Tough wins reveal Super Bowl pairing

Over the years, TMQ has lauded Authentic Games: quality wins versus a formidable opponent. Last year, with a month remaining in the regular season, I used my proprietary Authentic Games metric to forecast a Super Bowl of Denver versus Seattle. That prediction did OK. All victories count the same, but authentic victories foretell a team's future. This year, Tuesday Morning Quarterback is diving into the deep end by posting the Authentic Games standings, beginning this week and continuing until the playoffs.

What's an Authentic Game? I'd like to say I possess a super-sophisticated algorithm that takes into account average gains running through the 50 gap on second-and-3, net punts into crosswind and the curvature of the Earth. Actually, I don't even have a definition of an authentic opponent. An Authentic Game is like pornography -- impossible to define, but you know it when you see it.

Authentic Games are those versus a playoff-caliber opponent, but what precisely does that mean? A team might be an authentic opponent early in the season, then drop out of that classification if its performance fades. Or it might start weak and end up authentic. Right now I'm counting New Orleans as an authentic opponent because TMQ takes the Saints seriously, but this may not last. I don't consider Buffalo authentic, though the Bills have a better record than the Saints. I view San Diego as authentic owing to its December potency, even though division rival Kansas City has a better record. The Chiefs aren't authentic so far but could become so soon, with upcoming consecutive games versus winning teams.

My "metric" sees Baltimore at 5-4 as authentic, if shaky; Cleveland at 5-3 as not. Miami is on the cusp of authenticity, while Green Bay could soon lose this status. Right now I consider Seattle and Santa Clara authentic, though the defending champions could lose this label and the Niners are receiving the benefit of the doubt based on previous seasons, not this season.

Like the companies in the Dow Jones index, the teams in my authentic club are whichever ones I say they are and are weighted based largely on hocus-pocus. All I know for sure is that last year, the Authentic Games index predicted the Super Bowl pairing.

In the table to the right are the initial Authentic Games standings for 2014 -- this will be a running item until the end of the regular season. Note I consider total victories more important than won-loss percentage -- for instance, Denver's 4-2 is better than New England's 2-0, though the latter is superior if one thinks in percentage terms. Again there's no super-sophisticated reasoning underlying this assumption, just a feeling that winning lots of big games while also losing a few is better than playing a soft schedule and not being tested often.

At the halfway point of the season, my Authentic Games metric predicts a Super Bowl of Denver versus Arizona. Note the Broncos and Cardinals not only have the most authentic wins but also they've participated in the most big games, which is almost as important. By that logic, keep your eye on Indianapolis, which has also been in many big games already. I called the Super Bowl early last year -- the pressure's on!

Tuesday is Election Day. Not voting is your prerogative. But if you don't vote, promise not to complain about government for the next two years.

Election Day raises two questions: Whether voters themselves are a cause of partisan gridlock and whether it's a waste of time to vote.

In this important article, Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic shows there is a generation-long trend of young people turning out to vote in presidential elections but not for midterms, while seniors turn out at about the same rate in both. The result is that Democrats do well when the White House is on the line -- taking the popular vote in five of the past six presidential cycles -- while Republicans do well at midterms. That's a formula for gridlock: With the parties exchanging the upper hand every two years, neither can really govern. Each has incentive to stall, stall, stall until its next expected victory comes around -- the way Republicans stalled, stalled, stalled in the House in the past two years, and Democrats, if retaining the Senate, may stall, stall, stall until 2016.

The framers of the Constitution intended it to be hard to enact legislation, so partisanship might not necessarily offend them. Especially when they were drunk (see below). And if it's true that millennials are shifting to the right politically -- expected to pay off the nation's astounding debt, millennials may become deficit hawks -- then partisanship may be resolved by a GOP majority. Or perhaps some force will cause a Democratic majority. The point is that everyone complains about partisan gridlock, yet one cause is voting patterns that produce Democratic margins in presidential years and Republican margins in midterms.

The larger question is: Why vote? "I don't like any of the candidates" is not a reason not to vote. If the choice for dinner is steak or veggie, saying, "I don't like either dish" doesn't help. In life, we must choose among available options. The strong reason not to vote is that it's all but mathematically impossible that any one person's ballot will decide an election. And if big turnouts have the useful effect of reminding politicians that the people are watching, it's all but mathematically impossible that any one person's vote will alter a turnout statistic. So why vote? You're more likely to be run over by a reindeer on the way to the polls than to cast a vote that determines who wins.

I'll tell you why I vote, including in every primary: because I like to. I like walking to the local elementary school, passing a forest of cheesy political banners, greeting my neighbors waiting in line, reporting my name to a poll judge, getting a card and entering a booth where no one but me will ever know who I favored or disfavored. I like buying something from the girls' soccer club bake sale table as I depart. These are rituals of civic democracy, and I enjoy participating. Given the math, voting because you like to is the best argument for trudging to the polls.

The bigger reason to vote is that what makes sense for an individual may not make sense for a community. Why should a parent have a child inoculated when so long as everyone else gets the shot, any one child is protected by herd immunity? Because if everyone thought this way, individual choice would backfire. Why stop at a stop sign if there's no other car around? Why report a crime when, even if the crook is caught, there will be more crimes anyway? Why refrain from littering even if there's no one around to notice? Democracies rely on civic self-discipline. People engage in positive actions of their own free will because they know the community will be better off as a result. Voting is such an act.

Last week TMQ ranked the four College Football Playoff teams using the ESPN Grade formula, which makes the radical assumption that student-athletes actually are student-athletes. I used the most recent data available when the column published. Later that same day, as scriptwriters say, the NCAA released 2014 data. See below for the playoff top four based on the upgraded graduation data, and for the midseason refresh of the ESPN Grade Top 25.

Stats Of The Week No. 1: In two trips to New England in less than a year, Denver jumped to a combined 28-point lead then was outscored by a combined 53 points.

Stats Of The Week No. 2: St. Louis had six sacks in its first seven games, then eight versus the Niners at Santa Clara.

Stats Of The Week No. 3: The Dolphins are on a 9-2 stretch versus San Diego, which hasn't won in Miami since Jan. 2, 1982.

Stats Of The Week No. 4: The Bengals are on a 13-0-1 regular-season home streak and a 0-3 postseason home streak.

Stats Of The Week No. 5: The Chiefs' Justin Houston is on pace for 24 sacks; the NFL season record is 22.5.

Stats Of The Week No. 6: Jersey/B is on pace to finish the season with five takeaways. The all-time season low is 11.

Stats Of The Week No. 7: The Raiders are on a 2-18 road stretch.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Last season, Nick Foles played 13 games and threw two interceptions; this season, he's thrown 10 interceptions in eight games. Foles is now out with a broken collarbone.

Stats Of The Week No. 9: Cleveland is 2-1 in its past three games -- versus the Bucs, Raiders and Jaguars, who have a combined record of 2-23.

Stats Of The Week No. 10: Peyton Manning is 8-12 as a starter when the kickoff temperature is below 40 degrees.

Sweet Play Of The Week: New England leading 20-7 on a day with gusting wind, Denver goes for it on fourth-and-6 from the Flying Elvii's 34, a classic Maroon Zone decision. The Patriots rush just three, the Broncos have six to block them. One of the six is tight end Julius Thomas, lined up as a fullback. He whiffs -- Thomas' allergy to blocking is an ongoing issue for the Broncs -- while three offensive linemen end up gang-blocking a single defensive lineman. Peyton Manning hesitates because New England shows an odd front with linebacker Jamie Collins lined up as if he is a cornerback. Down goes Manning on a sack -- with six guys to block three pass-rushers. Sweet defense.

New England frustrated Manning by jamming his receivers to disrupt their timing -- why all teams don't do this against the Broncos is a minor mystery -- while often showing mega-blitz, then backing out. Scouts' note: Unwanted Rob Ninkovich, let go by the Saints and Dolphins, is playing at a very high level for the Flying Elvii.

Later in the game, the Flying Elvii were leading 27-14 and facing fourth-and-5 in the Denver Maroon Zone (37-yard line). Tailback Shane Vereen flanks out, runs a quick pivot and makes the catch to convert the first down; the hosts score a touchdown later in the possession and take command. Vereen has assumed the role Kevin Faulk once played in Bill Belichick's offense, as the go-to guy to sneak out on short-yardage situations. Extra sweet for New England was that a pivot route was Wes Welker's favorite when he played for the Patriots. Belichick must have chortled over using it against Welker's Broncos.

I don't wish to alarm the rest of the league, but Tom Brady has 22 touchdown passes versus three interceptions, throwing to a motley crew that includes undrafted Danny Amendola, low-drafted Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, who was let go by the receiver-needy Panthers.

Sour Tactics Of The Week: When Patrick Peterson seemed to be taking a blocked field goal attempt back for a touchdown as time expired in the first half, Jason Witten did a fantastic job of running him down from behind. That was the Cowboys' only nice play in their second home loss in six days.

The pregame situation: The Boys were fielding a bumbling backup quarterback but boasted the league's leading rushing attack; running works best at home, where it feeds off crowd energy. The Cardinals have a bumbling secondary but a top rushing defense. So will Dallas pass or rush? You've already guessed: Adjusting for sacks and scrambles, Dallas coaches called 36 passing plays and 23 rushes. What do they teach coaches at Princeton, anyway? Arizona leading 14-10 in the third quarter, Dallas reached the red zone and went rush, incompletion, interception. Very sour.

Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Philadelphia at Houston, Texans star cornerback Johnathan Joseph left the game shaken up. Rookie Andre Hal took his position. Immediately, Philadelphia faked a toss sweep toward Hal, drawing him up to the line, then threw a deep post to his man. Sweet 59-yard touchdown reception that set in motion the Eagles' win.

That teams go straight at the pass defender who just came in is not some carefully guarded secret. Yet there was no safety in sight to help Hal and apparently no one warned him about what was sure to be coming. The Texans have 18 coaches and a "director of football research." None of them appeared to know that it's common to throw deep against a new corner.

Giants Barely Avoid Running Clock at Home in Prime Time: "Peyton Manning's record for passing yards in a season will remain, an NFL spokesman confirmed." Yes, but for how long? That statement came a mere 10 months ago. In football's offense a-go-go world, Andrew Luck is on pace for 5,484 passing yards this season, which would break Manning's record. In the first half at Jersey/A, Colts coaches called 32 passes and five rushes. The NFL is a passing league, and Indianapolis leads that league in passing -- a good sign for TMQ's preseason Super Bowl pick.

On the final down of the first half, Indianapolis leading 16-3, the Giants' Damontre Moore sacked Luck. Moore jumped up and did a wild celebration dance, as if he'd just cured cancer or brought peace to the Middle East. One does not thump one's chest whilst losing!

In Order To Form A More Inebriated Union: Reason.com reports that at a 1787 farewell party for George Washington, 55 people, among them founding fathers, drank 60 bottles of regular wine, 54 bottles of high-proof "fortified" wine, eight bottles of whiskey, seven bowls of spiked punch, and lots of beer and hard cider. Of course, they didn't have to drive afterward. Still, it's hard to see how they could remain standing, let alone conscious: The level of imbibing depicted could cause alcohol poisoning. "Across the country during the Colonial era, the average American consumed many times as much beverage alcohol as contemporary Americans do," Stanton Peele writes.

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. San Diego at Miami scoreless, the Bolts went for it on fourth-and-1 on the Genetically Engineered Surimi's 22. No shifts, no man in motion, no misdirection -- straight-ahead run stuffed.

Rams leading 13-10, Santa Clara had third-and-goal on Les Mouflons' 1 with nine seconds remaining. No shift, no man in motion, no misdirection -- simply a quarterback sneak, fumble, St. Louis recovers and wins. Plus fullback Bruce Miller should have been flagged for helping the runner -- he wrapped his arms around Colin Kaepernick and pushed him forward.

Trailing Arizona 14-10 at home in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-inches from the Cardinals' 34. Power set, no shifts, no misdirection -- the play was Load Left, which Dallas has been running, and getting stuffed on, for a quarter century. What do they teach coaches at Princeton, anyway? After the fourth-and-inches failure, Arizona controlled the remainder of the contest.

NFL teams have top-heavy coaching staffs that look like federal agency bureaucracies -- the Cowboys, for instance, have 20 coaches who do nothing all year long except football. The fact that on fourth-and-short, misdirection works and straight-ahead doesn't, is not some carefully guarded secret. So why do NFL teams insist on using plays that don't work on fourth-and-short -- often, a game's decisive down?

Longing For Conspiracies: In the run-up to today's midterm, many Democrats and their media supporters have decried what they claim is Republican suppression of minority voters, while many Republicans and their media supporters have decried what they claim is Democratic vote fraud. Neither claim withstands scrutiny.

Voter fraud is the Loch Ness Monster of politics -- lots of people say it exists yet no one can produce any evidence. A five-year Justice Department study conducted by the George W. Bush administration failed to uncover anything more than trivial instances of voter fraud. Justin Levitt of Loyola University Law School has found that since 2000, 31 instances out of about 1 billion ballots can be verified as voter impersonation. Levitt notes that laboriously impersonating someone else in order to cast a ballot is "a slow, clunky way to steal an election" bearing just shy of zero chance of impacting elections in which tens or hundreds of thousands of ballots are cast. Corrupt electioneering officials can indeed steal elections. But Republican anti-fraud initiatives don't concern election officials -- since there are plenty of Republican election officials -- rather, concern the ability of individuals to cast ballots.

Is it reasonable to require a photo ID to vote? This election cycle, NPR has run several pieces quoting people suggesting that photo ID rules are a repressive concept. Last month your columnist spoke at an event at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. I had to show a photo ID to get in.

On the flip side of the coin, if evil Republican rules are suppressing minority voters, wouldn't minority turnout be declining? But African-American turnout among registered voters has risen for four consecutive presidential election cycles -- black turnout rose under George W. Bush -- while Hispanic registered voter turnout was about the same in 2012 as it was when Bill Clinton ran for the White House. In 2012, African-American turnout reached 66 percent, compared to 55 percent in 1996. Minority-voter turnout could be better, but white-voter turnout could use some improvement, too. Young-voter turnout has dipped, and no one thinks young voters -- the most tech-savvy segment of society -- are being suppressed. It remains unsettled whether photo ID requirements are constitutional. This recent Government Accountability Office study found that voter ID laws slightly reduce turnout and also that voter fraud slightly skews results -- in other words, both parties' accusations are a wash.

This is a symbol of our polarized politics. The parties don't merely disagree, but insist on demonizing each other as cheaters. That fires up the base but is corrosive to civic democracy. Then when they fare poorly at the polls, both parties want to blame a conspiracy -- rather than face the fact that voters think they are doing a poor job.

ESPN Grade Update: This summer was kickoff for ESPN Grade, a new way of thinking about college football rankings. The big universities and the NCAA claim college football players are students first: ESPN Grade takes them at their word, and factors academics into the polls.

The ESPN Grade formula is one-third The Associated Press (media) poll, one-third the USA Today (coaches) poll, and one-third the team's position in a sort-of top 25 ranking by graduation rates. In the ESPN Grade rankings, the lower the number, the better.

Because NFL early entries are rare, they have little impact on graduation statistics. ESPN Grade uses the Graduation Success Rate calculated by the NCAA, a generous measure, rather than the stricter Federal Graduation Rate calculated by the Department of Education, more than compensating for any early-entry losses.

Applying the ESPN Grade formula to the top four, the academics-adjusted schools in the inaugural College Football Playoff would be: Alabama, first seed; TCU and Notre Dame, tied; Mississippi State, fourth seed.

Details on those four, and the full Top 25 by ESPN Grade, show that Florida State and Ole Miss, both in the initial CFP top four, plummet based on graduation rates. Ole Miss tumbles all the way to 19th in ESPN Grade, owing to a miserable 52 percent football graduation rate. Auburn, also in the initial CFP top four, lurks at No. 6 in ESPN Grade, based on decent commencement day numbers, following Oregon at No. 5. Nebraska and UCLA climb notably thanks to classroom results.

The big conferences and the NCAA say that academics matter. Why don't they put their money where their mouth is and factor graduation rate into bowl rankings?

There's a Reason Space Flight Is Really Expensive: SpaceShipTwo, Richard Branson's attempt to build a private space plane that would carry wealthy tourists to the boundary of the atmosphere, crashed last week, killing the co-pilot. The project's final goal, the lower boundary of space, would be risky no matter who was in charge of development. But the Branson project has always been a pipe dream, and a dangerous one at that; a 2007 SpaceShipTwo engine test explosion killed two workers instantly, while a third died later and three others were critically injured. The years of credulous praise Branson's project has received from the mainstream media both show lack of sophistication regarding technology, and it may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy -- convincing Branson he could do something he could not.

In 2008, this column spelled out the development costs and test regimes of space-bound projects that worked and concluded, "Branson has talked vaguely about how SpaceShipTwo can be developed and built on the cheap. In rocketry, cost-cutting leads to explosions ... I don't know about you, but I ain't getting on no space-bound machine that did not cost billions of dollars to develop and test." The new Bombardier C-Series small regional jets cost about $4.4 billion to develop; they are subsonic, fly no higher than 8 miles and employ well-established engine and fuel engineering. SpaceShipTwo, a supersonic vehicle using an unusual hybrid rocket, was developed for $400 million. This wasn't bold visionary entrepreneurship. This was reckless.

In 2012, this column warned, "The notion that a space plane can be thrown together quickly and on the cheap has always strained credulity, yet is swallowed whole by many journalists." The New York Times, BBC and other mainstream news organizations touted SpaceShipTwo, not raising red flags. In 2013, the Times said Virgin Galactic soon "will be carrying" space tourists, gullibly quoting Branson as saying service would begin in 2013 while skipping the complication of not even one all-up test flight. In May 2014 the Times gullibly quoted Branson saying regular commercial operation would begin "this year," downplaying the little complication that engine testing was still at a rudimentary stage. When SpaceShipTwo broke the sound barrier, the BBC led the cheers, skipping the complication that this brought Virgin Galactic only into the aeronautical engineering of nearly 67 years ago. A week before the crash, The Wall Street Journal unquestioningly reported that SpaceShipTwo commercial flight operations would begin "as early as next year."

"Privately built space plane" is the kind of story that journalists call "too good to check." Lester Holt acknowledged on "NBC Nightly News" that NBC had a contract with Virgin Galactic for exclusive footage of the first commercial flight, giving at least one major network an incentive to hype without skepticism. If any major news organization expressed doubts regarding SpaceShipTwo, I missed it.

There's a second private space plane enterprise, the XCOR Lynx, that has received credulous press from the Times, Journal and Scientific American. XCOR doesn't even have a demonstrator, let alone a space plane, yet is spoken of by the media as something real. Journalists and policy makers: Wake up about the private space plane nonsense! With current technology and current capital markets, it's a dangerous pipe dream.

Fuzzy Thurston Would Be Proud of the Modern Combo Pick Route: This season there's increased officiating emphasis on defensive holding. Fair enough. But this year it seems legal for the pick guy in a "combo" set to slam into the defensive back covering his wingman, freeing the wingman. Wide receivers are plowing into defenders as never before, without drawing flags.

San Diego at Miami, on a third-down pass, Mike Wallace slammed into the cornerback trying to cover Jarvis Landry, freeing him for the first-down reception. Arizona at Dallas, Jaron Brown slammed into the guy trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald, freeing him for a key reception. Obviously the league is trying to favor offense over defense. But if holding by cornerbacks is being enforced more strictly, shouldn't rules about mugging those same corners be enforced?

$846,000 A Day For Bottled Water: Unlike the space plane that crashed, the supply rocket that exploded at launch last week was unmanned. The rocket was the third of a $1.9 billion, eight-launch contract to carry about 5,000 pounds of cargo and experiments, per launch, to the International Space Station. That works out to about $47,000 per pound delivered.

Personnel aboard the space station use about 1.42 liters of fresh water per day, which is about three pounds of cargo weight at blastoff. (Some space station water is recycled but some is consumed by oxygen generators.) With six people currently aboard the space station, providing them 18 pounds of fresh water per day costs taxpayers about $846,000 daily.

What has the space station accomplished for this price? Chances are you cannot name any accomplishment by this project, whose total cost by now is as much as $160 billion, not including many tens of billions of dollars in launch costs. The space station is arguably the most expensive object ever constructed, and one could argue is humanity's greatest engineering achievement. But beyond spending a lot of money, it's not clear the space station has accomplished anything vaguely proportionate to cost.

Space science is important; someday space exploration will be important. The space station does a little space science, but mostly things that could be done by fully automated probes or satellites at a tiny fraction of the price. The space station has little if anything to do with space exploration. In the main, it is history's most technologically advanced boondoggle -- a special-interest subsidy to the Texas, Alabama, Florida and Maryland congressional districts where the manned-space centers are located, and to aerospace contractors, mainly Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The moon race ended long ago. Today, space spending must make sense and must offer some reasonable benefit to taxpayers. Space science, propulsion research and development of asteroid defense meet those criteria. The space station does not. Until a propulsion breakthrough, a Mars mission does not. At the price per pound delivered to the red planet of MAVEN, the most recent Mars automated probe, a fairly basic 4,000-ton manned mission would cost $36.8 trillion, more than double the current U.S. GDP. Would there be economies of scale? Sure. Cut that price in half and it's a little more than one year of GDP.

We're simply not going to Mars with current propulsion technology, and it would help if NASA leadership stopped pretending otherwise. But lack of rational cost-benefit analysis runs through the U.S. space program, as space station spending shows. This is a core reason the U.S. space program keeps spinning its wheels, if that metaphor applies to rocketry.

What Could McIlroy Have Been Thinking? Caroline Wozniacki ran the New York City Marathon rather than marrying Rory McIlroy in New York this month, as was the original plan. Famously, McIlroy called off the union just days after the invitations went out. Wozniacki finished a strong 3:26:33 while passing Ryan Reynolds to become the best-looking person to run the New York City Marathon.

Beach-Bum Teams Collide, East Coast Wins: The Bolts must be wondering if anybody got the number of the truck that hit them. Miami won 37-0, holding San Diego to 178 yards of offense. Should the Dolphins rise to the status of authentic or should San Diego fall from that status? We'll know soon enough. Miami's next three opponents are Detroit, Buffalo and Denver, which hold a combined record of 17-7.

Has Nick Saban Become a Welfare Queen? Many readers including Doug Marshak of Duluth, Minnesota, noted Alabama football boosters paid $3.1 million to buy Nick Saban's home -- $225,000 more than Saban paid for the home -- and are allowing him to live there rent free. Since Saban purchased the home in 2007, presumably he built some equity in it by the time of the 2013 purchase.

Perhaps a reader who works in finance would know whether Saban would pay capital gains taxes on the equity share he got back at the purchase or would owe income taxes (about twice as high) on the amount, since the purchase is a benefit of his employment. If you know the answer, tweet me @EasterbrookG.

The larger question -- did the donors who ponied up the $3.1 million claim tax deductions? The Crimson Tide Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that says donations are "tax deductible to the extent allowed by law." The foundation also says its sole role is to support University of Alabama athletics. It contributes nothing to education.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback has asked here, and in my book "The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America," why donations to college athletics -- an entertainment enterprise that serves no educational or public purpose -- should be deductible, which means taxpayers cover about a third of the expense.

And If X-Men Can Time Travel To Fix History, What's To Stop Ultron From Time Traveling To Un-Fix It? A few weeks ago I noted of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" that Wolverine's time travel from the year 2023 to 1973 caused events that rendered incomprehensible the previous movies "X Men," set in 2000, "X-Men: United," set in 2003, and "X-Men: The Last Stand," set in 2006. (The last should have been titled "X-Men: The Last Stand Until the Next Stand.") Twitter types protested that the time travel altered history in a way that prevented the events of the 2000, 2003 and 2006 movies from occurring. That's why when the latest flick ends, Scott Summers and Jean Grey can be alive again in the year 2023, if amazingly young-looking.

But if Wolverine's excursion to 1973 altered events, this would have already happened from the standpoint of the opening scene of "Days of Future Past." There won't be any invincible, autonomous, floating cyborgs pursuing the extinction of humanity -- from the standpoint of 2023, the instant Wolverine's mission to the past began, it had already occurred 50 years ago. Which, of course, means that the circumstances of 2023 that caused Wolverine to time travel would not have happened, so he never would have gone, so history would not have been saved -- and so on. Producers of action movies like plots that don't make sense. Time travel is becoming a Hollywood go-to because time travel can't make sense.

Hollywood also likes the concept of the "new time stream," an idea that exists in the special-effects department but not in physics. A "new time stream" means two versions of events existing simultaneously, or why there could be a universe in which most of the X-Men died and also a parallel universe in which they're all fine.

Comic books have been relying on "new time streams" for decades, allowing for endless reboot potential. Now "Star Trek" and "X-Men" have rebooted via time travel creating a "new time stream," and it may be only a matter of time until Batman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman and the rest tumble into a "new time stream" to reboot sequels. Perhaps if the big bang theory is correct and our universe of 100 billion galaxies came from a pinpoint with no dimensions and no content, superheroes can create entire new universes, too. To believe in time streams, an audience must believe that Wolverine's moving backward in time not only altered events, but also created an entire new universe of 100 billion galaxies in which his friends are alive and the cyborg apocalypse never occurred. But if "new time streams" are made on each occasion anyone moves around in time, there would be constant creations -- dozens, thousands, zillions of universes coming into existence whenever the button is pressed on the time-travel machine.

Final Score Minnesota Vikings 29, Baylor Bears 26: Versus Washington, Minnesota ran a sweet deuce on which tight end Rhett Ellison lined up as a wide receiver far left, then came in motion back toward the formation and provided the wham block at the point of attack; the Washington defense did not react to his shift. It was a dark day for the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons' defense. On Minnesota's first touchdown drive, twice no one at all covered a Vikings' receiver on the defensive right.

Robert Griffin III returned, and the Persons' offense looked like Baylor: hitch screens, zone read rushes. For the fourth consecutive season, the Persons are 3-6; post the Griffin megatrade, Washington is 16-26 including the postseason. Netting several transactions, in the past five seasons Washington has invested three first-round draft choices, two second rounds and a fourth round in signal-callers -- and in the offseason, may be looking for a quarterback.

Applying ESPN Grade To Michigan's Situation: Last Friday, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon resigned under pressure from boosters and alums unhappy with the football team's decline from the Top 25 and with stadium renovations intended to provide luxury to the 1 percent. Added to the bill of attainder should be that Michigan looks bad on graduation rates. The football graduation rate under Brandon averaged 69 percent, which would be acceptable at some lesser schools but is embarrassing at an elite institution like the University of Michigan.

Nearby Northwestern University plays in the same conference and recruits from the same base, both geographically and in terms of high school GPA. Northwestern posted a 97 percent football graduation rate in the latest data. And it's not that Michigan is playing higher-caliber football: Since the start of the 2012 season, Michigan is 19-16, Northwestern is 18-15. Alums and boosters may be worked up about the past couple of Wolverine-Buckeyes games; in the long run, the weak Michigan football graduation rate is more important.

The Election Gods Chortled: Your columnist's favorite news in the run-up to the midterms was polls showing that in the closely watched Iowa Senate race, Bruce Braley, the male candidate, led among female voters, while Joni Ernst, the female candidate, led among men. Politics shouldn't be about pre-packaged appeals to demographics, rather about who seems best for the job. It may be only a matter of time until a major contest in which black voters favor the white candidate while white voters support the black candidate. Post-race, post-gender is the future of politics.

They'd Be Safer Stuck In Traffic Like Everyone Else: TMQ rails against the absurdity, and waste of public money, of police escorts for football teams. Sunday's minor crash of the Washington teams buses at Minnesota was caused by the police escort.

We're All Professionals Here: The Steelers allowed back-to-back-to-back sacks, then punted on fourth-and-39. A half-dozen snaps later, Baltimore committed three penalties on the same play.

Last week, Ben Roethlisberger became the only NFL quarterback with two games of 500-plus yards passing. This week, he became the only NFL quarterback to throw 12 touchdown passes in a two-game span. The question begins to linger: Roethlisberger is known as a leader, not a passer, but is he actually a sophisticated passer?

The Football Gods Chortled: Leading No. 7 TCU 30-28 with less than two minutes remaining, West Virginia had the Horned Frogs backed up on their 27 and seemed poised for one of the season's major upsets. Second-and-7, TCU kept seven blockers back; WVU rushed three. That meant eight men to guard three receivers. Kolby Listenbee simply ran straight up the field -- and was covered by no one at all for the 40-yard gain that positioned the visitors for the winning field goal as time expired. Eight defenders to cover three when you know the play must go deep -- and no one covered the deep man.

Before, with the Mountaineers leading 30-21 early in the fourth quarter, the home crowd booed loudly when WVU rushed three times, then punted. West Virginia was trying to drill the clock! The home crowd booed again when the WVU quarterback was sacked on third-and-long on the next possession, and booed still more when three rushes failed to produce a first down before the hosts punted to TCU for the fateful play. Note to the West Virginia home crowd: Next time you're leading a top-10 college in the fourth quarter, don't boo your own team.

Hidden Play Of The Week: Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels but sustain or stop drives. New Orleans was leading 7-0 at Carolina, the Cats with possession on their 11 with 2:13 remaining before intermission, facing second-and-long. Sean Payton called his third timeout, not to change personnel, but just to stop the clock. The clock stopped again at the two-minute warning, the Saints got the ball back with 1:49 remaining for the drive that ended with a touchdown with three seconds left in the half.

Many coaches wouldn't call time out in this situation -- the "safe" move is not to extend the half when the other team has the ball. But a timeout in this situation, with the clock sure to stop again at the two-minute warning, created a chance for New Orleans to take a two-score margin into halftime. The 10-play, 85-yard drive was capped by Payton's decision to go for it at the Panthers' 1 with six seconds showing and New Orleans out of timeouts. New Orleans broke an 0-7 regular-season road streak. If New Orleans makes the playoffs, the timeout call will be an essential hidden play of the Saints' season.

"Safe" tactics backfire: reader Luis Valdovinos of Mexico City notes that trailing 21-7 early in the fourth quarter-- -- that's down by two scores -- the Panthers kicked a field goal and were still down by two scores. Then Ron Rivera didn't order an onside kick, rather had his charges kick away. The next time the home team touched the ball, New Orleans led 28-10 and fans were streaming to the exits.

Adventures In Officiating: On the final down before intermission at Santa Clara, the Niners missed a long field goal attempt. Tavon Austin of Les Mouflons was back to attempt a return. He fielded the ball, hesitated, stepped out of the end zone, stepped back, tackle. There was a lengthy discussion about whether Austin retreated into the end zone before being tackled; replay ruled forward progress at the 1: half over. It looked to your columnist as though Austin went backward under his own power: safety.

Be that as it may, why did he try to run the ball out in the first place, since the clock expired on the down? Putting a guy in the end zone on a long field goal attempt on the final down of the first half is a tactic that hopes to take advantage of a complacent offense that fails to cover the kick. Since the runback must go the length of the field, if the kicking team covers the kick, there's no chance. Santa Clara covered the kick well. Austin should have knelt in the end zone.

Leading 43-21 in the fourth quarter, New England lined up to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Broncos' 43. Then the offense and punt team exchanged positions, Tom Brady tried to run a quick sneak, officials held up play and the Patriots were called for illegal motion and ended up punting. Brady was livid, but the officiating was correct. If the offense substitutes, the defense must have a chance to substitute. The umpire correctly held the ball until the Denver defense came in.

On the 84-yard Julian Edelman punt-return touchdown that set the Broncos' sideline reeling (not another special-teams disaster at New England!), the Patriots should have been called for illegal block-in-the-back at the outset of the play, stranding them deep rather than leading to the PAT guys trotting in. But Denver had only itself to blame. Left gunner Omar Bolden was way out of position, cutting to the center of the field. "Stay in your lanes!" coaches bellow at gunners. Edelman sprinted down the very sideline zone that Bolden abandoned.

Follow-Up Goofy NBA Trade: Last week, the Knicks traded Travis Outlaw to Philadelphia for Arnett Moultrie. Both players were immediately waived by their new employers. Neither team actually wanted either guy -- the essence of being an NBA general manager is getting rid of players! New York ended up with some cap space by shedding Outlaw's contract, the 76ers ended up with a second-round draft pick for transferring cap space to the Knicks. (Philadelphia must pay the remainder of Outlaw's guarantee but has more cap room than New York.) The extra draft pick will be added to the 76ers' impressive hoard -- last June, Philadelphia had two first-round and five second-round selections. The 76ers continue to offload players for draft picks, allowing them to keep long-term expectations high and short-term expectations low.

The 500 Club: Hosting Duke, Pitt gained 594 yards, committed no turnovers, posted a hard-to-believe 37 first downs, punted just once and lost. The Panthers' James Conner rushed for 263 yards, which is nowhere near enough to win a modern college football shootout.

The 600 Club: Hosting Tennessee, South Carolina gained 625 yards and lost. Pharoh Cooper gained 256 yards from scrimmage, which turns out to be nowhere near enough to win a modern college football shootout.

The 700 Club: Visiting Butler, Morehead State gained 706 yards, recorded 32 first downs, had three receivers with at least 100 yards gained and lost. Reader John Denny of Big Rapids, Michigan, reports that versus Ferris State, Lake Erie gained 706 yards and lost.

Belongs In Some Kind Of Club: The Murray State Racers are averaging 38 points per game and are 3-6.

Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk (College Edition): Maryland leading 20-19, Penn State faced fourth-and-1 on its 28 with 26 seconds remaining, holding two timeouts. The Nittany Lions tried to run a quarterback sneak; a botched C-Q exchange ended the contest. But why were they trying to run a quarterback sneak? Penn State needed to gain at least 45 yards and had just 26 seconds in which to do so. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin may have been nervous facing his former employer, who many touts think erred by not offering him the head coach's whistle four years ago.

Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk (Pro Edition): When City of Tampa, trailing 22-17 at Cleveland, faced third-and-1 on its 37 with two minutes remaining and holding a timeout, that situation provided ample clock for a rush to pick up the first down. Instead the Bucs went incompletion, incompletion, penalty, game over.

Obscure College Score: Trinity (Illinois) 63, Trinity (Bible) 21. Spectators chanted, "Go, Trinity!" There is also Trinity of Connecticut, Trinity of Texas, Trinity of Florida and Trinity of Dublin, Ireland. Yet no Unitarian University! Located in Deerfield, Illinois, Trinity International University calls itself a university despite having no graduate students, and fields a football team despite just 1,000 undergrads. About 10 percent of the student body is on the team.

Obscure College Scandal: California of Pennsylvania, among TMQ's favorite obscure colleges, canceled Saturday's game after five football players were arrested and accused of assaulting a man and leaving him with severe brain trauma. A couple of days later, a sixth player was arrested and suspended. Arrests are only accusations, which may or may not prove true. But the situation can't be good.

Next Week: What if Tom Brady and Peyton Manning played each other in 43-man squamish?