All that time in Boston turned out to be a waste.
For eleven months after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl 53, the industrial-sports-media complex focused endless hours debating whether Tom Brady would defy his age and do it again. Sure, the Patriot’s offense was struggling, but that didn’t stop any commentator from obsessing over every Brady press conference, Instagram post or rumor.
And when the playoffs rolled around again, everyone treated the AFC Wild Card game between the Patriots and Titans as a done-deal, at least until it wasn’t. Then, when the Titans staged a 20-13 upset, it was a giant media event, a sea-changing spectacle that signaled the end of an era in New England and the rise of a new powerhouse in Tennessee.
We spent countless hours from that Wild Card weekend analyzing the results, wondering if the Saints were cursed after another Minnesota (well, in New Orleans) miracle and whether the Seahawks were on another magical Super Bowl run. In fairness, no one really cared (rightly so) about the Bills/Texans game.
NFL fans debated whether the league was ready for a fresh face, the chance to lift up an oft-ignored team with a journeyman quarterback and a dominating running back.
All of those things were important because of the hope that an underdog team could defy the odds, excite longtime NFL viewers and new, and deliver a storybook narrative to the playoffs.
But a six-seed has made it to the Super Bowl just twice since 1990. The Wild Card upset remains important only in terms of nostalgia, not of real predictive power.
And yet, the Pats/Titans games was seen by 31.4 million viewers, the best ratings for a Wild Card game since 2014.
The things that mattered that Wild Card weekend — Deshaun Watson’s unbelievable play to win the game, Derrick Henry’s 182 rushing yards, Taysom Hill outshining Drew Brees — had next to no bearing on who competed in the Super Bowl.
The Kansas City Chiefs would end up winning Super Bowl 54. And what they had, unlike all the other 31 teams that foolishly took the field this year, was the greatest quarterback of all time. And just like in nearly every other Super Bowl in the modern NFL era, it’s the best gunslinger, the kind of player who can deliver a dime on a 44-yard pass across the field on a 3rd-and-15 play with 7:13 remaining when you’re down 10, that carries a team to victory. You thought a running back was going to hoist the Lombardi? Seriously?
Yet we were blind to the fact that Mahomes is a generational talent that will surely obliterate whoever comes out of the Wild Card round in years to come.
So what was the point of tuning in to the first week of the playoffs if you don’t immediately know from those games who will win it all? Sure, the playoffs culled the field a bit, ending the Lamar Jackson hype, humbling the Packers once again and crushing Viking fans’ dreams after giving them another taste of hope.
But who cares? Certainly there must be absolutely zero insight, nothing to gain from a contest unless it’s the final determining factor for the biggest prize of the season. In fact, why does the NFL air the regular season games at all? What matters — the only thing that matters — is who wins the Super Bowl. Literally nothing else.
If you’re confused at all about this story, and think it perhaps may be a good-natured, satirical response to Reid Epstein’s “Iowa Was Meaningless” story in the New York Times tonight, well, you’re as wrong as the Chicago Bears are hapless.
It’s just my excuse to remind you all once again that the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and Patrick Mahomes was the MVP of the game!
Suck it, Brady!
by Pat Rynard