I am ready for the big Auburn upset tonight! Wait… what?
This notion of having an "upset" win in the postseason seems kind of dated to me. These days, teams are mostly competing on level playing fields within their respective leagues. So when two teams meet in a playoff matchup, they have both essentially accomplished the same thing throughout the season. So why would it be so surprising for one team to beat another?
Even the gambling lines are guesses, sometimes not very good ones either. Let's start with the NFL and look at the Bengals and Chargers game from yesterday, for example. I haven't checked sports lines since I stopped reading the newspaper every day (sometime around 2007), so I had to do some digging. I had no idea that Cincinnati was something like a seven-point favorite. I watched a few Bengals games this year, and I watched several Chargers games. To me, either team could've won, and I expected a good game. However, there was nothing surprising about the way things unfolded, leading to an Andy Dalton meltdown and a big San Diego road win.
I know home field means a lot. I get it. Yes, I wish my Saints had done a better job and forced the NFC road to come through New Orleans. Yes I hated the idea of my team playing in the cold weather in Philly on Saturday night. But was that an "upset" win in any way? Are you telling me that you (or anyone else) were convinced that the Philadelphia Eagles were clearly the better team?
I guess first you have to learn to trust your eyes. I watch a lot of NFL football, and obviously I haven't missed a Saints game in many years. So while the media fed everyone the idea that New Orleans was absolutely terrible on the road (3-5), real fans knew better. Did we have three terrible road performances this season? YES. But think of this: If Tom Brady and Cam Newton do not both complete their final passes against the Saints for comeback wins, the media would today be speaking about a 13-3 New Orleans team with a winning road record. It didn't happen that way, which is why we got the sixth seed that we deserved. But use your eyes. Losing on the final plays to two great teams does not make the Saints a bad road team.
So while road losses to St. Louis and the New York Jets are inexcusable, most NFL teams have head-shaking moments at some point each year. So then what about the fifth road loss, the awful display in Seattle just a little more than a month ago? That is the one everyone will point to this week, and rightfully so. Furthermore, Seattle has been a consistently better football team this season, meaning even if the game were in New Orleans, there is a good chance my team's season would be still be ending on Saturday night. But what if we go into Seattle and WIN? Is that really an "upset"? I feel like the team with Sean Payton and Drew Brees can never really be considered a sure underdog.
At this point in the year, specifically the postseason, throw the records out. It only takes one performance on one day. The San Francisco 49ers were favored over the Green Bay Packers by three points yesterday. So for the Packers to win with Aaron Rodgers back at quarterback at Lambeau Field in freezing temperatures against the team from California… that would've been an "upset"?
I think we're just using the word in the wrong context really. To me, a true upset would be something happening despite the sides being obviously uneven. When the Oakland A's were making the postseason over all the teams with much higher payrolls, that was more of an "upset" to me. Once the playoffs start though, why would we be so shocked if a certain team wins?
The word might be acceptable during March Madness, like if some 12-21 Northeastern Michigan with a 16 seed knocks off Kentucky. But a 10-seed from the Big Ten knocking off a 7-seed from the ACC? An "upset"? That's absurd. And college bowl games today are basically creating the most even matchups possible and playing the games on neutral fields!
So again, using my eyes and my brain, there is no way I could predict the outcome of tonight's National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn. I'll be cheering for Auburn, and I absolutely had to look up the line to discover that Florida State was favored by more than TEN POINTS. Maybe it will be a blowout. I don't know. But I watched a lot of Auburn games this year, and all they did was win. (Except against my LSU Tigers, of course!) So why would would anyone be so shocked if they won again tonight?
In most of today's leagues, there are very few postseason scenarios that should prompt us to use the word "upset."