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Sun February 5, 2012
Why Do Laymen Love The Giants? It's All Psychology
The Super Bowl: an annualized marketing event-cum-gambling extravaganza. That they have to play a football game to justify the ads, gambling and Ines Sainz's career is still in the official rule book somewhere, but that rule book is now sponsored by the Gatorade G2 series. Why does Gatorade have more series than Telemundo?
Anyway, a casual survey of fans, experts and Ines Sainz indicates that on the real question — Who will win the GAME? — there is a building consensus. The Giants are the pick of not only the vast majority of people I casually survey on the streets of Indianapolis, but also 39 out of 71 ESPN personnel, 5 out of 5 CBS experts, and 60 out of 110 celebrities.
How much credence should one give Mamie Van Doren, whose qualifications are starring roles in Sex Kittens Go to College and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women? Well, she also had an affair with Joe Namath, so her pick of the Giants should carry at least as much weight as Placido Domingo's.
Actually, I don't put any more stock in the "expert" predictions than those of the stars (or has-been quasi-stars), because all are being governed by some interesting psychological tendencies. The Patriots are a 2.5-point favorite in this game. When the matchup was first set, they were a 3.5-point favorite, which might seem like an insignificant difference, but actually indicates that huge amounts of money was bet on the Giants, forcing oddsmakers to revise the point spread. The layman loves the Giants. The question is why.
From a game perspective, you will hear that the Patriots have a terrible secondary, which is true; that their record-setting tight end is hurt, which is true; and that the Giants have a terrific pass rush, which is also true. But beyond those facts, there is more psychology at play than solid analysis.
One point being made by celebrity and football expert alike is that the Giants are a "hot" team. "They're the hotter team," says ESPN's Mike Greenberg.
"Giants are on such a good roll right now," says Holly Madison, who is described by Scripps Howard as an "entertainer" (she was one of Hugh Hefner's Girls Next Door).
LeRoy Neiman, who perhaps sees life in impressionistic dapples, predicts: "Positively the Giants because they're on a winning streak." True, the Giants have won five straight. But the Patriots have won 10. Focusing on the features of only one team while ignoring the fact that they face an opponent is a classic predictive fallacy when it comes to team sport. One version of this is thinking that a certain team will be very motivated. "Coach X has really gotten his boys up for the game," you'll hear. And what, Coach Y is playing Enya music in the locker room and telling his players not to overexert?
Another logical fallacy is the similarity heuristic. Heuristics are mental shortcuts, and this one posits that people, when attempting to envision future results, like to have a model to hold onto. Of course, if you were asked to imagine what will happen in a Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots, wherein the Giants have the much worse regular season record, and in fact barely made the playoffs, you would think back to Super Bowl XLII. Because the Giants won that game, it's easy to imagine the same script playing out in Super Bowl XLVI, even if your imagining isn't conscious.
Also, once a team or politician, or an American Idol contestant, wins, that win is seen as inevitable. The Giants got very lucky, what with catches off players' helmets and so forth. If Eli Manning had been sacked on that particular third-down play four years ago, would so many people be picking the Giants today?
Then there is the recency effect, which is sort of self-explanatory: that we tend to value the things we see more recently. The Patriots' greatest strength is their offense, but the offense didn't look great against the Ravens. So we say, "Ah, the Patriots' offense is over-rated." Perhaps a better explanation is that against the conference's best defense, any offense will do less well than they do normally. The Patriots looked awesome the week before, but that result is dismissed by noting it was achieved against a weak Broncos team. Yes, the Broncos were weak, but most of their weakness was on offense. Denver had a pretty good defense for the second half of the year, a fact that is totally brushed aside.
Overall, I do think the Giants' pass rush will bother Brady. But I also think the Patriots' pass rush will hound the Giants, who have the second-worst pass protection in football. I do think the Patriots' secondary is weak, but the Giants aren't exactly top-notch. I don't have an easy counterpoint to the fact that Rob Gronkowski's injury is a setback for the Patriots, except to note that New England is the most creative team around. This is why my Super Bowl prediction is LeRoy Neiman's career over Mamie Van Doren's by a point.