Fading fast

The Sports Guy says that every year, two teams come out of nowhere and look like potential champions at the midseason point. One of them is the real deal, and one of them is a pretender who’s had the benefit of an easy schedule, some lucky breaks, or sometimes, an unusual coaching scheme that the other coordinators haven’t figured out yet. The team that is the real deal often ends up making it to the Super Bowl – even winning it, like the 1999 Ravens and the 2000 Rams – the other fades to 8-8 or thereabouts and is forgotten.

There were three surprise contenders as of last week. The 6-2 Carolina Panthers, the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys and the 6-2 Minnesota Vikings. And, as much as it pains me to say it, the Vikings are looking like the pretenders. Real playoff teams don’t get hammered by a lousy Chargers team, even if the permanently-underrated Doug Flutie is behind center, and the Falcons have made what looked like a suspect loss to the Giants even worse.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Carolina made it to the Super Bowl. Tough defense, a power running game and a workaday quarterback who keeps it simple and doesn’t make mistakes. Sounds a lot like the Trent Dilfer Ravens, doesn’t it? Or like a Bill Parcell’s Giants team. Speaking of the Big Tuna, he doesn’t have enough talent in Dallas to make it far in the playoffs, but he has clearly nailed down his place as an all-time great football coach with the Cowboys’ overperformance this year. Their 10-6 victory over the Bills was the most fascinating one-touchdown game I’ve seen in years.

In summary:

Carolina Panthers = the real deal

Minnesota Vikings = pretenders

Dallas Cowboys = anomaly with great coach