Similarities between "competitions" in sports and politics in America are striking.
The parties engage in high-pitched battle, testing physical and mental mettle, with the ultimate crowning reserved for the side with the most points or votes.
One significant difference is how the defending champions – the incumbent – usually fare.
Typically, elections are claimed by the previous winner, campaigning to preserve his job. Not so in athletics, where it is often said that the only more notable achievement than taking a title is repeating the next year.
For the last quarter-century in the NFL, only the Denver Broncos (the 1997 and 1998 seasons) and the New England Patriots (2003, 2004) have done a Super Bowl victory dance in consecutive seasons.
The Packers are well-positioned to join them. Winners under daunting circumstances a year ago, Green Bay have been head of the class, losing once.
Their reward was a bye this weekend, when the play-offs open, followed by two potential home games on their famed frozen tundra before Super Bowl XLVI on February 5 in Indianapolis, about six hours from Green Bay.
"The path we have to take is different," Mike McCarthy, the coach, said. "But this is definitely the preferred course. This is the path we want to take."
They will take to the path with fewer limping players than a season ago.
"We're a healthier football team this time than we were last year," McCarthy said.
If Green Bay get unseated, goes the prevailing thinking, it will be done by either of two teams with quarterbacks in the same elite grouping as the Packer's Aaron Rodgers.
New Orleans might be No 3 seeds in the NFC, behind Green Bay and the old-style San Francisco 49ers. Yet, with their gun-slinging passer Drew Brees, they plunge into the post-season as the scariest entrants, with eight victories in a row and the experience of having hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy two years back.
The Saints have been untouchable all year in the Superdome, where they welcome the Lions today for what shapes up as the highest scoring of the 11 tournament games.
On the AFC side, the quarterback Tom Brady stands two wins away from his fourth Super Bowl, two of them ending happily for the Patriots.
"It's great playing at home. It's great to have a bye," said Brady, aware that New England have dropped their prior two play-off games in Foxboro.
Green Bay and New England have defied the old view that defence wins championships. Both are ranked at the rear of the league for yards allowed, the official but imprecise statistical measure for defensive efficiency.
A paradoxical truth in the contemporary NFL holds that successful teams can - and do - allow lots of yards. They build sizeable leads, forcing opponents into a plethora of passes. The win-loss records suggest that the defences playing with A-Rod's army and Brady's bunch are sufficient.
At the other extreme, the play-off cast includes the league's four premier defences, numerically speaking. Of those, the Baltimore Ravens are afforded the best chance of reaching Indy, owing to an offence that is a cut above and the inspired play of the ageless linebacker Ray Lewis.
Pittsburgh, matched tomorrow against Denver, belong in the mix of contenders. But a confluence of events last Sunday - a season-ending injury to the tailback Rashard Mendenhall, worsening ailments for the quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a Ravens' win that provided them a bye and home field next week - compromises the Steelers' hopes.
The 49ers, a stunning second seed in the NFC, are offensively challenged, which puts them in a pickle if they tangle with the explosive Saints in San Francisco next weekend after a bye.
So are Houston, a condition partly attributed to season-closing injuries to their main two quarterbacks. At least the Texans can beat the Cincinnati Bengals with a modest points total, though the home team's current three-game slide bodes ill for advancing further.
Likewise, the battered Steelers can overcome Denver tomorrow with a moderate attack, given the fast fade of Tebow-mania. The quarterback Tim Tebow has lost his magic touch - and the Broncos three games in a row.
The scent of a possible upset wafts from the Giants' stadium, where New York face a near-equal in the Falcons tomorrow. Atlanta might be held back by history - they have just six post-season wins, most recently in 2004 - but their bullish offence is capable of keeping pace with Eli Manning's.
No team would turn down a first-round bye and home-field familiarity. But as last year's Packers have demonstrated, getting hot in the cold month of January trumps any disadvantages. Nobody has been ablaze throughout the season like Green Bay, whose re-election campaign is on target.
@ For more on NFL 2011-12, visit thenational.ae/topics