So it is generally agreed then that the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans will gather Saturday afternoon to play what will almost surely be one of the least aesthetically pleasing playoff games in recent NFL history.
And it should be agreed that that is so, for the reasons that have been enumerated again and again – quarterbacks, defenses, no chance of foul weather to impact play, even the uniforms will be a case of the bland meeting the drab.
But therein lies the mutant beauty of Saturday’s game. It has literally no expectations, save those placed upon it by the two fan bases. Plus, it allows the winning team to say with complete confidence and accuracy the one thing most winning teams have no business saying, under any circumstances ever.
“Nobody believed in us.”
In this case, you see, it is absolutely true. Starting last week, nobody did believe in either team, for the unassailable reason that nobody should have done so.
And you can't do better than that.
The Raiders went from championship contenders to the world’s unluckiest team when quarterbacks Derek Carr and (to a massively lesser extent) Matt McGloin got injured in successive weeks. The Texans, conversely, are singlehandedly midwifing score differential into common use, and they are back to first-then-second-string quarterback Brock Osweiler after trying desperately to exile him to the dustheap of football history.
Or Pro Football Reference, as it is more commonly known.
Either way, nobody thinks either of these teams has more than one game in it, and most analysts are straining for new ways to discredit both teams – all the way up to declaring that both teams will lose Saturday, which will tie the record set in 1970 when the Dallas Cowboys beat the Detroit Lions, 5-0, en route to losing what many people believe is the worst Super Bowl ever.
Hurray rampant judgmentalism!
So when Khalil Mack or Alfred Blue, Michael Crabtree or DeAndre Hopkins, Latavius Murray or Lamar Miller, even Sebastian Janikowski or Shane Lechler – when any of them say “Nobody believed in us,” take them at their word. Because nobody did.
Clichés, you see, are a stealthily precious thing. Everyone claims to loathe them as the zenith of unoriginal thought, yet they became clichés because everyone used them. “It is what it is” didn’t become a thing until the early 2000s, but was first coined (as near as anyone can claim) by a Nebraska newspaper columnist named J.E. Lawrence in 1949, which is exactly the same year that “Winning isn‘t everything, it’s the only thing” was introduced by UCLA football coach Red Sanders.
The problem with “nobody believed in us” is that it is typically a complete and utter lie. Most winning teams have had massive bandwagons constructed on their collective behalf that players either chose to ignore, assume as their due or were convinced didn’t exist by their deceit-riddled coaches whose jobs include lying shamelessly to their players whenever the need suits them.
Most players know they are being lied to, of course, but they know that repeating the lie is better for their continued employment than “What are you talking about, you thick-necked bellowing eejit? We have lots of people who believe in us, and we don’t appreciate your disingenuous behavior being aimed at us for reasons of mind control."
So “nobody believed in us” is the safe fallback position. In fact, Alabama football staffers put fake “nobody believed in us” media quotes on the locker room walls before the Crimson Tide went out and curb-stomped Washington in the national championship semifinal. Not because it necessarily works, but because not doing it is considered a lack of devotion to the greater goal.
So Raiders-Texans is in its way a special moment for everyone, because they bring an overly misused and essentially stupid cliché to life. In fact, we would be very disappointed if the first postgame on-field interview did not produce those very words, perhaps as quickly as the first four words uttered.
At which point the interviewer, almost certainly ESPN's Lisa Salters since that's the network that is airing the game, should say, “What, are you nuts? Of course we didn’t believe in you. Only a moron would even think of doing so. Now go away.”
Followed immediately by the rapture.