The best 2 teams in the National Football League clash this Sunday in StudFest XXXIX.
In this case, I don’t simply say “the best 2 teams” because they’re all that’s left. I say it because they are, in fact, the best 2 teams based on their performance throughout the season. I think any retroactive look at the progression of the season would validate that. These two clubs deserve and have earned the right to be here - above and beyond any other squad in the NFL.
The New England Patriots perfect the concept of TEAM. That’s been well documented. They are the truest representation of sports and unity, and deserve enormous respect for their ability to deny the trappings of self-absorbed glory and the increasingly horrific me-first attitude so prevalent in today’s sports. I hoist a toast to them in honor and appreciation. Perhaps, in fact – awe.
On the other side of the ball, The Philadelphia Eagles have built their opportunity through impressive persistence and quality play - on an individual basis consistent enough to warrant successful results. They come from a place a bit more bitter, a bit more sour – while a bit more self-sufficient. Their motivation is built on a collective of individuals who wish to spite the notion they are less than the best. There’s a nasty disposition here. It’s not about ‘purity’… it’s about the icon of ‘I conquer you’.
The Eagles are warriors. While the Patriots carry the flag.
Ironically (for me and my ethical beliefs/general preference)… I’ll be picking the Eagles to Beat The Spread in this contest. Yessir.
Now, before I get into the ‘why’, I’d first like to offer an outright apology for my performance here at BTM this year. I simply didn’t do enough. I pretty much took a glance at the match-ups, checked my inclined perception, and pontificated my preference. Over the years I’ve scaled much of my handicapping upon motivation, the heart to endure, and the situation of the encounter – rather than the precision of stats and mathematics. I’m well aware of the importance in physics, but the psychology often proves the more determining factor in a win than athleticism does (just ask Steve Largent). Having said that… I didn’t do enough of the nuts and bolts this year.
The majority of this column’s interest is to offer some entertainment (and perhaps some inspiration). Everyone’s got a pick for the week… but do you care to hear it? That’s the criteria I intend to supply here on Fridays. Getting creative with my verbiage has a much higher chance for success than my handicapping. Nevertheless, the intrigue of accuracy counts plenty and if I can’t manufacture a winning record… the content can’t possibly be interesting enough to compensate for that failure. Willing to get by on some pretty alphabet strung together can’t afford a proper frame for the subject. I didn’t cut it this year, I’m disappointed, and I’m fully responsible.
Of course, I have many mundane reasons for not affording the time necessary to proper research on this year’s match-ups, but in the spirit of continual Holmgren rejection – it’s not an acceptable excuse. I should have done a better job. And I pledge to do so, starting right now…
Here’s why the Eagles are the team to choose this year:
The Eagles do not play a scripted offense you can specifically game-plan against. They will APPROACH the game that way, but the pepper in the salad is Donavan McNabb. Every now and then he’s going to do something completely unpredictable and you will not be able to predetermine how to defense it. In the moment… he can create. There is no coaching on Earth that can tell you what to do when McNabb pulls out his rabbit hat and makes a little magic. And that erases the Bellicheck effect to a degree we have to account for. It ain’t pocket passer Manning. It ain’t cerebral. It’s backyard ball on the arm of a world-class athlete.
The thing that kept coming back to me this past week on the Patriots end was “Bill Belichick and 2 weeks to prepare.” Along with “The World Champs, who characterize preparation and have seen it all before – no surprises”. However, the obvious way to beat preparation is to be unpredictable. Donovan McNabb can personify that.
Barnacle Bill will probably find a way to remove “waterbug” Westbrook from the equation (who, by the way, was not a part of last year’s Philly off-season). I believe he’ll be the focal point and I would expect the Eagles offense to find it impossible to run in the FIRST half of this ball game. That would be the wise choice, and wisdom IS Bill Belichick.
However, if you’re game planning for one – the other has an edge. Misdirection/out of the pocket plays by McNabb could really damage the Patriots’ Secondary. And if you’re gonna eyeball Brian Westbrook then you’re going to use some Secondary to do it. Advantage: Andy Reid (who knows how to move the QB around) and Chunky Soup’s son (who has pretty decent legs and field vision, eh).
It’s also possible Billy Bob devises a lasagna-layered defense (with extra spicy meat!) to shackle the first 15-20 from hashmark to hashmark – insisting on removal of the short game regardless of where McNabb might maneuver. And if THAT happens… it’s T.O. time.
Any way you slice it, Terrell Owens is a man on a mission this year. He’s out to prove you can be a complete jackass as long as you play stellar Football. Every time this guy made the end zone it was headline news. And that occurred on a regular basis. He wants to pull it all down upon him and beg you for more. And you’ve got to admire that resiliency. Then again, the wrath of the world may smite you – and break your leg and tweak your ankle… just long enough for you to prove it all over again.
Can the man endure his body and his expectations - and have a prolific game? I think, at this point, you’ve got to credit Terrell with the chance to prove that he CAN’T. I can concede that much, personal interests aside.
Terrell Owens can do some serious damage in this game (and don’t you deny it). He’ll have to, cuz the rest of the Philly corps don’t threaten the thoroughly schooled Patriots Secondary.
Which brings us to the OFFENSIVE
Has anyone noticed that Donovan McNabb has plenty of time to cook up a bowl of his soup back there (look, I’m hardly paying the bills. A case of Chunky Soup for my name dropping sure would be nice, eh Cambell’s?). It’s a fine O-Line that plays cohesive football, understands the purpose of play-to-play, and formulates what they’re trying to do.
That’s important in this game because “mad genius” is counting on making you think too much. He wants confusion up front. You’ll want to keep in mind here – this Line practices against one of the more breakneck Defensive Coordinators in football. I think they can handle it.
The O-Line favors the Eagles in this match-up as they are a heavily overlooked asset to the success of this team.
Now let’s get to that
Jim Johnson DEFENSE.
Double J has his work cut out for him against perhaps the NFL’s most methodically efficient Offense in the League. There is no weakness to the Patriot Offense (except, perhaps, their own offensive line, hmm?). You wouldn’t hear me say that last year, as I had little respect for the Patriots until they made it to the big dance, for I am a Seahawk, my brothers, and if there’s one thing we’ve been consistent about over the years its been – having an excellent Running Back. If we can’t win WITH one? How could anyone be expected to win withOUT one?! With the addition of Corey Dillon – the Patriots can beat you on offense any damned way they please.
Now, for whatever reason, the previous 3 years, JJ went into the Championship game with the scariest blitz package available – only to coral it at the height of importance. I found that to be famously stupid. Why would you saddle the horse that wins bareback? Don’t contain it – set it free! (Shout out to a most affecting film called Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Rent it today!). This last title game was a bit more ferocious (though they were playing a running team and it’s hard to figure without a repeat look what the method was). I’m hoping that aggression keeps as it would be a mistake of proportions beyond term to approach this Patriots offense in a predictable style. Enormously foolish.
Exploit the Offense’s weakness, JJ. Crash the gates and blitz the Patriots!!
Throw the fish tank, the pebbles, the marbles, the burping clam, the treasure chest, the mermaid, and that little spinning thing at ‘em, Mister Johnson! That’s your only hope. Get the turnovers on YOUR end. Please don’t play Ray-Ball. We’ve had far too much of that on this end of the world.
If New England is allowed to perform Tom Brady dental work on Philly, from the opening bell… this team will recede into the damaging poison of self-induced woe.
Some may have noticed a curious unbalance in the fan reaction to the NFC crown. I didn’t get a sense of satisfaction from them. Rather, one of confusion of conflicting emotions. It appears they’re a populous of defeatists. “We won the game? Well what do we do now? I’m used to ending it all pissed off and unruly. Celebrate success? How’s that done exactly? It just feels all wrong cheering, I’d rather punch somebody!” And that translates into concern for me. It likely caused the players to rub their scalps and wonder… “What do they want from me?” That’s a concern…
THINKING IT THROUGH
Throughout the off-week I managed to avoid hearing ‘the number’ on this game. I didn’t feel I should hear the number until I had an idea of who I had favored in my mind. That took quite a bit of deliberation. There are solid reasons to favor either team. Many elements to cling to either way. I found myself teetering down the middle of the boat – never sure enough which side held the most buoyancy. But the thing that held true throughout? I can’t let go of the Eagles’ chances. They can’t be discredited here. They played that Championship game in a manner fit for a champion. There was a collective focus to get the job done. Nothing left to question. Do it direct, and finish the job. Everything else is donuts up to here. Punch in… and go to work.
To think they could simply satisfy themselves with an ‘appearance’ in the SuperBowl I think is a false assumption. Backtracking witness - with the exception of some meaningless games down the stretch, and an uninspired game against the struggling Vikings – the Eagles played like intentional champions from game1 forward. They never really met a position of struggle. That was by design, as opposed to something unearned. If you roll up all the effort it took to get here, and all the years before – there is no way in hell they’re going to ‘allow’ this game to go away. Determination will make an appearance. It’s going to stay close.
So when I finally allowed myself to look at that spread, having known my preference… “Seven points, are you serious?!! I immediately feel quite confident with my pick.”
Even with a New England win I don’t see it by 7. They’d be hard pressed to capitalize by more than that. I think that’s a very generous number and favors a biased public opinion.
So I’m naming the Eagles successor, when I had the Patriots winners each week in the Playoffs, and the GreenBirds a chance to win money against. Why would I waffle like that? Because they proved me wrong, that’s why. They taught me to rethink my opinion and consider where they’re coming from.
The Eagles have finished out games all year long. In the aperture to the 3rd and 4th Q vs. Atlanta you could see many with 4 fingers in the sky, declaring certain victory. When I initially saw that I felt the coming swell from the Falcons. A mistake for the Eagles to blunder position with arrogant posturing. But a funny thing happened… The Eagles actually raised their game to enSURE that success. The closer it got, the more crimson their fury…
I saw determination in that.
And even though the Philly fans gave the final reaction that had to leave the players questioning just what it takes to make a Cheesesteak happy – I don’t think they care what anyone else feels from their success. They only care what success means to them. And I think that’ll keep ‘em within 7. *he grins*
“Beat The Man… cuz your chances are limited...”
G. Scott Jones is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to Seahawks.NET. Reaction of any sort is always encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org.