The “T” on my ThinkPad flipped off last week as I was typing. My natural instinct was to blame my hellion son or my unlucky dog, Rufus, since they cause 99.99 percent of the disasters in my house. But I’ve only had this laptop for five months — it usually takes two years for my keyboard to start falling apart like it’s Arian Foster on your 2013 fantasy team. How could this happen?
My wife (a longtime MacGyver wanna-be) thought she could Super Glue the “T” back on the keyboard, which made me nervous because Super Glue is probably the most misunderstood product on the planet. You use Super Glue to fix a broken chair, or maybe even the face mask of an autographed Mark Sanchez helmet that you just threw against the wall. You shouldn’t use it for anything electronic; it just ends up making an already sticky situation stickier. One stuck “T” and one domestic argument later, I found myself back where I started. Thankfully, I had purchased something called “three-year onsite NBD and three-year priority support and three-year ThinkPad Protection” for $269 when I bought my laptop last June, which meant that if anything happened to my laptop, a technician would arrive the following day to fix it. I called Lenovo, banged out a service order and that was that.
The next day, Lenovo e-mailed me some bad news: My part was on back order and wouldn’t be available for five to seven business days. (Random note: I love when the phrase “business days” gets involved — sports teams should start using that for injured athletes so it sounds like they’re coming back sooner than they are. When Gronk broke his forearm, the Pats should have announced that he’d be out for 25 business days — I would have felt so much better.) I did the math and realized that “five to seven business days” really meant “You’re screwed, we’re not fixing your laptop until after Christmas.” The good news was that Lenovo would be keeping my $269 for “three-year onsite NBD and three-year priority support and three-year ThinkPad Protection” out of good faith. Cool. Thanks, Lenovo.
That left me with three choices
1. Write my Week 16 column on a keyboard that looks like this.
(Doable, but immensely frustrating. You don’t realize how many T’s there are until you have to slow down every time you’re about to type one. That last sentence had nine “T’s. Really, it couldn’t have been a “Q” or a “Z” that came off?)
2. Write my Week 16 column on my BlackBerry. (Yes, I still use my BlackBerry even after breaking up with it five different times — I hate typing on touchscreens.) Then I could e-mail it to Grantland’s copy desk through my AOL account, and maybe even post the eventual link on my Angelfire blog.
3. Bring my old 2009 laptop out of retirement with the same thinking that the Steelers used for Charlie Batch last month, right down to the condition of the laptop (far too creaky, thoroughly beaten up), my expectations (I just wanted it to manage the game for me without any killer turnovers) and the constant terror (not just that things would fall apart at any time, but that I’d lose my work even though I was saving it). There’s a 90 percent chance my old laptop is possessed by an evil spirit — everything is going fine when, suddenly, keys stop randomly working, everything goes haywire and this happens.
I went with ThinkPad Charlie Batch and hoped for the best. And just like the Steelers-Ravens game in Week 13, something magical happened — that beaten-up computer somehow cranked out a massive holiday mailbag without totally falling apart. Near the end, it was running on fumes of its fumes. The “8” and “9” keys stopped working, and at one point everything just shut down without any warning. (Somehow I had just saved my Word document 45 seconds before it happened.) Charlie and I made it to the finish line and mailed in the column. Not even 20 minutes later, everything was flashing and Charlie had to be carried out on a virtual stretcher — all we were missing were other laptops praying in a circle as Dan Dierdorf said, “Well, you always hate to see this happen.”
I spent the next few days learning how to write with a missing “T” key and wondering what would have been the best way to set that $269 on fire, ultimately deciding on 269 one-dollar bills because that would have generated the most smoke. By Thursday (the seventh and allegedly last “business day”), I thought I’d call Lenovo to check in on my new keyboard. The technical support lady quickly called up my case, eventually leading to this exchange.
TSL: “I’m showing the part will arrive tomorrow. An on-site technician will contact you then.”
Me: “Tomorrow — that would make eight business days. You guys said five to seven.”
TSL: “Well, we didn’t have the part, so ”
Me: “I write for a living — keyboards are kind of important for typing. I paid extra for next-day repair and support because I wanted to make sure I always had a laptop that worked.”
TSL: “You should have the new part tomorrow. Someone will call you.”
Me: “We just passed 240 hours since my first support call is it possible that I mistakenly bought 240-hour support?”
TSL: “We do apologize, sir.”
Me: “If I wanted to tell you to F off, should I do it once right now, or repeatedly over the next five to seven business days in Lenovo time so you could hear me telling you to F off for two straight weeks?”
Just kidding, I didn’t say that. I’m sure my new keyboard will probably arrive as you’re reading this week’s column. Thanks again, Lenovo!
We’re dedicating these Week 17 picks to Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Romeo Crennel, Chan Gailey and Pat Shurmur five coaches who will be sorely missed by everyone who writes snarky football columns for a living. I’m welling up just thinking about it. If there are a couple of T’s missing in what you’re abou to read, I know you’ll undersand.
HOME TEAMS IN CAPS
Jets (+3) over BILLS
At Stake: You mean, other than the AFC East’s fourth-place schedule for 2013? This might be the last time we see Mark Sanchez wearing a Jets uniform, Tim Tebow wearing an NFL uniform, Ryan Fitzpatrick wearing anything other than a headset, Chan Gailey coaching a football team that isn’t playing Division III,1 and Rex Ryan before he gets canned and ends up joining either Tirico and Gruden in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth or Dave Attell on Showtime’s Dave’s Old Foot-Fetish Porn. Even people in Buffalo don’t want to watch this game — it’s blacked out in Western New York.
The Pick: When in doubt, take the points — especially when the underdog’s coach has beaten the favorite’s coach five straight times by an average of 19 points. Speaking of the Jets, I enjoyed these two e-mails
From John D. in Somerville, Massachusetts (home of Redbones, New England’s greatest BBQ place and a future location for House Eats): “When an awful player has a huge contract, and his team wants to get rid of him but can’t because no one wants him, and they can’t cut him because of the cap, can we just call that the Sanchize Tag? It’s like the opposite of a franchise tag because you know he’s going to be paid a lot of money to stay with the same team, but only because he sucks so hard.” How great is that? Just for the hell of it, I bugged my illegitimate son Bill Barnwell during his holiday vacation and asked for his top-five Sanchize Tag guys for 2013 (see this extended footnote).2
From LTG in NYC: “As a life-long Pats fan who has spent his entire adult life in NYC, I am acutely familiar with the Pats/Jets rivalry. I keep thinking the Jets hit rock bottom (Fireman Ed, the Butt Fumble, Tebow) then they keep digging further. Anyway, my in-laws had their annual holiday party at their house in NJ last Saturday and I saw a buddy who is a life-long Jets fan. He’s otherwise a nice successful good guy with great seats and has taken me to a couple Pats-Jets Meadowlands games. He walked in and we said our hellos and that was it. About an hour later he came up to me and YELLED, “I find your pity upsetting!” The fact that I was NOT mocking him was killing him because the only reason why I, a Pats fan of all people, would not mock him was and could only be, of course pity. The absolute worst feeling and he stewed about it for an hour before exploding in the middle of the party. That’s an absolute new low in fandom. Even for Jets fans.”
(I’m telling you, it’s good to have the Jets back.)
COLTS (+7) over Texans
At Stake: A loss would ruin Houston’s no. 1 seed and maybe even Houston’s first-round bye. The Colts already locked down a no. 5-seed, but they can lock down America’s heart by playing their starters and winning Chuck Pagano’s comeback game. Speaking of Pagano, here’s reason no. 319 why I know I’m getting old: Pagano’s emotional “I want to dance at my daughters’ weddings” speech left me choked up and thinking about life and death and carpe diem and dancing at my own daughter’s wedding and all that gooey stuff. Had I seen it 10 years ago, I would have thought, My God, Chuck just put a ton of pressure on the two dudes dating his daughters to buy them engagement rings! WOW! An unprecedented power play by Chuck! Just call him #ChuckStrongarm!
The Pick: Indy wins late, lots of tears afterward and no, it can’t play out any other way. In reality, they’re better off letting Houston grab the no. 1-seed, then beating Baltimore in Round 1 and playing Houston in Round 2 over going to Denver (where they’d get destroyed). But this stopped being logical a long time ago. Ride the emotion, keep winning, don’t worry about who you’re playing.
BRONCOS (-16) over Chiefs
At Stake: By winning, Denver clinches a no. 2-seed and maybe even the no. 1-seed with help from #ChuckStrong. By losing, the Chiefs could clinch the first pick in the 2013 draft which, naturally, doesn’t feature a franchise quarterback because God secretly hates Kansas City. Topeka reader Dave Kensinger describes how bad it’s been for Chiefs fans
“You want Rock Bottom? The last time the Chiefs won a playoff game, here was the clinching play:
“Joe Montana handed off
“to Marcus Allen
“to beat the Houston Oilers
“in the Astrodome
“Oh well, at least we have the Royals.”
The Pick: Denver wins by 30, followed by Deron Williams getting Romeo Crennel fired the following morning. Speaking of Romeo, one more loss would bring his career record to an astonishing 28-55, putting him 27 games under .500 for his career. (Sadly, I only gambled against him in half of those games. I have a lot of regrets.) Of the 651 NFL coaches on pro-footballreference.com (I’m assuming that’s all of them, but you never know), only 14 did worse than Romeo’s probable minus-27: the one and only Rod Marinelli (10-38), Steve “This Opportunity Never Happens If That Ball Doesn’t Stick To Tyree’s Helmet” Spagnuolo (10-38), the immortal Bruce Coslet (47-77), Phil Handler (a sneaky-amazing 4-34), Joe “I Somehow Got Two Chances” Bugel (24-56), Dom “Call Me If You Want To Ruin Your Expansion Team” Capers (48-80), Ray “I Was Coached By Bear Bryant, And That’s Where The Similarities End” Perkins (42-75), David “The Ultimate Sports Legacy Kid If Not For Jim Dolan And Jimmy Buss” Shula (19-52), Norm Van Brocklin (66-100), the persistently horrific Dan Henning (38-73), Bert Bell (10-46), John McKay (44-88) and Marion Campbell (34-80 for a record minus-46).
Quick note on Campbell: He coached pieces of three Atlanta seasons in the mid-’70s (going 6-19) before becoming Dick Vermeil’s defensive coordinator in Philadelphia during the Jaworski/Papile glory years, eventually replacing Vermeil in 1983 (finishing 17-29-1), then somehow landing Atlanta’s head job AGAIN in 1987 (going 11-32 before retiring). You know what that means? If Campbell can get hired three times, including twice by the same team, then Romeo still has a chance for one more head-coaching stint! Who’s up for thirds with the Romeo Era? Let’s run this back! You’re up, Buffalo. Hire the man.
Dolphins (+10) over PATRIOTS
At Stake: The Pats can clinch a no. 3-seed and maybe even leapfrog to no. 1 if Houston and Denver both lose. (Unlikely, but still ) Meanwhile, the Dolphins need one more loss to guarantee themselves a Quadruple Jauron3 — a.k.a. finishing either 6-10 or 7-9 for four straight seasons. Much harder than it sounds.
The Pick: Too much Uncle Miltie potential, too much garbage-time TD potential, too easy to throw on New England with Alfonzo Dennard out I’m picking Miami for an ugly cover at least. Would Belichick be devastated if Miami pulled off the upset, then the Patriots slipped to a no. 4-seed and drew Indy in Round 1 and Houston in Round 2 (two teams they’ve crushed this season)? I mean, Belichick wouldn’t tank this game right?
BENGALS (-2.5) over Ravens
At Stake: The Ravens could jump to a 3-seed, but only if
Belichick throws New England blows the Miami game
and even then, they’re better off at no. 4 so they can play Indy in Round 1. And Cincy can’t budge from the no. 6-seed and would rather play Baltimore than New England next week. Can two teams throw the same game? It might take the full three hours for Alex Pappademas to understand what’s happening here.
The Pick: S-T-A-Y-A-W-A-Y. No gambling on this game. Close the Ravens-Bengals window on your illegal offshore betting account and walk away NOW.
Jaguars (+4) over TITANS
At Stake: Nothing.
The Pick: Always ride Chad Henne when he’s this lukewarm.
STEELERS (-6) over Browns
At Stake: On paper, nothing unless you have a gambling problem. If so, this might be your only chance to wager against Cleveland practice-squad QB Chad Lewis, who’s starting because Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy are injured. Some highlights from five minutes of extensive Chad Lewis Googling
• Whoops, his name is Thad.
• Yesterday someone edited his Wikipedia page to say his nickname was “The Champ.” Not “Champ” but “The Champ” — kind of like how you’re not allowed to call “The Edge” by “Edge.” Today, it’s gone. Doesn’t mean we can’t still call him “The Champ,” though.
• He’s the career leader in passing yards and passing TDs at Duke University. So what if that’s like being the UNLV Running Rebel who had the highest GPA during the Jerry Tarkanian era? Those are still two quality records, right?
• He could become the seventh Duke quarterback to start an NFL game, following the footsteps of Leo Hart, Al Woodall, Dave Brown, Sonny Jurgensen, Bob Brodhead and Mr. Anthony Dilweg.
• He looks like the guy who accidentally kills Ryan Phillippe in the impossibly underrated 1999 classic Cruel Intentions. Why haven’t they turned Cruel Intentions into a TV show yet? Have we ever gotten a legitimately good explanation?4
• When you search for Thad Lewis clips on YouTube, a bunch of Lincoln clips of Tommy Lee Jones playing Thaddeus Stevens come up. I ended up watching two of the Jones clips even though I’d already seen the movie — he’s that good — before getting angry all over again that Steven Spielberg ruined the movie with a certain decision he made. (Check the footnotes if you already saw the movie.5) Has Tommy Lee Jones replaced Clint Eastwood as America’s favorite over-60 actor, or am I crazy? Have you ever heard anyone say the words, “Crap, this movie has Tommy Lee Jones in it” or “I liked that movie, but it could have used a little less Tommy Lee Jones”? Thanks to Chad Lewis for reminding me how much I love Tommy Lee Jones. Er, Thad Lewis.
• He’s the 18th QB to start for the Browns since they relaunched the franchise in 1999. As Justin in New York points out, “Who has the best winning percentage of any Browns starting QB? The answer JAKE DELHOMME at 2-2. I think as a New Year’s resolution you should make a point to stop hating on Jake and give him his due justice as the New Browns’ BEST QB EVER.”
So to recap: You have my permission to tease the Steelers with ANYONE this week. Knock yourself out. Meanwhile, Ryan Cassidy passes along this week’s “God hates Cleveland” e-mail:
“Every year I go to a Browns game with my dad and he never has anything Browns-related to wear. I decided to look on the official Browns website to see what they had, stumbling upon one of the most depressing things I have ever seen as a Browns fan, and thats saying something. They currently have jerseys available for five active Browns players (one is a backup QB?) and nine, yes nine, former players!! This list for formers includes: Peyton Hillis, Brady Quinn, Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis, Kamerion Wimbley, Kellen Winslow, Derek Anderson, Donte Stallworth (this one has to be a joke right), and Joe Jurevicius. How sad does your franchise have to be to have more former player jerseys available than current players? And most of them were terrible. God really does hate Cleveland.”
Panthers (+5.5) over SAINTS
FALCONS (-3.5) over Bucs
At Stake: Nada.
The Picks: Put it this way I accidentally cut this section out of the original column in a copy-paste accident and never noticed until after the column went up. You know what? I’m not even apologizing.
Eagles (+7.5) over GIANTS
At Stake: New York’s 8.5 percent playoff hopes; Michael Vick’s 2013 contract; the Andy Reid era; a possible alternate ending for the Silver Linings Playbook Blu-ray; the faint possibility of Philly players trying to carry Andy off the field and everyone collapsing like a building during an earthquake.
The Pick: The Giants died a few weeks ago; we didn’t totally notice the smell of the corpse until last weekend.6 They can’t pressure the passer. They can’t defend receivers. They can’t throw the ball like they once did without Mario Manningham and with Hakeem Nicks hobbling around. What are they? I don’t even need to waste a reverse jinx on them this week — I think they lose outright to the Eagles this week, followed by the Eagles mismanaging the clock and pouring Gatorade on Andy Reid too soon just for old times’ sake. Please, Lord, let Andy end up with the Chargers and Phil Rivers so they can join forces and figure out ways to blow games late that haven’t even been invented yet. I don’t ask for much.
VIKINGS (+3.5) over Packers
At Stake: Green Bay’s no. 2 seed;7 Minnesota’s playoff spot;8 Eric Dickerson’s rushing record; a looming playoff gambling dilemma (wanting to wager against Christian Ponder in a road playoff game while simultaneously being terrified to wager against Adrian Peterson under any circumstances); Aaron Rodgers’s “Never bet against Aaron Rodgers when he’s hot” reputation; the psyche of Vikings fans.
The Pick: I’d never wager on this game because I’m too afraid to go against Rodgers OR Peterson, but these two e-mails nearly swayed me toward a Green Bay pick
E-mail No. 1 (from Jim in Washington): “You made it sound in your Week 17 podcast with Sal that the Packers line was too high. Let me tell you something — do not bet against Rodgers when he gets hot. I’ve learned the hard way. The Packers are somehow on a 9-1 run and no one is talking about them. Rodgers finds slights like Brady used to early in his career — you don’t think he’s mad about this? Don’t bet against Rodgers, Simmons, DON’T BET AGAINST RODGERS!”
E-mail No. 2 (from Joseph in St. Paul): “A message received by all Vikings fans just 12 hours ago
” ALL CALL VIKINGS FANS
“Prepare To Engage Expectation Management Plan Zulu Presume Loss Brace For Intense Misery At Echo Hour, S-Day
END TRANSMISSION ”
And then I thought about it
What’s fun about laying 3½ with Green Bay? I want to root for the Vikes at home! I want that extra half-point! I want to wager against Ponder in Round 1! COME ON, VIKES!
Bears (-3.5) over LIONS
At Stake: Chicago’s flimsy playoff hopes (they need to win AND they need Minnesota to lose); Calvin Johnson’s chances to break the 2,000-yard receiving mark; maybe Lovie Smith’s job; maybe Jim Schwartz’s job; Jay Cutler and Stat Padford9 staging a “Who can stare down his best receiver and keep forcing him the ball in triple coverage more times?” contest for the ages; the actual date that Chicago fans say, “Screw football, when is Derrick coming back?” (it’s either this Monday or a week from Monday); the terrifying possibility of the Packers winning, then the Bears somehow losing, followed by die-hard Bears fan Robert Mays developing a drinking problem, followed by a massive Grantland staff intervention and Mays screaming, “I’m fine! I’M FINE!” before storming off to get drunk again.
The Pick: That half-point scared me until I remembered that Chicago and Indy were this year’s Good Bad Teams — not including Week 1 (when Chicago crushed Indy), the Bears and Colts finished 1-7 against Green Bay, Houston, San Francisco, New England and Seattle and 17-3 against everyone else. Since the Lions have lost seven straight and are 22-41 in the Jim Schwartz era, I’d say this qualifies as a “Good Bad Team beating a Bad Team” scenario. Don’t you love that Chicago fans have to end their Sports Year From Hell by having to root for Green Bay? As Dallas reader John D. points out, “Has there been a better parallel in 2012 than the Bears and Homeland? Both had high expectations coming into the season, both began promising (leaving fans excited and wanting more), both fizzled out towards the middle (leaving fans worried that this season wouldn’t be as good as we originally thought), and finally, both ended with bulgy-eyed crying women (Carrie and Urlacher) rooting for bad guys.”
CHARGERS (-7) over Raiders
At Stake: Norv’s last game. That’s right, the one who drew the ire of my buddy Hopper in Vegas for staying on 16 is finally going to be unemployed, at least until the Jets hire him as their new offensive coordinator and all is right with the world again.
The Pick: Hey everyone, it’s your last chance to parlay San Diego with an early game, win the early game, debate whether to hedge, ride the parlay, then get screwed over by a Norv team that screwed up a game it should have easily won. It’s gonna be emotional. Come on, you and me let’s do this. One last time. Let’s lose some money.
Cards (+16.5) over NINERS
SEAHAWKS (-11) over Rams
At Stake: The Niners can clinch the no. 2-seed with a win, and a Packers loss, leaving Seattle stuck with a no. 5-seed unless Arizona’s Brian Hoyer pulls a Matt Flynn (a.k.a. the random backup QB who catches fire in Week 17 and stumbles into an extravagant free-agent deal). You know the Seahawks will show up because of their crowd and because Russell Wilson might be the Messiah but what about the Niners? How banged up are they after those brutal New England and Seattle games? How much will they miss Mario Manningham? Are they really playing a just-concussed Vernon Davis? Couldn’t Arizona’s D and special teams keep them hanging around?
The picks: A blowout in Seattle; a bizarre nail-biter in San Francisco. Hey, did you know I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season? It’s true, I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season. So to recap, I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season. Here’s the link of the column in which I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season. Do you know who I picked to make the Super Bowl before the season? The Seahawks!!!
Cowboys (+3) over REDSKINS
At Stake: The NFC East title; the no. 4 seed; the no. 6 seed if Minnesota AND Chicago lose (if that happens and Dallas beats Washington, Dallas gets no. 4 and Washington gets no. 6; if that happens and Washington wins, the Redskins get no. 4 and the Giants get no. 6); the Jason Garrett era; the “Rookie of the Year” award; a potentially massive NBC rating; the mood of Monday’s B.S. Report with Cousin Sal; the latest chapter of the ongoing saga, “How Good Is Tony Romo?”
The Pick: Pick a scenario
Scenario A: A suddenly healthy Robert Griffin III scampers around, slices and dices Dallas’s defense, spearheads a brutally efficient Redskins running game and generally does RG3 things as Washington’s sellout crowd absolutely loses its mind, followed by dozens of shots of a depressed Jerry Jones, Garrett blankly staring out to the field with one of those “Maybe I should see if I could get a college job” looks on his face, then Romo gamely bringing the Cowboys back from 20 down in the fourth quarter with two garbage-time TDs, followed by the inevitable onside kick that Dan Bailey screws up by kicking out of bounds. Washington wins by six.
Scenario B: Griffin doesn’t look totally healthy Washington’s ridiculous fumble luck (they’ve recovered 19 of their 25 fumbles) finally swings against them Romo plays out of his mind as Cris Collinsworth lectures us that we “have to stop pretending that Tony Romo isn’t an elite QB” a once-crazy Washington crowd goes into super-tense “Uh-Oh” mode (shades of the Nats’ last playoff game) as Romo does whatever he wants Griffin makes one classic rookie mistake down the stretch Collinsworth gushes that “People don’t realize how mentally tough this Cowboys team is” Al Michaels gets excited when a late Cowboys field goal beats the “over” Dallas wins by 10.
Why do I keep drifting back to Scenario B? Cowboys 34, Redskins 24.
Last note: Thanks to everyone for reading Grantland in 2012. And while we’re here, thanks to John Skipper, John Walsh, Rob King, John Kosner and Marie Donoghue for enabling the single most rewarding experience of my career; thanks to Dan Fierman, Sean Fennessey and Megan Creydt for guarding Grantland’s front door and keeping the site going every day; thanks to David Cho for selling stuff and doing David Cho things; thanks to Mike Philbrick for dominating the East Coast and editing my mediocre column; thanks to the incomparable and indispensable Dave Jacoby for being our Office MVP; thanks to Grantland OG’s Jay Kang and Rafe Bartholomew for always pushing us creatively; thanks to Mark Lisanti and Chris Ryan for shepherding our entertaining blogs while somehow finding time to write quality stuff, too; thanks to our young’uns (Robert Mays, Emily Yoshida, Juliet Litman and Sarah Larimer) for working their butts off while keeping the office happy; thanks to newer additions Harlan Edelman, Craig Gaines and Carlos Sepulveda for fitting in so seamlessly; thanks to the Single Greatest Intern Who Ever Lived (Patricia Lee); and last but not least, thanks to our talented crew of writers who carry Grantland day after day after day. This site has turned into everything we ever hoped it would be. Happy New Year. See you in 2013.
Last Week’s Record: 9-7
2012 Record: 125-111-4