NFL Playoff Prognostications
Bill Simmons [ARCHIVE]
January 25, 2013
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Another wide-open NFL playoffs, another ill-fated quest to finish 11-0 against the spread, another monster Brady-Manning playoff duel looming … wait, what year is this? (Checking.) It's 2013! 2013??? More important, do we really have a chance to give fewer than 10 points against Christian Ponder — on the road, outdoors — in a legally sanctioned postseason game? We're less than 48 hours away, and to my knowledge nobody has screwed this up yet. Actually, I don't want to jinx it. Forget I said anything. Let's break down every line for Round 1. And I mean EVERY line.

Matt Schaub (-3) over Andy Dalton

As recently as one month ago, Schaub would have been laying a touchdown. Remember the guy who threw for 842 yards and six TDs in Weeks 11 and 12? Schaub's QB ratings for his last four games: 19.1, 90.4, 46.2, 37.1. He put up 22 points total in the final two weeks. He's thrown one touchdown pass since December 2. His body language has become so gloomy that he could join the cast of Parenthood tomorrow, then pull off any scene in which Monica Potter needs someone to stare sadly at her while she's wearing a prosthetic bald head that makes her look like the long-lost Conehead. So … what happened? Is he secretly injured? Did he go into a funk? Did he switch bodies with T.J. Yates? Are Schaub and Josh Freeman starring in Contagion 2: Accidentally Touched by Ryan Leaf? What happened?

Meanwhile, you know what you're getting with Dalton — he's one of those guys who is never available on your fantasy free-agent wire, only nobody ever starts him, either (making him the Brad Johnson of this generation). Could he win a road playoff game? Depends on your version of the word "win." Dalton could be the starting QB of a road playoff team that won mainly because the other team sucked. I could see that. But down by seven, on the road, in a potentially loud dome, with only one legitimate receiving target, a flimsy offensive line (seventh-most sacks in the NFL) and J.J. Watt wreaking havoc? That makes me nervous. QBR ranks him 22nd, jammed right between Sam Bradford and Matt Hasselbeck. DVOA ranks him 20th, one spot ahead of Christian Ponder and Philip Rivers.

You're not gonna believe this, but the guy who still uses a ThinkPad, AOL and a BlackBerry also holds on to some old rules from years gone by. And one of those rules is pretty simple; shit, it might be THE rule. If you're picking a QB in a road playoff game, you better believe in that QB. If Andy was throwing to A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Aaron Hernandez with Alfred Morris running the ball, I might believe in him. But flanked by Green, Andrew Hawkins, Jermaine Gresham and BenJarvus Green-Ellis? I'm lukewarm. The best argument in Dalton's favor? Mark Sanchez won road playoff games in 2009 AND 2010. And you wouldn't trust that guy to successfully park your car right now.

The Giants' "Nobody Believes In Us Factor" (-13) over Houston's "Nobody Believes In Us" Factor

If the Texans were favored by three or less, I could see the N.B.I.U. case here. But they're laying 4.5 even after rolling over against ChuckStrong last week in a game they desperately needed to win. Seems generous. Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin completed the final level of N.B.I.U. — by the time Week 17 ended, NOBODY believed in the 2012 New York Football Giants. That's what he always wanted, that's what he got.

In general, it was a fascinating year for N.B.I.U., as teams proactively embraced the fact that people didn't believe in them and pointed it out ahead of time; as this was happening, we were searching for teams who ranked high on the N.B.I.U. scale and adjusting our expectations accordingly. The concept itself got thrown out the window. You're not supposed to realize that you failed to believe in a team until after they won and shoved it in your face, then they're doing the whole "nobody believed in us but the people in this locker room" routine. (Maybe the concept will trickle over into politics and economics — for instance, Paul Krugman wrote a "Nobody Believes in Supply and Demand" column recently, and someone could easily make a 3,000-word N.B.I.U. case for John Boehner right now. Although Harry S. Truman was the ultimate N.B.I.U. politician. I'm getting sidetracked.) What we really need? A new theory. A fresh one.

(Thinking.)

The Post-Holiday Diet Theory (+8.5) over Every Other Dumb Simmons Theory

You know how even people in good shape let themselves go a little over the holidays? For one thing, it's cold — you don't mind packing on a couple of extra pounds. You're on vacation, so your schedule gets thrown out of whack. You miss a week of exercising, jogging, playing sports or whatever else you're doing to stay fit. You're eating bigger meals, you're drinking a little more, you're eating more junk food, and there are 10 times as many desserts kicking around. If you're stuck at a family gathering making small talk with one of your annoying cousins, you might even reflexively get that third plate of food just to get away from him or her. At some point, you made the decision, "I'm letting myself go a little here," and you're fine with it. Then the holidays finish and you feel that extra flab around your belly, become disgusted and attack your everyday life with a new resolve — better eating, more exercising, no dessert, less drinking, you name it. It's just a matter of saying, "All right, enough messing around."

We watch the let-yourself-go phenomenon happen to certain contenders in December every year — they peak in October and November, lose their mojo for whatever reason and finish the season playing less-than-inspired football. When it happens, we have to decide if it's a funk or something bigger. In Houston's case, they got their butts kicked in New England, rallied back to beat Indy, got steamrolled by one of the greatest running backs ever during his greatest season, then found themselves ChuckStronged in Week 17. Funk … or something bigger? The more I'm thinking about it, I say funk. And this is the weekend when the Texans say, "All right, enough messing around," rededicate themselves and go back to doing Texans things — namely, running the ball down Cincy's throat, harassing Dalton on every pass and protecting the football. Which leads us to …

TEXANS (-4.5) over Bengals

Only one person could screw this pick up: Matt Schaub. This makes me feel better: The Bengals haven't won a road playoff game in the history of the franchise (dating back to 1968). Their last playoff win happened in January 1991 — when they beat the Houston Oilers before losing to Bo Jackson's Los Angeles Raiders. As reader Rob from Boston writes, "The Bengals have not won a playoff game since destroying Bo Jackson's hip. If you were God and you created Bo Jackson, perhaps the most naturally gifted...
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