I’m a football addict. Someday, my poor wife will have to deal with losing me for, oh, a good 12 Sundays every autumn and winter.
It’s not that bad, though; I’m actually good at office football pools. I took my Wonderful Girlfriend out to a nice dinner after I won one a few weeks ago. If I can pick the scores weekly and win, or come close to it, every time, then I must be able to pick the Super Bowl winner, right? Right?
Usually I like the underdog. I think that comes from being a Broncos fan through the ’80s and most of the ’90s; all those lost Super Bowls will get to ya after a while. But, strangely, we seem to have *two* underdogs this year. Those scrappy Panthers are definitely underdogs. But so are those no-name Patriots. Both teams played well throughout the season, but they were expected to be knocked out by bigger teams like the Colts and Rams and Chiefs and Eagles. So there’s really no underdog to root for here.
Were I an NFL team owner, I’d want to own a team like with an offense like the Panthers’. I just love the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach. But I also love the exotic and confusing blitzes the Pats run; that’s the kind of defense I’d love to see. Financially, I like the way the Patriots run their organization, spending on a few key leaders and bringing in role players elsewhere. It’s rare these days that a team can reach the Super Bowl without entering salary cap hell” but the boys from Foxboro have pulled it off. Sentimentally, thus, it’s a Patriots pick for me.
But how about the matchups? The Patriots’ offense should do tolerably well against the Panthers’ defense. The Cats are great at stopping teams, but the Pats just depend on quick four-yard slants that don’t give defenses time to react. The Panthers can force third and three or four, but the Patriots’ offense is built around working with that. When the Pats do get stopped, Vinatieri is a clutch kicker who can score from real distances.
On the other side of the field, I have serious worries about the Panthers’ offense. Delhomme has dealt well with the complex safety and corner blitzes you see a lot in the NFC, but those mostly come out of distinct formations while the Patriots use one formation for both cover and blitz plays, and throw a lot of delays in to mix things up. This kind of new approach is a good way to rattle an inexperienced quarterback, and Delhomme has thrown a fair number of interceptions. Kasay has better numbers during the year than Vinatieri but is not as proven a clutch performer and is in the twilight of his career, so the Panthers can’t rely on field goals to win it.
Thus the Patriots can score, if not a lot, and the Panthers will have a lot of trouble. Perhaps in the fourth quarter the smaller New England lines will tire out, but I believe the Patriots will have built up a substantial lead by then. While Carolina will mount a couple of good late-game drives, they’ll still lose. *Patriots 26, Panthers 20*.
We’ll see how I did tomorrow.