The Luck of the Patriots
The media narrative running up to Super Bowl 46 will be about the great Bill Belichick, the other-worldly Tom Brady, and their chance to add to their already historic legacy. This is misleading though, papering over the cracks of an obviously flawed team that has relied on the deficiencies of others and some incredible luck to get them this far. During the regular season, the Patriots’ defence was ranked 31st in the league, a shocking statistic that led to every New England game becoming a ludicrous shoot-out. The fact that such a feeble defence could rise to the number one seed in the AFC is an indictment of how poor the conference was this year, a fact that was evident in the teams representing it in the playoffs. The Bengals and Texans were never realistic threats with rookie quarterbacks at the helm, the Steelers had too many injuries, and the Broncos had a quarterback whose best asset was an unwavering (and frankly obnoxious) belief in God. Compared to the loaded NFC, where all six playoff teams could claim a legitimate chance of winning it all, only two teams really stood out as championship calibre, leaving the Patriots essentially a single victory away from the Super Bowl
After dismantling the Broncos the week before, the Patriots were finally facing their first real test in the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens, and by all accounts they played terribly. Brady was outplayed by Joe Flacco, throwing two interceptions with no touchdowns and giving the Ravens a huge opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. Baltimore could comply however, handing victory to the Patriots via two crucial miscues in the final minute. First of all Lee Evans could not hold on to a potential game-winning touchdown, and seconds later, Billy Cundiff missed a regulation 32-yard field goal which would have sent the game into overtime. The New England Patriots are heading to the Super Bowl for the fifth time under coach Bill Belichick, but for the first time as a fraudulent team.
Joining the Patriots in Indianapolis on February 5th will be the equally lucky New York Giants. Playing the San Francisco 49ers on the road and with the game in overtime, the Giants were forced to punt the ball, giving the home team the chance to drive and score a field goal that would take them to the Super Bowl. The 49ers returner Kyle Williams fumbled said punt however, leaving the Giants in field goal range themselves. Lawrence Tynes succeeded where Billy Cundiff could not, propelling the Giants into a rematch of Super Bowl 42.
Super Bowl XLII Déjà Vu
Both of the conference championship games were defined by the mistakes the losing teams made in crucial positions, but this will be quickly forgotten as this year’s Super Bowl is a rematch made in heaven. The Giants and Patriots met in the championship game only four years ago. That Patriots team was undefeated, attempting to go an unprecedented 19-0, and had destroyed any opponents who had dared stand before them. The Giants on the other hand were a plucky 10-6 team that had been forced to win three straight road playoff games to reach the big stage. The game was dismissed a mismatch, David versus Goliath, and the Patriots were favoured by twelve points according to bookmakers. But for those who know their Biblical history, the bigger the man, the harder they fall, and Eli Manning led the Giants to a shocking victory, one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. This loss is still fresh in the minds of many New England fans, especially as the team has struggled ever since. They will be desperate for revenge. The Giants on the other hand will be eager to prove that the last Super Bowl victory was no fluke, and that the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning combination is equally as great as the much lauded coach-quarterback team in New England.
The NBA is a pretty ugly product at the moment. Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose; you could make a historically good team with the guys currently riding the bench in street clothes for their teams, nursing ‘minor injuries’. I add scare quotes there because if it were the playoffs, these guys would be out there every game. In fact, even if it were merely a normal 82 game season, I would imagine that they would be playing more. But due to the compressed schedule in the wake of the lockout, teams are acutely aware of how little the regular season matters this year, opting to rest players over gaining meaningless wins. The aims of teams have shifted from ‘win as many games as possible in the hope of securing home court advantage in the playoffs’ to ‘just get in the playoffs injury free’. There is a precedent for this as well. After the last lockout in 1998, the New York Knicks scraped into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s 8th seed, and ended up reaching the Finals. The same could easily happen again this year, as with training camps hugely truncated, teams had little to no time to practice together before the season started, turning the regular season into an extended preseason as teams hope to peak heading into the playoffs. All of this is not good for the fans though as the games are noticeably worse, missing star power and offensive cohesion. Just like the NBA teams themselves, we are going to have to wait until April for the real quality.