If George R.R. Martin, author of the eventually-to-be seven-book series A Song of Ice and Fire, which serves as the inspiration for the HBO series Game of Thrones, penned the script to the 2012 NFL season, I would imagine those would all be lasting images burned brightly into our beer goggles—whether we liked it or not.
Martin created quite the stir in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, when the 63-year-old fantasy author shared his love for all things pigskin and went as far as to compare the New England Patriots and New York Giants to opposing Westerosi noble houses.
Of course, if you have already been reading Martin's blog, you knew these comparisons were nothing new. The Bayonne, New Jersey native has always claimed to be a diehard Giants fan, recently celebrating his favorite team's Super Bowl XLVI victory (over the Patriots) in a February 5 blog post that humorously referred to New England's coach as "evil little Bill."
All this talk about Giants and Patriots, Starks and Lannisters and fantasy football—in the most literal sense—got me thinking, though: How would the 2012 season play out if Martin was at the helm, scripting every little nuance, every victory, loss, injury and item on the concession menu?
By my estimation, it would look something like this:
Because Westerosi mythology—yes, this is where I start really breaking out the nerd lexicon; plebes, beware!—is elaborate enough to expand across multiple continents and contains more than 1,000 named characters, any deep dive into this script necessitates a few ground rules. Just to get a basic understanding of how this exercise works.
First, because the series currently spans across five books (two more are on the way, but because Martin is notorious for adopting a deadline attitude Bleacher Report editors would not support, it is difficult to project when those books will be published), there is no way to truly incorporate every character or plot arc into one article. So we will concede a condensed version of Martin's vision.
Results will mostly be based upon comparing NFL characters to their series counterparts and projecting how far their teams make it based on developments in the book. For the most part, I have tried to develop the season on a progression arc ranging from the series' first book, A Game of Thrones, to the most recently-published effort, A Dance With Dragons.
There are a few instances where the script jumps back and forth between books, though, as well as some contextual series spoilers and some endgame speculation on my part...so consider this fair warning for all relevant instances.
Beyond that, we will assume the script as Martin would have it: the teams you want to win often don't, the player with the best stats will blow out his ACL short of the goal line and at least one of the biggest upstart squads with an explosive first quarter of the season will be rendered irrelevant for most of the remaining story.
Hey, it kind of sounds like the real NFL!
The lead-up to the 2012 regular season kicks off with disturbing news. News of an ancient menace, an otherworldly foe thought dead for ages, harmlessly reduced to urban legend and the yawn-heavy yammering of children fighting sleep by the firelight, one ghost story at a time.
But legend has stirred from its ageless slumber, and Ryan Fitzpatrick travels south from the frigid plains of Buffalo—the very frontier of humanity, and host of unnatural, terrifying landforms such as the world's largest disco hall—to escape its wrath.
Pressed for details, Fitzpatrick describes the mythical beast, so long lost to lore most have forgotten what description even legend professes.
Of course, no one believes Fitzpatrick. Why would they? Shawne Merriman is not real. Maybe at one time, he was. Those lights have been out for time beyond time. His most recent highlight tape is a five-year-old Nike ad, unless you count the time he got leveled by Maurice Jones-Drew.
The NFL largely ignores Fitzpatrick's balderdash, choosing to focus on their own rosters. Also, for deserting Buffalo, Fitzpatrick is beheaded...but Bills fans aren't too disheartened, because everyone knows that Buffalo's backup quarterback, Vince Young, just wins games!
Elsewhere, on the eve of the season, John Elway rides to Durham, North Carolina, to offer Peyton Manning the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback position.
Manning, of course, accepts.
But not without some reluctance, as he is all too aware of what happened to the last Broncos quarterback.
The regular season itself produces few true upstarts at the quarter mark. One such emerging power, though, is the Minnesota Vikings, featuring three franchise cornerstones in left tackle Matt Kalil, quarterback Christian Ponder and running back Adrian Peterson.
All Leslie Frazier has to do is babysit them until they mature as a unit. Easy enough, right?
We would likely find ourselves rooting against the Patriots, which naturally—in this script—means they would enjoy a nearly-undefeated season. In fact, their only loss on the year proves to be a true sucker-punch game versus the Indianapolis Colts, where a young and yet-unproven Andrew Luck earns his battle stripes by quarterbacking the schedule's most surprising ambush, all in the spirit of matching his predecessor, who left the young signal-caller as the heir to Indianapolis.
Luck shocks the league by remaining in the battle for the Lombardi Trophy down the stretch, inspiring his veteran counterparts to fight beyond their collective talent level, always the first to arrive and last to leave the practice facility, always on the frontlines taking the same hits from linebackers and defensive linemen that his warhorse backs do.
His predecessor doesn't enjoy the same longevity, however. Battling for a playoff spot in the final weeks of the season, he finally succumbs—again—to a neck injury.
Much to Philip Rivers' and the San Diego Chargers' amusement, of course.
Manning's injury allows them to coast into the playoffs with a wild-card spot, as the decapitated Broncos seek to stop the bleeding with a turnover-prone rookie in Brock Osweiler, and Carson Palmer single-handedly sabotages the Oakland Raiders' playoff hopes.
The regular season ends with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Patriots and Chargers earning AFC playoff berths. There is still something strange about the Bills. Specifically about their Merriman-captained defense, which has not been tackling ball-carriers so much as quite literally separating their skulls from their bodies—something Roger Goodell pledges to look into, in the form of decapitation-proof helmets, once he figures out how the league stands to pocket money out of it.
On the NFC end, the Giants—duh—are locks. Besides New York, though, the New Orleans Saints (even in spite of the scandal-led season), San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and, shockingly, the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, all manage to earn berths.
The Vikings in particular seem like unlikely victors, as they mysteriously win 10 games by a score of 3-0, enough for a wild-card spot.
The Wild Card Round begins with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith insisting the Lombardi Trophy should be his by right of the fact NFL officials screwed them out of a shot at the crown for the 2011-12 season.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was the recipient of a verbal volley from Smith at the beginning of the year, disagrees.
This, of course, means war.
Fearing his young, skilled counterpart may pose a greater threat than originally realized, especially with the overwhelming support of the people, Smith turns to the one man he knows can work his magic and even the odds in any given contest. The one man who can, for reasons yet unknown to the football gods themselves, turn an inept 6-10 squad into a should-have-been NFC champion, all with the mere squeeze of a hand.
Harbaugh proceeds to give birth to a game plan so genius, so methodically calculated, that the Panthers manage to find themselves defeated before the game even begins.
A mysterious pregame hand slap between Newton and an unknown shadowy figure—the force of which manages to break Newton's hand—certainly does not help the Panthers' cause, either.
For all of Newton's bravado and the Panthers' ability to gain the love of the people, they leave Candlestick Park with a crushing 48-0 defeat.
The Panthers and 49ers, however, are not the only NFC contestants playing out the weekend. Frazier's three-headed, purple-clad dragon faces off against a gormless Jay Cutler and his Chicago Bears teammates.
Chicago is cold. Colder than usual in January, and Chicago in January is usually very cold. Cutler seems none too thrilled about this.
Sometimes, Cutler feels like the only real player on the roster with any offensive menace whatsoever. Reserve quarterback Josh McCown is good company and a studious player, but has no real bite to his game.
This might prove to be a recipe for the disastrous considering the Bears are matched up with a true conqueror in Frazier and a three-headed dynasty-in-the-making in the Vikings. But two things play in the Bears' favor here.
First, home-field advantage. The arctic breeze cutting across Lake Michigan on a mid-January evening is enough to graft glaciers in a man's bloodstream, let alone an indoor team with the nuclear core of mere children.
Second, experience. The Bears may be a bit haphazard and toothless in spots, sure, but these men have seen the postseason before. To the Vikings, it is still just a concept, something to aspire toward.
Plus, the Bears do not have the added pressure of needing to impress the guys footing their new stadium bill.
Though they have a promising core, the Vikings just cannot overcome the obstacles working against them. They leave Soldier Field with a 6-3 loss.
Meanwhile, in the AFC, friends and foe alike have taken to calling Luck "The Young Colt."
And all his emerging glory is set to be tested by the one those same folks call "The Imp."
Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts, nemeses and AFC South rivals, are squaring off for a chance to advance to the AFC Divisional Round.
This is one of the more even matchups in the postseason field. Luck has proven prodigal, showing talent beyond his years, but still lacks the experience that battle-hardened veterans know so often equates to playoff success.
The Jaguars are led by one of the most dynamic players in the game in Maurice Jones-Drew, a man whose remarkable talent is in no way capped by his diminutive stature...but that same man, unfortunately, is too often the only competent one in the room.
Jones-Drew runs wild, intelligently picking and choosing his every running lane, every forward-yardage opportunity. The Jaguars dominate time of possession and run through Indy linebackers like an anniversary celebration of 375.
Like "375," though, the effort is ultimately meaningless, and in the end, Jones-Drew's dominance is not enough. Luck is stunningly efficient, scoring on every offensive possession. Simply put, the young Colt is on fire, blazing his way down the field to touchdown after touchdown, gambling on tight-window throws left and right, and getting away with it every time.
Somehow, some way, the Colts walk away on the winning side of a 38-34 shootout, and Luck's legend continues to grow in the wake of Indy's victory.
Our final game of Wild Card Weekend features a re-building dynasty in the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the mysterious northern force of the Buffalo Bills.
From the start, the Steelers do not even stand a chance in this one. The reason is twofold.
One, zombie Shawne Merriman continues to destroy the opposition—almost quite literally. You might think this kind of dirty play would warrant a flag or two, but the refs actively side with Merriman.
Playing against both the striped walkers and the Bills is difficult enough for the Steelers. Troy Polamalu mysteriously turning cloak and attacking his own players does not help.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Pittsburgh just cannot get enough steady, intelligent play out of its one indestructible player—Ben Roethlisberger. Though immune to body blows measuring on the Richter scale and hydrogen bomb-force de-cleaters from the Bills' defensive line, Roethlisberger struggles to make the appropriately line calls...mostly because he does not know any audibles besides "run around like a chicken with its head cut off."
Pittsburgh does not even get the opportunity to lose the game. Eventually, when Roethlisberger is the only man left standing for the Steelers—or at least, the only man in a Steelers uniform still capable of conscious decision-making, and arguably just barely so at that—is forced to forfeit.
Reviewing the Wild Card Round, the Bills and 49ers are clearly the strongest contenders. But how will these teams hold up against the likes of the Patriots, Chargers, Giants and Saints, all of whom have home-field advantage for the divisional round?
Entering the divisional round, the Bills may look unstoppable—they've beaten all of their opponents to a pulp and somehow acquired the service of Troy Polamalu mid-Wild Card Round—but they have not yet faced an opponent like the Patriots.
(Please note, from this point forward, if you have only watched the HBO series and have not yet read the books—and really, what could be stopping you?—there are some contextual spoilers. You have been warned.)
New England is the most revered dynasty in all of the NFL. It has the rings to prove it. Even if recent title game losses to the Giants have some questioning its power, it is hard to argue that it will not be at the front of the pack in 2012.
We can largely thank two men for that. First, the architect, the general of the Patriots dynasty—Bill Belichick.
And of course, his favorite son. Arguably the most lethal gunslinger in all of the NFL, only ever halting his aerial attack to brush a few loose strands of perfectly-groomed hair out of his eyes.
On paper, this is an epic clash. Unfortunately, though, early in the game, Brady suffers a devastating hand injury. As he refuses to leave the game, the Patriots offense suffers mightily, allowing Vince Young free reign to just win games and party in a room full of shirtless men afterward.
In the end, the Bills defeat the Patriots by a final score of 28-10.
Switching to the NFC end of the spectrum, the Saints draw gormless Jay Cutler and his Bears teammates, hoping to put an end to their watch and advance toward a home field Super Bowl.
Though few analysts predicted the Saints would be in the playoffs, much less enjoy the comfort of a No. 2 seed in the playoffs, New Orleans was able to rally around such widespread skepticism and fuel itself to a spot in the divisional round on bulletin-board material alone.
A mysterious assassin also helped to take out a few foes along the way.
The Bears are not intimidated, though. In fact, they are inspired. Or at least Cutler is, as he meets a woman who opens his mind to new possibilities, especially in the areas of the game—chiefly, ball security—where he knew nothing before.
Cutler's new-found passion for the game of football is enough to lift the Bears over the Saints in a close one, 21-17.
Afterward, Roger Goodell is burned in effigy on every city block. Because, when in doubt, blame the commissioner!
The climactic divisional-round match featured the Chargers hosting the Colts.
Indianapolis has defied all logic by making it this far. It was led by a rookie through their regular-season campaign, and nobody expected much. But alas, here they stand actually favored in this contest and feeling fairly confident about the prospect of victory.
That confidence dwindles, however, when San Diego chooses to play "The Rains of Castemere" over the stadium sound system during pregame warm-ups.
The game starts out simple enough for the Colts. They drive down the field, pick up yards, advance the sticks. Overall, considering the ominous mood set from the odd pregame music choice—and the fact that the GPS on the team bus kept pointing them back in the opposite direction on the drive to the stadium—Indy feels pretty good.
And then the massacre begins.
This is not just your run-of-the-mill beatdown. It is nationally broadcast slaughter. The Colts are out before they even realize it. The blood flows so freely, gore spills so rampantly, that the officials are forced to call the game early for the sake of the children.
Philip Rivers, quite satisfied with what his team has done and ever the classy gent, leaves a rather disturbing display in the Qualcomm parking lot, a crude reminder of what happened that infamous January evening.
Our final game of the divisional round takes us to MetLife Stadium, where New York is set to host Alex Smith, Jim Harbaugh and a shadowy 49ers squad.
Harbaugh and Smith are feeling pretty good coming off their convincing wild-card win. But then, Eli Manning is feeling pretty good as a defending Super Bowl champion.
And even though his 2012 performance was not flawless—it was quite ugly most of the time, in fact—he still got the job done.
Again, Harbaugh conjures a master game plan, a strategy sure to leave the defending champs wondering what went wrong. But just for added insurance, he convinces Smith that he must sacrifice a child to the flames. This seems outlandish, but Harbaugh claims it will appease Goodell, God of the NFL.
Smith is unsure about this plan.
And you know what being unsure about the game plan leads to.
Smith's abysmal play stymies the 49ers offense, and San Francisco drops a 16-3 decision to the Giants.
But hey, at least it steered clear of Peyton Manning!
Conference championship weekend kicks off with the AFC Championship Game between the Chargers and the Bills. Can anyone stop Buffalo?
As answered in the game's first five minutes: no. Or at least not San Diego.
Sure, it hangs tough for the first few quarters. It even has a chance to take a commanding lead heading into the fourth quarter. Where every team has fallen, hobbling back to its own locker room should Buffalo show the requisite mercy, San Diego actually has a chance. On the goal line, knocking at the doorstep, ready to punch it in and book its flight to New Orleans.
But Rivers chokes. Once. Then again. Then for the entirety of the fourth quarter.
Which means Sad Rivers Face.
And also advances Buffalo to Super Bowl XLVII.
But who will join them out of the NFC—the Bears or the Giants?
This one is easy, right? Martin is writing the script. Of course the Giants advance to the Super Bowl. Of course they win again. Why even bother forecasting this?
Because the good guys do not always win, remember?
If Martin has proven anything, it is that he is entirely willing to knock anyone out of the game: heroes, villains and everyone in between. And he is most likely to eliminate the party you least expect.
In this case, that means New York gets bounced.
How, you ask?
After losing to the Giants in the previous round, Harbaugh is so bitter that he arranges a secret meeting and shares all his trade secrets, his playbook prophecies, with Lovie Smith.
And Tebow's magic works. Albeit not through the vessel (Smith) he had originally intended.
The Bears take the NFC championship by a final score of 24-14, advancing them to Super Bowl XLVII where they face the unstoppable force that is the blue-eyed, pale-skinned, hoarfrost-coated Buffalo Bills.
Who would have guessed, from the onset, that Super Bowl XLVII would feature the Bills—who finished with a disappointing 6-10 record in 2011-12—and the Bears, who saw an injury to Cutler cut their playoff hopes to a mere .500 record last season?
Neither team was favored to win their division; neither team was considered a postseason lock. But alas, both teams advance to New Orleans, needing only a little re-animation here or dark magic there.
The fireworks for this one start well in advance of the game. Lovie Smith, seeking any competitive advantage he can get, consults the same man who tried to end the Bears' playoff run earlier with a string of off-the-field attacks.
In response to this offensive, Mario Williams seeks out a few Saints players at the team hotel and pummels them senselessly.
Eventually, the early tensions level off, and through some stroke of luck, both teams manage to make it into the Mercedez-Benz Superdome intact.
The championship game kicks off to a rousing chorus of "Hey Good-ell, go to hell" from New Orleans natives surrounding the building, and, in his best Super Bowl XLI imitation, Devin Hester returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Buffalo, however, answers right back on a one-play scoring drive from Young to Stevie Johnson, made possible by the fact that the Bills offensive line is essentially a giant wall of immovable, frozen fat.
Circumstances—largely, the fact that they cannot feel pain, fatigue or empathy when crushing opponents' skulls—seem to favor the Bills in this game. The second and third quarters largely reflect this.
There is only one man who can swing this battle back in the Bears' favor.
Cutler catches fire in the fourth, scorching his way through the Bills' once-impenetrable defense. A touchdown to Brandon Marshall here, another to Alshon Jeffery there and eventually, the Bears find themselves with two minutes and 80 yards to go, down three points.
But Cutler was born for this moment. He throws one quick out, good for 10 yards. Then a quick slant, good for another five. He has the offense rolling, moving the chains with plenty of time on the clock.
And then his offensive linemen look at each other and nod. What follows can only be described as a betrayal of Shakespearian proportions.
Chicago's chances of victory wane with every brutal shot Cutler takes. At one point, Buffalo quickly subs in this guy to seal the deal.
And eventually, Cutler lies motionless on the turf. The crowd is stunned, silent. Except the beer-drinkers. But given the Super Bowl is largely a white wine event these days, those particular dullards are easily spotted and dragged out by security.
All hope appears lost for the Bears.
Until one man sprints out onto the field, making a beeline for Cutler. Hurtling Buffalo defenders, he dives toward Cutler's motionless body and leans over him, initiating resuscitation.
Tebow's kiss of life, however inexplicable, jump-starts a faint pulse in Cutler. Within seconds, he is up—albeit woozy—and making his way toward the huddle. The clock may show less than one minute remaining, but Cutler knows what he has to do. What he was always meant to do.
The Bills simply cannot withstand the offensive inferno that is Cutler. Helpless defenders stare at each other, hands on hips, blazing spirals reflecting in their empty, translucent eyes. Cutler runs through them, around them, throws over them, between them.
And they know, then, that Cutler has them beat. Their reign of terror has ended.
At the end of the 2012 season, Chicago sits atop the throne.
At least until Saints fans rebel and burn it to the ground.