Ratto: What America needs out of the NFL playoffs

Vikings, Titans is the Super Bowl that must be played

Ray Ratto
January 07, 2020 - 12:14 pm
Ratto: What America needs out of the NFL playoffs

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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Because we care for you, we won't give you twelve paragraphs of meandering exposition before we tell you what the headline says we will.

You're welcome.

Now here's the part you won't like.

The Super Bowl must be played by the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans. So no on that 49er thing, at least for a year.

You can now walk away if you wish, but hear us out if you can.

First, the idea that two six-seeds could play for the championship is a delicious one. It means that the 17 weeks of the regular season are only a guide and not empirical proof of superiority. All teams have flaws, and the real trick is not in figuring out what those flaws are but when to do something about it. In these cases, the Titans figured out who they are late in the season by first changing their quarterback and then realizing that Derrick Henry is the new Earl Campbell, while the Vikings figured out how to minimize the damage Kirk Cousins can cause and maximize the damage he can inflict, often by merely handing the ball off to Dalvin Cook.

Which brings us to Point Two — the idea that running the football is not yet dead.

The new football orthodoxy is that any play that doesn't result in a pass is wise enough, but as is often the case orthodoxy becomes inflexible, obstinate and even borders on bullying. Sports should provide more than one way to win, if only for the sake of variety. Species die if they don't diversify, and the same is true of most team-based athletic competitions.

Vikings-Titans would offer us that diversity — two teams that run the ball and run it a lot. Henry and Cook are on the verge of becoming modern marvels using old tools, and there should be a way to display those gifts where everyone can see. Plus, Vikings-Titans would shave a good 35 minutes off the time of the game, which is usually a marathon of calorie-cramming with a bit of football thrown in. More and more people believe that America is rejecting excessively drawn-out games, and this would be an excellent experiment to see if that is true.

Point Three is related — the NFL's media ratings are up this year even though in-game attendance is down. Games involving the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots draw the most eyes on a consistent basis, but the Cowboys never made the playoffs and the Patriots sparked a new Christmas by (a) having to play in the wild card round and (b) losing in it. With Vikings-Titans, you have exactly zero nationally riveting teams, which means no brand shopping. Vikings-Titans are selling you football and only football. No glitz, no royalty, no big names. Cousins and Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill will have less to do with their teams' results than most quarterbacks because their best weapons involve turning around and letting someone else do the heavy-end lifting. This won't break the game's quarterback-is-all-that-matter hegemony but it will challenge the people who tediously yammer about the sport every damned day to learn the names of other players at other positions.

In other words, let's drag the pundits from their comfort zones, by their eyelids if need be. That vision alone makes this a grand idea.

And to localize things, Point Four — not everything is about the bloody 49ers. They are a good team, a very good team. They will not dishonor the Super Bowl by appearing in it, although no institution that gave us Maroon 5 at halftime can truly be considered venerable. But sometimes the needs of the few must be subsumed for the requirements of the many. A Vikings-Titans Super Bowl would be a victory for the meek and modest, the out-of-step and the unfashionable. It would make many "experts" seem more like the gasbags they are, and it would cause bad teams, who typically imitate whatever the new fad is, to suddenly value a style of game they all wanted to discard as passe two years ago.

In other words, Point Five — Vikings-Titans represent chaos, and chaos is infinitely preferable to another Super Bowl where there is nothing but chalk and predictability. The Patriots may be gone, but if you want stakes jammed into their hearts, you want the direct opposite of that. True, this means no Lamar Jackson or George Kittle, but they'll have other goes at the prize. This is a rare moment where everything everyone claims to know about the sport can be wrong at once, and frankly, that is too important and delicious a principle to abandon. Loose a thousand angry wasp hives. Suspend the rules. Let analytics choke for a day, and then you can have them back in all their rigid glory. For one day, let's overthrow football just to make a point.

Oh, and in case you forgot, Point Six. When both teams are running the ball two-thirds of the times, the lesser the chance of the weekly offensive pass interference fiasco, which means less arguing about Al Riveron. You, kids, are welcome.

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