Let's set aside for a moment how beyond sick the Giants run was for their fans like myself - it still hasn't quite sunk in - and also how incredible the game was (for me personally, it was the greatest four hours of entertainment in my life).
I want to talk about what the win means for football analysis generally.
First off, I think it shows that the quality of teams is much more fluid than we generally assume. The Patriots were exposed midseason by the Eagles, and other than in the Steelers game, they never reasserted their dominance again. The Giants turned the corner in Week 3 against the Redskins, fell into a lull in the last quarter of the season, and then turned it on again in the playoffs. Any evaluation of either of those teams in Week 6 or Week 8 or Week 14 would just be a snapshot - and one that's not dispositive of their ultimate quality. We should remember that next year when making our calls - uncertainty is pervasive.
Second, football is the ultimate team game, and it doesn't yield entirely to statistical analysis - or if it does then it needs to be something light years ahead of Net YPA. Things like growth rate need to be factored in. Looking at the season-long stats, the Giants run was a fluke. Watching the games, it was no fluke - both the NFC title games and Super Bowl weren't as close as the scores. You could only predict that ahead of time if you gave the Giants credit for growth, both in preventing turnovers (Manning led the league with 20 picks on the regular season) and on the defensive side of the ball (the unit played at an elite level in the playoffs against the league's three top offenses). There's also a "will" component or a "physicality" factor somewhere, too. One thing that was striking about watching the Giants on their playoff run was that they were in every game the rougher, meaner, more physical team. In football that matters. The Patriots were a finesse team, and like the Colts who have lost a lot of big playoff games over the years, the finesse team is often more vulnerable to an upset than the physical one. The '85 Bears rolled. The 2000 Ravens crushed the Giants in the SB after beating a very good and very physical Titans team. The Warner/Faulk Rams barely beat a wild card Titans team and then lost to the 2001 Pats. The NFL is a passing league these days, but knocking the QB around and drilling the WRs after the catch is important.
Third, the quality of players is more fluid than we normally assume. Eli Manning played like a Pro Bowl quarterback in the biggest games of the year against some of the league's best defenses. Corey Webster was the weak link in the team's secondary for two years, and emerged as the one of the key players in limiting Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Quarterbacks, especially, which don't depend that heavily on physical qualities, are harder to read. Vince Young could be a star next year. Brett Favre was a star this year. Philip Rivers went from being a rising star last year, to a scrub for three-quarters of this year, to a rising star again in the playoffs. Other than at the extremes (Brady, Peyton Manning) and (Trent Difler, David Carr), uncertainty is pervasive.
Fourth, sometimes, the public is right - 63 percent bet the Giants.
Not that any of this is breaking news, but it's worth remembering from time to time. When you become too much of an "expert," you can cut yourself off from seeing all the possibilities - (Eli sucks, Favre is done, etc., etc.).
Man, I'm still getting chills from watching replays of the game-winning fade to Burress.
Posted by Chris Liss at 2/3/2008 9:49:00 PM