The fourth quarter of the NFL Season is upon us, my fellow football fanatics. We’ve had lockout-induced lethargy to start the season, injuries galore to contend with and a “Dream Team” that Vince Young is likely having nightmares about, but have we yet found our Super Bowl champions? I would argue that we have not, sorry Cheeseheads.
The fourth quarter, as any Tim Tebow fan could tell you, is where games, or in this context, championships are won. Right now, the Green Bay Packers are the vogue Super Bowl pick, but I would caution fans to look towards the past to predict the future.
Over the past 15 years, how many Super Bowl winners finished the season with the best overall record throughout the regular season? Only three teams have done it, the 2003 New England Patriots, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 1996 Green Bay Packers.
The 2008 Tennessee Titans started the season at a tremendous 10-0, but ended the season 3-3 with an embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Colts and were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. The 2005 Indianapolis Colts started 13-0 but they began benching starters, lost their momentum and floundered in games against San Diego and Seattle in December. NFL history is replete with stories just like these; teams that got out to hot starts and won the season’s first three quarters, only to fall behind in the fourth.
I would argue that what is most important in determining who will be champion is a team’s momentum throughout the month of December, not just their record. The 2010 iteration of the Packers showcased this perfectly by pushing their way into the final Wildcard spot in Week 17 and never looking back. Are the Green Bay Packers going to be the exception or the rule in 2011?
My guess is that the Packers will succumb to the pressure and end the season on a disappointing note. The Packers final five games feature just one team with a losing record, the Kansas City Chiefs. They must travel to the New York Giants and host AFC West leaders, Oakland. To finish the season, Green Bay must battle fierce division rivals the Bears and Lions. All three teams will be fighting for playoff position, so I imagine these last two contests will be too close to call.
After looking at the remaining schedules, their current injury reports and weighing their on-field performance, my Super Bowl matchup is New England vs. Dallas. Combined, the Patriots and Cowboys will play 2 of their final 10 games against teams that had a winning record after Week 11, both of them being the Cowboys vs. the Giants.
The Cowboys have overcome injuries at QB, RB and WR and have not faltered as much as they would have in previous seasons. The recent emergence of rookie RB Demarco Murray is a huge factor in the Cowboys stability; he is averaging 5.7 yards per carry compared to Felix Jones’ 4.0 yards per carry. With the rushing game’s success, Tony Romo is no longer tasked with carrying the offense, he can now focus on managing the game. The Dallas defense started the year strong, but has since faded due to an injury to key MLB Sean Lee. Lee has returned to the lineup, but is not 100%. Still, they are a Top 10 unit in total defense.
In Foxboro, the Patriots’ “next man up” philosophy is in full effect. The Patriots offense is led by the indomitable Tom Brady and a piecemeal group of WRs and TEs that lack a true deep threat. WR Wes Welker leads the team in receiving, but he has been supplanted at times by TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. As always, the Patriots rushing game is a bit of an afterthought, much like their defense. The Patriots defense is dead last in yards allowed, however they are Top 10 in points allowed with 20.3 per game.
The final score? New England Patriots 31, Dallas Cowboys 21.
Part 2: Click here to view our post season playoff predictions and to see how our NFL insider, Tim Te-bob, faired!