NFC is clearly the inferior side

Bill Liesse

So, is the curse of the Super Bowl loser alive?

Seattle returned to the playoffs last season, bucking a trend. But the Seahawks had plenty of bad luck and turmoil, most notably Shaun Alexander's broken foot.

So it seems like the pall that follows NFL runners-up is perhaps alive, well and taking aim at the Chicago Bears.

Too superstitious for you? Fine. Figuring out a way to make sense of the Bears and the rest of this lousy NFC is difficult enough if we stick to X's and O's.

Seattle, for instance. Fading away? Sort of like Carolina before it? Or geared to take this conference back over now that Alexander is healthy, and weak characters like Jerramy Stevens and Darrell Jackson have been jettisoned in favor of solid men like Peoria's beloved Marcus Pollard?

For that matter, Carolina. That group might be all washed up, but they were in the NFC title game the year before last, and survived last year's spate of injuries at 8-8, a mere two games behind everyone's darling, the Saints.

So let's talk Saints. They were in the NFC final, so they're being viewed as a team 'a step away' from a Super Bowl squad. Never mind that step was a blowout loss in Chicago.

Never mind they were only 10-6, for heaven's sake, and were blown off the field whenever they tried to play an AFC North opponent not named Cleveland. In other words, all they really did besides play off the Katrina emotion was feast on an NFC South full of teams trying to out-underachieve each other.

Granted, the Saints enter this year with a bevy of offensive weapons, and in this conference with so few defenses, perhaps they could ride Reggie Bush, Drew Brees, et al., to the NFC title.

But you have to raise a skeptical eye to occurrences like Marquis Colston, a seventh-rounder from Hofstra whom no one could guard.

Granted, sixth-round sensation Terrell Davis remained good at running back a decade ago, so it happens. And Colston is big and fast. But this league is littered with a whole bunch of Peerless Prices and Michael Claytons and Anthony Thomases and Olandis Garys who look all-pro when no one is expecting it, then look like thieves the rest of their lucrative, unproductive careers.

I mean, if you drafted Mike Furrey and Wes Welker right behind Colston on your fantasy team last week, more power to you. Just remember last year's fetish was Lamont Jordan.

Point is, things change. Situations change. Teams play with momentum, positive or negative.

And it's always next to impossible to predict at this time of year.

ITL is rather convinced the Giants will be a bus rolling out of control, trying to avoid a cliff.

And we've talked ourselves into everything clicking in Dallas with Bill Parcells' ornery behind having slipped through the door, presumably without letting it hit him in said posterior.

At the time of this writing, we're fond of quasi-local favorites Green Bay and St. Louis. But give us a week and we'll deny ever thinking such things.

What we do know about the NFC is it stinks. I've tried in this space for two years to say the NFC was ready to rise up and surpass the AFC, but I sure won't make that three years in a row.

It is very difficult to find six worthy playoff teams in this mess. And that's giving bland Philadelphia a spot because the Eagles are classy enough to remain solid.

But the whole South is a mess. The whole North could be a mess if Rex Grossman has the yips he appears to have. Rex is so mentally distraught these days, he's distinctly worse in the pocket than he was as a first-game starter at Lambeau Field in December of his rookie season.

I half expect him to come back as a power-hitting outfielder in three or four seasons.

The West is ugly, hoping the popular belief is true that San Francisco is a comer. And hoping Seattle and St. Louis will resume their strangely compelling rivalry a few games above .500, rather than straddling that line.

There is always a best-case/worst-case for any NFL team, unknown until the aforementioned momentum defines itself.

But we know now that Detroit, Arizona, Atlanta, Washington, New York and Tampa can't be all that good. I'd argue it's pretty likely Minnesota, San Fran and Carolina are hard-pressed to be much, either. And it won't shock me to find New Orleans, Philadelphia or Green Bay end up 5-11.

So, let Chicago, Seattle and Dallas battle it out, the latter two desperately hoping they don't have quarterback injuries and the Bears probably hoping they do.

In as uninspired a pick as ITL has ever made, we see Dallas outlasting the field and meeting old buddy Norv Turner in the Super Bowl.

And getting clocked the way the Turner-era Cowboys used to destroy Buffalo in the big game.

As for tonight, I'll take those Aints, plus the 6. Neighbor Ash insists Super Bowl champs never cover in the opener.

Bill Liesse

is sports editor of the Journal Star. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3213 or email to bliesse@pjstar.com.