Sunday, February 05, 2006

DAS UBER BOWLEN

Ah, the Super Bowl. The time every year when every sports reporter turns into an ombudsman, and all the stories are about every other sports reporter's overcoverage and undercoverage. The media turns into a giant, amorphous, asexually reproducing blob. Why? Because for god's sake, one lousy football game does not 2 weeks worth of news make, even if it's not actually a lousy game. ESPN has a hard time filling up 2 hours of actual pregame shows without resorting to gimmicks during the regular season when 14-16 games a week are happening. It's not surprising when the whole thing turns into a navel-staring contest. See look, they've even got me doing it! I've now joined the legions of "critics" pointing out media oversaturation!

Oh right, the game. I've been a big fan of Matt Hasselbeck's all season long, probably because he was my fantasy quarterback in all three leagues I was in. He's very much a right-handed Steve Young Lite, adequate arm strength, pinpoint accuracy, soft touch, nimble on his feet, and above all, decisive. His one pick in the last 6 or so games is no fluke. But all that isn't why I picked him on all my fantasy teams. Why then? Because the NFC West is home to some of the worst defenses in the NFL. And that's the dirty little secret about the Seahawks--they haven't had a convincing victory over a healthy, good team all season. It's important to consider all those adjectives in the previous sentence. Their victory over the Giants was not convincing, and had the game been played outside of Seattle, likely would have swung the other way. Their two playoff victories came over two exhausted teams. The win over Carolina was almost convincing, but jeez, Carolina was playing like their 5th string running back and only have one offensive player capable of doing anything!

But just because the Seahawks haven't yet had a convincing victory over a good team doesn't mean they are incapable of it. Their offense may have padded its stats against the underbelly of the NFL, but the fact remains that they can really move the ball. It's true; Seattle doesn't see much of the 3-4 in the NFC, but since Seattle is usually a run-first team and has one of the best offensive lines in the league, this shouldn't be a problem. Oh, and there's that Shaun Alexander guy too. I love Troy Polamalu, but if there's one thing he does, it's bite on play-action fakes. I've seen him do it many times this year against quarterbacks of much lesser quality than Hasselbeck. Why the Colts didn't try this more often is beyond me. So yeah, the Seahawks are gonna score.

Unfortunately for them, so is Pittsburgh. Lofa Tatupu aside, Seattle doesn't really have too many "plus" defenders. Pittsburgh's offensive line has been terrific in the playoffs in pass protection which will allow Ben "Drink Like a Champion" Roethlisberger the time to find open receivers. And yes, they should be open. No one in the league can cover Hines Ward in the red zone, and I don't expect Seattle to start the trend. Tatupu might be able to cover tight end Heath Miller, but if Pittsburgh calls enough running plays, Miller should be able to slip into those intermediate zones and gain 15 yards at a time like he did against Indy and Denver. To me, both Indy's and Denver's defenses are superior to Seattle's, and Pittsburgh had no problem handling them through the air and then running down clock on the ground. Of course, Pittsburgh's dirty little secret is that they haven't rushed very effectively in the playoffs and that much of their success can be attributed to 3rd down conversions, traditionally a finicky statistic that fluctuates rather randomly. In other words, they've been lucky. Like the time when Champ Bailey dropped a sure interception and it bounced into the arms of Hines Ward. Again, however, Seattle's defense doesn't pose as menacing a threat as either Denver's or Indy's.

When the game plays out in my head, I see a less drastic version of the Pittsburgh/Indy game. Pittsburgh will go up early, maybe 14-0 or 14-3, and hold that lead for a while. Seattle will mount a comeback in the second half after making adjustments and maybe cut the lead to something like 23-17 at the start of the 4th quarter. But this time Pittsburgh will punch it in instead of fumbling, making it 30-17 before Seattle scores an ultimately futile touchdown in the waning seconds. That would make it Pittsburgh 30, Seattle 24.

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