What it means to love a team

Most of you know that I’m a huge Packers fan. You might also know that the Packers lost in the wildcard round yesterday, putting an end to their all-too-brief playoff run. So as part of fulfilling the five stages of playoff loss grief, I’m posting something I wrote last season after the Packers lost to the 49ers in the playoffs. (Yes, again.) Apparently it was foreshadowing – it more ways than one (broken collarbone?!).

If you love a team, you might be able to relate to these sentiments. If you are on the fence about whether or not to become a football fan, hopefully this can sway you to go all-in. If you think loving a team is straight up crazy but someone you know is in the depths of postseason loss despair, maybe this will persuade you to be a little nicer to them today.

Because we really are crazy. There’s nothing quite like being a fan and loving your team.

(If you are looking for the lowdown on all of the weekends games, check out MMQB this morning. They always have great coverage of all things NFL. At The Water Cooler will return next week!)


Loving a team, when you really love a team, isn’t like having a favorite clothing store or a worn out take out menu. Loving a team is like being in love. When times are good, there is no joy that is paralleled. When times are bad, the lows will completely wreck you. You loathe those who betray you – the refs who make bad calls, the celebrating players on the other sideline, in your end zone. You couldn’t love those who help you more if they were members of your own family.

And really, the players and the staff do become like family. Because, like family, in the same second you can’t believe how much you love them and also can’t believe how they could make such mind-numbingly painful errors in judgment. You can point out their mistakes and inadequacies, but woe to the person who dares to speak ill of your team.

Loving football, in particular, is it’s own variety of passion. It sees your loyalty chips and raises you a lifetime of servitude. I’d say that it steals your time and sanity but it doesn’t – you willingly hand them over.

Football will take your hopes and crush them. Your #1 seed headed into the Divisional Round? Lost by 14. Season over. Your 10-point 4th quarter lead? Pick six. Then, touchdown. Lead lost. Your promising roster of feared veterans and dangerous rookie talent? Torn ACL’s. Broken collarbones. Inability to work cohesively as a unit. Not so promising after all.

But it will also take your hopes and elevate them. You are the underdog who beat the #1 Seed in the Divisional Round! You are the team that wouldn’t take no for an answer in the 4th quarter! You are watching the evolution of a unit that was all it was projected to be and so much more!

Every year, 31 teams go home disappointed. It’s a gnawing, desperate, unfulfilling feeling to know that it’s over. It makes you wear your pajamas for 48 hours and ignore the light of day. It makes you wallow in a gallon of ice cream and ask repeatedly, “What happened, you guys?” It’s all part of the mourning process, because you just lost something special. You won’t see your team take another snap for at least another 6 months. You may never see that same team take the field again. Players leave. Players come in. It’ll never be the same as it was this season.

But every year, one team goes home victorious. And it’s the sweetest, most elated, vindicating feeling. Your team defied the odds. Your team gets to bring the Lombardi trophy home. Your team gets to be feared and respected by all the rest for the next 6 months.

I’d say that it makes all of the hardship worthwhile, but it’s already worth it. What football gives you can’t be measured in wins and losses – even Super Bowl wins and losses. What it really gives you is a reason to hope for a few hours every weekend. To believe that this game could be your game. This year could be your year.

There’s nothing quite like it. And there are few things better.

The 12 Posts of Playoffs : 12 Playoff Teams

football, teams, playoffs, basics

I know that we are a few days removed from the start of the 12 Days of Christmas, but how about the 12 Posts of Playoffs? Because who doesn’t want more to celebrate?!

The 12 Posts of Playoffs will be a series that runs for the next four weeks (conveniently also the duration of the playoffs). Each post will feature a lesson that coincides with the number of the day. Kind of like Sesame Street, but helpful for knowing what’s what on a football field.

Today’s lesson: the 12 playoff teams.

The playoff schedule is set. Twelve teams have advanced. But how did they make the cut? Let’s review.

We recently went over how the 12 teams are selected. Here’s a refresher:

Within the NFL there are two conferences, the AFC and the NFC. Each conference has four geographic divisions: the North, East, South, and West. Each division has four teams. So the AFC North, for example, consists of the Bengals, Browns, Ravens, and Steelers.

Teams advance into the postseason by the merit of their regular season record. The team with the best regular season record within each division gets an automatic playoff spot. That’s 8 teams. Two additional teams from each conference also advance. These “wildcard” teams are the two teams with the best record among the non-division winners from the whole conference (AFC or NFC). That’s 4 total wildcards teams. In total, that makes 12 teams that advance into the postseason.

The four teams that win their division from each conference are ranked (“seeded”) according to their regular season record, 1 through 4. That results in eight teams total. The remaining four teams are the wildcard teams, and they are ranked 5th and 6th within their conference based on their overall record. When matched up throughout the playoffs, the team that is seeded higher plays at home; the lower seed has to travel.

Let’s put some flesh on all of that by seeing what it looks like this season.

The four division winners in the NFC are the Eagles (East), the Packers (North), the Panthers (South), and the Seahawks (West). The NFC Wildcard teams are the Saints and the 49ers (by merit of having the best regular season record among the remaining NFC teams). The division winners are seeded 1 through 4 (also by merit of their regular season record) and the wildcard teams are seeded 5 and 6:

  1. Seahawks (West)
  2. Panthers (South)
  3. Eagles (East)
  4. Packers (North)
  5. 49ers (Wildcard)
  6. Saints (Wildcard)

The winner of the conference gets home field advantage throughout the playoffs (good luck with that, NFC). The top two seeds get a first round bye, which means the Seahawks and the Panthers don’t have to play this weekend. The remaining four teams play in the first round, Wildcard Weekend, and the higher ranked seed plays the lower ranked seed at the higher ranked seeds stadium. So the Saints will play the Eagles in Philadelphia and the 49ers will play the Packers in Green Bay (you can mail the Pepto Bismol directly to my house).

In the AFC, the Patriots won the East, the Bengals won the North, the Colts won the South, and the Broncos won the West. The Chiefs and the Chargers won the two wildcard slots. They are all seeded as follows:

  1. Broncos (West)
  2. Patriots (East)
  3. Bengals (North)
  4. Colts (South)
  5. Chiefs (Wildcard)
  6. Chargers (Wildcard)

This weekend, the Chargers will play the Bengals in Cincinnati and the Chiefs will play the Colts in Indy. The Broncos and Patriots have the week off.

Make sense? For much more on all things playoff, check out this post.

Halfway Point : NFC

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Today we’re moving on to the NFC, and unfortunately we have to start this party with the worst division in the history of ever: the NFC East.

NFC East

1. Dallas Cowboys (4-4)

There really are no words for this. One would assume that the Cowboys can’t stay in first place to win this division based on their wildly inconsistent play and propensity to lose games in the weirdest ways, but one has not surveyed the rest of the teams in this division yet. Just you wait.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)

The NFC East is a place in which you can lose ten consecutive home games and score zero offensive points in your last matchup…and still be poised to win the division.

3. Washington Redskins (2-5)

RG3 looks a little more like himself with each passing week, which should be encouraging for Redskins fans in an otherwise discouraging season.

4. New York Giants (2-6)

That the Giants lost their first six games, look like a hott mess, and still have a legitimate shot to get to first place in the division should paint an accurate picture of the NFC East. It boggles the mind. And then boggles it again.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers (5-2)

After starting the season 1-2 the Packers have bounced back and are on a 4-game win streak. They have a hospital ward’s worth of injuries to overcome, but with Aaron Rodgers under center the Packers always have a chance.

2. Detroit Lions (5-3)

Did you see the end of the game against the Cowboys? That’s how the Lions are doing right now. Which is to say: pretty darn good.

3. Chicago Bears (4-3)

Losing quarterback Jay Cutler to a groin injury was a tough break for the Bears, who were on a bit of a roll. He’s projected to be out for another few weeks…when they play two divisional foes in the next two weeks, the Packers on Monday Night Football and the Lions. It’s a tall order.

4. Minnesota Vikings (1-6)

Vikes = Yikes. It’s been a rough start for a team that made the playoffs that year.

NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints (6-1)

The Saints are marching into first place in this division and a consequent spot in the playoffs, barring a crazy turn of events in the NFC South.

2. Carolina Panthers (4-3)

This team is legit – two of those losses could have easily been wins. And their schedule for the rest of the season isn’t terrible. There’s definite playoff potential for the Panthers this year if they keep playing the way they’ve been playing.

3. Atlanta Falcons (2-5)

I’m not sure which perennial playoff meltdown is more surprising: the Giants or the Falcons. The wheels have really come off in Atlanta, which is really too bad to see in tight end Tony Gonzalez’s last season.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7)

It’s safe to say that between the MRSA outbreak and giving former starting quarterback Josh Freeman the heave-ho it’s been the worst of times in Tampa Bay. To make worse matters worse: The Bucs next game is against the Seahawks…in Seattle, where no visiting team has won this season…or last.

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks (7-1)

If the aforementioned Seahawks continue their home win streak and grab the top spot in the NFC for home field advantage in the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they don’t go straight to the Super Bowl as a result.

2. The San Francisco 49ers (6-2)

These 49ers don’t look quite as dominant as the 49ers who went to the Super Bowl last year. The second half of their schedule is far from light, either – especially considering that every team in the NFC West is competitive.

3. Arizona Cardinals (4-4)

This Cardinals defense means business. And with a bye week then Houston then Jacksonville it’s completely possible that the Cardinals could be in contention for a wildcard spot come playoff time. Let’s pause for a moment and realize that three out of the four teams in this division are legitimate playoff contenders. The NFC West is no joke.

4. St. Louis Rams 

The bad news is that starting quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the rest of the season. The good news is that the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series.

Ok NFC people, you’re up! How’s the season gone for you so far? Thoughts on the second half?

Halfway Point : AFC

football, teams, afc

We have arrived at the halfway point of the season, which means it’s a good time to reflect on how the first half has gone thus far. It’s also a good time to keep in mind that I’ll be increasingly more despondent with each week that passes, lamenting the fact that the NFL season is going by much too fast.

I mean, HALFWAY. It’s just too soon for that!

At any rate, it’s been a great first half of the season so far. Unless you’re the Jaguars.


1. New England Patriots (6-2)

The Patriots are ruling the roost once again in the AFC East, despite the fact that almost no one from the original starting roster still plays for the team. Starters? Recognizable names? Hands in the shape of hands? Who needs ’em?!

2. New York Jets (4-4)

The Jets season has been considerably better than anticipated thus far – the all-out demolition the Bengals unleashed this past Sunday notwithstanding. And whenever a Jets season includes a win against the Patriots, it’s a good season. There’s a fair chance Rex Ryan may even earn himself Coach of the Year honors if they keep this up.

3. Miami Dolphins (3-4)

Those three wins came in the first three weeks of the season…a time of joy and optimism that feels so long ago for Dolphins fans.

4. Buffalo Bills (3-5)

I feel like I’ve said this a lot in the past few years…but the Bills aren’t as bad as their record indicates. There is a lot of talent on that roster, and they are consistently “in” games. And, once they get starting QB E.J. Manuel back, they have a chance to develop something special. Probably for next season.


1. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2)

That the Bengals two losses have come against the Bears and a legit Browns team and their wins have included outplaying powerhouses like the Patriots and Packers says something about their trajectory for the rest of the season. And having the ultimate clincher, Mike Nugent, at kicker doesn’t hurt either.

 2. Baltimore Ravens (3-4)

In my opinion, the best thing the Ravens have going for them this season is the Mighty Wings commercial, which cracks me up every time. (If you’ve never seen the original NFL Bad Lip Reading do yourself a favor and watch it right now.)

3. Cleveland Browns (3-5)

Remember when the Browns traded their best player and everyone felt like the sky was falling? It seems a sad twist of fate that Cleveland was finally making progress in the AFC North after that and had found a spark at quarterback…and then lost him for the season. Still, this is another group that isn’t (quite) as bad as their record indicates.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5)

The Steelers are every bit as bad as their record indicates. And if I were Shaun Suisham, I’d probably start running right now. In whichever direction Mike Tomlin is not. (Although, to his credit, he did kick a nice game-winner against the Ravens the week prior.)


1. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)

This Colts defense is scary good. As is Andrew Luck. I picked the Colts as my pre-season Super Bowl pick (against the Seahawks, with the Hawks winning it all) and right now I’m still feeling pretty good about that pick. They might not have the best record in the AFC but they sure do seem to have all of the components of a team poised to go all the way.

2. Tennessee Titans (3-4)

Look for the Titans to build on the good momentum they had going earlier this season before Jake Locker got hurt. Their next two are extremely winnable (at St. Louis and home against the woeful Jags) before they are tasked with facing Indy twice in three weeks to follow.

3. Houston Texans (2-5)

What happened, guys? You used to be so good! But defensive beast J.J. Watt is still so good – SO GOOD! – both on and off the field. He is the hope in Houston.

 4. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8)

There is no hope in Jacksonville. Only 190 days until the Draft, Jags fans. Hang in there.


1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-0)

The Chiefs are the only unbeaten team in the NFL right now, and the only team to have gone from dead last the previous year to uncontested first the next. The addition of Andy Reid as head coach and the always-reliable Alex Smith at quarterback seems to have given their crazy talented roster the boost it needed to make the most out of all that talent.

2. Denver Broncos (7-1)

It looks like it’s going to be a fight to the finish between the Chiefs and the Broncos this season. They go head to head on Sunday, November 17th, and, spoiler alert, I can already tell you that will be the Normal Girl Game of the Week. It promises to be a great one!

3. San Diego Chargers (4-3)

The Chargers are far from out of playoff contention, although they will almost certainly have to fight for a wildcard spot if they do get in since this division is all Chiefs and Broncos. The key for the Chargers will be to stop losing games in the second half. It’s uncanny how frequently this happens to them.

4. Oakland Raiders (3-4)

When your quarterback can run a touchdown in from 93 yards out, you’ve got a fighting chance to win games in unconventional ways. Which is the method in which the Raiders might have to win the rest of their games.

Any AFC fans out there? Who’s your team and how do you feel about the season thus far? Playoff predictions? Let’s hear it!

At the Water Cooler : Week 2

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Yesterday would have been the perfect time to be surrounded by a dozen TV screens, each with a different game. There were so many good, close games! Here’s what you need to know about those barn burners and every other game from Week 2 in the NFL.

NY Jets at New England Patriots (Patriots won, 13-10) 

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Or at least, these aren’t the domination-style Patriots we’re used to seeing.

St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons (Falcons won, 31-24)

The Rams might be this year’s comeback kids – despite the loss this week. They came back from a 21-point deficit to make the game competitive and did the same to win in their Week 1 victory against the Cardinals.

Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills (Bills won, 24-23)

Did you see Bills QB E.J. Manuel kneeling on the field in tears after throwing the game-winning touchdown? This is why we love the game.

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (Bears won, 31-30)

If you had this game on in your area, you were one of the lucky ones. What a great fight to the finish.

Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers (Packers won, 38-20)

Aaron Rodgers threw for 480 yards and 4 touchdowns yesterday. Which was, in his words, not his best game. (But I think the rest of the world would agree that he’s doing just fine.)

Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts (Dolphins won, 24-20)

Kudos to the Dolphins who held off the Colts in the 4th quarter – the time when they almost always charge from behind for the win.

Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs (Chiefs won, 17-16)

It’s always nice to match your previous season’s win total in the first two weeks of the current season.

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (Ravens won, 14-6)

This probably shouldn’t have been so much of a struggle for the Ravens, especially given that it was their Super Bowl welcome home opener. (Also, welcome to the world Baby Flacco. Perhaps you should work on your timing since Sundays aren’t so good for your dad.)

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (Texans won, 30-24 OT)

This is another one that probably shouldn’t have been as much of a struggle as it was for the Texans – and ditto to last week’s victory against the Chargers.

San Diego Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles (Chargers won, 33-30)

Reality check on all sides: the Chargers aren’t terrible and the Eagles aren’t infallible. This was a great road win for the Chargers after a tough loss last week to the Texans.

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals (Cardinals won, 25-21)

Penalties got the Lions into trouble once again on Sunday, when a passing interference call set the Cards up for a successful touchdown run for the win.

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Saints w0n, 16-14)

The Bucs definitely looked better than last week but couldn’t ward off a last minute touchdown drive by Drew Brees. (Don’t worry, Bucs; not many can.)

Denver Broncos at NY Giants (Broncos won, 41-23)

The Manning Bowl record stands in Peyton’s favor: 3-0. But this one was especially ugly.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders (Raiders won, 19-9)

Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland’s kicker, earned his paycheck yesterday. He scored 12 of the Raiders’ 19 points.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (Seattle won, 29-3)

It was a long night for the 49ers (literally, thanks to an hour-long rain delay). It’s pretty much impossible to beat the Seahawks at home.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (Monday at 8:30pm EST on ESPN)

This has the potential to be a painful night for the Steelers: facing a divisional rival on the road and also a former Steelers stalwart, James Harrison, for the first time, in an effort to prove they aren’t the Steelers we saw last week. Yikes.

At the Water Cooler : Week 1

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Welcome to a new feature here at Football for Normal Girls: At the Water Cooler, a one-sentence(ish) highlight from each NFL game over the weekend (plus a preview of Monday night’s game). Just enough information to help you through any water cooler/grocery store/dinner table football conversation!

Here’s what you need to know about Week 1:

Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens (Broncos won, 49-27)

If there were any doubts that Peyton Manning is back and better than ever in his second year post-surgeries with the Broncos, his record-tying seven (SEVEN) touchdowns on Thursday night’s opener against the Ravens quieted them.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots (Patriots won, 23-21)

Buffalo would have won this game were it not for earning 10 penalties for a whopping 75 yards – it was the mistakes that killed them, not lack of ability to win the game.

Chicago Bears vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Chicago won, 24-21)

It’s been said that more NFL games are lost than won and that was certainly the case with the Bengals on Sunday, who gave up a big lead late in the second half to lose to the Bears, who actually didn’t look too shabby in their first game under rookie head coach Marc Trestman.

Cleveland Browns vs. Miami Dolphins (Miami won, 23-10)

Sorry, Browns fans. I was wrong.

Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings (Lions won, 34-24)

The story of the game for me is from the reigning league MVP, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who ran in a 78-yard touchdown…on his first carry. He wasn’t much of a factor for the rest of the game, but what a way to start the season.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Oakland Raiders (Colts won, 21-17)

This game should have been a blowout, but the Colts needed to return to their 2012 ways as the comeback kids to win this one and start the season 1-0.

New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons (New Orleans won, 23-17)

Welcome back, Sean Payton! And holy passing attack, NFC South: Saints QB Drew Brees and Falcons QB Matt Ryan combined for nearly 700 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.

New York Jets vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Jets won, 18-17)

There likely isn’t a guy in the NFL who feels worse waking up this morning than Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David, who had a late hit on Jets QB Geno Smith which gave the Jets easy field goal position for the win in the final seconds of the 4th quarter.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans (Titans won, 16-9)

This one was all ugly. But despite their only offensive score not coming until the 4th quarter, the ugliest part for the Steelers was losing center Maurkice Pounce, who may have a torn ACL.

Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks (Seattle won, 12-7)

A win’s a win, but it was a little surprisingly to see everyone’s #1 pick, Seattle, struggle to win this one in Carolina.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Kansas City won, 28-2)

Even if NFL Europe doesn’t take off and the Jaguars don’t move overseas, Jacksonville may vote them off the island peninsula after scoring zero offensive points in their home opener on Sunday.

(Confused about why the Jaguars didn’t score any offensive points and yet still scored 2-points? That’s a safety, a defensive score, and you can read all about it in this post.)

St Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals (Rams won, 27-24)

The Cardinals may have lost (another one of those games lost rather than won), but Larry Fitzgerald is one happy wide receiver: he finally has a dependable quarterback (Carson Palmer) who shows off what Fitzgerald is really capable of – 2 touchdowns on the day, for starters.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers (49ers won, 34-28)

I said it all offseason and I’ll probably say it all of this season: Anquan Boldin, new 49ers wide receiver acquired from the Ravens, was the best move of the offseason.

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants (Cowboys won, 36-31)

At the end of the first half Giants head coach Tom Coughlin reportedly told his team that he had never seen a worse half of football…which is probably because he hadn’t seen the second half yet (or because he missed last year’s Jets at Cardinals game).

Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Monday night, 7:10pm EST)

You might want to do a few jumping jacks to get warmed up before this one. It promises to be wild, blazingly fast ride.

San Diego Chargers vs. Houston Texans (Monday night, 10:20pm EST)

You might be ok to go to bed before this one gets started. It promises to be a fairly easy win by the Texans (sorry, San Diego).

How did you all make out this weekend? Any highlights that weren’t covered here?