After Tom Brady's season-ending injury, the New England Patriots have lost all hope of winning the Super Bowl. They could. It is possible. But most of us out here in TV Land don't think so anymore. Brady's injury dominated most of the after-game radio talkshows; a legend lost (at least for now) while doing what he did best--getting the throw off just before a hit. Now, New England did go on to win the game, and the rest of the AFC East doesn't look good enough (even with Buffalo and Jets wins) to beat the Pats out overall, so they will make it to the post-season, probably winning their division. But the playoffs is Brady territory, and with the memories of a stunning Super Bowl defeat still fresh in our and Patriots players' heads, and now this...it makes the goal of four rings in a career seem that much more unattainable.
So who is there to fill the vacuum left by the Patriots demise? Who is there to pick up the torch and carry it to an AFC victory in Super Bowl XLIII? Really, there are only two choices. Your best team, statistically, and the one with Super Bowl experience, is the Indianapolis Colts. Led by a newly recovered Peyton Manning, the Colts have the players, the playbook, and the sheer force of will to make it to and win the big game this year. But with their shocking loss to the Chicago Bears at home (something that rarely happens), the Colts seem to be looking...not so good.
However, there is a star on the horizon, a playoff contender whose hopes have been dashed every year in the post-season, usually in the AFC Championship game...the San Diego Chargers. They're tough, they've got a young-er team, and they have that quarterback who played injured in the last post-season. That's dedication right there. With an explosive rusher in Ladanian Tomlinson and capable receivers in Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, they'll be tough to stop. So, okay, they lost to the Panthers on Sunday, a team that hasn't been good since they lost to the Pats in Super Bowl XXXVIII, but, like with Indianapolis, this is not really an indication of future performance.
Week one, by all accounts, is really just a continuation of the Pre-Season. No one wants an "L" in the reagular season column, but great teams still don't want to show all their cards, and statistically weaker teams want to put their best foot forward, hoping the momentum will catapult them to an 8-8 season. This leaves one prediction to be made. Who from the AFC will go to the Super Bowl? Now, there are plenty of teams that are powerhouses and with a lot of promise left over from last year, but, seeing as this is week one, rosters are still shifting, people are still getting into the swing of things.
Week One AFC Super Bowl Contender: San Diego Chargers
Now, if the AFC looks murky with the loss of Brady, just imagine what the NFC looks like. Favre moved to New York, and into the AFC no less, the Giants lost one of their better players in a trade with New Orleans (Jeremy Shockey), Dallas looks good, but they do always seem to implode during the playoffs, the list goes on. The best looking team seems to be the Dallas Cowboys, with an exceptional quarterback in Tony Romo and the always amazing Terrell Owens, this team could go far. But, as stated before, they do have a tendency to fall apart in January, and you never know what T.O. will be like from one week to the next (though he's been good for a while now).
Your other amazingly good NFC team from last year is the Green Bay Packers. But with the Favre retirement/controversy, the Pack are left with a basically untested quarterback in Aaron Rodgers to lead a young team still reeling from this past summer. Now, Rodgers put on an impressive show Monday night against division rival Minnesota, but being prone to injury, who knows how long he'll last. That means a rookie quarterback leading a team dealing with yet another QB issue.
After all the buzz from the summer (particularly the Green Bay management's inability to cooperate with them), the Minnesota Vikings still look like they are going to be one hell of a team to beat. Granted they lost this past week, but not horribly, and considering all their bright, shiny, off-season acquisitions, and not forgetting they almost made the playoffs as a wild card last season, they still seem pretty amazing, but they'll need to get better at the QB position, either by improving Tarvaris Jackson...or replacing him.
The one team we haven't discussed yet is the reigning world champion New York Giants. They do have the momentum from last year, and (as I've been saying for years) Eli Manning is a great quarterback, but the Giants scene seems to always descend into selfish chaos. Tiki Barber retired two seasons ago on bad terms, then Shockey is traded because he was complaining too much and causing drama. Also this summer, Plaxico Burress held out on re-signing his contract for more money, even showing up to practices but not practicing. And let's not forget, Eli is a bit of a prima donna as well, avoiding a first-round draft pick all those years ago because he didn't want to play for the team that was going to pick him, in a world where most college kids wouldn't care who picked them in the ump-teenth round. They did look good this past Thursday, but something tells this author, they'll be back to the infighting and then imploding by the end of the season, lucky to make a wild card berth.
The NFC has always been a dark, mysterious conference, unable to really show it's best team early since Green Bay went to their last Bowl in 1998. This one is tough to call, but then again, it's only week one.
Week One NFC Super Bowl Contender: Dallas Cowboys
Now there are plenty of teams that we haven't discussed that showed a lot of heart, and a lot of great game-play, that deserve a mention as well. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a name I keep hearing as presumptive Bowl representative from the AFC. But they played Houston this past week, hardly someone that can put up the same fight as San Diego or Indianapolis. Also in the AFC is the Cleveland Browns, whose offensive line overhaul should have made them tough to beat, but they looked horrible ths past Sunday. Another is my home-town team, the Baltimore Ravens, whose rookie-not-yet-meant-to-be-starter quarterback, Joe Flacco, put on quite a show this week, making the Cincinnati Bengals defense look horrible as he scrambled and ran the ball in himself for a 38-yard touchdown. Lastly is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who looked amazing last year and during the pre-season, but lost a disappointment of a season opener to the Tennessee Titans; and the New York Jets...will they be great with Favre, or the same less-than-mediocre show we saw last season?
In the NFC we never talked about the New Orleans Saints, who are apparently good, now that they have a semblance of a defense. The Philadelphia Eagles looked amazing, but who wouldn't against the St. Louis Rams. Lastly, by special request, the Washington Redskins. I wasn't impressed by their God awful performance against the Giants, but I'm told by outside sources (over-zealous fans) that they'll be good this year. They did make a wild card berth last year, so maybe they're right.
Week One Super Bowl Prediciton: San Diego Chargers v. Dallas Cowboys
Stephen Bands is a senior at UMBC and knows more than you about all things football, so don't question, just read.