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North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Super Bowl

Dissecting the dangerous effects of hype

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I’ve been trying to get a Super Bowl column out for a few days now, but it just wasn’t coming. Perhaps this is because I’m tired of hearing the storylines, so tired I stopped reading anything coming out of Tampa the day after both conference championships. Perhaps because it doesn’t really matter to me how and why Kurtis met Brenda; that Larry Fitzgerald has a sportswriter dad; that the Cardinals are the underrated team of the year or whatever.

I just honestly haven’t been paying attention. So, with that, here’s my super bowl piece.

Going In
Without really looking at any number or stats or any real prep work, I like the Steelers. I think their defence should be able to handle anything Arizona can throw at them – or to Fitzgerald – and while I don’t know how well Roethlisberger will play, I kind of think it’s secondary.

If I was going to make a paraell of this one to another, I’d say it’s like the XXV, between the Giants and the Bills. Not in the sense that they’re closely matched, or in a storyline way or anything. But in a great defence against a great offense and not much else. That was a game won the Giants not because of a missed FG, but because the Giants offense was able to keep the Bills offense were only on the field for eight minutes in the second half.

I can see that happening again. So much has been said of the Steelers defence and almost as much has been said of the Cardinals offense. But really, I think those two might cancel each other out. This could be a game won because of much time the Steelers offence can burn up.

A Cursory Glance at the Numbers
My favourite stat – by a mile – is the point differential; the number of points scored by a team minus the points they allow. My reasoning for looking at it is that I think the bigger it is, the better the team is. This season it was +124 for the Steelers; +1 for the Cards.

That’s exceptionally low for a playoff team, let alone one in the Super Bowl. I think it kind of explains why the Cards were just a 9-7 team this season. But that’s just the season, not the playoffs.

For just these playoffs, it’s suddenly the opposite: +20 for the Steelers, +33 for the Cardinals. The Cards are starting to look a lot better. Keep in mind though, that the lion’s share of that difference is from their demolishing of the Panthers in the Divisional round; combined, the other games were won by just 13. I still think these two teams match up better then either of those suggest.

Let’s move to something a little more tangible: Kurt Warner vs the Steelers defence. If the Cards are going to win this game, it will be thanks to Warner’s arm. In all three of their playoff games, their running game has been effective, but not dominating. But Warner has had three great games in a row. Larry Fitzgerald has exploded in the recent past, including a three major day against the Eagles. And it’s interesting that Warner’s worst game (220 yards, 2 TD on 21 of 32 passing) was during their biggest win.

But Carolina was middle of the road against the pass; 16th in the NFL. The Eagles were third overall, allowing just over 180 passing yards a game; Warner picked them apart with a 279 yard, 4 TD on 21 of 28 day. He knows how to pick his spots.

At the same time though, Warner picked up the bulk of those in the first half of the game, when the Cards took a 24-6 lead to the locker room. In the second half, Warner was 8 of 12 for 76 yards. I think it’s worth noting more then a few of those were short passes that led to big YAC numbers, but I don’t have specific information handy.

Other side of the ball. Pittsburgh is the number one-ranked defence against the pass. They’re allowing about 157 passing yards a game; the number two defence allowed nearly 180. They’re allowing about 14 points per game, again the best in the league. They could pose trouble.

A look at the effects of hype
Every year, it seems to happen: one team gets an inordinate amount of hype. The Rams used to get it – they were the Greatest Show on Turf (pity they only scored 23 points in their Super Bowl win). For a while the Patriots got it. I vaguely remember the Steelers getting a lot, but Drive for Five or One for the Thumb kind of roll of the tongue, so it’s kind of justified.

But this year, nobody wants to be surprised. I think so many people were taken aback by the Giants upsetting the Patriots, they want to call it again. I know I’d like to; I picked the Patriots to win that game and I’d do it again. It’s an impressive thing, being able to call an upset before it happens. It’s trendy. It’s like telling your friends that Slumdog Millionare is going to get a best picture nomination before any of them had heard of it.

I think that’s whats happening this year. So many people are picking the Cardinals to win; maybe because it’s a trendy pick. Maybe people are choosing it because other people are. Because they want to be right if an upset happens.

A quick look at who’s taking who’s taking the Cardinals:
King Kaufman, Salon.com
Gregg Esterbrook, ESPN
Michael Silver, Yahoo.com
Will Litech
Dan Shanoff

Who’s taking the Steelers
John Clayton, ESPN
Tony Kornheiser (I think)
Peter King, Sports Illustrated
Most of the writers at SI, ESPN, CBS Sports, and most of what I’d call the sports writing establishment

So what does this mean? Ultimately nothing; people known for their outside the box take on sports are tending to fly towards the Cardinals while people who are established are taking the favourite. I don’t mean to sound like I’m hating on anybody here, but it seems this bowl might be hinging on the gap between the two groups; that bloggers are willing to take a bigger risk and pick the Cards almost as if they can’t agree with the establishment.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the establishment doesn’t want to go out on a limb; they’re reactionary as opposed to proactive. I don’t know.

Wherein Chuck D has never let me down
The Cardinals are a good story. Kurt Warner is a good story. So it the one about Fitzgerald’s dad. They’re fun, they’re the underdog and I get why so many people like them.

But they are hyped. They may be the buzzsaw, to use Litech’s term, but that doesn’t make the Steelers a piece of pine. I don’t like hype. Whenever I have bought into the hype and gone against my gut, it never seemed to end well – when I bought into Reggie Bush and took USC over Texas; when I decided that the Rockies were a team of destiny a couple years ago. So I’ll go with my gut.

Why? My problem with the Cards is their defence. They are allowing more and more yards each game. 250 against the Falcons, 269 against the Panthers and over 450 against the Eagles. If I were a Cardinals fan, this would worry me.

Pittsburgh isn’t a offensively dominant team in any way, really, but they’re about as capable as any of those teams. If they can put up 23 points against the Ravens, they can put up at least that many against the Cards, I’m sure.

So, I don’t care that the cool kids are choosing the Cardinals. It’s cool that a dad gets to cover his son in the Super Bowl, but it doesn’t mean he’ll play any better; his dad has been writing about him for a long while, apparently. I’m going to take Chuck D’s advice here and not believe the hype.

I’m taking the Steelers.

Written by M.

January 31, 2009 at 7:46 pm

2008 recap, part one – Tyree’s catch

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In a year most likely to be remembered for losses – on the stock market, of a home, etc – sports were not immune. And if anything, this year will be remembered for one big one, when the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl after a 16-0 regular season.

There were favourites going into the game, and early talk of a New York upset was taken lightly. The Giants had just squeaked into the playoffs and won close games against Dallas and Green Bay – the latter in overtime. Then Giants wideout Plaxico Burress predicted not only a Giants win, but a low scoring game (24-17), it was treated as joke. Tom Brady, for one, wondered why the Patriots weren’t spotted more points.

Vegas was spotting them more than a few points. On February first, the Patriots were 12 point favourites in some quarters. The money line on the Giants was a huge +325. And the over/under was 54 points. All indications were for a high scoring game – Tom Brady and Randy Moss had set scoring records throughout the season, as Brady finally had an elite receiver to throw to.

And through the playoffs – even the season itself – the Patriots were a juggernaut. They had not lost a game all season and only four of their wins were by less than a touchdown. They outscored everybody in the NFL by over 100 points and had the second best defence in the AFC (Indianapolis narrowly edged them out).

But Plaxico wasn’t that far off. The Giants won the game, 17 – 14, in what was one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. Overlooked, perhaps, was the week 17 game between the two teams, when the Patriots roared back from a 12 point deficit to win 38-35. There, the Giants showed that the Patriots were not an invincible team, one that could be beaten.

Using their defence to keep Moss and the Patriots running game at bay, the Giants were able to score early and led by a field goal after one. The Patriots answered back in the second and took the lead on a major early in the second quarter. The Giants had a chance to score later in the frame – a 3rd and four at New England’s 25 yard line – but nothing came of it.

After a scoreless third, the Giants had the ball on their own 20 yard line. Eli Manning, playing the game of his life, led an 80 yard drive that was capped with a short touchdown pass to David Tryee. 10-7 Giants.

But the Patriots weren’t out yet. Two series later, New England started a drive from their own 20 yard line. Making short, quick passes, Brady moved the Patriots downfield and wound down the clock. When the Patriots made it 14-10, there was just under three minutes to play. It was a script seemingly pulled from the other Patriot Super Bowl wins, when a late drive was what won.

And it was a late drive that won it. Starting at their 17, Eli Manning did almost nothing but throw the ball, challenging the Patriots secondary. It was halfway through this, on a third and five, that the most memorable moment of the game – and in retrospect, the year – happened.

Dropping back and under pressure, Manning was scrambling. Hands grabbed at him, pulling his jersey. A sack here, at midfield, this late in the game would be disastrous. But he dodged them and threw the ball up the middle, to a well-covered David Tyree.

The pass, given the circumstances (defence in his face, clock ticking down, the Super Bowl on the line), was well aimed; Tyree didn’t have to dive at it. But it was overthrown, sailing around Tyree’s head. Which was where he caught it. With one hand. While jumping.

Catching the ball and holding it against his helmet, pressing it there while he landed, Tyree moved the ball up, deep into Patriot territory, inside the 25 yard line. One of the best catches in football history, and perhaps the biggest since Jeffrey Mayer’s, this was the moment that’s engrained into memories about this Super Bowl.

But it was not a score, and the Giants would not score until later. Not until after Steve Smith made an 11 yard catch to keep the drive alive. Not until Plaxico Buress scored the game winner with :39 to play.

Three incomplete passes and one sack later, the game was over. 17-14 Giants. The upset was complete – and the Patriots dynasty looked in doubt. In the first game of the next season, Brady went down with an ACL injury and was gone for the year. Under backup QB Matt Cassell, the Patriots finished 11-5 but lost the division to Miami and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Written by M.

December 30, 2008 at 11:59 pm