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Shutdown Corner's Overrated and Underrated: NFL heartbreak

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This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.

OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: NFL heartbreak

OVERRATED

Eric Edholm: Patriots falling short of 19-0

If you want to make the case of the 2007 Patriots being one of the best teams of all time (as Frank Schwab gamely did here), then go ahead — it’s hard to argue against them. But they also were flawed, and they had to know it heading into Super Bowl XLII.

That team took the NFL by storm, and I was witness to the shock-and-awe potency of their offense firsthand in a game in Dallas. The Cowboys were very good that season, 5-0 with four double-digit victories heading into their Week 6 matchup against New England.

The Patriots barnstormed them with a 27-point second half — without starting running back Laurence Maroney — and never let up. The look on Wade Phillips’ face after the game as he said, “Well, I guess they are that good,” was unforgettable. The Cowboys, by the way, would not lose another game until mid-December but were trashed on their home field by three touchdowns that day.

That’s how the Patriots approached that season: We’re going to beat down everyone, a supposed single-finger salute to the rest of the NFL for the Spygate fallout. And they were good enough to do so most weeks.

But you could see the cracks in the armor. As the world focused on an unbeaten regular season, the Patriots had narrow, tight, tense calls against the middling likes of the Eagles, Ravens and Jets (combined records 17-31) down the stretch. It took an all-out effort against the Giants in Week 17 to secure 16-0, and you could see that the feeling was as much relief as anything else.

The Patriots were playing tight. They knew it. The playoff victories over the Jaguars and Chargers (who were without LaDainian Tomlinson most of the game and had Philip Rivers playing with a torn ACL) were ugly gut-check games.

So losing in the Super Bowl wasn't stunning. Yes, on paper, the Patriots were the far superior team and should have won. They played well enough to do so, with fluky plays such as Asante Samuel dropping the biggest gift of an interception with 1:20 left followed by David Tyree’s miracle catch.

It also should not have hurt the Patriots’ fans as much as it appeared to, considering their three titles in the previous six years. Yes, they were going for the title of the greatest team ever in that game. But it was not meant to be. Like Don Shula’s 17-0 team of 1972 (which Frank also put in their proper perspective in the link above), I believe these Patriots would have been subject to historical doubt, even had they won that game.

Frank Schwab: Oakland's "Tuck Rule" loss

The "Tuck Rule" loss, in Raiders' fans minds, has grown to become Bill Buckner's error and Scott Norwood's miss wrapped into one ... if only you first multiplied their pain by 100.

The Raiders even complained about it on Twitter 11 years after the fact. But, considering the Raiders' history since then, I suppose there haven't been other moments to take their minds off it.

There's even this odd notion that the "Tuck Rule" cost the Raiders a Super Bowl, which is a mighty fine stretch. The Patriots were favored by three points over Oakland, then New England was 10-point and 14-point underdogs in its next two playoff games against the Steelers and Rams. The Raiders would have been huge underdogs in both games too. Just because New England pulled off two monumental upsets doesn't mean the Raiders would have. In fact, the odds would have been tremendously against them.

Here's the thing: The play, in which Tom Brady was hit by Charles Woodson and fumbled, only to have the play reversed, sparking a Patriots win, was enforced correctly. If you want to scream that the rule stunk (it was taken out of the rulebook last year), or that it should have been a fumble because it looked like a fumble, fine. Vent away. But what we're talking about, factually, is more than a decade of bad feelings over a call that was interpreted and enforced correctly. You know what the real conspiracy would have been? For the officials to look at the replay, know the rule and make an incorrect call to give the ball to the Raiders. That's a conspiracy, folks.

Making the correct call and that's what it was, no matter what it looked like is not a conspiracy. The Tuck Rule went against the Patriots earlier in the 2001 season, on a play by then Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde. It wasn't something that suddenly got invented for that particular circumstance. It was assessed in a Patriots game during that same season. This wasn't a real blown call (now, Jerry Rice's fumble that wasn't called a fumble just before Terrell Owen's Hail Mary catch against the Packers, that was something to complain about). It was the correct call.

We won't even get into the fact that the Raiders had plenty of chances to win the game. They had the ball with less than three minutes left and couldn't pick up a first down, for instance. There were opportunities.

Tough loss for the Raiders? No doubt. Bad call? Nope. Conspiracy? Haha, please. Cost the Raiders a Super Bowl? Very doubtful. Just a tough loss. Those happen all the time. Get over it.

UNDERRATED

EE: Peyton Manning was almost drafted by the Arizona Cardinals

What would the Cardinals have done?

In a meaningless Week 17 game to end the 1997 season against the Atlanta Falcons, Jake Plummer — the Cardinals’ second-round rookie quarterback — led his team to a fourth-quarter comeback by scoring two touchdowns, overcoming a 26-14 deficit to win the game.

It looked like a positive sign heading into the offseason.

But the victory cost the Cardinals a chance at drafting Peyton Manning. The Cardinals won four games, one more than the Indianapolis Colts, who earned the top pick in the draft. The San Diego Chargers would pick second, followed by the Cardinals. Had the Cardinals lost the game, their opponent winning percentage (the draft-order tiebreaker) was lower than the Colts. They would have had the first pick. And they could have drafted Peyton Manning, the NFL's only five-time MVP.

The Colts took Manning. The Chargers took Ryan Leaf. The Cardinals took Andre Wadsworth. We know how that went.

To be fair, Plummer was the local kid, and made a few plays as a rookie. Plus, Wadsworth was a college beast and looked like a great pick at the time.

Would the Cardinals have taken Manning and tried to trade Plummer? It’s not hard to wonder …

Interestingly, Manning has played against the Cardinals only twice all these years. His first time, in 2006, he played only one series in a meaningless Week 17 game as the Colts were resting for the playoffs. The next time he faced them, and the only time he played a full game against the Cardinals, Manning was brilliant at Arizona: four TD passes and 379 yards passing in a 31-10 Colts rout.

The Cardinals would go to the Super Bowl that season behind Kurt Warner. But they would not win, and save for Warner’s four-season brilliance, they have been plagued by mostly bad QB play before and since.

In a cruel and ironic twist, Manning considered going to Arizona as a free agent in 2012 after the Colts released him. But the Cardinals removed themselves from the running (!) when they chose to pay a $7 million roster bonus to Kevin Kolb. That’s just cruel.

Manning and the Broncos host the Cardinals in Denver this season. Another reminder of what might have been.

FS: Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII

Larry Fitzgerald isn't asking for my pity, but I'll give it to him anyway. His breathtaking touchdown late against the Steelers, when he turned upfield and split the safeties for a beautiful 64-yard score with 2:37 left, was going to be remembered as one of the biggest plays in NFL history. By the time the game was done, it became an "Oh, that's right!" play, barely remembered in the Steelers' comeback win.

The Cardinals aren't one of the NFL's marquee teams, so we don't constantly hear about their heartbreak. That Super Bowl is mostly remembered historically for the Steelers' big plays (and deservedly so) than  Cardinals fans getting their hearts torn out. You can't talk about NFL heartbreak for three minutes without someone crying about the Vikings, but the Cardinals had one of the toughest losses imaginable, and nobody's crying for them.

What makes that loss so tough is that was the only shot at a Super Bowl ring for one of the saddest franchises in the NFL. The Cardinals have won six playoff games in their entire history, and three of them came that season. In the Super Bowl era, that's the only time the Cardinals (St. Louis or Arizona) have been beyond the divisional round.

And they were this close to a Super Bowl championship that night. No matter how optimistic a Cardinals fan might be, there has to be the fear that Super Bowl XLIII was the best chance the team will ever get. Now that's a heartbreaking loss.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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