It has become almost chic to pick the New York Giants to upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. For instance, Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman--who normally handicaps games in a very analytical fashion--eschewed logic and picked the Giants based on little more than their road winning streak and what he frankly calls a "hunch." Last I checked, the Patriots have a bit of a winning streak going, too, including a win against these very Giants in the last game of the regular season. That was the game of the year and both coaching staffs deserve credit for the way that they handled a game that was "meaningless" in terms of postseason seeding. It is not a stretch to say that the Giants rode the momentum from their strong performance all the way to the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, despite the fact that they had a double digit lead and despite the fact that they played very well, it is worth remembering that the Giants lost to the Patriots.
That New England-New York game was contested outdoors in the winter elements. The Patriots scored 38 points anyway but late in the season their offense has been stymied a bit--at least compared to the numbers they posted previously--by playing in windy, cold and/or snowy conditions. New England's defense can be effective in any environment but the balmy conditions at the Super Bowl will help to unleash their offense, for which home field did not really provide an advantage in the first two playoff games. It is true that New England's three previous Super Bowl victories were all tightly contested but those Patriot teams did not have the kind of offensive attack that these Patriots do. On a big stage like the Super Bowl, the game can get out of hand quickly. In Super Bowl XXII, Denver took a 10-0 lead over Washington and then lost 42-10. I don't doubt that the Giants can keep things close initially and maybe even strike first blood but without weather as an ally it is hard to believe that they can keep New England's offense under wraps for four quarters. It is also hard to believe that an 18-0 team coached by Bill Belichick that has two weeks to prepare for a game will not perform at its best.
Although there have been a lot of stories written and broadcast about New England's amazing season, I still think that it is fair to say that the media spends so much time following Tony Romo around, looking for reasons to bash Terrell Owens and speculating about Tom Brady's boot that it has literally taken its eyes off of the ball. The game--the competition--is ultimately what the NFL season and the Super Bowl are all about. The NFL is structured to create parity and to prevent one team--or a small group of teams--from dominating year in and year out; the best teams one year get the toughest schedules and lowest draft picks the next year. It is not uncommon to see NFL teams go from worst to first or vice versa from one season to the next. In this environment, it is nothing short of remarkable that the Patriots have already won three Super Bowls in four years, that they are poised to win their fourth title in seven years and that they stormed through 18 straight games without a loss. This type of success is literally legislated against in the NFL--and yet Bill Belichick's Patriots have actually been down a similar road before: in the process of winning back to back championships in 2003 and 2004, the Patriots won 21 straight games. That is something that has really not been emphasized enough: this is the second time that Belichick has coached an NFL team to at least 18 straight wins. Perhaps the media struggles to place this accomplishment in its proper context because so many writers and broadcasters spent years underestimating and denigrating Belichick. Remember when conventional wisdom suggested that Bill Belichick was out of his depth as a head coach and that all he had done during his career was ride the coattails of Bill Parcells? Belichick has torn that "theory" to shreds but it is also worth noting that Parcells was a mediocre coach when he did not have Belichick on his staff: Parcells' record with Belichick is 117-73-1, while his record without Belichick is 55-57. Parcells won both of his Super Bowls with Belichick at his side and the year that he coached New England to a Super Bowl loss was the only year that Belichick was on his staff there. In seven seasons coaching without Belichick, Parcells never won a playoff game. In fact, Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns to a playoff victory--the most recent one for the Browns--in 1994 over Parcells' Patriots.
Long past the time that it should have been obvious that Belichick had been a major asset for Parcells, many members of the media were still reluctant to give Belichick the credit that he is due. Remember when the "experts" said that the Patriots would not be able to withstand the losses of coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis? That was an ironic twist considering that when Belichick was a coordinator for Parcells he was not considered indispensable by the media--though it should be obvious that he played a much more important role for Parcells than the departed Crennel and Weis later played for him.
The most recent attempt to not give Belichick his due credit is the so-called Spygate situation, which has to be one of the most overblown stories in NFL history. Hall of Famer Howie Long and his fellow Fox network commentator, Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson, have both stated that the kind of videotaping of signals that the Patriots did is widespread throughout the league. Long does not justify this conduct but says that it is hypocritical of the league to only go after New England and not try to investigate similar actions by other teams. Whatever the Patriots did during the first half of the first game of the season, it is not going on now and had nothing to do with all of the games that they won.
The Patriots will beat the Giants 38-17, crowning one of the greatest seasons in sports history. Hopefully, the media will get Belichick's story right this time; they sure have had enough practice getting it wrong.