Back by popular demand is Zeus, with a look forward to the post-season, a look back at the mess known as the 2011 New Jersey Jets, and nine other timely topics.
1. Twelve teams alive, eleven games to go – It’s a bittersweet time, with yet another NFL regular season giving way to the raw excitement of the upcoming playoffs. As a lifelong Boston sports fan who has attended hundreds of sporting events (including Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals), I continue to marvel at the stark difference between regular and post season play. The stakes are higher, the intensity and passion are at fever pitch and the pure excitement of the fans is palpable.
2. It’s time to hunker down in front of The Big Screen for Wild Card Weekend. A very attractive slate of games …
- For NE fans, the Bengals-Texans rookie QB showdown is the biggest game the Patriots won’t play all year.
- The Saints and Lions will try to re-enact 1960s vintage AFL football, where defense was a complete afterthought and the breakneck pace of talented offenses racing up and down the field left the scoreboard operators in stunned exhaustion. No one gives the young Lions a chance. A potential reverse lock? This promises to be one highly entertaining football game.
- Are the Giants a team on the rise or is their strong finish the result of beating two fading overrated teams (jets and Cowboys) down the stretch. Inclement weather in the offing doesn’t help the dome dwelling Falcons.
- By contrast, the Steelers-Broncos match-up between the two lowest scoring teams in the playoffs will seem like an exercise in sensory deprivation. The outcome of this one will give us a very strong indication of whether or not God is indeed a football fan. (Ed. note – I once secretly harbored hopes that the Steelers would draft Tim Tebow because of the potential for a Ratings Blockbuster Reality TV Series where Tim and Big Ben are roommates. Kind of like The Odd Couple, with half of each episode rated G and the other half rated NC-17.)
3. Who’s Hot/Who’s Not – The Saints and the Patriots enter the playoffs on eight game winning streaks. Of the remaining teams, only the 49ers have won as many as three in a row. Over the final quarter, competition seems to be heating up in the NFC, where playoff qualifiers went a combined 19-5, while their AFC counterparts went 14-10.
4. Beep … Beep …Beep – That’s the sound of half of the AFC playoff field backing into the postseason. The Bengals celebrated clinching a playoff spot following a loss to the Ravens, thereby capping a lackluster 2-2 finish, while the Texans and the Tebows roared into the playoffs on the heels of three game losing streaks. One can hardly say that the race for the AFC playoffs was hotly contested as the also-rans (Titans, Raiders and – ahem – jets) went a combined 4-8 down the stretch.
5. The Most Important Position in Sports – Compare the playoff QBs by conference:
Not a pretty picture for the AFC.
6. A Question of Balance – The playoff field includes the NFL’s top four teams in scoring offense (Packers, Saints, Patriots, Lions) and the top four teams in scoring defense (Steelers, 49ers, Texans, Ravens). None of the twelve playoff teams cracked the top ten in both.
7. It’s All about Turnovers – On the other hand, seven of the top eight teams in turnover differential are still alive. The top three? San Francisco (+28), Green Bay (+24) and New England (+17), three of the top four seeds. (By the way, the Saints are +4 at home and -7 on the road. There’s no place like Dome.) Never mind offensive and defensive stats – the name of the game is turnovers.
8. Off the Scale – Either Big Ben’s new wife is a terrific cook or the Steelers’ QB has gone whole hog (so to speak) on The Rex and Rob Cruise Ship Buffet Diet. The NFL lists Evil Ben at 6’5/241. Might that weight be understated by a metric ton or two? As Brian Billick observed on the NFL Network, Ben is clearly a good bit larger than Bronco pass rushers Elvis Dumervil (5″11/260) and Von Miller (6’3/245). CBS will need a special wide angle lens to provide a panoramic view of the action.
9. Recruiting Update – In addition to a helicopter ride, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has promised Jeff Fisher a pony and a new video game if he agrees to coach in Miami. You may recall that it was Ross who botched the Jim Harbaugh deal last season while leaving Tony Sparano hanging indelicately in the wind. (Ed. note – Is it fair to wonder just how Mr. Ross made a gazillion dollars in real estate? Because, truth be told, he really doesn’t seem to have much of a clue at all.) Meanwhile, the jets have begun their ham-handed recruitment of Peyton Manning by floating an indication of interest through their mouthpiece/nitwit sports reporter Manish Mehta of the loathsome New York Daily News. Tampering remains hard to prove, especially when the Commissioner needs a strong team in New York for his kids to root for.
10. In other jet news, the calliope music continues even though the circus was supposed to leave town. You might have thought the jets would have the good sense to go underground after their elimination, at least for a little while. But no. We’re still awash in the messy aftermath of The Big Fail. A 7th round draft pick rookie QB who spent the season on IR condemns the whole clubhouse. Big mouth jerk Bart Scott acts like, well, a big mouth jerk. Fat Rex, now channeling Zippy the Pinhead, vocalizes (unedited) whatever ill-formed thought is currently meandering through his foot powder addled brain. All this, while we anxiously await the farewell presser from erstwhile jet Tomlinson, the Miss Manners of professional football. And while the team seems to have finally muzzled that well lubricated loose cannon Broadway Joe, now mild mannered former jet QB Boomer Esiason goes off on current jet QB (Marky) Mark Sanchez. (Even the normally affable Esiason wandered off the reservation by comparing Marky Mark to – oops – a Chihuahua.) The inescapable conclusion is that the jets are carriers of a particularly virulent strain of stupidity that saps the common sense, intelligence and human decency from everyone who comes in contact with them. (Please let me know if I got carried away here. It may well be that just thinking about the jets in the time it took to write this has infected me.)
11. A New Day – The Patriots closed out their 2008 home schedule humiliating the Arizona Cardinals 47-7 in a game that was not anywhere as close as the score indicated. This was the same Cardinal team that gave the Steelers everything they could handle in Super Bowl XLIV. The moral of the story: it’s not just a clichÃ© when they say everyone starts the postseason 0-0. Sometimes, a team gets hot at the right time, and then look out. This year’s tournament is wide open. Almost anything can happen. After all, that’s why we watch.