Well ladies and gentlemen, here we are. Saturday and Sunday bring us the divisional rounds, the first playoff games where everyone starts watching. Typically, anyway. The general idea is that these games feature the teams most likely to play in February, so the casuals come out of the woodwork.
Unfortunately, so too do the bandwagon jumpers, loathsome individuals too stupid, hungover, or sentenced to DUI weekend jail to follow the regular season. But just like clockwork, they’ll find their way to the bar you enjoyed going to all season, just in time to ruin the experience for you and everybody else.
There are variables depending on what team they root for, of course, but the typical presentation is a slightly-too-small jersey that is either way too clean, like try-hard clean, or adorned with some sort of food stain. The name on the back can be the way-too-obvious guy (Brady, Julio Jones) or a former player that was killing it the last time he bothered to pay attention (Reggie Bush, Jarvis Jones) so he grabbed that number off of the closeout rack, never questioning why a licensed hometown jersey would be marked down to four dollars.
These people are either un-dateable or joined up with another water-head, so once they are in the vicinity there isn’t anyone around to keep them in check. This becomes problematic because of an otherwise great aspect of football, and by extension America itself I suppose. You see, on game day, socially acceptable drinking is inexorably tied to kickoff times. Ergo, it is completely appropriate to begin drinking when the first game begins, and to keep going until the last game of the day ends. Among decent people, this is a beautiful thing! Cue up the Lee Greenwood!
The issue, of course, is that front runners are not decent people, and the relatively early afternoon beer just makes it that much worse. This is all situationally dependent, of course, but in my experience those guys are 30-to-40-year-old adolescents, so of course they drink like high school kids. Five or six beers in and Brady jersey will start shouting about putting Danny Woodhead in a slot so he can run mid-range routes, despite Woodhead leaving New England five years ago. At that point you just have to hope they get kicked out for groping a waitress or something.
At least these playoff weekends are limited to two games per day, running concurrently. This is certainly healthier than ten or eleven straight hours of beer during the regular NFL season, and up to 16 hours of college football under certain circumstances. Granted, during the latter you may be asked about your concomitant interest in early FBS or post-homecoming Big 12 games and the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Not by me of course; we don’t do judgment here. In my personal experience it helps to tell them that you write a column for a world-renowned film criticism gambling instruction cultural essay humor gaming crystal methamphetamine memoir publication, so I guess that’s worth a shot.
I don’t want to get in trouble for too many asides again, but the subject of University of Hawaii football coming up again is a longer shot than Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco arriving at the Copacabana. So if you ever see them hosting a home game you owe it to yourself to switch over to Spectrum, the former Oceanic Sports, after you finish deconstructing the SNL goodnights (Why did Kendrick Lamars DJ hug Aidy Bryant for so long? What could they possibly be discussing?) in order to catch some Rainbow Warriors football. Its not really comparable to other college games you see over the course the regular season.
The games are how about we go with not always close? And they play in Aloha Stadium, a gorgeous facility that seats 50000, though they appear to draw an average of approximately eight people to every home game. They kick off between 10:30 and midnight, so no one is watching, and their color guy Rob Kekaula is something of a character. At least when hes not insulting the entire City of Fresno or debunking completely made-up point shaving allegations.
Alright then. I sure hope that informative paragraph gave you juuuust enough info to get excited about watching a football game occurring live in Hawaii. Next year. Because three DMs about whether or not I am going to talk about betting the Pro Bowl is three too many. At first I was surprised that people asked, then realized that we hit on some preseason stuff, but those were team props. I do not have a gift for betting games you shouldnt bet on. I picked the Pats to win the AFC East. That doesnt exactly make me Nostradamus. HEY LOOK HANDICAPABLE FOOTBALL!
Atlanta -2.5 at Philadelphia
No mystery here. Carson Wentz brought the Eagles to the dance but now he’s injured, and journeyman Nick Foles takes the ball in this latest version of the game of his life. I suppose he could draw inspiration from Tua Tagovailoas miraculous performance on Monday night, but Foles is eight or nine years past his freshman year, and pretty clearly on the back nine at this point.
Mind you, career-wise Foles is only a shade above .500 as a starter at 22-17. I will grant you that he doesn’t throw many picks and he avoids getting sacked, but that win loss record refers almost entirely to regular season games, as Foles has played in exactly one playoff game four years ago, losing to the Saints by two. That Nick Foles had a 70% completion rate and a QBR of 105. This Nick Foles tied for his lowest season completion average at 56.4% and boasts a laughable 31.4 QBR.
The Eagles defense deserves respect, and if they can hassle Matt Ryan like the Rams did it will stay close for a while. But while the defenses cancel each other out, the offenses do not, and once Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman put some measure of points on the board, the gap will widen. Then Atlanta can start waking up with night sweats due to Super Bowl flashbacks.
Tennessee at New England -13.5
I know, I know, look at that line. In a playoff game no less. But look at this stat: the Pats have won six home playoff games in a row and covered five of those times. In those games, they won by an average of 17.8 points.
As you know, a lot of us were paying close attention to last weeks Titans game, having taken the under, and it took quite a set of circumstances to get them the win, Kansas City’s much-appreciated refusal to score after halftime being Chief among them (sorry). As rare as a 13.5-point line is for a playoff game, I assume scoring 19 unanswered is in the same neighborhood.
Part of what makes New England so un-likeable works to their advantage here. Forget the internal squabbles, or gutless Pats players anonymously telling SI that they liked Jimmy Garoppolo and his dark, soulful eyes better than the rapidly balding visage of St. Thomas of Foxboro. Belichick and Brady are soulless automatons, programmed to thrash upstart teams like this and move on to the next one while being catty with the reporting scrum. Nobody outside of Massachusetts wants them back in the show again, but if its going to happen we might as well collect on it.
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh -7
And here we go with the other side of that ugly scenario. Just as the Pats reach full throttle, who works the other side of the bracket but the one team that always comes up short against them.
Yes, I know that the Jags are the sentimental favorite of some now that the Bills are gone, but Bass Beefcake seems to toss a lot of that goodwill away every week with errant throwing. I get how good the Jacksonville defense is, but Antonio Brown is back off of IR and he and Juju together look like a bad stylistic match-up for Jalen Ramsey and A.J.Bouye. Finally, I know that they stomped Pittsburgh in week two, but Roethlisberger threw five picks in that game. If that happens, I will eat all of my brand new Hells Satans jackets and frisbees.
Again, we are bounding toward conference finals that we’ve seen before, and maybe there is a wildcard in there somewhere. However, teams that perform like these Pats and Steelers squads always snare my respect, even if I get that bilious feeling in my throat when I root for them. But these are financial, as opposed to moral, decisions and that’s why they make Pepto Bismol.