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It's still July, and you'd like to know who will face off in next season's Super Bowl?
The Atlanta Falcons and the Indianapolis Colts.
Why, you ask?
Why not, I ask.
With a handful of exceptions, you could make the case for almost any team to make the playoffs right now, before the rosters are set, before any injuries pop up, before we see how new players and coaches will mesh.
And, once you've assumed almost any team can make the playoffs, you can make the case for almost any team to win a couple games to make it to the Super Bowl. Look at the rosters, look at the schedules, use your imagination a little and -- voila -- last season's 8-8 playoff-watcher is this season's Super Bowl participant. That's what makes the pre-season -- or, more accurately, the pre-pre-season -- so enjoyable. With few exceptions, every team has hope.
Now, the easy prediction would be to pick the same two teams who played in last season's Super Bowl to meet up again. I could predict another Saints-Colts Super Bowl, and no one would attack me for doing so. Both the Saints and Colts will field excellent teams again this year, and it's certainly possible that they will meet up again. But should you or I bet on it? Absolutely not. Putting aside the odds that two teams would meet up again, everyone will be gunning for the Saints and Colts, and, in the case of the Saints at least, you have to wonder if there may be some regression this season simply because they don't have the experience being on the top.
The other easy prediction would be to jump on the out of control Cowboys-versus-Jets bandwagon. Every magazine and website seems to be predicting that matchup. But the Cowboys remain a very flawed team. And, last time I looked, the Jets only backed into the playoffs because the Colts rested their starters against them at the end of the season, only to have the Colts knock them off in the AFC championship game. Has anything happened that should make you or me believe that the Jets are now better than the team that knocked them out last year? Nope.
The Colts remain the class of the AFC. They might have gone 16-0 had they not rested their starters the last two games of the season. Let's not forget how good they were, and are. For now, I see them making it back to the Super Bowl. (The key words are "for now.")
In the NFC, the Saints and Cowboys remain part of a strong field. But every season one team seems to make the leap from missing the playoffs altogether to making a deep playoff or Super Bowl run. And, for now, I see that team being the Falcons. (Again, "for now" are the operative words.)
This is not an enormous leap of faith. The Falcons went 11-5 in 2008. They took a step back last year, with Michael Turner injured and John Abraham ineffective, but still finished with a respectable 9-7 record that would have put them in the playoffs in many years. In fact, it was the identical record as that posted by the Jets, who are the critic's darlings this off-season. The 9-7 Falcons are every bit as good as the 9-7 Jets and, in some regards, better. Who would you rather have quarterbacking your team next year, Matt Ryan or Mark Sanchez? The answer is Matt Ryan.
So, for now, we should all look forward to watching the Colts and the Falcons battle it out in Dallas in the Super Bowl.
Unless it's the Cowboys and the Jets after all.
Or the Redskins and the Chargers.
Or the Vikings and the Patriots.
Or the Eagles and the Bengals.
Or the Cardinals and the Ravens.
Or the Saints and the Colts.
I could see any of those matchups right now, and so could you if you look at the schedules and rosters, and if you use your imagination a little.
And, yes, I did just throw the Redskins into the mix to appease all the readers in D.C. You really have to use your imagination on that one. But, it's July, so imagine as hard as you'd can.
July 28, 2010; 6:10 AM ET
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