Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Giants? Do They Have a Case?

Over at the Boston Sports Media Watch message board, the devout community of Patriots fans who hang their pseudononymous hats there posed a reasonable question for current and not-s0-current football reporters and commentators. Aside from pop psychiatric bullshit and/or specious historical analogies, are there factors one could cite that indicate a possible Giants victory in Super Bowl LXII on February 3? At the risk, no, certainty of ferocious scorn from that crowd, I submit the Giants do have attributes giving them the puncher's shot at an historical upset.

1. The Giants' line play has been excellent in the playoffs on both sides of the ball. They have run, and they have stopped the run. They have rushed the passer, and kept homicidal lunatics off Eli Manning's back. This is more in the nature of a prerequisite for not getting massacred than a key to victory, but it's a fact all the same, and a handy one for New York, seeing as how blocking and tackling decide the outcome of 99.9 to the googol percent of all football games.

2. The Giants have not turned the ball over. Troy Aikman noted last Sunday that a team not beating itself had done half the work involved in beating the other team. Turnovers always matter. In the Super Bowl, due I think to the enormous psychological stresses unleashed by the game, they matter more than in any other contest.

3. The Giants have a potentially dominant offensive player in Plexico Burress. The enigmatic (nice word for disappears sometimes) receiver is capable of an MVP performance. A team needs at least one player like that BESIDES its quarterback to have a shot at winning any Super Bowl.

4. The Giants have won a road playoff game. I am moderately violating my rule against using history, but this is actual research, and the research indicates this matters. In Super Bowls dating back to the 1980 season, which is where the pages of my 2005 NFL media guide began to turn up missing, when a team with a road playoff win met a team without one (which, remember, means it almost surely had a better regular season record), the team with the road win won 10 out of 15 Bowls, 7 of the last 10, and 6 of 7 in this decade (Super Bowl XXXVII, Pats 32-Panthers 29 is the sole exception).

It is not difficult to explain this phenomenon. Hell, Mike Shanahan did it before his 1997 Broncos upset the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. He asked the team if they thought beating Green Bay on a neutral site would be more difficult than defeating Kansas City and Pittsburgh on the road in consecutive playoff games. Winning the Super Bowl is very, very difficult. Winning a road playoff game is even harder. A team that wins one KNOWS it has reached about its highest possible level of play.

There you have it, dear readers, dear Pats fans, and the world at large. The Giants have reasons to expect to win the game. Not enough of them for me to actually pick them or anything rash like that, but any analyst forecasting a New York win is not entirely indulging in contrarianism for its own sake.


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