As an avid reader of Football Outsiders and discusser of football for a solid 2 and a half weeks, I am now clearly qualified to write in depth commentary on the Patriots, the Super Bowl, and the sports media vis a vis the NFL. Prepare to be awed by my intense knowledge.
In response to Nick's blog of this morning, I have a few comments, some of which support his observations and some of which are a little different. I kid about my total lack of knowledge of the sport prior to a few weeks ago, but it is true that I don't watch a lot of football during the regular season. I do, however, attempt to keep up with the Patriots and have some idea of who the best teams in general are. With that, here are some opinions.
Nick hit the nail on the head when he talks about how the Patriots' opponents have a tendendcy to understate their dominance. The past 2 games have been very telling in that regard. Going into the Colts matchup, the general media line was that no one could stop the Colts or Peyton Manning, coming off what may possibly be the best offensive season ever. The Pats never trailed in the game and held said offense to 3 points. All of a sudden the line changes and the Colts were a severely flawed team that was too reliant on the long passing game and had a shitty defense. The snowy weather gets credit and Peyton Manning is a choker. There's one guy (I think an Eagles fan) on the Outsiders site who wont shut up about how the Pats defense didn't really dominate the Colts, the offense did with a long drive that ate up most of the 3rd quarter. All the excuses and revisionist justifications fall short of recognizing the truly great game plan and execution that the Pats showed. It was a balanced team effort to hold the Colts to 3 points and it will be that way whenever they are on. Basically the Pittsburgh game is the same story. Before the game, the naysayers went on and on about how great the Steelers' running game and defense was, and that the Pats had never faced such an all around good and balanced team. After the Pats serious dominance in that game (on the road no less), people went on and on about how Pittsburgh has a flawed and one dimensional offense, Bill Cowher sucks, Rothlisberger was an overrated rookie, and the Pats got lucky with turnovers and good field position. The same Outsiders guy claims that the Pats defense won the game and the offense didn't do a lot. Hogwash. The Steelers were 16-1 and had schooled both Super Bowl teams earlier in the year. They are a great team, the Pats are just better. They make other teams make mistakes and they are amazing at capitalizing on them, which looks like luck if you're desparate for an excuse.
The parts I disagree with Nick on sort of fall into the "intangibles" camp. As a Yankees fan, I can 100% relate to the mass non-NE fan backlash against the Patriots. Before you jump on that, let me explain a few things and remind you that although the Yankees team of the past few seasons has had an infusion of less than likeable personalities and steroids scandals, they were a very respectful and likeable group (circa 1998 for example). As Aaron Schatz has cleverly pointed out, Tom Brady is the Derek Jeter of the NFL. It's really only your own biases that makes one admirable and one hated. The Patriots defense is famous for their "no respect" image, despite vast amounts of media coverage and accolades for guys like Bruschi, Law (no ego?), Seymour, and Harrison. Speaking of Rodney Harrison, from what I've heard he's pretty much uniformly disliked around the league, trash talks constantly, and has been accused of cheap hits repeatedly. In summary, the Patriots are a normal professional sports team in terms of personality and ego. They are coached well enough and they win enough that it might look otherwise, but I think a lot of people misread the causality relationship on that one. They are the 1998 Yankees. People hate them and their fans simply because they win a lot, and they make up other reasons to justify it.
As for the Super Bowl, last night's Outsiders article is pretty entertaining. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
Twelve days until kickoff, and otherwise sane educators have turned into Vizzini from The Princess Bride. But the television pundits are no better. “The Patriots know how to prepare.” “The Eagles are hungrier.” “The Patriots are trying to become a dynasty.” “The Eagles are just happy to be here.” “The Patriots are satisfied after two championships.” Lazy conjecture, meaningless hypotheses, amateur psychoanalysis masquerading as football knowledge, all foisted on the public by Skip Bayless and Sean Salisbury, Dan Marino and Tony Kornheiser, Larry King and Star Jones. Everyone’s talking football; no one’s saying anything.
“It will take a minor miracle to beat the Patriots,” Berliner intones. Two Super Bowls and one World Series was all it took to turn Boston commentators into strutting New Yorkers.
My take on the Super Bowl is that the Eagles are a great team. They have no obvious weakness (you'll hear conflicting stories about both their rush defense and rush offense, but the trends and stats bear out that they are pretty solid in both areas), a great QB, solid players on both sides of the ball, and a great coaching staff. Despite all of that, my gut tells me to take the Pats to cover the 7 point spread. Why? Basically because of the reasons I posted above. The Pats have a recent history that shows that they just out prepare and out execute virtually everyone they face, especially in big games. The Eagles will be tough, but so were the Colts and the Steelers. The Eagles haven't been tested and they have a history of choking in big games. The concept of "clutch" may not exist over the course of a 700 plate appearance baseball season, but a one game contest that's watched by millions and scrutinized mercilessly is another story. I wouldn't be shocked if it was a close game, and the Eagles do have a chance to win, but my gut tells me the Pats will win comfortably, again.