If a certain quarterback from Kiln, Miss. — who remains one of the NFL’s all-time leaders in touchdowns, yards and vogueing — doesn’t play this season, the Minnesota Vikings will drop from being a Super Bowl contender to just a playoff team (maybe).
I’ll avoid typing the quarterback’s name because I understand we’re all at our limit, and have been since the Drama King’s first heart-wrenching, tearful, yes-I-really-mean-it-this-time goodbye press conference in 2008.
But the potential ripple effect in the NFL from his retirement can’t be overstated. Here are the absolute five NFC teams that can go to the Super Bowl this season. I know this for a fact because I think even had former Falcons great Jeff Van Note convinced of my top five during our conversation at Falcons’ practice Wednesday. Either that or he was just worn down by the 217-degree temperatures or I was starting to hallucinate.
The NFC’s top five teams (assuming the diva retires).
♦ 1. GREEN BAY: It’s easy to forget Aaron Rodgers was in only his second year as a starter, yet he threw for 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. The Packers are also strong on defense. So what happened last season? They lost twice to the Vikings, which was the difference in them having home field in the playoffs. They had to travel to Arizona and lost a bizarre game that was closer to pinball than football — 51-45 in overtime. They won’t have to worry about Kurt Warner (five touchdowns) if they play again.
♦ 2. FALCONS: I know what you’re thinking: a little high. (The team, not me.) But no (to both). First of all, I think you can rank these five teams in almost any order. Here’s what stands out to me: The defense will be significantly improved. It will be more aggressive and get burned less often, given the additions of cornerback Dunta Robinson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, as well as the return of defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore from season-ending injuries. (The team’s broadcaster, Wes Durham, had a great analogy: Jerry and Moore are like redshirt freshmen.) The offense will benefit from Matt Ryan being in his third year, when young quarterbacks often take a big step up, and a more motivated running back, Michael Turner, who is in far better condition than a year ago.
♦ 3. DALLAS: Tony Romo got a lot better last year when Terrell Owens wasn’t in the huddle. Probably not a coincidence. Dez Bryant will either turn into one of the NFL’s greatest receivers or be a complete grease fire. The Cowboys have talent, but they also have weaknesses. The pass defense was surprisingly average statistically (20th overall) despite two Pro Bowl cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman). I also question whether Keith Brooking can again play at the level he did a year ago. Also, something is wrong when a team this talented gets absolutely bulldozed in the second round by Minnesota (34-3). That shows a possible lack of mental toughness, an indictment of coach Wade Phillips.
♦ 4. NEW ORLEANS: It’s difficult to criticize a team that just won the Super Bowl. But it’s noteworthy that no NFC South champion ever has successfully defended its division title. As for the league title, the run through the Super Bowl and the parties that follow can wear mentally on players. The offseason is shorter. It’s difficult to recapture the same fire and chemistry. Opponents are all suddenly gunning for you. A lot of things went right for the Saints last season. They’re still very good, but logic says they’re just not going to be great again.
♦ 5. NEW YORK:The Giants won their first five games last season and then forgot how to stop anybody. They went 3-8 down the stretch, allowing 40 or more points five times. They’ll be better this season. They signed free agent safety Antrel Rolle for $37 million and added veteran safety, Deon Grant. A number of the pieces from the Super Bowl team three years ago are still in place.
So there’s my top five in the conference. What do you think? Am I overrating the Falcons or do you agree?
NEXT POST: Rookie Sean Weatherspoon. If other NFL scouts considered him such a loudmouth and borderline obnoxious, why are the Falcons so high on him? I think you’ll enjoy the comments from general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Weatherspoon and teammates.