Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NFL: Where the Wild Things Are [J. Mark English]

"Let the wild rumpus start..." - Maurice Sendak

The divisional races of the NFL are for the sake of discussion...over. The Pats, Ravens, Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Bears, Saints, and Seahawks all lead the number two team in their division by at least two games.
In the AFC, the Jets, Bengals, Jaguars, Chiefs, and Broncos all share 7-5 records and remain very much alive for playoff contention. The Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, and the Titans are at 5-7, with a limited, but outside shot at the playoffs.
The NFC wild card picture is just as tight with the Giants, Eagles, Panthers, and Falcons very much alive at 6-6. Teams with 5-7 records are the Rams, 49ers, and Vikings.
All of these teams should look to last years Steelers for mental support. Last year they were 7-5, following a crushing defeat to the Bengals. They lost their shot at a division crown, and seemed on their way to an early exit from the playoffs.
Instead of folding, they crawled back to respectability by season's end, and then went off on a rampage in the playoffs. Though they did not win a division, they did win the ultimate prize...the Super Bowl.
The league of parody has given us the gift of a Wild Card team with the realistic shot of still winning it all, despite not having a favorable position in the playoffs.
Knowing this, the wild card race should be extremely interesting to watch. The teams that survive the next four weeks, and come out as the wild card leaders, will have been through their own playoffs already.
All of these teams face a win or die reality as they hurdle through the month of December. Perhaps this mentality is what propells a team like the Steelers to win the Super Bowl.
The division winners after all can afford to switch into cruise control. Their next meaningful game will be against a team in the playoffs that is used to desperate situations.
Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led a group of men on an improbabl exploratory journey to the South Pole in 1914, sent out an ad before the expedition stating the following:
For dangerous journey.
Small wages,
Bitter cold,
Long months of complete darkness.
Constant danger,
Safe return doubtful.
Honour and recognition in case of success.
With the exception of small wages, this was the journey faced by last year's Steelers. The teams that survive the battle for the wild card, may wind up at the end of the season as the team with the honour and recognition...by lofting over their heads a Vince Lombardi Trophy.