NFL Playoffs: Nirvana—Or Hell on Earth?

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJanuary 19, 2009

The NFL playoffs are a two-faced liar.

They promise success, fame, and happiness in the form of the solid possibility of winning the Super Bowl. 

But they almost always result in extreme disappointment, bitterness, and often resentment of fans toward their favorite team, because of either not making the postseason in the first place or not winning the Super Bowl. 

Any mistakes made by a team that didn't win the Super Bowl are always over-scrutinized down to the last infinitesimal detail. 

Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, head coach John Fox, and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac know the resentment part of the playoffs package better than anyone.

Delhomme threw five interceptions and fumbled once in a 33-13 divisional round playoff loss to the Cardinals on Jan. 10.  His turnovers led to 23 Cardinals points.

The Panthers, conceivably, would have won if he hadn't turned the ball over once.  But that's still a tall order for any quarterback.

Fox is being castigated for not having his team ready for the biggest game of the season.  But he actually did.  The Panthers got out to a 7-0 lead very early in the game.  It looked as though Carolina was on its way to their 11th straight home win of the season (counting a preseason record of 2-0).

Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac's defense then gave up 33 unanswered points.  Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald absolutely shredded the secondary in the first half for seven catches covering 166 yards and a touchdown. 

Mistakes tend to get magnified in the playoffs to the point where they get blown way out of proportion.  Fans are bitter and demand the immediate disposal of whoever was responsible for the defeat, especially if it was a blowout like the Panthers' loss.  It doesn't help when everything is going your way before the game, and then things rapidly disintegrate during the game, as was the case with the Panthers. 

For that reason angry, bitter, unsatisfied, bewildered fans are looking for someone to blame for the loss.  Delhomme makes a case for himself because he turned the ball over a bunch of times, and many—if not all—of his turnovers led to Cardinals points.  Fox is under scrutiny because he didn't have his team ready to play.  Trgovac is on the hot seat because he didn't make adjustments for Fitzgerald until the second half.

But what if the Panthers had laid an egg like this in the middle of the regular season, not in their first playoff game since the 2005 NFC Championship Game against the Seahawks?  Fans would have been disappointed to get blown out, sure. 

But no one would be calling for Delhomme, Fox, or Trgovac's head.  No one would be demanding that the Panthers get a new quarterback, head coach, and defensive coordinator for the 2009 season.

The trio's mistakes caught them much more flak because they made them in the biggest game of the season. 

That's why the NFL playoffs are either a nirvana or a hell on earth that lasts much longer than for the length of the game or the rest of the playoffs.

The playoffs either make a team's dream come true with a Super Bowl title or make their lives a living hell until the next season because of angry fans declaring that they suck and shouldn't have been playing in the NFL in the first place.