Predicting the Super Bowl participants used to be a fairly easy proposition. Long before the days of free agency and the salary cap, all one had to do was look at rosters, consider coaches and make their selection. In the 1960′s, the Green Bay Packers were always a safe bet. In the ’70′s, you could pick amongst the Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders and Cowboys and feel confident.
In the decade of the 1980′s, you felt good about San Francisco and Denver and then in ’90′s teams like the Redskins, Bills and Cowboys would give you cause to sleep well at night.
My how things have changed in the National Football League. No longer do we just consider the best roster or the best coach. We know must consider injuries more than ever because of weak depth charts and we must consider ‘strength of schedule’ as well.
Perhaps more important than all of those things though is trying to figure out what teams will be the hottest when the playoffs start. Back in 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to win their final five games just to make the playoffs. They did and then won three playoff games on the road before winning Super Bowl XL.
Not long after, the New York Giants accomplished the same feat and the Green Bay Packers rode a wave of momentum to a Super Bowl XLV victory. The Packers (and Patriots) also serve another point. Both teams recently had historical regular seasons only to be knocked out of the playoffs or Super Bowl by ‘hot teams.’
Baltimore was just such a team last season and although it took a blown coverage in Denver and the usual Peyton Manning choke-job to do it, the won their second Super Bowl title.
For the 2013 season, there are once again a handful of suspects that everyone has on their list of potential Super Bowl participants. San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle are popular picks in the NFC while Denver, New England and Cincinnati are garnering lots of attention in the AFC.
My two participants are a combination of a team I believe will get hot and one that I believe will roll to a great regular season record and home-field advantage.
In the AFC, I like the Denver Broncos to emerge from the pack and represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII. Despite the fact that they have to play the NFC East, I believe their division in the AFC West is extremely weak. Although Kansas City will be improved, I still see the Broncos going 6-0 in their division.
While the defense will miss Von Miller for the first six games, the offense should carry them. Denver has five of their first eight games at home and then the schedule lightens up late in the season despite being on the road in four of the final six. They’ll get the Titans, Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders in that span.
I believe you’ll see Denver hosting New England in the AFC title game and advancing with a win.
In the NFC, I like a team to catch fire late and the team I like is the New Orleans Saints. Make no mistake about it; Sean Payton and company have not forgotten their lost season due to ‘BountyGate.’ The offense behind Payton and Drew Brees is loaded with talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end.
The defense will not be dominant but they won’t have to be because of the offensive prowess. Team leader Jonathan Vilma is not 100% and it will take him some time before he is. If they can return to the form that helped to create all those turnovers en route to Super Bowl XLI then I really like them to get back there.
San Francisco and Seattle will both be very good, but I think they will peak early as will Atlanta. I can envision a scenario where New Orleans wins on the road in San Francisco and then defeats Atlanta in the Georgia Dome to advance.
It’s a bit of a long shot, but I like the Saints and Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.