Analysis  

 

Super Bowl XLIX prediction: Green Bay Packers-Denver Broncos

I haven't slept in roughly 365 days. I've been waiting a year to write this column. My family hasn't stopped laughing at me.

My name is Adam, and last preseason, I picked the Atlanta Falcons to beat the Houston Texans in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Yes, I was the only media type I know of who correctly picked the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East, and yes, I hit on nine of 12 playoff teams in 2013. But it was all overshadowed by that wretched selection, as the Falcons and Texans combined to win just six games and land firmly in the cellars of their respective divisions.

This year, I want redemption -- and that starts with actually picking good teams. What a concept!

I'm also considering that the NFL in 2014 is more of a passing league than it's ever been. That trend should only be bolstered if the preseason emphasis by officials on enforcing rules governing illegal contact by defenders carries over into the regular season.

So I'm not overthinking this. I'm picking the teams led by the two best quarterbacks in the NFL -- Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers and Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos -- to meet in Super Bowl XLIX.

Whew. I feel much better.

The thing is, this is Aaron Rodgers' world, and we're all just living in it.

The players got it wrong when they voted him No. 11 on NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2014" this summer. I blasted them for it then and I stick by what I wrote now; by any measuring stick, Rodgers is tops in the NFL. And he's fully healthy after missing seven games with a broken collarbone last season. As one NFL analyst whispered to me this week: "Aaron Rodgers is on his You better bleeping remember me tour."

Sure, the Packers have their problems, including a less-than-great offensive line and a far-from-dominant defense. But to dwell on those would lead to paralysis by analysis. Because when you have a quarterback of Rodgers' caliber, logic doesn't necessarily apply -- as Manning proved last year, when he helped Denver overcome issues on the offensive line and the defense.

Plus, Green Bay does have playmaking weapons on offense. Receiver Jordy Nelson is a star, and Randall Cobb -- who has built a fantastic rapport with Rodgers -- is close to that level. Eddie Lacy, meanwhile, became a bell-cow back in Rodgers' absence last season, earning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in the process.

As for the defense, losing B.J. Raji for the year with a torn biceps will hurt, but Clay Matthews is a top-tier pass rusher, while A.J. Hawk is always solid. I loved the addition of first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who will make an immediate impact at safety. Overall, the defense -- which also added veteran Julius Peppers -- should be vastly improved, meaning it should be good enough for the Packers to win. The key is to create turnovers and make splash plays.

Finally, there's coach Mike McCarthy, a great game-day play caller and leader who forms a sensational tandem with Rodgers. I have a feeling they'll be able to start building statues of this pair at Lambeau Field soon.

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All that said, picking Green Bay to take the NFC -- home of the four best teams in the NFL -- was tough. San Francisco is so well-coached, and I loved the 49ers' pickup of receiver Stevie Johnson, but NaVorro Bowman's health and the uncertain availability of Aldon Smith give me pause. The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks are incredibly deep and talented, but they face so many daunting challenges, especially with regard to their tough schedule, in their repeat bid. And while Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints are loaded on both sides of the ball, I ultimately have to go with the best quarterback (Rodgers).

How classic will it be when Rodgers and Manning square off on the game's biggest stage?

Manning is long in the tooth, but he's showing no signs of slowing down. Critics argue he doesn't have the same zip on his fastball as he once did, but I would point out that the 38-year-old, who just won a record fifth MVP award, is coming off the best season by a quarterback in NFL history.

As if it weren't enough to have Manning under center, general manager John Elway made the 2014 Broncos even better than last year's AFC-winning version. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be an improvement over Eric Decker, who left for the New York Jets via free agency. Ryan Clady, who is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL, is returning to action after spending most of 2013 on injured reserve -- that's a major difference. And, of course, there's defensive additions DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, all significant upgrades.

The New England Patriots will be a huge factor in the AFC, between their improved defense and the anticipated good health of tight end Rob Gronkowski. And Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still, after all, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. I also would've considered the Indianapolis Colts -- powered by the genius of Andrew Luck and the possibility of landing a No. 1 seed playing in the weak AFC South -- if standout defensive end Robert Mathis weren't going to miss the first four weeks of the season with a suspension.

But the bottom line is, Denver is locked and loaded, even in a respectable AFC West, and poised to do what the Seahawks won't be able to: play in a second consecutive Super Bowl.

Everyone makes mistakes. Last year, I made mine. I'll stop losing sleep on Feb. 1, 2015, when I see Aaron Rodgers -- the best quarterback in the NFL -- carry the Green Bay Packers to victory and hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in his career.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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