If you're a fan of the Raiders, Browns, Bucs, Jets or Redskins, stop moping around. This is actually the best part of your season.
Instead of pondering yet another embarrassing year spent wallowing away in the cellar of your division, while you wait on a new head coach or another franchise savior from the draft, realize this: For the next five weeks, you're an unrestricted free agent. Your team isn't playing, which means you are morally and legally free and clear to root for any damn team you want.
If you're a fan in Cleveland, don't think of the 2014 NFL playoffs as the 50th consecutive missed opportunity. Think of it as an extended vacation from the Browns. You've earned it.
Temporarily switching loyalties -- we call it Lombardi by proxy here at the Flem File -- can be a fun but confusing exercise for most die-hard fans. Sometimes, all it takes is regional or divisional loyalty. Sometimes, all it takes is spite -- root for whoever is playing your rival. Sometimes, it requires crazy leaps of logic that create strange bedfellows. Sometimes, it's just about a team your team beat (bragging rights), a favorite colored jersey or the pure enjoyment of secretly rooting against your father-in-law's team.
Either way, adopting a playoff team can be a strange and difficult choice. So, to help you pick your surrogate NFL playoff team, the Flem File is once again providing a highly scientific, team-by-team Loser's Rooting Guide to the NFL playoffs.
BUFFALO: You guys dominated the Packers just a few weeks ago. So, naturally, you're rooting for GREEN BAY to win it all, so you can use the transitive property of football fan math to claim a piece of the Lombardi trophy as your own.
MIAMI: You beat the Raiders, who beat the Bills, who beat the Packers, who beat the Panthers, who beat the Lions, who beat the Jets, who beat the Steelers. So root for PITTSBURGH because if they win the Super Bowl, it could have just as easily been your Dolphins. Obviously.
NEW YORK JETS: New year, new coach, new GM and a new you? Maybe it's time to drop all that hate and baggage and try something totally crazy, like rooting for NEW ENGLAND. Remember that nice send-off Red Sox fans gave Derek Jeter at Fenway? Time to return the favor.
CLEVELAND: Your team lost five straight to end the season, and the only thing your new franchise QB (passer rating: 42) seems to truly be passionate about is party planning. (I swear the next time Johnny Football does one of those phony "I need to mature and get serious" news conferences, he should hold it in the lobby of the Bellagio.) The only thing that could make things worse for Browns fans is to watch the hated Bengals snap their nearly quarter-century drought of playoff wins. So, your team is INDIANAPOLIS. And who knows, if the Colts do well enough, maybe they will take another of your disastrous first-round picks off your hands.
HOUSTON: All 9-7 teams that didn't make the playoffs, regardless of their conference, should have a beef with the seven-win Panthers. You should all adopt ARIZONA.
JACKSONVILLE: You have the same birthday and you're both cat lovers, but, honestly, you should root for CAROLINA because unless seven-win teams making the playoffs becomes a regular thing, I don't see the Jaguars reaching the postseason again in your lifetime.
TENNESSEE: The only playoff-caliber pro football team I can find that has anything in common with your Titans is the MONTREAL Alouettes.
KANSAS CITY: Your adopted team -- BALTIMORE -- was selected for you when John Harbaugh texted Andy Reid to thank him for knocking off the Chargers, which allowed the Ravens to make the playoffs. Harbaugh even offered to buy Reid dinner, but, with your support, maybe he'll even throw in some dessert.
SAN DIEGO: Sometimes, it's fun to swap for a playoff team that's completely different from your own. For Chargers fans, that means a clutch quarterback, a tough run defense and frequent trips deep into the playoffs -- yep, DENVER is your team.
OAKLAND: I am normally not a fan of bandwagon jumping, but you poor Raiders fans have earned it. I mean, there has been so much losing and humiliation in Oakland that most of you can't even remember when the Raiders were the original Seahawks -- young, fast, mouthy, mean and dominant. So I want you to jump on the SEATTLE bandwagon with all your heart and not an ounce of guilt and just consider the next month a vacation from being a Raiders fan.
PHILADELPHIA: Long story short: the Cardinals stole the 1925 NFL title from your Schuylkill neighbors to the north, the Pottsville Maroons. So until Chip Kelly learns the importance (or, I should say, existence) of pass defense, your job as football fans is to root for the CAROLINA Panthers and ensure that the Cardinals Curse remains intact.
NEW YORK GIANTS: The further SEATTLE goes, the better Pete Carroll (age 63) looks and the younger Tom Coughlin (68) seems.
WASHINGTON: If you are able to stomach any more football, then root for DETROIT because, a long time ago, before your franchise became a national embarrassment, you once had a decent rivalry with the Cowboys. The enemy of my enemy is my frenemy.
MINNESOTA: Authentic team gear isn't cheap. But with a temporary change of allegiance to BALTIMORE, a hoodie and a little work with a Sharpie, you could transform that old Donovan McNabb No. 5 Vikings jersey into a new Joe Flacco replica.
CHICAGO: Here's what I love about Bears fans: Even after one of the most epic disasters in franchise history, if the rival Packers were to get humiliated at home in the divisional round by, say, your new favorite team from DALLAS, the season wouldn't be a complete loss. Even better: The Cowboys are on a roll right now, but to get to Lambeau and do your dirty work for you, they have to first beat Detroit, another of your division rivals.
NEW ORLEANS: Right now, you're the only team in NFL history to ever drop a playoff game to a team with a losing record after a full season. It happened in 2011, when the Saints lost to the 7-9 Seahawks in the wild-card round. We all know misery loves company, especially this time of year. So you gotta root for the 7-8-1 CAROLINA Panthers to knock off the Cardinals.
ATLANTA: If you think Josh McDaniels reuniting with Thomas Dimitroff is the best thing for your Falcons (and I do, too), you should be rooting for BALTIMORE, the lowest seed with the best defense, to knock off the Patriots in the divisional round so McDaniels can get to work on your dirty birds.
TAMPA BAY: What can the No. 1 draft pick mean to a 2-14 team? Ask your playoff surrogate franchise, the INDIANAPOLIS Colts.
SAN FRANCISCO: Everyone politely played it off as a mutual uncoupling between the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh (44-19-1), but admit it -- he dumped you, it stings and you wouldn't mind returning the favor. If that's the case, and if you know anything about the Harbaugh family, or brothers in general, you should root extra hard for BALTIMORE. Because nothing your ex-coach could do in Ann Arbor would ever top his big brother's two Lombardi trophies.
ST. LOUIS: Rams fans should root for a DENVER-SEATTLE Super Bowl rematch because St. Louis beat both those teams in the regular season. That means you can go on believing Jeff Fisher (six winning seasons in 20 years as a head coach -- amazing, right?) is just a franchise quarterback away from building a real contender.