I'm not going to discount New York's title as a fluke. It certainly was improbable, whatever that's worth. It's irrational to argue that four postseason games, won by a total of 20 points, are more important than the 16 games that preceded them. No doubt New York won when it mattered most, but clutch is not an ability, it's an adjective added by writers after the fact.
Before the season started, DVOA, among the best metrics for predicting future success, forecasted New York winning 8.3 games and accumulating a 5.2%, or 12th overall DVOA. Their defense was predicted to decline-badly: 6.6% or 24th. Seattle by contrast was projected to have 9.9 wins and a 19.3% overall DVOA.
New York's title and 3-0 record (and, for that matter Seattle's ugly 1-2 record) has cast this game as a mismatch. Champion against pretender. Best team from the best conference in football against a mediocre team from the worst conference in football. Given the talent on the field, New York without Osi, Seattle just beginning to rebuild a shattered receiving corps, meaningful preseason projections and what 2008 has told us, this is a close matchup that tips in New York's favor because of home field advantage. Slightly.
In one important way, New York's defense hasn't shown its potential: forcing turnovers. Despite forcing punts on 60% of all drives, New York has forced but one turnover, an interception courtesy the hapless Rams. That will eventually revert to normal.
It's no small victory to whoop weak opponents, but they haven't really. They edged a just bad Bengals club in overtime after winning the coin toss, crushed the Rams, and beat a discombobulated Redskins outfit I'm not sure exists anymore. Again, is that to discount a 3-0 team with a +40 point differential? No, it's to say that nothing done really defies Football Outsiders first projection.
The team is off to a hot start, by any metric it dominates Seattle, and given home field advantage there's no guarantee New York won't crush Seattle into dust. It's early, the Giants could be taking the next step, becoming a perennial contender, they certainly have a good group of young talent, but is that really what I think? Is that where I'd lay my money or my life? No. I don't think the Giants are this good, and I don't buy three games as enough information to prove otherwise. Teams get to hot starts and look like world beaters, but like the 1998 Seahawks, they can crash down quickly.
In one important way, New York's offense hasn't shown its potential: allowing turnovers. One pick in 29 drives is not sustainable. Still, it's been dominant on those drives, garnering 42 yard per drive, and when it reverts one can't really know what it will revert to.
So, we're left with two teams. One with a title and a pristine record that's been a little unlucky forcing turnovers on defense, but equally as lucky limiting turnovers on offense. One with a bad rep and worse record, that's been unlucky forcing and about what you'd expect preventing turnovers. Lead ball carriers Matt Hasselbeck and Julius Jones have longstanding records of allowing minimal turnovers. The Giants are at home, a ~15.0% DVOA boost; Entering the season, Seattle was projected as a 14.1% better team.
You see where I'm going with this.
The possible outcomes of a football game run in exponential time. That is, if one attempted to reduce it to its most basic steps, and computed each possible outcome starting with the kickoff and each dependent outcome from there on, the number of basic steps it would take to project even one game would take the fastest computer on Earth many time's the history of the universe to project. When two teams are relatively evenly matched, and the data to point towards an advantage for one or the other small, then it's foolish to think an accurate prediction can be made. You really can't eliminate any possible outcome or even say one is much more likely than the other. There's good arguments based on statistics and personnel that either team could win in a blowout, a close low scoring game, a close high scoring game or a somewhat lopsided game that goes either way.
I think Seattle is a good team that's underrated. I think New York is a good team that's overrated. And I have no idea who will win or how they will win.
Tomorrow we'll talk matchups. Matchups matter, especially in close games. This game has the feel of a playoff game. Like a playoff game, the team that wins the turnover battle will likely win. Not because they're better, but because they're luckier. And that's football.