Tuesday, February 02, 2010

One Thought on the Super Bowl (with Obligatory Barca Content)

The prevailing sense that I'm getting from the media is that Indianapolis is a clear favorite in Miami. After Peyton Manning's performance against the Jets, the assumption is that the Saints' defense doesn't stand a chance, especially because the Saints live and die by the blitz just like the Jets do. I think that there is a heavy recency element going on with the pre-game analysis. Yes, Indianapolis looked better nine days ago than New Orleans did, but no one seems to account for the fact that Indianapolis played a much weaker opponent.

The Saints played a team that had been neck-and-neck with them in the NFC for the entire season. Other than an inept head coach who doesn't understand that a 50-yard field goal is not a gimme, Minnesota was a team without a significant weakness. They can run, they can throw, and their defense is very good because of a dominant front four that forces its opponents to be one-dimensional. OK, they struggle to cover kickoffs, but that's not exactly a major weakness like, say, the Jets' inability to throw the ball.

Although their defense was playing at a very high level and their running game was very good, the Jets were 9-7 for a reason. Moreover, the Jets were 7-7 after losing a home game to our local pro football collective (which was no one's idea of a great team) and then made the playoffs on the strength of two wins over playoff-bound teams with nothing to play for. Put it this way: if the Saints played a home game against the Jets - a team they beat by two touchdowns and outgained by 99 yards in the regular season - and the Colts played a home game against the Vikings - a team that wouldn't need to blitz Peyton Manning and thus expose itself downfield - what would the expected results be? Maybe a two-score win for the Saints and a nail-biter for the Colts?

The build-up to the Super Bowl reminds me of the discussions before 2009's version of the other massive final on the world's annual sports calendar: the Champions League Final. There, Manchester United were described in the media (especially the English-language media) as the clear favorite because they were coming off of a demolition of Arsenal in the semifinals, whereas Barcelona had edged past Chelsea on an injury-time equalizer. The pre-match analysis ignored the facts that: (1) Chelsea were obviously a better team than Arsenal, as evidenced by the Blues winning easily at the Emirates on the weekend after the semis; and (2) Barca had faced the challenge of playing Chelsea twice in eight days with a trip to Real Madrid for the La Liga title decider wedged in between the two legs. The pre-match analysis also ignored the fact that Barca had a record-setting offense over the course of the year and it wasn't as if Messi, Eto'o, Henry, Xavi, and Iniesta had forgotten how to score just because they struggled offensively in the semifinal before saving themselves with a last-gasp score. Does that sound a little like the Saints to you?

I'm not saying that the Saints are better than the Colts? I am saying that the Saints were even with the Colts over the course of the season and the Super Bowl coverage is ignoring that fact by overrating the performance of the two teams in the Conference Championship Games.

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Anonymous said...

The Colts are an awfully mediocre team. The Saints should be able to win pretty easily.

Pretty crappy signing day for Mark Richt. Several high profile decommitments, and Georgia Tech landed a nice class.