Nathan Hards is The Rookie Fan, a newbie to the NFL. RealSport will be following Nathan as he makes the most difficult decision any rookie NFL fan has to make – which team to support! In the penultimate part of Nathan’s series, he decides which NFC team will go up against the Steelers to win the Super Bowl of his loyalty. Having put through the Pittsburgh Steelers through to the Super Bowl final, now we need to decide who is going to go head to head against them for the final round. So we turn our focus back to the NFC conference, and the teams that have made it through. With the Texans out, we can start looking back at history properly, and really dig deep into these franchises. It’s important that we avoid covering old ground, so I won’t be focusing on points which the team already went through on. Let’s dive right in with the first team of the round.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa bay are the youngest team still standing, and they’ve got the most to prove in this round. In the short time they’ve had, they’ve gone through to the Super Bowl once back in 2002, and they walked away with it. They have one of the most colourful and exciting fanbases in the NFL, and I’m yet to meet a boring Bucs fan. They’ve signed Jameis Winston in the Draft this year, and he is on fire in his first season for the Bucs. They’ve gone 5 for 5, and when the O-line can give him the space, he’s proven more than capable of finding people deep in the field. This is an exciting season for the Bucs, and this could be the start of a move back towards a Super Bowl run. Maybe not this year, but it’s a definite possibility. Backing the Bucs is going to be fun, but are you really sure that’s what you want out of a team? They’ve sat in the middle since their last Superbowl run, and not really achieved much since signing Winston. This could be them coming back on a run for the top, but it could just as easily be a flash in the pan. Is pushing Winston this hard in his first season a good call? Could they risk his arm in the future, by overreaching in this run? Some calls that have been made in the past have been questionable when it comes to player’s health, and whether they were ready for the pressure applied. It’s a risk that the Bucs head coaches seem willing to take year on year, but in the past it has resulted in long term disappointment. The roller-coaster ride that comes along with this risky way of managing things can be a little too much for some people.
Back to Soldier field, and the Bears. The oldest franchise still standing. These guys are sitting on a reasonable historic record, and some big names have passed through Soldier Field, on their way to being hall of famers. Jay Cutler is doing well this season, although the current scoreline of 4-6 doesn’t reflect the performance. It just seems that the Bears are struggling to push themselves this season, as they seem to most seasons. They last went to the Superbowl in 2002, and it’s about time that they made another push for the top. With the correct level of electricity applied to the players and the coaching staff, this could be a team that takes it to the top, they just need the motivation. If you’re looking to go with a team that has history and balances it with not winning everything, then these are the boys. What if you like winning? 95 years of playing – 49 Super Bowls – 1 win out of two appearances. It has been 9 years since they managed to take it to the finals, and 30 since they last won. The Bears are not a winning team, and it doesn’t make sense when you look at the components. Coaches and players alike, seem to do ok when they are in Chicago, but pull them out of Soldier field, and put them in any other uniform – literally any other colours – and they set the world on fire! There are some big names that have come out of Chicago on their retirement year, and have absolutely destroyed their personal records playing for other teams. It seems that the windy city has some kind of sedative effect on everyone.
The Giants are one of the most electrifying teams in the NFL. They are showy, and flash, and they know how to get the crowd going. They’re going 5-5 this season, which isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but aside from two obvious examples, no-one really is this season. 4 out of 5 Super Bowls is a pretty convincing record, with one in the bag from 2011, and a loss back in 2000. The Giants have proved time and again that they can deliver the goods over anyone else in New York State. These guys have 100% proven their worth in recent years, and have the history to back it up with. They keep stacking up those Hall of Famers, and signing up explosive new drafts, and it never seems to stop. Backing the Giants should be an easy choice, but is it too easy? This is the same reason that I dropped the Patriots so early on, and the Seahawks got kicked into touch too. Picking a team that wins all the time is easy, and satisfying, but it can get stagnant. We already covered in the last piece, the fact that the fans have such a high standard that they’re already writing off this season, and I guess some of us are just masochists when it comes to picking a team. Do you really want to be the guy that’s always celebrating the wins over your buddies, is winning more important to you than anything else?
St Louis Rams
Missouri. 1999 Super Bowl winners. 2001 Super Bowl participants. That’s pretty much back to back seasons. The Rams have proven year on year that they can be some of the most aggressive players in the game. Their playstyle results in a lot of flags, and a lot of injuries, they’re down in the dirt players. The Rams are the loud and nasty underdogs in this round, and at 4-6 are going to have to pull some major changes to come back this season. Some big players have come through Missouri, and the Rams have excelled in putting big players in the right spots to really capitalise on their skills. The Rams have the goods, they just need to get them lined up right. Can you wait though? The Rams are falling apart on the offense this season. Their defence is doing some real damage (just ask Baltimore), and they are playing out of their skins to keep those scorelines below 20 points. Offensively, they can’t seem to catch a break, and this season is starting to look like a complete write off for them. With the second half of the season already on its way, it’s time to start looking at draft spots, and how they can rebuild that offense for next season. Are you willing to wait it out for next season? Can you wait to see if the offensive coaches can ring the changes, and make things line up right? If you’re patient, you might be rewarded, but how patient are you?
So who’s going through? Which team goes up against the Steelers in the final? The Bucs got through on novelty value last round, and Jameis Winston is pushing them through this season quite well. However, I’ve never quite found that the Bucs felt right with me, and nothing that I’ve discovered has really sold them for me. In a way, I really want to put them through, but I just can’t back them with a solid enough argument. The Bears were a shoe in for me on the face of it. I genuinely thought they were going to be my team – but now that we’ve got to this stage – it’s like wearing shoes on the wrong feet, it fits, but it doesn’t feel quite right. I’m genuinely disappointed that I’m going to have to drop the Bears here. I guess that results do matter. The Giants are another surprise. I lumped them in with the Seahawks and the Patriots, as one of those teams that I would drop as soon as I could. Who wants to support a team that always wins? Turns out, that they don’t, and they have a level of fire and spirit that you normally only see in teams at the bottom of the table. They’ve got my attention, and I’m putting them through to the Final. The Rams are another team that I really wanted to put through. They’ve got the fire and spirit of one of the underdog teams, and they play that rough kind of football that I love to watch. Looking at the way they are playing, and the decisions being made around that, I can feel myself getting frustrated already. If I’m getting annoyed at this stage, how much more stressed will I get if I actually supported them? I can’t let them through over any of the other teams at this stage, so this is where they end their run. So, it’s the Giants. Something that genuinely surprises me. The Bears really were the team I expected to end up with, but they fell at the last hurdle. This entire process continues to surprise me at every step. Join me at the next article, where we hit the final, and pick the winners of the process. See you there!