For years I’ve been privately and publicly declaring the second weekend of the NFL playoffs to be my favorite of the season. Four games, about fourteen hours of sudden-death football, the #1 and #2 seeds of each conference finally showing up (or not, sometimes). This adoration is practical above all: The four best games being played, the only four games being played, are all shown on “regular” television. I don’t have to leave the apartment – though I often do – to see all that’s happening that’s good. I don’t have to sit through another Jets-Dolphins game when there’s a superior matchup somewhere, anywhere else. And, I finally get to see some of the best players in the league for an extended period of time, not just on Sunday Night or Monday Night (since those might not be good games with good teams anyway).
It’s probably clear that I don’t like the sport enough to buy the Sunday Ticket, or to frequent the bar that does shows the game and houses the fans of my favorite team. So I know many of my complaints are moot, but that shouldn’t take away the glory of these here playoffs.
I’ve also thought that the conference championship weekend was better than the Super Bowl, almost every time, but for both quality and quantity, it seemed safe to assume that the Divisional Round was where it had been and always would be at. But after this year’s letdowns, the Packers demoralizing the Falcons and an underwhelming Bears/Seahawks game, I began to reconsider those assumptions. I turned to the numbers.
Now, there’s often more to these games than their final scores: Much of the fun is the experience itself, often with friends, often with beer and food and a hooded sweatshirt. And while it’s an oversimplified way to look at it, the numbers do speak, so here goes:
After checking Wikipedia (it’s like Gospel, of course) for the final scores of the second and third rounds of the playoffs (4 games; 2 games) over the last five years – nice round number – and tallied the differences.
2006-2007: 3, 9, 3, 3; 4, 25 (avg: 4.5 & 14.5)
2007-2008: 4, 22, 4, 11; 3, 9 (avg: 10.25 & 6)
2008-2009: 3, 11, 12, 20; 9, 7 (avg: 11.5 & 8)
2009-2010: 31, 31, 3, 17; 3, 13 (avg: 20.5 & 8)
2010-2011: 7, 7, 27, 11; 5, 7 (avg: 13 & 6)
Maybe it’s all been the afterimage of one glorious weekend.
Expectations met reality in the playoffs five years ago. I can see myself now, curled up in a blanket in my second Queens apartment, the one without all the dank, looking forward to a weekend of playoff football and hardly being disappointed. On average, that was the best set of games we’ve had in the recent past (though yesterday’s were pretty damn good, if sloppy – more on those later, probably).
Half of these playoff weekends averaged under 10 points of difference – and that’s not differential, because this is not calculus. Nearly half of the games – 11 out of 24 – were decided by less than a touchdown. If I’ve only convinced myself with these sweeping, half-assed overgeneralizations, that’s good enough for me to tweak my anticipation and really have my ducks in a row for next time.