Question: Is it too early to scoreboard watch when the season is barely half way over?
Answer: NO. NEVER.
A true fan’s goal is to build up as much anxiety as possible before and during the course of the season. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself if you are worried that your team will resort to the one you watched in the 2nd half of game three, or if your blood pressure started to build as you watched your team fail during insignificant preseason games. Maybe you were freaking out about your SOS when the 2014 schedule was released, or were infuriated that they still hadn’t replaced the assistant offensive line coach in February who cost you a shot at the playoffs in 2013.
Here’s the deal, fans of the AFC North. Even without this year’s already congested race for the 5th and 6th playoff seeds, everyone would be calculating how their teams “could” get from 5 or 6 wins to at least 10. The fact is, any team in the AFC North could be leading the division in two weeks. In addition, 12 teams in the AFC are realistically in the playoff hunt, meaning eight teams will be battling for just two wild card spots.
It’s time to start rooting for others to fail.
In week 10’s Rooting Guide, we will not be breaking down playoff seeding or tiebreakers at this point. There are too many games remaining, and teams without bye weeks skew the data (although we will most likely take a shot at it before week 13, which is the first post-bye week). With that in mind, We will only make the following assumptions in week 10:
1. Fans of the AFC North will pull for their AFC North brethren as long as the result does not put their positioning in jeopardy (divisional pride). Yes we realize this is unrealistic optimism, and may not come into play anytime soon with everyone in the hunt for a division title.
2. Fans will be rooting for their favorite team at this point (and not for better draft positioning), meaning the definition of “Consensus” below includes everyone but fans of those teams.
Games with playoff implications (Records are listed for AFC teams only. The NFC’s are irrelevant):
Browns (5-3) @ Bengals (5-2-1)
Titans (2-6) @ Ravens (5-4)
Miami (5-3) @ Lions
Steelers (6-3) @ Jets (1-8)
Broncos (6-2) @ Raiders (0-8)
Lions – As much as people would like to see New England sweat, it’s always better for the playoff competition to lose. Miami is hot right now and just rocked a solid San Diego team. It would be ideal to see a deflating blowout to bring the Dolphins back down to earth, but any type of Lion’s victory would be welcome.
Titans – The non purple wearing AFC North would stand and salute the Titans, as this game is as close to a must win as we have seen in the North this season. A loss to Tennessee at home would be a solid punch in the gut, and could be the beginning of the end for the Ravens playoff hopes.
Jets – The chances seem to be 1 in 100, but that’s why they play the game. The Jets are nearly eliminated, and the Steelers are riding on a record high. A Steelers loss to a struggling team would bring back horrible memories of the recent past to their faithful. Everyone outside of the Steel City would root for that.
Raiders – This is obvious. Records aside, as quarterbacks get older, they generally become more legendary, and fans pull for them overcome personal or team failures of the past. Peyton Manning, albeit entertaining at times outside of the NFL, is polarizing in the way he handles legitimate criticism, and fans of the AFC North seem to be tired of the act.
And now for the action…
Normally there are up to a half dozen games that fall into this category of partisan support, but there is only one such contest during this slow rooting week.
Browns or Bengals? While Baltimore fans will put on their Ravens retro jerseys and pull for the Browns (0-2 vs Cincy, 1.5 game deficit), Steelers fans actually have a slight dilemma. While the Bengals are ahead of Pittsburgh in the standings, the Browns have an easier schedule down the stretch, and the Steelers have more control over the Bengals by playing them twice. They should root against the better team on paper (the Bengals), but it’s not a slam-dunk decision.
There you have it. We will do the work for you. Just sit back and watch.
Side note: Apologies to my Aussie friends for the use of the verb “root”. Hope you get a laugh out of it.