NFL conference championships: How to pick a horse in this race

Can you just watch, or do you have to root? That is the question: whether ’tis nobler to pick a team to cheer for during the NFL playoffs, watch as an impartial observer, or — brace yourself — do something other than watch pro football this weekend.

For those of you who became faint at reading that last sentence, put your head between your knees until it passes. I don’t want to be responsible for any swoon-related injuries. (If you already fainted, get up and keep reading; Mike Shanahan says you’re fine!)

Washington Redskins fans have had a lot of Januarys in which to perfect the craft of dealing with a Redskins-less playoffs. For those new fans who came aboard this season with the arrival of Robert Griffin III, you can choose from several approaches:

●The “Win by Association Theory”: Rooting for the team your favorite team beat during the season. (My favorite team managed to beat two teams — the Saints and the Panthers — and neither of those will show up to work next weekend, so this method won’t work for me.)

Of the teams left in the playoffs, the Redskins beat Baltimore and lost to Atlanta. So should Redskins fans be pulling for the Ravens in the AFC championship game, and flip a coin in the NFC? Each fan must take the measure of his or her own heart. Last year, the Redskins swept the Giants in the regular season, and the Giants won the Super Bowl. Redskins fans could take solace in saying, “Our team beat the Super Bowl winner twice,” but they surely struggled to root for an NFC East rival.

The Post Sports Live crew offers up their Super Bowl predictions on the eve of the NFL postseason. (The Washington Post)

●The “GPS Theory”: Rooting for a team that might be geographically close. For Redskins fans, that would again be Baltimore. For some, that also would be anathema. A “hearts and minds” battle has been raging for some time in this area, especially in the border boroughs of Maryland, where many fans have defected to the Ravens, for a variety of reasons.

Besides, geography no longer matters so much in the era of DirecTV, the interwebs and the highlight shows. It’s much easier to develop affection for a team with which you would otherwise have absolutely no relationship. Which leads to . . .

●The “Love/Hate Theory”: Picking a team based on your feelings for a particular player or coach. Thus, some will cheer for the Patriots because of Tom Brady, while others will cheer for the Ravens because of . . . Tom Brady. I will pull for the Falcons because of Tony Gonzalez, who deserves to win a ring before he retires, and the Chiefs certainly didn’t manage it for him.

Developing affection for players or coaches with whom you have little or no connection is as inexplicable as love itself. Tim Tebow became so popular — and eventually polarizing — that his name became a verb. Then he went to New York and vanished. Jeremy Lin developed an almost crazed national following from New York. Then he left New York and vanished. (Not really, but compared to Linsanity, it seems he has.)

There are also those among us who root against, rather than for. Maybe you have an obnoxious colleague who can’t shut up when his favorite team wins and can’t be found when it loses. Maybe you find certain players or coaches unbearable. My e-mail indicates there is a certain segment of our society that plain doesn’t like Bill Belichick, and Tebow had as many detractors as supporters during his Denver days.

A sub-category of the “Love/Hate Theory” is the “Alum Theory,” in which you pick a team based on the number of players on its roster who attended your alma mater. For graduates of Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia Tech and other schools who send dozens of players to the NFL, this axiom is of no help. For me, should I adhere to the “Alum Theory,” I would be left cheering for New England, because of Aqib Talib (yes, that Aqib Talib) and Mike Rivera and Atlanta for Kerry Meier, although he is on the injured list. I would be joined in my Patriots mania by the graduates of Grand Valley State and Chadron State. (Go Eagles!)

If you can’t find a team to root for using any of these theories, you’re not trying hard enough. Still, you can (1) flip a coin or (2) watch without a rooting interest (which I find boring, but what’s sauce for the gander might be exciting for the goose) or (3) skip the title games. However, that third option is almost impossible for a pro football fan. Three games remain before the long offseason of your discontent, your free agent failures, your draft mistakes, your OTA updates. Most fans are not strong enough to turn the channel as the season reaches its conclusion.

I am among them. So using my formula, I guess I’ll root for the Falcons and Patriots, although I’d certainly entertain other theories. It’s not like I’m emotionally invested. I’m already looking forward to that No. 1 draft pick in April and trying to find a way to embrace Andy Reid. Figuratively, not literally.

For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.
com/hamilton
.

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