One of the biggest factors in an NFL team’s success is the quarterback. Pundits love to talk about the importance of ‘establishing the run’, but at some point the game is going to come down to whether or not your QB can put together that final drive for the win. Teams with good QB’s will win games; teams with bad QB’s won’t.
Of course, the quarterback can’t win by himself (just ask Dan Marino and Drew Brees). It helps to have someone to block, run and catch those beautifully thrown balls. Having a defense never hurt (unless you’re playing against Baltimore- then it hurts a lot).
Which team can put all the pieces together and make a run at the Super Bowl?
With 32 teams in the league, odds are it won’t be yours (or mine).
The AFC has dominated Super Bowls in the 2000’s, winning 7 of 9. New England has 3, Pittsburgh 2, and Indianapolis 1, and those three teams stand the best chance of representing the AFC again in 2009.
Super Bowl Favorites
These two are in a class by themselves
They have a mean, fast terrifying defense. Their QB Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t put up the best numbers in the regular season, but he makes plays when they matter. If Pittsburgh wins this year, they will tie New England with 3 Super Bowl titles and compete for Team of the Decade bragging rights.
New England Patriots
They have possibly the best QB in the league in Tom Brady, throwing to one of the most explosive WR’s in the league in Randy Moss. Those two could probably win games playing by themselves, but New England has talent to go around them. Brady will have something to prove after missing last year with a torn ACL, and he could very well lead New England to its 4th Super Bowl title of the decade.
Super Bowl Contenders
These teams will need to get hot at the right time, but they have the talent to make it if they do.
Things have slipped recently in Indy. Coach Tony Dungy retired, and the team struggled early last year. Still, as long as they have QB Peyton Manning in the pocket, they will be a threat to win every game.
San Diego Chargers
They are still loaded with talent. QB Phillip Rivers is a good passer looking to take his place among the elite. RB Ladanian Tomlinson may still have something left, and TE Antonio Gates is like a second receiver. The Chargers also have the advantage of playing in the miserable AFC West, which is good for 5-6 free wins.
On the other hand, the Chargers have gone backwards in both years under Norv Turner, from 14-2 with Marty Schottenheimer in 2006 to 11-5 in 2007 to 8-8 in 2008. At this rate, they will be 5-11 in 2009.
Ray Lewis still leads a scary nasty defense that went toe to toe with champion Pittsburgh three times last year. Rookie QB Joe Flacco played well, but they will need to find some offensive spark to carry them over the top.
These teams probably lack what it takes to win the Super Bowl, but they have a decent chance of making the playoffs, and maybe winning a game or two
I almost had them in the Super Bowl Contenders category, but I just can’t see QB Kerry Collins leading a team past the likes of Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger without some serious help. Vince Young was supposed to be the QB of the future; his best days are still at Texas. They have a stout defense, even without DT Albert Haynesworth, and that should be enough to win some games.
The Texans have been mediocre for so long, it’s hard to imagine them in the playoffs. Still, the pieces are there. QB Matt Schaub is improving, and there is talent at RB with Steve Slaton and WR with Andre Johnson. They play in a tough division with Tennessee and Indianapolis, but this might be their year to finally make some noise.
Why not? They went from 1-15 to 11-5 last year. Chad Pennington is an accurate, underrated quarterback. Teams will be better prepared to defend the Wildcat formation this year, but don’t be surprised if the Dolphins have a few new wrinkles.
Middle of the Pack
These are the teams that will tease their fans by doing just enough to avoid being mathematically eliminated until the final weeks.
New York Jets
Despite the good fortunes of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco last year, breaking in a rookie QB is usually not a recipe for immediate success, and Mark Sanchez likely won’t be any different. The Jets came close to a playoff run with a different QB last year until his arm fell off (hint: he’s really old and he keeps un-retiring). Sanchez will make some plays, but he’ll make some mistakes too, and those will keep the Jets out of the playoffs.
Terrell Owens will add a boost in production, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to drag this franchise into the post-season, especially when they have to play New England, Miami and the New York Jets twice each.
QB David Garrard took a step back last year, and this team has a lot of work to do to re-establish their identity as a tough, smashmouth team. There is some talent there, but it will be tough for them to make a run playing in the difficult AFC South.
QB Carson Palmer is back from injury. WR Chad Johnson changed his name to Ochocinco, which doesn’t even mean 85 (it means 8, 5). Will the Bengals be able to put aside all the distractions and history and put together a decent season?
It hurts to have a team in this category. These are the teams that make people join fantasy football leagues and do extra yard work on Sundays. The ugliest part is three of these teams are in the same division, meaning there are (at least) 6 horrible games to look forward to in the AFC West.
Last year, the Broncos couldn’t stop anyone on defense. But, they did have a good QB who could keep them in games by throwing all over the place. So, they got rid of the quarterback. Jay Cutler is gone, Kyle Orton is here. Now, the Broncos not only won’t stop anyone on defense, but they won’t score points either.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were bad in 2008, and they don’t look to get much better. They brought in QB Matt Cassel from the Patriots after he spent one good season throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. He’ll find things a little more difficult when he has to throw to a cast of receivers that includes Dwayne Bowe . . . and no one else. I think my Grandma might be on the three-deep. Oh, and their defense stinks too.
Al Davis lost his mind. We’re not sure exactly when it happened, but it was probably around the time the Raiders got spanked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. The Raiders won’t win many games until he either 1) gets it back or 2) is deposed.
The Browns don’t really have a quarterback, and you really need one to win in the NFL. The Browns have two people who might play QB, but they don’t seem to want either one of them. They were bad last year, and they’ll be bad again this year.
When I was a kid, the NFC dominated the Super Bowl with teams like San Francisco, Dallas, New York and Washington crushing whoever the AFC managed to send (usually the Bills or Broncos). Times have changed. Whoever wins the NFC this year stands a very good chance of being on the losing end of one of those historical SB beatdowns.
That’s why there’s no Super Bowl favorites category. The NFC lacks the clear hierarchy of the AFC, so we’ll just go with three simple categories.
These teams have talent, and any one of them could get hot and earn a chance to get smoked in the Super Bowl by New England or Pittsburgh.
New York Giants
QB Eli Manning greatly enhanced his reputation in 2007 when he led the Giants to an upset Super Bowl win over the juggernaut New England Patriots. They have a bruising rushing attack, and their defense is stout and they can pressure the QB. Losing Plaxico Burress could haunt them in the playoffs, though.
Everyone will be buzzing over the addition of Michael Vick, but this team still revolves around Donavan McNabb. He should continue to put up numbers with RB Brian Westbrook and WR Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. The defense won’t be quite as scary without defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who passed away in the offseason.
Which Cowboys team will it be? The 13-3 powerhouse of 2007, or the disorganized bunch of 2008? This is a team with a lot of talent in place, but QB Tony Romo and company have yet to prove they can win in the playoffs. They could go 12-4, they could go 7-9.
Everyone is going to jump on the Bears bandwagon. They were good enough to make it to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season without a quarterback, and now they have one. Still, it will take time for QB Jay Cutler and the team to mesh. Other than TE Greg Olson, who is Cutler going to throw the ball to?
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers waited patiently for years behind Brett Favre, and last year he got his chance, only to watch his team go 6-10. Rodgers played well, but he often did so by himself. The defense has been overhauled and converted to a 3-4. If they can stop people, and RB Ryan Grant can recapture his 2007 form, Green Bay could surprise a lot of people.
I hesitate to put them in this category. They have a great running game led by Adrian Peterson. They have a nasty defense. The only gap was at QB, so they signed you-know-who.
We all know what’s going to happen here, because it happened in ‘08 in NY and ‘07 in Green Bay. The Vikings will be cruising along, and then either 1) Favre’s arm will stop working, like last year or 2) Favre will throw a crushing, inexplicable interception, like the Ice Bowl in 2007.
You can’t say a team isn’t a playoff contender when they went to the Super Bowl last year, and almost pulled off an upset for the ages. Still, it’s hard to catch fire two years in a row. Their defense wasn’t all that good last year, and QB Kurt Warner is fragile. As long as he’s throwing to All-World WR Larry Fitzgerald (and very good WR Anquan Boldin) the Cards will have a chance.
They made a surprise playoff run last year with rookie QB Matt Ryan. They have a strong ground game with RB Michael Turner, and added veteran TE Tony Gonzalez from the Chiefs (who were attempting to eliminate anyone who might accidentally catch a pass). On the other hand, they play in the volatile NFC South, where teams have a habit of going from last to first and first to last.
QB Jake Delhomme is solid. They have a solid defense and a solid running game. They are a solid team who should have a solid year.
That said, they’ll probably go 6-10.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have tremendous firepower on offense, with QB Drew Brees nearly breaking Marino’s single season passing yardage record last year. The Saints will score from everywhere on the field, and that’s without Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey in top form. If either of them gets going, this team could break records.
And they’ll have to, because their defense can’t stop anyone. If the D somehow finds a way to slow people down, the Saints could have a big year.
Not really the bad. More like the mediocre. The bad just fits the categories better.
New York has a quarterback. So does Philly and Dallas. Washington may not. QB Jason Campbell has struggled, and without a QB, Washington can’t hope to compete in the cutthroat NFC East.
They were devastated by injuries last year. With QB Matt Hasselbeck back to health, this team could return to respectability. Remember, they went to the Super Bowl just four seasons ago. It seems like a lot longer, doesn’t it?
San Francisco 49ers
Can Mike Singletary will his team to victory just by glaring at players with his wild middle linebacker eyes? Maybe. It’s actually a better plan for victory than some teams have (Al Davis developing a scheme involving mind control lasers). It’s not as good as having a great quarterback or a vicious defense, but so it goes.
These teams make fans want to avert their eyes. Teams should pay the fans money if they manage to stay for a whole game.
St Louis Rams
Only Detroit’s incredible 0-16 kept the Rams from being the worst team at 2-14 (tied with the Chiefs- is it something about Missouri?). Marc Bulger is actually a decent quarterback, but he spends most of the game staring up either the roof of a dome, or the pretty clouds floating by against the cerulean sky. That’s unlikely to change this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They fired Jon Gruden for going 9-7. I think they would be glad to have that record this year. They don’t have a quarterback. They drafted Josh Freemen out of Kansas State, even though he wasn’t very good in college. QB’s who are bad in college are usually bad in the pros too.
There’s nowhere to go but up.