Last year, I locked in my Super Bowl pick early and felt very good about the choice. For once, I wasn't trying to do a roster breakdown or getting myself all tied up in strengths and weaknesses. I was looking for a team with a chip on its shoulder, one that would be coming into the season with something to prove, a hungry team, nasty, etc.
The Saints were my Super Bowl winner.
Then they came out and lost their first four. And finished 7-9. All of which should make
Dallas is the winter-book favorite. The Cowboys are loading up with all sorts of fancy names --
This is their year, right? Sorry, but I just don't feel it.
I look around the league, from the perspective of an individual coming off a nice, fat vacation, and I see the usual summer notes of unsettlement. Oakland's
"And they got mad at ME for carrying a gun," said the Cowboys
Dare I pick them to go all the way? They're a team for whom I never had much of a feel, and this goes back to their old Super Bowl days, when they were marched to the slaughter by any AFL or AFC team they faced. They're a team that turned timid and blew the NFC Championship game against Atlanta in '99, and then, two seasons later, brought a powerhouse offense into Giants Stadium for the same title match and got undressed, 41-0.
Since then? One playoff season out of the next seven. So why do I get this real hunch about them? OK, yeah, right now they're my choice for the winner of Supe XXIII. And here's why:
Let's get down to basics. Run the ball. Stop the run. Best in the league at both last year. I can't help it -- I'm hooked on the fundamentals. Their middle triangle of tackles
A trade with the Chiefs brought them defensive end
"I'd be very surprised if he has any trouble in that area from now on," the coach says. "We're talking about a very bright, engaging person. When his plane came in here, our defensive line coach and both defensive tackles all went to pick him up at the airport."
It's almost a miracle to get a guy like that in a trade. Sack specialists are like diamonds, and Allen's a young one -- only 26 years old! And he's not one of those wild-angle loopers who leaves a couple of acres inside for the runners. He's a technician who honors the down home of the game.
In the offseason, when I was carrying on with my, "That's it ... all the pieces are in place," rant, a few negative voices were heard. "Why," I was asked, "did Allen's production usually fall off in the second half?" And my answer was because he was on the field too much. The way the game is now, no defensive lineman, especially an edge rusher with a high motor, can do it without relief. And the Chiefs kept Allen on the field.
"We're more what I would call a wave rushing team," Childress says. "If we dress eight defensive linemen, they'll all play. Jared's gonna be in there, sure, but I'm not going to sit
"There's no shame to putting your hand up when you're tired and have to come out. Of course, if you're going to be standing on the sideline next to the coach on every critical down, there's going to be a problem."
Pass rush begets pass defense, which begets better statistics than the Vikings had last year, one of their big failings. They finished last in yards allowed. Where's the fix there?
I get the feeling that I haven't convinced anybody yet. How about the league's flashiest runner in '07,
And I know where we're headed.
"How long?" Childress says. "I talked to
"What can I tell you about Tavaris? Well, a quarterback has to be wired the right way, and he's wired that way. He doesn't show that he's sweating. The physical skills are there, but then there's another thing. There's a mantle to being the starting quarterback.
"Besides the production, there's something to walking into the building every day and being the man. I mean every day. Tavaris is pretty good with that."
There aren't many better situations for a young quarterback than the one in which Jackson now finds himself. Childress played the position. He coached on the offensive side for 29 years before getting his head coaching shot at Minnesota two seasons ago. For seven years he was the Eagles QB coach and offensive coordinator.
"I told him that when those legs go, you're going to have to learn to rely on other things," the coach says. "You've got to evolve. It's like a wounded animal. All the other senses are heightened. And he went out and had some of his most accurate games, passing the ball.
"When I got the job here, well, in my wildest dreams I didn't think I was going to have to get rid of a franchise quarterback. But after three weeks in the spring, it was just obvious that it wasn't going to work, with
"Daunte was a guy who always used his legs. He wasn't an anticipatory thrower. He had to see the whites of their eyes. And once he got hurt, well, coming back from the injury, he couldn't play that way."
Well, could this be the year that Tarvaris Jackson takes the Vikings the whole way, under a coach who can do everything for the position except throw the ball? I kind of think so. There's a storybook angle here, older coach, young quarterback, as the troops rally round.
"As a franchise quarterback, there's the matter of the work ethic, putting in your hours," Childress says. "Tarvaris knows that, how important it is that people see you working when they come in. Is he in the right place for a guy evolving? Yeah, I'm convinced he's got what it takes.
"We just have to see how he does on the field."
So en fin, do I like the Vikings to go all the way? Well, yeah, why not? A feeling of destiny, that's what I sense about Brad Childress and his baby quarterback.