With Eagles out of NFL playoffs (again), who should Philadelphia fans root for?

Posted: January 14, 2011

Just as threatened, the National Football League is apparently going to go right ahead with the next round of the playoffs this weekend. It's almost as if the league doesn't realize the Eagles aren't involved anymore.

They must not have gotten the memo up on Park Avenue. Football just won't be interesting if there isn't a minute-by-minute check on whether DeSean Jackson is pouting, on whether Michael Vick can successfully limp back to the huddle, and on whether the Eagles have pulled a beer vendor from the stands to play right cornerback.

It would even be great if we could still watch longtime heroes such as Bobby McCray, Jamar Adams, and Brandon Hughes out there. Man, those guys were terrific in the last Dallas game when Andy Reid packed the roster with fill-ins and rested the regular players so the team would be sharp for the playoffs and come storming out of the gate against the Packers. And, anyway, that Kris Kristofferson song about Bobby McCray always got to me.

For the Eagles, though, the divisional round is just another phrase for nothing left to lose, and they will be watching the Saturday and Sunday games just like you.

If you watch, of course. In this city - maybe in all cities - many fans are fans of their teams and not necessarily the whole sport. When the Phillies are eliminated from the postseason, people don't watch as much baseball. When the Flyers are eliminated from the postseason, people don't watch as much hockey. When the Sixers are eliminated from the postseason, people know it's time to take down the Christmas tree.

Maybe the pain of being eliminated makes what comes next too hard to watch. The ratings for last season's World Series between the Giants and Rangers tied a record low, and Philadelphia viewers were a big drag on the numbers.

The NFL is a little different because . . . well, the games are televised. What else are you going to do on a January weekend? Go surfing in Margate?

Plus, even the most heartbroken Eagles fan can find a reason to be interested in the outcomes of the four games this weekend. And there is always the possibility Ed Rendell will come out with another wackadoo pronouncement about football, and you will want to at least know what he's talking about.

So, in that spirit, the Philadelphia angle on the NFL's divisional round:

Green Bay at Atlanta (minus-21/2). This should be easy. You want the Packers to get theirs handed to them, right? That's true unless you subscribe to the school of thought that says you want the team that beats your team to go as far as possible so your team won't look quite as bad. If that is the case, you probably also subscribe to Popular Dweeb.

Root for quarterback Matt Ryan, born in Exton, Chester County (near the mall!) and a star at Penn Charter before he took his game to Boston College and then the pros. That's the right choice, although I understand those who pull for the Packers because they want to see a Super Bowl with Clay Matthews and Troy Polamalu on the same field.

New York Jets at New England (minus-81/2). This is a tough one, because we've got a couple of really annoying teams here. It's hard to root for Tom Brady and Warden Belichick, but it really is time for someone to shut up Rex Ryan.

I will say this: When it's fourth down and a foot, Ryan always goes for the foot. It's like a fetish with him. Like the aggressiveness. But I'd like to see this little piggy come back from the Saturday playoff market with none. Hold your nose and pull for the Pats.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (minus-31/2). This one should be easier. You have to like John Harbaugh and the job he's done with the Ravens. If you ever met Harbaugh, you'd like the guy as well. He got all the nice genes in the family, which is all that needs to be said about brother Jim.

There is another school of Philadelphia thought, however. And deep thought it is. The better Harbaugh looks, the better Andy Reid looks, and right now building up the local coach isn't all that popular. And then there's the Pennsylvania loyalty thing, and the Polamalu hair thing. Forget that. People in Pittsburgh hate you. Go Ravens.

Seattle at Chicago (minus-10). Unfortunately, that's the point spread and not the weather forecast for Soldier Field, which would be the only thing that could make this woofer interesting.

Let's see. Seahawks are kind of a Cinderella story, or would be if it weren't for the wart-covered nose and the hunchback. But they've got Chris Clemons, whose 11 sacks this season wouldn't have helped the Eagles or anything. And it's always amazing he can play that well and still not miss a sax gig with Bruce.

The Bears beat the Eagles this season, so the subscribers might like to see them do well. There's no way to root for Jay Cutler, though. As H.L. Mencken said, "I never vote for anyone. I always vote against." So, the Seahawks it is, as they try to achieve a .500 record with the win.

All right. Admittedly, those are thin reasons to watch, but you know you will be watching. It could have been another special weekend. It could have been the Eagles out there. Instead, it's just another two days on the sofa and the familiar feeling that somewhere else, almost anywhere else, people are having a lot more fun.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.


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