By Jason Keidel
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Every year we know that the seasons will change and football pundits will punt past their coverage. They frown over their notes, making Super Bowl predictions as colorful as the rainbow foliage surrounding most NFL stadiums in October.

Sports Illustrated — Peter King, to be precise –- picks the Denver Broncos to reach the Super Bowl, where they will allegedly lose to the Packers. I can buy Green Bay because they’re that good, and they have the one component consistent with most champions — a stellar quarterback. Denver does, too, sorta…

Three neck surgeries and a season on the shelf hardly tickles my senses. Peyton Manning hasn’t thrown a meaningful pass in nearly two years, and yet he will carry the Broncos with an arm that he admits is 80 percent of its peak? No thanks, legend or not. Even Johnny U ended up with the Chargers. The fall happens to them all.

King also picked the Bears to win the NFC North, despite having the third-best QB in the division. Maybe Chicago squeaks by the Lions based on defense, but the Packers are easily the best in that division.

The thematic thread wrapped around the Lombardi Trophy is the quarterback. Our recent Super Bowl winners have been stewarded by two Mannings, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. Does it feel like there’s any room for Tony Romo or Michael Vick in that clique?

Which is why it’s so futile to crown Dallas every year. The Cowboys haven’t sniffed the Super Bowl since Troy Aikman retired. (Granted, as a Steelers fan since 1976, my vitriol toward Dallas goes back to Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach, but if the Cowboys could win a championship I’d say so.) Philadelphia dies the death of all (non-basketball) dream teams, so dreamy on paper but never in practice. Andy Reid, sublime coach that he is, has lost his voice in that locker room.

Rex Ryan thinks that his 2012 Jets could be his best team, which is saying something, I guess. The Jets are an amalgam of egos, both bruised and swollen and soft. They are an 8-8 team with no identity.

If nothing else, they have mastered the mixed message. They say that they can’t wait to run the ball, but have no one to run the ball. They slap Mark Sanchez on the rump with a contract extension and drop Tim Tebow in the bullpen. And hiring Tony Sparano was about as creative as hiring Marty Schottenheimer. (Oh, wait, they tried that already, with mini-Marty.)

San Francisco is probably the best team in football, yet they have Alex Smith, which means they can’t win the Super Bowl unless their defense — which returns all 11 starters – goes Y2K Baltimore or ’86 Bears on the league.

Speaking of the Ravens, they are the trendy pick every year, always avant-garde and on the next rung up the league’s ladder. If only he caught that ball against New England! He didn’t. The margins shrink yearly. Lee Evans dropped it. So did Wes Welker. Giants win.

(How would you like to be Archie Manning for a day? Heck, I’d settle for Olivia. Two sons, three rings, set for life — parents of the century, if not the eon.)

The Giants will go 11-5 this year and win the NFC East. Whether you think he’s too young or not even the best signal-caller in his family, Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, is the most clutch QB in the league. He’s the recipient of a certain yellow jacket and bronze bust — even if the future came today.  He somehow morphed from hillbilly to Hall of Famer, maestro of our supposedly sophisticated city. (God Bless, says Tebow.)

Sadly, the NFC at large is so loaded that the odds are with the field, not the G-Men.

This is a supremely soft pick, chalk all the way. But a quarterback-centric sport is only going more vertical. Why not pick the two best — even if it pains me to admit that my beloved black and gold and Big Ben aren’t the best — that the game has to offer? It will be Green Bay over New England in New Orleans.

The only reason I don’t pick the Giants to repeat as champions is because it’s so hard to repeat as champions. But they have more than enough to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, who always defeat themselves.

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Which team do you predict will take home the Lombardi Trophy when it’s all said and done? Be heard in the comments section below…


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