The simple truth is that reviling them is more fun than liking them could possibly be, and Pats fans don't know what they're missing. Whenever their Evil Empire falls short, a briefly united nation rejoices—and it feels really good.
Go read the rest -- it is excellent.
I had a thing worked out where I would look at preseason expectations for all four remaining teams, and the results of their first four games, and how they line up with recent results, but the fact is that these teams were expected to do pretty well. The only question mark was the 49ers, and they were given the benefit of the doubt because they play in the persistently awful NFC West. Three of them won their first game (the Giants lost to the Redskins, and doesn't THAT feel like a long time ago). No big surprises. So that tack was worthless for this post too.
But then I got weird and mathematical. This is something that happens to me. You get used to it.
That phrase I just used, "the persistently awful NFC West," started gnawing at me. I mean, yes, they are persistently awful. In the regular season. But then I thought, Seattle knocked New Orleans out of the playoffs last year. Arizona went to the Super Bowl a few years ago. The Niners just won pretty convincingly.
It turns out that since the 2007-2008 postseason*, the NFC West has the BEST collective postseason record of any of the conferences. They're 6-4. (The next-most-successful division is the AFC North, at 10-7 -- a lot more appearances, but a slightly worse collective record). (The least successful division in this span? The AFC South, at 4-8). The NFC West has gotten at least one playoff win in 4 out of 5 of those seasons.
What on Earth does this mean?
Well I have a theory. The NFC West doesn't generate a lot of regular-season wild-cards, because they're so awful. However, the NFC West champion hosts at least one playoff game every season. And all of the NFC West's teams are in the Pacific time zone. This, I think, is a big advantage. Teams from the east coast suffer through a six-hour flight; their internal clocks are screwed up; etc**.
If I were good at this sports-geek thing I'd go check the collective records of east-coast teams playing in the Pacific time zone... Maybe I'll do that during the big downtime after this weekend's games.
But this quick & dirty analysis does lead me to think that the spread -- currently 49ers by 2.5 -- may be right.
* I'm not deliberately cherry-picking my data set here. I'm just too lazy to do more than five seasons' worth of investigation.** Why doesn't this happen with the AFC West, then? Denver.