Heading into the final week of the regular season, it's as good a time as any to reflect on where teams have gone, and where they're going.
Granted, there are playoff scenarios aplenty, but I'm also referring to the big picture as well.
We all know about the Minnesota Vikings' "collapse."
We're also all-too-aware the Indianapolis Colts "controversial" decision to take a loss in the name of playoff rest.
And let's not forget the New Orleans Saints' "peril" of being 13-2.
Now, as a budding freelance journalist, I'm not one to overuse quotation marks. But the ones used above are there for a reason; the sarcasm is definitely intended.
Simply put, this time of year, I feel that the major headlines don't cover the whole story. So, at this point in the season, I like to don my devil's advocate hat and point out what seems to be missing from the never-ending barrage of key issues.
Here are a few.
Minnesota Malaise, pt. I
If I'd been in a coma, and didn't know the Vikings' record, I'd swear that they were 1-14 going into the final week, based on what's being written about them.
People, they're a loaded, 11-4 team that's stumbled a bit. Nothing less, nothing more.
Chicken Little proclaiming that the sky is falling in Minneapolis makes for sexy headlines, but that's simply not the case. If anything, these losses are a wake up call to fine tune things before the playoffs. Call it the proverbial blessing in disguise.
Yes, the flaws that led to their undoing in three out of the past four games need to be addressed. But at it's core, this is the same team that was a Super Bowl favorite a few short weeks ago. They simply have to make adjustments, that's all.
Minnesota Malaise, pt. II
Of all the things that are allegedly at the root of the Vikings' woes, there's one that has not gotten much attention...even though it was the direct cause of their most recent loss.
The crime in question? Adrian Peterson's incessant fumbling.
Yes, he's going to get his yards and touchdowns.
And yes, his exciting, contact-seeking running style puts him in the top tier of running backs in the league. But consistently turning over the ball is inexcusable.
So, what happened the other night when Peterson fumbled in overtime, opening the door for an improbably Chicago Bears victory?
Well, here're what the headlines the next day pretty much said:
"Vikings' Team Bus Breaks Down, Favre at Fault for Not Changing Oil!"
I know, that's exaggerated. But you get the point.
However, I stand by my initial point. Of all the things that ail Minnesota these days, none are cause for panic.
So, coach Jim Caldwell benches Peyton Manning in the second half, and the Colts lose the game. A Super Bowl victory down the road is more important to him than a 16-0 season.
Fair enough, right? However, judging by the fans' reaction in Indianapolis, you'd have thought that the Irsays had moved the team again.
"How DARE he?" was no doubt the prevailing sentiment.
But do you really think it matters that much, big picture-wise? Yes, it's history. But when Tom Brady goes to bed at night, do you really think he holds his undefeated regular season in as high regard as his Super Bowl rings?
I don't think so.
I guess my unfiltered message here is "get over it." It's a mild disappointment, but let's not lose sight of the main goal, which is to still be playing in February.
My beef with the headlines in New Orleans are similar to those in Minneapolis.
Again, struggling for a few games is a perfect opportunity to right the ship just in time for the playoffs. What irks me the most is that most sports writers don't seem to know the difference between a tuneup and a collapse.
Then again, perhaps they do, they're just trying to sensationalize their content in order to garner more readership and headlines.
But hey, this is a football rant, not a journalism one.
At any rate, the Saints aren't in nearly as bad of shape as folks say they are. They had a few bad games, but they'll adjust, just like the Vikings. You don't get to 13-0 in this league by way of a fluke.
They're not a bad team that's been exposed. They're a good team that is need of a few adjustments.
While this might initially seem like I'm contradicting myself, I have to say that I'm not going to be surprised if none of the Super Bowl favorites make it to Miami.
Hey, I'm not saying the Vikings, Saints and Colts are going to win it all; I'm saying that things aren't as bad for them as they're being portrayed in the media, that's all.
But back to the point.
See, since 2005, the average record for the winners of the big game is right around 11-5. And almost always, it was never one of the trendy picks towards the end of the regular season.
It is perhaps the 2007 New York Giants that embody this trend the most. That year, they finished a ho-hum 10-6, serving as a footnote to the New England Patriots perfect record.
About a month later, however, none of that mattered, as Tom Coughlin and Co. were hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
If the historic trends stay the same, we're more likely to see a Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl than we are a Colts vs. Saints one.
Or New England vs. Green Bay. You get the point.
Then again, this year might be different, and the casual fans and networks might get their dream matchup.
But for the rest of us, the "underdogs" are going to be fun to watch.