NFL Futures That Hold Value Through First Quarter
by Larry Fiske - 10/9/2009
In the early fall of 1980 the Oakland Raiders were deader than Gary Coleman's acting career. The team that figured to contend for a Super Bowl berth had lost at home to Kansas City, its record dropping to 2-3, and starting quarterback Dan Pastorini was lost for the season when he suffered a broken leg in that game. Worse still, backup Jim Plunkett had come on for Pastorini and thrown five interceptions, opening the door to KC's 31-17 triumph.
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Head coach Tom Flores figured that first-round draft choice Marc Wilson wasn't ready, so Plunkett started the next game, a 38-24 victory over San Diego. It was the first of six straight victories for the Raiders, who sneaked into the playoffs at 11-5. Oakland then went on a 2007 Giants-type run, defeating the Houston Oilers, Cleveland and San Diego before overpowering Philadelphia in the Super Bowl. Oakland became the first wild card team to win a Super Bowl.
Twenty-nine years later, several preseason Super Bowl contenders are struggling out of the gate. Here's a look at their chances of repeating Oakland's feat of nearly three decades ago (odds to win the Super Bowl):
San Diego (+1300)
Quite simply, the Chargers (2-2) have a bad habit of hitting the snooze alarm too often. With Denver, Kansas City and Oakland in the AFC West, how could San Diego screw things up this year? Then you look at Norv Turner on the sidelines and realize it's possible. San Diego will spend its bye week by the ocean enjoying wine and cheese, then reluctantly get back to action on Oct. 19 against Denver. The 4-0 Broncos are already two games up in the West, and if they can beat New England this Sunday they'll travel to San Diego on the 19th with tons of momentum. San Diego can't count on Denver choking again this year, but the Chargers do have an extremely soft schedule down the home stretch.
Any expectations that the Cardinals were going to pick up where they left off last season were crushed on opening day, when the 49ers came to the desert and defeated Arizona. The Cardinals stand at 1-2 (both losses at home) heading into Sunday's game against Houston. After that they're on the road five of the next seven. The loss to Indianapolis was no shame, but it was a loss nonetheless. The Cardinals spent their bye week watching San Francisco bend, fold and mutilate the Rams, giving Zona a pretty good idea what it's up against in the NFC West. The offense, which carried the Cards last season, has dropped to the middle of the pack, the running game so far is a bust and time is short to turn things around.
Like those 1980 Raiders, the Fins lost their starting QB early, and the team responded immediately with a convincing victory over Buffalo. But Miami is saddled with a 1-3 record and making up ground on the Jets and Patriots in the AFC East will be like roller-skating in mud. If the Dolphins are going to make any kind of playoff run, beating the Jets Monday night is a must. Chad Henne will likely be a game manager at QB as Miami converts to a running team behind Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The door is open only slightly for these guys. After the Jets game they have a bye week, then consecutive games against New Orleans, the Jets again, and New England.
The Steelers making a strong defense of their Super Bowl title was a given among fans in western Pennsylvania, but doubts are starting to crop up after bookend victories over Tennessee and San Diego were sandwiched around bad losses at Chicago and Cincinnati. Pittsburgh is 2-2, sitting in third place behind 3-1 Baltimore and 3-1 Cincinnati in the AFC North. The schedule looks very kind. The Steelers should have no trouble taking care of business against Detroit and Cleveland the next two weeks, and the back end of the schedule includes the likes of Kansas City, Oakland and the Browns again. Not much to be concerned about here, though the slow start will make it harder to earn one of the top two playoff seeds (and a first-round bye).
Green Bay (+2000)
Lots of forces have to come together for the Packers (2-2) to make it to the playoffs, let alone make a serious run at the Super Bowl. But some building blocks are in place for GB to vault out of the middle of the pack into contention, starting with a solid quarterback in Aaron Rodgers (sixth in the league in passing yards). Green Bay will spend Sunday watching the action, then return from its bye week with games against Detroit and Cleveland while the Vikings take on Baltimore and Pittsburgh and the Bears face Atlanta and Cincinnati. So the NFC North race could tighten considerably even before the really frigid weather takes hold in the Rust Belt.
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