Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Monday, January 28, 2008
Updated: January 29, 2:57 PM ET
If the Pats win, are they the best team ever? Maybe ...

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Forty-two of the 46 winners of the Associated Press NFL MVP award have been either quarterbacks or running backs. Into this breach each year steps the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP Award -- see the 2007 winner below. But first, the Super Bowl. Let's ask what seem to be the two big questions about the upcoming game. First, if New England wins, are these Patriots the best team ever? Second, if the Giants win, will that constitute the greatest upset ever?

If New England wins, the Patriots will not be the greatest team ever -- at least conditionally, until such time as the NFL reveals what was in the Patriots' cheating videos and documents that the league destroyed in September. Maybe once we know the full truth, then a 19-0 Patriots team could be considered the greatest, depending on what the full truth turns out to be.

Most of the sports media have rolled over and played dead on the New England destroyed-tapes story; TMQ reminds you of the specifics here. The NFL promised to get to the bottom of the Patriots' cheating and reveal the truth to the public; instead, the NFL destroyed the New England documents and refuses to say what they contained. If the documents vindicated New England or the NFL, it would have been strongly in the league's interest to say so. Instead, the NFL has stonewalled us, so what does that make you think? Until we know what was on the videotapes and in the documents the NFL destroyed, there will always be a cloud of suspicion over the Patriots. How much of an advantage did they gain by cheating? Did they really hand over everything to the league? Are they still cheating now? Most important by far, have they cheated in the Super Bowl?

TMQ Cheat Sheet
Gregg Easterbrook on ...

Cheerleader of the week
The economic stimulus package
TMQ's Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP
The Miss America pageant
Zebras decriminalizing holding
The Boeing 787
Super Bowl scouts' notes
Super Bowl ads
The Pro Bowl
The NFL coaching carousel

No matter how well New England plays Sunday, every victory the team earned this season -- and perhaps victories in previous seasons, too -- is tainted until such time when we learn what was in the material the league destroyed. New England is aware that its season is an asterisk season; owner Robert Kraft has complained the Patriots are now viewed as "tainted," his word. For all we know, the Belichick Files vindicate the Patriots. But until such time when we learn what was in those files, even at 19-0, the New England Patriots should not be considered a great team because we cannot be sure whether these wins were earned or stolen. Nor can we be sure whether New England's three Super Bowl rings were earned or stolen.

And all you sportscasters and sportswriters who will spend this week gushing over the Super Bowl, it would be nice if a few of you mentioned that, a mere four months ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell found the Patriots guilty of "a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition." Two billion people will watch the Super Bowl; almost all of America's children and teens will watch the Super Bowl. If the bottom line of the event is "It's fine to cheat, you'll get away with it," what message does that send?

As for the Giants, should they win, that would be an upset, but not one of historic proportions. After all, New England was fortunate to prevail by a field goal when these two teams met a month ago. That day, Jersey/A played most of the game without starters Shaun O'Hara and Kawika Mitchell, both of whom will be healthy Sunday. Plus, the Giants are the darlings of the football gods at the moment. Plus, seemingly emotionless Bill Belichick has revealed, at least in public, affection for only two institutions: his alma mater Wesleyan and the Giants, the team with which he got his first big break and, as an assistant, won his first Super Bowl ring. Obviously, Belichick wants to beat the Giants on Sunday, but he might not want to beat them with the same intensity that he wants to beat everybody else. Achilles had a tiny vulnerability on his heel; the seemingly invincible HMS Hood had a faulty armor plate above a magazine; is Belichick's soft spot for the Giants a similar minor weakness that might be struck precisely? Vegas makes the Giants about two-touchdown dogs. But oddsmaker lines have nothing to do with relative quality of teams. Rather, they are set to motivate equal wagering on both sides, allowing the house to come out ahead regardless who wins. There have been some Super Bowl blowouts, notably San Francisco's 55-10 win over Denver. Sunday's game is likely to be close.

The most recent memorable Super Bowl upset was the Giants over the Bills in 1991, the game that ended on the infamous Scott Norwood missed field goal with four seconds remaining. The parallels between that game and Sunday's contest are many. Buffalo came into that Super Bowl as the highest-scoring team in the league, widely viewed as unstoppable on offense; the Bills also had beaten the Giants at Giants Stadium in December, just as the Patriots beat this year's Giants at Giants Stadium in December; Buffalo won that first meeting by four points, New England won its first meeting with the Giants by three points; and, of course, Belichick was a major presence then as now, only then on the Jersey/A sideline. The Giants beat the Bills by playing an extra-rough, almost violent game on defense; by getting away with numerous uncalled pass-interference penalties; and by a conservative ball-control game plan on offense that kept the Buffalo offense off the field. When the Buffalo offense was on the field, it seemed overeager to score really fast and dropped many passes, never settling down. Also, Buffalo punted twice on fourth-and-short in Giants territory, which was puzzling, as throughout the season, the Bills had been aggressive on fourth down. Will any of these markers repeat? I make the Patriots a three-point favorite, based on a final score of New England 38, Jersey/A 35, one month ago. For my scouts' notes on the Super Bowl, see below.

In aesthetic news, one of the pleasures of attending the Super Bowl is that it is the sole NFL game at which two sets of half-naked cheer-babes can dance. At regular-season and playoff matchups, only the home team's cheerleaders are present, but because neither is the home team at the Super Bowl, both are allowed to bring pep squads. The problem? Because the Giants don't have cheerleaders, only the Patriots will send scantily attired dancers to the sideline in Arizona. This will be the third consecutive year the Super Bowl has offered only one set of cheerleaders -- previously, Indianapolis met Chicago, which does not have cheerleaders, and Seattle met Pittsburgh, which does not have cheerleaders. One must go back three years to the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., for the most recent culminating contest offering flouncing megababes along both sidelines.

Finally, just V days 'til Super Bowl XLII kicks off at VI:XX Eastern on the IIIrd of the IInd month, MMVIII. Will the Giants win their XIth straight on the road? Or will the Patriots finish an unprecedented XIX and -- wait, there is no Roman numeral for zero. In fact the concept of zero is absent from the Roman system of numbers, with the first known use of nulla in Roman numeration coming from the Venerable Bede, a Benedictine monk of the early eighth century. Thus "19-0" cannot be expressed in Roman numerals. An omen from the football gods? Anyway, X bucks says this will be a great game!

Cheerleader of the Week: Brad Harper of Boulder, Colo., nominates Jessie Greenberg of the Denver Broncos. According to her team bio, Greenberg, a University of Colorado at Boulder graduate, is a diamond dealer whose memorable experience with the Broncos was posing for the swimsuit calendar shot on location in Cozumel, Mexico. You don't bump into many diamond dealers who have done bikini modeling. Further, according to her team bio, the two people from history that Jessie would like to dine with are Princess Diana and Einstein -- wow, they'd have a lot in common to talk about! Here you can check out photos from the Broncos' warm-to-the-touch 2008 swimsuit calendar, which the team reports is sold-out online but still available at Tattered Cover, Denver's famed independent bookstore. ("Um -- I want a copy of 'Anna Karenina,' and the bikini calendar.") Those seeking to become Broncos cheer-babes must pass a rigorous five-stage audition, plus taking an audition workshop is recommended. One hundred women make the first cutdown, and about 30 make the squad. So most of those who try out are heartbroken -- just like two-a-days in high school.

U.S. Congress to the Next Generation --Drop Dead: Announcing the economic stimulus package agreed to last week by both parties in the House of Representatives, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared that typical Americans can expect to receive a "stipend" of $300 to $1,200. Stipend -- will we get a federally funded sherry hour, too? Calling a government check a "stipend," to make it seem lofty and grand, reflects the modern affection CEOs have for calling the cash they receive "compensation" rather than pay, and consultants and speakers insist on saying they are receiving "honoraria" rather than pay. There is nothing wrong with receiving pay! And no reason to employ euphemisms.

The stimulus bill will cost about $150 billion and consists entirely of deficit spending. The secondary euphemism being employed in Washington is to call the checks "tax rebates." But they are not rebates, meaning partial returns of monies paid -- they are pure borrowing. Which is to say, Congress will award most current American adults $300 to $1,200 each, then send the bill to future American adults. Suppose that instead, each American adult today set aside $300 at 5 percent interest. In 20 years, that money would grow to $800, and likely much more if invested in stocks. Such savings would be good for the U.S. economy, which, since 2001, has seen a negative national savings rate. China's national savings rate is currently almost 50 percent. Savings is one reason the Chinese economy is growing far faster than the U.S. economy; the U.S. savings rate is close to negative-4 percent, and our economic growth is sputtering.

But rather than help the U.S. economy grow in a generous way that forgoes a little today to gain a lot tomorrow, the American people -- through their representatives in Congress -- just reached into the pockets of future citizens in order to spend more on themselves right now. Explain to me why this is considered a populist action by Congress?

Bear in mind, the stimulus package announced last week is only an agreement between the two parties in the House. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the Senate currently are scrambling to add their own pet projects to the legislation -- whenever a big spending bill moves, there's always a bidding war in which Republicans and Democrats vie to see who can stage the biggest giveaway. The damage to the national debt might get worse because what's happening now is the environment Congress likes best -- an environment of zero fiscal discipline. Lobbyists for retirees, who already are subsidized by the young, are complaining that their special interest isn't being showered with free money by the stimulus bill; lobbyists for pork-barrel projects that could never withstand logical scrutiny are maneuvering to wrap them in the flag and add them to the stimulus bill. By the time the stimulus bill leaves Capitol Hill, the young might be saddled with yet more debt so that members of Congress can congratulate themselves as they hand checks to politically connected fat-cat donors or to retirees already drawing out of Social Security far more than they put in, plus interest.

Next, recall that on Jan. 4, 2007, both houses of Congress agreed with considerable fanfare on the Paygo measure, which stated that under no circumstances -- under no circumstances, never, regardless of conditions! -- would Congress enact any bill that increases the federal debt. According to the Paygo legislation, the House and Senate are forbidden even to debate legislation that would increase the debt. ("It shall not be in order to consider any bill, joint resolution, amendment or conference report if the provisions of such measure affecting direct spending and revenues have the net effect of increasing the deficit …") Paygo rules specify that all bills causing appropriations increases or tax favors must be offset be spending reductions or tax increases. When Paygo was enacted, many members of Congress from both parties, prominently Speaker Pelosi, patted themselves on the back in public.

How long did this incredible resolve last? Six weeks ago, Congress passed a reduction of the Alternative Minimum Tax; the bill cut taxes by $51 billion but provides no offsetting revenues. Originally, the measure would have reduced the AMT for the middle class while raising taxes by an equal amount on the upper crust of venture capitalists and hedge-fund managers. All the revenue increases ended up deleted -- hedge-fund managers showered members of Congress with campaign donations -- but the tax cuts were approved. Congress ladled out the $51 billion entirely from deficit spending, then handed the bill to the young. Now, the stimulus package goes even further, at least $150 billion in gravy without spending cuts or offsetting revenue increases. Barely 12 months after pledging never, ever again to add to the federal debt, Congress will add at least $201 billion to the federal debt. The federal deficit for the most recent fiscal year, which ended before either of the new actions, was $163 billion. Congress has, in the past six weeks alone, added more to the federal debt than the entire federal deficit for the most recent fiscal year.

It's impossible to be sure, but a rough guess might be that every dollar added to the deficit today represents two dollars subtracted from future economic growth -- which in turn means two dollars taken from the pockets of tomorrow's American adults. This is a cynical exercise, robbing future Americans in order to please voters today, and to inspire interest groups to make political donations to incumbents. When are citizens under 30 going to wake up to the disagreeable fact that the country's current leadership, of both parties, is giving them the shaft in order to heap special favors on current voters who refuse to live within their means? Then handing the young the bill.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP: Not only does the NFL MVP almost always go to a quarterback or running back, but no offensive lineman has ever won. Obsession with glamour boys -- even though 90 percent of football action happens away from the ball -- extends from the Hall of Fame selectors to the stacked Pro Bowl ballot (see below) to the brewpubs, tailgates and fantasy leagues of our great nation. Swimming against this tide, TMQ annually confers the coveted "longest award in sports," the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP. Or to make it even longer, Entertainment and Sports Programming Network's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running-Back National Football League Most Valuable Player Award. (See below for my 2007 pick.)

For the second consecutive year, the award comes with an actual trophy. Said trophy, quite fancy, already is situated in Phoenix in hopes it will be presented to the winner in person. In previous years, there had been a Non-QB Non-RB Curse -- something bad immediately happened to the winner. But with last season's advent of an actual trophy, the curse was broken! Jeff Saturday won, accepting the trophy from ESPN.com's Kevin Jackson a few days before the Super Bowl. Saturday went out and played a fabulous game, getting TMQ's vote for Super Bowl MVP.

Only players whose teams made the postseason are eligible for this award. My reasoning is that if you're going to wear the ribbon of Most Valuable, you'd better have created some value. And when it's a hard call between a well-known player and someone outside the limelight, I choose the latter. For example, the New England finalist is Matt Light -- over Randy Moss, Mike Vrabel, Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork, all better-known. The finalists:

Gary Brackett, Indianapolis

Antonio Cromartie, San Diego

London Fletcher, Washington

James Harrison, Pittsburgh

John Henderson, Jacksonville

Davin Joseph, Tampa

Matt Light, New England

Osi Umenyiora, Jersey/A

Lofa Tatupu, Seattle

Mark Tauscher, Green Bay

David Thornton, Tennessee

Jason Witten, Dallas

Second runner-up: London Fletcher, Washington. An undrafted Division III player who has been let go twice, Fletcher arrived in Washington this season and was the primary reason the Redskins rocketed from 31st in total defense in 2006 to eighth in 2007. Fletcher is a tackling machine -- most total tackles in the league since 2000. Only a handful of NFL middle linebackers stay on the field for obvious-passing downs: Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, London Fletcher. It is a cryin' shame Fletcher has never received a free plane ticket to Honolulu.

First runner-up: Osi Umenyiora, Jersey/A. Would you like to block this guy? I wouldn't. Umenyiora drew more double-teams than any defender in the NFL this season. In consecutive playoff games, Jersey/A took apart two of the three best offensive lines in the NFL, those of Dallas and Green Bay. By the fourth quarter of both games, both offensive lines were tired and suffering line-call breakdowns because both were frustrated by having to chase the Giants' speed rushers around the field. The Giants are in the Super Bowl largely owing to the league's hardest-to-block front seven, and Umenyiora is the key to that front.

Winner: Matt Light. I toyed with giving the Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP to the entire New England offensive line, best part of the league's first 18-0 team. Certainly, you could hand a shiny trophy to Patriots' guard Logan Mankins, who looks like the next John Hannah. But no other NFL lineman has played as well as Light this season. He is rarely noticed by announcers because he almost never makes mistakes. Light operates alone when protecting Tom Brady's blind side -- the Patriots' scheme almost never offers tight end or running back help to an offensive lineman. One reason the New England passing offense is so effective is that there are always at least four receivers in the pattern; this could not happen without excellent left-tackle play. Most New England rushing yardage this season has come to the left, Light's side. Light joined the Patriots seven seasons ago, so his arrival has coincided exactly with the team's current Super Bowl run. In Light's past two Super Bowl appearances, he made Jevon Kearse and Julius Peppers disappear. If you're not looking forward to watching Light and Umenyiora duke it out Sunday, you don't like football.

Obviously, This Item Exists to Justify the Swimsuit Picture: Congratulations to the new Miss America, Kirsten Haglund of Michigan -- let's hope her victory is Phase 1 of the Detroit comeback. (I mean the auto industry, not the football team.) This year, the pageant -- which once brought America to a stop for three hours -- bounced downward again in television terms, from its former home at ABC to MTV-affiliate County Music Television last year to the sounds-like-schoolwork The Learning Channel on Saturday night. Recent Miss America contestants are the most gorgeous ever, perform more interesting talent routines and seem more concerned with each passing year about not being airheaded beauty queens. Yet at the very time the problem of dizzy Miss Americas seemed be to waning, ratings and interest keep waning, too. It might be that, as with humble CEOs and memoirs that are true, time is simply passing the beauty pageant by.

Nunavut -- the Palm Beach of Tomorrow: TMQ fears that if Eli Manning wins the Super Bowl the year after Peyton Manning, the Manning family will be in television commercials until Judgment Day. Here is a possible television commercial from 2038:

Scene: Dozens of Manning family members at idyllic retirement center way north of Quebec.

"Hi, I'm Eli Manning, and this is my brother Peyton and my mom and dad and our kids and grandkids and our pets. By the way, my dog Royalty will have his own sitcom next year. Have you thought about your plans for your golden years? Here at Greenhouse Acres, retirement living is cutting-edge. Located in scenic Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut, Greenhouse Acres has an ideal climate -- thanks to global warming! While your friends in Arizona and Florida swelter in subterranean shelters, here above the Arctic Circle, temperatures are pleasant and golf and tennis are available year-round. Fly-fishing in pure glacial meltoff will please the most discriminating angler. Drinks a glass of water. Man, that 140,000-year-old meltwater sure tastes pure! Do you like sunshine? How does six consecutive months sound? Most of our townhomes have water views, and at the current rate of polar-cap transition, soon they all will! Greenhouse Acres -- Peyton and I hope the world doesn't end before we have a chance to move here, too. And now you'll excuse me while my brother and I do something cute and jocklike."

Zebras Decriminalize Holding: Passing stats are up. The 2007 regular season saw the most-ever leaguewide passing yards, although only by 1 percent over the previous high year, and the "most" period covers only six seasons, since the league expanded to its current franchise number and all yards-gained figures rose. Football pundits have attributed the rise in passing yards to the clarification of the illegal-contact rule in 2005, and surely that's a factor. But TMQ thinks an equal factor is the decline of offensive holding calls, which means fewer sacks and less pressure on the quarterback. In 2007, NFL quarterbacks were sacked once for every 17 pass attempts, lowest sack frequency since the league began keeping this stat. Is lack of holding calls the reason? Dave Boling of the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune checked the trend line and found the decade-long average is 769 offensive holding calls per regular season, or 24 per team per season. But this season, 602 offensive holding flags flew, or 19 per team per season. (Both numbers are for accepted penalties.)

TMQ has seen an awful lot of uncalled offensive holding this season. This has been a fabulous year for offensive line play -- the New England offensive line has recorded one of the best O-line seasons ever, and the Dallas, Green Bay, Jersey/A, San Diego, Jacksonville and Indianapolis offensive lines all looked sweet. Of course, if the refs are not calling offensive holding, lots of lines are bound to look good and lots of passing yards are bound to ring up. Allowing holding aids the run game, too: Giants' guard Chris Snee practically tackled the Green Bay defender at the point of attack on the Brandon Jacobs run that put Jersey/A on the Packers' 1 and in position for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

So far in the postseason, the Giants have been called for offensive holding three times and the Patriots have not been called for offensive holding. The Pats possess the NFL's best offensive line, but you cannot say with a straight face that the New England offensive line never holds -- Flying Elvii O-linemen got away with several blatant holds against San Diego in the AFC Championship Game. Are the officials too intimidated to make offensive holding calls again Belichick? In New England's last Super Bowl run, the Patriots went through the postseason to the Vince Lombardi Trophy without being flagged for offensive holding. Will offensive holding be treated as legal in Sunday's Super Bowl?

I'd Like to Seat-Select for the 787 Mock-Up; The 787 Mock-Up Looks Pretty Comfortable, Whereas the Actual Airplane … : Boeing has rolled out the new 787 Dreamliner, and hopes soon to start flying the certification models. The Dreamliner is sure to be a little nicer than current airliners, but the coach cabin -- as TMQ has warned repeatedly -- will never actually look anything like the roomy cabin in the Boeing promotional materials. Check out the Boeing photo gallery for the new plane: The interior views show first or business class, not that awful place, whose name dare not be spoken, into which 90 percent of the passengers will be wedged. And where's the row of seats in front of this guy? He looks quite comfy and at ease. When you board a Dreamliner, the row of seats in front won't be mysteriously missing. What about VIP versions of the 787, converted for the use of a single oil sheik or corporate plutocrat? Reader Matt Denton of Toronto notes that Boeing's fact sheet for the Dreamliner already lists several orders for VIP use, headed by seven orders for "VIPs unidentified." The flying-palace VIP Dreamliners devoted to the luxury and ego of corporate CEOs will, in effect, be paid for by you, through higher prices, lower wages and reduced stock dividends. The flying-palace VIP Dreamliners built for oil sheiks or dictatorships will be flown by those whose primary income stems from stealing resources from their people or other forms of repression. Wheels up!

Lenin Would Roll Over in His Mausoleum, or Maybe Have His Broker Buy Boeing: Components of the Boeing 787 will be flown to the company's Everett, Wash., assembly plant by a ferry aircraft whose engineering specs were drawn at the Boeing Design Center in -- Moscow. Just two decades ago, Boeing was among the United States aerospace firms making doomsday weapons to end human life in the former Soviet Union. Now, Boeing's Moscow bureau employs 140 Russian engineers and Aeroflot has a contract to add the 787 to its commercial fleet. Boeing is doing aerospace design in Russia -- this really must be the Third Age! Here's a Boeing corporate press release datelined Moscow.

Leftover Stimulus Bill Point: Buried in the stimulus bill is an obscure provision that raises the "conforming" mortgage ceiling from a current $417,000 to as much as $730,000, depending on the city. "Conforming" mortgages can be backed by federal agencies, so they are, in effect, federally guaranteed; they sell for less than "jumbo" mortgages that exceed the ceiling. Typically, the interest on a conforming mortgage is 1 to 3 percent lower than on a jumbo. Between falling interest rates and a higher ceiling for guaranteed loans, if you have a mortgage problem, refinance now or don't complain later! But the new $730,000 ceiling for conforming loans seems incredibly high, considering the median home value in the United States is about $245,000. Sure, houses cost more in Seattle or Boston than in Nebraska. But by raising the federally backed mortgage ceiling to three times the median home price, isn't Congress merely encouraging another wave of real estate speculation based on funny money? Won't there be another demand for bailouts after the next bubble bursts?

Super Bowl Scouts' Notes: Last season, the Colts won the Lombardi in part by establishing a pass-wacky attack that defensive coordinators were obsessed with stopping, then gradually shifting toward the run in the postseason, then rolling out a rushing-based game plan in the Super Bowl that took everyone by surprise. (Everyone … except TMQ.) Belichick is among the best-ever students of the sport, so don't be surprised if he remembers and attempts the same switcheroo. Of course at this point, don't be surprised if Belichick suddenly rips off his prosthetic human face and reveals himself as a hideous reptilian space alien come to spearhead an invasion fleet.

Laurence Maroney has rushed for at least 100 yards in four of the past five New England outings. As the weather has turned wintry, Belichick has done the smart thing and shifted his offense toward the ground. The weather should be perfect in Glendale, but bear in mind, New England's fantastic offensive line spent the past six weeks or so practicing aggressive drive blocking, which requires a different mind-set from pass blocking. One reason the New England running game has been sharp lately is that defensive coordinators, obsessed with stopping Flying Elvii passes, have put nickel or dime defenses on the field on first down. An offense that power-rushes against a nickel or dime has the weight advantage on its side, with pulling guards slamming into skinny gentlemen. If Belichick sees Jersey/A open in a nickel -- or in any of the funky 2-4-5 or 3-2-6 fronts he himself used against the top passing teams when he was the team's defensive coordinator -- he will not hesitate to switch the Pats to a running game and play for a low-scoring victory. If I were Jersey/A, my biggest worry would be the New England run. The Giants know they can disrupt the Patriots' pass. Can they handle a surprise rush-based game plan?

Defensively, in consecutive weeks Jersey/A has handed the league's second- (Dallas) and fourth-(Green Bay) highest-scoring teams their hats on their own fields. That regular-season finale contest against New England turned on the entire Jersey/A team and coaching staff -- fortune favors the bold, and rarely has fortune ever rewarded a team as much as it has rewarded the Giants for playing all out in a meaningless game. More, the regular-season finale contest let the Giants' defenders understand they can play with anybody. All NFL clubs have a speed rusher; some have two. The Giants have four speed rushers, and this seems to cause problems other teams are not equipped to solve. In defeating the Cowboys and Packers, the Giants ran circles around the league's second- and third-best offensive lines. Normally, the offense wants to be on the field for 75 plays and the defense gets tired. But by the fourth quarter of the past two Jersey/A playoff games, the Dallas and Green Bay offensive linemen were exhausted from chasing all those G-Persons speed rushers, and the Giants' defenders looked fresh. Nor are Giants' defenders one-dimensional sack types; they handled the Dallas and Green Bay rushing attacks, too. Green Bay's inability to run was the essential element of its defeat. Now the Giants' front seven takes on the best offensive line in the league, that of New England. Unless the officials unilaterally decide that offensive holding is now legal, even the Patriots' offensive line will have trouble with the Jersey/A front seven.

Flashy as the New England offense-Jersey/A defense matchup seems, TMQ expects the Super Bowl to be determined by how the Giants' offense performs versus the Pats' defense. The Jersey/A offense has looked shaky for most of the season, so a good performance is far from assured, and the New England defense has been terrific. Although the Patriots haven't blitzed much in the first three quarters this season, it would not be surprising to see New England mega-blitz on the first two Jersey/A series, trying to shake Eli Manning up, cause a bad mistake and get him hanging his head the way he did so often until, well, last month.

Omen? As TMQ pointed out on New Year's Day, no NFL regular-season passing yardage leader has gone on to win the Super Bowl that season. The record of frustration is here. Forty-one regular-season passing yardage leaders so far are 0-for-41 in terms of the Super Bowl that season. Brady was this year's regular season passing-yards leader.

One more thing: In recent months, I've gotten a lot mail that boils down to, "How can you criticize Belichick and the Patriots so harshly and simultaneously praise them so much?" It is not inconsistent to think some person, place or thing is really great (the 2007 Patriots, the United States) yet has significant problems (cheating, lack of universal health care insurance) and is not telling the truth to the public on some matter of consequence (was there Super Bowl cheating, the Iraq war).

Super Bowl Ads: $90,000 Per Second: Victoria's Secret will return to Super Bowl advertising with its first commercial since 1999. Vicky has paid $2.7 million for a 30-second spot featuring megababe Adriana Lima. This raises the Victoria's Secret paradox: The company promotes itself in television commercials and specials and in other media using pictures of gorgeous nearly naked women, and these promotions surely appeal to men, but aren't nearly all Victoria's Secret customers women? Surely most men will drool when the Adriana Lima ads airs. But how many men will race out to Victoria's Secret and make a purchase?

Be that as it may, it's far from clear the Victoria's Secret visual ideal is even sexy, and I don't mean those ridiculous angel wings. The majority of models in the company's television specials and catalogs appear emaciated: not just a tad thin, but unhealthy. Most of them look as though they really need a milkshake but would be too weak to lift the glass. Why does extolling gauntness work as a sales strategy? Forget Victoria's Secret lingerie models, give me pro sports cheerleaders as a sex symbol any day. NFL and NBA cheerleaders are fit, strong, confident and athletic -- check the dance moves of the Philadelphia Eagles or Miami Heat cheerleaders, among others. All pro cheerleaders, plus most in college and many in high school, can drop and give you 25 straight-legged pushups. Obviously, pro cheerleaders are an impossible ideal in their own way: In the real world, no woman can always look great and always be smiling and outgoing. But cheerleaders are a positive archetype of fitness, confidence and upbeat life. Contrast that to the women in the Victoria's Secret runway shows, who seem miserable.

Will the Victoria's commercial be TV-14? Earlier this season, TMQ noted that NBC's Sunday night football wrap show is rated TV-14 -- I wondered whether I should let my 12-year-old watch it. Reader Rebecca Seidel of Monroe, Conn., writes, "Tell Spenser he shouldn't watch the commercials. While the NFL itself keeps programming clean, not all of its sponsors feel the same way. Based on the assumption that mostly adult males will be the ones watching football past nine on a school night, the ads tend to get a little racy." On the East Coast, half the Super Bowl will occur past 9 p.m., the hour when networks start allowing racy ads. Risqué is fine for adults, but should it occur in the context of the one show per year that every little kid in America is allowed to stay up late to watch? We'll see how the commercials stack up this year.

Ad note: Of the Super-Bowl-night ads already making the rounds via Internet, the one that caught my eye was for the upcoming "Iron Man" movie. Iron Man numbers among the best of the non-famous comic book characters; you have to like a superhero who grew up on Long Island and gets harassing phone calls from his ex-girlfriend. Most Hollywood treatments of comic books are disappointments, but the glimpse of the Iron Man movie seems promising.

How About a Pro Bowl in Which the Offensive Tackles Play Quarterback and All Those Extra Quarterbacks Have to Block? Never has there been better proof that too many players make this game based on rep, not actual performance, than Green Bay's Al Harris getting named to the Pro Bowl. Harris got destroyed by Terrell Owens in Green Bay's biggest regular-season matchup, then got destroyed by Plaxico Burress in the NFC Championship Game. At the end of that game, Harris looked like the battleship Suvorov lying on its side in flames at the battle of Tsushima Strait. Explain to me what business Harris has heading to Honolulu?

Beyond the rep-based invites, quarterbacks perennially are overrepresented. This year, the AFC and NFC squads each have three quarterbacks and three offensive tackles, though I would have sworn that twice as many offensive tackles as quarterbacks are on the field. Pro Bowl ballot quirks: The league listed David Carr and Daunte Culpepper as quarterback choices, continued to list Sam Adams as a defensive tackle choice even after he had been waived out of football, and offered 20 choices in the category "NFC kick returner." That is, there were 19 guys other than Devin Hester you could have voted for!

The Pro Bowl is hardly the only offender. Combining first team, second team and honorable mentions, the Washington Post All-Met high school football team for 2007 listed 34 quarterbacks and running backs, 21 offensive linemen. However, all linemen-unfriendly honorary teams are staring at the taillights of ESPN, which recently chose its 25 all-time best college football players: One linebacker, one defensive lineman, zero offensive linemen and the rest running backs and quarterbacks.

TMQ Hopes to Trademark the Phrase, "The Big Column": Last summer, the NFL abandoned its ridiculous quest to trademark the phrase "the Big Game." The name Super Bowl is trademarked, meaning it can be used by anyone in public discourse but cannot be employed for commercial purposes without permission. That's why, every year about this time, the league sends cease-and-desist orders to sports bars or arenas advertising a Super Bowl party with paid admission. But go ahead and advertise a Big Game Party, because the NFL dropped its trademark quest after an initial ruling that indicated little chance of success. Late January television ads that ask "Are you getting ready for the Big Game?" or some such are now kosher, even without a royalty to the NFL.

The NCAA successfully trademarked March Madness for its men's basketball tournament, thus high school tournaments cannot bill themselves as March Madness. But the ability to register a trademark depends on what is known as "secondary meaning" -- that is, when someone says the word or phrase, do consumers (in this case, sports fans) usually think of a particular product? March Madness invokes in people's minds NCAA basketball. Likewise, words such as Colts can be trademarked as the name of a professional football team because of common association between professional football and the word Colts. After the NFL's Colts moved to Indy, the team was able to block formation of a Baltimore Colts USFL franchise. But the Indianapolis Colts couldn't stop a high school football team from calling itself the Colts; the trademark-worthy secondary meaning applies specifically to professional football, not to all football. The term Big Game does not summon up the NFL in the imagination; it just summons up any generic big game. Thus enjoy your Big Game Party, and I'd open the doors at III p.m. and charge X bucks a head.

"Friday Night Lights" Update: For the second consecutive episode, not one second of football, just soap opera and relationship talk. Considering that "Friday Night Lights" must be on the verge of running out of fresh episodes completed before the writers' strike, the situation is not good. "Friday Night Lights" has aired 13 of a scheduled 22 episodes for this season, and the Dillon Panthers have played six games, standing at 4-2. There are a max of nine episodes remaining, and a Texas high school must appear in 16 games to reach the state championship -- meaning Dillon must play 10 games in the final nine episodes, versus six games played in 13 episodes so far. And that's assuming that, with the strike, the remaining episodes even get made. "Friday Night Lights" was supposed to be a show about high school football. How come it became a show about teen dating angst and trivial marital bickering, no longer even containing any mention of high school football, let alone football scenes?

FNL note: In the most recent episode, Dillon star "Smash" Williams was suspended for three games. Immediately TMQ thought: So what, the Panthers never actually play any games! Turns out great minds think alike. Below is a reader haiku:

Smash out for three games.
Panthers don't seem to play games:
Smash isn't punished.

-- Andrew Drake, Mountain View, Calif.

You There, Head Coach -- Fetch Me a Pepsi Max: After giving Wade Phillips only a lukewarm endorsement in the week before the Cowboys' home playoff game, Jerry Jones came down and stood next to him on the sideline during Dallas' failed final drive, distracting and embarrassing Phillips. Then Jones made Jason Garrett the league's highest-paid coordinator, to get Garrett to remain in Dallas and perhaps under the assumption he might replace Phillips at the end of next season. Why would an owner emasculate his own head coach -- isn't an NFL franchise better served by a coach in a strong political position? Jones has a long history of wanting weak, timorous coaches; this makes Jones feel more important. Jones and Jimmy Johnson split after Johnson won consecutive Super Bowls; Johnson has a strong personality and wanted to retain it, which Jerry apparently could not abide. Then Jones hired Barry Switzer, who at that point had been out of football for six years. Switzer won another Super Bowl (the Cowboys had fabulous personnel in the mid-1990s) but was a goofy, ineffectual presence and soon departed the team, and football, for good. Next, Jones brought in Chan Gailey, followed by Dave Campo, both mild-mannered personalities who seemed insecure around their owner -- the way the Cowboys' owner likes it. Suddenly, the formula changed with Jones hiring strong-personality Bill Parcells. When Parcells departed, Jones tabbed Phillips, who's well-liked in football circles, but not dynamic by any stretch of the imagination. Phillips is 61-42 in the regular season but 0-4 in the playoffs; he seems to lack that extra gear. Having tabbed a soft personality, Jones weakened Phillips even further by publicly embarrassing him: Most likely, the only words the Cowboys' coach will say to the Cowboys' owner now are "Yes, your majesty." And if Garrett takes over after next season, the Princeton grad will start in a fragile position. As a young coach who has never been a head coach at any level, Garrett would be easy for Jones to push around.

Meanwhile, the coaching carousel turns, and NFL teams continue to select as their leaders current assistant coaches who have never been head coaches at any level -- John Harbaugh to the Ravens, Tony Sparano to the Dolphins and Mike Smith to the Falcons being the latest examples. Lots of current NFL coaches went from being NFL defensive or offensive coordinators to being head coaches without ever head coaching in college or high school. That is, the NFL is full of coaches who started at the top -- Mike Tomlin, Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Sean Payton, Jon Gruden, John Fox, Mike McCarthy … I guess I'll stop because most NFL head coaches started at the top, without ever being a head coach in college or high school. Of current NFL head coaches, only Tom Coughlin had been a college head coach, and although Mike Holmgren, Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith and Wade Phillips started as high school assistants, no current NFL head coach was a high school head coach.

Why do NFL head-coaching jobs -- the very pinnacle of the coaching profession -- so often go to those without head-coaching experience? One reason is that high school and small-college coaches simply are not given the time of day by the NFL, though TMQ thinks many high school and small-college head coaches are actually more skilled than football-factory head coaches. In the high school environment, a coach cannot succeed unless he can do it all. In the small-college environment, a coach cannot behave like a little god, isolated from all save his courtiers , but must be able to work constructively with others, including the faculty. Broad understanding of all aspects of football and a well-adjusted personality that provides the ability to get along with others are both qualities important to successful coaching. Yet the NFL will not give high school or small-college coaches the time of day.

Next, football-factory head coaches have done poorly in the NFL in recent decades: Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson, Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, the list goes on. In the college environment, recruiting skills are essential; in the NFL environment, recruiting skills are irrelevant, so many college head coaches' primary facility does not translate to the pros. On the flip side, at football-factory colleges, the recruiting is hard and the rest is easy: Players are deferential; you strut around your college town like a little god; half your games are walkovers against cupcake opponents. In the NFL, nothing is easy: Every yard of every game is contested. With football-factory college coaches usually flopping in the NFL, and despite high schools and small colleges offering a huge coaching talent pool the NFL almost never taps, general managers end up trotting out the Usual Gang of Suspects for NFL coaching hires.

Another reason NFL assistant coaches who have never been head coaches constitute most NFL head-coaching hires is that NFL assistant coaches know the seriousness of the NFL game and are mentally prepared for its being much, much tougher than college. There are more games, one to two more months' worth, depending on the NFL team, giving the season a marathon feeling. The players talk back, and the media knives are always out. If you want to win in the NFL, you simply don't get a day off between the first of July and the double whistle on your final game. You can't take days off to play golf, as Spurrier did when Redskins coach. An NFL season is grueling. NFL assistant coaches get that, which is why they dominate the list of promotions to NFL head coaches.

The Miss America Finals No Longer Bring the Entire Nation to a Halt, But Now the NFL Draft Does -- Which Must Mean Something, We Just Don't Know What: As draft obsession begins anew, it's time to remember how little impact a draft usually has on the next season. Of last year's first-round choices, only Aaron Ross of Jersey/A started in either championship game or will start in the Super Bowl. Good drafting is essential to the long-term health of an NFL franchise, but few of the picks whom sports nuts obsessively will follow this April are likely to matter much to how their teams perform in 2008.

Reader Animadversion: This feature folds its tent and steals off into the desert until next autumn.

Next Week: That Super Bowl thing you might have heard about.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly.