By Steve Eggleston
For afficionados of the NFL like me, it is the most wonderful time of the year. The NFL playoffs began earlier today with the Carolina Panthers beating the Arizona Cardinals on ESPN. That is noteworthy for three reasons.
First, for the 49th consecutive time, there will not be a true home team playing in the Super Bowl as Super Bowl XLIX will be held in the Cardinals’ home stadium, the University of Phoenix Stadium. The Los Angeles Rams came closest to playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium (Anaheim Stadium, now Angel Stadium of Anaheim), with Super Bowl XIV played in the Rose Bowl in nearby Pasadena.
Second, the game represented the second time in a non-strike-shortened season that a team with a losing record made the playoffs, with the NFC South champion Panthers (7-8-1) following the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks (7-9) in 2010. Like the Seahawks, and unlike the Cleveland Browns (4-5) and Detroit Lions (4-5) in the strike-shortened 1982 season, which featured the 8 best teams in each 14-team conference in an expanded playoff format, the Panthers won. Unlike the NHL and NBA, where more than half the teams make the playoffs, I blame the presence of too many divisions for this.
Finally, that was the first NFL playoff game not broadcast nationally on over-the-air TV. The NFL finally joined the rest of professional sports in putting playoff games onto cable and satellite, though unlike the rest of the major sports, the fans in the signal ranges of Phoenix and Charlotte were able to watch the game on over-the-air TV. I’m wondering which league will be the second, after the NHL, to take the bulk of its championship series (or in the case of the NFL, the Super Bowl) off over-the-air TV.
As I type, the Baltimore Ravens (or as I still refer to them, the OldBrowns) are beating up on the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys set to go tomorrow. My team, the Green Bay Packers, will be waiting for either the Cowboys or Panthers next weekend.