Thursday, November 29, 2007

The other game of the century

Long before "Peyton Manning Can't Beat The Patriots," the dominant NFL meme was "Brett Favre Can't Beat The Cowboys." Much as Manning's Colts lost to New England in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs, Favre and the Packers saw their season end in playoff frustration on the Texas Stadium turf every year from 1993 to 1995. The difference, of course, is that Manning eventually beat New England en route to the Super Bowl. Favre, however, never beat Dallas when it counted. In 1996, the Panthers upset the Cowboys, and the Packers beat the Panthers in the NFC title game. By 1997, the Cowboys were a 6-10 team.

Well, Favre still can't beat the Cowboys in a big game, it seems.

But it's all good. The Packers played far better Thursday night than I expected them to, hanging in until the bitter end and proving that they can go toe to tow with the cowboys. Green Bay fans can feel good about Aaron Rodgers taking over when Favre finally does retire. And Ryan Grant is for real.

But holy shit, if the NFL Network is going to take big games like this off of free TV in its effort to extort 10 bucks a year out of every cable subscriber in the country, the least they could do is get themselves a play-by-play man whose incompetence isn't raging like a case of herpes. Bryant Gumbel was so horrid he left me speechless. So horrid he left me wishing for Mike Patrick. So horrid that even Joe Theismann might not have been so bad. Gumbel, to put not-too-fine a point on it, has no business in the booth whatsoever. At least four times in the first quarter, he referred to the Cowboys as the Packers. Not once but twice, he told a long story about his conversation with "Mike McCarthy," who is the Packers' coach, about how Cowboys running back Marion Barber III is "the heartbeat of the Packers' offense." The first time, he told this story, I assumed that McCarthy had said in the production meeting that Barber was the heartbeat of the Dallas offense, so the Packer defense was going to focus on stopping him. Only after Gumbel stumbled through it again did I realize that the conversation wasn't with McCarthy at all, but with Wade Phillips, the Cowboys' coach. When I shouted at the screen, "What the fuck are you talking about?," it wouldn't be the last time.

Speaking of Barber: At one point late in the game, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo handed the ball off to a running back who was stuffed at the line. Unable to tell whether it was Marion Barber or Julius Jones, Gumbel split the difference and called him "Marion Jones." Hey, she's probably stronger than both of them.

And speaking of Tony Romo: As the game ended and the teams poured onto the field, Gumbel urged us to stay tuned, because after the commercial break, Adam Schefter would hopefully have an interview with "Rick Romo."

On and on it went. A Green Bay defender was very clearly blocked into the Dallas punter, and Gumbel and boothmate Chris Collinsworth howled over the flag that (correctly) wasn't thrown. A Green Bay defender very clearly grabbed a Dallas receiver -- the very definition of pass interference -- and Gumbel and Collinsworth howled some more over the flag that (correctly) was thrown. Gumbel alluded to the list of quarterbacks who were drafted ahead of Romo -- but never actually named them. He said things like "he's still on his feet" long after a guy was tackled. He just talked and talked and said nothing. Please. Make it stop. Where's Dick Vermeil?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Week 13: RIP Sean Taylor, 1983-2007

After 12 weeks of scratching and clawing, Down and Distance has reached the top of the standings in the blogger picks league. Whether this is a product of my legendary football acumen or the fact that about a third of the participants have dropped out remains to be seen. Still, a 12-4 week is not at all shabby.


Green Bay 37, Detroit 36
Yet another example of why an NFL team should never take its foot off an opponent's throat. The Packers led by 22 with 13 minutes left to play, they let up on the gas, and within seven minutes of clock time, the Lions had turned it into a one-score game. Green Bay pulled out the win, but they were lucky. Once you switch it off, you don't always get it switched on again. I watched this game at my wife's uncle's house, with a bunch of Vikings fans. I'd forgotten that there are people in the world who hate the Green Bay Packers. Even though I grew up in Minnesota, I never minded the Packers -- probably because during my childhood, the 1970s and '80s, they were never good enough to hate. At various times the Bears, Lions and Buccaneers all served as the biggest threat to the Vikings in the NFC Central, but Green Bay never did until the 1990s.

Indianapolis 31, Atlanta 13
A game against the Falcons is always good for what ails you, spiritually. It doesn't do shit to get you ready for Jacksonville, however.

Cleveland 27, Houston 17
The Texans are really gaining speed as they slide back down the bell curve. Hey, 7-9 won't be so bad ... until you remember that that's where they were three years ago, the last time they were poised to take the next step.

Seattle 24, St. Louis 19
When mantaining your longtime grasp on the division depends on ancient journeyman Gus Frerotte fumbling a fourth-down snap for the Rams at the same time ancient journeyman Trent Dilfer has his best game in years for the 49ers, then it might be time to blow it up and start over.

Tampa Bay 19, Washington 13
Not two days later, the Redskins would learn what it really means to suffer a heartbreaking loss in Florida.

Chicago 37, Denver 34 (OT)
I keep waiting for the law of averages to catch up with Devin Hester. I figured he was like Dante Hall. Remember how Hall was all the rage for like a year and a half, and then everyone started keying on him during kick returns, and you pretty much never heard from him again? I thought that would happen with Hester, and I think I will continue to be proven wrong. I watched both of his touchdown returns on Sunday, and while you hear a lot about his speed, that's not what makes him the best kick/punt returner in the league. It's actually his field vision. Not only does he know where everybody is, he knows where they're going to be when he gets to their part of the field. That's also why he's not as good on offense as he is as a returner. As a wide receiver or flanker, he never has all 11 guys on the opposing team spread out for him they way he does on a kick.

San Diego 32, Baltimore 14
Oh, this looked like a good one back when the schedule was coming together. These teams were a combined 27-5 last year. But then the Chargers fired their coach, and the Ravens didn't fire theirs.

New England 31, Philadelphia 28
Yes, A.J. Feeley played very well, but let me ask you this: If Donovan McNabb had been the Eagles' quarterback against the Patriots, and his second pass of the game had been intercepted and run back for a touchdown, and his second-to-last pass of the game had been picked off in the end zone when his team was in position for the tying field goal, what do you suppose they would be saying about him this week?

Pittsburgh 3, Miami 0
If you told me that this game was going to be played in conditions so mucky that all the yard lines would wash away and punts wouldn't even bounce when they hit the ground, I would have said, "Oh, man, I have got to see that." Yet in reality, it was three hours of the most wretched football you'll see all season. After 59 minutes and 40 seconds, the score was still tied 0-0. Once you get to that point, you actually start rooting for the game to end in a tie n regulation and for it to remain scoreless in overtime. Because then you could say you watched the only 0-0 tie since the NFL started playing overtime in the regular season in 1974. (Prior to then, it only did so for playoff games; that's why you see so many ties on team records up to 1973.) But the Dolphins and Steelers couldn't just give us that, and with 17 seconds left, Pittsburgh hit the "winning" field goal, and we have a 3-0 final score that makes the game seem far more interesting than it really was. OK, now for Tony Kornheiser: Coming into the game, it was obvious that he was going to spend the majority of his time talking about two things: Miami's 0-10 record coming in, and the return of Ricky Williams to the Dolphins after a 1 1/2-year, weed-induced exile. First, the 0-10 record. Look, we can all see the standings. They print them in the newspaper and various places online. We don't need to be told over and over that Miami has yet to win a game. What would have been nice would be some intelligent discussion of why a team that for the past 10 years had a been a fair-to-middling squad suddenly saw the bottom drop out. Such as the fact that the defense, once very spry and very good, got very old very quickly. Or the fact that the team has preferred to acquire "established" quarterbacks -- viz. Brian Griese, Gus Frerotte, A.J. Feeley, Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green -- rather than just draft one and develop him has finally caught up with it. That would have been too thought-provoking for the Monday Night Football crew. Next, Ricky Williams. You just knew that the second Williams stepped on the field, Kornheiser was going to start reading whatever essay he'd draw up for the occasion, and you weren't disappointed. TK immediately rehashed everything: the drug suspension, the abrupt retirement, the return, the other drug suspension, the season he played in Canada. We know all this, Tony. When ESPN first acquired the Monday night package, the network made all sorts of noises about how it was going to tailor its broadcasts for the core ESPN audience: the serious fan. Yet through Kornheiser and his weekly remedial history lessons, MNF continues to assume its viewers don't know shit about shit. To Tony's credit, he did point out that many people consider pot-smoking a relatively victimless crime, and that marijuana is hardly a performance-enhancing substance. And he and Ron Jaworski both mentioned that, in the eyes of other players, Williams' far greater sin was quitting football -- quitting on his teammates, and leaving his team in the lurch -- right before the 2004 season. As they jawed about this, I thought: Wouldn't it be nice if they took some time to discuss what it would take for a guy to shed the "quitter" label, which to an athlete is far more damaging than the "druggie" label? Because there's a guy still floating around in the NFL whose experience almmost directly mirrors Williams': a high-first-round pick who became the face of his franchise before declining into substance abuse, quitting on his team and getting drummed out of the sport. That guy is Kerry Collins. And what he did was acknowledge his alcoholism, get sober, keep his mouth shut, work hard and be a model teammate. Next thing you know, he's playing (though not very well) in the Super Bowl, and he's still pulling an NFL paycheck as Vince Young's backup and mentor. Kerry Collins -- a mentor! So it really is possible to shed the quitter label. But of course we didn't hear anything like that, because there were jokes to be made about doobies. It was especially interesting, too, because during the game there was a commercial for Coors Light that showed NFL Films footage of coaches acting like assholes on the sidelines. In one clip, a New York Giants coach is ranting and raving about whatever. I wasn't able to focus on who the coach was (Jim Fassel, I presume), because behind him on the sidelines was a player whose face had been blurred in the ad. When you see that in an ad, it means the person in question didn't give permission for their image to be used. It never happens in ads for official sponsors, though, which means this player probably specifically asked that his face not appear in a beer commercial. The player's jersey number was 5. It was Kerry Collins.

Jacksonville 36, Buffalo 14
New Orleans 31, Carolina 6
Dallas 34, N.Y. Jets 3


Oakland 20, Kansas City 17
This week's Game-I-Didn't-Watch-a-Single-Down-Of. I mean, yeah, I didn't expect the Raiders to win, but I can't say I'm terribly surprised. I wouldn't be surprised if the Chiefs lost to Notre Dame at this point. Or to the Merchant Marine Academy. It's not that they're bad, necessarily. It's that you can never count on them to be good.

Cincinnati 35, Tennessee 6
Well, Chad Johnson feels comfortable enough to act like a jackass again, so the Bengals must be getting this thing turned around. It's not really the fact that Cincinnati won that was noteworthy -- the Bengals are one of those teams who can beat anybody and lose to anybody -- but rather the magnitude of the victory.

Minnesota 41, N.Y. Giants 17
Remember the 2000 NFC Championship Game, when the Giants beat the Vikings 41-0? OK, now remember the game two years ago when the Vikings scored touchdowns on a punt return, a kickoff return and an interception return to beat the Giants 24-21? And then on Sunday, the Vikings ran back three interceptions for touchdowns to rout the Giants. I understand that it usually takes a while to even the karmic scales, but man, shouldn't it be close to done by now?

San Francisco 37, Arizona 31 (OT)
The Cardinals can beat Pittsburgh, and can lose to the 49ers. This is a team with a lot of work yet to do. And as much as I love him as a fellow Iowan, I have to say that if you asked me before the weekend which quarterback would fumble in his own end zone in sudden-death overtime, I'd have probably said Kurt Warner. Sorry.

SEASON: 119-57 (67.6%)
(2006 through Week 12: 107-69, 60.8%)
(2005 through Week 12: 118-58, 67.0%)

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: W12 = This week's ranking. W11 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
11 Patriots 100.001714 Lions 35.16
22 Steelers 84.221816 Texans 32.65
33 Colts 81.261912 Titans 32.58
45 Cowboys 74.032018 Redskins 29.64
54 Packers 73.162121 Bears 29.05
66 Seahawks 60.282222 Raiders 24.95
77 Bucs 58.402325 Chiefs 20.66
89 Jaguars 55.002427 Broncos 17.09
911Chargers 50.342523 Ravens 17.08
1010Eagles 43.882624 Panthers 13.36
118 Giants 42.222729 Dolphins 7.95
1217Vikings 41.492826 Jets 6.91
1315Browns 39.532928 Bills 6.49
1413Cardinals 37.123030 Falcons 5.15
1519Saints 35.853131 Rams 0.86
1620Bengals 35.703232 49ers 0.00

Teams eliminated this week from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Titans, Lions. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints, Bills, Chargers, Redskins.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Week 11: Bye bye, bye

Did you notice something ominous this week? There were 16 games; every team was in action. That means the bye weeks are over, which means the end is in sight. And with six weeks to go, Down and Distance has climbed to second place in the picks league, thanks to a league-best 13-3 record in Week 11. (As of Tuesday, however, the standings still say 14-2. Everyone appears to have gotten credit for picking the Steelers.) Meanwhile, it's Thanksgiving Week, and I'm as busy as you are. So we'll be really brief.


Tampa Bay 31, Atlanta 7
Turns out Joey Harrington was not the problem, and Byron Leftwich was not the answer. How many times do they have to reinvent the wheel in Atlanta?

Cleveland 33, Baltimore 30 (OT)
I don't care what he said over the P.A. Referee Pete Morelli looked at the replay -- or at least had someone else look -- to determine whether Phil Dawson's kick made it through the uprights at the end of regulation. By rule, field goals are not supposed to be subject to replay review. It's refreshing to see a ref, for once, say: Fuck the rules, I'm gonna get it right.

Green Bay 31, Carolina 17
The score was only this close because the Packers, with another game in just four days, put it in neutral early on.

Houston 23, New Orleans 10
Regardless of how poorly Reggie Bush played (very), it would be a stretch to say that this game demonstrated why the Texans were right to choose Mario Williams with the top draft pick in 2006 rather than Bush. But what the hell. Williams is a nice guy; if it makes him feel better, I've got not problem.

Indianapolis 13, Kansas City 10
The Colts need a lot more than just getting Dallas Clark back.

Jacksonville 24, San Diego 17
Two teams moving in opposite directions. I think everyone is willing to admit they were wrong about David Garrard. Will we soon be saying the same about Philip Rivers? We might, unless Norv Turner starts working his QB magic. Or maybe stops working it.

Minnesota 29, Oakland 22
With Adrian Peterson injured, Chester Taylor puts on a rushing clinic. Imagine how good this team will be next year with Derek Anderson at quarterback.

Philadelphia 17, Miami 7
Miami's only points came on an 87-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. Look, it's not Ginn's fault that the Dolphins wasted a first-round pick to acquire his third-round talent, but even when he does something good, it just underscores the fact that the Dolphins had -- and still have -- needs far greater than a kick returner.

N.Y. Giants 16, Detroit 10
Seemed like it was gonna be a good game. Wasn't.

Dallas 28, Washington 23
The Redskins always play Dallas pretty close. Unfortunately, on Sunday the only Cowboy they didn't play close was Terrell Owens. Um, you know that when he sprints past the safeties, there's no one else back there, right?

St. Louis 13, San Francisco 9.
Down by 7 with less than five minutes left, the 49ers needed a touchdown but kicked a field goal rather than go for it on fourth down. That left them down by 4, which means they still needed to score a touchdown. Now you know why they've lost eight straight.

Seattle 30, Chicago 23
Could these really be the past two NFC champions?

New England 56, Buffalo 10
There's very little left to say. From the final score, it looks like the Pats ran it up on the Bills, but they didn't. They could have easily scored 90 points. Easily. Buffalo didn't even play a bad game. This is just ridiculous.


Arizona 35, Cincinnati 27
The Bengals have now come full circle: from shitty to plucky to dangerous to disappointing to shitty again. And the Cardinals? In two weeks, they host the Browns. If you had predicted before the season that Cleveland-Arizona could be a good game, they'd have put you on some kind of watch list.

N.Y. Jets 19, Pittsburgh 16 (OT)
The press loves Mike Tomlin, so you're probably not going to hear them say this, but: He's not doing a very good job getting his team ready for road games. Three times the Steelers have lost on the road to teams they should have beaten: the Cardinals, the Broncos and now the Jets.

Denver 34, Tennessee 20
So the word has gotten around the league that the best way to play the Titans is to make Vince Young beat you with his arm. Unfortunately for Tennessee on Monday night, Young's arm was just fine, but his receivers were beating themselves with their hot, buttered fingers. Tony Kornheiser wasn't as bad as usual this week, though there was an interminable shaggy-dog story about a Broncos players-only meeting that seemed to take up the bulk of the first quarter. Learn the conventions of television, Tony: If you're telling a story and have to pause while a play is run, just start right back in on the story. You don't have to recap the whole damn thing every time you get interrupted. We were all here 15 seconds ago. We remember what you were saying.

SEASON: 107-53 (66.9%)
(2006 through Week 11: 96-64, 60.0%)
(2005 through Week 11: 105-55, 65.6%)

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: W11 = This week's ranking. W10 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
1 1Patriots 100.001719Vikings 37.48
2 2Steelers 80.941816Redskins 35.83
3 3Colts 77.421917Saints 32.68
4 4Packers 73.152020Bengals 32.56
5 5Cowboys 67.522122Bears 31.64
6 6Seahawks 61.382224Raiders 28.49
710Bucs 58.682326Ravens 27.62
8 8Giants 52.932423Panthers 26.94
911Jaguars 50.922525Chiefs 26.27
1012Eagles 48.512628Jets 22.07
11 9Chargers 48.162730Broncos 21.67
12 7Titans 46.302821Bills 18.51
1315Cardinals 42.562929Dolphins 16.56
1413Lions 41.993027Falcons 16.45
1514Browns 40.943131Rams 7.92
1618Texans 39.47323249ers 0.00
Teams eliminated this week from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Bills, Chargers, Redskins. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Week 10: Can Jim Sorgi play left tackle?

After two astounding weeks in which we went 23-4 in the picks league, Down and Distance crashed back to earth with a 6-8 showing, missing twice as many games this week as we had in the previous two weeks combined. Yowza. I find consolation in the fact that everybody else at the top of the standings did pretty poorly, and we remain just two games out of the lead.


Philadelphia 33, Washington 25
Just about every week I make some crack about the Redskins' inability to score more than 20 points, but it's a real problem, and it's been one since Steve Spurrier was the coach. Numer of games that Washington has scored the following point totals (numbers for 2007 are projected based on 9 games):

2006 943
You're not going to win Super Bowls playing like that. You may make the playoffs, as was the case in 2005, but to do so you need a better defense than the Redskins have now -- and the Redskins have a good defense now. When you take into account this mental block that exists at three touchdowns, the events in the latter portion of Sunday's game make a lot of sense. Leading 22-20, the Redskins sacked Donovan McNabb deep in his own territory and forced a fumble. Two plays later -- Clinton Portis rushes of 9 and 8 yards -- they were on the Eagles' 7. Thanks to a Philadelphia penalty, they would have six chances at the end zone. Results: 1-yard run; 1-yard run, incomplete pass, with a defensive-holding penalty that gave them a new set of downs at the 3; 2-yard run; 1-yard loss; false start that pushed them back to the 7; 4-yard run; field goal. Fittingly, the 'Skins are averaging 19.7 points a game. Once upon a time, Joe Gibbs-coached teams averaged 30. One last thing about this game: Why did I not hear the broadcast crew -- or anyone on ESPN -- elaborate upon the fact that when the Redskins were trailing 26-25 with two and a half minutes left, they clearly let Brian Westbrook score a touchdown untouched? It was certainly the right call, I believe, because it got them the ball back in what was still a one-possession game, but it certainly would have been nice for the crew to point out. Kenny Albert made an opaque reference to the Denver-Green Bay Super Bowl, in which Mike Holmgren ordered the Packers' defense to let the Broncos score a TD to keep them from running out the clock and kicking the FG, but that was 10 years ago. I'm assuming people talked about it in D.C., but those people live to rehash every last second of every Redskins game.

Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 28
This game showed the difference between a team that's "there" and one that's not quite "there" yet. Even after playing a miserable first half, the Steelers didn't believe they were out of it -- and the Browns didn't believe it either. Cleveland has a really good thing percolating here. The questions is whether a quality loss like this -- and the likely 8-8 or 9-7 record with which they'll finish the season -- spurs them to rededicate themselves to "taking it to the next level," or lulls them into thinking that everything's fine and that they're going to kick ass next year. Which way will they go? Romeo Crennel should watch Marvin Lewis carefully, then not do whatever it is that Lewis is doing.

Buffalo 13, Miami 10
I've made it perfectly clear what I think about games that end 16-13 or 13-10. Such a score, almost by rule, indicates that the game was unwatchable. Only two good things came out of this turkey: 1) The game had the coolest score of the day -- Miami 3, Buffalo 2 -- for eleven minutes in the third quarter. 2) In the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Dolphins quarterback Cleo Lemon found Marty Booker open over the middle and put the ball right on his hands. Booker dropped the pass, and his momentum carried him onto the Buffalo sideline. Sitting on the bench (like always) was Bills receiver Sam Aiken, who looked up at Booker, smiled broadly and held his hands out, pantomiming the act of catching and holding onto a football. No one commented on it, but it was hilarious.

Green Bay 34, Minnesota 0
The world has truly flipped upside down when a team's fans can look onto the field, see Brooks Bollinger playing QB, and say, "Oh, thank goodness." Unlike, say, the Chargers, the Packers appeared to understand that there's just one way the Vikings can beat you, and if you key on No. 28 for the whole game (or for as long as he plays), Minnesota won't score a damn point.

Chicago 17, Oakland 6
Rex Grossman doing his little victory strut after beating the Raiders was the saddest thing I've seen in a while.

Seattle 24, San Francisco 0
I just get depressed when I see Alex Smith getting abused back there in the pocket. At one point, a Seattle defender grabbed his jersey and spun him around so hard that you could see his bare skin underneath. It was like when Charlie Brown gets hit by the line drive and all his clothes fly off. As this was the Monday night game, here are a few of the dead horses beaten by Tony Kornheiser: Seattle lost Super Bowl XL; Mike Nolan had to fight the NFL for the right to wear suits on the sidelines in honor of his pop, who just passed away; Shaun Alexander isn't playing well. On that last point, TK showed just how clueless he's become when Ron Jaworski expressed surprise that Mike Holmgren told them in the production meeting that, because of Alexander's struggles, he was switching to a pass-first offense -- then actually went to a pass-first offense. What Jaworski was saying was that Holmgren rarely reveals what he's really going to do. He'll throw up a smoke screen even in those off-the-record-until-game-time meetings. Kornheiser, of course, totally missed the point and started haranguing Jaworski: You're sur-PRISED that they're passing so much? What, did you ex-PECT them to keep giving the bawl to Alex-ZAN-der? Shut the fuck up.


St. Louis 37, New Orleans 29
Even when you know it's a trap game, it's still a trap game.

Denver 27, Kansas City 11
Every week, I try to check in with as many games as possible, even if it's just for one series or one red-zone possession. But every week, there's always one game that falls through the cracks entirely, either because nothing interesting seems to be happening (as can be determined from in-game updates, and the NFL Snap channel on DirecTV) or because the matchup itself just seems ugly. Denver-Kansas City, once such an attractive game that it was a perennial prime-time contender, is now one of those ugly games. Which is why I know nothing about it ... except that for about five minutes of the second quarter it had the second-coolest NFL score of the day: Kansas City 5, Denver 3.

Atlanta 20, Carolina 13
Joey Harrington can play John McClane in the next Die Hard. That little bastard bleeds slow. You can't kill him.

Jacksonville 28, Tennessee 13
As Vince Young regresses at the speed of light, maybe someone could enlighten me: Are we ever going to see a QB come out of college with a reputation as a runner, then, when he gets to the NFL, keep running -- but also work hard to develop the right throwing mechanics? Is it even possible? That was Michael Vick's problem. He could really run, and he could really sling the ball, but he flat-out refused to try to merge the two skill sets into an unstoppable package. As a result, teams playing the Falcons said, "We're going to make Vick beat us with his arm." And he couldn't do it. Just like Young can't do it now.

Cincinnati 21, Baltimore 7
Cincinnati's Shayne Graham kicked seven field goals in this game to provide all of the Bengals' scoring. Here's how the team said thanks: At game's end, with the Bengals inside FG range at the Baltimore 31, they chose to run out the clock rather than give Graham a shot at an eighth, and record-tying, kick. Nice. Something tells me that if Chad Johnson had needed 10 more receiving yards on the final drive to reach some kind of milestone, the team would have figured out a way to make it happen. As for the Ravens, here's an essay question: Who is more finished in Baltimore -- Steve McNair, or Brian Billick? Provide examples.

Arizona 31, Detroit 21
I finally come around on Detroit, and I get burned just one week later. I should have known: The Lions pounded the living shit out of Denver? Oh, that's not going to go right to their heads. No way.

Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 20
This pick is, I think, the result of a mental block on my part. Entering 2007, the Cowboys had been bad-to-mediocre for so long that it has taken a long time to tame that part of my brain that whispers "not for real ... not for real ..." about the 7-1 (and now 8-1) Cowboys. Of course, that very same part of my brain was whispering the very same thing about the Giants and their six-game winning streak. But the game was in the Meadowlands, so I figured I'd go with the home team.

San Diego 23, Indianapolis 21
By the end of the first quarter, it appeared that Indy's season was just about done. It still looks that way, but the final three quarters indicated that San Diego's season is also done. Think about it. The Colts came into Qualcomm Stadium without their No. 1 and No. 3 wide receivers, their No. 1 tight end/slot receiver/H-back, their starting left tackle, and two out of three starting linebackers. Over the course of the game they also lost their backup left tackle and their top pass rusher. They spotted the Chargers an early 23-point lead as the kick-coverage teams shat themselves and Peyton Manning threw four interceptions in, essentially, the first quarter. With all of that on their side, plus a downpour that turned the field into a swamp, the Chargers still would have lost had Adam Vinatieri not missed two field goals, including a chip shot in the final two minutes. (Mr. Clutch, my ass.) Both teams will likely still make the playoffs, but don't expect them to go deep, because the Colts are dealing with catastrophic injuries for the first time since Edgerrin James blew out his knee in 2001, while the Chargers are ... coached by Norv Turner rather than Wade Phillips (bet you thought I was going to say Marty). As the game neared its end, the broadcast-network star-fucking machine was all greased up, and NBC urged us to stay tuned to see Andrea Kremer interview LaDanian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman. Of course she'd interview them. I mean, LT carried the ball 21 times for 76 yards! And Merriman had three tackles! Who else would she talk to? Darren Sproles? All he did was run back two kicks for touchdowns. Antonio Cromartie? He only intercepted a Hall-of-Fame quarterback three times.
SEASON: 94-50 (65.3%)
(2006 through Week 10: 86-58, 59.7%)
(2005 through Week 10: 94-50, 65.3%)

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: W10 = This week's ranking. WK9 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
1 1Patriots 100.001717Saints 38.32
2 2Steelers 89.461819Texans 37.77
3 3Colts 82.161912Vikings 36.63
4 5Packers 75.812025Bengals 35.84
5 4Cowboys 72.252124Bills 35.00
6 8Seahawks 64.922226Bears 34.96
7 6Titans 55.372321Panthers 32.44
8 7Giants 54.632420Raiders 31.29
9 9Chargers 53.942522Chiefs 28.49
1010Bucs 53.532623Ravens 28.06
1113Jaguars 52.182728Falcons 25.18
1214Eagles 48.142827Jets 21.18
1311Lions 46.422929Dolphins 20.02
1415Browns 42.593031Broncos 15.98
1518Cardinals 42.463132Rams 6.11
1616Redskins 39.14323049ers 0.00
Teams eliminated this week from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Week 9: Glad that's over

I didn't think we could do better than last week's 11-2 showing. Lo and behold, Down and Distance went 12-2 in this week's picks. At 88-42 on the season, we're just two games back of the leader in the picks league, our old buddy Eric Mirlis of


New England 24, Indianapolis 20
I am not overstating matters one bit when I declare, in all seriousness, that there is absolutely nothing left to say about this game.

Tennessee 20, Carolina 7
Vince Young: 14-of-23 for 110 yards and 2 interceptions. Sometimes the Madden cover jinx is about a player getting injured. Sometimes it's about a player's development coming to a halt.

New Orleans 41, Jacksonville 24
Despite shitting their pants for the first four weeks of the season, the Saints are now one game out of first place in the NFC South. Considering how the Buccaneers are barely squeaking out wins over teams with mideason free-agent pickups at quarterbacks, and how the Panthers and Falcons have had to start midseason free-agent pickups at quarterback, it's not too much of a stretch to call them the favorites in the division. Meanwhile, the Jaguars move a step closer to oblivion. And to Los Angeles.

Buffalo 33, Cincinnati 21
We're all glad that Chad Johnson is OK, that he was taken off the field on a backboard only as a precaution. But maybe a brush with mortality will shut his goddam mouth, at least until the Bengals win another game.

Tampa Bay 17, Arizona 10
Ugly all around.

Detroit 44, Denver 7
Every once in a while, I find myself watching a game for no particular reason and can't pull away. This was the one for Week 9. I kept coming back to it. It was hypnotic. I'm not about to declare the Lions good or anything, but boy did they lay an ass-whipping on the Broncos. I don't care that Jay Cutler got hurt. Denver's strength is supposed to be the running game, right? And their billion-dollar secondary got torched, again. Which reminds me: Last year, it was a joy to see Joey Harrington, then with the Dolphins, come back to Detroit on Thanksgiving and beat the Lions -- specifically cornerback Dre Bly, who'd blamed Harrington for everything that was wrong with the team the year before. Sunday, Bly, now with the Broncos, came back to Detroit and ... got his ass kicked by the Lions. Sometimes karma is gentle, and sometimes it carries a monkey wrench.

Washington 23, N.Y. Jets 20
A question frequently heard around Washington the past five years: What's it gonna take for the Redskins to score more than 20 points? Eight extra minutes of clock time, apparently.

Green Bay 33, Kansas City 22
Early in this game, the Packers did something good, and a cheer rose up from the crowd, and either Joe Buck or Troy Aikman referred to all the Packer fans who had traveled to Kansas City to see their team. What, is this college football? Do the Green Bay Packers "travel well"? Those aren't people who came down from Wisconsin for the game. By and large, those are Packer fans who left Wisconsin a long time ago (or never lived there in the first place) and now live in and around the K.C. area. Wherever the Packers play, there's usually a healthy contingent of green-clad fans in the stands. The Bears enjoy the same sort of thing, as do the Cowboys and, especially, the Steelers.

Atlanta 20, San Francisco 16
About eight months ago, this looked like it was going to be good.

Cleveland 33, Seattle 30 (OT)
Last week, people were just saying it in jest because the Browns were playing St. Louis. But now it's for real: The Browns really have become the Rams. They're even beating the Seahawks!

Dallas 38, Philadelphia 17
We Americans like our side shows, but we only like them for so long. Which is why Paris Hilton walked out of jail and off the face the earth. And why no one cares what O.J. Simpson did in Vegas, despite the valiant efforts of Larry King and the rest of the bottom-feeders. (Larry King. He's still alive? I thought he'd died ... or at least retired to Texas to do circle jerks in a cave with Ross Perot.) And it's why no one outside Dallas or Philadelphia could have possibly cared less that Terrell Owens was returning to Lincoln Financial Field. Few stories in sports are more over than T.O. The guy is a fantastic talent, no doubt. If his teammates have patience for his bullshit, then great, because the rest of us ran out more than a year ago. Should he act up again, our response will be a shrug and a "what else is new?" And yet ESPN will still be camped out at Valley Ranch.

Pittsburgh 38, Baltimore 7
This week's dead horses flogged by Tony Kornheiser: Ben Roethlisberger had a motorcycle accident and an appendectomy last year. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is young. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is black. Ravens coach Brian Billick is supposedly a quarterback guru but has yet to develop a QB in Baltimore. Here's what's really interesting: The night before, during the Cowboys-Eagles game, Al Michaels recited a very Kornheiseresque litany about the tribulations of the Dallas franchise over the past decade -- the rotating quarterbacks, last year's heartbreaking playoff loss, Bill Parcells' retirement, the hirings of Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips, etc. And yet it wasn't annoying. That's because when Michaels tells these stories, he assumes we already know them. He's reminding us of things like the botched snap in Seattle that ended Dallas' 2006 season, or the sad Ryan Leaf experiment of 2001. Kornheiser tells stories like he just discovered them through research at the Library of Congress. Bleah. To make matters worse, Kornheiser missed the one big story of Monday night's game, which was the emergence of Steelers linebacker James Harrison as a much-more-than-adequate replacement for overpaid, overrated, overexposed asshole Joey Porter, who took the money and ran to Miami, where he's working his magic for the 0-8 Dolphins. It was left to Ron Jaworski to go on and on about Harrison, because Kornheiser doesn't do linebackers. He only does quarterbacks and head coaches and maybe flashy receivers. Which is fine if you're just a dumbshit blogger but unacceptable if you're sitting in the MNF booth.


Minnesota 35, San Diego 17
Thus far this season the Vikings have demonstrated that they have one, and only one, weapon: Adrian Peterson. So at this point, for a team not to stack eight, maybe nine guys in the box against Minnesota, with one of them a full-time spy on Peterson, is just gross negligence. What, do you think the Vikings are going to beat you through the air? The dumbest thing the Chargers did on Sunday was knock Tarvaris Jackson out of the game. IT's not like anyone's afraid of Brooks Bollinger, but next to Jackson, he's like Fran fuckin' Tarkenton back there. Anyway, there are a number of reasons to celebrate Peterson setting the all-time single-game NFL rushing record with 296 yards against San Diego. Here's one: Back in January 1983, I watched on Monday Night Football as Tony Dorsett of the Dallas Cowboys ripped off a 99-yard run against the Vikings. It set the NFL record for the longest run from scrimmage, a record that can be matched but will never be broken. So much attention was paid to the run -- the highlight still shows up on TV from time to time -- that it overshadowed the fact that the Vikings won the game, 31-27. In Sunday's game, San Diego's Antonio Cromartie set a similarly unbreakable record with a 109-yard return of a missed field goal. Missed field goal returns are flukes, events that say more about the mental lapses of the kicking team than about the skill of the returner. Nevertheless, this play might have established a Dorsett-like performance, had Peterson not set a bigger, better record and ensured that if anyone ever talks about Cromartie, they'll also have to talk about Peterson -- and point out that the Vikings won. There's still enough residual Minnesota fanhood in my soul for that to make me happy.

Houston 24, Oakland 17
An indefensible pick, considering that I sleep next to the biggest Sage Rosenfels booster this side of Maquoketa, Iowa.

SEASON: 88-42 (67.7%)
(2006 through Week 9: 76-52, 59.4%)
(2005 through Week 9: 86-44, 66.2%)

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK5 = This week's ranking. WK4 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
11 Patriots100.001724Saints 43.09
23 Steelers 96.611816Cardinals41.18
32 Colts 87.951922Texans 40.89
44 Cowboys 73.502020Raiders 38.07
55 Packers 67.212117Panthers 37.49
610Titans 65.582219Chiefs 37.37
78 Giants 62.092313Ravens 36.26
87 Seahawks 58.332426Bills 36.18
96 Chargers 56.612523Bengals 34.52
1012Bucs 55.872625Bears 33.28
1121Lions 52.592728Jets 25.14
1214Vikings 52.402830Falcons 23.65
139 Jaguars 49.322927Dolphins 23.63
1411Eagles 48.07303149ers 11.95
1515Browns 46.023129Broncos 11.52
1618Redskins 44.433232Rams 0.00
Teams eliminated this week from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers.