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Factoring in academics for playoff

Editor's note: The ESPN Grade formula below uses 2013 NCAA data, the most recent available at publication. Minutes after the column went live, the NCAA released 2014 data. Next week's Tuesday Morning Quarterback will update all numbers to 2014 data.

Today, the new College Football Playoff selection committee releases its first rankings, a hint at the four power schools that will square off in the inaugural football factory elimination tourney. Records, schedule strength, quality of victory and even quality of defeat will be debated.

What if graduation rates were considered, too?

In August, ESPN introduced ESPN Grade, a new way to think about college football rankings. ESPN Grade combines football graduation rate with standing in The Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. The standing of the top teams, when ranked by graduation rate, gets the same weight as position in each of the leading conventional polls. The lower the total, the better.

Here's what would happen if ESPN Grade were applied to the CFP: Right now, the top four seeds, in order, would be Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia and Auburn.

The CFP's initial No. 1 seems likely to be Mississippi State, which is first in the major, victories-only polls. Factoring in the classroom causes Mississippi State to plummet, given that its football graduation rate is an unimpressive 59 percent, 21st among the Top 25 colleges. Florida State plummets, too, with an embarrassing 58 percent football graduation rate, which is 23rd of 25. Ole Miss plummets as well, with a 55 percent football graduation rate, 24th of 25.

Early entries have almost no effect on these statistics -- for instance, only one Mississippi State player left early for the NFL in the group being assessed. Also, ESPN Grade uses the generous Graduation Success Rate calculated by the NCAA, not the stringent Federal Graduation Rate calculated by the Department of Education. This more than compensates for early departures to the NFL.

Suppose Mississippi State or Florida State go on to win the first big playoff title. A champion that graduates barely more than half its football players would be terrible for the sport, to say nothing of the young men not receiving degrees.

In contrast, an inaugural CFP championship by Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia or Auburn would reflect well on collegiate athletics, as these schools combine success on game day with success on commencement day.

Perhaps you are thinking: "Why bring this up? All we want is great games." At the NFL level, that's a fair view. The sole purpose of professional sports is entertainment; the NFL has no edifying or character-building role in society.

But the core purpose of college is education. Providing sports entertainment, a secondary mission, gains legitimacy only through results on commencement day. Unless you'd prefer the big conferences become semipro leagues that have nothing to do with universities -- with the lore and excitement of college traditions instantly lost -- you need to care about graduation rates. All universities say they educate their athletes. The ones that do a better job should be rewarded in the rankings.

On a related point, the University of North Carolina scandal just keeps getting worse. According to a new report, for 18 years, the Chapel Hill school offered "paper" courses that handed out an average 3.62 GPA (that means the average grade was an A) to about 3,100 students, about half of whom were NCAA athletes. Wait. The courses were merely "irregular," in the report's choice of words. "Irregular" in the sense that classes never met, had no requirements and handed out A's for zero work. "The inflated grades from the paper classes had a significant impact on student and student-athlete GPAs and academic standing," the report concluded.

This isn't the only recent academic scandal at Chapel Hill. In 2008, the Raleigh News & Observer began reporting some University of North Carolina football players were enrolled in ersatz classes. Eventually, head coach Butch Davis was fired and a player was banned by the NCAA in a blame-the-messenger exercise; other players were banned around the same time for involvement with agents. A 2012 report by James Martin, the former governor of North Carolina, detailed extensive cheating and paper classes.

This past winter, when CNN reported a University of North Carolina instructor warned about continuing extremely poor academics in Chapel Hill sports, new chancellor Carol Folt, says they could not verify the information.

Buried in the new report (see page 40): A University of North Carolina official named Jan Boxill asked another Chapel Hill official to raise an athlete's term-paper grade from an F to a D. The second official protested the paper listed no sources, "has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments" and "seems to me to be a recycled paper." The student, who no longer had athletic eligibility, needed the improved grade to graduate. It's one thing to argue that a student's work merited a higher grade -- that's a normal conversation. But the paper in question sounds entirely bogus, and no educational institution with integrity should give anything other than a failing grade in that situation.

Who is Jan Boxill? At the time of the seemingly "irregular" request, she was academic counselor for the women's basketball team. Then she was promoted: Until a few days after the report was released, she was listed by the college as director of the school's Parr Center for Ethics, identified as someone who "teaches courses in ethics." A University of North Carolina professor of ethics urges department head to cut corners! The report details other instances of Chapel Hill's ethics director seeking raised grades for athletes who turned in failing work. Suddenly, the Center for Ethics has an interim director. So it appears Boxill was punished, but what about higher-ups?

The new scandal is not about athletic eligibility -- it runs much deeper than that, going to paper courses and fake grades for a broad range of students. The University of North Carolina has in recent years attempted to portray itself as among the "public Ivies." The latest report calls into question whether the University of North Carolina should even retain its accreditation. Thousands of students in fake classes would embarrass even a sleazy online school.

Where is the accountability? The new report throws lower-level instructors under the bus but concludes top management at the University of North Carolina -- Folt and Thomas Ross, president of the statewide university system -- knew nothing, had no responsibility and should not be punished.

It's unlikely even a child would believe systematic fake courses could be going for nearly two decades, yet people at the top knew nothing. But suppose that's actually true -- that despite repeated warnings regarding academic fraud in athletics, top officials of the University of North Carolina actually were in the dark. Then they must be incompetent. That's the best-case scenario.

People at the top of institutions often justify their high pay and perks -- Folt earns a taxpayer-subsidized $520,000 a year -- by saying the buck stops with them. Then, when something goes wrong, they claim they were not responsible and should not face accountability. There will be no consequences? Looks like character education is not on the curriculum at Chapel Hill.

In other sports news, the NBA tips off Tuesday night. Tuesday Morning Quarterback believes basketball is 1 percent as interesting as football, so I annually devote 1 percent of my column inches to the hoops sport. See some NBA comments below.

Stats Of The Week No. 1: Stretching back to the start of the 2013 season, Kansas City has a 9-0 streak, then a 2-8 stretch, then a 4-1 stretch.

Stats Of The Week No. 2: The Arizona-Philadelphia game featured 104 dropbacks and no sacks.

Stats Of The Week No. 3: The Detroit "at" Atlanta game in London aired live at 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast and 3:30 a.m. in Honolulu.

Stats Of The Week No. 4: Buffalo had two scoring drives of negative yardage.

Stats Of The Week No. 5: Blair Walsh of Minnesota hit field goals as time expired in the first half and as time expired in the second half.

Stats Of The Week No. 6: The Bengals are on an 12-0-1 regular-season home streak and an 0-3 postseason home streak.

Stat Of The Week No. 7: In two games in five days, Peyton Manning was 47-of-61 with seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Stat of the Week No. 8: Denver and San Diego, which just met, have scored on a combined 113 consecutive red zone possessions.

Stat Of The Week No. 9: The Raiders are on a 2-17 road stretch.

Stats Of The Week No. 10: Possession results for New England versus Chicago: touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal, field goal, kneel to end game.

Great News -- Jerry Jones Embarrassed in Prime Time: Were the Cowboys that overconfident or did Colt McCoy acquire superpowers by returning to Texas and drinking its water? Three things are certain from the "Monday Night Football" mega-upset: First, as TMQ has noted before, "Colt McCoy" is the best football name ever. Second, Robert Griffin III wore a heavy ski cap indoors. Third, Jerry Jones was embarrassed, his Boys now 2-3 in "Monday Night Football" games in their new flying saucer. It's always fun to watch Jones squirm.

The Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons figured to face constant running plays, what with Washington having a mediocre run defense and Dallas boasting the league's first-ranked rushing offense. Running plays are especially effective at home, because they ramp up crowd energy. DeMarco Murray averaged 7.4 yards per rush, but got only 19 carries. Dallas passing plays averaged 5.7 yards. Inexplicably, adjusting for sacks and scrambles, Boys coaches called 41 passing plays and 23 rushes. Well, maybe explicably. Dallas offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has always been pass-wacky. Dallas "passing game coordinator" Scott Linehan has always been pass-wacky. Stop them before they call passes again!

Washington gambled by big-blitzing on third down, and the gamble paid off with two sacks of Tony Romo by safety Brandon Meriweather: one knocking Romo out of the contest for a while, the other causing a fourth-quarter fumble. By late in the game and overtime, Meriwether was playing more like a linebacker than a safety. He simply lined up over a Dallas tackle and pass-rushed on the hosts' final two snaps, both incompletions.

McCoy was cool as a cucumber -- whatever that means -- in his first start in three seasons, completing a Tom Brady-like 25 of 30 passes. With the Persons facing third-and-3 at midfield in the fifth quarter, McCoy scrambled on a busted play and motioned tight end Jordan Reed to turn up the field -- either he'd be open or he would draw out of the picture the only defender who could stop McCoy from running for the first down. The 16-yard completion, putting the visitors within field goal range, was the game's decisive play. McCoy scored a touchdown on a designed quarterback draw at the goal line -- this common Texas prep school play must have made him feel right at home.

The Persons broke an 0-8 streak (and 0-9 road streak) against NFC East teams. Now, sure-to-be-former head coach Jay Gruden faces yet another dilemma -- bring back RG III, or let the third-stringer play? Don't be surprised if Gruden sides with McCoy. A Griffin comeback would be a media circus, while Gruden can take credit for having the foresight to sign the unwanted McCoy last spring.

Officiating note: When Romo fumbled at the Dallas 5 with 1:20 remaining in regulation, Washington's Ryan Kerrigan recovered. Rather than sound the whistle, zebras let both teams form a dogpile and wrestle for the ball, which ended with Murray. Officials consistently call this situation wrong, by allowing a wrestling match to determine possession. The moment the first player with a knee down has the ball, the action should end. Kerrigan grabbed the fumble, cradled it and made no attempt to rise. Play over.

Sweet Play Of The Week: With the Steelers leading Indianapolis 28-10, Pittsburgh had first-and-10 on the Colts 47. Colts defensive end Arthur Jones got free on a spin move and lunged at Ben Roethlisberger's feet. Roethlisberger stumbled, and Jones seemed likely to pull the Pittsburgh quarterback down. Then undrafted Steelers guard Ramon Foster jumped atop Jones and immobilized him. Freed, Roethlisberger threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. A pancake block occurs when a defender is knocked flat. A "syrup" block occurs when a lineman jumps onto a flattened defender -- syrup on pancake! Foster's syrup block was sweet and helped set in motion Pittsburgh's 51-34 victory over one of the league's elite clubs.

When Roethlisberger was drafted out of Miami of Ohio, the book on him was he was a terrific leader but lacked finesse as a passer. One reason for this view is Roethlisberger looks like a linebacker and plays a tough-guy style -- when he's sacked, he barely seems aware of it. Now Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings, and on Sunday, he became the only quarterback in NFL annals to throw for 500-plus yards on more than one occasion. His scoreboard-spinning 522 yards on 40-of-49 passing with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions came against a Colts' secondary that entered the week fourth versus the pass.

Roethlisberger will never get into Brett Favre or Peyton Manning territory for career passing yards. But maybe it's time to reassess Roethlisberger as a more sophisticated passer than he generally gets credited.

Sour Play Of The Week: With Baltimore leading 24-20, the Nevermores had host Cincinnati facing third-and-10 on its own 20 with 3:48 remaining. All the visitors needed was an incompletion. Knowing Cincinnati needed to throw deep, surely Baltimore wouldn't safety blitz! But free safety Darian Stewart blitzed, and it was a 53-yard completion to Mohamed Sanu, who went straight to the area the free safety vacated for a key down in the Cincinnati comeback victory. Sour defensive tactics.

Sweet 'N' Sour Situation: The defending champion Seahawks were in danger of dropping three straight. Seconds before intermission, on third-and-goal on the Carolina 7, Russell Wilson had thrown an interception. The pass was perfectly delivered to Marshawn Lynch, who needlessly jumped as the ball approached, then let it bounce off his hands for the pick. A receiver should never leave his feet unless there's no choice; leaping as the pass approaches reduces the chance of a catch. It was the kind of fundamental mistake Seattle did not make in its Super Bowl season. Then it seemed like old times, as Wilson coolly marched his charges 80 yards for the Bluish Men Group's sole touchdown with 47 seconds remaining. Sweet.

Playing at home, the Panthers never trailed the defending champions until there were 47 seconds remaining, and they left the field losers. Sour. Down 13-9, the Cats faced fourth-and-25 on their own 8 with 26 seconds showing. Essentially, this was fourth-and-99. When Cam Newton threw short incomplete, the home crowd booed lustily. It turns out Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco faced a nearly identical fourth-and-99 situation on his final snap at Cincinnati and also threw a futile short pass. But Flacco wasn't at home, so he did not hear boos.

Reader Joshua Thrailkill of North Carolina noted the Panthers fielded four undrafted offensive linemen. But in the NFL, every team must deal with injuries. Cam Newton was 14-0 as a starter in college and is 27-28-1 as a starter in the pros. College seems so, so long ago. January 2014 -- when the Panthers hosted a divisional playoff game -- seems so, so long ago, too.

Shouldn't Orange Holes Be The New Black Holes?: TMQ has asked: Do black holes come in other colors? It turns out, they do.

Teen Angst Goes To Outer Space: Hollywood has long struggled with performers in their 20s portraying teens and even tweens. "Veronica Mars," which became a movie in 2014, opened its television run with actress Kristen Bell, 24 years old at the time, playing a high school sophomore across from love interest Jason Dohring, then 22 and playing a sophomore. In "The Amazing Spider-Man," Spidey was played by an actor who was 28 during filming, Gwen by an actress who was 23, Flash by an actor who was 26. All portrayed high school students. In its pilot episode, the CW show "The 100," which just kicked off its second season, had Eliza Taylor, then 23, and Marie Avgeropoulos, 28, portraying 17-year-olds. The 2014 NBC one-off primetime series "Crisis" topped them all. The protagonist was played by actress Rachel Taylor, 29 during filming; her character had a daughter portrayed by an actress who was 21.

"The 100" is teen angst goes to outer space. The title refers to 100 teenagers who descend to Earth from an enormous space station where a remnant of humanity has spent the past century in terrible conditions while waiting for radiation to fade after a nuclear apocalypse. In the series pilot, aboard the enormous space station, we see teens, and we see their parents -- but no children. How could there be 100 teenagers if there are no babies, toddlers or tweens? Maybe future reproduction will operate differently. In the rebooted Planet of the Apes movies, gorillas not only reproduce faster than rabbits, they also seem to be born as fully mature adults.

On "The 100" it's the middle of the 22nd century, yet everyone speaks southern California English using present-day slang. One hundred sixty-five years into the future, people say, "Game over, man." Hollywood sci-fi rarely involves evolution of language. In the big-budget TV show "Terra Nova" and the big-budget movie "Elysium," it's nearly 150 years into the future, yet all slang and figures of speech are present-day southern California. In the Will Smith interplanetary ego vehicle "After Earth," it's 1,000 years into the future, and language is exactly the same as today. Characters say "I'm good to go" and "We need this ASAP."

Using present-day slang makes it easy on scriptwriters but is a failure of the imagination. Contrast that with the literary science fiction novel "Riddley Walker," which is set centuries after a global nuclear war pushed humanity back into the iron age. Author Russell Hoban invented an elaborate future dialect. For instance, the ancients (us) are referred to as the "Puter Leat" -- the computer elite. Surely, if there is ever a Hollywood version of "Riddley Walker," future slang will disappear and characters will say, "Sup, dog?"

Footnote: On "The 100," in the mid-22nd century, a society built enormous space stations yet forgot all about the holster. Characters stuff guns down the backs of their waistbands. On "After Earth," future humanity has developed antigravity devices and instantaneous warp travels to anywhere in the galaxy but has forgotten about firearms. Soldiers fight with swords. If the future soldiers of this movie simply had guns, most of the plot wouldn't happen.

Let The Linemen Throw!: Saturday's fun collegiate play was 350-pound Arkansas offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola throwing a touchdown pass. TMQ noted in this 2010 item that college rules forbid a player wearing jersey 50 through 79 from receiving a pass (in high school and NCAA rules, offensive linemen cannot report eligible) but allow an offensive linemen to throw a pass. Any offensive player who takes the snap or receives the ball as a lateral can attempt a forward pass, so long as it is the first forward pass attempted on the down. (College used to allow two forward passes if the first were caught behind the line of scrimmage.)

For the Arkansas play, the Razorbacks lined up in a "swinging gate" field goal formation. Presnap, Tretola shifted into the quarterback position behind a tight end, who was lined up as the left tackle but playing center. (Anyone on the line of scrimmage may snap the ball. Having the snapper in the middle is a custom, not a rule.) Tretola's shift "uncovered" the center/tackle on the left and made him eligible.

As TMQ noted in 2010, an even more radical play would be to have an offensive lineman line up in a conventional position, step back behind a conventional quarterback, take a lateral and then throw a forward pass.

All Chicago Becomes A Red-Light District: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel admitted the city deliberately shortened yellow lights. The goal was more ticket revenue -- some $8 million from 77,000 automated tickets that would not have been issued had yellow lights been set to the federally recommended, three-second minimum.

In order to fund public-sector pensions, cities and states increasingly stoop to any means to reach into citizens' pockets. Automated red-light cameras are springing up in many places -- though if set to short yellow, they render the roads dangerous by causing drivers to slam on the brakes. Colorado's legalization of marijuana was inspired partly by the state's desire to tax sales. If betting on sports becomes legal -- being disputed right now in New Jersey -- the reason might be government's desire to tax this underground economy.

In the near future, Americans will get automated tickets while driving to cafes where they can smoke legal marijuana as they place bets on professional sports -- all to generate pension revenue for retired government workers.

400-Yard Passing Days Are Bad: Aaron Rodgers arrived in New Orleans having thrown only one pick this season and as the NFL's career leader in interception percentage, at just 1.76 percent. The Saints arrived with just four takeaways, second worst in the league. Three turnovers by Green Bay, two off picks of Rodgers, were the story.

In effect, there were four turnovers, as Green Bay failed on a fourth-and-inches near midfield while the margin was close. Officials on the field initially signaled first down; a challenge changed the spot to fourth-and-inches. This was yet another frustrating instance in which a call that isn't indisputably wrong is changed into a call that might still be wrong. Whether the call on the field was incorrect was far from clear on replay -- and unless review is conclusive, the call on the field should stand.

It's another sign of this scoreboard-spinning season that Rodgers could throw for 418 yards with a 72 percent completion rate and be seen as having an off-day. Reader Clayton Hurdle ‏of Hendersonville, Tennessee, noted that four NFL quarterbacks had at least 400 yards passing on Sunday -- and their combined record was 1-3.

New Orleans faithful have been pining for the sort of unstoppable offense to which game they've grown accustomed, and they finally got one, in both passing and rushing. At 3-4, do the Boy Scouts have realistic hopes? Five of the final nine are in their friendly dome.

The NFL Is More Interesting Than The NBA: Many sports enthusiasts prefer basketball to football. But even for those who do, there's a reason the NFL is more interesting: More football teams than basketball teams start the season with a chance.

NBA teams play so many games followed by a postseason based on the "best of" series concept that by the end, the top team almost always wins the title, thereby washing out the effects of luck. By contrast, the NFL plays only 16 games followed by a postseason knockout round. There's room for variability based on luck or degree of effort. In turn, small NBA rosters can mean one smart trade or draft selection improves the team dramatically. Large NFL rosters take longer to build because they have more moving parts.

The result of these factors is every NBA season begins with a handful of teams holding a realistic shot at the title, compared to many teams that have no chance at all. The numerous NBA teams that are goin' nowhere know who they are from the start of the season. Every NFL season begins with a larger number of teams that might win the Super Bowl and a relatively smaller number with no shot.

That there's more variability in the NFL than the NBA is shown by the fact that in the past 15 years, 10 NFL teams have won the Super Bowl, while six NBA clubs have monopolized that league's titles. Twelve of the past 15 NBA titles have been won by the Lakers, Spurs and Heat; the equivalent figure is seven of the past 15 NFL titles have been won by the Patriots, Giants and Steelers. Also note that 15 of the 48 Super Bowl winners failed to make the next postseason, while just two of 68 NBA champions (the 1998 Chicago Bulls and the 1969 Boston Celtics) failed to reach the next year's postseason.

Bears Should Try Freezing Their Field: In the year 2014, the Chicago Blackhawks have more wins at Soldier Field than the Chicago Bears, as noted by reader Paul Berke of Chicago.

HMS Pinafore Comes To Basketball The Charlotte Hornets -- 14 years removed from their latest playoff series victory -- have a chairman, a vice chairman, a "president, chief operating officer & alternate governor," a general manager, an assistant general manager, two executive vice presidents, three senior vice presidents and six regular vice presidents. That's 16 senior executives for 18 players. Add a head coach, an associate head coach, four assistant coaches, a director of basketball operations, a director of player personnel, a director of player programs, four directors of scouting, five regular scouts, three people with the title "Quantitative Analyst/Systems Developer," athletic trainers, conditioning coaches, physicians and a "team psychologist," and that's more than 40 people to administer a team of 18 players. No wonder the Hornets are so terrible!

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!: With the game tied at the two-minute warning, Chip Kelly kicked on fourth-and-goal from the Arizona 1. On that day, the Nesharim averaged 5.9 yards per snap. Kelly did the "safe" thing and sent in the kicking unit. "Safe" tactics would spell defeat.

Then, with Philadelphia leading 20-17, the hosts faced third-and-5 on their 25 with 1:33 remaining. Arizona could've tried to nickel-and-dime into field goal position for overtime, but playing to win apparently made more sense. That meant big chunks of yards. Yet at the snap, the deepest Philadelphia safety, Nate Allen, was 8 yards off the line of scrimmage. He and the corner on the playside were confused and gestured to each other about who had whom in the Cardinals' combo formation. Call time out! Philadelphia did not. Rookie John Brown of Division II Pittsburg State of Kansas, touted two weeks ago in TMQ, blew past the coverage, made a difficult reception and then outran the Eagles' secondary for a 75-yard touchdown. Safeties are coached to "keep everything in front of you" in situations such as this. Brown got behind all Eagles with apparent ease.

This matchup of 5-1 clubs pitted high-tech offense versus power defense, and power defense won by a nose. Another basic difference between Arizona and Philadelphia is the Cardinals are plus-9 in give/take and the Eagles minus-7. The bottom five for give/take are four woeful clubs -- Oakland, Washington, Jacksonville and Jersey/B -- plus the Eagles. The past season, Philadelphia had hardly any interceptions but many sacks because, Kelly said, he coached Nick Foles that it was okay to take sacks -- just don't turn it over. This season, the Eagles are the league's best in sacks allowed (only seven) but terrible in the giveaway column. Maybe Philadelphia needs to return to its 2013 formula.

The game would conclude with Arizona calling a big blitz on six of Philadelphia's final 13 snaps, including a seven-man blitz with 1 second remaining and the Eagles on the host's 16. It worked this time. But if Arizona continues to big-blitz so much, the chickens -- or the cactus wrens, considering indigenous birds of the Grand Canyon State -- might come home to roost.

'Tis Better To Have Rushed And Lost Than Never To Have Rushed At All: Detroit played it ultra-conservative in London, where the Tories rule. Jim Caldwell kicked down 21-0 and twice kicked on fourth-and-short inside the Atlanta 5-yard line. Yet conservatism kept the Lions close.

Leading 21-19, Atlanta had Detroit down to one timeout just inside the two-minute warning, with second-and-10 on the Detroit 39. The Falcons might have knelt twice, then punted; instead, they ran a play and were called for holding. Detroit declined. Normally, this would restart the clock; normally, the declined penalty is officiated as if there had been no foul, but inside the final five minutes of the second half, after a declined penalty, the clock does not restart until the snap. So Atlanta's penalty effectively created a timeout for Detroit. Then, on third-and-10 with 1:50 remaining, the Falcons threw incomplete, which stopped the clock. Considering the Lions would kick the winning field goal as time expired, had Atlanta simply knelt on these two downs, the Falcons likely would have prevailed.

Then, with the score Atlanta 21, Detroit 19 and the Lions facing third-and-9 on the Falcons' 30 with 24 seconds left, they were out of timeouts. Detroit called a draw for a 1-yard gain. Because that made it fourth down, the Lions could not spike to stop the clock. This might have been one of football's all-time boneheaded calls -- except the Falcons were flagged for holding, which awarded Detroit a first down.

Detroit's last-gasp field goal attempt missed, but the Lions got another try because they were flagged for delay of game. That's a presnap foul. The Falcons could have declined the five-yard walkoff but could not have taken the missed field goal because the whistle sounded prior to the snap. (Same at New England, where the Bears stuffed a fourth-and-goal rush, but the Patriots were whistled for false start -- Chicago could have declined the walk-off but not insisted the down count.) Detroit hit the rekick.

Goofiest NBA Trades Of The Year: Miami sent a backup to Sacramento for a conditional draft choice the Heat almost surely will never receive; Sacramento immediately waived the player. Houston sent Jeremy Lin and first- and second-round draft selections to the Lakers for the rights to Sergei Lishchuk, a 32-year-old who has never appeared in an NBA contest. The point of the trade was for the Rockets to get rid of Lin's contract: Los Angeles received the draft choices as its recompense for taking the contract. Lishchuk's rights have been traded by several NBA teams he hasn't played for, always for salary cap reasons.

Flaming Thumbtacks Go Down In Flames: In my preseason AFC Preview, I warned the Titans season might devolve to "Zach Mettenberger handing off to Bishop Sankey." And verily, it came to pass. Final: Houston 30, Tennessee 16.

Long-Running NBA Trades: Courtesy of Pro Sports Transactions, check the details of the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade and 2012 Dwight Howard trade, deals which intersected at the 12th choice of the 2014 draft but have far from played out:

"Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams, 2015 second-round pick, Nuggets option to swap 2016 first round picks with Knicks in a three-team trade with Knicks, Timberwolves for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, 2012 second -ound pick (from Knicks) (#38-Quincy Miller), 2013 second-round pick (from Knicks) (#51-Romero Osby), 2014 first-round pick (from Knicks) (#12-Dario Saric), Nuggets option to swap 2016 first-round picks with Knicks and $3 million cash.

"Magic traded Dwight Howard, Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon, Earl Clark in a four-team trade with 76ers, Lakers, Nuggets for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Moe Harkless, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts, Nikola Vucevic, 2013 second-round pick (from Nuggets) (#51-Romero Osby), 2014 first-round pick (from Nuggets, less favorable of Knicks, Nuggets picks) (#12-Dario Saric), 2015 first-round pick (from 76ers, two years after 76ers convey first-round pick to Heat from earlier trade, protected top 14 in 2015-16, top 11 in 2017, top 8 in 2018, thereafter 2018 and 2019 second-round picks), 2015 second-round pick (from Lakers, protected top 40 in 2015, extinguished thereafter), 2017 first-round pick (from Lakers, protected top 5 in 2017, otherwise 2017 and 2018 second-round picks)."

The Football Gods Chortled: Jets quarterback Michael Vick was flagged for taunting -- with the Jets trailing 21-7. One does not thump one's chest whilst losing! The football gods punished Vick by causing him to lose a fumble two snaps later.

Bears defensive lineman Lamarr Houston suffered a self-inflicted knee injury from leaping into the air celebrating a sack at New England. That's not the part that bothered the football gods. What bothered them is the Houston wildly celebrated a sack when the Bears were down by 25 points with three minutes remaining. One does not thump one's chest whilst losing!

The football gods chortled over these disastrous Jets stats. The Jersey/B defense has allowed scores on 31 consecutive red zone possessions. If every pass a quarterback throws clangs to the ground incomplete, he gets a 39 passer rating. On Sunday, quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick combined for a 17 rating. After the game, Rex Ryan, who in the preseason implied he was "one of the best of all time" as a coach, told Ben Shpigel, "Why we're not playing better, I don't know." An all-time great should know! After throwing three interceptions in the first quarter, Smith declared, in Yogi Berra-speak, "I've got my work cut out for myself."

The football gods chortled anew when Matt Schaub's first pass as an Oakland Raider was intercepted.

There Should Be A Market In NBA Trade Exception Futures: The NBA allows teams to exchange salary cap space, including "trade exceptions," which are like Community Chest cards in Monopoly and cancel out salary-cap sums that would otherwise void a trade.

In July, Boston, Brooklyn and Cleveland engaged in a three-way transaction that went like this: The Cavaliers gave up Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller, 2013 first-round selection Sergey Karasev and a 2016 first-round draft choice and received a second-round pick and rights to European players Ilkan Karaman and Edin Bavcic. The Nets gave Marcus Thornton and received Jack and Karasev. The Celtics gave the second-round pick and their $10 million trade exemption and received Thornton, Zeller and the first-round choice.

Thus, Cleveland surrendered a first-round draft pick and three decent players for a second-round draft pick and Euro-stashed gents who are long shots to bounce a ball in the NBA. But Cleveland got rid of Jack's and Zeller's contracts, which could not have happened without Boston supplying its $10 million trade exemption. The Cavs ended up holding extra cap space, which they (and nobody else at that juncture) knew was the final piece of the puzzle to sign LeBron James.

Around the same time, the Washington Wizards, set to lose Trevor Ariza, sign-and-traded him to Houston for a cap-space exemption. The Celtics, set to lose Kris Humphries, sign-and-traded him for the cap exemption Washington acquired. Essentially, it was a three-way transaction with Houston getting Ariza, Washington getting Humphries and Boston getting back the cap space it just surrendered for Thornton and the draft selection. Maybe the whole thing was a six-way trade, but that's too complicated to phrase.

Footnote 1: Bavcic is a 30-year-old who has played for 11 professional teams across the European Union. His rights have been held at various points by the Raptors, 76ers, Hornets, Pelicans and Nets, but Bavcic has never appeared in an NBA contest. While never actually playing, Bavcic has been involved in four NBA trades, always for reasons of salary-cap manipulation.

Footnote 2: The Nets took on Jack's hefty, guaranteed deal knowing they faced the largest salary-cap penalty in NBA annals. If Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, majority owner of the Brooklyn team, is overspending on our shores -- that's great! Prokhorov also has been a benefactor to the venerable Celtics franchise. Taking into account subsequent moves, the Nets traded three first-round draft choices to Boston for 38-year-old Kevin Garnett.

Footnote 3: The Celtics now hold at least eight first-round choices in the next four drafts, possibly nine depending on fine print. In the same period, the Utah Jazz hold five first-round choices and eight second-round selections. This puts both franchises in the ideal position in NBA marketing terms -- they can imply golden days are coming yet keep expectations low.

Footnote 4: Later, the Cavs traded $1 million, a player from the Canton Charge of the NBA's D-League and a draft choice to Utah for three backups with nonguaranteed contracts. After that, Cleveland traded the three backups and rookie Dwight Powell to Boston for Keith Bogans, whom they immediately traded to Philadelphia with a draft pick for a $5.3 million salary-cap exemption. The sum of these deals was cash and two second-round draft selections for cap space. For his part, Powell had been on the rosters of the Hornets, Cavs and Celtics before he actually appeared in an NBA game.

Tactical Use Of Cheer Babes: With City of Tampa leading Minnesota 13-10, the Vikings had the ball on their 23 at the two-minute warning. The host's cheerleaders ran onto the field, lined up almost in the Vikings' huddle and began to shake their booties in hopes of distracting the visitors.

Do A Little Dance If You Want To Gain That Yard!: TMQ's Law of Short Yardage holds: Do a little dance if you want to gain that yard. Trailing underdog LSU 10-7 with 1:44 remaining, Ole Miss faced fourth-and-1 at midfield. The Rebels just dived straight ahead -- no shifts, no misdirection, no yard gained.

Still trailing by 3, Ole Miss had possession on the LSU 30 with 9 seconds remaining and no more timeouts. Ole Miss lined up for a placement kick, and LSU called time to freeze the kicker. Ole Miss sent its offense back onto the field and threw to the end zone for an interception. Bad decision? A 47-yard field goal is hardly a sure thing for a college kicker. Basically, kicking was a 50/50 chance to extend to overtime, which itself is a 50/50 proposition. The pass play came as a surprise to LSU and might have won the game. It didn't, but the call was defensible, considering when the down began, LSU was odds-on to win no matter what Ole Miss did.

This Year's Human Development Report: Football columns are not likely to be your best source of global development news. Nevertheless, every year TMQ highlights the United Nations Human Development Report. Yours truly has on occasion been master of ceremonies at its launch. The 2014 edition comes to these major conclusions: Global economic growth is slowing, improvement in conditions for girls and women is accelerating, and about a third of humanity now lives in poverty or too close to poverty for comfort.

That last figure is troubling but not as bad as expectations. Consider a third of humanity poor or near poor means about 4.6 billion live in good material conditions, which is more than the number of people alive worldwide in 1970.

Never Celebrate Outside The End Zone!: Running in the clear with what he thought would be an 89-yard touchdown reception, Buffalo rookie Sammy Watkins began waving the ball around at the Jets' 10-yard line. Slowing down to celebrate caused him to be caught from behind at the 5 of Jersey/B. That play will go onto every blooper reel, so surely Watkins learned his lesson, right? Well, later in the game, running in the clear for what became a 61-yard touchdown reception, Watkins began waving the ball at the Jets' 10-yard line.

Try Imagining A U.S. Army Party Bus: The Colorado Springs Gazette reported West Point wooed football recruits with alcohol, cash, a chance to rub shoulders with female cadets and cheerleaders on party bus that had a police escort. West Point self-reported the violations to the NCAA. The Gazette, hometown newspaper of Army's rival Air Force Academy, found out. This really must be the 21st century if West Point is showing off the all women who will become U.S. Army officers.

Wacky Fuel Of The Week: Filling stations that promote E85 fuel sell a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Unless that's not what they are selling. Reader Andrew Dean of Des Moines, Iowa, reported that over the summer, he stopped at a Des Moines filling station where the brightly labeled E85 pump had a fine print disclaimer that said, "Minimum 70 percent ethanol." Or maybe it's only 51 percent ethanol.

Promotion of E85 fuel is a classic example of government make-believe. A federal mandate creates an E85 label that makes it seem the buyer is patronizing heartland farmers rather than Persian Gulf dictators and also generates a mileage standards exemption for any "flex fuel" cars that can run on E85. Once that's done, the 85 percent part quietly goes away.

Given that ethanol is heavily subsidized but has less energy value than gasoline, perhaps from the standpoint of motorists, the less of this stuff the better.

In theory, federal mandates were to push ethanol beyond corn-based production, which has a fossil-fuel input about the same as petroleum, to "cellulosic" ethanol, which subtracts more greenhouse gases than it produces. But development of cellulosic ethanol has fared poorly, while taxpayer subsidies have caused corn-based ethanol to go into oversupply. Despite extensive government support (i.e. tax credits and purchase mandates), overall demand for ethanol has been declining.

In 2005, Congress under George W. Bush mandated 1.7 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol be blended into U.S. gasoline annually. So far, peak production has been 290,000 gallons -- less than 1 percent of the goal. The current federal overall mandate is 12.9 billion gallons of all kinds of ethanol blended into gasoline per year, and there is ample corn ethanol for that. Ethanol producers want the EPA to impose a higher blend fraction ... to compel the market to buy their product.

Regular gasoline needs to cost around $4 per gallon for ethanol blending to make sense, economically. Thus, falling gasoline prices, which are good for average Americans, are bad for the ethanol lobby. Will cellulosic ethanol ever be cost-effective? This past month, chemists claimed a breakthrough, so fingers are crossed. In the past, claimed breakthroughs on this topic have not panned out.

Government make-believe postscript: The new, 5,840-pound Cadillac Escalade gets a miserable 16 mpg combined, generates nine tons of greenhouse gases annually and is exempt from mileage standards because it is "flex-fuel." Washington Post auto reviewer Warren Brown reports that in 1,500 miles of driving a 2015 Escalade, he "rarely" found a station selling E85 and had no choice but to fill the car with standard gasoline. The "flex fuel" make-believe allows government regulators and General Motors to pretend the Escalade has environmental features when actually it's wasting petroleum like mad.

Luckily, Tom Brady Has A Bye Week In Which To Do Some Modeling: When the Flying Elvii struggled at home versus Oakland then were blown out at Kansas City, sports pundits were asking if the New England golden age were over. Since that juncture, the Patriots have won four straight. Check their next five matchups: Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego, with a combined record of 27-12. It's like a midseason run of five consecutive postseason opponents.

Sportsmanship Watch: TMQ has taken more than one shot at Mount Union, the Division III powerhouse prone to running up the score on regional opponents that don't recruit. That makes me pleased to relate that Saturday, Mount Union showed good sportsmanship.

The Purple Raiders were hosting Wilmington, a college having a season to forget. The Quakers came in 0-6 and outscored 17-125 in their past two contests. Reader Vince Calautti of Youngstown, Ohio, reported Mount Union pulled starters after the first quarter, then thrice kicked field goals on first down in the Wilmington red zone to avoid touchdowns.

Contrast Mount Union's good sportsmanship with the bad sportsmanship shown by TCU coach Gary Patterson. Leading in-state rival Texas Tech 75-27 in the fourth quarter, the Horned Frogs kept throwing and furiously ran the score to 82-27. This meant lots of fireworks. But TMQ's Law of Poor Sportsmanship holds: When a football team wins by more than 50 points, the victor, not the vanquished, should be embarrassed. TCU alumni and boosters should feel embarrassed about their school's display of poor sportsmanship and cancel postseason plans because the football gods will now exact vengeance on TCU and humble it for hubris.

Soccer, The Duke Of Sports: Extra time, stoppage time, overtime, bonus time -- shouldn't the World Cup add writhing time? With the MLS playoffs beginning, bear in mind Michael Mandelbaum's argument that in the United States, soccer will never be more than the duke of sports.

The Special Teams Gods Chortled: Boise State runs a trick play kickoff return that went like this: First, two returners dropped deep. As the kicking team lined up and was distracted, one of the return men prostrated himself flat on the turf. After the other return man took the kick, the prostrate guy leapt and took a throwback. The key? Boise State runs this play at home, where a guy in a blue uniform horizontal on blue turf isn't noticed.

When the Bills prepared to kick off leading 27-17, Jersey/B had Percy Harvin and Santonio Holmes in the end zone. Holmes dropped prostrate -- a guy in a green uniform horizontal in a home-team end zone that's painted the same shade of green. Boom, the kickoff went all the way to the back line. Harvin should have knelt; instead, he tried to advance to reach a position to throw back to Holmes. The Jets ended up pinned on their 3.

WTO Accuses NFL Of Dumping Inferior Products Overseas: Detroit met 2-5 Atlanta in the second of three London games this season, with the third pairing the Cowboys versus the Jaguars, who will enter with a losing record. Thus, the eighth season of London contests will conclude with no game in those eight seasons pitting two teams above .500 at kickoff.

The 500 Club: Hosting UCLA, Colorado gained 500 yards and lost. Hosting No. 1 Mississippi State, Kentucky gained 504 yards and lost. It was the second time this season an opponent has gained more than 500 yards versus that week's No. 1 and lost; North Carolina State gained 520 yards versus Florida State. Visiting Arizona, Philadelphia gained 521 yards and lost. Visiting Auburn, South Carolina gained 535 yards and lost. Hosting James Madison, Charlotte gained 566 yards and lost. (Both teams used fast-tempo tactics and combined for 179 snaps; 130 is typical in an NFL contest.) Visiting Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State gained 595 yards and lost by 15 points. Hosting Oregon, Cal gained 560 yards, made 30 first downs and lost by 18 points. Hosting Georgia Tech, Pitt gained 526 yards and lost by 28 points. Hosting Alcorn State, Prairie View gained 545 yards and lost by 29 points.

Must Be A Member Of Some Club: Visiting Murray State, Kentucky Wesleyan gained 350 yards, committed zero turnovers and had a 40:28-to-19:32 edge in time of possession. That's a respectable day. Kentucky Wesleyan lost by 57 points.

Obscure College Score: Wayland Baptist 26, Bacone 14. Located in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Bacone College is among the dwindling number that still names a full homecoming royalty court.

Next Week: Will AIG issue credit-default swap insurance on NBA salary-cap trades?