It is rather convenient that with the new bye week system all teams sit at week nine having completed eight games, exactly half of the season. This makes the sports writer’s job particularly easy in giving out midseason grades or awards or coming up with a power rankings. You know, all the standard fare that the readers love to eat up because it is instant controversy and debate and the sports writers love because they are easy. Well, you’ll get none of that here. Sure I could take the easy route and look back upon what has already occurred and give you a nice and easy run down, but that lacks a challenge. Instead, I will use my amazing powers of foresight to predict for you which NFL teams still have a chance at the Super Bowl.
No, this list will not be simply name all the teams with a winning record or easy second half schedule. As the Steelers taught us last year, the Super Bowl cares little for the regular season. Rarely does the best regular season team make it to the final dance, which is especially noteworthy considering the better teams are given huge advantages like an extra bye week and home field advantage. Yet playoff glory cares little for such advantages. What the Super Bowl does care about is a good storyline. If the NFL Films cannot make an intriguing DVD out of your team’s road to the Super Bowl, your team ain’t going.
With this in mind, I’ll first list the good teams that may very well dominate on their way to the playoffs, but still have no chance at the Super Bowl. Then I’ll list the few teams that have a chance at the Super Bowl, and finally the teams that are so bad and mismanaged that they have no chance whatsoever regardless of potential storylines.
The Good Teams with No Chance
In order of best regular season team.
Indianapolis Colts (8-0)
The Colts are the absolute epitome of a great team with no chance at the Super Bowl. They could go 16-0 and still fall short of the big game. Not that I believe they will go 16-0, just that you know if they did they would still lose somewhere along the line in the playoffs. The reasons why could take up an entire thesis, but the main point is that the team is just too good to win it all. The team wins too many games too easily and is not built to grind out a win in a game that really matters. It does not help that Peyton Manning shares far too much in common with Alex Rodriguez or Dan Marino who also went without championship.
For the most part this team is even doomed for the foreseeable future. There are only two storylines that I see leading to a Super Bowl victory. The first would involve the standard star player going down with injury, young unproven underdog leads the team to victory. This would of course involve Peyton Manning being lost for the season and some practice squad or street free agent quarterback leading the team to victory imperfectly but effectively. His lack of polish will push the rest of the team to try all that harder and give the team that hunger they have lacked. The only other Super Bowl run I see the Colts capable of would be if Peyton pulled a John Elway or Jerome Bettis and won a championship or two in his last season or two.
New England Patriots (6-2)
The Patriots are entering New York Yankees territory now, a former dynasty that is still good enough to continually make the playoffs but missing that little something to push the team over the edge. Perhaps it is the slow loss of key players through free agency and retirement. Tom Brady is even entering Jeter territory of a start that might have won a few too many times early in his career for his own good. And then there is Belichick, who plays the Joe Torre role to perfection as a championship coach who used to make all the right moves, but finds that his magic is slowly fading. While the Yankees excel in wasting Steinbrenner’s money on overpriced free agents, the Patriots take the NFL-equivalent route of underpaying all their players and leaving far too much cap space available! You know this team will still be dominating the AFC East in three years, but continually falling short in the playoffs. Sometimes good things just aren’t meant to last, yet they continually tease you for years to come.
San Diego Chargers (6-2)
I actually love this team as Super Bowl bound save for one reason. They have the best balance of talent on both sides of the ball, a young relatively mistake free quarterback with plenty of poise, a strong running back, a dominating defender leading a suffocating defense and a solid kicker. They also have the storyline of going from worst to first in the period of 3 seasons, remember they did have the first overall pick of the Manning/Rivers draft. But then there is that one reason. As every gambler should know, you never ever bet for a Marty Schottenheimer coached team in the playoffs. His coaching inadequacies will cost the team at a pivotal moment, like say when his team is driving for a game winning score and he calls for consecutive ineffective runs that lead to a long field goal attempt rather than trying to move the ball for a closer attempt or even a touchdown.
Denver Broncos (6-2)
Jake Plummer, Super Bowl winning quarterback. No, that doesn’t seem right to me either. Now that the calls for Jay Cutler have died down, so have the Broncos Super Bowl hopes. Not that I really expect Cutler to lead a team to the Super Bowl in his rookie year, even Big Ben could not do that… Instead the Broncos will be yet another team that is just far better in the regular season than in the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
Too much bad karma and too many old tired players come the playoffs. It also just seems far too close to their last victory.
Atlanta Falcons (5-3)
This team just seams one or two missing pieces, one of which may be a healthy John Abraham, away from being a legitimate contender. Vick has shown that if need be, he can actually pass the football. I just doubt whether the team can pull it altogether at this point to make a serious run.
Seattle Seahawks (5-3)
I’m still predicting that they do not make the playoffs. I’m sticking with that story until I’m shown wrong.
Dallas Cowboys (4-4)
Terrell Owens has ruined Bill Parcel’s final shot at another Super Bowl, though I do like their chances to make the playoffs better with Tony Romo than with Drew Beldsoe. Hell, if it were not for TO this team would probably have a good shot. They have the young underdog quarterback storyline going for them, a strong defense, a good playoff coach, but then there is TO. I just can’t get past his presence.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-4)
What was that about the Ravens having bad karma? Maybe there is something to the strategy of character over raw ability. This team is playing with absolutely no fire right now. It’s rather pathetic how much talent is going to waste on what will probably end up as an 8-8 or 9-7 team that had the chance for 12-4.
Carolina Panthers (4-4)
Another good team with nothing in particular wrong with them, but like the Ravens it just seems too close to their last visit with not compelling reason for another try.
Super Bowl Bound?
In order of a probability of a Super Bowl win.
New Orleans Saints (6-2)
How many storylines does this team have going for it? Let me count the ways. Katrina. America’s Team. Last to first. Potential Rookie of the Year from a late round draft pick. Reggie Bush, potentially making up for a mediocre regular season with a game breaking 80+ yard run in the playoffs. No one predicted this, and I mean no one. The team owner wanted to permanently move the team to San Antonio or Los Angeles leading to a Major League players screwing the owner-type move. Drew Brees. How can any opposing team enter the Superdome and still give a full effort under all those fans. The media and NFL Films would be in heaven covering a Super Bowl featuring the Saints. This tops the Yankees in the World Series after 9/11, because well, we expected the Yankees to be there, while the Saints would be a complete surprise.
By the way, that one big play is almost a certainty sometime in the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl winner. NFL Films loves highlighting those.
New York Giants (6-2)
The Giants have two strong storylines going for them. The first is the John Elway/Jerome Bettis, retiring classy player finally winning the big game with Tiki Barber. You know that he’ll be leaving it all on the field, and his teammates might figure that this is their best shot and just give it that little extra effort as well. The second storyline is Eli Manning winning the big game before Peyton. Eli has been far from perfect since being drafted first overall, but he has won games, and that is what counts. Having Eli win the Super Bowl would be perfect irony if Peyton finds himself going home early yet again in the playoffs. Big play threat: Sinorice Moss.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)
The Jaguars have a tough, physical defense that may be getting hit by some injuries but is still capable of going on a dominant run. The key though is if David Garrard remains quarterback over Byron Leftwich. The Super Bowl and the media loves the underdog quarterback, especially when he steals the job away from a “franchise” quarterback. Bonus event would be Maurice Drew-Jones breaking an 80+ yard play to seal a win in the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
The Sports Guy’s Ewing theory takes hold with the jettison of TO over the offseason. Also, after losing three games on the last play of the game, this team must have had all their bad luck play out already, right? Besides, Donovan McNabb, one of the “nice guys” in the NFL can redeem himself for the meltdown in 2005. Big Play threat: Brian Westbrook.
Minnesota Vikings (4-4)
More invocations of the Ewing theory with the trades of both Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper in succeeding offseasons. This team could also follow the Ravens 2000 blueprint of a dominant offensive line leading the way for a dominant running game, while a veteran quarterback (who already has a ring) does just enough to not lose.
Chicago Bears (7-1)
Playing sloppy against Arizona and losing to the Dolphins might have been the best thing to happen to this team. All expectations are gone now. There is nothing worst for a team than continual comparisons to legendary teams of the past. Now that the 1985 Bears have been invoked for the last time, the 2006 Bears can get back to playing winning football. The defense is still good, and Grossman can be leashed as the weather turns to minimize his mistakes. The Bears can easily following the Pittsburgh formula of dominant defense and a home run threat at running back in Thomas Jones early in the game to take the lead, and then rely on more dominant defense a big back in Cedric Benson to control the clock late in the game.
St. Louis Rams (4-4)
I’m not sure if the Ewing theory applies to coaches, but if it does then the Rams should benefit from the addition by subtraction of Mike Martz. Their offense is still potent, and can now run the ball and the defense will bend but not break while making plays and creating turnovers. They are a reach at this point, but Super Bowl winners come from nowhere all the time.
New York Jets (4-4)
Another reach, especially since that 4-4 record is little to be proud of with all four wins coming against bad teams. However, a win is a win and there are plenty of bad teams left on the Jets schedule. Mangini has been able to get the Jets to play close against most of the good teams, and by the end of the season the defense may solidify more, while the offense seems to have finally found something sort of resembling a running game. If the 83 win Cardinals can win the World Series, there is hope for almost any mediocre franchise, especially in the land of parity that is the NFL. Okay, so they really are a reach, but I see no reason for them to not win the game and they have the potential to make the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)
So the Chiefs are 5-3, improving every week and have the backup QB becomes the starter storyline going for them. Why not a greater chance? Herman Edwards. He is practically Schottenheimer Jr. when it comes to losing a playoff game for his team. I’ll still give the team a chance, but if the Chiefs lose in the playoffs due to a mistake by Edwards, he is officially the next Schottenheimer.
Green Bay Packers (3-5)
I was actually really tempted to give the Packers a chance, mainly due to the Favre pulling an Elway and winning another ring in his last season, but this team is just bad and has almost no chance to pass the Bears or Vikings for a playoff chance. There is nothing wrong with this team management wise, so if Aaron Rogers is the real deal, then the Packers could be back in the chase next season, but more likely in 2008.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)
Your guess is as good as mine for what is wrong with this team.
It might just come down to the whole team knowing the Cowher is gone next season and the players are just treading water until a new system is put in place. Owner, Art Rooney, will certainly give the next coach plenty of time to develop a winner as Cowher lasted 14 years before his Super Bowl ring.
Washington Redskins (3-5)
Dan Snyder. Attempts to use George Steinbrenner’s playbook in the NFL will always fail.
San Francisco 49ers (3-5)
Miami Dolphins (2-6)
Start the rebuilding over. The defense will be old and ineffective by the time the offense catches up.
Buffalo Bills (3-5)
See Miami above.
Cleveland Browns (2-6)
I’m starting to think the Crennel might not have been the correct choice as head coach. This team still needs serious personal work. I’m just not seeing enough improvement after a season and a half.
Tennessee Titans (2-6)
It may be time for a new coach, which is a bit sad since Jeff Fisher has been such a loyal soldier all these years. A new coach also mean another year of rebuilding as the team learns a new system. It really might be in the teams best interests to keep Fisher, since the team is only lacking in players, not philosophy or attitude.
Houston Texans (2-6)
Offensive line and defense. Mario Williams may not have been that bad of a choice after all. David Carr has finally shown improvement and Andre Johnson is in the midst of a breakout season. Gary Kubiak will eventually install a model of the Bronco’s blocking scheme, so Wali Lundy and Samkon Gado may actually be the answers at running back.
Oakland Raiders (2-6)
Art Shell was never the answer in the first place. The Raiders need to stop hiring these retread coaches that are almost guaranteed to lose and take a chance on the next John Gruden. An entirely new team might help as well.
Detroit Lions (2-6)
John Kitna is fine for now, but he makes far too many mistakes for postseason success. Drafting another QB is probably not the answer, unless another Matt Leinart falls into their laps, but instead they should seek a starting caliber backup in the model of Jake Delhomme. In the draft this team needs to go defense, defense, defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)
The defense is getting old and it might be time to rebuild it with a new, more aggressive unit. The offense is not in much better shape, as Bruce Gradkowski is only a flavor of the month for Gruden and not a long term solution. Cadillac Williams has been largely ineffective since the first few games of last season and Mike Clayton has disappeared since his rookie year.
Arizona Cardinals (1-7)
Leinart, Boldin and Fitzgerald is a nice core for the offense. Edgerrin James is not this bad, but by the time the offensive line improves, he may no longer be physically able thanks to far too many hits. This team needs to follow the Jets strategy and draft offensive lineman early and often. Spend all the rest on defense. Oh yeah, Denny Green has got to go.
Well there we go. Hopefully your team still has a shot at the Super Bowl. If not, I’m not too sure if it worst following a team that is just not good enough, or is good enough but still has no chance. Just as long as you stay away from the Colts, there is always next year!