Yep, I picked the Lions for the Super Bowl.
You would think I picked the Washington Generals to beat the Harlem Globetrotters. You would think I picked Shredder to beat the Ninja Turtles. You would think I picked Dracula to beat garlic.
I’ve had my credibility questioned. I’ve had people ask if I was being a homer. And I’ve had a guy I grew up in awe of suggest I get my head examined. But every time I’ve had a conversation about the pick – which has been a lot, since Detroit is Arizona’s first opponent of the 2017 season, and my hometown paper and a popular blog picked up the story – reasonable people seem to come away with something new to think about. Plus a decent laugh.
Look, this whole thing is crazier than a tinfoil hat.
Was I being flip? Of course, I was. (Assume if I’m talking, I’m being a smart aleck. I’m a reformed class clown, but that has its limits.)
Preseason predictions for the Super Bowl can’t possibly be meaningful. From anyone. Not from experts. Not from former players. Not from your cousin’s brother-in-law’s uncle who knows a guy.
You want a good sense of which team is most likely to win it all? Vegas odds would be most reliable. But they’re also the most predictable.
So, here’s how I came to it: I picked the same two teams I’ve been picking since I first learned what football was.
I don’t play the lottery, but if I did, I’d play the same numbers every day. Statistically, I’d have no better odds of being right on Day 300 than I was on Day 1, but if those numbers ever hit, I’d never be able to live with myself for wavering.
It’s illogical, and I’m completely OK with that. Sports, themselves, are illogical. Want proof? Millions of people align with teams based on nothing more than geography. They paint their bodies, spend their money and name their children based on which team happens to play nearest to the home where they were born.
It’s no different for me. And when someone asks my prediction for the Super Bowl, before the season, before anyone has showed anything, before the chaos of suspensions, or injuries, or surprise retirements – as has happened twice to Detroit fans with Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson – I find it difficult to separate myself from the little boy who looked up to his father and uncles, who all rooted for the Lions.
So, when it came time to make my first Super Bowl pick as a professional sports columnist, I did what Tony La Russa once told me to do: “Trust your gut, don’t cover your butt.”
My gut said Lions over Raiders.
Covering my butt would have been New England over Dallas, assuming Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t sit out all six games of that personal conduct suspension.
Which brings me back to the thing I can’t separate myself from: I don’t like preseason picks as much as I like waiting and watching and learning.
In a world of hot takes, I want to be smart. In a world of screaming, I want to be calm.
You can’t know who’s going win at this stage of the year. It’s impossible. And this is coming from a guy who is good with predictions. I told you how Floyd Mayweather would beat Conor McGregor. I told you that the Diamondbacks would cool off from their red-hot streak before the All-Star break. And I told you they could rebound from that swoon.
Making a Super Bowl pick at this point is making an educated guess, so let me give you a sense of the variables.
New England? A safe bet. But nobody has gone back-to-back as Super Bowl champs, since, well, the Patriots more than a decade ago.
Atlanta? Super Bowl losers often struggle the following season. The last time a team lost in the NFL’s title game and made it back the next year, TVs were square and “streaming” was something you did on a raft.
And what about the other playoff teams from last year? How are they going to play? How should I know? I’ve read about them, watched some games on TV and even talked to people who cover the NFL for a living.
The most I can logically offer you is a thoughtful examination of the concerns I have about the team I’ve watched most: the Cardinals. They have a revamped offensive line that has to protect an aging quarterback. They have a passing attack that works best when it can go long but has only one proven deep threat – and that guy, John Brown, missed much of the preseason with a quadriceps injury.
Does this sound like a Super Bowl contender to you? Maybe. Again, we can’t know.
If Brown and Carson Palmer stay healthy, forcing opposing defenses to use safeties to honor the threat they pose, providing space for David Johnson to operate, then sure. Do I think that will happen? Actually, yes.
But does what I think plus pumpkin spice equal a latte? No.
It came to a head for me when Mitch Albom’s people reached out to interview me for his radio show Wednesday night. From the conversation, I think it's safe to say he and his colleagues wouldn’t have made the pick.
And that’s fine. They can do the safe thing. They can do what everybody else does. And they can get what everybody else gets.
For me, I’m going to trust my gut.
Lions for the Super Bowl. And I’m standing on it.