Ahhhhhh, Round 1 of the playoffs. My annual dream to finish 11-0 against the spread. My beloved Patriots getting a much-needed week off. Four games in 28 hours. What’s better than this? To celebrate, should we bang out an all-football mailbag before diving into the Week 1 playoff picks? I’m on the fence. Let’s take one or two e-mails from readers and see how it goes.
Q: I was in a meeting this week where the head hancho wanted to chew some people out and burn them. What did he say? He said, “Sit down fellas, it’s about to get crispy!” can we turn “It’s about to get crispy” into an everyday saying?
— Michael S., Chicago
SG: Great start. Really strong. Just need a little more prodding and we should be good.
Q: STOP WRITING ABOUT BASKETBALL. No one gave a flying poop about the lockout, and people give even less of a flying poop now that it’s back. If you want to write an entire book about something no one cares about, try environmentalism or something. Please go back to doing mailbags. It’s one of the few things you’re still good at.
— Sam, Edison
SG: Fine, Sam — you win. Just know that, as far as motivational speeches go, that wasn’t exactly Al Pacino’s locker room speech in Any Given Sunday, more like every Santonio Holmes speech during the 2011 Jets season. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers. And please, you better hold on to something — it’s about to get crispy.
Q: Heard you talking on your podcast about adding a second bye week in the NFL (instead of going to an 18-game schedule). Here’s my twist: for both bye weeks, EVERY team would be off. Not only would it eliminate the advantage of some teams having better bye weeks than others, but we could call them “Save the Marriage” weekends. Or, we could make a mandatory rule that all weddings would have to be scheduled for those 2 weekends only.
— Mike T., Danville
SG: As much as I love the idea of “Save the Marriage” weekend I mean no football on Sunday? Come on. That’s a little overboard. Allow me to tweak your idea: 18-week schedule, two bye weeks per team but we’d have to pick one Sunday in October, November and December with a shortened schedule (maybe 12 teams get a bye), then everyone else plays in games starting at 4 p.m. EST or later. Couldn’t that work as three pseudo-“Save the Marriage” days? Hey honey, you have me until 3:45 today! What are we doing?
One other note: If the NFL extends its regular-season schedule to 18 games while pretending to care more about violent hits, concussions and player safety, we can all agree it would be one of the five or six dumbest decisions in the history of mankind. It’s like going through chemo for treatable lung cancer while also upping your cigarette intake by an extra pack per day. If they want more TV money, they should chop two preseason games, extend the season by an extra bye week (making it 18 weeks in all), and add two more playoff teams. You know who wins in that scenario? Us!!!! The players get a little more rest. We get an extra week of fantasy/gambling/television during the regular season, then a Round 1 weekend football marathon with SIX playoff games in 34 hours. Everybody wins. Shouldn’t we try that idea for one year before we add two more games to the schedule and double the chance of playoff teams being Caleb Hanie’d?
Q: Watching all of those offensive records fall in Week 17 made me think we need a new designation for NFL records. Just like we have the Dead Ball era and the Steroids era in baseball, we should have the Dead Receiver and Live Receiver era in football. The defining line being that small wideouts who used to go over the middle back in the old days were more likely to end up dead. You agree?
— Andy, Austin
SG: So we could say things like, “I know it doesn’t seem like Stanley Morgan was a Hall of Famer, but trust me, if it wasn’t for the Dead Receiver era, his stats would have been so much better”? Absolutely. I’d argue that it’s actually three different eras, though — the Dead Receiver era (everything up until the early ’90s), the Wide Receiver boom (when Cris Carter, Andre Rison, Andre Reed and everyone else caught up to Jerry Rice), and then, of course, the Touch Football era.
Q: Doesn’t Tim Tebow remind you of Tom Cruise? There’s a hyper, uber-personality to both. They’re both devoted to small, intense religions (Scientology and the Church of Bob Tebow), yet we know very little about what goes on in both religions. Neither person seems quite “normal.” It’s almost like both are acting and saying things that they expect real humans would do and say. Their careers don’t really make any sense anymore, yet they’re still considered successful. Their fans are cult-like in their devotion and their inability to question either. Oh, and they’re probably both repress—
— Adam, Tampa
SG: I’m stopping you right there. Great call with Tebow and Cruise, although you could have added that (a) they both have names that sound like they were made up in a Hollywood pitch meeting; (b) they make the same face when they’re running; (c) Cruise’s euphorically over-the-top performance as the cornerback in All the Right Moves was a dead ringer for Tebow’s euphorically over-the-top performance for the 2011 Broncos;1 (d) Tebow grew up wanting to be a missionary and Cruise wanted to be a priest (true story); (e) and (f) Cruise’s infamous jumping-off-Oprah’s-sofa video is undeniably Tebow-esque (right down to him practically Tebow-ing with the on-one-knee-fist-pump move).
Tragically, there’s no YouTube clip of Cruise’s interception TD in that movie to back that point up. Come on, Internet nerds — step it up! In back-to-back weeks, I haven’t been able to find Cruise’s TD from All the Right Moves and Burt Reynolds’ final speech before the game-winning TD in The Longest Yard. You’re slacking!
Q: Nickname for Tebow: “Tim Placebo.” Spirits are up. Players are blocking and making plays. They have started winning. In spite of all that, he’s not actually doing anything!!!
— Eric Distad, San Rafael
Q: Is it time to note that Tebow’s career arc is tracking Netflix’ career arc? Hot internet start-up with severely flawed business model takes the world by storm, because no one has ever seen anything like it. With each passing week, more and more people jump on the bandwagon. As the stock contines to perform, even former critics are convinced otherwise and the stock begins to appreciate hyperbolically. Soon, people begin to forget the fatal flaws and even the biggest short (Elway) changes his tune. Yet, in the back of our minds, we all know this story is doomed to fail and it’s just a matter of time. So, is this Sunday’s game the first crack in the facade? I don’t know, but I’ll definitely be watching
— Carl Chious, Mountain View, CA
SG: So if you’re keeping score, three readers just successfully compared Tebow to Tom Cruise, Netflix and a placebo drug in back-to-back-to-back mailbag e-mails. Really, I’m supposed to take Pittsburgh laying 9 against Netflix Placebo Tom Cruise???? Speaking of Cruise
Q: We all know that Tom Cruise runs in all his movies. He runs aggressively and earnestly. There are countless youtube montages of him running. In MI4:GP (Imax) he outran an exploding Kremlin. But, how fast is Tom Cruise? He’s obviously in great shape and does his own stunts, so he can’t be slow
but he’s also 5’6″, so he has short legs. Still, I argue that he’s actually really fast. Like a former DI defensive back who’s now 50 fast. Not necessarily NFL fast, but still fast. Is there an answer to this? How disappointing would it be to find out he was actually just average speed?
— Max, NYC
SG: You can’t answer this question without stumbling into a larger debate that has vexed Cruise fans for decades
Is Tom Cruise a good athlete?
For instance, I know that Jason Priestley was a good athlete — during his epic reign as Brandon Walsh on the original 90210, I watched that guy win flag football games and track meets, play ice hockey pretty competitively, dominate in backyard H-O-R-S-E and nearly win California University’s 3-on-3 tournament before his friend Dick overdosed at the Peach Pit. Priestley left no doubt: If not for acting, he would have played sports in college and possibly won us a few golds in the Olympics. But Cruise? It’s a little murkier. I have seen the case made for both sides of this debate.
Argument of the Pro-Cruisers: Cruise always stayed in great shape (he’s pretty ripped in the football movie) when Cruise runs in movies, it LOOKS like he’s running fast he played an extremely convincing cornerback (in Moves) in The Outsiders, he does a crazy Bart Conner-like flip off a railing as they’re leaving somebody’s house he pulled off the volleyball scene in Top Gun, the boxing scenes in Far and Away and the pool scenes in Color of Money and he cranks a few softball line drives in A Few Good Men.
Argument of the Anti-Cruisers: He may have used a stunt double for some of the football scenes in Moves, and when he runs back that one interception TD, they have to throw the ball right at him for him to catch it the Top Gun volleyball scene was edited pretty carefully (and there’s no way Cruise was spiking balls over a regulation net) during the basketball scene in Cocktail (with Koglan), his shooting form is undeniably horrific (and even worse, he seems to think it’s fine) you can teach anyone to look like they’re running fast (especially in a movie).
Here’s my take: You know those short guys in high school who stayed in great shape, played D-back in football, served as a co-captain for the wrestling team, tried really hard with everything they did and yet, if you played hoops with them, they were all over the place? That’s Cruise. That means he probably topped out at a 4.9 in high school, maybe a 4.85 in college, a 5.0 in his 30s, and now, probably something in the 5.3 range, only every time he finishes the 40, it seems like he did it faster than that (only he didn’t).
Q: I have a theory for why the 49ers won’t make it to the Super Bowl. Basically, Jim Harbaugh is like a father who failed at something and is now going to take it out on his kids by being overly aggressive in his tutelage. Think about what he used to do in the playoffs as a Colt — getting a beat down from the Steelers, for instance, until he was falling all over the field with blood running down his face and jersey. He never made it to the big game. Now Harbaugh is an overbearing, overly aggressive and excitable coach who will freak out if his “charges” slip up. Just sayin’ — watch what happens when the 49ers need to come from behind against the likes of Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. The disgruntled “I never made it, so you have to do it for me or I’ll make you feel like crap” father figure will show his teeth and not be able to motivate.
— Adam Perry, Boulder, CO
SG: That’s a pretty good theory. Mine is a little simpler: Their quarterback is Alex Smith.
Q: Is Tommy Boy more or less funny now because he was trying to save the town of Sandusky, OH? If find it less funny now, in light of the sullying of the name of Sandusky?
— Jeff H., Mableton, GA
SG: Here’s how I know it’s less funny — i am typing so fast tht i don’t even care aobut misspellings b/c I wnt to get away from this qeustion so badly.
Q: I enjoyed your tribute to San Diego (in your Week 17 column). In my sophomore year at San Diego State, I lived in an apartment complex near school; my next door neighbors were three guys who left Bates College (in Maine) to spend one year at SDSU. It was October and we had an Indian summer heat wave. We were hanging out at the apartment’s pool (yes) with about 50 other students including a good number of hot coeds, when one of them turned to me and said “When I was back at Bates, I would have never imagined that you could live this way and go to college. I just didn’t know it was possible.” He turned away, looked around, took a hit from his bottle and said, “I’m never leaving.” Those three guys still live in San Diego.
— Matt H., Petaluma, CA
SG: I still can’t believe the NBA failed in San Diego. If I were an evil kajillionaire, I’d build a state-of-the-art NBA arena downtown — only 10,000 seats, suited specifically for basketball — almost like a killer college hoops arena but with a few more suites — and steal someone else’s NBA team and rename it “The San Diego Zoo.” What marquee free agent wouldn’t want to play for the San Diego Zoo? Who has a better chance of getting Dwight Howard next summer — the Milwaukee Bucks or the San Diego Zoo?
Q: Egregious Oversight Alert: In listing off all of the atrocities to befall the Vikings over the past 24 months (in your Week 17 column), you somehow forgot to mention that THE ROOF OF OUR STADIUM COLLAPSED LAST DECEMBER. If there was ever a real-life analogy for a team’s precipitous decline, it has to be that.
— Alex, Minneapolis
SG: That’s an excellent point. I also forgot to mention Randy Moss’ cameo that cost them a third-round pick and led to a two-week long debate about the quality of the chicken and ribs from Tinucci’s Restaurant.
Q: Do you realize you wrote this in your Black Friday Half-Mailbag?
“I can see it now after the Giants get slaughtered on Monday night in New Orleans, everyone writes them off and starts saying, ‘It’s finally over for Tom Coughlin’ only just when we’re almost done shoveling dirt on them, they make Mercury Morris’ year by ending Green Bay’s undefeated streak at home in Week 13, then they upset Dallas in Dallas on Sunday night, followed by everyone saying, ‘You can never count out the Giants, when will we learn?’ only they promptly blow their Week 15 home game against the Redskins as 10-point favorites, everyone jumps off their bandwagon again and of course, they upset the Jets in a ‘road’ game in Week 16, and suddenly, they’re heading into the final week only needing to beat Dallas at home to (improbably) win the NFC East. The Giants are like Rowdy Roddy Piper: Every time you think you know the answers, they change the questions, right?”
You got everything right except for the Giants upsetting Green Bay — and they almost did! I can’t even decide if this is amazing or not because the Giants do this every year.
— Tim, Hoboken, NJ
SG: It wasn’t amazing. The Giants do this every year.
Q: A few years ago you wrote about overused and/or annoying phrases such as “literally” or when broadcasters answer their own questions (“You don’t think so-and-so cares about winning?”). I’d like to add to the list and welcome others to chime in on what is annoying lately: “I get it” – i.e. “I get it. Tim Tebow is not a great QB but something magical is happening with him this year.”
— Deli Man, NY
SG: Thanks for bringing up our 2011 winner of the prestigious Dan Dierdorf Award for “Most Annoying Broadcasting Crutch That Somehow Took On A Life Of Its Own.” Why is the award named after Dierdorf? Because of his career-long habit of halfheartedly giving opinions that start with the disclaimer “I’m not so sure,” as in, “I’m not so sure that Eli Manning isn’t the best quarterback in football right now.” I’m not so sure that even makes sense. Oh wait, I’m totally sure. It makes no sense. Anyway, I get it — when you start a sentence with “I get it,” that means you’re acknowledging somebody else’s side before you disagree with it. And I get it, sometimes annoying vocal patterns can spread like the virus in Contagion, which, ohbytheway,2 definitely happened in Bristol these past few years. But it’s been an “I get it” frenzy these past few months. I blame Phil Simms — I’m not so sure that he wasn’t the first one who started it.
That was our 2008 winner.
Q: Glad the Pats got the #1 seed, but do you realize that the Patriots did not beat a single team with a winning record this season?
— Jonathan, San Francisco
SG: You think I don’t know this? You think there’s a single Patriots fan strutting around this week with his chest puffed out? You think there’s one Pats fan out there saying, “I don’t care if we only have one pass-rusher, or that we play wide receivers in our secondary, or that we spotted teams gigantic leads in our past two games this is gonna be totally fine”? The Pats might be the first no. 1 seed eligible for “Nobody Believes In Us” status.
(For the record, here’s how I make myself feel better about this: Potentially, the Pats could play Andy Dalton in Round 2, Joe Flacco in Round 3, and if they make it past those two games, the next stop would be an indoor Super Bowl against Green Bay or New Orleans that will end up being a defense-doesn’t-matter shootout no matter who’s representing the AFC. And the other teams don’t have Rob Gronkowski. So there.)
Q: Is it just me or does it seem like a rain cloud and eerie piano music follow Tom Rinaldi everywhere he goes?
— David Sparks, Scranton
SG: It’s not just you — that’s in his contract and everything.
Q: After watching my Broncos somehow (painfully) back into the playoffs, I had a thought: What if teams could trade their playoff spot? Here’s how it would work: any team that makes it to the playoffs with a .500 record or worse would be eligible to trade their playoff spot to any team in their own conference in exchange for that team’s first round pick. The cost of the spot goes up by a set amount as the team that traded into the playoffs advances. Make it to the conference title game? That’s a first this year and a second rounder two years later. Make it to the Super Bowl? That’s 2 first round picks — one now, one two years from now. Take this year for instance: Wouldn’t the Broncos trade their spot in a heartbeat? Wouldn’t the peaking Chargers (who have a coach and GM on the hot seat) make that trade in half-a-heartbeat? Wouldn’t it make the playoffs better? Wouldn’t it cause 45 different ESPN talking heads to explode over the last week of the season? TELL ME THE DOWNSIDE!?
— Brett, Bentonville, Ar
SG: I can’t. I really love this idea, and not just because it would lead to someone on ESPN or the NFL Network popping a blood vessel in his or her eyeball on live TV as he or she screamed about Denver giving up a playoff spot. Wouldn’t Houston at least consider that trade as well? And also, wouldn’t Philly make that trade with either Denver or Houston, if only so its fans could be even more tortured by Andy Reid? I don’t think it should be limited to conferences. If the Eagles want Denver’s Round 1 AFC home game, they can trade for it. Anyway, I threw this idea at my buddy Gus — a lifelong Broncos fan — who texted me back in 1.993 seconds, “Yes. I make that trade. We have no chance this year but good pieces. Draft picks would help us build.” And I’m still thinking about taking the Broncos +8½ on Sunday? What the hell is wrong with me?
Q: Is there any way that we, as a society, can agree to stop pretending that a quarterback throwing a block for a teammate is the most remarkable thing that has ever happened on a football field?
— Danny, Ithaca
SG: (Nodding sadly.)
Q: SI this week ran a feature about how Brady’s Michigan experience helped Brady become the great QB he is now. I think I have read this story or seen a TV feature about it maybe 300 times in my life. But in the last 3 years alone someone has written a story or done a feature about how dropping to 24 made Rodgers the great QB he is now at least 150 times. Of course Rodgers is younger than Brady and has a longer career ahead. My question is this Sports Man — in 2030, when we finish counting these stories up after their careers, which story will have been beaten into the ground more? Would you go Rodgers or Brady?
— Frank, Lansing, MI
SG: What a great question. My gut reaction for an answer? Rodgers. Longer career, more media outlets now, and he’s on a phenomenal pace — the beaten-into-the-ground Rodgers story from 2008 to 2011 crushes Brady from 2001 to 2004. I am making the beaten-into-the-ground Rodgers story a 37.5-point favorite over the beaten-into-the-ground Brady story. Let’s revisit this in 2030 when — wait, if I’m still writing this column in 2030, you have permission to shoot me in the head like Tom Walker.
Q: Can we incorporate the NFL’s “physically unable to perform” list as a euphemism for impotence? Think about it, your buddies ask you how it went with the girl you brought home the other night. You just kind of shake your head and say, “Little too much to drink that night
had to go on the PUP list.” Way more clever than “Whiskey Dick,” right?
— Scott, Austin
SG: Settle down. We’re not getting rid of “Whiskey Dick,” although I do like the concept of the PUP list trickling into real life. Wouldn’t it work better for a non-whipped friend who’s missing from a night out or a guy’s weekend because he had to put in overdue family time or girlfriend time? For instance, let’s say your married buddy Cliff just came back from a weeklong golfing trip in North Carolina. The following weekend, there’s a birthday party and someone asks where Cliff is. If someone answered, “Cliff just came back from that crazy golf trip, he’s on the PUP list this weekend,” everyone would get what that meant.
Q: It is kinda hard taking you seriously in your playoff podcasts when you did so poorly in Week 17 and fell below .500 in your column for the season. Next year, rather than playing against your wife, how about playing against at dartboard? When Chad Millman told you that no one gets 60% correct and noted that if you get 55% you make money, you should have jumped in to say you were lucky to break 45%.
— David, Long Island
SG: Before answering this very fair question, I spent about two hours consulting with Norv Turner, Andy Reid and Mike Tannenbaum . Here’s what we came up with
“David, thanks for your e-mail and we appreciate your concern. Just know that I was more unhappy about 2011 than anyone — my goal every year is to finish 30 games over .500 in the regular season and 11-0 in the playoffs. When that doesn’t happen, I’m as ticked as anyone. Sure, I finished 47-36-2 (11 games over .500) in the Las Vegas Hilton’s SuperContest; had you followed those picks, you would have won about 58 percent of your 2011 wagers. But the real problems were my Grantland responsibilities and the NBA’s abrupt return in early December. Looking back, I took on more than I could chew with the “12 Days of NBA Christmas” gimmick — heading into Day 1 (which coincided with my Week 13 picks), I was 88-82-6, coming off a 10-6 week and ready to make a run. I finished 32-45-3 those last five weeks. Not to make excuses, but it’s pretty clear what happened. Just know that I’m shaking things up for the playoffs — I fired the USA Today Sports Weekly, I’m no longer consulting my gardener for his picks, and I’m going to start watching Inside the NFL again. Please, give me the courtesy of appreciating the past and not the present. I need you to believe in my picks again, even if there’s no real reason to do so. Thanks for writing in and thanks for the support.”
Q: It’s too late for a Christmas mailbag, but I figured I’d ask anyway. What type of gift says “I have liked having sex with you for the past ten months, but I don’t love you and there is no chance of us getting married?”
— James, Philadelphia
SG: What about what appears to be edible cancer? Would that work?
Q: In your half-baked ideas podcast, you and Wildes missed the easiest pick for a new holiday: what about the Monday after the Super Bowl? What’s worse than going to work or class ten hours after a Super Bowl party? Think how much more drunk everyone would get if they didn’t have to work the next day. Also weren’t you the guy who once came up with the idea that the day “Madden” comes out should be a holiday? Old Simmons would have remembered that, now you’re just old. That’s all right it happens.
— MD, Scottsdale
SG: Thanks for the support, MD. Here’s how we could pull off the Super Bowl holiday: Lincoln’s birthday of February 12 is already a holiday in certain states (California, Connecticut, New York, etc.), while George Washington’s birthday (February 22) is a federal holiday in every state and celebrated on the third Monday of February as Presidents Day. What if we just moved Presidents Day to the second Monday of every February, celebrated both Washington’s birthday and Lincoln’s birthday on that day, then extended the NFL season by an extra week (with the aforementioned second “bye”) so that the Super Bowl always landed on the second Sunday in February? Then, to replace the void of Lincoln’s birthday, we make Cinco de Mayo a federal holiday — an even bigger victory because that’s a better month to celebrate a holiday, anyway. Everyone wins.
Q: Why don’t we have a Saturday morning cartoon in which Tebow and his sidekick Jimmer team up to constantly foil the sexcapades of Tiger Woods?
— Jared Robinson, Terre Haute
SG: You just gave someone the best idea for a four-minute Internet cartoon ever. Actually, I probably shouldn’t be the arbiter for this topic. Let’s just move on.
Q: I just had an epiphany while watching the clock tick closer to quitting time today at work. The easiest pick of the Round One weekend is the Denver Broncos. This whole thing is playing out just like any sports movie ever made. You’ve got a QB in Tim Tebow that overcame all kinds of obstacles to get the starting job on a crappy team. Then he leads them to unbelievable win after win. He has the team playing hard for him and everyone is starting to love him, even those in the media who were so against him. Then just when everything is going great things start to fall apart. Key players get injured, none of his tricks work anymore, and they go on a horrible losing streak. Now, just when there is no hope and everyone has counted them out the “Nobody Believes in Us” speech is delivered by Timmy Tebow. The team rallies behind him and they pull off a miracle comeback to beat the Steelers. I’m telling you
it’s the easiest pick of the weekend. If Disney’s already making the Tim Tebow movie there is no way the Broncos lose.
— Jason H, Dayton, OH
SG: Remember the 2008 playoffs, after Kurt Warner had told his kids he’d buy them a puppy if the Cardinals won the Super Bowl, then I had a Pakistani reader send me an e-mail urging me to bet on Warner’s team because “you never bet against God and puppies”? I kind of feel the same way about Jason’s Tebow/Disney e-mail. He’s right this is a sports-movie script. And we all know how sports movies play out.
The best point of Jason’s e-mail: “Then just when everything is going great things start to fall apart. Key players get injured, none of his tricks work anymore, and they go on a horrible losing streak. Now, just when there is no hope and everyone has counted them out the ‘Nobody Believes in Us’ speech is delivered by Timmy Tebow.”
Seriously, how many times have we seen that sequence in a sports movie? Fifty? Seventy-five? One hundred? It always happens around the 1:15 mark of the movie; even better, you KNOW it’s coming and somehow still enjoy it. I don’t know whether the inevitable Tebow/Broncos sports movie would be called God’s Will, Faith Healer, Divine Intervention, And A Tebow Shall Lead Them, White Bronco, or my personal favorite, Fourth-and-God, but it’s definitely been a sports movie — you have a polarizing/mesmerizing lead character, the mandatory “this team’s coming together!” and “this team’s falling apart!” sequences, crazy amounts of media scrutiny, and the whole damned thing is just implausible enough that you find yourself saying, “I wish this movie was about 18 percent more realistic.” If you pick against Denver this weekend, you’re picking against every sports movie ever made, as well as the $86 million opening weekend Disney is about to have for Fourth-and-God in 15 months. As always, tread carefully.
Q: The best part of reading your mailbags was scrolling to the bottom to see what nutjob earned the last place spot and was granted the infamous, “Yup, these are my readers!” tagline. Why did it randomly disappear? Has your new fancy website changed you that much already? How am I supposed to know when the mailbag is over now?
— Amy, Jacksonville
SG: Fine, fine. We’ll make it happen this time, if only because you’re the first Jacksonville reader who ever wrote in without calling me an obscenity.
Q: Have you noticed the “Thank you for watching the NFL on CBS” clip that runs after the late game? As the NFL shield comes down, it looks like a pair of white boobs in a black cocktail dress.
— Morgan C., Portland, OR
SG: And just like that, we’re in range.
Q: I don’t like the comparison of Alex Smith to Meg White (in your Week 17 column). If you’re going to compare Alex to a drummer, I think it’s got to be Rick Allen (the guy from Def Leppard with one arm). Came in with a lot of talent. Didn’t do a whole lot. Suffered through some bad experiences (multiple bad coaches and coordinators, lost an arm). Then, despite all odds, gained success with the same supporting cast. Not saying I want the Niners to be the Def Leppard of football (I’d prefer Van Halen if we’re going hair metal), but the parallels are undeniable. By the way, it’s 4:19 a.m. right now, and I’m drunk on Johnnie Walker Black Label (official sponsor of the ESPN Happy Hour, where PTI lets you appear when they’re hard-up for subs), which explains why I’m suddenly full of sports knowledge.
— Josh Bartz, Missoula
SG: Getting closer.
Q: Nobody has ever come up with a satisfactory answer to this question for me. If a Siamese twin committed murder, and the other twin did everything in its power to stop the murder, what should be the punishment be? (Presuming that they can’t be split).
— Sean, London
Q: Had morning sex with the girlfriend while she was wearing her original Dream Team t-shirt with the cartoon drawings of each playeron the front. I looked down, and saw Larry Legend with an ear to ear grin and his fist in the air. I kept looking down, seeing Larry giving me the victory fist pump and thought: life is good.
— Mark, Madison, WI
SG: Yup, these are my readers. Let’s get to my Round 1 playoff picks.
(Home teams in caps.)
TEXANS (-3) over Bengals
Jake Delhomme’s shadow is lurking. I am well aware. Every time they show Jake wearing his headset and a “I really hope I don’t come in” look on his hangdog face, I will mutter to myself, “I really hope I didn’t make a tragic mistake here.” There’s also the nagging problem of Houston being unable to crack 23 points since Week 10 — if Andre Johnson isn’t 100 percent (or close), that Texans offense can’t stretch the field and goes into “we’re just going to run the ball, and if you stack the line on us, we have to go into dink-and-dunk mode and we’re kind of screwed” mode.
And yet, the Texans are my favorite Round 1 pick. A legitimately good defense playing at home against a rookie QB running a fairly limited offense and the line is only three? Delightful! The 2011 Bengals played five “big” games (both Pittsburgh games, both Baltimore games and their Week 14 Houston game) and lost all five.3 Maybe that’s why the Bengals went into playing-not-to-lose mode against Baltimore in last weekend’s exceptionally uninspiring performance. If one thing stood out last week, other than Marvin Lewis playing not to lose for the umpteenth time of his career, it was that Andy Dalton actually had time to throw against Baltimore (all game, by the way) and just couldn’t make plays. Why should we trust him in a big game? Check out his game log for Week 3 (San Francisco), Week 10 (Pittsburgh), Week 13 (Pittsburgh) and Week 17 (Baltimore) — suddenly he’s going to turn it on in Week 18 with MORE pressure?
Cincy didn’t beat a winning team all season; Houston beat four (including Atlanta and Pittsburgh).
Think of it this way: Dalton needs to play well for the Bengals to prevail; his rookie counterpart (T.J. Yates) needs only to avoid driving Houston’s boat into an iceberg. I just don’t see the Bengals bringing enough to the table, especially in Houston against a rabid crowd that hasn’t even seen a Texans playoff game before (much less hosted one). We also know that Houston’s running game can protect and extend any lead; nobody else in the playoffs has anything remotely approaching that Arian Foster/Ben Tate combination. Please, Lord, keep Delhomme on the sideline.
The pick: Houston 23, Cincy 10.
SAINTS (-10.5) over Lions
You’ve heard the case for Detroit: It’s going to be a shootout, the Lions are going to throw on New Orleans, they’re used to playing indoors, and even if they’re getting mildly blown out, that extra half-point is a biggie (they can always pull off a backdoor touchdown (a Calvin Johnson specialty over the years). My counter in three parts
1. You shouldn’t pick any playoff team unless you think it can win. You’re telling me this same shaky Lions team that just made Matt Flynn rich is beating a juggernaut that’s been ripping through everyone in football for two solid months AND has a scorching-hot QB? We just watched Flynn shred that depleted Lions secondary for 16 touchdowns and 987 yards (all numbers approximate). Brees’ past eight games: 2,430 yards, 22 TD’, 3 picks, 5 sacks, 8-0 record. Brees at home this year: 2,864 yards, 29 TDs, 6 picks, 8 sacks, 8-0 record. What am I missing?
2. You beat the 2011 Saints (and the 2011 Packers, and maybe even the 2011 Pats) with the old Super Bowl XLII game plan that the Giants used to break my sports heart: Shorten the game, run the ball, move the chains, keep their offense off the field, and when they’re out there, hit the crap out of the QB. The Lions don’t have that type of team. To say the least. All the Lions have going for them is that extra half-point and the “Weird things usually happen in Round 1 on Saturday night” thing going.
3. New Orleans won nine of its 13 victories by 11 points or more. Every time the Saints went up by double digits in the fourth, they eventually won by 11 or more. By contrast, in 11 of Detroit’s 16 games, the Lions trailed at some point in the second half (seven times by 10 points or more). We know all about their penchant for comebacks, but that’s the thing about the 2011 Saints: You don’t come back against Brees. Not this year. Given the recent history of these two teams, there’s an excellent chance the Saints will be leading in the fourth quarter by double digits — let’s say, 30-17 — and will have the ball with a chance to go for the kill. You really want to bank on a backdoor cover at that point? Come on. Don’t try to be a hero. It’s the playoffs.
The pick: New Orleans 37, Detroit 17.
GIANTS (-3) over Falcons
On Tuesday’s B.S. Report, Aaron Schatz revealed that the Falcons were the most consistent team from week to week that Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings had ever measured. That made sense: After all, the 2011 Falcons beat up bad teams, played mediocre-to-solid teams close and lost to good teams. By contrast, the 2011 Giants zigged every time you thought they would zag and zagged every time you thought they would zig. Add everything up and the Giants need only to play well to win; their best is better than Atlanta’s best. Or so it would seem.
Well I’m not even sure the Giants need to play that well. The Falcons were predictable mainly because their environment was predictable: They played a whopping 12 games indoors (eight home games plus games in Indy, New Orleans, Detroit and Houston), and three of their four outdoor games happened in the first four weeks in warm weather in Chicago (loss), Tampa (loss) and Seattle (barely won), with a comeback December win in Carolina being the other. Sorry, I’m not impressed. They also played four playoff teams (New Orleans twice, Green Bay, Houston and Detroit) and finished 1-4, failing to crack 17 points in three of the games. Picking them outdoors against a Giants team that can do two things really well (throw the ball and rush the passer) and has the best three players on the field (Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul and the electric Victor Cruz) seems like a stretch, especially when they’re getting only a field goal.
There’s also something happening with the Giants, which is a different story altogether: My buddy Hirschy (a lifelong Giants fan) attended Sunday’s Dallas game and came away raving about a Giants crowd that everyone had secretly feared (because of the design of the new stadium, the PSL’s and the departure of many “old-school” fans) was gone forever. “I’m telling you,” Hirschy said, “when Cruz was breaking away on that long touchdown, the roar was like the old roar from the old place. We still have it.” And they’ll have it again this week.
The pick: Giants 31, Falcons 20.
Broncos (+8.5) over STEELERS
The case against Pittsburgh: 5-3 on the road this year, beat only one home team by double digits (Arizona by 12), ridiculously banged-up, no Ryan Clark, no Rashard Mendenhall, a painfully hobbled Ben Roethlisberger, a hobbled LaMarr Woodley, a hobbled Maurice Pouncey, a little too much Isaac Redman, more than a smidge 2010 Colts “Why is everyone giving us so much credit? We’re not the same team anymore” potential and they just love playing these ugly 13-9-type games and letting inferior teams hang around, only now, they’re playing against an inferior team that loves winning ugly.
The case for Pittsburgh: They’ll turn it on when it matters, they’ll be fine, it’s Pittsburgh, Denver sucks, just stop it.
The case against Denver: Every gawd-awful football moment from the past three weeks, everything we already covered in the mailbag, the fact that they’re being led by Netflix Placebo Cruise.
The case for Denver: Pittsburgh isn’t Pittsburgh right now. And also, we’re entering the last 20 minutes of Fourth-and-God, starring a bulked-up Zac Efron as Tim Tebow.
(I can’t resist )
The pick: Denver 19, Pittsburgh 17.
Last Week: 4-10-2
Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.
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