Peter King, the Sports Illustrated columnist, is picking the Atlanta Falcons over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XLV1.
He might turn out to be right. We just don’t believe it.
Truth be told, we believe he is making that prediction as much to elicit response and outrage from his many readers as anything. It’s sexy to go with a team that hasn’t won a title and King knows this.
We believe if he actually published his true Super Bowl favourite, it would be the same team that took home the hardware a year ago. His editors, though, might not like that. Too predictable.
The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl seven months ago with seven of their starters on the injured list. Even in the championship game itself, they had to play the second half without defensive player of the year Charles Woodson and veteran wide receiver Donald Driver and still overcame the Pittsburgh Steelers in a captivating 31-25 win.
Dealing with injuries at that point in the season was old hat for the Packers, who simply found someone else to put in those spots and won anyway, just as they had done all year long.
For the regular season, the Packers lost a grand total of 83 games to injury among the group that broke camp with staring jobs. Next to the Indianapolis Colts, who always seem to lead the league in this category, they were the most injured team in the NFL. And they still won.
Justifying picking any team other than the Packers to win it all this year is a stretch.
Sure, the Eagles went out and spent like sailors on a one-day shore pass, but that’s a unit that still has to prove it can play together, never mind win together.
King’s pick, the Falcons, are interesting based on their strong regular season of a year ago, but they have yet to shore up a defence that gave up 48 points in an NFC semifinal loss to the Pack. Their own fans have mocked King’s pick, wondering if he has even looked at the team’s secondary this year.
And that’s just in the NFC. The AFC has the out-for-vengeance Steelers, a still-hungry Jets team under Rex Ryan and the always dangerous New England Patriots. And that’s not even mentioning the Chargers.
But this piece isn’t about who else could win the Super Bowl but who will, so we’ll get back to the Packers.
Repeating in any sport is never easy and probably moreso in the NFL where parity is not just the name of the game, but seems to be the goal of the league office. Twice in the past 14 years, teams have repeated as NFL champs. The Denver Broncos did it in 1997 and ’98 and the Patriots did it again in 2003 and ’04.
What those two teams had in common was a dominant returning quarterback and, last time we checked, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers certainly fit that bill.
Rodgers, last year’s Super Bowl MVP, won’t even have to be as good as he was a year ago, assuming the Packers don’t go down that same injury-plagued path of 2010. He lost his favourite passing target in tight end Jermichael Finley in Week 5 last season and shook it off.
He also lost his starting running back — Ryan Grant — in Week 1 and got by with Brandon Jackson until James Starks came along and gave the team a threat of a running game.
Both Grant and Finley are healthy heading into the 2011 season and, having missed the Super Bowl party, clearly looking to have their own day in the spotlight.
“All I’ve shown in my career is an appetizer,” Finley told King recently. “It’s time for the main course.”
An injury to starting tackle Mark Tauscher early last season opened a spot for rookie Bryan Bulaga.
Defensively, injuries last season forced the Packers to revamp their linebacking corps with Clay Matthews the only starter who managed to stay healthy for any significant length of time.
Both middle linebackers — Nick Barnett and Brandon Chiller — were lost for the year, which opened a door for A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop who excelled with the new responsibilities.
Outside linebacker Brad Jones also went down early, allowing Frank Zombo and Erik Walden to get some work in.
Morgan Burnett, a highly touted safety drafted in the third round last year, barely got his feet wet with the Packers before an injury ended his season. The belief is a full year of watching and learning Dom Capers’ safety-reliant defence will only do him good. Should he falter, Charlie Peprah, who filled in admirably, is still around to step back in.
The point here is that not only did the Packers win it all a season ago, they had a year of development, with many young player gaining crucial experience.
Throw in the returning vets and what isn’t there to like about another Packers Super Bowl run, other than the fact that it’s kind of predictable?