Well, well, well, I went 0-for-2 in my conference championship predictions. I think that’s the first time that’s happened since I started doing these. The New England victory wasn’t really a surprise, although the Jaguars did pretty much everything they needed to in order to win. It reminded me of the last time the Jaguars were in the playoffs—they played a near-perfect game against the Patriots and lost that one, too.

More shocking to me was the Eagles beating Minnesota. The vaunted Vikings defense looked like they were playing with lead weights in their shoes as the Eagles blew them out.

So now the Eagles draw the most dangerous opponent in all of football—the team that can be down 28-3 with 18 minutes to go in the game and still win. The Eagles knew they had won the NFC championship at halftime when it was 24-7. Even if they have a lead like that at the halfway mark of this game, there will be no such assurance.

The last time the Patriots and Eagles played, back in 2015, was one of the strangest games I can remember. Philadelphia was just playing out the string of the failed Chip Kelly experiment, and New England was, as usual, gunning for the number one seed in the AFC.

The Patriots took an early 14-0 lead, and then some bizarre spell came over everyone at Gillette Stadium and one crazy thing after another transpired. First Belichick made a shocking mistake, punting instead of running out the clock, and Philly blocked it for a touchdown right before halftime. Then in the 3rd quarter, Brady made a rare red-zone mistake and threw an interception that the Eagles returned for a touchdown.

The weirdness wasn’t over. Later on, New England ran a trick play where Amendola threw a pass to Brady. The play gained 36 yards, and then on the next snap Brady was intercepted again.

The Eagles had a 35-14 lead early in the 4th, and then New England rallied with two quick scores to close it to 35-28. The Eagles promptly fumbled the ball back to New England with a minute to go, and at this point, we all knew where this was going: another patented Touchdown Tom Terrific All-American Miracle Clutch Ageless Boy Wonder Comeback was in the offing, right?

And then… nothing happened. The Patriots got one first down and then threw four incomplete passes. Ballgame.

It was one of the weirdest games I’ve seen, and may have cost the Patriots a shot at Super Bowl 50, by causing them to lose homefield advantage to Denver, where they would ultimately lose the AFC championship.

A lot has changed since that game, especially for the Eagles, who have a new coaching staff, and a completely overhauled offense. The Patriots, while still the Brady/Belichick show, are famous for evolving considerably from one game to the next, let alone from season to season. So it might be that there isn’t much to be learned from that 2015 game.

There are still a few veterans from that Philly defense, however–maybe most importantly, defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. Graham had two sacks in that 2015 game, and everybody knows the key to beating New England is for the line to get pressure on their signal-caller.

The NFL’s final four this year came down to the Patriots and three teams seemingly designed to beat the Patriots: the Jaguars, Vikings, and Eagles all feature the strong defensive lines needed to bring pressure without blitzing. This probably isn’t a coincidence; at this point, everyone knows that if you want to win the Super Bowl, odds are you’ll have to go through the Patriots to do it.

If there’s a ray of hope for the Eagles; it’s this: they match up with New England far better than last year’s Falcons did, and that team managed to get a 28-3 lead. And though the Patriots probably won’t play as badly as they did in the first half of last year’s game, one of the oddities of the New England dynasty is that for all their football expertise and unmatched playoff experience, they never seem to bring their “A” game in the Super Bowl. The only ones where they really seemed to be giving it their best shot against an evenly-matched opponent were the one against the Seattle team that embarrassed Denver the year before, and their very first one, against the mighty St. Louis Rams and their high-powered “Greatest Show on Turf”.

All the other Super Bowls of the Brady/Belichick era (or Reign of Terror, if you prefer) have been weirdly sloppy and played down to the level of their opponent—from the defensive struggle-turned-shootout against an underdog Carolina team in 2004, to their offense’s bumbling first half against Andy Reid’s badly beat-up Eagles in 2005, to their two upset defeats at the hands of mediocre Giants squads, to last year’s furious comeback to beat a prolific but one-dimensional Atlanta team. Throughout all their Super Bowls, these Patriots have never mustered any points in the first quarter—unless you want to count Brady scoring two points for the Giants on an intentional grounding penalty in 2012.

Maybe the Patriots will notice this, come out guns blazing, and score 28 points in the first quarter. At this point, though, an underwhelming first half is starting to look like a pretty consistent habit.

As for the Eagles, while the story line this week is “what chance does unlucky backup Nick Foles have against a Belichick defense”, I’d argue that it’s actually an advantage to the Eagles to have him playing quarterback. There’s not an entire season’s worth of film of how he runs the offense for Belichick to study and learn his weaknesses.

Now, having said that there are reasons for hope if you’re rooting for the Eagles—and pretty much all of America outside of a corner in the northeast is—I don’t want to understate the magnitude of their challenge. They are facing the greatest quarterback and coach in the history of the sport. The Patriots are impossible to rattle, even if they face adversity early in the game. Beating them requires playing perfectly, and sometimes even that isn’t enough.

The Eagles will have to be very bold and aggressive if they want to shock the Pats. I’m reminded of what Sean Payton said about facing the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV and wanting to “steal a possession”. Payton’s way of doing that was a surprise onside kick to start the second half. It will take a similar level of guts to pull off the win against New England.

Do the Eagles have it in them?

Well, if I’m wrong, I’ll just go down as one more football fan who wanted to see somebody outfox Goliath. But if I’m right, I’ll look like a genius. Why the heck not?

PHI: 37

NE: 35

NFC

Call me crazy, but I never understood why the Eagles were an underdog against Atlanta. The Falcons were a shadow of what they were last year, and Nick Foles is not a bad quarterback. He was the last guy who led the Eagles to the playoffs prior to this year, I believe. Yet the press treated him like he’d never seen a football before. So I wasn’t shocked that they managed to pull out the narrow win.

The Vikings meanwhile were the beneficiaries of a coverage screw-up the likes of which had not been seen since the 2012 Baltimore/Denver divisional game. But that’s not to say they were lucky rather than good—their defense had New Orleans on the ropes until late in the 3rd quarter, but eventually they started to bend before the powerful Saints attack.

I’ll be honest—my opinion beforehand was that Saints/Vikings was the real NFC championship, and everything that happened in the game reinforced that impression. The Vikings have a brutal defense, one that could only be tested by a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in command of a high-powered and balanced offense. Foles, while better than the press has given him credit for, is not in Brees’s class, and I think he’s going to be in for a rough game Sunday. Minnesota will stifle the Eagles and punch their ticket to… Minnesota, where they can become the first team ever to host the Super Bowl.

MIN: 23

PHI: 10

AFC

Oh, look, it’s the New England Patriots again. They’ve been conference title game fixtures for years now, and I think everyone is getting sick of it. I don’t even dislike the Patriots as a rule, but at some point you get tired of seeing the same uniform over and over again. (Although even the Patriots’ ridiculous “Flying Elvis” looks like a design masterpiece next to the abominations that their opponents will wear.)

The Patriots are of course heavily favored to beat the upstart Jaguars, and why not? They’re the defending champs, they’re playing at home in chilly Foxborough, and Jacksonville’s quarterback is a wildly inconsistent gunslinger who only completed 53% of his passes against Pittsburgh.

But I’m having flashbacks to another AFC Championship game—specifically, the one two years ago in which the Pats were road favorites against a Denver team that had a strong pass rush and a quarterback who was highly suspect.

I know, I know. You’re saying: “Did you really just compare Bortles to Peyton Manning? The Peyton Manning, one of the best to ever play the game?”

Well, not exactly. I’m comparing Bortles to 2015 Peyton Manning, who was merely a ghost of his former all-star self. Manning was long past his prime by then. I have no doubt that he could (and can) read a defense better than Bortles, but Bortles can scramble and throw the ball with more power than 2015 Manning could. So it’s pretty much a wash.

The Jaguars chances look even better when you remember that their team vice president, Tom Coughlin, was the coach of the New York Giants teams that twice upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Those teams also fielded a strong defensive line and an inconsistent quarterback whose play was rarely pretty, but who had a knack for getting things done when it mattered most.

The Jaguars, in short, are the very model of a Patriots-beating team.

To be sure, it’s not going to be easy—the 2015 AFC Championship, Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI were all extremely close affairs. You can bet your bottom dollar that Belichick’s defense is going to take away Jacksonville’s favorite offensive weapon, running back Leonard Fournette, and force Bortles to throw the ball. But I think he’s got enough arm strength and sheer guts to get it done against New England’s bend-but-don’t-break secondary. And the Jaguars’ defense will give Brady all kinds of problems—he doesn’t have the ability to heave the ball like Roethlisberger did in a valiant failed comeback last week, and he’s going to get hit a lot. And New England doesn’t have the kind of bruising running back that they need to take the pressure off Brady.

All season long, the Patriots have just looked off to me. Sure, they’ve still been the most consistently good team in a weak AFC—they have the greatest coach and greatest quarterback of all time, after all—but the usual Patriots’ swagger has been absent ever since their shocking opening-day defeat. I think all the big games and the sky-high expectations and deep playoff runs year after year (Remember, they have to play 2-3 more games a season than the typical team) are finally starting to take their toll. Brady has so far defied the decline that comes with age, but the clock is bound to strike midnight eventually. My pick is that it will happen this Sunday, against a team seemingly designed to beat him.

JAX: 16

NE: 13

[Inspired by (but not exactly a parody of) Tom Lehrer’s “Elements” song, which is itself a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major General” song.]

Since the Cleveland Browns came back to the NFL in ’99
The quarterbacks who’ve played for them form a very long depressing line–
There was a lot of optimism (I myself can vouch for it)
When the Brownies first came back into town and got Tim Couch for it.
Ty Detmer was a back-up that they had hired just to mentor him,
And Doug Pederson and Spergon Wynn, they both sometimes went in for him.
Kelly Holcomb got the job, then Garcia, Dilfer, and McCown
And before you knew it, Akron’s Charlie Frye was the newest Cleveland Brown.

But Charlie Frye was out and in his stead was Derek Anderson
Who briefly held off second-stringer Brady Quinn (Ohio’s native son.)
Both Bruce Gradkowski and Ken Doresy brief QB careers did enjoy
And then the job came down to either Jake Delhomme or Colt McCoy.
Wallace, Weeden and Thaddeus Lewis, they all came and went as well,
And then the starting job to veteran Jason Campbell fell.
But Campbell might as well have left his luggage packed up in the foyer
For soon, the Cleveland quarterback was a chap called Brian Hoyer.

Brian Hoyer didn’t last, and soon the Browns fans began to call
For the gridiron magician who was known as “Johnny Football”
But what worked at A&M doesn’t really work beside the lake–
And after starting Connor Shaw, the Browns admitted their mistake.
Josh McCown was signed, but he didn’t play for them for very long,
And Davis, RG III and Kessler form the coda of this song.
Kizer’s next to be the starter–a rookie out of Notre Dame,
And now we’ll sit and wait to find out who’s in after next week’s game!

[Note: the order reflects my prediction for each team’s standing in the division at the end of the season.]

AFC East

Patriots
Will Tom get his sixth?
They’re loaded like in ‘seven–
It ends the same way.

Dolphins
They’re not a bad team.
But they’re still just waiting on
Brady’s retirement.

Bills
Rebuilding again.
Could be good in a few years.
We’ve heard that before.

 Jets
Usually they’re good
When they’re expected to stink.
But this time, they’ll stink.

AFC North

Ravens
I’m not giving up
On my belief in Flacco.
They win division.

Steelers
Big Ben will get hurt.
Without him, their offense tanks;
And defense is weak.

Browns
Believe it or not
They might be decent this year.
But still no playoffs.

Bengals
Finishing last place
Might get Coach Lewis fired.
But not a sure thing.

AFC South

Colts
It takes more than Luck
To build a consistent team–
Also needs some linemen.

Titans
Mariota is good
But Murray will get injured
And still no playoffs.

Jaguars
They will be awful.
That is, really, really bad–
As in, not too good.

Texans
Watson disappoints,
And a regressing defense
Causes a meltdown.

AFC West

Chargers
Last ride for Rivers?
Their injury luck changes
And they become good.

Broncos
Two seasons ago
Nationwide was on their side.
Life comes at you fast.

Chiefs
Alex Smith is like
Football’s Rodney Dangerfield–
No respect at all.

Raiders
Beast Mode will Bust Mode.
Lame-duck seasons aren’t pretty–
They will fall apart.

NFC East

Cowboys
Prescott is for real.
Behind powerful o-line
They win Super Bowl.

Redskins
Cousins will be great,
And management will be bad.
Will be wild card.

Giants
Still mediocre–
As they’ve been for a decade;
Save two playoff runs.

Eagles
Wonder where winning
Wentz went–he’ll regress this year.
Back to the cellar.

NFC North

Packers
Will better defense
Yield better playoff results?
No-lose title game.

Vikings
Won’t miss Peterson.
But they will miss Brdgewater
And the postseason.

Bears
Quarterback nightmare
Is the most Bears thing ever–
But without defense.

Lions
Stafford’s luck runs out.
Last year was just a mirage;
Meet reality.

NFC South

Panthers
Superman returns!
Cam Newton will lead a run
To division crown.

Buccaneers
They are the new Saints–
Fun offense, lousy defense.
8 and 8 finish.

Saints
Drew Brees’s last year;
Ends a great career on a
Real depressing note.

Falcons
A collapse like theirs
Is bound to cause hangover.
Foregone conclusion.

NFC West

Seahawks
Wilson is awesome.
But their window is closing–
Can’t beat the Cowboys.

49ers
They must be wishing
They could bring Jim Harbaugh back.
“Don’t know what you’ve got…”

Rams
Would have been awesome
Playing in the ’70s–
But now, not so much.

Cardinals
Palmer, Fitz are old–
Without a solid QB
Offense falls apart.

I often criticize the New England Patriots for their play-calling. I argue that they throw the ball too much, and the only reason they usually get away with it is that Brady is so good.

But, as a student of the game, it’s only fair I give them credit where it is due.  And at the end of regulation in Super Bowl LI, with the score tied at 28, they ran one of the most brilliant plays I’ve ever seen.

They pretended like they were just going to take a knee to run out the clock and go to overtime. But instead, they either handed off or direct snapped (I couldn’t tell which) to the running back Dion Lewis, who was lined up close to Brady in standard kneeldown formation.

Brady acted like he took a knee, then rolled out and faked that he had the ball while the rest of the team ran to block for Lewis as he ran down the sideline.

The Falcons ultimately ran Lewis out of bounds, so nothing came of it.  Some fans even criticized the play since Lewis seemingly got injured on the run.

 

Even though it didn’t work,the play was a stroke of genius for two reasons:

  1. There are very few situations where a fake kneeldown makes any sense. Obviously, you usually take a knee when you are about to win,so faking in that case is a needless risk. And no one would ever take a knee when they are trailing. The only other time it would make sense to run such a fake would be at the end of the first half. The fact that the Patriots even bothered to think about and practice such a highly specific play shows why they are so dominant.
  2. The logic is impeccable. It is a low-risk, high-reward play.  The risk is a fumble, which would only be a problem if the other team ran it back for a touchdown, since there wasn’t time for any additional plays to be run.  The odds of that were low, especially since Lewis was careful to stay near the sideline.  On the other hand, the potential reward was winning the Super Bowl.  It was very calculated.

So, well done, Patriots play-callers. Good decision.  Now just learn not to throw the ball with the lead in the 4th quarter, and not to send Tom Brady to throw blocks on reverses, and you’ll really have this football thing mastered.

It’s funny; the Buffalo Bills are my favorite team, and yet I know far less about them than about the New England Patriots. I could probably write a book on the subject of the New England Patriots from 2001 to the present.  Even though Michael Holley already did that.

I have written about New England so much because are always on TV and in the playoffs.  As such, I know their strengths and weaknesses pretty well at this point.  Their strengths are Tom Brady’s ability to read defenses and throw accurate passes, and Belichick’s skill at confusing the opponent with coverages.

Their weaknesses are related to their strengths.  Brady is so good that their offensive game plans tend to rely on him almost exclusively. (Unless they are playing the Colts) They will throw in obvious running situations. Usually, it works. But sometimes it blows up in their faces.  But they keep doing it.  This is what is known as”hubris”.

If you want to beat Brady, you need to do two things: take away his favorite receiver with one defender, and get pressure with four, or better yet, three lineman. Do not blitz him and do not attempt to double cover his favorite receiver, unless it is Gronkowski, but Gronkowski is injured as usual, so he isn’t a factor.

As for the New England defense, you can generally beat Belichick’s defenses by being patient and not going for the big play.  Getting pressure isn’t really a priority for Belichick, so if your quarterback is willing to wait around and go for short passes to second or third receivers, you can move the ball against them. But you are not going to get big plays to your top offensive player.  They won’t let it happen.  So you have to plan to win with somebody else.

Can the Falcons do any of that?

I’m much less familiar with them than with the Patriots. But based on what I’ve seen…

Well, their defense is not great. That bodes ill. But they did manage to shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, so perhaps there is hope.  The Patriots have a much better screen passing game than Green Bay, so I don’t expect a similar performance from Atlanta’s defense. Brady is going to have a good game, and LeGarrette Blount probably will too.

So, ok; maybe Atlanta can win a shootout, then?

Atlanta’s major weapons are wide receiver Julio Jones and their running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.  Jones gets the headlines, but my sense is that the RBs are far more critical to their offense.

I suspect Belichick has noticed this too, and will stifle them much as he did Marshall Faulk, the superstar running back at the core of the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” years ago.

In the end, it comes down to that old adage: defense wins championships. Atlanta has the number one scoring offense, New England has the number one scoring defense. The Falcons will still manage some points–but they’ll also probably commit some costly turnovers. So it goes.

NE: 41

ATL: 24

NFC Championship Game

My gut tells me the Packers will win.  I think it’s because they are on a winning streak and Aaron Rodgers is playing at an otherworldly level.

That said, I also think I could be selling the Falcons short just because they are the Falcons, and Falcons teams of yesteryear always choked in big moments.  Which is very unfair to them–they are not the Falcons of yesteryear; they are their own team, and they have been good enough to earn the number 2 seed in the conference.

Both teams have very good offenses.  But, being football experts, we know that’s all well and good for the regular season, but defense is what matters in the playoffs.

So, which team has the better defense? As it turns out, neither of them are stellar, but Green Bay’s looks to be slightly better. But it’s close.

Accordingly, I predict a narrow Packer win:

GB: 30

ATL: 28

AFC Championship Game

At this point, it’s starting to feel like it should be called the “Patriots vs. Special Guest ________ Game”. Six conference championship game appearances in a row is crazy. That said, the Steelers are kind of like a mini-dynasty within New England’s 15-years-and-counting reign. They’ve reached three Super Bowls in that time, and it could have been more if not for two conference title game losses… to the Patriots.

The Steelers have some incredible offensive firepower, to be sure. Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are the top QB/WR combination in the league. Who really stands out though is Le’Veon Bell. I’ve never seen a running back like him.He takes the handoff and then just stands there, waiting and watching for his opportunity. Then, when he finally commits, he doesn’t seem to run so much as glide through the defense. It’s weird and beautiful to watch. I don’t think many teams know how to handle it.

But the Patriots have this guy, Belichick–maybe you’ve heard of him? He’s only been making a career out of neutralizing top offensive players for about 30 years. The Bills’ seemingly unstoppable no-huddle offense of the 1990s? He stopped it in Super Bowl XXV. The Rams’ nearly-invincible “Greatest Show on Turf”? He destroyed it so bad it ceased to exist after Super Bowl XXXVI. The great Peyton Manning? He shut him down twice in the post-season. LaDainian Tomlinson, Andrew Luck… the list of offensive stars he has  defeated over the years is long.

The teams that beat the Patriots in the playoffs are the teams that have no true stars, but instead simply play well-balanced, efficient football. (And their defense rattles Brady. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) If a team is reliant on a few superstars, Belichick will defeat them, because he knows he only has to take away one or two guys and then his work is done.

The Steelers are reliant on two superstars–Brown and Bell. This bodes ill for them.

But there’s another dimension here: what about the Patriots’ offense vs. the Steelers’ defense?

Last week’s win against Houston was one of the sloppiest, stupidest offensive games I’ve ever seen New England play. Time and again, Brady would drop back to pass, find no one open, and start scrambling before receiving a vicious hit from a defender.

Even late in the game, while holding a double-digit lead, New England stubbornly refused to run the ball and milk the clock. Brady continued to throw–often incomplete, slowing down the game–and absorbing tons of punishment.

On those rare occasions when they did run, it  was with a small running back or a wide receiver on a reverse.(In perhaps the stupidest call of all, they actually had Brady blocking for a reverse at one point in the 4th quarter. The Football Gods will one day punish this arrogance.)   They seemed unwilling to put in Blount and simply play power football.

If I thought the Patriots would play that type of game again this week, I’d feel better about Pittsburgh’s chances. But my guess is that Belichick has reamed out everyone involved with the offense, including Brady, and they are not going to let it happen again. Especially not against a Pittsburgh defense that they have pretty consistently owned over the years.

NE: 30

PIT: 13

AFC East

Dolphins
Tannehill improves;
Rejuvenated offense
Wins the division

Patriots
With no Tom Brady
Garoppolo will be good–
But defense will not.

Bills
Taylor and Watkins
Need to prove if they’re for real
Or it’s “Goodbye Rex”

 

Jets
Fitzpatrick is back,
But he’s still not the answer–
Can’t make the playoffs.

AFC North

Ravens
Flacco will surprise–
(I know, I said that before)
This time in good way.

Steelers
Sure, they’re talented–
But injuries, suspensions
Mar their playoff hopes.

Bengals
Lack of discipline
Showed in last year’s playoff game
Presages meltdown.

Browns
Same story each year–
Like the chimera, Griffin
Can’t be believed in.

AFC South

Colts
Luck will bounce right back–
Better for having struggled–
And win Super Bowl

Jaguars
Old order changeth:
They now warrant some respect–
But still no playoffs.

Titans
Mariota still
The next “game changing” QB
Who crashes and burns.

Texans
The Wizard of Oz?
“D” made Osweiler look good.
Pay no attention.

AFC West

Broncos
Sanchez of ’09
Paired up with that strong defense
Would have been scary.

Chargers
Not as bad as they
Looked last year, but they are still
Far from being good.

Raiders
Dangerous offense–
But Denver’s dangerous “D”
Keeps a lid on them.

Chiefs
Solid, but boring,
It’s always the same story–
Reid is good, not great.

NFC East

Redskins
“Captain” Kirk Cousins
Boldly goes where they’ve not gone
In years: Super Bowl.

Giants
Eli will be good,
And a strong passing offense
Makes them wild card.

Cowboys
If they stay healthy,
They’re best in their division.
Too big of an “if”.

Eagles
Rebuilding again;
After failed experiment.
Reid looks good now, huh?

NFC North

Bears
Fox’s teams do well
In his second year with them.
They make the playoffs.

Vikings
After heartbreaker–
They come back even better.
But Peterson’s done.

Packers
They are a strong team—
But their luck has to run out,
And this is the year.

Lions
No Calvin Johnson
Will mean no identity–
It will be ugly.

NFC South

Panthers
Newton will regress;
But still will be good enough
To win division.

Saints
Brees is getting old.
Can’t sustain their old style–
Will need to rebuild.

Falcons
Is Matt Ryan good
Or a glorified Stafford?
It is hard to say.

Buccaneers
Winston has been good;
But they seem too pass-happy
To be complete team.

NFC West

Seahawks
Wilson is awesome.
May be league’s most balanced team–
But lose title game.

49ers
Kelly’s second chance
Works out for them and for him–
“Kap”, Hyde run wild.

Rams
Move back to LA
Makes them seem glamorous till
Fans see their offense.

Cardinals
Palmer, Fitz are old–
Without a solid QB
Offense falls apart.

I am a fan of the Buffalo Bills, first and foremost.  I will always root for them; and someday, in the words of the late, great Bills fan Tim Russert, “They will win the damn Super Bowl”.

In the meantime, though, I’ve had to find some other team to pull for in the playoffs, once Buffalo is out.  I gravitated, grudgingly at first, towards the New England Patriots.  Over time, I’ve come to have a strong affection for them as a result.

Most Bills fans will say this is treason.  They have beaten us like a drum ever since Belichick got there.  We have suffered humiliating blowouts and agonizing last-second losses at their hands.  How can I root for them, even a little?

The fact is, the Patriots are the team we all would want our team to be.  They are the premier organization in the sport.  Hate them if you want, but if Belichick and Brady came to your favorite team, would you be anything other than thrilled?

I think this tends to happen with dynasties. My Mom’s favorite team is the Steelers, but she still fondly remembers the Green Bay Packer teams that were dominant in her youth. You get used to seeing these dynastic teams so much that they become pleasantly familiar.  I associate good football with the Patriot brand.

It started out that I would pull for the Patriots in the playoffs, and over the years it developed that I pretty much root for them all the time except when they play the Bills, or when a Patriots victory would result in the Bills missing the playoffs, since the Bills almost always need help to make the playoffs by early November.

The other reason I like New England is I felt bad for them when they lost to the Giants.  I’ve never liked the Giants. (Possibly due to lingering animosity from their narrow Super Bowl win over the Bills that gets replayed every year.) I wanted the Patriots to go 19-0, and it was sad when they were denied on the freakish and bizarre “helmet catch” play.

I hoped they would win the second time around against New York, but wasn’t surprised when they didn’t.  That Patriots team had such a bad defense that they had no business being in the Super Bowl. Even the Bills beat them that year. (Trivia: the Bills have beaten the Patriots exactly three times since I started following football: Once in 2003, once in 2011, and once in 2014.  In each year, the Patriots have gone on to reach the Super Bowl.)

All this is background to the story of the 2014 season, which was the most memorable football season I have ever had in my years of following the game.

(more…)

I am fascinated by football helmets and uniforms.  I study them like some people I know study the dresses movie stars wear at award ceremonies.  Like any enthusiast, I have my opinions on the aesthetics of uniforms and helmets.

In my opinion, these are probably the two best helmets in all of football:

99f104339a357c10ff45a8ed83ccc63b
Image Credit to the NFL. Reproduced under Fair Use for the Purpose of Criticism.

I’m not crazy about the black pants for the Bengals–I almost always prefer white jerseys with white pants–but otherwise I think these are pretty good. (Interestingly, the Ram helmet with yellow horn was the first football helmet design ever.)

Apart from white-on-white, I usually don’t like the same color jerseys and pants–teams like the Chiefs, Texans and Cardinals will wear all red, and they look like they are in their pajamas. I did like these old Buffalo Bills uniforms, though I would prefer it with a white helmet.

The absolute worst uniform in all of football is the Tennessee Titans’ current one.  It is a total disaster, although this mess the Jaguars wore (against the Titans even!) is pretty bad, but it was only an alternate.

I am also a big believer that you can’t change your uniform once you have success with it.  The Rams won the Super Bowl with their yellow horn helmets, then changed them to an awful gold color, and haven’t won since.  They did lose one to the Patriots, who are now stuck with a pretty bad uniform that they have enjoyed tremendous success in.

At the college level, everybody gets new uniforms all the time now, thanks to the influence of the Oregon football team.  Oregon wears a new combination every week, and I have yet to see them find one that is good, although these chrome helmets look kind of interesting.

In general, I find most college uniforms to be stupid. I do like these all-grey uniforms that West Virginia and a few other schools have done. Strangely, my team, the Ohio State Buckeyes, has not worn one of these even though grey is one of their traditional team colors.  Speaking of the Buckeyes, their regular uniforms are some of the best in the sport.  These alternates, which I call their “Christmas tree ornament helmets”, are weird but interesting.

Probably the best helmet/uniform combinations in college football are USC, Ohio State and Michigan State.  I also loved these camouflage uniforms that Army has worn a few times.

What helmets and/or uniforms do you like?