Please welcome back Zeus, long overdue with his unique perspective on the NFL:
1. Prime Time – For the red-blooded American football fan, the offseason drags on interminably while the 17 weeks (just slightly less than one-third of the year) that constitute the NFL regular season are a blur. So here we are, in the bitter cold of January, with 256 regular season football games of 2012 in the rear view mirror, and the promise of the eleven best games of the season â€“ the playoffs â€“ yet to come.
Indeed, the two most compelling events in American sports are the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament and the NFL playoffs. What they have in common is that they are single elimination tournaments, resulting in an unrivaled level of excitement and unpredictability.
2. Here in New England, fans have had their senses and sensibilities dulled by success. Until 2003, in their first 43 seasons, the Patriots had never won more than eleven games in a single season (and had only won as many as elevenÂ six times). In the ten years since, New England has won twelve or more games seven times, averaging over twelve wins per season. The notion that twelve wins in 2012 result is vaguely unsatisfactory to much of the Patriot fandom most seem bizarre indeed in other outposts through the NFL.
The regular season was a mixed bag. A young team got off to an uneven start. There was the rarity of two home losses (Arizona and San Francisco) coupled with two other near misses (rallying to beat the jets in OT and holding off the Bills with a late McCourty interception). And then, there is the much lamented matter of The Three Field Goals: one missed against the Cardinals, one by the Ravens that was deemed Good Enough by the Officials-With-Seeing-Eye-Dogs, and the one not taken against the upstart Seahawks. A 12-4 record, on balance, seems about right.
3. Handicapping the Playoff Field â€“ All you have to do is look at the most important position in the sport.
Good but Not Great
Talented but Untested
- RG III
Itâ€™s pretty well documented that QBs face tougher challenges come playoff time. The remaining talent is the best, the focus and intensity is at its highest level and everything happens just a bit faster. Experience matters, especially at QB. A clear advantage here for New England, Green Bay and Denver (although the Broncosâ€™ edge has to be given a haircut in recognition of Peytonâ€™s propensity for playing postseason games with a very large bone in his throat).
4. Jumping to Conclusions (Part 7,583,456) â€“ I hate that The Sporting Press is already talking up a Patriots-Broncos AFC championship game. There no guarantee this will even happen so canâ€™t we at least wait until the teams qualify before the Overhype Machine goes into warp speed, beating the game into a bloody, unrecognizable pulp?
5. Horseshoes – Itâ€™s easy to see why the Colts might be sentimental favorites among some NFL fans. The Polians left the team in a shambles (over $35 million of dead salary cap money in 2012), the health challenges overcome by Chuck Pagano, the class of Bruce Arians and the heroics of rookie QB Andrew Luck â€¦
Still, here in New England, we will not forget what owner Irsay,Jr. and his team have stood for over the past decade. The Colts cried like babies after the Patriots repeatedly kicked their asses and then ran sniveling to the competition committee, using their influence (the belligerent Polian Sr.) to get the rules changed to suit their own purposes. And on numerous occasions, the Colts have disrespected fans, opponents, the networks and their sponsors by refusing to even compete in games where they simply didnâ€™t feel like it. This included wimping out on a possible undefeated season in 2009 and tanking the entire 2011 year in the interests of securing the services of QB Luck.
6. Ray Ray – Yeah, Ray Lewis was a great player and a surefire Hall of Famer (pending certain longstanding legal complications). He also set the all-time career record for Glory-Hog Jump-on-the-Pile-Late Pad-the-Stats tackles. And, just in case anyone hadnâ€™t already noticed, thereâ€™s a fine line between being a charismatic leader and a pompous, self-important windbag. Everyone without press credentials or a Maryland zip code knows that Ray crossed that line a long time ago.
After two days of the NFL network prattling on about how truly great Ray is (NFL.com poll â€“ greatest Americans of all time 1. Abraham Lincoln 2. Ray Lewis 3. George Washington 4. â€¦.), Iâ€™m ready to use a sledge hammer to drive huge spikes into my ears.
7. Unheralded â€“ Hardly anyone talks about Redskin RB Alfred Morris, who gained over 1600 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. RG III has had a great year, but a dominant running game sure makes life easier. This was a masterful coaching job by Mike Shanahan, even if he does look like everyoneâ€™s creepy uncle.
8. New York, New York – Much to the chagrin of Commissioner Blockhead, no playoffs for the denizens of The Big Alpo. Looks like the Giants missed their wakeup call.
The jetsâ€™ season had all of the artistic merit of a dumpster fire (including the pungent odor). Most notably, gang green somehow managed to turn the devoutly religious and resolutely positive Tim Tebow into a malcontent. As a sociological experiment, the jets should replace Le Grand Rex with St. Tony Dungy. It would take less than a season of everyday exposure to the Mean, The Ugly and The Stupid to turn the sanctimonious Dungy into a crack smoking pimp with a meth lab and a child pornography business on the side.
9. (Oh!) Tannebaum â€“ Oh how we’ll miss Mikey. His manifest incompetence left the jets in the limbo of mediocrity with a buffoon/sexual deviate for a coach, no quarterback, little other appreciable talent, lousy prospects for the draft and their own Fiscal Cliff. For society as a whole, this represents a Humanitarian Success worthy of a Nobel Prize.
10. Enjoy Wild Card Weekend – The bye is not only great for the Patriots, but also a welcome respite for the local season ticketholders who had attended three home game (two at night) over the last four weeks. Even for the fans, itâ€™s nice to get a week off before the frenzy begins.
A special thanks to Andy for allowing me to share his column!
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