There was good news on the curse front Tuesday: despite Carolina's win over the Skins in Washington, Barack Obama was re-elected president.
My own theory is that the 2000 election really messed up the Redskin Rule: whether it was the election result being overturned to conform with the rule, or the rule foreseeing an election decided 'upon further review', the formula lost its mojo, and in 2004 was dead wrong. It looked like 2008 would bring it back, but this week's loss should consign it to the dustbin of history. You might also consider that perhaps, since the Redskins' nickname remains offensive to minorities, and Skins' owner George Marshall was a fierce opponent of integrating the team (they were the last in the NFL to sign a black player, and did so only after President Kennedy applied personal pressure to Marshall), a black President was also more than the formula could handle.
When I was playing in college, the dominant team was Texas, coached by Darrell K Royal ('K' was his middle name). I was never a Longhorn fan, but you had to admire the way they were able to dominate in those years (Wesleyan and Texas both went undefeated in 1969—I still remember the clash of unbeatens between Texas and Arkansas) despite being the biggest game for three of their opponents: Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. Most teams only have one (but Wesleyan had its two Little Three games, and then was Trinity College's big game of the season. Since they weren't ours, it was always harder than it should have been!) Sadly, the Arkansas game is no more, sacrificed to the big money of today's conference realignments. Ironically, Royal had been a star at Oklahoma, for Bud Wilkinson, who recruited him off the 3rd Air Force team in 1945. He lost only one game as a quarterback, and still holds the Sooners' record for interceptions.
Royal's teams, like Wilkinson's, used precision offense and tenacious hitting—and Royal was lucky to have assistant coach Emory Bellard, who developed the wishbone offense, which Texas rode to three national titles. Royal also taught it to Bear Bryant, whose Alabama teams, whose strengths were similar to Royals', enjoyed a great run with it. Royal took criticism for being slow to integrate at Texas (but that was true of the whole SWC), and when he did integrate one his first players was Earl Campbell. He was guilty of many of college football's usual hypocrisies, as detailed in the early expose ‘Meat On The Hoof’, and he was tough: 'football doesn't build character,' he said, 'it eliminates the weak ones'. Those folksy homilies also made him a sportswriters' favourite. He's generally credited with the aphorisms 'there are three things that can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad', though he won against Arkansas in '69 with a fourth down throw, and 'luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity'. He's most famous for 'you dance with who brung you' and for 'the breaks even out...the sun don't shine on the same dog's rear end every day'. But my favourite is his response to a touchdown celebration: 'when you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before'. It's a shame he couldn't have died the way he said he wanted to: 'walking off the 18th green taking everybody's money'.
THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Indianapolis (5-3) at Jacksonville (1-7): The Colts are on a roll and the Jags are rolled up, but guess who the Jags beat for their lone win of the season? And guess which team is missing both its starting corners and probably Robert Mathis? And is on the road with the short week (though in fairness the Cowboys, Giants, and Bucs have all won on the road on Thursday this season). But guess which team is 0-4 AT HOME(!) and of course doesn't have Mojo. Last week, in Pete King's words, Andrew Luck became the first rookie to throw for 433 yards, though I doubt that number was his target, but it was enough for Luck to cop the Rookie QB Du Jour Award from the media herd. And guess what? The Jags have injury problems in their own secondary (Dwight Lowry, Rashean Mathis) and the Colts have shaved their heads in support of hospitalised coach Chuck Pagano. Pick: Colts
Friday Morning Autopsy: I was somewhat hesitant to pick the Colts on the road, and I thought to myself that without their corners, Justin Blackmon might be a real problem. Not in Mike Mularkey's offense he isn't. I also forgot the Jags Rule: on the first Thursday after an election the Democrats win, or the Republican win, or it ends in a tie, or a natural disaster prevents voting, or invaders come to destroy earth and Bill Pullman either is or isn't president, the Jaguars lose.
Oakland (3-5) at Baltimore (6-2): The Ravens are 4-0 at home, where Joe Flacco turns into a downfield throwing star instead of a short-yardage frustration. The Raiders are 1-4 on the road, and are, after all, the Raiders. Pick: Ravens
Denver (5-3) at Carolina (2-6): John Fox Bowl! Coming off a good win in Washington it's amazing the bookies have the Panthers as 11 point home dogs, but that's the crazy nature of the NFL this season, as well as a testament to the Power of Peyton. Pick: Broncos
New Jersey Giants (6-3) at Cincinnati (3-5): The Bengals had trouble protecting Andy Dalton last week, but the Giants' four-man rush might be easier for their troubled O line to deal with. That's important for the Bengals, because the game's best match-up might be AJ Green against Jason Webster. The Giants' secondary is being shaken up, and tight end Jermaine Gresham might like seeing Stevie Brown opposite him. Last week was the second in a row that the opposition shut down the Giants' wide receivers. Like Peter King at NBC, I watch the early games in the special Channel 4 luxury viewing room (that's Red Zone on one TV) in the company of such celebrities as Roger, our star associate producer, Ivor the floor manager, and Gnat. When Ike Taylor dropped a stone pick of Eli in the end zone I said 'THAT's why Eli's elite!' I've picked the Giants' wrong in five of their nine games so far, and this is about the time they usually go into their mid-season slump, so beware, but pick: Giants
Tennessee (3-6) at Miami (4-4): As the poet Wallace Stevens nearly wrote:
I placed a team in Tennessee/then set them upon Tannehill/It made their often slovenly D/Surround Tannehill.
The Dolphins' O rose up to it/Played ball control, no longer wild/They battled round upon the ground/But Tannehill found the ball with style.
It took dominion everywhere/At least where Miami brought to bear/And did not give of Reggie Bush/Like nothing else in Tennessee.
Detroit (4-4) at Minnesota (5-4): This is a big one for both teams, because the NFC North is all of a sudden looking like it has two elite (c. Eli Manning) teams, and neither is one of them. Christian Ponder's regression over the past few weeks has been attributed to his dating of an ESPN sideline reporter, too much 'back to you, Christian'. Imagine if she was a Fox News anchor? 'Minnesota's losing 28-10 but Fox News projects this game will be a Viking win.' A Lion named Suh was voted by his fellow players as the league's dirtiest: he needs to play clean and hard to slow down Adrian Peterson, if Detroit is going to have a chance. Calvin Johnson is apparently playing hurt, with nerve damage, and Percy Harvin looks likely to be out for the Vikes. Pick: Lions
Buffalo (3-4) at New England (5-3): Somehow it doesn't seem fair to leave the Pats at home after the bye week, plus the snow is falling in New England, which may make Ryan Fitzpatrick's return to the scene of his Harvard triumphs even more problematical. Aqib Talib misses this one through suspension. Pick: Pats
Atlanta (8-0) at New Orleans (3-5): The Saints beat the Eagles, and the highlight for me was Cameron Jordan celebrating his sack of Mike Vick while the fumbled football flopped around behind him until the Eagles recovered. The Falcons played a pretty solid game on our SNF show, but there was a moment when the Cowboys tried not always running on first down, and the Falcons forgot to account for DeMarcus B Ware, when it looked like they might be vulnerable. This is a classic trap game, a team coming off a big win playing an underachieving but dangerous team on the road. Pick: Saints
San Diego (4-4) at Tampa (4-4): Vince Jackson Bowl! Think AJ Smith watched last week's tape and thought, hell no, we don't need him! The Chargers are in the same kind of position they've been in for so many seasons recently: poised to make a second-half run for the playoffs, but at least this time we're not looking at a talent-laden roster and listing the ways they've underachieved. Regardless of Norv, consider that Smith has managed to turn LaDanian, Turner, Sproles, and Tolbert into Matthews, Brinkley, and Battle in just a few seasons. When Alex Smith completed 18 of 19 everyone went crazy; four days later Philip Rivers completed 18 of 20 and no one paid any attention. Pick: Chargers
Newark Airport Jets (3-5) at Seattle (5-4): USC Bowl! Pete Carroll vs the QB who left him! Remember too that PC Coach once coached the Jets. The Seahawks are also unbeaten at home (4-0) but the Jest have had the bye week to cook up some surprises for rookie QB Russell Wilson, which might include Tim Tebow playing rush linebacker. How bad is the media focus on Tebow in New York? The Wall Street Journal ran a piece on Tebow's bulking himself up to 250 pounds; he's heavier than Bruce Irvin. This one is not going to be easy for the erratic offense of the Seahawks, but guess what, it's against the erratic offense of the Jest. Pick: Seahawks
Dallas (3-5) at Philadelphia (3-5): Phutility Bowl! I wonder if the circumstances of Andy Reid's life have left him without as much drive to turn the Eagles around; I wonder too if Jason Garrett is basically another coordinator who hasn't found the place where he can grow into the demands of the head job. Getting those coaches up off the analyst's couch, you might predict another long day for Michael Vick, who appears to have lost his escapability in the pocket, while the Eagles' coaches appear to have no clue how to compensate for that. When you think of how erratic the Cowboys have been, and they are still favourites on the road, it shows you how bad the Eagles' situation is. Losing Todd Herremans for the season won't help. Pick: Cowboys
St. Louis (3-5) at San Francisco (6-2): Coming off the bye week the Niners are rested and ready, and Jim Harbaugh's had 10 days to come up with a topper to his gobble gobble jive turkey line. The Rams are also rested, but as the London game showed us, they have limited options unless they can execute better, especially on the O line. The biggest disappointment against the Pats was the failure of their ends to generate any pass rush; it won't be any easier against Harbaugh's run-first schemes. But the Ram who stood out for me was cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who's going to be a star. Pick: Niners
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON CHANNEL 4
Houston (7-1) at Chicago (7-1): Yowza! The most interesting thing about this match-up is that both teams were beaten by the Packers, which tells you that they feast on mediocre offenses and can be held in check by attacking defenses. The best matchup might be Charles Tillman against Andre Johnson, assuming Tillman's new baby cooperates and waits until Monday to arrive. Houston fans will argue that the Ravens are probably the team most like the Bears, and look what the Texans did to them, but that was at home. Bears' fans have to worry because Chicago hasn't won against anyone with a winning record, except the Colts in week one. You can flip this one back and forth like a pancake, but it's a classic matchup of strength against strength, and the weakest point for either team is the Bears' offensive line. The Bears make up for that by feasting on turnovers, but the Texans have the fewest of those in the league. Something's gotta give. Pick: Bears
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON BBC IRED BUTTON:
Kansas City (1-7) at Pittsburgh (5-3): Todd Haley Bowl! Brady Quinn was ruled out, which means Dick LeBeau probably breathed a sigh of relief and then went about creating a whole new game plan for Matt Cassel. Just kidding! I am amazed that the Chiefs don't run Cassel exclusively out of the gun, or pistol, or single wing, or deep punt formation, to give him more time to see things develop and make decisions, and I don't doubt that Jamaal Charles would be just as effective running from those formations. Oh well. Pick: Steelers
Green Bay (5-3): As noted above, the Packers have beaten the AFC's best team and the NFC's second-best (by record) and seem to have got their offensive mojo back, despite an amazing string of injuries. You all know that once into the line-up, Randall Cobb is going to prove impossible to dislodge, but with rookie Nick Perry the latest loss, and Clay Matthews likely to miss a couple of weeks, they need the rest! Look for Brad Jones to make an unexpected impact at linebacker. Next men up are fifth round pick Terrell Manning and undrafted rookie Dezman Moses: he is dez man!
BYE BYE WEEKS:
Arizona (4-5): The Card defense and Crap offense means the Crads have slumped to below .500, and will probably have a tough time finishing at the .500 mark. That D will keep them in a lot of games, but a one-dimensional passing offense directed by John Skelton or Kevin Kolb isn't going to frighten anyone.
Cleveland (2-7): Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress have studied offense, and clock management, under Andy Reid and it shows.
Washington (3-6): I Would not have figured Mike Shanahan for an Obama supporter. When we talk about the difficulty of running college systems in the NFL, you can start to see it as teams game-plan to take away some of the option stuff from Robert Griffin. That the Shanaclan can't keep ahead of that makes me wonder again about the nepotistic world of NFL coaching (right, Pat Shurmur?).
LAST WEEK: 11-3 SEASON: 82-50