Only the best teams make it into the NFL playoffs. And so the same should be said of the announcing teams assigned by the three networks - CBS, Fox and NBC - carrying the postseason.
Just as the clubs are seeded, here are the rankings of the six broadcaster pairings.
(For any sideline reporter fans out there, you may think I'm slighting them. You would be right. No offense to the likes of Pam Oliver and Tony Siragusa, but telecasts generally sound better the longer we go without word from down on the field - the reports interrupt the flow and usually add little that couldn't be handled in the booth.)
1. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, CBS
Start with Simms, by far the best NFL analyst on the air. Insightful without coming off as too didactic, Simms brings the ex-quarterback's eye to the microphone to great effect. He sees the whole field, he spots trends, then he delivers.
Simms has not a trace of self-importance to him and good-humored sensibility that wears well.
Play-by-play partner Nantz has been a CBS fixture and a solid pro in whatever he does for years. How good is he? On college basketball, Nantz almost makes Billy Packer palatable.
2. Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf, CBS
Do I hear howls of protest? Quit your howling.
The Dierdorf you grew to dislike on Monday Night Football is long gone, replaced by a more humble analyst not given to delivering pronouncements as if they were handed down from Mount Pigskin. Is he a trifle long-winded at times? Perhaps, but not so often that it detracts from the broadcast.
Gumbel is the guy you want to invite to the house to watch the game. He keeps the telecast moving, saying enough to inform you but never so much you hit the mute button.
I also get the feeling Gumbel would know to bring an extra bag of tortilla chips.
3. Al Michaels and John Madden, NBC
Michaels remains the top play-by-play voice on the airwaves. He knows how to latch onto a game's story line and weave it throughout a telecast. Michaels also knows when to abandon that story line and audible.
If Michaels worked games by himself, he still would probably rate just as high a seed - maybe higher.
Ever since Fox's Frank Caliendo started doing his Madden impressions, I can't listen to the real thing without thinking of the parody. That's not to say Madden himself has slipped into self-parody, though you're bound to hear rambling comments on every game that leave you wondering if Madden actually said anything.
4. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, Fox
Buck delivers play call with an edge. That may rub some people the wrong way, but it fits this pairing well.
Aikman actually can end up sounding less opinionated than his colleague, somewhat on the clinical side of analysis.
Give him more personality and more attitude and Aikman could come closer to Simms. But not yet.
5. Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth, NBC
Because the network needs a second announcing team for the playoffs, NBC has paired these two.
Is there any sport Hammond can't do? If so, I've seen no evidence so far.
And if Aikman is attitude-minus, Collinsworth is attitude-plus. He is the model for the former player unconcerned with how his comments are received back in the jock fraternity house. Too quick to criticize? Better to err on that side.
6. Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston, Fox
Though it was tough to separate teams 2 through 5, this pairing clearly ranks last because of the play-by-play man.
I guess Stockton had his day, but those pages in the calendar were tossed aside long ago. These days, his pacing sounds off and his play call is far from smooth.
That's a shame for Johnston, who - as he did while a fullback for Super Bowl teams in Dallas - delivers a solid performance week after week.
Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell.