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Football Fantasy! Liberating fandom and John DeFilippo in the NFL playoffs’ divisional round

The six degrees and many miles (and yards) separating Drew Brees and Case Keenum, Le’Veon Bell’s future in Pittsburgh, plus the dogged rooftops of deepest Tennessee

Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers

Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I don’t have anything for you. This season, Football Fantasy! here at Field Gulls will offer a recurring daydream considering the weekly football schedule from a perspective of entertaining narratives and wished-for results across the non-Seattle Seahawks landscape. Here, we welcome storylines and silliness to topple other interests from week to week as we deliver the lowdown on the rest of the league from the land of make believe. For more detailed explanation of the picks, look here.

We’re all a bit out of practice for watching an NFL playoffs without the Seahawks—at least so far as divisional round action goes—and there may be plenty of folks who earnestly never knew what that’s like.

(In case you missed it last week, for an alternate universe presentation of what it would look like if Seattle went 16-0 along with if all the other weekly wishes from Football Fantasy! came true, click this link below.)

The real world outlook of this tournament is a bit sad without our prime rooting interest at stake, I admit. It’s a bit like when the NBA comes round again ever since the SuperSonics departed—it stirs a sense of familiar excitement immediately hollowed by the flat edge of hopelessness. But I’m here to tell you it can also be a blessing.

We introduced this experiment originally with a nod toward the thesis of “liberated fandom”, after all, as discussed at the old pro basketball blog Free Darko—a principle initially engineered to excuse the author’s desire to adopt the mid-2000s Denver Nuggets for one playoff cycle (George Karl, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith—whatever could go wrong?). As fellow inhabitants at the corner of mysticism and personal style, or as Nathan Friedman puts it, “wanderer(s) by trade and a malcontent(s) by spirit”, we admit the truth as he tells it: Liberated Fandom is “always more about trying to find ways to enjoy the league more, not dilute the experience of fandom.” Which is the perfect recipe for what to do once your club’s been eliminated. And believe me, it is wholly freeing.

Maybe the NBA, with its tribal affiliations and circus-like reality show loyalties (choosing sides in Cavs versus Warriors without considering competing glories of offensive style seems abhorrent to me, but then we all pick favorites according to whim and idiosyncrasy) is the wrong example. What we’re dealing with here is more like watching the college basketball tournament. We throw out the regular season and opt for the bracket that makes the most mischief, that upsets the hallowed annals of a dead end sport. Rebellion’s the name of the game at Football Fantasy!, spin, shatter, somersault. Histories break off the edge of a shout. And what spells rebellion more cleanly than an all-AFC South championship round?

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

I loathed the Eagles almost all season thanks to mirage formerly known as Carson Wentz, and I would love to be vindicated by Philadelphia playing well without him—just not enough to actually cheer for the Eagles. The Falcons gets my vote here because, well, it’s mostly a last gasp of indirect Seattle influence on my hopes for the postseason: Among rumored coaching candidates for the Seahawks’ open offensive coordinator gig I’m hoping for current Philadelphia quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.

Not because of what he did with Wentz, of course, but because he belongs to the school with Andy Reid, Doug Pederson and new Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy—guys who have found ways to integrate dynamic and creative ground games with passing productivity by a mobile quarterback. Coach Flip also spent some time on the Oakland Raiders with Gregg Knapp, not only Seattle’s offensive coordinator in 2009 but the playcaller in 2006 with Atlanta when Alex Gibbs consulted with Tom Cable to produce the most efficient rushing attack—again, aided by swift-footed thrower Michael Vick—in post-2000 NFL history. Say what you want about Cable and the zone blocking system, but it will be useful to have a guy who can do something with the talent already assembled to work in an athletic, cut-blocking manner on the front line and also offer at least a few degrees of separation away from continuity.

My choice: Falcons

Sharp pick: Atlanta (-3)

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots

All I know about the state of Tennessee I learned from this movie (also sometimes dogs live on roofs there):

So I guess what I want to hear Bill Belichick tell Tom Brady after this game is, “Hey man I hear you’re nothing but a bitch. You need to quit being a bitch and straighten your life up. Do something with your life beside being a bitch all the time.”

My choice: Titans

Sharp pick: Tennessee (+13.5)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers

I’m excited to cheer for Le’Veon Bell on another team in 2018.

My choice: Jaguars

Sharp pick: Jacksonville (+7)

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

Drew Brees and Case Keenum were born nine years and 141 miles apart in central Texas. At Purdue from 1997 to 2000, Brees threw for 11,792 yards. From 2007 to 2011 at Houston, Keenum threw for 19,217 yards. That’s a difference of 4.2 miles. As professionals, Brees has thrown for 70,445 yards while Keenum has 8,771. That’s a difference of 35 miles. In the playoffs, Brees has thrown in 12 games a little more than two miles more than Keenum’s zero yards in zero games. (For what it’s worth, the Mississippi River runs about 1,854 miles between Minneapolis and New Orleans.)

Now let’s check in on each of these quarterbacks back in 2009:

My choice: Saints

Sharp pick: New Orleans (+5)

On the year:

My choices (straight up): 99-145 (3-1 playoffs)

Sharp picks (against the spread): 115-111-8 (2-2 playoffs)