Notes from a good ol’-fashioned Garden party

One final toss for The Dooze

Winless, but not witless …

Bill can't explain his 0-4 effort in Round 2, but he can explain why he's big in Pakistan and how Eli Manning is like the "Karate Kid." And, of course, he offers his kiss of death to two of the NFL's final four. <a href="

Not to step on Jeff Foxworthy’s toes, but here’s how you know you just went 0-4 with your Round 2 playoff picks:

Eli Manning

• If you picked the Super Bowl MVP quarterback who mysteriously turns into Steve Walsh on any windy day, and it turned out to be a windy day, you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If you picked a California team that ended up playing in snow and cold, you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If you backed a team that would have won had it not turned the ball over twice in the red zone, lost its best offensive player before halftime, threatened the record for “Most dumb penalties in one game,” hooked a field goal and got screwed on a crucial third-down pass that happened two solid seconds after the play clock turned zero — a long enough delay that you briefly thought your cable was on the fritz — you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If fans from the conference finalists are sending you e-mails begging you to pick the other team, you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If you picked a road underdog to cover partially because of its superior punting game, and that road underdog gave up a punt return TD in the first quarter, you just went 0-4 in your playoff picks.

• If you picked the QB who looks like he’s re-enacting Paul Crewe’s performance right after the warden threatened him at halftime in “The Longest Yard,” to the point that one of your friends texts, “I keep waiting for Delhomme to ask Pop, ‘When you punched the warden in the mouth, was it worth that extra 25 years?'” … you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If your first three favorites lost their games outright in a scenario that would have netted 29-to-1 odds on a three-team parlay, you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If you did a post-weekend podcast in which you indefensibly whined like a baby about your bad gambling luck and prompted one reader to make the chilling comparison between you and Phil Hellmuth bitching about a bad beat on the river, and you knew that reader was probably right, you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If you spent a week writing a November column about the death of home-field advantage, then you ignored it in Round 2 without thinking twice, you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If your wife comes home, sees your face and asks, “What’s wrong?” … you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

• If your editor calls you and says grimly, “Are you doing a picks column this week, or do you want to take the rest of the season off?” and he’s serious, you just went 0-4 on your playoff picks.

Eagles-Cardinals highlights Video

The Arizona Cardinals defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 in the NFC Championship Game.

OK, that last one didn’t happen. My editors loved last week’s performance because they’re only hoping for a compelling story line to boost the readership of an NFL picks column: Either the writer catching fire like Kobe during his 81-point game, or the writer going down in flames like Mikey during the answering machine scene in “Swingers.” You don’t want anything shading toward the middle. So this is good. That’s what they tell me. Does this mean I spent five days kicking myself? Of course! From Week 4 on, I kept writing that this was the goofiest season in six years, that anything could happen, that home-field advantage was being rendered obsolete … and then I made the most conventional picks possible for Round 2. Three home favorites, the most obvious underdog pick and a total avoidance of the “Nobody Believes In Us” team. Terrible. Just know that I hate myself. Not even Morrissey hated himself this much when he was writing the “Viva Hate” album.

I thought about auctioning off my two conference championship picks on eBay (highest AFC and NFC bid wins, proceeds go to charity) and giving two readers the chance to sway their playoff destinies. That would have been fascinating. Would some wealthy Eagles fan slap down $25,000 to put the stink on the Cardinals with a Simmons pick? We will never know. Why? Because I’m banging out two winners this week, that’s why. If this were a sports movie, we’re at the 70-minute mark, something bad just happened, there’s an appropriately somber song playing and I’m stuck in a montage, walking around sadly, reflecting on everything that just happened and trying to find the strength to go on. I might as well be Louden Swain in “Vision Quest” right after Carla moved out without telling him.

Well, you know what happens after those montages? The dude always comes back! Didn’t Louden end up pinning Chute? That will be me, damn it! Have some faith. In the meantime, here are some awards for Round 2:

The Biff Tannen Award for “Best Information That I Just Didn’t Get In Time”
This e-mail from Richard in Islamabad, Pakistan, arrived Saturday, only I didn’t read it until the second quarter of the Cards game (and we won’t edit it so you get the full flavor): “I HOPE YOU GET THIS E-MAIL IN TIME. I put big money on the CARDS and you should do the same!!! I just got done reading your column and you said ‘If you like the Panthers, you’d better really like them.’ That is great but I just read a story where Kurt Warner was talking about his kids and said, ‘My wife (Brenda) kind of put words in my mouth and told them if we won the Super Bowl, they could get a puppy.’ YOU CANNOT BET AGAINST GOD AND PUPPIES. After I read the last story I put everything on the Cards. I wish I could have told you sooner but I’m in Pakistan and things move a lot slower here … WE LOVE YOU OVER HERE.”

Kurt Warner

The lesson, as always: I am HUGE in Pakistan. At least until I start making cricket picks. But let’s talk about the Puppy Theory. We know it worked with Obama. We’re one more Arizona victory away from it working with Warner. Could one of my legion of Pakistani diehards be onto something here? Could the NFC pick really be as simple as “Don’t bet against God and puppies”? Will I be telling my kids next December that they’re getting a puppy if I finish 11-0 on my 2010 playoff picks? Stay tuned.

The Joe Namath Award for “Funniest Broadcasting Moment of the Weekend”
I wanted to give this to Westwood One’s Marv Albert, who refused to call Joe Flacco anything other than “Collins” for the seven minutes I was trapped in the car during the third quarter of the Ravens-Titans game. But how can we top Tony Siragusa’s intro from the field at Carolina, when he yelped out a few overstimulated sentences and two of them ended in “baby”? As in, “I’m on the field and you can feel the electricity, baby!” Was he inspired by a “Kojak” rerun or something? More importantly, how did we end up with a healthy dose of Siragusa for one of the four playoff games, while one of television’s best NFL analysts (Cris Collinsworth) somehow had the entire weekend off? I am immediately adding this to my Sports Czar campaign: If Collinsworth is gig-less for an NFL playoff weekend, either CBS or Fox has to hire him for one of the games or risk a $1,000,000 fine from the FCC. We don’t want this to happen again, baby.

(Paul in Oak Park, Ill. offers more: “I just heard Goose report that there’s a change in the weather, saying, ‘It’s starting to drizzle, a wet drizzle now.’ As opposed to all those dry drizzles? Tony Siragusa, debuting on Weather Channel next week!” Baby!)

The Don Beebe Award for “Best Momentary Silver Lining During An Out-And-Out Catastrophe”
To ABC Family’s HD channel for showing the four-movie “Karate Kid” marathon during Sunday’s games as my handicapping world was falling apart. Just as it was becoming apparent Eli had a better chance of eating one of the goalposts, digesting it and crapping it out than of throwing a decent pass in the Giant Stadium wind, “Kid II” was finishing up and “Kid III” was looming. So all wasn’t lost. I spent the next hour trying to find similarities between Eli and Daniel-San, ultimately coming up with seven: Both wanted to live in Jersey over California; both possess the hard-to-explain ability to tick people off (even complete strangers); both won championships as huge underdogs that, in retrospect, make absolutely no sense whatsoever; both received serious officiating help during those titles (Eli for the various holding infractions during the Helmet Catch that weren’t called, Daniel-San for winning the All-Valley Karate title on an illegal kick to the face); both have terrible body language when things are going badly for them (to the point that you lose all hope pretty much immediately); both had signature moments that were surprisingly similar both in stature and surprise (the Helmet Catch and the Crane Kick); and both eventually found forbidden love with a 65-year-old Japanese war veteran. Oh wait, that was just Daniel-San. Sorry, Eli.

The Todd Parker’s Cocaine Heist Award for “Worst Game Plan”
To the stupid Panthers for putting their season in Jake Delhomme’s hands over just pounding Arizona with the best 1-2 running punch in football. If that pick was a purchase at Best Buy, I would have driven over there in the second quarter, waited in the “RETURNS” line for 25 minutes behind people returning $10 headphones or cheats “returning” digital cameras that clearly broke because they were dropped, then given my pick back and told the lady with the 73 IQ and the fish eye behind the counter, “I’m returning this; this wasn’t what I ordered” while she struggled for a response. And while we’re here, I’m rehashing a theme from Monday’s podcast, but so be it: If you’re playing the Cards without Anquan Boldin, and you know Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner are the only two guys on the field who can kill you … how can you possibly let Fitzgerald and Warner kill you??? Why not triple-team Fitzgerald? Or would that have made too much sense?

Donovan McNabb

The Kobe Bryant Award For “Best Ongoing Misguided/Contrived Attempt to Make It Seem Like There’s a Sense of Humor Lurking Somewhere Even Though There Isn’t”
To Donovan McNabb for pulling the “I’m on the Giants sideline, I think I’ll pretend to make a phone call!” trick on the heels of his “I just caught one of Minnesota’s sailing passes at the end of our win, I think I’ll hop around like I just caught a real interception, laugh hysterically and keep the joke going for six seconds too long” moment the week before. Let’s hope he leaves the comedy to the pros and sticks to what he does best: sucking Philly fans into loving him again, then calmly destroying them like Natasha Henstridge’s mates in “Species.”

The Harry Dunne Award for “Most Hellaciously Embarrassing Dump Ever Taken In a Big Game”
To Jake the Snake … and yes, this was one of those dumps like the one police horses take. They’re still cleaning it up. Unbelievable. The defining horrendous performances in playoff history now look like this for team sports:

Basketball: John Starks going 2-for-18 in Game 7 of the ’94 Finals, including 0-for-11 in the fourth quarter. Although Knicks fans have no right to complain because, if you’re counting on John Starks to win you an NBA title, you probably don’t deserve to win an NBA title. Honorable mention to Dennis Johnson’s 0-for-14 for the Sonics in Game 7 of the ’78 Finals.

Hockey: I vote for Viktor Tikhonov, the 1980 Russian coach who pulled Vladislav Tretiak in the “Miracle on Ice” game. Really, you’re pulling the greatest goalie alive after one period because he gave up a dumb goal? Somehow Viktor won three more gold medals after that decision. I lost a little respect for the Soviets, though — for a country so “tough” at the time, I just assumed that he’d get a bullet in his head within three weeks of that loss. Nope.

Baseball: A toss-up between Aron Garcia’s shelling and subsequent meltdown in the 1987 Little League World Series and Chicago’s Lefty Williams getting shelled in the deciding game of the 1919 World Series (which, of course, was fixed).

Sports Movies: Baumann (aka, the German captain in “Victory”), your team blew a 4-nil lead to the Allies on your watch, you let a guy with broken ribs beat you cleanly to set up the game-tying bicycle kick, then the refs gave you a cheap call as a last-second gift, only your penalty kick got CAUGHT by Sly Stallone … and the fans became so excited they spilled onto the field and overpowered the Nazi guards, leading to everyone in the stadium escaping (including the guy who caught your penalty kick)? What do you have to say for yourself? You were a bigger World War II goat than Neville Chamberlain. Honorable mention to Mick in “Teen Wolf” for being unable to stop Michael J. Fox even though he was 15 years older than him and 8 inches taller, doling out three flagrants (including the worst clothesline in the history of sports movies), failing to intimidate Fox on the winning free throws even though he was mysteriously allowed to stand under the basket, then losing his hot blonde girlfriend immediately after the game.

(Note: Can you tell “Teen Wolf” has been on a lot lately? I can’t stop mentioning it in columns. By the way, a reader pointed out No. 45’s incredible performance on Fox’s team and I looked for it on my third viewing of 2009 … there’s a good possibility No. 45 finished with 22 points, 25 rebounds and nine blocks without getting a single line of dialogue. Check it out next time it’s on. He’s like Tim Duncan in the 2003 Finals. Winnnnnnnnnn in the end! I’m gonna win in the end!!!!!!! Winnnnnnnnnnnn in the end! I’m gonna win in the ehhhhhhh-ennnnnnnnd!)

Jake Delhomme

Football: How bad was Jake Delhomme? I sent a text to my buddy Geoff wondering if we were witnessing the worst performance in playoff history … and he threw three more picks AFTER THAT TEXT! The good news: We have to redo the Mount Rushmore of Faces. I can’t narrow it down to four from these seven: The Troy Aikman Concussion Face (really, the face that got this running joke going 10 years ago); either the Joel Goodson “I Can’t Believe I’m Having Sex With Lana The Hooker On a Train” Face or the Thomas Hill “I Can’t Believe Laettner Just Made That Shot” Face (they’re basically the same face); the Mike Myers “Did Kanye really just say that?” Face; the Manning Face (bonus points because not one but TWO brothers use it, as we saw these past two weekends); the Art Shell “I Died Two Quarters Ago” Face; and now, the Jake Delhomme “Seriously, I Might Get Beaten Up In My Own Locker Room After This Is Over” Face. If you think you can top any of them, knock yourself out. You won’t.

(Note to Jake: Don’t blame yourself, blame us. It’s our own fault for trusting you laying 10 points at home. And just for the record, I’m adding this to the Playoff Manifesto next year: “Never lay significant points with a QB whose name rhymes with ‘snake.'”)

The Ryan Seacrest Trying To High-Five a Blind Guy Award for “Most Entertaining and Somewhat Amazing Moment By A Host Or Play-By-Play Guy”
To Kenny Albert for not blinking once during his pregame and second-half intros for the Panthers-Cards game. Would he blink if you threw water at him? What if you punched him right in the face? What would it take? When I’m running ESPN6 and programming the soon-to-be smash hit, “Staring Contest, Presented by Toyota Tundra,” Kenny will double as the host and the ringer that contestants have to beat in the finals for a million dollars. And they won’t.

The Dee-Dee Getting Assaulted Again on “Hunter” Award for “Serious Promos for A Serious Show That Become 100 Times Funnier If You Don’t Watch That Show”
To CBS for the incessant stream of “Grissom leaves ‘CSI'” commercials that had me initially saying, “Wait, Marquis Grissom is leaving ‘CSI’?” I love that we’re supposed to feel emotional because the subdued star of a forensic science show has thoroughly examined every crevice of his last dead hooker. Guys, I think I’m hanging it up. You know my super-expensive microscope that allows me to examine the fibers of hotel room carpets for semen and blood? (Trying not to cry.) Tony, I want you to have it. I can’t tell if I missed out by never getting hooked by this show, or if I saved 200 hours of my time that was spent on more important things, like trying to figure out No. 45’s stats in the final “Teen Wolf” game. It’s a coin flip, really.

The Kevin Connolly Award for “Funniest Reaction To Something That Never Should Have Happened To Begin With”
As Blaine from Georgia wrote, “I would like to nominate for the Faces Hall of Fame the ‘Kevin Connolly Thinking He Has a Chance to Win a Golden Globe Because I Was Inexplicably Nominated’ Face. Was it really that bad of a year for comedy?” Yes. Anyway, this goes to Steve Smith, who was steaming on the bench in the fourth quarter with one of those “If I jump Jake right now and punch him out, would I get suspended without pay again?” faces. So good.

The Alfred Hitchcock Angle for “Creepiest Angle Involving Birds”
So you have the Cardinals beating the Seahawks in Week 17, then the Falcons in Round 1, and now, potentially, the Eagles in the NFC title game. Meanwhile, if the Ravens topple the Steelers, then the Cardinals could potentially beat every other NFL team with a bird nickname during their improbable five-game winning streak to capture the Super Bowl, and if that’s not enough, birds took down Thursday’s U.S. Airways flight heading from New York to Charlotte … the city that’s home to the team Arizona beat five days ago in Round 2. All I can tell you is this: Something better not happen to Larry Bird. You hear me, Arizona? Leave the Basketball Jesus out of your weird bird vendetta! Got it?

(Speaking of that flight, Kel from Pasadena, Calif., makes a great point: “My friend alerted me to’s report on the crash landing that includes the following excerpt: ‘Since 1975, five large jetliners have had major accidents in which bird strikes played a role, according to the Web site of Bird Strike Committee USA, a volunteer group dedicated to reducing the frequency and severity of the strikes.’ After browsing through the committee’s Web site for a few minutes, we wondered something: What events have to happen in your life in order for you to start VOLUNTEERING for Bird Strike Committee USA? And when the CNN newsroom first heard the story, how long before somebody screamed out ‘I WANT BIRD STRIKE COMMITTEE USA ON THE LINE NOWWWW!!!’??? But seriously, thank God everyone was OK.” Agreed. There will not be a cooler ending to a potentially tragic story this year. And since we know everyone’s OK, we can absolutely ask this question now: In a “which airline will have a plane taken down by geese in 2009?” draft with some buddies, wouldn’t U.S. Airways have unequivocally been the LeBron no-brainer first selection? And was anyone else on a “what will be the New York Post headline?” e-mail chain Thursday? My pick was “FLY-TANIC!!!” OK, back to the column.)

The Come And Touch It, Dave, Award for “Most Noble Attempt to Degrade Me For My 0-4 Performance Even Though Nothing Else Needed To Be Said”

Bronze (to U. Howard in Philly): “Damn you. I just realized that you went 0-4. It’s a good thing you’re funny or else I’d stop listening and reading religiously. Keep making with the laugh laugh. You’re like that girl we all dated for a while in our early- to mid-20s that was only good for one thing. She couldn’t cook, couldn’t take care of a pet or a plant, barely could read. But she did one thing well.”

Silver (to Gabriel in Abilene, Kan.): “I hereby submit the following disclaimer to your NFL Playoff Manifesto: ‘The Playoff Manifesto is meant to be only for entertainment purposes for the 2008 season. Any attempt to place bets according to the manifesto might result in severe debt, end of marriage, and alcoholism.'”

Gold (to Dan in Westminster, Md.): “After your 0-4 weekend, are you going to call your mom and ask for $700 for a gym membership?”

(Note: The last one killed me because, after getting crushed by the ’91 Bulls in the NBA playoffs, I actually DID ask my Mom for $700 for a “gym membership.” Over the past 25 years, how much money earmarked for gyms has actually gone to bookies? $500 million? $700 million?)

Titans Fans

The Kate Winslet Accepting a Golden Globe Award for “Most Uncomfortable Performance”
For the poor Tennessee fans … you could actually hear their sphincters collectively tighten as that game dragged along and the mistakes and bad signs kept mounting. Nobody knows that haunting sound better than Red Sox fans; that’s the way Fenway sounded during every Big Game That’s Not Going Quite The Way We Want from Yaz through Nomar. When you’re expecting things to go wrong, things will go wrong. Alge Crumpler’s fumble was a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways; it’s not like the fans made it happen, but they created an environment with their excessive doubt when it opened the door for something like that to happen. (Yes, I fully believe in this crap.) Anyway, the strangest thing about the Dave Roberts Steal in 2004, and the one thing I will never fully be able to figure out — not just at the time, but four years later — was why the beaten-down Red Sox fans rallied behind Kevin Millar in the top of the ninth, then reacted like Mia Wallace after Vincent’s adrenaline shot just because he drew a walk and Roberts ran out of the dugout. I was there. I can still see him leading off first base and being utterly convinced that he could steal it, even though we had 86 years of bad luck working against us. We all felt that way. It was weird. I cannot explain it. Like we knew.

By contrast, the Titans fans never seemed like they felt good about winning that game. It was almost like they knew a loss was coming. And as soon as I hear that tense sound, I know the home team is done from my pre-2004 Fenway experiences. It’s a lock. So how do we explain that? Is there a term we can come up with? Maybe CISSESP (Collective In-Stadium Sports ESP)? I believe in ghosts, I believe in bad karma, and I absolutely believe in CISSESP.

The Sarah Palin/Katie Couric Award For “Greatest Interview That Somehow Exceeded My Already High Expectations Going In”
Can you think of any two people who have less in common than James Brown and Pacman Jones? Going in, I thought the famously clean-cut Brown was going to be dressed like one of the “Exorcist” priests and just start the interview by saying, “Pacman, welcome to the show … THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!” And that would have been great, but one of his real-life questions was even better: “What is it about strip clubs that you can’t stay away?” If you had grabbed the remote in my living room right then, paused my TV and sprinted out of my house, I would have chased after you, gotten in my car and mowed you down like a “Grand Theft Auto” pedestrian to get my remote back for Pacman’s answer. As it turned out, Pacman’s response was wildly disappointing — partially because I couldn’t understand him, and partially because … well, I couldn’t understand him. So that was a problem. I was hoping he’d go off the board with something like, “Pacman likes to watch his fellas get their lap dances on! Pacman don’t like ’em himself, Pacman just likes to watch! Can you feel me?”

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 2 and the week that went with it: Larry Fitzgerald settling the “Who’s the best receiver in football” argument once and for all … Pittsburgh’s rabid old-school crowd … trying and failing to convince the Sports Gal that Justin Tuck had a brother on the Jets named Dick … the Ben Roethlisberger-Nate Washington deep combo that continues to make things happen … the blonde in the Carl’s Jr. commercial about the steak dinner … New York’s clock management at the end of the first half (broken down nicely by our friend Mike Lombardi) … realizing before the Pittsburgh game that the odds of all four underdogs winning outright were nearly 100-1, then immediately banging the Steelers money line to hedge my San Diego pick … every Chunky Soup ad with LaDainian Tomlinson (timely pick! do you think Chunky Soup is close to inking terms with Tracy McGrady and Barry Zito?) … the way the Ravens played it safe with their rookie QB in their own end and never let him beat them … Andy Reid’s playoff beard turning him into Earl’s brother from “My Name is Earl” … having Tony Almeida back in my life … making “Pittsbur(h)gh” and “CHEATER!” jokes to my Steeler fan friends after’s revelations about their 2006 team doctor (it’s nice to be on the other side for once!) … the sassy new judge on “Idol” … the thought of Philly’s being two more wins away from supplanting Boston as “America’s Most Hated Successful Sports City” … wondering how many Philly fans will e-mail me after that sentence to say, “Don’t worry, we won’t turn into insufferable jerks like you Boston guys did” … deliberating for a few weeks before finally deciding, “Yes, we should add Clancy Pendergast to the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars” … shutting out Matthew Berry in the “Readers who recognized one of us and said something nice” category when we went to Wednesday’s Clips-Hawks game (that’s right Berry, you don’t come into my house!) … somebody driving a stake in the heart of the New York Football Giants … God and puppies … Pakistan.

To the things I didn’t like about Round 2 and the week that went with it: Gambling … Baltimore winning a Round 2 playoff game on the road without making five plays that I can remember five days later … being officially unable to tell the difference between the NFL playoffs and March Madness … picking football games … Tennessee not bothering to have a special short-yardage play for Vince Young in big moments … the fact Tennessee is too smart NOT to have that short-yardage play, which means Vince must be a Section 8 … forgetting Arizona had serious “NOBODY BELIEVED IN US!” potential until Kurt Warner said in his postgame interview, “Nobody believed in us” … gambling … no more Scott Pioli or Josh McDaniels for the Pats (and the hits keep on coming!) … Kobe not being satisfied just with ripping off MJ’s fist pump, so he rips off Sam Cassell’s Testicle Dance … John Fox losing “one of the good coaches” stature with that abominable Arizona game plan … the sobering thought that Herm Edwards is going to lose his job and we won’t be able to build on this … picking games … also shutting out Berry in the “Readers who awkwardly commented on my 0-4 weekend and wished me luck this week the same way you’d wish someone luck right before a kidney transplant” category (um, still, you don’t come into my house!) … the thought of picking the Steelers this week after learning that “Ben” suffered a “spinal concussion” three weeks ago … writing a picks column that anyone with Internet access can read … gambling … picking football games.

Without further ado, the championship weekend picks (home teams in caps) …

CARDINALS (+4) over Eagles

I keep coming back to the following things …


The week that was in the B.S. Report:

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

Wednesday: “Friday Night Lights” director Peter Berg discusses Season 3 of his show.

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

1. Other than that 70-yard screen pass in Minnesota, Brian Westbrook has looked more banged-up than Mickey Rourke this month. Same for Jon Runyan. And I don’t know what to make of Asante Samuel — one minute he’s picking off passes, the next minute he has 14 doctors working on him. They don’t look healthy to me.

2. Loved the way Zona played at home two weeks ago when the crowd kept affecting Atlanta’s snap count. If I’m the Cards, I’m closing that dome, getting the fans riled up and hiring Bill Polian to give them tips on pumping in fake crowd noise. And if they can get a lead, we know they can run the ball at least a little bit … right?

3. Donovan McNabb, meet Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie! You know he’s throwing him one.


Eagles (-4); over CARDINALS
STEELERS (-6) over Ravens

Last week: 2-2
Playoffs: 4-4
Season: 132-124-8

4. Just like Andy Reid will blow one challenge in this game, Fitzgerald will make one huge play and possibly two. Plus four or five other good ones. Which reminds me — the first Super Bowl that I can remember watching was Super Bowl X, when Lynn Swann made the famous catch when he was falling down, the ball got tipped, and then he hauled it in. Nobody passed much back then, so we all thought this was an incredible sports moment. Can you imagine what the reaction would be in 1975 if Swann had made one of those patented Fitzgerald “jumping over two guys, catching the pass three feet over his helmet, then holding onto the ball as he crashes to the ground” catches? He would have been bigger than Bruce Jenner.

5. Take it from someone who got crapped on by a bird right before the 2004 baseball playoffs: Any time something weird is going on with birds and sports, you roll with it.

6. Of the four remaining teams, the Cards have the best case for “Nobody believed in us!” status; we complained they made the playoffs, discounted them and made them underdogs at home this weekend, nobody seems to be making a case for them, and beyond that, they’re the Cardinals! They’re like the Clippers with better uniforms, for God’s sake. Could NFL Network even come up with one hour of footage for a documentary on the Cards franchise? When we come back, it’s the greatest game in Arizona history — the time Jake Plummer beat a washed-up Cowboys team!

7. The Phillies win the World Series, the Eagles are making a Super Bowl run, every Philly sports fan is starting to relax … historically, isn’t this right when they get kicked in the teeth? I’m just thinking out loud.

8. The line moved a full point … toward the Eagles. Translation: Nobody likes the Cards. Do you really want to join the general gambling public on a pick?

Tavaris Jackson

9. For two straight rounds, Philly was handed the football equivalent of a sewage pump leak from opposing QBs (Taint Jackson in Round 1, Eli-San in Round 2). This will not happen with Kurt Warner. And, yes, I am fully prepared to have this paragraph e-mailed to me if he throws four picks Sunday. Just concede there’s an enormous competency difference with Warner versus Tarvaris, as well as Warner versus Eli in the wind. Or at least there should be.

10. You don’t bet against God, puppies and gambling theories hatched in Pakistan.

The Pick: Arizona 26, Philly 20

STEELERS (-6) over Ravens
Love the matchup for Pittsburgh; love the way the Steelers played last week; love the thought of “Ben” throwing deep; love going against a rookie QB playing on the road for a third straight week; love the way Fast Willie ran the ball against the Chargers (and the fact that he could do a lot of the things Chris Johnson did when he was shredding the Ravens last week); love the Pittsburgh special teams; love the fact Baltimore never, ever, EVER should have escaped Tennessee; love how Pittsburgh’s crowd showed up last week; love the thought of an NFL playoff game making sense (if only for three hours).

Sorry, Pittsburgh fans, you’re stuck with me this weekend. You may now light your Terrible Towels on fire.

The Pick: Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 10

Last Week: 0-4
Playoffs: 2-6
Season: 134-122-8

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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