Meet Me In Detroit

After assessing offseason moves and the draft, it's not too early to envision the Colts and Vikings playing in the Super Bowl.

April 26, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In the wildest Super Bowl in history, the Indianapolis Colts stunned the Minnesota Vikings with a four-touchdown, fourth-quarter barrage and won the NFL championship on Peyton Manning's Hail Mary pass with time expired, 37-36, in Detroit.

OK, we're a little ahead of the game here. Almost 10 months ahead, in fact.

But it's never too early to dream.

The NFL loves offense and exciting Super Bowls and an Indianapolis-Minnesota matchup of high-wire passing games is the stuff record TV ratings are made of.

How can we project two dome teams squaring off under the Ford Field roof in frigid Detroit next Feb. 5? Easy.

Because the quarterbacks, Manning and Daunte Culpepper, are two of the league's brightest stars.

Because the New England Patriots can't win every Super Bowl - can they?

And because of what these two teams did and didn't do so far this offseason.

The Colts didn't trade running back Edgerrin James over the weekend when all 32 teams restocked their rosters in the college draft. Indianapolis made six selections on defense, starting with two cornerbacks. This was very good for a team whose secondary got torched by the deep ball all season in 2004.

Is it good enough? Who knows?

Assuming James, unsigned but tagged as the team's franchise player, returns to Indianapolis this year, the Colts have made enough progress on defense to once again challenge the Patriots. Their Nov. 7 rendezvous in Foxboro, Mass., in Week 9 could well determine home-field advantage in the AFC. It will be must-see.

The Colts are going to win one of those games one of these days, too.

Minnesota, meanwhile, would arrive in Detroit as a distinct underdog in the NFC. The Vikings probably have had the best offseason of any team between their free-agent signings and a marvelous draft.

But they have a wretched history of gagging in big games under coach Mike Tice, and it took a playoff appearance last season for Tice to keep his job.

By February, he'll have a new owner - probably - and a new spin on life. No more Randy Moss headaches for Tice. No more Randy Moss touchdowns, either.

That's where Troy Williamson, the lightning-fast receiver from South Carolina, comes in. The Vikings passed on Mike Williams with the seventh pick in Saturday's first round and took Williamson.

This was a good move because Williamson is going to stretch the field big-time for Nate Burleson and, yes, Travis Taylor, the former Ravens receiver. Culpepper is going to have lots of chances to go deep.

But it's what the Vikings did on defense in the offseason that most sets them up for a Super Bowl run.

Atrocious against the run, they signed defensive tackle Pat Williams, a veteran run-stuffer from Buffalo. Atrocious against the pass, they signed Washington Redskins castoff cornerback Fred Smoot and took one of the draft's best pass rushers in Erasmus James of Wisconsin.

They traded for upgrades at two linebacker positions - Napoleon Harris and Sam Cowart.

Best of all, they took safety Darren Sharper from their chief NFC North rival, the Green Bay Packers, and put him in their secondary.

The Packers are in a serious retreat mode. The Vikings, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears all could pass the Packers this year.

The balance of power is shifting, subtly but perceptibly, especially in the NFC. The Philadelphia Eagles have had a rough offseason after reaching the Super Bowl. They have too many players worried about their contracts and not enough worried about getting back.

There's no indication coach Andy Reid or president Joe Banner will give in to any of the disgruntled employees, either, not even Terrell Owens. So they have issues to overcome.

It could present an opening in the NFC East for the Dallas Cowboys, who so disappointed coach Bill Parcells last season that he junked their whole defense and brought in new players. We'll see if he can still intimidate those young guys now.

Another team to watch is the Carolina Panthers. They were riddled with injuries last year but still made a valiant bid for the playoffs. Minus those injuries, they could overtake the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South, perhaps the toughest division in the NFL.

The Arizona Cardinals are another team that has made significant strides. If quarterback Kurt Warner can still play, they will push the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

Any serious discussion about the AFC powers must start with the Patriots. But Bill Belichick has lost both of his coordinators to head-coaching jobs, and most likely his Pro Bowl inside linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, to the effects of a stroke.

That's a lot to overcome, even for Belichick.

Major threats in the AFC include the Ravens, the Moss-fortified Oakland Raiders, and possibly the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens' window is closing, perhaps, but they loaded up again in the offseason, plugging their most unsightly holes. If the Raiders ever play defense, they will be fun to watch.

The Texans and Bengals are on the rise. They need their young players to play well, and they need some breaks.

Who goes to Detroit in February? No one knows. But they all can dream.

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