I can hear it now. All you uber-astute readers are muttering: “That Friedman’s such an idiot. His title refers to Super Bowl 43, when this Sunday’s game is only the 42nd. What a moron.”
But while I may, in fact, actually be a moron or an idiot (or both), the title to this column is actually correct. I’m not here to talk about this year’s Super Bowl. In my mind, it’s a foregone conclusion; has been for more than a year. You see, last January 29th — 6 days before Super Bowl XLI — I picked the Pats to win it all in 2008. Granted, I didn’t see 19-0 in their future. But I definitely knew they were destined for a big year.
Note to the reader: Should you decide to actually take the time to read last year’s column, please ignore the fact I picked Atlanta to face New England in this year’s big game. Although, to my credit, I did predict something bad would happen to Michael Vick. I just didn’t know “something bad” would equal “He bitch-slapped Benjy and then proceeded to help drown him and some of his friends.” For what it’s worth, I didn’t anticipate the Falcons trading Matt Schaub, either. Anyway, let’s just move on.
So I could join the mob and saturate the electronic superhighway with yet another mundane preview of XLII. But why? Just know Super Bowls are won by the team with the superior coach/QB combo 99.9 percent of the time. And if that doesn’t convince you to pick the Patriots, there’s this: EVERYONE is talking themselves into taking New York, at least for gambling purposes. I even read a blurb on the Wall Street Journal Web site stating Las Vegas was facing heavy losses if the Giants win. Vegas doesn’t lose money, folks. And the Patriots don’t lose. Period.
Mark my words. New England will recapture its scoreboard-shattering mojo playing in the perfect Arizona conditions, Tom Brady will throw at least four touchdowns en route to his third Super Bowl MVP trophy, and Eli Manning will revert back to the form which made him everyone’s favorite whipping boy. Remember, once upon a time (read: last year) people talked themselves into believing Rex Grossman had turned the corner, too. Go ahead and ask them how that worked out sometime. Just make sure there aren’t any sharp objects around.
Final score: Patriots 38 – Giants 17
But enough about this Sunday. It’s time to break out the crystal ball and unlock the secrets of XLIII.
Let’s start with the AFC. This conference is so stacked that it’s practically impossible for an upstart to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Oh sure, they might be able to crack the top six and make a playoff appearance, but they’re not getting through the likes of New England, Indy and San Diego during their first rodeo. So even though I expect teams like Denver, Cleveland and (gasp!) Houston to make a strong push for the postseason next year, a title shot is not in the cards for them in ’09.
So that eliminates all but this year’s playoff participants: The Pats, Colts, Chargers, Jaguars, Steelers, and Titans. Though I’m anticipating big things from year three of the VY era, I’m giving Tennessee the boot. Just too many holes right now. Maybe in 2010, guys.
The Jaguars are the next cut. Call me crazy, but I’m still not completely sold on David Garrard. I actually think Jacksonville will take a small step back next year.
Whither San Diego? They’re quite possibly the most talented team in the NFL. But there’s always the Norv Turner factor. And these guys simply whine way too much. If someone out there is teaching a class called “championship attitude,” the Chargers need to enroll, ASAP.
Pittsburgh? I like a lot of their pieces. If they can shore up their defense, they’ve got a legitimate shot. Just doesn’t feel right, though.
The Pats? They’ll be the odds-on favorites, no doubt. But everything went their way this year. Minimal injuries, minimal distractions. In a league as brutal and unforgiving as the NFL, that’s unlikely to happen two years in a row.
So that leaves us with Indianapolis. Yep, we’re going to see a Manning in a Super Bowl for the third year in a row. Trust me, I’m more bummed about that than anyone. But they’ve got the quarterback, the defense (Dwight Freeney will be fully recovered from his injury) and the rallying cry (it’s likely to be Tony Dungy’s last year as coach). In a way, it’s only appropriate that the Pats and Colts should trade-off Super Bowl appearances, because when football fans look back on this decade, it will be remembered as the Golden Age of Brady and Manning—two of the best to ever play the game.
Over in the NFC, it’s a complete crapshoot, as usual. Seriously, put all 16 teams on a dartboard, cover your eyes, and fire away. You’re just as likely to pick a winner that way as you are by utilizing any sort of expert analysis. But what the heck, let’s see what we come up with, anyway.
First of all, we can eliminate the Giants because Super Bowl losers always go in the tank the next season. And despite their impressive array of talent and draft picks, Dallas goes, too, because Jerry Jones—in his infinite wisdom—undermined any authority Wade Phillips had with the way he handled the whole Jason Garrett fiasco. Actually, Jones’s biggest mistake was hiring Phillips in the first place, but whatever. And unfortunately for the Cheeseheads, I think the Packers blew their big chance this year as well. The fairy tale was right there for the taking two weeks ago. Do you really think it’s going to present itself again?
Minnesota? Not until they get their quarterback situation straightened out.
Detroit? Talk to me when the Matt Millen era actually produces a season with a .500 record.
Seattle and Tampa Bay will take a step back. Better make that a BIG step back for the Bucs. Atlanta will still be awful. Meanwhile, the only word that comes to mind when I think of the Redskins and Panthers is “blah.” And until New Orleans proves it’s interested in something other than flag football, I can’t take the Saints seriously, either.
So now we’re down to four teams: Philly, San Fran, St. Louis and Arizona. Truth be told, I really wanted to ride the Eagles all the way to Tampa Bay (site of SB 43). They played well down the stretch and still have a wealth of talent. But that Donovan McNabb situation can’t possibly end well. And one has to wonder just how long Brian Westbrook can manage to stay on the field. Sorry, Philadelphia. You’re cut, too.
Arizona is interesting, but their quarterback situation is similarly shaky. Kurt Warner can’t be trusted and Matt Leinart just seems more interested in being part of the Hollywood crowd. Since he’s dumb enough to hang out with the likes of Paris, Britney and Nick Lachey, I figure it’s just a matter of time before he starts dedicating touchdowns to L. Ron Hubbard, Tom Cruise and the rest of the Scientology crew. Won’t that be a treat?
San Francisco—stop me if you’ve heard this before—has quarterback issues of its own. So even though I expect a bounce back season from the 49ers, I can’t in good conscience pencil them in for a February date with the Colts, meaning…
That’s right, stop the presses! The 3-13 St. Louis Rams are turning the ship around and going to the big game. We’ve seen this act from them before, remember. In 1998, they finished with a dismal 4-12 record, and no hope whatsoever. One year later, they were world champs. So it’s not entirely impossible.
Having said that, there are some legitimately valid reasons for a Rams resurgence. First and foremost, they weren’t quite as bad as they appeared this year. Few teams battled the injury bug more than St. Louis in ’07. Prime time players like Steven Jackson, Orlando Pace, and Marc Bulger all missed significant time due to injuries. So just getting a fair shake health-wise would make the Rams a much-improved team right off the bat. And thanks to its horrible record, St. Louis should receive a major injection of talent thanks to its enviable standing in the upcoming draft (the Rams own the No. 2 overall selection). Throw in the addition of Al Saunders as offensive coordinator and there’s reason to believe the Rams’ immediate future is bright indeed.
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Of course, long-time readers have reason to be wary when it comes to me picking St. Louis to do great things. You may recall I selected the Rams as my super sleeper of the year before this season began. In a way, I was right. The Rams played as if they were in a coma all year long. So needless to say, St. Louis owes me one. And I’m pretty sure a Super Bowl appearance is a price the Rams will gladly pay.
Your fearless Super Bowl XLIII final: Colts 31 – Rams 20
That’s right, Peyton will nab another ring; keeping the Brady-Manning debate at least somewhat interesting. And with his second Super Bowl title in hand, Tony Dungy can finally ride off into the sunset in peace.
Just like last year, you heard it here first. - Jason Friedman