Thinking you know who is going to win the Super Bowl is a little like thinking you have the inside track on what the weather is going to be in San Francisco on Christmas Day. It will no doubt be more precisely predictable next December, but forecasting the weather conditions for Christmas in September is significantly less certain.
A lot of things are going to happen with mother nature over the next four months, and a lot of changes are going to occur for the teams that comprise the National Football League too. One team is going to get enough edges by avoiding injuries and get the benefit of tip balls and close wins and another talented team is going to absorb the tough breaks and suffer an unexpected losing season. When it all comes together right, like it will for one of the 32 teams that open their regular season this week, a Super Bowl title is waiting at the finish.
For the other 31 teams, the bitter end is either digested over the long haul of a losing campaign or delivered with the sting of a playoff defeat. As difficult as it is to predict the Super Bowl winner for next February in September, it can be zeroed in on just as we could research what the average temperature has been in San Francisco on Christmas Day over the past 50 years to find a likely range.
My numbers illuminate what teams have the best chance based both on pure talent and season-to-season motivational factors that will boost the chances of some squads. This year, the National Football Conference has two most likely scenarios, first, the NFC representative in the Super Bowl is probably going to win it. Second, for a second consecutive season, a team playing in their conference championship game will have a chance to play host in the Super Bowl.
The regular season will eliminate 20 of the 32 teams, and the dozen that advanced to the postseason will be reduced to four contenders after the Wild Card and Divisional Playoff rounds. I think I know what two teams are going to meet in this year’s NFC Championship Game, and I also think I know who is going to win it.
We’ve been right seven times with our preseason Super Bowl pick, most recently with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 season and the New Orleans Saints three years earlier. The Saints returned 16 to 1 on the preseason Super Bowl bet and the Ravens 12 to 1. That is the kind of odds I’m looking for in a future wager.
Given how much can happen during a campaign, betting on a favorite is pure folly. The two teams that met in last year’s Super Bowl only pay 4 to 1 and 5 to 1 if wagered on this season. The sweet spot is between 10 to 1 and 20 to 1. Odds higher than 20-1 sometimes get to the big game, but like the Arizona Cardinals a few years ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers, seldom win the Super Bowl.
The most fertile ground for finding a Super Bowl winner is from the two teams that lost their conference championship games the prior season.
In the 1980’s, four consecutive NFC Championship Game losers won the Super Bowl the following season. In 1983, the San Francisco 49ers lost their championship game to the Washington Redskins, 24-23. The following year, they won the Super Bowl over the Miami Dolphins, 38-16.
The 49ers advanced to Super Bowl XIX with a win over the Chicago Bears, who won the following season in Super Bowl XX over the New England Patriots, 46-10. The team the Bears beat in the NFC Championship Game in 1985, the New York Giants, won the Super Bowl the following season over the Denver Broncos, 39-20. The Giants had beaten the Washington Redskins to advance, and the next season the Redskins beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, 42-10.
Last year, the Minnesota Vikings lost the NFC Championship Game to eventual Super Bowl winner Philadelphia. The Vikings had the best defense in the league in 2017, and have no reason not to be among the top defensive teams again this year. Minnesota also is counting on an upgrade at quarterback where they made the bold decision to get rid of all the QB’s on their 2017 roster; Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, while putting all their eggs in the Kirk Cousins basket.
I could like the Vikings for all the right reasons, and at current odds of 10 to 1, they fall within our target number for a future wager on the Super Bowl. My problem is expecting Cousins to click with his new team, and even though a first year coach and quarterback has won the Super Bowl six times, those half dozen cases all carried some very special circumstances. Three of the first year coaches took over championship teams. That list includes Don McCafferty with the Baltimore Colts in 1970, George Seifert with the San Francisco 49ers in 1989, and Gary Kubiak with the Denver Broncos in 2015.
The quarterbacks on those three teams, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning, were all able to win with their new coach in their first year together. But those three quarterbacks had history with their teams, while Cousins is coming into a new situation and needs to develop a rhythm with players he is just getting to know.
Two of the coach/quarterback combinations that won in their first year together were squads dominated by defense, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Trent Dilfer spent only one season with the Ravens, but teamed with Brian Billick to win the Super Bowl as the team’s starting quarterback from mid-season forward. Rob Johnson teamed with first year head coach Jon Gruden in Tampa’s Super Bowl winning season.
The sixth team to win with a quarterback and head coach working together for the first time was last year’s Philadelphia Eagles, who had Nick Foles step in and win it all in his first season with Doug Pederson. The quarterback most responsible for the Eagles earning home field advantage in the playoffs was Carson Wentz, who was enjoying his second season with Pederson before a December injury ended his season.
Do the Vikings have a defense as good as the 2000 Ravens or 2002 Buccaneers?
Is Kirk Cousins in a class with Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana or Peyton Manning?
That leads us back to a team that is postseason tested and in a perfect time in their history to win it all.
In Atlanta, we have a quarterback and coach together for four years, and although it was the Vikings that lost the NFC Championship Game, no team in the playoffs gave the Eagles a tougher fought win than the Falcons.
We all know that Atlanta has a great offense triggered by quarterback Matt Ryan, and if in his fourth season as head coach Dan Quinn has the defensive personnel in place to mirror what he got done as defensive coordinator in Seattle, the Falcons are the team to beat.
That is your NFC Championship Game; the Vikings versus the Falcons, and where it is played could go a long way in determining the winner. Although, I think the Falcons will be in action two weeks later when they battle the AFC Champion in their home stadium for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Qoxhi Picks: Atlanta Falcons (15/1) to win Super Bowl LIII