Yesterday was a bit of a crazy day for me, hence the lack of a Monday post. Something tells me there will be a fair amount of coverage of the National Football League's championship game in the next two weeks, so there will be plenty of time to discuss the coverage of it.
I did want to make a quick comment on ESPN.com's NFL "experts" pick of the NFC Championship. As I have said before, you can't make too much of whether sports commentators get their predictions right or wrong, especially when it comes to a single game or series. As Vince Lombardi used to say, "small sample sizes are like two-year olds: there's no telling how they''ll behave." OK, Vince Lombardi never said that, but you get the point. I myself had Ohio State winning by two touchdowns on my radio show, meaning that I was off by a mere six touchdowns.
But, the eight experts on ESPN.com who are charged with picking the winner in each game each week- including such luminaries as Mike Golic, Joe Theismann, Mark Schlereth and Sean Salisbury - all picked the Saints on Sunday. Picking the Saints to win the game is not noteworthy. I actually picked the Bears by 10 on my show, but the other three guys who do the show with me all thought it would be a close game, and the Saints have had a great offense this year. No crime in getting this, or any post-season NFL game wrong, really. And yes, the Bears had had a shaky few weeks as well as an unpredictable quarterback with more extreme games (either passer ratings over 100 or below 60) than any QB in the NFL this year. But, unless one team is clearly better than another team, you don't usually get this kind of consensus.
In the case of the Saints-Bears it seems that sentiment got the better of analysis. The Saints were on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, a celebration of the team's and city's incredible turnaround. And, Howie Long told Mike and the Mad Dog on Friday that he was picking the Saints because "how could you not go with them." Long quoted that sage Terry Bradshaw, who had "predicted" that the Patriots would win Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 because - in the wake of 9/11 - how could you bet against a team called the "Patriots?"
Whether the city of New Orleans has really had the turnaround that the sports commentariat has proclaimed for it is itself highly questionable. There is lots of evidence to suggest that the city remains in terrible shape, a victim of shocking negligence and incompetence, despite some revitalization in the few blocks around the Superdome. Not that the ESPN-types would, or would want to, know anything about that. But, the clean sweep by the ESPN.com experts this Sunday also suggests a kind of DC Inside-the-Beltway mentality, where conventional (and often poorly informed) wisdom gets recycled as insider analysis by people who only really talk to each other and don't really get outside the hotel lobbies to see for themselves what's going on.
Pardon the pun, but the Saints game was a perfect storm for that sort of mindset.