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NFL Playoffs: All AFL Edition

Since everyone who claims to know anything about football is telling you who they think will win it all, I’m doing something different. Yes, I will tell you who I think will win, but I will first explore an exciting scenario you may not have considered.

It’s the American Football League’s 50th anniversary. Three of the original eight AFL teams, the Chargers, Jets, and Patriots, are in the playoffs, so I decided to outline an AFL-heavy tournament. Unfortunately, the AFC playoff teams are not all AFL franchises, but these matchups are compelling nonetheless. The teams that have the greatest connection to the AFL and the most engaging storylines win out, so realism takes a backseat.

Also, since no NFC team was ever in the AFL, their playoff matchups are fairly pointless, so I will instead rank the NFC playoff squads in ascending storyline potential when we get to the Super Bowl.

Let’s start.

Wildcard Round: New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

Jets Coach Rex Ryan

This matchup pits an original AFL team against an expansion AFL team. The Jets may not be wearing the old Titans uniforms, but it’s the same team, and it has the same boastful attitude it did back in 1968 when Joe Namath predicted a Super Bowl III victory. Head coach Rex Ryan thinks his 2009 squad should be favored to win Super Bowl XLIV, so he reunites the franchise with the supreme confidence and arrogance it had in the late AFL. His father, Buddy, was the defensive line coach on that Super Bowl III team as well.

Paul Brown, founder of the Bengals, only joined the league when he was assured it would merge with the NFL. Accordingly, the Bengals are not fully invested in the rogue spirit of the AFL, particularly now that their passing game is so weak.

The Jets rout this story angle to move to the Divisional round.

Wildcard Round: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

The Ravens, though considered an expansion team in 1996, are really the old Cleveland Browns in disguise. Thus, they are precluded from any storyline where the AFL is victorious.

The Patriots, of course, are an original AFL team and the last true AFL team to win a Super Bowl (the Colts and the Steelers migrated to the AFC from the NFL in 1970).

New England moves on to play another original AFL rival, San Diego, in the Divisional round. But first…

Divisional Round: New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts

The best aspect of this game in regard to the AFL is that it’s a rematch of Super Bowl III. This year’s Colts backed into the playoffs and are not as feared as the 1968 team, but that won’t stop this game from being a grudge match to erase the memories of 14-1 from the Colts’ minds. Still, the Colts were part of the NFL and make a hasty exit in this scenario.

Jets win.

Divisional Round: New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers

In the first true original AFL battle, the depleted Patriots travel to old Jack Murphy Stadium to face the heavily favored San Diego Super Chargers. The Bolts defeated the Pats back in the 1963 AFL season to claim their only AFL title—despite playing in five of the first six AFL Championship Games. They crushed the Pats’ only shot at the title and look primed to do so again this year.

But wait!

Norv greets the Hoodie

Storyline mode kicks in and remembers the Chargers can’t beat the Pats in the playoffs and the Jets are already in the AFC Championship. New England pulls off the upset!

AFC Championship: New York Jets at New England Patriots

There’s no need explain the animosity these AFC East rivals have. Suffice to say, Rex immediately fit in with the anti-Patriots sentiment when he refused to “kiss” Belichick’s rings. How about he tries for  one of his own?

The Jets return to the Super Bowl after 41 years.

NFC Playoffs

The Saints and Eagles have no obvious connection to the AFL.

The Packers won the first two Super Bowls and Vince Lombardi said the best of the AFL could not match the best of the NFL, but there are still more compelling storylines.

The Cowboys were created to drive Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL, out of the Dallas (when the Chiefs were the Texans) and eventually abandon the AFL.

The Cardinals were up for sale in 1958 and Hunt was the most interested buyer, but the team refused to sell, and after NFL commissioner Bert Bell told him the league would not expand, Hunt decided to form the AFL itself. The Cardinals’ contributions to the AFL, however, were passive, and not as intimate as…

The Vikings, who were part of the AFL, before they backed out of their agreement and instead joined the NFL. Hunt exacted revenge on Minnesota in Super Bowl IV when his Chiefs dominated, but don’t forget about Brett Favre fake retiring to hang with his boy, Chilly.

Is this a feel good story for the AFL and New York or Brett’s final hurrah?

The Legend

Super Bowl XLIV: Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Jets

When you think of the AFL, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it Lamar Hunt, and his dream of competing with the NFL? Is it the wide open offenses? Is it Hank Stram and “65 Toss Power Trap”?

Of course not.

It’s Joe (Willy) Namath and the New York Jets defeating the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III! It’s the foundational storyline of the modern NFL. How can anyone pick against the Jets in a playoff scenario of AFL glory, particularly when Rex Ryan is as brash as Namath himself?

The Jets can only win the Super Bowl when it’s a great storyline, and ending the AFL’s 50th Anniversary with a Super Bowl victory caps the season perfectly.

Share some victory hot dogs with coach after the game, Mark.

And as a bonus for reading all that, here are my 2009 NFL playoff predictions:

Wildcard Round
Jets over Bengals
Cowboys over Eagles
Patriots over Ravens
Packers over Cardinals

Divisional Round
Colts over Jets (you didn’t think I actually think they’ll win, do you?)
Vikings over Cowboys
Patriots over Chargers
Saints over Packers

Conference Championships
Patriots over Colts
Saints over Vikings

Super Bowl XLIV
Patriots over Saints, 49-48 (no defenses!)

Explanation: Yes, this is highly unlikely given the last few weeks, but this is my preseason Super Bowl prediction, and I have to stick with it. The preseason prediction I have the  most confidence in, however, is Favre breaking down in the NFC title game.

This is the first time in five years both of my Super Bowl teams have made the playoffs so I am excited in that regard. I thought the Pats would be better in ’09 than ’07, though, so take that for what it’s worth.

What do you think? Is my AFL scenario crazy? Do you think the Pats can win without Welker?

WhatIfSports.com: December Madness 2008

A simulated college football tournament from the fine people at WhatIf? Sports. Awesome that UB is represented.

WhatIfSports.com: December Madness 2008.