Monday, January 23, 2012

A little of this ... a little of that

OK. I can breathe again. The Patriots are in the Super Bowl. Lots of things have been pushed to the back burner as we threw ourselves into daily apprehension about the Patriots.

Now that we have a couple of weeks before we have to rev ourselves up again, here are some quick hits on some other issues ...

On Joe Paterno ... it's too soon to make a definitive statement about what his legacy is. There's a lot of good ... and there's one, giant bad. It'll take time, and perspective, to sort this all out and come to a conclusion about whether the impeccable reputation he carried for 45 years can, in any way, mitigate his tacit culpability in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

But I can tell you this: The great ones always know when it's time to go. Joe Pa was 85 years old, set in his ways, of a different culture, and, as the years wore on, tunnel-visioned about that mark he was going to leave on Penn State and college football.

Those are all fatal ingredients when it comes to looking the other way, or, at the very least, providing minimal -- if any -- resistance to what I think we all can agree was a monstrous situation at Penn State. Perhaps if he'd been less interested in his legacy, and more cognizant that the game, and even the world, was a whole lot different than it was in 1966, when he became the coach at Penn State, he might have realized it was time to go when he was still maybe in his 70s ... before his judgment may have been clouded by delusions of grandeur.

Regardless of any of that, it's a bit sad to know that he died a broken man. He obviously did not intend to hurt anyone in anything he did ... it's just an awful tragedy he harmed people in what he didn't do.


On Gabby Giffords ... a tragedy regardless of how you look at it. More than the country needs Barack Obama, or Newt Gingrich, or Mitt Romney, the country needs women like Gabby Giffords ... willing, at a young age, to put herself in the political arena and stand up for the things she believes.

In the end, it's not whether you're liberal or conservative that makes you a good leader. It's your willingness to put your principals on the line and become part of the process ... to fight the good fight. And maybe it's even to understand you'll never get everything you want, but that just by being there, you've made a difference.

From all indications, Gabby Giffords was that kind of person. The country is poorer this morning because some deranged nut shot her in the head last year, and her rehab precludes her from serving anymore.

What a sin. Of course, Giffords needs to rehabilitate herself. The sin is that deranged hate claimed exactly the type of person this country needs if it's ever going to get out of this morass of gridlock politics.

And before anyone starts excoriating me about that last statement, hear me out. Hate is hate. It doesn't matter, really what side it comes from, and who's doing the hating. It's all the same. It's ugly; and it leads people to do horrific things.

Just because the perpetrator in this shooting/murder was disturbed, and perhaps even apolitical, he did not live in a vacuum. He saw the same things we saw, and felt the same vibe. In fact, I'd even suggest that disturbed people often have more finely-tuned antennae than the rest of us do ... because it's those finely-tuned antennae that fuels their paranoia and their hate.

And I think that's an important thing to remember. We need to stop acting as if we're stunned every time some "nut job" goes on a rampage and shoots up a political rally, or a high school, or a college campus. We are all connected, whether we want to admit it or not. And our willingness to let hate flourish in our midst contributes to these mass tragedies.


On Newt Gingrich ... I don't like Newt. I think he's a smart guy, but I also thinks he plays to the cheap seats much too often with his rhetoric. I also think if the conservatives who despise Barack Obama so much nominate Newt, it'll backfire and that Obama will win.

That said, I can't help think of the old proverb "a good judge conceives quickly and judges slowly" with regards to the ABC interview last week with his second wife and his suggestion that they share an open marriage.

Here's the thing about power. We all know it corrupts. And that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yada, yada, yada.

But why do you suppose that is? It's because the temptations are more powerful. The ego is bigger. You have so many people in your coterie whose only job is to get you what you want, and when you want it, that you become oblivious to the idea that there's anything out there you can't have.

Often, powerful people are passionate people. The same holds true with creative people, too, by the way. And the ego boost that people who who want to bask in your glow can give you can truly be intoxicating if you're not careful, or if your priorities aren't in the right order.

All of which explains why musicians, actors, actresses, business leaders and politicians often lead the human race in human drama.

It's no secret that Newt had affairs, and that Newt was (and may even still be) a player. So trotting that woman out for the interview, as much fun as it might have been to do, did nothing except rally an angry conservative base that is convinced that there's a double standard when it comes to these things.

So if any of his rivals were behind this, I'd say it was a major fail.

My only comment is this: If you're going to be that way, then be that way. In the end, it's between you, your wife/mistress/whatever, your family ... and no one else. I'm willing to judge slowly on that account.

But for heaven's sake, don't paint yourself out to be something entirely different, and please don't use your hypocrisy as a cudgel to batter someone else who's doing essentially the same thing you are.

And this is what bothers me about Newt. In the early days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Gingrich -- by virtue of his position as Speaker of the House if nothing else -- was a major force behind the decision to impeach Bill Clinton.

Regardless of what you think about his morals (or, if you will, lack of them), the hypocrisy is astounding. I'm not willing to judge slowly on that account.


On Mitt Romney ... If Mitt were a tree, and I was looking to grab onto a good, sturdy one if the raging flood waters were coming toward me, I'd be in a lot of trouble. There do not seem to be many good roots there.

He's opportunistic, but in politics, sadly, that's the norm. Mitt's bigger problem is that he's tone freaking deaf about how he allows himself to be perceived. This is the exact same thing that got George H.W. Bush defeated in 1992.

Here's Mitt up on the stump saying "I've lived in fear of getting a pink slip." Oh yeah? When? I'll bet the only pink slip Mitt ever got was the title to one of his cars.

And here's Mitt up on the stump saying he likes the fact that he can fire people. Now, he meant this in such a way as to say that he thought it was a good thing to have the freedom to be able to let go of people doing work for you if they're not doing it correctly.

But did he have to use the word "fire?" In this economy? Especially since he's already being tarred and feathered as a corporate cold-heart who made his money streamlining failing companies (read: firing people) and turning them into profitability?

I can't deal with politicians who are that oblivious to how things look and sound. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

Perception is reality. And it doesn't matter how fair or unfair you think that is, either.

So you can imagine my utter shock (sarcasm icon, please) when Mitt admitted he had money in Cayman Island accounts. I don't think there are many rigid qualifications for being president of the United States, but not being absolutely stupid has to be one of them.

Even if there's nothing untoward going on with regards to Mitt's offshore accounts (and you know, he seems so airily blind to how all this looks to people struggling to survive that I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt), wouldn't you think he'd have straightened all these things out before he ran?

If he wants the job that badly, wouldn't you think there would be people telling him, "Mitt ... no. Offshore accounts in this economy are going to make it look like you're hiding money and taking advantage of tax loopholes, even if you're not. It's going to make you the butt of all the jokes on late-night TV if anyone finds out about it. You're going to look like George I when he appeared to express surprise that there were scanners in supermarkets."

So I have to ask ... what is the matter with him?


On Robert Kraft and Patriots fans ... All right, the next time Tim Tebow genuflects on the sidelines as if he's the pope, nobody should complain. If I hear one more time that the spirit of his late wife Myra Kraft (who died of cancer in July) blew Billy Cundiff's chip shot field goal wide I'm going to scream.

It's a nice sentiment. And I'm sure that Bob Kraft -- who appears to be somewhat of a decent, sincere guy in my book -- believes it on some level. And it would certainly seem that some kind of supernatural force took over at that point and willed that kick wide. Sometimes, there are no other explanations. Cundiff lines up to make that kick 100 times, he knocks it through 99.

So believe what you want. But if that's what you choose to believe, don't be cutting Tebow up for "thanking his lord and savior Jesus Christ" at the beginning of every interview. You either believe or you don't. And if you're willing to go public with such a notion that the spirit of Myra Kraft had any outcome on Sunday's game, then you have no business criticizing other religious athletes for how they observe their faith.


On Billy Cundiff himself ... The name sounds too much like Billy Crudup to me.

Billy Crudup is known most -- to me, at least -- for his role in "Almost Famous." And I'm sure Billy Cundiff wouldn't mind being "almost famous" today. Because sure as shooting, Cundiff has fame's bull's eye in the Baltimore area today ... and for reasons nobody would want.


Somehow, I think the Patriots get the job done this time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Baseball Glove

After two years of my mother being in a nursing home, we've decided it's time to turn my parents' house into a home for its current occupants. This means sorting through a lifetime of accumulations and memories and figure out what to keep and what to throw out.

My son and his friend live there now, and recently they spent the day going through some old stuff of mine and my sister's, when were were kids, and putting it in individual boxes. One such object was the first baseball glove I ever owned. It got me through Little League and high school; and it got me through countless softball games as I got older.

But today, it's so worn down it looks like an animal chewed on it. All the original laces are gone, and the pocket is held together with laces from a pair of sneakers. I'm sure I didn't think of that. I'm just as sure that my father DID.

I know this because when the glove got to the point, I'd have wanted my father to go out and buy me another one. And he'd have used the opportunity to lecture me about how money doesn't grown on trees, and that if you can use your ingenuity to fix it, then that's what you do.

I was a typical kid. The minute something lost its new sheen, I wanted another one. My father was a kid who grew up in the depression. He played hockey with cardboard boxes for pads. He knew a great deal more about thrift than I ever did until he got old, and his finances got away from him.

But this isn't a "Daddy Dearest" blog item. It's a blog item about how the glove was autographed by Don Drysdale, and how much I idolized him as a child, simply because of that.

I loved the Los Angeles Dodgers when I was a kid. One of the happiest times in my life occurred in 1963, when the swept the New York Yankees out of the world series. Two years later, they won the whole thing again; and the year after that -- 1966 -- they were swept out of the series by another fledgling baseball dynasty ... the Baltimore Orioles.

From my total infatuation with Don Drysdale (which ended in the mid-1960s when I became Brooks Robinson's biggest non-Oriole fan), I learned the frustration of following West Coast baseball (something we no longer have to deal with thanks to the Internet). I'd wake up at 7 in the morning in the summer, dive for the newspaper see whether the Dodgers won and if Drysdale pitched. And if their game was in LA, you'd get a big (N) next to the game in the daily standings.

And since there was no 24/7 news cycle either back in the 1960s, you had to wait until the next day to find out how the West Coasters did.

That never mattered to me, though. I was a Don Drysdale guy. And, by extension, a Dodgers' guy. Oh, I knew all about Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres, and I loved them. But only because they were on the same team as Don Drysdale.

Because he was a Californian by birth as well as vocation, and because he was a tall, good looking drink of water, Drysdale had cameos on a lot of the era's TV shows. He even showed up on "Leave it to Beaver."

He may have had a glamorous image, but he was one, tough, MEAN SOB on the mound. Had a blazing fastball, and he wasn't afraid to use it as a weapon.

Drysdale played three years longer than Koufax, retiring in 1969 with 209 wins and a 2.75 earned run average. He pitched 58 scoreless innings in 1968 -- his last full season in the majors. He is in the Hall of Fame.

"Big D" was 6-5 and 195 pounds ... or so he was listed. Anyone 6-5 weighing 195 had to look like a twig, and Drysdale was no twig. He may have been 195 when he was a raw rookie, but I'm sure he filled out over 200 by the time he was in his prime. Hell, his legs had to have weighed that much.

We move forward to 1987, by which time Drysdale is one of the two principal broadcasters for the Chicago White Sox. On this particular weeknight, the White Sox were in Boston, which meant that both Drysdale and Ken Harrelson were under the same roof. FI think I lost my keys and had to wait until the person who was offering to take me home was ready to leave. And he didn't want to. He wanted to sit around and listen to Don Drysdale and Ken Harrelson to swap stories.

If there were any two better raconteurs than "Big D" and "The Hawk" back then, I defy you to name him. These guys were the best. They were sitting in the media room, knocking back their drinks, and talking about the "old days." Every story was funnier than the last one.

And this is one of the bigger reasons baseball is such a great game. It lends itself to folklore as easily as tales of the wild, wild west. Every player has a war story, and they're all fascinating.

You don't hear this in any other sport. You certainly don't hear it in pro football, because most of the time, when ex-NFLers get together, they talk more about "this hurts, I can't bend this, and I've had so many concussions I'm donating my brain to research." It'll be a cold day in hell before Bill Belichick sits on a bench in the dugout, regaling reporters about some of the game's greats. But Drysdale and Harrelson were doing exactly that. I was loving it.

And I was a wonderful audience, too. I laughed at everything either one of them said. I think by the end of the night they were ready to pay me for making them look like professional comics.

But somewhere, I snuck my tale of youthful idolatry into the conversation. I was 33 years old at the time, and hardly what you'd call a wide-eyed innocent. Heck no. I was covering the Sox that night.

You take a risk telling ex-athletes how much you admire them, but I have to say I've had great luck in this regard. When Boston hosted the 1999 all-star game, they introduced the all-century team at a luncheon/meet and greet.

I'd heard all about what a churl Bob Gibson was. So I talked with Warren Spahn ... and caught up with Brooks Robinson. We both a lot about Frank Robinson, who was the best ballplayer I ever saw with my own eyes, as opposed to reading, or hearing, about him.

When I finally summoned up the nerve, I went up to Gibson and told him that I was from Boston. He thought I was going to come up and start ragging on him because of the 1967 World Series. But I was actually coming up to him to say how much I enjoyed seeing him beat the Yankees way back in 1964. He liked that a lot better, and we talked about that game, and about Johnny Keane (the Cardinals manager), and about, of all people, Tim McCarver (who annoyed me even back then).

It was a nice conversation. Gibson's actually a pretty funny guy.

That's how it was with Drysdale too. I told him how having his name on my glove opened me up to being not just a Red Sox fan, but a fan of the game. And while I don't deny today that I love my Sox as much as the next guy, I'm also a fan of the game.

I walked away from the conversation extremely grateful that someone I'd idolized as a little kid turned out to such a great guy when I finally got to meet him.

Drysdale died of a heart attack on July 3, 1993. That would be just a month before I turned 40 ... certainly old enough, and cynical enough, to remain singularly unimpressed with treating athletes like they were gods.

Yet it affected me. Because all I could think of, when I heard that he'd died, was that thank God, when I finally got to meet him, he appeared every bit as nice and genuine as I'd ever hoped he would be.

That poor glove. It's horrible looking. If looks like it belongs on the Island of Misfit Toys. It's the Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree of baseball gloves.

Yet like a lot of things, it has great symbolism to me. Holding it my left hand, putting it on my left hand ... in that instant, I was transported back my local Little League field, trying desperately to catch the ground balls my coach was hitting me.

And listening to Don Drysdale's wonderful tales of what it was like to be a Major League ballplayer.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Just how bad IS this defense?

Sixteen games should be long enough to figure out whether a team has, or does not have, what it takes to succeed in the post-season.

There are plenty of opportunities to trip, stumble, fall, or simply not show up so that regardless of what league you're in, and regardless of who you play, and regardless of how the games play out, your final record is an accurate reflection not only of what YOU are ... but what the REST of the league is.

This is in preface to the following analysis of the Patriots as they prepare for the playoffs.

I will admit that the Patriots are the most confounding 13-3 team I've ever seen. But they are 13-3, and that, alone, reflects a certain toughness that indicates the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts.

Consider: They only have four reliable receivers, and none of them have the type of speed or ability to "stretch the field" the way Randy Moss did in his prime. What they do have, though, are two tight ends who can turn short-to-medium passes into long gains by their YAC ability (yards after catch). Rob Gronkowski has become a folk hero this year, in part because he's had a tremendous season on the field and also in part because his goofy, happy-go-lucky persona acts as an acute counterpoint to the dour, almost uncommunicative Bill Belichick and the scripted polish of Tom Brady.

Still, I think Aaron Hernandez, the other tight end, may end up being more valuable in the post-season. The Patriots can use him so many ways, and he can take advantage of just about any matchup teams throw at him. And if he's healthy -- as he is now (after injuring his knee early on) -- he's a real game-changer.

Wes Welker is Wes Welker. He's like a Timex watch ... takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. If all three receivers, along with Deion Branch, are on their games, it becomes tough to cover all four of them effectively. Lately, the x-factor has been Hernandez as opponents have worked harder to take Welker and Gronkowski out of their games. But it's tough to cover Hernandez man-to-man too, so we'll see what happens going forward.

They not be the fastest, but it's tough to find four more reliable receivers than Branch, Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez. If Chad "No-show" Cinco could ever get off the mark, Brady could pass all day and the Patriots would score 40 points a game.

Well, you say, they may have to ... with that defense. And you may be right. The defense, even in a league whose rules are slanted heavily toward quarterbacks and passing, is pretty bad.

Some of that comes as the result of injury. The Patriots didn't have Patrick Chung for much of the second half, and linebackers Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes have missed significant time.

And some of it comes to ... I don't know ... you tell me.

Devin McCourty looked poised to be the shutdown corner the Patriots hadn't had since losing Asante Samuel to free agency (and his "shutdownability" will always come under question in my eyes because of the one interception he didn't make), but he took about 10 giant steps backward this year. Whether it was injury, whether he was a victim of there being no formal workouts (and teaching) due to the lockout, or whether it was something else, McCourty backslide dangerously.

It could be that McCourty was so used to playing zone at Rutgers (and last year) that he couldn't adapt to the Patriots' game plan, coming into the season, of playing more man coverage and using a ravamped D-line to put more pressure on the passer.

None of that happened. The revamped D-line proved as toothless this year, especially in the beginning, as it was last year, and the Patriots ended up playing a soft zone through most of the season that left the middle of the field wide freaking open for even mediocre quarterbacks to pick them apart.

This was written off as "bend but don't break," and, whether through skill or good fortune, it worked through most of the season. But as we got down to the final four or five games, it didn't work quite as well ... OR ... someone on that defense had to come up with a spectacular play to avert disaster (such as Jerod Mayo's interception in the Washington game). The point is, the defense does not dominate, and it's dangerously close to doing just the opposite ... of being dominated. And this is especially true now that all-purpose defensive lineman Andre Carter is out for the playoffs.

Carter is the only guy on that d-line, other than Vince Wilfork, that the Patriots could keep out there on every play and have reasonable expectations that he'll come through. He was equally adept at rushing the passer and containing the running game (this aspect of their defense has really suffered in his absence).

If the Patriots weren't putting up 30-plus points per game, they'd be home today making plans to play golf.

But they do put up 30 points a game ... most of the time. If they can keep doing that, they have a shot in these next few weeks. They may have to win a lot of shootouts to do it, but it's doable.

Still, if you're watching, and you see a team that's so wracked with injuries that it loses practically all its games in the second half of the season come out and score 21 points right away, the way the Buffalo Bills did Sunday, it's human nature to wonder whether (or maybe when), this bubble bursts and they dig themselves too deep a hole.

Will the Steelers, or the Ravens, come in here and play just enough defense to keep the Pats to, say, 24 points ... and is that defense so bad that either Pittsburgh or Baltimore can pile up 25 or more in Foxborough?

Yes and no. Yes, the Steelers can. I'm not sure the Ravens can. And I don't think either Denver, Cincinnati or Houston can either.

But here's what you have to remember when you talk about this Patriots defense. The game is skewed toward passing. All the rules favor quarterbacks and receivers. Brady got pushed down Sunday while he was (half-heartedly, I must admit) trying to make a tackle following an interception. It probably should have been a penalty anyway (it looked as if he may have been clipped in the unlikely event that anyone seriously thought he needed to be blocked), but the call was knocking the quarterback down. He was in the act of at least looking as if he was trying to make a freakin tackle!!.

Then again, McCourty got called for "hitting a defenseless receiver" just as a fellow Patriot was intercepting a pass. Is that not occasion for McCourty to become a blocker? Just asking.

With the rules so skewed toward quarterbacks and receivers, is it any wonder both Tom Brady and Drew Brees vaulted past Dan Marino's season's record for passing yards, and that Aaron Rodgers (who did not play Sunday) was close behind? Is it any wonder, as Ochocinco said earlier this year in a tweet, that the elite quarterbacks are routinely putting up fantasy numbers every Sunday?

If you're playing under these rules, nobody's defense is going to stop anybody consistently ... and they've all shown signs of the strain. Green Bays's (as in the 15-1 Packers) certainly didn't shut anyone down this year. The Ravens, on the road, were mortal (they got eaten alive by Philip Rivers who certainly did not have his best season). Only the Steelers, it says here, have the balance to be able to win a game via both sides of the ball, if it comes down to that. Most all other teams, including the Packers, have to rely on only one specialty.

And if it's not working on that particular day, then what we have here is a year where just about every team has serious flaws. All of which means that winning and losing, in these playoffs, is going to be one giant crapshoot. And that means the Patriots have just as good a shot of winning the roll as anyone else.

So when you assess their chances in this next month, consider the following: I doubt there are many 13-3 teams that have lived with so much week-to-week uncertainty as this one has. We're not just talking about key injuries here (and they've had their share of those), we're talking about week-to-week uncertainty about how the defense is going to hold up against whatever quarterback it is facing and whether Brady and his receivers have enough firepower to overcome it.

Although the Patriots had trouble with the toughest part of their schedule (losing two straight to the Giants and Steelers during a run where they played -- at the time -- a run of games against perceived playoff teams), they rebounded and won eight in a row. Eight in a row in the NFL is good regardless of who you play. When you see how the Steelers and Ravens -- in particular -- slipped up on the road late in the season, it gives you a better appreciation for how tough it is to win consistently in the NFL. So all this armchair analysis that they didn't beat many playoff teams (and the answer is they went 1-3 against teams who have made this year's playoffs, and that team is Denver) doesn't matter. They played the schedule. They went 13-3.

And at the time they played -- and beat -- some of those teams (like the Jets, twice; and San Diego, Philadelphia and Oakland) the teams were enjoying success that the Patriots, in some cases, derailed.

I certainly get that people are concerned about this defense. You'd have to be blind not to be concerned. But what this team may lack in defensive skills it more than makes up for with intangibles.

I know. I know .... ahhhhh. the dreaded intangibles. It's right up there with "all he does is win" in the pantheon of sports cliches.

Yet even cliches have a purpose. And the best thing about this year's Patriots team is that they've recovered from some horrendous starts to win important games. And as long as they're home, and as long as they have that track record, no team can feel safe if it piles up a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter. The Patriots have quick-strike capability oozing out of them, and Brady's been there so many times he's certainly not going to be fazed if the Bengals, or even the Ravens take an early lead (Pittsburgh may be a different story).

So they're tough. They're resilient. They're not going to roll over and die, the way they did against the Ravens in 2009. And they're not so one-dimensional this year that a team like the Jets (and aren't we happy they're out??) can take two guys out of the game and beat them.

They've also benefited from teams' overall shakiness when playing them. By rights, the Patriots should be 10-6, and perhaps would be if the Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills don't hand them their last four games. And while it's easy to say "they're lucky," it's not quite that simple. Could it possibly be that teams know the Patriots are relentless on offense, and that even though they've built up big leads they still have to take chances on making big plays? And that the more gambles you take, the better the chances of having some of them blow up in your face?

That's the thing about football. Just about everything leads to something else. And the only thing that matters at the end of the day is who won.

So if the Patriots' defense gives up 32 points and the offense scores 35, does it matter five seconds after the game ends? No. Do you want to pull your hair out along the way? Of course you do. It's only natural. All that matters is that they won.

So far this season, that formula has worked. Teams march up and down the field on them ... and they march up and down right back. The difference, perhaps, is that the Patriots, late in games, seem to have a knack for doing just enough to come out ahead. And that, in itself, is a skill.

Realistically, here's what I think will happen. Pittsburgh, despite a less-than-healthy Ben Roethlisberger (who isn't going to have time to really rest that sprained ankle since the Steelers don't have a bye), will beat the Broncos. I also think Houston will defeat Cincinnati (though I'm far less sure of this, given the Texans' tenuous quarterback situation).

This puts the Pats against the Steelers and Ravens against the Texans. I think it'll be a tough game. But I also think that Roethlisberger's health will be a factor, as well the absence of Rashard Mendenhall. The combination of the two, given the Patriots' ability to put up points even against the best defenses, should be enough to put them over the top and put them in an AFC final against Baltimore.

For some reason, the Patriots have some real tong wars against the Ravens. If you remember correctly, it was the Ravens who gave them their toughest fight in 2007 en route to that 17-0 season.

I think it'll be a tough game here, too. But I just don't think Joe Flacco is going to stand in their way in their attempts to reach the Super Bowl.

I also think that playing, and beating, their two so-called equals en route to Indianapolis will toughen them up (if it doesn't kill them first) so that they'll give whichever team that face there (and I think it'll be New Orleans, I really do) a decent game for a while.

But I think that's where it ends, too. I really don't see how, with all other things being equal (meaning that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are certainly in Brady's class), the Patriots can beat either team. The shootout advantage is certainly nullified. Brees has so many weapons at his disposal he could invade any country and win with them. It just seems to be too big a task.

So my final answer is: New Orleans over New England ... fairly comfortably.