Monday, January 09, 2006

January: When I get to watch football teams that don't suck

Another wildcard weekend has come and gone in the NFL, and this one presents a stronger field for the second week in the playoffs than I can recall on wildcard weekend in quite some time: with the exception of the Redskins, I can honestly envision each of this week's winning teams going on to beat the bye-rested teams they'll be facing next week. That's not to say that I would actually pick each of these teams to win next week, but it wouldn't shock me if any of them did.

Rather than hash out this week's action, I'll break with my own tradition and actually offer picks for this week's games. Longtime readers know that aside from my preseason predictions, I rarely offer picks on games each week. But hey, it's a new year and all that rot, eh?

NFC first:

Carolina at Chicago: The Panthers really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone; they were in the Super Bowl two years ago and came this close to beating the StuPats in that game. They've got hunger, playoff experience including huge road wins (they won the NFC title in Philly in 2003, and dominated the Giants yesterday), and good coaching. The Bears are...well, I don't know crap about the Bears. It's weird about Buffalo: you hear all about the Packers being a trainwreck this year because it's Brett Favre, and you hear about the Vikings because of that whole "Love Boat" thing, but the team that went 13-3 and won the division with an apparently amazing defense? Meh. I'm picking the Panthers to win just because I'm more familiar with them. (The Bills played them this year, and lost.)

Washington at Seattle: This looks like the snoozer of this year's playoffs. Gregg Williams's defense will probably give the Seahawks a hard time, but unless they can get that stunted offense going, this looks like a train wreck waiting to happen. Pick: Seahawks.

(Side note: Hey, Bills fans! Did you catch Williams talking about some incident involving one of his players who was ejected in Saturday's game? Was it me, or did Williams sound a hell of a lot more animated, articulate, and emotionally invested in what was going on in Washington than he ever did here? What was up with that?)

Now the AFC:

New England at Denver: Denver's rested and is really a pretty damn good team. And yeah, everybody knows that the Stupid Patriots "know how to win on the road in the playoffs", but really, do they? They know how to win in Pittsburgh in the playoffs, but then, as much as I love the Steelers (they're my "Number Two" team in the AFC, and I only root against them if they're playing the Bills), that's kind of something that everybody has known how to do since Bill Cowher's been the coach there. (They've been bounced from the playoffs in their own park by the Bills, Chargers, Broncos, and StuPats twice since 1992 -- and there's that dropped Hail Mary in 1996 that almost added the Colts to that list.) Mile High's a totally different animal, and while the StuPats have played on the road, what they haven't done is played straight through, including the Wild Card round, which is very hard to do. It's easy to discount the physical nature of the game, but all those extra games in January pile up over several years. (Consider this: between 1988 and 1993, the Bills played in 16 playoff games -- which means that they played the equivalent of seven football seasons in just six years.) So I'm going to stick with my fervent desires and pick the Broncos.

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis: Well, the Steelers sure looked good yesterday, didn't they? They stuck with their game plan, they didn't panic when they were down by ten points early on, and they executed when they needed to. But then, they're going into Indy, a team that looks to me like this year's "Team of Destiny": they're about as hungry a team as you'll see in the NFL, they're a lot more balanced this year than they've been in the last couple of years, and the emotional factor might work for them this year too. After years of being the NFL's poster child for the phrase "class act", Tony Dungy is probably more due for a title than anybody, and the recent loss of his son will probably give his team even more desire to get that Lombardi Trophy. (And while some think that the Colts looked flat after they clinched home field in early December, I disagree: even when they went to Seattle in a game that meant nothing to them but still meant a lot to the Seahawks, the Colts were very competitive with their backups in the game for most of the time. I won't be stunned if the Steelers beat the Colts, but I do think that it would be a very tall order for that to happen. Pick: Colts.

And one final note: if the Colts do win, then that means that for the StuPats to get to their third consecutive Super Bowl, they would have to beat the Number Two and Number One seeds on the road to do so, which would be a pretty impressive feat. Since I'm pretty much the last person on Earth who still refuses to anoint the StuPats as the Greatest NFL Team Ever -- and, frankly, unless they win out by scores of 56-0 each game, I'm likely to remain that guy, since I'm just that pigheaded about the StuPats -- I'm going to make this pledge: If the StuPats win their third straight Super Bowl, I will buy a StuPats shirt of some kind and wear it in public. However, I'm going to qualify this pledge thusly:

1. They have to win the next two on the road. If the Steelers upset the Colts this week and send the AFC Championship Game to Gilette Stadium, the pledge is off.

2. They have to win Super Bowl by more than three points, and they have to win it in regulation. If they put up another 24-21, 32-29, or 20-17 squeaker, the pledge is off. And if the Super Bowl goes to OT, the pledge is off.

3. I will not make any promises about what kind of shirt I'll buy, so don't ask. I said a StuPats shirt. I'm not going to drop thirty bucks or whatever for the spiffiest "Super Bowl XL Champions" shirt that exists, and I'm sure as hell not putting on a Satan Tom Brady jersey, got it? We're talking bare-bones, plain-shirt-with-a-StuPat-logo-on-it thing here.

4. I promise that if this comes to pass, I will not alter the shirt in any way. No magic marker to Tedy Bruschi's face, no appending of the word "Stupid" to the team's name. I'll play fair with the shirt.

5. I'll offer proof by posting a photo of myself so attired on the blog.

6. I will not stop referring to the StuPats as the StuPats, even if they win out by scores of 56-0 each game. A guy's got to have his limits, you know?

OK, time for more football!

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