Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Archive for January, 2008

Why I’m picking the Giants

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 31, 2008

It would be really easy to look at this Super Bowl and say “Why are they even bothering to play the game?  This is a mismatch.”  Indeed, the Patriots have to be acknowledged as heavy favorites.  The fact alone that they’re 18-0 is certainly an accomplishment.  New England’s offense hit the 30 point mark a whopping 12 times in the regular season.  They set league records for points scored in a season as well as point differential.  What perhaps is most impressive about them is how they finish games.  The poise they show in high pressure situations is that of a champion, and they have the type of swagger that we’ve seen from dominant teams in the past.  Not to mention many of the key components are still there from the three previous Super Bowl winners of this decade.  The Patriots certainly deserve their due for putting together an undefeated regular season and handling the pressure that goes with it.  They feature the league MVP in Tom Brady and arguably the game’s most effective wideout combo in Randy Moss and Wes Welker.  On top of that, they’re playing a team in the Giants that they’ve already defeated once this season, on the road no less.  To hear most of the media talk about this matchup, we should not bother to play the game Sunday and should just hand the Patriots the trophy.  Well, I believe that not only will the game be very competitive, and certainly not over by halftime, but I believe the Giants will win the game.  That’s right, I’m picking the Giants to upset the Patriots on Sunday.

Let’s not forget that we’ve seen this type of thing numerous times in the Super Bowl.  A heavy favorite is expected to come in and thoroughly dominate the action, and finds itself on the wrong side of the scoreboard at the end of the game.  Anyone remember Super Bowl 36?  If you’re a Patriots fan you’d better remember that one.  The Patriots were huge underdogs following an 11-5 regular season, and a divisional playoff win over the Raiders they were lucky to get becuase of the obscure tuck rule.  The St. Louis Rams were a machine, coming off a 14-2 regular season, and they featured league MVP Kurt Warner and offensive player of the year Marshall Faulk.  The only question going in was how much the Rams would win by.  The final? Patriots 20-17 thanks to a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal and an outstanding defensive effort shutting down the league’s top offense.  Anyone else see a sense of irony between this Sunday’s game, and that matchup from the 2001 season? 

How about Super Bowl 32? The Broncos were 12 point underdogs to the Packers, and at the time the NFC had won 13 straight Super Bowls.  The Broncos, who had qualified as a wild card, won 31-24 thanks to an outstanding rushing effort from Terrell Davis.  Let’s also not forget Super Bowl 25, when the Giants beat the high powered Bills 20-19.  That game in particular has a lot of similarities to this year’s matchup.  The Bills won the AFC title game that year 51-3 over the Raiders, while the Giants had a rougher road through the NFC bracket to get to the Super Bowl.  The Bills were heavy favorites, and had an ability to score at will that year, much like the Patriots this year.  The Bills had defeated the Giants during the December of that regular season 17-13 at Giants Stadium.  This year’s Patriots also defeated their future Super Bowl opponent the Giants at Giants Stadium in December, 38-35.  The Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Bills is mostly remembered for Scott Norwood’s missed field goal at the end of the game, but make no mistake about it, the Giants’ defense and running game are the reasons they won that game against the heavily favored Bills.  The Giants controlled the clock so much that the Bills offense seemed like it was pressured to score quickly when it did have the ball, causing them to make mistakes they wouldn’t normally make.  This year’s Giants have a similar ability to control things with their running game, which they did against both the Cowboys and the Packers in the playoffs, and they have a defensive front four that can put pressure on Tom Brady, particularly defensive ends Osi Umineyora and Michael Strahan. 

The thing with the Super Bowl that makes it different than picking a regular game is that what happened prior to this point is irrelevant.  All that matters what happens once the game is kicked off on Sunday.  In the cases described above, the underdog team went into the game with nothing to lose, and those games did not go how most people expected them to.  The fact is, a team has to be pretty darn good to reach the Super Bowl, period.  The Giants this season have won 10 straight road games, including playoffs, an NFL record.  Think about that for a minute.  As much of advantage as it is for most teams to play at home, the Giants have found a way to win 10 straight games on the road, including playoff wins at Texas Stadium and Lambeau Field, two places where it is extremely difficult for a visiting team to win at any time, let alone in the playoffs.  The Giants during the regular season only lost to New England by three points, despite the fact that Brady threw for 356 yards and two scores, and did not throw a pick.  The Giants defense only sacked Brady once in the game, and yet still were within striking distance.  The Patriots only won by three despite the fact they had a 13 minute edge in time of possession, and in fact forced the only turnover of the game.  Most media pundits point to these examples from the first game as evidence the Patriots will roll.  I argue that the Patriots struggled to win a game in which they scored 38 points, were only sacked once, didn’t turn the ball over, and dominated time of possession.  Many experts claim the Giants will not be able to get that close again.  I argue that if the Giants can be that close in those circumstances, while gaining only 79 yards on the ground, imagine if they can get to Brady a little bit more.  What if they can do what the Chargers did the AFC title game, and intercept Brady three times?  These circumstances are eeirly similar not only to the aformentioned Giants-Bills rematch in 1990, but also the 2001 Patriots-Rams matchup.  See, the Rams beat New England in the regular season that year 24-17 in Foxboro, and the Rams statistically dominated that game, outgaining the Patriots 482-230 and forcing three New England turnovers.  The Patriots of course were able to win the rematch with a little tweaking in the game plan.  I believe the Giants will win this rematch, partially because they’ve already proved they can hang with the Patriots, partially because they’ve proven they can win away from Giants Stadium, partially because I beleive they will be able to pressure Brady where other teams haven’t been able to consistently, and partially based on a gut feeling.  Let’s also not forget, the Giants will have back center Shaun O’Hara, who played great in the first meeting until leaving due to injury in the third quarter, and linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who did not play in the first meeting due to injury.   

The Pick: Giants 34-31 

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Too much hype!

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 28, 2008

So which Super Bowl story are you most sick of hearing about?  Tom Brady’s foot?  The Patriots pursuit of perfection?  The Giants being huge underdogs?  Well if you’re sick of any or all of them, get ready to hear more about them.  Is it just me, or is the two week gap between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl too long?  It gets to the point where you’re relieved when the game finally kicks off because you’ve already heard every angle of the game analyzed a thousand times right down to the long snappers.   I know the NFL likes the gap because they want the game hyped as much as possible, but are we really missing anything if we were to eliminate a week of endless hype?  I mean, how many news stories about Tom Brady’s foot are we going to have to endure?  I say no fewer than 25 before game day. 

Then there is the whole party atmosphere surrounding the game.  Now, I enjoy a Super Bowl party as much as anyone else.  My party will have plenty of junk food and drinks and everything a football watching party should have, so I’m not saying you can’t have fun watching the game in a group setting.  My beef is more with those that are more interested in the pregame and halftime entertainment and the commercials than they are the game.  Remember Super Bowl 38 when New England won a great game against Carolina?  Well, this game should be remembered for New England putting together a great drive at the end of the game and winning on a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal.  Instead, this game is more remembered for the Janet Jackson fiasco at halftime (which I actually missed because I wasn’t about to leave my chair during the important part of the evening – THE GAME!).  I was so furious the next day when everyone wanted to talk about the halftime show, instead of what they should have been talking about which was the great game that was played.  I frankly didn’t care one iota if there was some “wardrobe malfunction” during the stupid halftime show.  Since when should a halftime show dwarf the game?  If it wasn’t for the game, there wouldn’t be anything else surrounding it.  I’ve heard of Super Bowl parties where no one watches the game but everyone intently watches everything else.  If you ever find me at one of those parties, than I have some oceanfront property in Wyoming you can have cheap.

In a lot of ways, it almost feels like football is over after the conference championships, at least in terms of what you would call a traditional football atmosphere.  My friend Vic told me one time he would much rather attend a conference title game than the Super Bowl, and at first I thought he was nuts.  Then I thought about it, and in some ways it makes sense that in many ways the Super Bowl doesn’t really feel like football because of everything else that is surrounding it.  There is the concept for many people that the “outside activities” are a bigger deal than the game.  For many people the day is just an excuse to party, and many are not that concerned with what is happening on the field.  I will admit I do enjoy some of the commercials, but for me the game is the sole focal point of the day.  Many years I do not even bother to watch the halftime show.  

In spite of all this, I do really enjoy Super Bowl Sunday.  Once the game kicks off, I’m into it just like I am any other game, whether my team is in it or not.  When it’s all said and done it is the final game of the season (I don’t count the Pro Bowl as a real game) and often times it does turn out to be a great game.  I just hope that if Sunday’s game is fantastic, that it’s not overshadowed the next day by some dumb commercial or heaven forbid a Tom Petty wardrobe malfunction. 

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Pursuit of (Im)Perfection

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 22, 2008

As I sit down and look at the upcoming Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and the Giants, I can’t help but notice some irony, as if the football gods have a sense of humor.  The Patriots were huge underdogs to a clearly more talented Rams team in the Super Bowl following the 2001 season.  No one gave them a chance, even though the Patriots were very competitive in the regular season meeting vs. the Rams, losing 24-17.  Of course New England put together a brilliant defensive game plan in the Super Bowl and pulled off the upset 20-17 in the rematch.  Here we are six years later, and the Patriots find themselves at the other end of this type of matchup.  The early line shows New England as a 13 point favorite against the Giants, even though the regular season meeting was competitive, with New England winning 38-35 in week 17 at Giants Stadium.  The path the Patriots took to get to the top of the league has no doubt been the result of  great front office decisions, coaching and a huge boost from future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.  I’ll preface the following remarks by saying that if the Patriots do beat the Giants to cap off their perfect season, they will absolutely deserve the accolades for putting together the first 19-0 season in NFL history.  It would be difficult to argue that any team in history would be greater.  That doesn’t mean that I or any other fan who doesn’t like the Patriots has to enjoy it.

It’s turned out to be a funny thing that the Patriots aren’t one of my favorite teams.  In fact I used to like them.  I’ve always had a soft spot for underdog teams that haven’t enjoyed much success, and if my Broncos are out of the playoff hunt I will typically root for the underdog team whoever it is, provided it’s not the Chiefs or Raiders.  It is such that I rooted the Patriots on against the Rams in Super Bowl 36.  I admired how the Patriots came out of nowhere behind a quarterback that no one had heard of prior to the season and put together one of the surprising upsets in Super Bowl history.  I didn’t even mind them two years later when they won Super Bowl 38 against Carolina.  The Patriots showed a lot of gusto winning what turned out to be one of the great games in Super Bowl history.  I even tipped my cap to Bill Belichick when the Patriots beat my Broncos during that regular season in 2003, when he intentionally took a safety in the interest of field position late in the game, which allowed Brady to engineer a late drive to win.  I even have to give them their due for rising back to the top this season after two years of playoff defeats. 

So why is it that I have vehemently rooted against the Patriots this season, even against another team I hate, the Chargers?  Part of it is there doesn’t seem to be much fun in seeing Goliath win, but there is more to it than that.  For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was this article from SI’s Paul Zimmerman.  Naturally like most fans I was turned off by the accusations of Spygate against the Patriots.  If any of the accusations of cheating are true, than you really have to question their success over their entire run.  This article outlined examples from no fewer than three coaches that made me go “hmmm”.  When multiple coaches say their headsets went down during key times of a game in Foxboro, it at the very least requires a closer examination of what is going on.  Whatever proof may have existed has since been destroyed by the commissioner, so we’ll probably never truly know the extent of how much, or if, the Patriots really cheated.  Even if this season were to be “clean” where others may not have been, it still puts a smudge on what should be the greatest feat in NFL history. 

In a way it is really unfortunate that the Patriots have this hanging over their head.  They made a number of brilliant front office moves to put the team together, perhaps the biggest acquiring Randy Moss for essentially nothing (a 4th round pick) from the Raiders, followed closely by getting Wes Welker from Miami for a 2nd round selection.  Tom Brady is no doubt a Hall of Fame quarterback, and if he does win a fourth Super Bowl will be in Montana and Bradshaw territory.  The fact is though that even if there is perception that all of the titles were not fairly won, it is not possible for me to root for them in any way.  I find it difficult to believe that if the team was docked a 1st round draft pick and Belichick was fined the largest amount in league history for a coach ($500,000), that there wasn’t something going on there.  It still seems unfair they get a first round pick next year anyway, and a top 10 pick to boot, via a trade with San Francisco.  For me this scandal, for lack of a better word, puts a permanent black eye on the Patriots organization, and there is no possible way I can root for that kind of team. 

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Schottenheimer anyone?

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 21, 2008

I never thought I would utter the following phrase as a die hard Broncos fan, but I am livid that the San Diego Chargers didn’t win today (which says how much I can’t stand the Patriots but that’s another matter).   They literally handed the AFC Championship Game to New England on a silver platter.  For starters, they ended up with field goals on three seperate trips inside the 10 yard line, which is unacceptable in any game let alone on the road against the best team in the league.  On the last of those drives they wasted a valuable second half timeout to come up with a draw play on 3rd & 1.  It seemed as though the Chargers suddenly went tentative once they got inside the red zone.  That’s 12 points they left on the board right there.  Conversely, the Patriots coverted three of their four red zone opportunities for touchdowns, rather than having to settle for field goals.  Then, their kickoffs and punts were terrible all game long.  What is the one thing you don’t want to give Tom Brady especially on the road?  That would be excellent starting field position.  Routinely, the Patriots fielded kickoffs that didn’t even reach the 20 yard line, resulting in terrific field position.  Conversely, the Patriots kickoffs were much better, and didn’t give San Diego great field position to begin drives.  In spite of all that, the Chargers still were within striking distance, down 21-12 with just under 10 minutes to go.  Facing a 4th & 10 at the New England 35, they could have chosen to try a long field goal or even go for it to try and stay in the game.  No, instead the coaching “genius” Norv Turner (insert your own sarcasm comment here) elects to punt the ball, and the game, away.  The Chargers only “gained” roughly 20 yards on the punt, and they never saw the ball again, as the Patriots enegineered an impressive drive to put the game away.  What would the Chargers have lost really by going for it instead of punting?  At worst New England would have had the ball at the 35, but did Turner really believe his defense had much a shot to come up with a quick stop?  I realize they had intercepted Brady three times already in the game, but how many lives did they expect against New England? 

That’s not to say the Patriots don’t deserve credit for winning the game.  The final drive was certainly impressive, as was the Patriots defense for holding the Chargers down once they got inside the red zone.  New England also is to be commended for their offensive execution the red zone, particularly the play of Wes Welker.  That being said, how would the Patriots have fared against the Colts today?  Better yet, how would they have fared against a more intelligent coach, one who’s play calling would have been more savvy in the red zone and who would have shown more guts when it counted in the fourth quarter?  I certainly find it ironic that the Chargers playoff collapse of a year ago was blamed strictly on Marty Schottenheimer (for the record I too was among the blamers).  Now, it is clear that Turner at the very least contributed to this year’s defeat.  The bottom line is the Chargers played hard especially on defense, actually intercepting Brady three times, and also did a good job moving the ball offensively.  It was little things that cost them the game, and that can only be blamed on coaching. 

The bright side, getting back to me being a Broncos fan, is that Turner figures to be in control of a prime division rival for years to come.  I can’t wait until the Broncos win a close game against the Chargers becuase of dumb coaching by Turner.  The Chargers are scary on paper because they have tremendous young talent at every position, but as long as Turner is in charge, it will give the rest of the division a fighting chance. 

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Play your starters!

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 15, 2008

This note is for Tony Dungy, Wade Phillips and Jon Gruden.  I’m sure there are a couple of others coaches I could include here to whom this would apply, and I don’t necessarily mean just this season.  It seems to me a clear pattern has been established that it’s a bad idea to rest your starters for the final regular season game or two if you’ve got a playoff spot locked up.  Past seasons have shown that the teams that play all the way through generally carry momentum into the playoffs, while those that rest starters for fear of injury often end up tanking in the postseason.  This shouldn’t be rocket science, yet coaches keep tempting fate anyway. 

 This postseason alone three teams were adversely affected by not taking their final “meaningless” regular season game seriously.  The Colts had the two seed in the AFC locked up heading into their final game against Tennessee, and while they played their starters for a half, there never was any real effort to win the game.  Lo and behold they struggled in their playoff loss to San Diego, which happened to follow a bye week.  This meant it had been three weeks since the Colts gave full effort to win a game, not a good plan in terms of keeping momentum.  This marked the second time in three years this happened to Indianapolis.  In 2005 the Colts started 13-0, rested starters the final two games, and lost to Pittsburgh in the divisional round of the playoffs.  So what happened last year when the Colts won the Super Bowl?  They were 12-4, but were forced to play their starters in the final regular season game to preserve their playoff position, and they actually had momentum leading to a Super Bowl title!  This really shouldn’t be rocket science.

Not to say that Indianapolis was alone.  The Cowboys started out great this year, going 12-1 before finishing 13-3.  Dallas, with the number one seed in the NFC locked in, basically went through the motions in the final game against Washington leading into the bye week.  They got clocked in the game, then gave a listless performance in the playoffs against the Giants following the bye week.  How about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  They locked up their division title with two games remaining, and elected to rest their starters for the final TWO games of the regular season!  Needless to say, it was not a shock when they were no match against the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, even though they were at home.

 Speaking of the Giants, it really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise they’re still playing.  Even though they had nothing to play for in their final regular season game with their playoff spot secure, they went all out to beat the Patriots in the final game.  While they didn’t win the game, they gained confidence and momentum, and they have carried that into the playoffs.  How about the team they’re going to play Sunday, Green Bay?  The Packers took their final game against Detroit seriously, even though their playoff spot was locked in.  Thus, they looked fresh and rolled to victory in their playoff opener against Seattle.  As for New England, they too gave full effort to the end in the regular season, and they certainly didn’t skip a beat in their playoff win against Jacksonville.

 It’s amazing to me that coaches haven’t seemed to be able to figure this out.  If you’re a hot team you want to keep your momentum going.  Not to say that this is the only factor in determining the outcome of a playoff game, but there is no question it does seem to be a big factor.  It will be interesting to see if coaches keep this in mind in the future. 

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Don’t be so quick to hand Pats the trophy

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 7, 2008

I don’t know about you, but I am getting very tired of hearing how the Patriots are the so called “greatest team ever” after finishing the regular season 16-0.  No question that’s a tremendous accomplishment, after all no one else has managed to go undefeated through a 16 game regular season.  With a win Saturday night against Jacksonville in the divisonal playoff round, the Patriots would tie the 1972 Dolphins at 17-0.  I’m certainly not denying their accomplishment, but let’s at least wait until the playoffs are over before we crown someone the best to ever play the game.  It seems to me that a prerequisite to being the “greatest team ever” is that you need to win a Super Bowl.  If the Patriots go on to win their next three games and win a championship, then I’ll admit that it would be next to impossible not to give them their due.  That being said, if you think it’s automatic they’ll win the title, then you’ve got another thing coming. 

There have been plenty of teams in history, especially recently, that have had great regular seasons but have not won the Super Bowl.  The 1998 Vikings went 15-1, had one of the best offenses ever, and lost to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game.  The 2001 Rams went 15-1, had one of the greatest offenses ever and lost the Super Bowl (ironically to New England, who was a huge underdog).  The 2005 Colts started 13-0, were figured to be a shoo in for a title, and got surprised at home by a red hot Pittsburgh team.    So just because a team has a great regular season, it doesn’t mean things will go the same way in the playoffs. 

For starters, the playoffs are quite a bit different than the regular season.  New England won’t have any games against 1-15 Miami or the no talent Jets.  New England is going to have a difficult matchup every week from here on out.  Saturday night’s game against Jacksonville can’t be considered a cakewalk by any means because the Jaguars are a team that can run the ball with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and can control the clock with that running game.  They also have a very physical defense that can shut down the running game and put pressure on Tom Brady.  The Patriots have shown during the season to be a pass first team, and certainly they’ve been excellent throwing the ball, but history has proven you need to be able to run to have success in the playoffs.   While the Pats have a talented back in Laurence Maroney, they haven’t really been in a position where they need to run the ball in the fourth quarter to seal a game, and it will be interesting to see how they handle that situation.   Should the Patriots get by Jacksonville, they would be looking at a rematch with either the Colts or Chargers.  If it’s Indianapolis, I’m not so quick to bet against Peyton Manning, not am I quick to discount the fact the Colts are the reigning champs.  When the Patriots and Colts squared off in November, the Colts had a 10 point lead with 9 minutes to go that they let slip away, so they will want revenge.  Indianapolis believe it or not also has a stingier defense than New England (I’m not making this up, check it out for yourself at nfl.com).  The Colts have also debunked the myth over the past few years that they can’t play in bad weather.  If New England has to play the Chargers, keep in mind San Diego is quite a bit better now than when New England beat them in week two.  The Chargers want revenge for last year’s loss to New England in the playoffs, and they have enough offensive skill talent to keep up with the Patriots.  Should New England get by these games to get to the Super Bowl, they could face a rematch with Dallas.  The Cowboys, like the Chargers, are much better now than when they played the Patriots in October.  The Cowboys had a fourth quarter lead in the previous meeting, and have enough offensive talent to keep up.  Or, the Patriots could be looking at a game against Green Bay, in what could be Brett Favre’s final game.  Would you one to discount Favre in that scenerio?  Me neither. 

In my mind, the greatest team that I’ve ever seen is the 1989 49ers, who actually finished the regular season 14-2.  What made them great was the way the steamrolled through the playoffs; a 41-13 win over Minnesota in the divisional round, a 30-3 victory over a very talented Rams team in the NFC Championship Game, and (it really pains me to say this) a 55-10 pasting of my Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV.  That 49ers team had Hall of Fame talent at every position, names like Montana, Rice, Craig and Lott.  Or you can look at the 85 Bears, who posted two playoff shutouts before steamrolling New England 46-10 in the Super Bowl.  The point is that the best teams play their best in the playoffs, and what made those two teams truly great was they way they dominated three good teams in the playoffs.  If the Patriots can post three convincing wins over the excellent competition that awaits them, then they will get their well deserved due.  But let’s wait to see how they handle the pressure of the playoffs before we anoint them with the crown of the best ever. 

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