Can 11-0 in the playoffs be done?

Notes from a good ol’-fashioned Garden party

Award-winning picks for Round 2

Before making his picks for the divisional playoffs, Bill Simmons hands out some hardware for Round 1's award-winning performances. Story

Even Romeo Crennel is more alive than my dream for an 11-0 playoff run. I have mourned it. I have buried it. And I have moved on. Kind of like Vikings fans with the Tarvaris Jackson Era. But before we get to Round 2 of the playoffs, let’s hand out some awards for Round 1:

The Finale of “Rocky III” Award for “greatest simultaneous moment”
When it was unclear whether a Minnesota player had re-established himself outside the end zone before downing a punt on the Philly 2-yard line, the officials conferred as both Andy Reid and Brad Childress held red flags waiting to dispute the call either way. That’s right, two of the worst challengers in football history were going head to head! This wasn’t just the most exciting moment of the weekend; we’re going to be hard-pressed to top it for 2009. The officials ruled for Philly, Childress challenged and the call was dramatically overturned. So what if the Vikings lost the game? Childress lost the battle, but he won the war. And sure, it was a war of abject stupidity. But still.

The William Ligue Jr. Award for “Most Enterprising Way to Crash The Proceedings and Get Noticed”
Speaking of Reid and Childress, kudos to the guys at for bringing a “Flabbergasted Four” idea from my Nov. 14 mailbag to cartoon life! Check it out:

The John Madden Award for “Performance that most resembled a ‘Madden’ video game opponent if you’re playing the computer and it decides there’s no effing way you’re winning the game”
To Chargers punter Mike Scifres, who stuck five punts inside the 10-yard line, including the biggest punt of wild-card weekend — the one with less than three minutes remaining that bounced inside Indy’s 2, kicked straight up like one of Tiger’s approach shots on 16 at Augusta, then spun sideways out of bounds. When he jogged off the field with an “I’m in the zone, what do you want me to say?” look on his face, I kept waiting for him to shrug sheepishly at Marv Albert, Mike Fratello and Magic Johnson at courtside. Has there been a greater punting performance in playoff history? And considering Pittsburgh’s troubles in the same department, for the first time in my gambling life, I actually factored in the Manute-Muggsy level disparity in punters with my Chargers-Steelers pick below. How much is 10-15 yards of field position (either way) worth 10-12 times in a 60-minute game? Ten points? Fourteen? How do we calculate this?


From ESPN’s crack research department:

If you like the Chargers, Cards or Eagles this weekend, remember that no team has advanced to a conference title game since 1996 without winning 10 games or more.

Here’s the complete list of teams to make a conference final with a single-digit win total (16-game regular seasons):

1996: Jaguars (9-7) lost at Pats, 20-6.

1995: Colts (9-7) lost at Pittsburgh, 20-16.

1989: Browns (9-6-1) lost at Denver, 37-21.

1987: Vikings (8-7-1) lost at Washington, 17-10.

1984: Steelers (9-7) lost at Miami, 45-28.

1983: Seahawks (9-7) lost at L.A. Raiders, 30-14.

1979: Rams (9-7) won at Tampa Bay, 9-0.

The Bernie Madoff Award for “Studio host who made you feel as if you were watching Bernie Madoff hosting ‘Mad Money'”
Like everyone else, I did a quintuple take upon seeing that NBC had trotted out failed Lions GM Matt Millen as one of its pregame studio guys. Like everyone else, I was confused about what NBC thought my reaction should be — should I be nodding intently as Millen broke down the Cards-Falcons game and saying, “That’s a great point, Guy Who Single-Handedly Murdered The Lions?” Like everyone else, I felt bad for Detroit fans, who had just put the 0-16 season behind them and probably looked forward to a pain-free playoffs … and suddenly, there was the John Wilkes Booth of their franchise staring at them in HD. Like everyone else, I remembered Millen was good enough on TV that it made you think, “So yeah, maybe that’s how he got hired.” Like everyone else, I wondered what kind of tranquilizer NBC had to give Keith Olbermann to keep him from making a snarky Millen joke. And …

(Wait, this deserves its own award.)

The Bird Who Crapped On My T-Shirt Right Before the 2004 Baseball Playoffs Award for “Best omen heading into a game”
… like everyone else who backed the Cards, I couldn’t have been happier when Millen picked the Falcons to win. He didn’t just pick them, either. He was adamant about it. I think I broke my personal record for “Fastest time calling in more money than I already had on one team.” I was like the Usain Bolt of gambling; I think I banged out another Cards bet in 9.85 seconds. Let’s add this to Playoff Manifesto 5.0 and make it the new No. 1 rule: Any time Matt Millen inexplicably appears on a studio show, picks a playoff team to win and seems confident about that pick, bet the house on the other team as fast as you humanly can.” And you thought Millen couldn’t bring joy to football fans.

The Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza Award for “Most confusing ad that ultimately makes me think too much when I should be thinking about the football game”

You know that McDonald’s ad where the lady serves Chicken McNuggets at her cocktail party and her guests are like, “Wow, this chicken is great!” and they have no idea they’re eating McNuggets? How dumb do they think we are? Who would ever eat a McNugget without immediately thinking, “I am eating a McNugget?” And what hostess would lie and pretend she made them herself? If McDonald’s is going to have an ad where a woman deceives her guests, it should use their secretly delicious chocolate chip cookies, which the Sports Gal brought to a shower one time last year and nearly pretended she made herself before confessing. Those cookies are like “Fight Club” — in this case, nobody talks about them because they don’t want the price to go up. Whoops, I just broke the first rule of McDonald’s chocolate chip cookies.

Tarvaris JacksonThe Vincent Gallo Award for “Most frustrated, depressed and possibly homicidal fan of a star-crossed NFL team”
To my buddy Geoff, a lifelong Vikings fan whose texts became increasingly angry as the game slipped away in the second half, concluding with these three beauties:

  1. “Peterson is the new Barry Sanders. He’s screwed.”

  2. “The prevent defense against Tarvaris is a base 4-3.”

  3. “I’m so bummed out. I’m so filled with hate. They will not do better next year.”

(Ladies and gentlemen, the Minnesota Vikings!)

The Pat Summerall Award for “Most understated call”
Here was Joe Buck’s call on Peterson’s exciting 40-yard touchdown run: “Peterson … only Demps to beat … touchdown.” Read that out loud in a monotone voice and you just became Joe Buck.

On the other hand, we keep getting mad at Buck for refusing to get excited about anything — literally, anything — but at the same time, isn’t that what we loved about Summerall? What’s the difference? I think it comes down to something that’s not fair to Buck at all: We loved Summerall partly because he stayed out of the way, partly because he was a former player, and partly because he seemed like the kind of guy who closed down every hotel bar that weekend and even intimated as much during the game (and later in life when he acknowledged his long battle with alcohol). My pet theory in the ’80s and early ’90s was that Summerall kept his play-by-play sparse because he was so hung over, not because it was an intentional decision. BUT THAT’S WHY I LOVED HIM! I wanted my Sunday play-by-play guy to be as brutally hung over as I was. Somebody get Joe Buck a flask and a seven-day old pair of underwear.

The David Foster Wallace Memorial Award for “A supposedly fun thing that I will never do again”
And you thought I’d write, “Pick Tarvaris in another playoff game” here. Not true. I didn’t mind losing that pick — betting on Tarvaris was one of the most exhilarating non-Boston sports experiences I’ve ever had. Every time he went back to throw, it was more dangerously exciting than driving fast in a snowstorm or making out with a stripper. I have no regrets. The Vikes easily could have covered if Brian Westbrook hadn’t broken that screen pass. Anyway, I’m talking about intentionally going for 4-0 with my wild-card picks. I thought two home teams would cover, only one of the rookie QBs would cover and two super-obvious road teams would not cover. After studying it from every angle, I locked in on Arizona and Baltimore (my favorite of the four) and already liked Indy; because the Philly-Minny game was a crapshoot, that meant Minnesota had to be the fourth pick. What I should have done: Take Arizona, Indy, Baltimore and Philly and aim for 3-1. But I was trying to be a hero — in this case, finish 4-0 — and inadvertently broke Rule 14 of the Playoff Manifesto, which specifically says, “Don’t try to be a hero, just try to make money.” Call it a lesson learned. By my wallet.

The Bank Shootout in “Heat” Award for “Most reliably exciting moment that wild horses couldn’t drag you away from the TV until it’s over”
For every time Ed Reed intercepts a deep bomb, turns around without getting tackled or falling down, then starts running the other way with a head of steam. Is this the most consistently exciting moment in sports right now, or am I crazy? The way he wades through bodies, never stops going forward, always makes the right cut and invariably sniffs out the end zone reminds me of some of my greatest driving performances on the Merritt Parkway in the mid-’90s. I have been watching football 35 years and can’t remember a defensive back with better home run power off a pick. Remarkable.

Ed ReedAs for the bank shootout, I love everything except the editing slip-up when De Niro and Kilmer emerge as the cops are driving up and Pacino says, “They’re already coming out!” It couldn’t have taken Kilmer more than four seconds to walk those final few feet — they show him three different times and somehow he never gets closer to the car, almost as though he’s on one of those airport treadmill tracks that’s going the other way — and somehow, that stretch of time allows Pacino and his crew to stop their car, get out, run two blocks, get into position and be seen by Kilmer (who starts shooting at them). I can’t handle it. Too big of a glitch and something that never should have happened with Michael Mann involved. Even stranger, every time I watch “Heat” — and by the way, it’s often — I always find myself rooting for Kilmer to get to the car even though I know he won’t make it, much like I always watch Game 4 of the 1987 Finals rooting for McHale to jump out on Magic’s baby sky hook even though it never happens. For the 15th-anniversary Blu-ray edition next year, I demand that Mann re-edit that scene.

(Speaking of rewatchable movies, a number of you e-mailed about last week’s “Cast Away” rant and were equally bothered by the husband’s disappearance in the climactic Hanks-Hunt scene, but Kyle in College Station, Texas, had the best theory: “What makes you think the husband is sleeping? He needs to let his wife resolve the situation so he’s up there wide awake listening to every word — it’s not like he can forbid her to see him. I think Hunt is the Packers, Hanks is Brett Favre, and the husband is Aaron Rodgers. The Packers thought that Favre was long gone and had moved on, beginning a relationship with Rodgers. Now when Favre came back, Rodgers could not have forbid the Packers to talk to Favre, nor was Rodgers turning a blind eye to the situation. See, just like “Cast Away”!”)

The Todd Marinovich Award for “Worst performance by a rookie QB”
Put it this way, Matty Ice: When the Cards are jumping the snap for four quarters, then one of them goes on a radio show saying they jumped every snap count because you called every play on “one,” then you probably should enroll in a “How to vary your snap counts” class at Steve DeBerg College this summer. Although I love the potential of a Boston College product not being able to count to two.

The Cousin Sal Award for “Best practical joke that turned out not be a practical joke”
You might remember my writing a joke about Phil Rivers dropping F-bombs last week. Angry e-mails came in from the moment that column posted — apparently Rivers is a devoutly religious man who takes pride in not swearing. Um, how would I know this again? I’m the same guy who had no idea Larry Fitzgerald’s father was a sportswriter until last weekend. I learn things all the time. That’s what happens when you follow sports; you can’t possibly know everything. Last time I checked, there wasn’t a blog that listed every athlete who doesn’t swear. (Note: It would be really funny if someone did start that blog but put a swear in the title.) Also, has any QB seemed as though he’s swearing up a blue streak more than Rivers? What about that little hissy fit between him and Jay Cutler last season? And if they weren’t swearing, how was Rivers trash-talking him? Was he yelling, “Keep it up, mister, I will kick your fanny! I will mess your stuff up, my friend! Go suck a lemon!”

Philip Rivers What shocked me was how many Chargers fans were furious — repeat: furious — that I had allegedly besmirched Rivers’ name by joking that he would hypothetically drop F-bombs during a hypothetical situation in a picks column that isn’t exactly the most serious article ever written. Here’s a typical e-mail, courtesy of Roger in San Diego: “Have you ever heard Philip Rivers use the F-word? Have you ever met anybody who ever heard Philip Rivers use the F-word? Didn’t think so. Your statement that Philip Rivers would be pacing the sidelines yelping out F-bombs is unfair, and quite frankly, nothing less than irresponsible journalism. It’s almost as though you feel you have carte blanche to just make things up and put them in print.”

Irresponsible journalism? Who said I was a journalist? I just advised Joe Buck to become a drunk a few paragraphs ago! The point is, Phil Rivers has taken the “Stay classy, San Diego” slogan to new heights. I am not mentioning this as an apology — seriously, I would never, ever, ever, ever apologize for something this dumb, and really, part of the problem with this country right now is that anyone with a forum kowtows in situations like this instead of sticking up for free speech and the right to make a f—ing harmless joke from time to time (whoops, I swore) — but just to pass along that (A) Phil Rivers does not swear, and (B) I would have known this if I didn’t slack off with my “players in the NFL playoffs who definitively swear or don’t swear” research last weekend. So there you go. And now, much to Phil’s inevitable chagrin, I will talk about boobs.

The Shannon Tweed in “Hot Dog The Movie” Hot Tub Award for the “Random TV moment that inadvertently ushered in puberty for an entire generation of 13-year-old males”
To the Chargers cheerleader NBC showed coming out of a commercial break who could barely keep herself from spilling out of her outfit. Could you see one of her nipples in HD for a split-second? I can neither confirm nor deny that I was on an postgame e-mail chain in which we dissected it as though it were the Zapruder Film. (I really hope that I never become too old to care about this stuff.) In retrospect, the Chargers should have positioned her facing Tomlinson’s exercise bike — he would have started pedaling so fast that his groin would have split in half like a wishbone, then they could have just moved on with the Darren Sproles Era for the rest of the playoffs. Which they’re probably doing anyway.

(And it’s the right move. The more I see of Sproles, the more I wonder whether last year’s Chargers-Pats playoff game would have been different if San Diego had just gone with a combo of Sproles and Michael Turner. Which reminds me …)

The Tiki Barber Award for “Latest example of the Ewing Theory in action”
If Sproles wins Super Bowl MVP in four weeks, that would make consecutive years when the Ewing Theory swayed the NFL title. Regardless, has there ever been a better Ewing Theory candidate in the history of professional sports than LDT? Even Marvin Harrison has a better playoff résumé.

The 55 mph Award for “Rule that absolutely needs to be changed”
I’m stepping on Adam Carolla’s toes (this is one of his passions), but so be it: Our country’s single dumbest rule is the speed limit on highways. Modern cars drive much faster and more efficiently than cars built in 1955 or even 1975. For instance, I was flicking channels two nights ago and stumbled across a scene in “Love Story” when Ryan O’Neal and his girlfriend were driving through Boston — it’s mesmerizing because you see what Boston looked like 40 years ago, pre-Big Dig and pre-everything — and O’Neal’s convertible was shaking and shimmying even though they weren’t going faster than 45. Now that’s why we had a speed limit! Nowadays, many cars can hum along at 90 when you think you’re going 60. So I agree with Carolla — we should move the highway speed limit to 65, and all tickets should be dispersed based on a car-by-car basis. If you’re clocked doing 80 in a BMW M3, guess what … that’s like doing 30 in a 1984 Ford Escort. Why don’t we change the rules? Because we’re dumb and lazy.

Anyway, that’s how I feel about the overtime rules. Watching the Colts get knocked out of the playoffs because they lost a coin toss and got nailed by a flimsy pass-interference play that happens 20 times a game was just insane. (And yes, I know — it’s their own freaking fault because they couldn’t get 3 yards in two downs to put the game away, much like the Raiders in the Snow Game. Just bear with me.) The overtime solution is so simple that I’ll confine it to three sentences. If the team that wins the toss marches down the field and scores a touchdown, it wins the game. If the first team kicks a successful field goal, the other team gets one possession as well … and if it scores a field goal, we move into “sudden death” from that point on. In that same situation, if an opening field goal is followed by a touchdown from the team that lost the toss, the second team wins. So easy. So simple. So much better. So why can’t they do it?

(One other possible format change that we discussed in Monday’s “B.S. Report” — in the divisional playoffs, the No. 1 seeds get to pick which team they want to play. Why? BECAUSE IT’S IDIOTIC THAT THE GIANTS FOUGHT ALL YEAR TO WIN THE NO. 1 SEED, AND NOW THEY HAVE TO PLAY A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS EAGLES TEAM INSTEAD OF A CARDINALS TEAM THAT WOULD HAVE A ZERO PERCENT CHANCE OF BEATING THEM!!!!!! Sorry, I had to go all-caps there. It’s that dumb. So is Tennessee playing 12-5 Baltimore instead of 9-8 San Diego. I don’t get it.)

The Glenn Close/Harry Carson Award for “Most improbable cross-racial/cross-gender lookalike involving a Hollywood actress and an NFL figure”
I watched the Colts-Bolts game just a few hours after seeing “Marley and Me” and can confirm the following because I stared at her for two hours on a 60-foot screen: Jennifer Aniston looks like Tony Dungy. I am now convinced this is why Brad Pitt dumped her. He was probably watching a Colts game in HD and got freaked out.

The Marisa Tomei Suddenly Getting Naked In Every Movie Award for “The most dumbfounding ongoing occurrence”
As a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, the Super Bowl ads for his performance next month never stop flooring me. Don’t they know how the man is wired? He can’t bang out three songs without sprinkling one autobiographical story in there, and he certainly can’t just go away without returning for an encore, right? (Note to the NFL: After Bruce finishes his set, hog-tie him to one of the uprights or else he’s coming back out for three more songs. Just trust me. You don’t want Bruce wandering back onto the field with his guitar like Shooter in “Hoosiers” and getting bowled over by a safety.) Look, Bruce might be telling the NFL, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell a story. I’ll just sing my three songs and get out of there.” But he won’t be able to do it. You watch. We’re gonna get a moment like this after the second song.

“Tampa Baaaaaaaay! (Crowd cheers.) Is anyone alive tonight??? (Crowd goes crazy.) Super Bowl Forty-Threeeeeee!!! (Crowd goes crazy as Bruce turns somber.) You know, when I was growing up, the only thing my dad hated more than me was my guitar. (Crowd hushes.) He was always saying, ‘Bruce, I wish you never got that danged guitar.’ So one day I was playing it in my room, my dad was watching Super Bowl Three between the Jets and … uh … uh … I think it was the Colts. Big man, was it the Colts? (Clarence says, ‘Yeah, boss. The Colts.’) Well, turns out my dad had a ton of money on the Colts … and they lost. But I didn’t care. I was just up in my room strummin’ my guitar. Then Dad came upstairs, and I remember asking, “Hey, Pop, who won the game? And Dad got mad and broke my guitar over my head. He busted me up pretty bad, I needed 589 stitches to close the wound. From then on, I knew I needed to start watching football. And so I did. (Dramatic pause.) This is ‘Darlington County.'”

The Alec Baldwin Playing Tony Bennett Award for “I like things that are great … good things are fantastic”
To the things I liked about Round 1: Donovan McNabb (did Fat Bastard steal his mojo for the first 12 weeks of the season?) … Phil Rivers (killed himself trying to win that game) … every shot of Matty Ice’s disgruntled brother in the stands (he was like a cross between Rudy’s brother and Youngblood’s brother, with just a little of Rod Tidwell’s brother thrown in) … nearly convincing the Sports Gal that Tony Ugoh had a brother named Hugo … Baltimore’s defense protecting a lead, going for the jugular and closing the deal as always … Fitzgerald (my favorite receiver because he cares only about making something good happen, not what his reaction should be after he makes something good happen) … making Tour de France jokes about LDT as he pedaled on his bicycle … CBS promoting the “NCIS” episode in which Special Agent McGee gets taken hostage during a women’s prison riot (high comedy) … the fact that I spent 10 minutes online searching for clips from that episode (like this one) … Andy Reid’s phenomenal playoff beard (higher comedy) … Al Michaels grimly reading promos for “The Biggest Loser” and seeming as if he was ready to snap at any time (highest comedy) … the thought of Childress responding to Reid’s playoff beard by putting on a Jerry Glanville-type wig … Mike Lombardi’s nickname for Childress (“the gym teacher”) … the fact Childress looks like my Uncle Chuck … the 2008 MVP race (Manning, Pennington, Turner) being invalidated one week into the playoffs … Derek in Chicago e-mailing me about the Millen/NBC move, “Was it because they couldn’t get O.J. via satellite, so they went with their 1,935,245th choice?” … San Diego outwitting, outhustling, outworking and outcoaching an Indy team that was almost definitely better (just an admirable performance) … my mom e-mailing me after the Indy game, “Too bad your pick lost but at least I finally got to see the Peyton Manning Face!!!!”

And while we’re here, the things I didn’t like about Round 1: Tarvaris “Taint” Jackson trying to make up two scores against Jim Johnson (just shoot me) … Pennington becoming eligible for “Comeback Player of the Year” a third time after an uber-stinkbomb … the Sprint ad with the smarmy guy walking down a street in black and white (why would that make me want to get Sprint?) … every “Superstars of Dance” promo … Anthony Gonzalez putting up huge fantasy numbers after killing my fantasy season for 14 weeks … anyone who says breathlessly, “Ed Reed is a football player!” like he’s the first person who thought of this … being able to see every shaving cut and blemish on Tiki Barber’s face because NBC thought it would be a good idea to put the cameraman 18 inches away from him for his postgame interviews … any news (and I mean any) about Brett Favre’s future plans because I know I don’t care and I’m pretty sure everyone else agrees with me … any fan bases that think I picked against their team because I “hate” them (that’s just moronic) … my buddy who has a bookie friend texting me, “Everyone LOVES the Colts” five minutes before the Indy-SD game started (and knowing I had Indy).

All right, enough foreplay. Time for the Round 2 picks (home teams in caps)

TITANS (-3) over Ravens


It was a busy week of podcasting for Bill Simmons:

Monday: Mega-Playoff Podcast II with Cousin Sal, Aaron Schatz and Mike Lombardi.

Tuesday: Bill and JackO discuss the Mark Teixeira signing and whether it’s OK to cry during “Marley & Me.”

Wednesday: A three-man, all-NBA podcast with Marc Stein and Ric Bucher.

To subscribe to the “B.S. Report” on iTunes, click here.

One of those mirror-image games, like when Hasselhoff used to fight his evil twin on “Knight Rider.” The Titans and Ravens do the same things: muscle you; intimidate you; control the clock with their running games and hopefully break a few semi-big runs; make you pay for loading up on the line by hitting a couple of deep balls (even though neither has a prototypical deep threat); hit a tight end over the middle every so often; and more than anything, make two or three huge plays with their defense. There will be no coaching screw-ups in this game. There will be no dumb chances taken. You will not shake your head at any point for four quarters and say, “Why the hell did they just do that?” I see this one unfolding just like their Week 5 game (which I watched in its entirety): low-scoring, ridiculously physical, tons of trash-talking, lots of fist pumping from the coaches, players and coaches standing on the edge of the sidelines and leaping onto the field after big plays … basically, everything you’d ever want from a playoff game, and if we can see everyone’s breath because of the cold weather, even better.

I have two issues with the Ravens and only two: They looked a little too good this past week in a nice matchup against Miami (dropping this line to 3, and yes, this violates Rule No. 2D of the Playoff Manifesto); and the thought of backing a rookie QB, on the road, against a really good (and finally healthy) Titans defense just doesn’t seem smart. At all. Flacco stunk in Week 5 and helped blow a winnable game. Fourteen weeks have passed, he’s definitely in a better place, he’s definitely more confident … but he’s still a rookie. Take a rookie QB in the playoffs, on the road, against a really good team, and you are asking for trouble. You just are. Take it from a guy who got stuck with Taint Jackson at home in wild-card week.

The Pick: Titans 19, Ravens 10.

PANTHERS (-10) over Cardinals
Something wacky is happening with these Saturday night playoff games. The NFL didn’t start having them until January 2002, the month when the Raiders traveled to New England for the “Snow Game” (what Pats fans call it) or “Tuck Rule Game” (what Oakland fans call it). Either way, it was one of the 10 most memorable playoff games ever played and the most famous “push” of the Double-Ohs. We’ve seen at least one memorable Saturday nighter every January since; the underdogs covered the past five in a row; and 10 of those 17 Saturday nighters were memorable in some way. Here’s the complete list:


Titans (-3); Cards (+10); Giants (-4); Steelers (-6).

Last week: 2-2
Season: 130-122-8

2002, Round 2 (N.E. by 3 at home): Pats 16, Raiders 13. The Snow Game. (Hah!)

2003, Round 1 (G.B. by 6.5 at home): Falcons 27, Packers 7. Vick rolls through Lambeau and murders everyone’s two-team Packers-Jets tease; everyone finally sees through the “Favre is a big-game QB” myth.

2004, Round 2 (N.E. by 6 at home): Pats 17, Titans 14. Two degrees, minus-11 wind chill. Brrrrrrr. Adam Vinatieri somehow kicks a rock of a football 46 yards for the winning points (his greatest non-“Snow Game” kick).

2005, Round 1 (S.D. by 6 at home): Jets 20, Bolts 17 A classic Schottenheimer playoff collapse. Just classic. Can’t somebody hire him again? Please?

2006, Round 2 (Denver by 3 at home): Broncos 27, Pats 13. An atypical Brady stinker combined with Champ Bailey’s bizarre 99-yard interception TD in which Ben Watson stripped him at the goal line but the refs ruled it a score. I’m still bitter.

2007, Round 1 (Seattle by 2 at home): Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20. The Romo Game (if you’re from Dallas) and the Babineaux Game (if you’re from Seattle). Regardless, this was a Pancreas Punch Game for Cowboys fans.

2007, Round 2 (N.O. by 5 at home): Saints 27, Eagles 24. A rollicking semi-shootout with a fantastic post-Katrina Superdome crowd.

2008, Round 1 (Jax by 2.5 on road): Jaguars 31, Steelers 29. The game that earned David Garrard $60 million.

DeAngelo Williams
2008, Round 2 (N.E. by 13.5 at home): Pats 31, Jaguars 20. 19-0 was in secret jeopardy for a while. Surprisingly tense.

2009, Round 1 (Indy by 1.5 on road): Chargers 23, Colts 17. The Mike Scifres Clinic, as well as the game that probably will get the OT rules (thankfully) overturned in some way.

So that’s 10 memorable Saturday night playoff games. What’s the reason? I couldn’t possibly tell you. You got me. I’m stumped. Now throw this in …

Thanks to a tip from Mike Wilkening (an editor at Pro Football Weekly), we’re also working on a streak in which three straight double-digit Round 2 favorites failed to cover: the ’05 Colts (gave 10 to Pittsburgh, lost by three); ’07 Colts (gave 10.5 to San Diego, lost by four) and ’07 Patriots (gave 13.5 to Jacksonville, won by 11). Since 1990, double-digit favorites in Round 2 are 9-7-1 against the spread and 12-5 straight up. Of those nine covers, the favorite won by 17-plus in every game. Of the six favorites favored by between 10 and 11 points since 1990, four of them (’95 Niners, ’95 Chiefs, ’05 Colts, ’07 Colts) lost outright; the other two (’91 Bills, ’01 Rams) won by a combined 62 points.

Here’s why I’m telling you all of this: If you like the Panthers, you’d better really like them.

Well, I really like them. The weekend couldn’t have worked out better, actually: A limited Arizona team broke two big plays, got a fluke fumble-return TD and took advantage of a deafening home crowd to overachieve against a young team that never caught a break. Now the Cardinals are on the road — where they went 3-5 this season and got blown out by the Jets, Pats and Eagles by the combined score of 151-62 — and playing 2008’s best home team (8-0), a well-balanced, well-coached team that will run it down their throats. What am I missing?

The Pick: Panthers 37, Cardinals 14.

GIANTS (-4) over Eagles
The most perplexing line of the playoffs. Because Philly shocked New York in a must-win Week 15 game that meant nothing to the Giants — when they were dealing with the single biggest distraction of the season (Cheddar Plaxgate), no less — that means Week 19 will be tight? Really? Doesn’t matter that the Giants have been the best team all season, or that they thrive in those “We aren’t getting enough respect” situations? You really think the Eagles will be moving the ball in Giants Stadium when they could barely move it in the Metrodome against a Vikings defense that was missing Pat Williams and Darren Sharper? Here was Philly’s drive chart in that game:

Philadelphia Drive Summaries
15:00 1 02:34 PHI 11 6 22 Punt
08:22 1 01:38 MIN 27 4 1 Field Goal
02:36 1 02:36 PHI 25 6 42 Field Goal
11:05 2 03:36 PHI 28 9 59 Field Goal
01:51 2 00:41 PHI 25 4 22 Intercepted Pass
00:18 2 00:18 PHI 44 3 12 End of Half
10:08 3 06:21 PHI 5 12 52 Punt
01:31 3 00:39 MIN 40 1 2 Fumble
14:38 4 05:20 PHI 20 8 42 Punt
06:53 4 00:16 PHI 29 1 71 71-Yard TD Pass
06:07 4 02:15 PHI 26 3 8 Punt
02:49 4 00:54 MIN 47 6 20 Field Goal

Just for the hell of it, here’s their drive chart for their must-win game in Washington (Week 16):

Philadelphia Drive Summaries
12:03 1 03:31 PHI 35 6 10 Punt
06:19 1 03:16 PHI 4 6 14 Punt
14:05 2 02:10 PHI 47 4 17 Punt
03:24 2 01:25 PHI 20 3 9 Punt
00:13 2 00:13 PHI 20 2 11 End of Half
15:00 3 03:33 PHI 17 7 13 Fumble
08:43 3 04:25 PHI 20 9 76 Field Goal
15:00 4 00:54 PHI 9 3 6 Punt
11:18 4 01:28 PHI 3 3 8 Punt
08:15 4 00:31 PHI 10 3 0 Punt
06:09 4 01:19 PHI 20 3 6 Punt
03:48 4 03:48 PHI 9 16 90 End of Game

Really, that’s going to cut it in Giants Stadium? I don’t see how the Eagles score more than 14 points unless Eli helps them. So, Eli, if you’re reading, please know that, when Peyton’s season died, my dream to go 11-0 in the playoffs died, too. But now, you’re the one. You’re the one who’s gonna keep his spirit alive. You’re the one who has to make sure the death of his season meant something. You’re the one who has to make sure Archie remains in our lives for a few more weeks so I have someone to make fun of. You’re the one who can still make the Manning Face but hopefully won’t. You’re the one who can guarantee us a rematch of that Week 16 Panthers-Giants classic. You’re going to have to go through hell, and a bunch of disguised blitzes and cornerbacks jumping your out patterns, but in the end, I know you’ll be the one standing. You know what you have to do. Do it. DO IT.

The Pick: Giants 23, Eagles 10

Chargers (+6) over STEELERS
For seven reasons …

1. Do you feel comfortable laying six points with the Steelers when they went 3-4 against 2008 playoff teams, scored just 101 points total (13 per game) and won those three games by eight points total? Me neither.

Ben Roethlisberger2. San Diego’s defense impressed me Saturday: Not just for handling Indy so well but for its confidence on that final defensive stand (with the Colts needing one first down to win), captured beautifully on “Inside the NFL” as Shaun Phillips sang “You’re Not Gonna Make It” (to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”) right before the series. Loved it. That’s a defense I want to back on the road. And really, is Pittsburgh’s offense any different from Indy’s offense? The Steelers struggle running the ball and don’t have a ton of long drives. Same thing, right?

3. Pittsburgh has the worst field in the league; Heinz Field invariably gets sloppy and tempers Pittsburgh’s greatest strength (speed on defense). As weird as this sounds, I might consider laying two with them in San Diego. But giving six in Chunky Soup Stadium? No way.

4. I feel more confident about Rivers handling Pittsburgh’s superb front seven than I do about Ben Roethlisberger handling San Diego’s front seven two weeks after his third career concussion (and we’re not including his motorcycle accident). “Ben” makes me nervous in this one. And nervous in general. Should teams really be throwing guys out there after a third concussion? I suffered a bad one when I was 16; even two-plus decades later, I can bump my head and feel weird for the rest of the day. You’re just never the same. Nobody can tell me differently. I don’t trust “Ben” in this game. At all.

5. Two words: Ewing Theory. Every time Sproles breaks a decent run, I want CBS to play a ka-ching sound (to honor his impending free agency), followed by the obligatory shot of a sullen LDT pretending to be happy. It’s going to be funny watching the Golden Globes that same night as every losing nominee claps with that same facial expression.

6. If we’re playing a low-scoring game on a crappy field, I want the team getting great field position for four quarters … which means I definitely want the Michael Jordan of Punters (Scifres), not the punter who got released for three weeks in November (Mitch Berger), as well as the All-Pro kick returner (Sproles, who averaged 24.0 per kick return and 10.3 per punt return) and not the pu-pu platter of Pittsburgh kick returners (20.3 on kicks, 6.0 on punts). Don’t think that stuff doesn’t add up. You’re damned right I just used a double negative. Whoops, sorry, Phil Rivers.

7. I need an underdog for Round 2. This is the best bet on the board. And according to the Playoff Manifesto, you shouldn’t pick an underdog unless you’re convinced it can win outright. So …

The Pick: San Diego 19, Pittsburgh 17.

Last Week: 2-2
Season: 134-118-8

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.

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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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