Saturday, February 04, 2012

A Line of Non-Thought About the Line

There are two ways of handicapping football games. You can use intense analysis of data, delving into third-derivative statistics, studying film with Ron Jaworski, talking with Mass General's ankle specialist about Rob Gronkowski and like that. Or you can play a hunch.

Since neither method works, they're equally valid, and no football bettor in history hasn't used both -- no matter what they tell you.

For Super Bowl XLVI, the two methods are fighting a bitter battle across my frontal lobes. And since the final play of the NFC Championship Game, the hunch has been capturing more and more of that battered territory.

Every use of human reason applied to the Patriots-Giants matchup comes up with the same answer. This Super Bowl should be just like the two conference championships which preceded it, an extremely close game decided by an improbable big play, even bigger break, or totally absurd funny bounce of the ball. Conventional wisdom is the only wisdom. Nothing is a purer expression of NFL conventional wisdom than the Super Bowl point spread, and New England minus 2 1/2 is as small as Super spreads get.

(BTW, I want to hand out a Super razzberry to lackluster NFL color man Rich Gannon and self-serving talk show hosts Felger & Mazz for their pregame analysis yesterday. All three made a huge point about their courage in picking the Pats to win because "everybody else" is picking the Giants. It is, of course, mathematically impossible for the Super Bowl favorite not to have been picked to win by somebody. Millions of somebodies. Trying to make picking the favorite an act of bold contrarianism is fraud impure and simple).

Using what I pass off as wisdom, I see the same thing. The metrics I have employed to forecast Super Bowls for decades split right down the middle when applied to the Giants and Pats. Just to cite one for instance, the considerable weight I give to Tom Brady's presence at quarterback is matched by the equal weight I give to the Giants' having won not one but two playoff games on the road, particularly their relatively easy win against the Packers, whom the Patriots closely resemble.

My hunch scoffs at reason and logic. It's not a hunch about who will win the game exactly, it's a hunch about what kind of game the Super Bowl will be. It's not a happy hunch for either the NFL or the NBC Television Network.

My hunch has moved from saying to screaming that the football world is due for a classic 1980s throwback Super Boring Blowout Bowl. There really hasn't been one since the Bucs routed the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, and that was nine long seasons past. If I remember correctly, that too was a game conventional wisdom felt would be very close. Whenever I close my eyes and try to envision tomorrow's contest, the exciting evening predicted by analysis is crowded out by a view of being in a group of fans who spend the third quarter arguing about Madonna's halftime show rather than pay attention to a foregone conclusion on the field.

If my hunch is right, then the game's winner is also a foregone conclusion. The Giants are not a team built to win games 40-17 and the Patriots surely are. New England can and has scored points in bunches all year. New York would need to snag about five takeaways to win a blowout, and the Pats just don't it turn it over that often.

Sometimes my hunches work. Denver 31-Green Bay 24 in Super Bowl XXXII and you can look it up. Sometimes they don't. Cardinals over the Sox in six in the 2004 World Series and you can that up, too. But if a hunch gets strong enough, I always play it. Nothing makes you feel worse in the forecasting/gambling world than ignoring a hunch that proves to be right. It's losing a bet to yourself.

I'm playing this hunch for tomorrow. Besides, it's probably the closest I'll ever get to taking a position on Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and getting points to boot.


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