There are still four weeks left to go, but is pro football's regular season already over?
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin) look ahead to the end of football season.
Hey, sports fans!
With four weeks left in the NFL regular season, and to honor the recent 10th anniversary of Jim Mora's all-time classic postgame rant, let's talk about playoffs.
In the NFC, the Packers and Niners have already cliched division titles. If New Orleans beats Tennessee and the Falcons lose at Carolina, the Saints will win the NFC South. Only the East remains wide open, with Dallas and the Giants vying to see who can be less mediocre.
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But does it really matter? The NFC is like the 2012 Presidential campaign. Green Bay, the champs, are running as incumbents, and clearly have been the league's best all year. The Saints, despite waxing and waning, have obviously been the top contender. In other words, and with apologies to Louisiana Democrats, New Orleans is Mitt Romney. Whatever the Newts and Niners of the world may think, everyone else knows it's going to be Romney against Obama for the White House, just as we all know it's going to be Saints versus the Packers for the NFC title. For reelection, though, the president has to win an Electoral College majority. For a return to the Super Bowl, Green Bay will only have to beat the Saints at Lambeau. Which they will.
The AFC is just as easy to peg. Denver will win the Western division. Which, for Bronco fans anyway, should be enough to definitively prove that Richard Dawkins is wrong. Houston will clinch the AFC South on Sunday with a win plus a Tennessee loss. But the Texans are burning through quarterbacks like Spinal Tap went through drummers. The only true contenders in this conference are the Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens, all at 9-3. New England may clinch the AFC East on Sunday by beating Washington, but the Patriots' defense still leaks more than Julian Assange on an ether binge. Pittsburgh, as you know, has already lost twice to Baltimore.
So, sure, if the season ended today, the Ravens would be the AFC's third seed. If the season ended today, though, people who bought tickets for the last four games would be really, really peeved. So would the Ravens, who finish the regular season against the Colts, Chargers, Browns and Bengals. You have to figure that Baltimore wins out, and Houston collapses, while the Pats lose at least one. That gives the Ravens the bye week and home-field throughout the playoffs, meaning the Steelers—having beaten the Pats—will have to play in Baltimore for the AFC title. The Ravens will win, duh, but then fall just four points shy in the league championship, making the Green Bay Packers your winners of Super Bowl XLVI. Tadah!
Patrick, there's really no reason to even bother playing the games, is there? Or do you have a different playoff scenario in mind?