Now, before we look forward, let's take a glance at the past. Namely, what does Super Bowl history tell us about the teams likely to be facing off for the Lombardi trophy in 2008? At first glance, not much. The 80's and early 90's were dominated by the NFC East and San Francisco. Then John Elways finally grabbed his rings before all heck broke loose around the turn of the millennium. That's when teams like the Rams, Ravens and Patriots came out of nowhere to claim the crown. But lately, a certain amount of order seems to have been restored. Take a look at the last five Super Bowl showdowns:
Colts vs. Bears
Steelers over Seahawks
Patriots over Eagles
Patriots over Panthers
Buccaneers over Raiders
Is there a single team on that list that was a shocking Super Bowl participant? Not at all. Carolina probably comes closest, but everyone knew the Panthers were an up-an-coming team before the 2003 season started.
Maybe the Y2K bug, though impotent throughout the rest of world, somehow affected the NFL for a few years. Because it's looking increasingly likely that the Rams-Ravens-Pats trifecta was a bit of a football fluke. Yes, the free agency era still produces Cinderellas, but they don't often get to dance in the ball. So the lesson? Don't go crazy with your picks. Remember, the Super Bowl isn't March Madness (although the date seems to be getting closer every year). So fans in Oakland and Detroit, don't get your hopes up. You're not going anywhere anytime soon.
Let's start our search in the AFC and begin by taking out the trash. Oakland, Cleveland and Houston; keep focusing on your goals of fielding competitive teams in 2020. Kansas City and Miami are too old, Tennessee is too young (but I already LOVE them in 2009... good things happen in year 3 of the VY era, just ask Texas), Buffalo, Baltimore and Jacksonville need quarterbacks and Cincinnati needs a parole officer (and a defense).
So that leaves New England, Indy, New York, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Denver. I like what the Jets are doing, but I'm dismissing them out of principle. There's just no way you'll ever get me to predict great things for "Noodles" Pennington. Sorry, Jet fans, but you're cut. San Diego, you retained Marty Schottenheimer. Have fun with that. You're eliminated too. I really like Jay Cutler, but there's just something about Denver that leaves me feeling blah. So long, Broncos. As for Pittsburgh, you just don't see many first year, first time head coaches leading their clubs to the promised land and I refuse to bestow any future glory upon the Steelers until they apprehend the guy who keeps sticking pins into his Ben Roethlisberger voodoo doll. So I'm afraid we're bidding adieu to the Steel City as well.
Which leaves us with... the familiar faces of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. I'm sorry. I know you're sick of them and I know it's boring. Just take solace in the fact that there's a 99.9% chance I'm going to be wrong, okay? Anyway, no matter what happens this Sunday, I don't expect the Colts to be back next year. It's just too hard to repeat and, let's face it, despite what we've witnessed over the course of the last three weeks, that defense is decidedly mediocre. So welcome back to the big game, New England.
But this isn't a mere process of elimination pick. The future looks extremely bright for the AFC runner-ups. For starters, Tom Brady is back. The Pats D-Line is excellent and they're solid in the trenches offensively as well. Laurence Maroney should be a beast in his second year and I keep waiting for Ben Watson to become Antonio Gates Part II. Yes, they could use a playmaker at WR, but if Tom Brady can make Jabar Gaffney look like Marvin Harrison, I'm pretty sure the Pats will get by. Don't forget, first-rounder Chad Jackson should develop too.
New England's two primary weak spots are an aging linebacker corps and a suspect secondary. But guess what? The Pats will probably apply the franchise tag to Asante Samuel and have two first round selections to inject youth and athleticism into their 3-4 scheme. Face it. The Pats are still going to be a force. And don't discount how hungry Brady and co. will be after swallowing that bitter pill in the RCA Dome.
As usual, things are much more interesting (read: screwed up) over in the NFC. How on earth do you make sense of this mumbo jumbo? Which teams can you absolutely, positively reject? Detroit, perhaps? And that's about it. So let's just go team-by-team.
Philadelphia: Too much drama with Mama McNabb and the Chunky Soup mafia.
Dallas: Too much Norv Turner or Wade Phillips (although did you see the news today? Out of nowhere, the Cowboys are interviewing Mike Singletary! Hmmm, where did they come up with that idea? There's only one explanation: Jerry Jones reads the Clutch City Chronicles (go to the end of that column)! Thanks, Jerry. Now go eat some Meow Mix).
Anybody Know Where I Can Find Some Meow-Mix and a Litter Box?
NY Giants: Too much Tom Coughlin and WAY too much Errant Eli
Washington: Too much Daniel Snyder
Green Bay: Sorry, I'm not buying the Brett Favre fairy-tale ending.
Minnesota: No quarterback and the Vikings hates their coach. Great run defense though.
Chicago: A force, to be sure. But since I'm picking the Bears to fall this week, they're automatically eliminated since the Super Bowl loser tends to suffer a drop-off.
New Orleans: Intriguing. But a lot of things went right for them this year. Very few injuries and a favorable schedule. I like this team, but they need a lot of help defensively and I still think Tom Benson is just waiting for the perfect time to move his club to L.A. Oh yeah, and Sean Payton is Mini Mike Martz. That's not a good thing.
Tampa Bay: Getting old and Texas fans know all about hitching their ride to Chris Simms. Have fun with that, Tampa.
Carolina: A HUGE disappointment this year. The pieces are still in place to make a run in 2008. But there's no way I'm riding that wagon after suffering through the experience this season.
Atlanta: Hmmm. We'll come back to them later.
Seattle: Also intriguing.
San Francisco: Yawn. And don't be surprised if Frank Gore's comeback story ends with another torn ACL. Hey, it happens.
St. Louis: Mike Martz's presence is still felt. I just can't trust these guys anymore.
So now we're left with Atlanta, Seattle and Arizona. Seattle drops out because I don't think the NFL would allow a Pats-Seahawks Super Bowl to take place. Who would you get to perform at half-time of that snoozefest? James Blunt? Boring.
To tell you the truth, I was all set to send Matt Leinart to XLII to face his pretty boy arch-nemesis, Tom Brady. Think of the possibilities. We could have a Royal Rumble before the game featuring Paris Hilton, Bridget Moynahan and every other hot female celeb (I'm not saying Paris is hot, mind you... personally, she makes me want to wretch) ever linked to those two. And besides, it's not that outrageous. The Cards' defense is decent enough to play the supporting role beside Arizona's potentially explosive offense. Yes, the Cards have a big problem with their O-line, but they can go a long way toward shoring that up if they're fortunate enough to nab OT Joe Thomas with their number one pick.
But you know what killed my Arizona dream? It dies when I realized Super Bowl XLII will be played in Arizona. You're telling me one of the league's more cursed clubs is going to be the first team in NFL history to play the Super Bowl at its home stadium? Sorry, that just isn't happening.
So I guess that means Atlanta is the pick. And that also means Mike Vick is getting hurt next year. No, not because I just cursed him and his team. But because the only way the Falcons are making the Super Bowl is with Matt Schaub at quarterback. I'm not kidding.
And hey, the Falcons aren't that far-fetched as far as picks are concerned. Jerious Norwood is a stud who can thrive in the Falcons' potent running attack. They have playmakers on defense, especially if they can ever get John Abraham to stay healthy for an entire season (a massive "if", I know). And if you're a Bill Simmons' reader, you know their Ewing Theory potential would be off the charts if Vick were to go down.
So now that the match-up is set, who comes out on top? Do you even have to ask? Miss Cleo might be a phony, but she ain't dumb.
Pats 27 - Falcons 24. You heard it here first.