“What, are ya scared, Marv? Are you afraid?” “Yeah, he’s a kid. Kids are stupid.”
Ah, the quotes from the Wet Bandits, Harry, and Marv, that they desperately wish they could have back in hindsight.

It’s a holiday-movie-watching season, folks, and one of the most timeless films just turned 30: Home Alone. We shall never forget the night in the upper-class suburban Illinois where eight-year-old Kevin McCallister protected his home by making two grown adults look like absolute fools by stepping on toys, getting blow-torched, and tripping on wires to name a few. Harry and Marv’s confidence never stood a chance. It’s The Godfather of “adults underestimate smarts of a kid” movies.

Photo: 20th Century Fox/tyla.com

NFL playoff-contenders can’t afford to be like Marv and Harr this time of year and underestimate their opponents because you know what season it also happens to be? “IN THE HUNT” season! It’s the beautiful point of the season where the TV broadcasts begin to show the playoff picture with teams that are on the outside looking in separated into the “In the hunt” column. Each game can be do-or-die for the teams in contention; if you’re the favorite in a matchup down this stretch, it is absolutely critical to not lay an egg and blow the ones you’re supposed to win.

We’ve seen way too many times an overly-confident team go into a game against an incompetent team looking past them in their schedule, expecting to walk away with an easy victory, only to step on a nail barefooted à la Marv.

You can’t afford to be a Marv or a Harry this In the Hunt season.

Here are a few of the Kevin McCallister teams to be wary of that could easily be written off as easy wins if you’re not careful.

6) Houston Texans

Look, the Houston Texans are not a good football team. They’re 4-8, they fired their head coach, traded EVERYONE, and Will Fuller and Bradley Roby just got suspended for the year. It’s bleak. However, I will never count out a team led by Deshaun Watson.

We’ve seen that he’s got the heart of a lion to lead a team with little to no help throughout his league tenure, and ever since the team let go of Bill O’Brien, essentially every passing stat he accounts for has improved as he’s been on a tear. He could single-handedly make you drop a game with a team of out-of-shape YMCA middle-schoolers as his teammates if you’re not careful. 

5) Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have been a Jekyll and Hyde team this season, starting off the year at an atrocious 1-5 and dealing Yannick Ngakoue to suddenly sit in second place in the NFC North at 6-6. I’m 99% certain they won’t catch the big-brother Packers for the division, but this group is going to be highly motivated to get that last wildcard spot if they can fend off teams like Arizona, Tampa or Seattle end up slipping.

Dalvin Cook has been making defenses fold their towels over their utensil sets and walk out of his kitchen in shame like one of those reality TV shows on the Food Network and leads the league in rushing touchdowns, but from the number of times they ran the ball, he was putting up numbers that weren’t sustainable.

Only three other teams run the ball more than Minnesota, but Kirk Cousins has finally gotten on the same page with his receivers at 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and Cook’s workload has decreased.

They’re a team with postseason experience that contenders would be foolish to write off at any point, and their style of controlling the time of possession through the run could keep explosive offenses off the field in the postseason.

4) New England Patriots

Do you really ever want to face Bill Belichick? This is not a talented team; they took a flyer on post-injury Cam Newton only to find out he can’t throw, the team has been ransacked with talented players opting out because of COVID, and their wins haven’t been particularly impressive. From the start, it could have been so easy for Bill to roll over on the season and hope to find Brady’s successor next season through the draft or free agency, but they’ve stayed true to their mantra they coined in a Super Bowl parade years ago: “We’re still here.”

They destroyed the Chargers through the run game and special teams this weekend and now are 6-6; it would be a tall task given the stacked AFC to make a wild card run, but if we’ve learned anything this year about the Patriots post-Brady, it’s that Belichick refuses to be humiliated or concede to the notion that the team is out of it.

3) New York Giants

I stopped following Giants games to Photoshop Trevor Lawrence in blue jerseys only to look up and realize they’ve now won 4 in a row, lead the NFC East, and shut down Russell Wilson this week in a huge victory. The Fighting Joe Judges are playing one way: angry. The Giants don’t win pretty or get style points, to say the least; when you average below 20 points a game, 30th overall in the league, you’re not exactly highlight-material. But underestimating their talent has created a fire underneath the new head coach. He was a special teams guy at Alabama and then New England, so his value of detail on every side of the ball has shown as the defense/special teams unit has risen inside the top ten in the league.

If anyone overlooks the G-Men as just a team that has benefitted from the spoils of being in an atrocious division, they’ll be in for a real surprise facing a defense that could have five potential Pro-Bowlers this year.

2) Washington Football Team

Has the NFC Least become the NFC Beast?? No, not really, but the Giants and Washington winning games suddenly to make the race for that guaranteed playoff spot interesting has been so much fun to watch. Washington has gone from the team of complete ill-will preseason to a team of destiny. They’ve got the name change mojo, coach Ron Rivera fighting cancer, and Alex Smith playing winning football after he almost DIED from a leg injury in 2018. It’s truly incredible.

Not only do they have destiny on their side, but they’re also just plain winning games the way that Ron Rivera wants and opposing teams hate to play. They’ve assembled a pass rush with #2 overall draft pick Chase Young that disrupts a lot of the spread offenses they could potentially see in the postseason should they take the division; we saw them bully the Cowboys on Thanksgiving with two defensive touchdowns, and the undefeated Steelers were held to a total of 21 rushing yards Monday when they spoiled their perfect year.

Alex Smith just needs to remain upright and put up enough points for the defense to be comfortable for them to use their bully style of play to be an annoying team to face; clearly, there’s a lot of heart in that locker room.

1) San Francisco 49ers

They may have gotten the doors blown off by Buffalo on Monday Night Football this week, but it would be an absolute shame if anyone were to forget that this 49ers team made the Super Bowl last year with the guys that are going to be coming back from injury. The fact that Kyle Shanahan has kept this team competitive in one of the hardest divisions in football with injuries to 9 out of their top 10 highest-graded players from PFF in 2019 and at one point 24 players at once is remarkable.

Now, they’ll be forced to play home games in Arizona because of newly-enforced health restrictions in Santa Clara County; everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, but there are not many people who manage adversity better than Shanahan. Richard Sherman, Brandon Aiyuk, Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel, and Jeff Wilson Jr. are all finally back from IR, and there’s still a chance George Kittle and Jimmy G can return this season. The improved health could be a rallying cry during these frustrating circumstances they’ll undergo, and they’re such a well-oiled machine operating under a next-man-up mentality that you truly see the talent in the coaching and infrastructure that makes up a smart team.

Smart teams beat dumb teams in the NFL, which is a perfect parallel to the genius of 8-year-old Kevin.

Contenders – don’t be a Marv or a Harry this In the Hunt season.

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