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Super Bowl Observations

A tip of the hat to some great predictions and final thoughts on one of the best games ever.

Predictions

In the warm after glow of a Super Bowl victory, I started looking for content about the game and tired to figure out how the Eagles finally won the game. I found three sources from before the game that provided truly amazing predictions about the game, each one based one different kinds of methodologies: superstition, mathematical probability, and, actual football knowledge.

The Good

Brandon Anderson did a funny prediction of the Super Bowl based on many of the same techniques used by the people with $2 tickets at the races. Put enough of these “signs” from above, and you walk away with empty pockets, while looking over your shoulders for Frank and Lucky, your bookie’s enforcers. Instead, I read his story with 20–20 hindsight and couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement that all the stars had aligned in favor of the Eagles.

The Bad

Bill Platschke is a five-time AP National Sports Columnist of the year who writes for the L.A. Times. As a columnist, his writing can elicit strong emotions when he writes about inspiring stories about the lives of people involved in sports. But the greatest emotion he creates is a sense of joy among gamblers.

His consistent ability to pick the wrong team — in any sport — is amazing. I first recognized this skill in 2006, during UCLA’s last run to the NCAA Finals. Throughout March Madness, he picked against the Bruins in every game, except the final one. Before the championship, he wrote a column that sounded very much like Brandon’s story and claimed that his hodgepodge of hocus pocus would have more effect on the game than the utter dominance of Florida’s front court consisting of three of the top 9 picks in the 2007 NBA draft (#3 Horford, #7 Brewer, and #9 Noah).

On the morning of the game, Platschke wrote a column in which he picked the Eagles to win, basically because he hates the Patriots and he likes the fact that the Philadelphia coach hustles his squad of meetings to eat ice cream, the Eagles owner danced in the locker room and defensive end Chris Long donated his entire salary this season to charity.

But then he did something that no talking head ever does. He admitted that he is almost always wrong:

In my 21 years of covering this game, I have publicly predicted 18 Super Bowls and have been correct three times, and it’s even worse than it sounds.

In one stretch, I missed 11 consecutive predictions. I’ve picked the Buffalo Bills three years in a row. I’ve picked the Atlanta Falcons both times they lost. I picked San Diego Chargers when they lost by 45.

My record is so bad that I’ve been told numerous times that bettors looking for an edge consider my failure to be their savior. I’m guessing I’ve made a lot of money over the years, just none of it for me.

Bill Simmons is famous picking against his own team, so that the football gods don’t punish him for his arrogance. But he is doing it on purpose. Platshcke, on the other hand, is clueless. So when he apologized to Philadelphia fans for a prediction that would assure the Eagles’ doom, he did so with complete sincerity. This, of course, created the most powerful reverse jinx in the history of sports writing, and should have emboldened me to bet the house on the Eagles and the points.

The Ugly

The Ringer’s NFL podcasts are always excellent. They feature former GM Mike Lombardi, who has worked for years with Bill Belichick. His knowledge of football is immense and his preview of the Super Bowl contained a number of points that revealed the ugly truth about the Patriots defense, talking about the following points:

  1. The Eagle’s offensive tackle is just as fast as the Patriots linebacker.
  2. The Run Pass Option run by Nick Foles and the Eagles doesn’t allow the Patriots to use exotic schemes (i.e. they can’t bring in 8 defensive backs because they have to defend the run).
  3. The Eagles offense that doesn’t depend on one superstar, so Belichick will have difficulty in taking away their number one option.
  4. The wheel route will put the Patriots in big trouble, because their linebackers can’t cover the Eagles backs.

Hidden Gem

Also in that podcast, Lombardi and his co-host Tate Frazier discussed the idea of position-less football and unwittingly predicted the most memorable play of the game:

Lombardi: The Eagles’ offense is very similar to the future of football because it’s unpredictable… As we go further into football, you’re going to see positions aren’t going to matter… But where the Eagles have generated this hard to defend (offense), is because their tight ends are really receivers, their receivers are really runners, the runners are really receivers, so there’s really just skill players…

You can call Zach Ertz a tight end, great… he ain’t a tight end, he’s really a highly skilled at tight end.

Frazier: Same with Trey Burton…

Trey Burton could be a quarterback, he can do everything

Lombardi: Can you imagine the game if Deshaun Watson… say the Houston Texans had two Deshaun Watsons…

one time, he’s the quarter back, one time, he’s the receiver…

Can you imagine that kind of game? Now it would take a lot of creativity by the offensive coordinator to do it.

Trey Burton was, in fact, recruited by Urban Meyer to play quarterback at the University of Florida. And the Eagles were only the second team to attempt this play in the Super Bowl, as the Patriots attempted a similar play with Tom Brady a few minutes earlier.

Game Observations

This was the second greatest Super Bowl in history, based on the following criteria:

  1. The game was not decided by terrible calls (or non-calls) by the refs. So that eliminates Steelers-Cardinals (at least three illegal blocks on the James Harrison pick six return at the end of the first half), and the Patriots-Rams games (in a documentary I saw, one Patriots defensive back confessed that they held the Rams receivers on every play in the first half, knowing that the refs would be reluctant to interfere).
  2. The game was not decided by a field goal. Forget game managers and playing the percentages. Forget about Giants-Bills, and other games decided by field goals. The greatest endings happen when the last team with the ball has to score a touchdown.
  3. One team did not choke badly when the game was on the line. I want my champion to be the better team, not the one who choked less. That eliminates the Patriots-Falcons, Patriots-Seahawks, and Steelers-Cowboys (where HOF tight end Jackie Smith was wide open in the end zone and dropped a perfect pass).

My rankings:

  1. The Longest Yard — Titans receiver Kevin Dyson is tackled at the Rams 1 as the clock expires. What if he scored and they went for two? If not, the game would be remembered as the first Super Bowl to ever go to overtime. Both teams played to their strengths, fought the entire game and rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter.
  2. Philadelphia-New England — Both coaches took chances and kept making plays. Even with the late strip-sack by Philadelphia, New England still fought back, and the game was only decided on the final play of the game. The touchdown throw on 4th down to Nick Foles may have been the most daring play in Super Bowl history. The last time I was that amazed was the Statue of Liberty Play that BYU used to upset Oklahoma.
  3. The John Candy Game — San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana built his legacy at the GOAT on this last minute touchdown drive to win, not tie, the Bengals.

Team of Destiny

The Eagles had more than their share of hardship with all their injuries, and the they should have lost to the Falcons in the divisional playoffs, somehow stopping Atlanta on 4th and goal at the Philadelphia 2 with the game on the line and 1:05 left in the game.

But the key game that completely changed their season and also foreshadowed the greatest plays in this Super Bowl was their game against the Rams:

  1. Wentz got injured.
  2. Foles came in and played extremely well against a great defense, making perfect throws while under pressure. He led the Eagles to a field goal that made the score 35–34, and led two other time consuming drives that gave the Eagles the lead that essentially ran out the clock.
  3. The defense got a strip sack with 9:54 left in the game, setting up the winning field goal, then got a three and out on the Rams’ last full possession.

If the Rams won this game, the would have entered the last game of the season with a 12–3 record and the tiebreaker against the Eagles. Instead of sitting out their regulars, they would have given a full effort to beat the 49ers and get home field advantage. Philadelphia would have had to beat the Eagles during Wild Card week to play at Los Angeles in the Divisional Playoff. If they won, they would have had to play another road game in Minnesota. They might have still won it all, but the odds would have increased substantially by playing three tough NFC teams with two on the road.

I hate the Patriots, but…

I hate the Patriots because they bend the rules (cheat). The Rams are still asking how New England was able to anticipate new plays that were designed specifically for the Super Bowl. We know they were penalized for SpyGate, but the evidence was destroyed, so fill in your favorite conspiracy. Could the NFL have removed their three Super Bowl titles that were won under these conditions, or would it have destroyed the NFL’s credibility forever? We’ll never know, but Rams, Eagles and Panthers fans will never forget or forgive.

But Belichick and Brady are the greatest coach-quarterback combination in football history. It doesn’t matter how much their personnel changes, or how many different styles they play over the years, their record over the last 18 years has been phenomenal. Since 2007, the Patriots have not been the best team in football, but they have endured and performed to the best of their limited capabilities while other teams have choked, and won two of their four Super Bowl appearances.

Philadelphia was clearly the better team, just like Jacksonville (2018 AFC Championship choke), Atlanta (2017 Super Bowl choke), Seattle (2015 Super Bowl choke), and Baltimore (2011 AFC Championship choke). But this time, the Eagles played almost flawlessly (the only turnover was a fluke interception off a tipped ball that should have been caught inside the Patriot 5). And yet, Brady led the New England offense to a record setting day, scored 33 points, and kept them in it until the last play of the game.

You can’t explain away how amazing these guys are by referring to their various scandals.

What’s Next?

Football is in a very interesting place. It’s a copy cat league, and you can bet teams will start trying to duplicate the Eagles’ success.

New England’s dynasty may finally end, as their big two continues to age, their offensive and defensive coordinators are taking head coaching jobs elsewhere, and cracks in Belichick’s relationship with the owner (how else can we explain the Jimmy G gift to San Francisco?) may crack the team’s foundation.

If either Brady or Belichick retires, a massive hole opens up in the AFC. Denver could reemerge as the dominant team in the conference if they sign a good quarterback. Houston could become the team to beat if Watson stays healthy. And even Indianapolis could be an interesting dark horse as Luck should come back as a top 5 quarterback.

Philadelphia looks like the best team going forward, but its tough to repeat. Minnesota could finally make it, but their quarterback situation is an unknown. The Rams look really strong, but each of the last three years, a sub-.500 team has gone to the Super Bowl the next year. Could the next turnaround team be the San Francisco Garoppolos?

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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