The NFL season effectively ends this Sunday. Sure, the Super Bowl will hold our attention in two weeks’ time. But the spectacle of the event often overshadows the game. The lights will suddenly go out. Janet Jackson will flash 100 million people. Viewers will tune in only for the commercials. While the two teams earn their place in the championship game, the Super Bowl can’t help but feel like an exhibition. It’s even in a neutral city. So when you watch Manning vs. Brady and Harbaugh vs. Carroll, be sure to take in the pageantry of the conference championships and know that nothing in the football season can match this Sunday.
So what do you do as you prepare for life without football? Well, watch more football. That is, soccer. As the NBA and NHL regular seasons heat up and the NFL playoffs build to a climax, the Barclays Premier League is playing out in historic fashion. Three teams sat atop the table last weekend. Five were in the top four. Two points separate the top three teams. Six separate the bottom 10.
There are bountiful story lines wherever you look. Arsenal, who hasn’t won a trophy of any kind since 2005, has held the top spot in the league for much of the season. And yet, most people favor the Gunners’ direct pursuers, namely Manchester City and Chelsea, in the title chase. Arsenal has struggled to stay healthy. Theo Walcott’s knee injury is the latest to hamper his club’s championship ambitions. Then again, the Gunners did just avenge one of their two losses on the season by disposing of Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park.
Meanwhile, City is torching opponents, finally playing well both at home and on the road. Top scorer Sergio “Kun” Aguero’s calf injury has done little to slow them down. City has scored 99 goals in all competitions this season, 59 of them in the league. They have the recently awarded African player of the year in Yaya Toure and a collection of attacking talent that makes goals a certainty — a near miracle in the beautiful game.
There’s Chelsea, led by the Special One Jose Mourinho, equally capable of domination and self-implosion. See that 2-1 victory over Manchester City. See that 2-2 home draw with West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool has found itself in the top four for the first time in years. The always divisive, uber talented Luis Suarez leads the Reds and the Premiership with 22 goals. He’s played in only 16 games. Manchester United sits in an unprecedented seventh place, 11 points behind leaders Arsenal and five out of fourth place. The Red Devils will be battling for something they’ve long taken for granted: relevance.
The fight to stave off relegation, though, always produces the most intrigue. Where in other sports do you see passion in a game between 19th and 20th place clubs? Where else have you seen fans storm the field because their team finished in 17th place? This season, 11 teams are in the relegation battle and five are officially treading water.
In this, a World Cup year, you will watch soccer. If you pay attention now, you’ll be a seasoned fan by then. And who knows, you might see something you like.