The 2014 NFL regular season ended this past weekend, setting playoff matchups for 12 fan bases. But if you're not a fan of one of those teams, you're probably looking for some reason to keep watching football (besides, you know, that it's football). As a Patriots fan, I'm not used to that feeling. But since Brian and Grant are both Giants fans (HAHA EVERYONE LAUGH AT THE JETS), here's your Superfan rooting guide to the NFL Playoffs.
(5) Arizona Cardinals at (4) Carolina Panthers:
If you don't have a rooting interest in this game, nobody wins. You're either getting a team with a third string quarterback (Arizona) or a team that finished under .500 with a six game losing streak at some point during the season (Carolina) in the Divisional Round. But that's why we're here - to figure out who you should be rooting for.
Your rooting interest can't get any more cut and dry either. Arizona has no connection to Boston College. Carolina has Luke Kuechly. They didn't play each other this year, but the prospect of a Pacific Time Zone team coming east is always an advantage for the home team. Rooting Interest: Panthers
(6) Detroit Lions at (3) Dallas Cowboys:
Detroit fell to the #6 seed by losing at Green Bay on Sunday. Their loss cost them a first round bye and divisional round home game, instead sending them on the road to Jerryworld for a game with a Dallas team that was the odd team out. The Cowboys won 12 games, the same amount as Seattle and Green Bay. The Seahawks and Packers receive byes, however, because of the first tiebreaker scenario of overall conference record (Seattle went 10-2 in the NFC to give them the #1 seed, while Green Bay went 9-3 against the NFC. Dallas only went 8-4). For reference, Dallas beat Seattle, but the Seahawks are the #1 seed.
In terms of our rooting interests, it's a really tough decision. Detroit has no Eagles on their roster, and they're especially deplorable after cutting Nate Freese earlier this season (kicker missing extra points and field goals...I'll go hide in the corner and cry now). As for Dallas, former Eagle offensive lineman John Wetzel is on their practice squad, which doesn't amount to much by way of seeing him on the field.
In terms of opponent dislike, James Ihedigbo plays for Detroit, and he went to UMass. Dallas has reserve linebacker Dekoda Watson from Florida State. They also have a local Massachusetts connection with backup offensive Mackenzy Bernadeau. There is virtually nothing here to care about.
Dallas fans are the NFL's equivalent of Florida State fans, and nobody really likes Texas anyways, right? So I say root for Detroit and hope they get crushed out in Seattle. Sorry, John. Rooting interest: Detroit
(5) Cincinnati Bengals at (4) Indianapolis Colts
After winning six of seven games at one point and entering the bye week at 6-3, Indianapolis looked like a surefire bet for a first round bye. But a Week 11 loss to New England coupled with a throttling loss to Dallas in Week 16 ensured Indianapolis of a trip to the NFL Playoffs first weekend. That Dallas loss was additionally layered with a drop to the four seed because of the AFC North. The Colts finished with the same 11-5 record as Pittsburgh, a half game over Cincinnati. But because Pittsburgh pasted Indy earlier this year, the Colts finish as the four seed.
We ran into this last year with the Colts; it's pretty cut and dry. Offensive linemen Gosder Cherilus and Anthony Castonzo protect the franchise in Andrew Luck, and Matt Hasselbeck is the backup quarterback if God forbid anything happens to the starting quarterback. The Colts' opponent, meanwhile, has zero connection on their active roster to Boston College, but linebackers coach Matt Burke was a graduate assistant at The Heights back in the early 2000s. Rooting interest: Colts
(6) Baltimore Ravens at (3) Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore got into the playoffs the hard way by winning their way in. They beat a Cleveland Browns team starting its 22nd different quarterback since they returned to the NFL in 1999, but they received help from Kansas City, who defeated San Diego to eliminate the Chargers. As for the Steelers, their win on Sunday Night Football gave them the #3 seed thanks to the aforementioned tiebreaker scenario with Indianapolis.
Tough call here. Neither team has any active roster ties to Boston College. Since a Raven wins sends them to New England, root for that so I can ironically experience a full week of a missed field goal highlight that makes me happy. Also, former Titans head coach and current Steeler assistant Mike Munchak went to Penn State, so to hell with him.
Too soon? Rooting interest: Ravens
Of the teams receiving first round byes, there really isn't a ton of rooting interest. Kevin Pierre-Louis settled into Seattle nicely, but he was placed on injured reserve in Week 16. BJ Raji missed the entire season because he tore his right bicep during the preseason and didn't play at all this year in Green Bay. Neither Denver nor New England have local connection to the Eagles, so I don't know what to tell you there. I'll come up with something by next week, I promise.
Go Panthers/Cowboys/Colts/Ravens! And, of course, Go Eagles!