- David Fleming, ESPN Senior Writer
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I went ahead and ran the numbers and I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but one of the major flaws of the current NFL playoff system is that the season is actually over for 24 teams and 75% of the fan bases.
We keep watching, obviously, because these are the most exciting and compelling football games of the entire season. (Well, not yet, of course, but I’m fairly confident, sooner or later, we should see at least one decent half of football.)
Without a rooting interest or fantasy stats to keep them glued to the tube, this time of year NFL fans engage in the weirdest, most abstruse logic limbo in order to come up with a team to cheer for. The result is some awfully strange bedfellows. For example: I’m told that Bears fans are actually now rooting for the Packers? How did that happen?
There are many theories and methods for how to select the best surrogate playoff team to adopt. But when I asked colleague Eddie Matz, who did the original Super Bowl fan rooting guide for The Magazine, what his parameters were, he replied: “Parameters? We don’t need no stinkin’ parameters.”
So, once your favorite team is eliminated, who do you turn to? (Chiefs fans have had months to ponder this question.) Do you root for the best story? The underdog? A player who’s retiring? The team from your team’s division? Your fiancee’s team? (Or the team playing your fiancee’s team?) The team with the best uniforms? The team your coach used to coach? Or, my personal favorite, a team still in it that lost to a team your team beat during the regular season? Lombardi-by-proxy, I think Browns fans call it.
Anyway, it’s not always easy to come up with a surrogate team to call your own. So, this week, the Flem File formulated a Losers' Rooting Guide for the NFL Playoffs.
• Buffalo Bills: Like a lot of teams, Bills fans are A.B.B.B.B.: Any Body But Bill and Brady. They also want to believe that for the 20th year in a row they are one year away from winning it all, so they’ll root for the team that keeps that dream alive for one more cold, bitter winter: SEATTLE.
• Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals fans are now BALTIMORE fans because Ravens coach John Harbaugh graduated from Miami University, which is just up the road in Oxford, Ohio and home to the Cradle of Coaches.
• Cleveland Browns: In a moment of grand Twitter détente, @twotimeairman and @swagdaride agreed that fans of teams with long championship droughts should root for each other. So here’s the deal that was struck: Browns fans will adopt SEATTLE and Seahawks fans will return the favor when the Browns make it, in 2052.
• Indianapolis Colts: One benefit of the rare and classy way that Peyton Manning and the Colts parted ways is that fans in Indy can now root for DENVER the rest of the way with no reservations.
• Jacksonville Jaguars: My guess is you’ll root for whomever reinforces the myth that Tim Tebow can play QB in the NFL. So DENVER. Or MONTREAL.
• Kansas City Chiefs: You’re looking for something -- anything -- positive right now that might suggest the Chiefs are back on the right track. Well, hey, your new head coach won a Super Bowl ring with GREEN BAY (15 years ago.) So there’s that.
• Miami Dolphins: One way to choose your surrogate team is to go by the franchise with the most players from your home state. BALTIMORE and HOUSTON both have eight players who played college ball in Florida. But come on, Ray Lewis went to the U, so, BALTIMORE. (Sorry, sorry, a quick side note here: Am I the only one who thinks "SNL" should do a skit poking fun of a completely clueless Lewis doing his stupid dance at the absolute most awkward social moments? Like, Lewis is at a deli and they call out “Number 27? Number 27?” and he breaks into his Ray-Ray dance. Or, his pet goldfish dies and after flushing it down the toilet he does the Ray-Ray dance?)
• New York Jets: When in doubt about whom to adopt as your team in the playoffs, paranoia and spite always work well. So, you gotta root for ATLANTA to bump off Seattle because the Seahawks and Pete Carroll are so deeply connected to the current mess going on with the Jets. Carroll was 6-10 as the Jets' coach in 1994. His former college QB was Mark Sanchez and at last count there were seven current Jets coaches who worked for Carroll at USC.
• Oakland Raiders: This was a tough one until Raiders fan @bryanjolopez helped me out. I know you guys can’t root for the 49ers and you can’t root for the Broncos. I thought maybe it would be Green Bay because of the connection to former Packers director of football ops Reggie McKenzie, who is now your GM. But you guys still like to think of your franchise as the NFL’s scary, renegade outlaws (and not the actual laughingstock pushover that it has become), so: BALTIMORE and Ray Lewis, the baddest man in the NFL, is who you should root for. Maybe some of that actual talent and attitude rub off.
• Pittsburgh Steelers: Honestly, most Steelers fans are still expecting to turn on the TV on Sunday and see Ben Roethlisberger warming up. This surrogate team thing is very new to them. We know they can’t root for the Ravens but I could see Steeler Nation getting on the DENVER bandwagon if Manning blows out Baltimore and Belichick in consecutive weeks.
• San Diego Chargers: Your team is HOUSTON because you want to feel good about new GM Tom Telesco, who came from the Colts, who beat the Texans in the regular-season finale.
• Tennessee Titans: I know the local Vandy fans won’t like this, but your team is DENVER based on the Peyton Manning connection to Tennessee.
• Arizona Cardinals: HOUSTON’s renaissance running back Arian Foster grew up in Albuquerque, which is only 162 miles from Arizona. Look, it’s the Cardinals, OK? Give me a break. You need the Hubble telescope to find a connection between this current team and the NFL elite.
• Carolina Panthers: So far this offseason the Panthers have shown exactly why it has been 18 years since owner Jerry Richardson promised a Super Bowl in 10 years. I’m afraid the closest you can get will be adopting DENVER as your team and living vicariously through the coach you fired, John Fox.
• Chicago Bears: I was shocked when my Fleeps (Flem + Tweeps = Fleeps) in Chicago such as @Trull_Nate said Bears fans would be rooting for their bitter rivals in GREEN BAY, but there you have it. As I said, maybe the best part of this whole surrogate playoff team thing is the strange bedfellows it creates.
• Dallas Cowboys: I know this is counterintuitive, but Cowboys fans should really be rooting for HOUSTON, with the hope that if the Texans win it all, it would be enough embarrassment and motivation for Jerry Jones to finally fire his GM.
• Detroit Lions: When we chatted before Thanksgiving, Ndamukong Suh pointed to the Lions' 28-24 win against the Seahawks in Week 8 as an example of how “insanely dangerous” the Motor City Kitties can be if they play smart, clean football. So, for the eternally hopeful Lions fans who want some small bit of bragging rights, SEATTLE’s your team.
• Minnesota Vikings: If GREEN BAY wins it all, you were the last team to beat the best team. Or go with BALTIMORE -- they’re purple too, you know, and when you wear your jersey from a distance people will think you root for a winner.
• New Orleans Saints: You want the largest and the craziest fan base in your city for the Super Bowl, right? So, GREEN BAY is your team.
• New York Giants: According to @RySayings, it’s DENVER for Giants fans, based on this formula: (1) We root for anyone playing against NFC East. (2) For Peyton (keeping it in the family). (3) Against the Pats.
• Philadelphia Eagles: Ravens coach John Harbaugh was a longtime Eagles special teams coach and the Eagles actually beat Baltimore in Week 2. But I’ve spent enough time in Schuylkill County to know that you guys do better when you’re rooting against someone. It’s a gift, really. Your season, along with Andy Reid’s tenure, was basically over when the Falcons blew you guys out 30-17, even after Reid had a bye week to prepare. So for revenge, your team is SEATTLE.
• St. Louis Rams: Rams coach Jeff Fisher coached the HOUSTON Oilers for almost three seasons before the team moved to Tennessee, so if the Texans win it’s almost like your Rams did, too. Not really, I know -- just serve a lot of beer at your Super Bowl party.
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers: You guys are ATLANTA fans all the way because if they win the whole thing, your 22-17 win in Atlanta in Week 17 gives you the coveted “Hey guys, who was the last team to beat the Super Bowl champs?” rhetorical.
• Washington Redskins: I think you want to root for the team with the worst stadium turf (DENVER?) so that it lessens the embarrassment of your $100 million QB getting injured while playing on a $10 field of spray-painted sand.
TEAMS STILL IN IT
• Atlanta Falcons: Not that you’ll care about the NFL if the Falcons choke (again) in the postseason, but your best and only choice would be SEATTLE based on reader @luke_peacock’s universal “at least we lost to the champs” argument.
• Baltimore Ravens: If you need it, your default team is SAN FRANCISCO. Keep it in the Harbaugh family and maybe Jim lets John hold the Lombardi trophy if he does his summer chores for a week or two.
• Denver Broncos: BALTIMORE. Why? Based on Twitter feedback, you’d gain a lot of new fans for being the team that helped Ray Lewis go out on top, as long as he promises to stop dancing.
• Houston Texans: You guys beat Denver but you blew out BALTIMORE 43-13 in Week 7, so if the Ravens win the Super Bowl, but by less than 30 points, you can actually claim to be better than the NFL champs.
• Green Bay Packers: More strange bedfellows. According to Bears fans on Twitter, while the always classy Chicago fans are willing to root for their rivals and division compatriots from up north in the postseason, they say Packers fans aren’t willing to return the favor. Ouch. If that’s true, I’d say (and @_jfish agrees with me) Packers fans will adopt SEATTLE on account of rookie QB sensation Russell Wilson and his ties to the University of Wisconsin.
• New England Patriots: Can’t be Denver because of Manning. It should really be Baltimore as karmic payback for the way the Ravens gave away last year’s AFC Championship Game. But what Pats fans really want is ATLANTA, because even if they win, they won’t creep in on your dynasty claims the way the Packers would.
• San Francisco 49ers: Adopt GREEN BAY. A.L.W.L.T.T.C. (At Least We Lost To The Champs.)
• Seattle Seahwawks: Using the same A.L.W.L.T.T.C. logic, your surrogate team is ATLANTA. But something tells me you won’t be needing a backup plan.