When picking next Super Bowl winner, think ahead

To pick the next Super Bowl winner, one has to think ahead to the next postseason. And when one thinks about the postseason, there is no choice but to think about the plays –- the single plays -– that determine who goes on and who goes home.

In one moment of one play, Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown can strip the ball from Chargers safety Marlon McCree in a monstrous AFC divisional playoff game, changing a fourth-down interception with just over six minutes to go into the crucial turnover that New England uses to get back the ball and win the game.

If that improbable play goes the other way, the AFC championship game is played the next week in San Diego, not Indianapolis, with one of the league's worst run defenses trying to shut down the league's best back. But one play can mean that much.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can produce a game-saving tackle with more finesse than power, tripping up Colts cornerback Nick Harper and Indianapolis' hopes of advancing to and winning its first Super Bowl with less than two minutes to go in a game and a tackle that every football fan remembers.

If Roethlisberger doesn't make a more significant tackle than any that Mean Joe Greene or Jack Lambert made, Indianapolis hosts its favorite punching bag, Denver, in the AFC championship game, and the Colts are the favorites to win the Super Bowl a year before they actually do. One play.

Even officials can make one call on one play as they did in January 2002 that defies logic but adheres to the rules in which a fumble is an incomplete pass, the tuck rule lives in infamy, and New England instead of Oakland does snow angels to celebrate.

If the call is reversed, Oakland advances and New England's dynasty is stunted, if not thwarted.

So to pick this season's Super Bowl winner is to forecast how an oblong-shaped ball will bounce, how a single play will turn. Weatherman have a difficult enough time predicting the conditions that will hit their city that day. Football prognosticators face an even more difficult task.

They are being asked to identify one winner out of 32 possibilities.

It would be easier to predict the next U.S. President.

All we know for sure is that nothing is for sure, not in this league. Last year, for the first time in NFL history, three teams -– the Baltimore Ravens, the New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles –- went from worst to first in their divisions.

Five times since 2000, at least two teams have gone from worst to first, giving hope this year to the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals.

This year, the popular and prevalent pick is the Patriots. But the most popular and prevalent pick seldom seems to be the right one.

This league is all about worsts going to first, previously unknown players transforming themselves into high-profile ones. It happens at the least expected times, from the least expected players, when the weather grows cold and competition is heated.

Count on turnovers making a difference; they always do. In each of the past seven Super Bowls, the Super Bowl winner has had a turnover ratio of at least +7. Teams that take it away without giving it away are positioning themselves for champagne showers.

But when someone asks, "Who is this season's Super Bowl winner?" Here's the better question:

Who knows?

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