Saturday, December 02, 2006

Lions, Tigers, and Bears!

Detroit and Chicago are the homes of sports teams bearing the names of the chant that Dorothy, the scarecrow, and the tin woodsman chanted as they marched along the yellow brick road to Oz.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

Well, the New England Patriots have had their way with the NFC North Division, beating three of the four teams in that division, most recently squeaking out a victory against the hungry Chicago Bears. The Patriots defense could be counted on to put a halt to the Bears offense, which they did by getting three interceptions and a fumble recovery. However, they had three fumbles of their own lost and two tipped balls that turned into interceptions.

New England can't do that against the best teams and expect to continue to win. The Bears are a very good team, but not a top echilon team in my book. No NFC team is at the top this year in my opinion. The Giants are erratic, much more so than the Patriots, the Cowboys have greatly improved, but they don't scare me as an opponent to any of the top five AFC teams, nor does Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Chicago, San Diego, or anyone else I can think of.

New England has to prove that it will not beat itself. They can probably play somewhat sloppy and still beat the Detroit Lions, but unless they start to execute much more cleanly, they are going to find a short post season again this year. That would be too bad. The Patriots, once again this year, have overcome major losses and have still performed. Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau, major contributers to the defensive success, look like they are out for possibly the season, though there is a chance that Rodney will return in time for post season play.

New England lost their two starting wide receivers, and those their offense is respectable, it ranks number eleven both in passing and rushing, if I read recent statistics correctly. Losing Deion Branch and David Givens to free agency has not been easy to handle. Better watch out - after this season, starting cornerback Asante Samuel is an unrestricted free agent. Will he be next on the list of those to go?

Patriots have done a great job of having a system in place where good players can plug in with a few stars to keep it all together. Can this formula be sustained? I think the Patriots can remain atop the AFC East for at least a year or two more, possibly longer. The question is whether or not they can bring home another Super Bowl or not.

To get closer to that answer, Patriots need to demonstrate near perfect football against a team they should handily beat. Will they squeak out a win, or worse, come unglued, unfocused, and lose, or will they show themselves to be champions, not necessarily running up a 50-0 score, but playing great football with all of their starters, getting into a situation where they are well out in front, then they can do their famous substitutions and start fine tuning all aspects of their team?

I pick New England to win easily. What I do not know is which New England team will show up. I want it to be the ones who strive for perfection. Let's see what happens.