Thursday, September 26, 2013

NFL Picks Week Four: I might as well talk about Aussie Rules now

Because with the way the Giants are(n't) playing that will bring me at least a little bit more happiness. The New York Giants' season to this point has been an exhibition on just how football games can turn on a dime at various points before spiraling out of control. Am I silly enough to think New York could actually be 3-0 instead of 0-3 this season? Well, not really. While the Giants did have a lead at one point in their game against Denver two weeks ago it was clear they were outmatched by a superior unit -- or at least what was playing like a superior unit. But New York's season-opening loss in Dallas was an exercise in open-palmed forehead slapping as the Giants had a chance to win in the final minutes despite ending the game with an astonishing six turnovers. In this past weekend's "football game", and I use that term extremely loosely, the Giants were nearly tied with the Carolina Panthers after David Wilson trotted into the end zone following a Cam Newton interception deep in Carolina territory. That, however, was nullified in the following sequence of plays:

1) Cam Newton pass intercepted by Aaron Ross returned to Carolina 17
2) 1st and 10: David Wilson 17-yard touchdown run nullified by holding penalty on Will Beatty
3) 1st and 20: Eli Manning sacked at Carolina 34 for loss of seven yards
4) 2nd and 27: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Victor Cruz to Carolina 27
5) 3rd and 20: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Cruz to Carolina 20
6) 4th and 13: Josh Brown misses 38-yard field goal

This might have been the most inept offensive series I have ever seen the Giants play, which given what some of the lean Jim Fassel and Dan Reeves years were like, is making quite a statement. That it wasn't the most inept series I've ever seen from them on either side of the ball is only because in a 2008 game against the Cleveland Browns, the Giants defense somehow found a way to give up 117 yards  to the Browns on a single drive.

From the point the Giants had a game-tying touchdown run against the Panthers nullified things proceeded to unravel not because the Panthers were significantly better, but because the Giants seemed resigned to defeat for no particular reason. One could say it was because the Giants' discombobulated offensive line was so out of sync that it gave up five sacks of Eli Manning in a single half for the first time since Sept. 17, 2006, but even that comparison isn't particularly apt since New York actually won that game. Amazingly, that was a game I actually didn't see because I was in the stands at Green Bay that day, though I was enthusiastically following it on the out of town scoreboard.

So yeah, I won't be talking about the NFL anymore today.

Instead, I'm going to shine a light on the greatest sporting event you're not watching, which bounces at 12:20 a.m. Saturday morning, and that is, of course the AFL Grand Final. Now, it's surprising I'm actually finding this to be more pleasant to talk about considering what happened to my Geelong Cats last weekend in the Preliminary Finals, but the Giants have really just been that unpleasant.

No, Geelong was in the midst of a spirited run to what could have potentially been their fourth Championship in seven seasons -- or at least their fifth Grand Final appearance in that time -- when with roughly 18 minutes left in the Preliminary Final against rival Hawthorn, it all fell apart. I don't necessarily expect you to sit through all of those 20 minute highlights, but to put it succinctly, Geelong was facing the top team in the league this season (arguably over the last two seasons), which was not only a superior side, but had also very nearly won the Grand Final against Sydney a year ago.

Geelong did have one check in its column, however, in that the Cats had lost a shocking Grand Final upset to Hawthorn back in 2008(the first AFL match I ever watched), and since then hadn't lost to the Hawks once. This included a stunning rally from 28 points down in the fourth quarter in 2009 that essentially ended Hawthorn's title defense. Geelong would go on to win the Grand Final that year. This string of 11 consecutive wins, collectively known as Kennett's Curse, was one of those silly intangible things I usually dismiss, but in this case seemed to really be in the heads of the Hawthorn players.

This seemed all the more plausible when Geelong held a 19-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and seemed destined to make the winning streak a perfect dozen. Then, suddenly, the tide turned, and in a flash of three goals and seven behinds Geelong's Grand Final dreams disappeared. And so it was.

Many of you are not footy fans and so I will let it slide if you don't exactly understand what that's like, but if I can make a close comparison given likelihood of scoring a certain volume of points in a short span of time, I would consider a collapse like this akin to perhaps the San Francisco Giants blowing a five-run lead to the Anaheim Angels when they were eight outs away from winning the 2002 World Series, or perhaps the Giants' debacle in 2010 when they blew a 31-10 lead against the Philadelphia Eagles in the final eight minutes. These were comebacks that were not impossible, but certainly unlikely, and in the case of Geelong's ouster this year, it was on a similarly shocking level.

In case you're wondering, I will not be rooting for Hawthorn when the ball bounces tomorrow night/Saturday morning. Instead I will be rooting for the Fremantle Dockers who, while they did defeat Geelong in the first round of the postseason, which forced the Cats into an eventual preliminary final matchup with Hawthorn, are significantly more likable because a) they aren't natural rivals with Geelong, b) even if they aren't Cats they do wear purple, c) they've never been to the Grand Final before in their 19 year history, which as you can sense near the end of a blowout preliminary final win against Sydney, was a pretty exciting thing for just about all of Perth, Australia. After all, just read all the stories about Fremantle fans frantically trying to make their way across Australia for the Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It's super adorable.

So Go Freo I guess. The game should be extremely entertaining as Grand Finals tend to be, so I'm looking forward to settling down on the couch at 12:20 a.m. with a few beers and some meat pies -- maybe even a lamington -- to watch footy for the last time this year.

If nothing else it will distract me from the fact that the Giants are facing the 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs on the road this weekend. Maybe.

Last Week: 8-7-1
Season:  19-27-2

San Francisco (-3) over ST. LOUIS
Baltimore (-3) over BUFFALO
Cincinnati (-4) over CLEVELAND
Chicago (+3) over DETROIT
NY Giants (+4.5) over KANSAS CITY
MINNESOTA (+2) over Pittsburgh
TAMPA BAY (-2.5) over Arizona
Indianapolis (-8) over JACKSONVILLE
HOUSTON (+2.5) over Seattle
NY Jets (+3.5) over TENNESSEE
DENVER (-10.5) over Philadelphia
OAKLAND (+3) over Washington
SAN DIEGO (+2) over Dallas
ATLANTA (-2) over New England
NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Miami

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