Today is superbowl sunday and while doing my best to ignore Lady Gaga and the other anti-Trump nonsense I can’t help but notice they seem to dominate the coverage, likely because most people don’t give Atlanta a chance.
Given both the history and the work ethic of the Patriots Dynasty this is not a fault likely shared by the team. They understand that in a single game anything can happen, furthermore they know that the Atlanta Offense is explosive and while the Atlanta Defense is not highly rated they were able to stop two Superbowl Champion quarterbacks in their last two games.
Despite these concessions I am picking the Patriots and the reason for that is not only their superior defense and the possession of the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, but I give the ultimate credit to Roger Goodell and deflategate.
Now I’m sure many of you are thinking that I’m referring to the revenge factor that is often the subject of stories and analysis from Rush Limbaugh on down. It’s no coincidence that the title on the Boston Herald epaper supplement on the game is titled This Time It’s Personal and to be sure that has provided some motivation for a Patriots team that frankly needs little motivation than the potential of a championship.
But Ironically Roger Goodell has (thanks to an able assist from the Patriots backups who went 3-1 during the Tom Brady suspension) given the New England Patriots the single most critical advantage in the game.
Football, despite having the shortest season of the 4 major American sports is by far the sport most conducive to injury. Every single play involves physical contact and being hit. By the end of the season its said that everyone is in pain, it’s just a question of how much. Thus if you can avoid taking repeated hits it can make a huge difference. Franco Harris might have taken grief by running out of bounds for example but as NFL.com puts it while naming him the 3rd best running back in playoff history
Harris totaled 1,556 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in the postseason. Those totals are second to only one other running back in NFL history (more on that guy later). Harris was a key component to the Steelers‘ dynasty, helping the team to four Super Bowl championships.
In Super Bowl IX, Harris rushed for 158 yards and a TD. He was named Super Bowl MVP. Harris also ran for 343 yards in that playoff stretch. That was a Steelers‘ record for rushing yards in a single postseason, until it was broken just this year by Le’Veon Bell. It’s clear that regardless of what is thought about his running style, Harris was a monster in the playoffs.
It’s also worth noting that in a 1996 profile the Baltimore sun noted that Harris was “without the disabilities of many former pro football players”, I suspect his avoidance of unnecessary hits had a lot to do with that.
Now Consider Tom Brady. while he is a dedicated, one might even say obsessive when it comes to conditioning the fact remains that he is 39 years old, an age where the vast majority of players have been safely retired rather than putting impossible numbers (28 TD vs 2 Int this season) playing for their fifth ring in seven tries and finishing 2nd in the MVP vote to his opposite number Matt Ryan of the Falcons.
Brady may be spotting Matt Ryan 8 years and the MVP award but thanks to Roger Goodell Brady has one thing that Matt Ryan does not: Four extra games / weeks of rest, four weeks of not getting hit by opposing linemen, four weeks of not being chased out of the pocket and four weeks of not hitting the ground hard. Brady is four weeks fresher, four weeks stronger and four weeks less in pain.
Furthermore thanks to the suspension both of his backups have been tested by fire and rest assured if something happens and Brady goes down you can be sure Bill Belichick will be ready with an offensive scheme designed for Jimmy Garoppolo’s strengths based just on practice but on game experience against actual NFL competition.
None of this is possible without Roger Goodell’s over the top excessive punishment of Brady and the Patriots for their Deflategate sins, so if Brady, Belichick and Robert Kraft take the podium as I suspect they will, they should thank Roger Goodell for making sure their 39 year old QB was one month fresher than the other guy.