Friday, February 04, 2005

The Mighty, Mighty Smug Patriots

We will not go quietly into the night.
We will not vanish without a fight.
We're going to live on.
We're going to survive.

As an Eagles’ season ticket holder, it has been an admittedly rough two weeks. From the very instant the Eagles crushed the Falcons, the nation’s press and airwaves have been filled with hagiographic stories- every one of them weeping as they describe the lustrous virtues of the Patriots- while admitting Andy Reid seems like a nice person.

But here and there you find us. We’re hunted, laughed at. Darryl Johnston on Fox. Mike Vaccaro in the NY Post. A small, select few that are willing to say publicly- hey, wait a minute...

It seems so long ago the Eagles’ were rolling along- crushing teams week after week- by two or three scores. Now all we hear is kvetching about the inferiority of the Vikings and the incompetence of the thirteen-win Falcons.

As always, Las Vegas is happy to serve the population of this wondrous fantasyland
- giving the 15-1 Eagles seven points. Not even the respect of the reverse hook, that 6.5 points, huh guys?

Did you know, the week before the championship games, you could have bet the Patriots- and given just four- anticipating a potential match up with Philadelphia? And that was with TO probably not playing!

Four. Four? Four!

The line has not even budged on news of TO not only playing Sunday, but also moving surprisingly well. Why?

The Super Bowl spread is different than the regular season. The line, in October say, is an honest attempt to attract money on both sides of the number- balancing the opinions of a fairly sophisticated clientele with access to a lot of information and outlooks. The -4 spread of two weeks ago was a similar exercise.

The current -7 line simply reflects the more unsophisticated money- of which there is a ton Super Bowl Sunday- running where it always does- to the glamorous favorite (see the Rams ridiculous -12 over the Patriots a few years ago). I assure you, Vegas is in the business of making them pay for their terrible optimism and ignorance.

Honestly, I think you have to be an idiot to take the Patriots and the points here. Either play Eagles or sit it out. You are giving three “bonus points” just to get action- and that is just dumb. Yes, the Patriots are super. But this is not like the spreads the Eagles faced against the Vikings and Falcons- where if you were confident the Eagles would play well- there was no way Philadelpia could not cover.

As I wrote in my two previews below (A Prescription For Victory: Part One & Part TO), I am confident the Eagles defense will keep the Patriots to a number within striking distance. The Eagles can absolutely cover these Patriot wide outs; Trotter and gang will not get pushed around down low like Pittsburgh. Philadelphia got pressure on Vick and Culpepper, they can get pressure here. Tom Brady’s one defined weakness is that his quarterback rating falls 25 points when blitzed (to somewhere around 80!)- probably due to his immobility and his mediocre wide outs. Well Tom, heads up, here they come. Freak’s gonna eat you all up.

I am not sure the offense can do much. But Westbrook will be a huge problem for them on first down, McNabb will punish them for every screw up, and the Eagles will not turn it over. As wild cards go, TO situation is the best possible one you could have. Even for thirty plays at 75%, TO adds a top-notch receiver the Patriots probably have to double cover- leaving Westbrook in some awful match up or McNabb unattended. Greg Lewis is blossoming right in fornt of our eyes. Since I imagine the Eagles will have zero or one turnovers at the end, the Patriots probably cannot get the required seven, so I am taking Philadelphia and the points.

Now, I write this last part with some trepidation. To add some credibility to it, I would remind folks I am 8-1 ATS over the past four years. I have picked against the Eagles in some big spots. But, as the week goes on, I feel increasingly confident. This is a winnable game- or at least a toss up.

First, forget the -7; it ought to be the line from two weeks ago- somewhere around a field goal. The Eagles are designed to upset a team in this spot- no turnovers, no dumb penalties, and a sixty minute war on defense. All the physicality of Pittsburgh up front on offense with none of the quarterback blunders and gaffes. The Eagles are going to bring intelligence and discipline and physicality- I am not sure if the Pats have seen that lately. At least they did not against either Pittsburgh or Indianapolis.

Reid is 9-0 with the extra week to prepare- and he will prepare the quarterback pressure and coherent passing attack the Patriots are vulnerable to at times. Listen: in his entire career, Brady has not seen the pressure, discipline and coverage excellence he’s going to see Sunday. Donovan almost enjoys the pocket breaking down; Brady does not. That 25-point decline in quarterback rating suggests he is a different quarterback with people with bad attitudes in his face. We will see for real if he’s a Hall of Fame passer when getting smacked. I am confident the Eagles will get beat it will be at the hands of their strengths.

I picked against Philadelphia against St. Louis and Carolina in two of the last three championship games. Frank sends this message to the people of Philadelphia- wearied by the relentless negative tone of the liberal mainstream media: Stout Hearts! We are going to win Sunday.