Wednesday, December 05, 2007

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.

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