Monday, December 01, 2008

There Will Be Blood

The 2008 season hasn't been easy for the New England Patriots and yesterday's game againast the Pittsburgh Steelers was no different. The game was a sloppy mess, with fault to be laid at the feet of just about every Patriot player that took the field. Rather than waste time commiserating what went wrong on a day where the Pats had the opportunity to catch the Jets, I'd rather look ahead to the last four games and look back at an impressive 2007.

You'd have a hard time arguing that the 2008 version of the Patriots have been on the wrong end of plenty of "A" games. The Patriots successes have put a big target on their back, one that's gotten even bigger with Tom Brady out for the season. To put it simply, the Patriots have faced a murderers row of teams out for blood. Yesterday's Steelers team was one that didn't forget the 34-13 thrashing they took in New England at the same time last year. Nor have the older players forgotten the AFC Championship losses in Pittsburgh. This isn't to make excuses for this team- they are what they are and they're probably exactly the sort of team their record indicates that they are- this is more to note the fact that there's a big difference between getting an opponent's "A" game and getting just about anything else.

All of the Patriots losses this year have basically been againast teams lusting for blood. Remember how amped up Joey Porter and the Dolphins were before they went out and pounded the Patriots in Foxboro? And remember the game in San Diego, where the Chargers were certainly still smarting over back-to-back seasons in which ended againast the Pats in the playoffs? And the Jets certainly gave the Pats their best on that Thursday night game a few weeks ago. The Colts and the Pats both played a little tense, but that's probably why that game turned out the way it did. The Colts of course, despite last year's loss, had already exercised their Patriots demons with three wins in 2005 and 2006.

Need more evidence of the relevance of blood lust? Look no further than the Denver Broncos, owners of a 5-1 againast the Pats in the Belichick era going in to the Monday Night game in October. Big game for the Pats, less so for the Broncos, and the result was a Patriot blowout.

My other point to make is that the top teams of 2008- the Giants and the Titans- may not be quite as good as some think they are. They're certainly the best the NFL has to offer this season, but they're probably not as good as say both the Patriots and Colts of recent seasons. Both the Giants and the Titans have benefitted enormously from flying under the radar. The Giants play in a division where everyone is out to get one another, a division that they didn't even win last year. And Tennessee has played in the shadow of the Colts since the AFC South was created in 2002. When the Colts and Titans met a few months ago, the Colts were the one's with the target on their backs on the Titans were the one's out for blood.

By the end of the season, I think this will have helped the Giants tremendously, giving them home field in the playoffs, and allowing them the opportunity to steamroll their way to another Super Bowl. The Titans have it tough because they're likely to face veteran teams and veteran quarterbacks in the playoffs. With four games left, I'll call it right there that it's those very same Colts who wind up winning the AFC, much like the last time they won it, having the advantage of not having to play the roll of the favorite.


Anonymous rose said...

If "blood lust" is relevant, its an extremely marginal factor in the outcome of games. First off, citing a few games this year where the "hungrier" team wins is not meaningful in any way. Too small a sample size.

I'll use yesterday's game as an example. It was a competitive game until the Steelers converted a few turnovers into TDs. Playing from behind against that Steelers D is a tough thing to do.

But anyway, the two biggest plays of the game came down to nothing but pure luck; not motivation.

1) Carey Davis fumbles the opening kickoff, but the Steelers recover. This saved Pitt 3-7 points right off the bat.

2) With the Pats down 13-10 Slater fumbles and the Steelers convert the turnover into a TD, gaining a 10 point lead and turning a tossup game into a 90% chance of a steelers victory. From here on out the Pats play catchup ball, which is a tough thing to do against a brutal defense.

(The missed Gostkowski field goal before half was another big play; would've put the Pats up 3 going into half time.)

My point is, the steelers recovered these two key fumbles. That's not a matter of execution, desire or anything else; it's a matter of luck...of how the ball happens to bounce.

In fact, there were five fumbles in the game and the Steelers recovered all five.

Will and motivation and blood lust are fun to believe in. But generally speaking, it is the most overdone talking point in sports.

(Saying the Giants schedule is easier because the division beats up on itself is like saying an SEC team plays a weak schedule just because there is no clear cut favorite and therefore West Virginia somehow has a harder schedule because they are the top dog in the big east)

7:17 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I really just using blood lust as descriptive terminology. The point I was trying to make is that there's a big difference between facing a team playing one of their better games and facing a team playing one of their stinkers. As I mentioned, with the target on their back, the Patriots have gotten plenty of great games this year.

They did last year as well, and the point I was sort of trying to make was that the Patriots run last year was far more impressive than where the Giants and Titans are this year. I don't think you can tell me with a straight face that the Giants have gotten the best of what the Redskins have to offer in either of their games this year. Meanwhile, the Cowboys got the Redskins "A" game twice.

The college comparison isn't really relevant because of the tremendous disparity in talent. The SEC simply has loads more talent than the Big East year in and year out, but you can't say the same thing about the differences between divisions in the NFL, where the talent levels are much, much closer.

My favorite example here would be that game the Patriots played last year againast a Raven team that finished 4-12. Forget about what the Ravens record was, it was fucking brutal, and the Pats probably got the best game the Ravens played all year. What I'm saying is that winning a game like that in the NFL is tougher than winning againast a mediocre effort from even a good team.

This isn't to slight the Giants or the Titans and what they've done this year. They are head and shoulders above the rest of the league- The Giants in particular have had super impressive wins in Pittsburgh, in Philly, and in Arizona- but I don't think either team is as good or as impressive as some of the good Patriots teams and some of the good Colts teams in recent years.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

The Giants are the best team in the NFL this year and they don't come even close to last year's Pats team. I agree with that.

What I really disagree with is the idea that teams can step it up for the best teams in the league. The Ravens played a good game against the Patriots last year...and this is because they were really motivated?? So was Buffalo and Washington unmotivated as they lost by close to 50 points a few weeks prior?

I look at it like this...assign a number to how good a team is on a scale of 1-10. The Patriots were a 9 last year and the Ravens were probably a 3 (for arguments sake). Any given week the Ravens could play like anything between a 1 and a 6. Any given week the Patriots could play like anything between a 8 and 10. You throw in a few random plays like the fumbles/recoveries I talked about above and shit happens. Randomness happens. If you keep squeaking out close games like the Titans did week in and week out, it means your record is over-stating how good you are. You are lucky.

The Patriots were so impressive last year because they absolutely destroyed people by an average of 20 points a game, +315 for the year. When you are that much better than your opponents you can afford to have shit not go your way-and inevitably over a 16 game season you will have a couple games where you get unlucky-and you still are going to win.

So you look at that Ravens game as evidence of a Baltimore team playing above their head due to MOTIVATION and the Pats being so impressive to overcome. I just say shit happens on a game to game basis and what is really impressive is the Pats 12 wins by 10+ points and 10 wins by 20+. They took randomness and made it irrelevant by being so superior to the competition.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous JKrik said...

If the Giants go 15-1 and continue to play the way they've been playing and win the Super Bowl, this year would be a more impressive year then what the Patriots did as a whole last year.

5:38 PM  

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