However, some teams are frustrating. They don’t play to expectations; they lose games you expect them to win, then play like all-time greats the following week. No team epitomizes this for me more than the New York Giants. I haven’t counted, but I would be surprised if there is any team that has defied my attempts to correctly pick their games more than the Giants. Last season, they were so maddeningly inconsistent that it drove me crazy. They had to win three of their last four games, including the winner-take-all finale against the Cowboys, just to make the playoffs at 9-7, after which they ran the table to win the Super Bowl, coolly dispatching the Packers (15-1), 49ers (13-3) and Pats (13-3) along the way.
Now, I do not claim to be a journalist, nor would I ever say that I am above bias when it comes to writing about football. I like what (and who) I like (and vice versa), and everything is fair game. My frustration with the Giants may have caused me to lash out at them in the past. I may have called Brandon Jacobs an idiot, or words to that effect (That one’s easier to take now, isn’t it Giants’ fans?). It’s possible that I may have written about Eli Manning’s goofy face or propensity to throw interceptions in bunches. I may have even characterized Rooney Mara's performance in the remake of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" as weak and uninspired (OK, that last one is not true; I loved her portrayal, even though making the movie was completely unnecessary). Hey, that’s just me letting off some steam (not to mention telling the truth—but I digress). Whatever criticisms I have leveled against the Giants in the past, I have been consistent in my praise for the man who has been called, “…the best game-day coach in the NFL,” by no less an expert than myself.
Tom Coughlin has always insisted on doing things his way. I’ve always liked his reputation as a no-nonsense coach who is committed to discipline, because football played at the highest level is the ultimate team sport. I can’t count how many times I heard or read that Coughlin was on the proverbial “coaching hot seat,” where it seemed that his firing was only a matter of time, only to have the team respond with inspired play. I remember Coughlin taking heat for benching Kurt Warner (before he rose like a Phoenix in Arizona) in favour of young Elisha Manning. I recall how Coughlin’s leadership was questioned by Tiki Barber (Anyone remember that dick bag?), both when Barber was a player and as a (terrible) broadcaster. I was impressed when Coughlin’s Giants gave the Patriots all they could handle in the final game of the 2007 season—even though New York could not improve its playoff position—when the Pats were trying to complete their perfect regular season. When I really noticed him was during the NFC Championship game against the Packers in 2008, in the Arctic conditions of Green Bay, as he stood on the sidelines. His face was so freaking red; I thought for sure he would look like that forever. I remember thinking, “For the love of Christ, man, cover up!” Of course, I realized how important the team was to him then, that he would not have his men out on the field giving their all in such adverse conditions while he was warm on the sidelines, sheer brilliance from an emotional and psychological standpoint. Of course, Coughlin’s men, emboldened by his faith in them in week 17, would go on to defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, as Coughlin outmaneuvered, out-strategized, flat-out outcoached Bill Belichick.
Now Coughlin is a two-time champ. No one can ever question the fact that he is a winner. Yet time and again, he is overlooked and underestimated. It’s always the other team that’s the favourite, the other coach who has all the answers. He loves it. He uses it. He reminds me of one of my favourite TV characters of all time. This was another guy who was always underestimated. His adversaries were always richer, from a higher social class, better dressed, successful, connected, and they always thought they were too smart to ever be threatened by the short, rumpled, confused, disorganized detective who sought to expose their crime. Their perceived superiority was always their downfall, but the real genius of the situation was how the detective led them to think they couldn’t lose, when all the while he was using his keen intellect and attention to detail to make them reveal themselves to him gradually, until they were caught.
Last week, Coughlin did it again. He got his team ready to face the 49ers, to some, the best overall team in the NFL, a team that had outscored its opponents 79-3 in its previous two games, while the Giants had struggled before rallying to beat the Browns in their most recent contest. Playing in San Francisco, all signs pointed to a home win. We should have known; Columbo always got the killer in the end.
Seahawks at 49ers
This should be a very interesting game. Although the Seahawks were aided by some questionable calls in their victory over the Pats last Sunday, they won because they are tough on defence, particularly in their deep, physical secondary. Their offence is another matter; average at best at home, a disappearing act on the road. The 49ers just got humiliated at home, and will be pumped for this divisional matchup. They need to be patient and methodical on offence, and their defence will take care of them by providing them with short fields and maybe some turnovers. Winner: 49ers