NEW YORK—Though fewer and fewer games are being held each weekend, sources confirmed Thursday that anticipation and tension throughout the NFL seems to be gradually increasing, and the entire 2010-2011 season appears to be building toward some sort of momentous climax.
"Traditionally, there are 13 to 16 professional football games played on any given weekend, but last week there were only four," AP football analyst Larry Lage said. "That's right, four. And, perhaps more telling, the general consensus seems to be that those games were markedly more intense than usual, as if there were more at stake. Clearly, something big is looming on the NFL's horizon, but I can't put my finger on exactly what that is."
"I think it all must be leading up to some sort of ultimate NFL extravaganza," Lage added. "And I feel like it's going to be on top of us before we know it."
According to sources, a sort of "win or go home" mentality began consuming the league and its players just after New Year's, with Jan. 2 marking the last time that all NFL teams played. The following week, the league shifted to the four-game format, and teams who seemed to have not performed as well throughout the year did not play, leaving many to wonder if their seasons were completely finished or if they would eventually be coming back for some sort of season-ending grand finale.
Eyewitnesses present at the games played on Jan. 8 and Jan. 9 claimed that the atmosphere at those contests was electric, describing fans and players alike as "unusually excited" and "much more demonstrative," as if whatever these games are building toward is extremely important to them. In addition, teams who won were seen to celebrate in an unusually exuberant fashion, whereas losing teams seemed dejected to the point of misery, as if some crushing finality had taken place.
"I couldn't help but have this weird sense that the game was some sort of huge rivalry, even though the Seahawks and Saints almost never play each other," said Bellingham, WA resident Jill Bourne, who accompanied her coworkers to the game last Saturday. "There was definitely a feeling of this matchup being more important than most, and that feeling only increased after Seattle won, as if their victory had intensified the pressure upon them."
In a development that may or may not be related, teams that played last weekend and lost, most notably the Colts and Saints, do not appear on the upcoming schedule.
"Whatever they are playing toward must be very important to both the players and their fans, and the pattern seems to suggest that in order to get there, they have to win," said New York Times sportswriter Dave Caldwell, who covers the Jets. "What I've gleaned from the whole thing is that these teams desperately want to make it to Arlington, TX. For what, I don't know. But whatever is going to happen is going to happen there."
"However, all my sources in the Cowboys front office indicate that organization has no football games scheduled in the near future," Caldwell continued. "Perhaps these teams are playing to gain backstage passes to a Black Eyed Peas concert."
At press time, football sources noted that the NFL had planned for just two games the weekend of Jan. 22-23. The league had not yet disclosed which four teams would be involved, or indeed where the games would take place. Calls to league headquarters were met with denials that any major policy changes with regard to scheduling had taken place for the new year.
"There is no denying that as they play fewer games, the excitement becomes greater," Fox Sports football correspondent Adam Schein said. "That's only natural, but why this buildup? What's at stake?"
"Because if this is all just some sort of results-based elimination sequence to boil the league down to one team, well, that's a lot of anticipation for not a lot of payoff," Schein added. "Especially if all the teams are just going to come back later in the year and start playing again."