With Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning getting off to unremarkable starts, the first half of the NFL season felt like a long-running hit show that had started to lose energy. But during the second half, those old characters were written right back into the script. The Packers and mustache-baron Aaron Rodgers returned to dominating inferior defenses, i.e. every defense; Tom Brady and the Patriots made no mistakes and lost no games, except for that one where they hosted San Francisco, which was the best episode of the season anyway; Peyton Manning played like the Peyton Manning from the Bible. Meanwhile, a few new characters, the Seahawks and Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck, arrived in a big way. It was all a great prologue for some very special episodes of The NFL Playoffs.
3. Previously On THE NFL PLAYOFFS
If you’re from Washington, D.C., the first week of the NFL playoffs were horrible, just horrible — like, “Drinking yourself to sleep and waking up Monday morning at 10:37 a.m.” horrible. Perhaps due to concerns that he’d become overexposed too quickly, Griffin was written out of The Playoffs early and in emphatic fashion — he spent most of the game against the Seahawks limping, then went down in a garish and spectacular heap after a botched snap by his center. While wanting to make room for other characters is a reasonable motivation, I worry that the show’s writers may have dismissed RGIII a little too completely — it could be hard for him to stage a convincing comeback next season.
Elsewhere, the quo was status. Adrian Peterson, unquestionably the season’s biggest surprise and most likable character, wasn’t enough to overcome the Packers. The Texans, probably the least engaging major subplot — basically the NFL’s Kim Bauer Mountain Lion — lived to see another day, which is actually kind of all right, because if they hadn’t it would mean we’d have to watch the Bengals, who are football’s equivalent of a chalkboard. And the Ravens beat the Colts because the Colts, despite being the one heartwarming element of an otherwise dark and violent narrative, just aren’t very good, and if they’d gone on another week it would have been just too implausible.
It was a decent episode overall, but I have higher hopes for this week.
5. This Week On THE NFL PLAYOFFS
With Robert Griffin out, the major plotline of the NFL — can a quarterback have it all? Can he both run and pass and also be handsome and intelligent and lovable and exciting ALL AT THE SAME TIME??? — now revolves around Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. Both guys lead similar teams, combining 1) young, appealing QBs, 2) suffocating defenses, 3) running backs who play like stampeding buffalo, and 4) rad West Coast cities. And in a kind of side-by-side plot-lines twist, the two teams don’t play each other: San Francisco has Green Bay, and Seattle has Atlanta.
The Seahawks enter Atlanta, whose position in the NFC is the same as Houston’s in the AFC, like one of the unresolved subplots on Lost: inexplicable, slow, and liable to leave you confused in the end (i.e. when they lose before the Super Bowl) as to why you paid attention to them in the first place. The Falcons do have a saving grace, that being the tandem of Roddy White and Julio Jones runnin’ routes and catchin’ balls, solvin’ cases and gettin’ girls. (Roddy White and Julio Jones are Franklin and Bash.) Unfortunately, White and Jones cannot play defense and also carry Michael Turner’s old, battered legs. OK, I’m sorry, I know the Falcons went 13-3 — but it was an underwhelming 13-3.
Matt Ryan could probably get some work on the CW.
As for the 49ers, let’s go back to their quarterback for a second, to highlight that he owns the pet tortoise pictured above wearing a 49ers helmet. San Francisco also has the coolest coach in the league, Jim Harbaugh, who ended the franchise’s decade-long streak of obsolescence immediately after taking them over. The team took a very Game of Thrones turn earlier in the season, dispatching their starting QB, Alex Smith, for the aforementioned young turtle-owner.
Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers don’t care about a damn turtle. Purely in football terms, the Pack-Niners game is the best subplot of the weekend — two legendary franchises doing battle. It’s a bold move of the NFL to throw out so much star power so early, and it could backfire if Atlanta wins the other game and then somehow makes the Super Bowl. It’s unlikely, but the pacing here — I’m just not sure.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are back! And still beautiful! The Patriots are the Pretty Little Liars of the NFL, just kind of good-looking and mean and inescapably compelling. (In the GIF above, Tom Brady is actually saying “Fuck you, bitches.” And fortunately for us/them/everything, the Patriots host Houston this week, ensuring the Texans an early and entertaining death. Unless the best defensive player in the NFL, J.J. Watt, has finished evolving into a higher type of human being and just takes over. The last time the Texans played in New England, though, they lost 34-17, so I fear this’ll sort of be a re-run.
In the AFC’s other thread, elder-statesman Peyton Manning, played by Mandy Patinkin, will dispatch the…wait, the Ravens are still around? The Ravens won’t be around for long. (Above, that’s Peyton Manning signing an autograph for the AN OPPONENT WHO JUST LOST TO HIM.) I mean, I really don’t even have to make the comparison — Manning’s obviously like Don Draper — but I’m going to make it, anyway: Peyton Manning is like Don Draper, minus the smoking and carousing and etc. Just the whole hyper-masculine dominant part. And the NFL has played the Broncos’ narrative like Mad Men, also, giving them an extra-long break/bye week to prime the public’s desire.
One possible twist: this is Ray Lewis’ last season. He’s going off the air. Even though ESPN is picking him back up for the next zillion years, this will be his last appearance in prime time. Series finales are always a little unpredictable. Make sure you’re there to watch.