Who is your early Super Bowl favorite and why?
By Kate Fagan
The New York Giants, of course.
In the absence of even one minute of meaningful play, it makes the most sense to believe the Giants are ready for a repeat. Plus, I'm a Giants fan. And isn't it sort of an unwritten rule in NFL fandom that you should have some faith in your team, especially before it actually steps onto the field?
So I'm going with the Giants. They have the QB (Eli), the wide receivers (Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks), the running back (Ahmad Bradshaw) and the pressure defense.
And the best thing about believing in the Giants as Super Bowl contenders is they've proved they can win it all even when they're not all that good during the regular season. You can't count them out -- even at 9-7, barely slipping into the playoffs.
The Giants will begin defense of their title Wednesday against the Cowboys.
By Michelle Smith
How about the San Francisco 49ers?
In his first season as an NFL head coach, Jim Harbaugh turned around a once-proud but recently moribund franchise, leading the team that was once the home of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young back to the NFC Championship Game and the brink of the Super Bowl.
Why not take it one step further this season? The 49ers have a punch-you-in-the-mouth defense, a strong running game, a big target in tight end Vernon Davis and a quarterback in Alex Smith who has taken every bit of abuse Bay Area fans could throw at him for years and turned out to be the right guy for Harbaugh's system.
Harbaugh is one of the most interesting coaches in sports. He is prickly and demanding and exceedingly loyal to his players. He has assembled a great coaching staff and he takes every opportunity to create an us-against-them mentality. His guys love it.
By Graham Hays
The Green Bay Packers.
This is presumably the part where I'm supposed to talk about the ways in which Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Hayward and all the other draftees will improve the defense and how a new offensive coordinator and his slight tweaks will make the unbelievably good Aaron Rodgers that much better. At least, I've heard those things discussed in detail by people who seem to know what they're talking about, so it works for me.
Truth be told, Sundays in the fall mean women's college soccer to me, with the Colts on Sunday or Monday night the primary exception (which means the schedule looks clear until about 2015). But picking the team with the best player at the most important position, whose team looked unstoppable at times last season, seems logical within the narrative of sports. So Rodgers and the Packers it is.
Besides, having spent as much time in Green Bay as perhaps any person who has never been inside Lambeau Field, it would be nice to be right about the Packers. Green Bay isn't Mayberry, but it really is a unique experience among homes of major professional sports teams, where the stadium really does sit next to the driveways of residential streets, people really go in for the Friday fish fry and where a street really is named Brett Favre Pass. How will that help the football team score against the 49ers or slow down the Patriots? Your guess is as good as mine. Actually, your guess is almost surely better.
By Melissa Jacobs
My pick for Super Bowl XLVII is the San Francisco 49ers. Admittedly this is a homer's pick, but that doesn't mean it's a stupid one.
The 49ers were potentially one less Kyle Williams fumble away from advancing to the Super Bowl last season, and they have become more potent since. They are returning all 11 starters on defense, a squad that led the league in takeaways and rushing yards allowed in 2011. With the addition of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins (via the draft), Alex Smith finally has a legitimate receiving corps. As for Smith, the bust jokes have worn thin. He'll never live up to his No. 1 overall status in the 2005 draft and will always be the ugly stepbrother to Aaron Rodgers, selected No. 24 that year. But he's fine, dare I say even slightly above average? Smith has issues with pocket presence, except in high-pressure situations like two-minute drills and playoff games.
I'm convinced the NFC will produce the Super Bowl champion yet again, and the Niners certainly have some tough competition. Drew Brees will probably throw for 20,000 yards again, but there are too many holes on defense, in addition to the depleted coaching staff. The Bears look to be improved with the addition of Brandon Marshall, but offensive line questions and Brian Urlacher's health are too much to overcome. The Packers will contend again but are susceptible to being done in by their secondary, which ranked dead last in the league last season. And the Giants, perhaps the biggest contenders, have the least amount of holes of any NFC team. But I tend to think their success last season was slightly due more to gelling at the right time than an across-the-board overabundance of talent. So I stand by the best defense, best coach and best kicking game in the conference -- the 49ers.
By Sarah Spain
Predicting a Super Bowl champion in September is as futile as predicting what Lady Gaga will wear to this week's MTV Music Awards. (Meat dress? Bubble wrap? Egg incubator?) The odds are against us, and yet we media folks still venture a guess every year, hoping just once we might be able to say "I told you so!" come February. Well, this season I'm crossing my fingers that I'm wrong. Yeah, you heard that right. Here's why: My prediction is the 2013 Super Bowl champions will be the Packers. (Apologies to my Bears -- go out and prove me wrong, guys.)
Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league and his arsenal of offensive weapons is downright unfair. The defense doesn't have to be world-beaters for this team to go all the way; it just has to be better than it was last season. Green Bay's early exit last season was embarrassing and motivating for the team; the Packers are determined to get back to the big game.
By Amanda Rykoff
I was tempted to jump on board the cheesehead express (I did make my first visit to Milwaukee this summer), but I just can't pick a team with such defensive holes. The Packers finished last in total defense last season, and I don't see any major upgrades or replacements to fix that. I know Green Bay went 15-1 and is a popular Super Bowl pick thanks to Rodgers and an unstoppable offense, but isn't there some adage about defense winning championships? If the defense reverts to 2010 form, the Packers will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans in February, but I can't take that chance. Also, if Cedric Benson is your hope for a legitimate running game ... well, I don't even know what to say about that.
I'm going to look further south and go with the Houston Texans, a team that got its first playoff win in franchise history last season. I love the Texans' balance on offense with a stud running back (Arian Foster) and a strong passing game with quarterback Matt Schaub and stud (when healthy) wide receiver Andre Johnson. But what I like most about the Texans is their defense. Last season's defense gave up fewer than 300 yards per game and had 44 sacks. Though the Texans lost two starters (Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans), the team made defense a priority with its first-round draft pick and should continue to flourish under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. In a weak AFC South, expect the Texans to win the division easily. If the team can stay healthy -- and with this team it's a big if -- a Super Bowl title isn't far-fetched.
Note: I reserve the right to change this prediction after Johnson and Schaub suffer season-ending injuries.