Sunday, January 23, 2011

Penultimate P&%!-Poor Pigskin Prognostication Post

Those of us like myself whose primary interest in life is the absurd are rooting like hell for the Jets and Bears to win today's conference championship games. The prospect of a face-to-face meeting between Rex Ryan and Barack Obama in a post-Super Bowl locker room fills me with giddy joy.

Ahh, but it's wicked and even worse, mundane world we live in, and bettors could do worse when handicapping NFL playoff games than to always pick the most boring winner. The usual quota of big upsets in the 11 playoff games (Super Bowl included) is one. We've already had two this season (Seahawks-Saints, Jets-Pats). Picking one or two more is pretty much like letting it ride on double-zero at the roulette wheel.

The dull smart money and just plain dull media experts are almost all choosing the
Packers to beat the Bears today and with the exception of Tedi Bruschi, unanimous in going with the Steelers over the Jets. Nothing is more painful for this blogger than falling into the herd following the scent of conventional wisdom, but in all honesty, I see no alternative. Pittsburgh and Green Bay should be boring winners today, and for some pretty boring, I mean basic, reasons, too.

Both the Bears and Packers and Steelers and Jets played each in the regular season. All three games were close. So we must turn to the most elemental rules of playoff analysis of evenly-matched teams.

Rule 1. Look at the defenses. There is nothing to choose between the Bears and Packer defenses, and precious little to choose between the Jets and Steelers -- except, and big except it is, Pittsburgh is superior at defending the run.

Rule 2. Look at the quarterbacks. Now, there's no such thing as an NFL team in a conference title game whose quarterback hasn't playing well lately, but no neutral observer not ordered to take a contrarian position by their talk-show producer could do anything but rate Aaron Rodgers above Jay Cutler, and Ben Roethlisberger a bit further ahead of Mark Sanchez than that.

Rule 3. Look at everything else, which still won't equal the importance of what you found in 1 and 2. The Bears may have the best all-around special team play in the league, from kicker Robbie Gould to Devin Hester's punt returns. Mediocre-to-poor special teams play has been a Steeler tradition for more than a decade, and if we hadn't seen the Jets' placekicker and punter yack all over themselves against the Pats, we might give the Jets a big edge there, too. They beat Pittsburgh in December thanks to a kickoff return touchdown, after all.

Special team plays have won innumerable NFL games. They're tough to plan for, however. Right, Patrick Chung? They're even more problematic to bet on.

Boil down the last four paragraphs and what do we have? A prediction based on the most banal, simple-minded analysis of them all -- comparing quarterbacks. It's shameful, isn't it? All I have to defend myself is the motto I often used as a columnist with a tight deadline: "Don't be afraid to grasp the obvious."

I am afraid that the long-sought Obama-Ryan meeting will have to wait until HBO's "Hard Knocks: The White House & the Lockout," which is slated to begin shooting in July.


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