With pre-season games almost upon us, and subsequently, the beginning of a brand new NFL season, the average fan is bombarded by information. About 97% of it, from their team anyway, is overwhelmingly positive. And why not? At this point everyone shares a perfect 0-0 record, the team has added shiny new free agents and drafted some rookie studs to correct all their past issues. The team is playoff bound!
Not so fast.
Every season we comment on the possibility of any team earning a shot at some January football, that there is a parity in the NFL unparalleled in the likes of other professional sports leagues. And we're not wrong in that. However, it is misleading to assume teams go up and down in random fashion. There are obvious common denominators in the NFL playoffs seemingly every season, and then there are those teams at the opposite end of the spectrum who haven't tasted playoff football in a decade or more.
Let's first consider the top performers. The New England Patriots, for example, have topped the AFC East for 10 of the last 12 years. That is nothing short of ridiculous consistency. Their fans expect to be there at the end of the year; they have become accustomed to having a chance at Super Bowl glory. On the other end of the scale, we needn't even leave the division. The Buffalo Bills haven't seen a post-season snap for 14 years, ever since this blog's namesake in fact, during the 1999 season. Their fan experience is, expectantly, the opposite; a trans-annual attitude of jaded pessimism, one that expects nothing better than mediocrity of worse.
The mainstream media tosses fuel into the fire by the barrel as well. Their incessant obsession with lists, "power rankings", pre-season predictions, etc, etc, all serve to push the common fan to over-reaction. For instance, if we are to believe all we read from the mainstream, our Titans are in for a 2 or 3 win season in 2014. Hey, it's an opinion (as much as we would vehemently disagree). But there is something to it, I think, that's worth addressing. Fans, no matter the state of their favorite franchise, crawl back to the NFL, without fail, at the start of every new season, hanging on the crumb of possibility that "this season could be the one. This could be the season they turn it all around and go all the way." No matter how downtrodden and jaded, optimism always returns.
Is it ridiculous? Yes. Is is misleading? Almost always. Should it stop? Never.
It's obvious that there are the so called 'snake-bitten' teams in this league, but it's that promise of a fresh start that makes the NFL so addictive. Even though most of those fresh starts may not look like much by the time the season's over, it's worth it because of the one or two teams that do make the ever-so-coveted turn-around, the ones that offer the promise that it is possible for any team to get back to winning ways.
For our Titans, we have a lot of hope for new things in 2014. The team is in the hands of new men; individuals who have won in this league, who represent a big change for Tennessee, a break from the coaching circles of the old regime who had reined since the team arrived in town all those years ago. There is the crumb; the element that Titans fans can cling to in their hopes to return to glory.
And rightly so. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about the Titans this season, and outsiders are beginning to take notice, if slowly, of that fact. On the eve of the first Tennessee pre-season game of the year, we may be surprised or disappointed with what we see. Even though it counts nothing towards the season win/loss column, fans will overreact, and so will analysts; it's the way of today's NFL.
But we cling to those hopes year after year without reprieve, because it's not just winning that we love as football fans, it's the team itself, and the ever elusive foresight of what next season will bring. So be it the New England Patriots fans or Buffalo Bills disciples, we all enter the season full of anticipation and excitement.
Welcome back to football, Titans fans, it's going to be a fun year.