Like It Or Not, Time To Party

SCI.net publisher Jim Wexell handicaps a Super Bowl that is sure to unify the nation's football fans.

I have this notes column in my head that reflects on my proposed Steelers move to a 4-3, the Senior Bowl, the Steelers in general, and a commendation that will surprise one of our writers here.

But I'm going to put that on hold because of the dang Super Bowl.

Yes, isn't that how we look at the Super Bowl anymore? The dang Super Bowl?

Two years ago it was Harbaugh versus Harbaugh. Last year it was Peyton Manning. This year it's The Cheaters.

How much longer can we pretend to like this game?

Of course, the better question for us football snobs of America is this: How much longer can we pretend to not like this game?

We'll watch it. Of course we will. Two years ago I went to my daughter's soccer clinic instead, and as I told myself and you poor readers I was choosing soccer over the Super Bowl.

But I didn't. I found a TV in the back of the arena and watched, yes watched, the Harbaugh I dislike more win one for Ray Lewis.

Ugh.

And last year I watched every second of the Seattle blowout, although no one else at the party did. I don't know if all parties are like this anymore, but I found myself alone in the TV room watching the first half of the game before being surrounded -- squished, even -- by the party at halftime as they came in to enjoy whatever pop music band was playing, and, of course, the commercials.

How stupid have we become that we rally around commercials on this day?

Anyway, I've interrupted the Senior Bowl and draft talk, along with all of the other offseason tedium, to write my Super Bowl prediction column today. And you had better pay attention because I rarely miss with these things.

Last year my calculations called for a Seattle blowout, and the previous year I had the Harbaugh from Baltimore winning. I can't even remember who played the Super Bowl before that, and I'm not going to look it up, but I will look up the common opponents of the Seahawks and Patriots this season and begin my handicapping process.

If you don't recall the stats I used prior to the Steelers' playoff loss to the Ravens, I look at yards per rush (line of scrimmage strength), yards per point (overall efficiency), and yards per completion/defensive passer rating (pass defense). I don't look at pass offense because 1.) I already have a feel for an offense's QB, and 2.) My system works well enough without complicating it.

What changes for Super Bowls is that I handicap common opponents, if I can, as opposed to the previous five games, and in this Super Bowl there are five common opponents. Both the Seahawks and Patriots went 3-2 against Green Bay, Denver, Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego, with the Patriots 1-2 on the road and the Seahawks 0-2 on the road.

Because we all know that Las Vegas feasts on human misperception, I'm looking to be surprised when I look at the numbers in my three categories, and the biggest surprises I find today are the lousy New England running game and the lousy Seattle defensive efficiency number.

Let me start with the latter so I can get something off my chest: Yes, some of these common opponents field outstanding offenses, but I doubt the Steel Curtain of the '70s or the '85 Bears would've allowed those teams a point every 12.8 yards. That's a lousy number, so, can we please stop referring to the Seahawks as one of the great defenses of all-time?

But the Patriots shouldn't be expected to take great advantage when the overall yards-per-point number is calculated. At +2.7 it's worth noting, but what I consider more revealing as I look over the YPPs is that we should expect a high-scoring game. Super Bowls in domes normally are high-scoring, and these numbers offer mathematical support.

As for the Patriots' run game, they averaged 3.3 yards per carry against the five common opponents and gave up 4.1. The Seahawks ran for 4.9 per carry and allowed 3.7. That comes to a whopping +2.0 in favor of the Seahawks, which nearly matches the Pats' edge in YPP, and that shouldn't happen.

Of course, the great LeGarrette Blount came along later in the season and averaged 4.1 per carry in Patriots games against Green Bay and San Diego. And if we are to listen to the Steelers fans who are whining about Blount's 314 rushing yards in two playoff games against Indianapolis, we would believe that Blount is the second coming of Jim Brown.

He's not.

In Blount's other two playoff games, against Baltimore and Denver, he carried eight times for seven yards, an average of 0.9 yards per carry. Or, 0.9 yards more than he averaged in all five carries for the Steelers against the Jets.

So the Seahawks have a massive edge at the line of scrimmage and the Patriots have a slight edge in overall scoring efficiency. But it should be noted in this modern era that the Patriots do have Tom Brady, and poor line-of-scrimmage numbers are sometimes overcome by tremendous passing games.

However, the Seahawks do have a solid edge in pass defense. The Patriots' have a very ordinary 11.3 yards allowed per completion (the Steelers allowed 12.1 this season) but a decent 88.3 defensive passer rating against the common opponents.

The Seahawks have excellent 9.2 and 83.1 numbers in those pass-defense categories, and we must also ask ourselves to name the Patriots' wide receivers, and all I -- non-fantasy player -- can scrape off the top of my head is Julian Edelman.

Obviously I'm leaning toward the Seahawks, but it comes with an injury warning: The Seahawks' star pass defenders, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, are banged up. Thomas is questionable with a shoulder injury and has barely practiced this week. Sherman is probable with an elbow injury but has been a full participant in practice.

My guess is they'll both play and play well. Besides, widdle Tommy Bwady has a cold and will have to play with a fully inflated football. And I suppose Kam Chancellor can cover Rob Gronkowski with or without Thomas' help anyway.

So I'm picking the Seahawks, 31-26. And I hope I'm relying more on numbers than a hatred of the Patriots, a hatred that's unified our nation's football fans this past week.

Maybe that universal hatred is a good thing. Maybe it will help move the party into the TV room for the game this time.


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