Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8... etc. etc. etc....!": A (Semi)Serious Look At the NFL Playoffs.

For years, Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! has entered the playoffs of the major sports -- baseball and football -- using the surefire, etc. system that has, without fail, accurately predicted the winner of each and every postseason event in those sports. (Remember, in a universe in which quantum physics works, all outcomes are equally probable until you observe the experiment, so if my system ever let you down, it was your fault for observing the outcome, not mine for predicting it.)

But I'm changing that up this year, for no better reason than I'm bored with it and so I no longer feel like going through the motions of analyzing the playoffs that way.

Instead, I've been wracking my brains -- why do people say wracking my brains, anyway? Are brains in some cases like pants, plural even when they're single? -- for a new system, a new theme, a new structure on which to paste my unique*

*that's what I call it. Others have called it "stupid," while still others describe my sports analysis as "you have a sports blog?"
brand of sports analysis and quips to help guide you through the playoffs, and over the last 24 hours, I have considered and rejected each of these themes:

4. Which Kardashian is each playoff team most like?

A. The writings of Descartes, and what they teach us about the NFL playoffs.

ii. Cheeseburgers 'n' Stuff (which is actually my idea for a chain of restaurants, but I thought it might work here.)

Cheeseburgers 'n' Stuff, by the way, isn't my only idea for a franchise of restaurants; my other idea was "GIANT," the restaurant that serves GIANT food. At GIANT, you can get all the usual diner fare -- burgers, chili dogs, fries, shakes, etc. -- but the twist is...

... remind me to get back to etc., will you?

... the twist is that you can also get GIANT versions of those -- like, say, a GIANT HOT DOG that is, say, 6" tall and 18" long and comes on a giant bun with ketchup and mustard, kind of like a "party sub" version of hot dogs, so that you and a group of friends could have a GIANT HOT DOG to split. There would be GIANT FRIES -- 5" tall, like a potato log that you slice off -- and GIANT shakes, although I haven't worked those out yet.

I think we can all agree that would be a HUGE hit. (Pun Fully Intended, as is policy around these parts.)

Anyway, the point is that et cetera is not the only Latin phrase that we use to indicate that the list goes on with similar items. Et cetera is properly used with things, and is used only to indicate that the other things on the list are similar: "His head was filled with useless facts, pointless trivia, ill-remembered song lyrics, etc."

When a list of people is used, though, you're supposed to use et alli, abbreviated et al, which lawyers do in captions to court cases: John Doe v. Richard Roe, et al.

When a list of places is used, it's also et al but the al here stands for alibi, which is weird because alibi actually comes from the Latin word alius meaning other.

And now you know.

The other point is that it's kind of hard to come up with a theme for analyzing the playoffs and so I decided to scrap the themes altogether and just take, as the post-header promises, a (Semi)Serious look at each NFL playoff team, going from (what I figure is) the worst to (what I figure is) the best -- that is, I'll be counting them down from 12 to 1, in order of how likely I think they are to actually win the Super Bowl.

Which is the only significant thing in the NFL, now, after all -- these twelve teams, having made it to this point of the season, now have to win out or they're complete losers.

That's how the NFL works: The farther you progress in the season, the worse you are seen as when you lose. Already, just 36 hours after Tony Romo choked his way into ending his season again, the teams that failed to make the playoffs are forgotten. The Colts only won 2 games? Big deal. The Rams only won two games? Rams, who, now? The Buffalo Bills got what, 1 win for their $24 million they paid Trebuchet Fitzpatrick as part of his Jim Kelly-described God-given rights to earn millions? See you in Toronto!

All that matters now is these 12 teams, all of whom did enough to qualify for the playoffs -- and, I'm sorry, but I have to diverge here to make a point:

There are no two ways about this, if you hate the BCS then you love the Denver Tebows being in the playoffs, because either you like playoffs or you hate playoffs, but you ought to at least be consistent. I've pointed out for years that there's no perfect system for choosing a champion, in the sense that there's always going to be room to disagree about which team is best because any system has flaws, including the NFL's system. I like the BCS because it pairs together popular teams that people want to say: I watched the Rose Bowl despite not liking college football much because it was an excellent game.

You're free (and stupid) to hate the BCS, but if you're a playoff booster, then you must accept that playoffs routinely let in pathetic, or seemingly pathetic, teams -- like the sad-sack Giants that ended Brett Favre's tenure with the Packers and then went on to beat the Patriots* in the Super Bowl, or the sad-sack Packers last year who eked into the playoffs and then went on to win the Super Bowl -- and you must not criticize the NFL for letting the Denver Tebows back into the playoffs, where they have as much of a chance to win as anybody (and a better chance than Houston), and you can't criticize the fact that Denver gets a home game. The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (which I call Mr Toad's Wild Ride to avoid copyright problems) routinely gives high seedings to inferior teams, and every possible modification to the current NFL season would have let in an "inferior" team in recent years.

So: Either quit bashing the BCS, or break out your Tebow jerseys. Or, like me, do both.

Anyway, these 12 teams have now made the playoffs, and the teams that lose in the first round will be seen as losers, despite advancing farther than 20 other teams. Lose in the second round and you're worse. Lose in the Super Bowl, and you're terrible -- say, the Oakland Raiders the year Tampa Bay beat them, or the Vikings and Bills.

The only exception to that rule? The Conference Championships. A team can lose the conference championship and not be seen as awful. Last year, the Jets lost the AFC conference championship, and everyone (but me) picked them to go all the way this year. In past years, the team that has lost the conference championship in either conference has somehow retained an air of respectability that the Super Bowl-losing team did not.

In other words: The Steelers beat the Jets last year to get to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the Packers, and the general feeling was that the Steelers were terrible and overrated while the Jets were the team to beat this year.

Only in the NFL are you better off losing a conference championship than losing the championship, but that's the way it works.

(The exception to that rule? Andy Reid, whose continued inability to (mostly) not make the Super Bowl is seen as terrible.)

On, finally, with the look at the teams, beginning with the Twelfth Likeliest To Win The Super Bowl,

the Houston Texans.

Yep. Houston is less likely to make the Super Bowl than Denver, and not just because the Immutable Rules of Football say that Houston will not be very good.

Houston's wins this year came against the Colts, Dolphins, Titans, Jaguars, Browns, Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals, and while there are no easy wins in the NFL, those were all easy wins. The Texans' division this year boasted two teams (the Jaguars and Colts) who had negative net points, while the Titans finished at +8 for the season. They were 2-2 outside of their conference and finished the season with 3 consecutive losses, the last two to the Colts and Titans.

Houston's current starter, T.J. Yates, ranked 44th on the list of quarterbacks when measured by rating. He was 41st in yards per game, and, yep, there aren't 41 starting quarterbacks in the league. Their running back, Arian Foster, is 2nd in yards per game but 4th in the league in fumbles among running backs. They ranked 10th in scoring but don't get all excited -- they edged out the Jets and Ravens by just 0.2 points per game.

How are they winning? Probably strong defense: They're second-best in the league in terms of yardage given up per game, and they gave up the fourth-fewest points in the NFL this season... but "strong defense" is somewhat subjective because they played in the AFC South; all three of their division "rivals" finished worse than 20th in scoring this year, which is what happens when your quarterbacks are named "Curtis Painter", "Blaine Gabbert" and "Whoever Plays For Cleveland Right Now."

The Texans were 10-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl after their week one win. (Bleacher Report.) That was before they were starting an injured rookie who fumbles nearly once per game. If they beat the Cincinnati Bengals (which they won't) they'll face either Baltimore (if Pittsburgh wins) or the Patriots* (when Tebow wins). Which means Houston fans will at best get to celebrate one playoff victory in their lifetime, but in all likelihood, are going to lose to this year's rookie sensation, Andy Dalton, before watching next year's rookie sensation Andrew Luck take over the division again.

Your Symbolic Celebrity Fan Of The Houston Texans: Just because I don't really have a structure doesn't mean I've done away with gimmickry altogether. Each profile will feature a symbolic celebrity fan of the team -- a celebrity fan who helps you understand how the team will fare.

In this case, the symbolic celebrity fan is former President George H.W. Bush; the 41st President of the U.S. lives in Houston, and attended the game at Reliant Stadium on November 6, 2011.

Like this former President, the Texans themselves faced high expectations but always seem to fade when compared to the person standing next to them. (Reagan, the Dallas Cowboys), and, like the former president, the Texans' accomplishments, when they do occur, are quickly buried under a series of almost-laughable failures.

What Kind Of Clearance Stuff Can You Get At The Texans' Pro Shop, If You Are So Inclined? Nor am I going to give up on my love of cheap, weird stuff bought at pro shops. I have a "Rambis" Lakers T-shirt despite not knowing who Rambis might be (I thought it might be a Rambo typo or pun), and my boys have leftover-bin Buffalo Bills' jerseys to grow into, because if you don't mind your kid (or you) wearing anonymous/funny jerseys and stuff, you can be a fan for cheap.

You've got to hunt a bit to get to the "sale items" over at Shop.HoustonTexans.com, but when you do get there, you can choose from a 2010 Season Preview Yearbook, giving you inside information on last year's Texans for only $1.99, or the Houston Texans 3D Player On The Field Pin, for just $4.99,

but why do either of those when you can

Jazz up your personal correspondence with team-spirited flair with these blank note cards featuring vibrant team and football field graphics on the outside with a team logo and name on the inside. Each package contains 13 cards and envelopes with enough space on each to share all the reasons you love the Texans!

Yep: for just $5.99, you can make sure every thank you and R.S.V.P. comes with a reminder that you back the Houston Texans, thereby undermining your credibility wherever you go. Perfect for paying off those bets you made on the playoffs!

"Dear friend, here is the $50 I owe you. The Bengals suck!
Signed, George H.W. Bush."


Grumpy Bulldog, Secret Agent said...

The good thing when the Texans play the Bengals is that one of them has to win.

My running playoff joke is that the Lions-Saints game starts at 8pm and it'll be over by 8:15. Would it be tasteless to joke New Orleans hasn't seen so much devastation since Katrina? Or that by the end of the first quarter the Lions are going to feel like the people locked in the Superdome for all those days by FEMA? Or maybe that they need to call FEMA in to clean up after the Lions. Something in that area...

As for Tebow and the BCS I think the Broncos are just as undeserving as the Raiders or Chargers would have been. That division really sucks: the top three teams were 8-8 and the other team (the Chiefs) was 7-9. So they were all pretty mediocre.

What's dumb about the BCS now though are these automatic bids teams get. So now you have #23 West Virginia in the Orange Bowl while teams in the top ten were playing the Meineke Car Care Bowl or San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl or something equally lame. It's the same as in professional sports when a .500 (or below) team gets let into the playoffs while a better team gets snubbed just because they weren't in the right division.

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