I don't ask much from the NFL.
After all, I'm a sad, wandering Browns fan, apparently paying off a truckload of dark-as-night karmic debt from a flock of past-life ills.
This year, though, I have one simple holiday request of the Shadowy League Figures who occupy the highest positions of power within the NFL super-machine:
FURNISH US WITH THE BERSERKER.
Some background from a Saturday tweet while watching Tampa Bay tangle with the Texans:
Wouldn't this serve as delightful fare? One BERSERKER per conference, based not on win-loss records, but instead favoring teams surging in December as late-season darlings. Or, conversely, wildly disastrous outfits that might require the bright lights of January to flip the switch -- and the apple cart -- all at once.
Per above, fans would be given a vote on said teams, as would a swath of writers, media goons, alley cats and fill-in-the-blank types.
Admittedly, this idea sits nestled in the early planning stages, not unlike the hour when Benjamin Franklin pondered running through a rainy field with a high-soaring kite to test the gods. With that in mind, here are my BERSERKER picks for the AFC and NFC. Hit me up with yours (@MarcSessler). Let's see this dream through:
AFC BERSERKER CANDIDATES
For the sake of this exercise, I'm projecting the Tennessee Titans as the conference's sixth seed (as it stands right now), leaving a dense tangle of milquetoast operations on the outside looking in. I'm hunting for weird, hot-and-cold clubs to vie with Tennessee as No. 7 battles No. 6 for a chance to move on:
1) Pittsburgh Steelers: They've fallen off a cliff, but I can imagine the Steelers' rowdy defense causing problems for white-hot Ryan Tannehill and this saucy Titans attack. Pittsburgh is a minor calamity on offense, but who's to say Duck Hodges doesn't have a little bit of Christmas magic lurking in the bloodstream?
2) Denver Broncos: Logging three wins in their past four tilts, the Broncos have been easy on the eyes with Drew Lock emerging as a first-year flinger willing to test the enemy via aggressive downfield shots. Courtland Sutton has morphed into one of the AFC's premier wideouts, rookie Noah Fant no longer appears beguiled at tight end, Phillip Lindsay is a joy to observe, and Vic Fangio is the curmudgeon any holiday party needs.
3) Cleveland Browns: Do they deserve it? Absolutely not. Easily one of the NFL's biggest disappointments, the Browns have underwhelmed in every possible way. Still, the roster is flush with talent and the potential of a wild day on the ground by supercharged rumbler Nick Chubb makes anything possible. Cleveland's inglorious campaign started with a wipeout loss to the Titans. WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR chants ring true, but next year technically begins before the playoffs, so ... box checked. (Have I written this entire lukewarm think-piece as nothing more than desperate fan-fiction to make things right for Cleveland? You decide.)
NFC BERSERKER CANDIDATES
In this case, I'm penciling in the Philadelphia Eagles as NFC East champions. With the rest of the picture cloudy until Week 17 wraps, let's offer up some seventh-seed options ready to sow chaos:
1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A healthy 4-1 in their past five outings, the Bucs are a weird/spicy club that nearly knocked off the playoff-bound Texans despite the absence of wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. With Tampa ranking third overall in scoring and total offense, every Bucs game is bound to include: (a) four Jameis Winston touchdowns; (b) four Jameis Winston interceptions; (c) at least one Jameis Winston pick-six; (d) 400-plus air yards by said signal-caller; (e) three Shaq Barrett sacks; and (f) a red-faced Bruce Arians screaming at the zebras using words not made for the young.
2) Arizona Cardinals: I'm operating under the assumption Kyler Murray would rage at full health by the time this No. 7 seed throws punches with No. 6 as part of a Thursday night loser-go-home double-header fever dream. The Cardinals are dangerous right now. Nobody's caught up to Kliff Kingsbury's attack, while the suddenly stingy Arizona defense spent Sunday dropping dirty bombs on Russell Wilson's Seahawks.
3) Atlanta Falcons: With a 5-2 record over the past two months, Dan Quinn's never-give-up Falcons are one week removed from stunning the Niners on the road. Imperfections remain, but the offense has caught fire during a lofty stretch that started with a 26-9 romp over the Saints. With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones soaring at full power, who wants to deal with this ball of nails?