I was apparently the only straight male between the ages of 18 and 49 who did not watch the Pats-Giants game on Saturday night, as Der Wife and I went to see Juno. Although it sounds like the game was outstanding, I don't have much interest in the Pats' run because of the excessive hype that their season is getting. It's not that New England isn't a great team (they are, although the defense is a little soft in the back seven for my tastes) or that ESPN is devoting more attention to a Boston team as opposed to what they would devote to an unbeaten Kansas City or Seattle team (there might be a little of that, but the NFL is wildly popular right now, so any team that threatened the '72 Dolphins as the only team to go unbeaten and win the Super Bowl would get a ton of hype). I'm just loathe to give much attention to any huge sports story these days because they all get overhyped.
I'm also feeling quite hostile to the NFL these days. Case in point: my viewing options yesterday were the Jacksonville-Houston game, which was totally meaningless as Houston was not in playoff contention and Jacksonville had locked up the #5 seed, and the Washington-Dallas game, which was meaningful, but also boring as Dallas rested some of their starters and mailed in their performance. The NFL is the only major sporting league that actively screws its fans. If the Falcons game wasn't sold out, then why couldn't the local Fox affiliate carry a different game? Why are we subjected to endless Jacksonville games as Atlanta's secondary team when I don't know a single Jaguar fan? Why didn't we get a 4:15 game on CBS when we only got one game at 1:00? If the NFL was screwing its customers to get them to purchase Sunday Ticket, then that would be one thing, but by limiting Sunday Ticket to DirectTV, the NFL makes it hard for fans to pay their way out of inexplicable programming decisions.
So instead of watching the NFL this weekend, I watched plenty of English footie. It makes perfect sense that I can watch Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool across the pond (as well as just about every Barca game), but my viewing options for the NFL are severely limited. Chelsea pipped (I love that word) Newcastle with a late goal, but neither team acquitted itself well. Chelsea are a shell of their former selves because of injuries. I was excited to see Ballack and Essien play together in the center of the midfield because I think that's the Blues' best pairing and those two were excellent for the first half, but they faded a little in the second. Chelsea lack a quality striker with Drogba and Shevchenko out and Avram Grant didn't make matters any better by putting on the disappointing Claudio Pizarro. The Chelsea fans were chanting "you don't know what you're doing" at their own manager, shortly before Pizarro accidentally deflected a shot to a clearly offside Solomon Kalou for the winner. Chelsea didn't deserve the winner, but Newcastle didn't really deserve any points from the match, either. They were crap for the first 45 minutes, then they promptly put Chelsea on the backfoot, scored an equalizer, and nearly scored a second if not for a timely defensive play by Belletti. (This might be the first time ever that the last six words in that sentence were typed together.) Newcastle were looking like winners when they promptly decided to shut up shop and play everyone behind the ball, as evidenced by the Magpies using their first sub to pull off a striker and put on a defender. They deserved the bad luck they got with the missed offsides call.
In contrast, I was very impressed by Arsenal, who came from a goal down on a rainy night in Liverpool to beat Everton. On this weekend last year, I watched Arsenal go down 1-0 at ultimately relegated Sheffield United on a rainy, cold night because they did not have any manner of attack when their slick short passing game ground to a halt. In similar conditions against a better opponent one year later, Arsenal floundered for a half before they tried something new: direct long balls to Eduardo, who proceeded to make Everton's defenders look dreadful. By the hour mark, Arsenal were on their way. The Gunners proved to be adaptable in exactly the spot (rainy night on the road) that has proved to be their undoing in the past.
And finally, a word on Liverpool. I've been a stuck record on them for a while: too defensive to consistently get three points from matches, so they can progress in knock-out competitions where negating the opponent is such a big deal, but they can't contend in the EPL where scoring regularly is so important. The 0-0 draw against Man City (which sounds like a movie title one could find on Cheshire Bridge Road, but I digress) could be further evidence for this assessment, but Liverpool did look pretty good to me. The first half was dull with few chances either way, but the second half was all Liverpool and it took a pair of bad misses from Fernando Torres and a pair of last-ditch clearances from Richard Dunne to salvage a point for Citeh. Liverpool definitely has better personnel than they did last year. Torres is much better than any of their previous striking options and Yossi Benayoun is a far better winger than either Jermaine Pennant or Boudewijn Zenden. It has to be frustrating for Liverpool fans to be ten points back (with a game in hand) with no apparent roster deficiencies, just as it's perplexing as a Barca fan to be seven points back after a summer in which the team made smart purchases to cover for the team's weaknesses. My initial thought when Liverpool was drawn against Inter was that Inter would make short work of them, but after watching the Pool for 90 minutes, I'm not sure about that.