Surely, NFL has another Super Bowl shocker on tap |

Surely, NFL has another Super Bowl shocker on tap

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Football season is upon us and that has come to mean one thing to NFL fans — which team will shock us this season.

Predicting Super Bowl champions is like forecasting Sierra winters — don’t try to make a living at it.

If your relatives would have put you in the same freezer with Ted Williams for the past year and you were miraculously revived a year later, you’d probably think you were really dead if somebody informed you that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the last Super Bowl.

But the Bucs aren’t alone in the NFL’s titillating unpredictability. Over the past five years, we have also seen the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots win the Lombardi Trophy.

Not since the 1996 Green Bay Packers have we seen one of the NFL’s esteemed franchises claim a title. And it doesn’t appear that Dallas, San Francisco, Oakland or Pittsburgh are close to planning any Super Bowl parades this season. However, there are some interesting possibilities for some franchises that haven’t made any noise in a while.

For one, the Miami Dolphins are an elite receiver away from winning their first Super Bowl title since taking back-to-back titles in 1973-74. It’s hard to believe that prolific passer Dan Marino never won one, but Jay Fiedler may soon have a ring.

This may be the Dolphins’ season because Bob Griese was the quarterback of their last championship team and now the team has Griese’s son, Brian, as their backup QB.

Another intriguing championship-caliber team is the Kansas City Chiefs. Dick Vermeil keeps the seats filled with his offensive fireworks, but his defense has been about as stingy as Mike Tyson in a jewelry store.

Other AFC teams to watch are Butch Davis’ Cleveland Browns, New England and Indianapolis. If William Green runs for more than 1,200 yards, look out for the Browns, who should put plenty of points on the board with Kelly Holcomb now at the controls.

The Colts are also a threat to continue this era of unpredictability because of an improving defense and the return of the “real” Edgerrin James. James looked strong in the Colts’ preseason victory at Denver on Monday night and Peyton Manning looks as if he’s on the verge of a huge season.

New England, the 2002 champs, appears ready to make a better run at the Super Bowl than it did last year. The Patriots have solidified their defense and Tom Brady has any number of receivers who can find the end zone. However, their running backs — Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk — cast some doubt.

In the NFC, Atlanta looked like Super Bowl material until Michael Vick recently went down with a broken leg. But don’t get down on the Falcons too soon. After all, they still have a terrific offense with quarterback Doug Johnson, receivers Peerless Price and Brian Finneran and running backs T.J. Duckett and Warrick Dunn.

Also, Dan Reeves has been to the Super Bowl before and the Falcons have a defense that can win games as well.

Jon Gruden will make certain that the Bucs put up a better Super Bowl defense than the previous three champions — Patriots, Ravens and Rams. But unhappy camper Warren Sapp has already started to pull apart the team off the field.

Other NFC teams to keep an eye on are the St. Louis Rams, who have the fifth-easiest schedule and a healthy Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk; Seattle, the second-softest schedule and a balanced offense led by running back Shaun Alexander and talented young receivers Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson; and the New York Giants.

The Giants have the potential to win it all because their quarterback, Kerry Collins, has been to the Super Bowl and he now has a complete set of weapons with Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey and Ike Hillyard. But the Giants will only go as far as their inexperienced offensive line will take them.

For what it’s worth, it’ll snow a bunch in December and January and in February, Ricky Williams will lead the Miami Dolphins over the Falcons for their first Super Bowl title in three decades.

— Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or

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