Longtime TMQ readers know my compromise with my Baptist upbringing is to believe sex is good, gambling is bad. But if you must wager, take the home teams in the divisional round this weekend. They are the surest sure-thing in sports.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback is predicting home teams will run the table in the upcoming round, with Denver, Green Bay, New England and Seattle advancing. This prediction pertains to victory only: I don't know the lines, and the Baptist in me won't even look.
Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990, home teams in the divisional round are 70-26, a 73 percent winning figure. That's well north of the 57 percent rate at which NFL home teams won 2014 regular season contests.
For the divisional round, the reason the hosts are hosting in the first place is that they are the best teams. Equally important, host clubs have spent a bye week relaxing in hot tubs while their opponents were out being pounded. So this week, check-mark the home teams your NFL workplace or school betting pool. You don't even need to know who's playing!
Why each host will win:
Seattle. The defending champions started slow but arrive at the playoffs hitting on eight cylinders. (Note: in the future this cliché will change to, "have achieved high oxidizing efficiency in their fuel cell.") The Seahawks closed the regular season with six straight wins, all with double-digit margins, outscoring opponents 134-39 while allowing just three touchdowns.
In 2014 the Bluish Men Group ranked first in passing defense, third in rushing defense, and first in points allowed: a potent combination. Owing to a clock-control offense that ranked third in time of possession, Seattle had to defend only 924 snaps, fewest faced by any NFL team. This keeps defenders fresh, creating a feedback loop that leads to more defensive success.
Seattle enters the divisional round on a 24-2 home stretch, while at 8-8-1, visiting Carolina is not even a winning team. If the Seahawks don't prevail, it will be the biggest upset since Appalachian State over Michigan.
Reader Michael Armstrong of Bellevue, Washington, notes this amazing stat: in the last 61 games (three and a half seasons), the Hawks have 29 double-digit victories compared to zero double-digit losses. The last time Seattle was beaten by 10 points or more was November 2011.
New England. In the postseason at New England, Bill Belichick is 1-2 versus the Ravens, 11-1 versus all other teams -- and Baltimore heads to New England for the divisional. Nonetheless, TMQ foresees a Flying Elvii triumph.
The Patriots finished fourth in points scored, eighth in points allowed, tied for second in give/take. That's strong. New England is 122-38 since the start of the 2005 season, most wins by any NFL club in that period. In the second half of the season, New England posted decisive victories over Denver, Indianapolis and Detroit, while taking the Packers down to the wire at Green Bay. The Patriots seem ready. Belichick knows it will not be long until Tom Brady's magazine modeling agent means more to him than any football coach: if there is to be another Brady-Belichick ring, now's the time. And if the Patriots win this weekend, they play the AFC title game at home.
The red flag for the P-Men is a recent trend of late swoon. In the last seven seasons, New England is 84-28 in the regular season followed by 4-5 in the postseason. Perhaps when Belichick and Brady draw nigh to another Super Bowl appearance, weariness sets in.
Green Bay. An Ice Bowl rematch, plus Dallas brings an 8-0 road record to meet the Packers' 8-0 home record. This game feels like it could be memorable. Green Bay is the favorite -- especially if it's cold, as is the current long-term forecast.
The Packers finished first in give/take and first in points scored. Aaron Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception at home since 2012. Green Bay hasn't punted in the first half at home in four consecutive outings. The Packers' worry is that their super-precise passing attack tends to peter out over the course of a game, with Green Bay outscoring opponents 310-146 in the first half, then only 84-69 in the third quarter, then being outscored 92-133 in the fourth. But if you had to pick either Rodgers or Tony Romo in a high pressure bad-weather game, your choice would not be difficult.
Denver. If there's to be a visitor victory in the divisional round, the Broncos seem most vulnerable. Denver has sputtered in the second half of the season, while falling in TMQ's Authentic Games metric -- see below.
The Broncos have the league's second-ranked run defense but largely because they faced the fewest rushing attempts. The Colts bring the league's No. 1 passing offense to Denver; the Broncos counter with the fourth-ranked air attack. Footballs fly nicely in high-altitude Colorado air, so this could be a scoreboard-spinning contest.
Having won last season's AFC title contest against New England in Denver, the Broncos may be looking ahead to restaging that event in Massachusetts. They'd best keep focused on the Colts. Danger sign: Peyton Manning's 11-12 postseason record includes the most playoff losses ever by a starting quarterback.
If I am right and home teams sweep this weekend, that would mean a Denver-New England AFC title rematch and in turn ensure that barring injury, either Manning or Brady would start at quarterback in the Super Bowl. In the last 13 Super Bowls, there have been 10 starts by quarterbacks named Brady or Manning, while five of the most recent eight Super Bowls have offered a Manning at quarterback.
Though TMQ calls the divisional round the surest sure-thing in sports, a week later in the championship round, homefield advantage dissipates. Since 1990, hosts in conference championship games are 29-19, a 60 percent winning figure, barely above the rate at which hosts win regular season games. For the championship round, nobody's had the previous week off and the Super Bowl is just one W away. Players leave everything on the field in championship contests, so home teams won't necessarily be the favorites.
But this weekend, look homeward. Of course if visitors win, remember the Tuesday Morning Quarterback guarantee: All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back.
In college football news, you will be assimilated by the offense! In the inaugural CFP semifinals, the average outcome was 39 points scored and 528 yards of offense gained. For all New Year's Day bowls, the average was 35 points scored and 501 yards of offense gained. New Year's Day bowl teams averaged more than 500 yards of offense. Don't bother trying to play defense -- resistance is futile!
Stats Of The Week No. 1: In the 2014 NFL regular season, the 1,000-yard mark was surpassed by 13 running backs -- and by 23 receivers.
Stats Of The Week No. 2: Marvin Lewis is 100-90-2 in the regular season, 0-6 in the postseason.
Stats Of The Week No. 3: In Carolina's last five games, the Panthers averaged 199 yards rushing, allowed an average of 11.8 points and are plus-eight in turnovers; in their previous 12 games, the Panthers averaged 103 yards rushing, allowed an average of 27.6 points and were minus-five in turnovers.
Stats Of The Week No. 4: Matt Stafford is 0-18 on the road versus teams that finished the season with a winning record.
Stats Of The Week No. 5: The Jets, Saints, Raiders and R*dsk*ns finished the season without a defensive or special-teams touchdown.
Stats Of The Week No. 6: After allowing 90 rushing yards per game in its first 14 games, Arizona allowed 220 yards rushing per game in its final three.
Stats Of The Week No. 7: New Orleans was 32nd in defense in 2012, rose to fourth in 2013, dropped back to 31st in 2014.
Stats of the Week No. 8: In two appearances at Indianapolis, the Bengals were outscored 53-10.
Stats Of The Week No. 9: Joe Flacco is on a playoff streak of 13 touchdown passes versus no interceptions.
Stats Of The Week No. 10: Cincinnati and Detroit, which both lost Sunday, have gone a combined 47 years without a postseason victory.
Sweet Touchdowns Of The Week: Detroit leading 20-7 in the fourth quarter, the Boys faced fourth-and-goal from the Lions 1. The "safe" thing is to kick. But fortune favors the bold! Dallas went for it, touchdown. The scoring play was a rush. Boys coaches gave DeMarco Murray only seven carries in the first half; handing him the ball eight times in the third quarter both revved up the home crowd and helped Dallas receivers get open, as safeties were drawn closer to the line.
Now it's Detroit leading 20-17 just before the two minute warning, Boys facing third-and-goal on the Detroit 8. The vaunted Cowboys offensive line -- most heralded in the NFL -- had been having problems all day. This time blockers allowed Romo five full seconds of clean pocket. Somebody's sure to shake free in that much time. Touchdown and the Lions' postseason losing streak enters year 24.
Sour Play Of The Week: Lions coach Jim Caldwell is new to Detroit's postseason losing ways but not new to timid behavior in the playoffs. Fourth quarter of the Super Bowl versus New Orleans, Caldwell did the "safe" thing on fourth-and-11 from the Saints 33 by kicking. The problem was that Caldwell sent out aging placekicker Matt Stover for a 51-yard attempt, though Stover's longest that season was from 44. Kicking was "safe," while going for the first down would have been bold. After Stover missed, New Orleans got the ball in great field position and soon the Colts were reeling.
Sunday, Detroit led 20-17 midway through the fourth quarter and faced fourth-and-1 in Boys territory. Yes, the picked-up flag on third-and-1 was strange: see below. All that mattered was the fourth-and-1 decision. Fortune favors the bold, victories don't come in the mail, you need one yard, go win the game! Caldwell ordered a namby-pamby attempt to draw Dallas offside, then sent out the punt unit. Outraged, the football gods caused a 10-yard shank. Dallas went on to victory.
On the day, Detroit averaged 5.9 yards per offensive snap. Yet when the Lions needed one single yard to take command of a postseason game, Caldwell demurred. Don't play to avoid losing, play to win! Evidence for playing to win: On the drive before the winning touchdown, Dallas went for it on fourth-and-6, converting. Jason Garrett wasn't afraid of risk; Caldwell was. Victories don't come in the mail! Seldom has a team deserved to lose more thoroughly than the Lions at Dallas.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Baltimore leading 23-15, the Steelers faced third-and-4 on their 26 midway through the fourth quarter. At a time when unorthodox defensive fronts have practically become common, Baltimore managed to show a wild look: one defensive lineman as a nose tackle, three overload blitzers far left of Ben Roethlisberger, three overload blitzers far right. But it wasn't a blitz, rather, a Steelers-style zone rush. At the snap, all three on the left came; only one came from the right; and the nose tackle dropped into coverage. Flummoxed, Roethlisberger flipped a flare pass that bounced off Ben Tate's hands and was intercepted by Terrell Suggs. Ravens touchdown on the next play and the visitors would never look back. Sweet.
For Pittsburgh, everything was sour. The right guard and right tackle double-teamed the one man rushing from the right, making the overload left a success. The Steelers had all their time outs: seeing such a strange front, Roethlisberger might have called time. (Twice in the contest, Flacco called time on a big down when he wasn't sure what was happening.) With just one defender inside the area defined by the Steelers' offensive tackles, Roethlisberger simply could have run straight ahead, with a first down likely.
The Case Against Hillary and Jeb: TMQ shudders to think the 2016 election will pair Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush. As it is the United States presidential succession is Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama. If the 2016 race pits Hillary against Jeb, the country will be assured that four of the last five presidents came from the same two aristocratic landed families. This wouldn't be good for the republic. Pakistan will seem like an open political system by comparison.
Clinton did a fine job in the Senate and as secretary of state; she's highly qualified. My big worry is that she's an opportunist whose first priority is self-promotion, not the interests of the nation. One example: around the time she was leaving the White House as first lady, Clinton decried "a consumer-driven culture that promotes values that undermine both capitalism and democracy" while declaring the nation "being undermined by consumer capitalism."
Shortly thereafter, she bought a $1.7 million house and signed an $8 million book contract. In today's money, that's a $2.4 million house and an $11 million book contract. There's nothing wrong with nice houses or high income. What's disturbing is when a political leader pretends to be modest, urges other to be modest -- and then cashes in. Now Clinton galivants across the country taking extravagant speaking fees from reading some boilerplate off a teleprompter. But everybody else should avoid materialism!
Bush did a fine job as governor of Florida and has the sort of hands-on economic experience many candidates lack; he's highly qualified. He presents himself to the electorate as someone whose ego is in check. My big worry: so did his brother. During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush mocked Al Gore's know-it-all attitude, depicting himself as a humble man who knew his own limits. Once in the White House, Bush led the United States into a bloody, expensive fiasco in Iraq while adapting a how-dare-you-criticize-me stance: to boot, he tossed decades of postwar fiscal discipline out the window. What if Jeb is the same way -- presents himself to the electorate as a cautious pragmatist, then loses self-control once holding the levers of power?
Plus if Hillary becomes president, we'll face more years of Bill Clinton this, Bill Clinton that. If Jeb becomes president, we'll face more years of Bush family this, Bush family that. Regardless of their experience and skill, their last names should disqualify both: it would be healthy for the nation if neither were on the 2016 ballot.
Lose Games, Squander Draft Choices, Get Huge Bonus: New Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula can't be thrilled they must pay departing head coach Doug Marrone an extra $4 million to do nothing. Marrone's contract contained a golden-parachute clause: if ownership changed, he could blow town, while receiving a $4 million bonus on top of any salary he may draw at a new coaching post. So you'd assume Marrone waved goodbye simply for a double-dip payday. More likely he knows he mismanaged the Bills and wants somebody else to deal with the problems he created.
In just two years at the helm, Marrone spent three first-round draft selections -- Buffalo's 2015 first choice is promised to Cleveland -- running up a debt for someone else to cover, like a politician who borrows without any plan to repay. For the price of three first-round draft choices, plus a fourth-round pick, Marrone got just two players, EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins. Manuel doesn't start. Watkins is a fine performer, but the Bills paid way too much for him. Several quality wide receivers were available in the 2014 draft: Buffalo panicked and overspent on Watkins though standing pat would have allowed Odell Beckham Jr. to drop into the Bills' laps. Most important, the NFL is a quarterback league. Marrone left the Bills with no quarterback nor any 2015 first-round choice to employ in search of one. Marrone went along with panicky personnel decisions, failed to develop a player at the league's most important position, stripped the franchise of future draft picks then whistled a merry tune as he skedaddled with a multimillion-dollar bonus. Nice work if you can get it.
Postscript No.1: On Monday of last week, Marrone complained that Kyle Orton decided to leave Buffalo without any warning. On Wednesday, Marrone left without any warning.
Postscript No.2: Watkins caught 65 of the 128 passes targeted to him, or 51 percent. Jordy Nelson caught 98 of 151 (65 percent), Antonio Brown caught 129 of 182 (71 percent). Nelson and Brown were receiving pinpoint passes from franchise-caliber quarterbacks. Buffalo's two quarterbacks were so inaccurate, Watkins was chasing passes that sailed far beyond his reach or clanged into the ground.
The Druids Were Right: Winter has come to the Northern Hemisphere -- but do our bodies know? The forthcoming book "Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age," by Clark Strand, will enumerate the many ways in which contemporary life, especially artificial light, disrupts our body cycles, which evolved to the seasonal rhythms of nature. In winter, our ancestors nestled into bed early; in summer, they stayed up late drinking mead and engaging in communal dance. Now artificial light causes us to stay up year round, usually alone -- then we wonder why we sleep fitfully.
It's not just electric lighting in dwellings and 24-7 workplaces. There's evidence that the kind of light that emanates from screens -- such as the one you're using right now -- disrupts sleep cycles. Electronic blue glow, especially, seems especially bad for the young since it signals the body not to release the sleep hormone melatonin. And what do teens and tweens across our great nation do after the main bedroom light goes out but lie in bed staring at their phones?
Artificial heat also disrupts naturally evolved body cycles. James Hamblin shows in the new The Atlantic that warmth is a factor in the national obesity epidemic. Warmth signals the body to store fat, as our ancestors' bodies did on the warm days of summer; cold, to burn fat, as our ancestors' bodies did when temperatures fell. Now for the majority of Americans and Europeans, there is never any cool season. Many keep the thermostat cranked up not only during the day but also at night when they're snuggled under heavy blankets. This signals the body to store calories as fat because the body thinks it's the height of summer. An always-roasty-toasty-warm lifestyle makes our metabolism think it's always August.
When my wife and I lived in Belgium, which is about 400 miles north of Maine, we became aware of seasonal light differences. In December, I'd put the kids on their school bus in darkness; it would return in darkness. In June, night would not fall until around 11p.m., then the bedroom window would start to glow around 4 a.m. Pronounced differences in solar timing made me understand why seasonal cycles played such a role in European mythology.
Now most Americans other than farmers and construction workers pay little heed to what time the sun rises and sets, while most of us are always too warm. Going back to cool buildings and early bedtimes in winter might be good for our national health.
Depressing But Important Reading: Speaking of The Atlantic its new cover story, by TMQ pal James Fallows, starts slowly and becomes progressively more disturbing. Fallows posits that America's political and military leaders have become addicted to war -- it makes them feel macho, while funneling money to favored contractors and congressional districts -- yet inured to the waste of lives and money in combat that doesn't accomplish anything.
Fallows: "Our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion ... Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned." Fallows quotes a retired military intelligence officers saying, "At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq." He reminds that in 2002, when Dick Cheney was pretending that war in Iraq would conclude quickly and painlessly, White House economic advisor Lawrence B. Lindsey was forced to resign for saying invasion of Iraq might cost up to $200 billion -- which turned out to be a fraction of the actual expense. Fallows concludes that America's leaders have become "chickenhawks" who boast about commando raids and airstrikes conducted using borrowed money and the lives of the lower class, since children of elites don't serve.
Endless, inclusive wars -- no army could fix Iraq, regardless of technical prowess or soldiers' bravery -- waste blood and treasure, and they drag down the U.S. economy. If the $1.5 trillion that "might as well have been burned" were added to the GDP, we'd be in the midst of the predicted long boom.
Another Year, Another Bengals Wheeze-Out: "Trailing in the fourth quarter, Marvin Lewis sent in the kicking unit. TMQ wrote the words 'game over' in his notebook. Victories don't come in the mail, play to win, don't play to avoid losing!"
That's not what I wrote after Cincinnati's wheeze-out at Indianapolis. With slight wording changes, it's what I've written about Cincinnati's playoff wheeze-outs for five consecutive appearances -- limp, retreating performances in which Lewis has coached as if afraid of his own shadow.
The pattern repeated at Indianapolis. On Cincinnati's first possession, already down by a touchdown, Lewis ordered a punt on fourth-and-3 from the Colts 39. Lewis came into the contest 0-5 in the postseason, losing time and again owing to milquetoast tactics -- and right out of the box, Lewis employed milquetoast tactics. Later, down by six points, Lewis would have his charges punt on fourth-and-4 from midfield. Then a Preposterous Punt when trailing by 16 in the fourth quarter -- see more below.
After last year's Cincinnati postseason flameout, I noted that as Lewis sent in the kicking unit, Andy Dalton passively trudged off the field: Brett Favre would have demanded the coach go for it. "Next season, Dalton needs to become a leader," your columnist opined. Sunday, when Lewis sent in the punting unit on fourth-and-short in Indianapolis territory, Dalton passively trudged off the field. Wonder why Dalton is 3-11 in playoff and primetime games? At this point Cincinnati backers must accept: Dalton is never going to become a leader.
As for the Colts, their offensive line gave Andrew Luck ample time. Four deep strikes in the first quarter clanged incomplete -- two defensed, two dropped by T.Y. Hilton. Luck kept throwing deep and began connecting. In the third quarter, the Bengals started big-blitzing. Nothing pleases top quarterbacks -- Luck, the Manning brothers, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers -- more than big blitzes. By contest's end, the Colts had completions of 45, 36, 30 and 25 yards.
Brady To Delay Modeling Career Three More Years: Tom Brady's agreement to convert a chunk of his contract from fully guaranteed to guaranteed for injury only helps the Flying Elvii because under the NFL's arcane salary cap rules, this frees up accounting space for the Patriots to spend on other guys. Since Brady loses protection against the decline of his on-field skills, the decision means he believes he can perform well for three more years. At that juncture he would be 40, within shouting distance of Favre, a star until age 41. Brady's new deal helps the team at some risk to him of financial loss. Bear in mind, from the standpoint of marketing income and publicity, Brady is a thousand times better off on a winning New England team, reinforced by free agent signings than he would be in almost any other scenario.
Ducks Held To 639 Yards: Oregon posted scoring drives of 0:21, 1:24, 1:32, 2:01, 2:11, 3:00 and a poky-puppy drive of 4:45. Though Florida State had significant extra time to rehearse for the Blur Offense, the Seminoles' defense seemed stunned, the front seven "sucking air" -- gasping for breath -- by midway through the second quarter. On the play before Oregon's first touchdown, it was just seven seconds on the game clock (about 12 seconds total, including the first down officiating stoppage) from runner down on the previous snap to the snap next. Several times Oregon needed less than 10 seconds on the game clock from runner down to next snap.
A reason quick-snap tactics can be effective is that it's more tiring to play defense than offense. Performers on both sides of the ball engage in roughly equal physical exertions -- fast pace means the offensive guys have to run like crazy. But mental exertions are more onerous for the defense than the offense. Offensive players know where they're going, and just have to get there. Defensive players don't know where they are going. They first must react mentally, then get there. That's why the Blur Offense and similar attacks leave the defense sucking air while offensive players seem fine, though both have done an equal amount of physical exertion.
Before the initial Oregon touchdown, the Ducks executed the "X-run" action that TMQ has long thought should be more common -- Marcus Mariota lateraled after crossing the line of scrimmage. Almost all pitch plays occur behind the line. They don't have to, it's just how laterals are drawn up. Once the option quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage, defenders ignore the guy who would be the pitch man if he was behind the line of scrimmage. That makes the X-run an effective action, in this case setting up first-and-goal on the Florida State 1.
Reaching third-and-goal and then fourth-and-goal on the Oregon 1, Florida State ran consecutive vanilla plays -- no shifts, no misdirection -- both stuffed. Do a little dance if you want to gain that yard!
As Oregon often does, after their initial touchdown, the Ducks went for two. Not only does TMQ think more college and NFL teams should go for two -- especially NFL teams since the pros spot the try at the 2 versus at the 3 in NCAA action -- Oregon style muddle-huddle deuce plays should be employed in short field goal attempt situations.
Oregon has a snapper, holder and kicker at the center; three blockers and one back wide on each side. If there are less than four guys across from either outside set, the snapper hikes to the holder, who throws to the back on that side; if both sets are properly defended, Oregon kicks. That both sides often aren't properly defended -- they weren't by Florida State, two points scored -- suggests the muddle-huddle would work at least sometimes in the pros. But NFL coaches don't want to use this set, or the similar swinging-gate set, for status reasons. At press conferences they don't want to hear, "You're using college trick plays."
The Alabama-Ohio State side of the semis came down to one team being bold while the other played it "safe," and just saying those words tells you what you need to know. Trailing 21-13 with a few seconds remaining before intermission, ball on the Alabama 13, Ohio State coaches called a trick play -- handoff right, reverse left, wide receiver pass. Trick plays aren't common because they are hard to execute; they're especially uncommon near the goal line because the defense has so little territory to defend. The Ohio State touchdown -- to Michael Thomas, sole receiver on the play, everyone else was blocking or engaged in misdirection -- turned the tide, as it were.
Now it's Ohio State 34, Alabama 28 with under six minutes remaining. That cannot seriously be the Crimson Tide punting from the Buckeyes' 43! Trailing late in the fourth quarter, punting from the opposition 43, you can't be serious! Who cares if it was fourth-and-9? Possession of the ball means far more than down-and-distance; trailing late, Alabama surrendered possession in opposition territory. Outraged, the football gods caused Ohio State to rush 85 yards for the touchdown that ended Alabama's title hopes.
Buckle That Chinstrap!: Ravens possession results at Pittsburgh: Punt, touchdown, field goal, half ends, field goal, touchdown, fumble, field goal, touchdown, safety, game ends. Discounting the conclusions of halves, six times Baltimore drives ended the Ravens' way with scores, only three times did Baltimore drives end Pittsburgh's way with stops. The Steelers' defense simply is not dominant anymore. During the regular season, it ranked 18th against yards, 18th against points, 23rd for takeaways. Sure, AFC leading rusher Le'Veon Bell was absent from the game. The Pittsburgh defense was present, and didn't perform.
Did the contest awaken a sleeping giant? Since the start of the 2012 playoffs, the Ravens are 18-14 in the regular season, 5-0 in the postseason. The playoffs seem to be when Baltimore shines.
Well into the 2012 regular season, John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. This move, viewed as shocking at the time, seemed to fire up the Ravens, and proved essential to their Super Bowl run. Well into the 2014 season, Harbaugh shocked touts by putting a starter on waivers. Will another Ravens Super Bowl run be the result?
Scouts' note for New England: twice Baltimore called timeout to discuss what play to call. Both times the call was a deep pass. Cognomen note: with Jim Harbaugh having skedaddled from the NFL, my Harbaugh/East, Harbaugh/West labels are no longer needed.
As Steelers' reserve back Dri Archer was tackled, his helmet flew off. Archer remained in the game. In recent seasons the NCAA and the National Federation of High Schools, which administers most prep play, added rules requiring any player whose helmet flies off to leave the contest for a down. The result is that high school and college players now have their chinstraps properly buckled. Helmets continue to fly off in the NFL, an easily corrected safety issue. Why doesn't the NFL impose the one-out rule?
Unified Field Theory Of Creep: Reader Jeremy Roell of Indianapolis writes, "The trailer for the flick "Inherent Vice," which comes out on Friday, says 'one of best movies of the year.' I'd hope so!"
Should College Cheerleaders Be Sexy?: Next Monday's inaugural CFP title tilt will pit Oregon versus Ohio State -- which along the sidelines means sex-bombshell cheerleaders versus cheerleaders in traditional outfits. Owing to its Nike-driven marketing focus, Oregon has led college sports both toward dazzling flashy uniforms and helmets, and toward scantily attired cheerleaders. Is the latter a good idea?
Professional cheerleaders ought to exude sex appeal. They are after all professionals, and the dancing girl who shows lots of skin has a long history in entertainment, at least as far back as vaudeville. High school cheerleaders should not show skin. Obviously teens will have sex on the brain no matter how often adults wag their fingers, but sexualizing high school sports is a step one hopes is never taken.
That leaves college cheerleaders. They're adults legally, and sociologically more like grown-ups than kids. College women should make their own choices about everything, including whether they want to dance half-naked on national television. But considering that football factories are already exploiting players for income, should colleges also sexualize their cheerleaders in order to rev up crowds and ratings? Tweet your views to @EasterbrookG.
More Proof The Golden Age Of Radio Isn't Over: Last week I lauded play-by-play radio announcers over their better-known TV brethren, and asked readers for their favorites.
Jason Grenn of Anchorage, Alaska, wrote, "Seattle play-by-play man Steve Raible gets more excited for Seahawks big plays than he probably should. Makes for fun radio, though."
Betsy Ames had kind words for Mike Keith, the Titans' play-by-play man. Randy Diamon of Lakewood, Colorado, wrote, "Dave Logan does great on KOA's radio broadcast of Broncos games. He also coaches high school football."
Many readers including Shannon Mataka liked Eagles play-by-play man Merrill Reese. Story that is too good to check: Reese once entered a Merrill Reese sound-alike contest and lost.
Anakin Forrest of Pittsburgh wrote, "Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play man for the Steelers, is especially good when Pittsburgh makes an interception." Matthew Earl of Lebanon, Indiana, wrote, "For my 2 cents -- actual value, minus-four cents -- Colts radio announcer Bob Lamey is the best in the business." Andrew Sullivan of San Francisco reported, "I am a big fan of Greg Papa who covers the Raiders with Tom Flores. Terrible team, great radio broadcasts."
Many readers including Rosemary Wenner of Ripon, Wisconsin, praised Wayne Larrivee, Packers play-by-play guy whose "there is your dagger!" catchphrase has entered Green Bay lore. Roberta Cater of East Aurora, New York, provided this nugget: before the last-second kickoff that became the Music City Miracle, Bills play-by-play man Van Miller, who retired in 2003 following 37 years behind the microphone, warned that Tennessee was sure to run a trick-play return. Was the play legal? Adam Schefter says no. What mattered is that network broadcasters didn't expect a trick return, Buffalo coaches didn't expect a trick return -- but the radio play-by-play man, who actually pays attention, did!
ESPN Grade's Favorite 2014 Bowl Game: I asked readers if they knew of any TV, radio or newspaper account of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl -- other than TMQ -- that cited its pairing of high football graduation rates. No one did. Though Jim Santos pointed out this Penn State press release: "The New Era Pinstripe Bowl also will feature the only pair of teams ranked in the Top 25 of the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate that are playing each other in one of the 38 bowl games to conclude the 2014 season."
Bart Starr Can Only Dream Of Under Armour Cold Gear: Not many teams that stage a 99-yard touchdown drive, then lead by 13 points in the second half and go on to lose: Detroit found a way. It was a team effort! Lions final possession results: punt, punt, fumble, fumble. It wasn't just the fraidy-cat decision not to go for it in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-1 in Dallas territory. Falling behind 24-20, the Lions got the ball back on their 23 with two minutes remaining, holding two timeouts. Here's what happened: short pass, short pass, deep incompletion, short pass, short incompletion, short pass, short pass, fumble and Dallas sends in the victory formation. Seventy-seven yards were needed and every call save was a short pass -- that's the "safe" thing! Ye gods.
The Boys haven't been in Wisconsin in the postseason since the Ice Bowl. It's been worth the 48-year wait!
Chris Christie Just Keeps Getting Creepier: If not Jeb, will the Republican presidential candidate be Chris Christie? It appears Jerry Jones paid Christie's travel costs to celebrate in the owner's box during the Dallas-Detroit game; the Wall Street Journal reports there are ethics questions involved since a Jones company does business with a Jersey government entity. (Christie says he was present because he loves the Cowboys -- odd for a New Jersey governor, whose state's Giants fans do not share this affection - though promotion for the 2016 Texas primary may have been in his mind.)
Check this story from last summer, about renovations to the Pulaski Skyway in north Jersey. Skip the vague implications of political funny business and dwell on the money number -- $1.8 billion.
The Pulaski Skyway is 3.5 miles long and 135 feet above water. The nearby and similar Tappan Zee Bridge in New York state is 3.1 miles long and 138 feet above water. The Tappan Zee is being replaced for a projected cost of $3.9 billion. For the cost of two Pulaski Skyway rehab projects, New York drivers are getting an entirely new bridge with modern engineering -- not an expensive remix of an obsolete steel truss bridge that was designed and built during the Hoover administration. Either there are graft and kickbacks in this price, or the project is being significantly mismanaged. The Pulaski costs include some work on feeder highways, but also are expected to grow from $1.8 billion. With New Jersey's government pension funds deep in the red and state spending running wild, explain to me again how Christie is a fiscal conservative.
Authentic Games Standings: Carolina may have reached the divisional round but still isn't included. How can an NFL team that does not have a winning record in January be considered Authentic?
Detroit looked suspect all season in the Authentic Games standings, and confirmed this impression by honking out in the first round while posting the worst Authentic ranking of postseason contenders.
Today's column lead notwithstanding, the Authentic Games index warns of an Indianapolis upset at Denver.
Clarity seems achieved as the metric now forecasts a Super Bowl of New England versus Seattle, which is also TMQ's own guess.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!: Baylor leading 34-21 in the third quarter at the Cotton Bowl versus Michigan State, in trotted gigantic backup offensive linemen LaQuan McGowan -- 6-foot-7, 390 pounds. He did not report eligible, as numbers 50-79 cannot report eligible under NCAA rules. Rather, he wore jersey number 80. McGowan lined up where the left tackle normally would be, causing announcers to describe the touchdown pass he caught as a "tackle eligible" play. Actually, McGowan was a tight end: Baylor went unbalanced right, making McGowan seem an offensive tackle on the left. Because he looked like a tackle to the defense, he was ignored when he headed downfield. His untouched touchdown catch, causing a 41-21 Baylor margin and embarrassing the proud Michigan State defense, might have led to Wayne Larrivee crying, "There is your dagger!"
In the final moment, the dagger was back in its sheath. Baylor led 41-35, Michigan State faced third-and-goal on the Bears 10 with 20 seconds remaining. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook had been badly off-target on his previous two throws. Surely Baylor can resist the urge to big-blitz and leave the middle of the field open! Six-man blitz, no safety in the middle, touchdown and an epic comeback is complete.
TMQ's Law of the Obvious holds: sometimes simply running up the middle for no gain is fine. Adjusting for sacks and scrambles, Baylor coaches called 59 passing plays and 14 rushing plays. Baylor seemed so in love with flashy quick passes that, ahead big in the second half, the Bears could not downshift to running out the clock by huddling up. Leading 41-28 in the early fourth quarter, Baylor took possession near midfield and stayed in its quick-snap attack, taking only 2:03 off the clock on a drive that included two incompletions. Considering Michigan State's winning score came with 17 seconds remaining, had Baylor simply milked the clock and avoided incompletions on this possession, the Bears likely would have prevailed. Leading 41-35 with 4:55 remaining, Baylor kept quick-passing, including two sideline catches on which the receiver stepped out-of-bounds. Ten Baylor snaps on this possession averaged only 24 seconds off the clock, leaving Michigan State a last gasp.
Tactics note: After Baylor scored to take a 20-14 lead, Michigan State was called for dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct. Baylor kicked a PAT and then accepted the 15-yard walkoff on the kickoff, as nearly all teams do in this situation. But why? Baylor could have elected to enforce the penalty on the try, walking off half the distance to the goal line, and then gone for two. The Bears, with the No. 1 FBS offense, left a point on the table -- and went on to lose by 42-41.
In A Fitting Conclusion, Arizona Lost 19 Yards On Its Final Play: Carolina became just the second losing NFL team to win a postseason contest; alternatively, Arizona joined the 2010 New Orleans Saints in becoming the second NFL team to be defeated in the postseason by a losing team.
Around Halloween the Cardinals were seemingly cruising toward the league's first home-field Super Bowl, by the second half at Carolina, the Cardinals were a listing, smoking hulk. Blocking was terrible, as offensive linemen stood around watching. Tackling was terrible for the third straight Cards outing -- on two of the Cats' three touchdowns, Arizona safety Rashad Johnson totally whiffed what should have been routine tackles. Special teams were terrible. Fielding a kickoff with seconds remaining before intermission, Ted Ginn Jr. carelessly waved the ball around; the next time he fielded a kickoff, in the third quarter, he waved the ball again and lost a fumble. The Cardinals have a special teams coordinator and an assistant special teams coach -- why didn't either of them tell Ginn at halftime not to wave the ball around? Arizona trailing by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, Bruce Arians had the team punt on fourth-and-2.
The Panthers lost six straight at one juncture this season, and now have won five straight. But Arizona was so bad, and so injury-depleted, it's hard to know what to make of the Carolina performance.
Adventures in Officiating On third-and-1 in the fourth quarter, zebras called defensive pass interference against Dallas. They began walking off the foul to set up a Detroit first-and-10 on the Dallas 34, which would have put the Lions in command. Then referee Pete Morelli announced, without explanation, that he was picking up the flag. This set in motion the fourth-and-1 on which Jim Caldwell totally wimped out.
Referees typically don't explain to the crowd why they pick up flags, but it sure is rare to see a penalty walked off then walked back. The officiating crews that work together during the regular season are scrambled for the playoffs: Morelli's crew, unfamiliar with each other, did not function smoothly on this call. Detroit faithful sensed conspiracy -- that the league wanted an Ice Bowl rematch, not yet another Detroit at Green Bay non-event.
Key issue: Was there pass interference? TMQ thinks no. Despite the popular misconception, NFL pass defenders do not need to turn to the ball -- face-guarding is legal in the pros. (It's not legal in NCAA or NFHS play; these kinds of confusions are one reason football rules should be simplified and standardized.) Boys linebacker Anthony Hitchens made contact with Lions receiver Brandon Pettigrew, but the contact seemed incidental. The NFL rule says that if there is any question about whether there was pass interference, then there was no interference -- and the debate regarding this play demonstrates there were questions.
Key fact about the play: Pettigrew was never open. Hitchens had him tightly covered all the way down the field. Defensive pass interference usually entails a desperate defender trying to prevent an open man from making the catch. Hitchens had Pettigrew so well covered that incidental contact was inevitable. An NFL player or coach might say "that's a call you usually get" --- players tailor their style to what officials usually allow or don't allow. But the no-call was correct, if enforced in an odd way that engaged conspiracy theory.
New Year's Eve Was a Downer Day For The State Of Mississippi: TCU leading Ole Miss 21-0 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the Rebels had second-and-10 on their own 2. Coaches call a slow-developing screen pass -- first a fake left, then a fake right, then a screen man drifting to the left side of the end zone. Trying to set up a screen inside your own end zone seemed daffy enough: a slow-developing screen with two fakes? About to go down, Bo Wallace attempted to throw the ball away: intercepted in the end zone for a touchdown return of zero yards. Even had the pass fallen incomplete, Wallace would have been called for intentional grounding and a safety. It would have been smarter for Wallace to take the sack, and the safety, than to heave-ho, risking a zero-yards pick-six. If you're planning to call a slow-developing screen pass inside your own end zone, you'd better coach up the quarterback on what might go wrong.
Trailing 42-0 in the fourth quarter, Ole Miss launched a field goal from the TCU 10. In case Hugh Freeze's job someday is in jeopardy, he wanted to keep "we got shut out in the Peach Bowl" off the bill of attainder.
Wacky Food Of The Week: The front packaging for Wegmans house-brand shrimp brightly reads, FOOD YOU CAN FEEL GOOD ABOUT™. I bought some thinking that meant supply-chain certification of no trafficked labor, a major issue in the shrimp industry. Instead the back of the package said, "We found a shrimp supplier that is able to provide us with a chemical-free shrimp." This statement consists entirely of nonsense -- even all-natural foods are made of chemicals, "chemical-free shrimp" is impossible. And labor trafficking, not additives, is what ought to trouble consumers regarding shrimp.
The 500 Club (New Year's Bowl Edition): Against Michigan State, Baylor gained 603 yards passing, had negative-20 yards rushing (in college, sacks count as negative rushes) and lost. Defending champion Florida State gained 528 yards and lost by 39 points. Had the Florida State-Oregon game been played by high school rules, early in the fourth quarter it would have gone to running clock.
Single Worst Play of the Season -- So Far: Indianapolis leading 26-10 well into the fourth quarter, Cincinnati with the league's longest drought since a postseason victory -- the last Bengals playoff win was when the elder George Bush was president -- Marvin Lewis 0-5 in the postseason, Andy Dalton 0-3 in the postseason, the Bengals punted. Who cares if it was fourth-and-10? Who cares if it was fourth-and-99? Down by 16 points in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati's choices were to take a risk or to wave a white flag. Lewis waved the white flag.
Lewis is now 0-6 in the postseason, is guilty of the single worst play of the season -- so far.
Next Week: If right about the divisional round, I will say I told you so. If wrong, I will change the subject.