Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Posts Tagged ‘Super Bowl’

Super Bowl Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 4, 2011

Last Week: 2-0 Playoffs: 6-4

To be perfectly honest, I feel like it’s been so long since the conference championship games that I’m struggling to get in football mode for the Super Bowl on Sunday.  In many ways, it feels like traditional football is over, and we’ve now surrendered to the hype machine that makes the Super Bowl feel like it’s a corporate driven party as opposed to a football game.  Of course this is different if your team is playing in the game, and it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Broncos compete for the Lombardi Trophy.  Nevertheless I will be in front of the television like everyone else Sunday (with plenty of junk food), ready to watch what should be a thoroughly entertaining game between the Packers and Steelers.  If the matchup is as good as it appears to be on paper, this has a chance to continue the trend of thrilling games we’ve seen the past five years or so, as opposed to the blowouts of the 80s and 90s.

While I am seeing many predicting this to be a low scoring, defensive type game, I think we might be in for a shootout.  When these teams met during the 2009 regular season, the teams combined for 73 points, 94 pass attempts and 886 passing yards in a game won by Pittsburgh 37-36.  While I don’t think we’ll see that kind of offensive explosion, I think we’ll see some points put up on the scoreboard.  Let’s not forget this game will be played indoors, and the Packers’ offense in particular has put up terrific numbers in dome games.  While the Packers offense struggled at times during the NFC title game in Chicago, the environment at Cowboys Stadium will be much more conducive to them passing the ball more.  I expect Aaron Rodgers to pass the ball 40 times or so, and I think the Packers’ receivers have the ability to spread the Steelers out and neutralize the physicality of their secondary.  As for the Steelers, people think of them as a power running team, and while they run the ball well, they do have deceptively talented receivers, and as much as I dislike Ben Roethlisberger it’s hard to deny his ability to make plays out of the pocket and extend the play when things break down.  Both teams have outstanding defenses, two of the top ranked units in the league, but I think this is a matchup that will lead to a higher scoring contest.

Before the season started I picked the Packers as my NFC representative in the Super Bowl largely because I thought Rodgers was due for a breakout year.  However, I picked the Steelers to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs partially because I thought they would struggle during Roethlisberger’s suspension at the start of the year (as it turns out they went 3-1 without him), and partially because I thought they had a look of an aging team.  Turns out I was wrong on both counts.  I also had their division rival Baltimore as my Super Bowl pick in the AFC, and as it turns out the Steelers erased a 14-point halftime deficit and rallied for a playoff win against them.  I bring all of this up to emphasize that early season predictions are unreliable and almost never right, but also to point out that as unpredictable as those predictions are, picking the Super Bowl winner can be even harder.  See, the Super Bowl is only one game, and what happened prior to this point in the season is completely irrelevant. 

I think both quarterbacks will have success passing the ball.  I think both sets of receivers have an edge against the other secondary.  I think Pittsburgh has a slight edge running the football only because the Packers are down to roughly their 15th running back due to many injuries.  Pittsburgh also has an edge in experience, having won two of the past five Super Bowls, while this is Green Bay’s first appearance since 1997.  Those two facts alone tells me I should pick Pittsburgh to win, but something tells me that the Packers special teams could be a major factor in this game.  When the Packers played at New England in week 15 (without Aaron Rodgers) they opened the game with a surprise onside kick.  Not saying they’ll do that on Sunday, but we saw one of those from the Saints last year.  I think this will be a close, high scoring game, and my pick, despite the fact I think this might be against my better judgement is:

Packers 27 Steelers 24

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Super Bowl Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 5, 2010

Last week: 1-1  Playoffs: 5-5

This year’s Super Bowl is going to have to be one heck of a game to live up to the excitement of the previous two seasons.  Two years ago, we saw what might be the best catch in NFL history by David Tyree, leading the Giants to an upset win over the previously undefeated Patriots.  Last year, we saw a spectacular 100-yard interception return TD by James Harrison to end the first half, and then we saw Ben Roethlisberger lead an amazing winning drive, outdueling Kurt Warner.  This year does shape on paper to be a very entertaining contest, with Peyton Manning matching up against Drew Brees in a QB showdown, not to mention the story of the Saints lifting the city of New Orleans from the never forgotten wreckage of Katrina.  It is for this reason that I would imagine most people without a rooting interest would like to see the Saints win.  If you have no hand at the blackjack table, it is hard to root against that story.  In any case there is no reason this shouldn’t be a competitive and highly entertaining game.   As a side note, I mention every year that at my house the game is the focus.  Not the commercials, not the halftime show, none of that.  I refuse to attend a party where the game is not the sole focus of the evening.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ll have plenty of food, beverage, etc and some of the commercials are usually funny, but this is about football, period. 

I always say the Super Bowl is the toughest game to predict during the whole season because what happened prior to this point is completely irrelevant.  With two weeks to prepare, there are no secrets.  Each team knows exactly what the other has up its sleeve.  This is a one game scenario for both teams, there is no tomorrow, and therefore there is a certain amount of unpredictability that doesn’t exist during the regular season or even in earlier rounds of the playoffs.  This is why we have seen a number of stunning upsets over the years (Giants-Bills 1990, Patriots-Rams 2001 and Giants-Patriots two years ago the chief ones that come to mind).  Granted, a lot of times the favorite ends up coasting, but we have long been trending toward closer and more exciting games in the Super Bowl as opposed to the blowouts we saw in the 80s and early 90s.  This is the ultimate one game situation where it can be decided by a timely turnover, a single big play, one costly penalty, or any number of random things. 

The Colts have rebounded very nicely during the playoffs after they pulled their starters and waved the white flag in the final two games of the regular season.  I have to admit that I thought this was a big mistake that I thought would cost them in the end.  So far it hasn’t, and you can’t really deny that the players have looked fresh in the past two games.  I still think in the end, perhaps years from now, the Colts may regret that they missed a shot at 19-0, but if they win the Super Bowl I guess it’s hard to argue with their way of thinking.  Indianapolis particularly looked like the fresher, crisper, more energized team two weeks ago when they pulled away from the Jets in the second half.  Peyton Manning is playing perhaps the best football of his career, and continues to be able to find open receivers no matter what the situation.  Against the Jets, Reggie Wayne was blanketed by Darrelle Revis and Dallas Clark was having a hard time getting open, so Manning simply looked for Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, who combined to haul in 18 passes for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns.  The amazing thing about Manning, not only in that game, but throughout his entire career, is how infrequently he gets sacked and how quickly he can get rid of the ball with stunning accuracy.  Sure the Jets got hits on him early in the game, but that didn’t last very long.  For his entire career, Manning has eaten defenses alive that have attempted to blitz him.  The Saints have thrived in the playoffs on hitting Kurt Warner and Brett Favre as often as possible (in Favre’s case there should have a couple of roughing the passer/late hit penalties that weren’t assessed, including a big one on Favre’s first interception, the play where he hurt his ankle), but I think hitting Manning will prove to be much harder.  The Colts’ offensive line has been outstanding all year, and against the Jets they did a tremendous job controlling the play, especially in the second half.  I think the Colts have a big edge here between their offensive line and Manning’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly in the event he does experience some pressure.  The Colts have no shortage of weapons that can get open, and while the Saints have a good secondary, I think their inability to get to Manning with any kind of frequency could well be their downfall in this game.  As it was two weeks ago, the Vikings rolled up a staggering number of yards against the Saints.  New Orleans may get to Manning a little bit early in the game, but they won’t be able to do it for 60 minutes.  The Colts running game does rank near the bottom of the league, but so does the Saints’ run defense.  I think this game will be won through the air anyway, but in terms of the Colts offense vs. the Saints defense, I give the Colts a huge edge.

The Saints’ offense has also been playing extremely well during the postseason, and like the Colts, they have bounced back from a regular season finish that saw them stumble to three straight losses, including one to Tampa Bay at home in which they lost despite the starters playing the entire game.  Against Minnesota, the Saints were fortunate to receive a huge gift in the form of six Vikings turnovers.  I think the odds of the Colts turning it over that many times is zero, so for the Saints to have a chance to win this game they are going to need to take advantage of every offensive opportunity they get.  I think the Saints do have a chance to be able to run the ball with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, as well as utilize Bush to try to get big plays out of the backfield.  The Colts’ defense doesn’t do anything fancy, but they’ve proven to be more than solid enough to get the job done.  The key for the Saints will be to be able to control things offensively and keep Manning on the sideline as much as possible.  Drew Brees is certainly a top 5 quarterback in the league without question, and the Saints will need him to utilize his ability to extend plays in the pocket and find his receivers.  Dwight Freeney is not 100 percent for the Colts’ defense, but he’ll play.  Between him and Robert Mathis, the Saints’ offensive line could have their hands full.  It will be important for New Orleans to stay away from third and long situations where they’re going to have to pass and the Colts’ pass rushers can tee off on Brees.  If the Saints can get success on the ground, it will open up Brees to be able to go down the field and get some big plays.  The biggest thing is the Saints can’t afford to have any three and outs where they hand the ball right back to Manning.  I also think the Saints have a better ability to make things happen on special teams, especially in the return game.  If the Saints can get a return TD at some point during the game, it could be enough to be a difference maker. 

This should be a highly entertaining game with lots of passing and big plays.  I think this has a chance to rank with the memorable Super Bowls of the past two seasons.  In the end though, I think Peyton Manning really wants to win this game at any cost, and I think as well as he’s playing right now he’s not going to be slowed down.  I think Brees and company will be able to stay in it for a majority of the contest, but I can see the Colts pulling away in the fourth quarter. 

The Pick: Indianapolis 34 New Orleans 24

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Super Bowl Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 2, 2009

At the risk of bouncing all over the place with no clear order to my comments from the Super Bowl, I offer my thoughts on the game in a quick hit format:

– What a fantastic game.  For the second straight season, the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl was scored with 35 seconds remaining.  As a fan you can’t ask for much more than that. 

– What a phenomenal job by Ben Roethlisberger on the final drive.  I lost count of how many guys he escaped from during the game, and on the final drive especially he kept plays alive with his feet and made perfect throw after perfect throw.  His pass to Santonio Holmes for the winning touchdown was threaded perfectly through three Cardinals defenders.

– It’s almost hard to realize that Roethlisberger has already won two Super Bowls in his first four years as a quarterback.  The way he can scramble and keep plays alive actually reminds me of my favorite player of all-time John Elway.  There is a certain irony that Roethlisberger wears Elway’s number seven.  While I have certain bitterness toward Roethlisberger and the Steelers because of their AFC title game win over the Broncos three years ago (and my anger over how many Steelers fans elbowed their way into Invesco Field that day), it’s impossible not to applaud his athleticism and the way he gets the job done in crunch time.  I think he should have the MVP, but Holmes is deserving as well. 

– Speaking of which, that was an awesome catch by Holmes for the winning score, and a great job to touch both feet in bounds, but I think David Tyree’s catch in last year’s Super Bowl was much more impressive.  Still, Holmes really stepped up with big catches on the final drive. 

– I don’t think Arizona’s scheme defensively was the problem on Pittsburgh’s final drive.  Roethlisberger and Holmes made a series of terrific plays that any defense would have been hard pressed to stop.  I actually thought Arizona’s defense really stepped things up in the red zone throughout the game, holding the Steelers to two field goals inside the five yard line. 

– Great job by the Cardinals to battle back, overcoming an early 10-0 deficit to get back in the game in the second quarter, and again overcoming a 20-7 deficit to take the lead.  Pittsburgh doesn’t usually lose when they have a double digit lead, and while moral victories don’t count for anything in the NFL, Arizona deserves to be commended for nearly pulling it off.

– James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half was the play of the game.  Had the Cardinals scored a touchdown, they would have had a 14-10 halftime lead, plus the ball to begin the second half.  The interception and ensuing return caused a monster momentum swing had a big effect on the game.  To be honest I thought the Cardinals were almost done and buried when they didn’t do anything on their first possession of the second half, so they deserve a lot of credit for battling back. 

– On that play, it appeared to me that Kurt Warner misread the coverage by the Steelers defense.  It seemed like he thought the Steelers were going to blitz, and that Anquan Boldin was going to be wide open on the slant pattern.  Instead, Harrison sat back, and saw where Warner was going with the football.  It was clear watching the replay that Boldin was nowhere near open and that throw should not have been made, so it seems to me that Warner may have been expecting something different from the Steelers defense. 

– Give Harrison credit for the job he did on the play.  He read Warner perfectly, and then made a phenomenal run for the touchdown.  His touchdown carried a lot of importance given that time expired during the play, which means that had he been bumped out of bounds at the 2 yard line, the half would have been over and Pittsburgh wouldn’t have been able to add to the 10-7 lead. 

– Larry Fitzgerald deserved a ton of credit during the play too.  If you missed his effort on the play, try to watch him during one of the 50,000 replays you’ll see today on ESPN.  He started chasing Harrison from four yards deep in the end zone (and to boot Fitzgerald was on the opposite side of the field on the play, so he was chasing Harrison at a diagonal from the opposite corner), and kept hustling despite getting blocked by a Steeler defensive linemen.  At one point Fitzgerald even bumped into a teammate at the 30 yard line along the sideline, shoved him out of the way, and very nearly caught Harrison before he scored.  Even though Fitzgerald didn’t prevent the touchdown, his hustle on the play and refusal to give up is something we don’t see often enough from players. 

– I love the way Fitzgerald plays the game, he’s the anti-TO, unselfish, humble and willing to go all-out on every play.  He doesn’t whine when he doesn’t get the ball.  I wish he was on my team.

– The game was terrific, but in theme with the 2008 season, the officiating was, ahem, questionable at best.  Check that, Terry McAulay and his crew were awful.  Consider:

– How is it that the final play of the game (not counting the kneel down) was not reviewed??????  I’m talking about the strip and fumble recovery by the Steelers defense with five seconds left.  It seemed to me that Warner’s arm may have indeed been going forward, and that should have been an incomplete pass.  I am befuddled as to why there is not a bigger stink being made about this.  I’m not sure if the replay was conclusive, but my opinion is the arm was going forward and it should have been ruled an incomplete pass, not a fumble.  At the very least, the play should been reviewed by the booth upstairs.  Even if the call stood, at least everyone would know that it was reviewed.  Why do we even bother to have replay if the biggest play of the entire season is not subject to a review?  It is absolutely inexcusable that a Super Bowl crew wouldn’t look at that play.  Factor in there was a 15-yard penalty assessed on the Steelers following the play, and a reversal would have allowed the Cardinals one shot for a hail mary from the 30 yard line.  Terry McAulay and his crew should be ashamed they allowed this to happen.  Really, I am astounded that this is not a much bigger topic in the media today. 

– Consider also the number of calls that were missed in the game.  For starters, how was Holmes not assessed a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty following his winning touchdown?  The rule says you’re not allowed to use the ball as a prop in a celebration, yet he clearly did.  How about a roughing the passer penalty against the Cardinals for a hit on Roethlisberger, yet a much later after the play and more brutal hit against Warner wasn’t called?  How about the roughing the holder penalty against the Cardinals’ Adrian Wilson?  Seemed to me that was not an intentional blow by Wilson.  What about Roethlisberger getting away with at least two very blatant intentional groundings that weren’t called (one where the refs claimed he was out of the pocket and clearly was not)?  Consider also that the Cardinals were correct on two challenges during the game.  This means that the calls were originally missed by the officials.  All told, there were a lot of flags thrown during the game, but perhaps it’s the ones that weren’t thrown and should have been that made as much of a difference.

– Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh deserved to win the game.  They made the plays when they had to especially on the final drive, but you can’t deny that McAulay and his crew had an adverse impact on the game.  I’ll say it again, I am STUNNED that there isn’t more of a fuss being made about the lack of a review on the final play.  The league is very fortunate that the officials’ poor performance is overshadowed by the terrific finish and the great game.  It is ironic though that each of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl wins in the past four years is marred by poor officiating. 

– All that being said, this is not to take away from the Steelers’ victory.  Roethlisberger and Holmes were amazing on the final drive, and James Harrison had a big impact on defense.  I am confident that future Super Bowls will be along the lines of the previous two years: close games with exciting finishes.  It was a terrific game, one that is hard to top in excitement from a fan’s perspective.

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Super Bowl Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 29, 2009

Before we get to talking about the Steelers and the Cardinals, it’s interesting to note that this Super Bowl seems to be more under the radar than any that I can recall in my life.  This is especially true when compared to last year’s game, although to be fair just about everyone had a rooting interest one way or the other last season.  Patriots fans wanted to see Brady and company complete a perfect season, while virtually everyone else in the country was rooting for the underdog Giants to pull the upset.  For whatever reason though, this year’s game does not seem to be getting near the attention.  Perhaps it’s because people are still getting over the shock of the Cardinals making it to the big game.  Maybe it’s because this is a matchup that doesn’t have a lot of quote unquote star power (i.e. a Manning or Brady-esque player in the lead).  Perhaps the economy is a factor in that people are more concerned about the goings on in their lives.  Whatever the reason, the hype for this game does not seem to match that of previous seasons, and it seems like this game is really sneaking up on people this year. 

As far as the game itself, I think most people would agree that picking the Super Bowl is not the same as picking a regular game.  As I pointed out last year in my correct prediction of the Giants’ upset of New England, once the game kicks off, everything that happened during the season prior to that point is completely irrelevant.  Last year it didn’t matter that the Patriots were an unstoppable force heading into the game, what mattered was that the Giants figured out a way to slow them down.  The key play of that game, David Tyree’s incredible catch, could not have been predicted based on any amount of statistics and game data from the season or even in the previous playoff games.  The Super Bowl is a one game situation, and as such the unpredictable has the potential to decide the game.   Any team with a perceived advantage coming into the game is not guaranteed to enjoy that advantage during the game, and often times gets beat (see Giants-Bills in ’90, Broncos-Packers in ’97, Patriots-Rams in ’01, Giants-Patriots last year, and so on).  This makes predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl next to impossible in most years, because what happens after kickoff in the Super Bowl is often no reflection of what the numbers say should happen.  The old saying “any given Sunday” really applies to the Super Bowl, because anything can happen in one game. 

I think it is interesting that the Steelers are favored by seven points.  I agree that they are the favorite coming in, but a full touchdown seems like a lot.  I believe that the days of mega blowouts in the Super Bowl are over for several reasons, largely because of the parity of the league.  I think this is a very intriguing matchup because of the contrast in styles, but both teams have shown they can go against the grain of their perceived style.  The Cardinals are known for their passing offense, and it has been dynamic this postseason (especially Larry Fitzgerald), but in the playoffs they have also  shown they can run the ball effectively.  The Steelers are known as a power running team, and they  have run well, but they have also made big plays in the passing game during the playoffs (in large part thanks to Ben Roethlisberger being able to extend plays and avoid sacks with his escape ability). 

I actually think this has the potential to be a high scoring game.  Both teams have outstanding quarterback play, both have shown they can run the ball this postseason, and both have talented receivers.  Both quarterbacks have won a  Super Bowl before, so neither one will get rattled about being in the big game.   Pittsburgh does seem to have the much stronger defense on paper, especially against the run where they have been nothing short of dominant in two playoff games.  The Cardinals though have been very surprising with their defensive play in the playoffs, including the 5-interception effort against Jake Delhomme in the divisional round.  While I highly doubt the Cards will get five picks on Sunday, I think they do have better ability to cause havoc than people seem to realize.  All that being said, I have a feeling both defenses will end up giving up points on Sunday. 

Honestly, we could break this game down until we’re blue in the face, but the reality is this has been an NFL season of unpredictability for sure.  It has long gotten to the point where I am not surprised to see anything, including a Super Bowl appearance by the Arizona Cardinals.  Going with that theme, I think stats and trends,  numbers and even personnel don’t mean much in regard to picking this game.  In the theme of unpredictability, my pick is….

 Arizona 28 Pittsburgh 24.  It would just be too fitting for a season filled with wackiness and craziness not to end with the Cardinals winning their first championship since 1947.  The Steelers may have the history edge (5 Super Bowl wins to none), may have better tradition, and may be more impressive on paper, but favorites have not carried the day in the NFL this season.  Arizona wins the Super Bowl, and thus we have the ultimate symbol for the 2008 season of unpredictability.

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Random thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 14, 2008

Is it me, or there something wrong with the picture of Congress getting involved in steroids and more specifically the investigation of Roger Clemens?  Now, I certainly want to see baseball, and in fact all sports, be played on a even field as much as possible.  There is no doubt that steroid use was at least common if not rampant during the mid-90s and early 2000s in baseball, and there are a number of players who used and will not get caught.  That is a reality of the situation.  I would like to think that efforts have been made in recent years to clean up the game, and to make sure that no one is gaining an unfair advantage.  Particularly in the cases of Bonds and Clemens, it would be unfortuante if records were set while utilizing the advantage of steroids That being said, does it really matter at this point if Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens used steroids a decade ago?  What I’m most concerned with is whether the game is clean now.  It is fair to say that Congress’ involvement in this issue, at least to some degree, has helped MLB clean up its steroid policy.  But really, shouldn’t Congress have better things to worry about?  I couldn’t help but notice while watching some of the hearing involving Clemens that many of the politicans asking questions seemed to be playing to the camera as much as or more than Clemens and Brian McNamee.  Now I realize that one of the biggest reasons for Congress to get involved in this issue is MLB’s antitrust exemption, and they would certainly have an ability to revisit that issue.  I just think Congress should have better things to worry about than MLB and steroids; it’s not like the rest of the problems are solved and there aren’t things where Congress might be better served to spend their time.  It is unfortunate that MLB and the players union couldn’t police themselves, forcing Congress to step in. 

 As as side note, it will be interesting to see how Clemens, as well as Bonds, are affected when their time comes for Hall of Fame consideration.  We’ve already seen the issue adversely affect Mark McGwire, who was thought to be a shoo-in prior to not exactly giving himself a ringing endorsement at a Congressional hearing several years ago.  McGwire has only garnered 25 percent of the vote each of the first two years he’s been eligible.  It will be interesting to see if Bonds and Clemens, or anyone else who may be clouded by this issue, gets the same treatment.  I’m not sure if I believe Clemens or not, just as I’m not sure if anything will ever be proven against Bonds.  The point is that the issue will certainly continue to cloud these players and others. 

 ………………………..

As for some leftover thoughts on the Super Bowl, I think that game really reminded me why I love sports so much.  It’s not just because the underdog won the game, or because it was competitive or even because the Patriots got what many (including me) thought they probably deserved, which was to not be the first team in history to go 19-0.  It’s because of guys like David Tyree.  The Giants receiver had all of FOUR catches during the regular season for a total of 35 yards.  In the regular season meeting between the Giants and Patriots, he caught two passes for three yards.  He did not tally a catch and barely played in the Giants’ playoff wins against Tampa Bay and Dallas.  He caught one pass for four yards in the NFC Championship game against the Packers in the freezing cold at Lambeau.  He had a disastrous practice the Friday before the Super Bowl, with reports of no fewer than six dropped balls.  Yet in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, against a New England team that was on the verge of history, Tyree came up with not only a touchdown catch that put the Giants up 10-7, but also came up with what might ultimately go down as the greatest catch in NFL history, holding the ball against his helmet while Rodney Harrison was viciously trying to rip the ball away.  Not to mention the fact that on the same play Eli Manning escaped from what seemed like three sacks on the play.  Sports is all about guys like Tyree, who can shine under the lights when the pressure is on. 

Tyree’s performance and confidence was a reflection of the team’s attitude heading into the game.  Everyone got all over Plaxico Burress when he predicted his Giants would win 23-17 (which incidentally was much closer than my final score of 34-31, although I was one of the few who actually picked the Giants to win).  It turns out Burress was too generous.  The Giants’ pass rush really has to be commended, as it was clearly the difference in the game.  The Giants were able to do what many teams could not, which was put pressure on Tom Brady.  As the game wore on it became easier and easier to feel that the Giants might actually pull it off.  Even when the Patriots took a 14-10 lead with 2:45 to play, the Giants still showed confidence in their body language.  The poise they showed on that final drive, trailing an undefeated team, in the biggest game of any of their lives, reminded me of why sports is so great.  It makes me want to fast forward to early September so we can get the next football season underway.  Thankfully, there is the NCAA tournament and baseball season between now and then.  But the next time someone tries to tell me that sports is not a worthwhile endeavor, I will simply pop in a tape of the 4th quarter of the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl, to show them that every game is truly unique and you can never ever be totally sure of what we’re going see when a game is played. 

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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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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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