Monday, November 19, 2007

When Is It Too Early To Believe?

by Jason Jones

Every real football fan lives and dies with almost every possession; offensive or defensive. With some exception, this season is no different. If for only one season, 2007 will be revered as the season that redefined the word parity. Naturally, we could not get through a season without a couple of favorites on cruise control by week 11. Logically, we could never get through a season without eventually looking back and saying, “Yep, coulda seen that one coming”. We will illustrate that as we move through the current rankings (note: MNF has not been played, thus two teams will have a lower win/loss total). The bold print identifies a better record than expected while italics identifies a worse record than expected.


1___New England Patriots__10-0_411 Pts Scored_____157 Pts Allowed
2___Dallas Cowboys_______9-1_324 Pts Scored_____218 Pts Allowed
3___Green Bay Packers_____9-1_259 Pts Scored_____159 Pts Allowed
4___Indianapolis Colts______8-2_278 Pts Scored_____159 Pts Allowed


5___Pittsburgh Steelers_____7-3_269 Pts Scored_____145 Pts Allowed
6___Jacksonville Jaguars____7-3_207 Pts Scored_____181 Pts Allowed
7___NY Giants___________7-3_236 Pts Scored_____200 Pts Allowed


8___Cleveland Browns______6-4_288 Pts- Scored_____294 Pts Allowed
9___Detroit Lions__________6-4_231 Pts Scored_____232 Pts Allowed
10__Seattle Seahawks_______6-4_221 Pts Scored_____164 Pts Allowed
11__Tampa Bay Buccaneers___6-4_195 Pts Scored_____151 Pts Allowed
12__Tennessee Titans_______6-3_178 Pts Scored_____152 Pts Allowed


13__San Diego Chargers______5-5_229 Pts Scored_____209 Pts Allowed
14__Houston Texans________5-5_226 Pts Scored_____236 Pts Allowed
15__Arizona Cardinals_______5-5_223 Pts Scored_____222 Pts Allowed
16__Philadelphia Eagles______5-5_206 Pts Scored_____187 Pts Allowed
17__Washington Redskins_____5-5_200 Pts Scored_____221 Pts Allowed
18__Buffalo Bills____________5-5_153 Pts Scored_____222 Pts Allowed


19__Denver Broncos_________4-5_153 Pts Scored_____238 Pts Allowed
20__New Orleans Saints______4-6_212 Pts Scored_____246 Pts Allowed
21__Minnesota Vikings_______4-6_195 Pts Scored_____210 Pts Allowed
22__Chicago Bears__________4-6_184 Pts Scored_____217 Pts Allowed
23__Baltimore Ravens_______4-6_168 Pts Scored_____211 Pts Allowed
24__Carolina Panthers_______4-6_167 Pts Scored_____212 Pts Allowed
25__Kansas City Chiefs_______4-6_145 Pts Scored_____186 Pts Allowed


26__Cincinnati Bengals_______3-7_246 Pts Scored_____286 Pts Allowed
27__Atlanta Falcons_________3-7_142 Pts Scored_____213 Pts Allowed
28__Oakland Raiders________2-8_180 Pts Scored_____223 Pts Allowed
29__NY Jets______________2-8_178 Pts Scored_____244 Pts Allowed
30__St. Louis Rams_________2-8_149 Pts Scored_____257 Pts Allowed
31__San Francisco 49ers______2-8_113 Pts Scored_____223 Pts Allowed


32__Miami Dolphins_________0-10_183 Pts Scored_____274 Pts Allowed

The previous was determined by record first then team +/-. Naturally, this is not how things would look if the regular season ended today. Divisions and placement would not permit it. So as we’ve already done by record, let’s see what the playoff landscape would look like if the season were only 10 games long. (And no crying and/or excuses from Mercury Morris, PLEASE!!!)

AFC Playoff Rankings

1_____New England Patriots______1st Rd Bye
2_____Indianapolis Colts_________1st Rd Bye
3_____Pittsburgh Steelers_________vs CLE
4_____San Diego Chargers________vs JAX
5_____Jacksonville Jaguars________vs SD
6_____Cleveland Browns_________vs PIT

NFC Playoff Rankings

1_____Dallas Cowboys__________1st Rd Bye
2_____Green Bay Packers________1st Rd Bye
3_____Seattle Seahawks__________vs DET
4_____Tampa Bay Buccaneers_____vs NYG
5_____New York Giants__________vs TB
6_____Detroit Lions_____________vs SEA

Clearly the AFC is a stronger conference, the Western Conference from the NBA, if you will. Most of the NFL watching world would have put NE and IND straight through to the AFC championship game, which with the exception of one hiccup by Indy, seems logically on track. With the underwhelming play of the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, it seems pretty straight forward to see the Pittsburgh Steelers at the top spot in the AFC North and third overall in record. Now clearly, San Diego is only here because every division MUST be represented. Maybe its because LaDanian Tomlinson has donned a new face mask that looks like something out of a Predator movie, or maybe if A.J. Smith would have listened to the advice from and drafted a top flight WR and not a #2, then its possible there place in this ranking could’ve been better. Jacksonville is that one team that you find in every season, often that team is consistently Jacksonville, who makes it into the playoffs and no one really knows why. C’mon, I know Defense wins championships, but how many Baltimore Ravens circa 2000 can we stomach? The Cleveland Browns are probably the most intriguing addition to this piece. Due to the fact they are my team we will revisit them later. Clearly the anti-Jaguar team of the AFC. With the exception of NE, Cleveland on an average day this season can keep pace with any AFC team on offense. However, they couldn’t keep the Little Giants (starring Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neil) from looking like Jim Brown and Walter Payton running behind the 1990’s Cowboy offensive line.

The NFC is not so gleaming with intrigue. The Dallas Cowboys are exactly what we say in week 1 and 2. What a difference a season without Bill Parcells will do to a team morale and performance. Maybe there was something to Julius Jones’ comments following Parcells departure from the team in the off season. The Packers may be the biggest surprise in all of the NFL this season. Apparently, there IS an NBA moniker that applies to an NFL team…”Never underestimate the impact of one elite player to a teams win total” (Kobe-Lakers, Lebron-Cavs, Garnett-Timberwolves). You can add Brett “Fah-vuh-ruh” Favre. No running game, a bunch of marginal to lame WR’s and a young and quickly developing defense. Not exactly a recipe for a title, but nine wins is nice, regardless. Seattle and Tampa Bay are in the Chargers category. Someone from each division must be represented. Tampa and Seattle are middle of the road teams. Tampa is a former power with an old defense and no legitimate offensive studs (at least the ones that make it through the duration of a season). Seattle is a team on the brink of rebuilding. Alexander has seen his best days, Hasselback is good, the stellar offensive line has been depleted, the WR core is a collection of # 2 and 3 receivers, and the defense is better than average. The Giants have improved themselves in record without changing much of the roster. The 32nd ranked pass defense is improved, but only because Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and the Giants pass rush won’t give a quarterback more than two seconds flat to throw. The Detroit Lions are the Browns of the AFC, a team perpetually in the cellar of the league since their previous golden age ended…ages ago. For Cleveland it was the mid to late 1980’s, for the Lions it was any season with Barry Sanders. Both have enjoyed an offensive explosion. Offensively, Detroit has always had the potential to be scary, defense not so much. The defense is ranked in the top 5 currently. Maybe now, they have the right combination of WR’s and can draft a different position in the first round. Or maybe, it has everything to do with Jon Kitna proclaiming they would win AT LEAST TEN GAMES.

As in many of my entries, a lot of numbers and facts to turn and focus on a smaller detail. Now if you are reading this and are a Patriot, Colts, or Cowboy fan then you won’t be able to relate the rest of this entry. If you are a fan of a team who is doing well this year and generally do, then you have been reading for no other reason than to re-affirm what you already know. For the rest of us, parody in the NFL means the flat line moment is still far away. As a fan of a team who almost never enjoys success as the average non regional fan would describe it, it is AMAZING to be note worthy. Leading off SportsCenter, being in top plays, having more than one player worthy of a Pro Bowl selection, and of course having more wins than losses are all reasons to be happy. If I just described your team then the rest of this is for you. Is a .500 season reason enough to dance in the streets and proclaim a good season? Are you excited if your team “has not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs” by week 9? Are moral victories the only measuring stick once you realized no one fears your team? Is your team almost always 3 or 4 years away? Does the ball always seem to bounce in the other teams favor? Do you find yourself sitting through 55 minutes of 2+ minute highlights of all of the other team’s performance only to get a box score of your team in the waning seconds of the show? Does it ever feel like your team is IN the league but not PART OF the league? If so, then you understand my enthusiasm for this concept of parity. I have no idea what Patriots fans, Cowboys fans, Chargers fans, Colts fans, Steelers fans, Rams fans, Packers fans, or 49ers fans feel like today. Whether their team has done well or not so well this season, I have no clue what they are going through. I once heard a caller to a St. Louis radio show comment on how, “if things continue on this path, we might not get to another Super Bowl for a decade. Do you realize it’s almost been 10 years since we were in a Super Bowl?” I’m sorry I do not know how that feels. That guy probably committed suicide. I bet his wife left him and his sons grew up a little fruity because his team hasn’t been there in almost 10 years. That must be an unreasonable way to live. Maybe this will help ease the sorrows of a person like that. The last time my team made it to a Championship game, my mother was 7 years away from a driver’s license. Oh and here’s the kicker, it was so long ago it wasn’t even called the Super Bowl. So, I’m sorry if I don’t cry a river for New England, Dallas, San Francisco, or Pittsburgh when they finish a season without hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

This season has been all about Parity. Look, I am in no way, shape, or form a Patriot fan. Before the season started, I had been quoted numerous times as saying, “the commissioner might as well have the trophy engraved to the Patriots before we even get started”. My only hope for them is to go undefeated and consequently shut Mercury Morris and the other demonic ’72 Miami Dolphins the F@#K up. The Colts are a nice franchise, like the face of the team Peyton Manning; the Colts just don’t rub me the wrong way. They win, it’s a good thing, I don’t root for them and I don’t root against them. I hated Dallas in the 90’s, but now they are just nice to watch. F@#K Pittsburgh. Maybe some day, Eli will throw from somewhere other than Peyton’s shadow. For those teams nothing is really all that crazy. For those teams the mean is within their grasp, whether they need to regress or progress to the mean, they are close. Even Green Bay, who is having a phenomenal turnaround from the previous two or three seasons, is not that far removed from elite status. The teams I am truly talking to are the Lions, Bills and Browns. The teams whose players and fans alike are in unchartered waters. The teams who are supposed to be a few years away. The teams who, if a player guaranteed double digit wins, said player would be laughed at relentlessly. The key here is whether the league is truly becoming more and more balanced and parity-filled or if this is just one of those adorations of Sports Law, either way we need to enjoy it. All of my friends and family, who are not avid sports fans, know on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday whether or not my favorite team won or lost. Let’s just say this year has only really provided me with 2 or 3 bad Mondays. This is what sports fans wish for each and every snap. People who are fans of prolific winners may ask why do follow a team that is that bad? This is what the correct answer of that question is. Familiarity breeds contentment. I guarantee, if there were a way to measure this, that a Lion/Bills/Browns fan would enjoy a Super Bowl champion exponentially more so than that of a team who has been there recently. That is no exaggeration….EXPONENTIALLY. I once asked an Eagle fan, if your team went 11-5 in the regular season and locked up a first round bye, what would it be like in the streets of Philadelphia? His response was if two strangers passed wearing Eagles gear they might give the man head nod. At the most, there might be an extended sports segment on the local news. When he inquired what would happen in the city of my team had the same win/loss result occurred, I responded…From non fans to die-hard’s, it would be pandemonium. People would mortgage their homes for playoff tickets. The entire month of December would probably be declared a holiday by the mayor. People wearing the team’s colors would get in free to any place that charges admission. No doubt, there would be car fires, streakers, dancing in the streets, anarchy, and random good deeds by strangers from Carnegie to Lakeside and all the way up and down E. 9th St. That’s the difference.

If you own a Sports Illustrated special hard-bound commemorative issue with your favorite team raising the Lombardi trophy. If you were old enough to drink that last time your team was crowned champion. If you get upset when your team doesn’t win 10+ games, then you go on and enjoy your team’s playoff run. Continue enjoying it as much as winning a hand during a friendly game of poker on boy’s night. If things continue on and teams like the Patriots and Steelers or Cowboys and Packers end up losing during the playoffs you may just be privileged enough to see what a true celebration looks like. I wish a first or second seed team would overlook a wild card team this season. I wish a mother!@#$er would. As much of a travesty it may be for the Super Bowl to not consist of the Patriots v. Cowboys, a Browns v. Lions Super Bowl would be a spectacle of the likes none of us have ever seen. The game could be played in Lawrence, Kansas in the middle of a dust storm and it would still probably be most intense, courageous, and memorable Super Bowl of all time to date. The NFL is the best professional sports league there is, partially due to the parity we’ve been discussing. Partially due to the devotion of its fans or maybe it’s something else completely. Maybe it’s because an old placekicker can hold up an entire city on his shoulders following the most twisted finish to a game ever. Maybe it's watching a rookie running back break an all-time, single-game record. It could be any combination of things. All I know is that as it nears a quarter to 4 am on a Monday morning, and I finish my last adult beverage of the day (and following morning) I have one thing to say. If you are a player, owner, coach, or even fan of the kind of team I have been speaking of…..I SALUTE YOU.

One final thought. A guideline for sanity as it pertains to me, personally. When you are a fan of team deemed not to be “not worth mentioning”, you deal with one shot after another. One disappointment after another. One depressing loss after another. There is only so much a person can take. I always tell myself and others who feel similar to the way I do for their respective team, every bad play, every wrong call, every turnover, every bad thing that happens to contribute to bad play and/or losses…tuck that away. Log it into your memory. Acknowledge it and never forget it. When the pendulum swings back in your favor, and it eventually has to do just that, then and only then will it be worth the wait. Regardless of what happens after this day, the parity of the NFL has reached more teams/fans than it has in quite some time. No longer is parity only between the elite and consistently good teams. Finally, the guys who always seem to be on the outside looking in are forcing their way into the exclusive club with the velvet ropes. And the view is glorious. If your team is in the hunt, enjoy it. Just understand one thing, no matter how you think you feel, there is somebody somewhere who wants it more than you. So cherish the ride.

No comments: