I'm thrashing about, as if trying to catch a trout with my bare hands, for another way to do this column. Even my totally sports-impaired friends - and they are legion - know who the only two real teams in the NFC are... Most of them can identify who plays quarterback, though if pushed, more than one would be hard-pressed to say exactly what a quarterback is. We need another way to look at this thing. Well, I could tell you more about my dogs....
Let's pretend, just for a second, the two aircraft carrying the San Francisco
49ers and the Dallas Cowboys collided somewhere over southwest Missouri,
killing all on board. Will we all concede then, no matter how smart Jerry Jones
is or how much money Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., is willing to spend, neither of
these teams will be playing in the Super Bowl this January? Given that no one
has to play and lose to
these bullies, is there a team left among the remaining 13 capable of winning
more than nine games?
The teams benefiting most from this hypothetical disaster are the clubs forced to play them twice, probably losing both, within their divisions. Let's start there: Buddy Ryan's defensive genius is above, like Washington's or someone's wife, reproach. Every team he has coached has turned into a defensive monster. Chicago, Philly, Houston, and now Phoenix. That's the good news. In each of the same places, Ryan has nourished a festering, cancerous "us vs. them" attitude pitting his defense versus his offense, not the conventional way to build an offense. Hasn't worked well, either. Cards have a new QB, Dave Krieg, and for some reason everyone is real excited about having him. How Krieg is any better than Steve Beuerlein, whom Ryan destroyed last year, is beyond me. They get to erase the two losses against Dallas, but will split the two replacement games for a 9-7 record. The New York Giants were 9-7 last year, despite being outscored 305-279. Their average margin of victory against a weak schedule, was a tiny four points. The offensive line is ancient, the great defensive line of yore a wistful memory. The QB is a guy named Jones. The faux disaster, lucky for N.Y., emptied the schedule of three losses. I figure they'll win one replacement game. That makes 'em 6-10 for the year. No Super Bowl for them. Atlanta seems to be the greatest beneficiary of the imaginary airborne misfortune. An easy schedule, plus three meetings against the dead guys, adds up to a flashy, 12-4 record. I figure the Saints to be 5-9 before the calamity; 5-11 after.
Which brings us to the NFC Central, a clean, orderly place where all teams endeavor to be 8-8. The Central sent four teams to the playoffs last year; three of them were 9-7. The Vikings will rely on 39-year-old Warren Moon. Face it, sportsfans, Warren ain't going to any Super Bowl... ever. They have a bevy of average running backs, decent receivers, and a respectable defense. They've also been first-round playoff drop-outs three years running, not to mention the drinking, domestic violence, and assorted other "boys will be boys" disputes that have ripped apart the team. But why dwell on the negative? The Vikes get lucky with the bogus crash, wiping out two certain losses, one each to Dallas and S.F. I figure they'd split the make-up games, giving them a Central-style 9-7 record. The Bears, the Bears, the Bears - my boys. The most amazing single stat I've run across is this: Chicago was flagged for only two holding penalties all last year. This team was close to the bottom of every category you can categorize: rushing, passing, sacks, but still made the playoffs. It's good not to hold! Wannstedt's a genius, turning urine into decent, sparkling wine. Sadly, he can't play. The Bears, unluckily, have no games against the hapless air travelers, but have a pitifully weak schedule. I figure them, with no talent to speak of, to be 10-6. I'm so weary of the "Pack is back" shit; shoot the guy who came up with that one. Brett Favre is the only legit QB in the division. Packers let you know about it, throwing on almost every down. The defense has big, overrated names. The Pack is 8-8. I have the Lions at 8-7 with one crash-out. They have the incomparable Barry Sanders, average QBs, good receivers, and average defense. They'll lose their one makeup game making them - ya gotta go along to get along - 8-8, the perfect Central team.
What's the point of this exercise? After this tragic event, still only two teams can manage more than nine victories. The best another NFC team can do (without dealing with the pretend-dead Cowboys and 49ers) is 12-4, which is what both the Niners' and Cowscum will likely be in real life. In short, past these no longer great but still good teams, the NFC slides off into a deep, musty well of mediocrity. If the AFC champ could play one of these playoff contenders, the long Super Bowl drought would end mighty quick.
As sick as it makes me to say it, the Cowboys, in lieu of any unforeseen acts of God, will be back in another Super Bowl come January. n