With the Ravens on the sidelines, Baltimore fans don't have a rooting interest in the playoffs this year.
But all is not lost.
If I've learned anything about the citizens of Ravenstown in my many years here, it's that they enjoy rooting AGAINST teams almost as much as they enjoy rooting for the Ravens, Orioles, Terps, etc.
Would you rather see the Orioles win or Yankees lose? The Ravens win or Steelers lose? The Terps win or Duke lose? I know, nothing tops seeing your own team prevail. But those alternatives do tickle your fancy, right?
Well, the 2015 NFL postseason is so loaded with possibilities that you could almost construe it as a reward of sorts to Baltimore fans for enduring such a disappointing Ravens season in 2015. The Super Bowl tournament is rich in local arch-enemies who can help you release some frustrations. There'll be no shortage of opportunities to put poxes on other people's houses.
The only tricky issue is the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are playing each other tonight in Ohio, so both of the Ravens' AFC North blood rivals can't get knocked out in the first round. There's always next week, though.
The New England Patriots are also in the AFC field, and as I wrote recently, I think they've supplanted the Steelers as Football Enemy No. 1 around here. Enmity for the Steelers still boils, yes, but according to my (strictly anecdotal) research, the very sight of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick sends curses spewing, and that's not always true of Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin.
On the NFC side, the Washington Redskins surprisingly are in, and while that might not matter much to some younger Baltimore fans, they should ask their parents how it felt to have the Redskins shoved down their throats every Sunday during the 13 years between the Colts' departure and the Ravens' arrival in 1996.
Put it this way: In my prior life at The Baltimore Sun, I once wrote, during those darkest of years, that a form of Redskin mania might actually be taking root in Baltimore. The response among my readers was, well, I never actually hired private security, but let's just say it was contemplated. Point made.
Speaking of the Colts, they're the only team on Baltimore's Most Despised list not in these playoffs. Otherwise, it's a clean sweep with the Patriots, Steelers, Bengals and Redskins offering fertile booing ground.
That will have to suffice as an enticement for local fans to follow the road to the Super Bowl, and while it can't match cheering for the Ravens, it will do.
For what it's worth, while the Steelers-Bengals clash is a no-win situation for Baltimore fans, I think rooting for the Steelers is the more sensible play.
The Bengals are clearly the tops dogs in the division, having won it two of the past three years, and they also have given the Ravens fits in recent years, unlike Pittsburgh. Yet the Bengals have a serious playoff curse going, having lost for four straight years in the wild-card round. They haven't won a playoff game since 1990.
If they lose again tonight, the foundation of the top dog in the division crumbles that much more, and that's good for the Ravens.
Of course, if you simply can't bring yourself to root for the Steelers, no worries. This is why Netflix exists.
OK, here goes:
I like the Steelers to beat the Bengals, who are going to miss Andy Dalton. And I like the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of 10 straight games, to beat the Houston Texans in a tighter game than many expect.
That's two wild cards over two division winners, by the way.
In the NFC, I like the playoff-tested Seattle Seahawks over the Minnesota Vikings in a brutal cold-weather game. And in a mild upset, I'm going with the Redskins over the Green Bay Packers.