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The trick behind the pick

Breaking down the struggle to reach Super Bowl XLI

Posted: Thursday August 31, 2006 11:12AM; Updated: Thursday August 31, 2006 3:28PM
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With history possibly on their side, all things point to Jake Delhomme and the Panthers winning Super Bowl XLI.
With history possibly on their side, all things point to Jake Delhomme and the Panthers winning Super Bowl XLI.
John Biever/SI
How They'll Finish
AFC East NFC East
Dolphins 11-5 Redskins 9-7
Patriots 11-5* Giants 9-7 *
Bills 8-8 Cowboys 9-7 *
Jets 5-11 Eagles 9-7
AFC North NFC North
Steelers 12-4 Bears 11-5
Ravens 9-7* Lions 6-10
Bengals 8-8 Vikings 6-10
Browns 5-11 Packers 6-10
AFC South NFC South
Colts 12-4 Panthers 11-5
Jaguars 9-7 Buccaneers 8-8
Titans 5-11 Falcons 7-9
Texans 3-13 Saints 6-10
AFC West NFC West
Broncos 11-5 Seahawks 11-5
Chiefs 8-8 Rams 9-7
Chargers 7-9 Cardinals 6-10
Raiders 4-12 49ers 5-11
WILD-CARD PLAYOFFS
AFC
Dolphins (3) beat Ravens (6)
AFC
Broncos (4) beat Patriots (5)
NFC
Bears (3) beat Cowboys (6)
NFC
Giants (5) beat Redskins (4)
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
AFC
Dolphins beat Steelers (2) Colts (1) beat Broncos
NFC
Giants beat Seahawks (1) Panthers (2) beat Bears
CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
AFC
Dolphins beat Colts
NFC
Panthers beat Giants
SUPER BOWL XLI
Panthers 24, Dolphins 20
* WILD-CARD TEAM; NUMBER IN PARENTHESES IS PLAYOFF SEED
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First, let me set you straight about the forecast you see in this week's Sports Illustrated, predicting each team's record and the playoff and Super Bowl results. If you're puzzled as to who wrote it, I can end your agony. It was written by a fat guy who lives in Jersey, name of Z. There, that's cleared up.

Since a stark recitation of mere numbers, such as the ones cited, needs further explanation, I will be happy to provide same.

I have been asked on talk shows which team will be the worst in football. It's a tough one to answer. I mean there are so many contenders. But when the Raiders signed Jeff George a few days ago, they staked a serious claim. Never mind that he's 38 and he'd been out of football almost five years. He's got the arm. The big gun. And Raiders owner Al Davis has always loved the big arm. Rumor has it that right now there are two Polish javelin throwers in his office, waiting for a tryout.

Don't forget that 19 years ago Al signed Vince Evans, who'd been out of football three years. And eight years later, after he'd hung around the Raiders all that time as a backup, the 40-year-old Evans actually started a few games. I remember being in Bill Walsh's office, chatting, when the news of Evans' start came on TV. The former 49ers coach's jaw dropped in amazement.

"Vince Evans? Vince Evans?" he said. "Why, I'm not sure that he could even start in ... what's the name of that league in Europe?"

Sorry for the lengthy digression. I'm just trying to build a case for Oakland as my bottom-feeder. But we can expect serious challenges from Houston, Green Bay, Cleveland, San Francisco and the Jets -- you know, the usual suspects.

OK, let's take it by divisions and break down the struggle to reach Super Bowl XLI. (Honest to God, I read a quote out of Cleveland the other day ... can't remember from whom ... "There's no reason why we can't reach the Super Bowl." I can name about 18 reasons, but why pick on the downtrodden?)

The NFC East has been called the most competitive division in football. The way I arrived at my final records was to play every game on the schedule, penciling a W or an L next to each team, and whatever came out, that's what the team's record was. And I swear to you that I got all four NFC East teams at 9-7 using this method. Do you really think I could make up something as loony as this?

The Eagles break out of the gate fast, winning eight of their first 10 games, and in November they're everyone's Cinderella story. But the wins came against teams such as the Niners, Packers, Saints, Titans and Texans, and now it's time to dig in for the Winter Offensive, and the supply line is running out. Five straight losses, including a crucial one at Dallas on Christmas Day, send them out against Atlanta, needing the win, plus help. Philly beats the Falcons, but Dallas beats Detroit and Washington beats the Giants, who had already clinched a spot, and all three get in ahead of Philly. Angered that their Cinderella angle has gone up in smoke, the nation's media turn on the poor Eagles, branding them the choke team of '06.

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