This weekend's playoff games were a perfect illustration of why it's so amusing whenever anyone says anything about the future in the NFL with any degree of certitude.
I find it not just amusing but hilarious when I -- or anyone -- make a prediction about an upcoming game or season and am met with incredulity. "Are you serious?" readers or listeners will ask.
Yes. Whatever the prediction: Serious. But if not, it wouldn't matter. When it comes to the NFL, no prediction is any more serious than its exact opposite. Some predictions may be a little more likely to be correct than their antipodes, but not by so much they shouldn't be taken seriously. Indianapolis Colts defense to dominate? Sure.
And no prediction is ever so good that any confidence accompanying it should be considered anything more than hubris. Larry Johnson will slice the Colts to ribbons. No doubt about it, right? Right.
Look at the four games this weekend. I'm a genius because I picked all four winners. Most of us are.
We all knew the Seattle Seahawks would beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-20 because Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo would fumble the snap on a go-ahead field-goal attempt with 1:19 to go that would have been shorter than an extra point. You had that one pegged, right?
On the other hand, we somehow knew the Philadelphia Eagles wouldn't botch their try at a game-winning field goal, a 38-yarder by David Akers in a light rain, so of course most of us looked good when the Eagles beat the New York Giants 23-20.
And who didn't know the Indianapolis Colts would beat the Kansas City Chiefs 23-8 with a stout defense and a strong running game, that one of the worst run defenses in the history of the league would hold the great Johnson to 32 yards on 13 carries, with a long of six yards, that Peyton Manning would throw three interceptions and the Colts would win going away?
Everybody, that's who. Thirty-two yards on 13 carries for Larry Johnson against the Colts? Are you serious?
The New England Patriots, favored by nine, pounded the New York Jets 37-16, so yeah, sometimes things go according to form.
But think about that Cowboys-Seahawks game. The Seahawks won it on a fluke, one they had no control over, nothing to do with. Yes, flukes count and a win is a win. Sure, the Seahawks were in position to benefit from Romo's unforced bobble because they'd done some things right, outgaining the Cowboys by 48 yards and keeping Dallas' dangerous receivers in check. Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens combined for six catches, 67 yards.
And the Cowboys wouldn't be crying over Romo's mishap if they'd just played better, if they hadn't given up those extra 48 yards, plus another 74 yards and four first downs on penalties -- 59 net yards counting Seattle's 15 yards in fouls -- or if they'd managed to get more than 5.4 yards per pass attempt against a patchwork secondary and not overly formidable pass rush.
Or even if they'd made another few inches on the previous play, when Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu made a clutch tackle at the 2. Another few inches!
But come on. If the Cowboys make a 19-yard field goal, they very likely win the game, although Seattle still would have had a little over a minute to get into position for its own game-winning field-goal try.
In the last five years, NFL teams have gone 66-for-67 on field goals under 20 yards, playoffs included, though that doesn't count muffed snaps, which by the way is a stupid thing. It should be easy enough to determine a fake from a muffed attempt, which would be a lot smarter than not counting it as a miss unless ball meets foot.
This season, NFL teams hit 1,124 of 1,135 extra-point attempts, one yard longer than the Cowboys' try Saturday. That's 99 percent, though it doesn't count muffed snaps, which automatically turn the attempt into a two-point try.
Muffed snaps are pretty rare, though you wouldn't think so if you just started watching the NFL two weeks ago, because there have been two in critical situations in that time. The Cincinnati Bengals muffed a snap on a game-tying point-after attempt in Week 16, losing the game and scuttling their playoff chances.
So let's say, back of the envelope, the Cowboys had a roughly 98.9 percent chance of taking a two-point lead with a little over a minute to go. According to the two-minute drill chart at FootballCommentary.com, had Dallas made the field goal and run a normal kickoff play, giving Seattle the ball roughly on its own 30 with no timeouts left, the Cowboys would have had about an 85 percent chance of winning. Even if they let the Seahawks get to the 50, the Cowboys would have had about a 71 percent chance of winning.
But Tony Romo did something he's probably never done before and will probably never do again, no matter how many hundreds of chances he has. He just plain dropped a perfectly good snap. One or two more critical mistakes like that in his entire career and he'll solidify a reputation as a choker, which might or might not have anything to do with reality.
But if you think you're smart because you picked Seattle over Dallas, you can't be serious. You were lucky.
We'll get to the divisional round later in the week, but I'll tell you now that I think the New Orleans Saints -- were you serious when you picked them to win the NFC South this year after they went 3-13 last year? -- are going to lose at home to the Eagles. And I also think that the Baltimore Ravens are going to win the Super Bowl.
Am I serious? Of course. Am I going to be right? Almost certainly not. Isn't it great?
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Ohio State vs. Florida [PERMALINK]
For those of you not terribly interested in unpredictability, preseason No. 1 Ohio State plays in the BCS Championship Game Monday night against those shocking Cinderellas, the Florida Gators, who came out of nowhere to reach the title game.
Why, in one preseason poll, Florida was ranked as low as No. 8! Who would have guessed a team like that could make it all the way to a shot at the championship?
I tell you what, it gives a fella hope. Maybe I'm getting all starry-eyed here, but if Florida can make it to the championship game then maybe a child of the upper middle class could grow up to become rich.
The game's on Fox at 8 p.m. EST. And just to add to this column's enjoyment, Thom Brennaman will be at the microphone, alongside Charles Davis and Barry Alvarez.
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Two more things about that Romo muff [PERMALINK]
1. I don't think anybody's mentioned this, but there was a timing error on the Cowboys' muffed field-goal try. When the ball was snapped, there was 1:19 to go. Romo fumbled the snap, picked it up while still on his knees, stood up, took a false step, then ran 10 steps to his left and got tackled.
When he hit the ground, the clock read 1:19. It started moving at that point, and when the play ended the clock stood at 1:14. By my count, it should have read 1:08. It turned out not to matter, but it might have. The Cowboys had all their timeouts left, so they got the ball back with two seconds remaining. What if they'd hit the Hail Mary?
Or what if Shaun Alexander hadn't run for a first down on the first play after Seattle took over at the 2? The Cowboys might have had more like 15 seconds left when they took over, maybe time for two plays and a kick.
2. Al Michaels takes a lot of flak from the kids for being old and out of touch and pompous and I'm not sure what else, but I think he's still one of the best. Did you catch his call of that critical play?
Keep in mind that the Cowboys were lining up for one of the most routine plays in all of sports, a 19-yard field goal. What happened came completely out of the blue. Michaels had been talking about Seattle's prospects, how the Seahawks would only need a field goal to win, and they have Josh Brown, a clutch kicker.
"Meanwhile, here's Gramatica. Romo holds. Nineteen-yard field goal attempt. Oh! And it's fumbled by Romo! And then Romo's gonna run to the end zone and he's gonna get tackled by Jordan Babineaux! Amazing!"
Michaels was right on it. That odd use of the future tense is common for him, but he was describing the action just about as it happened, which is an increasingly rare skill among TV announcers. He identified Babineaux without hesitation. He had just the right tone, excited but not out of his mind, still coherent.
And then John Madden, who also takes a lot of heat for being silly and for being Captain Obvious, said something that was pretty obvious but also, as is often the case, got right to the heart of the matter: "There is nothing automatic in football."
Well, pro football.
Previous column: Wild-card predictions
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