Friday, December 28, 2007

Tie me up, tie me down

One of the things I love about the countdown to the NFL playoffs is that it's pretty much the only time you ever hear about ties anymore. Go find the playoff scenarios in your newspaper -- or just wait for them to roll around evey five minutes on ESPN News -- and you'll see those ties, sticking out like a drunkard's shirttail: "Cleveland will claim a wildcard berth with a win and a Tennessee loss or tie"; "Pittsburgh can win the AFC North title with a win or a Cleveland loss or tie." Unfortunately, none of the playoff scenarios ever depend solely on a tie -- unfortunate, because that would be so awesome. Usually, when a team is on the playoff bubble (cue Jim Nantz: "They need a win and some help"), it has to go out on Sunday and win, then come back to the locker room and root for another team to fail. It'd be great if instead they had to root for them to play poorly, but not too poorly. I wish I could see it.

And yes, Poindexter, you are correct: There is in fact a theoretical scenario that would hinge on a tie. Say that, going into the final weekend of the regular season, the three teams in contention for the final wildcard spot have identical records. If Teams A and B play each other that weekend, and if Team C would lose a tiebreaker to either of the other teams, then Team C needs A and B to tie. But that's not going to happen.

It's not going to happen because teams don't tie anymore. The playoff scenarios in the newspaper might as well say something like, "Cleveland will claim a wildcard berth with a win and a car accident or shooting that kills a key Tennessee player." Harsh, yes, but far more plausible. Two NFL players have been killed by gunfire in the past year. That's twice the number of ties in the NFL in the past 10 years, and just one shy of the number of ties in the past 18.

Ties used to be commonplace, of course. Look through the standings from the 1950s and 1960s, and you find years in which half the teams in the league had played a tie game, some of them more than once. That's because they didn't play overtime in the regular season back then. Sudden death was used only in postseason games -- which there weren't many of -- and it wasn't even needed until 1958, when the Colts beat the Giants in overtime to win the league championship. (This is the game you always hear referred to as "the greatest game ever" and "the game that put pro football on the map in America." It wasn't, and it didn't. It's just the first game that a lot of baby boomers remember. Thus, it has to be the most important game ever, right? Surprise, surprise.)

Overtime didn't come into use during the regular season until 1974, and it had an immediate impact. Whereas the NFL schedule up to then was a veritable orgy of tie games, nearly all games thereafter ended with a winner and a loser. Tie games, by season, back to the first year of the NFL-AFL merger:

1999019862^rule change^

What's really notable, however, is not the drastic reduction in ties starting in 1974. That's easily explained by the standardization of overtime. No, what sticks out is how ties all but disappeared when the calendar clicked over to 1990. From 1974 to 1989, there was an average of one tie a season (well, 0.81 ties a season, but we're rounding). Since 1990, the average is one tie every six seasons. And that's including the bizarre outlier year of 1997, when the league had its first tie in seven years, then had another tie just a week later. That second tie, by the way, is best remembered as the game in which Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte celebrated the tying touchdown by head-butting a padded concrete wall and injuring his neck. Five years would pass before the next (and, to date, last) tie, a Falcons-Steelers matchup on a sloppy field that ended 34-34 as Plaxico Burress caught a last-second hail mary from Tommy Maddox (who had a club-record 474 passing yards) and came down with his legs in the end zone but the ball on the 1 yard line.

So what happened? I'm not positive, but I do have a theory, and it has to do with the single biggest rule change in the NFL over the past two decades. That change wasn't the introduction of instant replay. It wasn't the two-point conversion, the liberalization of passing rules or the crackdown on contact with receivers. Rather, it was the decision in 1994 to move kickoffs from the 35 yard line back to the 30 in order to reduce touchbacks and generate more returns and thus more "excitement" (by which, of course, we mean more "injuries" and more "illegal-block-in-the-back penalties"). The sharp pencils at Football Outsiders have documented the effect this change has had on sudden-death overtime. Before 1994, they found, the winner of the overtime coin toss actually won less than 50% of all sudden-death games. After 1994, however, that percentage went up to something like 60%. The real advantage in winning the coin toss in overtime, it turns out, is not that you get the ball first, but that you're more likely to start out way ahead in the battle for field position.

The sudden-death period lasts 15 minutes of clock time, which is a long time to play when you've already been on the field for three hours. As players tire, field position becomes all the more important. The closer you are to the end zone at the start of a drive, the less ground you have to cover to get into field-goal range. When one team starts out with a decided field-position edge, that just increases the chances that that team will win -- which means there won't be a tie.

The change to the kickoff spot may not be the sole reason behind the death of the tie -- after all, ties pretty much disappeared four years before the rules changed. I can think of other possible factors, especially the retirement of the generation of players and coaches who grew up in the game playing to ties. They believed that a tie (which counts as half a win in the standings) was at least better than a loss, and they were less averse to the idea of playing to preserve the tie rather than take risks for a win -- risks that might become turnovers. Many players and coaches today, however, think a tie is actually worse than a loss. They'd prefer the certainty and finality of the "L" to the kissing-your-sister aspect of the "T." Said Falcons QB Michael Vick after the 2002 game with the Steelers, a game his team damn near lost on the final play of overtime, "The tie's a downer."

Regardless of whether the kickoff rules were what put a stop to ties in the first place, those rules have been a key reason why ties have never made a comeback, why we've only seen three ties in the past 18 seasons. And why ties remain the funny little appendix of the NFL standings, a vestigial column of zeroes between "W-L" and "Pct," waiting for the next time two bumbling clubs collide in the dark.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Week 16: Just shy of perfection

Lumbering toward the close of the season, Down and Distance posted a 10-6 record in the picks for Week 16. God knows what will happen in Week 17, as good teams start their scrubs and play like shit, while players on bad teams try to impress.

Pittsburgh 41, St. Louis 24
The NFL put eight games on the NFL Network to try to strong-arm cable systems into putting the network on their basic tier. Unfortunately, for every Packers-Cowboys game on the network's Thursday/Saturday schedule, there were three matchups on the level of Broncos-Texans and Bengals-49ers. Yes, those were actually among the games that the NFL assumed the public would be clamoring to see. Another was Steelers at Rams, in which Willie Parker broke his leg and is done for the year. Prime time, baby!

Dallas 20, Carolina 13
Another NFL Network special. In this one, Terrell Owens got injured. As awful as the network's annoncing team is -- you really, really have to hear Bryant Gumbel yourself to understand just how truly out of his depth he is -- at least Chris Collinsworth is willing to put the league on front street by asking the question: Are these guys getting hurt because they're playing on short weeks?

Indianapolis 38, Houston 15
And just like that, the Sage Rosenfels bandwagon tumbles off a mountain road. Was it because teams have finally assembled enough film on Rosenfels that they can game-plan him? Or because Rosenfels has become overconfident enough that he's trying to make throws that anyone not named Brady or Manning has no business trying to make? I'd say a little of both, though I'm not terribly sure what I just wrote. For Indianapolis fans, all signs point to the Colts resting their starters next week. Let's review, shall we? 2004: The Colts rest their starters in the final regular season game. They open the playoffs with a win over the Broncos, whom they played in that very game, then are pounded in New England. 2005: The Colts rest their starters for the final two regular season games, then, after another week off for the bye, come out flat and listless against the Steelers and are dispatched. 2006: The Colts, slumping at the end of the year and battling for the No. 3 seed, play to win the final game of the regular season. They do, and go on a defense-driven playoff run that culminates in a Super Bowl championship. Yeah, Coach Dungy, resting the starters seems like a brilliant fucking plan.

Jacksonville 49, Oakland 11
Toward the end, the refs threw four unsportsmanlike-conduct flags on the Raiders on the same play. Warren Sapp nearly beat up an official, and got his ass thrown out. Through it all, Oakland coach Lane Kiffin stood there like he was waiting for the grown-ups to come break it up. Hey, he's not the only coach who can't control his players when things get crazy on the field. But he's the only one I've seen this year who didn't even try. About the Jaguars: If I had to play Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs (if I were, say, the Steelers), I would be very worried. And if I were Byron Leftwich, eroding away to nothing at the bottom of the toilet bowl in Atlanta, I'd would be very sad.

Detroit 25, Kansas City 22
The Lions are back on track! Or, rather, their opponents are. Isn't it funny how you can "get things turned around" more easily when you have a bad team on the schedule? If Detroit can win three games this weekend, Jon Kitna will prove himself clairvoyant.

Arizona 30, Atlanta 27 (OT)
For a team that was looking to move to the next level, the Cardinals' 2007 has to be disappointing. Had they lost to the Falcons, it would have been a thoroughgoing disaster. Insert "they'd-be-who-we-thought-they'd-be" joke here.

New England 28, Miami 7
If Tom Brady had set the touchdown-passing record in 2004 in only 15 games, and if Peyton Manning were pursuing that record this year, and if Manning finished his 15th game still one TD pass shy of the record, don't you think Patriots fans would be screaming bloody murder right about now? How about if Manning was still throwing deep on teams with a 40-point lead late in the fourth quarter? How about if Manning was ignoring wide-open receivers underneath and trying to force the ball to the guy in the end zone? How about if Manning threw two interceptions against a 1-14 team? Maybe some backup cornerback on the Giants could talk some trash about New England before their big game on Saturday, because without that kind of motivation, the Pats have looked pretty beatable the last several weeks.

Tennessee 10, N.Y. Jets 6
Ooh, sorry I missed it.

Seattle 27, Baltimore 6

San Diego 23, Denver 3
Dead horses flogged by Tony Kornheiser this week: Norv Turner, Norv Turner and Norv Turner. We get it. He's not a very good coach. Check. Why hasn't anyone brought this up before Week 16? In the first half of Monday night's game -- which was the last of the year -- Ron Jaworski gave a shout-out to the people who have helped him all season: his spotters, the stats crew, the guys at NFL Films. It was a classy move, an acknowledgement that broadcasters only look good because they have people behind the scenes whose job it is to make them look good. Of course Kornheiser couldn't let that pass. He started in in that shitty Lawng Island accent of his, "I want to thank my dentist ... " Fuck you, you worthless little shit. Believe it or not, humility is not just making fun of yourself on the air. Humility is knowing -- really knowing -- that you need the help of others to get through the day. That you can't do it all yourself. That you wouldn't want to do it all yourself. What Jaws was doing was being humble. What you were doing was being an asshole. Also being an asshole: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Shouting insults at the opposing quarterback? A loser's tactic, through and through. Norv Turner really is the coach of this team, isn't he?


N.Y. Giants 38, Buffalo 21
You don't think special teams are important? Buffalo is leading this game 14-0 at the beginning of the second quarter, and the Giants haven't been able to get a damn thing going. Then a bad, low snap turns into a fumble by the Bills' punter, and the Giants get the ball deep in Buffalo territory. Within five minutes, the game is tied, and the Giants outscore the Bills by 31 points the rest of the way. Keep the ball up, dammit.

Cincinnati 19, Cleveland 14
Either Derek Anderson was dejected over not making the Pro Bowl, or he was puffed up over all the people saying he should have made the Pro Bowl. Either way, he played like a steaming Brown pile, and Cleveland, who needed only a win over a treading-water Bengals team to make the playoffs for the first time in five years, now need a lot more help than they have a right to expect. They need the Titans to lose -- the Titans who will be playing the Jim Sorgi Experience.

Chicago 35, Green Bay 7
This game was like the Bears' Super Bowl ... because, you know, it's a lot more fun to play your "Super Bowls" at home in December than to take care of buisness during the regular season (or on draft day) and then play in the real thing in February. Maybe returning to Dallas for the NFC Championship Game will be good for the Packers. God knows they didn't look too good in the cold on Sunday.

Philadelphia 38, New Orleans 21
These teams both won their divisions last year, and they met in the playoffs. We are told that both have had disastrous years in 2007. And yet, if the Eagles beat the Bills and the Saints beat the Bears on Sunday -- both of which are entirely possible -- then both teams will finish 8-8. That's a couple bad bounces of the ball away from 10-6, which is where both finished last year, when they were "good." What does all this tell us? Just how putrid the NFC was last year.

San Francisco 21, Tampa Bay 19
what was I saying above about the Cardinals? Tampa Bay looks right on track for its biennial opening-round playoff loss.

Washington 32, Minnesota 21
In one of life's little ironies, I was totally wrong about the Vikings while at the same time being totally right about Tarvaris Jackson. He is not an NFL quarterback, and for the second straight week, he gave a game away on national TV. The difference was that this time, the Redskins were prepared to take it.

SEASON: 159-81 (66.25%)
(2006 through Week 16: 144-96, 60.0%)
(2005 through Week 16: 164-76, 68.3%)

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: W16 = This week's ranking. W15 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
11 Patriots100.001718Bengals 36.63
22 Colts 83.101815Texans 36.36
34 Steelers 72.391919Cardinals35.58
45 Cowboys 70.952020Bears 35.18
59 Jaguars 68.762123Lions 24.87
63 Packers 67.792221Broncos 20.34
76 Chargers 67.192324Jets 17.89
87 Seahawks 66.902426Panthers 16.81
98 Bucs 60.222522Raiders 16.25
1010Vikings 58.102625Bills 16.07
1111Eagles 47.412727Ravens 12.13
1214Giants 46.282828Chiefs 10.80
1313Browns 41.882930Rams 5.79
1412Saints 40.28303149ers 4.72
1516Titans 39.963129Dolphins 3.58
1617Redskins 38.333232Falcons 0.00
Teams eliminated this week* from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): None. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints, Bills, Chargers, Redskins, Titans, Lions, Browns, Bucs, Giants, Seahawks.
*Though the Steelers have posted five losses, they've proved they can win the Super Bowl with an 11-5 record. So they get a pass for now.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Week 15: Special kneel on the 1 edition

A lot of upsets pushed me to 9-7 this week. Of course, a lot of bad picks also contributed.


Houston 31, Denver 13
Texans management must have figured that because this game was on NFL Network and was therefore unavailable to vast swaths of the population, they could dress their players like a bunch of fuckin' retards. Despite wearing the gaudiest fruit suits east of the Pecos, the Texans thoroughly thumped the Broncos with a one-two punch of Mario Williams and Sage Rosenfels. Which has to be just about the weirdest sentence you'll read about football this year. Rosenfels started his third straight game, and he won his third straight game. With that in mind, here's a short list of teams that could have had Rosenfels as their starting quarterback, because he was on their roster for four years: the Miami Dolphins. Here's a slightly longer list of the quarterbacks the Dolphins have tried to go with since Rosenfels first got there in 2002: Brian Griese (now with Chicago), A.J. Feeley (now with Philadelphia), Daunte Culpepper (now with Oakland), Joey Harrington (now with Atlanta), and Trent Green (now with a little less ringing in his ears). Meanwhile, Williams recorded three sacks. You know how Tom Brady uses the fact that he was a sixth-round pick as motivation? How he always acts like he's got something to prove? Well, Williams may be the only person ever to use that fact that he was the No. 1 overall pick as motivation in the exact same way. Some guys get in serious trouble after being drafted ahead of where they "should" have gone. They think they're better than they really are, that they don't have anything to learn, and as a result their development gets stunted. Williams, however, has been getting pissed on ever since the Texans picked him. Now, as Reggie Bush and Vince Young are both regressing, he's stepping up. Good for him. It's just too bad he has to do it in a clown suit.

New England 20, N.Y. Jets 10
Watching this game, it certainly seems like there is some bad blood between these two ball clubs. I wonder if there's something to that. You know how for the past three or four years we've been told that "Tom Brady's favorite receiver is whoever's open"? We don't have to worry about that anymore, as Brady now consistently ignores the open man and tries to force it in to Randy Moss in triple coverage.

Tampa Bay 37, Atlanta 3
The most important thing to happen in this game was Micheal Spurlock's 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Every single Buccaneers game of the past decade has included at least one mention of the fact that Tampa Bay had never scored a touchdown on a kickoff return. Whenever the Bucs won the coin toss, we would hear it before the game even began. (It was like how every time Chris Gardocki went back to punt, we had to hear that he'd never had one blocked.) Now we don't have to hear it ever again. And hey, considering everything the Falcons have been through this week, 3 points has to be some kind of moral victory, right?

Minnesota 20, Chicago 13
With even a mediocre quarterback, this game is a blowout for the Vikings. With Tarvaris Jackson, it's a nail-biter. In a game with truly putrid quarterbacking on both sides, at least the Bears could say they were down to their third-stringer. What can Brad Childress say? That the guy he traded up to get, even though no one else wanted him, made one bad decision after another? Michael Vick used to work his team into trouble because he thought his athleticism alone could get him out of any jam. Jackson appears to have the same thing going on, except without the athleticism. In the end, it's fitting that the 2007 Vikings' nationally televised coming-out party came against Chicago, because the Bears' immediate past closely tracks the Vikings' immediate future: A superb defense and a powerful running game ultimately undone by poor quarterbacking. A shame, really.

Green Bay 33, St. Louis 14
Here's what I couldn't help but notice about the NFL's division leaders after Sunday's games. The 12-1 Cowboys lost to the 5-8 Eagles. The 14-0 Patriots struggled against the 3-10 Jets, as did the 11-2 Colts against the 4-9 Jets. The 9-4 Seahawks and the 9-4 Steelers both lost. The Buccaneers played very well -- against a team whose QB is in prison and whose coach is in Arkansas (you decide which is worse) -- but last week, they shat the bed against the Texans. Meanwhile, the Packers thoroughly dismantled the 3-10 Rams. Someone needs to tell me what it means.

San Diego 51, Detroit 14
And the holocaust is complete. Another Lions season crumbles to ashes and acrimony, as LaDanian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers find something they can agree on: Kicking the shit out of Detroit is fun!

Tennessee 26, Kansas City 17
Too little, too late.

Indianapolis 21, Oakland 14
Cleveland 8, Buffalo 0


Miami 22, Baltimore 16 (OT)
What a waste. People have no sense of history.

New Orleans 31, Arizona 24
Coming into the season, the Saints were such a sexy Super Bowl pick that it's easy to forget that last year they were a mere 10-6, just a hair above mediocrity. Yes, they were the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but that says far more about the sad state of the NFC than it does about the Saints themselves. This year, they're right on track for another 8-8 finish. Which means that, taking out the 3-13 Katrina season, the Saints' records over the past seven years are: 10-6, 7-9, 9-7, 8-8, 8-8, 10-6, 8-8. Same old, same old. And you wonder why I'd pick the Cardinals on the road.

San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 13
The highlight of this game was hearing both Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk call out Bryant Gumbel, on the air, as an idiot who knows nothing about football. The occasion was the 49ers choosing to go for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter rather than attempt the field goal that would have put them up by two scores. Prime Time and Marshall both said they liked the call by San Francisco coach Mike Nolan. Basically, they said, the season is lost -- as is Nolan's job, probably -- so why not really challenge your team there? But Gumbel -- who referred to Tony Romo as "Rick Romo," who confused the Packers and Cowboys for most of three quarters, who misses four out of five down-and-distance calls -- was having none of it. He actually raised his voice at Faulk. That was when Sanders started making vicious fun of him.

Carolina 13, Seattle 10
Didn't see that coming.

Jacksonville 29, Pittsburgh 22
Or that, although I guess I should have.

Philadelphia 10, Dallas 6
Or that. And you know who's responsible for Philly's upset victory, don't you? Damn right: A.J. Feeley. As I watched the game, I thought: I really wish Fox would show us some more shots of Jessica Simpson sitting up in her luxury suite, showing how levelheaded she is by drooling out of both sides of her mouth, while her boyfriend takes a dump all over the Texas Stadium carpet. Jessica Simpson ... what a fucking fraud. With the exception of, say, Paris Hilton, is there any pop-culture figure who is more completely done than Jessica Simpson? She was so sure she was going to be the next Jennifer Lopez, some global multimedia star, instead of the zit-faced dumbass yokel she'll always be. And now the only way she has to stay relevant is to take Carrie Underwood's sloppy seconds. Shit, no wonder Tony Romo threw the game away, knowing he was going to have to go back to the hotel and stick it in that venus flytrap. OK, that was crude.

Washington 22, N.Y. Giants 10

SEASON: 149-75 (66.5%)
(2006 through Week 15: 136-88, 60.7%)
(2005 through Week 15: 155-69, 69.2%)

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: W15 = This week's ranking. W14 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
11 Patriots100.001719Redskins 40.98
22 Colts 82.981816Bengals 38.02
34 Packers 78.091918Cardinals 37.23
43 Steelers 73.482021Bears 30.41
55 Cowboys 72.872122Broncos 27.04
69 Chargers 65.612223Raiders 26.63
76 Seahawks 65.012320Lions 25.75
810Bucs 64.522425Jets 21.35
97 Jaguars 64.042524Bills 21.28
108 Vikings 60.352627Panthers 20.40
1112Eagles 46.592726Ravens 19.09
1213Saints 46.292828Chiefs 12.85
1314Browns 45.542931Dolphins 9.96
1411Giants 45.093029Rams 9.62
1515Texans 44.02313249ers 4.76
1617Titans 41.503230Falcons 0.00
Teams eliminated this week* from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Giants, Seahawks. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints, Bills, Chargers, Redskins, Titans, Lions, Browns, Bucs.
*Though the Steelers have posted five losses, they've proved they can win the Super Bowl with an 11-5 record. So they get a pass for now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Week 14: Fried chicken and fries all around

No game-by-game to offer this week. Christmas shopping is going down to the wire. My son officially transitioned from "baby" to "toddler" and yet, paradoxically, has started acting like a bigger baby than ever. Some douchebag hit my car in the Menards parking lot. And I'm scrambling to get work done before we travel to D.C. for Mrs. Down and Distance's graduation from the Ph.D. program at the University of Maryland. (So that's Dr. Down and Distance to you.) With all this hanging over my head, my only solace is a sparkling 13-3 finish in the picks league.

Th only two games I feel compelled to comment on are Colts-Ravens and Saints-Falcons. (I can't possibly have anything original to say about the wisdom of a certain Steelers backup safety wrapping his dick in bacon and sticking it through the bars of the lion's cage. Just not smart.)

Last week, after the Ravens gave the Patriots the toughest four quarters New England had seen all season, I asked why the hell couldn't Baltimore get it together like that every Sunday. We soon had our answer: Because rather than spend the week building on their strong showing, the Ravens chose to piss and moan and accuse the officials of being in the tank for the Pats and whip up a pointless controversy over whether one of those same officials (a black one) called a player (also black) "boy." No wonder they came out flat and totally overmatched. Bonus observation: As happens every time Indy played Baltimore, NBC ran a montage of footage from 1983, when the Colts skipped out of Maryland in a fleet of moving vans in the middle of the night. Al Michaels then expounded at length about how the city still hasn't forgiven the franchise or the city of Indianapolis. And of course he never once mentioned that in the 1990s the city of Baltimore turned around and stole someone else's team, thus exposing a decade's worth of protestations as the worst kind of opportunistic, hypocritical horseshit.

The next night, the Falcons hosted the Saints -- just hours after Michael Vick was sentenced to two years in prison. Every television network, every sports-radio show, every news- and sports-related website was All Vick All The Time. By game time, there was almost nothing that could be said that hadn't been. And yet, there was Tony Kornheiser to say it all again. Totally narcissistic: "Yes, we've been talking about it all day, but you haven't yet heard what I have to say." He added nothing, provided no insight. God I hate Monday Night Football.


N.Y. Giants 16, Philadelphia 13
Cincinnati 19, St. Louis 10
Dallas 28, Detroit 27
Jacksonville 37, Carolina 6
San Diego 23, Tennessee 17 (OT)
Green Bay 38, Oakland 7
Buffalo 38, Miami 17
Minnesota 27, San Francisco 7
Seattle 42, Arizona 21
Denver 41, Kansas City 7
New England 34, Pittsburgh 12
Indianapolis 44, Baltimore 20
New Orleans 34, Atlanta 14


Washington 24, Chicago 16
Houston 28, Tampa Bay 14
Cleveland 24, N.Y. Jets 18

SEASON: 140-68 (67.3%)
(2006 through Week 14: 125-83, 60.1%)
(2005 through Week 14: 145-63, 69.7%)

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: W14 = This week's ranking. W13 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
11 Patriots100.001715Titans 38.66
23 Colts 83.321813Cardinals38.24
32 Steelers 78.421920Redskins 37.37
45 Packers 75.892022Lions 32.50
54 Cowboys 74.172121Bears 31.43
66 Seahawks 66.542227Broncos 30.10
79 Jaguars 63.912319Raiders 27.40
810Vikings 59.312428Bills 23.17
98 Chargers 58.262525Jets 22.77
107 Bucs 55.492624Ravens 18.98
1111Giants 48.222723Panthers 18.43
1212Eagles 45.452826Chiefs 12.87
1316Saints 44.702929Rams 11.95
1414Browns 43.783030Falcons 6.69
1518Texans 39.503131Dolphins 6.17
1617Bengals 39.26323249ers 0.00
Teams eliminated this week from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Bucs. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints, Bills, Chargers, Redskins, Titans, Lions, Browns.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Burger time

Wendy's has a major presence on the NFL Network. The burger chain sponsors segments on NFL Total Access, as well as the halftime recaps on NFL Replay. Now there's a new ad for some sort of Wendy's bacon sandwich, and it stars Rich Eisen, the face and voice of the NFL Network. In it, some dude is watching football on TV. And the game that's on is clearly the Tampa Bay Bandits against the Houston Gamblers. What does Wendy's have to do before the league lets it use actual NFL game action, rather than USFL archival footage nearly a quarter of a century old?

Week 13: This could be the week!

One week after surging to the very top of the picks league, Down and Distance came crashing back to earth with an 8-8 showing.

I want to start the Week 13 recap with the last game of Week 13: the Patriots at the Ravens on Monday Night Football. No one was more surprised than me to hear Tony Kornheiser lead off the game with an honest-to-God astute observation, namely that "If you want to beat the Patriots, you have to be willing to lose 100-0." In other words, you have to be willing to take chances -- chances that could blow up in your face -- and you can't play conservatively. Like a child hoping againt hope that Daddy has finally stopped drinking, I held out the faintest glimmer that this was the week Kornheiser would start keeping his fool mouth shut unless he had something illuminating to say.

It didn't last, though. Less than 6 minutes into the game -- 5 minutes, 13 seconds, to be exact -- Kornheiser had seized hold of a drum that he would beat relentlessly for the next three hours. The Ravens held the Pats to a field goal on their opening possession. The first two Baltimore plays were Willis McGahee runs up the middle that gained 9 and 7 yards. Kornheiser then asked the fateful question: "Do you think this could be the night?"

As the night wore on and the Ravens didn't just play the Patriots even but took the lead, a self-satisfied Kornheiser pounded the point relentlessly. "This could be one of the biggest wins in franchise history!" "This could be one of the greatest upsets of all time!" Eventually, I switched off the sound altogether, meaning I missed the Don Shula interview. Oh darn.

What Kornheiser was doing was bullshit. As the game progressed, he was reminding us that he had essentially foresaw an upset almost from the start. But go back to the first quarter. Had the Patriots proceeded to smack down the Ravens the way they've smacked nearly everyone else down, Kornheiser would have quietly dropped the this-could-be-the-night routine and moved on to something else. This is how those Jeanne Dixon-type "psychics" gained whatever shred of credibility they once had: They make bold predictions going in, and when one of them occasionally bears fruit, they take credit for it. (I did notice, however, that Kornheiser waited to see some sings of life from Baltimore before talking upset.) For as long as the Ravens were in it, Kornheiser was going to ride this monkey. That just happened to be for the entire game.

Something else that Kornheiser & Co. kept saying also sticks in my craw: "For the Ravens, this is their Super Bowl." This was supposed to explain why Baltimore was playing such inspired football despite being 4-7 and all but out of postseason contention. But think about that for a second. If the Ravens can get it up for the Patriots in an all-but-meaningless game, why couldn't they get it up for their division rivals six or seven weeks ago, when the games still meant something? The MNF crew was essentially suggesting that the Ravens are able to play hard because there's nothing on the line.

They didn't actually say that, though, which is a pity because it's an idea worth exploring. Last week, the Eagles nearly beat the Patriots, but they did it with game planning and execution. Philly didn't play New England any "harder" than they played anybody else this season. But the Ravens team that took the field Monday night was clearly different from the one that had lost the previous five games. Brian Billick ought to ask himself why.

And yes, the officiating was shitty. Inevitably, people are now saying that the officials were piping their penalty calls because the league wants he Patriots to go undefeated. That makes sense. If there's one team the league is really going to pull out all the stops for, it'll be the one publicly branded as cheaters in the first week of the season, the one fined three-quarters of a million dollars, the one stripped of a first-round draft pick. (And hey, I thought the league wanted the Colts to win the Super Bowl. Or maybe the Steelers, but only if Jerome Bettis is playing in his hometown.) The simple fact is that downfield penalty calls have lost any semblance of consistency.

If you want to see an example of game officials' emotions really affecting their work, check out the tape of last week's Big East Conference game between No. 2-ranked West Virginia and Pittsburgh. All West Virginia (at 10-1) had to do was beat a 4-7 Pittsburgh team at home, and the Mountaineers would play in the national championship game. This was huge not just for West Virginia but for the entire Big East. Ever since the conference lost Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the ACC, there have been calls for the Big East to lose its seat at the BCS table (to, say, the Mountain West). And here was the chance for a Big East school to play in the BCS title game, something no ACC team has ever done. So when the clock was winding toward zero and Pittsburgh led 13-7, the flags started coming out. Pass interference Holding. An absurd excessive-celebration penalty on a kid who merely threw up his arms in triumph when West Virginia failed on fourth-and-goal. Do I think the officials were trying to give the game to the Mountaineers? No, but I do believe that the Big East employees who make up the officiating crew are proud of their conference and want it to do well, and when it looked like Pittsburgh was going to flip the whole apple cart, they got frustrated.


Dallas 37, Green Bay 27
My impressions here.

Tennessee 28, Houston 20
When are the Texans going to quit fucking around and give Sage Rosenfels a legitimate shot already? The guy plays more snaps than Matt Schaub anyway.

Minnesota 42, Detroit 10
It's getting so I can't even say bad things about Tarvaris Jackson anymore. No, wait ... yes. Yes I can.

N.Y. Jets 40, Miami 13
Beating up the scrawniest kid on the playground just to make yourself feel bigger doesn't show much integrity, son.

St. Louis 28, Atlanta 16

Tampa Bay 27, New Orleans 23
It's not just that the Saints blew the game -- and likely their season -- with a dumb, risky gadget play. It's that in the playoffs against Philadelphia last season, leading by three in the fourth quarter, they called a similarly dumb, risky play, and they lost the ball on a fumble then, too.

Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 10

New England 27, Baltimore 24
See above.


Buffalo 17, Washington 16
For all the talk of the Redskins playing with a heavy heart and being unable to keep their focus on the field, they lost this game the same way they lose every game: because they couldn't get from the 5-yard line to end zone even if they were riding a bulldozer.

Indianapolis 28, Jacksonville 25
At this point I'm so accustomed to thinking of the Colts as overrated and decimated by injuries that I forget how good they really can be.

Arizona 27, Cleveland 21
The last play of the game looked like a force-out to me. The idea that these "judgment calls" are not subject to replay is ridiculous. So we're supposed to trust the judgment of a guy watching (perhaps not watching very closely) a play in real-time, while he's running downfield, more than someone watching the same play in slow motion from several angles? Please.

N.Y. Giants 21, Chicago 16
I went through the whole day Sunday and most of Monday assuming the Bears had won. That Eli Manning is really something at crunch time, except when he's not.

Oakland 34, Denver 20
John Elway is not walking through that door, people.

San Diego 24, Kansas City 10
The pick was based more on San Diego's prediliction for themselves-fucking than on any particular thing on K.C.'s part.

Carolina 31, San Francisco 14
Trent Dilfer vs. Vinny Testaverde. I mean, who would you pick? In 25 words or less?

Seattle 28, Philadelphia 24
Four interceptions for A.J. Feeley. Philadelphia sports radio attributes them to the presence of Donovan McNabb on the bench.

SEASON: 127-65 (66.1%)
(2006 through Week 13: 115-77, 59.9%)
(2005 through Week 13: 132-60, 68.8%)

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: W13 = This week's ranking. W12 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
11 Patriots 100.001716Bengals 34.96
22 Steelers 89.151818Texans 33.53
33 Colts 81.421922Raiders 33.21
44 Cowboys 76.282020Redskins32.45
55 Packers 69.652121Bears 30.74
66 Seahawks 62.332217Lions 29.61
77 Bucs 60.592326Panthers23.66
89 Chargers 56.642425Ravens 20.68
98 Jaguars 55.312528Jets 20.33
1012Vikings 53.462623Chiefs 19.18
1111Giants 46.172724Broncos 17.63
1210Eagles 44.922829Bills 11.18
1314Cardinals 41.542931Rams 9.90
1413Browns 40.823030Falcons 6.36
1519Titans 38.363127Dolphins 5.15
1615Saints 37.62323249ers 0.00
Teams eliminated this week from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Browns. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints, Bills, Chargers, Redskins, Titans, Lions.