Necessary Roughness, Week 12: Battles of Different Kinds in AFC North and NFC South
I can’t remember a season that had a single division with such overwhelming parity, let alone two divisions. The irony of this situation is that one division has four teams with winning records who are duking it out to see who can claim the division title while the other division is chock full of sub-.500 teams struggling to salvage disappointing seasons by sneaking their way into the playoffs like a short kid onto a roller coaster. Part of me is stoked that the short kid gets on the coaster. He spends his days at school being made fun of for being frail and not having any armpit hair even though he’s 17 years old. It’s nice to see him get a taste of accomplishment and ride with the big boys. But the other part of me is like, “Hey kid, you’re too short for this ride. You’re gonna get hurt.” Yep, somebody from the NFC South is going to sneak into the playoffs. And that somebody might get hurt.
Part of the reason I waited until Tuesday to write this week’s entry is because I really wanted to watch what I felt was the most important game of the week, two teams from the aforementioned divisions squaring off. If the Saints won it would clearly put them in the driver’s seat, at least momentarily, in the woeful NFC South. If the Ravens won, it would put them back on track and keeping pace with the rest of the pack in the AFC North. It was kind of a must-win for each team. I thought for sure New Orleans would come out victorious. They were at the Superdome, where they’ve been historically dominant in the Drew Brees era. They had lost their previous two home games so I figured there was no way in hell they would drop an unprecedented three in a row. Boy was I wrong.
The first half was really close and I thought we were in for a down-to-the-wire MNF classic. But the Saints fell apart in the second half on both sides of the ball. Rob Ryan had no answer for Justin Forsett. He really had no answer for anybody, including his bossman Sean Payton. The camera awkwardly captured Payton clearly lambasting Ryan over some botched substitutions that cost the Saints a timeout. Poor Rob looked like me when I was two years old, and again when I was three, when my mom scolded me for smearing my own feces on her beloved 1980s wallpaper. Also it should be noted that Steve Smith, my favorite athlete of all time, is still a monster at 35 years old. Man I love that dude. He plays every down like it’s his last and truly has no fear. And guess what? The guy is still putting up big numbers. As a Panther fan who was heartbroken and furious at the front office for letting Smitty go, I am thoroughly elated to see him having such a dynamite season. Every amazing catch he makes is a well-warranted middle finger and crotch grab to the Panthers brass, and I love it.
So, for the Ravens, they are back in the hunt. All four teams in the AFC North have 7 wins, and when it’s all said and done, one of those teams might be sending a thank you card to the Panthers for tying the Bengals back in Week 6. As for the NFC South, who the hell knows. As dictatorial as Roger Goodell is, I’m surprised he hasn’t just made an executive decision to eliminate the division from playoff contention. It’s hard to believe that the Bucs, at 2-9, still have a chance to win it.
Maybe the kid on the roller coaster gets caught and reprimanded by a toothless carnie with breath that smells like pickles and cheese whiz. Maybe he even gets hurt. But maybe, just maybe, he has the time of his life and gets off of that coaster feeling like a champ. Maybe when he gets home that night he notices a curly black hair sprouting from his otherwise bald armpit. You see, I like to subscribe to the theory that if you can just get into the playoffs, by whatever means possible, you have a chance to do something great. Is it likely? No, not really. But it’s possible. And how cool would it be to have a Super Bowl champion that had a losing record in the regular season? Even though they are 3-7-1 and playing like complete garbage 12 weeks in, I’m over here like, “Go Panthers”. If they can just weasel their way onto that roller coaster…….