So, what did we learn about the NFL this weekend?
Honestly, not all that much. Or, at least, not all that much that we didn’t know before.
We “learned” that, once you get to the top teams in the league, the talent differential is so small, there really are no sure things in the playoffs. I’m not a proponent of sports gambling as a matter of habit – I don’t generally like gambling, which is usually a stupid tax, and I don’t feel like putting in the effort to understand how to do it well. But, when it comes to NFL playoff wagers, it’s a complete sucker’s game. You really just don’t know. You might think you do, but, ummm, you don’t. Bill Simmons made it his official quest to go 11-0 picking against the spread this season. He went 2-2 last week, and chalked it up to ‘getting greedy.’ This week? 0-4. Meaning, he picked three home favorites (Titans, Panthers, Giants), and not only did none of them cover, none of them even won.
Also, we “learned” that an abominably bad performance by your quarterback, a 5-interception, 6-turnover, vomit-in-your-mouth-a-little-bit stinkbomb by Jake Delhomme, can utterly sink an otherwise perfectly capable team, and make the Arizona defense look like the ’85 Bears.
In fact, a singularly bad quarter can sink your team. In the third quarter of the thoroughly entertaining Steelers/Chargers tilt today, the Chargers ran one offensive play, a pass that was tipped by a defensive lineman, which luckily fell right to one of the defenders. The next time the San Diego D came up with a stop, the ensuing punt, a 35-yard shank, bounced right off the helmet of a blocker and was recovered by the Steelers. Although Pittsburgh only scored 7 points in the quarter, having to be on the field for about 35 minutes straight was just too much to ask of the Chargers’ D, and, completely gassed, they couldn’t make a stop in the fourth.
Also, the Eagles are really good. Also, they’re not the Eagles, not at all. I really don’t know what team I saw today, wearing the Eagles’ uniforms, but they looked far too much like a competently-coached NFL team for my comfort. I’ve been watching Eagles games with the same group of gents for going on a decade now, and none of us could remember a game, certainly not a somewhat tight, exciting game, where we simply agreed with every single thing the team did. It’s like Andy Reid had a brain transplant with Bill Belichick on Wednesday, and everyone forgot to mention it. Really weird.
Purely as a fan, I don’t like that the early storyline is that the Eagles are overwhelming favorites next week. They’re opening as a three point favorite, on the road. Gene Wojciechowski at ESPN says that
With their victory Sunday, the Eagles become more than a favorite and a little less than a sure thing when they face Arizona in the Jiffy Pop (aka University of Phoenix Stadium).
And, honestly, I can’t argue. Although Arizona has looked very good the last two weeks, Philly just bitch-slapped the most physical team in the NFL for four quarters. I can’t think of a time when I saw a power-running team as good as the Giants get stuffed on two consecutive fourth-and-shorts. McNabb is throwing the ball as well as he ever has in his career. They managed the clock well on the final drive of the first half, possibly the first time in my memory, at least going back past the Buddy Ryan era, that the concepts of ‘Eagles’ and ‘managing the clock well’ have belonged in the same sentence without anything like ‘are less capable of’ appearing in between.
And I don’t like being the obvious pick. Obvious picks are frightening. Also, I’m completely insane about Eagles games, and cannot be considered to have any sort of rational thought process what. so. ever. about them.
The AFC Championship game should be a good one – a good old-fashioned slobberknocker. These aren’t quite your Daddy’s Baltimore Ravens, planning to win every game 10-7. They have an offense, even a passing game – Flacco is definitely the Real Deal. But the Steelers are some battle-tested motherfuckers, and I’m definitely looking forward to the first time Hines Ward and Ray Lewis meet over the middle. That’s some good football.
Hopefully, I’ll have some more interesting things to say about the games later this week, but I will make only one prediction, which is that you won’t catch me predicting any of the games.