2012? A national holiday featuring tons of college football bowl games, the NHL Winter Classic and NFL playoff anlysis? Legggooo...
Today's Names to Know: Victor Cruz, Tim Tebow, Matt Flynn, Peyton Manning (and Andrew Luck), DeMarcus Cousins, Winter Classic, Chip Kelly, Montee Ball, Mike Gundy, Scott Hanson and more.
*NFL Playoffs: I'm looking forward to the Packers and Patriots riding home-field advantage all the way to a Super Bowl match-up that will feature the teams combining for more than 85 points, because neither team's defense can stop the other team's offense. That is a best-case scenario and that is what we're going to get.
Everything else is an appetizer. Love the idea of the Giants muscling into the Division Round. Hate that the Lions' amazing season will end simply because they can't stop the Saints in New Orleans. (FWIW: Even the 49ers will have trouble stopping the Saints in San Francisco.)
Love that either the Bengals or the Texans will be advancing to the NFL's quarterfinals. Love that the Broncos -- the Broncos! -- earning a home playoff game is somehow a problem. (So the Steelers are going to beat them -- perhaps even throttle them. So what? See the next item.)
Defense wins championships? Not this year. If this is the Year of the Quarterback (and there is a pretty good case it's just as much a Year of Gronkowski/Graham), it seems appropriate that Rodgers will have to out-duel Brees (and Graham) to win the NFC, with the winner meeting Brady (and Gronk) for a championship.
*Tebow: Let's be clear -- you will call me a Tebow apologist (an enabler!) and you will have a very strong argument. But no matter how Tebow and the Broncos enter the playoffs -- winning streak, losing streak, whatever -- they are entering the playoffs. They have out-performed 20 other teams, at least as it relates to the most important goal of the season.
The Broncos are going to get throttled next week by the Steelers? Who cares! Three other teams are going to lose in the first round of the playoffs, too.
The point is that Tim Tebow led the Broncos into the playoffs. The playoffs! The Broncos! A team that, before the season, was expected to win maybe 4 or 5 games as a best-case scenario -- even fewer if Tebow was given the chance to start at QB. But Tebow is going to get shellacked in the first round of the playoffs! is the dumbest sports argument of the day. The most important words in that statement are "Tebow" and "playoffs."
Every NFL season is an exercise in expectations management. The overall parity means that most teams think they have a shot at making the playoffs -- their fans would be thrilled if that happened. Some teams are "Super Bowl title or bust." The Broncos' expectations -- expectations for Tebow -- were nothing short of "Suck enough to give Elway the license to boot Tebow and draft a real QB." (That was the expectation as recently as midway through the Broncos' Tebowfied winning streak!)
The Broncos have -- and Tebow has -- exceeded expectations more than any other team in the NFL this season. That is -- excuse the blasphemy -- damn impressive.
*Colts: This is a no-brainer. Cut Peyton Manning loose. Draft Andrew Luck. Move on. I cannot believe that there is even a debate or discussion that the team should keep Manning around (at an exorbitant, franchise-crippling rate). It's not like the team is going to draft a question mark at QB -- Luck is the best NFL prospect to come out of college since Manning himself (except Luck was even more pro-ready in college than Manning). Again: This is the biggest no-brainer in the entire history of all "This team has a big decision to make" decisions.
*Matt Flynn: The greatest single-game performance by a Packers QB in team history -- and almost certainly the greatest performance by a QB in the final week of the regular season in NFL history. Good for Flynn -- that was a ton of fun to follow. It's not like the Packers didn't need every single one of those 6 TDs or four hundred gazillion yards passing. I love that at least some fantasy championships were won (or lost) on Flynn's hot hand, and I love that the kid is going to get paid off that performance to get his chance to start somewhere else. (I could absolutely see the Redskins going in for him -- what they and Flynn will both realize is that the Skins ain't the Packers.)
*CFB Bowls: To those whose teams' seasons end today -- like mine -- it's bittersweet no matter what the game result, because the season is over. No more Saturdays to look forward to, until September. Unless you're a recruiting nut or spring-practice hawk (guilty).
The best game of the day is Oklahoma State vs. Stanford, but I'm happy to watch Wisconsin-Oregon as an appetizer and Florida-Ohio State before that. (Warning: The Gators-Buckeyes game is going to make your eyes bleed with terrible offense.)
*NHL Winter Classic: Saw some rumblings from SI's Michael Farber about the empty mythology of the game, but it remains the single-biggest draw of the season for the NHL -- its greatest idea to market the game to the masses in the sport's history. Don't care who's playing -- must-see.
*NBA: DeMarcus Cousins wants out of Sacramento (and they want him out, too). As a Wizards fan whose team has the weakest power frontcourt in the NBA, I would gladly take Cousins to join his former Kentucky running mate John Wall. Seems like a no-brainer, frankly.
*One final salute to Scott Hanson, host of NFL Red Zone Channel on Sunday afternoons, the most delightful TV experience I have ever had, once I got my very first taste of RZC in Week 1. See... you... next... season.