Saturday, October 27, 2007

We'll do things a little different this week, because I have to respond to Chris's latest defense of the Patriots. I consider it quite amazing that he's gone from being "embarrassed" but annoyed with the media in week one (a reasonable opinion for a Patriots fan) to being so defensive about the situation that he's actually now feeling the need to dispute points coming out of the only national columnist I know of who hadn't fallen back in love with the Patriots by week 3. Now I won't be suckered into trying to defend TMQ, which is clearly just being sensationalistic for sensationalism's sake, but I will (as always) try to present a third-party fan's take on the arguments made, using the Packers as a third data point when appropriate.

The Good Stuff About the Colts
Sportsmanship - There are plenty of other high-class organizations out there, so it's a poor argument by TMQ. However, Chris, I don't believe you can honestly tell me that bringing up an argument to the rules committee in the offseason about them enforcing an already-existing rule is at the same level of "poor sportsmanship" as willfully breaking a rule to gain a competitive advantage (no matter how small that advantage might actually have been).
Honesty - As far as I can tell, the Packers are just as honest or dishonest as the Colts, as well as most of the other teams in the league that haven't been wrapped up in recent controversy. Not a great argument.
Modesty - Again, the Packers have as few showboats as the Colts. Not a great argument.
Devotion to Community - All teams do a lot of charity work. Really stupid argument.
Embrace of Traditional Small-Town Life - I agree with Chris, only Green Bay and Buffalo are privilege to this honor.
Belief in Higher Power - Too stupid to comment on.
Love of Laughter - Ditto
"Through prior years of postseason frustration, they never complained or pointed the finger outside their team" - Another stupid argument.

The Bad Stuff About the Pats

Dishonesty, Cheating - See above, for Sportsmanship. Chris isn't directly disputing this point anyway so I'll leave it at that.
Arrogance - Chris, I think you're confusing arrogant behaviors with arrogant statements. No coach that's intelligent enough to make it into the NFL (let's conveniently ignore Jerry Glanville for the moment) is going to actually make arrogant statements, and Belichick is no exception. My guess is that he plays up the opponent for the same reason every other coach does - elimination of "bulletin board" material, not to set some high-minded example. Neither one of us knows how much this sentiment is continued behind closed doors for the Pats or anyone else, but again, the point is not what he actually "says". It's that his pattern of actions is consistent with an arrogant individual (see below). I consider this a valid point.
Hubris - From my perspective, the Patriots' behavior is an absolutely perfect example of modern day hubris. Now, the term itself is an ancient one that doesn't have any exact synonyms in English (including "arrogance"), and I don't think the definition does it justice. See wikipedia for a decent description. The most important point here is that the Patriots were already coming from a position of extreme power. Achilles was unquestionably the greatest hero of the Trojan war, and the Patriots were unquestionably the most talented team in the league. Yet both felt the need to break the rules rather than let their skills talk for themselves. This, plus the running-up-the-score angle (which I won't argue about here - perhaps a topic for another time), make it a truly appropriate characterization.
Endless Complaining Even in Success - Because he didn't give specific examples of this particular trait, I can't support TMQ here.

So, in summary, the stripped down argument basically amounts to "Patriots = arrogant, Colts (like everyone else in the league) = not so arrogant)" which is the same thing we've been hearing since week one. Not exactly something worth headlining a column with. However, TMQ has been making some good points which get lost because Easterbrook mixes them in with the crazy, attention-grabbing "good vs. evil" premise. Here's a section from the original article with my "neutral observer" comments thrown in:

Argument for the New England Patriots as scoundrels in the service of that which is baleful: Dishonesty, cheating, arrogance, hubris, endless complaining even in success. The Patriots have three Super Bowl rings, but that jewelry is tarnished by their cheating scandal. They run up the score to humiliate opponents -- more on that below -- thus mocking sportsmanship. Their coach snaps and snarls in public, seeming to feel contempt for the American public that has brought him wealth and celebrity. Victory seems to give Bill Belichick no joy, and defeat throws him into fury. Belichick and the rest of the top of the Patriots' organization continue to refuse to answer questions about what was in the cheating tapes -- and generally, you refuse to answer questions if you have something to hide. The team has three Super Bowl triumphs, yet its players regularly whine about not being revered enough. The team's star, Tom Brady, is a smirking celebrity-chaser who dates actresses and supermodels but whose public charity appearances are infrequent. That constant smirk on Brady's face reminds one of Dick Cheney; people who smirk are fairly broadcasting the message, "I'm hiding something." The Patriots seem especially creepy at this point because we still don't know whether they have told the full truth about the cheating scandal -- or even whether they really have stopped cheating. They say they have, but their word is not exactly gold at this juncture. Ladies and gentlemen, representing Evil, the New England Patriots. [A bunch of half-cooked generalizations - nothing here worth keeping, as far as I'm concerned]

In the Good vs. Evil narrative of the Colts and Pats, running up the score is a telling factor: It reveals a team's sportsmanship or lack of same, and whether a team shows sportsmanship in public might offer insights into its character in private. New England is scoring so many points the Patriots offense looks like cherries and oranges spinning on a slot machine. The Flying Elvii stand plus-159 in net points, by far the best scoring margin in the NFL. This is supposed to be impressive. But I think it's creepy, and New England's creepy on-field behavior is only underscoring the seediness of the Beli-Cheat scandal. [Our debate today isn't about running up the score, so I'll leave this be]

... various examples of running up the score are then cited ...

Yes, you can find games the Colts have won by a big margin in recent years, and yes, Manning was on the field through the fourth quarter at Jacksonville last night. But in that quarter, the Colts mainly ran to grind the clock: If they had wanted to win by more, they likely could have. As for New England's running up the score, supposedly the Patriots are angry about the Beli-Cheat scandal and are scoring points like crazy to express their anger against the world. Wait a moment: What right do the Patriots have to be angry? They, after all, are the ones who admitted to systematic cheating. Other people didn't impose that situation on them -- they cheated of their own free accord, imposing the tainting of their accomplishments on themselves. The Patriots were not wronged; they wronged others. Yet they're mad about being caught, and they seem to want to take out their bad feelings about themselves by embarrassing second-echelon teams. [This, in my opinion, is a very valid point, although of course TMQ expresses it too strongly by throwing around words like "systematic" and "tainting"] That bespeaks lack of character. That's Dark Side. That's Evil. [See what I meant by going too far?]

Suppose New England's version of events is true -- that Belichick is a fine person who made an honest mistake about rules that seemed clearly written to everyone else but somehow were confusing to him and that he regrets his honest mistake. If this were so, wouldn't Belichick be attempting to convince the world he is a good guy by showing sportsmanship at every turn? Instead, he is raising his middle finger to the rest of the NFL, to the sporting media, even to the NFL fans who made his wealth and celebrity possible. If he were a misunderstood man who regrets an honest mistake, wouldn't he be candid and open in public because making his life an open book would convince us he's sorry for what he did? Instead, in public, Belichick continues to glare, stonewall and act offended that mere mortals dare to address him. There is not the slightest hint that Belichick is sorry for what he did -- only sorry he got caught. Innocent people falsely accused crave the recovery of their reputation, working hard to convince the world they are good. Creepy people who think they can get away with something act belligerent and show poor sportsmanship, which is what Belichick is doing right now. [More excellent points beneath the flowery language]

Since Belichick took over the Patriots and began the franchise's remarkable run, he and his team have been praised, praised, praised, praised, praised, praised, praised, praised, praised, praised, praised; criticized when it was discovered New England had engaged in what commissioner Roger Goodell himself called "a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition"; then -- after about a week of criticism -- praised, praised, praised. [Still good]
This is not a sequence of experiences that would leave an honorable person angry at the world. Yet Belichick acts that way, and he appears to be encouraging anger in his players, which is itself unsportsmanlike. [Whoops, went too far again, I don't believe that Belichick is honestly angry with the world, or actively encouraging that sentiment in his players]

Perhaps you can say in Belichick's defense that the modern American ethos encourages us all to feel sorry for ourselves -- so much so that even someone to whom football has brought wealth, celebrity and Super Bowl rings can tell himself he's a victim. [Ugh, lets not get altruistic here- it's never good to bring "American ethos" into any conversation] Perhaps you can say in Belichick's defense that claiming victim status is a solid psychological ploy for the New England players -- who are not to blame for their coach's cheating, which they most likely did not know was happening. [I believe this is where you stand, Chris] The New England players still might suffer some long-term harm from the cheating, though: Given the image New England is projecting, would you want Patriots' players endorsing your product? [I don't know where he's going with this, considering he's already stated that the media is back in love with the team]

But if the Patriots are unfairly maligned, why the whole screw-you act they are staging? If the Patriots were unfairly maligned, they'd be trying hard to convince us their hearts are pure, and that distinctly is not what they are doing. Sure, many New England players are awesome performers: Both of Moss' touchdown catches Sunday came when he was double-teamed; the Flying Elvii offensive line was flawless again; Mike Vrabel, waived by Pittsburgh, might be the best linebacker in the NFL. But if the Patriots are so awesome they don't need to cheat, then why were they cheating in Week 1? The whole situation remains creepy. Should New England continue on and win the Super Bowl without a major attitude shift toward nice-guy behavior -- and should the year end without the NFL's ever explaining what New England evidence it destroyed or why -- there could be a huge amount of cynicism about this NFL season. Cynicism doesn't sell a sports product, nor is it what the NFL should be marketing to the young. [Even when taken down off the soapbox ("Won't somebody please think of the children?!"), this is kinda valid. If the Patriots win the super bowl, it's going to be a big fat downer for 95% of the NFL fans on earth. And we might just grow a little more jaded regarding the league in general.]

That's why the Pats at Colts game Nov. 4 so clearly represents Good vs. Evil. The Colts stand for everything the NFL, and sports enthusiasts, should be proud of. The Colts stand for a positive future for the NFL. The Patriots stand for -- well, wouldn't it be nice if the Patriots would explain to us what they stand for. When Good meets Evil, I know who I'll be rooting for. [Of course, we have to end with some hyperbole]

So, what can I say to wrap things up? I think if you're a New England fan, you should be content to either ignore the few corners of the internet that aren't back to heaping praise on the Pats, or embrace the evil empire role. You're already the member of one evil empire*, the one the Red Sox have created in baseball, and you might as well stay consistent.

NO at SF: NO

*And no, I'm not saying the Sox are "evil" in the same sense that the Patriots are "arrogant", so you don't need to rebut this. It's just that the Red Sox have become the Yankees, and Manny Ramirez is the single greatest example of what's wrong with modern day players.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It's bye week time for the Packers, and yet somehow, the NFL world continues to turn:

BAL at BUF. Right now Vegas has 3:2 odds on Willis McGahee not making it out of Buffalo alive. Upset special. BUF.

TEN at HOU. I don't know if Vince Young is playing or not, but the mere threat of 4 quarters worth of Kerry Collins is enough to make me go the other way. HOU.

TB at DET. Here, we have two teams that would be about 2-4 at this point if they were in the AFC. It's also "the league's premier matchup of quarterbacks who best straddle the line between washed-up and never-has-been". TB.

ARI at WAS. Santana Moss took himself out of the Packers game last week, not because of an injury, but because of how badly he was stinking up the place. I hope Dan Snyder follows suit and removes himself from the stadium this week. WAS.

SF at NYG. I have nothing to say here, so that seems to indicate GIDCAOTW. NYG.

ATL at NO. I think someone should start a petition to change Byron Leftwich's preferred moniker from "the black Dan Marino" to "the bad Dan Marino". We're colorblind here at Mount Athos. NO.

NE at MIA. Ok, I've tried to force the Dolphins into an upset special the past two weeks, and despite some decent performances, they've failed me each time. I'll try to use some reverse voodoo here and pick the Patriots, in secret hopes that a shocker is pulled off. NE.

KC at OAK. Yuck. The last time this matchup was relevant was when the Chiefs were playing Martyball and the Raiders were playing AlDavisIsLosingTouchWithRealityball (A.K.A. "Any passes less than 40 years downfield are strictly prohibited!"). OAK.

NYJ at CIN. I'm having a bit of fun imagining theses two teams with their quarterbacks transposed. In that scenario, the Jets may actually be a playoff-caliber team, and the Bengals would be a crime against nature. Also, I'm fairly sure that Chad Johnson would have killed Pennington by this point, after one too many "I was wide open 20 yards downfield"/I told you, I can't throw it that far!" exchanges. CIN.

MIN at DAL. Viking fans should be acting like their doctor just told them they have six months to live: enjoy every minute you have of a healthy Adrian Peterson, because there aren't many left. DAL.

CHI at PHI. Speaking of Peterson's breakout, aren't players regarded as the "best linebacker in the history of the universe, or any other universe, come to think of it" supposed to stop things like that from happening? Brian, look at me when I'm talking to you! PHI.

STL at SEA. I get sick everytime I think about how little the Seahawks have to do to win their division every year. SEA.

PIT at DEN. Well, at least the Rockies are doing well... PIT.

IND at JAX. It's time for the annual "biggest game of the last decade" for the Jags, where they have a chance to move from "good" to "contender" status, a game which they invariably lose. So why am I getting suckered in here? JAX.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My weekend has been consumed with putting up a fence in the backyard (yes, it is as exciting as it sounds!), so unfortunately it's abbreviated picks only this week:

MIN at CHI: MIN. Upset special I.
MIA at CLE: MIA. Upset special II.
WAS at GB: GB.
CAR at AZ: AZ.
NE at DAL: NE.
OAK at SD: SD.
NYG at ATL: NYG. GIDCAOTW - I'm sure ESPN is thrilled to see this one....

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I'll get right on to business this week...

JAX at KC: This is exactly the kind of game the up-and-down jags always find a way to lose, but I just cannot imagine the Chiefs with a winning record. JAX.

AZ at STL: If NFL Quarterbacks were Jelly Belly flavors, Gus Ferotte would be Buttered Popcorn. AZ.

ATL at TEN: If NFL Quarterbacks were Jelly Belly flavors, Joey Harrington would be Tutti-Frutti. TEN.

CLE at NE: I love how ESPN played the "We're outraged that the Patriots are cheaters!" angle for exactly one week before resuming their lovefest for the team that just happens to be right down the road from Bristol. Don't be surprised that any continued dissenting voices (pronouced: TMQ )become incapacitated by mysterious "accidents" in the near future. NE.

CAR at NO: One of those games where I feel like my chances would be better if I just didn't pick a winner. However, NO.

NYJ at NYG: If the Jets couldn't beat Buffalo in a game they really needed last week, what chance do they have against the 8-8-bound Giants? I'm starting to think that Tom Coughlin will somehow do just enough to get invited back for another year, thus guaranteeing the Giant's wont be good for another year. NYG.

SEA at PIT: Two winning teams, so what? GIDCAOTW. PIT.

DET at WAS: Anyone remember the last time Detroit played on the road against an NFC West opponent? WAS.

MIA at HOU: Crap, used my GIDCAOTW too early. Miami's going to win one sometime...egh...upset special...although I'm not exactly confidant about it. MIA.

TB at IND: Like I said after stupidly picking against Indy in week one, you should never pick against the Colts at home. IND.

SD at DEN: Norv certainly hasn't disappointed me this year, but Denver is a just-plain-bad team, and Mike Shanahan needs his comeuppance, 5-11 style. SD.

BAL at SF: If you told me that, regardless of whether the Ravens were going with Steve McNair or Kyle Boller, they'd have the quarterbacking edge in this weeks matchup, I would not believe you. BAL.

CHI at GB: I'm kinda disappointed that Chris has started regularly picking the Packers, even though I'm sure it's tearing him up inside. I really liked getting that extra game up on him every week - it almost made up for the pains I endured during the 4-12 season. GB.

DAL at BUF: I'm actually enjoying the Monday Night announcing team this year, for the first time in forever. I think that "forever" just happens to coincide with Joe Theisman's run on the show, shockingly enough. DAL.