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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Ranking the Super Bowl contenders

“All hell has broken loose.” As with Pauly Shore’s hooligan antics in the “Biodome,” this season’s playoff results just don’t compute with seasoned NFL fans.

Not since the forgettable Ravens-Giants affair has the outlook for the big game looked so grim to the impartial observer. Unless somebody pulls a Eugene Robinson, this year’s match-up will be devoid of drama from the major industry players.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will be at the range working on their drives while Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Plummer-two heads of hair between them-drive their championship contenders down the field. 23-year-old Ben Roethlisberger actually seems like a grizzled vet among this group of inexperienced playoff gunslingers. Sure, Jake Delhomme led the Panthers to the big game a couple of years ago, but he’s only had one more full season (three) in the league than Big Ben and he hasn’t thrown less than 15 picks in any of them.

Besides their absence of notable field generals, the remaining playoff teams are notable in that none of them has a particular on-field specialty. These playoffs have rendered many of the old adages obsolete. Defense DOESN’T win football games, you CAN stop a high-powered offense from moving the ball downfield, and a team’s historical playoff record matters about as much as last week’s lottery numbers.

Thus it’s fitting that there are no “unstoppable” forces left alive in the playoff race. The Colt offense suddenly looked impotent against the rabid blitzing Steelers. Ex-Ute Steve Smith single-handedly registered more yards against the vaunted Bear defense than Chicago allowed most teams this season. And the Broncos-despite Jake Plummer’s moustache-somehow toppled Tom Terrific’s invincible Pats.

Plain and simple: the Steelers, Broncos, Panthers, and Seahawks are well-balanced teams that can execute on both sides of the ball. And, you know what they say: well-balanced teams that can execute on both sides of the ball win football games.

OK, so nobody says that. But they should, and with my new motto in mind, here’s how I rank the contenders, and their chances at winning the Super Bowl:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (33%)

The Steelers arguably have the most character of any of these teams. Bill Cowher has to be chomping at the bit to get another shot at the big game, and this may be the best team he’s ever had in his 12-year tenure.

Unlike the Broncos, Panthers and Seahawks, the Steelers can beat you in more ways than one. If you stack against the run, Roethlisberger is more than capable of finding talented receivers like Hines Ward, Antwaan Randel-El and Heath Miller for big yards down field.

Defensively, the Steelers are relentless. It’s easy to imagine that Jake Plummer and the play-action happy Broncos will exploit a couple of those incessant blitzes early on at Invesco, but it’s just as easy to imagine Jake Plummer rolling into a train wreck with Joey Porter. Plummer will be lucky to leave with his mojo in tact.

2. Denver Broncos (30%)

Here’s what you forget about these Broncos, though: this team is every bit as tough as the two-time Super Bowl champs of the late-’90s.

Mike Shanahan’s poor playoff run of late has been due to a Swiss cheese secondary and the corresponding inability of his passing game to match anybody in a shootout.

But the crafty GM bolstered his secondary with John Lynch, Champ Bailey and talented rookie corner backs Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth. As a result opposing teams have had to commit to a ground attack, serving up a veritable feast for Denver’s lightning-fast linebacking corps.

Now, Jake Plummer is no John Elway, but Jake Plummer in his prime isn’t that much different from a 38-year-old John Elway. By 1998, Elway had been reduced to a secondary role in the offense, similar to that of Roethlisberger with the Steelers last year. His only responsibility was to provide a complement for the run, and Shanahan isn’t asking Plummer to do much more. Ex-Ute Mike Anderson and speedy Tatum Bell combined for as many yards (1,935) as Terrell Davis used to compile during his prime, and Ashley Lelie has finally emerged as the dependable deep threat the Broncos thought he would become.

Granted, those are a lot of positives to stack on top of home field advantage in the AFC Championship, but hell will freeze over before I predict that a porn star impersonating a quarterback will win the Super Bowl.

3. Carolina Panthers (25%)

Familiar faces tend to skew our playoff perceptions. As sports fans, we remember the same characters leading teams to glory year after year, and it’s easy to forget that parity rules in the NFL. Experience doesn’t really mean so much, it’s just that good teams have an obvious tendency to acquire playoff experience.

False correlations aside, that Carolina is the only team among this grouped to have sniffed a Super Bowl must hold some significance, if only to them.

John Fox is one of football’s best coaches, and he’s squeezed this team dry this season. Steve Smith is his lone major offensive threat, yet the Panthers have racked up points on a number of tough defensive opponents this year.

Their powerful defensive line should provide a tough task for Shaun Alexander during this weekend’s conference championship. In five games against top-10 defenses this year, Mr. Underrated failed to break 100 yards once. The bigger the game, the tougher rushing yards are to come by, and Matt Hasselbeck is so shaky that his efficiency is measured on the Richter scale.

4. Seattle Seahawks (12%)

Everybody tells me the Seahawks never get the respect that they deserve. Well, I’d hate to break tradition.

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