This is what recent history tells us: Forget September and October. The Super Bowl champion is the team that gets hot in November, stays that way in December and goes into the playoffs on a roll. September and October have been cruel to the last two winners. Two years ago the Ravens were 5-4 and had gone five straight games without a touchdown. Last year the Patriots were in survival mode after starting 3-4.
So to find a Super Bowl winner this season, just select the team you like that's hovering around .500. Raiders? Steelers? Falcons? You say you don't like any of them? Me neither.
Then again, you can't overlook a good team that also catches its share of luck. Green Bay is one of the early elite at 6-1, which, based on the past two seasons, doesn't mean much. Here's where the breaks come in. Brett Favre sprains his left knee, but the Packers get their bye at just the right time, giving him the extra week's rest. And then the Pack's foe on Monday night—Miami, which figured to be one of the toughest games on the schedule—is reeling from the loss of quarterback Jay Fiedler (broken thumb) and possession receiver Oronde Gadsden (left wrist), and possibly Chris Chambers, a downfield threat who might still be feeling the effects of the concussion he suffered against the Broncos on Oct. 13.
The Pack gets the win and looks ahead to a schedule with five of the last eight games against opponents with losing records.
?Now we get to the most interesting matchup on the board, San Francisco at Oakland. The Raiders, everybody's Super Bowl choice after their 4-0 start, have taken a strange fall. Of the 100 passes that Rich Gannon has completed in Oakland's last three games—all losses—66 have been for 10 yards or less. The Raiders march up and down the field like a military drill team, but then things go wrong. On Sunday against the Chiefs, it was two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The Oakland defense keeps getting hammered by featured backs, especially in the late going. The Rams' Marshall Faulk did the honors three weeks ago, then the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, then Priest Holmes—and now Oakland faces the twin hammers of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow.
The Niners got their wake-up call last week when they coasted to an early lead over division foe Arizona, then wobbled a bit while the Cardinals made a run at them. San Francisco's defense is fairly active, but not what you'd call dominating. If quarterback Jeff Garcia can keep the 49ers close enough to give their running game a chance to kick in late, then they'll get their upset. I say San Francisco gets it.
? Ray Lewis's chasing Michael Vick could've added some spice to the Ravens-Falcons affair, but Lewis will be out again. I'll give this one to Atlanta. Cincinnati keeps figuring out new ways to lose. Down by six points last week it was Corey Dillon tripping over his pulling guard on the Titans' one as he was heading in for a touchdown in the final minute. This time the Bengals get their upset over Houston. (Only Cincy could be an underdog to an expansion team.)
?The Giants come off the Monday-nighter with a win over Jacksonville. The Eagles beat the Bears on the road. Emmitt Smith has his record now, so Dallas can concentrate on finding a quarterback. Not this week, though. The Lions win it.
?The Bills keep it going against the Patriots, and I like a quartet of road teams: Pittsburgh at Cleveland, St. Louis at Arizona, Tennessee at Indianapolis and Washington at Seattle.