Picking who is going to win a Super Bowl played months from now offers all sorts of twists and turns. In the prior 42 years, since I founded Qoxhi Picks in 1981, I have made a preseason Super Bowl pick and seven times we have tabbed the ultimate winner.
Now, that wouldn’t be such a big accomplishment if my selections were the New England Patriots during the years they won six themselves or some other highly touted favorite heading into a season. But, for a season-long wager, I am looking for teams with longer odds than any of the teams the books will list among the top five. I’m looking for odds of 12 to 1 or higher for a Super Bowl selection. When we picked the New Orleans Saints before the 2009 season their odds were as high as 22 to 1, and our most recent Super Bowl winner, the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, also opened the season with double-digit odds.
In the mid 1980’s, I thought I had the perfect method for picking the Super Bowl winner. Just take the team that lost the National Football Conference Championship Game the prior year. In 1983, the San Francisco 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game to the Washington Redskins, and the following year beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
On their way to Super Bowl XIX, the 49ers downed the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game and the following year the Bears won the Super Bowl. In 1986, we won with the New York Giants, who hadn’t lost the prior season’s championship game but had a stack of edges that made them our choice.
On their way to the Super Bowl XX title, the Giants had downed the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game, and that made Washington my choice in 1987. That was the year the Minnesota Vikings cleared the path for Washington by upsetting the San Francisco 49ers in a Divisional Round Game. Washington downed the Minnesota Vikings in their title game and two weeks later beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.
In 1987, the Vikings Championship Game loss to the Super Bowl Champion made them my pick to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 1987. The streak of Championship Game losers winning the Super Bowl the next year ended there, and in the past 35 years has hit paydirt eight times, most recently the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers following their Championship Game loss the prior season to the New England Patriots..
I like the odds of the Super Bowl winner being a loser in the prior season’s championship game. The Cincinnati Bengals, who got beat at Arrowhead Stadium by the Kansas City Chiefs before Andy Reid’s squad went on to win Super Bowl LVII, are in the crosshairs of this tendency that has illuminated eight Super Bowl winners in the most recent 38 years.
I am also very high on the team that lost the NFC Championship Game last season to the Super Bowl losing Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers. The Nick Bosa holdout doesn’t help, but if Brock Purdy is as good in his sophomore season as he was in his rookie campaign, the 49ers prospects go right through the roof.
The Bengals and 49ers are both listed with odds at 8 to 1 to win it all, and those numbers are a shade below what I would like for a season long wager.
On the other end, I have a team with long odds that appears perfectly poised to win it all while listed at the books at 45 to 1. That team is the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers season win total has been shaved to 8½ games, more based on the tough competition Pittsburgh meets in the AFC North Division than a slam on the Steelers talent. This is a Steelers team that last year appeared to be on their way to saddle Mike Tomlin with his first losing season as the Steelers head coach. Instead, this young Steelers squad won seven of the nine games they played after their midseason bye week. It also required winning their final four games of the season to avoid Tomlin’s first losing campaign.
Now, we have empirical evidence that if a team wins their final four or more games and fails to make the playoffs, their won/loss record the following year is below the season they closed out on a winning streak.
There is a logical reason for this, a team that wins four or more games to close out a season and doesn’t earn a playoff slot must have been pretty bad before the win streak. And second, that winning run at the end of the year is certain to provide more confidence than their talent may warrant, creating serious motivational problems.
Do the Steelers fall into these common pitfalls?
I think not.
This is a Pittsburgh organization familiar with success and their efforts last year in winning seven of nine games to close out their 2022 season is an indicator of a team coming together. Quarterback Kenny Pickett enters his second pro season now firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback. The fact that he got a great deal of experience last year and appeared to benefit from it, offers good reason for him to continue to excel in the Steelers surge.
Finally, Pittsburgh is not overrated, even in their own minds. The Steelers are motivated by looking up at three teams in their division that on most league rankings are listed higher than the Steelers. The Bengals are among the AFC favorites, the Baltimore Ravens could fly high with the return of Lamar Jackson to their offense and the Cleveland Browns add quarterback Deshaun Watson to their improved arsenal.
What that leaves us with is a resilient Steelers squad that recognizes the challenges ahead without any chance of complacency, and history shows that Super Bowl winners often emerge from divisions that provided the highest competition.
The battles in the AFC North Division will go a long way to prepare the Steelers for the wars they will fight on their way to a surprise win in Super Bowl LVIII.
Qoxhi Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers (45 to 1) to win Super Bowl LVIII