As the NFL playoffs edge closer to crowning a champion, we're now just two short weeks away from the television event of the year: the Puppy Bowl. Animal Planet, which will air Puppy Bowl VIII opposite the Super Bowl (Kitten Halftime Show > Madonna), released the starting lineups on Friday with predictably adorable results.
But who's the cutest? Fear not, dear readers, for I evaluate puppy talent the same way college recruiters look at high school athletes: with professional acumen based on years of carefully studying thousands of prospects that is in no way creepy. Below, you'll find Puppy Bowl's most likely breakout stars -- but first, let's review some general guidelines:
A. Mixed breeds are superior to purebreds. Mutts are hardier and healthier and have the plucky underdog story that adds to their inherent cuteness. Purebreds get their due at dog shows; for the Puppy Bowl, I lean Team Mutt.
B. Larger breeds make better puppies. A fluffy little guy confused by his giant paws is an automatic five-star puppy. Personally, I'm partial to the herding and working groups, but really, any grown dog larger than a cat is permissible.
C. A dog that yaps, rather than barks, is not a dog. Yorkies, Malteses, Pomeranians: NOT DOGS. I would never advocate violence against animals, but these breeds would be best put to use at the NFL's Punt, Pass, and Kick competition. This is a fact.
D. Cuteness trumps all other rules. Although my opinions about dogs are 100% correct and infallible, I will concede that there are exceptions to my rules and biases (pro: Corgi, Rottweiler, Golden Retriever; anti: Cocker Spaniel, Shih Tzu). If a puppy is cute, it's cute. Love is more art than science, after all.
With that in mind, here are five of Puppy Bowl VIII's top prospects:
1. Aberdeen (Australian Shepherd mix)
Aberdeen's your prototypical cute puppy: soft fur, dark wet nose, ears that haven't decided on being floppy or upright, and limpid dark eyes that will melt your very soul if they search you out. All-over fluffiness, energetic (a herder), no real weaknesses.
2. Abilene (Australian Shepherd mix)
Abilene shares several characteristics with Aberdeen: similar genetics, incredible softness, soulful core. I'm going to give her the slight edge here despite her blue eyes, which, though striking, can give dogs a ghostly look. She wins out thanks to a white belly optimized for scratchies and what may be the world's softest ears. Good Lord, look at those things. I want to nestle my face in those ears and forget all the problems in the world.
3. Friday (Maltese/Poodle mix)
Friday is an excellent example of Puppy Evaluation Rule (D) in effect. In general, I don't have much love for Malteses or Poodles, but put 'em together and you get the winning combination of Friday, whose name should definitely not be Friday. That puppy should be named Charlie. He should be a character in an animated Disney movie, and he will speak in all caps without any punctuation. "HEY GUYS GUYS RIGHT OVER HERE I FOUND A BONE LET'S PLAY GUYS HUH HUH D'YA WANNA PLAY." Yes I do, Charlie. Yes. I. Do.
4. Eurika (Chihuahua/Terrier mix)
The equal and opposite quality of fluffy is scruffy, and it is no less cute. Little scruffers like Eurika -- with their unkempt, windswept, wiry coats -- have a certain orphan quality about them. If I saw Eurike wearing a scarf and a tiny pageboy cap, I would send out the nearest street urchin to fetch her the biggest Christmas goose at the market.
5. Augusta (Lab/Plott mix)
AUGUSTAAAAAAAA! NOOOOOOOO!!!! I'M SORRY, I LOVE YOU, JUST STOP LOOKING SO SAD.