The establishment has prevailed in the world of the NFL. Whomever wins the Super Bowl in New York on February 2 will be one of the consensus preseason favorites, and TheSportsNotebook’s season-long campaign against that establishment crashed and burned in the divisional playoff round this past weekend.
When the season began, five teams were priced at odds ranging in a tight window of 3-1 to 6-1, and it was a steep drop to 18-1 for the next team down. The five were the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The Packers went out in the first round of the playoffs, but the other four have swept the spots in the conference championship games next Sunday.
TheSportsNotebook carved out a clear and unyielding position all season long—that none of the Big Five would win the Super Bowl, and for icing on the cake, none would even make it. I did feel all five teams were legitimately good, and that it would come down to what happened in the divisional round. We were all set for a showdown—each of the four games over Saturday and Sunday had an establishment team against a challenger.
Those of us who rebelled against the establishment got about as far as the peasants of Ireland did in their rebellions against the British Crown, or Pat Buchanan did in his rebellion against the Republican Party in 2000. One by one, the challengers were crushed. By late afternoon today, I was thinking that if someone had told me in August that my challenge was now exclusively in the hands of the San Diego Chargers, I would have been less than optimistic.
Fortunately, I never wagered real money on my prediction, and consequently I’m able to enjoy the tremendous matchups that we have to look forward to. San Francisco and Seattle is now the top rivalry in the NFL, with real bad blood between the two teams, fueled by an offseason arms race where each kept matching up with the other via trades and free agency.
And what else to say about Denver and New England, but to simply appreciate the opportunity we have to watch Tom Brady and Peyton Manning compete for a Super Bowl trip in the autumn of their careers?
If you subscribed to establishment thinking back in August, you were several steps ahead of TheSportsNotebook, and can now feel like this is what it’s all about. The last four-plus months have just been about deciding where these games would be played, because for most, 49ers-Seahawks and Patriots-Broncos seemed almost preordained.