The case for the Patriots
Or, “my official Super Bowl post.”
The last two weeks have seen an intense speculation as to what’s going to happen on Sunday, and not just in the Puppy Bowl. (My money’s on Scuba. No discernible breed: cuteness from everywhere). Many of the columns I’ve read have focused on how the Giants just might win, which is understandable, given that most of the country has already been talking about the Patriots for 20 weeks. But during this entire time, I haven’t heard argument that stands up under the smallest bit of scrutiny other than the simple, effective, “The Giants could win.” They are playing, so yes, they could. The Steelers and Broncos could not, so in that sense, it’s already a wonderful football season (Growing up rooting against the Yankees leads to equations like this, but I hate those guys). However, beyond that, there’s not much you can say that stands up under even a little bit of pressure. Let’s take the arguments for the Giants one by one:
1. The Giants as road warriors
The Giants have put together one of the more impressive Super Bowl pushes in the last few years, joining the ’85 Pats, ’00 Ravens and ’05 Steelers as a team that won three straight road games to make the Super Bowl. Two of these teams won it all, the other got crushed. But the Giants’ feat is even more impressive: they’ve won 10 road games in a row all told, losing only to Dallas this year. So it would seem that they’re comfortable away from Giants Stadium. Unfortunately, the Pats are just as comfortable away from Foxboro(ugh), having gone 8-0 on the road (and 10-0 at home). It seems silly to assume that whatever factor that allows the Giants to not suck on the road will not apply to the Patriots, who don’t suck anywhere.
2. Plaxico calls it 23-17; Dr. Z calls it 24-20, both for Giants
When the Giants played the Patriots in Giants Stadium in December, it was cold, loud and inhospitable for the Pats, and they still rung up 38 points. The Giants, for their part, scored 35. However, they scored a special teams touchdown (which can’t be counted on to be duplicated) and a last-minute touchdown that that Pats basically gave to them. That’s 14 points that might not show up for them, so okay, there’s your 23/24 range. The lowest point total the Patriots have scored is 20, and that was against the Jets in ghastly conditions in Foxboro(ugh) in December. Now, in a quiet stadium, in warm weather, the Patriots are going to score lower or equal to their season minimum? That seems pretty unlikely. It’s not that I don’t respect Dr. Z’s pick of the Giants (I merely disagree), but to not even mention that this is indicative of a lack of research. For his part, he’s up front that he’s playing a hunch, but it’s not a hunch that looks realistic.
3. The Giants have only gotten better since the Pats game, while the Pats have gotten worse
People have said the Pats have looked vulnerable since the Eagles and Ravens games, and they are correct. But they’ve still won. The Giants have put together a nice run, beating the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers, but let’s look at those games: the Bucs stink, the Cowboys have floundered and were still one Patrick Crayton drop away from having the lead late in the game, and the Packers game was a toss-up in that weather (Much like the Pats/SD game could have been because of its own weather. The weather was worse in Green Bay, but it was still really bad in New England, and the Pats were pretty gritty to win it. So was Philip Rivers, for what it’s worth). Now, the Giants still won, but they could have lost those games, just as the Pats could have lost to any number of teams. So why do we only hear it about the Pats?
4. The Patriots’ defense is not very good
This one bothers me the most. The Giants led the league in sacks, so they’ve got the flash associated with them, but they gave up 351 points in the regular season. The Pats gave up 274, and even accounting for their crappy division, have a higher-rated ‘D’ than the Giants according to the number-crunchers at Football Outsiders. The Pats’ defense is not great, but they still have two starting Pro Bowlers in Mike Vrabel and Asante Samuel, and the Giants have none. Sure, they have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Strahan, Umenyiora and maybe Tuck, and having those three guys in one place could wreak some havoc; but then you have to add Seymour, Wilfork and Warren on the other side, to say nothing of the aging vets Seau, Bruschi and Harrison. The Pats may give up some big plays, but the Giants are apt to give up bigger ones and, more importantly, smaller ones with more regularity.
5. The historical precedent
Everyone loves to compare across Super Bowls. Dr. Z says this game reminds him of Jets vs. Colts, where the Colts were heavily favored, while Gregg Easterbrook sees more of a Giants/Bills Super Bowl, with this year’s Giants playing the role of… the Giants. And then you have the Steelers and Ravens connections, and the obvious Patriots/Rams role-reversal, with the Pats as the high-scoring offense and the Giants as the plucky underdogs. I can’t so much refute these hypotheses so much as I can submit my own. Notice that most of these connections led to thrilling games, while most Supes are not thrilling: people are trying to hype themselves up. The Super Bowl that I see is the Pats/Packers Super Bowl: a team, probably not even the best in its inferior conference, goes to the Super Bowl behind a strong running game and an occasionally erratic, strong-armed quarterback who’s on a roll. They give the stronger team a game for a while before attrition sets in, and then they finally start making mistakes, their first in weeks. That game score was 35-21, and I remember the details of the game like they were yesterday, because it seemed like the Patriots had a chance right up until, as my Packers fans put it, “Desmond Time.” For this year’s Giants, I see “Desmond time” hitting before the third quarter. That’s the point you know it’s probably over, and the house of cards that you’ve built your case on collapses. Eli’s accuracy. Coughlin’s great moves. Plaxico’s non-drops. Suddenly everything breaks down at once, and before you know it the game is over. That’s what I see for Sunday. The Patriots are just plain better; somehow it doesn’t seem like it now in our egalitarian two week buildup, but that’s what will become clear on Sunday.