowl champions, I figured it was a reputable enough approach to use for this year.
Cowboys, Packers, Saints
Cowboys- The Cowboys have the best balance of offense and defense in the division in my opinion. With a strong running game, and a calmer Tony Romo because of the departure of Terrell Owens, the Cowboys can be an offensive juggernaut. Their ability to run and pass should set the team up for a lot of big plays, especially from their second year back, Felix Jones. On the defensive side of the ball, they have sack master DeMarcus Ware, and a defense that really showed some signs of growth towards the end of the season. The significance of that? When Wade Philips took over the defensive play-calling, they became a transformed defense, and teams struggled to score points against them late in the season. Yes the Eagles scored 44 against them in the final game of the season, but most of those points came off of turnovers and offensive mistakes. So as I was saying, with Wade Philips in charge of that defense going into this season, they should be one of the better defenses in the league. Another thing that I like about this team is that they are going under the radar. It seemed that in the past few years, being in the spotlight and having high expectations hurt them. This season, though, the analysts are ranking them around third in the division, and a lot of them have them missing the playoffs altogether. This should allow the Cowboys to play without the added pressure, and they should be able to play closer to their potential. Of course, if they reach the playoffs, that might be another story. Their biggest issue has been their late season collapses, and there is no reason to think that, that will change this season. They have shown a lack of discipline when it comes to penalties, and that brand of football just cannot win consistently come playoff time. So I think the Cowboys could have a really good season, but I don’t see them as a Super Bowl participant.
Saints- This is a team that some people think can really pull through this year, and I am one of those people. Last year, Drew Brees showed that he can throw with the best of ‘em, and Pierre Thomas showed that he can be the every down back that they have been searching for, for a while. As far as I am concerned, their offense is pretty much set to have another fabulous season. The real concern for the Saints in recent years has been their defense. Here is the reason why I believe that they are a contender this season, whereas they weren’t a season ago. They added Darren Sharper, who although is aging, should be a huge asset in the locker room. To have a leader like that on your defense, should instantly make you a much better unit. Not only that, but the Saints added defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who is a sharp mind in this league, and he has been for many years. Also, having a guy like Vilma at linebacker always makes your defense more reputable. Unfortunately for the Saints, the one issue I have with them is that they always seem to blow it in the big spot. They have had teams that looked good in the past, and they have never gotten over that hump. I just don’t see this year being that year, although I do believe that they will have a great regular season, due to the favorable schedule that they have.
Packers- Here is my pick for the NFC champion. With a great balance of offense and defense, like the other two teams mentioned before, the Packers have the difference maker in Aaron Rodgers. He is not afraid of the big spot, and he has the versatility that great quarterbacks possess. He can make all the throws, and he has the athleticism to escape the pass rush. Also, with targets like Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and JerMichael Finley, he should have no problem moving the ball down the field via the pass. Then in the backfield, they have Ryan Grant who is a nice complement to the passing game. He should have another 1,000 yard season and 8+ touchdowns. When it comes to defense, the Packers are extremely young and talented. I feel that A.J. Hawk can be a real factor at the linebacker position, and he will have an M.V.P type season on defense. One final reason why I think the Packers are the best in the NFC is because they play in Green Bay. Playing in Green Bay, which is so cold at times, can only make your team tougher, and it can help you stand out in those cold December and January games. Teams that can bound together during those tough times, will only be better because of it. If they can remain healthy, there should be no reason why they won’t be in Miami playing in the Super Bowl.
What About Us?
Giants- Lack of a number one receiver will hurt Manning more than people realize. A struggling Manning means a less productive running game. It all trickles down from there.
Eagles- They will find a way to squander all of that talent for the millionth year in a row. I fall in love with this team every year, and they always seem to mess it up against some random team that is not even better than they are.
Vikings- Favre does make them better, but Super Bowl? Better luck next lifetime Brett.
Colts, Steelers, Patriots
Colts- The loss of Dungy is going to hurt this team in the long run, but it might not be evident throughout the season. The Colts still have Manning, and that is always the key to their success in the regular season. They should again be first or second in their division and have a secured playoff spot as long as Manning can stay healthy. If this team wants to make it all the way to Miami, their defense must step up. The one time the Colts actually made the Super Bowl under Manning, it was the defense that got them there once the playoffs came around. Manning led them to the playoffs, and the defense led them to the Super Bowl. Both things must happen if they want to get back, and I am not sure that they can. As long as Bob Sanders is an injury concern, their defense will remain a question mark unless another leader steps up and claims that role. That is highly unlikely, and I would be very surprised if that happens. However, if Sanders can stay healthy and play at the level he did in 2006, they have a good chance to make it deep into the playoffs. Here is where I think the lack of Dungy can hurt the Colts ultimately. Having a new coach in the later stages of the playoffs is always an obstacle in itself to overcome. Imagine Caldwell against Tomlin or Belichick. He would stand no chance, and neither do the Colts. Better luck next year Indy.
Steelers- This team has no holes on any of their units. Solid offense, defense, and special teams makes this team a sure bet to make the playoffs, and at least to the AFC Championship game. They make very few mistakes on offense, and they cause a ton of havoc on defense. The one thing that I think they need to patch up is their running game. Willie Parker has a history of folding as the season progresses, and that cannot happen if the Steelers want to repeat as champions this season. Yes, Roethlisberger has proven to be a clutch and elite quarterback in this league, but if you are facing the Patriots at home or on the road in January, the weather will come into play, and the lack of a running game can hurt a lot. Trust me, although Big Ben is a very talented quarterback, a coach like Belichick can throw things at him that will confuse him and make him look pedestrian. As long as their running game is a concern, they will not repeat as champions. Last year they capitalized on the absence of Brady, and I have to respect them for going out and taking it, but I cannot fully respect them as the best until they beat a healthy Patriots team.
Patriots- Obviously based on the other teams’ analyses, I love the Patriots’ chances to make it to the Super Bowl this season. I understand that Cassel filled in nicely last season, but you can’t even begin to compare him to a guy like Brady. Brady understands this offense better than anyone, and he has it down to a science. What he and Moss can do this year is almost frightening to think about. They will have plenty of hook-ups, and the offense should have enough firepower to blow teams away. Personally, I don’t love their defense outside of Jerod Mayo, who I think can be a real stud this season. Their secondary is a lot weaker than it was in seasons past, but I do like the addition of Leigh Bodden. Of course, when a team loses the likes of Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, and Rodney Harrison, there will be a decline, and it should be evident. However, I don’t think it will matter because of how good they are on offense with Brady. Most times in a situation like this, I would say that the defense will be their Achilles heel, but I honestly think that their offense is that darn good. It is so good that it will control the flow of the games that they play, and their defense should have an easier time when teams are behind by multiple scores. The only way to truly stop a team like the Patriots is to control the defensive line, and other than the Titans in the AFC, I don’t see any team that can do that. The Pats should have a smooth ride to the Super Bowl barring any unforeseen injuries.
What About Us?
Chargers- Norv Turner is not the Head Coach that is going to lead this team to the Super Bowl. They have the talent, but a lack of a mentally tough coach definitely hurts.
Ravens- Closer than most people think. If they had that playmaker wide receiver to go with Flacco's monster arm, they would be in business.
Titans- Kerry Collins will not sniff another Super Bowl as a starting quarterback. Period. Throw in Vince Young, and this team has a better chance. Until that happens, they are on my out list.
Super Bowl Prediction
Packers vs. Patriots