Even though the annual release of Madden Football is treated as a national holiday by gamers across the land, we learned over the weekend that football (gasp) isn't actually a video game. This year, records were shattered and the NFL seemed to be hurtling toward a new reality where teams are liable to score at any time and from anywhere. In the divisional round, the defenses featured by the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants brought some sense and order back to a league where players are fined more money for wearing cleats with pictures of artificially flavored candy than for taking helmet-to-helmet shots at defenseless players.
The best defensive team doesn't always win the championship, but teams like the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers were so great on offense during the regular season that their faults on defense were mostly ignored. The NFL was adapting to a new age of entertainment. "The Saints play PS3 football; the 49ers play Atari," wrote Gregg Rosenthal of Pro Football Talk while predicting that New Orleans would prevail over San Francisco on Saturday.
We live in a society that's increasingly pointed toward visual stimulation. While 49ers fans might watch and re-watch Justin Smith manhandling Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod, most people would rather watch Drew Brees running up the score on Atlanta to wrest away Dan Marino's single-season yardage record. You know, when they aren't watching Tim Tebow flex his video game biceps, before he heads to the sideline and humbly takes a knee and assumes a position that's named after him.
The NFL's Fantasy Match-up(s): Not Going To Happen
It sure would've been a spectacle if the Saints and Packers faced off in an NFC Championship that resembled fantasy football on angel dust, and that was the match-up most people assumed would occur. Some are disappointed that they won't get to see that game take place, but not me. Not fans of real football. Despite what Animal Style Fries aficionados will tell you, there can be too much of a good thing (or did you miss the Alamo Bowl between Baylor and Washington?).
The NFL would've loved to see the Saints and Packers square off to see who would face the Patriots in Indianapolis, and now the best they can hope for is half of that dream match-up to come true. New England spent much of the year playing a version of PS3 football themselves (Includes Bonus Tight End Patch!), but on Saturday the Pats won in large part because, unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers, they squashed the Broncos' ability to run and/or complete deep passes. And if the Pats are going to come out of the AFC, they're going to need to do more than fling the ball around to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They'll have to do a reasonable job slowing down Ray Rice and
Shannon Sharpe Anquan Boldin, too.
60+ Passes: Not A Recipe For Postseason Success
52-49 shootouts are fun on occasion, but those games become tedious when they're the norm. Degree of difficulty makes scoring that much more interesting to watch, even if fundamentally sound defensive players utilizing intelligent schemes make scoring less frequent. There's an audience for Arena Football (I guess), but it's never going to surpass traditional football in terms of viewership or the athleticism of the players involved.
All defense and no offense makes for a dull game as well, as all football fans besides those who've written "Roll TIDE" or "Geaux Bayou Bengals" on their Facebook timeline know all too well.
But great football teams have balance. The Saints had an incredible offense. However, New Orleans tried rushing against the 49ers dominant front seven early on and all they had to show for it was about 30 yards gained and a concussion. So they rolled with a strategy that led Brees to throw 63 times. On a similar note, Green Bay's leading rusher against New York on Sunday was Aaron Rodgers, who *only* threw 46 passes.
The teams that advanced from the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs to the NFC and AFC Championship games were the ones that can score when they need to, but get a stop or two when necessary as well. Until the NFL outlaws tackling, that's the way it's always going to be.