Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
14 Jan 2009
by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley
With only three weeks left in the 2008 football season, the Scramble team has taken to heavy drinking and pork rind eating (and possibly ingesting Salvador Dali-grade hallucinogenic drugs). With that in mind, Vince and Ben offer their Dada-ist predictions for this weekend's championship round.
For the first time since August, Sunday arrives with no football until noon on the West Coast. Vince and Ben awake 1,000 miles apart bright and early at 11:30 a.m., extremely hungover and reeking of cigarette smoke and/or stripper perfume. They promptly begin to chase away said hangovers with greasy food (Vince) and more alcohol (Ben) (and Vince, to a lesser degree).
Ben flips away from NFL Countdown after Keyshawn Johnson declares that Anquan Boldin "needs to be less selfish." Meanwhile, a screaming Brian Dawkins pregame speech induces a Bret Easton Ellis-like passionate blood lust in kicker David Akers, who silently vows to spear every returner with his helmet.
First quarter: Neil Lomax and Ron Jaworski, faces grim, shake hands and agree that this game will settle things once and for all. Arizona becomes the first team in playoff history to finish the first quarter without a single rushing attempt. Andy Reid, his beard causing him to look like a midnight green-and-white Santa Claus, counters with 3-yard curl routes -- nothing but 3-yard curl routes. Larry Fitzgerald catches four footballs and five frisbees, thus robbing a local German Shepherd of his halftime glory. In San Francisco, Ben pours himself a Bloody Mary. In Seattle, Vince starts his day with multiple doughnuts.
Second quarter: Working through his early afternoon shots of tequila, Ben ill-advisedly decides to taunt Mike Tanier by arguing that "McNabb should really feed L.J. Smith the ball more -- he's a playmaker!" Tanier immediately begins diagramming the Roethlisberger "touchdown" from Super Bowl XL to run in the next Walkthrough. After watching Tim Hightower fall forward for yet another two-yard gain, Bill Barnwell gleefully rubs his hands together and begins mentally composing his "Least Valuable Running Back" Quick Read for the week.
Halftime: Howie Long, impressed by the physical domination of the Eagles' defensive line, compares them to a fleet of Chevrolet Silverados. Michael Strahan reminisces about Kurt Warner's days with the Giants, and is bleeped 15 times in the process. Jimmy Johnson wears a ridiculous pinstripe suit and a shirt with french cuffs, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they went out of style circa the crash of 1987. Terry Bradshaw laughs uproariously for no apparent reason. In Seattle, Vince eats an entire pig's worth of pork rinds, and washes them down with a delicious bottle of Pete's Wanderlust Cream Ale. Ben starts experimenting with wood-grain alcohol.
Third quarter: Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, known for his creative schemes, goes one step too far after he calls for an 11-man blitz on McNabb. Somewhere in Maryland, Gregg Easterbook's head explodes. Joe Buck cuts to commercial while stating, "Andy Reid -- a big cuddly bear you just want to pet, don't you Troy? -- Eagles lead by 10 -- back after this." Aikman squirms uncomfortably. The 4,678th Howie Long commercial prompts Ben to play clips of the bisexual nymphettes who "star" in MTV's "A Double Shot of Love" and ponder the impending apocalypse.
Fourth quarter: After watching Fitzgerald catch 22 passes for 380 yards, normally aggressive Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson chooses to rush zero, putting nine defenders on Fitzgerald with two safeties playing deep behind them. Kurt Warner is somehow sacked and fumbles on the play. The game is decided when Neil Rackers or David Akers kicks a last-second field goal and is known forever as "clutch." After the game, Donovan McNabb says repeatedly that he loves Eagles fans, especially those who live in Chicago or Minnesota. Aaron Schatz attempts to compute Fitzgerald's DYAR; the resulting fire takes down six homes. Vince digs into a bag of Oreos.
First quarter: The Ravens rush the ball 12 times, each of which gains precisely 3.3 yards. Joe Flacco throws one pass, which goes through Todd Heap's hands and deep into his torso. Heap is rushed to the hospital, but the play results in a first down. Approximately 100 percent of the commercials aired thus far feature Howie Long or Peyton Manning.
Second quarter: Taking a page out of San Diego's playbook, the Ravens find the easiest way to neutralize James Harrison is simply to hold him on every play. Phil Simms immediately praises the Baltimore offensive line for "playing at a playoff level." Meanwhile, for the second week in a row, referee Bill Leavy is assigned to the Steelers game, causing a noticeable jump in violent in crime in King County, Washington, that may or may not be attributed to Football Outsiders staff. Working on his second Bloody Mary, Ben hears the voice of Jim Nantz haunting him as Nantz declares "The Super Bowl with the Steelers -- a tradition unlike any other!"
Halftime: Viewers are treated to a new "What is H?" commercial featuring six versions of Howie Long at various stages of his career, as narrated by Howie Long.
What is H?
It's the heart of the hustle.
It's the soul of a 'hampion, if you have a harelip.
It's howie do it.
It's half of Boss Hog.
H is the letter that comes after G.
In the studio, Bill Cowher denies interest in coaching the Jets, the Lions, the Rams, the Memphis Maniax, or the Minnesota State Screamin' Eagles. Dan Marino intently studies a list of the Saints' 2009 opponents. Shannon Sharpe breaks down the first half and eats a five-, five-dollar, five-dollar foot-looooong sub (meatball, to be precise) at the same time. Meanwhile, Vince's MeatZZa Feast arrives from Domino's.
Third quarter: After spending the entire first half fighting off a flock of Ravens defenders, Ben Roethlisberger opens the second half atop his motorcycle. The results are less than optimal. Somewhere, Brian Billick insists that the Ravens' best chance to win is to go with Kyle Boller at quarterback. The Ravens open the first half with three straight LeRon McClain runs and become the first team in this game to cross midfield. On the fourth play, McClain fumbles.
Fourth Quarter: Complete pandemonium within the Football Outsiders' Audibles discussion after Ben -- now working on his 14th drink of the afternoon -- suggests that "Willie Parker is the best back in football!" after he gains 64 yards on one run (as opposed to his previous 14 runs of 0, 1, -1, 2, 0, 0, 1, -3, 2, 2, 0, 1, 0, -1 yards). Vince opens a tub of Ben & Jerry's knowing he'll regret this decision in the very near future. Somewhere in New Jersey, Peter King puts the finishing touches on his next MMQB column ("g. I think these iPods things are here to stay. I just listened downloaded my entire audio file of my conversations with Brett Favre over the last 15 years. Bravo, Mr. Jobs.") Inside Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas, a young woman named "Velvet" takes the stage to dance to "November Rain," oblivious to the identity of the young man wearing a Cowboys hat and holding fistful of dollars in one hand, the empty promise of his squandered potential in the other.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
Jake Delhomme. Fail. At home, a 10-point spread, and facing the weakest of the eight teams to play last Sunday, Jake Delhomme managed to turn into Rex Grossman-cum-Brett Favre -- that is to say, idiot and gunslinger. Just avert-your-eyes awful (much like that garish "Panthers" font that Carolina uses in its end zone).
An easy choice this week. Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers called a remarkably aggressive game, considering his team was a heavy favorite against San Diego. But there was Pittsburgh, running a fake punt in a tie game in the second quarter. The gamble failed, and San Diego exploited the field position, driving only 32 yards and kicking a field goal. But Tomlin wasn't done. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh had a fourth-and-goal on the 1-yard line, up 21-10. Rather than kick a field goal that would have left San Diego in position to tie the game with a pair of touchdowns, Tomlin went for the jugular and tried for the touchdown. Carey Davis was stuffed, but like the fake punt, the decision showed major huevos on Tomlin's part.
It's Bill Barnwell's world, we're all just living in it.
|FO Playoff Fantasy Standings|
|1||Bill Barnwell||143||K.Warner, D.Jackson, N.Rackers, BAL D|
|2||Doug Farrar||105||L.McClain, D.Akers|
|3||Aaron Schatz||98||D.McNabb, B.Westbrook, D.Mason|
|4||Jason Beattie||91||PHI D|
|5||Ned Macey||82||L.Fitzgerald, H.Ward, PIT D|
|6||Vince Verhei||75||A.Boldin, H.Miller|
How dominant has Barnwell been? His Week 1 total (thanks to Warner, Michael Turner, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Wayne, and the Baltimore defense) was 94 points, which would be good for third place in the standings by itself. The only player with any kind of chance to catch Bill is Aaron Schatz, and that's only possible if the next two games are the greatest sporting events in the lives of every sports fan in Philadelphia. As for Scramble, well, the "all Giants and Titans" strategy proved to be a poor, poor decision.
In fact, one Best of the Rest team has a better chance of catching Barnwell than do any of the FO squads. BigCheese has 121 points and six players remaining, including Joe Flacco and Willie Parker. This race could be a close one. The second-place BotR team, SeanD., has just 97 points and only three players remaining.
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