I don’t know that I’ve ever been less clear on who will meet in the Super Bowl at the end of an NFL season than I am this year.
There’s so much damn parity (14 teams with 4, 5 or 6 wins entering this weekend’s games), and the elite teams all have their weaknesses, so what’s a frustrated prognosticator to do? Stick with what you (think you) know, of course.
For example, as a fan of the New York Football Jets, Jets, Jets, I often feel as though I have the worst fan gig in the NFL. But then I tuned in to the games yesterday, and there I find the Lions, one of the handful of NFL franchises never to compete in a Super Bowl. They go up 17-7 against the offensively challenged Bears, yet at no time did I feel confident the Lions would hang on for the win. I haven’t followed Detroit that closely this year, but it seems to me that this sort of close loss has happened more than a couple of times to the cursed Detroit football club and their loyal fans.
Which caused me to wonder — is it worse being a Lions fan than a Jets fan? That’s a close one, for sure. And what about fans of the Washington Football Club? I mean, their team is worse than either the Jets or Lions, and their owner is an embarrassment bordering on James Dolan-level. Now Washington does have a few Lombardi trophies to ease their pain during seasons like this one, but right now that’s another delegation you can add to the “misery loves company” section of NFL fans.
Can Jaguars fans be added to this sad collection of football suffering yet? Maybe. I think they need to endure a bit more, personally, but it’s been pretty bad down there for quite some time. And the topic of tortured football fans can’t be brought to its proper conclusion without a tip of the cap to Browns fans. Yeah, this was the year, right?
Wellll… Not so fast. At 5-6 with a HUGE matchup against the Steelers tomorrow, the playoffs remain eminently viable for the Cleveland fan base. As does the extreme disappointment of a season defined by potential unfulfilled. A loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday sets up all of Cleveland for a different type of pain than that experienced by the woebegone fans in New York and Detroit, where there’s simply not much hope and little relief in sight. In fact, the Browns fans’ unfulfilled potential misery could very well be the worst of the lot. And since they are Cleveland, here’s betting that when the dust settles in Western PA tomorrow, the Browns will be 5-7.
Other thoughts and comments from around the NFL as the turkey sandwiches, turkey soup and turkey chili work their way through our Thanksgiving Friday digestive systems:
*Who’s the worst football coach of a New York football team as we wake up this morning? I don’t think Adam Gase was as bad as he was made out to be when the Jets hit 1-7 (nobody can be that bad, can they?), but I’m not ready to say he’s the answer yet, either. At 4-7 with games coming up against the winless Bengals and hapless Dolphins, everyone’s got the Jets already sitting at 6-7. The J-E-T-S giving three on the road in Cincinnati this weekend smacks of the ultimate sucker bet. I can’t help remembering back to when the Jets allowed the Ain’ts to secure the only win of their 1-15 1980 campaign. Feeling nostalgic? Take the Bengals and don’t even worry about the points. Sorry Lions fans, we Jets fans have it worse.
*Another safe bet this Sunday would be the Packers giving only 6.5 on the road against the Giants. I find it an odd contradiction the way Giants boss Pat Shurmur comes across as so balanced and competent during his time with the press, yet weekly makes so many head-scratching decisions with respect to play calling, personnel, and game management. Hard to imagine the Gints not losing their eighth in a row on Sunday, and by at least 20 points this time, rendering moot the whole “progress” theme Shurmur keeps preaching. Take the Pack and give the points. And worst head coach in New York? Yeah, it’s Shurmur in a close one.
*Are all of you as psyched for Niners-Ravens this Sunday as I am? Therein lies the coolness of the NFL, as nobody had this matchup circled when the season began back in early-September. Fast forward to today, and the Niners appear to be as complete a team as there is in the NFL, while the Ravens seem to destroy a different contender every week. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s second-year QB is creating distance from the field in MVP polling every time he takes the field. Think about all the hype around the 2018 draft and the QB’s taken. Yeah, hype for every one of them except Lamar Jackson, that is. I hope this one is close in the fourth quarter. Appointment viewing.
*When I look around the league, besides Baltimore and San Francisco, the only other potential heavyweight I see out there is Seattle. Again, who saw this one coming back in August (and c’mon Seattle fans, no you didn’t). We will learn about both the Seahawks and the resurgent Vikings this Monday night up in the Pacific Northwest. Has Kirk Cousins coaxed Minnesotans back onto his unsteady bandwagon? Are those long-suffering Purple People Eaters sufficiently primed for another round of extreme disappointment? Yeah, at 8-3, I think they probably are feeling good again, despite them absolutely knowing better. Here comes the December fade, folks, because it says here the Seahawks are serious contenders and the Vikes are (yet again) shameful pretenders. Anyone else see 9-7 on the horizon for the Twin Cities?
*The next tier of NFL contenders only includes the standing champion New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. At 10-1 I realize it’s hard to justify the Pats as “next tier,” but something still seems off up there in New England. Part of it is the lousy schedule they’ve faced. Part of it is how badly Baltimore took them apart in their only loss. And yeah, part of it is Jets-fan bitterness rearing its ugly head, as we continue to root for the inevitable signs of old age putting the sleeper hold on Tom Brady. Has to happen one of these days, right? Right?? As for the Saints, can they represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year? Well, yes they could. And the Drew Brees love-fest remains alive and thriving, but I just don’t see it. New Orleans had its best chance last year, but the refs knee-capped them and now their Super Bowl window appears closed.
*How good do the Bills look? Speaking of franchises with a history of suffering. Anyone else wonder what might have happened to the trajectory of the Buffalo franchise if Scott Norwood had split the uprights with his last-second field goal attempt back in January of 1991? Nah, me either, but I bet they do in Buffalo! Anyway, that defense sure does look legit, and I can’t help but wonder how the Jets had this team dead to rights way back in Week 1, before C.J. Mosley went out with his injury, changing the 2019 direction for both of these AFC East squads. I know the Cowboys are a train wreck right now, but give the Bills their due — that defense is downright nasty, Josh Allen is looking like the 2015 version of Cam Newton, and the entire team has the look of one that believes in itself. Best football coach in New York? Damn right it’s Sean McDermott. Not even close.
*I know the Raiders looked like a pickup squad last weekend against the Jets, but doesn’t it seem like the Chiefs giving Oakland 10.5 on Sunday is a bit of a betting line overreaction, even if the game is being played in K.C.? I like the Raiders to keep this one close late, and if forced to pick between John Gruden and Andy Reid as to which coach will figure out how to pull out a close one, let’s just say I’ll go with the coach who resembles a demented horror movie doll over the one with the mustache that conjures up thoughts of a walrus.
*One last point on the Lions. When the kid QB Detroit had behind center yesterday clicked for a long TD on the first completion of his career, I must admit I got caught up in hoping that maybe Detroit had stumbled upon some Thanksgiving pixie dust. And young David Blough actually looked far better than I expected from an undrafted free agent out of Purdue, but despite all that, you can’t tell me Colin Kaepernick wouldn’t have given the Lions a better shot at the W. I’m not a Kaepernick fan, and really wish he’d have come up with a different way of trying to launch his second career as a champion of civil rights for the downtrodden, but if the NFL is truly willing to let the man play, why isn’t he on a roster somewhere? Or maybe Kaepernick just really doesn’t want to play football anymore, but fears losing relevance due to inactivity? I don’t know, and I’m tired of the whole storyline and debate at this point, but something continues to smell bad here, NFL, and it isn’t just the Lions poor play.
P.S. SportsAttic Super Bowl forecast — Ravens 30, Seahawks 21.