Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Bowl Story Lines, Thoughts, And Game Predictions

We’re just two days away from the Super Bowl, and like every other season, there are about a zillion story lines floating around this game. Before I make my prediction, I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few of the biggest and juiciest ones.


I know I know, you’re probably just as tired of hearing about this “story” as I am. The media noise and fan outrage seems to have really turned down a lot this week, as people eventually threw their hands up and got tired of being upset about deflated balls. I remember hearing about it on the Monday after the AFC Championship Game, thinking to myself, “Oh, well that’s interesting, and it sounds like something Lane Kiffin got in trouble for (you suck) when he was at USC. But is it really that huge of a deal?” Apparently, it was, because we were bombarded with national media coverage from places like CNN and Fox News, who acted like this was the biggest and most controversial story in the world, deserving of hours and hours of outrage. That, more than anything the Patriots allegedly did, was the most ridiculous thing about this entire saga.

Now I’m not completely absolving the Pats here. If they intentionally did anything nefarious here, then they should be punished, something I ultimately believe will happen, even if the NFL just has to say, “Well, we can’t directly tie you guys to this, but solely because your organization has a pattern and history of wrongdoing (Spygate), we’ll fine you heavily, and take away a second round draft pick”.

There’s no way Brady or Belichick are going down for this though, even if they were the ones directly responsible. I knew last week that this controversy was going to be blamed on a “rogue ball boy”, who, with no direction from anyone else, decided he was just going to risk everything, on the off chance that it would give New England an edge (much like the Kiffin story). That doesn’t sound reasonable to me. But, of course, magically this week, it was reported that a Patriots’ locker room attendant is a “strong person of interest” in this case. I wasn’t surprised at all. Someone like that was always going to fall on the sword for this story.

Beast Mode and Skittles

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch has either been the most or least entertaining interview at the Super Bowl this week, depending on how you look at it. He’s basically said nothing except, “I'm just here so I won't get fined”, or his bizarre statement he made to the media yesterday.

It’s clear he’d rather have all his fingernails removed with pliers than sit in front of reporters and answer questions, and that’s been obvious all season, as evidenced by the multiple fines that have been levied against him for not making himself available to the media during the season.

After his interview yesterday, some ESPN talking heads were talking about how they thought the league should adopt a policy that allows a team to make one player, someone like Lynch, who apparently gets anxiety when talking to multiple reporters, exempt from talking to the media. I don’t think that’s a terrible idea, but I’d argue it’s largely pointless. As long as Lynch is making himself available to the media (which he did every time this week) for the required amount of time, I’m fine with him saying basically whatever he wants. And if he doesn’t want to say anything, that’s fine too. Bill Belichick has basically spent his entire career mumbling things like, “We're on to Cincinnati”, dodging questions, or being divisive with the media, and largely, no one has had an enormous problem with it. Frankly, I’m not sure why anyone even tries to get a sound bite from Lynch at all. You know he’s not going to give you anything substantial or earth-shattering, and you certainly aren’t going to get any inside information from him. Plus, with as many guys as Seattle has that love talking (Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin, Earl Thomas), why would you ever need to go to Lynch? Those three alone would give you a whole season of quotes after just one game.

Here’s a better question: why do players and coaches have to make themselves available to the media as many times during the week as they do? It’s not like most guys aren’t just spewing cliché after cliché, and it’s not like that many reporters are asking really good, insightful questions either. Most of them boil down to stupid things like, “Hey coach, how are you going to slow down (insert player name) this week?” or, “How does it feel to win the championship?”. How many times can a coach or player here those questions before he answers like this:

Reporter: Hey coach, how are you going to slow down Kevin Durant in the second half?
Coach: I don’t know, and if I had any idea, he wouldn’t have already scored 37.

The G.O.A.T.?

There’s been some talk this week about, “If New England wins, is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all time?” and, “If Seattle wins, are they the greatest defense of all time?” It’s so hard to compare the eras in football, because guys are bigger, faster, and stronger than they’ve ever been, and the rules have legislated out a lot of violence and physicality, and opened up the passing game like never before. I certainly think Brady, with a win on Sunday, clinches the “best quarterback of his generation” title though. Here are his numbers compared to Peyton Manning (assuming he wins on Sunday):

Brady: 4 Super Bowl Wins, 6 Super Bowl Appearances, 9 AFC Championship Games, 21-8 playoff record, 160-47 regular season record, 53,258 passing yards, 392 passing touchdowns, 143 interceptions, 63.5% completion percentage, 95.9 QB Rating

Manning: 1 Super Bowl Win, 3 Super Bowl Appearances, 4 AFC Championship Games, 11-13 playoff record, 179-77 regular season record, 69,691 passing yards, 530 passing touchdowns, 234 interceptions, 65.5% completion percentage, 97.5 QB Rating

Everything in the regular season points to Manning, who tore the “Greatest Regular Season Quarterback” championship belt out of Dan Marino’s hands a few seasons ago. The difference between these two is Manning's multiple, embarrassing playoff failures, compared to Brady’s lack thereof. Brady was always great in the regular season, but his ability to elevate his level of play in the postseason is why he'll surpass Manning on an all time scale if New England wins on Sunday. Manning has had some great playoff games, but they've been few and far between, particularly compared to Tom. Plus, Brady is the obvious answer to the timeless, “If my life depended on this game, who would I pick to quarterback my team” question. I wouldn’t even consider Peyton.

But greatest of all time? I don’t know if I can go that far. He certainly passes Manning in the pantheon of great quarterbacks, and gives us a nice Unitas-Montana-Brady top 3. I have no idea where to go after that. Johnny U put up incredible numbers in the defensive-backs-can-mug-and-knife-receivers era, and Montana was basically his generation’s Brady. Deciphering between those three is like trying to pick between Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders; I’d take any of the them and be extremely happy with the results.

However, if Seattle wins on Sunday, I could be talked into saying they’re the greatest defensive unit in the history of the league, even if they don’t have their individual talent at each position isn't superior to some teams of the past. How many teams have won back-to-back Super Bowls based almost entirely on their defensive talent alone? The ’85 Bears didn’t, and neither did the 2000 Ravens or ’02 Bucs. The Steel Curtain repeated as champs, but they had multiple Hall of Famers on the offensive side of the ball (Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth), something this Seattle team doesn’t have. Plus, the Legion of Boom has had staying power, as they’ve led the NFL in scoring defense the last three seasons. They’re the perfect defense for this era (elite secondary play, and the ability to consistently generate a pass rush), they’re intimidating, and they’ve got a great nickname; “Legion of Boom” isn’t on the level of “The Steel Curtain”, but it’s a respectable second.

They, in the salary cap, 32 team era, will never be able to compete position-to-position with some of the great defenses of the past, because the talent is so spread out, but as a unit, they could become historically unique force, and maybe, just maybe, the greatest ever.

And now, my prediction for Super Bowl 49…..

The lack of highly skilled and explosive playmakers on the offensive side of the ball for both teams, and the unusually high number of hyper-competitive, super-athletic, ultra-phyiscal defensive players, is going to cause this game to be a low scoring, defensive, 17-14 slugfest, with lots of hard hitting, sloppy play, and high emotions. There aren’t enough games like these anymore, and it would be refreshing to see one like this play out on the NFL’s biggest stage.

At the beginning of the season, I picked the Seahawks to defeat the Chargers (whoops!) in the Super Bowl. Normally, I defiantly and demonstratively stick by all my predictions, even if it becomes increasingly obvious that they could never happen. Why do I do this? Because I’m an idiot. But this time around, I’m flipping the script, and changing my mind. Why not? What I’ve been doing all season hasn’t been working, or I wouldn’t have whiffed so greatly and embarrassingly on my week-to-week football picks.

I’m picking the Patriots because I have more faith in New England’s offense to generate points when they need them than I do in Seattle’s. The Seahawk offense has no one that terrifies opposing defenses (the Pats have Gronk), and Brady is definitely a superior quarterback to Russell Wilson. Belichick will bust out some crazy formation or trick play that scores a touchdown or goes for a huge play, and the Pats will probably be able to get at least a little bit of a push up front, which will enable their running game to getting going. It will be extremely close, but on Sunday night, New England will leave Glendale, holding the Lombardi Trophy, for the fourth time in the Brady-Belichick era.

Super Bowl 49

Patriots 17 Seahawks 14

Enjoy the Super Bowl on Sunday. You deserve it.

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