Thursday, December 22, 2011

NFL Picks Week Sixteen: In Which A Friendship Endures Its Greatest Test

See everybody? This is Bert (or Birt to Starbucks baristas). You have seen Bert before in such fantastic moments as the U.S.'s dramatic win over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, the last game ever played at Giants Stadium, our trip to see the Flyers nearly two years ago and, of course, that time we both wore bags over our heads at a Knicks-Cavaliers game because we were too embarrassed to be seen at the Garden. Bert also made a spur of the moment trip with me and our friend Deek to see Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009, and he's generally a fun guy -- one who really likes to cut a rug sometimes.

Bert's a good guy. I like Bert. Really I do.

But here's the thing. This Saturday, our friendship which has lasted well more than a decade will be tested in ways it has never been tested before. That is because we will be attending the Giants-Jets game this Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Now, this in and of itself is not a terribly crazy development. Bert and I have been to several football games together, and I have already been to three Giants games this season alone, but here's the catch. I don't know if any of you readers have become aware of this yet, but I happen to really like the New York Football Giants. Like a lot.

This is all well and good, but they are a team that has a tendency to break your heart from time to time, the notable exception of Super Bowl XLII aside. Bert doesn't have a great deal of Giants-related heartbreak, but boy oh boy does he have a lot of Jets-related heartbreak. Bert might follow the Gang Green more intensely than anyone I know does in regards to any team, and his fandom ranges from fear of jinxes, to robust spontaneity as seen in a trip he and I had planned for the AFC Championship Game last year that were botched by my own ability to manage my work schedule, costing me $300 in the process.

So knowing that the Giants and Jets will be facing off this Saturday and that we will be in the crowd together clearly lends itself to some potential anxiety and certainly some disagreement, but that alone isn't a particularly contentious point. We're both mature responsible adults -- sort of -- and we know that in the end we will live and we have, in fact, see the Giants and Jets face off in person before as we did in 2007.

On that day, an unseasonably warm afternoon at the old Giants Stadium, we witnessed Plaxico Burress turning the Jets secondary into his own personal rag doll as Big Blue went on to a 35-24 win over their intracity rival, capped by this pick six by Aaron Ross. Bert was disappointed, sure, and while I was excited about the win, I was also disappointed by the pretty unfortunate behavior by many of the fans there from both side, but it was an odd kind of victory. Not in that it was unenjoyable, but the Giants-Jets rivalry may be the most unnecessarily forced one in the NFL.

To wit: The Giants and Jets play each other in a game that has any consequence whatsoever once every four years. The odds of that game having any major or significant impact on the season -- or at least more so than any other -- is pretty low. People can discuss the fight for back page attention all they want, but any real animosity is purely trumped up false bravado for a game that is no more significant than when the Giants play the Cleveland Browns.

The only real cause for potential tension between the teams could probably be the surprise defection of Burress, who signed with the Jets this offseason after briefly flirting with a return to the Giants after being released from prison this summer. Even that doesn't seem to spring any bad blood as could be seen when Plax met his old mates at the two teams' annual preseason game and everything seemed like a David Bowie album.

Where it gets interesting for me and Bert, however, is the fact that while the game was exciting and fun, it was a completely different situation from this time around. In 2007, New York and New York met in the fifth week of the season, which was a long way away from any major playoff implications or life-or-death scenarios. This time around it's nothing of the sort. With just two games remaining and both teams steeped in an extremely tight postseason race, this could very well be for all the marbles. In the case of the Giants in particular, a loss will eliminate them from playoff contention unless they get help against Dallas from -- heaven help us -- the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Jets aren't walking quite the same tightrope act, but it isn't much different.

These stakes are remarkably high, significantly higher than four years ago and quite possibly the highest they've ever been when these two teams have played. What this guarantees is that the two of us will be quietly and awkwardly trying to have a good time for the first three quarters and then uncomfortably restraining our own emotions so as not to impact the other when the inevitable confrontation of result becomes apparent. It's kind of like when two friends know that one is keeping a secret from the other that will eventually need to be discussed, except it's really a secret for no one. The awkwardness will pervade and it just might break the solid bonds of lifelong friendship for the two of us.

Well, ok, that's probably a wee bit dramatic. But it is clearly the only thing mildly resembling a wedge that has ever occurred between us and the results will go a long toward deciding the particularly reason that each of us will be getting drunk afterward. In the end, it doesn't get any bigger than that. Who will win? Will the Giants survive the weekend?

Will we?

All those questions will be carefully and tentatively answered in just 48 hours. The anxiety for the future of our friendship is building.

And on a lighter note, here are this week's sure to be wrong predictions.

Last week: 6-9-1
Season: 99-103-11

Houston (-7) over INDIANAPOLIS
NY Giants (+3) over NY JETS
Denver (-3) over BUFFALO
CINCINNATI (-4) over Arizona
TENNESSEE (-8) over Jacksonville
Oakland (+2) over KANSAS CITY
NEW ENGLAND (-10) over Miami
PITTSBURGH (-17) over St. Louis
WASHINGTON (-7) over Minnesota
CAROLINA (-8) over Tampa Bay
BALTIMORE (-13) over Cleveland
San Diego (+2) over DETROIT
Philadelphia (+3) over DALLAS
San Francisco (-2) over SEATTLE
GREEN BAY (-13) over Chicago
Atlanta (+7) over NEW ORLEANS

No comments:

Post a Comment