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Q: Last Sunday's games were a beautiful reminder of why sports is the best reality show of all time, why fans go shirtless in 32-degree weather, why men flock to bars to get wasted and stuff themselves full of buffalo wings, why bookies exist, and why there will be pregame shows with three panels separated in groups of fours some day. You never know. If you told me before the season that Eli -- and not Peyton -- would be playing to go to the Super Bowl, the Chargers would come back to beat Peyton at home with Billy Volek and Norv Turner, and old fogeys in nursing homes would be doing the Superman dance and lining up to buy a Nintendo Wii, I would not only bet my mortgage against those three things, I would have wagered stapling my buns together.
-- Exavier, Chicago
SG: Couldn't have said it better myself, although (A) I would have gone with "taping my buns together" to open the door for a Larry Lester/"Breakfast Club" reference, and (B) it took me a few days to put the Indy-San Diego game in its proper perspective because I was recovering from the wake and funeral for my wallet.
And if that's not enough ...
Q: Did a Norv Turner team just survive injuries to its best three offensive players on the road in one of the most hostile environments imaginable, with every call going against it in one of the most poorly called games in recent memory? Stock up on your food and water, the world is coming to an end.
-- Jon W., S. Vienna, Ohio
SG: You've been warned.
Q: We had the Ice Bowl, now it's up to you to dub the Packers-Seahawks playoffs the HD Bowl. Can you make this happen?
-- John H., New York
SG: I'll do my best. By the way, I decided after the Packers-Hawks and Sabres-Penguins games that the snow/HD combination makes any outdoor sporting event mesmerizing regardless of what it is. You could show me bull riding, bowling, horse racing ... hell, you could show me a WNBA game and I'd watch if there was snow.
(Actually, that's not a bad wrinkle for Year 12 of the WNBA: Snow! It could become the first professional sports league specifically targeted toward people who will watch any sporting event in HD if there's snow. Let there be snow! You have to admit, it's a better game plan than the current one.)
(Parentheses to the parentheses: That's right, Year 12 of the WNBA. You read that correctly.)
Q: My buddy and I are sitting here and we realized we should do ourselves a favor and combine Earnest Wilford and Reggie Williams into one guy called Reggie Wilford for fantasy purposes next year? This guy would be a top-10 receiver, right?
-- Brett, South Orange, N.J.
SG: First of all, how dare you -- that's my idea. Back in the '90s, I was pushing for Antonio Davis and Dale Davis to be combined into one dynamic fantasy forward called the Uber-Davis and nobody listened to me. Then I wanted to combine Lorenzen Wright and Stromile Swift's stats and call them Stromenzen Wrift and nobody listened to me. So you don't get to steal my thunder. But if we're going to try this gimmick with the NFL, it makes the most sense to start with Carolina running backs DeShaun Foster and D'Angelo Williams since they've been killing each other's fantasy stats the past two seasons. Why couldn't we call them DeShangelo Willster and combine their stats next season? Can't we all agree to try it with them and see how it works?
Q: Just finished your piece on the pregame shows. Do you think we're headed toward a PBS telethon-style pregame show with James Brown walking around in front of multiple tiered rows of ex-players and analysts talking all at the same time?
-- Matt, Glen Head, N.Y.
SG: I like that idea. This one was better though ...
Q: Why couldn't they make an NFL pregame show look like "Hollywood Squares"? The host could sit where Peter Marshall did and all of the ex-jocks and coaches would sit in the squares. Just think, 10 people in the studio at one time! As the show ended, they could all look up, down and next to themselves and smirk like the Brady family.
-- Dave F., Buffalo, N.Y.
SG: Now we're talking! I love the "Brady Bunch" wrinkle for the closing credits -- the thought of Emmitt Smith peaking down at Shannon Sharpe and both of them smiling damn near kills me. A few readers suggested a "Match Game"-style set for CBS, which actually works better because you'd have two rows of three people (six in all). The fifth spot could be a rotating current player every week. For the sixth spot, they could keep the "Match Game" tradition alive by hiring a token bimbo to sit in the lower left seat. I'm thinking Josie Maran. She'd work perfectly. So you'd have Shannon Sharpe, Dan Marino and Coach Cowher (dressed in a sailor's outfit like Charles Nelson Reilly) on the top row, then Josie, Boomer Esiason (wearing a Richard Dawson wig and refusing to smile) and Current Player X on the bottom row. And James Brown could walk around interviewing them individually with one of those long microphones like the one Gene Rayburn had so nobody would interrupt each other. I think this could work.
Q: I'm at dinner with my wife tonight and my sister Rachel calls, ecstatic that she has been quoted in your column. Great news -- only she's quoted as complimenting Mike Tomlin on the smoothness of his skin. As her brother (and a Bengals fan), I'm horrified. Did you delete the part of her e-mail where she complimented Kimo Von Oelhoffen's svelte frame while diving into Carson Palmer's knee, or the whiteness of Hines Ward's teeth while holding a defensive back and not getting called? She's dead to me.
-- Chuck, Arlington, Va.
SG: I just love the fact a mailbag column written by a Boston guy living in L.A. could cause strife in a family of Bengals fans. You have to love the Internet.
Q: Without a doubt, your '86 Celts vs. '07 Pats breakdown was the most thoroughly, breathtakingly, historically, cosmically, biblically STUPID thing you've ever done. If the Pats lose because of this, I will make it my life's ambition to see to it that your daughter becomes a stripper and your son marries into the Manning family. Don't think I can't do it.
-- Boyd, New Orleans
SG: Boyd, I'm fully prepared to live the rest of my life in fear of your revenge. Please understand the piece was a comparison about the impact, similarities, strengths, weaknesses and inner dynamics of the greatest Boston team of my lifetime with a current Boston-area team that has a chance to be comparable on the Greatness Scale. Waiting three weeks would have been shortsighted because nobody cares about football after the Super Bowl happens; it's like the two hours after everyone gorges themselves at a Thanksgiving table. That's why I loaded the piece with multiple disclaimers and and made it as clear as possible that the comparison could only take full effect if the Patriots won the title. If I had the power to alter the outcome of football seasons, I would have moved to Vegas years ago.
Q: If you could put together your own four-man fantasy pregame show what would it be? You get to choose an anchor, a lead analyst, an ex-coach and the most important element, (unintentional or intentional) comic relief.
-- Thomas D., Boston
SG: That's easy. James Brown as the host, Cris Collinsworth as the analyst, Bill Parcells as the ex-coach and Emmitt Smith for comic relief since he has evolved into the Yogi Berra of his generation. Done and done.
Q: Do you think the Jags are like "The Shawshank Redemption"? They seemed to be a sleeper team of destiny but picked the wrong year to win the Super Bowl (because of the Patriots). "Shawshank" was a sleeper movie destined to win Best Picture and picked the wrong year to do it (because of "Forrest Gump").
-- Pat C., New York
SG: I don't know. I'd compare the Jags more to "Juno" -- a very cute, extremely well-done movie that received a little too much acclaim and couldn't compete with the big horses during awards season. And by the way, if we're comparing 2007 movies to 2007 NFL teams, "Margot at the Wedding" would definitely be Kansas City -- a promising start followed by everything going straight to hell, to the point that fans/customers were staring at each other in disbelief wondering what was happening. Bonus points here for the fact careers were ruined in the process. Herm Edwards as an NFL coach, Jack Black as a serious actor. I'd like my $10 back, please.
Q: For your Playoff Gambling Manifesto, recognize parity in the NFL for what it is and amend Rule No. 10 to say: "Take the underdog any time a team is given 10 points or more." In this day and age, what NFL team is reliably 10 points faster, tougher, and more opportunistic than another? No double-digit gambling line should be taken seriously.
-- Matthew, San Diego
SG: When I write Playoff Manifesto 5.0 next winter, I'm definitely including the following rules and amendments:
1. For any game with a 10-plus point spread, just take the points or stay away. It's for the best. You're basically flipping a coin at that point. Yes, this includes Sunday's Pats-Chargers game.
2. Whether you're betting on or against him, never fully trust anyone with the last name "Manning."
3. Since everyone from the "Don't bet on these coaches" in Rule No. 3 is out of the league (isn't that ironic?), we're amending it to the rule, "Before you select a team, make sure Wade Phillips, Marty Schottenheimer, Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin or anyone related to Jim Mora isn't coaching it."
4. If you're taking a warm-weather team in a cold-weather road game, you'd better have a really, REALLY good reason. Like, "Half of the guys on the home team are battling mononucleosis."
5. If there's a major distraction during the week leading up to the game -- like, I don't know, a team's star receiver being accused of domestic violence and battery or something -- that has to be counted as a red flag. We'll call it the Eugene Robinson Corollary.
6. If Simmons picks one team and the Sports Gal picks the other, and you like the same team that Simmons likes, be afraid, be very, very afraid.
Q: Do you think every Chargers team meeting ends with two guys tearing their shirts off and getting into an overly melodramatic, "Big Brother"-style confrontation over who used the wrong water bottle or something?
-- Jason, Chapel Hill, N.C.
SG: Yeah, there's definitely a weird energy with this particular Chargers team. Even after they clinched the Colts game, CBS cut to the sidelines and Rivers was angrily taunting Indy fans while Tomlinson looked like a married guy at a couples baby shower pretending to be excited because his wife just opened up another pink onesie. I don't know what to make of them -- I could see them somehow shocking the Pats in Foxborough, and I could see them losing by 46 points and starting a postgame brawl in their own locker room that would make the riot in the ring after the Bowe-Golota fight look like a shoving match. Hard team to figure.
Q: Everyone needs to take the asterisk on this 19-0 Pats season and stick it where it really belongs: On Bruce Jenner's gold medal. The former World's Greatest Athlete is now on TV doing infomercials and playing June Cleaver to a group of publicity hungry sluts called "The Kardashians." If the ultimate goal of Bruce's 50 or so facelifts was to look like a female Charles Grodin then he's succeeded. America should stop bothering Belichick and attack Jenner. Take back the GOLD!
-- John F., Walpole, Mass.
SG: It's only mid-January, but that's the runaway favorite for "Greatest Mailbag E-Mail of 2008." The bar has been set.
Q: I realize there's roughly a 99.999999 percent chance the Pats will beat the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game, but if the Chargers win the Super Bowl with LDT, Rivers, and Gates hurt, shouldn't the entire team be bronzed and shipped to the Ewing Theory Hall of Fame?
-- Fritz, New Orleans
SG: Absolutely, but it looks like they're all playing at some point. At the very least, Tomlinson has emerged as the best Ewing Theory candidate for 2008, narrowly edging A-Rod, Johan Santana, Kevin Durant (for Texas) and Dirk Nowitzki. That reminds me, I wanted to extend congratulations to the co-winners of the 2007 Ewing Theory Award: Tiki Barber and Gilbert Arenas. Well done, fellas.
Q: I cannot believe Eli got farther in the playoffs than Peyton. The best analogy I can come up with is if Stephen Baldwin were to host "Saturday Night Live."
-- Zach D., Greenville, N.C.
SG: See, I would argue we've entered the Golden Age of the Not-As-Talented Sibling! You have Eli going farther than Peyton; Kevin Dillon doing better than Matt; Bruce Buffer becoming more ubiquitous than Michael Buffer; Jamie Lynn Spears stealing headlines from Britney; Stan Van Gundy coaching a playoff team while Jeff does TV; A.J. Soprano becoming more crucial to the final season of "The Sopranos" than Meadow; and even Chris Farley's brother starring in various commercials and an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Poor Frank Stallone was 24 years ahead of his time.
Q: Assuming things go your way, how hard will you lobby for and how much would you pay for the 19-disc set of this season of Patriots football? Although knowing the NFL, it would make you buy the four-disc preseason with it as well.
-- Joel H., Los Angeles
SG: First of all, if such an event were to take place, it would definitely be a 23-disc set and the NFL would replace the play-by-play commentary for every game with dubbed play-by-play from Bryant Gumbel. But you know I can't answer that question -- the Pats haven't won anything yet.
(See, I can't be baited into jinxing the Patriots season. It can't be done! Stop trying!)
SG: I'm always relieved after those segments that nobody pulled a hammy or strained an Achilles tendon and had to limp off the set while Chris Berman awkwardly threw it to commercial. By the way, I'm writing a big chunk of this column in a Starbucks that always has a bizarre older customer sitting at the biggest table near the front door, almost like it's an office or something. There's a 95-percent chance he's completely insane because he spends the time crumpling and uncrumpling pieces of paper, making phone calls to people who might not be real and reading the same page of the same book for hours on end. (OK, maybe it's a 99.9 percent chance.) I have never been to this Starbucks and NOT seen Crazy Guy at that table.
Anyway, as I was typing the last question, I noticed him grab a New York Times from the newspaper rack, pull off the front section, then head over to the bathroom, go in and shut the door. Horrifying, right? So about five minutes pass, and I'm typing away, and finally a female customer walks over there, realizes the bathroom is locked, and decides to wait for the door to open. Another five minutes pass, and a third customer joins her, and some more time passes, and now they're exchanging looks like, "My God, I wonder what's going on in there?" Around the 15-minute mark, there's a flush. About 45 seconds later, the door opens and Crazy Guy comes out holding the Times.
I'm telling you this story for two reasons:
1. You know someone has logged too much time in the same Starbucks when he feels totally comfortable grabbing a newspaper, hanging out in the bathroom for 20 minutes and walking out in front of multiple people with that same newspaper. It's the final stage. It's like getting to fourth base with Starbucks.
2. When the guy walked out with the paper, the female customer who had been patiently waiting for 10 minutes immediately turned into Jerry Jones after Romo's final interception in the Giants game. She didn't move, she didn't flinch -- she just stared straight ahead and tried not to have an aneurysm. And I'm sitting here thinking, "I wish time could stop right now because I'd love to wager on this with the two baristas and offer them 2-to-1 odds that she says 'Screw it' and doesn't go in there." But she took a deep breath and waded in there. The entire sequence was incredible. And you wonder why I write in public places.
Q: Did you see Matt Mosley's Hashmarks after the Dallas game? He described Wade Phillips' exit from Dallas' stadium like this: "(Phillips) loaded up his Lincoln Navigator, but then realized he didn't have the keys. In one last moment of indignity, Phillips walked around the tunnel asking if anyone had his keys." Not only can Wade Phillips not help a football team win, he CANNOT FIND HIS KEYS!!! And Jerry Jones is adamant about keeping him next year?
-- Bill Y., Somerville, Mass.
SG: Let's add that to the Playoff Manifesto 5.0 as well.
"Rule No. 3a: Any time there's a published story about a head coach trying to leave a locker room after a season-ending playoff game and being unable to find his car keys, you have to wager against this coach in the playoffs for the rest of eternity."
Q: Reading your assessment of the NFL studio shows reminded me of my wife's reaction when she saw CBS' "live commercial" where the former Steelers coach drops the ball amidst all the fake laughter: "Oh, no, did coach Cowher become a chuckler?" Chuckler. What a perfect way to describe those guys.
-- Drewby, Pittsburgh
Q: Welcome to the RCA Dome, a lovely indoor facility built in 1984, which houses a National Football League team named the Indianapolis Colts. The facility holds 60,000 fans, and comes with Field Turf, built-in speakers for artificial crowd noise and its own officiating crew.
-- Ryan, Chicago
SG: (Still nodding.)
Q: When they were trying to run out the clock with the lead, wasn't San Diego electing to run on third-and-4 (with Indy still having two timeouts!) the coaching equivalent of standing on 16 when the dealer shows a 10? And the funny thing is, I think everyone else KNEW he was going to run, too.
-- Eric, Columbus, Ohio
SG: Including Indy, which had 15 guys in the box on that play. Has any real-life anecdote ever portended for a future sporting moment more than that one? (In this case, we're talking about my buddy Hopper's story about playing blackjack with Norv in 2001 and Norv repeatedly staying on 16.) In Norv's defense, when you have Volek as your QB and a punter with a bionic leg, running the ball again was the right move. Still, that won the Round 2 Award for "Best Football Moment That Incorporated a Non-Football Anecdote" and inadvertently proved my time-tested theory that owners should always take coaching candidates to Vegas and play blackjack, craps and poker with them before offering the job.
Speaking of Round 2 Awards, here are a few more:
The Tim Hardaway Award for "Strangest broadcasting experiment"
To Fox for teaming the humorless duo of Kenny Albert and Moose Johnson with Tony "I'm here to do goofy things!" Siragusa for the Hawks-Pack game. Huh? Although the pairing did lead to this exchange after a "12 men on the field" penalty when Moose attempted his only joke of the day:
-- Moose: "That's Green Bay's version of the 12th man, they put him on the field!"
(Kenny doesn't react or attempt to sell the joke in any way. Two seconds pass.)
-- Siragusa: "Yeah, they put him right out there."
(Two more seconds of silence.)
(By the way, Siragusa was involved in one other funny moment: As the Seahawks were getting blown out in the second half, they cut to the Goose happily riding in a snow plow for one of those, "Hey guys, I'm riding in a snow plow!" segments, only his mike wasn't working. It's like the entire Seattle fan base angrily willed his microphone to break for their one moral victory of the game. High comedy.)
The Mush Award for "Worst gambling omen"
When Manning threw that killer interception on the botched screen to the halfback inside the Chargers' 5-yard line, did you notice that CBS immediately cut to a commercial for "Cloverfield"? How fitting was that? I locked out of my Colts pick right there.
The Marisa Tomei Sex Scene in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" Award for "Most unexpected and pleasant surprise"
To Fox's music guy for playing the Silversun Pickups, Nirvana and Pearl Jam coming in and out of commercials Saturday. Wow, music from the last 15 years! You know he was reprimanded the next day with a memo from his producers that said, "Good God! Are you trying to give the Fox execs a heart attack or something? Use the stuff from that '70s mix like we discussed! You know they love the Steve Miller Band, dammit!"
The Philip Seymour Hoffman Sex Scene in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" Award for "Most unexpected and unpleasant surprise"
The Marion Jones Award for "Worst and most belated apology"
To the NFL for quietly admitting this week that the refs screwed up with that heinous intentional grounding call on Romo at the end of the Giants game. Hey, sorry for turning second-and-10 into second-and-20 on your biggest game of the season. Would a low-key apology that nobody outside of the die-hard Cowboys message board posters will notice make it up to you?
The Moonlight Graham Award for "Best throwback moment"
A tie between two moments from the Packers game: Shaun Alexander unexpectedly giving every Seattle fan flashbacks to Franco Harris' final days, and Al Harris' dreadlocks freezing with snow on them in the second half, which brought back fond memories of the time Raymond Berry's dreadlocks froze during the '58 NFL Championship Game.
The Dwight Howard Award for "Guy who can't be mentioned for more than five seconds by any announcer without being called a freak"
To that freak Antonio Cromartie. Let's hope he covers Moss this weekend just so we can see them fight for one 50-yard bomb from Brady -- it would be the complete opposite of the moment in Boston this season when Brian Cardinal covered Brian Scalabrine
The Moochie Norris Award for "Most disappointing hairstyle change"
For Round 2, Phil Simms dumped his retro-1980 puffy 'doo in favor of a slightly slicked back, more professional haircut that even looked a little gelled up. Devastating turn of events. Now, I wish I hadn't written about it.
The Sports Gal Award for "The weekend's unexpected reminder that I should be humiliated for finishing 17 wins behind my wife this season"
For about three minutes Sunday, I had my wife convinced that upcoming CBS mini-series "Comanche Moon" was also the name of a cornerback on the Giants.
The Al Michaels Award for "Best gambling moment that the announcers never acknowledged"
To Wes Welker's third-and-3 drop -- leading to a field goal instead of a TD -- that prevented the Pats from covering the spread AND the over. The NFL Network should simulcast these playoff games but have Gus Johnson announcing the game by himself and gearing 100-percent of his play-by-play toward the spread, the over, prop bets and halftime bets. Imagine Gus on that Welker drop. Here's Welker- ohhhhhhhhhhhhh! HE DROPPED IT! And that Pats are gonna have to settle for a field goal! They need a miracle to cover this 13-point spread, folks!
All right, back to the mailbag ...
Q: When my roommate and I were watching the mini-scuffle between Roy Williams and Brandon Jacobs during the Giants-Cowboys game, it got us thinking: What two-person fight, or even two-on-two, would you pay insane amounts to the refs to just let them fight? We decided Nate Robinson vs. Maurice Jones-Drew for an interesting "Intersport Best 5-foot-9-and-Under Battle" or maybe a "Battle of the Wallaces" with Ben vs. Rasheed. We also decided the worst fight would be Manu Ginobili vs. Anderson Varejao. Your thoughts?
-- Jordan, Tempe, Ariz.
SG: You're right, a Nate Robinson-MoJo fight could rank right up there with Coralles-Castillo and Gatti-Ward. Ginobili-Varejao would be fun just to hear how Harold Lederman scored it after every round. ("Oh-kay, Jim! I had that round 10-9 for Varejao, when Ginobili flopped out of the ring and landed in the 14th row, he lost the round even if Varejao never landed a punch.") But for the main event, I'd pit Ricky Williams against a certain much-travelled NBA player who I'm not allowed to mention since he has never been suspended for marijuana use -- even though he's famous for turning at least two of his new teammates into the collective Chong to his Cheech every time he switches teams -- with the the winner receiving a lifetime's supply of medical marijuana. Ricky and Famous Potsmoker X would fight to the death. There's no question. It would be like the last 20 minutes of "Bloodsport."
Q: You say you would have written a 115,000-word column if the Patriots had gotten the bad end of the non-holding call on Garrard's QB draw that beat the Steelers. Did you watch the travesty in Indianapolis? If that had been the Pats instead of the Chargers, and they had somehow lost that game TO THE COLTS OF ALL TEAMS with all those bad calls, how many words would THAT postgame column have had? I'm putting the over/under at 450,000 words. And that's probably too low.
-- Brian C., Champaign, Ill.
SG: Put it this way: I would have disappeared for a year, bought a hooded sweatshirt and a typewriter and rented out a log cabin like the Unabomber.
Q: Watching the Pats-Jags game, my eyes could not help but to be drawn to Jack Del Rio's wavy hair and black leather jacket. If the coaching thing does not work, he definitely has a future as a TV cop, doesn't he? As a writer, you should create the pilot. We could be sitting on a gold mine.
-- BC, Henderson, Ky.
SG: Well, I can't write the pilot because of the writer's strike. In fact, I'm not even allowed to expand on your idea (which should clearly be called "CSI: Jacksonville," by the way). But I think you're shooting too high with Jack Del Rio and his leather jacket -- he looks more like the lead detective in one of those Skinemax erotic thrillers, the one who works homicide with his smoking hot ex-wife as a partner, only she's just gone undercover as a hooker in a brothel and now she's in too deep, so Jack has to get busy with the brothel's madam to save her, and then somehow this saves their marriage and the movie ends with their reconciliation sex scene. And since Jack was in it, it would definitely have a title with a football spin like "Sex Audibles" or "Hooker And Ladder."
Q: Which coach would you rather have preparing a team for a conference title game: Bill Belichick or Norv Turner? The answer seems easy enough, right? That question was put to 161,194 people in one of those ESPN.com "SportsNation" polls with 85 percent picking Belichick. That means 15 percent of the respondents picked Turner! Norv Turner! The Norv Turner!
-- Jeremy C, New York
SG: I'd love to see us create a SportsNation Gold Club for ESPN.com users who have to achieve a certain score on a sports IQ test to gain membership, then have their voting patterns renewed each year to determine whether they're competent enough to maintain their eligibility. So if a Gold Club member voted for Norv over Belichick, BOOM!, they're out. Plus, wouldn't it be fun to have the phrase "Gold Club" back in our lives? You know Patrick Ewing would be excited.
Q: I'm 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, and not even close to being gay, so you know the Pats are good when people don't even look at me funny when I mention my man-crush on Tom Brady. Mostly, they nod in agreement. I think at least 60 percent of North American males must have a man-crush on Tom Brady at this point, whether they admit it or not. Think about it. You're out at a bar one night with more than a few cocktails in you, and there's Tom Brady, you get to talking, go out on the dance floor, and eventually you're back at the booth and he leans in and tilts his head just a little. Who's turning that down?
-- Pete, Toronto
SG: I don't even need to say it. Let's get to the conference championship picks (home teams in caps) ...
1. Norv's playcalling in the Colts upset moved him out of the "Don't Bet On These Coaches In Big Games" Group at the very least. You win eight in a row, you win a playoff game in Indy ... you're a good team with a decent coach. Period. I hate laying 14 to a good team in a must-win game. Even if they're banged up.
2. The soap opera surrounding Moss makes me more than a little nervous. Distractions are never good in January. And that's an understatement.
3. Vegas knows it can add a Patriots tax to the spread (two or three points per game) and people will pay it because they're terrified of wagering against the Pats.
4. You need a top-notch defense to blow somebody out at this stage of the playoffs. The Patriots are doing the bend-but-don't-break thing defensively, and if you noticed during the Jags game, their offense is milking the clock between plays to keep their defense off the field. (That's why the Jags-Pats game went so fast -- between that and the lack of incompletions, the game ended in about 45 minutes.) This isn't the same Pats team from Weeks 1-10 -- they're still great, but they're not kick-your-teeth-in-and-stomp-on-your-souls great anymore. As the Eagles, Ravens, Giants and Jaguars all showed, you can hang around against the Pats as long as you double-team Moss and avoid any damaging turnovers. In their past seven games, six Patriots opponents "hung around." That's not a good precedent for a team trying to cover a 14-point spread.
5. The odds of something positive happening for San Diego early in this game and thousands of readers immediately e-mailing me to say that I jinxed the Pats with Wednesday's column have already been taken off the board in Vegas. So you have to factor that in, right?
I just feel like this game is going to be closer than people think. Call it a gut feeling.
The Pick: New England 31, San Diego 24.
PACKERS (-7) over Giants
Three straight road games for the Giants. (Uh-oh.) Eli playing a night game in the freezing cold when he's already on record as saying he hates playing in the freezing cold. (Uh-oh.) People talking themselves into the Giants as a Team of Destiny. (Uh-oh.) A Packers team that already has proven it's a monster home team that can extend leads into double figures. (Uh-oh.) Assuming the Pats win, the delicious possibility of Brett Favre and the Packers trying to stop the 18-0 Patriots. (Uh-oh.)
Say you take the Giants and the Packers get the ball, march down the field and score a TD. Now it's 7-0, and Eli runs out there with his hands in his pockets and his teeth chattering. They hand off twice, and his third throw flies over Amani Toomer's head and nearly kills Green Bay's equipment manager. As he's running off the field with his teeth chattering, Fox cuts to Archie Manning sitting in the stands with one of those, "I should have smacked him around more when he was little" looks on his face. Then they cut to Favre on the Packers sidelines, who's standing there with a big grin and thinking, "Holy crap, this is gonna be easier than I thought."
So here's my question: Doesn't that scenario seem a little too realistic? I can't take the Giants. I just can't.
(Cut to everyone in the Tri-State area applauding happily.)
The Pick: Green Bay 30, New York 10
Last week: 2-2
Reg. Season: 118-129-9
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column -- as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more -- check out the revamped Sports Guy's World.