By Bill Simmons
Page 2

The most common e-mail from readers the past five days: Did the Dallas loss qualify as a full-fledged Stomach Punch Game?

Umm, did you even need to ask? That surpassed a mere stomach punch and seemed more like someone getting repeatedly cracked over the head with a metal chair. In the past 10 years of the NFL playoffs, there were three particularly brutal defeats: the Music City Miracle, the Tuck Rule Game, and now, the Romo Game. The Music City Miracle was an ingenuous fluke; the Tuck Rule, an unfair twist of fate; the Romo Game, an epic blunder that capped an improbable collapse. It's impossible to say which defeat caused the most pain, but any time a game can be remembered by a nickname or phrase, it's never a good thing.

Tony Romo
AP Photo
Twenty years from now, Dallas fans will remember The Oh No Romo Game.

Of course, the Romo Game and subsequent fallout obscured a more pertinent question: Namely, was anyone surprised that the 2006 Cowboys blew a game so memorably? Just like the Giants, they were a sloppy, underachieving group that always kept opponents in games and self-destructed at the wrong times. Normally, the head coach gets blamed (and fired) when this happens, but it looks as though both Tom Coughlin and Bill Parcells will return next season. And sure, I can see how the Giants talked themselves into an "it's hard to blame Coughlin when we had so many injuries" mind-set, even though it's absolutely ridiculous, like Britney suddenly blaming her recent problems on postpartum depression or something. But what about the Cowboys and Parcells? What's their excuse? Why wouldn't Parcells take the brunt of the blame for such a disappointing season? Why would the Dallas fans want him back and, more importantly, why would he want to come back?

For much of the 2006 season, Parcells stood on the sideline looking like the foreman of a hopelessly deadlocked jury, someone with no real hope of turning anything around. His team made too many mistakes, got flagged for too many killer penalties and gave up too many big plays. He pulled the trigger on the Bledsoe-Romo decision about three weeks too late. He couldn't prevent TO from being a constant distraction. Before the QB change temporarily turned Dallas' season around, reports trickled out that his friends and family were worried about his health and couldn't understand what happened to his legendary fire. Watching from afar, I found myself wondering the same thing. The 2006 version of Parcells paled in comparison with the Parcells from New England, the guy I remembered and loved, an abrasive, larger-than-life character who revived my favorite team in the mid-'90s before ultimately boning over the entire fan base like a wrestling heel. Watching the Dallas incarnation of Parcells was like watching Pacino in "Two For The Money." Yeah, it was Parcells ... but not really.

Then I realized something: He's old.

I know, I know ... we're not breaking any ground by calling a 65-year-old man "old." At the same time, we can make excuses and point to success stories like Dick Vermeil and Marv Levy, but the fact remains, most American males either retire between 55 and 65 or scale their responsibilities back to some degree. Why? Because they're freaking old!!!!!

For instance, Bill Parcells turned 62 three years ago. Think about that for a second. He can get into movies for half price. He can collect Social Security. He's old enough to remember when Rita Hayworth was hot. This guy should still be working 70-hour weeks, frantically constructing game plans for 13 to 17 teams in a four-month span, presiding over a 53-man roster and 10 assistants, handling a relentless media corps and passionate fan base, running mini-camps and training camps, scouting rookie prospects and signing free agents, balancing the competing egos and agendas of his offensive and defensive units, inspiring players who make more money than him, and dealing with lunatics like TO? Really? That sounds like the right job for a 65-year-old man? Shouldn't every head coach have a shelf life of 15-20 years and that's it? Bullfighters can hang around too long; so can wrestlers, porn stars, comics, TV executives, politicians, Supreme Court justices, even sports columnists. Why can't the same go for coaches?

This isn't about age as much as the demands of this particular profession. It's the hardest in sports, an incredibly complex, punishing, thankless job. Just look at the physical effects on head coaches who stick around for extended periods of time. Remember during the Dallas-Seattle game, when NBC ran a split-screen of Parcells and Mike Holmgren from the Packers-Patriots Super Bowl in '97, then followed it up with a live split-screen of them during Saturday's game ... and they looked a good 20-25 years older. It was positively creepy, right?

Bill Parcells
AP Photo
The Tuna has lost his edge ... he's just round now.

That's why, in Parcells' honor, I'm introducing the Speed Limit Coaching Corollary. If the coach of your favorite team is older than 55, or if your team is about to hire someone who's older than 55, there's a good chance you should start preparing for a frustrating stretch of football. Consider the following things:

• If you picked the best 2006 coaching jobs strictly in terms of "maximizing the talent on hand," any unbiased person would go with Sean Payton, Bill Belichick, Eric Mangini, Jeff Fisher, Lovie Smith and Brian Billick in some order. I would also include Mike McCarthy and Mike Nolan for overachieving with crummy teams, and we probably should include Andy Reid to be safe (even though he's overrated by the media and a notoriously bad clock-management guy). Anyway, every coach we just mentioned is younger than 55 years old; everyone but Billick and Belichick is younger than 50. There isn't a geezer on the list.

• The following "famous" coaches presided over underachieving, shoddy and/or terrible 2006 teams and peaked at least 7-8 years ago: Parcells, Coughlin, Denny Green, Joe Gibbs and Art Shell. All of them are older than 55.

• In the past three decades, seven famous 55-plus coaches were lured out of retirement or college and bombed miserably: Mike Ditka (Saints), Buddy Ryan (Cards), Tom Flores (Seahawks), Chuck Knox (Rams), George Seifert (Panthers), Steve Spurrier (Redskins) and Hank Stram (Saints). Three others acquitted themselves much better: Jim Mora (a 13-win season with the Colts), Dick Vermeil (a Super Bowl with the Rams) and Marty Schottenheimer (currently presiding over the Super Bowl favorite). Does a 30-percent success rate sound enticing to you?"

• Respected coaches like Tom Landry, Bud Grant, Don Coryell, Chuck Noll, Dan Reeves and Don Shula hung on with their longtime teams for 3-8 years too long (depending on the coach) before finally packing it in. All of them reached that "hanging on too long" point after hitting the 55-year mark.

Maybe coaching isn't a young man's game, but it's definitely a younger man's game. Read any story about a successful younger coach (Mangini, Payton, even guys like Gruden, Belichick and Vermeil back in the day) and the same themes keep cropping up: These guys live for their jobs. They don't see their families. They work 80-hour weeks. They sleep on their office sofa. They get up at 3:30 in the morning looking for an edge. They watch so much tape their eyes glaze over. They aren't mellowed by trophies and awards or grandkids or swollen bank accounts. They're still hungry. They have something to prove. And given the demands of the job, wouldn't you need a never-ending wealth of energy to coach in the National Football League? You need to think fast, crack the whip, scream and yell, figure out enigmatic players in their 20s, keep burning that midnight oil, and evolve with the ongoing changes in the game ... the older you get, the harder it gets. You become stuck in your ways and more resistant to change. That's a terrible trait for an NFL head coach.

Two other factors come into play. First, who's going to work harder to prepare his team on a weekly basis -- a younger guy gunning for respect and a megacontract, or an older guy who already made $25-30 million in his career? And second, older coaches aren't nearly as intimidating as younger coaches because they always seem to have one foot out the door. They could leave because of TV opportunities (like Jimmy Johnson); because they're too old-school to deal with the newer generation of players (Coughlin); because they might not have the same fire anymore (Parcells and Gibbs); or because they're just plain old (Vermeil and Levy). But it's always something. Were the Giants and Cowboys naturally predisposed to being sloppy teams ... or were they poorly managed, poorly motivated, poorly prepared and going about their collective business without any real fear for their futures? You tell me.

Eric Mangini
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
The Sports Guy would rather have Eric "Mangia Mangia" Mangini.

All I know is this: I'd rather hire a younger coach who was mentored by the right people and hope he grows into the job over an older coach who already peaked. For instance, look at Mangini's successful season with the Jets. He never played football past the Division III level in college, never worked as a head coach in his life ... hell, just 12 years ago, he was doing grunt work in the PR department for the Cleveland Browns. Then he spent the next decade getting his Ph.D. from Belichick Academy, and the rest was history. Bill Parcells probably has forgotten more football than Mangini has ever known, but maybe that's the problem -- Mangini is still learning about football, amassing knowledge, busting his butt and moving in a specific direction, whereas Parcells is simply running on the fumes of what he already knows.

And maybe Parcells won't be the first person who springs to mind when we're remembering the Romo Game 40 years from now. But we'll always remember that he was coaching the team that choked, and we'll always remember that it wasn't a complete surprise. That's the risk of exceeding the speed limit with your head coach.

(In a related story, both Belichick and Mike Shanahan turn 55 before the start of next season. Hmmmmmmmmm.)

Before we delve into the Round 2 picks, let's hand out some awards for Round 1:

The Gen. Custer Award: Herm Edwards
How do you attack a team that's stacking the line with eight guys? Naturally, by running the ball right into them, avoiding play-action completely and not throwing the ball deep despite having one-on-one coverage on both sides. Good God, was that an epic stink bomb by the Chiefs or what? Hasn't Herm ever played a video game before? Didn't he know beforehand that Indy would stack the line and force Trent Green to beat them? Everyone spent the next few days writing that Indy's defense "rose to the occasion" ... umm, if you stack the line with eight guys and the other team keeps stubbornly running into you, did you rise to the occasion, or do you get a free pass for the week? I'm going with the latter.

(On a semi-related note: Am I the only one who's played so many hours of football video games the past two decades that it has warped me into thinking I could absolutely serve as an offensive coordinator for an NFL team? I watched that entire Chiefs-Colts game saying things like, "They should go single-back play-action, clear out the right side by sending Kennison deep and send Gonzalez in the vacated territory on a 10-yard out" and feeling 100 percent confident that my plays would have worked. I think I need professional help.)

Best Art Shell impersonation: Eric Mangini
Look, I'm not dissing the Mangenius' coaching skills -- the Jets played the first three quarters perfectly and scared the living bejesus out of me and every other Pats fan. He did a great job. It was like watching a chess match. But did you see Mangini move, smile, laugh, speak or blink for four quarters? He was only missing a pair of sunglasses, a mustache and Andrew McCarthy. Let's get him drinking more coffee before the 2007 season starts.

(New York reader Kasota Stone was less impressed: "The fascinating apprentice/mentor rift between Mangini and Belichick reminded me of a scene from D.A. Pennebaker's 'Don't Look Back' documentary capturing Dylan's 1965 English tour. Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan and his entourage are sitting around a London hotel room. Donovan, the new flash in the pan on the English pop charts, takes the guitar and plays a pretty little tune. The room seems impressed with the new kid. Then Dylan, like a male lion rousted from sleep by an unruly cub, takes the guitar and proceeds to play a song he'd been working on, a little number called "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." After Dylan finishes mesmerizing the room, Donovan's stunned face seems to say it all, 'I'm sorry. I know my place.' The Patriots' schooling of the Jets proves Mangini is still playing Donovan to Belichick's Dylan.")

The "Do you believe in miracles?" award for the best Al Michaels moment of this century
Not only did Al set up a crucial third down for the Cowboys defense by saying, "Now they're going to try to put the finger in the dike," but when they dropped the ensuing interception, Michaels yelped, "That would've been a pretty good finger in the dike!" Sadly, there isn't a single follow-up joke to make that won't get me fired.

(Speaking of Al, I admired his restraint during Seattle's failed two-point conversion that prevented the Seahawks from covering the spread and doubled as one of the more underrated moments in recent gambling history. But that got me thinking -- I know networks would never do it, but how great would it be if they split-screened pivotal/underrated gambling moments with the crowd from a Vegas sports book? Do you think we can talk Roger Goodell into this? He seems like a reasonable guy.)

Player most sorely in need of a fu manchu or playoff beard: Stephen Gostkowski and Eli Manning (tie)
I can't speak for the Giants fans, but I'd feel better before every big Gostkowski kick if he had some facial hair. Every time the Patriots drive past the 35 and they show him on the sideline, he has that same wide-eyed, semi-pubescent, slightly overwhelmed look of a 15-year-old kid watching his parents open that month's Comcast bill and hoping they won't notice the three porn charges on there. Although maybe it's just an act to lower everyone's expectations. Yeah, that's what it is, an act. I feel better.

Herm Edwards, Tony Dungy
AP Photo
"Sorry about next week, Tony. Maybe the Ravens will forfeit?"

Goofiest subplot: The Edwards-Dungy friendship
I love when NFL coaches are good friends and have to do the dueling "Even though we won, I'm feeling for my buddy over there" and "If we were gonna lose, that's one team I don't mind losing to" routines, capped off by an emotional postgame hug and a lot of smiling and nodding. Maybe I'm different with my friends, but if you were coaching against one of your good buddies, wouldn't you agree to screw with the media more the week of the game? For instance, Herm should have gone into last Tuesday's news conference and said coldly, "I'm not answering any questions about Tony this week -- he knows what he did." Everyone would have freaked out. And they should have agreed to skip the postgame handshake so everyone would have been asking "Why did they skip the postgame handshake? What's wrong with these guys?" rather than asking things like "Why did KC run the ball into an eight-man line?" and "When are we all going to admit that Peyton Manning sucks in January?"

Best Hollywood ending: Seattle-Dallas
That botched field goal broke the record for "the real-life sports moment that brought back memories of the most TV shows or sports movies, including the end of 'North Dallas Forty' (the most obvious and eerie connection), Ampipe High's late-game collapse in 'All the Right Moves' and even an oldie but goodie ... Happy Days.'" I'll let Howard from Los Angeles explain:

"Have you ever seen that episode of 'Happy Days' where Richie Cunningham was the hero in a big basketball game? He was feeling really good about himself until he ended up losing a game by blowing a free throw with no time remaining. I couldn't help but think about that episode after watching the game on Saturday night. Tony Romo was the toast of the town after taking over from Bledsoe, being interviewed on TV and dating starlets like Carrie Underwood. Now, he's being compared to people like Buckner and C-Webb. All we need now is Parcells acting like Mr. C and giving him a pat on the back and some Life Savers to make him feel better."

Most underrated performance: the officials from the Pats-Jets game
We're always complaining about refs, especially during the playoffs, but give them credit for not blowing a whistle as Pennington's backward pass was rolling around. That wasn't an easy call for a group that's normally overmatched. By the way, if you were an offensive coordinator, would you ever call a backward pass? Seems as though it works 20 percent of the time, quietly fails 20 percent of the time and becomes a complete disaster the other 60 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the shuffle pass seems to work 90 percent of the time, and Brady's QB quick-sneak has worked approximately 979 out of 980 times. Isn't there a way to keep track of off-the-cuff plays and how often they work over an NFL season? And yes, this is a direct challenge to our friends at Elias and Stats Inc.

Sideline interview we needed most during Round 1: Al Gore
Did you notice the effects of global warming on the NFL playoffs? A Patriots home game in January ... and it's 55 degrees outside? What the hell? Seriously, what the hell??? Whatever happened to the frozen tundra? Thankfully, here's the weather forecast in Chicago for the Seattle game: "Light wintry mix, possible rain. Highs in the mid-30s and lows in the 20s." I feel better.

Most effective ad campaign: Chevy Silverado
Let's flip "This is ourrrrrrr country" around for a second. Isn't the goal of any commercial to get people to notice your product? When ads come on, we're either flicking channels or zoning out into a three-minute coma until the game comes back on, so there are only four ways we'd ever notice an ad: if it's a fantastic commercial (which rarely, if ever, happens); if they happen to startle us (like those Jetta ads that show car accidents and people crashing into air bags); if there's a good-looking woman (like the saucy brunette in the Mercury ads); or if they annoy us to the point that we start reacting like a dog listening to a fireworks display (like the Mellencamp ads). Which leads me to believe that the most effective commercial possible would feature the saucy brunette from the Mercury ads driving a Jetta while singing along to that Mellencamp song, then crashing into another car and slamming face-first into an air bag. This is ourrrrrr country.

(Speaking of commercials, how creepy is the Hertz commercial with Chris Farley's brother looking and acting exactly like Chris Farley? If this eventually leads to "Tommy Boy 2" with David Spade and Farley's brother, I'm leaving the country.)

Dante Hall
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Modern technology can't measure Dante's decline.

Quietest decline into mediocrity: Dante Hall
When's the last time you watched somebody kick it to him and thought, "Uh-oh, something's gonna happen here!" Was he replaced by an impostor? Was the real Dante Hall kidnapped and tied to a chair in somebody's basement in Denver the past three seasons? What's the furthest somebody's Madden rating has dropped over a three-year stretch?

Funniest running subplot: The sideline shots of an incredulous Tom Coughlin after something went horribly wrong
By the fourth quarter of the Eagles game, it looked as though Fox was looping the same shot of him over and over again, a little like how Keanu kept looping the same camera angle of the bus to fool Dennis Hopper in "Speed." Maybe that's what they were actually doing. But I watched the game at a friend's house, and there was one moment in the sequence of Chris Snee penalties when we were sitting there waiting for the generic Coughlin reaction shot, and when it finally came, everyone laughed uproariously. He's the best.

Best announcing performance: Cris Collinsworth
Consistently candid and interesting throughout the Chiefs-Colts game. My favorite part: When the refs called a pass interference on KC and he made the "ever since that New England playoff game a few years ago, you're not allowed to touch the Colts receivers anymore" joke. I continue to be amazed that our one indispensable NFL analyst -- seriously, who else has the gonads to announce a Colts playoff game and repeatedly point out that Manning looks jittery? -- is trapped announcing games with Bryant Gumbel, moderating debates between Cris Carter and Dan Marino and fighting for air time on halftime shows with three other guys. It's completely inexplicable.

(Speaking of Manning, I thought this was funny from Diana L. in Chicago: "As a girl and a very new Jets fan, today was the first time I watched a non-Jets football game. I decided to check out the Colts-Chiefs game and could not get over how weird Peyton Manning looks in a football uniform. I'm so used to seeing him in commercials and not actually playing football. I kept on expecting him to come out of the huddle and endorse something." Ladies and gentlemen, the Peyton Manning era! In a related story, his postseason record is 4-6.)

Best brief impersonation of a video game sequence: Seattle-Dallas
Remember what happened before Jason Witten's catch was reviewed, when it looked as though Dallas would have first-and-goal from the 1 and Seattle would have to pull the old "We'll let you score to get the ball back" routine, only Dallas could have foiled them by having Romo take a knee, so Seattle's only other option would have been to keep intentionally jumping offsides until Dallas was so close to the end zone that the Cowboys couldn't have resisted punching it in? Who else was getting "Madden" video game flashbacks? We even had Madden announcing! I feel cheated. The next day, the Giants clearly should have allowed Philly to score a TD so they could get the ball back and never did it.

Which leads me to wonder: I've already made the argument for coaches hiring a clock-management consultant (Andy Reid clearly needs one) and a VP of common sense (to talk them into things like, "Definitely try to punch it in on fourth-and-goal, otherwise you're giving up either an extra four points or 30 yards of field position and you're showing no confidence in your offense" and "Maybe we shouldn't call that quick pass to Terry Glenn on our own 1-yard line and just run the ball three times; we have the lead, for God's sake"). Well, why wouldn't they also have some slacker college student who has played 250,000 hours of "Madden" the past three years and faced every conceivable football situation on hand to throw out advice like, "Dude, let them score here; we can get the ball back down eight?" With those three advisers flanking him on the sideline, even Bruce Coslet would have been unstoppable.

On to the Round 2 picks ...


The Sports Gal Speaks
Whenever Bill complains about writer's block, I always assume it's an excuse for him to play video games, watch old Boston games from when he was 8, look up stats for the League of Dorks, talk to the other weirdos on his Celtics chat board or do whatever else he does when he's "procrastinating" until he's "feeling it." Then I couldn't come up with a rant for this week and realized his job is harder than I thought.

Initially, I wanted to write about the "Bend It Like Beckham" family selling out, betraying their country and moving to the USA for $250 million. That really annoyed me until I remembered that we moved to L.A. and left Boston for significantly less, so I dropped the idea entirely. Then I got wound up because one of my favorite young actresses (Scarlett Johansson) apparently is dating my "boyfriend" JT even though he just broke up with Cameron Diaz. My antennas are up on Scarlett because she's starting to remind me of a young Angelina Jolie -- you know, the Angelina who never washed her hair and wore blood vials around her neck, not the one who breaks up marriages, frequents third-world countries and pretends she's British. Did you know that Scarlett has dated Jared Leto, then Josh Hartnett and now JT? Three of my favorites. If she's ever in the same room with Bill and even glances in his direction, I'm going to break a wineglass over her head. But who knows whether the Scarlett-JT thing is true? I need to wait another week on this.

Then I started getting desperate, thinking about a bunch of random things that bother me but might not necessarily be interesting to other people. For instance, it really bothers me that Albert Pujols won't change the pronunciation of his last name to "Poo-ho-lays." Why would you want to go through life as "Poo Holes?" The "Deal or No Deal" models bug me because they peek into the suitcases now and milk their 10 seconds for all it's worth. Ladies, just shut your trap, open the case and be thankful you're not clinging to a stripper's pole anymore. On the home front, we have two great dogs -- a male named Rufus and a female named Dooze -- but Rufus continues to hump the Dooze with a stuffed animal in his mouth and we can't get him to stop. It's really becoming a problem. What is he thinking? I know it's an act of dominance and not a sexual thing, but why? Why does he do it? And why does the stuffed animal need to be involved?

Unfortunately none of these things is worthy of its own rant. So after battering my brain and battling writer's block for two hours, I came to the conclusion that I'm not getting paid for this.

Here are my picks for Round 2: Ravens (-3.5); Saints (-5); Seahawks (+8.5); Pats (+5).

Playoffs: 4-0
Regular Season: 129-121-6

NEW! The Complete Sports Gal Archive

RAVENS (-3.5) over Colts
One of my favorite heavyweight fights ever was Foreman-Frazier, and not just because of Cosell's famous "Down goes Fra-zah! Down goes Fra-zah!" call. It's a classic lesson in styles -- sometimes in boxing (and in football), you'll stumble across someone who matches up against you perfectly, and there's absolutely nothing you can do. The memorable thing wasn't that Foreman knocked down Frazier six times but that the same result would have happened if they fought two months later. He was just too big and too strong for Smokin' Joe, and that was that.

I see this Ravens game going the same way -- the Colts are a finesse/speed team on both sides of the ball, whereas this nasty Baltimore team was built for January. The Ravens probably watched the tape of Manning's happy feet last weekend and thought to themselves gleefully, "We're going to pound the living crap out of him, and he'll be throwing it up for grabs by the third quarter." Offensively, they can run the ball a little (just enough to keep you honest) and always seem to get 2-3 fortunate plays -- a long pass where a D-back falls down, a deflected pass that lands in the right hands, a timely pass interference penalty -- and that's not a knock, because luck plays a huge role every January (as we saw with the '02 Pats and the '06 Steelers). Maybe it took me a long time to come around on this team, but any naysayer has to admit that the Ravens are doing one thing (smashmouth football) better than any other team does anything else. That's usually how you end up with a Super Bowl trophy.

(Of course, if McNair gets hurt and Kyle Boller has to play this month ... forget we had this conversation.)

The Pick: Baltimore 20, Indy 10.

SAINTS (-5) over Eagles
I loved the Saints in this one even before Lito Sheppard got hurt. Blitzing Drew Brees is like trying to trap Nash and the Suns -- just a bad idea all the way around. So how can Philly possibly stop them with a tired, banged-up defense and just six days to prepare? You got me. That means the Eagles need to turn this game into a shootout ... which would be fine if they didn't have Jeff Garcia leading the offense in the deafening Superdome. I keep seeing McNabb staring out to the field with one of those "I'm bummed out we're getting crushed, but on the other hand, thank God I don't have to spend the spring and summer listening to local radio shows bitching that they should trade me" looks on his face.

The Pick: New Orleans 34, Philly 16

Jack Bauer (+13.5) over THE CHINESE
Two nights away. I'm giddy.

The pick (in body counts): Jack Bauer 23, The Chinese 0.

BEARS (-8.5) over Seahawks
I know this flies in the face of my "No NFC team should be favored by more than three points over any other NFC team" proclamation last week. I just can't stomach the thought of backing a bad playoff team on the road. Alexander looks as though he's playing at 50 percent. Hasselbeck has turned into the new Jake Delhomme -- someone who's been stinking up the joint for a solid year and everyone refuses to admit it. The defense looks terrible, and so does the special-teams play. This isn't a team built to win a road game in January in crappy weather. Couldn't the Bears blow Seattle out without getting anything from their QBs? I say yes. Besides, I haven't seen anyone take Chicago this week. And you know what that means.

The Pick: Chicago 33, Seattle 8

Patriots (+5) over CHARGERS I know how it looks on paper. I know the Pats have to play perfectly to win. I know they can't turn the ball over. I know they have to knock Tomlinson around like they did Marshall Faulk in Super Bowl XXXVI. I know they can't give up any long plays to Antonio Gates. I know they can't screw up on special teams. I know they have to run the ball, keep running the ball and keep San Diego off the field. I know that it's intimidating to face a San Diego defense with two known steroid guys on it -- after all, people who use steroids are prone to violent acts of rage.

But I also know these four things:

A. Two Januarys ago in this space, not only did I vow never to pick Marty Schottenheimer in another playoff game but I gave you permission to slice my Achilles tendons if it happened.

B. Marty's playoff record is 5-12; Philip Rivers' playoff record is 0-0.

C. The playoff record for Belichick and Brady as a team: 11-1.

D. Not only are the Pats getting five points but they're nearly 2-to-1 underdogs. If I took you to a boxing match where an 11-1 heavyweight was fighting a 5-12 heavyweight, then suggested "Let's wager on this -- you take the 5-12 heavyweight, I'll take the 11-1 guy, and you give me 2-to-1 odds," is there any way you would take that wager?

Didn't think so. Maybe the Patriots can't win in Baltimore (we'll get to that next week), but they can absolutely win in San Diego. And they will.

The Pick: New England 30, San Diego 27.

Last week: 4-0 Regular Season: 128-122-6

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.