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  THE ODDS SAY SOMEONE WILL WIN THE SUPER BOWL THIS YEAR, BUT WHO?  
   
  The NFL has cultivated this image of itself built on unpredictability, surprise and parity.

You never know who will win!

Good luck guessing who will win the Super Bowl!

We'll give them parity, but the rest of it? A bunch of hooey. All these surprise teams that came out of nowhere for huge seasons -- it's all exaggerated. Picking exactly who the champion, of course, will take some luck. But the idea that any of the 32 teams could win the Super Bowl is quite the far-fetched myth.

The St. Louis Rams started this NFL-is-chaos theory in 1999 when Kurt Warner dominated the league and Dick Vermeil won his Super Bowl. And then cried. But you know what, the Rams have been a pretty good team since, not just some flash in the pan.

The Baltimore Ravens took the title after the 2000 season. Their "out-of-nowhere" story? Oh, just one of the best defenses ever. The Oakland Raiders made last year's Super Bowl and are perhaps only one Tony Siragusa flop job and one referee's whistle from having played in three consecutive Super Bowls. The Philadelphia Eagles have lost two NFC title games in a row and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on the tips of everyone's championship tongue for years before they broke through last season.

So let's get over the notion that we have no idea who will be this season's champion. Fine, you might pick the Bucs to repeat, your buddy might take the Tennessee Titans, his buddy could take the Dolphins and I would take somebody else (keep reading), but we're all picking from the same relatively well-known group of teams.

Here's a quick look at each of the 32 teams, listed in order of their predicted division finish, along with whether you should put money on those teams based on current odds for the few places in the world where gambling is OK. (Remember, odds could vary based on where you place your bets.)

 

 
   
 

 

1. New England Patriots. The Patriots spent their offseason shoring up the defense, adding first-round tackle Ty Warren, second-round cornerback Eugene Wilson, pass rusher Rosevelt Colvin, safety Rodney Harrison and tackle Ted Washington, among others. Coach Bill Belichick felt good enough about who he had to get rid of safeties Tebucky Jones and Lawyer Milloy. Those are questionable departures, but we'll give Belichick the benefit of the doubt for now. Don't worry about the offense. Tom Brady led the league with 28 TD passes last year. Odds: 16-1. Good money on a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Milloy's release might even lengthen the odds.

2. Miami Dolphins. You've heard about the Dolphins, how they picked up once-great linebacker Junior Seau, safety Sammy Knight and the most overhyped backup quarterback ever in Brian Griese. Ricky Williams will be one of the two or three best running backs in the league and the defense should be great. But something is missing. I'm not sure if it's enough youth on defense, enough punch on offense or just a good ol' killer instinct. The Dolphins might win one playoff game, but that won't be enough to save Dave Wannstedt's job and then all bets are off for the future. Odds: 9-1. I don't think they'll win so I'm staying away, plus the money isn't very special.

3. Buffalo Bills. What made the Bills special last year was their passing game and they want to scale that back now. There's no proof they can run a balanced offense, plus the rebuilt defense will need at least a year before it is on top of the world. The early part of the schedule is friendly, but it gets tough late and the Bills might finish 2-4 in the final six weeks and miss the postseason. Odds: 20-1. OK, if you're a Bills fan. Not OK, if you're unbiased.

4. New York Jets. After last season, all Jets fans would dream about was Chad Pennington throwing to Laveranues Coles for years to come. Now, their nightmare is Vinny Testaverde to Curtis Conway. Look, there's just no reason for hope here, no matter how great a motivator coach Herm Edwards is. They'll probably open 0-3 and Bill Parcells will have the Cowboys smelling blood in Week 4. That would then make for an ugly off week in Jets land. Odds: 45-1. Not worth it.

 

 
   
 

 

1. Pittsburgh Steelers. Don't underestimate how much they will miss shooting victim Joey Porter. He might not be the Michael Vick of that defense, but he is at least the Chad Pennington. At least Porter looks like he will be back by midseason and at least the Steelers' division stinks. They'll get into the playoffs that way, but this new un-Steeler-like offense doesn't look like it'll hold up in January. Odds: 18-1. Definite stretch to win the Super Bowl, but the money is worth it if you like the emotional rally-around-Porter theme.

2. Baltimore Ravens. Brian Billick is getting a lot of praise for going with Kyle Boller at quarterback, but I don't buy it. With the exception of one stretch against some borderline scrubs, Boller was pretty awful in the preseason. And he hasn't faced any hidden coverages or corner blitzes. By the time he gets his head on straight, it'll be too late - no matter how good that defense is. Odds: 27-1. Good bet if it were on finishing .500 but you're throwing your money away on the Super Bowl.

3. Cleveland Browns. The Browns are one of the few teams that didn't advance their cause in the offseason. Their defense is a mess and their only hope will be to outscore teams if Kelly Holcomb is lights out in his first stint as a starter. The Browns might get virtually no contributions from their first three first-round picks - Tim Couch, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren - which is an astonishing failure. Coach Butch Davis is on the hook for the most recent changes and will be on the hot seat after a miserable season. Odds: 50-1. Don't bother.

4. Cincinnati Bengals. The best thing about new coach Marvin Lewis is that he is from outside the organization, rather than another crony promoted up the chain. The Bengals do look like they're headed the right way, but they still have way too many marginal players. Corey Dillon is a great running back, but the Bengals will have to replace him by the time they are ready to compete. Odds: 100-1. Moving right along.

 

 
   
 

 

1. Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy is working on that defense, which improved to eighth in the league last year. Running back Edgerrin James is back to his pre-injury form and should be a dominant player and the offense will hum. The biggest question is whether the defense is just good or close to great With so many youngsters, they might need another year to develop. Odds: 27-1. Could be a very intriguing team with a few breaks so it might be worth spending a couple bucks.

2. Tennessee Titans. Jeff Fisher is a great coach and Steve McNair is a great quarterback, but facts are facts. The team is woefully thin, hindered by a couple years of salary-cap cuts. Running back Eddie George is on his last legs and the receivers remain shaky. Fisher should keep things together, but the sky is going to fall in soon on this team. Odds: 15-1. The Titans are a popular pick, but you're wasting your money.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars. Big questions here: How will LaBrandon Toefield look when he fills in for running back Fred Taylor? When will quarterback Byron Leftwich (who looks great) get on the field? How horrible will Hugh Douglas look? How, in this age of constant substance testing, could Jimmy Smith hide a drug problem for several years after his first positive test? Odds: 75-1. Not even close to worth it.

4. Houston Texans. These guys still have no offense and, based on Dom Capers' history, don't assume they will soon, even though Andre Johnson should be a tremendous receiver. Stacey Mack will get some touchdowns, but the patch job the Texans applied on the defense last year is getting scratched off, leaving them with big problems. Odds: 250-1. At those odds, it's fun to bet but not seriously.

 

 
   
 

 

1. Kansas City Chiefs. These guys have some serious offense as long as Priest Holmes is healthy. If anything happens to him, all bets are off. Until then, Trent Green will direct a very potent attack, one that should be among the league's top scorers. The Chiefs made some defensive improvements, enough so that the defense shouldn't be the determining factor of their season. It will be Holmes' hip. Odds: 18-1. Like the other teams we've mentioned, the money is worth it here.

2. Oakland Raiders. You hear about all the old guys the Raiders have, but very quietly, with the help of all those draft picks they got for Jon Gruden, they have started to compile some intriguing youngsters. In a couple years, imagine an offense built around receivers Jerry Porter and Teyo Johnson, running back Justin Fargas and a yet-to-be-determined quarterback. I have them second not because they will take a step back but because the Chiefs will be that much better. Odds: 15-1. For the defending AFC champion, this is good money. Oakland is getting lost in the shuffle a bit.

3. San Diego Chargers. LaDaininan Tomlinson is my No. 1 fantasy pick and will have a dominant season. But I don't think David Boston is the answer at wide receiver and the defense has a bunch of rookies but no real shot of doing anything this year. The Chargers always fade late and a final three games against Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Oakland will hurt any flickering playoff hopes. Odds: 40-1. Check back in 2004.

4. Denver Broncos. Jake Plummer is the big story and it will be interesting to see how coach Mike Shanahan can turn around a guy with 114 interceptions and 90 TD passes in six seasons. The other offensive weapons are there so Plummer just has to get them the ball. Based on his history, though, expect him to make just enough mistakes for the Broncos to lose a bunch of high-scoring games. Odds: 20-1. A lot of other people have more faith in Plummer than I do.

 

 
   
 

 

1. New York Giants. These guys seem snakebitten by everything related to long snapping. They lost a playoff game to the 49ers because of a bad snap on a field-goal attempt, then the guy they signed to solve that problem, Ryan Kuehl, recently was lost for the season to injury. But if that's the Giants' biggest problem, well, every other team should be so lucky. The offense, led by Kerry Collins' emergence late last year as a top 10 quarterback, is excellent. Hmm, should he throw to Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Jeremy Shockey or Tiki Barber out of the backfield? Nice problems to have. A talented defensive line and a pair of top cornerbacks anchor the defense. You will be hearing much from the Giants. Odds: 15-1. If you're in Vegas put a few bucks down for me.

2. Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles keep losing players everybody else thinks are key and Andy Reid keeps saying, "Don't worry. I am wise and I like to eat fast food." Not bringing back Hugh Douglas wouldn't be a big deal if two of the guys supposed to replace him, Derrick Burgess and Jerome McDougle, weren't hurt. And Duce Staley not reporting until very late wouldn't be a big deal if Correll Buckhalter weren't coming off a knee injury and if Brian Westbrook had done anything in the NFL. This is still a very good team and Todd Pinkston will turn into a very good receiver. But they are no Giants. Odds: 8-1. A popular pick but probably too popular to make much money.

3. Washington Redskins. Coach Steve Spurrier is trying to fix this thing and he probably will, but not this year. Everything revolves around Patrick Ramsey and he still is a very inexperienced quarterback. Trung Canidate is not the answer at running back and a tough schedule, especially early, will knock the Redskins down and leave them scrambling to reach .500. Odds: 45-1. A nice number but not a realistic bet.

4. Dallas Cowboys. You really should pity Bill Parcells. He is a self-admitted loner who has few acquaintances outside the game. He doesn't even have that many friends within the game because his abrasive style has run so many of them off. He coaches basically because he has to, not so much because he wants to, and he knows it will make him miserable. A painful divorce two years ago shattered the remnants of his personal life. And Quincy Carter is now his quarterback. Odds: 85-1. Not nearly good enough money.

 

 
   
 

 

1. Green Bay Packers. The Packers face significant questions on the offensive line, at wide receiver and all over the defense. But they still have Brett Favre and they still play in a horrible division. That alone gets them to January. Odds: 20-1. OK money, but Green Bay won't be playing for the title.

2. Minnesota Vikings. You haven't had to worry about the Vikings' offense recently, especially after Michael Bennett got his act together last year. Throw in defensive additions including Kevin Williams, Chris Claiborne and Denard Walker, and the Vikings could have been sitting pretty. But Bennett definitely is out until midseason, and probably all year, which will swing too much of the onus back onto Daunte Culpepper. If Minnesota had a no-brainer run game (Onterrio Smith doesn't count), they have snuck up on the Packers. Odds: 30-1. A surprisingly low number for a 6-10 team last year. Too low a number, actually.

3. Detroit Lions. New coach Steve Mariucci gives the Lions hope, as does Joey Harrington to Charles Rogers - both of whom look like the very real deal. Unfortunately, Matt Millen's personnel decisions have completely stripped the rest of the team of its talent, aside from a few linemen. Harrington will be good enough in Year 2 to pull out a couple of victories and Mariucci's new spirit will earn a couple more. Odds: 70-1. Not nearly good enough money.

4. Chicago Bears. Here's a tip: Anytime you rely on Kordell Stewart to save you, you're screwed. It really is a shame that the Bears have run this thing into the ground because Marty Booker is one of the NFL's most surehanded receivers and linebacker Brian Urlacher is a joy to watch. Almost everything around them stinks. And what will coach Dick Jauron do when Stewart falters and he has to choose between Chris Chandler and rookie Rex Grossman to replace him? Look for a new job, that's what. Odds: 50-1. Who bet this line down to 50-1?

 

 
   
 

 

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Super Bowl champs. Players who still think they don't get enough respect. No significant degradation of talent. Yes, this is the toughest division in the league, but the Bucs ought to win it again. The fun thing will be if quarterback Brad Johnson makes big strides in his second season with Jon Gruden. But stuff happens to defending champions, which is why so few of them actually defend. It's a key injury or a little bit less drive that comes back to haunt them in the postseason. Odds: 7-1. The Bucs are good enough to win it again, but there isn't much reward here.

2. Carolina Panthers. Another chic pick to go far this season. Running back Stephen Davis is a huge addition and he will completely drive the offense. The defense will be at least as good as last year when it was fourth in the league. If quarterback Rodney Peete is only as not bad as he was last year, this team easily could win 10 games. That should be good for a wild-card berth. Odds: 50-1. They're probably not going to win the Super Bowl, but that's a tremendous number for anybody in the playoffs.

3. Atlanta Falcons. A popular pick to win the division or even go to the Super Bowl before Michael Vick broke his leg, the Falcons could be barely a .500 club. Even in the best-case scenario where Vick misses only four games, you have to give him at least two more to get back to full speed. By that time, the Falcons could be 2-4. Their schedule isn't that hard, but that will be too much of a hole to get out of. Odds: 20-1. Too much popularity has driven that number down.

4. New Orleans Saints. I don't have anything against the Saints. In fact, I've always been on the Aaron Brooks bandwagon, even now that everyone else has jumped off. They're last here simply because of the division. The Saints aren't good enough to compete with the Bucs (even though they beat them twice last year) and these other three teams frankly could finish in any order. Odds: 40-1. Nice odds but too much of a long shot.

 

 
   
 

 

1. Seattle Seahawks. My faith in the Seahawks was almost shattered in the past week. Defensive tackle Chad Eaton went down for the season, left tackle Walter Jones was holding out, right tackle Chris Terry was suspended and cornerback Shawn Springs was lost for perhaps half the season. But Jones is back and that will save the offense. Rookie Marcus Trufant can start in Springs' place and they were counting on a lot of people other than Eaton. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will throw all over the field to Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson and Shaun Alexander should pile up 16-18 TDs. Odds: 35-1. Like the Panthers, this is a great number for a playoff team, even if winning the Super Bowl is a bit of a stretch.

2. St. Louis Rams. I don't agree with those who think the Rams will be back on top this year because is 32 and coming off repeated injuries and Marshall Faulk is 30 with a career of knee problems. Nobody gets healthier at their age. No matter how good they look now, they'll either slow down or get hurt again. Also, the Rams' defense is, on paper, a disaster. Odds: 9-1. Way too low to pique my interest.

3. San Francisco 49ers. Nothing short of a Super Bowl title will justify getting rid of Mariucci. Dennis Erickson was not successful in his first coaching stint, Jeff Garcia's back figures to be a season-long problem and star receiver Terrell Owens is halfway out the door. Owens' contract desires will be enough to keep the 49ers hovering hear the playoffs, but they're headed the wrong way. Odds: 35-1. Nice odds for a playoff team last season but they aren't going back.

4. Arizona Cardinals. At least Emmitt Smith should help sell tickets, even if he isn't the best running back on his team (Marcel Shipp is). The Cardinals already have lost two of their better defenders in Kyle Vanden Bosch and Duane Starks. Jeff Blake is the perfect quarterback for this team. He'll have a couple of 400-yard, 4-TD games and complete about 40% of his passes otherwise. Another 4-6 win season means Dave McGinnis even though owner Bill Bidwell - the same guy who hasn't given him enough players to win - is the only one who wants him gone. Odds: 300-1. In deference to Black Table Managing Editor and lifelong suffering Cardinals fan Will Leitch, drop a couple bucks on them. If you win, you can take a year off.

 

 
 

OTHER STUFF

AFC wild cards: Miami, Oakland.
NFC wild cards: Philadelphia, Carolina.
AFC Championship Game: New England d. Kansas City.
NFC Championship Game: New York Giants d. Tampa Bay.
Offensive MVP: Kerry Collins, Giants.
Defensive MVP: Rosevelt Colin, Patriots.
Rookie of the year: Charles Rogers, Lions.

 

*BT*

The last time Matt Pitzer wrote about football, he correctly predicted the outcome of the Super Bowl, proving that a stopped clock is right at least twice a day.