Two weeks vs. one week. Which do you prefer?
Some NFL types just want to play the game. Others want the two weeks to scheme and dissect the opponent, or allow key players to heal myriad bumps and bruises.
Three of the last four Super Bowls have been one-week games. Super Bowl XXXVIII will revert back to two weeks. Some would say Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the master schemer, would have more time to plot his plan against the pesky Carolina Panthers. Others, such as Baltimore coach Brian Billick, believe the two weeks might be a big advantage to the Carolina Panthers.
"It's an advantage for Carolina but it's not a disadvantage to the Patriots," Billick said. "Carolina had just come off a big win in Philadelphia. I think it's advantageous to the team which has had to travel to win their conference championship to be able to go back home for a week and relax for a few days and then begin to implement their game plan at home before they head out for what essentially is another road game in the Super Bowl."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVII and XXXVI, respectively, both played the week after winning their NFC and AFC title games on the road.
"We had to win two postseason games on the road that year," said Billick, whose Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV. "If we had to come right back and go off to the Super Bowl, I'm not saying we wouldn't have won the game, but it would have been more difficult from a physical point of view and mentally as well. All of the outside things you have to go through with media, tickets, and family, it would take its toll. So we did have a freshness about us once we started playing."
Former Giants coach Jim Fassel, who was on the losing end of that Super Bowl to Billick's Ravens, said, "Two weeks between games can be difficult in terms of trying to find that fine line between doing too much and not doing enough, especially in that first week. We scaled back a bit, cut back our practice reps. We tried to go through some basic things that first week. Wednesday would be a normal first down-type day; Thursday was nickel and red area. And then we took a couple of days off and we headed down to Tampa and just had a normal week.
"You watch more tape on the team you're playing, but you want to create a good pace for your team. You don't want your team to peak too early. You're trying to keep your players' emotions from taking over because they're anxious to play the game right away."
Belichick has been involved in both time spans in the four Super Bowls he's been involved in. In Super Bowl XXXVI, his Patriots beat the Rams, 20-17, with one week. In Super Bowl XXXI, as a defensive assistant for the Patriots, the time frame was two weeks in a 35-21 loss to the Packers. In his two Super Bowl wins as the defensive coordinator of the Giants, there were two weeks between the 39-20 win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI and just one week in the memorable 20-19 win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
"In all of those cases, Buffalo, St. Louis, Denver, and Green Bay, who we played in the preseason, in all of those cases we had played the team earlier in the season with Green Bay being a preseason game," Belichick said. "In this case, we are really starting new on Carolina. I think the most important thing from a coaching standpoint is to make sure that we know what we are doing before we give it to the players. So we are going to make sure that we take enough time to thoroughly evaluate the Panthers and try to come up with a competitive game plan against what they are doing. Last time as an example, there was so much urgency because of the shortness of the week and playing one day and flying down to New Orleans the next day and all of that, it totally changed the scope of time that we had to work with. Now we have more time, we will just try to allocate it and use it wisely." Allocating it and using it wisely are certainly the key phrases.
Legend Bill Walsh remembers, "Two weeks is good in terms of being able to leave no stone unturned in your preparation. If you can't figure something out in that amount of time, you're not using your time well. The thing you can do, is you can outthink yourself a little bit. Sometimes you're looking at something on film time and time again and you're making change after change. That just gets confusing to the players. You have to define what you want to do, and stick with it. I'm not saying you don't make changes here and there as the week goes on, but you need to be in charge. You need to bring out confidence to the players that your game plan is sound."
Fifteen of the last 20 Super Bowls have had two weeks in between. Twelve have been relatively lopsided games, decided by 10 or more points. Three of the five one-week games have been decided by 7 or fewer points. As to when the game plan is shown to the players, that varies, too. Billick said during the first week he went through some mental preparation with the team where he'd introduce a few things in practice they were likely going to expand on in the second week.
"We went through more mental reps than anything else, and then during the normal week, we just gave the players the game plan the same time we normally would and practiced it as we normally would," said Billick. "I think we had one day of pads, on Thursday, and that was it. By that time you've played a lot of football, but you do want to make sure the guys aren't worn down. What you want is freshness out of your players in a game like that."
Belichick agreed with Billick's schedule. There's no way the Patriots will board the airplane Sunday and have the entire game plan implemented.
"I would say somewhere in between there," Belichick said. "It is certainly more than a bye week, but I don't think when we get on the plane we are going to be ready to play, either. I think there will still be more work to do. There will be things that we will leave to cover in the second week of preparations so that we don't do it all at once. But at the same time we don't want to leave it all to the end, either. So we will just try to manage it all the way through. But I think somewhere in between there would be my answer."
Fassel also said the two-week period isn't bad if you have a veteran team such as the Patriots. They've been there and know how to allocate their time and how to teach the younger players to do the same. As for the game, Fassel is a friend of Carolina coach John Fox, who was Fassel's defensive coordinator in New York.
"I think it's two excellent teams," said Fassel. "Both teams deserve to be there. There's no fluke team. The Patriots are a team that makes few mistakes and that's why they've won 14 straight. The team that makes the fewest errors is going to win the game. Carolina needs to keep moving the ball. The Patriots disguise their coverages so well it's tough to get the ball down the field against them. Foxy has done a great job awakening his team. They weren't really a 1-15 team. There was talent there and Foxy has made the most of it."
Billick said the Patriots remind him of his Super Bowl team in that "they have veteran players who understand the task at hand. They're not awed by anything, and I think that's a huge advantage to have in a big game like this."