Everyone from casual fan to high roller with ticket in-hand wants the perfect match-up for Super Bowl 42. But what would perfection be, exactly?
Consensus among those setting football lines in Vegas has the AFC Patriots making an appearance in Glendale on Feb. 3. How cool would it be if the last game in the Patriots' quest for a perfect 19-game season happened in Arizona? Hell, my wife might even tune in for a few snaps... maybe.
In the NFC, only the Cowboys and Packers even have a chance, most might say.
But let's not forget what happened two years ago, when the Steelers entered the postseason as the sixth, and final, seed in the AFC and won Super Bowl XL...
Anything CAN happen.
With that said, let's take a quick look at who still has a fighting chance of advancing to University of Phoenix Stadium, right here in our ever-expanding backyard.
The Patriots (15-0) have mostly looked unbeatable this season, but there have been times when they've shown vulnerability. Question is, can anyone outscore them in the second half when it really matters? New England wrapped up the No. 1 seed (and home field throughout the playoffs) in the AFC in Week 15 with a win against the Jets. Now, a perfect (16-0) mark could be achieved Saturday at the Meadowlands against the Giants.
The Colts (13-2) are frozen into the second slot in the AFC and are the odds-on favorites to advance to the AFC championship against New England. That would be an interesting match-up.
The Chargers (10-5) have run off five wins in a row since losing to Jacksonville 24-17 in Week 11. San Diego, which lost to New England 38-14 in Week 2, could avoid having to play the Patriots until the AFC Championship should San Diego win at Oakland and nab the No. 3 seed on Sunday.
Pittsburgh (10-5), which beat St. Louis on Thursday, wrapped up its division when Cleveland (9-6) lost to the Bengals on Sunday. The Steelers most likely will gain the No. 4 seed and end up playing at home against Jacksonville (which beat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field two Sundays ago) in the first round of the playoffs.
Cleveland now must hope that the Tennessee Titans (9-6) lose on Sunday at Indianapolis. If Tennessee wins, the Titans are in. If not, the Browns instead gain the No. 6 seed.
The NFC clearly boasts two clear favorites to advance to Glendale. The Cowboys (13-2) stumbled against the Eagles two weeks ago, but locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on Saturday by beating Carolina. The Packers' (12-3) inconceivable loss to the Bears on Sunday hurts Green Bay's psyche more than anything, as they are now in the No. 2 slot by virtue of the Dallas win.
Either one of these two teams would make for a great match-up against the Patriots (or any AFC team) for 42. Tony Romo is an emerging star, cut from a mold similar to that of Green Bay's Brett Favre. The Packers emerged from mediocrity this season to unexpectedly make Favre's all-time TD and passing-yards records that much more meaningful.
The Seahawks (10-5) and Buccaneers (9-6) have clinched their (weak) divisions and are in. Seattle would gain the No. 3 seed with a win Sunday at Atlanta. The Buccaneers are locked into at least the No. 4 seed.
The Giants (10-5) clinched the No. 5 seed by beating Buffalo Sunday and are another NFC team that no one seems to be talking about. It's all "Cowboys this, and Packers that." Well, based on Romo's performance last week and Green Bay's shameful effort Sunday, one of these quiet-types might just sneak up on somebody... nah, probably not, but they play these games for a reason.
The Redskins' (9-6) win on Sunday night ended the Vikings' (8-7) five-game win streak and put Washington in position to clinch the No. 6 seed at home next week against a Cowboys team that will be resting superstars (one would think). The Vikings could clinch the sixth seed if they win at Denver, and Washington loses. The Saints, barely clinging to life, have to win at Chicago and hope both Washington and Minnesota lose.
One More Week to Go
Considering the seemingly obvious gap between the best of the best in each conference this season, part of me wants the playoffs to start this week. However, due to the fact football weather (loosely defined by the ability to comfortably wear a long-sleeve shirt) just arrived in Arizona a week or two ago, perhaps I should sit back and enjoy these last games of the regular season and wild card weekend.
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Actually, quite a bit is yet to be determined for the playoff mix. Even the team favored to win it all must decide how much effort to put into its final regular-season game.
Super Bowl Perfection?
I think a lot of people are hoping for a New England-Green Bay match-up. That would almost guarantee that 42 would go down as one of the most memorable NFL games ever played.
Either the Pats are perfect (assuming they win their final game as expected), or Favre's millions of admirers see a fitting end to an absolutely incredible, record-breaking season (and career?).