Monday, May 29, 2006

Peter King of Sports Illustrated picks the Cowboys to go to the Super Bowl...



Early favorites
Peter King, SI.com

The envelope, please. The combatants in Super Bowl XLI, on Feb. 4, 2007, at Dolphins Stadium?

The New England Patriots vs. the Dallas Cowboys. You heard it here first.

All kinds of great angles. Belichick-Parcells. Bledsoe-Belichick. Kraft-Parcells. Brady-Bledsoe. Parcells and his son-in-law, Pats VP of player personnel Scott Pioli, on opposite sides. Maybe we'd call it the Dallas Pioli Bowl. There are two weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl this season. We'd need two months to cover all the angles. That's how many good stories would be connected to this game.

And we haven't even mentioned Terrell Owens yet. Or Jerry Jones.

So many good stories that Terry Glenn might make the 17th paragraph of the Associated Press' Super Bowl preview. Might.

Now we get to the idiotic part of the story: defending the pick. I remember picking Minnesota-New England for Super Bowl XL at this time last year, and after I made the pick, I was the toast of the Twin Cities. Talk and print media in Minnesota were all excited about the Vikings getting props from a national columnist in the midst of an exciting off-season. You can see where that got them. Sex-boatgate. Daunte Culpepper playing and acting his way out of town. Mike Tice getting whacked. New England at least won the AFC East and a wild card game last year.

Minnesota won nothing but scorn. So please, take this not with a grain of salt, but with a pound. The Super Bowl is eight months and a week away, and I very much reserve the right to change my mind.

Over the last few days, I filtered my pick down from eight teams. Seattle, Carolina and Tampa Bay were my other NFC teams. San Diego, Indianapolis and Miami were my other AFC teams. When I woke up Saturday morning, I was thinking Carolina-Indianapolis. Then Carolina-San Diego and Dallas-San Diego. I knocked out San Diego because of Philip Rivers' playoff inexperience. I dropped Miami because I don't trust Culpepper to play 16 games, and I really don't trust his backup, Joey Harrington. I eliminated Seattle because I think they'll lose home field advantage with trips to Denver and Tampa Bay in December. Though I really like Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, I'm not sure I can totally trust him yet.

Carolina and Indy? Very, very tough. I can't find much not to like in either team, and I could see both winning the Super Bowl. But history tells me they're too chalk. Only once in the last decade have the Super Bowl teams been in their conference championship games the previous season. There's usually a surprise. Like Seattle and Pittsburgh last season. Who figured they'd make it? Who figured Baltimore and the Giants six years ago, or the Patriots five years ago?

Maybe Indy's lost too much on defense with David Thornton and Larry Tripplett now in Tennessee and Buffalo, respectively. Maybe Dan Morgan once again can't make it through 16 games and the playoffs in Carolina. Maybe DeAngelo Williams isn't the 1,300-yard guy John Fox thinks he is. Maybe the offensive line continues to torment the Panthers. Maybe Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson duel from 10 paces at midseason, tired of screaming for the ball. Maybe it's just an unforgiving late schedule -- at Washington, at Philly, Giants at home, Steelers at home, at Atlanta, at New Orleans to end the season. I don't know. It's a long season and things happen.

I like Dallas because it has answered every question I have for them but two: Is the offensive line good enough and will the secondary have any more meltdowns like the one it had in the last two minutes of the Washington game last year? We'll see. And I like the Cowboys even though they may have to win a road game or two in the playoffs to get to Miami because they just might go 3-3 in the toughest division in football right now.

There's some risk, to be sure, because Owens is a living, breathing incendiary device. But all kinds of silly chemistry things can happen once the year begins. What I like about this team is it addressed almost every one of its major needs entering the off-season. The Cowboys got a kicker with some clutch misses on his resume, Mike Vanderjagt, but he's better than any guy they've had in years. They got the best player in free-agency in Owens, who's also one of the five best offensive forces in football when he's mentally right.

They got a second blocking/catching tight end in the second round in Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano. They got the kind of stonewallish strongside linebacker in the draft -- Bobby Carpenter -- Parcells must have to play the 3-4 the way he wants. That's a really good 3-4 right now, and it could be superb if DeMarcus Ware provides the kind of pass-rush his potential says he can.
I like New England, even though so many leader-type vets are gone. There are still five left -- Brady, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. That should be more than enough to compensate for the loss of Willie McGinest, but I don't like Adam Vinatieri leaving, especially to the team that has the best chance to torment the Patriots in the conference, Indianapolis. But life will go on.

This team will be better on offense, with a real alternative to Corey Dillon in first-round pick Laurence Maroney. And you watch, the fantasy tight end sleeper this year will be third-rounder Dave Thomas from Texas. The kid's a keeper. Great hands, great route-runner. Brady's going to love him, and he'll find him six or seven times in the end. Write it down.

You know what else I like about Dallas and New England? Their schedules. December looks like it'll be kind to both teams. The Cowboys finish with three of four at home (New Orleans, at Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit). Look at New England's final eight games: Jets, at Packers, Bears, Lions, at Dolphins, Texans, at Jags, at Titans. There's a chance they'll be favored in all eight.
So it's Dallas-New England ... unless after touring the camps this summer, I feel like picking two other poor, unsuspecting teams.

Oh, you want a score?

Parcells goes out on top. Dallas 23, New England 21, behind six catches (two for touchdowns) by Owens.

After the game, Parcells hugs his owner, retires, hugs his son-in-law and takes the first plane to Saratoga the next day. He'll go out a winner.

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