By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Finally the real thing approaches and the NFL artificial universe resumes. Pause now to contemplate this: you will behold your favorite team snap the ball 1,000 times this season. Some laws of nature seem plucked from a hat, such as Planck's constant, which is 6.626 times 10-34th joule-seconds. Others seem hauntingly round numbers; during a normal lifespan, the human heart beats two billion times. Another hauntingly round-number constant is Easterbrook's Law of 1,000 Plays.

Seattle ran 1,020 plays last season, Tampa ran 985. Atlanta ran 1,021 plays, and so did Jacksonville. San Diego ran 1,022 plays, while Oakland snapped the ball 997 times and Cincinnati 1,018 times. Everyone in the league was within a pollster's standard margin of error of 1,000 snaps, and it's been that way since the 16-game format was adopted. Each time your team runs a play this season, you are beholding one in a thousand: and every snap reduces the time remaining on the season by one-tenth of 1 percent. Savor each snap. Like practically everything in our short lives, the season will go by amazingly fast.

And now -- still America's only all-haiku NFL season predictions!

AFC East

Cut costs, yet win games:
Pats the Wal-Mart of pro sports.
The Flying Elvii.

Forecast finish: 12-4

Dolphins cheerleaders
Scott Clarke/WireImage
It's easier to bring South Beach to the stadium than bring the game to the beach.

Bikini heaven!
Not South Beach -- the cheerleaders.
Miami Dolphins.

Forecast finish: 10-6

Harvard GM, Yale
coach. Lead league in SATs.
The Buffalo Bills.

Forecast finish: 6-10

Have league's youngest coach.
Does Mangini get carded?
The Jersey/B Jets.

Forecast finish: 4-12

Cheerleading Squad of the Week: Speaking of the Dolphins Cheerleaders, here they are in their glory. The new Dolphins' Cheerleaders calendar is not exactly shy about the key to their appeal. Bud Light sponsors this view of Fins cheerleaders in Bimini, while the Dolphins are now "presented by Wachovia" and their season "delivered by DHL." Does that mean if you don't like a game, you can mark it Return to Sender? Nick Saban has a blog. "Golf is kind of like a metaphor of life," Saban muses.

Dolphins cheerleaders
Miami Dolphins
Miami's cheerleaders will never be accused of being overdressed.

AFC North

Cowher crowned; now must
find reason to keep growling.
The Pittsburgh Steelers.

Forecast finish: 13-3

Trick or treat! Team has
Halloween every Sunday.
The Cincy Bengals.

Forecast finish: 9-7

The public beta
of new version 3.0.
Latest Cleveland Browns.

Forecast finish: 9-7

It's Sunday at 1,
do you know who QB is?
Bal-a-mer Ravens.

Forecast finish: 6-10

Larry Crowe/Associated Press
Local bakery item -- or West Virginia's home opponents?

In Praise of Losing Teams -- College Edition: What if the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers played only the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions in 2006 -- and played every game at home? That is the scenario evolving in football-factory big-college football, where teams can choose many opponents, and increasingly choose cupcakes with cherries on top.

Consider West Virginia, hyped on a Sports Illustrated cover and chosen by CBS Sportsline as favored to play in the BCS title bowl. West Virginia's schedule is among the weakest, if not the weakest, of 119 teams in Division I. The Mountaineers play just three schools that finished 2005 with winning records, and only one that appeared in the top 25. Here is the West Virginia schedule, which might as well be a cupcake menu at the local bakery. There's Eastern Washington, not even in Division I-A. There's Syracuse, 1-10 last season, and Mississippi State, 2-9. The Mountaineers' home opponents stumbled to a combined 34-47 in 2005; their road opponents were also losers, a combined 21-24. Four of the 10 teams on the schedule of my son's high school team made the state playoffs in 2005; his high-school team plays a significantly tougher schedule than West Virginia! Perhaps someone on West Virginia's schedule will turn out to be a hot opponent: you never know. But based on the schedule, West Virginia plans to take the 2006 season off, then demand a BCS bowl bid.

Taking the season off and then demanding a bowl bid became easier for the football factory schools this season as Division I expanded to 12 games. The added weekend makes financial sense given that big-school football is among the few collegiate sports that is a net producer of revenue. But with a 12-game slate and six wins required for bowl eligibility, an orangutan could coach a top 25 school into a bowl.

Plus, the football factory colleges increasingly shun the road, paying lesser schools to come to them and be clobbered. The Mountaineers play seven of 12 at home; just imagine what the Denver Broncos' record would be if they could play 10 of 16 at home. Nebraska, Michigan, Miami of Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame all fearlessly play seven with the home-crowd advantage and just five on the road. Virginia Tech takes the cake, or in this case the cupcake -- Virginia Tech has eight home games versus four road dates. The Hokies and Mountaineers join hands across the Blue Ridge for college football's phoniest 2006 schedules!

In order for the football factories to play most games at home, the downtrodden must be willing to travel. This year the University of Buffalo has seven road dates and five home appearances. As Pete Thamel reported in the New York Times, the hapless Bulls, perennial losers, are in such demand as a visiting cupcake that their fee for appearing at a big school has risen to $600,000. The Bulls were originally scheduled to play at West Virginia this fall -- hmm, why does that not surprise us? -- but balked because the Mountaineers offered only $350,000, below the prevailing market price. This season the University of Buffalo has away games at Wisconsin, Auburn and Boston College.

Richard Vogel/Associated Press
Hey, you got University of Buffalo on your schedule too!

Let's hope the University of Buffalo knocks off some cocky football-factory school that basically wants the Bulls to be movie extras, standing around watching home-team players streak past. All cupcake teams can draw inspiration from Saturday's game in Boulder, where the University of Colorado was beaten by Division I-AA Montana State, which Colorado had hired expecting an effortless walkover. And let's hope that as the price of visiting cupcakes continues to rise, at least this will improve the Gini coefficient of college football, reducing inequity of funds. This year Nebraska is paying Troy University $750,000 to come and presumably get clobbered, raising the cupcake prevailing rate close to the million mark. Wouldn't it be a great day if Troy won! Regardless, likely-to-lose teams -- demand $1 million per appearance! It's a seller's market, max out the price of your services!

AFC South

Annual playoff
choke; please call Dr. Heimlich!
Indy Lucky Charms.

Forecast finish: 12-4

Motto: When in doubt,
punt. Punts doomed '05 season.
Jacksonville Jaguars.

Forecast finish: 10-6

Forget the Titans!
That's the word till team rebounds.
The Flaming Thumbtacks.

Forecast finish: 5-11

Four years, 10 home wins.
Reliant crowd leaves early.
The Houston Texans.

Forecast finish: 4-12

Charles Rogers
Allen Kee/WireImage
He charges $395,000 per catch. Per drop? You can't afford it.

Bust-a-Rama: The Lions waived bust wide receiver Charles Rogers, second selection of the 2003 draft, and the Jags placed bust tackle Mike Williams, fourth selection of the 2002 draft, on injured reserve after he reported out of shape and immediately hurt himself. Rogers got a $14.2 million signing bonus and made 36 career receptions -- $395,000 per catch. What's puzzling about Williams is that after he was benched and then waived by Buffalo at the end of 2005, Jax awarded him a $1.4 million signing bonus, funds he keeps though it seems unlikely he will ever play a down for Jacksonville. The Jags gave Williams a nice bonus after it was known he was a bust. At least the Lions can say they showered money on Rogers before knowing what they were buying.

In Praise of the Losing Team -- High School Version: The reverse of high school teams that run up the score are high school teams that never win. Red Boiling Springs in Macon County, Tenn., a countryside school with only a few hundred students in the upper grades, has not won a game since 2002, and has been outscored 287-24 in its past five outings. Reader Nick Meals of Knoxville protested that the Tennessean, Nashville's newspaper, just put the school's football futility on Page 1: "Is it right that the lead story in one of the major newspapers in the state focuses on the losing streak of a tiny rural school? If the Titans lose then fine, make fun of professionals, but give this treatment to 14- to 18-year-olds?" Nick, the story made me admire the players and coaches of Red Boiling Springs. No special qualities are required to play on a stacked winning team, no fortitude needed to take the field among superior teammates, knowing victory is likely. To keep trying after 40 straight losses is extraordinary -- compare such resolve to pro athletes who whine following the slightest minor setback. The kind of kids who still turn out for a high-school team that has little chance of winning, who still run hills in the August heat -- who never give up -- learn a lesson that will serve them well in life. Players and coaches of Red Boiling Springs School -- ESPN salutes you! Here's a quote for the locker room bulletin board: "Red Boiling Springs football exemplifies the larger purpose of sports: learning teamwork, fair play and determination. Anyone can walk an easy path. To refuse to quit in the face of great odds requires heart."

AFC West

Hey, you a running
back? Then you are a star here.
The Denver Broncos.

Forecast finish: 12-4

Herm in mood? Let's hope.
Keeps word only when in mood.
Kansas City Chiefs.

Forecast finish: 9-7

Brees blows out, Rivers
flows in. Haiku or senryu?
San Diego Bolts.

Forecast finish: 7-9

Apparel still sells
big. Guess kids don't know standings.
The Oakland Raiders.

Forecast finish: 4-12

The Scream
If Edvard Munch were alive today, this painting would be about his cell phone bill.

If Edvard Munch Had Gotten Weather Channel, His Most Famous Work Would Be Called The Smile: Everyone's glad "The Scream" by Edvard Munch has been recovered. But this painting does not, as commonly assumed, express existential dread. It's a painting about the weather! Chemicals pumped into the sky by the 1883 explosion of the Krakatoa volcano colored sunsets around the world as red as blood. In an era before television and Internet people did not know a strange-looking atmosphere was about to happen. Munch was walking with two friends in Oslo and observed the sky turning blood-red. The painter was terrified by this unexpected omen: "I watched the flaming clouds over the fjord and the city … I stood there shaking with fear and I felt a great unending scream … I painted the picture, painted the clouds as real blood." Bad weather, not man's inhumanity to man, is what the funny guy in "The Scream" is screaming about.

Brett Favre Vows to Play 20 More Years, Pass Andy Kelly in Record Books: Brett Favre needs 25 touchdown throws to surpass Dan Marino as the NFL's all-time leader. Even if he takes the NFL mark, Favre will have thrown only about half as many touchdowns passes as Andy Kelly of the Arena Football League's Utah Blaze, whose 767 career TD passes towers over Marino's 420. TMQ assumes that if high school, college and pro are combined, Andy Kelly has thrown more touchdown passes than any other member of genus Homo. If any reader has the exact career total for Kelly, send it to me using the address at Reader Animadversion.

NFC East

"Sopranos" ending,
but Jersey still has G-Men.
Jersey/A Giants.

Forecast finish: 11-5

Tom Cruise at QB,
team trains at Six Flags. Redskins
branded toothpaste next?

Forecast finish: 11-5

T.O. gone, focus
back where belongs: on cheer-babes.
The Philly Eagles.

Forecast finish: 10-6

Terrell, Parcells: the
Kramer vs. Kramer team.
Them Dallas Cowboys.

Forecast finish: 6-10

The Rigors of the New York Publishing Life: Months ago I received from an acquaintance in New York publishing an e-mail that ended, "Have a great weekend." The e-mail was sent Thursday afternoon. I saved it, planning to do an item on the exhausting regime of New York publishing life. Then last week I received another e-mail from a prominent figure in New York publishing, ending, "Have a good weekend." The e-mail was sent Wednesday morning.

Jennifer Lopez
Forget the trucker hats, the cool celebs will soon be wearing a TMQ hat.

TMQ Fashion Tips: Want to leave J-Lo, P-Diddy and L-Dopa in your stylistic dust? Now you can spend perfectly good money on ESPN TMQ hats and T-shirts featuring the new column logo. The hat is especially cool with logo in front and Tuesday Morning Quarterback stitched onto the side. And OK, so there is no celeb nicknamed L-Dopa, but there should be. (L-dopa is 3,4-dihydroxy-L-phenylalanine, used to treat Parkinson's disease; Arvid Carlsson and William Knowles won Nobel prizes for aspects of its discovery.)

Television Outsourcing Begins: The Wall Street Journal reported that MyNetworkTV, the new channel devoted to cheesy soap operas, is buying scripts from telenovela producers in Mexico and simply translating the scripts into English.

NFC North

For them, 3-0
considered high-scoring game.
The Chicago Bears.

Forecast finish: 9-7

Favre stumble on his
victory lap? Could happen.
The Green Bay Packers.

Forecast finish: 7-9

All-novice coaching
staff; owner new on job, too.
Minnesota Vikings.

Forecast finish: 6-10

Matt Millen in charge?
Like Paris running Hilton.
The Detroit Lions.

Forecast finish: 2-14

Journalists Decry Lack of Hurricanes: Don't you sense the media are disappointed there have been no deadly hurricanes this season? Especially after all those reports last year claiming 2005 hurricane incidence proved an artificial greenhouse effect. (The scientific case for greenhouse gases regulation is now strong, but hurricane incidence varies randomly; no one year proves anything.) Friday evening, as the remnant of Ernesto crossed the Carolinas, CBS Radio News led with a correspondent on the scene who breathlessly shouted into her mike, "The wind sure feels like more than 45 miles per hour!" My guess is that if the wind gauge said 45, then the winds were not, in fact, more than 45 mph. You could hear the disappointment in the correspondent's voice. Television loves hurricanes because they produce dramatic visuals that keep viewers glued to the tube. This season has been such a letdown! Maybe CNN and Fox will advocate more greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of increasing the number of future hurricanes.

Magazine Calls Date with Pit Bull Sexy: Annually TMQ chortles over the "What's Sexy Now" issue of InStyle magazine, which appears each September. The new "What's Sexy Now" issue crash-lands on newsstands at 606 pages -- the Collected Plays of Henrik Ibsen is 510 pages -- with four-fifths of the page count being advertising. People pay $6 to purchase InStyle, and lord knows how much in gasoline to drag its mass around, in order to flip through ads. Paying to look at ads: only in America!

Jessica Biel
If you want to woo Jessica, you'd better be able to catch a Frisbee in your mouth.

The annual "What's Sexy Now" issue attempts to determine, using the time-tested method of interviews with celebrities, what, at this exact moment in human history, is sexy. A few years ago, InStyle came to the counterintuitive conclusion that beautiful naked women are sexy. In another recent year, the magazine discerned gloom among celebrities and concluded that nothing was sexy. This year's verdict? It was "empowering" for Eva Longoria to wear a revealing bathing suit to the MTV Video Music Awards last year. Next, "black is sexiest when it envelopes entire objects." Jessica Biel is sexy because she is "playful but not frivolous." Biel's ideal romantic outing, InStyle informs us, would be a beach picnic with "Tina, her pit bull puppy." (It's left unclear whether Tina would be Biel's date.) Hugh Laurie likes to have sex in hotels because this allows "a chance to reinvent oneself in a new setting." Have you ever reinvented yourself in a hotel?

Amy Adams declares "there's a sexiness to the unknown," so perhaps she is aroused by thinking of distant galaxies. Blindfolded and gagged is sexy, but only if the necessary toys are bought at the ultra-expensive Kiki de Montparnasse boutique in Manhattan. Rosario Dawson comes to the counterintuitive conclusion that "passion is sexy." Kanye West thinks it would be sexy to have your name mentioned in the Bible. (This means Kezia and Kadmiel are sexy, but not Kanye.) Tiger Woods is the sexiest athlete, Angelina Jolie the sexist woman and Maroon 5 the sexiest band, InStyle concludes. Apparently the really sexy thing about Maroon 5 is that they do not produce any music.

NFC South

Cats' playbook: Smith right,
Smith left, Smith over middle.
The N.C. Panthers.

Forecast finish: 11-5

Gruden aging fast:
Should draft Ponce de León.
City of Tampa.

Forecast finish: 10-6

Move over Cowboys:
This now America's team.
The New Orleans Saints.

Forecast finish: 8-8

Mora on cell on
sideline; talking to Joe Horn?
Atlanta Falcons.

Forecast finish: 6-10

Clang! Clang! Clang! LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and Chris Paul combined to shoot 5-of-20 from the 3-point line as the United States lost to Greece, the third consecutive international flameout for a stacked American roster. Of course, NBA players are at a disadvantage in international games: Traveling is not legal, for example. The larger key makes it harder to barrel down the lane out of control until you slam into someone and draw the foul. Differences in rules and styles cause coordinated offensive plays to be essential in international games, and most NBA stars refuse to do anything but go one-on-one; many haven't run a back-pick since high school.

What struck TMQ about the coverage was that every story emphasized Greece won despite having no NBA players on its roster. Greece won because it had no NBA players on its roster! As Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post noted, while the Greek players showed teamwork and executed complex plays, the NBA guys on the U.S. side spent the contest strutting and pointing at themselves. The culture of shoe contracts and strut-oriented AAU basketball is ruining the American version of the sport, Wilbon asserted; TMQ cries, "Here here!" Let me add this thought. Once the United States dominated international basketball; our recent decline has coincided all but exactly with the decision to allow NBA players on U.S. Olympic and international-tournament teams. Obvious solution? Get rid of the NBA showoffs and go back to collegians. TMQ thinks the dozen best college basketball players of the United States, given a decent amount of practice time, would have beaten Greece. The NBA guys seemed not to have a clue what they were up against, since the Greeks used a tactic that is banned in the NBA: They performed as a team.

NFC West

Believe played Super
Bowl 11 on 18.
Seattle Seahawks.

Forecast finish: 11-5

Good news -- all seats sold!
Bad news -- crowd sees Cardinals!
AZ Cactus Wrens.

Forecast finish: 8-8

"Greatest Show on Turf"
now "Show That Occurs on Turf."
The St. Louis Rams.

Forecast finish: 4-12

May be league's worst team:
How the mighty have fallen.
The S.F. Niners.

Forecast finish: 4-12

Obscure College Score of the Week: Manchester 26, Tri-State 22. Located in Angola, Ind., Tri-State University "features Zollner Golf Course, a top-ranked 18-hole course, available to students right on campus." In TMQ's experience, virtually every college and university in the United States boasts of doing well in the influential annual U.S. News rankings -- though it cannot be that every school places highly. Tri-State proclaims, "For the third consecutive year, Tri-State University has been ranked among the top 50 comprehensive colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News." The "comprehensive colleges in the Midwest" category contains 52 listings.

Obscure College Score of the Week No 2: Central Missouri State University 78, Lincoln on Missouri 0. Ahead 59-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, Central Missouri nonetheless kept passing the ball in a frantic attempt to run up the score. Hey, CMSU coach Willie Fritz -- you should be ashamed of teaching your players such bad sportsmanship. Here you can listen to the Central Missouri marching band play the school fight song, "Go Mules."

Reader Animadversion: Got a complaint or a deeply held grievance? Write me at Include your real name and the name of your hometown, and I may quote you by name unless you instruct me otherwise. Note: Giving your hometown improves your odds of being quoted.

Next Week: During the preseason, Tuesday Morning Quarterback uses bland "vanilla" items to confuse scouts from other sports columns. Next week the season starts for real, and I'll open up the playbook -- multiple-formation grammatical structures (you should see the sentence diagrams!) and adjectives that come at you from all directions.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse," and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.