My Super Bowl XLIX Dilemma

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Someone will win Super Bowl XLIX, but it won’t be the Giants.

With the Giants officially on Day 2 of the offseason (I say “officially” because you could make the case that some of them have been in offseason mode for weeks and some never even left it for the regular season) their season has ended in December for the third year in a row. Without the Giants in the playoffs, it’s time to once again rank the 12 playoff teams in order from which team I would most like to see win Super Bowl XLIX to which team I don’t want to see win at all.

1. Cardinals
In 2013, Bruce Arians’ Cardinals finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs because of the deep NFC West, while the 8-7-1- Packers won their division and hosted a first-round game. This season, Arians lost his starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, for Weeks 2, 3 and 5 (they had a bye in Week 4), and then to a season-ending injury in Week 10. The Cardinals went 6-0 when Palmer was their quarterback and 5-5 when he wasn’t. The Cardinals could have been looking at becoming the first team to win the Super Bowl in their own building if Palmer hadn’t gotten hurt, but now they have to settle for starting either their third- or fourth-string quarterback in the playoffs. Arians has dealt with some bad luck through his first two seasons with the Cardinals that could only be paid off with a miraculous run in the playoffs. It’s not going to happen, but I’m rooting for it.

2. Broncos
I don’t think the Broncos are capable of going to Gillette Stadium and beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. I wish they were and I hope they are, but Peyton Manning in that building just isn’t the same guy he would be if the Broncos had earned the 1-seed and would be hosting that potential game. Peyton is going to need a second Super Bowl win to be considered the greatest quarterback ever and not just the greatest regular-season quarterback ever. He had his chance in Super Bowl XLIV and again in XVIII and I hope he gets the chance again in XLIX because that will mean the Patriots won’t be there.

3. Seahawks
Last year, I had the Seahawks ranked eighth in this column because I didn’t want to see Pete Carroll running around the field as a Super Bowl champion. At the time, I said, “In a world where college coaches will do anything and I mean anything to get a better job, Pete Carroll is the poster boy for how to get ahead after he left USC with a two-year bowl ban and the elimination of 30 football scholarships for another shot at the NFL.” But then the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII and I got over seeing Carroll as a champion and actually grew to like the Seahawks this season, mainly because I believe they are the one true team that can beat the Patriots in a potential Super Bowl matchup.

4. Colts
The Andrew Luck lovefest is too much to take. I understand that he is going to be the face of the league once Peyton Manning and Tom Brady retire and Aaron Rodgers gets older, but can we wait until we get to that point before we anoint him as that player?

Even though I have the Colts ranked fourth, I want them to lose in the first round because they have absolutely no chance of going to Gillette Stadium and beating the Patriots in the divisional round if that is the matchup that happens. The Colts were run out of their own building by the Patriots, well Jonas Gray really in his fourth career game, and that game barely involved Tom Brady and the passing game (19-for-30 with 257 yards), so there’s a 100 percent chance they will get routed on the road.

5. Lions
The lasting image from the sidelines of Super Bowl XLV is Jim Caldwell standing there with the only look he has, which is one of confusion, and that look was only intensified following the Saints’ onside kick to begin the second half in a game the Colts could have put away if Pierre Garcon didn’t drop a would-be touchdown pass from Peyton Manning. Somehow, the Lions thought Jim Caldwell was the right man for the prime of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson’s career even after watching Caldwell stand speechless and wearing a headset seemingly connected to nothing for three years as the Colts’ head coach. I wouldn’t really mind if the Lions won the Super Bowl because they have been so bad for so long, but thinking of Caldwell as a Super Bowl-winning head coach is hard to fathom and accept.

6. Bengals
Last year, I said the following about the Bengals:

What is there not to like about the Bengals? Or should I say, what is there to not like about the Bengals? Unless you really hate gingers and therefore Andy Dalton or want to see the Bengals playoff win drought endure another year, there’s no reason to care if the Bengals win it all.

Well, this season, the Bengals cost me numerous picks, parlays and teasers, and most of those were the product of Andy Dalton turning the ball over, so there is a reason to care if Dalton and the Bengals win it all.

7. Panthers
Ah, there’s nothing quite like a 7-8-1 team winning their division and getting a first-round home game. I might as well have left the Panthers off this list because without either a strong offense or defense, they are the least likely team to get to the Super Bowl, so spending time writing this paragraph about them has just been a waste of time. And let’s not forget what I wrote about them last year:

I’m still mad at the Panthers for their Super Bowl XXXVIII loss to the Patriots that gave the Patriots their second Super Bowl in three years. And I’m still mad at the Panthers, well mainly just Jake Delhomme, for destroying that divisional round game against the Cardinals in 2008 with five interceptions, costing me the Panthers -10 pick.

8. Packers
Let me remind you of how the Packers’ season have ended in the Aaron Rodgers era:

2008: Missed playoffs
2009: Lost in wild-card round
2010: Won Super Bowl
2011: Lost in divisional round (first game)
2012: Lost in divisional round after beating Joe Webb and the Vikings in the Wild-Card round
2013: Lost in wild-card round

In the last six years with Rodgers as the starter, the Packers have won five playoff games with four of them coming in the same year. And if the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” doesn’t happen, the Packers don’t even make the playoffs in 2010 let alone win the Super Bowl. If the Packers win the Super Bowl, the never-ending praise for Rodgers is only going to get worse.

9. Steelers
Ben Roethislberger a three-time Super Bowl champion? No one wants that. But I do want Big Ben to at least get to the big game (as long as he isn’t facing the Cowboys when he gets there). Because if Roethlisberger is in Arizona then that means the Patriots aren’t and right now, I feel most confident about the Steelers upsetting the Patriots in the AFC playoffs than the Broncos or any other team.

10. Ravens
I spend every season rooting against the Ravens after what happened in Super Bowl XXXV, but this year my anti-Ravens rooting was even more pronounced thanks to their handling of their off-the-field issues and owner Steve Bisciotti’s press conference on the matters. And the cherry on top of it all was Joe Flacco going 21-for-50 for 195 yards and three interceptions (his line was way worse until the fourth quarter) against the Texans and destroying a teaser I had. There is nothing to like about the Ravens and if they win Super Bowl XLIX, Flacco would be a two-time Super Bowl champion.

11. Cowboys
There is only one team I want to win Super Bowl XLIX less than the Cowboys. The Cowboys are part of my most hated sports team group, which also includes the Red Sox, Mets, Cardinals, Eagles, Jets, Flyers and the next team on this list. A Super Bowl win for the Cowboys gives happiness to Jerry Jones and all of the fraud fans around the country, who have never been to Dallas, but are somehow Cowboys fans and gives Tony Romo the validation he needs to solidify his career and clear his name from the No. 1 spot in the Superstar Without A Championship power rankings. Tony Romo as a winner and a champion? I don’t think anyone wants that. Especially Giants fans.

12. Patriots
From the 2010 playoffs:

There is no way I want the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. None at all. I would rather walk across the George Washington Bridge naked, during rush hour, while it’s freezing rain than see the Patriots win.

Without the Giants in the playoffs, I don’t feel confident in any other team’s ability to eliminate the Patriots in the postseason. Last season, I felt confident in the Broncos’ chances at home in the AFC Championship Game and in 2012,

Sure, the Patriots have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, but they were home for the 2012 AFC Championship Game against the Ravens, the 2010 divisional round against the Jets and the 2009 divisional round against the Ravens. They have lost at home in the playoffs and they can lose again. The problem is that out of the other five teams in the AFC playoffs, only the Bengals, Broncos and Colts have played the Patriots this season, going a combined 0-3 and getting outscored 110-58. In other words, the AFC field is bad. Really, really, really bad. The team’s with the best chance of extending the Patriots’ Super Bowl drought to 10 years are all in the NFC, and by the time the Patriots would have to play the NFC, there will be only one game standing between them and winning the Super Bowl and anything can happen in one game.

I’m scared that this is the year the Patriots finish the job after losing two Super Bowls, three AFC Championship Games, two divisional round losses, a wild-card round loss and a missed postseason over the last nine years. But the one thing keeping me from penciling the Patriots in as the Super Bowl XLXI champion is Mike Hurley telling me that he has seen better Patriots team he thought would win the Super Bowl and they didn’t.

The Patriots have to lose.

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