Driving away from Foxboro two weeks ago, I was convinced the New England Patriots were going to win the Super Bowl, and handily. They have the coach, the quarterback, the experience and, well, I've always mocked broadcasters who called Atlanta QB Matt Ryan "Matty Ice," and I didn't think the Falcons had much of a defense.
Until I put pen to paper.
I like to compare common opponents in handicapping the Super Bowl, and in the numbers I look at, it takes more yardage to score a point against the Falcons than it does against the Patriots, who rank first in points allowed.
The Falcons also allow fewer yards per completion than the Patriots, and by a solid margin.
The Patriots are 0.2 per carry better on run defense, but that's nearly a toss-up.
Overall, my numbers call for a tight game, with the Falcons having the slight edges. That surprised me, and I like to be surprised by the numbers I find beneath the surface.
There's also the fact that the Patriots beat an emotionally spent Steelers team that had gone down the stretch with four extremely tight wins in their last five games, and did so with nearly two extra days to prepare.
I can't believe I'm going to say this, but in a lower scoring game than I had thought two weeks ago, I'm going with the Falcons, 27-26.
HALL OF FAME
Although I do expect to see Alan Faneca's bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day, I didn't expect him to be voted in last night. Because of that, I really didn't pay much attention to the odds of the finalists. That might be why I find the outrage over the failure of voters to elect Terrell Owens a bit perplexing.
Owens is a numbers guy in an era of ever-growing numbers, and, frankly, I just never thought enough of the guy because he seemed like such a lousy teammate.
Hey, maybe I'm part of the problem. Don't know. Don't care.
On the other side of the numbers/teammate debate is Terrell Davis. He didn't really put up the numbers but he came off to me as someone who would be a great teammate, so I don't have a problem with Davis.
Kenny Easley? Now he's a pleasant surprise. With all the talk about John Lynch having to make it because Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu will take his spot if not elected now, I wondered why Easley, a safety I had always admired, wasn't being considered. Well, I guess he was.
Morten Andersen, now we're getting into philosophical issues, and I really don't believe kickers should make it. But, I'm one of the few apparently, and, again, it doesn't bother me that much.
But here's a choice that reeks of cronyism: Jerry Jones.
Are you serious? This guy's been the head of a clown show. He's the antithesis of class and dignity. He's been the center of all that I dislike about the league as it stands today. Yes, his team won three titles in his first seven years, but in my opinion it was as embarrassing as it was good.
Jones is being hailed as some kind of a marketing genius, but whenever I think of the flash and sizzle of the Cowboys I think of them as more of a garish whore show.
ON THE FLIP SIDE
Yep, it's Pittsburgh Steelers bashing season in town, and that means turning on the radio and hearing someone killing Mike Tomlin for his alleged lack of control over the locker room, or Ben Roethlisberger for his alleged dramatic role-playing, or Antonio Brown for his alleged divisiveness on or off the field. It's like turning on the TV and seeing Kellyanne Conway. I mean, you automatically change the channel.
I feel as if I have my understanding of this Steelers team but I'm made to feel like some kind of a homer whenever I refute any of the above, so I just turn it off.
I didn't grow up a fan of the team, yet at the same time I don't understand this cannibalization seemingly every February by its fans and media.
What has caused me come to respect this organization over the years is the dignity of its ownership, and I don't mean that in an elitist kind of way but rather in a low-key, humble and down-to-earth kind of way.
That said, I think back to a day when reporters walked right into the front office for a cup of coffee. I remember doing so on draft day and telling Dan Rooney how his choice in the first round had confounded me. He just smiled and said, "Jim, all you had to do was ask me who we were going to pick."
Not that I'm sure it would ever have been so easy, but now his son is pretty much doling out first-round information like annual clockwork in his annual end-of-season tour.
Last week, Art Rooney II told Steelers.com that "in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback, it's something we have to be more consistent at." It echoed what he had told the rest of the media, when he also added that he would like to see more consistency on run defense and "we need to be better in the red zone."
This year, the Steelers will pick from a deep pool of edge rushers, and they need someone to groom under soon-to-be 39-year-old James Harrison, who's expected to re-sign and return to the ROLB spot he grabbed from Jarvis Jones at mid-season.
The other side is in good hands with promising Bud Dupree, but the Steelers need not only an edge rusher, but, as Rooney pointed out, someone to help with the run defense because that edge is more than a 3-4 OLB, he's a nickel defensive end. That's where Harrison was so helpful, particularly after the loss of injured end/tackle Cameron Heyward.
Before Rooney's proclamation, I would've believed the value fit for that specific need would be in the second round with Alabama's Ryan Anderson and Youngstown State's Derek Rivers. But now I have to believe they'll take that position in the first round, and Auburn's Carl Lawson suits my taste better than a Joe Mathis or Charles Harris.
But, heck, it's early. Maybe Rivers will perform so well at the Combine he'll turn into that value pick in the first.
The Steelers played one more playoff game than a year ago, and scored one more red-zone touchdown in the playoffs, but that didn't make up for the downward trend this past season when the Steelers slipped from 13th in touchdown percentage in 2015 to 16th.
Part of the problem was the loss of Martavis Bryant, who had scored five red-zone touchdowns in 2015. While suspended, Bryant's replacement, Sammie Coates, scored only one. The other fall-off was with Antonio Brown, who may have suffered from the loss of Bryant in slipping from eight red-zone scores in 2015 to two this past season.
Bryant's return will no doubt help.
The Steelers will also need to replace DeAngelo Williams, who isn't expected back. Williams scored 51 percent of the red-zone touchdowns from the backfield the last two years.
Surprisingly, the loss of Heath Miller wasn't felt -- at least on paper -- in the red zone. The tight ends scored three red-zone touchdowns in both 2015 and 2016, and in fact tight ends added two 20-yard touchdown catches this past season (red zone = inside the 20).
However, one interesting prospect for the middle rounds is Toledo tight end Michael Roberts. The 6-4 1/2, 261-pounder scored 16 touchdowns last season. That's a stat that doesn't take an analytical approach to appreciate.