I really try to enjoy the NFL playoffs without letting fantasy football intrude upon it too much. I think the storylines and the competition is compelling enough. But if I’m being honest, I never completely let go of the fantasy aspect of the games. It’s just part of my mindset. And watching the playoff contests this past weekend, I couldn’t help comparing them to what I see and experience during the fantasy season.
No offense to our friends in Minnesota, but the Vikings were that fantasy team that barely won its games, compiled a gaudy record, and got bounced in the first round. Never quite as good as they looked in the standings, they got beat by a better team with a worse record. You see it many seasons in your league.
The Bills and Bengals were the superior fantasy team that was supposed to roll over its competition, only to escape by just a few points. Some team snuck into the postseason with their starting quarterback hurt and started some guy they found on the waiver wire, and nearly won.
The Jaguars are the team that was getting destroyed in the early games, only to come back in the late games and win. No lead is ever safe in fantasy football, nor the real thing. The Chargers, of course, are the fantasy managers who thought they had it wrapped up, only to watch a furious comeback they simply couldn't stop.
The Buccaneers are the dynasty team that finally saw their window close. They had a good run and can look back on some great success, but the next couple of seasons might look rough, and they know it. And Dallas kicker Brett Maher is the fantasy manager who makes the wrong decision every time and hurts the team, but they win anyway so it doesn't really matter. Yes, I've been Brett Maher plenty of times, including the championship game this season. Congrats, guys! We did it! No thanks to me, of course.
To be honest, I think the Seahawks would be the real winners in a fantasy league. They're the dynasty team that traded away their talent for a bunch of draft picks and settled into a rebuilding year. The thing is, they found a good waiver wire quarterback and picked up a talented rookie and found themselves competing. They overachieved, while the team that traded for their star player ended up having an awful year, which just made their pick better (fifth overall if you’re keeping score). So instead of just rebuilding, they were in the postseason, they have extra draft picks and some intriguing talent on their roster. Sure, they lost to a better team in the playoffs, but their future looks great. The same can't be said of the Broncos, who would be mocked at every gathering if they were a fantasy team. And at the NFL owners’ meeting, maybe they will.
Fortunately, while there are some similarities between fantasy and real teams, there's one important difference. Whether your season was like the 49ers, or the Chargers, or the Cardinals, you're not getting fired. You get a contract extension every year, no matter what happens. You can make terrible decisions and you're still coming back. I'm not sure what would be the fantasy equivalent of playing (and losing) Mike Williams in a meaningless game, but whatever that is, you could do it and nobody would say you should lose your job. And there’s never a Sean Payton waiting in the wings.
As the playoffs continue, we'll recognize more stories from our own experiences. There are ahead-of-schedule franchises who are going up against the best teams in the league, and their future is bright no matter where the ride ends. There are other teams that aren't taking advantage of their windows, and they might be closing faster than fans expect. And there are teams that will disappoint, and management isn't sure where the problem lies and who needs to be replaced.
But that's part of the fun, right? For us, at least. We might not make millions of dollars running our teams, but we also don't have to move to new cities or make our kids enroll in new schools because we didn't have a good season. We aren't buying one-way tickets to Thailand, either. So let’s enjoy what comes next. And if you’re playing, good luck this week.
Which NFL team is most like your fantasy team? Who’s going to the conference championship games? Share your thoughts below.