Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NFL and Whatnot

After two rounds of Exciting NFL Playoff Action (tm), we're down to four remaining teams. In the NFC, it's Chicago hosting New Orleans. In the AFC, Indy welcomes New England to town. I'll get to that in a second.

First, a word about the presentation of the NFL. I'm keenly aware (thanks to the NFL's continual reminders) that football is America's top sport, and the NFL is king of all the professional sports. No problem. I love the NFL, too. But honestly, it is hard for me to watch an entire NFL playoff game because of the constant, never-ending stream of advertising and promotion. I mean, it is CONSTANT. Here's the breakdown:

1. Normal Ads - These are 30 seconds each and usually involve Peyton Manning. Whether he's emerging from a primordial-ooze-covered football to get me to buy Gatorade, or being goofy to get me to subscribe to DirecTV, or being goofier to get me to use MasterCard, or wearing a fake mustache goofily to get me to use Sprint, Peyton really, really wants me to buy something. If it doesn't involve Peyton, it's usually a beer commercial whereby guys do stupid things ('cause we're guys!). Or it could be a truck commercial where people pile up random crap in a truck bed, or drive the truck over insanely crazy elements, or have the truck be eaten by a monster, then somehow be drivable moments later. Or it could be that weird Jared/Michael Strahan commercial where they seem a bit too happy to be losing weight together. There are usually at least 800 of these in a broadcast.

2. Billboards - These are the things that come on as the broadcast comes back from commercial. The music is playing, there are images of the city the game is being played in, and then the announcer's voice says, "The NFL on CBS. Brought to you byyyy...Budweiser. Smooth, refreshing, the King of Beers. Budweiser -- it only tastes bad 'til you're drunk. And byyyyy...AIG. AIG. You don't know what we do and we don't either. But, still, AIG. And by...Sony/Paramount Pictures "Corky Romano 2" starring Chris Kattan, in theatres now." There are too many of these, too.

3. Sponsored Elements - If all that wasn't enough corporate bombardment, then you deal with the sponsored elements. The Subway Eat Fresh Play of the Game. The Powerade Powerful Block of the Game. The Master Lock Keys to Victory. The Preparation H Plan of Attack. The Imodium AD Run of the Game. It's ridiculous. It drives me crazy.

In between all of that, there is an actual football contest being played. Supposedly. I am happy to see that the AFC title game is going to be one of great drama -- and this has to be the chance for Pitch King Peyton to finally shed some of the labels that have dogged him for his entire career. Can't beat New England in the postseason? Now he's got them at home for the first time. Can't overcome a bad defense to win? The Colts' D has been outstanding in the postseason.

If Peyton and the Colts are going to win, Marvin Harrison simply has to be better. It boggles my mind how Marvin Harrison has managed to avoid the choker label while Peyton Manning has been saddled with it for years. Look at Harrison's postseason numbers (courtesy Pro Football Reference):

 Year  Opp   Result  |  RSH    YD  TD  |  REC    YD  TD
1996 pit L,14-42 | 0 0 0 | 3 71 0
1999 ten L,16-19 | 0 0 0 | 5 65 0
2000 mia L,17-23 | 0 0 0 | 5 63 0
2002 nyj L,0-41 | 0 0 0 | 4 47 0
2003 den W,41-10 | 0 0 0 | 7 133 2
2003 kan W,38-31 | 0 0 0 | 6 98 0
2003 nwe L,14-24 | 0 0 0 | 3 19 0
2004 den W,49-24 | 0 0 0 | 4 50 0
2004 nwe L,3-20 | 0 0 0 | 5 44 0
2005 pit L,18-21 | 0 0 0 | 3 52 0
2006 kan W,23-8 | 0 0 0 | 2 48 0
2006 bal W,15-6 | 0 0 0 | 4 45 0
TOTAL | 0 0 0 | 51 735 2

He's only caught two touchdowns in his entire postseason career. In only one postseason game has he had over 100 yards receiving. Both of those events happened in the same game -- the 2003 Wild Card game against Denver. I'm aware that Manning's struggles will inevitably rub off on Marvin Harrison. But isn't it possible that Harrison's struggles have rubbed off on Manning? Either way, this extraordinary tandem can shake off a lot of haters with a win on Sunday.

Tony Dungy can, too.

In the NFC, somehow 1 vs. 2 is Chicago hosting New Orleans. I know I had that matchup nailed before the season started. At least the Saints are easy to root for. It was a pleasure to watch Deuce McCallister run with such abandon, and he's clearly been overlooked in the rush to anoint Reggie Bush as The Most Exciting Player in Football. Yet when the chips were down, it was Deuce who had the monster game against Philly. After all he's personally done to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath, McCallister deserves success. I suspect he and Bush will gash the Bears defense, which looked very porous against Shaun Alexander in the Divisional round.

Rex Grossman wasn't bad against Seattle, which means he's due for a stinkbomb against New Orleans. I see the Saints winning this one and moving on to the Super Bowl. They'll play Indianapolis, who will finally take out a Patriots team that has been wobbling for weeks, but hasn't fallen. They'll fall on Sunday. If Marty Schottenheimer hadn't Martyed it up in San Diego, the Patriots would have been out last week.

Allow me to finalize this with a Newcastle update. 3-2 winners at Tottenham to move to 11th in the Premiership table. The second equalizer -- courtesy of my main man Obafemi Martins -- was an absolute thunderbolt. Enjoy.

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