Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Dec 2008

Walkthrough: Tiebreaker's Blues

Note: An earlier version of this column was missing four games because of an editing slip-up. Our bad.

by Mike Tanier

Won't Get Booled Again

Ho AND Ho AND [Ho OR (NOT Ho XOR Ho)].

'Tis the season for Boolean algebra.

George Boole was a 19th century mathematician. He was born in Lincolnshire, England, which at the time was called Conjunction Junction upon Avon, and he soon developed a fetish for tiny sentence fasteners. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it for Boole: he loved ifs, ands, and ors to an unhealthy degree. He soon developed a symbolic logic system based on his favorite conjunctions, mixing math and grammar in sick, unhealthy ways.

Thanks to Boole, millions of aspiring mathematicians and programmers must learn "truth tables," elaborate daisy chains of conjunction-linked statements whose truth or falsehood mimic the on-off circuitry of a computer. In Boole's world, TRUE AND FALSE is false, TRUE OR FALSE is true, and FALSE AND FALSE represents everything said in the typical pregame show. Boole was both a nerd and a psychic, so he knew that a century later his work would have two applications: search engines and NFL playoff tiebreaker scenarios.

Without Boole, we would be unable to keep up with important current events by web searching for (Taylor AND Swift AND Joe AND Jonas) NOT (Camilla AND Belle) (don't judge me). And without Boole, we would have no way of knowing what teams must do to reach the playoffs.

Boolean algebra usually hums quietly away in Google programs until this time of year, when it finds its way onto the sports page. Here's the Colts' tiebreaker scenario, spelled out in all of its 19th century mathematical goodness:

The Colts can clinch a playoff spot with: (a win) OR (a tie AND a New England loss OR tie) or (a tie AND a Baltimore loss OR tie) OR (a tie AND losses OR ties by (Miami AND New York)) OR (a Baltimore loss AND (a Miami loss OR tie) OR (losses by Baltimore AND New England)) OR (a Baltimore loss AND a New York loss OR tie) OR (a New England loss AND a Miami loss OR tie) OR (a New England loss AND a New York loss OR tie) OR ((Miami AND New York losses) AND (Indianapolis clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over New York))

Every programmer knows that if one of the parentheses is missing, the whole system crashes. What's more, one misplaced conjunction can render all of the logic illogical. There's probably a glitch in the scenario above: if the Jets and Dolphins tie, the Colts lose two straight, the Texans beat the Bears and the Bengals beat the Browns, Wake Forest wins the Super Bowl. Usually, you don't spot the glitch until you've turned in the assignment or shipped the software.

Tiebreaker scenarios give writers fits. It's impossible to keep them all straight. That's why most of us use simple, general terms: the Colts "control their destiny" (how metaphysical), while the Eagles "need help" (more utilitarian). Wade into the violent riptide of the scenarios themselves, and you risk getting emails like this:

You idiot! You claimed the Colts could make the playoffs if the Jets tied, the Patriots lost, the Ravens tied, and the Dolphins scored over 70 points in their final victory. According to tiebreaker scenario #19, that's clearly not the case. You know nothing about football, nor discrete math for that matter!

I do know quite a bit about both subjects, but I also know what I don't know. When the scenarios become too complex, my only hope is to enlist the help of a 19th century mathematician. Or an elf.

Hermey's Take

Hermey the Elf has been many things: tenor in the elf chorus, dentist, misfit, confidante to illuminated reindeer. He worked at Football Outsiders for three years before moving on to a higher-paying site (curse you, Florio!) He still keeps in touch, and he sat down over eggnog to help me make sense of the playoff picture.

"Do you have any idea how much havoc the AFC West has caused this year?" Hermey asked, his gray-blonde hair dangling from the bottom of his pointy green hat. The three NFC South contenders are 9-2 against one of the weakest divisions in NFL history; when the Bucs face the Raiders in Week 17, that number will climb to 10-2. The AFC East contenders are 7-4 against the West Coast Patsies. "Those wins throw everything out of balance. Plus, the Broncos can't even clinch the division. We're talking about teams going 11-5 and still needing help, but the Chargers could still get in at 8-8."

The AFC East teams got a double-dose of western hospitality: they faced both the AFC West and the NFC West, where only the Cardinals put up much of a fight. "The Colts and Ravens hold most of the Wild Card tiebreakers against the AFC East teams, as it should be," he said. "The Ravens and Colts are better teams." The Jets are one team that has Hermey scratching his head. "They somehow went 1-3 against the AFC West. They lost to the Niners. By all rights, they should be out of the loop, but they did such a great job in the division that they have tiebreaker advantages over the Patriots."

In the NFC, Hermey believes that the Eagles are a better team than the Bucs or Falcons, but he's happy that they tied the Bengals. "That tie makes my job easier," he said. "Imagine if the Eagles were also 9-5. Oy vey! The Wild Card picture would be impossible to untangle." What's more, the Eagles-Bengals game serves as a reminder that ties must be mentioned in all postseason scenarios. "Jets and Dolphins fans will definitely check to see what happens in case of a Week 17 tie this year," he said. "In the past, I would include ties in my breakdowns, only to have some sumbitch editor chop them out because they were wordy and confusing. That won't happen now."

It's a long way from the North Pole to Hermey's cramped office in the Lower East Side. He knocked around a lot after leaving Santa's workshop. "It's tough being an independent elf," he explained. "Me, Legolas, and Doug Flutie kept in touch early on, but we drifted apart over the years." Hermey's dental career fizzled out after a well-publicized nitrous oxide scandal. He hit rock bottom when life partner Yukon Cornelius lost a fortune in the dot-com bust. "Football was my salvation," he said. "I poured all of my natural elfin OCD tendencies into figuring out playoff scenarios." He's hoping to land a job on a studio show next year, but the networks stonewalled him in the past for "making Mike Tirico look short."

Hermey spends hours in his workshop poring over playoff scenarios, but he advises sportswriters and fans to let the details slide. "Nearly every team has to win, and nearly every team needs help," he explained. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you want your team to win and every team with the same record to lose, and that covers 99 percent of the possibilities." The tiebreakers are ephemeral knowledge, important for a week and meaningless the next. "Leave the scenarios to the elves. Good writers and good fans should concentrate on the teams that have clinched, and they should focus on what those teams will do once the playoffs start."

Good advice, especially since the two playoff frontrunners have short circuited in recent weeks.

The Big Games

Steelers at Titans: If you think the Albert Haynesworth injury won't affect the Titans, then you haven't been hanging around their locker room. "Anytime he's not in there, it's definitely a problem," safety Chris Hope said on Monday, before Haynesworth's status was certain (he will miss the rest of the regular season). "We definitely need that guy in the trenches for us," added David Thornton.

There's a simple reason for all the worry. Haynesworth missed three games in the middle of last season. Opponents rushed for 166, 166, and 148 yards in those games. The Titans hadn't allowed a 100-yard rushing game all season before Haynesworth got injured. They mustered just one sack in each of the three games Haynesworth missed. He's one of the most valuable players in the NFL, and the Titans won't be able to replace him, especially since end Kyle Vanden Bosch has also been shelved for the season.

The Titans defense is slipping, but the Steelers are on the final leg of Piledriver Tour 2008. They haven't allowed over 13 points in a game since they faced the Colts on November 9th. The Steelers offense is nothing special, and the Haynesworth-led Titans could have fought them to a stalemate. Without Haynesworth, the Steelers will be able to run a balanced offense, and they won't need as many six-and-seven man protection schemes. The Titans defense will still be pretty good, but the Steelers should score 20 points. The Titans, like the Cowboys, Ravens, and Patriots, will be lucky to score 13.

You don't need Hermey to tell you that the STEELERS can clinch home field advantage by winning out. That's a nightmare, not just for the Titans, but for the whole AFC.

Panthers at Giants: The Panthers may be this year's version of the 2007 Giants. They have a veteran coach who began the season on the hot seat, a multi-faceted rushing attack, and an impressive-though-unheralded offensive line. Their schedule had some soft spots, and many analysts (like me) thought they would fade after their midseason Raiders-Lions feast (remember that the Giants fattened up on the Falcons, Niners, and Dolphins in one three-week stretch last year). For most of the year, the Panthers didn't even look like the best team in their division. But they are getting better just as the playoffs arrive, and they have a chance to make a late-season statement against an excellent team that suddenly looks vulnerable. All we need now is a three-network simulcast of this game, and it's déjà vu all over again.

The Panthers are in a unique position: they could clinch homefield advantage if they win out, but they could also get swept out of the playoffs with two losses and a long list of Bucs, Falcons, and Cowboys victories. That's the "AFC West Effect" we spoke about earlier: the Panthers are 4-0 against those cupcakes, but they couldn't separate from Bucs and Falcons teams on the same pastry line.

Snack time is over for the Panthers, but they do get to face a Giants team suddenly against the ropes. Brandon Jacobs appears unlikely to return for Sunday, and there was no news about right tackle Kareem McKenzie's injured back when we went to press. The Giants, as is the tradition, refuse to blame injuries for their two-game offensive brownout. "When there are plays there to be made, that is where we have to step up and make those plays," Eli Manning said, glossing over the fact that Jacobs, Plaxico Burress, and McKenzie were more likely to make plays than Derrick Ward, Domenik Hixon, or Kevin Boothe.

Without three top offensive players and facing two great defenses, the Giants gained just 218 and 211 total yards from scrimmage. They cannot expect to score 35 points per game like they did in midseason, but they can still reach the Super Bowl if the Giants can crank out 300-350 yards of offense and put up 21 points. They need a new approach, and they need it soon.

The pick: take the GIANTS if McKenzie starts, the PANTHERS if he doesn't. If Jacobs returns, it's a big bonus, but offensive line health is the real key to the Giants success.

NFC-AFC Shootout

Ravens at Cowboys:
The Storyline: The Cowboys are on a roll, having won one in a row. The Ravens are sputtering, having lost one straight game. Pretty soon, the experts are going to start breaking momentum down by quarters.
Phenomenal Football: Are the Cowboys playing great football right now? That seems to be the pundit consensus, despite evidence to the contrary. Their offense isn't playing well and the team's interpersonal problems have only been spackled over. The Cowboys defense has been excellent for two straight weeks, but they are facing the top two teams in DVOA over the next two weeks. Even if you think the Eagles are DVOA divas, it's too soon to start making playoff plans in Dallas. The Ravens are where the Cowboys were last week: they are coming off a hard-fought, last-second loss to the Steelers. They are built to play max-protect football, so don't expect them to wilt at the sight of DeMarcus Ware.
Hermey Says: "The Cowboys rank below the Buccaneers but above the Falcons and Eagles in most scenarios. A win here, coupled with an Eagles loss and a Falcons win, would put them in the postseason. My wiggling ears tell me that the Week 17 Eagles-Cowboys matchup will be far from meaningless. The Ravens are in good shape against the AFC East Wild Card hopefuls. They can lose and still make the playoffs, but they better not try."
Pick: COWBOYS

Cardinals at Patriots:
The Storyline: The Cardinals are like that kid who got voted into the homecoming court as a gag. You know how it goes: all the popular kids decide to get together and pick Poindexter Aviclub, just to cheese off the establishment. The Cardinals are haltingly sidling toward January, losing to every legitimate contender along the way. Forget backing into the postseason; they're tunneling in.
Who we thought they were: Back in Week 2, I outlined how the Patriots could finish 10-6 without Tom Brady. That mission is all-but-accomplished; unfortunately for the Patriots, I didn't think the Jets and Dolphins would linger in the postseason picture through December. We may look back on the Week 4 Wildcat game as some kind of turning point: it marked the real beginning of the Bill Parcells-Tony Sparano era, and it may yet mark the end of the Patriots reign. As for the Cardinals, they are this year's Seahawks: the pretty-good team who wins the no-good NFC West. Like the Seahawks in a typical year, they could make some noise if they can find even a small semblance of a running game.
Hermey Says: "The Patriots will be eliminated from the AFC East picture if the Jets beat the Seahawks and the Dolphins beat the Chiefs on Sunday. A win keeps them Wild Card eligible, but the Colts and Ravens have tiebreaker advantages. Dolphins-Jets may be the biggest game on the schedule in Week 17. Even that conformist prig Santa couldn't have predicted that."
Pick: PATRIOTS

Chargers at Buccaneers:
The Storyline: There's a thin branch clinging to the side of a cliff wall. From that branch hangs some string. Tied to one thread of that string is a strand of over-boiled linguini. Dangling from that linguini are the Chargers' playoff chances.
December coping: The Bucs defense has allowed a staggering 477 rushing yards in the last two weeks, and the offense is also showing signs of strain. Jeff Garcia's expected return should help: the Bucs need Garcia's ball-spraying style to compensate for their lack of firepower.
Hermey Says: "The Bucs clinch a playoff berth if they win out. If the Bucs, Falcons, and Cowboys all finish 11-5, the Bucs would win a Wild Card slot by virtue of the fifth or sixth tiebreakers: strength of victory or strength of schedule. It takes elfin magic to understand all the scenarios, so just take my word for it."
Pick: BUCS

Customer Service

SALES REPRESENTATIVE: Creative Losses Incorporated, this is Maggie speaking. How may I help you?

COACH: Hey Maggie, this is Mike McCarthy.

SALES REPRESENTATIVE: Hello, coach, good to hear from you again!

COACH: Yeah, you too. I was looking to purchase something new in a creative loss.

SALES REPRESENTATIVE: This week's special is a 70-yard drive by the opponent that starts at the three-yard line and ends with a game-winning field goal at the gun.

COACH: No, I tried that one two weeks ago against the Texans. I want something different. It's a Monday Night game, so it has to be special.

SALES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, there's the 54-yard bomb and one-yard touchdown after the two-minute warning. It comes complete with a game-killing interception by your quarterback on the next drive.

COACH: Nah. Used that one against the Panthers. Something different.

SALES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, we have an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final five minutes available. It also comes bundled with an interception on the next drive. And of course, all of our Creative Losses occur immediately after your team ties the game or takes the lead on a field goal.

COACH: I know the warranty, Maggie. I'm a regular customer. I used the 80-yard drive against the Jaguars. Don't you have anything new?

SALES REPRESENTATIVE: Coach, our inventory is limited. While we value your business, we don't recommend using Creative Losses week after week the way you do. If you like, I could connect you with a manager

COACH: Put me through.

MANAGER: Hello coach. It seems that you've used up every off-the-rack Creative Loss in our catalogue. I would offer you something from the Unprepared Rookie Backup Quarterback Collection, but I see you've already used that, too. But I am happy to inform you that, as a Preferred Platinum Premium Customer, you are entitled to a custom-made loss by one of our expert technicians.

COACH: I'm listening.

MANAGER: Since you are playing the Bears in Chicago on a Monday night in December, we have the following suggestions. You could lose on a kickoff return touchdown after a game-tying field goal. Or, you can lose because a fumble gets away from one of your frostbitten players in the snow. Finally, there's fog. Are you interested in losing a game in the fog?

COACH: Throw in an interception on the final drive, and you have a deal.

Things Fall Apart

At the start of the season, the Packers, Panthers, and Seahawks all looked like contenders. The Redskins weren't in the same class, but they turned some heads with a 6-2 start. Now, all three teams are out of the playoffs and sorting through the rubble of disappointing seasons. Here's a look at what went wrong.

Team: Seattle Seahawks
First Sign of Trouble: The front office leaked news of Mike Holmgren's retirement early in the offseason, then appointed Jim Mora the Less as Holmgren's heir. The leak revealed a communication rift between Holmgren and GM Tim Ruskell, and the rift widened when Ruskell made personnel decisions that were tailored to Mora's needs, not Holmgren's (Iron Mike had little interest in T.J. Duckett, for example). In August, the Seahawks suffered a rash of wide receiver injuries; they entered Week One with Nate Burleson and a bunch of guys named Courtney Taylor and Logan Payne at the position. Matt Hasselbeck was 17-of-41 throwing to this group of strangers, and the Bills routed the Seahawks in the opener.
Things Fall Apart: The Seahawks were 1-2 and much healthier at wide receiver after their bye week, but the Giants rushed for 254 yards against them in a 44-6 blowout. Charlie Frye started the following week, and tomfoolery ensued.
Offseason Agenda: Mora will hire a new offensive coordinator (Gregg Knapp is the obvious choice), and the Seahawks need a new offensive identity. The early-generation West Coast system Holmgren runs has grown stale. Mora's secondary was responsible for many of the team's problems this season, and he'll have to mold the defense into a more fundamentally-sound unit. There's enough talent on this roster for a quick resurgence, so Ruskell's decision to smooth the transfer of power may pay dividends in 2009.
Pick: The JETS have trouble with non-divisional opponents, but they need this game too badly to trip up.

Team: Green Bay Packers.
First Sign of Trouble: The Cowboys rushed for 219 yards against the Packers in Week 3. The Bucs followed that with a 178-yard rushing effort. The Packers kept the Bucs game close, but they lost when Aaron Rodgers got hurt and rookie Matt Flynn proved unprepared to take the reins. Run-oriented opponents like the Falcons and Titans saw a weakness and attacked, and the Flynn fiasco proved how little depth the Packers possessed at key positions.
Things Fall Apart: The Saints' 30-point scoring spree in the second half of a Monday night game sucked all the air out of the Packers' season. Since then, the team's ability to lose close games in unusual ways has reached comic proportions. The offense plays well, but the defense suffers critical lapses that yield huge plays.
Offseason Agenda: 1) Acquire a backup quarterback. 2) Bolster the run defense by getting deeper on the line. A good young cornerback and a decent safety would also help the cause. The Packers have a well-defined punch list that will get them back to the top, and they shouldn't take this season as a total loss. They found a quarterback.
Pick: It's impossible to pick the PACKERS to win anymore, but they usually lose by three or four points, they are likely to cover a four-point spread.

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
First Sign of Trouble: Injuries to guards Maurice Williams and Vince Manuwai in the season opener forced the Jaguars to rethink their run-first philosophy. The Jaguars running game improved after they made some adjustments, but the team was still susceptible to offensive glitches, as in their 21-19 loss to the Bengals.
Things Fall Apart: The Vikings took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter in Week 12 and played keepaway for the rest of the game, proving that the station-to-station Jaguars offense had no comeback capability. Meanwhile, the Mike Peterson-and-iPods controversy revealed that Jack Del Rio wasn't in full control of the locker room.
Offseason Agenda: Del Rio will be under pressure to prove that Mike Smith wasn't the brains behind the team's 2007 success. Del Rio and his staff must prepare for life in a world without Fred Taylor, and they need to inject some quick-strike capability into both the offense and defense. David Garrard still needs more weapons in the passing game, and defenders like Derrick Harvey must take a big leap forward.
Pick: COLTS.

Team: Washington Redskins
First Sign of Trouble: The team's 6-2 start was built from a series of close wins, some of them against weak opponents like the Browns. Dan Snyder smelled a playoff push and started signing big-name no-talents like Shaun Alexander and DeAngelo Hall. Meanwhile, Jim Zorn quietly scaled back an offense that he never fully implemented. The Redskins scored a total of 16 points in losses to the Steelers and Cowboys, demonstrating that Zorn had run out of ways to get the ball to an injured Clinton Portis.
Things Fall Apart: Portis complained about his role in the offense before facing the Bengals last week. Zorn responded by calling a pass and two Mike Sellers runs from the one-yard line. Sellers fumbled the second carry, the Bengals held on to win, and Zorn lost credibility in his locker room and with the fickle Beltway media.
Offseason Agenda: The Redskins are doomed to repeat their mistakes as long as Snyder keeps playing fantasy football with the roster and mix-'n'-match with the coaching staff. The Zorn-Bugel Frankenstein offense must be scrapped in favor of a uniform system that can be implemented properly. Zorn deserves another year to sort things out, but there are rumors that the impetuous Snyder is done with Plan Z and ready to move to a new alphabet.
Pick: The DVOA Divas are playing so well right now that they can even overcome their own end zone idiocy. Take the EAGLES.

Nutshells

Bills at Broncos: C'mon, Broncos. It's closing time. The barfly's been drinking nothing but tequila shooters all night. You are both consenting adults. You should have asked her back to your place a long time ago. But no: you are still bumbling around with small talk. ("I think House has gotten repetitive, don't you?") Your playoff appearance is going to be a one-night stand, so all of this buildup is ridiculous. Just close the deal. BRONCOS.

Bengals at Browns: These teams only play well against the NFC East. The Bengals beat the Redskins, tied the Eagles, and played the Giants and Cowboys tough. The Browns beat the Giants and took the Redskins to the wall. Romeo Crennel and Marv Lewis would make great chairmen for a realignment committee if it weren't for that inconvenient "unemployed as of December 28" detail.

Texans at Raiders: The Texans began the season with four straight losses, then won three straight games, then lost four straight. They are now on a four-game winning streak, and they will make it five as long as no one toggles the lever back from "manic" to "depressive." The TEXANS are like the ex-girlfriend you could only dump with the help of three court injunctions and a locksmith.

Niners at Rams: The Niners have only allowed 41 points in the last three games. Mike Singletary doesn't seem so crazy now, does he? Wait, he's still nuttier than a cheese log. The NINERS beat the Rams 25-16 in Week 11 and have gotten slightly better in the ensuing weeks. The Rams are boring through rock bottom with a diamond-tipped drill; the only thing that can stop their decline is the end of the season.

More Nutshells

Due to a cut-n-paste error, I omitted several games when Walkthrough was posted. I apologize to anyone who thought that I purposely left of their favorite team. I don’t hate your favorite team, and I don’t hate you. Sadly, the original write-ups are lost, but here are a few quick picks:

Falcons at Vikings: The Vikings defensive line is depleted (by injuries, not suspensions), so they’ll give up a lot of yards. I like Tarvaris Jackson more than most of the FO staff (which is different from saying I like him), but last week’s effort was a mirage, and the Vikings don’t have enough offense to compete on Sunday. FALCONS

Texans at Raiders: If you think the Texans could have won the NFC or AFC West, raise your hand. You can put your hand down, Norv. TEXANS

Dolphins vs. Chiefs: With Carl Petersen ready to step down, maybe Bill Parcells should walk across the field, make a few changes, and turn the Chiefs into contenders. And while he’s spinning straw into gold, maybe Parcells should whip up an economic stimulus package and an auto industry bailout. DOLPHINS

Saints at Lions: I’m completely out of Lions jokes. That’s saying something. SAINTS

And Finally

Don't forget to catch Aaron Schatz and I at Chickies and Pete's in South Philly on Thursday Night. I'll be hanging out with Bob Cratchit and Wally Pipp next week, enjoying our one day off per year, but a fellow named Bill Barnwell is writing Walkthrough, and he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. See you in two weeks. I think...

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 17 Dec 2008

46 comments, Last at 19 Dec 2008, 10:27am by Kaveman

Comments

1
by LionelHutz057 :: Wed, 12/17/2008 - 10:14pm

The Texans would be making a wild card run if Schaub had stayed healthy. That's disappointing. Should have gotten the 2d rounder from Minnesota for Sage when we had the chance.

42
by socctty (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 5:51pm

Minnesota didn't offer a 2d, they offered a 3d, and Smithiak turned it down. Besides, that wouldn't have changed the fact that Schaub got hurt.

2
by Led (not verified) :: Wed, 12/17/2008 - 10:33pm

Arizona passing offense against the New England passing defense. Forecast is high of 36 with snow and 20 mph wind. Outlook not so good for the Cards. They need some help the Heat Miser, but his blizzardly brother will have none of it. Can Hermey, in debt up to his pointy ears with the Abominable Bookmaker, call in a favor with Mother Nature to bring sunshine to Foxboro and recoup his losses? Find out in the latest instant Christmas Classic: The Playoffs Without A Belichick.

9
by Bobman :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:43am

Well done, Led. 'tis the season.

The problem for me is that so few of my friends who have been attending the annual drinking-game-Rudolph-special party every December for the past two decades actually knows football.

(for those of you playing at home, we each pick a name out of a hat. Whenever that name is said, you drink. One year I picked "Santa." Bad move. About five hours later, during a pub crawl, I was kicked out of a Greenwich Village bar for being too drunk. How is that possible? Haven't played since. Advice: avoid the name Santa when playing that game.)

3
by pete (not verified) :: Wed, 12/17/2008 - 11:12pm

Good article, but i think you are missing one key subplot. The Ravens / Cowboys game is the biggest game of the week for the bottom of the AFC wild card picture. If the Ravens win, the Patriots are effectively eliminated from playoff conntention (unless the Jets or Miami falter on the road on Sunday). Remember, the Ravens have walk-over game with the Jags in Week 17.

If the Ravens lose, the Patriots become the favorite for the sixth seed, and would set up either a Pats v Jets or Pats v Dolphins grudge match to open the playoffs.

4
by TomC :: Wed, 12/17/2008 - 11:21pm

Must...resist...

getting...weaker...

------

Don't forget to catch Aaron Schatz and I at Chickies and Pete's in South Philly on Thursday Night.

"Don't forget to catch I"?

------

Damn. Me am sorry. Me loathe myself right now.

8
by Bobman :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:39am

No, I am right there with you. I thought about emaiing MT directly but then I saw your post. Glad you were a dick before I got the chance. Oops. Sorry, that's... before ME got the chance.

Me try to be objective when me sees these errors, but then sometimes I'm nominative as well.

30
by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 2:16pm

Nice, you two.

Something about 'mathematicians and engineers' and 'spelling acumen' comes to mind here...

And for what it's worth (I know, somewhere around 'bucket o' piss' territory), I think the Vikes have a good chance of taking the Falcons game. They're only missing one (the lesser) half of the Williams Wall, and the Falcons just plain suck on the road.

Ergo, Vikes have a good chance at winning and sealing their playoff appearance, inshallah.

5
by vinyltoupee (not verified) :: Wed, 12/17/2008 - 11:21pm

"Are the Cowboys playing great football right now? That seems to be the pundit consensus, despite evidence to the contrary. Their offense isn't playing well and the team's interpersonal problems have only been spackled over. The Cowboys defense has been excellent for two straight weeks, but they are facing the top two teams in DVOA over the next two weeks."

What a horrible analysis.

1) "the team's interpersonal problems have only been spackled over". Since when do off-the-field soap operas matter on this site? They certainly didn't matter Sunday night against the Giants.

2) The defense has been excellent for more than 2 straight weeks. They've been excellent for 5 straight weeks, with only 4 touchdowns allowed in that span, 2 of which were garbage time against the 49ers. They now lead the league in sacks, and I'd guess sacks per attempt, although I'm to lazy to look it up. That doesn't happen in 2 weeks.

3) "Evidence to the contrary"? You mention the upcoming schedule but selectively omit the game last Sunday night. The Giants were #1 in your DVOA and got spanked by the Cowboys.

This is probably the last time I will post on this site. I know, cue the violins. I just have grown weary of the numerical trees that block the forest around here. You all have fun.

14
by BlueStarDude :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 8:27am

Mike is one of the best damn sports writers anywhere -- why would you stop coming to this site because he has a different opinion than you?

Dallas's defense has been playing well all the way back to the Bucs game (even including the first Giants game -- the score was misleading because of how awful the "Brad Bollinger" offense was), but "excellent?" I have high standards, two weeks in a row seems about right, although when you consider that the Steelers offense isn't any great shakes this year and the weather that day, I'm not so sure I wouldn't say that the Cowboys D is coming off of ONE excellent game and about six good-to-very-good ones.

20
by Temo :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 10:52am

Agree with BlueStar up above. No reason to stop reading a good column from a good writer just because he disagrees with you.

As a Cowboys fan, I will remain skeptical until I see this defense step up in a big spot against the Eagles (who, for whatever reason, always seem to have offensive success against the Cowboys). I do think the defense has gotten much better since Terrence Newman came back, but at the same time I can't shake the memory of that Rams game. This group just laid down and played dead against a very weak opponent that week.

31
by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 2:25pm

From what I've seen of the 'Boys, I'm really hoping they either 1) don't make the playoffs, or 2) don't end up as the wild card matched up against the Vikings in the first week. Because when they're on, they're really hard to stop.

I know that DVOA has the Vikes higher, and that we've got one of the league's best 'adjusted sack rates'. But somehow, the matchup just doesn't look appealing to me.

Maybe because it's not about Randy Moss vs. 'Prime Time' Sanders anymore. Or maybe I'm just a pessimistic fan.

21
by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 11:08am

The Giants were also missing Jacobs and Burress. That might have helped Dallas a little bit, ya think?

24
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 11:26am

I'm not sure missing Burress hurt them any.

6
by the silent speaker (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:01am

The scenario for Wake Forest to win the Super Bowl is wrong. They also need the Red Sox to sign Manny Ramirez but not Derek Lowe.

7
by Anonymous3.141592653 (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:28am

I do not believe Dallas will lose to the Ravens. Dallas can probably put up ten to seventeen points against the Raven. If Dallas turns the ball over two to three times, I can still see them putting up ten points. The Ravens I think score at most nine points whether they turn the ball over or not. Should be a good game.

territory cooking
What the hell is that?

10
by jonnyblazin :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:46am

As a Ravens fan I'm optimistic about beating Dallas. The Ravens O shuts down against top defensive teams (besides that weird week in Indy, that is), but is pretty good against everyone else. The Cowboys are not in the same league defensively as TEN or PIT. If Gaither can handle Ware, which I believe he can, the Ravens will move the ball.

15
by JasonK :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 8:30am

Don't forget that weird week in New York, too.

35
by jonnyblazin :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 3:12pm

The Ravens moved the ball OK vs. the Giants. Don't forget they had a short field goal blocked and returned 50 yards, not to mention a INT that bounced off Mason's helmet and returned for a TD.

11
by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:49am

Ah, doesn't Walkthrough usually cover all 16 games? I don't see anything on Dolphins-Chiefs, Saints-Lions (OK, I can see those) and Falcons-Vikings?!?

I could also use some advice. I'm still alive in my survivor pool, but I have to pick 2 games this week because of the number of people left. My choices are Houston, New Orleans, San Fran and Tampa.

Texans and Saints would seem to be the picks, but they're both road teams, and I'm a little worried about Houston suffering a letdown after the emotional win over the Titans last week. And the Saints have nothing to play for (except pride) and the Lions looked kinda frisky last week.

San Fran is also on the road, and playing better lately, but still not that good. Although the Rams are the worst thing going. Tampa is at home, but the Chargers do have something to play for. Also, if I get by this week, they're a good pick for Week 17, when I presumably will need 2 again (along w/Atlanta).

The other thing is that I took New England last week, and if I take Houston this week and Tampa next week, that's picking against the Raiders 3 weeks in a row, and while I know they're terrible, that seems like it might be pushing my luck.

22
by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 11:18am

Dude, take the Oilers - I mean Texans, and New Orleans. It's silly to worry about next week if you don't get by this week.

26
by zlionsfan :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:37pm

The Lions are a very difficult team to pick, spread-wise: I believe ESPN says they're 5-1 this season as a double-digit underdog, but 0-8 as a smaller 'dog or a favorite (Atlanta). Straight up, though ...

Take New Orleans. I can't explain to you how much the Lions suck. Health is a factor: they never had much depth to begin with and they've got even less now, with 14 players on IR. The Lions are miserable on both pass and run defense, and against the pass, they really only slow down RBs. Linebackers still have no clue about the Tampa 2, so they'll be all right as long as the Saints don't have a good TE or speed at WR. Wait, what?

I can't help you with the other pick.

12
by Utvikefan (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 1:38am

I find it amusing that FO hates the Vikes AND/OR Falcons bad enough to not include a game with playoff implications. Funny.

19
by roguerouge :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 10:35am

Now, now... they hate the Chiefs and the Dolphins just as much as they hate those other teams...

13
by andrew :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 2:10am

At the start of the season, the Packers, Panthers, and Seahawks all looked like contenders.

Color me optimistic, but the Panthers still look like contenders. Given the paragraphs below, did you mean Jaguars? (I mean they're both big cats...)

actually (and this is totally irrelevant), I remember someone once saying that panthers(/cougars/pumas/mountain lions) are actually not a big cat, but the largest of the small cats, despite being larger than the smallest of the large cats like lynxes... but I digress...

23
by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 11:20am

You and TomC the grammer master need to get together, see Santa, and ask for lives.

38
by TomC :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 3:32pm

You spelled "grammer" that way just to bait me, didn't you?

25
by Eddo :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 12:18pm

You're sort of correct, depending on what a "panther" is.

There are only four "big cats": lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards. What separates big cats from little cats, to be brief, is their ability to roar. The largest "little cat" is indeed the mountain lion/puma/cougar, which is actually larger than a leopard (but smaller than the other three big cats). Cheetahs, snow leopards, clouded leopards, ocelots, lynxes, and bobcats are also little cats. (Note: a more expansive definition of "big cat" includes cougars, cheetahs, snow leopards, and clouded leopards. I prefer the more exclusive definition.)

Now, the term "panther" could mean a few different things. "Black panthers" are really just jaguars or leopards with melanism (opposite of albinism). However, pumas/cougars/mountain lions are also called "panthers", particularly in North America.

Since the Carolina logo shows a black cat, I'm led to believe that the team name refers to a black leopard or jaguar, so therefore, in NFL terms, both Panthers and Jaguars are indeed big cats.

We now return to your regularly scheduled NFL discussion...

29
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 1:58pm

I can't belive I just read all of that...

32
by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 2:38pm

While you answered in more (unnecessary) depth than I would've, thanks for getting this one.

And for what it's worth, it's really kind of strange to have a 100-ish-pound cat purring at you. I volunteered on a large feline sanctuary a few years back. The lions acted more or less like housecats as well - including the urge to 'rub' against the feeder, which effectively smushed the feeder between two full-grown males.

43
by Eddo :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 6:27pm

Thanks...and that volunteer work sounds like an awesome experience.

34
by DGL :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 2:46pm

A panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn't been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don't anther.
- Ogden Nash

37
by TomC :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 3:31pm

There are only four "big cats": lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards.

Don't forget James "Big Cat" Williams.

40
by rjsen (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 4:43pm

And Andres Galarraga. Where do these nicknames come from, anyway?

16
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 9:06am

"The Patriots will be eliminated from the AFC East picture if the Jets beat the Seahawks and the Dolphins beat the Chiefs on Sunday.

Can't Hermey remember what he said just a bit earlier?

"Jets and Dolphins fans will definitely check to see what happens in case of a Week 17 tie this year," he said.

If all three AFCE teams win Sunday, and then NE wins next week while the Dolphins and Jets tie, NE wins the division.

Short-term memory is a wonderful thing.

17
by ammek :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 10:24am

You could lose on a kickoff return touchdown after a game-tying field goal.

Almost done that. Two Panthers kickoff returns for 45 and 50 yards on two fourth-quarter drives, both times tackled by the kicker, both leading to TDs, to blow an 11-point lead.

Or, you can lose because a fumble gets away from one of your frostbitten players in the snow.

Again not quite, but would you accept a woozy center zipping a snap high over the QB's head?

And that doesn't begin to cover the Vikings, Titans, Falcons or Bucs losses....

I got to thinking that it would come as a relief just to get blown out. But then I watched the Saints game.

18
by Harris :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 10:30am

Damn you, Tanier, for making me imagine sexual congress between Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

33
by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 2:44pm

Must...restrain......Bad jokes about 'gold mining'....Urgh!

27
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 1:28pm

We hated those eight teams so much to inspire an editing snafu. Comments on those games are added.

36
by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 3:18pm

Hey Bill -

I'm going to use this example of your obvious, blatant, seething hatred of the Vikings to bring up a point that's been bugging me for a while (I just put my finger on the 'why').

I'm glad to see that you'll overcome said hatred enough to rank the Vikes near the top of the 'adjusted sack rate' metric. But I have a problem with the metric itself. The problem (recently identified) is this - it sounds like my typical day in the office when I wear the wrong boxer briefs.

I'd bet that Westbrook had a high Adjusted Sack Rate after that Ravens tackle.

28
by MJK :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 1:51pm

OK, pop tiebreaker quiz.

Hypothetically, imagine that KC actually comes out of nowhere and beats Miami. Then Miami beats the JETS in Week 17, after the Jets easily handle Seattle. Imagine the Patriots pass defense lets them down against Warner and they lose to Arizona, but then beat Buffalo on the road.

All three teams finish at 10-6, with a tied head to head record and 4 division wins each (each of their two division losses coming to each other).

Who wins the divison?

(HINT: you have to go very very deep into the tiebreaker rules to figure it out).

39
by Travis :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 3:38pm

Miami, based on strength-of-victory. The Jets would be eliminated on common opponents (the Jets lost to Denver, Oakland, and San Francisco, while Miami only lost to Kansas City and Arizona and New England only San Diego and Arizona.)

In the resulting two-team tiebreaker, because San Diego, the only team Miami beat that New England didn't, would have a better record than Kansas City, the only team New England beat that Miami didn't, Miami wins.

For a really screwed-up tiebreaker, look at what happens if Atlanta and Tampa Bay both finish at 11-5. (Hint: an otherwise meaningless NFC West game last week plays a huge part.)

The Yahoo tiebreaker scenario generator is great, and here are complete AFC and NFC tiebreaker charts.

45
by nat :: Fri, 12/19/2008 - 10:08am

I am not a big fan of Strength of Victory/Schedule as a tiebreaker, precisely because it leads to the wildcard being decided by a game in which neither contending team played.

Oops. Let me try that again.

Strength of Schedule is clearly ranked too high because it can be decided by games between non-contenders. Head-to-head net points, common game net points, and conference net points are way better than this. Tiebreakers stikn! Why not fly the tied teams in for a pre-game "overtime" right before the first playoff game. Talk about drama! ZORT!

I kid. At least about the pre-game overtime (undertime?) idea.

41
by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 4:59pm

Hermey Says: "The Cowboys rank below the Buccaneers but above the Falcons and Eagles in most scenarios." No way -- Cowboys would beat out Bucs because of head-to-head win. 3-way tiebreakers further down the foodchain won't apply even if Atlanta and/or Carolina go 11-5 because the rules have the NFC South teams sort themselves within the division first, and then wildcards would be determined one at a time vs. Dallas. Dallas will win out 11-5 or 10-6 tiebreakers vs. any of the NFC South teams. Thus, for Dallas to miss out, they would have to lose 1, and have TB and Atlanta win 2; or lose to Philly and have at least one of Atl/TB win 2.

Most interesting scenario would be if Atlanta and TB each win out to go to 11-5. They'd be tied in head-to-head, common games, and conference, and have 10 common victories; the 11th for TB is v. Seattle, while for Atlanta would be v. St. Louis, and Seattle has one more win right now, giving TB the strength-of-victory edge.

Got that?

44
by ErrantNight :: Thu, 12/18/2008 - 6:58pm

What about the games missing from previous weeks that were left missing? I'm not sure I buy this whole copy/paste error

46
by Kaveman :: Fri, 12/19/2008 - 10:27am

The playoffs being a one night stand for Denver... alas, probably. In fact, Shanahan is saying it'd be nice for some of the young players to get to see what the playoffs are like, which doesn't sound a whole lot like he expects us to go far. There's certainly enough talent that we could win a game there, but this team is too young and inconsistent to keep it up.

As long as it doesn't come down to Week 17. I'm not sure I could stand the stress. :-P