We're doing a season-long NFL roundtable with our friends at Slate. Check back here each week as a rotating cast of football watchers discusses the weekend's key plays, coaching decisions, and traumatic brain injuries.
From: Barry Petchesky
To: Daniel Engber, Seth Stevenson
The divisional round is consistently the best weekend of football all year. It's the last week with four games, before the unbearably empty weekends of deep winter arrive. The have-no-business-here teams like the Bengals and Falcons are gone. Every game is winnable by either team, so I don't think it's wrong for Giants fans to get excited to the point where the Post puts Eli Manning as Rambo on both covers. This is a weekend for hope, and for the underdogs.
Maybe you're trying to believe in a team with a quarterback making his sixth career start, wondering if you aren't watching Act Two of a football story unlike anything since Tom Brady. Maybe the new Greatest Show on Turf will play the way dome teams tend to play in Gusty Candlestick Park. Maybe Tebow. And maybe the Giants, who are getting columnists and callers riled up at the thought of a team winning the same way it won four years ago: "with pure mojo and a dangerous pass rush."
I believe, in my heart of hearts, that mojo and a pass rush is usually enough to win in the NFL. Nearly every year, there's a scrappy team that goes on the road and smash-mouths its way to the big game—they don't always win, but they do give us a Super Bowl more exciting and aesthetically pleasing than an Arena Bowl or Big 12 game. Sometimes they're overcome by the air-it-outs of the world; it's entirely probable we could end up with Green Bay and New England, the two worst yardage defenses in the league, matching up in Indianapolis. But a great pass rush can do wonders for a secondary, even against a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback. When the turnovers start to happen, they're usually the result of both mojo and a pass rush.
Mojo is an unscientific concept, roughly equivalent to the "team of destiny" tag that gets slapped on a baseball team that has everything go its way. It's Supreme Court obscenity: We know it when we see it, usually not until after the fact. So while it's understandable that Vegas doesn't want to believe in a higher power, it's sad to see the money going so heavily against faith. The Giants are getting more than a score, and Denver is nearly getting two. That line on the Patriots/Broncos game is the biggest playoff line in years. Does no one believe?
I am very disappointed by every person who is rooting for the Broncos to be eliminated this weekend. You are well within your rights to hate Tim Tebow. It's a rational physiological response to everything the media has put you through this year, and we'd be worried for you if you didn't want to projectile vomit. (A search of the Deadspin tips inbox reveals 22 Tebow-related subject lines over the last 12 hours.) But I've had my own come-to-Jesus moment, when I finally stopped worrying and learned to love Tebowmania. This is something that's become bigger than we ever thought possible—a true American phenomenon that everyone is talking about. It has crossed over into every facet of life. And you want it to end earlier than it has to? Do you hate fun?
Here are Tim Tebow's imaginary children. Here's Tebow's troubled birth being written up on a Pro-Life site. Here's an exclusive interview with Tim Tebow's college lab partner. Here's Tebow getting his face on the cover of a glossy tabloid next to Katy Perry. Here's Tebow being talked about in newspapers in Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Turkey, and China. Here's a grilled cheese sandwich that looks like an icon of a kneeling Tebow.
What if Tim Tebow wins the Super Bowl? What if the unthinkable happens, and the wave of insanity crests in a raucous upheaval of conventional football wisdom, an orgy of exploding brains and piety and a Super Bowl ring? And what if that's the mountaintop, and it's quickly downhill after, and Tebow goes down as a one-year wonder? This is not an impossible turn of events, and would solidify the Year of Tebow as one of the all-time great NFL legends. If you are a fan of sports, you are a fan of stories, and this is as good as they get.
It doesn't have to end on Saturday night. Imagine how big and loony and completely out of control Tebowmania could get with another week to feed? Or, dare to hope, another three weeks? We would be bilissfully all-consumed. So here's to Denver's pass rush and its swaggering, genuflecting mojo.