Super Bowl Sunday Lurk: Pick New England

New_England_PatriotsThe Lion, no doubt, talked a lot of X’s and O’s and broke down game film for you to tell you all the reasons why Seattle will win back to back Super Bowl Championships.  His football acumen and ability to recognize formational weaknesses, personnel mismatches, and schematic strengths isn’t really something I can compete with.  In the first Super Bowl oddsmakers are calling a coin flip in as long as I can remember (Note: I don’t remember what I had for lunch today, so that’s not worth much), I’m taking the Patriots purely on anecdotally based guy instinct.  There are a confluence of factors trending in the favor of New England that are easily summarized in convenient, easy to write bullet points:

Deflategate: Pun intended, this is the most overblown Super Bowl week controversy I’ve ever heard.  Where do we draw the line?  Are we going to tell outfielders they can’t break in their gloves?  Are golfers going to be prevented from getting custom fit clubs?  How about hockey players being told they have to stop being sissies and play a man’s sport?  Where does it end?  The fact of the matter is, once the balls are tested and approved, if the equipment manager spends the next 30 minutes squeezing them on the sidelines to break them in because Tom Brady likes them that way, then who fucking cares?

I think the Pats handled this situation pretty well publicly.  How it all went down internally is going to be a big key to how the Super Bowl plays out.  It goes one of two ways.  The less desirable alternative is that Deflategate was a distraction all week.  Players pacing back and forth, gripping their palms, furrowing their brows and wondering, “why god? Why are our balls slightly less inflated than everyone else’s (*allegedly)”  Alternative two, it forces a team to bond together and rally.

That us against the world routine that the Seahawks have been yapping about since the playoffs began feels a little forced to me.  For the Patriots, this is an opportunity for them to organically generate the real thing.  With a coach like Belichick and a leader like Brady in the locker room, I can’t really see it playing out any other way.  With a battle tested leadership structure that has been down this road before, I fully expect the Pats to be angry, unified, and ready to prove to the world that their success isn’t contingent on the PSI of the footballs they use on offense.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t note that the evidence in all of this deflategate nonsense was absurd.  The NFL failed to record the PSI of the footballs when testing pre-game knowing they were planning on testing at halftime, the NFL failed to record the PSI of the under inflated balls so can’t really show if the new PSI was within the range of plausibility brought on by weather factors and use, the NFL inexplicably leaves the transport of game balls to teams rather than putting them in the hands of officials, the NFL never tested the balls of the Colts, the NFL has leaked every tiny detail of the investigation of deflategate to the media distracting from, what is supposed to be, their marquee week and showcase for the league.  The NFL finishes the season as they began it, by displaying a remarkable level of incompetence.  I’m not a Goodell hater, I don’t think he’s the anti-christ like many people, but at this point I think perhaps it’s time that the league makes a change.  This job is too big for this man.

All those distractions notwithstanding, the Pats held up alright.  Especially when you compare it to…

HGHGate (is this really a “gate”): Never a group to be left out of the news cycle, the increasingly whiny Seahawks took significant issue with the standard operating procedures of a gigantic agreement which they took part in collectively bargaining themselves.  I’m talking, of course, about HGH testing under the CBA.  Earl Thomas was issued a random drug test this week and dropped this bitchy tweet:

Ed Werder followed up with some other unknown sources in the locker room (ESPN should pay “unknown sources” more than Berman at this point, that guy provides every breaking story for them) and then dropped this gem of a tweet:

This is on the heels of Richard Sherman, earlier in the week, passive aggressively complaining (but he doesn’t care!) that the Patriots won’t get in any trouble for deflategate because Bob Kraft and Goodell party together (they do?).  It’s incredibly uncharacteristic for a tough, physical group of guys to be so fucking sensitive.  These Seahawks love the bitchy, whiny, victim card.  I think it’s a reflection of their laid back So.Cal. cool coach Pete Carroll.  Pete Carroll is the “cool” dad who let’s his kid do whatever he wants because he wants to be his “friend” and not his father.  He’s the guy who chimes in to say, “hey, we did our best and that’s all that matters” after a bad loss.  He’s the guy who blindly supports every single thing everybody does because it’s, “their journey.”  That doesn’t work in professional sports.

I’d have a beer with Pete Carroll, he’s probably a nice enough guy, but he seems to want to be friends with his players and not be their boss.  There’s no other way to explain the fact that idiots like Sherman (we’ll get to that), Thomas, and Doug Baldwin are running around acting like the Seahawks have been persecuted and doubted when they’ve been favored in all but two games this season (this one being one of them, a pick’em, and the other being at San Fran getting a point).  They’re like children.

Which brings us to HGHgate.  Are you kidding me?  This reaction tells me all I need to know about the character of this team.  On one side you have the Patriots, the entire legacy of their legendary coach and quarterback is being assassinated, and they’re doing all they can to down play it so as not to cause a distraction.  On the other side, the Seahawks are going through the normal rigors of being an NFL player, that all other teams and players go through, and making thinly veiled racial complaints that they’re being treated like probationers.  Ok.  The takeaway is the, the Pats are focused on football, the Hawks want to be a media spectacle.  It’s a good indication of where these two teams are mentally.

Keep in mind, last season the Hawks were upstarts and underdogs.  Coming in against the great Peyton Manning, in the two weeks between the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl they kept their heads down, their interviews short, and their focus on the opponent.  They look like a team enjoying the adulation and attention much more this season than last, and when most of that attention went to their opponent, even if it was negative, they tried to grab it for themselves.  Earl Thomas called his HGH test a “distraction.”  Distractions only occur if you allow them to.

Gronk:  Crushes footballs, crushes beers, crushes chicks.  That’s the abbreviated pitch on Gronk.  Since I’m running a little short on time I will simply say this, Gronk is uncoverable.  He’s a gigantic mismatch everywhere on the field.  Even if you jam Gronk at the line, he will wear you down.  He’s like a puppy, boundless energy, never gets tired, never quits.  As a blocker he’s just as dangerous.  I expect him to either give Seattle fits or, in the alternative, draw so much extra coverage that Edelman and Amendola catch 15-20 balls between them underneath.  He’s going to have such a great time after the game, regardless of the outcome, I can barely even stand thinking about it.

Richard Sherman Isn’t Smart:  Why does everyone keep saying that Richard Sherman is “one of the smartest players” in the NFL?  I’ve read that so many times this week, heard it so many times over the years, and I’ve had enough.  He’s not smart.  He tells everyone that he’s smart, and everyone just accepts it.  He went to Stanford?  Big deal, so did a lot of guys.  Allen Iverson went to Georgetown, is he smart?  Richard Sherman is a self promoting loudmouth who might be the most classless competitor in the league.

If I walk around telling everyone I’m 6 feet tall maybe eventually people will believe that too.  If I say it long enough in subtle ways like, “I had to move my shower head up, it was too low and I’m 6 feet tall.”  Or, “those pants I bought weren’t the right size, I mean I’m 6 feet tall so I need at least a 36 in inseam.”  If a conversation came up when I wasn’t around and height was being discussed you might say, “Oh the Dazzle?  He’s like 6 feet tall.”

How does this affect the outcome of the game?  It doesn’t at all, I just really hate Richard Sherman and the self produced intelligence myth that he perpetuates about himself.

Storylines Matter: One last point.  Our generation has been pretty lucky.  We watched Michael and Phil, Jeets and Joe, and Pop and Tim.  Prolific star/coach combinations have been an ever present part of the sports consuming life of someone in the 30-40 age range.  Brady and Belichick belong in that group as well, with Brady deserving the bulk of the credit (as the player always does).  Brady reached living legend status at some point this season.  I’m not sure when it happened or why it became so readily accepted, but people are just talking about him differently.  Sure, he’s been considered elite for years, but I think the combination of watching Peyton Manning age rapidly before our eyes on his way to another playoff flameout while Brady continued to chug along looking the same as he ever did has made it easier to appreciate Brady for what he really is.  What he is, is a stellar pocket passer, a leader, and a more than anything, a winner.

Look at the core of targets in the passing game and point out a single player in the league who did more with less at the QB position.  After Gronkowski, who is a human mismatch and the standard bearer at the TE, his targets at WR are Julian Edleman, Brandon LaFell, and Danny Amendola.  Shane Vereen is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield (I’ve read that exact line about Vereen forever, it’s not like he’s Marshall Faulk), but for the most part, Brady does all of his passing work with a WR group that features a top three that might not even start for many teams.  He also has a running game that is made up of a gadget guy (the aforementioned Vereen), a castoff (Legarrete Blount), and a one hit wonder (Jonas Gray).

The point of all of this, Brady has done more with less than any quarterback I can remember.  This is the year that almost everyone decided to take notice of that fact.  His partnership with Belichick has been astounding to watch over the years. Tonight’s game offers one of the best to ever play the quarterback position the rare opportunity to put an exclamation point on an already stellar career resume that still may continue for some time into the future.  Beating the best defense of a generation while they attempt to defend a championship of their own would be the single greatest schematic accomplishment of Belichick’s illustrious coaching career.

This matters because storylines matter.  We watch sports for the rare opportunity to witness these moments, to witness greatness in action.  Whether you like the Pats or not, this is a franchise defining moment.  More importantly, for a quarterback whose window of opportunity is closing thanks to the passage of time, and a coach who many forget was merely pedestrian before the legendary quarterback came along, this is a career defining moment.  The legacies of both of these men are cemented as legendary with a win tonight.  This is the story book ending that never comes to pass in real life, but tonight, I believe it will, and we’ll all tell our grandkids about it.

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