I know what the odds are on picking a Super Bowl winner before the season starts. In my first 38 years making this annual selection for Qoxhi Picks, I have tabbed seven Super Bowl winners. Most recently, the 2012 Baltimore Ravens, who paid 12 to 1. The winner before that, the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, was a 22-1 shot.
Most of my predictions take into account the value of the wager, so picking the New England Patriots with odds of 5 to 1 or less, is not in my wheelhouse. Each September, I’m looking for the team that doesn’t have it all. The squad that is challenged to play their best to make up for a liability, and has more talent than public perception.
That last element is real important. A team saddled with expectations higher than their talent dictates, is in big trouble. A squad that has more talent than popular public opinion, is poised to perform at peak proficiency.
This year, we catch the Minnesota Vikings on the whiplash of that factor. Two and three seasons ago the Vikings had a defense ranked at or near the top in all important categories. When they made a 2018 offseason deal to bring in former Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, many figured the Vikings had the final piece for a winning Super Bowl team.
What the optimism around the Vikings camp did last year, was to have the team stumble on both sides of the ball, and miss the postseason.
Now, a year later, the pieces are still in place for the Vikings to excel, and the motivation is right to have them overachieve. This year, expectations are way down, as illustrated with odds as high as 25 to 1 to win the Super Bowl. In one season, Minnesota goes from the most over-hyped team to one of the most underrated.
If the Vikings are to soar, their quarterback is going to have to reverse his fortunes against winning teams. No quarterback has lost more games to squads who have won more games than they lost while playing on a good one than Kirk Cousins. In 27 career starts against opponents with a winning record, Cousins has only won five times.
This year, Cousins is playing on the best team he has ever worked with, and the dismal past efforts against winning teams will now only serve to motivate his play this season while he will in almost all cases, have the better team.
The Vikings have made four previous trips to the Super Bowl, all under the guidance of head coach Bud Grant, and none since the 1976 season. All four games resulted in losses, to the Kansas City Chiefs in the last game played before the leagues merged into the AFC and NFC in 1970. They were downed by the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers in 1973 and 1974 respectively, and were beaten by the Raiders in Super Bowl XI.
The first step towards winning the Super Bowl is making the playoffs, preferably as a division winner and with a record that earns you an opening week bye. When I worked for Al Davis in the 1970’s, his first concern was always geared to who the Raiders needed to be in order to dominate the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, our AFC Western Division opponents.
This year, the Vikings catch their division at the right time. The Chicago Bears are coming off a division win following four straight last place finishes. A common pattern would be to have the Bears experience a down season based on expectations exceeding talent.
The Green Bay Packers, the most consistent winner in the NFC North Division, is down a notch this year and under the direction of a new head coach. Matt LaFleur was named head coach of the Packers to replace longtime mentor Mike McCarthy, who was let go with four games left on Green Bay’s 2018 schedule. The Detroit Lions look to improve on the six wins earned last year in Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach, but the Lions are perennially looking to improve on their previous season.
With the division won, the Vikings main threat to end their Super Bowl journey in the NFC is projected to be the New Orleans Saints. I actually think the biggest challenge will be the Philadelphia Eagles if they are able to play the whole season without losing Carson Wentz to an injury.
If the Vikings are to advance to the Super Bowl, who is their AFC opponent?
No team comes into the season with more motivation to overcome a challenge than the Indianapolis Colts. This is a quality team that was likely to go deep into the 2019 playoffs, yet their high hopes were dashed when their leader, quarterback Andrew Luck, announced his retirement two weeks ago.
The pattern is way to similar to the circumstances that vaulted the 1999 St. Louis Rams to a 13-3 regular season and Super Bowl XXXIV win over the Tennessee Titans to ignore. They too lost their starting quarterback in the third week of the preseason, and the odds of them winning the Super Bowl were a near parallel to what happened to the Colts with Luck out; Indianapolis was 12 to 1 to win Super Bowl LIV and are now 45 to 1.
A lot can, and will, happen over the next 21 weeks before we know who is in Super Bowl LIV. But I like where I start, with two teams that have something to overcome, favorable odds, and more talent than currently perceived by popular belief.
Qoxhi Picks Super Bowl LIV:
Minnesota Vikings (22 to 1) over Indianapolis Colts