On Bill Belicheat and the Super Bowl

Don’t like the nickname? Complain to Don Shula.

I was going to do an elaborate analysis for the Super Bowl. I’ve decided to punt on it for two reasons:

  1. An accurate prediction would require me to be at least a little psychic.
  2. I need to be objective to do my best work, and I can’t be objective anymore.

Here’s the long and short of the analysis:

  • If the Seahawks who played in the divisional round against Carolina show up, they have a good chance to win. If the team that played Green Bay plays, they’re probably gonna get creamed.
  • If the Patriots who played the AFC Championship against Indianapolis show up, they have a good chance to win. If the club that played Baltimore comes out, they’re likely to get stomped.
  • Your guess about which team shows up depends on your subjective opinion of both clubs.

If you really like Seattle or some of its components, you can believe that RB Marshawn Lynch will take control of the game (like Baltimore’s Justin Forsett nearly did).

You can believe the Seattle defense (which allowed 306 yards, forced two turnovers and only allowed Green Bay six points in the second half) will shut down the role players on the New England defense.

You can believe that the Seahawks’ offense suffered an uncharacteristic bout of nerves (5 turnovers), and they will be over it now.

You can believe head coach Pete Carroll— who went 27-21 in three years at New England, and got fired by Bob Kraft– will be extra psyched to beat the Patriots, and his players will want to win for him.

If you really like New England, you can believe that coach Bill Belicheat will have a scheme cooked up for their offense, just as he did the Rams in Super Bowl 100101 (I prefer to use binary code, rather than roman numerals)

You can believe that Tom Brady is the premier quarterback of his era, and that he will find a way to win. Or that the New England players want to give their coach the fourth Super Bowl he so richly deserves.

Here’s the best I can do for you.

1. New England is a slightly better better team on paper. They outscored opponents by 155 points, best in the NFL. Seattle’s total margin was 140, which was second.

New England’s offense (ranked #4) was 74 points better than Seattle (#10); its defense (which ranked 8th) was 59 points worse (Seattle was #1).

2. While I normally trust margin, I don’t here. New England scored 220 of its 468 points (nearly half, in only five games:

  • They stomped Chicago, 51-23
  • They thrashed Cincinnati,  43-17
  • They whipped Denver, 43-16
  • The crushed Miami, 41-13
  • They compacted Indianapolis, 42-20

Not exactly kicking cripples– three playoff teams and Miami went 8-8. But if you shave off a touchdown, in every game, they still win by more than two touchdowns– and suddenly Seattle is superior.

You can argue the Patriots were concerned about the offenses of the Bears, Broncos and Colts. You can say they wanted to send messages to the Broncos, Bengals and Colts– and the Miami game was payback for a 33-20 loss a month earlier.

It still looks like running up the score.

The Seahawks didn’t do it. Their highest point total came in a 38-17 win against the Giants, where two TDs were off late turnovers (interception and a stop on fourth down). Their largest margin came in a 35-6 win against Arizona, with Ryan Lindley (the 21st century Spergon Wynn) at quarterback.

Did Seattle keep games closer because they couldn’t? Or did they quit once they had a decent lead?

3. Common opponents aren’t any help. They’re both 3-2 in games– they each played the AFC West this year. The thing that leaps out at me is “Jeez, what happened against Kansas City and Oakland?”

The Green Bay game below is the regular-season game. It’s misleading to compare a regular-season game to a playoff contest.

New England Opponent Seattle
43-21 Denver 26-20 (OT)
21-26 Green Bay 36-16
14-41 Kansas City
16-9 Oakland 30-24
23-14 San Diego

4. Seattle’s performance in the Championship game is more likely to be a fluke. They beat Green Bay by nearly three TDs during the year.

And, the the way, the two stupidest things I’ve heard about that game were (a) Mike McCarthy lost the game by kicking field goals and (b) it’s inexcusable that the game ended before Green Bay got a possession.

A. Quoting percentages in the aggregate, rather than the specific is foolish. I don’t care what entire NFL does when they go for it on fourth & 1– I care about what Green Bay achieves when they go for it, and how Seattle does when their opponent tries.

Green Bay was 2-5 this season; that isn’t a reason to go for it. Seattle allowed six first downs in seven tries. That is.

But the problem isn’t what happened in the first half– when the team left the field leading 16-0. It’s what happened in the second, when they got outscored 22-6.

Green Bay struggled to run the ball in the second half: 13 rushes for 58 yards (4.5 a carry), but 32 came on one play. You could say “Why didn’t they throw more?” But they were 8-14 for only 68 yards in the second half– and 48 of those yards came on the final drive, with Seattle giving them short stuff. Aaron Rodgers was 4-6 on the drive, and 4-8 for 20 yards otherwise.

Anyway, what killed the Packers was (a) the failure to get the onside kick with the score 19-14 and then (b) after Seattle recovered, letting them score a touchdown in 40 seconds to take a 20-19 lead, and then (c) allowing the two-point conversion that put Green Bay down by three.

Had that last not happened, they’re going for the win if they hit a field goal.

B. Mike Florio whined about Green Bay being cheated. Clearly someone needs to explain the definition of “sudden-death overtime” to him.

I hated it when Peter Queen had a hissy-fit because BFF Brett Favre lost a playoff game and got the rule changed. Any team that loses on the first possession had 60 minutes to win the game. That should be enough.

New England’s 45-7 beating of Indianapolis, on the other hand, was the fourth time they’ve thrashed the Colts in the Andrew Luck era:

  • In addition to the 45-7 playoff beating, they won 42-20 during the season.
  • In the 2013 playoffs, they won 43-22.
  • The Colts lost 59-24 in 2012.

Andrew Luck hasn’t exactly been good in those games (6 TDs, 10 INTs)… but when the opponent scores 189 points in four games, that’s your defense.

5. Bill Belicheat is 11-8 in the playoffs over the last decade. In his first five seasons with the Patriots, he went 9-0 in there trips, and you can’t argue with that. Since then, it’s been a struggle.

The last time he won it all, Charlie Weis was his offensive coordinator and Romeo Crennel was running the defense.

Pete Carroll, on the other hand, is 15-6 in the playoffs. He was 8-4 in the post-season the the NFL (7-2 with Seattle; 1-2 with the Patriots. In the other professional league (the one where players don’t get paid), he went 7-2.

PredictionL It could go either way, obviously, But I sure hope it’s Seattle 35-27.

Because I hope Bill Belicheat never wins another playoff game.

My take on new England’s attempt to fix the AFC Championship game:

1.The NFL is 100% to blame for this. In baseball, the officials, not the team, are responsible for the condition of the equipment. The home team supplies the baseballs– but the umpiring crew tests all the balls, rubs them down with mud (seriously). If the umpires think a ball isn’t up to snuff, it gets rejected.

For all the NFL’s self-importance, it cuts corners in some of the most annoying places. Part-time officials? The team prepares the balls? Ridiculous.

2. Tom Brady knew about this. I once saw Orioles’ pitcher Jim Palmer pick out a bad ball. Blindfolded. Three times. The TV crew handed him a series of baseballs until he identified one deficient.

They they blindfolded him, took (I think) nine of the balls he’d passed and the one lemon and handed them to him one at a time. He picked it out all three times.

Larry Bird once raged about an underinflated ball in a playoff series (I think it was against the Pistons, back when they concealed foreign objects under their uniforms.) He could feel something– the weight of the ball, the grip, I dunno– was off by holding it.

Players– the good ones– are professionals. Balls, bats, gloves, the field– those are their work tools. I don’t know if Brandon Weeden or Johnny Jamboogie could identify an underinflated football just by holding it and throwing it. But I saw Jim McMahon insist that a ball was underinflated.

And there is no way a Pro Bowl player like Brady couldn’t identify it.

Especially since he had to be practicing with them all week.

3. Fool me once… Innocent until proven guilty? Please.

When a legendary micromanager– a guy known for obsessing about every last detail of the operation, no matter how trivial– has something like this happen on his watch, you assume he knew exactly what was going on– because he ordered it.

Former Cleveland Mayor Mike White tried to claim that he didn’t know there was a bribery scandal going on at City Hall… people who had dealt with the administration fell on the floor laughing. Mike White reviewed the number of bumper stickers that each of his neighborhood campaign offices received. And suddenly he wasn’t paying attention when tens of thousands of dollars was being given and received?

Yeah, right.

Plus, of course, we know he’s cheated before. Remember Spygate?

4. His legacy. He’s a cheat. If you believe in honesty and fair play– as Shula (a fixture on the NFL’s Competition Committee for decades) what Belicheat did was unacceptable. If you want to see the best team win, a player or coach who deliberately and repeatedly subverts the rules is offensive.

OK, he won three Super Bowls. That’s nice. You can’t insist that they be forfeited when you don’t have any evidence that anything wrong took place.

But you don’t exalt the guy. And you don’t root for him Because lord know what else he’s done that you didn’t find out about.


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