The Divisional Mailbag

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If you missed my Friday-morning piece about Joe Flacco and the wonky Ravens, CLICK HERE.

Let’s rip through some reader emails before we tackle Round 2 picks. As always, these are actual emails from actual readers.

Q: Who makes the Ravens by far the most dangerous team to the Patriots and anyone else in their path?  A 5’9″  amalgam of karma, vengance, and  the”nobody believes in us” sentiment personified. I speak of course of Steve Smith. [EDITOR’S NOTE: We cut the next 400 words explaining Smith’s history of taking everything personally, as well as the fact that the 2003-04 Pats stole his Super Bowl ring.] Sleep well Simmons. Steve Smith is waiting.
—John T, Winston-Salem

BS: Just when I didn’t think I could be more nervous for Saturday’s game. By the way, it’s really, really, really hard for me to root against Steve Smith. He brought me so much joy over the years as the NFL’s answer to Allen Iverson — a diminutive, overcompetitive ball of energy who punched out multiple teammates, carried himself like a warrior, made us laugh and provided a score of thoughtful sound bites. I love “villains” who would immediately become your favorite player the moment they switched to your team. That’s Steve Smith. He would have made a great Patriot.

Years from now, whenever I want to remember Steve Smith, I’ll call up his unbelievable “Mic’d Up” segment for the same Week 1 game in which Jake Delhomme threw four ghastly picks and commenced The Great Jake Delhomme Meltdown of 2009. You can actually see Smith passing through the Seven Stages of Grief as the clip rolls on. It ends with them sitting sadly on the bench, Smith forcing himself to console a shell-shocked Delhomme (but not totally meaning it). If they ever held the Greatest “Mic’d Up” Players Ever tournament, Steve Smith and J.J. Watt would be the no. 1 seeds.

Q: After beating Arizona and releasing Jake Delhomme’s spirit from limbo, do you realize that the Panthers are now 1 of 4 games through their 20th anniversary revenge tour? Their first four playoff appearances: 1996, 2003, 2005, 2008. Who beat them?  Arizona, Seattle, New England, Green Bay. The Panthers could exact revenge one game at a time, ending in none other than a Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl rematch from ’03. You taste that? That’s the delusional fantasies of an 8-8-1 divisional playoff team.
—Mike A., Shanghai

BS: Is it OK if I don’t add “Beware of Carolina’s 20th-Anniversary Tour” to the Playoff Gambling Manifesto?

Q: Who hands Steve Bisciotti the Lombardi trophy when the Ravens inevitably win the Super Bowl in a few weeks? Does Goodell no-show, later claiming he never saw the game?
—Chris, Baltimore

BS: Nope — Goodell hands it to Bisciotti. Here’s an advance clip:

Q: Don’t know if you’ve seen this story about J.J. Watt’s poster surviving a house fire, but isn’t it the best closing scene for the MegaWatt movie? End credits roll, the fire, the poster standing unscathed by the flames, everything around it blackened and burning. Damn, makes for great cinema! Pitch it already to any studio!
—Alberto, Houston, TX

BS: You forgot about Blake Shelton’s MegaWatt theme song playing as the camera homes in on the unburned poster. Is it weird that the Watt poster/house fire news story single-handedly swung the MVP vote that I don’t have? I’m that easy.

Q: Last year I wrote you that Tony Romo is the NFL’s version of Dirk Nowitzki (great stats, underachieving teams, somewhat unfair “choker” status) and that all that was missing was a satisfying postseason run to a championship. The 2011 Mavs and 2014 Cowboys are very similar; everyone dismissed them as legit contenders. A championship turns Romo’s narrative on its ear, just like it did for Dirk. Like a true Cowboys fan (who survived the flotsam at QB forever between Aikman and Romo) I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I feel hopeful Simmons. I really do. And we all know that “hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing.”
—Jon G., Lincoln

BS: And you left out the piece about how both guys starred for Dallas. Anyway, I hate to be a party pooper … but Dirk was a much better player than Romo. When I published my NBA book in November 2009, Dirk had already carried the Mavs to the Finals, won an MVP and earned a 39th ranking in my Hall of Fame Pyramid. Nineteen months later, he won the Finals MVP and reinvented his legacy. In 2015, you can still find Dirk chugging along as a borderline 50-40-90 guy on a playoff contender. He’s a top-20 Pyramid guy; you can make an excellent case that he’s the fourth-best forward ever (trailing only Bird, Duncan and LeBron in some order).

Meanwhile, Romo has never played in a conference title game, he’s never won an MVP, he hasn’t even won 80 games yet (including the playoffs), and he couldn’t match Nowitzki’s longevity or uniqueness (much less his offensive ceiling). You’d never include Romo in any “greatest” conversation, but you’d include Dirk in a variety of them — “greatest shooter,” “greatest offensive 7-footer,” “greatest foreign player,” “greatest signature scoring move” and even “greatest accent that sounds like the perfect cross between urban and German.”

Q: Is Cousin Sal now the Peyton Manning of NFL picks? Record-setting regular season, followed by abrupt, unexpected failure in the playoffs? Or is he Andy Dalton?  Success in regular season was smoke and mirrors, but we all knew he was gonna fail in playoffs (once we heard he was backing Lindley)?
—Pete, Atlanta

BS: Cousin Sal’s response: “I like to think of myself not as Manning or Dalton — but rather a young Daniel LaRusso. I took Reseda by storm. Fought my way through the All-Valley Tournament only to suffer a fluke, debilitating injury when Ryan Lindley pelted my leg with a bevy of pathetically disgraceful interceptions. But rather than skip the finals, I asked Stan Verrett to use his mystical powers to fix my injured wheel. The ship is righted. Jump onboard as I crane kick the crap out of your bookie this weekend. Banzai!!!

(PS: The Cuz picked Dallas and a Seattle/Denver tease this weekend. Let’s hope we don’t have to get him a body bag.)

Q: I don’t know what’s worse. The fact that Indianapolis traded a first round pick for Trent Richardson or that Cleveland parlayed that pick into Johnny Manziel?
—Aaron, Tampa

BS: I wanted to make sure that this was a historically awful trade, so here’s how it lays out. Richardson bombed in Indy, played one snap in last weekend’s Round 1 game and recently earned the headline “Trent Richardson Practices on Colts’ Punt Coverage.” The Colts would have been better keeping that first-rounder and drafting a chauffeur for Jim Irsay. As for the Browns, they landed the no. 26 overall pick via Indy, then dealt it along with no. 83 to Philly for no. 22 … and took Manziel, who turned out to be A LIAR AND AN ALCOHOLIC!!!!! (Sorry, I was auditioning for First Take again.) Philly flipped no. 83 to Houston for no. 101 and no. 141. Houston picked Louis Nix, who missed the season with an injury. Philly picked cornerback Jaylen Watkins and defensive end Taylor Hart, described as “nonentities” in this December piece about Philly whiffing on its 2014 draft.

(Translation: Everyone lost! That is one baaaaaaaaad trade.)

Q: I’m a Bengals fan. I just realized that the Bengals are movie extras — the movie opponent that the hero team beats in the montage on the way to the big game.
—Tom P, Cincinnati, Ohio

BS: I realized this only after picking them to cover 4 in Indy without A.J. Green, a boneheaded move that earned the following comments from readers: “Can we have you tested for drugs?” … “Picking Dalton to win on the road in the playoffs is like putting an elevator in an outhouse; it just doesn’t belong” … “Can we officially change the phrase from ‘One and Done’ to ‘One and Dalton?” … “Did you throw that pick because you didn’t want to be 4-0 heading into Round 2 and have the Pats blow 11-0 for you?” … “I want to be your bookie — seriously I will book your bets” … and “I’ve been reading your column long enough that I used to print it out from Page 2 so that I could read it during poops as an undergrad. ANDY DALTON!? ON THE ROAD!? IN THE PLAYOFFS!?”1

What really happened: I found out Green was scratched 30 minutes before the column and stupidly thought, I can’t switch now, the column is about to go up! When Cincy ran its first pass play for some beefy white guy that I’d never heard of, I knew it was over. Let’s add this to the Playoff Gambling Manifesto: “If your no. 1 rule is ‘Don’t take a shaky QB on the road,’ and you apply that rule for Ryan Lindley but DON’T apply that rule to Andy Dalton without A.J. Green, then you might need to start downing Adderall like Haloti Ngata before you make next week’s picks.”

Q: Any truth to the rumor that Roger Goodell announced the league lost all tapes from the Cowboys-Lions game?
—Jim, Philadelphia, PA

BS: The Mueller Report couldn’t find any evidence of this.

Q: If the Patriots blow this Ravens game is this the lowest point in Boston Sports, collectively, in the past 10 years? The B’s are almost out of the playoffs after winning the Presidents Trophy last year, and Chiarelli isn’t doing a thing about it, The Sox are going into Spring with five Number 3 pitchers, I don’t even wanna get into the Celtics…
—Thomas Sigler, Gainesville

BS: So I guess you’re not excited about the 2024 Summer Olympics?

Q: Have you ever been to a party where 100 people show up, but the space provided is only really enough for about 20 of them. And only one person that lives there is actually throwing the party, so pretty much all of the people that live there are pissed off that you are there? And the one person throwing the party doesn’t actually have enough money to fund the party, so they had to ask their roommates (who already didn’t want you there) for money, just pissing them off even more? And the party apartment has furniture oddly place around it so its almost impossible to get around as is, let alone with 80% more people in it? Oh, and those roommates that live there and don’t want you there and are already pissed off? They love to drink. Mostly whiskey. So they are definitely going to abrasively let all the outsiders know how they really feel? I give you #Boston2024.
—Matt, Boston

BS: Come on, anytime you can put the Summer Olympics in a city that’s way too cramped to host it, has traffic and subway-related overcrowding problems already, doesn’t have nearly enough facilities, has a legacy of being comically provincial AND a legacy of taking far too long to finish massive rebuilding projects, houses a major league baseball team playing downtown at the exact same time, and doesn’t want to host the Olympics anyway … only the bid is being driven by someone in the construction business, which seems incredibly self-serving given all the construction that’s about to take place … I mean, don’t you have to go for it? What could go wrong?

Q: Hey Bill, I knew you were a HUGE Gronkowski fan. I just never pegged you as the type of guy to ghost-write erotica about him.
—Ross, Los Angeles

BS: Congrats to Ross for being the 3,000th reader to send me some variation of this joke. Is it weird that “A Gronking To Remember” gave me more confidence that the Patriots could make the Super Bowl? Can’t you see Lacey Noonan at media day trying to get a one-on-one with Gronk as three middle-aged reporters in Hawaiian shirts look on awkwardly?

Q: Do you realize that the only playoff game that Aaron Rodgers has won outside of the year he won the Super Bowl was against Joe Webb?
—Christian, Minny

BS: That can’t be true. (Looking it up.) My God, that’s true!

Q: I watched the first episode of “The Challenge: Battle of the Exes 2” last night and it was obvious that Johnny Bananas went to whatever bar Nany works at, had a “secret hook-up” with her, then leaked it to the producers in order to secure himself a good partner for a future Battle of the Exes season. He probably also located Evelyn and Laurel. Is there any other player/coach/gm in the other four professional major sports that thinks so many moves ahead of his competition?  Only Bill Belichick, who I now refer to as Billy Bananas.
—Mike Renwick, Leominster

BS: You don’t have to sell me on the power of Bananas. He’s the Michael Jordan of America’s fifth professional sport. Did you know we invited him to Grantland’s third-anniversary party last summer and asked him to prepare a toast if only because nobody gives better toasts than Johnny Bananas? And that there’s video of this? Without further ado, I present to you Johnny Bananas’s Third-Anniversary Toast, which borrows heavily from the Navy SEALs and might sound a lot like the toast he eventually gave on this week’s Challenge episode:

Q: The NFL just picked up the flag on themselves, after announcing they did something wrong. I am SHOCKED that Mueller cleared the NFL of wrongdoing, shocked.
—Josh, Rye Brook, New York

BS: Stop trying to rile me up. I know what you’re doing.

Q: So the NFL found that the NFL did not see the Ray Rice video. Did any of us ever consider the idea that maybe they truly haven’t seen the video because Roger Goodell doesn’t know how to open up email attachments?  Nothing would surprise me at this point.
—Sam B, Bartlett, IL

BS: It can’t be ruled out. Page 55 of the Mueller Report lays out six different times in February when someone working for Goodell knew about evidence that Rice knocked his wife out, including this tidbit: “On February 21, [NFL VP Adolpho] Birch emailed Goodell, stating, ‘Media today is reporting that there is also video of him delivering the blow that knocked her out.’” And yet, Goodell was allegedly blindsided by the contents of the second elevator video? (Oh, man … now I’m getting riled up … )

Q: Allow a former SuperSonics fan to educate you on sports karma (RIP Sonics!). The Ravens beat the Steelers for the same reason we haven’t yet seen karma completely derail the OKC Thunder (a 2000 Blazers-esque choke is looming … ). Colossal karma for horrific actions and deceitful behavior can only be repaid on the grandest and most public scale. It’s why Webber’s timeout happened in the NCAA Final (not the Sweet Sixteen). It’s why Bo Jackson ran over The Boz on Monday Night Football. It’s why Tiger Woods crashes his car while being chased by his wife toting a 7-iron on Thanksgiving night. For the Ravens it will have to be a grand choke in the AFC championship game or Super Bowl, a fumbled snap recovered and ran back for a touchdown … to lose in overtime. PS: My apologies for not thinking of this connection before your Friday column, my karma warning bells don’t go off until NBA playoffs.
—JJ, Washington, D.C.

BS: Intriguing theory! Especially during the same week the NFL released the Mueller Report, a league-funded but “independent” investigation that chronicled a heroic four-month inquiry by the NFL to desperately avoid figuring out what happened in that elevator.


The report spent an inordinate amount of time trying to disprove an Associated Press article from April 9 (and yes, the AP announced that it’s standing by the story) that painted the NFL’s investigation as incompetent and naive (but apparently blameless), and, of course, neglecting to answer questions including:

  • Are we really supposed to believe that key Ravens executives knew exactly what happened in the elevator but Roger Goodell and his key reports had no idea whatsoever? It seemed improbable in mid-September and even more improbable now.
  • If the NFL’s security team handled everything as incompetently as the Mueller Report lays out, then why hasn’t that team been overhauled? Who was to blame? Shouldn’t multiple jobs be lost here?
  • Are we really supposed to believe that the Associated Press fabricated its report, which would mean it made up not just its source but an imaginary taped phone call too? And if the AP made it up, then why? What would be the AP’s motivation for irrevocably tainting its own credibility?
  • Goodell sent a September 10 memo to the owners specifically stating that the league asked all the appropriate law enforcement parties for the tape, only the Mueller Report specifically states that the league never asked ANYONE for the tape (not the Atlantic City Police Department, not the Ravens, not the Revel Casino) … so doesn’t that mean Goodell lied to the owners on September 10?2
  • Why wasn’t the friendship between Goodell and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti examined more thoroughly if the Mueller Report made it clear that the Ravens knew everything you’d ever want to know about the second elevator tape and even had copies of it, only Goodell and his team went out of their way not to find it or ask for it?
  • Why did Goodell make it seem like Rice lied to him in their June 16 meeting when Rice told the truth — as we found out during Rice’s appeal hearing — and like there was a “starkly different” sequence of events?
  • Why was Goodell’s “pursuit” of evidence so uncharacteristically lackadaisical compared to other incidents (like Bountygate) that he pursued so doggedly in the past?

The Ravens came off worse than anyone — instead of volunteering their evidence, basically, they held on to it and hoped Goodell would never ask. (And he didn’t.) It’s impossible to finish the Mueller Report without thinking that either (a) Goodell and his direct reports are spectacularly incompetent, or (b) Goodell did a favor for his buddy Bisciotti by intentionally burying his head in the sand so Rice’s punishment wouldn’t be that onerous. And it’s clear now that the Ravens need to start firing some of the people who bungled this mess from their end. Maybe the players haven’t entered the Colossal Karma Payback zone, but the organization certainly has.

Q: Is there “Sports Czar” system for picking a team to pull for once your team has been eliminated/missed the playoffs? I know you should shift away from rival teams but it seems murky beyond that.
—CJ, Des Moines via Willmar

BS: Yeah, the system is called “gambling.”

Q: Did you know Tom Brady is 6-7 in his last 13 playoff games? Did you know since 2006 he’s just 2-4 in AFC Championship games and Super Bowls? Did you know Tom Brady has directed 4 of the 12 highest scoring teams in NFL history and that those teams are just 5-4 in the postseason and scored an average of 16.25 points per game in their eventual playoff defeats? Did you know Brady’s regular-season passer rating (95.9) is 8.4 points higher than his playoff rating (87.5)? Did you know Brady has lost playoff games to Jake Plummer, Eli Manning (twice), Mark Sanchez, and Joe Flacco (twice)? Did you know Brady has thrown one touchdown or fewer in half of his playoff starts? Did you know that the Patriots have been favored in every Brady era playoff loss with the exception of last January in Denver? Did you know Brady only has two game winning drives in the playoffs in the last 10 years and in one of them he threw a game ending interception that was fortunately fumbled back to his team? But hey, good luck this weekend.
—Garrison, Indianapolis

BS: (Searching for a comeback … )

Q: Just posted on Facebook that this loss and the ability to complain about playoff officiating marks the third best moments of my close to thirty years as a Lions fan.

1. Barry Sanders getting to 2000 yards
2. First win after the 0-16 season
3. Inexplicable-Flag-Pick-Up Playoff Game We Lost
So … yeah.
—Mike, Shanghai

Q: I want to say I’m possibly devastated by the Phantom Flag … but who are we kidding? It’s the Lions. Here’s the revised list of the top 5 Lions moments:

1-3. Barry Sanders doing Barry Sanders things.
4. Calvin Johnson doing Calvin Johnson things.
5. The Lions selling the Axel Foley Beverly Hills Cop jacket (which they no longer do, but whatever. They still did it!).
1,000,000. Rod Marinelli doing Rod Marinelli things.
—Brandon D., Massapequa, NY

BS: I thought it was fascinating that Lions fans from New York to Shanghai went through the same thought process. Hold on …

Q: And to top it off, the Lions don’t even sell the damn Beverly Hills Cop jacket anymore! They took the bar! They took the whole fucking bar!!!
—Brandon, Massapequa, NY

BS: The bright side for Lions fans is that it’s hard to get credit for being a tortured fan base without a few heartbreaking/ridiculous/possibly criminal losses. Now, when people discuss the sad fate of Lions fans, they’ll mention the Picked-Up Flag game within the first sentence. And when they’re remembering that game, they won’t mention Caldwell incredibly NOT going for it on the ensuing fourth-and-1, or Sam Martin’s 10-yard punt,3 or the defense giving up a fourth-and-6, or Stafford fumbling twice on the same season-saving drive. Plus, you got hosed during the Year of Goodell! What’s better than that?

Q: I’m writing this at 8:04 pm on Sunday night. The DAL-DET game ended about 20 minutes ago. I assume this is the 1,000,000th email you have received about the inevitable Dallas vs Baltimore Super Bowl match-up Roger Goodell is setting up as part of his Worst Commissioner ever heat-check.
—Mike, Goodell’s America

BS: See? Cheer up, Lions fans! You can always bounce your grandkids on your lap 40 years from now and tell them your team got hosed during the Worst Commissioner Ever Heat Check season! CLEAR OUT FOR GOODELL, HE’S RED HOT RIGHT NOW!

Dear Detroit Fans,
What did you expect?  You’re the Detroit Freaking Lions. You have a team of undisciplined thugs, your quarterback is Jay Cutler 2.0 and whatever (alleged) good Jim Caldwell’s Corpse does off the field he takes it all back with interest on game day. It’s in your team’s DNA to be massively disappointing and then ,on the rare hopeful occasions, to creatively kick their fans in the nuts. It’s what they do. You had literally the ENTIRE second half to prepare for the letdown and you’ve all had YEARS of experience and there were MULTIPLE warnings (flag picked up, shanked punt, Witten’s 4th down, two defensive holdings…). I don’t understand all the angst from the game, at this point it should just be like a bruise that never healed.
The rest of America

P.S. On the bright side, you’re not Cleveland.
—Cameron, Austin

BS: OK, so that was mean.

Q: We need a name for the transition between the old pre-rules era and today — baseball has the dead ball era (“chicks dig the bunt single”) and the steroid era. “Concussion Era” is too damn morbid, as is “The Pre-Goodell era.” Any suggestions?
—Greg Thomas, Pittsburgh

BS: I hope we remember it as the Touch Football era … but I have a feeling we’ll be calling it the Concussion Era. There’s just no way around it. I mean, it’s 2015 and we’re still watching football players seemingly get concussed during games (like Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller last weekend), then improbably reenter those games well before we ever could have known if they were actually concussed. What a shocker — Roethlisberger wandered out of a playoff game looking Wooderson-level dazed, abruptly returned and immediately threw a dreadful interception into double coverage. Who could have seen that coming?!?!? It’s like the last decade of research never happened! Keep getting dem checks, National Football League.

Q: Wouldn’t it be awesome if Round 2 of the NFL playoffs were “challenge-style”? Why not just let the top seed decide for itself which opponent it wants to face? Imagine the entertainment value. The challenged teams get to spend the week telling us how disrespected they feel, and we get to spend it second-guessing the decisions.
—Eric, Boston

BS: I’ve always loved this idea — we would be artificially manufacturing our own “Nobody Believes In Us” scenarios. And yes, if the Patriots had picked Baltimore over Indy as their Round 2 opponent, I would have flipped out.

Q: The Simmons Barometer for Life Success. I began reading your work in 1998. Back then I was single and just starting out at work…I would print your articles and read them at my desk — always looking busy of course. I looked forward to consuming as much as you could write. I would click refresh like you were an internet stock. 16 years, 3 kids, 3 companies, and a few tax brackets later, I can’t even get 800 words into your rarely published posts before I give up — who has the time?  Me, 16 years ago. I miss those days…and sleeping in…and going out four nights a week…and smoking indoors…and the possibility of a Lions playoff win.
—Eddie H., Detroit, MI

BS: Um … I mean … I guess that was a compliment?

Q: Probably just happenstance, but was it?  I clicked on your Youtube link in the Cardinals/Panthers prediction, and the commercial that played before the video was UNBELIEVABLE. It was a 2 minute mini-infomercial for Poo Pourri, a real product used to mask the smell of … its namesake. Opening line?  “You would not BELIEVE the motherlode I just dropped!”
—Bill Stacey, Ann Arbor

BS: That Poo Pourri ad has been replaced by a never-ending loop of Drew Butler shanking punts to a skittish Brenton Bersin. That reminds me, here’s the Shakey’s Pizza Watch coming out of Round 1: the Lions-Cowboys officiating crew picking up that P.I. flag AFTER it has been announced (never seen that before) … Todd Haley’s crap game plan for Round 1 (and Todd Haley in general) … the inevitable Boom Herron fumble … this owner’s box celebration picture from Sunday’s Lions-Cowboys game … Cam Newton’s body language and accuracy … Peyton Manning in cold weather … Aaron Rodgers with a bad wheel in cold weather … Tom Brady in cold weather … any old or injured QB in cold weather … Logan Thomas (because if he can’t beat out Ryan Lindley, then wow) … Marvin Lewis’s playoff résumé (0-6 in playoffs, never scored 17-plus points, lost to Sanchez and T.J. Yates, outscored 84-13 in second halves, never CLOSE to winning) … Big Ben’s concussion “test” … T.Y. Hilton’s case of the dropsies … Jason Garrett’s psychotic victory smile that’s vaguely reminiscent of Brody losing his mind during Season 1 of Homeland.

Q: Was Jerry Jones’ celebration with Gov. Christie the most awkward white guy celebration of all time?
—Fahad Z, Chicago

BS: Yes. But not THE most awkward celebration of all time.

Q: Dogs are the ultimate irrational confidence guys. Think about it. My dog is pretty large, a 70-lb lab mix, and every time he sees a horse he flips out and would completely try to take that horse out even though he would probably get stomped to death. On our daily walks, there is inevitably some chihuahua or other yappy breed that tries to take him on despite the fact they’d get killed in an instant if it came to it. Dogs are the Sam Cassells of the animal kingdom.
—Aaron, Denver

BS: Yup, these are my readers. Let’s get to the Round 2 picks.

(Home teams in CAPS.)

Ravens (+7) over PATRIOTS

Three Playoff Manifesto rules in play here: “Don’t Pick A Road Underdog Unless You Think They Have A Genuine Chance To Win,” “Beware Of Aging QBs In Cold Weather,” and “Beware Of The Wonk Team.” For the record, I hate cold-weather playoff games for home teams. It murders the crowd. Just takes em right out. Everyone is freezing their asses off, everyone’s covered in thick jackets and scarves and ski masks and huge hats, everyone’s wearing heavy gloves or mittens so their hands can’t generate any noise, and everyone’s faces are too frozen to cheer loudly. It’s like playing the game in a neutral field. Eleven years ago, a superb Patriots team nearly blew a Round 2 home game to Tennessee because of the freezing conditions … and would have, if it weren’t for the great Adam Vinatieri kicking the football/rock 46 yards for the game-winning field goal. Here’s how my buddy J-Bug (a longtime Pats season-ticket holder) described that game in my ensuing column:

Wild Turkey was going down like Bud Light. There was no other way. I wore my leather pants and they were a conversation piece for their functionality, not fashion. The crowd was excited and subdued at the same time, if that is at all possible. My friend Bob was drinking Corona; and the beer was freezing inside the neck of the bottle so that by the time you had two sips left, it could barely make it through the ice formation that began at neck and finished at the lip. For smokers, the list of dangers grew by one, because you had to take your mittens off to grip your butt, anything over three minutes exposed ran the risk of frostbite; and yes, I am serious. You don’t even want to know about the shrinkage factor in the port-o-john — I think it actually inverted into my body. Toward the end, I became delusional and started rambling on about how there are billions of people in the world and only 70K of them were at the game, and how we were superior beings because of this. Spit was flying out of my mouth and freezing in mid air, so it pelted, rather than dribbled, all over my friends — it was like phlegm balls of sleet. When I mentioned that I felt like Robert the Bruce at the end of Braveheart, that’s when my friend Niko took my car keys and assumed responsibility for the evening.

That’s a home-field advantage? Even if 2015 Pats-Ravens won’t be as bone-chillingly cold as 2004 Pats-Titans, temperatures will dip into the teens once night falls. That kills the atmosphere at least a little. And if you don’t think I’m worried about my late-thirties QB getting knocked around on a rock-hard field, then you don’t know me well enough. Feels like a 20-17 type of game — one of those games that gets decided by a pass-interference play, a turnover, a special teams return and a long field goal. And what really frightens me is that the Ravens are better built to win a game like that. I want to throw up. In Belichick We Trust.

The Pick: Patriots 20, Ravens 17 (Ravens cover)

SEAHAWKS (-11) over Panthers

Your classic Gus Ramsey Game, named after my buddy Gus for all the times he’d study a football game between a good-to-great defense playing home against a bad-to-shaky offense and wonder, “Seriously, how many points are they gonna score in this game?” That minus-11 seems high until you remember how banged up Cam Newton looked last weekend, or how bad his body language looked (little-known fact: It was so bad that the Cleveland Cavaliers are now thinking about signing him), or how many of his passes sailed away from his targets. You can’t play that way in Seattle, and you definitely can’t play that way against Seattle’s ball-hawking secondary. Throw in Beast Mode running all over Carolina’s secretly shaky run defense, sprinkle in some CenturyLink Field acoustics, add two backbreaking Russell Wilson plays and a defensive TD, and … well …

The Pick: Seattle 30, Carolina 3

Cowboys (+5.5) over PACKERS

So Aaron Rodgers is nursing a partially torn calf muscle in frigid weather against a talented Cowboys team with a top-five QB who’s 8-0 on the road … and the line is higher than four points? I don’t get it.

My biggest fear with this pick: I also could have written “So Tony Romo is nursing a bad back in frigid weather against a loaded Packers offense that’s 8-0 at Lambeau … and the line is less than seven points? I don’t get it.”

My second-biggest fear with this pick: The Cowboys looked a little too happy to be there after pulling that Lions game out of their asses. Not sure you should be reacting to a backdoor Round 1 victory at home like you just won the Super Bowl. That scared me. But this feels like a tight game if only because Lambeau won’t totally feel like Lambeau with the bundled-up fans shivering their asses off. And no, I’m not ready to officially add this axiom to the Playoff Gambling Manifesto yet: “Anytime you have two relatively close playoff teams battling in booger-freezing weather, and you can grab more than four points, just do it without overthinking it.” But if the Ravens and Cowboys cover this weekend? Then yes. (Thinking.) You know what? Screw it.

The Pick: Cowboys 24, Packers 22

BRONCOS (-7) over Colts

You know it, you love it, you’ve won money from it … what’s better than everyone overreacting because a flawed playoff team looked better than it actually is in Round 1? The Colts have a lousy running game. They make way too many mistakes. They were absolutely torched during the season by high-caliber offenses. They were 2014’s Good Bad Team — a.k.a. the team that looks good against everyone except another good team. And if you’re picking them to cover in Denver, you’re banking on two things: an iconic, out-of-his-mind, LeBron-dropping-48-on-the-2007-Pistons-type performance from Andrew Luck (can’t be ruled out) and a creaky Peyton Manning falling apart in not-that-cold weather to the point that you’ll get flashbacks to this …

I don’t think the Colts can run on Denver even a little, and I think Denver CAN run on the Colts. I think Luck makes mistakes when you pressure him … and Denver will be able to pressure him. I think we forget how good Denver is when they have the Thomas Brothers, Emmanuel Sanders and C.J. Anderson humming together. I don’t like laying points in playoff games between two relatively equal teams … but these two teams aren’t relatively equal. Booyah.

The Pick: Denver 31, Indy 20

Playoffs: 1-3
Regular Season: 159-93-4

Filed Under: 2015 NFL Playoffs, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots

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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