Super Bowl Teams Could Lurk Among Wild Cards
The 2011 NFL Playoffs get underway this weekend, and there are some that feel the Wild Card Teams playing today and tomorrow may hold the best chance for winding up in the Super Bowl. What do you think. Log in and comment.
Scene from the Bell Household on Friday morning:
A 9-year-old boy, topped off by a New Orleans Saints ski hat, is heading to school. On the way out the door, he turns and points at the magazine resting on the kitchen table.
"Dad, is that true? Are the Patriots and Packers going to play in the Super Bowl?"
The magazine, Sports Illustrated, was left open from the previous night. He's referring to Peter King's NFL playoff bracket, which outlines the path for the Patriots and Packers.
"I'm not sure," the fourth-grader is told. "That's what Peter thinks. I think it might be the Colts and Eagles. But had you asked me on Monday, I would have told you Patriots-Falcons. And last week, I was thinking Ravens-Packers. I've been all over the map on this."
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He giggles, then rolls on.
Earlier this week, I told him that the Colts might still manage to run the table.
"Is this a joke?" he said. "Wait a minute."
The kid took off, went to my office, and came back with the Monday sports section from USA TODAY. He opened up the page with the standings.
"The Colts are just 10-6, dad."
Dad thinks it's a great sign for the future of our industry that the kid actually got a hard copy of the newspaper. Dad doesn't really know what the tea leaves indicate for predicting the Super Bowl outcome — even with the dominance the Patriots have shown of late — except that almost any scenario can unfold.
Surely, they're game with that at the NFL offices at 280 Park Avenue. After a wild, unpredictable regular season, arguably the most wide-open playoff tournament in years begins this weekend.
Maybe the eventual champ is playing this weekend, with the Ravens, Packers, Colts, Eagles and defending champion Saints on the docket.
When I asked Herm Edwards about the Colts, he seemed intrigued.
"No one is talking about the Colts," said Edwards, the former coach, Miracle of the Meadowlands Man and current ESPN analyst. "With Peyton Manning, you're going to have to knock this guy out. This is a team that's been in this situation before and they always seem to rise to the occasion when people count them out…If you keep it within a score, good luck. If you keep it within a score's length and they've got the ball, good luck trying to stop Peyton Manning."
Another ex-coach expert, and former Survivor contestant, Jimmy Johnson, essentially writes off the Colts.
"They just don't look as strong as they have in previous years," Johnson told me this week from the Florida Keys, after finishing up another fishing excursion in 80-degree heat. "That's why they had to play their way into the playoffs."
Johnson is very bullish, though, on another team playing this weekend.
"I love Green Bay," he said "Everybody's had injuries, but Mike McCarthy's had some serious injuries to deal with and they've held it together.
"I will say this: This is the best group of wild-card teams I've ever seen."
It's always good to check in with Johnson — who not too long ago declared the Falcons would reach the Super Bowl — this time of year. He sounds about as excited as he was during my first month on the job with USA TODAY, when the Cowboys won the first of their three Super Bowls during the '90s and he lit up a hotel ballroom in Los Angeles during his first Super press conference with an analogy that included walking on 2x4s.
He knows that it's a different game than in the regular season.
"Once you get into the playoffs," Johnson said, "you've got to do something to turn back the percentages. I always felt when we went to the playoffs, we had to change something to shake things up, like a fake field goal or an onsides kick."
Shoot, with all the possibilities that this wide-open playoff field presents, the percentages have already been turned back.
Just think: Three of the visiting teams — New Orleans, Baltimore and the Jets— have better records than their hosts this weekend.
The most dangerous wild-card team?
Herm Edwards — he of "You play to win the game" ideology — thinks it's the Saints.
"And they're starting to get their swagger back," said Edwards.
Somewhere, there's a 9-year-old Saints fan who would appreciate that.