Giants-49ers, Patriots-Ravens Playoff Picks: Luck, Narrative, and Revenge
Not all luck feels the same. First there’s Individual Luck—luck that happens to you and only you, like when you find a $100 bill on the ground or an attractive, well-adjusted person inexplicably falls in love with you even though you’re neither attractive nor well-adjusted. It’s the kind of luck that makes people think, “You fucking asshole, why you and not me?” when you tell them about it, the kind of luck that gives your ego a hand job. The only problem is that you can’t share the joy of a hand job with anyone else. Individual luck brings only isolated joy. (Though you can get around that isolated joy by doing things like videotaping your hot, well-adjusted girlfriend in the shower and posting it on the Internet, or buying some good drugs with that $100 you found and inviting over your friends.)
Then there’s Mass Luck, like an 80-degree March day that affects absolutely everyone. Mass Luck is wonderful because there are no limits to whom you can share your good luck with, but it holds no special significance to you. It’s not a light you can hold onto when you’re considering starting a trash can fire in the bathroom at your shitty job—even though there’s nothing waiting for you at home besides globby Chinese leftovers and bookmarked SexTube videos you’ve watched so many times that you have the dialogue memorized.
Both Individual Luck and Mass Luck can be great. When you experience top-notch Individual Luck—like true love or pure drugs—it’s absolute ecstasy that affirms that you are, in fact, the center of the universe. And everyone loves a premature Summer day that inspires an impromptu park picnic where attractive female friends gulp wine and sunbath in their bras. Individual Luck and Mass Luck are the most common forms of luck, and both, while wonderful, fall short. There’s something better: Collective Luck.
If you know a New York Giants fan, you’ve likely heard them exclaim, “I can’t believe this is happening again!” sometime over the course of the last six days. They also might have started giddily jumping up and down and clapping. That’s because all of us Giants fans are trying to explain something we can’t put into words: Collective Luck.
Collective Luck is extremely rare. Like Individual Luck, it makes you feel personally blessed, chosen and accomplished, and like Mass Luck, you can share the experience with other people. The magical run during the 2007-2008 playoffs made Giants fans’ feel like the universe’s chosen people, and we got to rejoice in our specialness together. Once it was over, we accepted that we would never experience anything like that again in our lifetimes. And we happily accepted that fact.
But now…it’s happening again. This playoff run has been incredible, an incomparable high, but…why? Why are we being blessed with such Collective Luck again? Either god really feels bad about that whole “New Jersey” thing…or there’s a greater narrative at play.
PATRIOTS (-7) over Ravens
Like a shirtless 19-year-old at Burning Man chugging orange juice in order to maximize his acid trip, I’ve been watching every football show possible this week to milk the Giants run for all it’s worth. As a result, I’ve seen the Patriots-Ravens game analyzed from every idiotic angle on ESPN, and it infuriates how much the Talking Heads keep fixating on the Ravens 33-14 trouncing of the Pats in Foxboro in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.
IT DOESN’T MATTER. What the hell does that game show you? The Patriots were brutally banged up, Brady had 6 different injuries and still didn’t trust his surgically repaired knee, and the Pats were still over three months from drafting the centerpieces of their offense—superhuman tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Brady turned the ball over 3 times in Pats territory in the first quarter, the Ravens jumped out to a 24-0 lead, and the game was over.
What does that game tell you about this matchup? Very little, unless you’re a Ravens fan planning to kidnap Hernandez and Gronkowski the night before the game, Celtic Pride-style. Brady isn’t going to hand the ball over 3 times in the first quarter, and chances are, Ray Rice isn’t going to bust an 82-yard touchdown on the game’s opening play again. You could argue that Joe Flacco will gain confidence having won a playoff game in Foxboro, but Flacco went just 4-10 for 34 yards and a pick in that game. And the last time the Ravens flew up to Foxboro, early in the 2010 season, they blew a big 2nd half lead to lose 23-20 in OT.
I see the path to victory for the Ravens: they control the clock with Ray Rice, opening up the deep ball for Flacco and Torey Smith, hit a few big ones, punch Brady in the mouth and win because they’re the more physical team. It’s a compelling fantasy, but it’s just not lucky.
More likely? The Pats stuff the box to contain Rice, like they did against the Broncos, and wager that Flacco can’t beat them. Flacco hits a couple big plays but also makes the missteps we’ve come to expect. The Ravens defense pressures Brady and punishes Welker, but, without Ed Reed at full speed, get trounced up the seams by the Pats star tight ends.
You know that we’re watching a grand narrative unfold, and that narrative does not involve boring Joe Flacco getting revenge on the naysayers.
Patriots 30 Ravens 19
Giants (+2.5) over 49ERS
It terrifies me that everyone seems to be picking the Giants in this game. People are buying the Giants like they’re a $2 waffle iron on sale at Walmart on Black Friday morning. Could someone do me a favor and think that the 49ers are going to win this game, please?
Listen, I staked out my cushy, heated seat on the Giants bandwagon months ago. In fact, I’ve pretty much refused to budge from this bandwagon since I was 6 years old. So there’s no way in hell that you should read my pick and think that you’re getting anything close to objective advice. But here’s why I think the Giants will win:
1. The Giants passing game: The 49ers run defense had no peer this year, but their pass defense was barely above average according to Football Outsider’s DVOA metrics. Sure, their pass defense came in 8th, but they were closer to the 24th-ranked pass defense (Broncos) than the top pass D (Ravens). The Giants only run the ball to keep the pass rush honest. This offense is fueled by the right arm of Eli Manning.
Last week, Drew Brees threw for 466 yards and 4 TDs, scoring two dramatic, seemingly game-winning touchdowns in the last 4 minutes. If Alex Smith and Vernon Davis hadn’t temporarily transformed into the two most clutch players alive, we would have spent this week asking, “What the hell happened to the 49ers defense?”
What happened? Their overaggressive safeties took awful angles to the football, yielding big plays to the Saints speedy offense. Wait, who’s the best at turning bad angles into big touchdowns? Oh yeah, that’s Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and the Giants offense.
2. The Giants Pass Rush: Go back to re-watch the 49ers 16-6 Thanksgiving Night loss to the Ravens. See what happens to the 49ers offense when they face vicious penetration in the trenches. Now imagine Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathius Kiwanuka attacking Alex Smith for 4 quarters. Repeat.
3. The Narrative: In the year of Tebow, I can’t help but give credence to the idea that there’s a larger narrative at play. And while it’d be heartwarming watching two brothers face off in the Harbowl, you know that we’re heading far sexier. Giants-Pats II. The Chosen Team facing Belichick’s Revenge-Thirsty Assassins. Who could ask for anything more?
Giants 27 49ers 20
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