It remains one of the few times the Football Gods have answered anything resembling a prayer from this typist: In this space a year ago, I asked the gridiron deities above to propel both Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan into a Super Bowl. One year later: box checked.
Sunday’s clash between the Niners and Chiefs — and their uber-creative coaches — provides a welcome reprieve from Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and a parcel of Patriots lifting the Lombardi all over again. Instead, we’re on tap to watch Jimmy Garoppolo tussle with superstar passer Patrick Mahomes.
New faces, new storylines, new everything. It’s about time, but the Super Bowl continues to evade a handful of enticing candidates. Here are 10 individuals who I want to see waltz into the big game before this computer-sim we call “life” hits a towering glitch:
Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram
It was awkward to see a bundle of Ravens toil away in the Pro Bowl. All autumn, Baltimore’s starry roster felt destined for glittering Miami — not landlocked Orlando. Unfinished business to say the least, but the Ravens are set up for future success with Jackson and Ingram set to partner again in 2020. With pass-catching tight end Mark Andrews back as well, Greg Roman’s blistering ground attack should pick up where it left off come September. Super Bowl Week just won’t be the same without Ingram spinning his brand of poetry and verbal jabs — but there’s still time for this Ravens squad to write history.
The Wentz Experience boils down to perspective. From one angle, he’s a big-bodied signal-caller brimming with promise and rare athletic gifts. From another, he appears to be nothing more than a plaything of The Fates. Toyed with cruelly by powers beyond, Wentz has seen his body break down at the worst possible time three seasons in a row. In his absence, Nick Foles took over a pair of playoff runs, played hero in the Super Bowl and had a statue made in his likeness outside Lincoln Financial. This time around, a concussion-addled Wentz became an afterthought when old-as-the-hills backup Josh McCown courageously finished out Philly’s playoff loss to Seattle despite the quarterback’s hamstring DETACHING FROM THE BONE. Fingers crossed that Wentz will be smiled upon in the years to come.
Drew Brees and Sean Payton
The Saints specialize in torment-rich playoff meltdowns. January’s stunning collapse against the Vikings left us wondering if Payton and Brees have run out of chances to win another crown. New Orleans sounds keen on retaining the free-agent passer — and Brees wants in, too — so why not give it one more shot before handing the operation over to magic-man-in-waiting Taysom Hill?
The Raiders have flirted with obscurity for eons, but Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have this Vegas-bound operation headed in the right direction. The AFC is a more interesting neighborhood when the Silver and Black are a factor. This roster needs help, but the Raiders were a frisky 6-4 before the wheels fell off. I was once suspicious of Gruden 2.0, but the battle-worn coach won me over with his handiwork in 2019.
The Cowboys remain an NFL polestar despite one grisly reality: For all the attention and drama, Dallas hasn’t won a Super Bowl since Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House. Twenty-five years of falling short has aged Jerry Jones, but the Cowboys owner refuses to rest. With new coach Mike McCarthy taking over, this talent-packed roster remains a candidate to wreak havoc in the NFC East and beyond.
Fitzgerald’s lone Super Bowl appearance with the Cardinals morphed into heartbreak against Santonio Holmes and the Steelers back in February 2009. Returning for his 17th season, Fitzgerald remains an X-factor on the field and one of football’s more beloved figures. A Super Bowl run remains improbable from this work-in-progress Cardinals club, but the fortune-flipping 49ers have taught us how much can change in a year. Let dreamers dream.
This entry is based less on logic and more on a fantastical what-if scenario that sees Winston — poisonous pick-six potential and all — guide a ragtag squad to Super Bowl glory. Maybe it’s Tampa — maybe it’s an entirely new home for the hot-and-ice-cold signal-caller. Sign me up for a January run that sees Winston pair 14 touchdown lobs with 14 head-spinning interceptions on the spartan road toward Super Bowl treasure.
The entire Detroit Lions organization
Certain franchises specialize in torturing their fans. The Jets and Browns have made life tough for their badgered loyalists, while the Lions have all but sucked the life out of their faithful few. Detroit hasn’t won a playoff game since knocking off Dallas in a wild-card tilt back in January 1992. Lions fans deserve more than two-plus decades of disappointing gridiron fare. It’s impossible to see how the current roster makes this happen in a hurry, but a Lions appearance in the Super Bowl would go a long way toward slaying a billion Michigan-based ghosts.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSessler.