Jason Friedman’s NFL Playoff Preview: Hillary Clinton is to the New England Patriots as Chuck Norris is to Jessica Simpson

This is it, folks: The pinnacle of the NFL season. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll witness what figures to be one of the most compelling playoff races in recent memory. The match-ups ooze with an intoxicating combination of drama, star power and sex appeal. In fact, this postseason promises to be so big, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say we’re on the verge of watching the sports story of 2008. Only one other event — sporting, or otherwise — figures to captivate our nation more this year. That’s right, I’m talking about the upcoming presidential election.

For pure theater, it doesn’t get much better than Pats-Colts; unless you’re talking Clinton-Obama. You want star power? Peyton Manning and Tom Brady certainly fit the bill. But then again, so does Mike Huckabee superfan Chuck Norris. And should the need arise (and you know it will), uber-annoying hotties like Jessica Simpson and Obama Girl are ready to steam up the screen at a moment’s notice.

So with that in mind, it’s time to introduce the remaining NFL teams to their political counterparts. As you’ll notice, the two worlds are strikingly similar. Both have two candidates who tower above the rest. And both bear witness to a balance of power leaning heavily in one direction. In the NFL it’s called the AFC, while the voting public calls it the Democratic Party. That doesn’t mean we won’t see an upset. But let’s just say the only thing which would surprise me more than a non-AFC, non-Democrat winner in 2008 would be hearing that Will Smith is a Scientologist. What’s that you say? Well, shit. Let’s just move on.

New England Patriots/Hillary Clinton

A couple months ago, their ascension to the throne seemed a mere formality. But a few chinks in the armor have been revealed, leaving both more vulnerable than previously believed. Still, they remain the favorites to take home the title in 2008. Their potent combination of power and resources instills a unique mixture of fear and respect in opponents; especially when coupled with that infamous icy demeanor. Both have been here before (sort of, in Hillary’s case). Neither one minds bending the rules on the way to the top. Both elicit nothing in the way of lukewarm feelings. Let’s face it: You either love them or you hate them. And both seem destined for a showdown with their arch-nemeses, also known as…

Indianapolis Colts/Barack Obama

This is the easiest match of them all. Hell, Tony Dungy and Barack Obama were probably separated at birth. Both have penned recent best sellers and win people over with their warmth and quiet charisma; regardless of whether or not you like what they stand for. Like Obama, the Colts were written off as pretenders by some earlier in the season. The Pats/Clintons were simply too strong, the critics cried. No one is saying that anymore. The ultimate battle of Good vs. Evil awaits, with the winner earning a trip to the White House.

Green Bay Packers/John McCain

The venerable ones. The comeback kids. There’s a lot of respect and likeability here. Both have what it takes to make it to the Big Show. But all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue? Don’t count on it.

Dallas Cowboys/Mike Huckabee

All right, I’ll just go ahead and admit it right off the bat: This one’s a bit of a stretch. But there are some parallels here. For starters, these two have the ubiquitous and somewhat inexplicable presence of Simpson/Norris. In reality, it’s unlikely Miss Daisy Duke or the Chuckster will have any impact on their favorite team’s ultimate outcome. But that won’t prevent a public with an insatiable thirst for celebrity gossip obsessing about it.

Then there’s the homespun charm of Huckabee and Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. It’s endearing, in its own way. The trouble is, we’ve been down this road before and we know where it leads. Phillips’s teams always gag in the playoffs. And there’s no way in hell a public positively fed up with the current President will allow his smooth-talking Doppelganger to succeed him.

Jacksonville Jaguars/John Edwards

In any other year, these two would have a legitimate shot. And while they might be able to take down one of the big guns, taking out both is just too much to ask. Perhaps switching parties/conferences is the answer.

San Diego Chargers/Mitt Romney

On the surface, it looks like these two should be able compete with the big boys. But something’s missing. Call it whatever you want: leadership, personality, heart, charisma, whatever. The fact of the matter is, barring a minor miracle, these guys are going nowhere.

New York Giants/Rudy Giuliani

The New York ties make this one obvious. At one time or another, both have enjoyed surges in popularity thanks to good timing, their residence within the media capitol universe, and a proven ability to defy the skeptics. But that doesn’t change the fact both are fundamentally flawed candidates. Giuliani has a boatload of baggage. The Giants have Eli Manning.

Seattle Seahawks/Ron Paul

The final pairing. These two have just enough juice to spoil someone’s party and really piss off a lot of people in the process. But when it comes to winning it all, even their fans possess no delusions of grandeur. They’ll just enjoy the ride while it lasts and jump ship to the most attractive remaining candidate when the time comes.

So there you have it. Just the kind of hard-hitting analysis you’ve come to expect from me, I know. In the end, it all comes down to the Big Two in both races. Let’s just hope nothing gets in the way of such stellar match-ups.

Speaking of which, if you consider yourself a true football fan, please put forth whatever good vibes you can muster toward an all-favorites conference championship weekend. I’ll go ahead and apologize in advance to all fans of the Chargers, Giants, Seahawks, and Jaguars. Well, at least the first three. Everybody knows there’s no such thing as a Jaguars fan. My point is, we deserve to watch the best of the best. And that means Colts-Pats and Cowboys-Packers. Not only would those games deliver the goods, it would also ensure a Super Bowl match-up for the ages, no matter who emerges from that final four. So keep that in mind when you’re feasting on pigskin this weekend. For this week at least, treat the underdogs like you’re Michael Vick (it’s a joke, people!).

On to the picks (home team in caps):

GREEN BAY (-7 ½) over Seattle

How many “We’ll take the ball and we’re gonna score” jokes do you think it will take before Matt Hasselbeck abandons his country and joins al-Qaeda in order to gain his ultimate revenge against the mainstream media? Whatever that number is, I bet we get awfully close to reaching it this weekend.

Packers 31 – Seahawks 17

NEW ENGLAND (-13 ½) over Jacksonville

It’s official. Jacksonville has officially reached “So underrated they’ve overrated” status. Much more problematic for the Jags: Saturday night’s forecast calls for clear and pleasant (at least for New England in January) weather. That should allow the Patriots to run their high-octane aerial attack with impunity. And for anyone who remembers watching Jacksonville get picked apart by the Saints spread offense back in November, the Jaguars defense just can’t keep up.

Patriots 41 – Jaguars 17

INDIANAPOLIS (-9) over San Diego

Quite possibly the lock of the season. I know the Chargers tend to play Indy tough. And I know Peyton Manning historically has trouble with 3-4 defenses that can bring the heat. Throw all that out the window. Phillip Rivers is going to be a turnover machine against a swarming, ball-hawking Colts D, and Norv Turner will be himself. For those not familiar with Mr. Turner’s work, that’s not a good thing.

Colts 27 – Chargers 10

DALLAS (-7 ½) over New York Giants

That’s right, I’m taking all the favorites. Hey, I’m willing to put my money (or at least my words) where my mouth is. The real question is, am I helping or hurting my cause? There’s only one way to be sure: email John Royal and tell him to change his Indy pick immediately so that he’s backing all the ‘dogs. If he cooperates, rest assured we’ll be enjoying the cream of the crop a week from now.

You know what to do, John.

Cowboys 34 – Giants 24

Last week against the spread: 2-2 (128-121-11 in ’07) Last week straight up: 1-3 (153-107 in ’07)

- Jason Friedman

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