When disgruntled Chiefs president Carl Peterson announced his proposal to expand the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14 this week, here was my first reaction:
"Sour grapes, buddy! Maybe if your guys had decided to tackle Tiki Barber two weeks ago, you wouldn't be complaining about missing the playoffs! Hey, here's an idea -- spend more than 20 grand on your receiving corps next summer! Do you want some cheese with that whine, buddy?"
Five seconds passed. The lightbulb started flickering over my head. Here was my second reaction:
"Two more playoff teams two more playoff teams two more playoff teams hey, wait! That means two more playoff games to gamble on! Awesome!"
Carl Peterson, I take it back. You are a genius. You are a visionary. You have enriched my life. You have given me a new cause. As with any other revolutionary idea that works, Peterson's revamped playoff system -- although radical, there's no question -- clearly passes Adam Carolla's old cooking show test. Back when he was helping out with Jimmy Kimmel's ABC show, every four weeks or so at the writer's meeting, Carolla would demand that Jimmy start doing a cooking segment. Sure, it was a simple idea that had been done to death. But here was Carolla's logic:
(1) The ultimate goal of any television segment should be to keep people watching without flicking to another channel.
(2) If you're watching a cooking segment on a late-night talk show, something weird and borderline inexplicable happens -- you won't change the channel until after the food gets cooked and somebody takes a bite.
(3) If the segment manages to be entertaining, even better.
Now, you might argue this one. You might think you're against cooking segments. But see what happens next time you're half-asleep and watching food getting cooked on a late-night TV show. You won't change the channel. I'm telling you. There's something satisfying about seeing the host dig into a seafood primavera that somehow took five minutes to prepare and cook. There just is. And that goes back to a basic problem with TV in general -- for whatever reason, network executives go out of their way to avoid showing things that we actually want to see. They overthink things. They never apply the Cooking Show Test.
Take ESPN, for example. We have a show right now called "Madden Nation." You probably didn't even know it was on. Don't take it personally -- I didn't, either, at least until my buddy Gus alerted me three weeks ago. Here's what happens on that show: These trash-talking "Madden" junkies drive around on a state-of-the-art bus equipped with TVs and video games. Every week, they challenge each other in "Madden" and try to remain on the bus. There are tons of insults, swaggering, posturing and unintentional comedy galore, and every week, someone gets kicked off the bus, almost like a contestant getting voted off "Survivor." Regardless, I don't TiVo this show, I don't know when it's on but every time I stumble across it, I end up watching it until the show ends.
The best "Madden Nation" moment so far: One whipping boy inevitably was getting kicked off by a renowned ringer, only the ringer didn't show up for their game, so the whipping boy re-entered the bus talking all kinds of smack as everyone mobbed him (thinking he had dispatched the ringer). After about 15 seconds, the whipping boy casually admitted to everyone that the ringer never showed up -- he won by forfeit. Everyone stopped for a second, looked at him in disbelief then they kept celebrating because they were so ecstatic the ringer was out of the tournament. The whole sequence was hysterically funny. I love this show.
Here's the point: This isn't rocket science. "Madden Nation" passes the Cooking Show Test because the premise is so simple -- guys battling each other to continue playing "Madden" and ride around on a state-of-the-art bus. Now that's a show I can get behind. I like Madden. I like watching other people play Madden and making bad jokes. Hence, I'm going to watch this show. I'm not proud of it, but I'm going to watch. I just am. I am not turning the channel.
Which brings me back to Peterson's playoff idea. Here's what would happen if we had 14 playoff teams:
Outcome No. 1: Only the No. 1 seeds would receive byes, which makes sense because it never seemed fair that a No. 2 seed in a weaker conference (like Chicago this year) could potentially head into the Super Bowl playing one less playoff game than a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in a much tougher conference (like New England or Cincy).
Outcome No. 2: This would increase the odds that a sub-.500 team would make the playoffs, which could be the issue that finally spurs Woody Paige and Skip Bayless to fight to the death on live television.
Outcome No. 3: In the first round, No. 2 would play No. 7, No. 3 would play No. 6 and No. 4 would play No. 5. Know what that means, right?
(Dramatic pause )
(One more dramatic pause )
Here's what that means
Three playoff games per day!!!! Six playoff games in the span of 36 hours!!!
(Let's put that in 18-point type so you fully understand the ramifications here )
Three playoff games per
day!!!! Six playoff games
in the span of 36 hours!!!
Can you imagine a more entertaining weekend? Imagine the limitless parlays and teasers. Imagine your wife or girlfriend turning into Susie from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" by late afternoon Sunday. Imagine falling asleep after the Sunday night game, your head pounding, your eyes bleary, your brain spinning as you try to calculate whether you won money from the 45 wagers you made, bemoaning the fact that you have to sleep on your sofa because your lady angrily locked you out of the bedroom.
This could happen. All of it.
So here's my big question: Looking over those three aforementioned outcomes, who could possibly argue against 14 playoff teams? Every TV network obviously would love it. Every NFL team probably would welcome increased odds of making the playoffs. Every fan alive would love having two extra games to watch in the first round. Thinking logically, the only people who could possibly oppose this idea are the aforementioned spouses and girlfriends who don't watch football. And you know what? Screw 'em. Give us two more playoff games and we'll deal with the domestic consequences.
In the meantime, good luck with your quest, Carl Peterson. Maybe your team didn't deserve to keep playing in January, and maybe you're spinning this whole "We need more playoff teams!" thing as a convoluted way to distract everyone from remembering how your team choked away its playoff spot in the Meadowlands. But I'm behind you. We're all behind you. As Duke said to Rocky in Russia, "You know what you gotta do now do it. Do it."
On to the Week 17 picks
(Home team in caps)
Broncos (+11) over CHARGERS
I hate hearing about these couldawouldashoulda teams like the Chargers. Drives me crazy. If you were good enough to make the playoffs, then you should have beaten Miami and K.C. You didn't. Now go away.
For Week 17:
(Along these lines, it's like how the people who made "Cinderella Man" continue to complain that the movie didn't succeed in the box office. But it was a great movie! It was Ron Howard's finest work! Russell Crowe has never been better! Sorry, you made a boxing movie set in the Great Depression. You know why they called it the Great Depression? Because it was depressing. Most people don't want to travel to a movie theater, park, spend $11 per ticket, deal with inconsiderate scumbags who answer their cell phones during the movie, then relive the Great Depression for two hours. That's why your movie didn't make money. You'll make it back on DVD and pay-per-view. Now go away.)
RAIDERS (+9) over Giants
It's a sad day, folks. We're about to say goodbye to the only NFL head coach once bullied off a blackjack table by my buddy Hopper it's the final edition of the Norv Turner Second-Half Collapse Checklist. Here's the updated list through Week 17:
-- Guys arguing on the sidelines? (CHECK)
-- Embarrassing losses at home? (CHECK)
-- QB getting sacked and throwing the ball up for grabs? (CHECK)
-- Random, inexplicable QB change that served no purpose other than to confuse everyone for a week? (CHECK)
-- Superstar offensive player somehow being wasted or underused? (CHECK)
-- Just an ungodly amount of penalties? (CHECK)
-- Steady stream of excuses? (CHECK)
-- Players taking veiled shots at the coaching staff? (CHECK)
-- General malaise and dissatisfaction within the fan base? (CHECK)
-- Local columnists taking shots at him? (CHECK)
-- Big coaching name (Mariucci, Martz) looming in the background as a replacement? (CHECK)
-- Misguided, almost pathetic sense from Norv that he might come back next season? (CHECK)
Cardinals (+6.5) over COLTS
Here's the big question: After the Colts pull all their starters in the second half, and the Cards are lighting it up with Boldin and Fitzgerald, does Josh McCown still do the whole Kitna-like "Pointing to the sky and convulsing with pleasure" routine after every touchdown? Or does he rein it in a little? I can't wait to see how this plays out.
(By the way, what in God's name happened to Denny Green? Doesn't it seem as though he's on tons of prescription medication or something? Has the man displayed a single emotion on the sidelines in four months? Did the Arrington-Shipp running back debacle send him into a catatonic funk? Was he upset that he didn't get invited to the Vikings' sex cruise? Is he alive? Are we sure he's alive? Maybe we should allow coaches to drink beer and wine on the sidelines during Week 17 to loosen them up.)
Ravens (-3.5) over BROWNS
Remember my "Perpetual Putridity" column three weeks ago, how there were 14 NFL teams who legitimately sucked? I think we can upgrade the Ravens (as well as the Dolphins) to the "submediocre teams that can look frisky on the right day" category. Thanks for showing up, guys. Better late than never. And while we're here, Charlie Frye reminds me of a young Stoney Case. With a little Browning Nagle thrown in.
(Random note: Did you see Ed Reed crush a Vikings receiver over the middle Sunday night, followed by Reed's never breaking stride and calmly walking away without reacting? He looked like someone who had just sucker punched some loser at a nightclub and was trying to walk away as though nothing had happened. One of the absolute highlights of the 2005 season. Isn't the non-reaction much cooler than the overreaction? I loved that one.)
Bills (-1.5) over JETS
Here's an e-mail about Monday night's game from Doons (a good friend of my buddy J-Bug). I thought it summed up the Jets season:
"So I got tickets to the MNF game last night and sat in the front row behind the Pats bench on about the 20-yard line. The Jets firefighter guy was four rows behind me. Around the middle of the third quarter, after him screaming his head off since the start of the game I had enough. So I got up (in full Damien Woody Pats gear), turned around and told him 'Can you please shut up and sit the (bleep) down, you've been on TV enough tonight already.' He came down and wanted to fight me, hilarious! He was screaming at me saying he could get the whole section to kick my ass and to shut my mouth, yelling so loud and head-butting me with his fire helmet, and there was spit spray coming out of his mouth hitting me in the face. I just kept laughing and told him to go back and sit on his buddy's shoulders. Security came over, broke it up and said although he was in the wrong, they couldn't kick him out because the Jets mandate he be there as their Super Fan."
(Ladies and gentlemen, the 2005 New York Jets!)
FALCONS (+4.5) over Panthers
I spend way too much time making fun of announcers and studio hosts in this space, so I'm dedicating this paragraph to Cris Collinsworth, who's well-spoken and informative week after week on HBO's "Inside the NFL." Nobody is better prepared on any network -- he watches tapes, comes up with interesting opinions and isn't afraid to rip players and coaches when they deserve it -- and if there's a problem with that show, it's that they don't use him enough. He's like a 2,000-yard rusher platooning with two other guys. For instance, he lambasted the Panthers this week for looking soft in a must-win game against the Cowboys, pointing out that he watched the game film and couldn't believe how their lines were shoved around by Dallas and he was dead right. They are soft.
And maybe it took me 16 weeks and about $1,800 to realize it, but the Panthers are not a playoff team. Cris Collinsworth showed me the light. So thank you, Cris Collinsworth. Never stop breaking a sweat.
(And by the way, Cris Collinsworth is one of those guys who should be called his first and last names at all times, kinda like Mike Myers or my friend Nick Aieta. I don't feel right calling him "Cris" or "Collinsworth." He's "Cris Collinsworth." Doesn't everyone have one friend like that who's a two-name guy? All right, I'm babbling.)
VIKINGS (-4.5) over Bears
Here's why this Rex Grossman thing is a big deal:
I watched more of the Bears this season than I did anyone other than the Pats, and only because I made them my big 2005 sleeper and wagered on them (80-1 odds) to win the Super Bowl. So trust me on this one the difference between Kyle Orton running the Bears' offense and Grossman doing so is roughly equivalent to the difference between the charisma-less X Games schmucks who host the "Real World/Road Rules Challenges" and someone like Jeff Probst. Sure, your show can survive with those X Games schmucks -- they aren't going to take anything off the table. But they aren't bringing anything to the table, either.
And that's the thing about Grossman: He brings things to the table. His ball has some zip. He can throw deep. He can convert an occasional third-and-12. He won't single-handedly kill you in a game. As Cris Carter said last week on HBO, he has a "little more savviness." And even if he's making four or five plays per game that Orton couldn't make, that could be the difference between "second round and out" and "playing in Detroit" for this Bears team. So even though Grossman probably will be the least-talented QB in the playoffs, it's still a big deal -- the Bears need a B-minus from the QB position to make the Super Bowl. And he can give them a B-minus. So there.
STEELERS (-13) over Lions
If you're Matt Millen, you have two choices at this point:
(A) Resign. After all, what's enjoyable about running a team when the entire fan base hates you to the point that they're wearing opposing jerseys to home games (which was a disgrace, by the way), and parents are taking pictures of their newborn babies and planting "FIRE MILLEN" signs in their cribs?
(B) Keep your job and take another wide receiver with Detroit's top-five pick in April, just to spite everyone.
(Personally, I think the second option is fantastic and would be the greatest moment in NFL draft history, hands down. Can you imagine? Would Tagliabue even read Detroit's card if there were a receiver on it, or would he just ad-lib a defensive player's name in that spot to avoid a potential riot in downtown Detroit? In fact, I'm now rooting for Millen to stay.)
PACKERS (-5) over Seahawks
From a gambling standpoint, I sincerely hope this isn't Brett Favre's last game. Come on, Brett. Please come back. Vegas keeps giving you way too much credit; it's like they're giving away money -- you still have about 10 interception TDs left in you. Come on. One more year. Think about it. I want to buy a set of Bang & Olufsen speakers for my living room.
Dolphins (+5.5) over PATRIOTS
Here's my criterion for an MVP in any sport: Remove the player in question and replace him with an above-average player. What would the team's record look like?
Under this criterion, you can rule out Shaun Alexander. Replace him with someone like Reuben Droughns and I still think Seattle goes 10-6 or 11-5 with that cream-puff schedule. Besides, if Alexander were truly the most valuable player in football, don't you think Seattle would have re-signed him by now? Do you think the Giants would be going into the offseason with Tiki Barber unsigned? What about K.C. with Larry Johnson? No and no. I can't give someone an MVP whose own team doesn't care whether he's signed. That's ridiculous.
You can rule out Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, too. Replace them with an above-average QB (let's say Mark Brunell) or an above-average RB (Rudi Johnson) and the Colts are still 10-6 or 11-5 with their defense and all those offensive weapons. As for Barber, I might have voted for him a week ago, and only because that Giants team would have been 6-10 or 7-9 with an above-average running back in his place (let's say Domanick Davis). But after watching them get kicked around by the Skins last week, I don't think they're a championship-caliber team -- it's hard to imagine the Giants having a league MVP when they probably aren't getting out of the first round.
That leaves Tom Brady. If you replaced him with someone like Jake Delhomme or Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots would have been 1-7 after eight games. I'm telling you. He held them together when they were banged-up and ready to roll over. And in a similar situation, sure, maybe Manning would have held the Colts together but the fact remains, only six teams have a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl (Indy, New England, Cincy, Denver, Chicago and Seattle) and only one of those six teams is in that position because of one guy and one guy alone. Not only did Brady hold the fort when the injuries kept piling up, he raised his game to another level and pretty much carried them for two straight months. Now that's an MVP.
(I know, I know, I sided with another Boston guy. But you have to admit, it's a pretty good argument, right?)
Saints (+13.5) over BUCS
That story about Jim Haslett pressing for a contract extension from the Saints I mean, I didn't even know how to react to that adequately. Can you imagine how Tom Benson felt?
An extension? Wait you mean a contract extension? Seriously? You're serious right now? And if I don't give it to you, you might resign and I wouldn't have to pay the rest of your contract? So to recap, I could let you and your 46-50 lifetime record walk away for free, or I could continue to pay you to coach my perenially underachieving team? Can I have a few days to think this over? This is a big decision; I don't want to rush it.
JAGS (-3.5) over Titans
My favorite dumb announcing phrase of 2005: "Game manager." This started back in the early Tom Brady years (when the analogy made sense) and somehow morphed into a way of saying something nice about a crummy quarterback. As in, "maybe David Garrard can't carry an offense, but he's a game manager -- he'll manage the game for you." In other words, Garrard sucks. It's kind of like when the Indians spent four million on Jason Johnson this week and the GM explained it by saying, "He eats up innings." In other words, he sucks.
Bengals (+7.5) over CHIEFS
Larry Johnson's inspiring fantasy performance brings to mind an e-mail from New York reader Randall Markey, who asks: "Isn't it high time that awards were issued for the close of the fantasy football season? And not just the usual perfunctory MVP, Most Improved, Biggest Bust, etc., awards. We need good awards, like 'Best Performance After Sucking For 10 Weeks' (to Chris Chambers, much like Muhsin Muhammad last year); and 'Most Annoying Starter-Then Non-Starter-Then Starter' (Tatum Bell seems right here)."
Excellent call. I liked your awards; I would add these:
The Carl Pickens Award for "Most notable disappearance by a WR on a new team" goes to Derrick Mason. I had forgotten completely that he played for the Ravens until I was watching the ESPN game last week.
The Troy Aikman Award for "Most secretly cruddy fantasy season by a big name" goes to Tony Gonzalez. Did you know that Mike Vrabel caught three times as many TD passes as Gonzalez did? It's true. Not even the Killers-Bravery rivalry is as one-sided as Antonio Gates-Gonzalez right now.
The John Wayne Gacy Award for "Guy who murdered the most roto teams" goes to Daunte Culpepper, narrowly edging Priest Holmes, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Thanks for the memories, Daunte. Too bad "lap dances" wasn't a category in my West Coast league.
The Patrick Jeffers Award for "Best random performance by a white receiver" goes to the Rams' Kevin Curtis, who undoubtedly will blow out both ACLs or break a vertebra within the next nine months. This should be its own presentation, actually -- there should be a plaid jacket like the green jacket The Masters has. Wouldn't it be fun to watch last year's winner, Drew Bennett, help Curtis slide his Jeffers Jacket on?
The Sean Penn Award for "Biggest turd in the punch bowl" goes to Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan, who continue to disregard fantasy owners completely by platooning backs, throwing TD passes to linebackers and tight ends, and basically torturing us on a week-to-week basis. What Shanahan did with Tatum Bell this season was downright evil.
And for the Kordell Stewart Career Achievement Award for "Most agonizing fantasy moment of the season" the completely insane Steve Smith, who managed to get kicked out of Saturday's Panthers-Cowboys game with just 11 receiving yards, killing countless fantasy championship games in the process. Note to every NFL player -- don't mess around in Week 16. Just trust me.
(Note to the readers: This probably could have been its own column. if you can think of any more of these, e-mail them to me and we'll run them in the "Cowbell" blog.)
Redskins (-7.5) over EAGLES
Even the mere whiff of Patrick Ramsey has me thinking about taking the points. By the way, why aren't teams just triple-teaming Santana Moss? Not only can I not name the other Redskins receivers, when I was complaining to my buddy House (a Skins fan) about it, he couldn't name their second WR either. Their own fans don't know who their other receivers are!!!! And nobody's triple-teaming this guy?
(Right now, the Redskins fans are like, "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Dude, shut the hell up! We made it to January without anyone realizing this! You're gonna blow it, you jerk!")
NINERS (+1.5) over Texans
Ladies and gentlemen, at long last, the Reggie Bush Bowl! Sure, it's a little tainted because the Saints probably will get the No. 1 pick if the Texans win, but still it's the Reggie Bush Bowl! Before the Niners were eliminated, one of my readers suggested that Bush should be hanging in a cage about 40 feet above the field during the entire game, kinda like when the WWE has a ladder match for a title and the championship belt hangs over the ring. I loved that idea. But since the Niners screwed everything up by shocking the Rams last week, we need to come up with another hook.
So here's my idea
I assume that Bush would rather play for the Texans than the Saints, given that the Saints' franchise is such a mess right now thanks to the heartless owner. So if Bush wants to play for the Texans, here's what he should do: Sneak into the Niners' locker room before Sunday's game, pull a Lt. Frank Drebin and knock Frank Gore unconscious, then tie Gore up in the trainer's room, put on Gore's helmet and uniform and subsequently rush for about 300 yards against the Texans. The best part would be the stunned look on Dom Capers' face as Bush/Gore kept breaking 40-yard runs. Oh, wait, Capers always looks like that. But this would be cool. You have to admit.
COWBOYS (-12.5) over Rams
Yup, it's the final game for the Maguire-Theismann-Patrick team on ESPN. And in their honor, I want you to watch something right now. Watch how this column ends. Watch this. It's just gonna end. Watch me type those last few keys; see how fast my fingers are moving! You see that? Now watch this! Watch this, here comes the ending, here it comes Bam!
Last week: 8-7-1
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and his Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.