The NFL is a little over the half way mark and as far as I can tell there 11 teams capable of reaching the Super Bowl, five from the NFC and six from the AFC. While I base this simple observation on records, the scoring differential, and not playing in the West division of either conference, I see these teams and get excited by the story lines FOX and ESPN will be busy creating a week’s worth of film around. I know it is silly. I should be thinking of offensive and defensive stats, but nobody buys Super Bowl tickets and gets excited by the yards allowed per carry no first defense allowed by their favorite team.
So, who will be canonized? Which team is going to buck history? Which team has the most sick kids to play for?
New York Giants
The Giants are playing their first season in a new stadium, New Meadowlands Stadium, and they have to strike early to rename it Giants Stadium and once again shaft the loyal Jets fans. This would also be Eli Manning’s chance to surpass his brother in some regard. He is not the tactician as his older brother and is much more inconsistent (though an argument can be made that Eli is a more accurate playoff passer than Peyton), so another Super Bowl win and another potential MVP will give him some bragging rights come the next family reunion.
The return of Michael Vick, a more mature individual finally ready to the most of his infinite talent. This will be the primary national story since the road to redemption is such an intoxicating narrative. The secondary story nationwide, but primary locally will be the Eagles chance to once again win their first Super Bowl. They have failed twice before and even traded away a former Pro Bowl quarterback to a division rival because of this consistent inability to finally win the big game.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers will finally replace Brett Favre in the cheese people’s hearts with a win. Rodgers is already a better quarterback, but he is far from a living legend. The mere mention of Favre forces Packers fans to flinch and doubt Rodgers capability the tiniest bit. To believe he does not know this and that this does not plague him in his night terrors is ridiculous. Nobody is that self-confident, for it is difficult to have more moxie than an old man still willing to send penis pics to a sideline reporter.
The Rise of the Dirty South. Part one young quarterback in Matt Ryan, one MVP-caliber receiver in Roddy White, part one one over achieving running back (Michael Turner), and one grizzled veteran (TE Tony Gonzalez)- this is a team difficult to root against. Add in a forgettable franchise history in a part of the country obsessed with college football, and this is a team all of America can love.
New Orleans Saints
The beginning of a dynasty for a franchise afflicted by such historical mediocrity. This could be the NFC version of the New England Patriots.
New York Jets
The perpetual underdog in the biggest city in America finally usurps the Football Giants and claims New Meadowlands Stadium as its own. This team already had to concede the inaugural game to the Giants and had to make due with a tarnished Monday night game broadcast on cable. This scheduling decision had to set the tone for the rest of the season. This team is ready to finally give lifelong Jets fans something else to talk about other than Joe Namath. The best match up for this team would be a chance to defeat the Giants in the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots
Proof that the Patriots’ heyday is not behind them, that Brady and Co. can still score in droves on any team, even with Randy Moss halfheartedly running route, and that this young defense has come of age. They also get to play the villain role, giving everyone outside of Boston a team to hate uniformly.
Adding a Super Bowl win to the list and reminding NFL fans that this is perhaps the most underrated football franchise in the league. Also, Ben Roethlisberger will get a chance to finally deliver an MVP-worthy performance in the big game, essentially wiping his sordid off-the-field history in fell swoop (this is a nation that forgives anything in the name of success).
This is perhaps the most difficult team to find a reason to celebrate or hate. The networks could go with the emergence of Joe Flacco or the immortality of Ray Lewis, but those stories are barely worth a five minute segment before a regular season slate of games. Only fans in Cleveland can hate this team with an unquestioned passion, everyone else (outside of Baltimore) is going to have to spend quite some time rationalizing a reason to care.
Vince Young and Chris Johnson. This is a reason to watch and root for the team. Young is coming back from an emotional roller coaster ride and Johnson is simply one of the best backs in the league. The franchise’s struggle is a tough sell since the team moved from its original playing grounds in Houston. The player angle, especially the triumph of Vince Young and the pure excitement of watching and waiting for Johnson to break an 80-yard touchdown run is reason enough to celebrate the Titans and a potential Super Bowl win.
Can Peyton Manning finally put all the doubt of his performance in the postseason to bed? This is going to be the story throughout the playoffs and will be the dominant story if the Indianapolis Colt reach the Super Bowl. The chance to for redemption after last season’s fourth quarter debacle will be the second lead.