The front-runner curse

The front-runner curse

ITS THE KISS OF DEATH IN TODAY’S NFL. Any team that enters a season labeled as the Super Bowl favorite is all but assured of one thing: It won’t win the Super Bowl.

For proof, look no further than the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the 2003 season as the defending Super Bowl champions and were widely picked to repeat. Instead, they didn’t even reach the playoffs and the Carolina Panthers, who had gone 7-9 the season before, won the division title and were the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl.

This year, the New England Patriots are on the hot seat after beating the Panthers 32-29 in a thrilling Super Bowl. New England’s fall from grace won’t be quite as precipitous as Tampa Bay’s was last season. The Patriots will make it to the playoffs, but a third Super Bowl title in four years will elude them. Parity plays strange tricks On teams, as evidenced by Carolina’s sudden rise to prominence.

This is the year–finally–that the Philadelphia Eagles will capture the Super Bowl crown. Coach Andy Reid has taken them to the past three NFC title games but has come up short each time. Now, however, he has more playmakers on his roster than ever before. As we say on the cover of this issue, the fourth time will be a charm.

Philadelphia’s opponent in Super Bowl 39 will be the Indianapolis Colts, who knocked on the door last year until the Patriots slammed it in their faces in the AFC title game. Both Indy’s coach (Tony Dungy) and quarterback (Peyton Manning) have been waiting for this moment for years–and it finally has arrived.

What follows is an in-depth preview of all the divisions and teams. Happy reading.

Our Predicted Order of Finish

National Football Conference

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles

2. Dallas Cowboys

3. Washington Redskins

4. New York Giants

NFC South

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2. Carolina Panthers

3. New Orleans Saints

4. Atlanta Falcons

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers

2. Detroit Lions

3. Minnesota Vikings

4. Chicago Bears

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks

2. St. Louis Rams

3. Arizona Cardinals

4. San Francisco 49ers

NFC Playoff Teams

Carolina

Dallas

Green Bay

Philadelphia

Seattle

Tampa Bay

NFC Championship Game

Philadelphia over Tampa Bay

American Football Conference

AFC East

1. New England Patriots

2. Buffalo Bills

3. Miami Dolphins

4. New York Jets

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts

2. Tennessee Titans

3. Houston Texans

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC North

1. Baltimore Ravens

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

3. Cincinnati Bengals

4. Cleveland Browns

AFC West

1. Baltimore Ravens

2. Kansas City Chiefs

3. Oakland Raiders

4. San Diego Chargers

AFC Playoff Teams

Baltimore

Buffalo

Denver

Indianapolis

Kansas City

New England

AFC Championship Game

Indianapolis over New England

COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group