Mailbag time and it's debate central this week.
Tom Brady vs. Larry Bird? Got it. Jayson Werth vs. Carl Crawford? Check. "Back to the Future" vs. "The Empire Strikes Back?" Done. Title chances of the Red Sox? Right here. "Rosanna" vs. "Africa?" I wish, but Rob Bradford insisted I had a no Toto clause in my contract. And it was a deal breaker.
So a little debate plus we look at why the Pats have to win the Super Bowl, what exactly has happened to the rest of the AFC, come to the conclusion that no one cares about anything I have ever written and get my preseason predictions figured out (though, admittedly, no one cares).
To the 'bag we go ...
Your "Super Bowl or Bust" column completely sums up my feelings. The Pats have embarrassed three of the top 10 defenses in the league in the past four weeks and there is a good chance they'll go into the playoffs having beaten every other playoff team from the AFC already. At this point, I'm just hoping the Pats go up against the Ravens at some point in the playoffs. The Pats barely snuck by them the first week after the Moss trade, and I want their season to end in Foxboro after last year's debacle.
A: That's another other crazy thing about this Pats run, Greg. They are playing the best football the NFL has seen in the last three years. And at the same time, every other AFC contender has been seriously exposed in the last month.
The Jets lost to the Patriots by six touchdowns a week ago, have a quarterback who hasn't proven he can play unless it's 66 degrees, sunny and windless and apparently have the Savage Brothers working the sidelines. You mention the Ravens, who scored 10 points in a home loss to the Steelers two weeks ago and kicked away an 18-point lead to the Texans last Thursday (a game that saw them give up almost 500 yards of offense and look so gassed at the end of the fourth quarter that I was having flashbacks to running Heartbreak Hill with Rob Bradford at the 2002 Boston Marathon). The Chargers were humiliated at home against the Raiders before blowing out another AFC wannabe in the Chiefs. And the Steelers allowed Tom Brady to complete 30-of-43 passes for 350 yards, three TDs and nothing close to a pick (my vote for the best game he has ever played) in a game that was over after three quarters. Peyton Manning has thrown seven more INTs in the last four games than Brady has this season and the Colts have had a 2010 Red Sox level of injury season. The only AFC playoff team other than the Pats that has any kind of momentum is the Jaguars. And sure they are having a nice season and Maurice Jones-Drew is as good an MVP pick (non-Brady division) as anyone, but is there any way a Pats-Jags AFC Title Game at Gillette isn't 38-17?
This reminds of the 80's Bird and Celtics or the 90's Jordan's Bulls where we expect a win with every game.
It is fun to follow this team and witness the greatest QB in the history of the game play at his greatest. I know, I know, Montana, Manning, Marino, Elway, etc., will have fans saying ________ was better. None, with the exception of Elway, played in cold-weather home stadiums and none ... NONE! ... played bigger in the worst weather against the bigger opponents. Undefeated in snow (10-0)...something like 22-1 in sub-freezing games. Yet he puts up stats like he's playing in a dome. I don't believe Manning or Marino would come close to their achieved stats if they played on his field and in his weather.
It is not my intention to knock any of them down ... they were great. But we should appreciate watching the best of the best while he is playing at this level.
A: Here's a question: If Brady wins another MVP and Super Bowl does he definitively move ahead of Larry Bird on the all-time Boston athletes list? Or do you already have him ahead of No. 33? Right now I've got Russell in the top spot with Orr, Bird, Brady and Williams rounding out the top five. I think you can make a more than solid case for Russell and Orr as the best players ever at their sport, while Bird and Brady are a reach for that rarified air but perfectly acceptable candidates for best ever at their position.
Who's higher on the mountain? It's a really close call: Both turned around franchises from Day One, each won three titles, both earned reputations as the best clutch player in their sports. I have Bird ahead by a wispy mustache right now only because at his four-year peak (1984-87) some thought he might be the best player who ever lived. (And by the way, Michael Jordan is 0-6 against Bird in the playoffs. But I've given up the ghost on Bird as the best player of all time. I get it.)
Bird had three MVPs, two titles and four NBA Finals appearances in that stretch. Brady won three titles in four years - edge over Bird - but I don't think his four-year peak matches Bird's. (And how about Bird's MVP finishes from 1981-88? Second, second, second, first, first, first, third and second. A quick look at the all-time greats in each sport finds only one other guy with eight straight top three MVP finishes - Magic Johnson. How perfect is that?) But if Brady keeps this up you can make the case that he has had the two best seasons ever authored by a QB. That, along with four Super Bowls, and I think he moves ahead of Bird. And as a child of the 1980s in Boston - I adopted a twang in seventh grade and faked a back injury in high school - it literally hurts to write this, but I think it's true.
Heard you on Planet Mikey last night (Tuesday). Good job, I enjoy listening to you talk about sports other than the Patriots. You brought up an interesting question when you asked Mikey to rank the four teams based on most to least likely to win a championship. I have it Patriots-Red Sox-Celtics-Bruins.
A: I think that was Mikey's ranking as well, Aaron. I've got it Pats-Celtics-Red Sox-Bruins. If I'm a Sox fan when I get my breath back after running the victory laps, I might take a second and realize that for this team to be a World Series winner they'll need Josh Beckett and John Lackey. I bumped the Celtics ahead of the Red Sox, if only because I have faith in every key player on that team. Can't say the same for Beckett/Lackey/Papelbon. But it's a nice argument to have. I'm pretty sure it's not going on in Cleveland.
I'm not sure you're giving enough credit to the NFC. The Bears aren't in the class of the Falcons or Eagles. Either team would give the Pats a really tough Super Bowl matchup. I'm hoping for Vick vs. Brady myself.
A: Not sure how the Bears aren't in the class of the Eagles, considering they beat them less than a month ago. But I'm with you - Brady and Belichick vs. Vick is the Super Bowl I'd most like to see (FOX would be OK with it too, I suspect).
I really wish I had e-mailed you after that Cleveland loss. I was one Patriots fan who was not overly concerned. Yes, it was a very bad loss, but for some reason, I knew that it was essentially a flukey loss. I looked at the factors surrounding the game: Eric Mangini, who knows the Patriots well and had two weeks to prepare; the Browns have shown that they can get up for big games and upset quality teams; the Patriots made uncharacteristic (and that's the key word here) mistakes that they had not made in previous games, such as turnovers, penalties, dropped passes, and a poor job at stopping the run. All of it to me added up to an uncharacteristic performance, and a game that would not define this team. Like I said, I wish I had e-mailed you because there's no proof that I really believed what I'm saying now. But trust me, my faith in this team did not waver too much. I'm an optimist, it's true, but I do believe there were plenty of other Pats fans thinking the same thing.
Now, what we have seen from this team recently has been nothing short of spectacular, impressive and stunning. I definitely agree that this team is playing better now than the 2007 Patriots, and that making the playoffs simply isn't a good enough goal for them now. But I got especially squeamish at the headline of this article, and I think part of me just doesn't want this type of story to be out there, especially from the local media. It's like watching a no-hitter or perfect game in progress; you know something special is in progress, but you want to wait until it actually "happens." Luckily this team can put this type of pressure, hype and expectations out of mind and focus on their next opponent, but still, could it have killed ya to have waited until sometime in January to write this?
I do love what I've seen from the Pats though; Brady has complete control of the offense, the playcalling has been pretty well-balanced and well-designed to attack the defenses they are facing and the defense keeps making very good plays in critical situations. I hope this team hasn't peaked yet and will finish the regular season playing strong. And of course, let's hope they stay healthy. Speaking of which -- let's hope Devin McCourty is OK.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, let's take this season one game at a time, like the Patriots are doing, while keeping our hopes high. That's reasonable, right?
NY Pats Fan
A: Sure, reasonable enough. But there's no getting around the fact that the Patriots have crossed the point where anything less than a Super Bowl equals a disappointing season. I know that they didn't have high expectations going in and a ton of first- and second-year guys are getting significant snaps, but this is a team that is going to win 13-14 games and have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Put it another way: Will the Patriots be less than, I don't know, a touchdown favorite in any game the rest of the season? I don't see it. So that's a heavy favorite. I don't think anyone will be talking about what a terrific season the Patriots had on the Monday after a playoff loss to the Jaguars, right?
I seem to remember that you picked the Jets as the runaway winner of the AFC East and the Dolphins to come in second. Why does anyone care what you have to write about football at all?
A: There has been no proof -- none -- that anyone cares what I write about football. Or anything. Trust me, I have access to the numbers. There is a little known page on WEEI.com that only features childhood photos of Craig Mustard. That page kills my stuff in terms of traffic. So we know that I'm a moron and know nothing about football. I don't think D.J. Bean is putting that on This Just In.
I was dead wrong about the Pats. You nailed it. I thought they’d go 8-8 with that brutal schedule, but you said there was a chance at 12 wins (if I remember correctly). Good call, figured I’d give you your props since I was calling you crazy in August.
A: Does it ever end? Why does everything I do or say need to be known by everyone? Being one of the 25 best-known writers on WEEI.com is starting to wear me down. Here it is for the last time: I did pick the Jets to win the AFC East, but had them at 10-6. Same record I predicted for the Pats. That seemed to be pretty close to the preseason consensus. Maybe a game off one way or the other, but you know what I mean.
I am conflicted on the Carl Crawford signing. I think they overpaid in years and dollars and I can't help remembering that he was one of the Tampa players who took a cheap shot at Coco Crisp while he was being held down by the Tampa catcher (yes, I know Coco started the fight). On the other side, I think the Jason Werth contract with the Nationals explains some of the overpayment for Crawford and I think his addition will solidify the outfield and make the Sox lineup very good going into the next few years.
A: Look, I think this is a very good player whom the Red Sox paid like a great player. It's not a big deal -- the Red Sox paying Carl Crawford $25 million more than he's probably worth isn't going to hurt them -- but think about it this way: You could argue that Carl Crawford is the fifth-most valuable player on the Red Sox (Youkilis, Gonzalez, Pedroia and Lester). How can the fifth-most valuable player on any team be worth $142 million?
I just wonder if Red Sox fans understand that even though Crawford is going to be paid like he's one of the 10 best players in baseball it doesn't mean that he's going to produce like one. If everything goes well you're going to get Johnny Damon circa 2004 (and Damon's OPS and OBP that season was higher than any year in Crawford's career). But just remember that this is player with a career road OBP of .330 and a career Fenway slugging percentage of .406.
My best guess for his numbers in 2011? .286-18-86 with 40 steals. You can give him $142 million a year and he's still going to be what he is: A huge upgrade for the Sox in left field but not anywhere near an MVP kind of player. As long as Boston fans are OK with that I guess it's fine, but someone still has to explain to me why the Jayson Werth contract was universally crapped on while the Crawford deal has been given a complete tongue bath. What am I missing? Werth career line: .272/.367/.481. Crawford: .296/.337/.444. I'm not saying I'd take Werth over Crawford if everything was equal, but at $20 million less I really think I would.
RE: Back to the Future
Did you forget about Luke and Leia's kiss?
A: In my Monday column I wrote that the only two things in life that I'm sure of are that Tom Brady is the 2010 NFL MVP and "Back to the Future" is the most successful film that had incest as a central plot device (and, by the way, if they remade "Back to the Future" today it would be set in … 1980). And those are actually the only two things I am sure of. But Luke/Leia? Not a central plot device. Think about it: What did that kiss have to do with the rest of "Empire" or "Jedi?" Nothing. But I'll say this for "The Empire Strikes Back:" It remains my favorite movie that featured Billy Dee Williams in a cape.