Well, if it isn’t apparent by now, I’ll never earn a living picking the winners in football games. I was a brisk 4-7 in calling the NFL playoffs this season, including 2-5 from the divisional round on. I did correctly pick the Ravens upset in New England, and almost perfectly laid out the score of the Colts beating the Jets in the AFC Title Game, but other than that it was ugly.
Anyway, I’ll wrap up this season with a few thoughts. One, my earlier criticism of the Colts and the Saints playing it safe down the stretch seems a bit unfounded as both reached the Superbowl anyway, but I stand by my criticism. The Colts played two teams in the AFC playoffs that you would hardly call barn-burners on offense, the Jets and the Ravens, and as such probably looked much better than they actually were. The Saints never should have won that game against Minnesota. The Vikings, with a little late help in overtime from the refs, gave that game away. But New Orleans did take the Superbowl fair and square. I wasn’t left with the same undeserving feeling after watching them beat the Colts as I did after the NFC Title game. Still, they shouldn’t have even been there.
The Colts lost the Superbowl in the last two minutes of the first half. The Saints went for it on 4th and goal and got stuffed, giving the ball back to Indy with about 1:30 left. The Colts, using some of the same logic that dictated shutting it down over the season’s last two games, played it safe, ran three straight-ahead runs and had to punt, which set up the Saints with good field position, handing them 3 points. Then New Orleans came out in the second half with that now-legendary onside kick, and the rest is Saints history. The Colts played it safe. New Orleans was aggressive. They deserved to win. Indy may have gotten to the Superbowl, but you don’t win it being soft and playing not to make mistakes.
One thing that struck me was just how bad Reggie Wayne looked all game long. It wasn’t even the lazy, telegraphed cut at the end of the game that virtually handed an interception to New Orleans, clinching the game. He was a non-factor from the get-go. And don’t forget, he wasn’t exactly a world beater in their first two playoff games, either. In the three games, Wayne averaged about 5 catches and 55 yards with only 1 touchdown total. If I was the Colts, I’d be very concerned about that. Dallas Clark isn’t getting any younger, and Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie look like solid receivers but not the superstar Wayne has been, or Marvin Harrison before him. If Wayne has lost a step, and he will turn 32 next season, Indy could have a problem. Their running game is far from adequate (last in the league, in fact). I smell a letdown in Indy next year.
For the Saints, this is a great moment. Enjoy it while it lasts because they are so hard to come by and can be very fleeting. My primary concern is with their defense. They rely almost solely on takeaways, and that stat almost never carries over from season to season. Take the Viking game, for instance. They got torched to the tune of almost 500 yards of offense. If it hadn’t been for the turnovers, they get blown out. Will all those takeaways be there next year to save the day? Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. They’d better learn to stop somebody, or this moment will be a memory very quickly. Either way, I don’t see either team getting back to the big game again in 2011. Just getting back to the playoffs will be tough.
So who will be there? It’s too early to say, but I can tell you some teams who won’t. The San Diego Chargers. The Dallas Cowboys. The Arizona Cardinals. The New York Jets. The New England Patriots. All playoff teams this season, none of whom have the right makeup to get to the Superbowl. Well, the Jets do have that makeup, but just ask Matt Ryan how difficult your second season as a starter can be, plus do you think they’ll be a little bit of pressure in New York after this year’s run? And they still don’t score enough.
Some teams that could be there? Here’s a short list of a few. The Cincinnati Bengals. Yes, I said the Bengals. When healthy, they have a tough defense and a big running game. If they can get the passing game back together again, watch out. If Who Dat can do it, what’s stopping Who Dey next year? The Miami Dolphins. They will be overlooked by many with all the attention on the Jets and Pats, but don’t be surprised if this is the team to win that division next season. The Houston Texans. If they hadn’t gone through that lull in the middle of the season, the Jets might never have made the playoffs, and it would have been Houston playing Indy in the AFC Championship game. The Atlanta Falcons. When healthy, and if they can get a solid defensive presence, they’re as good as anybody. Next season will be the record third straight winning season for the Falcons, count on it. The Green Bay Packers. They’re offense is good and getting better by the day. The defense has some issues, but all the pieces are in place for a run. And number one on my list, The Minnesota Vikings. Make no mistake, Favre will be back. And Adrian Peterson will have all offseason to stew over his fumbling problems. Look for them to make some changes to improve the offensive line, and Peterson to pull an Ahman Green (a guy, coincidentally, who Brett Favre won a Superbowl with after overcoming some severe fumbling problems that ran him out of Seattle). Watch out next season for a Green Bay-Minnesota NFC Title game. And they think the Superbowl this year was the most watched game ever?