The NFL Playoffs are Full of Randomness
There are "scripts" we've all seen before in sports, where we get to expect certain outcomes to happen. These ideas can come about fairly quickly, or can slowly form for decades. In the NFL, we see patterns emerge, and we expect them to continue... but this year they haven't. The Cowboys were not bad in December, actually winning a few games and making the playoffs. The Jets made it into the playoffs with luck actually treating their fans decently for once. Heck, the Saints won their first ten games or so, reversing a trend that goes back decades, even though it's not quite so surprising anymore. I think that more than once in the playoffs, we're going to have our minds blown by a result that we didn't see coming.
Along those line, I'm starting to think that, now that we all believe it's a bad idea to rest starters in the final few weeks, suddenly that doesn't mean anything. Think of quantum physics, that by observing a particle it changes the particle. Now that we've observed the phenomenon, it will no longer exist. As Chris pointed out, seven teams rested there starters, and we can't ignore them all. The "football gods" no longer care about this.
Stick with me for a second with a soccer comparison? Nations come to have a certain identity on the pitch, and in the World Cup and other such competitions, you start to have a general idea of what's going to happen. Everybody, including myself, felt that Germany would beat Spain in the finals of the Euro 2008 tournament. As they say, "football" is a game that's played for 90 minutes, and then the Germans win on penalties. This held true for decades, basically since Germany reemerged in the 50's. And Spain always underachieves, always, in every major tournament, again going back decades. Almost no one predicted Spain to win, based on historical precedent alone. So what happened in the final? Spain won, and convincingly. It felt, and still feels, that a new era is upon us, one in which I expect the scripts to be flipped... but I expect as soon as we figure out the new script, it will change.
Before the season ended, I assumed the Vikings and Saints would lose quickly, because they always do. I thought the hot team would continue to win, and the teams that rested their starters would struggle. But now that I'm thinking some of the scripts will change, I'm rethinking that, and beginning to believe that about anything could happen. The Saints could suddenly turn it around, the Eagles could catch fire, anything could happen, much like the Cards last year. We could even be headed for one weird Super Bowl. Let's just hope that that doesn't mean a Cardinals-Ravens Super Bowl, but I wouldn't be shocked.
As far as official picks go, I just don't know, there's way too much in the air this year. I do feel a Colts/Pats rematch could be in the cards, and I feel strongly that we'll be looking at a Vikings/Packers rematch as well. THAT would be a great championship Sunday, don't you think? But it's too much of a crapshoot, and I don't trust any team.
Except for one. For the Super Bowl, I think Manning will want to prove this whole not playing at the end of the season stuff isn't going to keep them from the title, and he has the mindset to do it. We all think they are one of the best three or four teams in the league, but I think they are the most mentally strong, starting with the QB, the real leader of this team. That'll put them over the top to win it all. If I have to choose an NFC team I'll choose the Pack, but I think that conference is wide open.
Or maybe I'm totally full of crap. Their lifeless coach could bomb them. We'll see.
One more thing, off subject: all Week 17 games need to be played at the same time, say 2:00 Eastern Time. I know this would cost the NFL a few bucks, but it would decrease the number of games where a team simply roles over, like the Bengals did. The World Cup does this in the final game of each group so that games like this don't happen again, with a scoreline agreed upon before the game.