It’s that time of year again, when professional football enters its playoffs and becomes ‘relevant’ or whatever. We all know that being a fan of professional sports is conflated with a number of unhealthy conditions: obesity, low self-esteem, and the desire to wear another man’s name on your back while you kiss your wife and otherwise attempt to live a life not devoid of some modicum of human dignity, to name a few. But the reality is football is extremely popular in America, and in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl it becomes something of a social norm to know how the various teams are doing, especially if you live in an area with an active team.
Below I have assembled a primer on the teams qualified for the NFL Playoffs. Having been raised in the South, I am obviously an expert when it comes to football, and so, armed with these reviews, you can march confidently into conversation now, knowing you won’t ‘fumble’ — heh, little football terminology there — when your friends and family broach the topic of sports. For the sake of clarity, I have compared each team to a famous person that most normal people are familiar with.
The Pittsburgh Steelers: a favorite for the Super Bowl this year — and most years — the Steelers are a bit like Kanye West in that at one point they were a scrappy team with lots to prove but now they go into every season anticipating success, head over heels in love with their own style. The Steelers hit harder than any team in the NFL but have a habit of going overboard, so that their behavior often draws the ire of the league. Also their quarterback is quite possibly an actual serial rapist, but the Kanye analogy kind of breaks down there. Celebrity Equivalent: Kanye West, apparently.
The Green Bay Packers: the Packers are a storybook team owned and beloved by a relatively small town in Wisconsin. They’re the Girl Next Door that you root for because she always gives her all. They’re fun (players jump into the crowd after scoring), they’re funny (their quarterback has a sense of humor), and it seems everyone wants to see them succeed. The problem, though, is that they did succeed. Last year. They won the Super Bowl. And now this year they’re finishing the season almost undefeated. And all the experts say they’re the best in the league. And they’re so gracious about it but now, like the Girl Next Door, you kind of hate them for their success. You want to see them fail. Nobody’s as good as they pretend to be — they’re fakers. They must be. And what’s a Packer, anyway? Screw them for being so effortlessly perfect. Celebrity Equivalent: Zooey Deschanel
The New England Patriots: I don’t think it’s out of line to say the Patriots are the league’s most prestigious team. They have a supportive owner who treats players with class. They have a mastermind of a coach who gameplans brilliantly and doesn’t have to pay for players because he can work with whatever you give him. At this point, he prefers raw recruits, because he can teach them up. Did I mention their quarterback is a genius male model who married a Victoria Secret supermodel after he got bored with impregnating non-VS supermodels? That happened. They give curt answers to the media and sometimes mess with them outright, by listing players as ‘injured’ seemingly at random. The Patriots get a ton of attention, know they get a ton of attention, and though they are always expected to win, it’s been a few years since they took home a major award. Celebrity Equivalent: Ryan Gosling.
The New York Giants: The Giants represent one of the largest, richest sports markets in the world. Their quarterback has literally, since the day he was born, been groomed to play the position. On account of who his dad was, he was given the best possible training and an automatic starting role at every school he ever played for. When he was drafted into the NFL, he threw a tempter tantrum and refused to play unless he was traded to a team that he liked. Now a seasoned NFL quarterback, there’s no reason why Eli Manning and the Giants can’t succeed. And so they do. Kind of. I mean, did you see them in the Super Bowl in 2008? That was pretty freaking good. But outside of that they… well, they’re not bad. They’re good. They’re consistently good. Not great, like Eli’s father, but, you know, they produce a reliably enjoyable football product. Sometimes I think the Giants can be a little boring to watch, but, I don’t know — forget it, they’re good. They’re good. Celebrity Equivalent: Sofia Coppola
The Houston Texans: you all get tickets to this great show, but when you get there you realize that your most reliable friend wasn’t feeling good so she gave her ticket to her weird younger sister who’s extremely awkward and you don’t know her that well and, honestly, you don’t really even think she’s that into the show so she’ll probably leave early. Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is your friend. The Texans are the awkward younger sister. Another perfect analogy complete. Celebrity Equivalent: Ashlee Simpson
The San Francisco Forty-Niners: the last fifteen years or so have been tough for the Niners. They went from a Hall of Fame quarterback throwing to a Hall of Fame receiver, to years upon years of mediocrity. The only thing they really had going for them was that nobody around them was succeeding either — last year their division was so bad it had to send a team with a losing record to represent it in the playoffs. But the team hired a new coach this year, one which, unlike the previous coach, consistently wears pants while addressing his players. And things have been looking up. The Niners finished 13-3 this season, behind the strong play of quarterback Alex Smith, who got a bad eyebrow waxing the day he was drafted and tried to cover it with makeup, and Frank Gore, a punishing running back who literally has the IQ of a small, sweet child. It’s like a movie! Celebrity Equivalent: non-nude Jason Segel.
The Detroit Lions: much like the Niners, it’s been a long time (13 years) since the Lions have been relevant. They’ve spent the last decade losing and losing spectacularly, mostly due to General Manager Matt Millen’s insistence on drafting nothing but wide receivers. Millen’s vision of an offense which featured ten receivers and a quarterback would have been revolutionary had it succeeded, but it didn’t. It totally didn’t. So the Lions finally being in the playoffs might sound like a major feel-good underdog story. And it was. Until people realized their star defensive player was actively trying to injure other players. Then, on Thanksgiving, with millions watching, he took his cleats and tried to stomp out a downed player on the other team. That evaporated most of the remaining goodwill. Celebrity Equivalent: Mel Gibson
The Denver Broncos: this is the team with Tim Tebow, so you’ve probably already heard about them. The Broncos have lost the last three games in a row — including a final, potentially playoff-clinching game in which they failed to score a single touchdown – but thanks to the incessant soulful appeals of Tebow, every other team lost and the Broncos are now in the playoffs by default. Some consider the Broncos revolutionary for experimenting with a college-style ‘option’ offense, other see it as an absolutely unpredictable sh-tshow simulacra of football. Some see Tebow as a hero standing up for what is right and noble and succeeding despite his detractors, others see him as a totally unrefined mess valued far more for his entertainment value than whatever talent he might possess. I don’t know, but I’m going to watch. Celebrity Equivalent: Lady Gaga
The Cincinnati Bengals: Wait, the Bengals are in the playoffs? How? Okay so, according to this blog, the Bengals drafted a brand new quarterback and a brand new receiver, and they’ve been playing great since Day One. I had no idea. I don’t think I’ve watched a single Bengals game all year, but people are saying they have an outside shot at success? But then other people think they’ve lucked their way into the playoffs and don’t deserve the attention they’re getting? I don’t know. Celebrity Equivalent: Lana Del Rey
The Baltimore Ravens: the Ravens exist as kind of a Bizarro Steelers — albeit led by a murdering linebacker rather than a rapist quarterback — and while that’s not a comparison they’re likely to enjoy, I know it’s one they recognize. It’s why the Steelers/Ravens games are so enjoyable. It’s why Ravens fans are hoping to meet the Steelers in the playoffs. Both teams play tough defense, hit hard, and feature future Hall of Famers on defense. Despite the Ravens quarterback leading the league in BPA (boring passes attempted), the rest of the team seems smart, talented, and exciting to watch. Also, the murder happened in Baltimore, so water under the bridge, right? Celebrity Equivalent: Omar from The Wire
The New Orleans Saints: I don’t know if you heard of a little thing called Hurricane Katrina? Basically it was this disaster that made it so anyone rooting against the Saints is a horrible monster. Which would be a problem if the Saints weren’t one of the most likable teams in the league. Their coach prefers a high-risk, flashy offensive style, and this year their Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, threw for more yards than any player in history. No big deal. Brees stays grounded. He lives in the heart of New Orleans in a house with no fence and folks wave to him on their morning commute. Sometimes he gets drunk in the local bars. Speaking of drunk, the official theme song of the Saints last Super Bowl season was “Stand Up and Get Crunk” by the Ying Yang Twins. As in, government holidays were announced and parades were held and old women and tiny children commanded each other to get crunk for their team. The mayor even invited the rappers to perform, despite his assertion that “y’all ain’t ready.” As the Saints push into the playoffs, local radio stations convert to an All Saints schedule of programming, in which the standard fare is replaced by Saints remixes put together by locals, which are then played twenty-four hours a day. New Orleans embraces football fandom with European levels of enthusiasm, a reality as fun for the participant as it is destructive to civic productivity. Celebrity Equivalent: Beyoncé
The Atlanta Falcons: Honey, if you go to the store and they’re out of New Orleans Saints, just… pick up a few bags of Atlanta Falcons, I guess. We can always donate what we don’t use. Celebrity Equivalent: Kelly Rowland