The NFL’s 95th regular season finally concluded Sunday night, leaving me feeling like the long-distance runner who collapses at the finish line of a marathon.
“Possible scenario,” now there’s a phrase I don’t need to see again for 50 weeks. I have been fed so many possible scenarios, I’ve got possible-scenario indigestion.
I’m almost as sick of possible scenarios as I am about the quandary a head coach sometimes faces — should he rest any key starters? — once his playoff-bound team secures a binding seed.
Whatever the decision, if there’s nothing at stake, the 16th game of a 16-game regular season is kind of like the last day of school before summer vacation: The liberty bell can’t ring soon enough.
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Except for the Seahawks; it wasn’t over when it was over, because they were forced to wait on a final score from the rescheduled Minnesota-Green Bay game — thanks, NFL! — to learn which possible scenario would unfold.
What the Hawks did know Sunday afternoon is that they were going on the road, not the best possible scenario but preferable to the alternative facing Buffalo (sitting out the playoffs for the 16th consecutive January) and the team the Bills beat in their finale, the New York Jets.
Has a regular season ever been weirder than that of the 2015 Jets? They lost starting quarterback Geno Smith after he was sucker-punched during a training-camp dispute with teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali — the feud stemmed from a $500 debt — and yet won four of their first five before losing four of five and then winning five of five.
The Coney Island Cyclone ride found them taking the field Sunday with a 10-5 record, needing a victory over the Bills to clinch a playoff berth. Buffalo had no compelling reason to win, aside from the fact head coach Rex Ryan held a similar position with the Jets until they fired him last year.
So, of course, it was the Bills who were fired up while the Jets bumbled and stumbled, and you wonder how an NFL team can resemble a well-oiled machine one Sunday and some jalopy Tom Joad might have driven the next.
Or in the case of the Seahawks, vice versa. Assured a playoff berth last week, they brought the energy of window-sill napping cats into CenturyLink Field. Seven days later, they put on a three-phases-of-football clinic against Arizona, the hottest team in the league.
And I’ve got friends who bet on this stuff?
Speaking of betting: Do not underestimate a team’s ability to win a Super Bowl after surviving the obstacle course that is three playoff games on the road.
Over the past 11 seasons, it’s happened three times. The 2005 Steelers got to the Super Bowl via Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, and I presume you are familiar with some of the details of their 21-10 victory in Detroit. Less remembered is how the 9-7 Steelers, seeded sixth in the AFC, were four-point favorites against the 13-3 Seahawks.
Although Pittsburgh’s route to the world championship was unprecedented, the 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers also won the Lombardi Trophy as playoff teams assigned to the road for three games.
The link between the roadies was momentum gathered from the wild-card round. Trailing 17-7, Pittsburgh scored 24 straight on the Bengals. The Giants got the Bucs down and kept them down. The Packers withstood a late Eagles rally, enabling quarterback Aaron Rodgers to win his first playoff game.
Survive-and-advance is the Seahawks revised mantra. After two seasons spent emphasizing a home-field advantage seen as essential in January, the Hawks are girding for the road, which offers both team-bonding benefits and the opportunity to be perceived as underdogs.
“Playoff time,” Pete Carroll said Sunday, a few minutes after the 36-6 thumping of the Cardinals. “Here we come.”
Listening to the head coach pronounce the words “here we come,” I heard somebody confident his team can take on the world.
Carroll wasn’t certain of the scenario, but he had a sound grasp of the possibilities.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org