The NFL’s regular season came to an end yesterday, and the action, as dictated by the league’s creative scheduling, was Exhibit A as to why professional football is the king of the American sports world.

So here’s where things stood coming into yesterday’s games: The Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals had all already qualified for the playoffs in the AFC, while the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles had all already punched their tickets to the postseason. That left only two playoff berths open, both in the AFC, with the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens in the driver’s seat to secure those two spots.  Both teams entered the weekend knowing that all they had to do was win their game in order to make the playoffs.  But a loss by either of those teams would open the door for several other squads, like the Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Denver Broncos.

Inherently dramatic stuff, but the NFL has used its staggered scheduling system to wring even more drama out of its final weekend.  How do they do this?  In their 1 p.m. time slot yesterday, the league scheduled the Houston Texans to play New England and the Pittsburgh Steelers to play the Miami Dolphins.  With a win,  both the Steelers and Texans would still be alive for a playoff berth going into the late afternoon games, and both teams did just that.  So now the Steelers and Texans, and their fans, are now glued to their televisions to watch the late afternoon games, which featured the Baltimore Ravens playing the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs visiting the Denver Broncos, while the night game featured the Jets against the Bengals.  The Texans needed losses by two of the three teams still alive for playoff berths (the Broncos, Ravens, and Jets) in order to qualify for the playoffs, while the Steelers needed all three teams to lose.  So during the 4:15 window, the Ravens, behind a great day by running back Willis McGahee (pictured)  beat the Raiders, but the Broncos lost to the Chiefs. So now, going into the final game of the day (the Jets game against the Bengals), the Ravens had qualified for the postseason, the Steelers were eliminated (thanks to Baltimore’s win) and the Texans were hoping against hope that the Jets would lose.  They did not.  New York crushed a Cincinnati team that looked like they would have rather, all things being equal, not even bothered to play their final meaningless game of the season.

So what happened?  The two teams that needed to win to make the playoffs did just that.  If you had picked up the paper (does anyone still pick up a paper?) and just looked at the results from yesterday’s games, you would not have realized that yesterday was pure hell for fans of the Texans and the Steelers.  That those fan bases, particularly in Houston, had begun the day with such hope, only to see it slowly dwindle away as they day and night went on.  Creating drama where none really exists is why the NFL has supplanted baseball as our national pastime.

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