NFL Network did this countdown too - I haven't seen it yet, but when I do I'll edit in their selections. This list is mine. My list only refers to players who played the majority of their careers in the Super Bowl era, which is why no Otto Graham, for example. This is a hard list to compile. Okay - I've now seen their list and they limited themselves to players who spent their entire careers in the Super Bowl era. So, I'll make that change in my list. I'll still leave my picture of Merlin Olsen.
NFL Network List:
1. Barry Sanders
2. Dan Fouts
3. Steve Largent
4. Eric Dickerson
5. Cris Carter
6. Dan Dierdorf
7. LaDainian Tomlinson
8. John Randle
9. Randall Cunningham
10. Sterling Sharpe
1. Barry Sanders
2. LaDainian Tomlinson
3. Tony Gonzalez
4. Dan Fouts
5. Lem Barney
6. Bruce Matthews
7. OJ Simpson
8. Willie Roaf
9. Steve Largent
10. Isiah Robertson
I'm taking New England.
Let's start here. I'm 8-2 against the spread so far in the playoffs. I am taking New England.
I'm taking them based on an historical evaluation of the regular season disparity between the two teams.
Here is a ranking of every Super Bowl winner based on regular season quality; a metric combining point differential and strength of schedule. If New York wins the Super Bowl, they will be the second worst winner all time, ahead of only the Colts team from V. New England would be in the middle of the pack, 24th, between the Packers from II and the '86 Giants.
Yes, the Giants are healthy now. Yes.
But we've had 46 years of Super Bowl history, 46 years of seasons where teams had injuries and then got healthy, and when you look at 46 years, there just aren't too many teams who look like the Giants that wound up winning the Super Bowl.
They look like a handful of Super Bowl losers. '99 Titans. '79 Rams. '08 Cardinals. '00 Giants. '03 Panthers.
But not like many winners.
The disparity between the Patriots and Giants is also historically significant when looking at past SB upsets.
This would be bigger than the IV Chiefs/Vikes upset. Bigger than the II gap between Oakland and the Packers. Even bigger than the Redskins/Raiders. There are 3 bigger upsets. The Jets from III, the first Patriots win, and of course, 2007, which might be the biggest upset in the history of a major team sport championship.
The Giants gave up more points than they scored this year. No SB winner has ever done that.
3/4 of all SB favorites won the game straight up.
On the merits of the matchups, I get the New York sentiment, which was why I said going into the playoffs that they were the dark horse. It's not a special New England team, and if you look at those Giants receivers and the Patriots secondary, you really want to play the over (I'm not doing that).
You've got to pick a winner, it's the Super Bowl. And when I've had the most success picking against the spread isn't when I've looked specifically at the matchups and tried to subjectively determine if the Giants pass rush will be able to get pressure on Brady or if New York will be able to run on the Patriots. When I've had the most success against the number is when I've entirely ignored the specific players and instead looked at the historical sweep of the contest. When I make my weekly picks during the season, I don't have either time or access to numbers each week that would tell me (for example) that divisional home favorites of a field goal are less have a significant winning percentage over the past 40 years. If I did, I'd use them and that's basically all I would use. You can play what happened last week if you want, I'll play what happened the last 40 years.
And sometimes you'll be right. But I'll be right more often.
Favorites win this game outright 75% of the time over a 45 year sample.
Teams with regular season profiles like New York's don't win this game. Just once in 45 years.
That doesn't mean New England wins - there isn't a result here that could be as monumentally surprising as a result we've already seen between these two teams 4 years ago.
But if you have to pick a side - and this is a Super Bowl prediction so I'm gonna - I'm going with 45 years of history.
If I wanted to talk about the specific players on the field - I'm going to ride with Brady. I'm not the biggest Tom Brady fan; to some extent he's a little historically overrated, given excessive credit for New England success. By that I mean he's just not seriously in the "best QB of all time" discussion.
Let's not overstate that though. Right now, I'd rank him below Graham, below Elway, below Favre, below Manning, below Unitas, below Marino, below Tarkenton, below Joe, below Young.
But that's it. I'd now have him ahead of both Fouts and Anderson. Ahead of Staubach and Bradshaw. I don't know that I would have said any of that a year ago.
I think this is his game. This is the game where he wins his 4th Super Bowl, where he passes Joe in all time playoff wins, where he beats a Manning (albeit the wrong one) in Indianapolis in the biggest game of the season. I've ranked every QB performance in a SB here; Brady's had two really good games, I've got SB39 as the 15th best and SB38 as the 18th best of all time. But he doesn't have one of those Montana games, a huge multi-touchdown no pick game where he just stands masterfully head and shoulders above the sport.
I think that's this game. I think we leave Sunday believing that Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the world and where a huge percentage of sports conversation (wrongly) says he's now the best ever.
The book I generally use still has the game at 3, but I know you can get the game at 2.5, which, obviously, I prefer. I'm going to say the line is 2.5 and if it turns out that half point matters you can put an asterisk when I say I went 9-2 in this postseason.
Given opportunity, I'll toss in some prop thoughts Friday.
Okay, consider the following props:
Will Either Team Score in the first 5.5 Minutes of the Game: No -125
Will Either Team Score 3 Unanswered Times: Yes -190
Will the Game Go Into Overtime: No -1200
Will the Game Be Decided by Exactly 3 Points: No -450
Will at Least One Quarter be Scoreless: No -420
Longest TD Scored in Game: Under 49.5 -115
Will There be a Special Teams or Defensive TD: No -180
How Many Kickoff Returns will the Two Teams Combine For: Under 6.5 -165
Will Zoltan Mesko Punt a Touchback: No -250
Will a FG Attempt be Missed: No -130
Patriot Sacks: Over 2 +110
Ahmed Bradshaw Receptions Over 2.5 -110
Will Either Team Succesfully Convert a 4th Down: Yes -230
Will There be a Safety: No -1300
How Many Players will Attempt a Pass: Under 2.5 -350
Total Receptions: Wes Welker: Over 6.5
Which Will Be Higher: Lebron James Points/Eli Manning's Completions: LBJ -150