As Thanksgiving approaches and the bye weeks fade into the rear-view mirror, as NASCAR fans get ready to go into left-turn withdrawal and find something new to do with their Sundays, as winter comes and a new Ozzy tour works its way across North America, so is it time for the Super Bowl predictions to begin.
Jerry Jones managed to lock the game up some time ago, with the hair-brained notion that the Wade Phillips/Tony Romo-era team would somehow be corronated champions under the dirigible-sized scoreboard. Dream big Jerry, no shame in that. It has been fun watching the collapse.
So without America's Team (ha.....ha...um, barf) representing, who will instead take the field for Super Bowl XLV? The NFL's original loon owner and the team that had enough principle to turn its back on Michael Vick. That's right, Raiders vs. Falcons.
Didn't mean to make you spit your beer, but observe.
The Oakland Raidiers: It's been a long, dark ride since MVP Rich Gannon led the Raiders into slaughter vs. Tampa Bay, but they are well and truly back, undefeated in the AFC West and with an offense averaging 5.4 yards/play. Neither Jason Campbell nor Steve Gratkowski are going to win MVP anytime soon, but both have already shown they can win football games, particularly with the 1-2 running back punch of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush standing as the second most productive ground attack in the league. TE Zach Miller has 34 catches and 4 touchdowns and Louis Murphy, Darius Heyward-Bey, and Jacoby Ford are all emerging as legitimate deep threats.
On defense the Raiders are getting pressure up front from Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley, Tommy Kelly, and Matt Shaughnessy and have safeties Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff playing more like dual middle linebackers, while at the same time holding down the back side of the second best pass defense in the league (which starts back up front with the D-line, natch). Special teams feature two of the biggest legs in the business in Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler and a scoring threat at kickoff returner in Ford.
The Atlanta Falcons: Turnover ratio +9. That equals an offense that doesn't turn the ball over and a defense that does, almost always a winning combination. Matt Ryan might not be a household name yet, but that's just because he hasn't had the platform. The wins are there. The stats are there (2,265 yards, 62.7% completion, 18 TD, 5 INT). And as he makes his way through the playoffs to the big game so will the exposure arrive. Michael Turner already has 733 yds rushing and when Jason Snelling was called on to spell him production didn't drop at all. Then there are the receivers, Roddy White, perhaps the league's premier emergent deep threat, Tony Gonzalez, still a top-shelf TE and fighting to get to his first Super Bowl, and the aforementioned Mr. Snelling, with 28 catches, 2 for TDs.
John Abraham is still a dominant pass rusher, while Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Babineaux lead a defense that has become quite proficient at seperating the ball from the offensive player.
Tom Cable has done a great job surviving the JaMarcus Russell debacle and building a winnng football team out of Davis' sometimes erratic personnel decisions. Mike Smith, meanwhile, got handed the team in the wake of both Michael Vick and some jackhole college coach deciding that's what he wanted to remain, and has done nothing but team-up with Ryan to win ever since.
The winner? Oakland, on better defense and special teams.