Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bye Week Self-Scouting

NFL players and coaches love the bye week, for understandable if quite different reasons (time off vs. more time to plan and fret). Writers, at least in my time, were more ambivalent. On the one hand, there's less hanging around football stadiums. On the other, just because nothing's happening with your team doesn't mean you get to stop writing about it.

Astute and compassionate readers should not complain if the Patriots' articles in their daily papers seem like pretty thin gruel today, tomorrow, and Monday. It actually is quite a literary accomplishment to make stone soup taste as good as thin gruel.

Bloggers, especially lazy ones like me, have the option of simply ignoring football during the bye week. But I guess those years of listening to Bill Belichick and other workaholic coaches made more of an impact on me than I'm sure they suspected. As dutifully as any first-year assistant to the assistant quality control coach, yours truly will use the bye to go over game tapes (past posts) and see where I stand.

Since it is me doing this, the review process will not be a lengthy one.

Before the 2009 NFL season began, I forecast its outcome in the following descending order of probability: 1. Patriots win Super Bowl. 2. Steelers win Super Bowl. 3. Some NFC team wins Super Bowl in big upset. How has roughly the first half of the season affected that prediction.

Short answer: Hardly at all -- yet.

Both the Patriots and Steelers are 5-2, and their losses may be attributed to natural phenomena. In Pittsburgh's case, it was the loss of Troy Polamalu to an injury. He's back, and we may regard the Steelers' win over the Vikings as more indicative of their status than their losses to the Bears and Bengals.

The Pats played VERY poorly on offense in the second half of their road losses to the Jets and Broncos. This almost certainly was due to the natural and expected adjustment process Tom Brady faced returning after missing an entire season with an injury. Coming back from much less injury down time threw Peyton Manning off for about half a season in 2008. He seems to have bounced back nicely. Anyone who doesn't think Brady has is on the same path is the kind of person I like to find when gambling.

No, the only possible reasons I find to doubt my forecast have nothing to do with the teams I named in it. So far, the Colts have been a much better team than I expected. The Saints have been much, much, much better.

By a happy coincidence, the Patriots will play both teams in the near future, on the road yet. Unless New England loses both games by 17 points or so, I abide by my predictions with serene confidence.

OK, almost serene.


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