Clash of the Titans (or New England at Dallas)
Here it comes, the matchup of two 5-0 teams for just the fifth time in NFL history and the third in the past 84 years. The media's fascination with the drama of the Cowboy's improbable win on Monday is starting to wear off and the hype for the game on Sunday is building. I love the hype. It's really a no lose situation for a fan.
1. They say the Cowboys haven't played anybody. First, you can only play who's on the schedule. Second, just about any NFL team can beat another; it's always hard to win in the NFL. If it's so easy to go 5-0 in the NFL, teams ought to be doing it all the time, right? I remember the last time someone shot a 59 on a PGA course, some pundits complained that it was an easy course. Umm, maybe so, but where were the rest of the 59's? Anyway, the Cowboys schedule hasn't been a gauntlet so far to be sure. But neither has the Patriot's schedule. Here are their opponents with their records -
vs NY Giants 3-2
@ Miami 0-5
@ Chicago 2-3
vs St Louis 0-5
@ Buffalo 1-4
@ NY Jets 1-4
vs San Diego 2-3
vs Buffalo 1-4
@ Cincinnati 1-3
vs Cleveland 2-3
2. They say the Cowboys have a bad defense. It's true, the defense didn't look great against the Giants. But how are things shaping up overall? Right now, including the Buffalo game, the Cowboys rank 8th in yards per game allowed with 285.4 and 13th in total points allowed with 96. The Patriots definitely have the edge here. They're 2nd in YPG allowed with 251.4 and 6th in total points allowed with 65. But the edge isn't enormous.
3. They say Tony Romo is overrated. No question that some of the praise heaped on him, especially in Monday night's pregame show was overly effusive. But he's got enough experience under his belt for us to make a decent assessment of his talent level. He's pretty damn good. With 15 career starts, he has 4411 yards, 63.2% passes completed, 32 TDs and 21 interceptions (which includes his 5 from Monday) and 94.7 rating. I've watched every snap of every game, and he's had a couple of bad games. But the stretch run where we lost 3 of 4 last year was mainly due to defensive breakdowns. I think there are quite a few NFL teams who would take Tony Romo in a heartbeat right now. As a fan, you get a sense of certain players. I never trusted Bledsoe or Quincy Carter to lead us down the field. Romo feels like a leader to me, a guy who'll shrug off the bad stuff and do what it takes to win. Realistically, the only things I see that can stop him from succeeding going forward will be injuries or some Rick Ankiel-like meltdown.
4. Finally, I heard Chris Mortensen on a radio show this morning. I'm starting not to like him much. He repeated one of the things that's been making the rounds the last couple of days - that Buffalo's coverage scheme confused Romo, and that Belichick would see this and go to town. Buffalo's scheme was pretty good, but at least 3 of those int's were all Romo. Belichick's obviously a great technical coach, but Jason Garrett is no slouch on offense. He also fell back on the old conference disparity saw. He said that looking the Buffalo-Dallas game and the Indy-Tampa Bay games made him think it was a factor. That's just crap. Did he say the same thing when Arizona beat Pittsburgh the week before? Or when Green Bay beat San Diego? It's really too early to tell how this year will go with the conference matchups. Right now, the AFC is 12-10 vs the NFC. The AFC clearly has the top 2 or 2 of the top 3 teams. After that it's a crapshoot. And it really doesn't matter when you're looking at an individual game. I think Mortensen is just lazy.
So, all that said, I'd still pick the Patriots if I leave my heart out of it. They haven't shown any weaknesses so far. I think Dallas' offense is nearly equal to theirs, but they do have a defensive edge. But I don't think it's the foregone conclusion that most of the Pats fans seem to think, and I don't think a blowout is likely. Possible, sure. New Orleans took us to the shed last year, but I don't think they were that much better. Damn, though, I would love to read Simmon's column if the Patriots do lose. (and BTW, did I mention how great NFL.com is lately).