Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thick-Necked Cliche Machines

It’s time for the FreeTime NFL playoff predictions!

While other “analysts” and “experts” try to predict who will “win” the “games”, we go about things a little differently here at FreeTime. That is because we have no idea who will win the games. This is a league, after all, in which the 5/6 seed has won two of the last four Super Bowls, and four of the last twelve.

Bengals-Jets: who knows? Pats-Ravens: you got me. Cowboys-Eagles: beats my two pair. Packers-Cardinals: seriously, I’m not kidding, I have no idea.

But I can confidently predict that an army of large, thick-necked men of limited vocabulary will appear on your television screens over the next month loudly and emphatically spouting cliches that have no basis in established fact.

Here are some of the things you'll hear:

"Defense Wins in the Playoffs, Boom."
This statement is absolutely true…except when it’s not. Since 1970, 15 top-ranked defenses have appeared in the Super Bowl. But 17 top-ranked offenses have appeared. In the same time period, 42 top-five defenses have played in the Super Bowl, while 45 top-five offenses got there.

For every Super Bowl Champion that relied mostly on defense to win (02 Bucs, 00 Ravens), I can name a Super Bowl Champion that relied mostly on offense (99 Rams, 06 Colts). Super Bowl champions, except for the rare exceptions like the four in this paragraph, are teams that are very good on both sides of the ball.

Bonus FreeTime Trivia question: only 3 Super Bowl champs have finished the season #1 in offense and defense. Name them (answer below).

(Hat tip to Arrow Head Addict)

"JB, Momentum is Really Important in the Playoffs."
Last year the Cardinals lost 4 of their last 6, and were blown out in 3 of those losses. They went on to beat the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles in the playoffs and came within a spectacular Santonio Holmes catch of winning the Super Bowl. The 2007 Giants went 4-4 in the 2nd half and lost 2 of their last 3 games, including a home game against the non-playoff Redskins. They won the Super Bowl.

Oh, and everyone who thinks the Jets are a lock against the Bengals because they blew them out 37-0 last week, consider this: The Eagles destroyed the Cardinals 48-20 in Week 13 last year. Naturally, they lost to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game two months later.

"As you know, Terry, experience is Really Important in the Playoffs."
On February 3, 2002, Tom Brady walked on the field for Super Bowl XXXV. He was an NFL rookie. It was his 17th NFL start. He started the season on the Patriot’s bench and was only starting because of an injury to Drew Bledsoe. The vast majority of his teammates had zero rings on their fingers. The Patriots won the Super Bowl.

On February 4, 2008, Tom Brady walked on the field for Super Bowl XLII. He was an NFL veteran. He’d had over 100 NFL starts. He was a 3-time Super Bowl winner, a 2-time Super Bowl MVP, that season’s MVP, and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Most of his teammates had extensive playoff experience and some had multiple Super Bowl rings. The Patriots lost the Super Bowl.

In fact, since 2001 every Super Bowl has been won by a QB appearing in their very first Super Bowl, except for Brady’s 2nd and 3rd, and Roethlisberger’s 2nd. And Roethlisberger’s 2nd was won by a rookie head coach. The head coaches of all those winners (again, except for Belichick), were appearing in their first Super Bowl.

"Special Teams is the Key, Cris."
Yeah, special teams is the key, way more important than scoring points on offense and preventing them on defense. This is too stupid for me to even refute with statistics but I do guarantee these words will be uttered at some point this month. I can, however, explain why people can’t stop themselves from uttering this stupidity once in a while.

Special teams are usually boring, predictable, and uneventful. Punts are rarely returned more than 10 yards, and kick-offs rarely more than 30. Short field goals tend to go in and longer ones are a little sketchier. But every once in a while a kickoff is returned for a touchdown or a field goal is blocked and because that is so unusual it is given more importance than the 120 plays that occurred that day.

But if special teams were so important, they wouldn't put all the backups there.

"In the playoffs..."
What all of the above nonsense has in common is the idea that playoff football is demonstrably different than regular season football. Oh sure, the rules are the same and the field is the same and the scoring is the same and the players are the same and the officials are the same and the equipment is the same…but it’s the playoffs. And different things matter in the playoffs.

Now I’m willing to concede that these thick-necked mastodons have actually played in the playoffs, whereas I mostly watch them on television and occasionally from Section 303 in Giants Stadium. But it seems to me that playoff games work out pretty much the same ways as regular season games. Sometimes it’s a blowout, sometimes its close. Sometimes a handful of big plays are decisive, sometimes it’s a long grind of a game. Sometimes teams win by throwing it 50 times and sometimes they win with a committed ground attack. Sometimes there are dramatic comebacks and sometimes there aren’t. Line play, a balanced offensive attack, putting pressure on the quarterback, turnovers – these things that are so important in regular season games are also important in playoff games.

So whenever you hear the announcer preface any observation with “In the playoffs….” put your b.s. monitor on alert. Oh, and one more thing: take the Packers and the points.

Trivia answer: 72 Dolphins, 89 Niners, and 96 Packers

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