Dare I pick Minnesota to win it all?
Last year, I locked in my Super Bowl pick early and felt very good about the choice. For once, I wasn't trying to do a roster breakdown or getting myself all tied up in strengths and weaknesses. I was looking for a team with a chip on its shoulder, one that would be coming into the season with something to prove, a hungry team, nasty, etc.
The Saints were my Super Bowl winner.
Then they came out and lost their first four. And finished 7-9. All of which should make Brad Childress feel very nervous about the fact that I'm picking his Vikings to ... to ... dare I say, to win it all? Let's think this thing through.
Dallas is the winter-book favorite. The Cowboys are loading up with all sorts of fancy names -- Zach Thomas, who has already carved out a place for himself in Miami's Hall of Fame, 'Pacman' Jones, whose pardon from the league office seems to be coming an inch at a time. Marion Barber got a new contract that stunned him by its magnificence. So did cornerback Terence Newman. They even gave Terrell Owens enough money to make him happy.
This is their year, right? Sorry, but I just don't feel it.
I look around the league, from the perspective of an individual coming off a nice, fat vacation, and I see the usual summer notes of unsettlement. Oakland's Javon Walker, who should be trying to prove himself after Denver became the second team to give up on him, was found unconscious in a Vegas alley after he had supposedly spent the evening spraying nightclub patrons with bubbly.
"And they got mad at ME for carrying a gun," said the Cowboys Tank Johnson, who got busted by the league for building a home arsenal.
Once again, Jeremy Shockey is pouting for the Super Bowl Giants, their wideout, Plaxico Burress, is unhappy with his contract. The team is in a mid-June disarray mode. People look at the almost-unbeaten Patriots, expecting to see cheat sheets falling out of their pockets. Elsewhere there are ... but why go on? This is about my Super Bowl team, right? And why I have such positive views about the Vikings.
Dare I pick them to go all the way? They're a team for whom I never had much of a feel, and this goes back to their old Super Bowl days, when they were marched to the slaughter by any AFL or AFC team they faced. They're a team that turned timid and blew the NFC Championship game against Atlanta in '99, and then, two seasons later, brought a powerhouse offense into Giants Stadium for the same title match and got undressed, 41-0.
Since then? One playoff season out of the next seven. So why do I get this real hunch about them? OK, yeah, right now they're my choice for the winner of Supe XXIII. And here's why:
Let's get down to basics. Run the ball. Stop the run. Best in the league at both last year. I can't help it -- I'm hooked on the fundamentals. Their middle triangle of tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, backed up by E.J. Henderson, is classic, and now there's a serious element added to that mix.
A trade with the Chiefs brought them defensive end Jared Allen in April. He brings with him the 2007 NFL sack title, plus a two-game DUI suspension at the beginning of the year. A gamble? Childress says no. Allen says he's on the wagon.
"I'd be very surprised if he has any trouble in that area from now on," the coach says. "We're talking about a very bright, engaging person. When his plane came in here, our defensive line coach and both defensive tackles all went to pick him up at the airport."
It's almost a miracle to get a guy like that in a trade. Sack specialists are like diamonds, and Allen's a young one -- only 26 years old! And he's not one of those wild-angle loopers who leaves a couple of acres inside for the runners. He's a technician who honors the down home of the game.