Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If I was a betting man, I would never bet that one professional football team was going to beat another by at least three touchdowns. The Patriots were favoured by something like 26 points over the Eagles last night. Even though the Patriots had won ten games by an average of 25 points including 45 and 46-point wins over comparable teams in Washington and Buffalo, and even though the Eagles' starting quarterback was out, 26 points is a lot. Anecdotally, at least, being heavily favoured to this absurd extent is seldom justified. The Patriots beat the Rams in a Super Bowl as 14-point underdogs, and the Broncos did the same to the Packers as 13-point underdogs. Even under normal conditions, a three-touchdown win is a lot to ask for. The 49ers were, for some reason, 23-point favourites against the Bengals in a 1993 game and only won 21-8.

In the event, the Eagles made the Cheaters from Close to Cape Cod earn their 11th win, doing so as many have suggested, by making the Cheaters earn it. Most teams have played the Patriots with a very soft defense that rarely challenges Tom Brady or his receivers. Granted, the Eagles have the personnel to make an aggressive defense pay off or at least they played like it, but if anyone is going to beat New England this year, they will have to knock down Tom Brady over and over.

On the other hand, at least part of the reason that a back-up quarterback was almost able to lead a so-so team to victory over the best team of this decade was that the latter, like any imperial power, had simply gone soft. New England was as much confounded by Jim Johnson's defenses as it was sloppy and half-awake, having become somewhat accustomed to five-touchdown wins.

As I wrote this, Pittsburgh is on the verge of clinching a 3-0 win over winless Miami. I cringe at reproducing this fact, but Pittsburgh hasn't lost a home game on a Monday night in 15 years. Needless to say, the Steelers were 15.5-point favourites tonight.

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