On the night before Christmas, children have a euphoric aura about them. The anticipation of what awaits them under the tree the following morning. For the adult population that day is always the first Sunday of the new NFL season after Labor day.
Save for the fans of a select few cities… Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets. Everyone feels the dream of their coach and quarterback hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February is as real as it gets.
What transpires on that kickoff Sunday always leads to over reaction on Monday. Bridges in 16 cities are filled with possible jumpers like that guy Mel Gibson took for a ride in the first Lethal Weapon. Anxiety of ”what happened yesterday?” takes center stage in the minds of many. As fans of this league, what everyone should understand by now, the champions of Fall will not be the champions of Winter.
Before scouting out that prime real estate on your favorite bridge, try this on for perspective, the 2009 New Orleans Saints in the NFC and the 2003 New England Patriots of the AFC are the last two top seeded squads from each Conference to win the Super Bowl. Aside from those two, prior to that, you’d have to go back to the 90′s to find the top seed from either conference that won the championship.
In this century that’s 2 out of 26 possible number one seeds to win the trophy. What this tells us, and has told us for years. The darlings of the league early in the season will not bottle that same precision, energy and focus it takes to hold on for the full five months. It’s better to find your stride after the Turkey’s been roasted rather than making plans for New York City while wearing that clown suit at Halloween.
The smart money leading up to and after week one, according to the geniuses in the know, would entail betting the house on San Francisco playing Seattle in the NFC title game. Three hours prior to that Denver will be hosting no one worthy at Mile High en route to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1998. Also, since the AFC is this years home team in the big game. I’m feverishly searching for the prop bet in Vegas that has Peyton using Eli’s locker at MetLife Stadium that week.
How does one calculate the path of least resistance or the ease in which a team of roster depth can navigate through and withstand any and all pitfalls that will present themselves along the journey of the entire football season. Due to the salary cap it’s become almost impossible to predict which two teams will be standing in the end of any given year.
Now, I will not say without a doubt that Seattle, San Francisco, or Denver won’t be in the big apple two weeks before President’s day but most recent history is not on their side, even if they find themselves getting an extra week to prepare on Wild Card weekend in January due to securing a bye for the tournament one has to take notice of this little nugget.
For argument sake, lets say the 49ers win the NFC West and the Seahawks have the second best record in conference, they would still be relegated to the five seed and need to win three road games to get where they want to go. That scenario holds true if the situation is reverse, where Seattle is the one seed and San Francisco is the five.
Then these two would most likely have to play each other in the Divisional round of the playoffs in order to advance to the NFC title game. Should they play before the conference championship there is a real possibility neither makes it to New York. This is all assuming they both suffer zero roadblocks along the way.
In the AFC it’s all about Denver, watching them rack up 49 points on Baltimore last Thursday night has some thinking Commissioner Roger Goodell should just cancel the playoffs for this conference and give the Broncos a free ride to the Meadowlands.
Peyton Manning would have to do something he’s never done in his 15 year career, win a game when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, as a matter of fact, he would have to lead these Broncos to three straight games in such conditions to hold his second Lombardi. For the record, I have as many playoff wins in the cold as Mr. Saturday Night Live.
So, while the big networks promote their intelligent selections throughout the year, and you will hear these three teams touted all season long. Take solace in knowing history is on the side of those less worthy. Who knows, maybe your team will be the one in February that all the nay sayers didn’t see coming.