Thank God. An illogical NFL season has become somewhat logical.
From a gambling standpoint, we can definitively say the following things: Pick every underdog unless you can't live with yourself for passing up a particular favorite. Grab underdog money lines over taking the points. Avoid road favorites and teasers unless your other option is setting your money on fire. Never feel comfortable with a lead until you see three zeros on the clock, coaches awkwardly shaking hands and players forming a prayer circle at midfield. And in the words of Agent Mulder, trust no one.
From a football standpoint, we're heading into the homestretch with two clear-cut Super Bowl contenders, two potential contenders, one sleeper, one emotional underdog and four fatally flawed playoff teams. That's 10 in all. Nobody else matters. Of course, that's not stopping me from slapping together the monthly Power Poll.
Here's one man's look at the NFL, from worst to first:
THE BRUCE COSLET DIVISION
32. Tampa Bay
One of those rare teams that can't score, move the ball, stop anyone from scoring or force any turnovers. The Buccaneers literally bring nothing to the table. I've been going against them every week. You know it's not somebody's season when the final seconds are ticking away in a 20-0 shutout and their coach sends the field goal unit out to save face.
Let's just hope the Lions name their 2006 highlight film, "Seven Years Of Millen." By the way, hiring Mike Martz to create an offense for Jon Kitna is like hiring Michael Mann to build a one-hour cop drama around Mario Lopez.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Without Orlando Pace, the Rams Bandwagon is now empty.
30. St. Louis
After Orlando Pace blew out his triceps muscle, the 2006 Rams' bandwagon crashed so violently that they're still air-lifting the victims out of there. I'm beginning to think that offensive line injuries -- especially when you have them at center and left tackle, like the Rams did -- are more damaging than anything else that could possibly happen to a football team. Think of all the times over the past few years when someone lost a star linebacker, running back, receiver, defensive back or quarterback, everyone freaked out about it, then they plugged someone else in there and kept chugging along. But when someone loses a starting left tackle or starting center? They never totally bounce back. If you don't believe me, look at the Browns, Giants, Broncos and Rams right now. And yes, I'm pulling a Doc Rivers and blaming everyone but myself.
One more Rams note: I always enjoy when an NFL team's season deteriorates to the point that a star player (like Marc Bulger on Sunday) points fingers with one of those, "I know there are some guys here who don't care right now" statements. I wish I had thought of this during the Alysse Minkoff Era on Page 2.
I'd feel a lot better about these guys if Danny Ferry hadn't crippled them with so many horrible signings and draft picks. Wait, which Cleveland team is this again?
My mailman Forrest is a diehard Raiders fan and eternal optimist. Here's his take on their 2006 season: "Our defense is really good. We can stop anybody. We just need a quarterback, a running back and a coach." Throw those things in there and they'd be right back in that thing.
Meanwhile, here's a fun December subplot for you: the Raiders are attempting to accomplish a remarkable statistical sextuple whammy. According to Stats Inc., they're currently last in the league in turnover differential (minus-14) and lead the league in sacks allowed, total negative plays and total negative yardage ... but two teams have more penalties (101 for Oakland) and three teams have more three-and-out drives (41 for Oakland). So if they can bump up those penalties and three-and-out drives, they could accomplish something historically inept.
(Ladies and gentleman, the Art Shell Era!)
27. Green Bay
Note to Kiefer Sutherland: I hope you're watching the Brett Favre era closely. We don't want to see Jack Bauer fighting terrorists over the course of 24 hours in the year 2013. We really don't. Wrap it up by the end of the decade. Just trust me. And if you still need some convincing, watch the last four Packers games this season.
You know how Dan Snyder overpaid so many assistants and Peter King kept pointing out that we had to commend him for it because it's a great way to get an advantage without circumventing the salary cap? (Which I agree with, by the way.) Well, we forgot about one thing ... when you give an overpaid coaching staff a crappy roster to work with, it's like overpaying a bunch of name actors to star in a crappy action movie like "Poseidon." Sure, the names look good in the ad, and everything looks good on paper, and the trailer makes people say, "Wow, look at all the names in this one!" ... but you still need a good script and some chemistry. The Redskins had neither.
FIRED UP FOR 2007
"I'd like to announce my second-round fantasy pick: Matt Leinart!"
Matt Leinart is doing just well enough that somebody will take him about four rounds too early in your fantasy draft next September. Start thinking of jokes now. Anyway, I like these guys as a cheap cover team down in December -- they can move the ball and tear up a prevent defense like nobody's business. Never underestimate the cheap cover team.
Hard to believe those reports that the David Carr era is wrapping up in Houston. It seemed so promising there for ... actually, wait, there wasn't a single moment when it ever seemed promising. Scratch that. Anyway, can you think of a worse turn of events for Texan fans than Reggie Bush's fantasy breakout week happening on the tail end of back-to-back "All Vince Young does is win football games!" weeks? Now they're about to get their butts kicked this week by the franchise that ditched them (the Titans) and the rookie QB they passed on (Young). On the bright side, if there's ever a week for somebody to hold up a "BRING BACK CAPERS" sign, this is it. I have my fingers crossed.
23. San Fran
My buddy Hopper says that I'm not allowed to call the 49ers "San Fran" anymore because it makes the locals angry. Whatever. Here's my question: Is Frank Gore a top-four fantasy back next season? Right now it looks like LDT first, LJ second, Alexander third ... and, since Tiki Barber will have murdered Regis Philbin and taken his job by then, Gore has to be the No. 4 pick, right?
I would walk around Watts dressed like Cosmo Kramer before I took Chris Chambers in another fantasy league.
(Unrelated note: If I had to wager back in early-September on the "most inevitable Patriots-related thing that will happen during the 2006 season," it would have been a four-way tie between Rodney Harrison getting seriously injured, Junior Seau getting seriously injured, a ticket-scalping scandal involving Fred Smerlas and Tom Brady's four-turnover game in a Miami loss on Dec. 10. Three down, one to go.)
J.P. Losman is just bad enough to kill you in the first half of a game, just good enough to give you chance to come back in the second half, and just bad enough to snatch defeat from victory the moment you drop your guard. Sound familiar? Let's just change his name to Jake "The Snake" Losman and get it over with.
LINGERING LIKE A STALE FART
Here's what you missed this week from the Sports Guy:
• Poison of potential
• Beat The Sports Guy
So much for the whole, "if you can run the ball and stop the run, you will win games in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!" argument. Merrill, Steve, Sean, Joe, Michael, TJ, Howie, Boomer, Dan, Cris ... you guys are no longer allowed to say this. And Shannon, you're no longer allowed to try to say this.
(Important note: Just to clear up the confusion, by definition, Brad Johnson is STILL a game manager ... it's just that he's now managing games right into the ground. Please make a note in your records. Over the past three weeks, how many times do you think Brad Childress has thought to himself, "Maybe I should do what Parcells did and roll the dice with my backup" before remembering that his backup is Brooks Bollinger and shouting an obscenity? Ten? Twenty-five? Fifty?)
Two wins in five days since I made my "The 2006 Steelers team picture should just be a frozen turd at midfield" joke last week. Of course, those wins came at home against Tampa and Cleveland. I stand by the joke.
Over/under of Eagles fans who made the "Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back innnnnnnnnnnn!" joke on Monday night: 575,341 and a half. Give me the over. But seriously, they're 6-6, they have a little momentum without McNabb, their playoff hopes are still flickering, and Jeff Garcia is making quotes like, "I'm 37, but I feel like I'm a young 37." Who's feeling a brisk breeze of the Ewing Theory right now? Anybody? Is it just me?
(Important note: Garcia saying, "I'm 37, but I feel like I'm a young 37" could have been the quote of the year if not for DMX explaining how his sleeping habits made it conceivable that a groupie "raped" him which led to a child a few years ago. And why? As he explained, "Because when I sleep, my man be out.")
AP Photo/Al Behrman
Is this what it's like being a Falcons fan?
The Falcons are like the new Barbaro. Just tell me when they're officially alive or dead.
Not only are the Titans 5-3 in their past eight games, not only does Vince Young just win football games, not only does Jeff Fisher have the same rejuvenated look on his face that Michael Douglas had right after he started tagging Zeta-Jones ... but I even won a huge parlay last Sunday with the Titans money line (+320) and Chris Berman using the nickname Rob "Muh-muh-muh-muh my" Bironas that same night (-470). That's right, I'm thoroughly enjoying the 2006 Titans season and LenDale White hasn't even gotten arrested yet.
UNINSPIRED AND UNDERWHELMING
Can you ever remember somebody living off one good half (the second half of the Super Bowl against the Patriots) longer than Jake Delhomme? He's like the Edward Burns of NFL QBs. Don't we have to agree that he's just not good? Don't we have an overwhelming sample of evidence at this point? So why do I keep drafting Delhomme in fantasy leagues and renting Ed Burns movies? I hate myself.
(By the way, don't talk yourself into "The Groomsmen." If you ever trust me on anything, trust me on this. I'm now convinced that Hollywood keeps funding Burns' movies because they're trying to give every other fledgling filmmaker hope. Who doesn't watch an Ed Burns movie and think, "Wait, I could do this?" In fact, let's rush through the rest of these teams -- I have an idea for a movie about a guy who isn't sure if he wants to marry his hot girlfriend and has a love-hate relationship with his older brother, I want to start working on the script ASAP.)
Through 13 weeks, against the spread:
Favorites vs. spread: 80-105-6
The Broncos are somewhere between "not that good" and "we're in denial about how mediocre these guys are." How could they blow that Seattle game? The Seahawks showed up for that one thinking, "let's try for one quarter and see how it goes, and if the wheels come off, we'll mail the rest of the game in," then the Broncos allowed them to hang around and, finally, the Hawks were like, "fine, we'll win the game, have it your way." Terrible loss. It's hard to say who killed their own home-field advantage more with a state-of-the-art stadium: Denver, New England, Pittsburgh or Washington. I think it's a four-way tie.
13. Kansas City
And on the flip side, here are the Chiefs, who are in the playoff hunt solely because they HAVE a good home-field advantage, thanks to Arrowhead. And in case you were wondering, much like Larry Johnson, I'm also more comfortable playing for an African-American head coach. I don't like white people.
12. N.Y. Jets
I have to say, I'm stunned by the Eric Mangini era. Bewildered, even. I'm in a state of flabbergast.
OK, it's time for my pet peeve of the 2006 season: During last Sunday's Jets-Packers game, the Jets roll down the field for an opening field goal. That's followed by a Packers punt and another Jets first down. Then Phil Simms gives us this one (I'm paraphrasing): "Well, when we talked to Chad Pennington last night, he was being coy about it, but you could just tell, he thought this was gonna be a very favorable matchup for this offense. You could see it in his eyes."
Now, Simms does this all the time. He's big on giving us inside info after the game starts, as are many of these color guys. But here's my question: What about giving us that little tidbit about 10 minutes before the game so we can profit from it? Shouldn't these pregame shows start a segment called, "Inside info that will help you for wagering and fantasy purposes?" I mean, the moment Simms said that whole thing, I was ready to bet my mortgage on the Jets. You know, if gambling was legal. And they ended up winning 38-10. That stuff drives me crazy. We're glad you found out a few days ago that Pennington thinks it's a great matchup for the Jets, or that Mike Shanahan feels like Tatum Bell can eat up Seattle's front seven ... but if we're finding out as the game is happening, that information is essentially useless. Right? Arrrrrrrgh. This is my least favorite season ever for football announcing. Let's just move on.
11. N.Y. Giants
Here's the "I Can't Believe This Is Happening" Scale of Reactions, which really depends on the length of time you stand in one spot with your mouth open in disbelief and your arms dangling a little bit forward ...
1.0: Guy realizes that he accidentally drove past an exit.
2.0: Guy realizes that he doesn't have ID in an airport.
3.0: Guy reads that his favorite team just signed J.D. Drew for $70 million.
4.0: Guy watches an LAPD cop write him a jaywalking ticket.
5.0: Guy finds out that his current girlfriend "used to have genital warts."
6.0: Guy coaching the 2006 Giants realizes that another first down was called back because of an unnecessary roughness penalty.
7.0: Guy walks outside and realizes his car is missing.
8.0: Guy finds out that his current girlfriend once had a threesome with two guys.
8.5: Guy walks into his apartment/house and realizes it's just been burglarized.
9.0: Guy finds out that his current girlfriend once had a foursome with three guys.
9.5: Guy walks in on his wife having sex with someone else.
10.0: Guy walks in on his wife having sex with Flavor Flav.
Rashaen Mathis after the Miami win: "The critics say we can't win on the road. Maybe this will do a lot to silence them."
Good point, Rashaen. You guys were 1-4 on the road before that game, I'm not sure what those idiot critics were thinking. Will we ever make it through an NFL week without someone playing the "nobody believed in us" card? Anyway, I can't be the only one excited to wager against David Garrard and a banged-up defense on the road in Round 1. That sounds delightful.
9. New England
If you had told me six years ago that (A) the Pats would win three Super Bowls in the next four years, (B) the Pats would be 9-3 in December 2006, (C) I'd be giving that 2006 season a C-minus through 13 weeks, and (D) my buddy J-Bug (a season ticket-holder since the MacPherson era) would be skipping Sunday home games because, and I quote, "I just didn't feel like going" ... there's no way I would have believed any of it.
LEO THE LATE BLOOMER
You already know about the traffic in L.A., but now that it's Xmas season, even parking has become impossible. Fortunately I happen to be married to a guy with the self-proclaimed "parking gene." (Apparently this runs in the family because his dad thinks he has it, too.) Every so often, Bill stumbles upon the perfect spot -- like last week, when I made him stop at Pinkberry (the greatest frozen yogurt shop ever) and he found a space right in front, then spent the next 30 seconds congratulating himself. He was so pleased. It's too bad they can't have the League of Dorks for finding parking spaces, I'm sure he'd be in three leagues and calling his buddy Hench every time he found a good space so they could calculate the standings. But this parking luck is what he calls the "parking gene."
Here's the problem with the parking gene: When he doesn't find the perfect spot immediately, he refuses to give up. This is another gene -- the I'm-so-stubborn-that-I'll keep-driving-around-looking-for-the-perfect-space-even-though-my-wife-has-to-pee gene. This usually kicks in after he gets cocky and says something like, "I'm going to find a spot on Level 2 and nothing is stopping me," and then it doesn't happen.
What does happen? We spend 15 minutes driving around Level 2 inside a hot parking garage that's filled with carbon monoxide. What a great time. Finally he'll give up and drive to Level 4, where there are about 100 spaces available. This is unacceptable, of course, since it takes another 20 seconds to go to Level 4 and an extra 3 seconds in the elevator. We spend 15 minutes trying to save 23 seconds. This happens every time we go to the Grove. If I'm ever found dead in a parking garage, skip the autopsy and just assume that I died of a carbon monoxide overdose or my bladder exploded while Bill was circling around looking for the perfect space. I can't wait to do more holiday shopping with Bill and his parking gene.
Here are my Week 14 picks (sent Thursday morning): Browns -7.5; Chiefs -3; Falcons -3; Vikings +1.5; Titans +1.5; Cowboys -6.5; Bills +3.5; Jags +1.5; Eagles -1; Giants +3; Bengals -11; Patriots -3.5; 49ers -4; Seahwawks -3.5; Broncos +7; Bears -6.
Last week: 8-8
A riveting season that included seven players getting arrested (and counting), the rejuvenation of Ocho Cinco and Carson Palmer, some remarkably weird games (the win over Pittsburgh, the losses to San Diego and Atlanta), goofy fantasy seasons, season-ending injuries and everything else you could imagine. And you know what? I like the way the Bengals are playing right now. So there you go. You can't call them a sleeper because nobody's sleeping on them.
Now that we have that settled -- what about seven Bengals players getting arrested out of 53? That's 13 percent of the team! Imagine if 13 percent of your office or classroom had been arrested in the past few months? Can they get to 10 before the end of the season? You figure with holiday parties coming, that's good for one DUI. And the holidays bring visitors and family members, which usually brings trouble, so that's good for some sort of incident at a party or a club. So we only need one more wild-card arrest -- something harmless like speeding and attempting to evade an officer, or shoplifting a Christmas present of something -- and then we'll be at 10. Now that would be something. Ten Bengals arrested in one year? We'll be telling our grandkids about that one. Keep your fingers crossed.
7. New Orleans
I don't think the Saints have enough, although there's no way they're losing a playoff game at the Superdome. It's simply not happening. Every article written about the potential Nos. 5 and 6 teams in the NFC over the next four weeks should be required to mention that they have no chance -- none, zilch, zero, nada -- if Seattle and New Orleans end up hosting Round 1 games.
Anyway, I thought Drew Brees should have been named Sports Illustratred's Sportsman of the Year and would have been more upset until I realized that it's not 1977 and SI's opinion doesn't matter that much anymore. Brees exemplified everything you'd ever want from a sportsman in a given year: He took an enormous gamble by signing with the Saints last spring when they were in shambles; he fought back from a serious injury and ended up playing his position about as well as it could be played; he gave himself to a wounded city, played a huge role in its ongoing recovery process and turned a below-average team into a playoff contender; and his consistency from week to week was remarkable. With the possible exception of Roger Federer, was there a more memorable, inspirational, talented and influential sportsman in 2006 than Drew Brees? I say no. Of course, Dwyane Wade won the honor. And you know what? It was a gutsy choice by the new editor of Sports Illustratred, Mr. Bennett Salvatore.
(Two things lost in Bush's breakout week: First, I'm glad we finally had a breakout week from a guy named Bush this decade. It was a long wait. Second, can you think of a bigger monkey wrench than Bush having his breakout week right before Week 14, when most leagues start their fantasy playoffs? What do you do? Was it a fluke thing? Will he do it again?)
THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN
Very good defense, crummy offense. We've been here before. We'll be here again.
Speaking of Baltimore, after watching the season finale of "The Wire" this week, I wrote up an extended rant about the show and how much it means to me -- both as a writer and a human being -- and how I believe it's the most important show of my lifetime, how I can't remember being more attached to four TV characters than the four school kids from Season 4, how I simply can't fathom why more people wouldn't give it a chance ... but it ended up sounding too preachy, so I'm just going to say that it's my favorite TV show of all-time and leave it at that. Name another show that could peak during a season in which its best character (McNulty) basically disappeared for 12 of the 13 episodes? How is that possible? What a show. I miss it already.
(One more "Wire" note: I have a friend named Brad who's famously crusty, a grizzled Giants fan who blurts out whatever he thinks and refuses to edit himself. He's also the biggest "Wire" fan alive. So we're watching football with the boys one Sunday and somebody in the room mentioned how they weren't watching "The Wire." Uh-oh. Brad turns to the guy with complete contempt and says, "If you aren't watching 'The Wire,' the government should be forced to come to your house and repossess your television. END OF STORY!" They should use that quote on the posters for Season 5.)
I'm a big believer that you can win the Super Bowl with a great defense and a mediocre QB. You can even win with a great defense and a streaky QB. But you can't win with a bad QB. It's never happened before.
Todd Rosenberg/US Presswire
The Bears celebrate the fact Grossman had only two interceptions in this game.
Well, Rex Grossman is bad. I don't care if they're 10-2. He's bad. And I'm not just talking about his minus-5 fantasy performance last week, or how he had the lowest QB rating (1.3) for a winning quarterback since the Vikings' Gary Cuozzo in 1971, or how he's turned the ball over 18 times in seven games, or how he's walking off the field like he just gave up a game-winning homer 8-10 times a game. Consider these three things:
A. I had a conversation with someone Sunday night when we wondered if the Vikes would have had a better chance in Chicago had they simply kept kneeling three consecutive times, punting, then relying on Rex to be their offense. We both decided, "yes." This actually happened.
B. Doc Rivers (a Chicago native) weighed in on the QB controversy this week by saying, "Don't change. Don't change! They're 10-2." When Doc Rivers thinks you're doing the right thing, it's time to switch gears.
C. You know when someone is down to a few suitcases left on "Deal or No Deal," including a couple of the big money ones, then one of the models opens the "$1,000,000" suitcase, followed by the contestant going into shock for two seconds and abruptly snapping into, "that's OK, that's OK!" mode even though we know they're absolutely devastated inside? Well, that's how Lovie Smith has been dealing with Grossman's ongoing meltdown. He's in constant "that's OK, that's OK!" mode. Look, I'm not a huge Brian Griese fan, either. But at some point, Lovie is going to run out of suitcases, right?
I've been dead wrong at least 10 times over the past five months, including all the Quadruple-A jokes about the National League; Rajon Rondo (although I'm not giving up on that one); Big Papi vs. Larry Legend; the Rams bandwagon; the Pats over Indy in Week 8; the infamous Matt Leinart magazine column; thinking the Celts would fire Doc before Thanksgiving; thinking "The Nine" would be good; allowing the Sports Gal to pick games against me; and, of course, the Deion Branch trade. That draft pick we got will end up in the late 20s and he'll make 4-5 huge plays for them next month. Good trade. The gamble paid off.
Home team in caps
Ravens (+3) over CHIEFS
This week: 0-1
The lesson, as always: Well, you knew already.
(On the flip side, I predicted the Plummer-Cutler saga, the Bledsoe and Miami Heat meltdowns and the Art Shell debacle, wrote that people were sleeping on Phil Rivers, gave you Utah's Boozer and Williams as fantasy sleepers, guaranteed problems for the Ben Wallace era in Chicago and predicted Herm Edwards would screw up the clock in the Cleveland game last Sunday. So it hasn't been a complete disaster. Just a semi-disaster. All right, it's still been a disaster. Let's just say that I'm terrified to go to Vegas right now. Do I have to purify myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka to turn things around? Could somebody perform an exorcism on me, please?)
Anyway, I like the Seahawks' package -- great home crowd, good running game, like the four-WR offense, decent defense -- but can't commit to them until we see what happens in that Dec. 24 home game against San Diego. Let's see them beat one good team this season. Just one.
Probably the worst Colts team of the past five years: No third WR, no proven runners, poor run defense, tons of January emotional baggage. I'm just not seeing it. At all.
Unrelated note: I know I'm late on this, but I remember watching Dallas Clark get creamed in that "Madden" commercial and thinking, "Oh, no, something horrible's gonna happen to him in real life." And then it did about three days later. How weird was that? Meanwhile, the Madden Jinx just wrapped up another successful year, it's impossible to tell Video Madden and NBC Madden apart, and if that's not enough, they made it much easier to kick field goals during the same season when the real kickers suddenly started crushing 50-to-60-yard field goals to win games. Even Martin Gramatica has a game-winning field goal this year from 46! Did the easier field goals in "Madden" give everyone more confidence in real life? You tell me. I'm beginning to think "Madden" is the E.T. to the NFL's Elliott.
Four thoughts here ...
A. As my Friend Who Knows Things e-mailed me recently, "Dallas has The Look." I thought that was a good way to put it.
B. Romo can't be measured on the Backhanded Compliment Scale anymore and reminds me of a rich man's Jeff Garcia (back when Garcia was good in San Fran). Do we change the Ewing Theory to the Bledsoe Theory now, or should we wait until the Super Bowl? Let's wait.
C. When Gramatica nailed the game-winner, every Cowboy fan probably reacted like someone playing Vegas who splits 6's, gets the deadly third 6 for the Damien Omen hand, plays it out while waiting to get crushed ... and then the dealer busts and they're too shocked and relieved to celebrate adequately.
D. I would be more happy for Parcells if he didn't screw the Patriots over during Super Bowl Week 10 years ago.
AP Photo/David Zalubowskii
Memo to Marty: Just keep giving LDT the ball and maybe even you can't screw this up.
1. San Diego
More weapons than anyone, fewer weaknesses than anyone, and if that's not enough, LDT just submitted one of the greatest two-month statistical stretches in NFL history. Put it this way: When the only reason people are doubting you is because your coach has a history of blowing big games, then you're the unequivocal favorite.
Which brings me to my final point: Just look at everything that happened this decade so far. Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Larry Brown, Tony LaRussa and Bill Cowher won championships. The Patriots won three Super Bowls. The Red Sox and White Sox won World Series in back-to-back years. Phil Mickelson won a couple of majors. The Pistons won a championship without a franchise player. Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won Super Bowls. Steve Nash won back-to-back MVPs. The Diamondbacks and Marlins both beat the Yankees to win the World Series. Pete Carroll won back-to-back national titles.
Seriously, you're telling me that San Diego can't win a Super Bowl? Beware of the Chargers, I say. In an upside-down decade for sports, Marty Schottenheimer might prove to be a bigger asset than you think.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.