This is PLAYOFF Doink-O-Rama, John Teti’s column about pro football.
In the last installment of Doink-O-Rama, I looked askance at the league’s choice of the name “Super Wild Card Weekend” for the first round of this year’s playoffs. The Super Bowl is one of the all-time great, beautifully simple, and badass strokes of marketing genius in sports history. The game itself is the ne plus ultra of sporting events—of mass-media events, for that matter. It’s hard to imagine a bigger one-night spectacle. So the descriptor of “Super” feels entirely appropriate. It’s perfect! Don’t mess with it!
But instead, the league messed with it, and unaccountably diluted the fearsome “Super” mojo by attaching it to the wild-card round, a round in which some of the league’s rather good teams face off against a handful of somewhat good teams. “Gosh, that sounds a bit less Super than a game in which the two best teams fight for the American football championship of the whole goddamn universe,” you might say, and yes, I concur with those words I just put in your mouth. In fact, as if to drive the point home, Super Wild Card Weekend was about as un-Super as it could be, to the extent that it has fans across the country questioning whether the meaningless word “Super” has any meaning anymore. There you go, NFL, you’ve shattered the mystique. I might not even watch the Super Bowl this year! That’s how far you’ve pushed me—to the point where I will make obviously empty threats.
The wild-card round featured mostly blowouts, plus a somewhat competitive but unremarkable Las Vegas-Cincinnati game, and a clown show in Dallas. That latter contest, the San Francisco 49ers-Dallas Cowboys game, generated the most (only?) memorable play of the weekend. Down six points to the 49ers in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had 14 seconds remaining on the clock with no timeouts and the ball at San Francisco’s 40-yard line. From this position, with so little time, Dallas had two options: throw a quick pass to the sideline to stop the clock and get the team a little closer to the end zone for a last gasp, or just go ahead and make a Hail Mary attempt or two from the current spot. At least, those were the two traditional strategies a team might employ in these unfavorable conditions. The Cowboys decided instead to take the third option, which was to poop their pants.
The ball was snapped, the clock resumed ticking, and Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott briefly dropped back to pass. But then, ludicrously, Prescott kept the ball and ran with it, sliding to a stop about 15 yards down the field. “Tee-hee! A quarterback draw! Nobody expected that!” chortled head coach Mike McCarthy on the Dallas sidelines, and indeed, the Cowboys fans assembled at AT&T Stadium that day did not see this play coming. But, to their horror, they did see it going.
“Whoa! I don’t think this is gonna work out!” cried CBS announcer Jim Nantz as Prescott slid to a halt with eight seconds on the clock and counting. The trouble with a run-up-the-middle approach in this situation is that it only works if football is an infinite pursuit, existing free from the constraints of the time-space continuum. “What a glorious battle! May it be waged forevermore!” McCarthy seemed to think, picturing himself as some sort of Norse god, with the millennia stretched out before him. Yet down here on our mortal plane, the Cowboys’ season was swirling the drain with astonishing speed.
The Dallas offense hurriedly lined up to get off another play and stop the clock before it reached zero. Along the way, Prescott neglected to hand the ball to an official, instead giving the ball to his center so he could spot the ball. Here Dallas ran up against a technicality: The offense is not actually allowed to spot the ball themselves, for the same reason that a runner in baseball is not allowed to call himself safe—it creates a certain conflict of interest. A member of the officiating team, specifically the umpire, must place the ball before the next play can begin. So the Cowboys, in their hurry to bunch up at the line, only succeeded in creating a blockade of large men through which the umpire had to scrabble and claw in order to do his job. Meanwhile: tick, tick, tick, game over. After the game, McCarthy would, in cowardly fashion, blame the officials for the snafu, even though as you can see above, the umpire was frantic in his effort to save the Cowboys from themselves.
An utterly daft screwup. If any play has to embody the ignominious debut of “Super” Wild Card Weekend, it might as well be this one. But that’s all in the past. Now it’s time for the divisional round, henceforth to be known as Super-Duper Divisional Super Week-Super-End, which will never let us down.
Divisional Round Game No. 1 — Saturday, January 22, 2022 at 3:30 p.m. Central — Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans
How the Bengals got here: Cincinnati was able to overcome the Las Vegas Raiders in the first round despite the fact that nobody in the NFL places a finger on a football more carefully than the Raiders.
The non-hometown fans: My favorite NFL fan club is German Titans e.V., which describes itself as “the official fan club of the Tennessee Titans for German speaking countries of Europe.” I’m amused that one of the league’s least legendary teams has such an impassioned overseas fanbase, although given that the official website boasts a membership of 84, it’s not as if Titans mania is sweeping the Old Continent (yet). What German Titans e.V. lacks in numbers, it makes up for with passion, as for many years now, the club has produced timely movie-poster photoshops to hype up each week’s game on its social media channels.
Some of the puns are pretty clever, like the one above that uses Paul Verhoeven’s giant-insect-war flick Starship Troopers to represent the Titans’ battle against the “injury bug.”
Some of the posters make no sense. Those are often the best ones.
I would place the A-Team-themed poster for this week’s divisional matchup in the latter category. See you at Jahreshauptversammlung 2022!
The DORPFASTCALC pick: Cincinnati 28, Tennessee 24.
Divisional Round Game No. 2 — Saturday, January 22, 2022 at 7:15 p.m. Central — San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers
Important correction: Last week, I noted that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was the only quarterback remaining in the playoffs whose last name was a verb describing a non-football activity that one could perform on a football field. Astute Doink-O-Rama reader Nick R. writes in to dispute that assessment, arguing that the Green Bay roster boasts a whopping two quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, whose verbal surnames fit the criteria:
You make the bold claim that Cincinnati Bengals star Joe Burrow is the only quarterback in the playoffs whose last name is a verb describing a non-football activity you could perform on the football field.
Well, sir, the Green Bay Packers have not one but two quarterbacks who fit that description—though I'll admit one of them would incur the wrath of the FCC if it were to be televised. To wit: Suppose the Packers' starting quarterback, Aaron, is attracted to a teammate. Further suppose that Aaron wishes to express his attraction in a physical way. Aaron therefore rodgers his teammate.
Now, suppose the Packers' backup quarterback, Jordan, has fond feelings for another player. But these feelings go far beyond mere friendship. It's not enough for Jordan to simply like the other fellow; Jordan wants to love the other fellow.
Nick is dubious that the NFL would associate itself with the debased spectacle of sex on the field, but that’s what they said about gambling, so give it time. As for Jordan Love, my only pushback would be that love does not meet the criterion of a “non-football activity,” quite the contrary. Love is an essential football activity. The game is so punishing that anyone who would endure it must also love it. After all, aside from love, what reason is there to play pro football? Enormous fame and fabulous wealth—that’s it.
Rodgers Watch: To prepare for the divisional matchup, Aaron Rodgers will spend the day appearing on podcasts to spread skepticism about unleaded gasoline.
The DORPFASTCALC pick: Green Bay 34, San Francisco 23.
Divisional Round Game No. 3 — Sunday, January 23, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. Central — Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How the Buccaneers got here: Tampa Bay overcame its first-round opponent the Philadelphia Eagles despite some wobbly finger placement that required frequent recalibration by their beleaguered placekicker. The Buccaneers' special teams probably watched footage of the Raiders this week to clean up the holes in their extended-index-finger game.
The DORPFASTCALC pick: Tampa Bay 31, Los Angeles 30.
Divisional Round Game No. 4 — Sunday, January 23, 2022 at 5:30 p.m. Central — Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The home stadium experience: According to their impractically voluminous A-to-Z guide to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs participate in the Bud Light Good Sport Designated Driver program. This initiative is designed to help responsible fans make it through the game without thinking about how great it would be to have a delicious beer right now, to feel the warming, confidence-inspiring, inhibition-lowering effects of alcohol course through their body as the beverage—a Bud Light, for instance—enhances practically every aspect of the football experience. Fans who wish to enroll in the program should simply “visit a Fans First Booth located on the Field and Upper Levels of GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium”—they’re easy to find, conveniently located next to a guy selling beer and another guy selling beer. In return for this noble effort, the Chiefs will reward every teetotaling fan with a coupon for one (1) free non-alcoholic beverage, to use as a mixer.
All they do is score touchdowns: In their first-round immolation of the New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills scored a touchdown on every offensive drive except the last one, when they knelt to end the game and put the Patriots out of their misery. It is the only time in NFL history, regular season or playoffs, that any offense has ever “pitched a perfect game.” If we had fielded a defense composed of you, me, and nine other Doink-O-Rama readers, we could achieved as much against the Bills as the Patriots did, although I still prefer watching the large sports men fail on our behalf.
The Bills’ destruction of the Patriots was so thorough, and as a result the game’s conclusion so foregone, that during the third quarter, CBS handed the broadcast over to sideline reporter Evan Washburn so that the could deliver a report about sideline broth. “Micah Hyde told us about this,” Evan began, because it’s always important to cite sources for your hardest-hitting stories, “and you’re seeing it right now. In that brown cooler—or should I say heater—that’s chicken broth in there.” That’s what Super Wild Card Weekend was like. Sometimes, the most exciting thing on the field was an inanimate brown tub of broth. Here’s to the divisional round.
The DORPFASTCALC pick: Kansas City 38, Buffalo 20.
Keep on long snappin'
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