I wasn't planning on writing another all-NFL playoff mailbag until Nate in Phoenix sent me the following e-mail:
"Congrats on your great start in your eternal quest to go 11-0 against the spread in the playoffs. Of course, last weekend's success now means that you'll have to do a second straight all-NFL mailbag. Don't upset the applecart. You have been repeatedly warned."
Done, done and done! Here's a promise, Nate: If I finish 11-0 against the spread in this year's playoffs, these Friday mailbags will keep going for the rest of my life, and yours, and your kids' lives, and your grandkids' lives, and for the rest of eternity, so help me Tebow. As always, these are actual e-mails from readers.
Q: Congrats on going 4-0!!! Nobody believed in you!!!!!!
— David, Boston
SG: It took me 20 seconds to realize this wasn't a compliment.
Q: I didn't give a second thought to the whole end of the world 2012 Mayan thing
but with you starting out 4-0 on playoff picks with well reasoned opinions on each game, I'm a little bit afraid.
— Dave, San Jose, CA
SG: Don't be afraid, Dave. Read these next two e-mails, it will all make sense.
Q: The opening kickoff for Pittsburgh-Denver hitting the CROSSbar and coming to rest exactly on the 20 yard line sure seemed like an Omen, right? I'm sure everyone who bet big on Pittsburgh had that sinking feeling that God was about to teach them a life lesson about gambling through his modern day prophet Tebow. A Tebow title coupled with a Clippers championship and you going 11-0 in the NFL playoffs
yeah, those things would make me quit my job and live off my 401k for the next six months until the world ends.
— Mike Desko, Chicago
SG: You don't have to worry about a Clippers championship, Mike — that's not happening on Vinny Del Negro's watch. You'd have a better chance of seeing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin French-kiss after an alley-oop.
(Of course, if they fire Del Negro within the next few weeks and rent Phil Jackson for a four-month, $10 million playoff run )
Q: A thousand years from now, will people build scenes of the 2010 NFL-Draft in front of their houses just like they do with the nativity play now? In the Pittsburgh game, they played in the stadium that's closest to heaven (Mile High). Tebow threw for 316 yards. Rothlisberger's interception came on 3rd and 16. Pittsburgh's time of possession was 31 minutes and 6 seconds. Tebow's average yards per completion was 31.6. Someone named John told Tebow to pull trigger on the final TD. And Demaryius Thomas, the target for Tebow's game winner, was born on Christmas.
— Matthias Lahn, Germany
SG: You just described why I have never been more frightened for a Patriots game. It's the first-ever Boston sporting event with zero upside. Name one result that would make Patriots fans feel fantastic afterwards. For example, let's say the Patriots win by 35, with Brady finishing 34-for-35 for 450 yards and 6 TDs. What does that mean? So the no. 1 seed Patriots took care of business at home, after a bye week, by blowing out a .500 team featuring a QB who can't throw a 10-yard out, an overworked running back who's running on fumes and three above-average defensive players (and they're six days removed from one of the most emotional victories in recent football history, no less)? Can you really celebrate that?
Meanwhile, any other result is a potential heart attack or worse. That's why most Patriots fans are a nervous wreck heading into a game in which their team is favored by 13½ points and playing a team it already crushed. Has that ever happened before? Even if Super Bowl XLII will always be the worst defeat in the history of the franchise, this particular loss would be more excruciating because we can see it coming even though, again, losing this game makes absolutely no sense. Here are four actual e-mails I received from gainfully employed, successful, rational people who root for the Patriots.
E-mail no. 1: "Every Patriots fan I talk to is on the same page — I don't expect to win the Super Bowl, or even the AFC Championship game. But we absolutely cannot lose this one."
E-mail no. 2: "I am more nervous for this football game than any I can remember. Right now, on Wednesday, I have the same feeling in my stomach that I had in the fourth quarter of the Giants Super Bowl. One of you: please tell me something that will make me feel better."
E-mail no. 3 (a response to E-mail no. 2): "I have spent more time considering where to watch this game than what to feed my child this week. Home seems like a bad call — I really might break something and it might lead to divorce. I'm a mess about this game too. I really have nothing soothing to say."
E-mail no. 4: "My cousin Kristin's wedding reception is at the exact same time as this game. No TV's at the reception — my Dad already checked. We are going to have 40 people grimly huddled around my iPhone watching what promises to be one of the biggest upsets in sports history as we're watching some stolen internet stream that cuts off right as Tebow's potential game-winning pass is soaring in the air, followed by me giving my father CPR for the next 20 minutes. I have never felt more pessimistic about a sporting event in which my team would have to be beaten by a 7-to-1 underdog to lose — not ever."
(By the way, that last e-mail was written by me. And it's all true. Cousin Kristin — you're lucky I like you.)
Q: Did you see NBC's pregame show on Saturday? They had Barkley on because he was hosting SNL later that night. Barkley picked the exact opposite of what Rodney Harrison picked for the two games. They argued and Barkley said, "Bet you dinner." Seated between Harrison and Barkley was Tony Dungy, who suddenly got very serious and looked at Barkley and said in a soft voice, "Oh, we can't bet on the show." Barkley just kept going, "We are talking about dinner!" Very funny moment between two guys who probably never would speak to each other any other way.
— Patrick, Boston
SG: Saw it, loved it. I'm going out on a limb and saying that Tony Dungy and Charles Barkley don't have a ton in common. That exchange would have been the highlight of Round One if not for the new playoff OT rule losing its virginity with Tim Tebow, and then, Tebow only lasting 11 seconds.
Q: The Saints/Lions game is happening as I'm writing this — in fact the Lions are up 14-7 with just under four minutes to play. Game over, Saints win. Why? The camera just showed Stafford with his hat on backwards. Brim-to-the-Back Guy cannot win a Super Bowl, and I don't think there's any way Brim-to-the-Back Guy out-duels Drew Brees in the Superdome. Has any Brim-to-the-Back Guy won the big game? Some'll claim Big Ben, you can't exactly say he was the leader of those Super Bowl teams. You've got your finger on the pulse; you've the mighty combined forces of Grantland and ESPN's crack research teams.What say you?
— Michael Keeney, Madison, WI
SG: This was such a brilliant observation that, for about nine seconds, I thought about stealing the point entirely and pretending I never heard of Michael Keeney of Madison, Wisconsin. We don't need a crack research team for a verdict here: The only elite QB with less of a chance in a big game than Brim-to-the-Back Guy is Brim-to-the-Side Guy. In fact, the secret of Tom Brady's maturation into a franchise QB wasn't dropping to the sixth round; it was when he decided to stop being Brim-to-the-Back Guy. Your move, Matthew Stafford.
Q: Please stop referring to defensive backs as "d-backs." It's "db's" or "Defensive Backs." I'm sick and tired of listening to podcasts where you ramble on about how bad the "d-backs" are in the Patriots' secondary. On second thought
nevermind. Keep up the good work.
— Chris B., Sacramento
SG: Thanks, d-bag.
Q: Did Marvin Lewis pull out the best Brad Childress performance of the season in Round One? It was just AWESOME!! I think he took pity on Bill Barnwell and decided to give him material until the end of the season.
— Pierre, Paris, France
SG: You know how ESPN tried to turn 2011 into The Year of the Quarterback? I wish we tried to turn 2012 into The Year of the Coach, if only so we could have created a 16-coach game show formatted somewhat like Chopped, with the contestants making impromptu coaching decisions instead of impromptu cooking challenges. Imagine Andy Reid, Marvin Lewis, Brad Childress and Norv Turner battling in the season finale of Botched.
Andy the Host: "Gentlemen, it's the second quarter of a playoff game, you're playing on the road and trailing by three, you're at midfield, the two-minute warning is coming up, and you only have one challenge remaining. We're going to ask you to make strategic decisions for the next eight plays of this sequence. Here's the first one: Your running back just ran very close to a first down on second and two, only it seems like the ref may have given you a bad spot. Again, you only have one challenge remaining. What do you do?"
Marvin: "I'm going to challenge that spot, Andy. Even if it's nearly impossible to get a spot reversed, and I could easily run for a first down on the next play, I'd rather lose my last challenge flag right now. This way I can just take it out of my pocket — I hate that thing, it's cumbersome."
Andy: "I'm not going to challenge the spot, Andy — I love third-and-short, that allows me to run a terrible play-action pass that will almost definitely result in a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage. I'd also rather blow that challenge later in the game, during a much bigger moment, when it will really crush my fans."
Norv: "Andy, I'm going to stare straight ahead, look as confused as possible, wait too long to react, and then only throw my challenge flag after the ball has already been snapped on the next play."
Brad: "I'm going to call timeout, Andy, and then, after the timeout ends, that's when I'm going to decide to challenge that spot. This way, I could potentially lose two timeouts on the same play if I'm wrong."
Host: "And our loser for that question is Brad Childress. Brad, you're only a couple more ill-advised decisions away from being our Botched champion. Good luck."
Q: I re-read your 2011 NFL Preview column and counted up your "Relatively Bold Predictions". You had at least one per game, and some with multiple parts, which I counted separately. By my math, you're currently 6 of 24. I'm naming you my "NFL Preseason Preview MVP."
— Alex, Centreville
SG: (Searching for a comeback.)
Q: I understand why football coaches cover their mouth with their hand, clipboard, play chart, etc. during the game, but wouldn't it just make more sense for the headset manufacturers make the mouth pieces larger so that the full mouth is covered? Wait, did I just give away an amazing business idea??
— Doug, Oakland
SG: Yup. You're going to be kicking yourself when you're watching Herm Edwards' infomercial for the "Mega-Mouth Guard" headset in 18 months.
Q: Can we say that a top running back is no longer needed to win a Super Bowl? Here are the last 10 Super Bowl winners and their running backs: 2001- Pats (Antowain Smith); 2002- Bucs (Michael Pittman); 2003- Pats (Kevin Faulk); 2004- Pats (Corey Dillon); 2005- Steelers (Willie Parker); 2006- Colts (Joseph Addai); 2007- Giants (Brandon Jacobs); 2008- Steelers (Willie Parker); 2009- Saints (Pierre Thomas); 2010- Packers (Brandon Jackson). Do any of those guys strike fear into your heart? Corey Dillon would be the closest (although he was past his prime when he joined the Pats). Also, the Colts, Giants, Saints, and Packers all won the Super Bowl AFTER losing Edgerrin James, Tiki Barber, Deuce McAllister, and Ryan Grant. Does this make the case that having a top running back, if you are a contender for the Super Bowl, actually hurts your chances?
— Brian R, Dubai
SG: In the Salary Cap/Touch Football era, I would say yes — you're better off having multiple cost-effective backs who can do different things (like how New Orleans uses Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles) over one expensive back (say, Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson). Our three best 2011 offenses (New Orleans, Green Bay and New England) certainly embraced that philosophy.1 For a 20-game season (including playoffs), would you rather have a quality running back by committee (say, Thomas, Sproles, Ivory and Mark Ingram) or a super-back like Ray Rice for twice the price? For one game, you might take Rice — he can do everything that committee can do. But for five solid months with the injury factor included? You might take the committee, right?
Q: Watching Tim Tebow throw the game winning touchdown to beat the Steelers was the most excitement I have ever felt watching the NFL Playoffs. As a Browns fan, I can't imagine what a playoff win will feel like.
SG: The lesson, as always: Tebow hates Cleveland.
Q: Has there ever been a more physically gifted WR than Calvin Johnson? Is it even close? He's clearly on the Bo Jackson All Stars (athletes we'll never see clones of.) I'm sure you have time to fill out the rest of that roster, which is way tougher than the NBA version, the Allen Iverson All Stars.
— Brock E., Denver
SG: It's not an All-Star team, more of a Hall of Fame, with the entry being determined by two questions: "When you watched this person play football, did it seem like he had a genuine physical advantage over everyone else on the field, and did you find yourself saying over and over again, 'That guy is an absolute freak?'"
My list is short and sweet: Bo, Deion, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Michael Vick, Steve Young, Lawrence Taylor, Walter Payton, Randall Cunningham and we're done, unless you want to include Jerry Rice (for being a freak just for being so technically perfect/precise) or Rob Gronkowski (who probably would have made the list if not for Jimmy Graham, who's equally superfreakish, which somehow nullifies the superfreakishness of both guys because part of being a freak is having no frequal).
Q: Just had this epiphany while watching the Broncos Steelers game. Tim Tebow will be a right wing conservative GOP heavyweight by 2035, priming up for a White House run. It's inevitable. Look at Ronald Reagan
And he only played "the Gipper". Tim Tebow is a modern legend, one whose dominance of college football has given him legendary status in society. Once Fourth-and-God is made he'll be immortal. Given his religious and conservative views he'll be the perfect corporate puppet under the guise of a god fearing conservative. He'll win in a landslide. Remember this e-mail when the Tebow/Bristol Palin team takes power. Tebow 2036.
— Kyle, Omaha
SG: Uh-oh, we just entered the "Readers send insane predictions for Tim Tebow's future that aren't totally insane because you can't rule any of them out from happening" portion of the mailbag. Please put on your seat belts and stay in your seats.
Q: How far does Tebow have to advance in the playoffs before everyone accepts that Jesus exists? I'm fairly certain that if he wins the Super Bowl, I'm accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
— John, Santa Barbara
SG: No moving around the cabin. Thank you.
Q: So at what point does Tebow just announce that he is, in fact,the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ? Like what are your legitimate odds on that happening in the next 12 months to save us from a 2012 apocalypse? My brother and I always read your columns and he's going with 9:1 odds, and frankly I'm considering throwing a hundo down on that after that Steelers game. You wrote that rooting against Tebow is rooting against every single sports movie ever made, but I think it goes much deeper than that. Is there any possible explanation for what he's doing other than he is here to win the Super Bowl and then fight the Anti-Christ for our souls?
— Jason D., Inver Grove Heights
SG: You thought that e-mail was over-the-top? Hold on.
Q: After watching the Denver Tebows defeat Pittsburgh, I can only see one realistic ending to the NFL season. Tim Tebow in the Superbowl press conference with the Lombardi trophy on one side, the Superbowl MVP trophy on the other, and a halo suddenly appearing over his head. Merrill Hodge, little Timmy's biggest doubter, will be in the room and ask the first question: "Are you Jesus?" To which Tebow will respond "What do you think?" The halo will glow brighter as he rises up and ascends to the heavens, leaving Merrill and everyone else's jaws hitting the ground. So seeing as how this ending is inevitable and it will be clear that Tim Tebow is in fact Jesus would you like to support my proposal to change the time system of the world to the Tebow Time System? This of course would consist of Before Tebow (B.T.), Tebow Time (T.T.), and After Tebow (A.T.).
— Bryan, Half Moon Bay, CA
SG: And you're telling me I shouldn't be nervous about Saturday night's Patriots game? Let's hope this is my hairiest moment of 1 T.T.
Q: I just read your newest mailbag. I was disappointed because I spent most of it reading the bold text. You are an excellent and intelligent writer. Your readers, typically, are not. I would like to hear more from you and less from them. Please consider my concerns.
— Finney, Clemson
SG: I'm guessing Finney didn't enjoy the last few e-mails. And for the record — the mailbag is my favorite column to write and has been since 1997. So there.
Q: An idea for the 18-game schedule: each team plays 18 games, but (except for kickers and punters), no player can play in more than 16 games during the regular season. And this should be strongly enforced — if a player plays in even one play in a game, that counts as one of the 16. Imagine the endless debates over what games you decide to rest your best players — do you rest your starting QB against the weakest team you play, or maybe the best if you figure you're not beating that team anyway? Do you rest all your best players in two games, or mix and match? NFL Countdown would have to expand to 5 hours!!
— Mark Wooster, L.A.
SG: I'm still partial to an 18-week season with two bye weeks, but Mark's idea is pretty intriguing, even if it would ruin fantasy football and gambling and possibly cause an overwhelmed Matthew Berry to start using heroin. A possible wrinkle: If every team plays 18 games, that's 72 quarters in all so why not tweak it so every player (except kickers and punters) can only play 62 quarters total? That allows for the following situations:
1. New England could rest Gronkowski in Week 8, then bring him into the second half if two of their tight ends got hurt (with that only counting as two quarters, not a whole game).
2. Sean Payton could sit Drew Brees for the first three quarters of a potential blowout at home against Tampa, then have the flexibility to bring him in as his fourth-quarter "closer" (with that only counting as one quarter) if the game ended up being closer than he thought.
3. Leading by 14 against Miami heading into the fourth, Belichick could pull Tom Brady to save a Brady quarter, opening the door for a "What a gamble by Belichick here!" debate.
The downside: How the hell would we keep track of all this stuff?
The upside: How much fun would it be to watch coaches who can't handle time management in the last two minutes of a half now being forced to successfully monitor the quarter-by-quarter usage of their best players? I'm starting to talk myself into this.
Q: The 2011 Saints were held to under 4 rushing yards per carry five times — all five times, they either lost the game or won by 3. The 2011 Niners allow 3.5 yards-per-carry this season and are getting 4 points against the Saints. Happy Gambling.
— John Castellano, Windsor, Ontario
Q: Every mailbag I find myself hoping I can make it through without you incorporating the term "nodding" in some way, shape, or form into your response. I have yet to come across someone who overuses "nodding" as much as you. Perhaps for the new year you can find a new phrase to express yourself with (you used "nodding" in the the first mailbag of 2012 — i was holding out out hope it would be "nodding" free, but it's never too late to change, heck, just put it to bed for a month even!). If you do this, I will "nod approvingly." Thanks.
— Edward R., Washington DC
SG: (Waving two middle fingers toward my laptop screen.)
Q: Did you know that papillary thyroid carcinoma is said to be the "best" cancer you can get? Apparently it is relatively easy to treat with an excellent prognosis. That being said, it's still cancer. Did I mention that, as I type this email, I'm down on knees literally praying that my Tampa Bay Buccaneers hire 68 year old Marty "One and Done" Schottenheimer instead of Wade Phillips, Brad Childress or Mike Sherman? Not that those two thoughts are related or anything.
— Brandon, Vancouver
SG: Here's why I think the Bucs should hire Marty — you know how old people reach that stage when they just don't give a crap anymore and it's awesome? They'll say whatever, do whatever, they just don't care. They're old. Whatever. (It's like Seinfeld's joke about old people backing out of a driveway — they're just going to back out, they're not looking to see if anyone's coming, and if somebody crashes into them, so be it.) Well, wouldn't that be a PERFECT thing to happen to Marty Schottenheimer? His teams lost in the playoffs for decades and decades because he'd tighten up, become super-conservative and play not to lose. But now? He's old! He's in that "I'm backing out of the driveway, get out of my way!" stage. If I'm running the Bucs, I'd rather gamble that the aging process killed Marty's fatal flaw as a coach over hiring a proven failure like Phillips or Sherman, or even worse, Brad Childress.
That reminds me, here's a good rule of thumb for trades and coaching hirings: Float the guy's name out as a possibility, then check out the reaction from fans of his old team (bloggers, message boards, sports radio, etc.). If the consensus can be described as "incredulously, deliriously and overwhelmingly sarcastic," you shouldn't trade for that player or hire that coach. It's that simple.2
Q: After that incredible Broncos win added another chapter to the amazing Tebow story, it's now certain that Fourth-and-God will be made within a year and gross over $100 million its opening weekend (not $85 million as you predicted last week). Can we now seriously discuss the potential cast for the movie? Here are my predictions:
— Tebow = Zac Efron (you already suggested this).
— Elway = Val Kilmer (would have to get back into Batman Forever shape.)
— John Fox = Alec Baldwin (comic relief with his press conferences plus his reactions to errant Tebow passes).
— Champ Bailey = Anthony Mackie (could steal the movie in a supporting role).
— God = Morgan Freeman (of course).
— Tebow's love interest = Julianne Hough (just innocent enough to be someone Tebow would actually date in real life).
— The Media Villain (a composite of every talking head who brutally ripped Tebow) = Tom Cruise (doesn't "Real Cruise" need to be in a movie about "Netflix Placebo Cruise?").
— Ben Roethlisberger = Ben Affleck (after putting on 45 lbs).
— Kyle Orton = Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka "McLovin" from Superbad).
Who am I missing?
— Greg T., New York
SG: Great start. I particularly liked the Kilmer/Elway casting — that could be a huge comeback role from Kilmer and we'd need to come up with one Elway/Villain scene so Kilmer and Cruise could finally work together again. You missed Omar Epps (as Mike Tomlin), Bryan Cranston (as Skip Bayless), Kevin Bacon (as Bill Belichick), John Krasinski (as Josh McDaniels), Keanu Reeves (as Eric Decker — sorry, I needed Keanu in this movie, you're just gonna have to live with it), B.o.B. as Demaryius Thomas (you can't make this movie without one rapper-turned-actor), Mel Gibson (as Satan), and Kat Dennings (as a buxom Broncos cheerleader who tries to take Tebow's virginity and turn him to the dark side).
Q: I am a huge non-believer in the McNair/Kubiak train and just pulled a great stat from Kubiak's tenure: since 2005, he's 2-20 on the road against that season's playoff teams. Those two wins only happened in Cincinnati (2009 and 2011).
— Foster, Houston
SG: Throw in the fact that the Ravens are 15-1 at home the past two seasons and yeah.
Q: How lucky are Brady and the Patriots? Tebow and his disciples just knocked out the team that every Pats fan was petrified to play. The Pats have an atrocious pass defense that gave up 400 yards to Vince Young and 357 yards to Dan Orlovsky, and yet, they could win the Super Bowl by beating Tebow, T.J. Yates and Alex Smith. Brady already finished off Peyton Manning; now he's looking at the possibility of Brees choking in San Francisco, Rodgers choking against the Giants or Niners, then Brady reclaiming his QB throne against his old favorite team (the 49ers) or the team that ruined his 19-0 season (the Giants). Are the stars aligning or am I crazy?
— Bill, Los Angeles
SG: Fine, I wrote that one myself. It's the rarely seen reverse reverse jinx.
Q: That Denver-Pitt game was scripted for Jim Nantz like no other sporting event ever. You and your mailbag reader even handed him the script! How could Nantz turn in perhaps the weakest major performance of his career in a game he was (perhaps literally) born to announce? It was like bizarro Nantz. For one night only, we were actually EXCITED to hear his signature melodramatizing
and he ran away from it! Not once did he make note of the extraordinary circumstances/intangibles in the air on Sunday. And then, at what may prove to be the single most memorable moment of this NFL season, he described the Thomas TD as "Denver is going to New England!" and then, "The new overtime rules!" The two things absolutely no one on Earth was thinking about at that moment were 1) where Tebow was playing next week, and 2) the new overtime rules. TEBOW! TEEEEEEEEEEEEBOOOOOOOOOOOOOW! Nantz missed.
— Ragnar, Honolulu
SG: Such a great point — the difference in quality between Nantz's call and someone from that Gus Johnson/Kevin Harlan phylum is almost incalculable. He made the criminal mistake of (A) talking too much during the play (instead of letting us hear the crowd), and (B) not having a ready-made Nantzian pun ready for that moment. I mean, Nantz had 10 minutes between the end of regulation and the first play from scrimmage in OT to come up with a clearly-written-ahead-of-time line just in case Tebow threw a game-winning pass in overtime! As Ragnar said, he was literally put on earth to have some sort of sappy/corny explosion for this specific moment, something like
"Eighty yards, no flags, one miracle!"
"This is the dawning of the age of Demaryius!"
"Sudden death, sudden life, Tebow rises again!"
"Look out, New England — the white Bronco is still on the loose!"
Q: If Tebow beats the Patriots on a "Hail Mary," would every NFL commentator's head simultaneously spin around, Exorcist-style, and then explode? And would Skip Bayless start making out with Stephen A. Smith? Back to alcohol
— Nick Mehta, Sunnyvale, CA
SG: "Hail Mary, hail Tebow, hail Cinderella! Denver wins!"
Q: Is it just me or do the Packers have the "Nobody Believed In Us" Theory going for them going into this game against the Giants? The line is already moving down which means the public is in favor of the Giants, and all I am hearing from radio talk and ESPN is that the Giants have the formula to upset the Packers. Everyone is overlooking the Packers that went 15-1!!! One loss!
— Shane, Philly
SG: Nah, I'd say it's more of a "This Is Stupid, Why Did You Stop Believing in Us Again?" game (for the Packers) crossed with a "Why Do So Many People Suddenly Believe in Us?" game (for the Giants).
Q: Imagine if a Tim Tebow sex tape came out. It would have to be the biggest sex scandal fallout since Bill Clinton right? I asked several of my friends if they would rather see that or their football team win the Super Bowl and we all went with the sex tape.
— Ben Kendrick, West Hartford
SG: Whoa, we're already in range?
Q: I've been sucked into the Tebow magic but the porn industry seems to be dragging its feet. My buddy Marc and I were trying to come up with a proper name for the inevitable XXX Tebow movie and the best I could come up with was Bible Banger. Marc had the better one: A Third That's Long.
— Mike, Chicago
SG: All that work and neither of you could come up with Raging Tebowner? Yup, this is your sports columnist. Let's get to the Round 2 picks (home teams in CAPS)
NINERS (+4) over Saints
This line is more than a little perplexing. The 2011 Saints averaged 36.5 points indoors and 23.8 points outdoors (where they were 1-3 against the spread). The Saints played last week; the Niners are coming off a bye and have to be the healthiest playoff team in recent memory. The Saints struggle to score if they can't run the ball (as covered above); the Niners swallow up the run as well as anyone. These Saints want to avoid those ugly, hard-hitting, field goal-laden, "22-19"-type outdoor games in which their offense never totally gets going, their opponent shortens the game and special teams (and turnovers) play a giant factor; the Niners specialize in those ugly games, especially at home. The Saints have a built-in coaching advantage in nearly every game because of Sean Payton; the Niners have Jim Harbaugh, who did the best coaching job of anyone this season. And if that's not enough
• It's the biggest Niners playoff game in nine solid years and the most appreciated/beloved Niners team locally since Steve Young's last good season (1998). Think of all the crap this franchise went through recently: Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan; the Garcia/Owens fallout; the laughable Mike Singletary Era; six excruciating Alex Smith seasons; 46 wins total from 2003 to 2010; even being part of the embarrassingly bad NFC West. This has all the makings of one of those classic old-school, hungry, thankful-for-meaningful-football-again playoff crowds.
• With the Niners eligible for "Nobody believes in us!!!!!" status, I can't imagine a coach better equipped to bang that home than Jim Harbaugh. I'm tired of hearing how great this Saints offense is! What about OUR defense? What about OUR team? Do you realize we're four-point underdogs at home? NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's going to be a pissed-off Niners team. Especially on defense.
• If you don't think the Niners are growing out Candlestick's grass, watering the field for a little too long, leaving it a little more muddy than usual, or doing whatever else it takes to slow this game down, think again. There WILL be chicanery. Oh, yes.
You know what I love most about this game? It's not a slam-dunk. See, there's still that little issue of Alex Smith throwing to a pretty motley crew of receivers (Ted Ginn, Michael Crabtree, etc.). The first time we watch a wide-open Ginn drop a third-down pass — and by the way, it's going to happen — any Niners bettor is going to think to himself, "What the hell was I thinking? This team can't score with the Saints. I'm an idiot." That's why I'm playing that moment out now and getting it over with. The Niners will leave points on the board in this game. They will blow third downs. They will rely a little too heavily on David Akers and Andy Lee. They will make you wonder if you made the right call at least 30 times. But that's the thing you did.
The Pick: San Francisco 22, New Orleans 20.
PATRIOTS (-13.5) over Broncos
Trying to remain objective while breaking down what would unquestionably be the most horrifying loss in Patriots history — not the worst, not the most bitter, but the most horrifying — was tougher than I thought. But here's the key point: You can't call the Broncos a "Nobody Believes in Us" team anymore. If anything, that sentiment swung the other way and led to people giving them too much credit.
Remove the entertainment/religious/dramatic value from last Sunday's Steelers game for a second and look at it objectively: Tebow played the best game of his pro career against a Pittsburgh defensive line that slowly fell apart (because of injuries, altitude and general age) Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau submitted one of the strangest game plans in recent playoff history, selling out to stop Tebow and a banged-up Willis McGahee and repeatedly allowing Tebow to do the one thing he can do (throw deep) a hobbling Ben Roethlisberger looked like Dan Marino circa 1998, allowing Denver's speed guys to tee off on him again and again after a dreamy second quarter in which just about everything went right, Denver took a 14-point lead into the second half AND were playing at home and if that's not enough, Maurkice Pouncey's replacement and Ryan Clark's replacement made multiple critical mistakes.
So what happened? Denver still came within one first down of losing the game.
That's not a good omen for Saturday night — if Denver barely won an "everything went right for us and wrong for them" playoff game at home, what does that mean on the road against a superior team? Do the Broncos have the firepower to hang with Brady & Co., especially after Belichick takes away Tebow's deep passing game and dares the occasionally accurate Tebow to throw eight yards a pop to beat him? Denver's defense couldn't stop Isaac Redman last weekend; are they really stopping Steben-Jardan Greenrid-EllisWoodley on six days' rest? Why should we expect them to contain Aarob Gronkandez when they couldn't do it in Denver four weeks ago? Why shouldn't we think that a pissed-off Tom Brady isn't going to come out with a pissed-off "Enough of this Tebow guy" demeanor and shred Denver's defense? And what about the old Playoff Manifesto rules that "you can't get too carried away by the previous week" and "you should only pick an underdog or road team if you're convinced it has a chance to win the game outright?"3
"But what about Tebow?" you ask. "You know, the guy whom multiple mailbag readers just compared to a religious figure? That guy?"
My answer: We already filmed the ending to Fourth-and-God last Sunday. Most memorable sports movies feature a climactic game that happens before the championship, whether it's Major League, Any Given Sunday, Blue Chips, For Love of the Game, Fast Break, The Natural, The Rookie, Jerry Maguire, All the Right Moves, Rudy, Vision Quest you only want to crest on a "pivotal moment" in a "big game" when "nobody believed" and "the hero came through in the most dramatic way possible." Um didn't that just happen? Consider Round 2 the closing credits for Fourth-and-God, a scroll that reads, "Although Tebow and the Broncos lost to New England the following week, the memory of their magical season still lives on."
(Besides, we need to leave room for a Fourth-and-God sequel, right?)
The Pick: New England 41, Denver 174
RAVENS (-7.5) over Texans
My only worry about this game: It looks too easy. You know the Ravens will sell out to stop the run and dare rookie QB T.J. Yates to beat them; you know Houston will do everything it can to avoid putting Yates in that spot (which means we'll get to watch Arian Foster and Ben Tate stubbornly running into eight Ravens for the entire first half); you know Baltimore does the "front-runner piling it on at home" routine better than just about anyone; and you know Ray Rice will be heard from in this game.
All right, so let's say the Ravens go up by double digits on Sunday what then? We're supposed to think T.J. Yates is going to rally the Texans back? It's fun to think the Texans can hang around with their defense, turn this into a low-scoring slugfest, then hope Joe Flacco can give them a late turnover and steal the game late. And yes, we're riding a six-year streak of home playoff teams submitting a stinkbomb in Round 2 — as fans of the 2010 Patriots, 2009 Chargers, 2008 Panthers, 2007 Colts, 2006 Chargers/Ravens and 2005 Colts/Bears would tell you — and really, there's no better candidate than the 2011 Ravens (a pretty flawed team). But backing T.J. Yates on the road? I can't. I just can't.
The Pick: Baltimore 30, Houston 3.
PACKERS (-7.5) over Giants
The case against the Giants: Already lost to Green Bay (at home, and when the Packers were more banged up) their "late hot streak" consisted of Dallas choking away their Week 14 game, a 5-11 Redskins team beating them in Week 15, an ugly win over the fraudulent Jets (Week 16), Dallas no-showing their win-or-go-home Week 17 battle, then a decisive home win against the possibly fraudulent Falcons (Round 1) too many people think there's a case for the Giants.
The case for the Giants: They already know how to make that Super Bowl XLII recipe they can do two things extremely well (rush the passer, throw the ball) their QB knows he can win on the road their much-maligned secondary has played well for four straight weeks (most notably against the Falcons, when they throttled Roddy White and Julio Jones) the fact that the Giants always play 25 percent better when cold weather turns Tom Coughlin's face blood-red.
The case against the Packers: You can beat them with the Super Bowl 42 recipe they won't be able to run the ball (unless it's with Rodgers' scrambling) we've seen high-octane passing offenses peter out in January too many times the "one home team almost always lays an egg in Round 2" theory everyone and their brother will be throwing the Packers and Ravens into a two-team, six-point tease on Sunday (and you know what that means).
The case for the Packers: They scored 560 points and came within a dopey everything-went-wrong game in Kansas City of going 16-0 they're healthier than they've been all season they love picking off passes (31 this year) and Eli loves throwing picks and near-picks this line should be a point and a half higher (at least) they have to be a little pissed that everyone is talking about a Giants upset (especially Rodgers, who seems to thrive off those little slights), and how they've been overlooked this season in general.
That last point is crucial: At the very least, let's agree that the Packers won't be caught napping on Sunday. I see it playing out like the Giants' Week 14 game in Dallas, which was a back-and-forth battle highlighted by a splendid performance by the home QB (Tony Romo: 4 TD's, 0 picks). Leading by five with about 2:20 to play, the Cowboys called the perfect third-and-2 play to ice the game: a play-action pass that broke a wide-open Miles Austin running down the right sideline only Romo overthrew him. His only mistake of the game. You know the rest.
Now you tell me: Same situation, bigger stakes does Aaron Rodgers complete that pass? I'm certainly not betting against him. Not this week, anyway.
The Pick: Green Bay 30, New York 20
Last Week: 4-0
Regular Season: 120-127-9
Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.
Previously from Bill Simmons:
It's an All-Football Mailbag!
B.S. Report: Flea
B.S. Report: Mega Playoff Podcast
Bill Belichick realized this ahead of everyone else — he spends his money on Tom Brady and Brady's offensive line, then tries to grab as many draft picks as possible so he can get lucky with receivers, tight ends and running backs. It worked with the tight ends (lately: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez), didn't work as well with the running backs (Laurence Maroney was a bust; the jury is still out on last year's picks of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley); and pretty much bombed with receivers (Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate and Taylor Price, to name three).
I may have written this before. I honestly can't remember — I'm old. I'm going to back out of my driveway without looking right after I finish this column. Whatever.
On Football Outsiders, Aaron Schatz wrote that — if Denver beat New England — it would be the third biggest upset of the last 20 years by F.O.'s DVOA ratings, trailing only Super Bowl XLII (arrrrgh) and Colts-Chiefs in 1995 (a gloriously macabre combination of bad luck, turnovers and Marty being Marty).
For the record, I wish I was even 1/20th as confident about this game as I tried to make it seem in those seven paragraphs.