I’ve been wrong about a lot of things, but Eli Manning was at the top of the list. Today, he (and Manningham) made the plays, and Brady (and Welker, although that really wasn’t a very good throw) missed two pivotal opportunities, and that was a difference. Great game, which for those of us without strong rooting interests is the most important thing.
I can’t leave any suspense about the pick, since I already placed my low stakes wager on the Giants (money line and +3) the Monday after the championship games before the sharps bet the Giants payouts down more. The line seems like an obvious botch for a relatively even-matched game on a neutral field. The difference in records is largely a product of the Pats’ much easier schedule, and the Giants right now are a different team than the one earlier in the year that didn’t have Osi and only had Tuck in the most formal sense. This isn’t to say that I think that the Giants are overwhelmingly likely to win the game or anything. Eli, while championship quality, isn’t Brady, and the Giants (benfitting from Harbaugh’s inability to adapt to the Ginn injury and a lucky — not wrong, necessarily, but lucky — call on the Brandshaw near-fumble) were just as lucky to win the championship game as the Patriots. Still, I like the macthup of the Giants receivers against the Pats secondary, and while New York’s secondary isn’t a lot better the Gronkowski injury is a huge factor for an offense that lacks a deep threat. Had the Patriots signed a real wideout rather than a reality TV star in the offesason, I’d probably see them winning this game; but they didn’t and I don’t. Certainly, getting points to take the Giants is an easy call.
I am rooting for OT not only because it would mean a close game because I would take a perverse pleasure in Gregg Easterbrook types launching into less-funny-than-Frank-Caliendo routines about the Incredible Complexity of the new postseason OT rules. Here, let me explain it: “it’s sudden death unless the first team to receive a kickoff kicks a field goal in its first possession.” Sooooo complicated! Can I have my PhD in astrophysics from MIT now? Also, I think the rules are fine; certainly infinitely preferable to the abominable NCAA rules, which are almost as bad as penalty kicks/shots. I have little patience for equity whining; If you can’t stop a team from scoring a TD after a kickoff, boo hoo hoo hoo hoo. And that goes triple for Steelers fans inclined to whine; if you can’t beat one of the three weakest playoff teams in NFL history in regulation and then start the OT with a defensive scheme that will allow the other team to score if their QB can make a throw half the tailbacks in the league can make, tough shit. [To clarify, I’m not saying that Steelers fans are uniquely whiny or anything; it’s an illustrative hypothetical.]
…Refs deserve a lot of credit for that safety call; obviously correct, and gutsy. Having praised Bellichick, I should not that the first quarter — most glaringly his Don Cherry homage — has been ugly; Patriots looked grossly unprepared.
…Shorter Clint Eastwood: vote for Mitt Romney? Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?
Ah, the Patriots:
So close to the Super Bowl, yet so far.
Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood has been cut by the Patriots less than 24 hours before the big game — bad news for him, of course, but a move that increases the likelihood Chad Ochocinco will be active against the Giants on Sunday.
Which makes me think of this:
Stengel [didn’t make an emotional commitment to his players.] With Stengel, you were only as good as your last start. And that was a large part of why he was able to stay on top, year after year, in a way few other managers ever have. It’s not that he wasn’t “loyal” to his players, but his idea of loyalty wasn’t “Joe helped me win the pennant last year, so I owe it to him to let him work through his problems.” It was “these boys are trying to win. I owe it to them to do everything possible to help them win.”
–Bill James, The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers (170)
I suspect the conclusion many people will draw from the first story is “yikes, is Bellichick ever an asshole.” Which isn’t exactly wrong. But on this, I’m on the Bellichick/Stengel side. A coach’s job is to be loyal to the team and the team’s fans by doing what they feel is necessary to win, not to express loyalty to individual players per se. It’s not an accident that a coach willing to cut a guy the week before a Super Bowl already has five rings.
On Pats/Ravens, I wouldn’t make too much of how dominant the Patriots looked in the last round; without first round Broncos MVP Dick LeBeau involved, Tebow turning into a pumpkin was inevitable, and the Broncos defense was overrated. On the other hand, while Flacco is an NFL QB and at this point Tebow is not, he’s not a very good NFL QB either. Between wondering if the Ravens are the right team to exploit New England’s secondary (which does look slightly less awful with Chung back) and Ed Reed apparently being a lot less than 100%, I’ll take New England -9. I’ll also recommend Pierce on Belichick, which I agree with almost entirely; maybe Charlie has even learned to love Belichick’s correct 4th down gamble against Indianapolis.
On Giants/49ers I don’t think I have anything original to add; if the Giants (especially Eli and the pass rushers) play the way they’re capable of playing they should win, but the Niners are more consistent and we should remember that the Giants were beaten badly by the Redskins just a few weeks ago. Given this kind of even matchup, though, I have to take the points. New York +3.
Apparently Aaron Rodgers’s head is somewhere in the middle of his back.
This game is, though, an object lesson about why officiating never really “costs” any team a game; the Packers have benefited not only from a farcical roughing-the-passer call to negate a 3rd down play but an almost equally bad call upholding a non-fumble call on a fumble, and yet they’re still getting beat pretty badly. With that said, I can’t resist noting that Bill Leavy was the same idiot whose crew made a complete hash of Super Bowl XL. What this guy is still doing in playoff games I can’t tell you.
Saturday’s game is a good lesson in making predictions based on intuition. The numbers suggest that Alex Smith has become a very serviceable QB, and despite my skepticism played very well against a terrible defense. The numbers also show that Tim Tebow is really, really terrible, and was he! Although it’s hard to compete against Belichick’s defensive schemes, which today involved such radical ideas as “covering the other team’s top wideout” and “not running your fourth-and-short defense on every play.” (The person who should be most embarrassed today is not Tebow, or even his media fluffers, but Dick LeBeau.)
Since I was on the road, I missed the first game (I’m, ah, sure I would have picked the Texans behind the immortal T.J. Yates.) But still time for the other three:
Detroit at New Orleans: What, who’s playing the Saints now? Must be a misprint. Seriously, discipline aside you have to be impressed with how quickly the Lions have recovered from Matt Millen, and also impressed that Stafford has become a top 10 QB. But they’re at least a year early as a playoff contender, playing a terrific team that’s especially good at home, Stafford still ain’t Brees, and the Lions were scored on at will by the Packers’ second-string. Saints -10 1/2.
Pittsburgh at God’s Own Team. Obviously, a huge mismatch. Which, yes, yes, doesn’t mean that a Broncos win is impossible (cf. the Seahawks last year.) Only the Seahawks had someone with some history of being an NFL QB; the Broncos have a guy who’s merely bad when he doesn’t turn the ball over and is Ryan Leaf-caliber when he does. If you think that the Tebow who didn’t generate turnovers is the real one, then the Broncos have a puncher’s chance. Me, I say Steelers -8 with extreme prejudice.
Atlanta at NY Giants This, on the other hand, is as close as it gets. and surprisingly Ryan was as good or better than Manning (the latter of whom has been much better than I thought he would be.) The question of the game is whether the very good Falcons offensive line can protect against the healthier Giants pass rush and allow Ryan to pick on the atrocious Giants secondary. The answer is…I have no idea. But in those circumstances I guess you should take the points. Falcons +3.
Tim Tebow is so great that he can get a team coached by Norv Turner to knock someone out of the playoffs! He Just. Wins. Football Games. To focus against his 20.6 QB rating is to miss the intangible qualities that make him a very, very, very special atrocious quarterback.
What happens when a QB playing like Colt McCoy and Josh Freeman and Dan Orlovsky (well, not quite as well as the immortal Orlovsky) despite an unrealistically low turnover rate no longer has the unrealistic variable working for him? The results could be immensely entertaining!
In fairness, you can hardly expect a QB to flourish when entering the House of Pain, an abattoir for quarterbacks if there ever was one. This is 1990, right?
Dave Zirin’s piece on Tebow’s disastrous performance and his aggressive evangelicalism links to this very disturbing 2008 news story of Tim Tebow going to the Philippines to circumcise young boys
On the recent weeklong trip to the orphanage his father’s ministry runs in Southeast Asia, Tim assisted in the care of more than 250 Filipinos who underwent medical and dental procedures, including circumcision.
Tim’s original task was to preach to the hundreds of people waiting in line before they had their teeth pulled or cysts removed. But as the day progressed, he looked for more active ways to help the three Filipino doctors. By the end of an exhausting day, he was wearing gloves and a mask, wielding surgical scissors, and helping the doctors in the circumcision of boys, finishing off stitches with a snip.:
Um. Whoa. Wow.
I know that some are saying people are going overboard with the Tebow hatred. But he makes it so easy. And really, what are the chances we are seeing the beginning of a very scary political career here? Way too high.
Michael Tomasky’s excellent piece on the Washington Redskins, a team whose owner, George Marshall, made the team identity his own virulent racism, is well worth a read. The Redskins were the last team in the NFL to integrate, in 1962 when Marshall was also openly supporting southern segregationists against the civil rights movement. Moreover, the person responsible for its integration was, of all people, Stewart Udall, who forced Marshall’s hand when he wanted Department of Interior land to build a new stadium.