Saturday, January 31, 2015

Your Guess Is As Good As Theirs and Better Than Mine

 Last year was so simple. Writing a Super Bowl prediction took about three minutes. There was no doubt in my mind that Seattle's defense would thwart Denver's offense enough for the Seahawks to win. Did I expect a thwarting by 43-8? Hell, no. But the basic outline of the game was so clear I barely bothered to make the call in the first place.

Twelve months later, clarity has been replaced by blurry double-vision. A myriad of scenarios creating a Patriots win in Super Bowl XLIX have flitted through my brain the last week (too busy laughing at Ballghazi the week before to handicap). Every time one is just about to come into focus, it's been replaced by an equally hazy and ephemeral picture of a Seahawks' triumph. While these two admirable football teams have every reason to be confident of victory Sunday night, none of the rest of us should have any confidence in agreeing with them.

Check out the pundits' forecasts in the national media. These worthy men and women are paid to be never in doubt, right or wrong. Among the brief explanations accompanying the game picks on were "I don't know why I did this" and "I've changed my pick every time I've thought about it."

Exactly two of ESPN's over 50 forecasters called the game to be decided by more than 10 points. Ron Jaworski sees the Pats winning big, while Ray Lewis sees Seattle winning the same way. These forecasts are surely the result of which position each man played in THEIR NFL careers. All forecasters have biases, and homerism is usually the least of them.

It has been noted that Seattle was only 3-4 in games in which it allowed opponents more than 20 points. This is seen as an indication of weakness, as it is really difficult to hold the Patriots to such a low total. It has been less noted, but is also true that New England was 2-4 in games in which it scored fewer than 21 points, and that those two wins were over the Raiders and Jets. So while difficult, it can be done, and when done, the Pats are in trouble.

Go through the matchups and records, we see more equality. New England's offensive versatility is a theoretical advantage, but no more so than is Seattle's running game. Each has a superlative turnover ratio and excellent placekicking. Each team had one horrific and embarrassing loss in the regular season in the state of Missouri (we're scraping the bottom of the matchup barrel now. Always happens by Saturday).

One Super Bowl tell I have used in years past with good effect is that the team which had a tougher time in the playoffs has earned an advantage through having stared elimination in the face without blinking. As near-death experiences, there's nothing to choose between the Pats' comeback against the Ravens and Seattle's against the Packers. Super Bowl routs occur not because the loser gives up, but because it stops expecting good things to result from its best efforts. I don't see either of these teams  succumbing to despair.

If I knew how the Pats' offensive and defensive lines, the two groups in this tilt facing the largest challenges, would perform, a prediction would be a cinch. Not even Bill Belichick knows that, though. It is best to assume that they will battle their opposite Seahawk numbers to a draw or close to it.

Assuming that, we assume a close game. To assume a close game is to assume it will be decided on between three and six "big plays" the unpredictable turns of skill and fate which we know will take place but that only the foolhardy would predict who'll they'll benefit.

The Pats got here on a halfback option pass and a weird formation, the Seahawks on an onside kick and fake field goal. Look at that sentence and tell me you think either team is a safe bet tomorrow.

Here's an unsafe bet. Combing through my double visions, I didn't find ALL things equal between the Pats and Seahawks. I give New England the tiniest of edges for creativity. It is the team somewhat more likely to improvise a game-changing play if it's forced to do so.

I expect it will be,too. Say New England by no more than three points. If I could pick a tie, I would, but that's against the rules. There's never even been an overtime Super Bowl.

First time for everything.


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