Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pope Football

Let me waste a little more time so I can pontificate on this week's football. Not the bowl games, that endless embarrassing parade of inflated excuses for commercials. I caught the end of one, when the outcome was determined by an official who penalized the scoring team 15 yards on the extra point (they needed a two point conversion to tie) because of excessive celebration in the end zone on the touchdown--the kid who caught the pass saluted the crowd. What a stupid cheat.

Oh, and one of the announcers used the word "palpable" and the other announcers made fun of him. Then he joined in and made fun of himself for using a word that nobody is supposed to understand who watches football. Stupidity enforced, one of the worst self-destructive as well as generally destructive instincts of sports.

No, the last NFL games of the regular season is my topic of the moment. After the unexpected outcome a couple of weeks ago--the Steelers losing to the Jets (predictable, but not having Troy and Heath Miller really determined it) but the Ravens winning over the Saints (not so predictable)--both the Steelers and the Ravens are in the playoffs, but the North title will be decided Sunday, and with it the by. If the Steelers beat the Browns in Cleveland, the title is theirs. But if they lose and the Ravens beat the Bengals, the Ravens win it, and the Steelers must play an extra game, on the road. Conversely (I think that's right), if the Ravens lose, the Steelers win the North no matter what the outcome with the Browns.

On paper, the Steelers are all but in. But this season especially, it's any given Sunday. The Browns can and probably will play with abandon. They can surprise the Steelers, and the way Pittsburgh has been playing, an early touchdown or two against them can be fatal. The Ravens pretty much gave them the game plan to win by what they did to beat the Browns last week--confuse the young quarterback, Colt McCoy, with deceptive defensive looks, and batter the running back early. But if they can't do both, the Steelers may not find this an easy game.

On paper the Bengals are a better team than the Browns, so they should give the Ravens more trouble. Once again, that's on paper. The Bengals are wilting, depressed at this wreck of a season for them. They might put up a fight, and they might not.

It's probably all for naught anyway. Except for that any given Sunday scenario--very important in the playoffs--the Steelers are very unlikely to get to the Super Bowl. They have to hope that somebody else knocks off the New England Patriots, because they've shown no sign that they can. I doubt that anyone will. The Steelers might not even get that deep in the playoffs. Getting Troy P. back will help. If they get the by, they could make it to the AFC championship. They can beat the Jets, if New York gets that far. They will be hard-pressed to beat the Ravens again.

The Atlanta-New Orleans game last week was interesting. They are closely matched, and it was Atlanta's mistakes that cost them the game. If they play each other again, it could again go either way, although I'm still seeing an Atlanta Falcons-New England Patriots Super Bowl, with New England the victor. I guess by now that's conventional wisdom, but it seems right to me anyway.

I'm not even sure I'm going to see it. I'm about to dump my cable TV. It costs much more than it's worth. Who knows, maybe I'll waste less time this way.