Why No One Will Win Super Bowl XLII

Why No One Will Win Super Bowl XLII

Why No One Will Win Super Bowl XLII
By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* The more information becomes available concerning Michael Vick and dog-fighting, the more likely it seems that Vick is guilty of some truly atrocious behavior. The whole thing is incredibly inhumane, of course, but the allegations against Vick describe cruelty that is just plain inhuman.

* The Commissioner's Office is right to withhold a regular-season suspension until Vick is found guilty. But if he is, the league needs to act quickly with a multi-game suspension.

* I think the NFL will ultimately be glad to have a policy in place for punishing players who make negative headlines off the field, but it's a shame that the biggest NFL stories this offseason have involved such incidents.

* Only months after Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning led the Colts to a feel-good Super Bowl win, the only story bigger than the year-long suspension of Pacman Jones is the dog-fighting indictment of Vick.

* Speaking of multi-game suspensions: Dear Tank Johnson, Way to end your career. Sincerely, Brad.

***

The first regular-season game of the 2007 NFL season is about a month and a half away now, and predictions about the season are starting to roll in. I'll make mine at the end of preseason, but I already know this: no team is good enough to win Super Bowl XLII. The game will be held next February 3, in Glendale, Arizona. Many teams are hopeful, and given the lack of top-level competition, that's appropriate, but no one is dominant enough to actually win the big game. I'll grant that there might be a few teams good enough to make it to the conference championship games, but that's it.

Now, I realize most people probably consider it unlikely that no one will win this year's Super Bowl. But I can prove, team by team, that there's not a contender out there. Let's start with last year's champs.

Indianapolis Colts — The Colts have some legitimate reasons for believing they can compete in 2007. They've kept last year's coaching staff intact. They still have the league's best quarterback, Peyton Manning. And if they have Bob Sanders and Booger McFarland in uniform all season, the defense should look a lot more like it did in last year's postseason than in last year's regular season.

But Indianapolis has lost a ton of talent in the last few months. Monte Reagor, Cato June, and Nick Harper all left the team in free agency. Reagor's departure cancels out the addition of McFarland, and in June and Harper, the Colts lost their best linebacker and best cornerback, respectively. On offense, Tarik Glenn might retire and Dominic Rhodes is gone. Joseph Addai seems like a very capable running back, but Rhodes was a nice change of pace — a power runner who could give Addai a breather and wear down defenders. If Glenn quits, expect a lot more sacks and interceptions in Indianapolis. Marvin Harrison is still around, but he's a year older, and receivers not named Jerry Rice tend to slow down after they've been in the league for a decade.

On top of all this, the rest of the AFC South has caught up to the Colts. Last year, Indianapolis lost every division road game in its division, including the team's first-ever loss to the Houston Texans. Even the wins, other than a Week 2 romp over Houston, were nail-biters. Without a strong division record to help get homefield in the playoffs, the Colts may be in trouble. You can't make a miracle run two seasons in a row.

Chicago Bears — What a mess. The offense lost its most explosive player, Thomas Jones, this offseason. Rex Grossman is still the starting quarterback. Ian Scott signed with the Eagles, all-pro LB Lance Briggs still has beefs with management, and Tank Johnson is definitely gone. Take a disappointing Super Bowl team, subtract a few of its best players, and add no major impact signings. If the NFC North shows any signs of life this year, Chicago might not even make the playoffs.

New England Patriots — This is the one everybody has fallen in love with. New England was a good team last year, and this offseason, they've added a ton of talent, including Adalius Thomas, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and Randy Moss. Will Tom Brady ever get to throw to the same receivers for two years in a row? How can the Patriots expect their passing game to click if they're relying on a huge question mark (Moss), a smaller question mark (Stallworth), and a gritty but unspectacular third receiver whose biggest value comes on special teams (Welker)? Reche Caldwell is still around, but I have a feeling that if Moss and Stallworth don't pan out — by which I mean Moss has to play the way he did four long years ago, and Stallworth needs to play the way he did last season — Brady is going to throw a lot of passes to his tight ends.

I won't fault the Pats for rolling the dice on those receivers, though it would have been nice to preserve a little more familiarity for Brady. But when a team adds as many key players — guys who figure to start — as New England has, it normally takes a season for everything to gel. I know I faulted the Colts and Bears for losing too much key talent, and now I'm criticizing New England for adding too many good players, but can't any contender just hold on to what it has and maybe bring in one or two key additions? For all the teams that talk about being "one player away", it would be nice to see someone go get that "one player" and leave everything else alone.

Anyway, point is, the Patriots have made too many changes to expect immediate success this season. And I'll be shocked if Moss is effective as more than a role-player and a decoy.

New Orleans Saints — In 2005, the Saints went 3-13, finishing last in the NFC South and earning the second pick in the NFL Draft. Last year, the Saints were 10-6, and won their division. I mention this because in 2006, only five teams had an easier strength of schedule than New Orleans. That won't be the case this year, and teams with miracle seasons tend to regress at least a little bit the next year. I think the Saints will be good, and I don't know who else could win the NFC South, but it's unrealistic to expect a Super Bowl.

San Diego Chargers — Last season they were great, but last year's head coach is gone. So are the offensive and defensive coordinators. Next.

Baltimore Ravens — Finally, a good team that pretty much left things alone. The Ravens were 13-3 last year, and the 2007 starting lineup should be pretty similar to the '06 version. The most notable differences will be the absence of Adalius Thomas — which really hurts — and the replacement of Jamal Lewis with Willis McGahee, which shouldn't make much difference either way.

Here's the problem: Baltimore is the one elite team that really needed to make some changes. Last season, I thought the Ravens were too old to be competitive. Four of the team's projected offensive starters will be at least 33 years old when the season starts. More than half of the projected defensive starters are over 30. The leaders on both sides of the ball —Steve McNair and Ray Lewis — are a combined 66 years old, and both are injury-prone. Too old, too many question marks. And too tough a division in the nasty AFC North.

Seattle Seahawks — Is anyone even picking them to win their division this year? Besides probably me next month, I mean. This is a team that has made some moves, and has some good, young players, especially on defense. It's hard to find major upgrades, but Seattle replaced Grant Wistrom with Patrick Kerney, and filled the welcome departure of Jerramy Stevens with the less explosive, but more solid Marcus Pollard.

The team also lost its best receiver, Darrell Jackson, to a division rival. Shaun Alexander is broken and will probably never be an elite runner again. Don't draft him in your fantasy league. And there's still no left guard to replace Steve Hutchinson. Are the Seahawks a contender in the weak NFC? Sure. Can they win the Super Bowl? Uh, no.

New York Jets — They made the playoffs last year. Remember that? And they'll bring pretty much the same team in 2007 that they did last season, except that this time they'll have a running back. Finally, a team that brought in one big impact player to put them over the top. Glendale, here we come! The problem: the Jets weren't "one player away" last season. This might be a team to watch, but even if Chad Pennington stays healthy — which has never happened two years in a row — New York still looks more like a spoiler than a contender.

Philadelphia Eagles — This is a genuinely intriguing team. At its best last season, Philadelphia looked like it could play with anyone in the league. So it's a shame that the Eagles have little reason to believe they'll be as good as last season. Donovan McNabb is a top-five NFL QB when he's healthy, which is only a little more often than Pennington. Last season, the Eagles had Jeff Garcia ready to take over when McNabb got hurt, and Philly actually played its best football with Garcia under center. This season, the backups are A.J. Feeley and rookie Kevin Kolb. If McNabb isn't 100%, you can rule out the Eagles on quarterback play alone. If McNabb is healthy, he can throw the ball to ... pretty much just Brian Westbrook, because Stallworth left for New England and the Eagles still don't have any wide receivers. Oh, and check this out: Correll Buckhalter is supposed to be the short-yardage back.

Kansas City Chiefs — They made the playoffs last year, so I'm listing them, but if you think this team has any realistic chance of contending for Super Bowl XLII, then you bleed whatever colors the Chiefs wear. Silver and black, isn't it?

Dallas Cowboys — Tony Romo was awful at the end of last season, the offensive line is suspect, both starting receivers are 33, and new head coach Wade Phillips cannot handle the ticking time bomb that is Terrell Owens.

New York Giants — Tiki Barber retired, Eli Manning is still the quarterback, and everyone on the team hates head coach Tom Coughlin.

Cincinnati Bengals — It's tempting to think of the Bengals as a serious sleeper, until you look at their offseason and current roster. The interior offensive line is a mess. The defensive line is Justin Smith and a bunch of guys who should be warming a bench somewhere. If Odell Thurman doesn't play, the linebacking corps figures to be among the worst in the league. And with the absences of Chris Henry (eight-game suspension) and Kelley Washington (another new Patriot), Cincinnati — which loves to go three- and four-wide at the receiver position — has limited options in the passing game.

Pittsburgh Steelers — The champs of Super Bowl XL had a down season last year, but if Ben Roethlisberger can recapture his old form, there's every reason to believe the Steelers can compete at the highest level. The main concerns are offensive line — where standout center Jeff Hartings retired, and all-pro left guard Alan Faneca is unhappy — and coaching staff. Longtime head coach Bill Cowher has at least temporarily retired. Highly-regarded offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is the new coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Assistant head coach Russ Grimm followed Whisenhunt to Arizona. New head coach Mike Tomlin is only 34-years-old, and last year served as defensive coordinator for the Vikings, who had the league's best run defense and worst pass defense. Too many ifs.

Tennessee Titans — The offense is Vince Young and a bunch of mediocre or unproven players. Young needs to improve his accuracy as a passer. They're a year or two away.

Jacksonville Jaguars — They're consistent quarterback play away. The defense is a mix of legit stars and no-name question marks. Not enough consistency.

Denver Broncos — They've made some nice pickups, but they've also lost some key players. The right side of the offensive line is a huge question mark. The defensive line has been overhauled and lacks depth, especially in the middle. Al Wilson's absence leaves a huge hole at middle linebacker. Unless Jay Cutler turns into John Elway, the Broncos won't have nearly enough firepower to compete with the AFC's best.

***

That eliminates over half the league (17 teams), including every NFC team that made the playoffs last season, and every AFC team that finished without a losing record. The Colts, Patriots, Chargers, and Jets probably have the least reason for pessimism, but it seems clear that no one in the NFL is good enough to win it all this season.

Thus, my prediction today is that Super Bowl XLII will be won by the Boise State Broncos.

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