Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Wire and the Patriots

"Deserve got nuthin' to do with it".

That quote look familiar? If you are/were a fan of HBO's The Wire then it absolutely should. In case you cannot place it, that lead the penultimate episode and was said by Snoop to Michael, when Michael "mouthed off" and questioned the necessity of killing a man just because he bad-mouthed their boss, Marlo. Of course, the irony of that quote and how the story played out ***and spoiler alert if you have not seen The Wire all the way through and plan on doing so*** was that Snoop was using this hit as a setup to ambush Michael and get him, only Michael caught wind of it first and made a preemptive strike on her. So in the end maybe "deserve" did have something to do with it? I don't know.

But I digress.

The reason I wanted to lead with that is because you could use that quote to sum up the Patriots entire 2008 pretty much to a T.

Did the Patriots deserve to get their historic 2007 season highlighted with a Super Bowl victory and a 19-0 record? Yeah, they probably did. They were after all indisputably the best team in the NFL weeks 1-17. Plus, isn't the point of a championship to crown the best team? That was the Patriots in 2007 right? Well a funny thing happened en route to that. They played the Giants in the Super Bowl and lost. And yes, they were very close to winning the game and achieving historical greatness and all the rest, but if they had won that Super Bowl, would they have actually deserved the victory in that specific game? Clearly the Giants outplayed them and deserved to win. So if the Pats had stolen the game would that victory which would have lead to a title deservedly been theirs? The victory no, but the title yes? I don't know. Confusing right? "Deserve got nuthin' to do with it."

As fans, did we "deserve" to have our first memory of the 2008 season be the Tom Brady injury? Of course not! All spring and summer we dealt with moving on from that horrific Super Bowl loss. And what happens half a quarter into the first game of the season? Exactly. Now granted things have worked out far better than anybody could have anticipated, but after all the heartache with how the previous season ended, seeing Tom Brady go down almost immediately in 2008 was certainly nothing that could have been anticipated. Literally, it was the absolute worst-case-scenario. Sure, maybe they ran up some scores last year, but did they deserve that?

And that brings me to the main point of this little post, which is whether or not the Patriots "deserve" to be in the playoffs. Most people, myself included would point to "YES", especially when an 8-8 or maybe 9-7 team will come out of the AFC West, and the Cardinals are in the tournament in the NFC.

But let's just re-think this a touch. OK?

First off, the Cardinals are in the NFC. There is nothing we can do about that unless the NFL enacted a radical rule where if one Conference had a team that was shutout of their Conference's playoffs, but had a better record than a Wild Card entrant in the other Conference, that team could then play out the playoffs in the other Conference. For example, this year if the Patriots finish 11-5 and out of the playoffs and Dallas finishes 10-6 with the 6 seed in the NFC, under this radical idea, the Patriots would then take the Cowboys spot in the NFC playoffs and the NFC playoffs would proceed per usual except with an AFC team included. That would be a cool rule change I think. To keep it simple, we would also say that tie-breakers do not matter in this situation. In order for a team to be eligible to switch conferences, their record MUST be superior to the team they would be replacing.

Now as fun as that would be and could be, that is just a made up situation. The Patriots still need help to make the playoffs.

And again, we get to the question of deserve. Some people may say that they deserve to be in there more than the AFC West champ. That could be true. But what about when you consider how easy the Patriots schedule has been? Of their ten wins, 7 have come against the aforementioned AFC/NFC West and the other three against division foes. Furthermore, if San Diego defeats Denver this week, that would mean that the Patriots record against playoff teams would be 1-3 with the one coming against the mighty Cardinals. That could move to 2-4 however if the Dolphins take the Division and the Pats get the Wild Card. Either way, we're not talking about a sterling record here against the top of the line teams.

Meanwhile, the Ravens, the team that could potentially block NE out of the last playoff spot should both them and the Dolphins win has had to play 7 games against playoff teams where they went 2-5. That record does not set the world on fire either, but isn't it fair to consider that if the Patriots played their schedule and the Ravens played the Patriots, the Patriots would not even be in the Wild Card conversation? We like to say the Patriots "deserve" to be in the playoffs, but did they "deserve" receiving a cream-puff schedule with only four of ten out of division games against teams currently above .500. Meanwhile the Ravens breakdown was eight of ten? Of course not. It was just how things played out this year. Nothing about deserve/underserve so let's not kid ourselves into thinking that all things have been equal if it comes down to the Pats vs. the Ravens for that Wild Card spot.

All things weren't equal though. The Ravens played the tougher scheduled. So if you are choosing between 11-5 teams, don't the Ravens arguably "deserve" the last spot more because of that? I say yes. All of us Pats fans know perfectly well that if roles were reversed we would be crying foul over the possibility of losing out on the Playoffs to a team that played a far inferior schedule. Tie goes to the Ravens then and we need to be okay with that.

But again, I know it is not the Ravens potential inclusion over the Pats that has people chirping with fair/unfair and deserve/undeserve chatter. It's the AFC West. And I want to close with dilemma.

It is probably fair to assume that the AFC West at least partly aided the Patriots in being where they are now. After all, if the division did not suck so much, the Patriots may not have been able to go 3-1 against it. Therefore, I think we can call it a push in the fairness department. Their division champ can get into the playoffs but our team at least gets to play their crappy division. And same deal for the NFC West which produced 4 more wins for the Pats. Division champ gets a playoff spot but we get to play you all too. Fair? Fair. Done, done, and done.

I think you get the point by now. Once we start making arguments based around shady logic which features words like "deserve" and "fair" in them, we inevitably end up talking ourselves into a corner. The fact of the matter is, the Patriots are probably a better team than whomever makes it from the AFC West and are definitely better than the Cardinals out of the NFC West. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that we wouldn't have to be making this "deserve" talk if they did not give away the game in Indy and the game at home against the Jets. Shoot, who even knows what happens against the Steelers if Randy Moss doesn't have those two huge first half drops. If you want a closing thought from me it is this; give away more than one winnable game during a 16 game season and you don't deserve the right to play that card when some cruel twists of fate come and get you down the road.

Like Snoop says, "deserve got nuthin' to do with it".

1 comment:

WMHT said...

Neil, this is a thoughtful analysis, but I've got to say that when any team loses a central figure like Tom Brady and still manages to put together a season like this one, they ought to be rewarded for it. Whether or not they make it, the Pats have played their hearts out even though they had every reason to phone this season in. By the way, I'll be at the game in Buffalo this Sunday, so I may have some thoughts on what transpires on that fateful day. I'll let you know...-mike.