Jinxed Jerseys


Blame the less-than-intriguing NFL conference championship games on us.

Among the presents Santa left under the Reynolds’ tree this past Christmas were a trio of NFL jerseys. My daughter Sam received a Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson replica, while my son Alex found Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme’s No. 17. Mine was an Amani Toomer, in the New York Giants alternate red uni.

After this weekend, maybe we, CBS, Fox, NBC and the NFL would have been better off if the jolly man missed his mark in Mamaroneck.

Each of the players had a major impact on the weekend’s action. Johnson was the best player on the field at LP Stadium in Nashville against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, scoring the Titans only TV and gaining 100 yards on the ground and in the passing game during the first quarter and a half. Then he sprained his ankle injury, which shelved him and Tennessee’s title hopes.

Poor Delhomme. It’s doubtful few pro athletes suffered through a worst 34th birthday: a lost fumble and five INTs against the Arizona Cardinals. I guess that’s what happens when a Jets fan wants the jersey because he likes the Panthers logo and color scheme.

As for Toomer, in what could have been his swan song with the Giants, he caught just two passes for 26 yards, including a 20-yarder after the Philadelphia Eagles had ended matters and New York’s reign in the Meadowlands.

Caught up in the trend that has now claimed seven of the top two conference seeds during the Division Weekend over the last three postseasons, the Titans, Panthers and Giants all crashed and burned badly, along with our new fashions, after their bye-week hiatuses.

Indeed only the Pittsburgh Steelers, who throttled the San Diego Chargers, held onto their No. 2 ranking.

For the record, my wife Mary, who like me roots for the G-men and was bedecked in a Super Bowl XLII championship T-shirt before Sunday’s Elimination, didn’t sport an LT jersey on Sunday. Her fashion sense gave CBS and the NFL at least one national draw in the Super Bowl semifinals.

While the 2009 Wild Card Weekend produced the highest Nielsens in five years — the four games averaged 25.8 million viewers versus 25.9 million in 2003 — the league’s Divisional Weekend didn’t perform nearly as well.

Minus the star power of the Dallas Cowboys and last season’s lure of the then-undefeated New England Patriots, each of the four windows declined this weekend. The Saturday 4:30 p.m. time slot for Ravens-Titans decreased 8.1% to a 17.0 rating from an 18.5 for Seattle-Green Bay’s in 2008, while Cardinals primetime declawing of the Panthers scored just a 15.8 rating, down 21.8% from the 20.2 for the Jacksonville-Pats. On Sunday, Eagles-Giants slipped 1.4% to a 20.9 rating from a 21.2 for Chargers-Indianapolis. For its part, Chargers-Steelers earned a 21.4%, which came up 17.1% short of the 25.8 tackled by the Giants-Cowboys in New York’s upset of America’s Team last year. 

Now, Kurt Warner and his Cardinals, the “worst-team ever to make the playoffs,” will host the Eagles in the desert. From a DMA perspective, the matchup, featuring Phoenix at No. 12 and Philly at No. 4, is favorable to last year’s 2008 AFC title game between New England (No. 4) and San Diego (No. 28) in the 3 p.m. window. But there’s no undefeated mark and shot at history at stake here. There’s also little chance, the game approaches the 44.8 million average from a year ago. 

CBS’s nightcap has an even higher pedigree to live up to as last year’s NFC championship game pitted members of the NFL old guard. The No. 1 market Giants traveled to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, where they dispatched the old gunslinger Brett Favre and his then Green Bay Packers in OT. The thriller averaged 53.9 million viewers, the largest audience for a non-Super Bowl TV show since the 1998 Seinfeld finale. 

During the regular-season, Pittsburgh prevailed against the Ravens on a controversial last-minute TD, which overturned a ruling on the field that Santonio Holmes had not crossed the goal-line plane. The contest, available to 65% of the country, posted a 14.7 rating, Black Rock’s third-best regular-season showing. 

The Steeler Nation is vast and Baltimore, as DMA. No. 26, actually ranks two spots higher than Tennessee.But unless unexpected millions want to check out whether Joe Flacco can become the first quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl in his rookie season, this game is going to come up considerably short versus Giants-Packers.

At 30 Rock, NBC must be rooting for a Keystone State classic in Super Bowl XLIII. Available to 60% of the nation, Philly’s 15-8 victory of the Steelers on Sept. 21 delivered a 12.0 rating, CBS’s eighth-best mark for the regular-season.

This year’s NFL championship game won’t come anywhere near the record 97.5 million who watched Michael Strahan and the Giants stomp out Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady’s dreams of unbeaten immortality in Super Bowl XLII. But Dick Ebersol should rest easy that Al Michael and John Madden will get to call the best possible remaining matchup from the semifinals — nobody in our home has a Donovan McNabb or Ben Roethlisberger jersey in their closet.