Initial Super Bowl Gut Feeling - Dallas Vs. Jacksonville
by Trevor Whenham - 06/25/2008
The calendar only says June, and NFL training camps don't even get away for another month, but I'm starting to get a serious itch to see some football. Heck, I've had that since about Feb. 10. The concept of trying to figure out who is going to make the Super Bowl now is truly ridiculous, and by doing so I am almost certainly setting myself up for a dramatic and painful failure, I have nothing better to do so I'll do it anyway. If I want to justify this exercise I could say that by doing it now I am exploring my gut feelings before they have been colored by extensive coverage and piles of contradictory and confusing research. That's silly, of course, but it'll do.
I'll start by ruling out the teams that I don't think are going to make it. First, the Giants aren't going to repeat. I still can't figure out how they got there in the first place, and I certainly won't be betting that they will capture lightning in a bottle again. After all, Eli Manning is still Eli Manning, and that's not a compliment in my books. I'll also rule out a few teams because of their quarterback woes (among other things). Rex Grossman won't get the job done in Chicago. Aaron Rodgers could have a bright future, but the transition is not going to be painless in Green Bay. I want to believe in Alex Smith, but it seems like too much of a leap for the Niners to compete this year. Matt Ryan has too much to overcome to be relevant this year in Atlanta. I don't have a lot of love for the QB situations in Detroit and Carolina. I'm as big a Jeff Garcia fan as a guy can be, but he's getting old and there are too many signs of discontent coming out of Tampa Bay for me to put my faith in them. I don't really believe in Jason Campbell in Washington, either. He's far from terrible, but he doesn't seem like he's ready for a big step, either. The last guy I am going to throw into this pile is the riskiest - Donovan McNabb. He says he is healthy and hungry, but the last couple of years have made it pretty hard for me to like much about him or his team.
That leaves us with just six teams. The Rams have a great quarterback, but they have so many other holes that I can't possibly look to them. They are out. I really don't like the coaching situation in Seattle with a lame duck and a future head coach fighting for turf and attention. I'll drop them, too. The Saints will still score a pile of points, but I still don't think that they have the ability to stop anyone who is even remotely interested in scoring. They are out.
And then there were three - the Cowboys, Vikings and Cardinals. Before you laugh, trust me when I say that Arizona is still under consideration only because I haven't formally dumped them yet. They have some things to like, but I still don't trust Matt Leinart, and I don't like the amount of discontent that is coming from the roster. Maybe in a year or two, but not yet.
So, do I want to go with the popular pick or the boring one. Minnesota is getting a lot of love. They have a good defense that only got better in the offseason. They have a stellar running game. Their passing game should be improved. Dallas was pretty close last year, and though they have taken some risks this year it should, at least in the short-term, improve them. I like both teams. In the end, though, it comes down to the quarterback. A pick of the Vikes requires us to hope that Jackson plays like we want to believe he can. A pick of the Cowboys only needs Romo to keep playing like he already has. I like the latter choice, so the Cowboys are my NFC choice.
This one should be more straight forward. Maybe.
The teams I really don't like - Miami (too soon, and too many holes), the Jets (don't love the quarterbacking situation, and think they probably have the worst coach in the league), Denver (Shanahan is over the hill, and I won't back this team until he moves on, or at least until they start making good player decisions again), Oakland (too soon, and Al Davis is still in charge), Kansas City (rumor is you need a quarterback to win in this league - and an offense and a defense, too, for that matter), Cincinnati (Marvin Lewis is also in the discussion for the league's worst coach), Baltimore (I like the changes they are starting to make, but they have a long road ahead of them), Tennessee (Vince Young inspires me as much as oatmeal does), and Houston (come on, their Houston). That's nine out the window.
I think that Buffalo is on the right track, and I would love for them to make the playoffs, but just getting there would be a virtual miracle, and winning more than one game is incredibly unlikely. I like Mike Tomlin and the job he is doing in Pittsburgh, but I still don't think that their offense is quite enough to move to the top tier. I also really love what Cleveland is doing, but the public is going to be all over them--teams are now familiar with what surprised them so much last year, and the team will be playing under very unfamiliar scrutiny. I'd love to be wrong, but I don't think they will improve on last year.
That leaves us with four teams, and what an unsurprising four they are - New England, Indianapolis, San Diego, and Jacksonville. It might be my massive anti-Manning feelings coming out, but I don't like Indy much this year. It has the smell of a bit of a transition year to me. Don't get me wrong, they are still a 10-game winning playoff team, but they aren't going all the way. I also don't think that the Pats will get back to the big game. The distractions are piling up, and sooner or later egos are gong to become a negative factor for the team. Age is also a huge factor that hasn't been sufficiently addressed.
San Diego or Jacksonville? That's truly a coin flip, and to be honest I would respect an argument made for either team. In the end, though, I will take the Jaguars. I like their coaching better, and the aggressiveness of their roster moves just has a feel of a team that wants to win and win now. They have a very good defense that just got better in the offseason, and an offense that is more than solid. I just can't get past the lack of a killer instinct that seems to have defined the Chargers over their recent period of success, so I don't want to trust them now. Jacksonville it is.