Steelers will sack Pack in Super Bowl |

Steelers will sack Pack in Super Bowl

Steve Yingling

It’s hard to believe, but the National Football League season opens in five days.

Last time I checked, it was still warm enough to sleep with the windows open at night and blacktopping the driveway and cleaning the chimney remained on my summer list of chores.

Regardless, a new football season is upon us – one very similar to last – where five to 10 clubs have a shot at winning the Super Bowl.

My heart tells me that Jimmy Johnson will guide Tahoe’s lone NFL representative, Mike Crawford, to a Super Bowl title in his rookie season with the Fish.

But hearts rarely are very accurate in picking Super Bowl champions. If that was the case, my foundering Indianapolis Colts would have won 20 or 30 NFL titles by now.

In case you haven’t noticed, the NFL schedulemaker has matched the Dolphins and the Colts on opening weekend in Miami. What a dilemma. Do you root for the team that warmed and soured your winters for two and a half decades or do you pull for your hometown NFL player’s team?

Perhaps Crawford will forgive this sportswriter if he only pulls for the Dolphins when the former George Whittell High star is on the field. But please, Mike, don’t hurt Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, even though a porous offensive line will probably take care of that by game five or six.

So if the heart selects the Dolphins to win Super Bowl XXXII, who does the brain like?

Good question.

Most of the experts seem to like defending champion Green Bay – boy, that’s going out on a limb. With 19 starters intact because of a pathetic off-season of free agency, the Packers should be cast as the favorite. But don’t count on Titletown repeating.

However, the Pack should be back in the Super Bowl if Brett Favre stays healthy.

Green Bay has distanced itself from perennial NFC titlists, San Francisco and Dallas. The Niners could miss the playoffs when – not if – Steve Young becomes injured. Not even a 50-year Niner fan believes untested quarterback Jeff Brohm or rookie Jim Druckenmiller are remotely in the class of last year’s backup, Elvis Grbac. With an offensive line similar to the Colts, Young and Harbaugh may go through rehabilitation together.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys are softer than grandparents on defense with a depleted linebacker unit and defensive lineman Leon Lett serving a drug suspension. And who knows how long cornerback Deion Sanders’ back will hold out?

The Cowboys should rack up the points, though, with receiver Michael Irvin and Anthony Miller terrorizing defenses.

If there is an NFC longshot, look out for the Vikings. They made the playoffs last year and should be able to assemble a better running game this fall with Robert Smith returning from injury.

Thank goodness there is an AFC because that’s where fans will get most of their excitement this season. As many as six or eight teams are being touted as AFC champions.

Since Buffalo surrendered being the Super Bowl sacrificial lamb in 1993-94, three different teams – San Diego, Pittsburgh and New England – have represented the AFC in the title game.

That parity could very well continue.

Super Bowl runner-up New England and Jacksonville resemble legitimate title contenders, but the Patriots lost coach Bill Parcells to the Jets and the Jaguars may be without starting quarterback Mark Brunell (knee injury) for half of the season.

For a change, Kansas City may start winning games with its offense. The acquisition of Grbac and wide receivers Andre Rison and Brett Perriman points toward a special offensive season. But the Chiefs’ defense is in decline, especially after losing Neil Smith to the Broncos.

Speaking of Denver, the Broncos won’t have the defense again to go very far in the playoffs.

That leaves Pittsburgh. What’s not to like about the Steelers. Their coach, Bill Cowher, has already taken them to the Super Bowl once. Despite being hit hard by free agency at cornerback, the Steelers have a good mix of offense and defense to go all the way.

That Cowher now has the confidence to start Kordell Stewart at quarterback, should scare the rest of the league. Stewart has the potential to score from anywhere, and young receivers Will Blackwell and Charles Johnson will step in for free-agent losses Andre Hastings and Ernie Mills. And if they don’t find the zone, power back Jerome Bettis will.

If Pittsburgh doesn’t get it done, look out for Cincinnati. Presuming running back Ki-jana Carter begins to approach his potential, the Bengals could go deep into the playoffs. The Bengals’ passing game is one of the best and their defense was much-improved a year ago.

Raider fans, it won’t get any better in 1997. Jeff George lost in Indianapolis and Atlanta before coming to Oakland. He’ll do the same in Silver and Black.

Sorry Mike, Pittsburgh will beat Green Bay 31-20 on Super Bowl Sunday. But keep on hanging out with Johnson. The former Cowboys coach has six fingers that don’t have Super Bowl rings on them.

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