This is an interesting day.
Three games of football left in the NFL season (I’m not counting the Pro Bowl), two of which are happening today. It’s unique in that both the Packers (Dennis’ favourite team) and the Steelers (my favourite team) are still involved, and could potentially play in the Super Bowl against each other in two weeks. Both of our teams are favored, though I’m more wary of the Steelers advancing, as they have some injury trouble I’m worried about.
Football’s popularity in the US is fascinating to me, and I worry about how a pending lockout (with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire after this year). It seems to me that given the NFL’s popularity in struggling economic times, that neither side should be inclined to kill the golden goose. But they’re looking to. The owners want 18 game seasons (with two exhibition games instead of four), and the players are digging in to resist that and other changes with all their might.
Not here to really go into that, I wanted to talk about the real games today, and why the NFL is so popular. It seems to me that having one game a week helps- you’re not overexposed, and each game seems like more of an event when you have time to build up to it, analyze it, and then deconstruct it afterwards, as so many people (like me) are prone to doing. This is part of why the Superbowl IS such an event, and draws even non-fans to parties. I’ve always maintained it’s more about the event than the game- which is usually average at best, and never what it’s hyped up to be.
(I despise people who say they “watch for the commercials”, or the halftime show, which hasn’t been good as long as I can remember. I get it if you’re not a football fan, and need some way to counter the hype, but don’t be that wannabe anti-sports elitist on a day that isn’t yours. You’re probably smarter in other ways, you’ve already got that.)
As we’re at the conference championships, with Dennis’ and my team still in it, there are four scenarios which could play out. Let’s break ’em down, in order of my own preference:
This is the one. Armageddon At The Church Household. The Madden game that Dennis and I occasionally play, where I inevitably take him to school with the OMG BLITZ and put Aaron Rodgers on his back, beating him soundly. In real life, however, this would be a very fun matchup.
Beyond the trash talk and the likely fireworks in Dennis and I watching this game together, this would make Peter King’s SI prediction come true- a football prognosticator getting preseason predictions right is a little bit unheard of in this business, so I imagine he’ll bring it up if he hasn’t already (which he probably hasn’t yet, afraid of jinxing it- sports people are funny that way, hockey most of all)
And it would be a fun game, in a Dallas dome. There’s a lot of similarities: Good QBs in their prime who can take some hits, fast receivers (save for Hines Ward of the Steelers and Donald Driver of the Packers, veteran leaders who’ve taken lesser roles) and they both play a 3-4, though the Steelers play with more of a ‘zone blitz’ scheme than the Packers’ man-to-man. The Steelers are better defensively, while the Packers are probably stronger on offense. I don’t recall offhand if the Packers and Steelers have ever met in the last few years, so there’s not really a rivalry to build on (well, not one that’s built in Madden). I like that, though. Build something new.
I’ll admit, I wouldn’t like the Steelers chances in that game. Their offensive line is a little demolished (bad for when the Packers blitz, which they do), and if there’s a defensive weakness, it’s in the secondary, where their CBs aren’t great in coverage, and probably can’t contain the Packers’ receivers. Troy Polamalu had an awful game against the Ravens, which is bad because he’s usually a game changer. He’s hurt, but maybe shouldn’t be playing, with how many tackles he missed.
But yeah, that’s the one we’re pulling for.
Hoping my team gets in- I’d like this matchup against the Bears better, since I’ve been picking against the Bears all year. Just don’t think they’re much of a team, and more mirage than actual substance. The Bears’ corners can be beaten by speed receivers, and Jay Culter is Jekkyl-and-Hyde on offense. He throws a lot of picks, and their line has troubles protecting, much like the Steelers.
Their defense has returned to being great, and I imagine a lot of the media coverage coming up to the Super Bowl would focus on the similarities between the two teams historically: Great, hard nosed defenses, running the football, great linebackers, et cetera, et cetera. The thought of the Steelers kicking to Devin Hester terrifies me, their special teams are mediocre at best. The difference here is the Steelers’ advantage at the skill positions, and the fact they’re not secretly terrible.
(I’m so bitter about the Bears, they killed me a lot of weeks in my football pool. The upside about this scenario is it would make Micky’s head explode, I don’t think he could cheer for either team.)
Otherwise known as the “Screw You, Brett Favre” Bowl. I think this would be the league’s second favourite choice, after Packers/Steelers.
Despite the complete lack of black-and-gold, I secretly wouldn’t mind this one either. I think this would give the media the perfect chance to tie a bow on Brett Favre’s career and move past the media hog, though it would give him two more weeks of spotlight attention, which is a definite minus. I am curious as to who he’d back, given how he left both teams. Probably the Packers.
There’s that intrigue, which’ll play into a lot of storylines. Brash Jets head coach Rex Ryan didn’t play the Packers this year, so I don’t know if he’ll let his team talk trash all through the week, or stay quiet as he has for the matchup against the Steelers (one of the underreported aspects of the last little while- how the Jets kept yapping about the Pats, but are mostly keeping their silence for the Steelers. Lends credence to the theory that the trash talk is more strategic than actual ego, though the Jets DO have an ego).
I like the Packers in this matchup too. They don’t run well, but historically you don’t need a phenomenal running game to win the Super Bowl- they can do that enough to keep the Jets honest. Though Ryan and the Jets should have some great schemes for Rodgers and the Packers on defense, I think Rodgers has the receivers to pick them apart. And can you imagine the blitzing Pack D against Mark Sanchez? Oh man.
It’d be a close game, but another celebratory one for Dennis, I figure.
Probably my least favourite of the matchups, since none of our teams are involved. The league’s actually in good no matter who makes it- three franchises with a lot of history and ‘mystique’, and one (New York) which is in a huge market with a pretty boy QB in Sanchez.
With all that in mind, I think this would be fairly evenly matched, and a decent enough game to watch. Two inconsistent offenses against two playmaking defenses- would be some turnovers and huge hits. Two QBs who need some things to break right to be playing well. And I seem to recall the Jets punter being awful, so Bears return man Devin Hester might get some chances.
Still, I’d favor the Jets in this matchup. I don’t think the Bears can protect Cutler against the Jets blitzing defense, and with a toss-up at QB, I’d give the offensive advantage to the Jets for them having better skill players (and a better offensive line).
Going over to Dad’s to watch the games today. Should be good, with the armageddon scenario in play, but interesting no matter how it hashes out.
Why? Because it’ll decide the Super Bowl, which is an event no matter who’s playing. Weren’t you paying attention?