This first weekend of the NFL playoffs brings with it plenty of collateral realities, some of which smack vaguely of irrelevancy but probably should not be ignored.
According to my estimates, for example, this wild-card Sunday is the first Sunday since Nov. 11 that will end without a single football injury to a single member of the Steelers.
Sure it's because they're not playing, but let us not for a moment fail to savor a Sunday fully devoid of angry ankles, wrecked pecs, concussed craniums, shrieking shoulders, torn triceps, hamstrung hammies, cranky quads, knocked knees and, of course, sternoclavicular dislocations leading to potentially jeopardized aortas.
That final one is the kind of thing that can ruin a season, you might have noticed.
No Steelers were hurt Nov. 11, because that was the most recent Sunday on which they didn't play. They played Monday night, which was when Kansas City's Justin Houston and Tamba Hali sandwiched Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder into a squishy condition from which it still might not be fully recovered. The Steelers immediately lost five of the next seven, and, well, here we are awaiting the Indianapolis vs. Baltimore version of January football in the AFC.
Like the Steelers, the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers are home watching the playoffs on TV today, the difference being that those other teams get to play next weekend with a chance to advance all the way to February football.
If I were the Patriots or the Broncos, I would have wanted to play this weekend just because both those teams are so hot. New England's won nine of its past 10, and Denver's on an 11-game winning streak. In fact, only four teams since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger have come into the postseason on a longer winning streak than these Broncos. Three of those clubs went to the Super Bowl and two of them won it. The only one of those white-hot teams not to get to the Super Bowl was your 15-1 Steelers under rookie Roethlisberger in 2004.
Still, a week off probably isn't likely to poison the momentum established by experienced NFL units managed by Bill Belichick and John Fox. I mean it's not like they're being forced to take a month and a half off; that would be college football.
Doesn't it seem just a little psychotic that when the NFL's Wild-card Weekend ends, the pro league's playoff field already whittled to eight, we're still gonna be hanging around waiting for an alleged national championship in a college football season that ended for Notre Dame Nov. 24, and for Alabama a week later?
When the Irish take the field Monday night in South Florida, they will be playing for the first time in 44 days.
According to my calendrical calculations, that would be the biorhythmic equivalent of playing the Super Bowl on March 5.
It would be preposterous, obviously, for at least two reasons: 1) it couldn't possibly produce anything resembling a legitimate result, and 2) the NFL certainly wouldn't go head-to-head with any scheduled coverage of a Pirates exhibition game.
They're not stupid.
The NFL tends to fill its postseason weekends with -- you'll never guess -- football, and while few outside of Atlanta are terribly excited about seeing a Falcons team that lost thrice in December to non-playoff teams by a combined 49 points, and few outside of the Bay Area are convinced that Colin Kaepernick is a Super Bowl quarterback, the anticipation for a Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning AFC championship, Fourth Edition, is not only widespread but already overhyped.
NFL.com's Adam Schein wrote this past week that "everyone in America" wants to see this rematch, meaning I guess those parts of America outside of Houston, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Indianapolis, vast swatches of Western Pennsylvania in which Brady, in particular, is reviled, and others. Frankly, most people in New England want no part of Manning for their Jan. 20 viewing, and most of Colorado could do without Brady in the appointment calendars for that day as well.
All that said, Schein is probably closer to being right than completely wrong.
Manning's offense is probably the only one in the AFC that can keep Brady on the sideline long enough to beat New England, which this year became only the second franchise in all of NFL history to win at least 10 games 10 years in a row (San Francisco was the first, 1983-98). New England's 557 points this year not only led the league, it led the rest of the league by 76 points.
Somebody will have to play far beyond their means to change where all this is going, namely to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, where I think we're looking at a final of New England 34, Somebody 17.mobilehome - genecollier
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org.