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Broncos are a super pick for an upset

Steve Yingling

If all of the NFL experts are correct, Super Bowl XXXII shouldn’t even be played Sunday.

After all, didn’t the Packers win the Super Bowl nine days ago when they muddied the Niners’ faces, 23-10, in the NFC championship?

But before you go down to Stateline to invest your $1 million in savings on the Packers, consider the progress the American Football Conference teams have made the past few years. Since the Niners bombed the Chargers 49-26 in 1995, the AFC has been very competitive in Pittsburgh’s 27-17 loss to Dallas in 1996 and New England’s 35-21 setback to Green Bay a year ago.

Admittedly, the Packers have looked impressive in wins over San Francisco and Tampa Bay, but they were beatable. Against Tampa Bay, the Packers coughed up the ball, but the Buccaneers didn’t capitalize and lost 21-7. A week later, the Niners showcased their one-dimensional playoff offense and allowed the Packers to play as conservatively as a Republican golfer.

Denver, on the other hand, has something both of those teams didn’t: a balanced offense. Come to think of it, the Packers haven’t played too many teams this season that pose a double threat – running and passing attacks. One of them, the Lions, upset the Packers 26-15 in Detroit and lost 20-10 at Green Bay.

The Packers were 3-1 against AFC teams during the regular season, but only one was a legitimate Super Bowl contender, New England, 28-10, in midseason when the Patriots were struggling. There other AFC casualties were the Bills (31-21) and Dolphins (23-18).

But the Packers are still hearing about their lone defeat to the AFC, a 41-38 loss to Indianapolis, the Colts’ first of only three wins. The Packers have won seven games since the Indy debacle, and some of their players and coaches have referred to that game as a wake-up call. But after the Packers woke up, they only had to beat the Cowboys, Vikings, Buccaneers, Panthers and Bills before entering the playoffs.

Do they really know how good they are?

Packer backers comparing scores point to the Broncos’ 34-17 defeat to the Niners in their next-to-last regular season game in San Francisco for proof of their superiority. But don’t forget the Broncos are the same team that went to Kansas City when it really mattered and put the Chiefs’ season on ice, 14-10. Didn’t the Chiefs pound the Niners, 44-9?

But enough of the score war! What will really matter is how well the Denver offensive line performs. If they are able to create running lanes for running back Terrell Davis, the Broncos should be able to keep the Packers’ highly efficient offense off the field. In playoff wins over the Jaguars, Chiefs and Steelers, the Broncos averaged 189.7 yards rushing per game. Summation: their defense spent a lot of time on the sidelines cheering on the offense.

Adding to the Broncos’ confidence is the fact that Green Bay was the league’s 23rd best in average yards per rush allowed.

Much has also been made of John Elway not being able to win the big game, but in the past it wasn’t the eventual Hall of Fame quarterback’s shortcomings as much as the Broncos’ inability to run the ball and play defense. Now, Elway, 0-3 in Super Bowl appearances, has the game’s best ground attack and a decent defense to reel in his first championship. He won’t need another Super Bowl.

Packer supporters rushed to their favorite betting window following the NFC title game, upping the Super Bowl line from 12 1/2 points to 14. Insiders say the line is inflated.

“My read is the Broncos are getting too may points. The point spread on a regular-season meeting between the two teams wouldn’t be this high,” said Steve Schorr, sports book manager at Harrah’s. “The NFC has dominated and won so many Super Bowls, but I think 12 points is too many.”

But Schorr still believes the Packers will repeat.

“The best play on the board is the Packer money line, -$4.00,” Schorr insisted.

Perhaps Schorr is trying to save his book from taking a financial beating. This game reminds me of the seven-point underdog Giants’ 20-19 victory over the Bills in 1991. The Broncos are a real threat to win this game outright and end the NFC’s 13-game Super Bowl win streak.

And if they lose, they won’t be embarrassed: Broncos 20, Packers 13.


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