With the arrival of Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season, it's my annual opportunity to look ahead towards the end of the season, in February 2011, with Super Bowl XLV.
Super Bowl XLV? That is Super 45 for those of us who are Roman numerals deficient.
Playoffs? I’m going to talk about playoffs? Playoffs!!!!!!!!! No - just the Super Bowl.
A year ago, I predicted a New England Patriots victory over the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl 44. At the time, the Saints seemed to be a far-fetched pick to even make the Super Bowl.
But I knew about Drew Brees and the Saints high points producing offense. I just figured if they could manufacture just an average defense and gain home field playoff advantage (which they did), they could slip into the Super Bowl.
As we know very well, New Orleans shocked the Indianapolis Colts and the world.
Who do I think will appear in Super Bowl 45? Do my or anyone else’s predictions matter? No, but they are still fun entertainment and amusement.
First, I mostly ignore preseason – especially the results. Sometimes, an individual performance may cause me to take note in preseason, but offenses and defenses are vanilla, and the starters usually play for only one quarter to one half.
I look at a host of factors: how a team performed at the end of the previous season, off season acquisitions and losses, strength of schedule, the quality of the coaching staff, off-field drama and stories, etc.
I also ask myself what does a particular team need to do or fix to upgrade their performances to the highest level? Does a team need to improve their defense? Does a squad have offensive line issues?
The most difficult thing to foresee and account for, of course, is the injury factor. If a team loses it’s starting quarterback, for example, that is virtually automatic elimination. But if it is an offensive guard or a linebacker, most teams are able to adjust and keep on winning.
Like every season, the 2010-11 NFL campaign has several intriguing stories and post season possibilities.
Can we rule out any team? While there is no guarantees in life except death and taxes, I will rule out teams such as the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, and Detroit Lions.
Along with those, there are some teams I won’t rule out but neither do I expect them to make this post season for a variety of reasons: Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, and painfully, my Carolina Panthers. But any of these teams may prove me wrong and earn wild card births.
The Cardinals lost QB Kurt Warner, the Broncos lost WR Brandon Marshall, and the Dolphins offense is not productive.
My Panthers are running a youth movement in order for the ownership to prepare and survive a potential 2011 NFL season lockout. But I am excited about my “The Young and the Restless,” Carolina Panthers.
Our defensive line is quicker, producing a lot of sacks in the preseason (sorry, that is all I can go by), and while our offense took a vacation in August, we know about QB Matt Moore, out dynamic duo RBs, and the third best WR in the league, Steve Smith. Moore uses his tight ends and spreads the ball around better than Jake Delhomme did.
So which teams does this leave us?
In the AFC, we have the Patriots, Jets, Colts, Titans, Texans, Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, and Chargers.
In the NFC, we have the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Saints, Falcons, Packers, Vikings, Bears, and 49ers.
For this article, I am considering Super Bowl teams potentially, not predicting exact playoff spots.
Who are my final fours per conference? Chargers, Colts, Patriots, and Ravens in the AFC, and Cowboys, Falcons, Packers, and Vikings in the NFC.
In my opinion, the San Francisco 49rs are a couple of years away from being considered a Super Bowl possibility, as they learn how to produce enough offense and how to win in the post season.
The Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans are solid teams, but they reside in the same division as Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
A similar situation exists for the Bears, who annually have to out duel both the Vikings and Packers.
The Jets have a real defenses but their offense does not produce enough points for them to go deep in the playoffs.
The Steelers are dealing with their Ben Roethlisberger and other offense issues, but their defense will carry the team – but how far?
The Bengals will be entertaining to watch with the T.O. and Ochocinco show with Carson Palmer, but it will take the defense and running game to be successful for Cincinnati to win in the post season.
The Eagles QB Kolb does not take care of the ball well and he will lead to their demise. The Giants offensive line is inconsistent and at times, New York simply underachieves.
Every team on the New Orleans Saints schedule will treat the matchup as a measure of their own Super Bowl potential. The Saints should not catch any team “flat” but the opposite – playing above their heads.
Are the Patriots finally under the radar this season? If so, they will work it to their advantage.
If the Colts face the Chargers, they will be eliminated. If San Diego draws New England, they will lose in the playoffs.
If there is a New England-Baltimore AFC Championship game matchup, the Ravens will win, if QB Joe Flacco overcomes his post season jitters.
In the NFC, both the Packers and the Cowboys are chic picks in the media to get to the Super Bowl. For Dallas, the Super Bowl would be a truly home game since it will be held in their stadium.
The Minnesota Vikings will go as far as Brett Favre will take them. I don’t expect Favre to enjoy the same regular season success he had in 2009. It’s very difficult to duplicate that quality of a season at any age, much less at age 41.
Despite his annual off field drama and recent avoidances of preseason camp, Favre has proven himself as a tough iron man with his NFL record, consecutive starting streak and owning several league career passing records.
Minnesota has a tougher road schedule than they did last season.
For both Green Bay and Atlanta, the defenses will have to become real and become consistently good, for either team to go deep in post season.
The Dallas Cowboys tend to ultimately underachieve in the post season, but they have a well-balanced team.
My AFC choice for the upcoming Super Bowl is the Baltimore Ravens. With their great defense, along with the best off season acquisitions at WR – Anquan Boldin and T.J. Housmandzadeh, and a more playoff confident quarterback in Flacco, the Ravens appeared to be poised in position for a title run.
My NFC pick is more difficult because the most talented team does not always make or win the Super Bowl. The Saints, Packers, and Cowboys seem to be most logical.
So I will pick the Atlanta Falcons as the NFL Cinderella story for 2010 (like the Saints in 2009 and the Cardinals in 2008). RB Mike Turner will have a healthy season, QB Matt Ryan has good WRs and perhaps the best TE in NFL history in Tony Gonzalez.
Like the Saint of 2009, these Falcons will produce just enough quality defense, especially with turnovers, to propel the franchise to their second Super Bowl visit.
Super Bowl 45 will feature two of the best young NFL quarterbacks from the same draft: Flacco versus Ryan. Defense wins championships.
In Super Bowl XLV, the Ravens will prevail over the surprising Falcons, 26-20, for their franchise’s second Vince Lombardi Trophy, frustrating not only Falcons’ fans, but the Cleveland Browns’ fans, who lost this franchise and were force to settle for a new one with the old name.
By January 2011, I will probably regret and laugh at this article. But I thought the same thing a year ago when I mentioned the Saints.
Have a funtastic 2010 NFL season!