Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Big Game (Sort of)

I know it's been awhile since I've posted here but circumstances have prevented me updating this blog in several weeks.

The short version is that my dog got sick again but he's better. It was basically the same deal as last time but he seems to have recovered faster this time and except for a humiliating punk hair cut, he's doing quite nicely now.

There's so much going on that it was tough deciding what to post about today. Although the one thing I'd like to talk about -- the strike -- isn't one of those "going on" things. Pretty much radio silence at this point, no progress. The prospects for a quick settlement seem increasingly grim. I'm proud to say that it appears that my fellow scribes are in this for the long run, no matter how many lies or how much misinformation the AMPTP spreads and it's a lot, believe me. Nope. They may seem entrenched and so are we. Oh, and by we I mean the writers who are waiting at the bargaining table, staring across at empty chairs. Shame on the AMPTP for not even talking to us.

Now on to more mundane matters. On Saturday night, the New England Patriots face the New York Giants. It is the last game of the season for both teams. Neither team has anything to gain in terms of the postseason seedings -- both are in and can't improve their lot. The Patriots, however, do have one thing to play for. They enter the game 15-0 and a win on Saturday would make them the first team in 35 years -- the second ever -- to finish a regular pro football season undefeated. Only the 1972 Dolphins went through the season unscathed -- finishing off their masterful year with a perfect postseason in winning Super Bowl VII .

The big debate this week is whether the Giants, considered to have little chance of getting as far as the NFC Championship Game, much less the Super Bowl, should rest its players and restrict the playbook, so as to prevent key injuries or let their first-round playoff opponent (Tampa Bay) get any more insight into their play calling.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are on a mission, sparked in large part by accusations earlier this season that their recent dominance of the NFL was perhaps tainted by cheating. Pats coach Bill Belichick is a single-minded, some might label genius, who is the chief architect of the Patriots' success. He is also a dour man who doesn't suffer fools and who has taken the whole 'tape gate' as a serious affront to his manhood. Smartly he used it to rally his troops. I wonder if there has ever been a pro team that has so internalized a coach's mandate? All season long, the Pats have been like robot assassins, dispensing opponents with (mostly) relative ease and coming up big when the moment required it. All this leads me to believe that despite the ultimate goal of winning a fourth Super Bowl, Belichick will likely start his starters against the Giants. He wants 16-0. He wants immortality.

Meanwhile, what do the Giants do? Embattled coach Tom Coughlin has shown the football world, especially us Giants fans, that he can change his spots enough to regain control of his team and turn what looked like a hapless season into a winning one. The Giants are 10-5 and no matter what happens on Saturday, are in the playoffs. Why risk injury against a clearly superior team that has more motivation to win then they do?

Normally, I subscribe to the cautious approach, to preparing for the playoffs and not for a meaningless final game. But I'm not sure this game is entirely meaningless. I'm with the New York Time's Harvey Araton who makes a great argument today for the Giants to take this game seriously.

For one, the Giants have not yet beaten a team with a winning record this season. Among their five losses (twice to the Cowboys, once each to Green Bay, Washington and Minnesota) include two elite teams, and at least one playoff team. They have struggled at times on both sides of the both, though recently the defense has looked great. Eli Manning is an enigma at quarterback, a number one pick, a protege that has not yet shown he can be all the things the Giants hoped for when they traded for him as the number one pick.

Why not see now what they're made of? Why not, Araton argues, go for the big win, to mar the Patriots perfect season and, even better, give them needed momentum going into what will surely be an uphill postseason battle? If they end up losing big, well then that's the chance they take. Hell, if you want to be the best, you gotta go out and play the best and try to beat the best. The Giants have as good a chance as anyone -- they have a great pass rush and a solid core of linebackers, serviceable DB's. They have a newly revitalized running game. A good showing against the Patriots could mean the difference between another disappointing early exit from the playoffs and a run to possible glory. I say go for it, Giants.