Super Bowl XLI: Everybody Prognosticate Tonight

People love to prognosticate when it comes to the NFL. In the coming weeks hundreds of magazines will come out purporting that they have the League all figured out. They will announce the winner of each division and subsequently the Super Bowl, and they will almost always be wrong. The NFL is the hardest sport to handicap and thus the best to bet on, and it is this way for a reason. NFL executives have gone to great lengths creating a sense of parody that is central to the league’s appeal. Even if picking winners before the season starts is a futile task it will always be done, and I want to join in on the fun. Below is my list of the six playoff teams from each league and brackets leading to Super Bowl XLI. I am almost certain that this is way off, but I doubt Sports Illustrated will get it better. I’d be willing to put some money on that.

THE NFC

#1 Seed – SOUTH CHAMPIONS – Carolina Panthers

I am a big fan of head coach John Fox and I love what the Panthers did in the off-season. Keyshawn Johnson will balance the offense and take some pressure off of superstar Steve Smith. DeShaun Foster and rookie DeAngelo Williams should anchor what it always a strong running game. And as long as they stay healthy on D, end Julius Peppers and linebacker Dan Morgan should have that unit on top as well.

#2 Seed – WEST CHAMPIONS – Seattle Seahawks

Though Seattle surprised me last year with their dominant run through the NFL Playoffs, I am not terribly sold on them this year. But they play in football’s weakest division and should win it by default. Matt Hasselback and Shawn Alexander are all pros that should be even better with a healthy receiver corps. They might get a challenge from the revamped Arizona Cardinals but I’d have to see it to believe it.

#3 Seed – EAST CHAMPIONS – New York Giants

Everyone keeps talking about the Dallas Cowboys and that’s fine by me. If Dallas is a .500 team I will be surprised. Their running backs are overrated, their line has holes everywhere, Drew Bledsoe is old and immobile and T.O. should act like, well, T.O. The Giants were 11-5 last season and they’ve improved in every single problem area, do the math. If it weren’t for the hardest schedule in the NFL they’d probably be a higher seed, but the Giants just need to get there.

#4 Seed – NORTH CHAMPIONS- Green Bay Packers

This is my crazy pick. The Chicago Bears could very well be 13-3 like they were last season, but I could just as easily see them going 3-13 like in 2004. The Vikings are in transition but should be competitive while Detroit is in Matt Millen’s La-La Land- I feel for their fans. That leaves the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre’s swansong. I don’t see them winning a Super Bowl, but a 9-7 record and one last trip to the playoffs could be in the cards.

#5 Seed – WILDCARD – Atlanta Falcons

Adding John Abraham on defense was a great and underrated move. He should bolster what was a very good defense and perhaps turn it into a great defense. Losing wide receiver Brian Finneran in training camp will hurt, but Atlanta has a fairly talented if not unheard of group of young wide outs. However, you win in the NFL with the rush and nobody does it better than the Falcons. I see Michael Vick having a big season.

#6 Seed – WILDCARD – Philadelphia Eagles

Like the Falcons, the Eagles will surprise people this season with the running game. Brian Westbrook should have a breakout year and Donovan McNabb is in the best shape of his life. Fantasy players should watch out for second year man Reggie Brown who I feel will turn into McNabb’s go to guy.

AFC

#1 Seed – NORTH CHAMPIONS- Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are part of the new class of youngsters in the AFC that are slowly replacing the veteran-laden squads of Indianapolis and New England. Those teams will be hanging around but Cincinnati, as well as Miami and San Diego, should start to really surprise people in the 2006 season. All this depends on the knee of quarterback Carson Palmer, but from what I’ve read he’s made a complete recovery and should be fine. Rudy Johnson along with Chris Perry are a bona fide two headed monster at running back and the Bengals D, while not their strongest point, should continue to improve.

#2 – EAST CHAMPIONS- Miami Dolphins

Remember the name Nick Saban. When it’s all said and done I have a feeling that he’s going to one of the best head coaches to have come through the NFL. The Dolphins battled injuries last season and quietly went 9-7. Even if Dante Culpepper doesn’t play early in the season, that was a tremendous pick-up. However, it’s the Miami defense and Saban’s leadership skills which are key. Playing four games against the hapless Bills and the rebuilding Jets doesn’t hurt either.

#3 – WEST CHAMPIONS- San Diego Chargers

I really like San Diego pending one thing: Phillip Rivers. If Rivers is as good as everyone says he is then the Chargers will be fine. I think a lot of wind was taken out Denver’s sails with that horrid championship game and while they’ll be competitive, I don’t see them taking the division. Herm Edwards in Kansas City and Art Shell in Oakland will have to deal with transition pains, leaving the West for San Diego’s taking.

#4 – SOUTH CHAMPIONS- Indianapolis Colts

This might be the Colts last year, and if they don’t get a running game going it might not be there year at all. The loss of Edgerrin James was huge and the only reason I think Indy’s going to win this division is because Tennessee and Houston are pushovers and I’m not sold on Jacksonville (though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jaguars win this division). Whatever happens, I highly doubt a wildcard will come out of the AFC South this season.

#5- WILDCARD – New England Patriots

Until they start losing on a consistent basis, I can’t pick against the Patriots. Bill Belichick is the master until someone else proves that he’s not. I love rookie running back Lawrence Maroney and their quarterback is pretty good to. Miami might take the regular season but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pats make a solid playoff run.

#6- WILDCARD – Denver Broncos

Denver will never get to the next level with Jake Plummer at quarterback. Plummer is solid enough and he’s coming off his best season but he’s not a big time guy. The Broncos have enough pieces left over from last year’s AFC Championship run to make the playoffs in 2006, but look for them to be one and done once they get there. I also would not be surprised if Mike Shanahan makes a QB switch mid-season to rookie Jay Cutler.

THE ROAD TO SUPER BOWL XLI

NFC

#3 Giants

#6 Eagles
#3 Giants

#2 Seahawks
#3 Giants
#3 Giants
#1 Panthers
#1 Pathers

#5 Falcons
#4 Packers

#5 Falcons

AFC

#3 Chargers

#6 Denver
#3 Chargers

#2 Miami
#2 Miami
#2 Miami
#5 Patriots
#1 Bengals

#5 Patriots
#4 Colts

#5 Patriots

SUPER BOWL XLI

Miami Dolphins vs. New York Giants

Giants win 29-24

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