Saturday, September 02, 2006

Super Bowl Prediction

And that means its time to declare Super Bowl Predictions…

Yes, I know Peyton Manning cannot seem to win the big game. Truth be told, my heart believes the San Diego Chargers will shock everyone with a Super Bowl Run. Then my memory reminds me of Ben Roethlisberger’s 27-4 record. But half of those losses were against the New England Patriots, and watching the preseason, my mind told me Tom Brady will make his own star receivers out of no-namers as he leads the Pats deep into the playoffs yet again.

But how do you bet against the Colts, who were ready to pop the champagne after starting last season 13-0. It is about time the coaching staff, offensive line, and Manning figure out how to beat the 3-4 defense which New England, San Diego, and Pittsburgh have all used effectively. Think Peyton’s “let’s just say we had some, uh, protection problems,” fell on deaf ears? Fifteen years after Michael Jordan finally leads the Chicago Bulls past the Detroit Pistons, Peyton Manning will lead the Colts past his roadblock for years, the 3-4 defense.

Look for Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Brandon Stokely to all step up their production as Marvin Harrison may nearing the end of his prime at age 34. While Edgerrin James’ blocking will be missed, Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai will combine to help Peyton Manning continue rolling the juggernaut that is the Colts offense. Look for the brilliant tactic of running the ball and keeping their defense off the field to return as it worked wonders for the Colts last season. The losses of linebacker David Thornton and defensive Larry Tripplett should not be evident if the scary front four in Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Corey Simon and Montae Reagor picks up from where it left off last season.

Sep 10 @N.Y. Giants 8:15pm
Sep 17 Houston 1:00pm
Sep 24 Jacksonville 1:00pm
Oct 1 @N.Y. Jets 1:00pm
Oct 8 Tennessee 1:00pm
Week 6 BYE
Oct 22 Washington 4:15pm
Oct 29 @Denver 4:15pm
Nov 5 @New England 8:15pm
Nov 12 Buffalo 1:00pm
Nov 19 @Dallas 1:00pm
Nov 26 Philadelphia 1:00pm
Dec 3 @Tennessee 1:00pm
Dec 10 @Jacksonville 1:00pm
Dec 18 Cincinnati 8:30pm
Dec 24 @Houston 1:00pm
Dec 31 Miami 1:00pm

If you look at the schedule, the Colts have it a lot tougher than they did last season. While the rest of the AFC South poses no threat to Indianapolis’ division crowning this year, save for a couple physical Jacksonville games, two tough home games late in the season may be potential playoff previews when the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins visit. Road trips to Denver, New England, and Dallas are certainly losable while everyone has their eyes on Sunday Night’s Manning Bowl in New York. This tough schedule may actually prove to be a blessing in disguise if it prevents the Colts from packing it in December like last season instead of staying in rhythm all the way through the playoffs.

Remember, the Indianapolis Colts were just one missed field goal or one missed tackle from hosting the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. And we all know how that story would have ended.

The Super Bowl Loser Trend. The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx. The Madden Curse. The Seattle Seahawks have achieved the first Triple Crown of football curses, and yet I still believe that they will manage to pull off another Super Bowl run.

The Seahawks’ front seven quietly led the NFL with 50 sacks last season, and may have actually improved with the signing of linebacker Julian Peterson, who joins two young rising stars in Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill. Free safety Ken Hamlin returns to anchor the hard hitting secondary while Michael Boulware is due for a breakout third year as strong safety.

The well documented loss of Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota is a fatal blow to Seattle’s offensive line, which was widely regarded as the NFL’s best last season. Injury prone Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack is expected to fill in at left guard, with impressive rookie Rob Sims ready to fill in if necessary. No matter how well either performs, it would definitely be an immediate downgrade. Then again, whoever is blocking for MVP Shaun Alexander and next to football’s best left tackle in Walter Jones cannot look so bad.

The bigger loss may be wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, who helped fill in for often injured starters Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram. Seattle hopes that free agent acquisition Nate Burleson will combine with healthy Jackson and Engram to help replace Jerevicius’ whopping ten touchdowns last season.

I was ready to proclaim 2006 as Jerramy Stevens’ put up or shut up year before he injured his knee in training camp. Because former starter Itula Mili is banged up as usual, Stevens will still have a decent opportunity to redeem himself if he can return healthy by October as expected.

Another question is if Shaun Alexander, who was not the toughest runner to begin with, will dial it back a bit after cashing in on his record setting season with a $62 million contract over the next eight years. With defenses keying in on Shaun Alexander, a regressed offensive line, and a head coach who prefers to throw the ball in Mike Holmgren, the stage is set for Matt Hasselbeck to have his career season. While it is unlikely he will be worth a first-round pick (!) in a fantasy football draft, Hasselbeck will cement himself with Steven Young and Brett Favre as another Holmgren trained legend.

Barring injuries, the major factor in determining Seattle’s ability to confidently sing Will Smith’s “Going to Miami” is making sure that the road to the Super Bowl runs through Seattle, just like it did last season in which the Seahawks were 10-0 at Quest Field.

Usually, optimistic teams enter the season with winning their respective division as their primary goal. However, Seattle swept their NFC West rivals last season and should expect to do the same in 2006. The Arizona Cardinals are expected to contend for the division title or a wild-card playoff berth, but that all relies on their shaky offensive line and run defense. The San Francisco 49ers are considered to be the worst team in the NFL talent-wise and are far away from improving. The St. Louis Rams have the talent, but completely new coaching staff, offense, and defense. Seattle should have the division wrapped up before Thanksgiving.

Sep 10 @Detroit 1:00pm
Sep 17 Arizona 4:05pm
Sep 24 N.Y. Giants 4:15pm
Oct 1 @Chicago 8:15pm
Week 5 BYE
Oct 15 @St. Louis 1:00pm
Oct 22 Minnesota 4:15pm
Oct 29 @Kansas City 1:00pm
Nov 6 Oakland 8:30pm
Nov 12 St. Louis 4:15pm
Nov 19 @San Francisco 4:05pm
Nov 27 Green Bay 8:30pm
Dec 3 @Denver 4:15pm
Dec 10 @Arizona 4:05pm
Dec 14 San Francisco 8:00pm
Dec 24 San Diego 4:15pm
Dec 31 @Tampa Bay 1:00pm

If you look at the schedule, Seattle has a four road games that they can easily lose: at Chicago, at Kansas City, at Denver, at Tampa Bay. In order to survive this, the Seahawks must pull off another undefeated season at home. The Seahawks play much better at noisy and rainy Quest Field than they do anywhere else, and will roll through the softer home schedule. The only two tough games will be against the San Diego Chargers on Christmas Eve and Eli Manning’s New York Giants, who actually had the Seahawks beat in Seattle last season if not for nine false starts and three missed field goals. If the Seahawks manage to steal one of the tough games on the road while holding down the fort at home, another 13-3 season is not a stretch at all. All this schedule talk is, of course, based on speculative expectations.

As they demonstrated during last year’s playoff run, the Seahawks home-field advantage in the playoffs makes them a near-impossible team to beat. Even with MVP Shaun Alexander going down early against the Washington Redskins, Matt Hasselbeck was able to rally behind the hungry Seattle fans. The Seahawks went on to shut down Steve Smith, and consequently the entire Panthers offense, during the rout that was the NFC championship game in Seattle. If the Seahawks have home field advantage, it does not matter who comes to Seattle; they stand no chance.

The Colts offense is still banged up after a grueling dogfight against the surprising San Diego Chargers in the AFC championship game.
A couple of questionable holding calls and Michael Boulware interception prevent Peyton Manning from scoring in the redzone.

Seattle 21, Indianapolis 10