Pregame Flyover: The Eagles' year?
Welcome back to the Pregame Flyover, your go-to destination for quick, carbo-loaded previews of the week's NFL games. Before we tour the league and tell you which games are probably worth watching, which games are of questionable worth, which games are of doubtful worth, and which games should only be watched by fans of the 49ers and Panthers, let's look at the teams that have never won a Super Bowl and ask, "Is this their year?"
Will the Chargers or the Eagles be this year's version of the Saints?
The NFL likes to tout itself as a league built on parity, selling fans on the notion that their team -- with a tweak here, a Kurt Warner there -- can rise from persistent also-ran to Super Bowl champion in a short period of time. Yet the fact remains that a small group of teams have dominated the Super Bowl era, with Pittsburgh (six), Dallas (five) and San Francisco (five) winning 16 of the first 44 games, and the Raiders (three), Giants (three), Redskins (three), Packers (three) and Patriots (three) a step behind in the title-hogging department. That's eight teams winning 31 out of 44 Super Bowls, or 70 percent. While the variety of winners has expanded during the salary cap era (1994 to present), with first-time victors like Denver, St. Louis, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and New Orleans cracking the ranks, nearly half of NFL teams have still never hoisted a Lombardi Trophy -- seven in the NFC, seven in the AFC.
What will it take for one of those 14 star-crossed teams to shed its burden and become a first-time Super Bowl champion in 2010? Let's plot the narratives, this week in the NFC and next week in the AFC.
Narrative of the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles: After watching his team suffer for years under the ineptitude of Andy Reid's two-minute offense, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie strips Reid of those duties in a midseason shakeup and hands them to former Bills coach Mary Levy, noted overseer of the no-huddle K-gun offense, who becomes the first coach hired specifically to run a two-minute offense. The Reid-Levy Eagles win the overrated NFC East by several games and nip the Chargers in the Super Bowl, when San Diego fans have to watch in horror as the Chargers' coaching staff tries on the fly to implement a two-minute offense that is later dubbed "Norv Turner Overdrive."
Odds it goes down like this: The same as they were of Michael Vick returning from prison, signing with the Eagles and replacing Donovan McNabb on the field and in the hearts of Vickadelphia fans.
Narrative of the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Minnesota Vikings: After Jared Allen finally admits it was bad juju to cut off his mullet in advance of his wedding, everyone on the team (including coaches) begins growing mullets in a show of solidarity. During his team's exciting run to the postseason, Brad Childress trademarks the phrase "baldness in the front, party in the back," and is lauded for his bold, unforeseen decision to abandon the team's duck and chuck offense and ride Adrian Peterson like a rented mule.
Odds it goes down like this: The same as they were of Brett Favre being accused of sexting pictures to a former Jets sideline reporter.
Narrative of the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford returns from injury and builds on the template laid down by backup quarterback Shaun Hill, calling for Hail Marys to Calvin Johnson on 100 percent of all plays. In the Super Bowl, the Texans and Gary Kubiak finally figure out what the Lions are up to, but it's too late and the Lions win 63-10.
Odds it goes down like this: Pretty good so long as Stafford doesn't spread the ball around in an effort to placate people not named Megatron.
Narrative of the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Arizona Cardinals: Riding the momentum of their NFC West divisional crown, the 6-10 Cardinals cruise through the NFC playoffs and reach the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. Max Hall becomes the first rookie quarterback to win the game, but he loses MVP honors to Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips, who intercepts five passes and becomes only the second player (besides Chuck Howley) to win the award in a losing effort.
Odds it goes down like this: OK fine, I'm being generous, since the Cardinals can probably take the NFC West with a 5-11 record.
Narrative of the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Carolina Panthers: The Panthers entered their bye week at 0-5, and their odds of reaching the playoffs were minuscule. But they had a secret weapon that no one else in the NFL could hope to possess -- a quarterback from Notre Dame who had actually won a bowl game. Down the stretch and in the playoffs, Jimmy Clausen fills in for an inefficient Matt Moore and doesn't disappoint, going 0-0 with no yards passing -- but more importantly, no turnovers -- in both the NFC title game and the Super Bowl, as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart run the Panthers to their first Super Bowl title.
Odds it goes down like this: The same as Notre Dame winning another national championship in your lifetime.
Narrative of the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks: When the Seahawks beat the Bears on the road in Week 6, it was Seattle's first road win outside its division since 2007 and it announced something big to everyone in the NFL: The Bears were really overrated. Hailing from the NFC West, Seattle was used to stockpiling its win total against inferior competition, and the Seahawks followed this tried and true template in 2010 -- lucking out when the term "inferior competition" proved to be an accurate description of the entire NFC. Marshawn Lynch and a healthy Matt Hasselbeck? Yup, that's all they needed to remain competitive throughout the playoffs; the referees did the rest, particularly in the Super Bowl when several questionable holding calls against the Steelers all but handed the title to the Seahawks.
Odds it goes down like this: The same as a quarterback going 9-for-22 with two interceptions and a 22.6 rating in the Super Bowl -- and winning.
Narrative of the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Atlanta Falcons: Playing in an NFL-record 10 straight overtime games to end the season, Atlanta sets the sports world on fire by winning nine of those games and tying once. During the playoffs, the Falcons win the overtime coin toss in each game (including the Super Bowl), and kick game-winning field goals before their opponents even have one possession. Thanks to the Falcons, sports columnists are able to write some derivation of the same pissy article for 14 straight weeks.
Odds it goes down like this: The same as the Patriots winning three Super Bowls by a combined total of nine points.
Deion Branch was apparently heading to a Hall of Fame career
Following the Patriots' victory over the Ravens last week, a game in which Branch caught nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, the former Super Bowl MVP spoke to Peter King of Sports Illustrated about his questionable decision to force his departure from the Patriots four years ago and sign with the Seahawks.
"I think about it a lot,'' Branch told King over the phone from the Patriots' locker room. "My brother and my father do too. They say, 'You'd be ready to put a gold [Hall of Fame] jacket on if you stayed.'''
Branch, you'll remember, was reminiscent of a young Jerry Rice in New England, accumulating --checks career stats -- zero 1,000-yard seasons over four years while catching 80 or more balls on no occasions. But hey, his family saw the potential in him and hasn't let him forget it. With clear-headed relatives like that in his corner, it's surprising Branch left a dynasty in New England and entered the witness relocation program in Seattle.
Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out
Just as the NFL puts out an injury report on the likelihood that certain players will suit up each week (Probable, Questionable, Doubtful or Out), we put out a viewing report on the likelihood that games will be worth watching. Because let's face it, you can't watch them all.
"Probable" Games of the Week (75 percent chance these games will be worth watching): Minnesota at Green Bay; New York Giants at Dallas; New England at San Diego; Pittsburgh at Miami; Philadelphia at Tennessee.
SPOTLIGHT PROBABLE: New York Giants at Dallas.
This game will eclipse last Monday's game between the Titans and Jaguars because: Trent Edwards and Kerry Collins won't be the quarterbacks.
Look for the Giants to: Wait patiently for the Cowboys to self-destruct.
Look for the Cowboys to: Wait patiently for the Giants to self-destruct.
This game is all about: Patience and self-destruction.
Wade Phillips had the nerve to say: "I guess we think we're a better 1-4 team than some teams that are 1-4."
Why that's bold: The Cowboys are the only team in the NFL that's 1-4.
The Cowboys will improve over last week's performance if: Tony Romo can stay behind the line of scrimmage before he makes a desperation heave at the end of the game.
The Cowboys will probably forget their self-imposed ban on touchdown celebrations when: A defensive player gets a pick-six.
"Questionable" Games of the Week (50 percent chance these games will be worth watching): Washington at Chicago; Cincinnati at Atlanta; Jacksonville at Kansas City.
SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONABLE: Washington at Chicago.
Jay Cutler leads the NFL in: Number of times sacked, 23.
Cutler has been successful on: None of his last 22 third-down plays.
Former Bear Dick Butkus watched Chicago's loss to Seattle and said: "It can only get worse."
Butkus might simply be bitter because: He's not a finalist for the American Mustache Institute's "Robert Goulet Memorial Mustachioed American of the Year" award.
The Redskins deserve to lose if they: Ever kick the ball to Devin Hester.
The Bears deserve to lose if they: Run Matt Forte fewer than 30 times against the No. 24 rush defense.
Donovan McNabb, a Chicago native, returns home: In a subplot that has absolutely no bearing on the game.
"Doubtful" Games of the Week (25 percent chance these games will be worth watching): St. Louis at Tampa Bay; Cleveland at New Orleans; Arizona at Seattle; Oakland at Denver.
SPOTLIGHT DOUBTFUL: St. Louis at Tampa Bay.
In the last two weeks, the Rams have: Accused the Lions of running up the score and beat San Diego.
What conclusion can we take away from this? The Rams cost gamblers a lot of money last week.
This is a rematch of the: 1999 NFC championship game won by Kurt Warner and the Rams, 11-6.
The Bucs' quarterback that day was: Shaun King.
Tampa fans hope that King and Josh Freeman have: Very little in common.
"Out" Games of the Week (100 percent chance these games will be watched by someone, but hopefully not by you): Buffalo at Baltimore; San Francisco at Carolina.
SPOTLIGHT OUT: Buffalo at Baltimore.
If they're still an option, you're almost certainly taking the Ravens: As your survivor pick.
If Terrell Suggs plants Ryan Fitzpatrick like he did Tom Brady last week, Fitzpatrick probably won't: Pound the turf like a petulant child, hoping for the refs call a penalty.
If the Bills win, you can rest assured: The Ravens will blame the referees.
Buffalo fans might be interested to know: Firechangailey, a former Georgia Tech fan site, is for sale.
Cam Martin is a contributor to Page 2. He previously worked for the Greenwich (Conn.) Time and The (Stamford, Conn.) Advocate, and has written online for CBS Sports and Comcast SportsNet New England. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.