January 27, 2010


Screw an introduction, too, as I'm pressed for time -- I'm leaving on a family vacation today and won't be back until the day before the Super Bowl. So let's get right to a review of the championship games and my SB pick.

All week, I didn't feel very good about having picked the Jets on Monday. I wanted to switch it up, but decided not to since: A. That would be lame; and B. Just like when setting my fantasy lineup, if I make a change and then have the original choice be the correct one, I am much more pissed off and regretful than if I don't make a change and the other option proves to be better. So I left it alone.

I was feeling decent (but not great) when the Jets went up 17-6 on a 48-yard Jay Feely field goal. Mark Sanchez looked sensational and the Jets D was getting to Peyton Manning and causing turnovers. However, all of the things that had been going in the Jets favor during their run -- from a plethora of missed field goals to avoiding injuries -- had already begun to turn. Jets kicker Jay Feely chunked a 44-yarder, and New York was having trouble keeping healthy defensive backs on the field, not the sort of problem you want against the Colts. When Manning sliced through the Jets with a 4-play, 3-Austin-Collie-reception, 80-yard drive in just 58 seconds to pull the Colts within four immediately following the Feely figgie, that was all she wrote for New York. The Shonn Greene injury and another Feely miss -- both on the opening possession of the second half -- proved to be the final nails in the coffin, but there was no doubt in my mind Indianapolis would win after the surgical precision with which they took the Jets apart on that drive.

The end of regulation turned into a battle of things I hate. Just inside the 2-minute warning, the Saints -- after limiting Adrian Peterson to two yards on consecutive snaps -- called timeout with the Vikings facing a 3rd-and-8. I despise this move. Most commonly done at the end of the first half, this strategy almost always comes back to haunt the defensive team. For starters, it takes heat off the opponent's offensive coordinator, allowing him the time to choose his very best play for the given moment as opposed to doing so under duress. Plus, it's just greedy, as the D should just hold the timeout, see if they actually prevent the team from converting the 3rd down, and then spend it if they do. Nine times out of 10 -- sure that's pseudo-scientific, as I have no data to back me up -- it helps the offense, and that's exactly what it did here, as Bernard Berrian made a nice play to pick up 10 yards and the first, leaving the Vikings plenty of time to leisurely make their way down the field. Where the second thing that I hate came into play.

With just over a minute to go, Chester Taylor picked up 14 yards to bring the ball to the Saints 33, into the outer range of kicker Ryan Longwell. The Saints then called another timeout, hoping to preserve a bit of clock after a Minnesota score. With a 1st down and 1:06 remaining, the Vikings ran Taylor up the middle for no gain. They then basically allowed the entire play clock to run down, snapping the ball with just 25 seconds left for an Adrian Peterson run up the middle, which was also stuffed. Now the Vikings, with 19 seconds left, called a timeout (their second) then got their beyond-idiotic 12-men in the huddle penalty.

It's clear that the Vikings' coaches -- or at least uber-genius Brad Childress -- thought, Gee, I know it's only to go to the Super Bowl, but a 50-yard field goal [roughly a 50-50 proposition under the best circumstances, as NFL kickers were 55-of-104 (52.8%) from 50+ in the regular season this year] under the most pressure any kicker could possibly face is surely a gimme. I'm aware that I've railed on this strategy before (most notably in item #7 here), but NFL coaches are still doing this crap. I realize Childress' choice to go conservative may have seen justified when Brett Favre threw that crazy Brett Favre interception on the 3rd-down play, but by then the circumstances had changed. At that point, the Saints knew Minnesota would pass. Plus Favre then had the pressure to make a play to put the Vikings back into field goal range, whereas he could have been conservative -- and yes, I realize I'm talking about Brett Favre here -- on a pass on first or second down.

As for the overtime, the Saints can thank the wording of the instant replay policy for the win. While I've heard a lot of people bitching online and on ESPN about the refs somehow screwing the Vikings, that simply didn't happen. While the pass interference penalty on Ben Leber was questionable, so are a huge percentage of the PI calls I see during games, so that shit just happens. As for the other calls that supposedly screwed Minnesota -- the Pierre Thomas 4th-down conversion/fumble and the Robert Meachem 12-yard "catch" to put the Saints in field goal range -- these plays looked exceptionally close even after viewing several slow-motion replays, and the calls on the field went New Orleans' way. Because of that, there was basically no way the rulings would be overturned.

For starters, as I've said before, spot-of-the-ball calls are almost impossible to change, because of the vagaries of camera angles and whatnot. While it appears that Thomas' losing control of the ball pushed him back short of the 1st down, with him up in the air, we can't tell for sure. Do we know the sideline camera was completely even with the marker? Can you tell exactly where the ball should be spotted? Because the rules state that there must be "indisputable visual evidence" that the call on the field was erroneous in order for it to be overturned. That simply did not exist on the Thomas play.

The same goes for Meachem's catch. The ball can touch the ground if it is controlled by the receiver, and you simply could not tell whether Meachem's hand was underneath it as he slid across the turf. On some of the replays it looked like he didn't have control, and on some that he did, with his hand pinning the ball to his body as it hit the ground. Again, not enough evidence to overturn.

And referee Pete Morelli basically said as much. Note that following each review he said, "The ruling on the field stands," as opposed to the more-definitive "The ruling on the field is confirmed." Because the replays were inconclusive. Had Thomas been called short or Meachem's catch an incompletion, those too would have been upheld. But they weren't, and it helped the Saints reach the Super Bowl.

So where does that leave us?

Super Bowl XXVVVIIIIIIIII: Colts over Saints
I really, really want the Saints to win. I've never liked the Colts, and have already professed my love for fellow Naperville Centralite Sean Payton. Plus, how can you not root for New Orleans?

But one thing keeps ringing in my head: The Colts have now lost just once in the last 26 games they were trying to win (I'm throwing out their "We Surrender in the Name of Health" defeats at the end of this year's regular season.) That's 25-1, with the only loss being in overtime (to the Chargers) in a game in which they never got possession in the extra session. Combined with the fact that the Saints looked awfully shaky at the end of the NFC Championship, with Brees throwing wobbly passes that receivers double-clutched/bobbled/dropped, I simply can't justify picking the Colts to lose.

But I sure would love to see it.

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