With the NFL preseason getting into full swing this week, it is time to ponder exactly where all 32 teams are headed.
Super Bowl or bust?
Those are the only destination points, plain and simple.
Sure, for some clubs reaching the playoffs is a hefty accomplishment, particularly if they haven't qualified in many years.
However, anything short of the Super Bowl does not adequately fit the payoff for months of offseason drilling, weeks of training-camp hitting and those four or five games that don't count in the standings. Divisional-round and conference championship appearances are fine, but if they represent the limit of a team's progress -- especially on multiple occasions -- they become the basis of a discussion about being good but not good enough.
|Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images|
|Going 14-2 in the regular season wasn't enough last year for MVP LaDainian Tomlinson; in 2007, he's focused on Super Bowl XLII.|
Super Bowl or bust?
LaDainian Tomlinson was right on target when he set the 2007 agenda for his team, the San Diego Chargers, on its first full day of training camp.
"Our expectations are to win the championship," the 2006 MVP told reporters. "Realistically, we think we have a shot at it. Last year was kind of a year that was a little more shocking to all of us because of what we did in the regular season -- 14-2. You never expect to go 14-2 in the regular season, so I think last year was kind of a situation where we expected to win but we didn't know how much.
"Now we realize we are an elite team. We're one of five teams in the National Football League that really has an opportunity of winning the whole deal."
Tomlinson, who certainly hasn't forgotten he is 0-2 in career postseason games, is almost right. There are actually six teams in the NFL that realistically have a shot at winning the Super Bowl. And, yes, the Chargers are one of them.
What follows is one man's assessment of teams that are beginning the preseason with legitimate Super Bowl dreams, those that shouldn't count on their season ending in Super Bowl XLII, and those in between. And, yes, I reserve the right to change my mind through the balance of the summer as injuries and other roster changes, etc., occur.
SUPER BOWL REALITY
New England: The Patriots have the quarterback, the coach, and enough talent throughout the roster, to count on a shot at winning their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
New Orleans: Their Hall of Fame Game performance notwithstanding, the Saints still have enough offensive firepower to go the distance ... even if their defense still ends up allowing too many big plays.
Philadelphia: Provided Donovan McNabb stays healthy, the Eagles have the necessary ingredients to get back to the big game.
SUPER BOWL FLEETING THOUGHT
Cincinnati: Only if the defense can finally offer a sound complement to Carson Palmer and the rest of the offense.
Chicago: Only if Cedric Benson can provide the same support for Rex Grossman that he and Thomas Jones provided on the way to Super Bowl XLI.
Dallas: Only if the real Tony Romo is the quarterback who won four of his first five starts after replacing Drew Bledsoe last season rather than the one that slumped through most of his final five games and in the playoffs.
Denver: Only if Jay Cutler can continue to take significant steps from the impressive flashes he showed as a rookie.
Pittsburgh: Only if Ben Roethlisberger is able to storm back from his poor '06 season and consistently make big plays in Bruce Arians' offense.
St. Louis: Only if Jim Haslett's defense can do a much better job of stopping the run and generating more big plays.
WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR