2007 Super Bowl Looks Like Anyone's Ballgame
by Trevor Whenham - 01/17/2007
If there is one thing we have learned in the NFL playoffs so far it is that we don't know much. In the first week, many were caught off-guard by the surprisingly stout Indianapolis defense, the surprisingly flat performances by Kansas City and the Jets, and the disappointing performance of Dallas. In the Divisional playoff round there were four reasonably solid favorites all playing at home. None of them covered and two of them didn't even win. We've seen decent quarterbacking when we've expected bad, poor quarterbacking when we've been looking for much more than that, and running totals that have been either much better or much worse than most would have predicted. In other words, the NFL has been as bizarre and often unpredictable as it always is.
Each of the four remaining teams has some legitimate concerns that could make winning a Super Bowl difficult. The Saints didn't exactly overpower the Eagles, and the competition will get tougher from here on, especially against the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Bears did everything that they could to let the Seahawks win, but Seattle was equally determined not to come out on top. Kick return superstar Devin Hester must have come close to setting a record for the number of fumbles in one game. Indianapolis has a defense that is either playing over its head or was underachieving to an incredible extent all season, and Peyton Manning has been as inconsistent and error prone as he has ever been. Tom Brady also hasn't been particularly sharp, and the Pats don't appear to have a functioning running game. Despite those faults, one of those teams is going to end up with a Super Bowl win. It can be said this year more than most that any team truly can win it all. Here's an argument for why each team can be the champions:
New England Patriots - Despite the fact that the Patriots aren't playing at home in the Conference finals, and they aren't favored, this one is the easiest cases to make. The Patriots can win the Super Bowl because they are the Patriots. Bill Belichick and his ridiculous hoodie are still on the sidelines, and Tom Brady is still taking snaps, so this team has the potential to win just like they have done so well all decade. Brady's 12-1 playoff record is not a fluke.
On a shorter-term basis, the Pats can win because of the unexpected emergence in recent weeks of Jabar Gaffney. For most of this year the Pats passing game has consisted of just Reche Caldwell and tight end Benjamin Watson, which has made them easy to defend in some games. The emergence of Gaffney gives the team a big play threat, and it has freed up Caldwell significantly. Giving Brady more passing options gives him more ways to win. Like he needs them.
Indianapolis Colts - The Colts can win because, well, surely they have to at some point. Peyton and his boys have been at or near the top of the league for most of this decade, yet they have never come through when it matters. They have the talent and, one would hope, the pride to reverse that trend. The biggest factor in their favor is that Manning is much better than he has been playing. He has had two straight off games, with just one touchdown and five interceptions. He's slumped before in his career, and he has always bounced back with a huge game. A well-timed bounce back could lead them to the Promised Land. If that happened, Manning would have to learn from someone how to celebrate a win in a big game, because he's never won one in his whole career.
Another reason the Colts can win is that the defensive mirage that they are in the middle of could very well be sustainable. It seems impossible that a defense that looked so bad all season could look so good in the playoffs, but they have pulled it off twice so far. Granted, they will face a much better quarterback this week than they have in the first two weeks of the playoffs, but the Patriots offense isn't so powerful that a determined, hustling defense can't cause some problems. They say that defense is about attitude, and safety Bob Sanders has instilled an attitude of invincibility in the previously pathetic defensive corps since his return. As long as that balloon doesn't get popped, the Colts could keep soaring.
Need one more reason? The Colts have Adam Vinatieri. That's like money in the bank.
New Orleans Saints - There are four reasons that the Saints can win the Super Bowl - Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush and Marques Colston. The Saints' offense is the most explosive one remaining, and any one of those four players has the ability to take his team on his back and carry them as far as they can go. Brees has been consistently impressive all year. McAllister is just a beast. He's not necessarily flashy, but he just pounds and pounds and pounds. Colston has the enviable job of catching what Brees throws at him. Bush is, of course, an incredible freak. He is a reliable receiver and he has the potential to break a huge play every time he touches the ball. With those four guys on the field the Saints may get down, but they will never be out.
If you believe in karma, then you have to believe in the Saints. Where they are so far should be impossible given where they were and what they went through last year. They shouldn't be doing this under a first-year coach that was criticized by some as being inexperienced and not ready for prime time. America loves a Cinderella story, and the entire Saints team looks good in glass slippers.
Chicago Bears - The Bears can win because they have been winning so far. It doesn't make any sense at all that a team can be 14-3 with the offense they have. It's well documented how laughably bad Rex Grossman has been at times. He's supported by a solid running game from Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, but a team shouldn't win when they are led by a guy who puts up a quarterback rating below two twice in one season. The thing is, though, that they are winning, and there is no reason that they shouldn't continue to win. More importantly, it's crucial to remember that Grossman isn't nearly as bad as the media would have you believe he is. He was fairly solid against Seattle, and at times this season he was brilliant. He had seven games with a quarterback rating over 100. By comparison, that's the same number as Manning had, and one more than Brady did.
If, as you're probably sick of hearing, defense wins championships, then the Bears should win. There are other solid defenses still alive, but Chicago clearly has the best. All-world linebacker Brian Urlacher is the best player remaining when his team doesn't have the ball, and guys like Nathan Vasher, Lance Briggs and the rest can more than hold their own.
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