The 2012 Year-End Blowout

G-Men’s Journey From Champs to Chumps

Rob Carr/Getty Images Peyton Manning

Mayan Apocalypse Holiday Mailbag

It's the end of the world as we know it, so the Sports Guy is cleaning out his inbox while making his Week 16 picks

You knew this was coming … it’s the Mayan Apocalypse Holiday Mailbag! When will I ever get to do one of these again? Let’s cross it with Week 16 NFL picks and answer even more e-mails than usual (over 50 in all), just so you’ll always remember plowing through your final Sports Guy column during those final seconds as Earth is collapsing on itself. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.

(Home teams in caps.)

Falcons (-4) over LIONS

Q: Did you know the Lions are selling Axel Foley jackets now? As a lifelong Lions fan (I’m 28), I can safely say that the fact that I can now own this jacket is one of my top 5 moments rooting for this team — Barry Sanders owns the first 4 moments, but this is definitely fifth.
—Brandon Draper, Farmingdale, NY

SG: So to recap — Brandon’s top five Lions moments involve a 1984 Eddie Murphy movie and a running back who retired 14 years ago. And you wonder why I took the Falcons over the free-falling Lions. (Another reason: Atlanta clinches the no. 1 seed with a win, allowing them to rest everyone next week.) Meanwhile, Vince Verhei’s recent piece (Insider only) made a devastating case for the Falcons being the first-ever “Nobody Believes In Us But With Reason Because We’re Absolutely Screwed” team: They’re the 12th team to exceed Football Outsiders’ win expectancy model by three-plus wins, which ties into the whole “Atlanta isn’t nearly as good as its record” angle. Of those other 11 teams, seven either missed the playoffs or lost their first playoff game, and only two made it to a conference championship (the ’03 Panthers and ’04 Falcons). Their best hope? That ’03 Panthers team came within a break or two of beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl AND nearly launched the Mayan Apocalypse eight years early (had Jake Delhomme won the Super Bowl).

Q: When David Stern finally gets his way and Gary Bruce Bettman kills the NHL, what happens to Lord Stanley’s Cup a.k.a. the greatest trophy in pro sports? Will it be rented out for parties? I know that I’d pay top dollar to spend a night drinking booze from it. Or maybe the NFL can buy it and rename it the Lord Stanley’s Lombardi Cup. There are implications beyond losing a league and the best live experience from any American pro sport. We should really be planning the fate of the Stanley Cup now before Bettman starts using it as his personal outhouse.
— Brandon, Sacramento

SG: I like the idea of renting the Stanley Cup — if they charged $25,000 per night, with the caveat “The Stanley Cup cannot leave North America,” how many nights could they sell off to wealthy people desperately trying to impress their friends? Maybe 200 or so? But I love the idea of another league buying the Cup. Why wouldn’t the NBA (which currently has the worst trophy in professional sports) purchase it for $25 million as Stern’s final dagger into the NHL’s back nearly 20 years after planting his mole there? The NHL won’t truly hit rock-bottom until it hawks the Cup — that would be the league’s “Dirk Diggler jerking off in a church parking lot for 20 bucks” nadir.

(Shouldn’t a few NHL diehards steal the Cup and threaten to melt it by January 15 unless hockey comes back? At the very least, couldn’t we make this idea into a sports movie? Like a cross between Ocean’s Eleven, Ransom and Celtic Pride? This feels like Kevin Smith’s next straight-to-cable comeback movie. I’d call it either Stealing Lord Stanley or Five Minutes for Kidnapping.)

Q: Fantasy football sucks. The guy who took a kicker in the 8th round of our fantasy draft just beat me in the playoffs. I give up.
—Kurt, Peoria

SG: You’re talking to the guy who spent 10 minutes adding up Week 15 stats for his team that never made the playoffs just to see if he would have beaten everyone else. And yes, Kaepernick (four TDs), Gore, Murray, Dez, Cal Johnson, James Jones (three TDs) and the Bengals D (12 pts) would have beaten everyone else. This is reason no. 92 why I’m probably retiring from fantasy football. Here’s reason no. 93: I actually said the words “all fantasy football sites need to add live scoring pages for teams that didn’t make the playoffs” on Sunday. It’s a sickness.

TEXANS (-7.5) over Vikings

Q: Isn’t Christian Ponder the perfect example of why QBR doesn’t cover it all? He has the cushiest circumstances for a QB in the modern NFL. He faces nine-man boxes every single snap. It’s a bonus if he throws for over ONE HUNDRED yards. He is a picture of sheer panic and fear every time he drops back. Take a close look not just at his incomprehensible interceptions, but all the unseen open receivers or simple underthrown/overthrown passes. Blame it on the receivers? Please. We thought the Vikings had bad receivers when T Jack was here — that was proven false the moment Favre stepped in. If Ponder was placed in any situation that did not involve the greatest running attack in modern NFL history, I am very confident he could surpass Skelton, Leaf, etc as the worst QB in modern NFL history.
—James Bachmeier II, St. Paul

SG: (Waving my arm like a third-base coach … )

Q: Something I read today: “In the Vikings’ last six games, Christian Ponder has completed one pass in 23 attempts 15 yards or more downfield. During that time, 40 other players have completed multiple passes of those distances. Ponder’s last completion 15 yards or more came in Week 10 against the Lions.” Seriously, this is what AP has to protect him from nine men in the box?
—McLayne, Portland

SG: (Still waving my arm … )

Q: After reading your take on Ponder in your QB Power Poll, I was astonished not to see even the tiniest Samantha Steele reference. It was almost inconceivable. I actually re-read that paragraph thinking I missed it because of my hangover. I hope you have some sort of explanation, like an ESPN-related conflict of interest or something. If not I fear that this is the first sign of the beginning of your decline or even worse your Donny-Kerabatsos-leaving-the-last-pin-standing moment. Please tell me you were just fatigued and this never would have happened were he not such an awful NFL QB and thus not so far down the list. Give me something here.
—Bob, Greely, CO

SG: An honest copy-paste mistake. I had a joke in there about Ponder being the single luckiest guy of 2012 (for stumbling into Steele AND Peterson’s amazing comeback AND two straight months of going against goal-line defenses) and accidentally chopped it from the final piece. By the way, my readers keep hypothesizing that Steele had some sort of a Kim Basinger/Roy Hobbs effect on Ponder’s season. I’m pretty sure she didn’t make a difference since Ponder’s ceiling is really “a homeless man’s Rich Gannon,” but let’s add her to the Gisele Bündchen All-Stars just to be safe. I’m also adding Allie LaForce preemptively just in case she ever starts dating a great athlete — she might be the only human alive who can derail Peterson at this point.

Q: Every year there are one or two guys (like Peterson this year) who go off late and wreck the end of the fantasy football season by putting up ridiculous stats and virtually guaranteeing a championship for their owners. Think Calvin Johnson last year or Michael Vick in 2009. This player needs a nickname that we can all recognize for easy discussion. Something like “The Wrecker,” but not as lame. This way, you could say things like, “I thought I had my league won until I ran into ‘The Wrecker’ in the finals.”
—Rob Ostrom, Strongsville, OH

SG: Hmmmmmm. I’m partial to The Saboteur because you’re insinuating that things were going fine until outside forces willfully sabotaged it. Just to be sure, I e-mailed Matthew Berry for his blessing. Here’s what he wrote back:

“I love this idea. On our podcast, we have ton of these phrases: ‘Fantasy Whac-a-mole’ (the guy who shows up one week and then disappears the next), the ‘Fantasy Zombie’ (guy left for dead who suddenly shows up and becomes relevant, like Knowshon Moreno), the ‘Fantasy Goat’ (the one player who, in an otherwise huge game, does nothing — like the Seahawks put up 58 points two weeks ago but Sidney Rice had three points) and, of course, ‘Fantasy Kryptonite’ (among my favorite fantasy nicknames of all time). Since you created ‘Fantasy Kryptonite,’ I’m on board with ‘The Saboteur’ given your track record. Just wondering if it would be better if you have a specific example of a ‘Saboteur’ and use that as the name. Like, anytime a closer gets a save in baseball but it’s one of those that the guy gives up two runs, two walks and a hit before the save we always call a ‘Dirty Fuentes’ (after former closer Brian Fuentes, who seemed to lead the league in ugly, WHIP crushing saves). So what about the Fantasy Rielle (after the lady who ruined John Edwards’ political career)? A Fantasy Jar Jar? Fantasy Yoko? For you, maybe Fantasy Bobby V? Maybe your readers can beat those?”

We don’t even need my readers. I like Fantasy Yoko — that’s really, really solid. Rolls right off the tongue. You could even shorten it and say, “Adrian Peterson just Yoko’d my fantasy title.” Done. We’re moving on.1

Q: In your latest QB power poll, you mentioned 2012 being, “The Year Of The Rookie QB, The Year Of The Replacement Refs, The Year Peyton Came Back, and The Year Goodell Totally Lost Control Of The Car So Badly That His Dad Had To Take The Wheel.” How could you forget “The Year It Was Confirmed That Adrian Peterson Isn’t Human”?
—Alex, Northfield, MN

SG: Because I’m an idiot. That should have been the first mention. 2012 also could have been dubbed “The Year We Realized That We Should Never Wager Against Adrian Peterson Under Any Circumstances,” “The Year You Always Kept Adrian Peterson On A Wall of TVs Even In Meaningless Games Just In Case He Ran For 300 Yards” and “The Year Adrian Peterson Earned Himself The First-Ever 110 Madden Rating.”

Q: I think AP’s MVP trophy should be a lock. It’s not just the comeback from injury, or shouldering the load for an entire team with a terrible QB. The biggest reason to vote for AP? Separation from his peers. He has outrushed his closest competitor by 30 percent more yards. That’s crazy! By comparison, Brees would need to have 1,200 more passing yards than he currently has to be 30% ahead of second place Brady.
—Andy Knuth, St. Paul

SG: I need my MVPs to make the playoffs — that means the Vikes need to win in Houston this week, something that just seems far-fetched. Ponder is strolling into Houston and beating a no. 1 seed? Come on. You beat Houston by throwing the ball on them. I don’t even see Minnesota covering, much less winning. If Peterson pulls this Texans game out, wins next week and makes the playoffs, I’d give him the MVP, an ESPY and a Nobel Prize.2

Titans (+13) over PACKERS

Q: My girlfriend and I went ice skating the other night, and witnessed a little girl, probably around eight years old, fall and bang her head against the ice. I helped her up and to the side of the rink, and asked her how she felt. She said she was dizzy, so I told her to stay awake. Her guardian — a “Mr. Mike” — casually glided over after a minute or so, and jovially asked her if she was scraped or bleeding. When she replied no, he said, “Then let’s get back out there!” I’m not sure whether I’ve been watching too much football or not, but I felt like Mr. Mike should be fined $25,000 and possibly suspended.
—Dave, Charleston, SC

SG: That isn’t even one of the five goofiest e-mails we’re running in the Mayan Apocalype Holiday Mailbag. Speaking of goofy, the Packers have beaten just two teams by 13-plus points this season: Houston (by 18) and Arizona (by 14). They can’t put teams away because they can’t run the ball; their QB has been sacked 45 times (and counting) and could get concussed by Lambeau’s ice-cold surface at any time; and they lose three to six points per game by employing a free-falling kicker whose confidence is more shaken right now than the studio exec who told Judd Apatow, “Sure, I have no problem with you making This Is 40 134 minutes long or casting your kids in big roles, I think it sounds fine.” Grab the 13 points and thank me later, if only for the garbage-time TD potential.

Q: You should be cursing this whole Hollinger/Grizzlies thing. You’re going to lose all your talent. Next year the Griz will go 70-12 and post an average team PER of 24 and someone will snap Barnwell right up for football. The next thing you know Lowe will be the G.M. of the Wizards, Greenwald will be a network exec at CBS, and you’ll have to stop half-assing your articles and write more! So stop thanking John Hollinger, curse his name — cause you’re screwed!
—Will Pyburn, Carmel, Indiana

SG: My favorite part of this scenario is Greenwald running CBS — within a week we’d see shows green-lighted like CSI: Philly starring Kyle Chandler, How I Met Your Mother at a Jrue Holiday Charity Bowling Event, Survivor: Midtown and NCIS: Park Slope, as well as Mandy Patinkin replacing David Letterman on the Late Show.3

Q: If Tom Cruise is truly embracing his own irony in Jack Reacher (your theory from last week’s column), does that mean he’s the next William Shatner? How long before he’s hawking hotel rooms? Could he re-do T.J. Hooker for HBO or the Max? In a few years, Heather Locklear’s daughter could step up, right?
—JD, Dyersburg, TN

SG: We’re like 12 years and two more Mrs. Cruises away from this happening. But tell me you couldn’t see Cruise as Shatner in this clip and deadpanning things like, “In the end, what hurts the most is when you realize love wasn’t enough.” This clip is s-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r, by the way.

COWBOYS (-2.5) over Saints

Q: Jason Garrett is coaching for his career facing Drew Brees this week. Lose and the Cowboys are all but out of the playoffs. Why would Brees pour it on and spoil the season, sealing not only the fate of Jason Garrett, but also perhaps his own? No Playoff Cowboys = Sean Payton joining the Cowboys, right? I see Brees pulling an Anti Uncle Miltie, shriveling like a frightened turtle, doing just enough to lose and keeping his coach for next year. Watch.
—PK, Saratoga Springs

SG: Sold! Say no more! The best part of this scenario? Nobody will be suspicious when Brees is throwing into triple coverage because he’s been doing it all season. Also, I fully support any scenario that could potentially lead to me wagering against Tony Romo and Jason Garrett in a playoff game — especially if it happens in Round 1 with no. 4-seed Dallas hosting no. 5-seed Seattle. After I hand in this column, I’m going to the Grove (an outdoor mall in L.A.), sitting on Santa’s lap and asking for a Cowboys-Seahawks playoff game for Christmas. You know, assuming there is a Christmas.

Q: Your NFL Quarterback Power Poll led me to watch Varsity Blues. Can we really believe the NFL when they say they knew nothing about the effects of consussions, when the writers of Varsity Blues — Hollywood types who probably didn’t know much about football or medicine — knew that concussions coupled with the pressures of playing football lead to drowning your sorrows in alcohol and what looked to be a near suicide? And this was in 1999!
—Ethan, Blandburg

Q: Why is no one pointing out that Goodell suspended Scott Fujita and no one, not even Tagliabue, can find one shred of evidence that he did ANYTHING wrong? Goodell even refuses to apologize. Could it have anything to do with the fact that Fujita was on the Players Board in the lockout negotiations? Nah, that would require Goodell to be a calculating, vindictive man who thinks he is a dictator and can get away with anything. On second thought …
—Cory B., San Diego

Q: Is Bud Selig somehow the least worst commissioner now? How did we get here?
—Zain Devshi, Livonia

SG: Yes, those three e-mails were more than tangentially related. I enjoyed how Zain phrased that last e-mail — he’s right, Selig is the least worst commissioner. Perfect. Speaking of Bud, my first great teacher — as well as the guy who thought up the Hall of Fame Pyramid that eventually became the biggest part of my NBA book (late Christmas gift alert!), and the guy who taught me never to give anyone baseline — turned 80 on Thursday and it was nice to think he wasn’t that old because he’s only 19 months older than the commissioner of baseball. Happy 80th birthday, Wally Ramsey.

Q: Huge fan. But has it ever struck you that you hate every commissioner? You take the players’ side on every topic. I mean every topic. And yet as a “grown man,” you seem to love Vince Mcmahon the Owner and basically “Commissioner” of the WWE (I’m sure it’s technically some wrestler or ex wrestler and you probably know who which goes to my point.) Did something really bad happen to you as a child? You seem to like your father but is it secretly out of fear? Was there an evil Uncle? Did you go to a private school with a taskmaster Head Master? Are you actually Pam Grier and stuck in one of your ’70s movies that made us all men where there was a Warden who was selling your ass to rich business men? I just want to make sure you’re ok.
—Erin, Los Angeles

SG: I’m fine. My mistake was this — I had been foolishly operating under the mistaken impression that commissioners care about serving the fans of their sports. As we’ve learned over the past three years, they only care about protecting their owners. The NBA squandered 16 regular-season games pretending they were losing money; meanwhile, they have a waiting list of billionaires wanting to purchase their teams and more marketable stars than every other American sport combined. The NHL is about to electrocute two seasons in seven years; the league openly hates its fans — it’s disgusting (especially given how loyal those fans are). And the NFL’s last lockout was flat-out extortion (my March 2011 column), and that’s before their belated attempt to care about concussions, Goodell’s sorry performance with Bountygate and everything else.

Even Stern’s recent attempt to stick up for basketball fans was misguided — he fined Gregg Popovich $250,000 for embarrassing the league by resting his three best players against Miami, and meanwhile, Stern is the one who allows a grueling 82-game schedule when everyone agrees that (a) the schedule shouldn’t be longer than 72-75 games, and (b) every team has seven or eight “schedule losses” (the actual nickname for them) when they’re playing a fourth game in five nights, usually on the road (and they’re so tired that Vegas actually shifts the line against them). You get injured when you’re worn down; it’s counterproductive. If Stern cared about NBA fans, he would have pushed to shorten the schedule so we wouldn’t pay to see any schedule losses. He’d also fine teams who tank down the stretch, like the 2012 Warriors, who shamefully threw games to keep their first-round pick (and got rewarded with Harrison Barnes).4 But Stern works for the owners, not the fans, so that’s the kind of stuff that happens and continues to happen. At least baseball’s owners are honest about it — they trotted out an actual owner as their commissioner.

You know what I’m hoping? That Adam Silver becomes this century’s first commissioner to put his fans’ best interests on equal footing with his owners’ best interests. I genuinely think he cares about NBA fans. And if I’m wrong, it’s going to be an enormous letdown. But I don’t think I am.

Q: The Pepsi commercial featuring Drew Brees singing has to be one of the worst commercials ever, and its extreme awfulness makes me really happy to enjoy how crappy the Saints have been this year. Where does this commercial rank amongst the all time worst commercials ever featuring a professional athlete? Because of this commercial, I can’t stand Drew Brees and will never drink a Pepsi again.
—Benjamin, Charlotte

SG: That’s not even the worst commercial featuring a QB in the past three years — you obviously haven’t seen Joe Flacco’s Pizza Hut commercials. As for the worst athlete commercials ever, for me, Pete Rose’s Aqua Velva campaign will always be the bar that needs to be cleared. You had …

Pete doing something that seems like singing! (Special guest appearance by the great Vic Tayback.)

Pete and Joe Morgan becoming the Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby of homoerotic aftershave commercials!

Pete somehow being out-acted by his young son!

Pete winning over and apparently seducing a female sports reporter by repeatedly telling her he likes smelling like a man while inadvertently setting the feminist movement back by 20 years! (Special guest appearance by Betty Buckley.)

The moral of the story: There’s no way those Brees/One Direction ads will be 10 percent as ridiculous in 35 years as those Rose/Aqua Velva ads are. He’s still the Bad Commercial champ. Yet another reason why Pete needs to be in the Hall of Fame. And by the way? HE SMELLS LIKE A MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Patriots (-14.5) over JAGUARS

Q: Just read your QB Power Poll. As a Colts fan and a reader of your columns, I am counting down the days until Tom Brady retires so that you will stop posting your middle-aged pseudo-sexual fantasies about Brady.
—Colin Riley, Miami

SG: I resent the word “pseudo.”

Q: Did you realize that Brady threw for 327 yards in the final 26 minutes this past Sunday?? According to the ESPN; 327 yards would rank sixth out of all qualified quarterbacks in Week 15, one spot above Drew Brees which is honestly all that needs to be said. And this was in 26 MINUTES. Either this guy a hyper-advanced and humanlike football robot that Bill Belichick commands through the headset from the sidelines, or he just really hates losing.
—Kahlil Dozier, Cambridge, MA

SG: I thought those four straight TD drives, collectively, were the best hour of football that Tom Brady ever played. He’s just never been better. I’ve been watching him for 12 solid years and that’s the only time I remember thinking, He’s out of his mind right now. Wait, I better slow down before Colin Riley gets pissed off.

Q: Listened to your Smart-Guy Wednesday podcast — I was horrified when you said you had a theory about when players have babies they lose sleep and thus play like crap. You know who just had a baby daughter? Tom Brady. I was terrified. Then, I remembered that like 90 percent of your theories never come true and that the Patriots and Tom Brady are fine.
—Matt O, Plymouth, NH

SG: Come on, couples making a combined $63 million a year are immune to the New Baby theory. I’m pretty sure a groggy Tom isn’t waking up at 3 a.m. to handle his daughter’s next feeding. As for the Pats, I see Belichick unleashing the hounds in Jacksonville — they’re pissed off about being so sloppy against the Niners. You can’t make this line high enough.

Q: Did you switch over to MSNBC during the Niners-Patriots game, or did you stay on NBC and watch the best moment of Obama’s presidency?
—Tom, Providence, RI

SG: There was never a question — I stayed on NBC and watched the best moment of Obama’s presidency. As a fellow American and a fellow parent, I couldn’t have been prouder of him. Great speech. Hang in there, Newtown.

Chargers (+4) over JETS

Q: Hollywood Crony: “Hey, what happened to that Fourth & God sequel you were going to make?”

Hollywood Producer: “It’s in turnaround.”
—Brian, Jeffersonville, IN

SG: (Shaking my head.)

Q: Sanchez threw an interception into single coverage, double coverage, triple coverage and quadruple coverage on Monday Night Football … the interception cycle!
—Aaron W, Miami

SG: Let’s just go ahead and rename that “The Sanchez,” just so we can leave the door open for a QB having “The Sanchez” and “The Delhomme” (at least five turnovers including one pick-six) in the same game.

Q: Can we officially make “Mark Sanchezing” a verb after this Titans loss? It would mean to find a new and worse way to fail that still surprises people despite your proven incompetence for years, at everything.
—Zac Peake, Boise, ID

SG: Sorry, that phrase is already taken — it means “to pull off at least four upper-deckers in your buddy’s bathroom in the same calendar year.”

Q: Do you realize the kid who played A.J. Soprano has had ONE acting gig since the show ended? And it was a guest spot as “Lucky Stiff” three years ago on Law & Order? Is he in the discussion for worst actor of all-time?
—Irv, Boston

SG: Whoops, I accidentally mixed up my A.J. Soprano and Mark Sanchez e-mails.

Q: I think the worst thing about being a Jets fan right now is that we can’t possibly get rid of the biggest problem with our franchise. You can change coaches. You can fire the GM. You can’t fire the owner. How am I supposed to have confidence that this guy knows what he is doing? At least fans of other teams know their owners were smart enough to make enough money to buy an NFL team. They are smart and successful businessmen. Our owner simply got born with the right last name. He has been so bad I actually wish he hadn’t beaten Dolan in the bid for the team. As a Knicks fan I never thought I would see the day I wish my team was owned by a Dolan.
—Jamie Penn, Wwantagh, NY

SG: Stop it … that’s crazy talk. You don’t mean that. Everyone needs to settle down. The Jets recently played in TWO straight AFC title games. Ask Cleveland and Buffalo fans if they’d switch places with you. Besides, any season that results in Fireman Ed quitting has to be considered a success, right?

Q: As the final Jersey Shore episode nears, can we talk about how badly MTV screwed up that franchise? They didn’t realize what the show is: “Guido Real World.” By not recasting before filming Season 2, and allowing the original cast to become stars, they cost themselves a ton of money, and ensured that the show’s days were numbered as this group was only going to be interesting for so long. I’m starting to think that the show was secretly being run by the Jets’ management. Fist pumps, forever!
—Michael, New York

SG: Don’t you love the fact that the Jets are the Jets again? Nobody juggles sarcasm, bitterness and self-loathing better than Jets fans — it’s an art form for them, and that’s before we get to their abject willingness to get sucked right back into a seemingly hopeless season at any time. If we could ever figure out who created the first venomous message board in the years right after Frank Gore invented the Internet, I’d bet anything that Jets fans were involved. That’s what is going to make it so beautiful when they keep Rex and Sanchez for one more year, then hire Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator — something I’ve been predicting for three years, but dammit, this is the year!

Q: It’s amazing to see how bad the Jets are. Their QB has had 50 turnovers the last two years, and has five games with a single digit QBR this year. That’s ONE EVERY THREE GAMES. He is now benched for a guy with 0 career starts drafted in the seventh round. The running game is mediocre at best, and their top WR shares a name with one of the Three Stooges. The defense creates no pass rush and is missing their best player. They rank in the bottom five in most offensive categories. They are the worst 6-8 team ever … and they are favored this week against the Hopeless Norvs. It’s the Incompetence Bowl!
—Taylor, Patchogue, NY

SG: That’s why I’m predicting that the Chargers squeeze out a cover without winning this Sunday — something like Jets 4, Chargers 3. You heard me right. Jets 4, Chargers 3.

Raiders (+8.5) over PANTHERS5

Q: You wrote in the “Year in TV” about the number of zombie kills in The Walking Dead increasing after the first two seasons. Did you know a couple guys at the National Post did a statistical analysis of all the zombie kills in each of the 3 seasons? They broke it down by how they were killed, who killed them, what weapon was used, etc. Pretty cool graphic (someone has a lot of time on his hands).
—Geoff W, Mesa, AZ

SG: Speaking of zombies, how ’bout the Raiders getting 8½? I never thought I’d pick the 2012 Raiders to cover again, but the 5-9 Panthers are laying 8½???? Really? And wouldn’t it be like Carson Palmer to Yoko about 200,000 fantasy championship games by randomly throwing for 425 yards and four TDs? (See, it worked!) By the way, bah humbug to the NFL for scheduling 12 early games and two late games on Sunday. Ridiculous.

DOLPHINS (-4.5) over Bills
Redskins (-6.5) over EAGLES

Q: A little True/False for you: That backdoor cover of a 10.5 point spread with 30 seconds remaining was the most heroic moment of the Eagles’ season. Hint: it’s true. This is being an Eagles fan in 2012.
—TJ V, Philly

Q: Does Fourth & God II: God Willing open with Tebow’s arrival in Philadelphia? If so, I look forward to buying it in 2020 as part of a BluRay combo pack with Invincible and Silver Linings Playbook.
—Andy Levin, Philly

SG: Yup, it’s been an especially rough year for Eagles fans, which got me thinking — haven’t there been an unusual number of “it’s been an especially rough year for … ” seasons this year? Right now, Eagles, Jets, Raiders, Jags, Chargers, Cardinals, Chiefs AND Bills fans are all feeling like they’ve hit rock bottom (or something close). That’s eight teams! And I didn’t even mention Lions and Browns fans (who always feel like they’ve hit rock bottom, so this year didn’t stand out), Cowboys fans (headed for their annual holiday kick in the nuts) or Bengals fans (who somehow remained at rock bottom while also contending for a playoff spot). I’ll let Daniel Wasson explain …

Bengals (+3.5) over STEELERS

Q: If the Bengals get the wild card, it will be our second playoff appearance in 20 years. Our team is led by our fearsome all time winningest coach, Marvin Lewis (77-80), who has the backing of Mike Brown the Sadist (as of last season his Win/Loss ratio is 4-12 in his 20-plus years). The good news is we’re doing it all in style in our publicly funded $500 million (and counting) stadium, while the county who paid to build it mortgages its own hospitals to pay back the worst stadium deal in sports history. Here’s a fun fact: Hamilton County actually has to PAY MIKE BROWN to keep the Bengals in Cincinnati in the future. Even us poor bastards who refuse to go watch the Bengals … have to pay for our fair citizens … to not watch the Bengals. You see, even the few hominids with nothing better to do than sit down and watch Lewis call defensive timeouts (god help me), cannot because several of our home games have been blacked out because Mr. Brown doesn’t care to showcase his shiny new product to the masses by paying the $100,00 Blackout Fee. My point. Mike Brown is the f-ing worst.
—Daniel Wasson, Cincinnati

SG: Let’s just say that I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bengals come to New England in Round 1, despite what Barnwell says. As for Bengals-Steelers, Mike Lombardi and I discussed this in Tuesday’s podcast but it’s worth rehashing here — are we sure the Steelers aren’t aggressively mediocre? They can’t block; they can’t run the ball; their secondary has been crushed by injuries; their “name” defensive players look old; their coach’s game management has been exceptionally sloppy this year; they’re only 11 months removed from blowing a playoff game to someone who can’t even start over Greg McElroy right now; and yet we’re supposed to be frightened of them because their banged-up QB has come through in a few big games over the years (but again, he’s banged up). Maybe 2012 just isn’t their year? I’m leaning that way.

Colts (-6.5) over CHIEFS

Q: Has Bill Barnwell already written his “Why the Colts Won’t Be This Good Next Year” column?
—Darron, Brooklyn

SG: Come on, even Barnwell is afraid to go against #ChuckStrong.6

Q: You know it’s been a bad year when your fans are actually excited at the prospect of Ricky Stanzi possibly starting. Ladies and gentlemen your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs!
—Jason Young, Kansas City

SG: I found this impossible to believe and Googled the words “Ricky Stanzi” with “Chiefs fans” and “excited.” Not only was it 100 percent true …

• There’s a movement behind Stanzi getting the Chiefs job called “Stanzi Nation” that even has a “Stanzi Nation” Twitter account (nearly 3,400 followers!).

• The excellent Chiefs blog “Arrowhead Addict” had a post two days ago headlined, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL: Stanzi nation reacts to the possibility of Ricky Stanzi playing.”

• My buddy Connor (the only Chiefs fan I know) reacted to my text “STANZI NATION!!!!!!” by angrily texting back, “We should have Sucked for Luck … just like the Chiefs to get the no. 1 pick the year nobody wants it. Am I way off in secretly hoping they get Mark Sanchez?”

(Once again, ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs!)

BRONCOS (-13) over Browns

Q: I work in the film industry and from time to time my non-industry friends will ask me if I have ever come across Michael Bay. And if so what’s he like? And usually I just tell this story. What’s Michael Bay like? Let me put it this way, one day I was working out at the Sports Club L.A. and I saw Michael working out in a game day Cleveland Browns jersey with the last name “Bay” adorned on the back of it.
—Brian, Los Angeles

SG: Can’t decide if that goes in the “God Hates Cleveland” files or not. Leaning toward no, if only because we posted something this week with the headline, “The Grantland Staff Squeals With Delight Over the New Trailer for Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain.”

Q: Is Brandon Weeden the Anti-Bo Jackson? He’s a two sport non-threat, and in 20 years, I’ll still be telling my kids about all the things he was unable to do.
—Philip Wittmer, Dayton

Q: With the way announcers talk about Peyton Manning & John Elway, you’d think that they spent the summer together on Brokeback Mountain.
—Travis, Hattiesburg

SG: As you can tell, we had a two-way tie for the funniest e-mails relating to this Browns-Broncos game. And no, they can’t make this line high enough — the one thing Denver has unequivocally proven is that they can take care of business with a big lead. Don’t worry, Cleveland, help is on the way. Your new team president, Alec Scheiner, is a Sloan Conference staple and one of the smartest people I’ve met in sports. You haven’t had a good regime running things since the Belichick era — Scheiner and Joe Banner are real dudes. God might not hate Cleveland anymore. It’s possible. (And yes, you’re only allowed to write something like that on 12/21/12.)

Q: I live in Denver so, obviously, I’m a little stoned, but your Kobe/Russell article was amazing! I can’t thank you enough for the 45 minutes it took me to read it.
—Sam, Denver

SG: Does anyone else think the legalization of pot in Colorado and Washington is going to make my 2013 mailbags 5 percent better?

Q: After reading your QB Power Poll column last week and then watching Sunday’s games — a dominating Denver win which was 31-3 early in the fourth, and a very tough loss for New England at home — how have your QB Power Rankings and your team Power Rankings changed as a result, if any? We are looking at a very fun January and February for NFL football, which is the first time I can say that as a Broncos fan since the days of Elway.
—Scott J., Denver

SG: I love how Broncos fans collectively pretend that the 2005 Broncos season with Jake Plummer never happened: 13-3, made the AFC title game, dethroned the Pats after they had just won three Super Bowls in four years. Whatever. The biggest QB Power Poll changes since last week: Manning hopped into the top Brady/Rodgers tier by winning that road game; Skinny Josh Freeman (no. 10 last week) dropped into the low teens between Cam Newton and Joe Flacco; Matt Stafford (12) and Tony Romo (15) flipped spots; Colin Kaepernick (18) leapfrogged into Russell Wilson’s group; Tim Tebow dropped out of the column entirely once the words “CFL” became involved; Mark Sanchez moved ass-backwards into the Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn tier (the high 40s); and we’re adding Matt Flynn to the Locker/Tannehill/Foles group because I forgot to put him in the column.

(Speaking of Flynn … )

Q: Do you think Matt Flynn sees this T-shirt and wants to jump off the Space Needle? Or maybe he’d slink out the back during halftime this Sunday night and just happen to notice that his innocuous-looking car has been moved … to the middle of the field!!!7 Anyway, how does the NFL shop seriously still try to sell this for $27.99? They must know it has negative value. You’d probably have to pay a Seahawks fan to buy and wear this. The only player that should be allowed to have their name in a Nike “______ KNOWS” T-shirt is GRONK, especially after his 18 TD season followed by the Patriots steamrolling to their fourth championship. Oh no, wait, that didn’t happen because of Bernard F-ing Pollard. Excuse me, I mean Bernard F-ing Karmell Pollard. I hate him. Wow, that escalated quickly.
—Mike D, Boston

SG: It sure did. Let’s hit three other terrible Christmas gifts while we’re here …

1. Mark Sanchez’s youth premier Jets jersey — A killer gift for your son if he’s a Jets fan and he’s not being made fun of enough at school. On sale right now for 33.4 percent off!

2. A New England Patriots Super Bowl XLVI AFC Champions Car Flag — What better way to personalize your car than by saying, “Remember that Super Bowl we blew to the Giants in the last five minutes? No, not the one from the 18-1 season, the other one!”

3. An authentic Chad Ochocinco Bengals jersey — Originally priced at $284.99, now it’s on sale for just $99.97. Only $99.97 to go.

And one not-so-terrible Christmas gift: To purchase a subscription to Year 2 of the Grantland Quarterly (four hardcover books in all) for yourself or for a late Christmas gift, here’s the link. If you want to purchase TWO subscriptions, there’s a special deal for anyone reading this column: Enter the code “GRANTLAND” when you’re checking out and you’ll get $9.95 off each subscription. Good through Sunday night 12/23 at midnight. Oh, and here’s our special Season 1 box set — we only made 1,000 of them. Or, you can just splurge for that Ochocinco jersey. It’s really up to you.

Q: I was at Target this week and saw that they are now selling a box set of Rocky that only contains the first four movies (and at $7.50, I had to pull the trigger). Since you wrote about throwing out the fifth movie in the box set during checkout several years ago, I assume you have to take credit for this development. Where would you put this on your list of top professional accomplishments?
—Dan, St. Louis

SG: Very high. And thanks for leaving out a snarky joke about the Sports Guy cartoon in there — I really appreciate it. Happy holidays.

BUCS (-3) over Rams
Bears (-6) over CARDINALS

Q: My brother is a big Jay Cutler fan, but I’ve had to tell him 100 times that Jay Cutler is this generation’s Jeff George. I put 8-5 odds on Jay saying/doing something to a teammate/coach in the next three games that gets him run out of Chicago.8 My favorite scenario is a Jay Cutler vs Mike Tice wrestling match in the Chicago locker room (think Pinella vs Dibble) where no one tries to break it up because everyone wants to see how it turns out. Followed by the new regime in Arizona trading a #1 pick to Chicago for Cutler in an effort to keep up with the division. In Arizona they will treat him like a savior until an offensive line worse than any in Chicago turns him into Jay Cutler again and his caustic nature drives nice guy Larry Fitzgerald into retirement (I can’t wait to see Larry on FOX). At the end of his career he will end up with the Raiders where he has good numbers for some forgettable 6-10 Raiders teams until he is not resigned. He will then spend 2-3 years being mentioned for every opening on every QB-poor team until people realize he is 40 years old and 300 pounds.
—Joe Burianek, Maple Valley, WA

SG: I enjoyed your Arizona/Oakland scenarios, but we disagree on Cutler’s George potential — something that’s been a recurring theme in this column over the years. (I think I’ve flip-flopped on it nine or 10 times.) Check out their career numbers; they’re totally different.

Cutler: 91 starts, 20,913 yards, 134 TDs, 100 INT, 60.9% completion, 84.0 rating
George: 124 starts, 27,602 yards, 154 TDs, 113 INT’s, 57.9% completion, 80.4 rating

(Hey, wait a second … )9

Q: Isn’t it a shame that two of sports’ most gifted, respected, and classiest players have recently been left out to waste their primes in Arizona? #freestevenash has become #freelarryfitz
—Basir J., Bel Air, MD

SG: And to think, Pro Football Talk wrote this only 15 months ago (after Fitz signed his monster $120 million extension): “With this deal and the Cardinals’ trade and new contract for Kevin Kolb, it’s clear that Arizona believes it’s going to have one of the best pass-catch combinations in football for years to come.” Hey Michael David Smith, can’t you go back into your archives and change that to “best overthrown pass/no chance for a catch combinations”?

Q: What’s your favorite Christmas song of all-time?
—JP, Ann Arbor, MI

SG: Come on.

Giants (+2.5) over RAVENS

Q: I’m starting to think Joe Flacco is a double agent created by the Steelers organization. They probably got to him while he was at Pitt, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (money, threats) and forced him go to Delaware to keep him under the radar. Then somehow he came out of nowhere to be a first round pick and has shown flashes — he couldn’t be terrible because that would be too obvious. He’s just good enough to stick around each year and blue-ball us while putting together a good game sometimes so that we say things like “wow he’s way better than Kyle Boller.” He has that doofy lost look all the time as an act. He’s really a saboteur.
…Will H., Baltimore

SG: Let’s just say the big Joe Flacco breakout year never really materialized. I think Will just stumbled onto a killer sports movie idea, though — it’s like The Manchurian Candidate crossed with Homeland crossed with North Dallas Forty. Get Channing Tatum on the phone, we need to get him attached!

Q: Jim Caldwell is the offensive coordinator for Baltimore? I can see it now, one blink means give the ball to Ray Rice. Two blinks means give the ball to Ray Rice again. Actually, this plan might work.
—Billy Newton, Detroit

SG: Come on, that’s ridiculous — Jim Caldwell hasn’t blinked since 1993. In other news, I love the Giants on Sunday for all the reasons you’d think I would love the Giants. I’m already pissed about their playoff “upset” victories in Green Bay and Atlanta that haven’t happened yet.

Q: I’m working my way through TBOB right now (I just reached the Pantheon chapter), and I noticed that when you discussed Dr. J’s broadcasting career, you ended your thoughts with “Some people just aren’t meant to be on television” with a footnote that reads “Yes, I include myself.” What happened?!?
—Jared Bower, New York

SG: Nothing! You think something’s changed? I’m still not meant to be on television. You can see for yourself during our quintuple-header on ESPN and ABC starting at 9 a.m. EST on Christmas Day. On the bright side, it’s always been a dream of mine to wear makeup for 15 straight hours.

SEAHAWKS (+1) over Niners

Q: I seem to remember a cooler, more calm Simmons saying that he wouldn’t dream of giving up on Seahawks until they lost a home game. What happened to that guy?
—Billy Martin, Seattle

SG: That guy got angry before Week 13, lashed out at his Super Bowl pick and said some things he regretted almost immediately. It’s not like I switched my pick to another team, right? I’M STILL ON THE BANDWAGON! YOU CAN’T PUSH ME OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Q: I really hope you realize that the scene in Seattle on Sunday night will be like no other scene from SNF ever. Everyone in Seattle is ready for this game. Since Christmas Eve is the next day, nobody will have to work the next day so the crowd will be buzzing (and I don’t just mean loud). You probably know but for everyone who hasn’t been to Seattle, Safeco Field( Home of the Mariners) is right across the street from the Clink (Home of the Seahawks) and they are advertising on Twitter on Thursday (3 days before the game) that they will be open 3 hours before the game selling $5 24 oz beers. You can check the official Twitter feed for the Mariners. It is there. And this is Seattle so those beers aren’t going to be just Bud Lights. We are talking seasonal microbrews that pack a bigger punch. I can’t describe how excited people are in Seattle for this game. You wrote it earlier this year, “The Seahawks will go undefeated at home this year.” As long as the world doesn’t end on Friday, never go against the Seahawks at home.
—Kyle Miller, Seattle

SG: And I’m not. Seahawks 30, Niners 24. By the way, is there a reason Russell Wilson isn’t being mentioned for Rookie of the Year?

Wilson: 2,697 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs, 95.5 rating, 68.7 QBR, 402 rushing yards (3 TDs), 9-5 record.

Luck: 3,978 yards, 20 TDs, 18 INTs, 75.5 rating, 65.5 QBR, 233 rushing yards (5 TDs), 9-5 record.

Griffin: 2,902 yards, 18 TDs, 4 INTs, 104.2 rating, 71.3 QBR, 748 rushing yards (6 TDs), 7-6 record.

Can we at least say Griffin is leading, but it’s still up in the air? Also, check out this Luck vs. Wilson post and tell me this isn’t a conversation. I predict that Cris Collinsworth brings this up by midway through the second quarter on Sunday night.

Q: Was just watching a porno and the girl in it was wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs cap. What the hell? Which sports team logo do you think is the most unlikely to show up in a dirty movie?
—Doug B., Monaca, PA

SG: That’s easy — the Winnipeg Jets. Wait a second, are we in range?

Q: I would like to say congrats on the awesome work that you are doing with Grantland. I think that this is by far the best website on the Internet that is not porn.
—Andy, Rehoboth

SG: I guess we’re in range.

Q: I got my picky-eating labradoodle’s heartworm medication from 1-800-PetMeds with the free milkbone. So last night I was going to take him for a walk, but before I left I broke him off half to eat before we went. He sniffed it, walked away, and I thought “Wow, my dog is a giant douche. You lick your ass, but refuse to eat this treat. I assume you think it’s meant for the more common breeds, not a dog of your taste and distinction. You must enjoy pressed kobe and foie gras.” So I took him out, but before we left, he ran back to grab the treat and just carried it in his mouth during the walk. I was puzzled as to why he would bother to just carry this treat with him, as he has never done anything like this before. He’ll either eat something or just let it sit around for days until I give up and just throw it out. As I was picking up his shit, I heard a crunch. Yes, he brought his milkbone with him to enjoy after he punished the sidewalk. I’ve never been more proud of my dog.
—Adam, Albany

SG: Hold on …

Q: Think about this hypothetical I came up with while dropping a deuce today … what if every NBA team had to put “Ass” in front of their team names? It’s a source of never-ending comedy. You would have matchups like the AssRockets vs the AssWarriors and all sorts of fun combos … the Finals last year would have been an all-time match-up between the AssThunder and the AssHeat.
—Connor, Minneapolis

SG: Yup, these are my readers. Happy holidays, everybody.

Last week: 9-7
Season: 116-104-4

Filed Under: Series, Sports, The Sports Guy

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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