Friday, January 11, 2008

Pats lose this weekend? Don't be silly

I haven't gotten the chance to blog about yet, but congrats to the Patriots for going 16-0. Now, the playoffs has started and the undefeated regular season won't mean very much if the Pats are upset. The first challenge is this Saturday night against a Jacksonville team that many think may be the hottest in the league. Most prognosticators are picking the Patriots. There are a few stragglers, which is fine, but ESPN's Jeremy Green is so confident of a Jaguars victory he put up a column to tell the sports world that Jags are going to win.

The story irritates me a bit and not because I have a case of Patriot cockiness. I understand the fun of picking the underdog and I understand that sometimes we just get these gut feelings about what's going to happen in a game. But that's not real analysis. Green gives about four reasons why the Jaguars are going to win. The first is the respect factor, the second is that the Patriots defense is overrated, the third is that the Jaguars dominating running game will help keep the Patriots offense off the field, and the fourth is that the Jaguars will win the turnover battle. Actually, Green doesn't actually say the Jags will win the turnover battle, just that they have to win it in order to win the game. So I suppose, in his mind, it makes sense to pick the Patriots to lose the turnover battle. Not that it couldn't happen, but why on earth would you make a prediction like that?

As to Green's other three points, the first one, the respect factor, is just plain meaningless. Clearly Jacksonville is confident and has the right mindset to come in and beat the Patriots- but that doesn't mean they're going to do it. The Patriots aren't the overconfident Bill Cowher Steelers of earlier days who always seemed to anoint themselves AFC Champions before actually making it that far. The Patriots, like the Jaguars, will be confident and well-prepared. So in terms of actually picking a winner, this respect factor means .... nothing. As to the Patriot defense and the Jaguars running game, there's some truth here. The Jaguars may be able to control the clock and score some points. But here's the real kicker. Do you really think the Jags are going to have this game out of Tom Brady's reach in the 4th quarter? According to Green,

The Patriots have dominated teams with their talent and because they're intimidating. But Del Rio isn't easily intimidated and neither are the Jags.

And this is exactly the sort of argument that completely misses the point. The Patriots didn't go 16-0 this year because they demolished playoff teams like Washington and Pittsburgh at home. The Patriots went 16-0 because they overcame an 11 point deficit to beat the Colts, 24-21, they fought tooth and nail with Eagles for a 31-28 win, they got beat up in Baltimore and came away with a 27-24 win, and they came back from 12 points down to beat the Giants, 38-35. A few things don't work out and this is a 13-3 or 14-2 team. Still good, but maybe not one of the best all-time. This is an undefeated team because they win close games. This is an undefeated teams because the vulnerable looking defense always seems to stiffen and make big plays at key moments. This is an undefeated team because they have Tom Brady, who never seems to panic and who may be the best clutch quarterback in league history.

Every reason listed by Jeremy Green are reasons that the Jaguars will play a close game and not get blown out. Good! But to really pick against the Patriots this year you have to explain why you're going to beat them in a close game. You have to explain why you're picking against Tom Brady in the 4th quarter. Once again, I'm not writing here out of cockiness, just common sense. If you want to make the case for Peyton Manning or Brett Favre, go ahead. They could match Brady TD for TD if they needed to. And while the Packers are young, the Colts are the defending Super Bowl champions, a team with veterans at every key position.

I certainly don't think the Pats have an easy road to 19-0, but I love their chances because they're so good in tight games. It's ridiculous to suggest any of the home teams this weekend are in for a blowout (unless Tony Romo's hand is still screwed up and he has one of his 4 INT games), so to make something other than a random chance case for an upset, you've got to explain why the road team is going to win a close game. Jeremy Green can't do that because it would look stupid- how can you pick David Gerrard, Jack Del Rio, and the Jags defense in a close spot over Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Pats defense.


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