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Super Bowl lineup not set just yet
Posted: Thursday October 29, 1998 11:33 AM
After all, the Vikings (7-0) are off to their best start since, well, last year, when they got out the blocks to a 8-2 start. OK, the '75 Vikes reeled off 10 straight wins with coach Bud Grant, QB Fran Tarkenton, RB Chuck Foreman, WR John Gilliam, the Purple People Eaters on defense and Fred Cox doing the square-toed kicking. The '75 Vikes matched a club record with 12 wins.
Back to recent history -- the '97 Vikings lost five straight games and limped home to finish 9-7 and fourth in the NFC Central. A road wild card win over the New York Giants helped offset what was a dismal decline. The Vikings were out of the playoffs the next week.
The Broncos kicked their heels at the rest of the league way back in '96. The Broncos cruised to a 12-1 mark before settling in at 13-3 with home-field advantage set throughout the playoffs. That home-field advantage didn't last long as the Broncos fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars in their first-round divisional playoff game 30-27.
I don't bring up the subject of past failures just because I'm a mean guy. But strange things happen to good teams. You may remember the Buffalo Bills losing four Super Bowls.
As it turns out, 7-0 starts don't always translate directly to Super Bowls. The NFL hasn't had a 7-0 team since the 1991 Saints and Redskins. Sure, the Redskins went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl, but the Saints won just four of their last six games, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
Both the Vikings and Broncos sport intense, loyalist head coaches in Denny Green and Mike Shanahan. Defensively, no one has found a way to slow down -- let alone stop -- these two teams with their high-octane offenses. Defensively, we're not looking at the fabled Orange Crush or the Purple People Eaters. But both these teams are well enough equipped on defense to hold onto the big lead their respective offenses put up. Both teams have quality kicking games, although I don't think we'll see Jason Elam kicking from 63 yards at sea level.
Avoiding injuries will be critical, of course. Funny thing, the Broncos' biggest fear was, heaven forbid they lose John Elway. The Vikings' biggest fear is what happens when starter Brad Johnson is healthy again?
Randall Cunningham is putting together his best season since 1990, when he was the league's MVP. Cunningham passed for 3,466 yards with 30 touchdowns and rushed for almost 1,000 yards. I can't recall one 1998 highlight of Cunningham or Elway on the run this season. Both quarterbacks can still move, but they just don't have to on a regular basis. Maybe past their athletic prime, Cunningham and Elway are blessed with great supporting casts. The Vikings offensive line is huge and paced by left tackle Todd Steussie and left guard Randall McDaniel. The Broncos, under the tutelage of coach Alex Gibbs, major in cut blocking, a la the 49ers.
Can the Broncos defense stop the Vikings offense with Cris Carter, Jake Reed, Randy Moss and Robert Smith? No! Can the Vikings defense stop the Broncos with Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe (a much better blocker than given credit for), Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith? No! Can someone else stop either team before they get to Super Bowl XXXIII? Maybe not, but right now, I wouldn't bet the whole farm on it.
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