Mark Schlereth of ESPN and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today are the champions of this year's NFL Panel o' Experts, having correctly picked the winner of 171 of the 256 regular-season games played in 2007. Their victory -- by three games over you, the teeming masses, as represented by Yahoo's users -- entitles them to a valuable prize that has been won by many and claimed by none: dinner at my house.
This is the second straight tie and the fifth time in the five-year history of the panel that an ESPN expert has won at least a share of the title. That's not surprising given that the four-letter has at times made up about half of the panel and even in this year's expanded field accounts for a third of the players.
Zillgitt, like USA Today colleagues Jarrett Bell and Larry Weisman a first-time entrant this year, rallied in Week 17 to catch Schlereth at the wire, going 12-4 while Schlereth went 11-5.
Mike Golic shared the championship with Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports last year. The other winners were Ron Jaworski in 2003 and Sean Salisbury in 2004 and '05, the only repeat winner. Jaworski had the highest winning percentage this year, but since he didn't pick a winner in any of the Monday night games he announced for ESPN television, he finished in a tie for seventh place.
The Panel o' Experts is based on correct picks, not winning percentage. So ESPN's conflict-of-interest rules -- which are awfully persnickety for a network that's one giant conflict of interest -- may have kept Jaws from claiming a second title. He would have had to go only 6-9 in the Monday games to beat Schlereth and Zillgitt.
While Robinson made a solid showing, finishing in a three-way tie for fourth, Golic came close to pulling off a rare first-to-worst tumble. He went 149-106, one of only four panelists -- out of 21 -- to miss on more than 100 games and post a winning percentage under .600. He even finished behind ESPN colleague Eric Allen, an incorrect-picking machine whom I keep on the panel as insurance against my finishing last.
Golic was kept out of last place by porn star Adriana Sage, who followed last year's strong showing -- she finished third -- by going 146-110, three games worse than Golic. Sage was philosophical and defiant Wednesday, saying by e-mail that she'd expected to have a tough year picking.
"I spent a lot of my time pursuing new endeavors, allowing less time to follow the league," she wrote. "Aside from that, instead of making my picks from a logical and neutral perspective, they were made with wishful thinking."
She said she'll keep picking games through the playoffs on her nonporn site Erotic Model Picks, and vows to be back picking next year.
My daughter, Daisy, the coin-flippinest 2-year-old west of Gillette Stadium, went 162-94 in her debut, good for a 14th-place tie with former two-time champ Salisbury. Salisbury travels around the country and breaks down film and watches practices and talks to coaches and players and uses the expertise gleaned from his college and pro playing careers, and he's right as often as a 2-year-old with a quarter.
My 4-year-old son, Buster, who actually picked games rather than flipping a coin for the first time, finished 18th at 153-103, one place and five games behind his dad. My What the Heck Picks went 3-13.
Overall, the panel had a .642 winning percentage, way up from last year's worst-ever .593, and second only to the .656 winning percentage we put up in '05.
I've discontinued the Preseason Panel o' Experts, in which experts' preseason picks of division winners and wild-card teams are compared. I decided it was way too much work for how interesting it is, which is not very. It's mostly guessing anyway. At least the week-to-week picks of games are educated guessing.
And coin flipping.
Here are the final standings.
|1.||Mark Schlereth, ESPN||171-85||.668|
|1.||Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today||171-85||.668|
|4.||Cris Carter, Yahoo||167-89||.652|
|4.||Merril Hoge, ESPN||167-89||.652|
|4.||Charles Robinson, Yahoo||167-89||.652|
|7.||Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News||166-90||.648|
|7.||Ron Jaworski, ESPN||166-75||.689|
|9.||Chris Mortensen, ESPN||164-92||.641|
|9.||Michael Silver, Yahoo||164-92||.641|
|11.||Jarrett Bell, USA Today||163-93||.637|
|11.||Peter King, Sports Illustrated||163-93||.637|
|14.||Daisy, C, the Coinflip Magazine||162-94||.633|
|14.||Sean Salisbury, ESPN||162-94||.633|
|16.||Larry Weisman, USA Today||160-96||.625|
|17.||King Kaufman, Salon||158-98||.617|
|18.||Buster, B, the Buster Magazine||153-103||.598|
|19.||Eric Allen, ESPN||150-106||.586|
|20.||Mike Golic, ESPN||149-106||.584|
|21.||Adriana Sage, EroticModelPicks||146-110||.570|
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Year in Sports: Missing [PERMALINK]
It's not possible to write a year-in-sports piece without leaving something out, assuming the piece is shorter than book length.
Readers pointed out a lot of things I missed in my annual year-ender in the story's letters thread. With some of these sports -- bird-watching, netball -- I just have to thank you for writing and invite you to read someone else's column.
But there are a few things I left out that, if I had it to do again, I'd include. I don't have to do it again for another year, but in the meantime I think I should have mentioned Marion Jones. She finally went down as part of the litany of drug abuse of 2007. Her tearful press conference and Olympic-medal surrender were such a long time coming I think I kind of dismissed them, but they were a big part of the year.
I also should have mentioned all the drunken driving, particularly the twin incidents involving the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Tony La Russa was arrested for a DUI during spring training in Florida, and then pitcher Josh Hancock died in a drunken-driving accident in June. Toxicology reports showed his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit.
Late in the year, former New York Yankees World Series hero Jim Leyritz was charged with DUI manslaughter following an accident in Florida that killed the driver of another car.
I also should have mentioned that tennis was rocked by a series of match-fixing incidents in 2007.
Pretty depressing, no? The Year in Sports piece was all about what a horrible year it was, nothing but death and tragedy and scandal. And I left a bunch of stuff out. The headline on my 2003 Year in Sports piece was "The Year of Behaving Badly."
It's already starting to seem like kind of an innocent time.
Previous column: Dear '72 Dolphins: Shut up
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