JUST A FEW short weeks ago, it seemed that America’s favorite sport was the women’s 4x100m relay or maybe the balance beam. But the leaves are changing colors and the air is taking on a little extra bite. The birds in the trees are whispering in our ears: “Fooooootball, fooooootball.” And we whisper back, “We know, birdie. We know.”
There are a few things wrong with football, but almost all of them can be fixed by turning off the TV during the week. The NFL is like PowerPoint—the more you know about it, the bigger dork you are. ESPN’s coverage weekday has all the cool of a celebrity stalker posting video of themselves online with Jennifer Aniston in the background.
“As you can see by the motion of Tim Tebow’s arm—see, here, where the elbow dips right before he plants his back foot—there is no reason this pass should have been completed.” Or: “As you can see, the Patriots will be a little thin at cornerback this weekend if Player A, their usual third-string option, can’t go due to a slightly rolled ankle. Of course, they are playing the Bills, so unless they lose Tom Brady, they should be fine. From Foxboro…” Watching anything to do with the NFL from Tuesday to Saturday feels like finding yourself at a party listening to someone talk about their golf game. You don’t really care, and any female who overhears the conversation will think you’re both idiots.
So I’m going to save you the trouble. Here’s the only NFL preview you’ll need this year. Keep it nearby, and every time you’re tempted to tune into some televised Wednesday morning bull session featuring at least one guy in a leather chair posing in front of a bookshelf with strategically placed helmets and footballs, you can either re-read it or resume stalking Jennifer Aniston (which considering your options, could be the coolest thing you could be doing).
Prediction: Patriots, Jets, Bills, Dolphins.
This division can be predicted every year until Tom Brady retires based on Relative Anger Quotient of the teams’ fan bases. People in New England are super pissed off. At a lot of things, but that’s another column. People in New York are super pissed off at people in New England (and vice versa) but New Yorkers are so sure that they live in a superior place to people in New England that they’re at least happy about that. People in Buffalo should be madder than they are, but they know that they could move and they don’t so who can they really blame? And people in Miami are pretty chilled. So there you go.
Prediction: Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Browns.
The AFC East Anger Quotient trick doesn’t work here. If it did, the Browns would be awesome. But they’re not. This division is a great argument for the NFL adopting a European soccer-style relegation-promotion system. The kind of prolonged sucking the Browns have engaged in over the last, oh I don’t know, few decades, suggests that maybe they could use a year or two in the UFL to get their act together. I suggest the Omaha Nighthawks move up to take their place for a while. They couldn’t do any worse. The Steelers will win this division because their head coach, Mike Tomlin, is cooler than Don Cornelius. Well, maybe not that cool, but he’s pretty damn cool.
Prediction: Texans, Titans, Colts, Jaguars.
The league has announced that the AFC South will not be playing this year.
Prediction: Broncos, Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs.
This and the AFC East are only divisions in major American sports full of teams that used to be in different leagues. But those eastern teams have been mainstreamed by their traditional media markets, draining them of their renegade AFL quality. These teams, however, seem to exist in a weird western conference of their own, just a little outside of normal NFL culture. Strange things happen in the AFC West. This is the division that gave us the Holy Roller, Air Coryell, the Orange Crush, vertically striped socks (once upon a time), and lightning bolt pants. The Raiders are the strangest organization in America not named the The Creation Museum or Gwar. The Broncos went 7-4 in Tebow’s 11 starts last season and they replaced him with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. They will advance.
Prediction: Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys.
There’s a rumor—and I believe it—that the Big East Conference invited the NFC East to join as a football-only member for this fall. How would the Cowboys have conspired to lose to Rutgers? Who knows, but it would’ve been fun to find out.
Prediction: Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings.
A quick game of word-association: Packers—Efficient. Lethal. Dairy. Bears—What’s the word for “What an actual bear would be like in the wild if it didn’t have a quarterback.” There must be a word for that. In Japanese maybe? Lions—Batshit. Batshit. Batshit. Vikings—Wrong place, wrong time, wrong shade of purple.
Prediction: Saints, Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers.
The only division any major sports league composed entirely of teams from places that once tried to secede from the Union. Isn’t that weird? I think that’s weird. Doesn’t matter, but it’s weird.
Prediction: 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams.
Trying to predict the winner of this division is a little like what it felt like at the beginning of the Republican primaries. You look at each team and tell yourself, “Well, that’s not what an NFL division champion looks like. So that team isn’t going to win the division.” It’s like asking if Mitt Romney can be the leader of one of the three most powerful political parties in the world (is it OK if I include the Chinese Communist Party?); the obvious answer is “That stiff? No way.” And then you think, “Oh, you mean Romney only has to beat Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and…who else? Oh, then, yes. OK. Romney can win that.” The 49ers can win this division. (I won’t say who’s Santorum.)
AFC: Patriots, Steelers, Texans, Broncos, Chargers, Ravens.
Not like this is going to make anyone happy, but the Patriots are going to win this. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it.
NFC: Giants, Packers, Saints, 49ers, Eagles, Seahawks.
Seahawks? Seahawks??? Well, have you seen their schedule? Two games each against the Rams and Cardinals. They play the Panthers, Vikings, Dolphins, Bills. They’ll beat the Cowboys and 49ers at home, and they might even beat the Jets in Seattle. That’s 11 wins right there, and the Seahawks aren’t even that good. Anyway, doesn’t matter—they’ll go down to New Orleans and the Saints will avenge the Craziest Playoff Loss Ever, when the 7-9 Blue Chickens beat Who Dat in the ’10-’11 Wild Card Round. I think the Saints might use that mo to cruise to the Super Bowl too.
Three things to know about this Super Bowl:
1. This one’s in New Orleans. If the Saints really do make it, only go if you’re cool with waking up with a fleur-de-lis tattooed on your face. 50-50 chance.
2. Bill Belichick will be rooting for the Saints to win the NFC, because that way if the Patriots make it, he’ll have a chance to ruin a great moment for the people of Louisiana. He’s like that.
3. If the Seahawks make it, I’m going. I will get a henna tattoo on my forehead that says “Please don’t tattoo my face, not matter how many Sazeracs I’ve had.” In a nice Old English font.