This Is the End: Time for the Week 17 PicksJohn Grieshop/Getty Images
I want to find you the perfect Super Bowl bet. It’s my holiday gift to you. We’re looking for an undervalued long shot with a better chance to get lucky for four weeks than everyone realizes. A good example: Cousin Sal and I dropped some Benjamins on the 2014 Royals right before the AL wild-card game — 18-to-1 odds! — and came within a Madison Bumgarner out-of-body experience of cashing in. Could we have cashed in anyway just by hedging that 18-to-1 wager with a Giants bet in Game 7? Of course! We’re enormous idiots. Don’t ever forget this.
But that’s the kind of future wager you want to make. Longer odds on an undervalued fringe contender, basically. Our Super Bowl odds heading into Week 17 …
New England: +250
Green Bay: 6-to-1
San Diego: 55-to-1
Kansas City: 1200-to-1
Let’s cross off the Colts (2014’s Good Bad Team), the Lions (because they’re the Lions), San Diego (too banged up), Baltimore (atrocious pass defense), Atlanta (atrocious everything defense), Carolina (come on), Houston (stop it) and Kansas City (please).
And let’s cross off New England, Seattle, Green Bay, Denver and Dallas because the return on top-five contenders just isn’t lucrative enough; you’re better off betting on them game-by-game.
That suddenly leaves us with three teams:
Did I stare at those Cardinals odds for 20 minutes? You know me too well. They’re almost definitely headed for a 5-seed and a Round 1 game in Atlanta or Carolina … and if Drew Stanton comes back in time, that’s an exceedingly winnable game. Then, they might have to go to Seattle for Round 2 and… oh, who am I kidding? Cross them off.
So that leaves Pittsburgh at 18-to-1 and Cincy at 45-to-1. What’s the right pick? You’ll have to wait until the end of this column. Let’s hit Week 17 picks and cover everything that’s at stake (and I mean everything).
Home Teams in Caps
Colts (-7) over TITANS
At Stake: The Colts are already locked into the no. 4 seed (barring a Bengals-Steelers tie), as well as probable “home dog” status in Round 1 … with one more loss, Tennessee clinches the no. 2 overall pick (Shame Us For Jameis!) and maybe even the first overall pick if Tampa beats New Orleans (Suck For The Duck!), as well as its worst season in almost 30 years … Ken Whisenhunt could lose his 25th game out of his last 28 (not a misprint) … Trent Richardson needs 34 more yards to break 1,000 yards (for 2013 and 2014 combined, and only as a Colt, but still).
Q: Has any team in recent memory ever come out and just snatched the Bad Good Team Championship with such conviction like Indy did in Dallas on Sunday?
BS: Poor Baltimore is reeling — the Ravens thought they’d lock up the 2014 Bad Good Team trophy by beating Cleveland in Week 17, then finishing 10-6 even though they (a) never beat another 10-win team after Pittsburgh in Week 2, and (b) lost to the Colts in Week 5 in what should have been the Bad Good Team championship game. But Indy losing to the Steelers, Pats and Cowboys since Week 8 by a combined 135-61 margin is just tough to overcome. Don’t worry, you still won 2014’s Karma Police award, Baltimore. Sing it, creepy Polish band that might give me nightmares tonight!
Q: After today’s Colts cameo, did Matt Hasselbeck just shatter the Holy Shit This Guy’s Still in the NFL award?
–Daniel S., Scottsdale
BS: Bonus points because Hasselbeck threw us off the scent by announcing a Week 10 Fox game (during Indy’s bye week). Lots of dumb award honors for Indy this year — they also won the “How The Hell Could Anyone’s Running Backs Be This Bad?” award, the “Second-Worst Trade Of The Decade” award (Trent 3.0 for a first-rounder), the “Most Embarrassing NFL Owner Of 2014” award (a true achievement during the same year of Ray Rice/Steve Bisciotti) and the “AFC Playoff Team Everyone Is Excited To Wager Against The Most To The Point That They’d Be A Stealth ‘Nobody Believes In Us’ Candidate If They Weren’t So Fundamentally Limited” award.
Q: Tennessee has become so irrelevant that there literally is not a single marketable human being on the team. I am praying for four years of Vince Young 2.0 (Jameis Winston) just so we will get mentioned in the national media. Can you name a more anonymous, less significant, less relevant team in the last decade than the 2014 Titans?
–Mike R., Chattanooga, TN
BS: So the Jags have a rookie QB who looks like a 50-year-old Pete Sampras, an owner who looks like Ron Jeremy and a year of unfounded Jags-moving-to-London rumors … and those three things make them less anonymous and more relevant than the 2014 Titans? (Thinking.) Yeah, you’re right. Mike inspired me to visit NFL.com’s Titans Pro Shop to see which Titans jerseys were for sale. The first four jerseys they were hawking: no. 31, no. 82, no. 10 and no. 13.
(Hold on, I’ll give you a second to guess the names … )
(Just a few more seconds … )
(And … time!)
In reverse order …
No. 13? Kendall Wright
No. 10? Jake Locker
No. 82? Delanie Walker
No. 31? Bernard Pollard
That’s right, the no. 1 Titans jersey right now is Patriots dynasty assassin Bernard Karmell Pollard. YOU BURN IN HELL, TENNESSEE! BURN IN HELL!
Saints (-4) over BUCS
At Stake: By losing, Tampa Bay wins the no. 1 overall pick (and the Marcus Mariota Sweepstakes) … there’s also a 1.05 percent chance that it’s Drew Brees’s last Saints game and a 17.8 percent chance that it’s Sean Payton’s last Saints game … oh, and don’t rule out Jimmy Graham catching 12 passes for 230 yards and three TDs as one last F.U. to every fantasy owner that he tormented this season.
Q: Did any Saints fan not see that game-killing interception against Atlanta coming? I love Drew Brees — Actual Passer for the Most Yards in a Season, Counting Laterals as Runs — but it’s been a tough season for him with Game-Killing Interceptions (GKIs). Is 2013 Matt Schaub would be the standard by which all others are measured when it comes to determining a passer’s proclivity to completely derail all hopes of victory with a single, terrible decision; therefore it would be the “Schaub Rate”, or career game-killing interception rate. A touchdown need not be PART of the play although, obviously, it helps to really wrench the dagger. I also think SKI’s — season-killers — should either be a separate stat entirely — we could call these “Delhommes.”
–Dan Bingler, Gainesville, FL
BS: Finally, a worthy candidate to replace Roger Goodell — it’s Commissioner Dan Bingler! I loved all three of these ideas, although you should expand it to cover fumbles. Just call them Schaubs (for Game-Killing Turnovers) and Delhommes (for Season-Killing Turnovers). I’d also want to see a stat called a MoMur (Momentum Murderer), which covers any momentum-swinging second-half turnover along the lines of Brees’s Week 1 interception in Atlanta’s end zone (when the Saints were leading by three in the third quarter). On Monday night, Peyton Manning had four interceptions, including one MoMur (Adam Jones’s pick in Denver territory with 13:11 left to play) and one Schaub (Dre Kirkpatrick’s pick-six on an atrocious pass).
In general, it drives me crazy that we don’t measure big-picture parts of games in more entertaining ways. I always thought the NBA needed a “Best Ball” award for every game — for the best player on the court in that specific game — just because I’d love to know at the end of every season who had the most Best Balls, which random players had the most Best Balls, and which great players over the course of history had the most all-time Best Balls and one-season Best Balls. I’d assume MJ from 1988 through 1993 had the greatest run of Best Balls ever. But who knows? I wish we knew.
PS: This would work in football, too.
PPS: I’m so proud of myself for laying off the Shawn Kemp/Antonio Cromartie joke here.
Q: You mentioned in your Week 15 column that this year’s NFL Marcus Mariota tankapalooza nickname should be “Suck for the Duck.” I propose an alternative option: “JaMarcus for Marcus.” Doesn’t playing like JaMarcus Russell truly epitomize being the absolute worst you could possibly be? Any bad team can suck, but to “JaMarcus” is to take tanking to a whole new level.
–Scott, New York
BS: I love it. Congrats in advance to Tampa for winning the “JaMarcus for Marcus” sweepstakes! I’m trying my best not to JaMarcus this column, by the way.
Bears (+6.5) over VIKINGS
At Stake: The epilogue to Marc Trestman’s next book, “When Perseverance Met Jay Cutler.”
Q: Wouldn’t it be just like Jay Cutler to come back for one game and play really well? We would end up with the 13th pick instead of the 8th pick, then we can spend eight months talking about how Cutler could be a good quarterback just with a different coach and OC. Then he can spend all of camp saying the right things and acting mature until the first sign of adversity and he will throw seven picks in three games and sink another season.
BS: And you wondered why I grabbed the points.
Q: When I go to my in-laws for the holidays, I’m allowed/permitted/expected to get sloshed, right? Is there a single husband who doesn’t do this? And does it make a difference if my wife’s family doesn’t drink (they don’t)? I mean, I’ve only been doing this for five years, so I’m willing to change if I’m wrong. Please tell me I’m right.
–Neil V., Ottawa
BS: Wait, you’re asking for my permission to get hammered when you’re a married guy hanging out with your sober in-laws in December in freezing-cold Ottawa? By the way, party at Neil’s in-laws’ house! PASS THE COURVOISIER!!!!!
Jets (+5.5) over DOLPHINS
At Stake: Our last chance to enjoy Rex Ryan on the Jets’ sideline before he either replaces Mike Ditka on NFL Countdown, steals Phil Simms’s no. 1 job at CBS, bumps Bart Scott from CBS’s pregame show, signs with Grantland, becomes Bill Belichick’s new defensive coordinator or becomes the new head coach of the (pick one: Bears, Falcons, Raiders, Saints, Skins, Niners) … more important, this is NOT our last chance to wager against Joe Philbin.
Q: On the BS Report a few weeks ago, you mentioned that football GMs should take into consideration what fans from rival teams want them to do, then do the opposite. As a Patriots fan, would you like to see Rex stay or go?
–Marc, Madison, WI
BS: I hope the Jets are dumb enough to fire Rex — the guy who won them four road playoff games in two years even though Mark Freaking Sanchez was playing QB for him. We always hear that you’re only as good as your QB. Well, Rex’s starting QBs ranked 24th, 17th, 26th, 32nd, 28th and 30th in QBR from 2009 through 2014. During that time, the Jets never had a 1,000-yard receiver and only had three 1,000-yard running backs (Thomas Jones in 2009 and Shonn Greene in 2011 and 2012). In the past 12 years, the Jets have drafted one above-average skill position player … and it was a kick returner (Leon Washington in 2006). And this is Rex’s fault?
Firing Rex and replacing him with Jim Schwartz or Greg Schiano would be the Jetsiest Jets moment since they tackled Delanie Walker to keep themselves from getting a top-two pick.
Q: About twenty years ago, I was given a Christmas present by a extended family member. It was a 1/15th scale brass basketball hoop and backboard sort of … sculpture. I did not and never have played any form of organized basketball. I had no idea what to make of the gift, and thought that maybe it had some special meaning to the person who bought it for me. She did not acknowledge my thanks, only gave me a vacant glance. I decided that she had made a desperation purchase for me while sprinting through a mall, and dubbed it my Worst Christmas Gift Ever. That held true until today. Today, Stephen Ross said, “Here’s a Christmas present. You don’t have to ask me anymore. He has one year left on contract and is coming back.” He was, of course, speaking about Joe Philbin. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be right here at 8-7 next year, lamenting over another year lost in my life without seeing the Fins hoist a trophy. So … that’s my new Worst Christmas Present Ever. What’s yours?
–Chip Turner, Long Pond, PA
BS: Without question, it’s The Godfather: Part III. They released it on Christmas Day in 1990, to tepid reviews that everyone refused to believe. I saw it that day with my stepfather, the world’s biggest Godfather fan; by the midway point, I had checked out while he kept imploring me to “Come on, give it a chance” and saying “It’s gonna get better, Coppola has this all planned out.” He was in total denial. It was like watching someone stand over a dead body after the sheet has already been pulled over it and saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK, he’ll be fine, he’s OK.” An hour later, we were stumbling out of the theater in holiday shock, only there wasn’t an Internet yet that allowed us to go on a message board to trash the script or Sofia Coppola’s performance. Bah humbug.
PATRIOTS (-5) over Bills
At Stake: Nothing. By the way, thanks for the no. 1 seed, Peyton Manning! What a great gift! You shouldn’t have!
Q: Is this the Year of the Mastermind Coach? Popovich, Bochy, Belichick, Saban, Mourinho, Calipari — when was the last time that all of the best teams were the best due to their coaching and their systems as much as the players’ talent?
BS: I like this point. All six guys you mentioned bring something historically unique to the table. Popovich’s Spurs team created the “Pace and Space” mind-set that’s transforming the NBA right now, and he invented a smarter way for contenders to use their extended benches so the regular-season grind doesn’t wear them out. Belichick’s year-after-year success during the Salary Cap era is impossible. Bochy won three titles in five years in a sport that’s a postseason crapshoot. Calipari mastered the One-And-Done Factory game plan. Saban conquered the SEC and created a dynasty in a sport that seemed dynasty-proof. My biggest gripe: including Mourinho (never won a 2014 title) over two-time Stanley Cup champ Darryl Sutter! How dare you!
Q: Thanks for getting my hopes up for nothing Buffalo. A week after beating upon Aaron Rodgers, the MVP front-runner, you blow a must-win game to Derek Carr. DEREK GODDANG CARR. And to make matters worse, a NFC South team is going to make the playoffs with a record below .500 this year. F–k football, I’m done.
–Sam, Plattsburgh, NY
BS: Happy holidays to you, too, Sam!
BRONCOS (-14.5) over Raiders
At Stake: Denver’s no. 2 seed (if Cincy loses, Denver gets the no. 2 seed anyway) … three more hours of people wondering, “Does Peyton look right?” … the puncher’s chance of an Oakland upset win saving the Tony Sparano era.
Q: It’s official. Manning has lost it. Me and my buddy both took brutal beatings this Monday backing The Sheriff. Even doubled down at the half. The only thought I had watching the last few drives was “Please, please don’t throw it.” At which point I would see another duck, another INT and pick six, and another Manning face. Someone needs to point out that he’s not the same guy. The gamblers of America are counting on you.
BS: I mean … SOMETHING is going on.
First 8 Weeks, 2013: 2,919 yards, 29-6 TD/INT, 8.8 YPA, 119.4 rating
Last 8 Weeks, 2013: 2,558 yards, 26-4 TD/INT, 7.9 YPA, 110.7 rating
First 7 Weeks, 2014: 2,134 yards, 22-3 TD/INT, 8.5 YPA, 119.0 rating
Last 8 Weeks, 2014: 2,320 yards, 17-12 TD/INT, 7.5 YPA, 89.7 rating
Two incredible follow-up points that I can’t believe I am even typing …
1. We’re indefinitely suspending the “Never bet against Peyton Manning in a night game” rule. Can’t retire it yet … but I can definitely suspend it.
2. Playoffs, cold weather, my beloved Pats hosting in Foxborough … and I’d rather see Denver come to town than Pittsburgh. I don’t know what to tell you. In the words of Selena Gomez, the heart wants what it wants. (And yes, you know I have a 9½-year-old daughter because I just quoted a Selena Gomez song.)
GIANTS (-3) over Eagles
At Stake: Eli Manning locking down his best statistical season (highest passer rating, most TDs, best TD-INT ratio, second-highest passing yards, most PSA commercials where he stares blankly into a camera) … Mark Sanchez’s chances to ever start another NFL game … Philly joining the “9-3 to 9-7” Club … Philly Sports Radio moving from Defcon 3 to Defcon 2 with its “Maybe Chip Kelly ISN’T a genius” narrative … and Odell Beckham needing one more 150-yard/two-TD/one circus catch game to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year and officially become the no. 1 pick in 2015’s New York’s Most Beloved Professional Athlete draft.
Q: Since the Eagles dropped out of the playoff picture, I think their fans should try and stay positive, right? Nothing helps me stay positive like this Boogie Nights clip.
–Zak Nelson, Baltimore
BS: I don’t think that worked. What about the Philly morning show anchor who read an indecent email on live TV without knowing it was obscene, culminating in her cohost trying to save the day by saying, “Hey, did you guys hear that the Eagles won?”
Rams (+12.5) over SEAHAWKS
At Stake: Seattle could clinch a no. 1 seed as long as there isn’t a Packers-Lions tie1 … Russell Wilson needs 164 passing yards and 58 rushing yards to join Randall Cunningham in the 3400/900-Yard Club … Jeff Fisher could clinch his third straight seven-win season … the number of fans who say to themselves, “Wait, Jeff Fisher only finished over .500 six times in 20 years????” could double.
Q: I’m stoned watching this terrible Seattle-Arizona Sunday Night Football game and thought of this — whenever Richard Sherman gets an interception the announcers should yell “Dick pick!!!!!!”
BS: Yup … these are my readers.
SKINS (+6.5) over Cowboys
Cards (+6) over 49ERS
At Stake: Arizona could clinch a no. 2 seed (if Seattle loses) and a no. 1 seed (if Seattle AND Green Bay lose)2 … Dallas could clinch a no. 2 seed if Seattle AND Arizona lose … Tony Romo could heat up his faint-but-heartwarming MVP chances … DeMarco Murray needs 27 more carries to reach 400 and earn his own “DON’T SIGN HIM!!!!” chapter in the 2015 Football Outsiders Almanac … one more quality RG3 game could suck D.C. fans back into the RG3 era (you know it’s true, too) … Cards fourth-string QB Logan Thomas could suck some people in, or he could just suck … this might be Jim Harbaugh’s last Niners game … oh, and the Cards could become the first playoff team to clinch home-field advantage while getting six points against a 7-8 team that has lost four straight.
Q: Can we somehow get North Korea to believe that Dan Snyder wrote and financed The Interview?
BS: Congrats to Tony for being the 200th D.C. area football fan to send me this joke.
Q: As a 49ers fan and season ticket holder, I still can’t believe the destruction that’s gone on after three consecutive NFC title games. And it’s only going to get worse because our owner for some reason thinks firing Jim Harbaugh is going to make us better. Does he forget what happened when we let go of Steve Mariucci and our team went into the shitter for a decade?
–Danny, Daly City
BS: It’s insane. From September 2011 through 2013, Harbaugh won 36 of 48 regular-season games, won five of eight playoff games and came within a first down of winning the Super Bowl. And everything fell apart in 2014 — which wasn’t even remotely shocking when you factored in the Aldon Smith/Ray McDonald incidents, the aborted Harbaugh/Cleveland whatever-happened-there trade, their brutally competitive division and an unusually tough schedule. Here’s what I wrote in my “Year of the Dog” column before Week 1:
“I love San Diego as 2014’s surprise 12-win contender, Tampa Bay as 2014’s “Nobody Believes In Us” sleeper, Baltimore as 2014’s comeback team, Cincy as 2014’s Slightly Undervalued Contender, and Minnesota as 2014’s super-frisky non-playoff team. I’m also waaaaaaaaay down on Carolina and Kansas City; I think the Falcons, Cardinals and Jets are worse than people think; I’m petrified of the QB situations in Buffalo, Houston and Washington; and I’m worried that San Francisco might have a Year From Hell Season.”
Not bad! Oh, wait, I picked the 2-13 Bucs as a sleeper and declared 2014 the “Year of the Dog” even though favorites have covered at a higher success rate. Forget it. But a disappointing 2014 Niners season was always in play. And if Harbaugh is one of those withering, high-intensity, burns-you-out-after-three-years head coaches, then maybe college IS the best place for him. It’s just hard for me to believe that, just five months ago, Barnwell made Harbaugh the first coach to crack a Top 50 in the history of any Trade Value column … and now that coach is going to be more satisfied fleeing the NFL entirely so he could beat up on Northwestern and Purdue. Nick Saban wasn’t a very good pro football coach. Jim Harbaugh ia a SUPERB pro football coach. He’s overqualified for college.
My take: I think he’s using that Michigan offer as leverage so that his next NFL team (Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, whomever) doesn’t have to pay a big ransom for him. And by the way, how much fun would a Sean Payton/Jim Harbaugh trade be? Can’t we just call that in now?
Q: Isn’t the third string QB supposed to suck? It is not Ryan Lindley’s fault that he is not a good player. For every backup who becomes Brady, there are 1000 Lindleys. He deserves a break, as does Charlie Whitehurst and every Rams QB.
BS: This reminds me of an old Malcolm Gladwell riff — Ryan Lindley is something like the 62nd best professional quarterback in the world. In how many other jobs could you feel like a complete failure for being the 62nd best in the world at anything?
Q: The Dallas Stars traded the Bruins a bag of urine for Tyler Seguin. The Dallas Mavericks traded the Celtics a pile of crap for Rajon Rondo. On behalf of Jerry and Stephen Jones, the Dallas Cowboys would like to offer you Gavin Escobar, Morris Claiborne, Lance Dunbar, and our 2015 2nd round pick for Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Browner. Thanks in advance.
BS: Too. Soon.
CHIEFS (-2.5) over Chargers
At Stake: San Diego gets the no. 6 seed by winning … If Kansas City wins, they get the no. 6 seed if Baltimore AND Houston lose (good luck with that) … the 0-TD record for KC’s receivers … Phil Rivers needs one more come-from-behind win while battling eight different injuries and a herniated disc to grab Ben Roethlisberger’s “Toughest QB Alive” belt … K.C. fans are one more must-win defeat from feeling terrible about themselves again … speaking of K.C. fans feeling terrible, it’s the final installment of America’s favorite sports stadium game show, Wait, Should I Eat This? … and San Diego can break the “Most Centers Ever Used During One Season” record.
Q; With four minutes to go, up by 11, and the Chiefs at midfield, my wife couldn’t figure out why I was so confident about the Steelers chances. I looked at her and just said, “Andy Reid.” At 3:30, and KC in field goal range, I started yelling, “An-Dee Reid” in the middle of my living room, as Andy continued to run 5-6 yard pass plays. Of course, as soon as the 2:00 warning passed, the field goal was kicked, the onside kick was lost, victory formation was run, and the Steelers move on. God Bless the Andy Reid School of Clock Management.
–Peter, Mohnton, PA
BS: Also at stake — Andy Reid has a chance to lose one more big game. By the way, there’s a one-in-five chance that a Sloan Conference panel in two months will break down all the head-scratching decisions from this Chiefs-Chargers game. McCoy! Reid! It’s the Stamps.com Clock Management Fiasco Bowl at 1 p.m. on CBS!
Q: Why would anyone name their penis after Odell Beckham, someone who is REALLY good at catching something? I would rather name my penis after the Chiefs WR corps, for safety’s sake.
–Josh, Brookline, MA
BS: Random prediction: THIS IS THE WEEK! We’re gonna see a touchdown by a Chiefs receiver! I love the Chiefs this week. A SoCal team in cold weather, a truly banged-up Chargers squad, a half-empty Chiefs bandwagon, Mike McCoy doing Mike McCoy things, the free half-point from Vegas, the inevitable week when San Diego’s luck finally runs out,3 and best of all, the door opening just a crack for James Wattman to film Power Wattage 2 in the actual playoffs.
Browns (+9.5) over RAVENS
TEXANS (-9.5) over Jaguars
At Stake: Baltimore’s win earns the no. 6 seed if San Diego loses … Houston’s win earns the no. 6 seed if Baltimore AND San Diego lose … Cleveland could land two top-15 picks if it loses and Buffalo loses … Baltimore could become only the ninth top-five DVOA team since 1991 to miss the playoffs … J.J. Watt could swing the MVP ballot with another monster game that ends with Watt doing everything short of pulling Blake Bortles’s arms off and clubbing him over the head with them … Jacksonville gets nothing and likes it.
Q: I was flipping through some article about what every state is worst at, and came upon this little gem: “Ohio: Worst water — Ohio came in dead last in a study of water cleanliness by the Natural Resources Defense Council.” So “there’s something in the water” might actually explain why Ohio’s professional sports teams never win anything. Add this to the “God hates Cleveland” theory.
BS: That’s the most interesting thing I learned about Cleveland after we posted that column. The second most interesting thing: In the Last Boy Scout clip that I posted, the pistol-packing running back plays for the L.A. Stallions and shoots defenders from the Cleveland Cats. Oh, and the actor playing that running back is Billy Blanks. So that’s a clip of the Tae Bo guy shooting Cleveland football players. Ladies and gentlemen, one more time, let’s hear it for Cleveland sports!
Q: On this week’s B.S. Report it sounds like your MVP vote is going to J.J. Watt, with Rodgers, Brady, Wilson and Romo right after him. I’m just checking to see if you have a concussion.
–Danny in Trumbull, CT
BS: I am not concussed. Passed the tests and everything. I don’t believe that any of the QBs grabbed the award — not even Rodgers, who put up 36 combined points against three of the top four defenses (Seattle, Detroit and Buffalo) and went 3-3 against his only six above-.500 opponents. Rodgers got to play the NFC South and four games against the Bears and Vikings. I think he’s the best QB in football. But he’s had better years — he didn’t WIN the award. Neither did Brady, Romo, Wilson or any other elite QB.
Here’s a good rule of thumb from my NBA MVP reasoning: “Ten years from now, who will be the first player from this regular season that pops into my head?” Isn’t that J.J. Watt? Aren’t we going to be remembering this as the J.J. Watt season? According to Pro Football Focus’s numbers …
Player A: 17.5 sacks, 43 hits, 49 hurries, 10 tipped passes, 56 stops
Player B: 18 sacks, 11 hits, 53 hurries, 5 tipped passes, 46 stops
Player A is J.J. Watt. Player B is the pooled-together stats for Justin Houston, Ndamukong Suh, Ryan Kerrigan, and Connor Barwin if you cherry-picked their highest possible totals.4 So J.J. Watt’s season is slightly better than the combined highest numbers of the next six guys. Oh, and he has 25 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, an 80-yard interception TD (the longest by a defensive lineman in the past 10 years), a 45-yard fumble return TD and three TD catches.5 And he’s getting double-teamed pretty much all the time now. If you take him off Houston, it’s immediately a 3-13 team.
On a personal note, he’s the best defensive player I have watched, game in and game out, since Lawrence Taylor (our last defensive player to win MVP). J.J. Watt wrecks offenses. He has also inspired me to write fake movie scripts, play out Thunderdome battles between him and Gronk, and seriously answer questions like “Would the Texans just be better off starting J.J. Watt at QB this weekend?” What else could he do? The 2014 Texans might miss the playoffs because they plowed through five mediocre-to-worse QBs (I’m counting both Ryan Fitzpatrick stints). There’s no other reason.
Anyway, I think it comes down to this weekend: If Watt destroys Jacksonville, he steals my MVP vote unless Rodgers destroys Detroit at home. As for the no. 6 seed, I think K.C. wins, Houston wins, Baltimore barely holds on against Cleveland thanks to the Browns getting whistled for a record 37 penalties … and on Monday, Roger Goodell and Steve Bisciotti will play 18.
PACKERS (-7.5) over Lions
At Stake: The NFC North title (and a no. 2 seed) … a possible no. 1 seed for Green Bay (if Seattle loses) or Detroit (if Seattle AND Arizona lose) … Detroit’s losing streak in Wisconsin (23 games!) … Aaron Rodgers’s MVP trophy … the collective psyche of Lions fans … my $200 parlay of the Packers -7.5 with “over 75.5 times” that someone on one of the ESPN/Fox/CBS shows calls suspended foot-stomping Lions center Dominic Raiola either “selfish” or “stupid” while also saying, “There’s no place in the game for that.”
Q: I turned 30 a few months ago. If we beat Rodgers and break the Lambeau streak, it would be the greatest Lions victory since Erik Kramer torched the 1991 Cowboys. Be clever and phrase this as a mailbag question: I F—— NEED THIS SIMMONS.
BS: I think you nailed it, JL. Although I would have thrown in the obligatory “Do you know the Lions are 1-10 in the playoffs since 1958?” nugget. My fears for taking the Lions +7.5, in no particular order: Rodgers in Lambeau; Jim Caldwell; Stafford outdoors; Jim Caldwell a second time; no Raiola; all the Lions-Lambeau baggage; the 2014 Packers at home; the revenge factor from Week 2 (Lions 19, Packers 7); Jim Caldwell a third time; Stafford outdoors a second time.
Q: You wrote: “If anyone can think of a more inept QB-coach combo this century, email it to me, please.” Mornhinweg and Harrington. That took like three f-ing seconds. Next time, if you want to know anything about failure and ineptitude in pro football, please, just ask a Lions fan first and save us all a lot of time.
–David Sparks, Chicago
BS: And there’s that, too. By the way, here were your other “Most Inept QB-Coach of the Century” suggestions that trumped Cutler and Trestman …
Honorable Mention: Pat Shurmur and Brandon Weeden; Dave Shula and David Klingler; Rod Marinelli and Jon Kitna/Dan Orlovsky; George Seifert and Chris Weinke; Chris Palmer and Spergon Wynn; Dick Jauron and Cade McNown; Cam Cameron and Cleo Lemon; JaMarcus Russell/Andrew Walter and Lane Kiffin/Tom Cable; Dave Campo and Quincy Carter; Curtis Painter and Jim Caldwell; Mike Singletary and Troy Smith; Brad Childress and Tarvaris Jackson; Marty Mornhinweg and Joey Harrington; Anyone and Romeo Crennel; Anyone and Dave Campo; Dom Capers and David Carr; Mike Mularkey and Blaine Gabbert.
Bronze Medal: Danny in Santa Barbara writes, “I humbly submit to you the 2000 San Diego Chargers (1-15). Head coach — Mike Riley (career NFL record of 14-34); Ryan Leaf (nine starts), an aging Jim Harbaugh (!!!) (five starts), and something called a Moses Moreno (two starts). During a 17-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 11, all three managed to throw at least one interception.”
Silver Medal: EZ Seibert in Nashville writes, “I am downright shocked that you didn’t even consider the combo of Greg Schiano and Josh Freeman. It only lasted three weeks in 2013, but in that time they had the MRSA outbreaks, rigged captain elections, leaked personal information, an inconceivable .457 completion percentage, and of course 0 wins. HAS to be in the discussion.”
Gold Medal: Logan in Chesapeake, Virginia, asks, “What about the 2006 Raiders? The legendary Art Shell coached a combo of totally-washed-up Aaron Brooks and yes-that-was-a-real-NFL-QB Andrew Walter to a 2-14 record with 6 TDs and 21 picks. That’s not a typo, six touchdowns in sixteen games. Walter was the worse of the two: 8 starts, 3 TD, 13 INT, and an unconscionable QBR of 17.4. Cutler this year (55.0) is closer to Peyton’s QBR record season (87.2) than he is to 2006 Andrew Walter. Meanwhile, Art Shell was Art Shell and spent most of the season in an undiagnosed coma.”
(Your winner: Art Shell, Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks! I even wrote an Art Shell column that season AND followed it up with a reader email column. See, it could be worse, Bears fans. I have one word for you: Perseverance.)
Q: The pure emotion in this video of Jim Caldwell’s postgame speech to the Lions is inspiring. If Calvin Johnson is Megatron, perhaps Jim Caldwell should be “Emoticon”? He actually ALMOST smiles when talking about the upcoming game with the Packers around the one minute mark!!!
–Terry, Grand Rapids, MI
BS: Jim Caldwell speaks! Are we sure there aren’t two Jim Caldwells?
Q: It’s time to set you straight on the MVP race. Don’t forget it’s the Most VALUABLE Player. If Nelson makes that catch in Buffalo, the Packers win and Rodgers’ numbers look A LOT better for that game. Did you realize that four of Rodgers’ five interceptions this year hit his receivers in the hands? HE’S THROWN ONE LEGITIMATE INTERCEPTION ALL YEAR.
–Trent, Mishawaka, IN
BS: More from fellow Grantlander Steve Hyden, who happens to be a die-hard Packers fan …
“If we compare Rodgers to Tom Brady, Rodgers has a significantly worse coach and no weapon as good as Rob Gronkowski. (Let’s not forget that Rodgers beat Brady head-to-head.) If we compare Rodgers to DeMarco Murray or Tony Romo, Rodgers wins because he doesn’t have a viable MVP candidate as a teammate. (Murray and Romo cancel each other out.) If we compare Rodgers to Russell Wilson, Rodgers has a significantly worse coach, a worse running back and a much worse defense. If we compare Rodgers to J.J. Watt, sorry, there is no comparison, because Rodgers makes an impact on every offensive play on a team with a much better record. Is there really a solid argument for any other player being more valuable to his team than Rodgers? He’s not just the MVP for 2014, he’s the MVP every year. While we’re at it, let’s also give him an Oscar, Emmy, Pulitzer, and Nobel [Prize].”
Fine, fine, fine. It’s a defensible MVP pick. But Rodgers still needs to torch Detroit this weekend to make it official … right?
FALCONS (-4) over Panthers
At Stake: The NFL’s dignity … the NFC South title (and the no. 4 seed) … the Mike Smith era … Cam Newton’s chances to get a nine-minute lump-in-the-throat produced segment about his car accident before a Round 1 playoff game that will definitely sample Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” … a possible Atlanta Pro Sports Resurgence with the Falcons and the red-hot Hawks … our still-flickering chances for a Caldwell-Smith Clock Management Showdown in Round 2 … and don’t forget, we’re one Cam Newton hit away from getting a potential Ryan Lindley vs. Derek Anderson outdoors playoff matchup in Round 1.6
Q: Last week you said all NFC South Championship shirts should be immediately sent to Africa, because nobody would wear them anyway. As a Pats fan living in Charlotte, NC, I can safely say Carolina Panthers fans would without a doubt wear those championship shirts.
–Trent C., Charlotte, NC
Q: It would be silly to donate this year’s NFC South championship shirts to Africa. Send them to Brooklyn, where hipsters in Greenpoint and Bushwick will pay top dollar for the privilege of wearing them ironically.
–Chuck L, Brooklyn, NY
BS: I like Chuck’s idea more. By the way, I absolutely love the Falcons in this game — they’re playing in the Georgia Dome, they’re 5-0 against division opponents, they have the league’s eighth-best offense according to DVOA, and they’ve covered six of their last eight games. They’re like the 2007 Pats of the NFC South. This line isn’t high enough.
Q: How bummed are you that we won’t have a six-win NFC South champion hosting a playoff game, barring something crazy in Week 17 like Mike Smith mismanaging the clock leading to a tie and … wait a second.
–Noah, New York, NY
BS: You’re right, this line is probably high enough.
STEELERS (-3.5) over Bengals
At Stake: Winner gets the AFC North title (and a no. 3 seed at least); loser gets the no. 5 seed (and the Colts) … Cincy could also win a no. 2 seed if Denver loses … Andy Dalton could officially shed the “Not Ready For Prime Time” tag … Pittsburgh could head into the playoffs 8-2 in its last 107 … Roethlisberger could reach 5,000 passing yards (he’s 365 yards away) and Antonio Brown could clinch the receiving yards title … if A.J. Green lasts four more quarters, somebody could give him an “I made it through a 17-week season without one of Andy’s throws seriously injuring me even though he almost broke my arm in the Denver game” T-shirt as a belated Christmas gift.
Speaking of gifts, it’s time for me to unwrap your holiday present. (Waiting for you to open the box.) That’s right, it’s the Steelers at 18-to-1!
Here’s the logic: I see them beating the Bengals and hosting Baltimore in Round 1. Perfect matchup — Roethlisberger can shred Baltimore’s secondary again like when he dropped six touchdowns on them in Week 9. After that, you have a Final Eight team with an experienced big-game QB that can drop 30-plus points on anyone. Could they win in Denver and New England? Why not? Denver looks vulnerable and Pittsburgh’s biggest weakness (giving up deep balls) happens to be the biggest weakness of New England’s offense.8 Heading into Week 17, Tom Brady has thrown deep 58 times, completed just 17 of those passes (34.5 percent — 19th in the NFL) for only five touchdowns (tied for 14th), and caused my dad to text me 27 times this season, either “GOD FORBID WE EVER COMPLETED ONE OF THESE” or “WHY DIDN’T WE SIGN STEVE SMITH???”
I know, I know … that Denver/New England road gauntlet seems daunting. But you know what else is daunting? Old quarterbacks in bad weather. And you know what else is daunting? Road playoff teams with big-play receivers (the Steelers have three, including Antonio Brown, the league’s best receiver), a big-play running back (Le’Veon Bell is the scariest back in football right now) and a gunslinger QB. As a die-hard Patriots fan who genuinely likes my team’s chances this season, still, I am abjectly terrified of Pittsburgh. Do I believe the Steelers will beat Denver, New England AND Seattle back-to-back? Not necessarily … but I believe they COULD. And that’s why you should grab them at 18-to-1 — because those are really good odds for “they COULD.” Merry Christmas.
(Oh, and Steelers fans? You don’t have to send me “I know what you’re doing — this is one of those patented Simmons reverse jinxes!” emails. That goes without saying!!!! Merry Christmas to myself for reverse-jinxing the Steelers! WOO-HOO! ENJOY THE SIMMONS STINK, PITTSBURGH!!!!! And happy holidays, everybody.)
Last Week: 9-6-1
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