Rooting guide for non-playoff fans

— -- In the euphoria of the new year and the race toward another Lombardi Trophy, we often forget that for 20 unlucky teams and a whopping 63 percent of fans the season is, um, over -- a flaw the NFL really needs to look into.

We keep watching, though, because these are typically some of the best games of the season. (Well, that, and we are fatally addicted to the violent entertainment of football.) But for the rest of us in places such as Detroit, Cleveland and Oakland, the question remains: Without a rooting interest or fantasy stats to worry about, who do we paint our faces for now?

That confusing question leads to some odd, abstruse leaps of logic -- not to mention bizarre bedfellows -- as NFL fans across the league decide in the next few days where to temporarily switch their loyalties. Lombardi by proxy, is what folks in Cleveland call it, I think.

There are many theories as to how this should go. Some are based on loyalty to divisional opponents. Some are based on teams still playing that your team beat during the regular season. Some are based on team colors or favorite players or mascots or just rooting against the favorite team of the biggest doofus in your office.

The choice is not always that easy. So, to help you pick your surrogate NFL playoff team, the Flem File has come up with a team-by-team Losers Rooting Guide to the NFL Playoffs.


Baltimore: It seems silly, considering how you guys kinda stole your team from Cleveland, but most of you still cheer for two teams: the Ravens and whoever is playing the Colts – in this case, the KANSAS CITY Chiefs.

Buffalo: One of the few teams actually worse than your Bills at defending the run are the NEW ENGLAND Patriots. So, in a way, the farther the Pats go in the playoffs, the more you'll know your own 20-year rebuilding plan is working to perfection.

Cleveland: These are desperate times that, like I said, call for strange bedfellows. Based on the time frame established with Rob Chudzinski, even though he hasn't even interviewed yet, the clock is already ticking on the Josh McDaniels era. If he's your man, you need him to get to work as soon as humanly possible. So, as much as this hurts, you gotta pull for rival CINCINNATI to win this weekend and then take out the Patriots in the divisional round in order to free up your latest (the eighth since 2000, by my count) franchise savior. If cheering for the Bengals feels shameful, well, the Browns have given you plenty of practice dealing with that emotion during the past decade.

Houston: After a miserable year, more than anything you want to believe that a new coach and a new QB can turn a 2-14 team into a Super Bowl contender. So, start rooting for KANSAS CITY.

Jacksonville: You came into the league at the same time before the 1995 season. You both chose odd blue and black team colors. You're both cat people. You both have stadiums named after banks. You've both been non-factors for most of your 18 years of existence. It's kind of your duty now to cheer for your sister team in CAROLINA.

Miami: After such a messed-up season, I'm not sure how much more football Dolphins fans can bear, especially after getting blown out in back-to-back games by AFC East rivals by a combined 39-7 record with the playoffs hanging in the balance. You guys seem to like bullies, and SEATTLE's defense (ranked No. 1 in yards and points allowed) is as nasty as they come.

New York Jets: You guys are 100 percent ABBB: Anybody But Belichick and Brady. So you want the highest seed possible to get through to the divisional round: CINCINNATI. In fact, don't be surprised if before the game this Sunday Rex Ryan announces to the Bengals that he will, in fact, be fired if they don't beat the Chargers.

Oakland: You're a grown man with a wife, two kids, a mortgage, a labradoodle and a Toyota Corolla. And every Sunday you paint your face black and silver and glue fake spikes onto your Raiders Darth Vader costume and sit in the Black Hole to watch one embarrassing defeat after another. The only thing that could make this season any more humiliating is if the pretty-boy 49ers from across the bay end up winning it all. So get on the GREEN BAY bandwagon, but leave the spikes and face paint at home.

Pittsburgh: After their worst start in 45 years, the Steelers were one blown call away from making the playoffs. I made fun of you guys at your lowest point, and for that I'm (a little bit) sorry. But I have to say, of all the incredible accomplishments of this franchise in the past decade, when it comes to heart, guts and resilience, 2013 has to rank right up there near the top. Of course, referees in San Diego didn't catch an illegal formation on the Chiefs' potential game-winning field goal, so the Chargers, and not the Steelers, were allowed to advance to the postseason. That makes SAN DIEGO your team. It stings, I know, but you can stake claim to whatever the Chargers accomplish in the postseason because, for once, when Steelers fans cry "that shoulda binz us!" they're actually speaking the truth.

Tennessee: Your team is DENVER based on your state's ties to Peyton Manning, the former Volunteer.


Arizona: Ten wins wasn't enough to get you into the playoffs, which means the Cardinals Curse is still very much alive and kicking. But you've got the next best thing. You crushed the Colts by 29 points just five weeks ago. So get behind your head coach's former team in INDIANAPOLIS because if they go all the way that means your Cards were actually the best team in the league. That, or you've been out in the sun too long again.

Atlanta: Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez left KANSAS CITY, and even came back to the Falcons for another year to take a shot at a Super Bowl ring. How'd that work out? The least you can do is root for the Chiefs to win it all and hope they let him ride in the victory parade or something.

Chicago: The rival Packers are out, obviously. The Broncos only remind you of Jay Cutler's shortcomings. Indianapolis is too close. The 49ers and Seahawks are too far away. The Saints play indoors. San Diego? Carolina? Too warm. New England? Too successful. Bengals? Too orange. The Chiefs? Too boring. Your team is PHILADELPHIA. Why? Hardcore sports town, like you, with an innovative, offensive-minded head coach and, more importantly, someone outside of Philly has to root for the Eagles or else I will get angry tweets for the next week, ah-hem, that's why.

Dallas: You want SAN FRANCISCO to pass Dallas by winning its sixth Lombardi Trophy in the hopes that watching this unfold will be enough to convince Jerry Jones to finally fire his lousy GM. If it seems like I say this every year, it's probably because I do.

Detroit: Lions fans need a miracle, and I think I've found it. With your support, the NEW ENGLAND Patriots will win their fourth Super Bowl (and first since the Spygate scandal, nudge-nudge ...), and afterward a bored and unsatisfied Bill Belichick, seeking new and greater challenges, will quit the Patriots to take over the hapless Lions.

Minnesota: You guys love quarterbacks, maybe too much. There's Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and even Josh Freeman. Your defense (ranked 31st against the pass) barely even puts up a fight against opposing QBs. And is it me or, 50 years later, does Fran Tarkenton seem to weigh in on every breaking news item in Minnesota? For a fan base this obsessed with quarterbacks, there's only one team for you: the Peyton Manning-led DENVER Broncos.

New York Giants: Do you want fun, wild fans to invade your city for Super Bowl XLVIII? Then root hard for NEW ORLEANS.

St. Louis: Jeff Fisher has the best mustache in the NFL. Kurt Warner has been known to rock a 'stache now and again. Aaron Rodgers has the worst facial hair in all of sports. You are now all GREEN BAY fans. Give me a break, you know how hard it is to find a connection between this team and the playoffs?

Tampa Bay: Honestly, you poor people have suffered enough. You've paid your dues. Go ahead and give yourself a break this postseason and become trash-talking, front-runner fans of SEATTLE. You've earned it. Just think of yourselves the same way the rest of us without a team approach our duties as surrogate fans in the playoffs: as the 13th Man.

Washington: Your franchise is, yet again, in total disarray. But, guess what? You beat the Chargers! When in doubt, do what Ron Burgundy does and cling to that tiny morsel of hope called SAN DIEGO like your life depended on it.