... Alrighty. I just completed my online PhD in Mathematics (yes, Combinatorics). It took me two hours, but you can actually complete in half the time if you don't break for PB&J's ... twice. Anyway, I now fully understand how the whole tie-break playoff thing works, and the Steelers are a lock. Unless the Jaguars crap the bed against either the Texans or Titans. And if the Chargers don't win out assuming Pittsburgh avoids the dreaded "let down" game against Cleveland this Saturday. And who knows, the Chiefs could even sneak back in to the picture. I mean, if Kyle Boller can throw 3 TDs, no picks and sport a passer rating over 100, absolutely anything is possible. Seriously.
I really hate spending time on all the playoff possibilities, but just like Israel, I have very little faith in the Jaguars to win their last two games. They squeaked by a 49er team that starts a quarterback with "really small hands." And I actually think that's the medical term for it.
(So let me get this straight. San Francisco has six months to find the best player in college football, run them through countless drills, tests, proddings, and they somehow forgot to see if "their guy" can actually hold onto a big people football? When they ran Smith through all those practices, did anybody think to bring an NFL football with them, or did they just break out the Aerobie Rocket? I'm just asking. It seems pretty important.)
So if Jacksonville is going to lose, that means that the Chargers need to lose too. If that happens, and the Steelers win out, it's all good. But hey, now that I'm a real doctor, I can't burden myself with the details. That's what I've got research assistants for (mental note: hire research assistants).
... Brian makes a point that I'd been thinking about once it was pretty clear that the Steelers weren't going to win the AFC North (which, if I remember correctly, was about two seconds after the Bengals game): if Pittsburgh gets the wild card, it might actually be good for them to play on the road. They actually play really well away from Heinz Field, and who knows, maybe they'll play a little looser. As it stands, however, the Steelers would have to go to Cincy, win, and then go to Indy. I don't think anybody's too concerned about going back to Cincinnati, but returning to the RCA Dome means they'll have to face some demons. (At this point, I'm so far ahead of myself, I might as well predict the Super Bowl winner for the 2008 season, but like I said, that's what research assistants are for.) But hey, the Chargers, a team that runs the 3-4, gave Petyon Manning (to paraphrase Bum Phillips) "more hell than a little bit."
... I too was excited to see Randle El break off a 72-yard punt return. Huh? What's that? Oh, that was the actual defensive unit on the field and not the special teams? Hmmm. Somebody explain to me what Sean Morey does again. Just kidding. I read somewhere that Kevin Spencer and Randle El decided that maybe he should, you know, try to get at least 10 yards on a punt or two instead of doing the eggroll in an effort to break the big one. Personally, I have no problem with him dance-fevering it out on punts just as long as he doesn't fumble (or head-butt) the ball. It drives my buddy Andy crazy, however, and Kevin Spencer made the point that 10 yards of field position is a big deal, especially this time of year. Yep, that makes a lot of sense.
... Oh yeah, I talked about Kyle's Big Day above, and let me join other Steelers' fans (and any fan of a team that will have the Ravens on the schedule in 2006) is saying: Thank you Green Bay's defense. You single-handedly saved two jobs with one dreadful performance: Meet your 2006 Baltimore Ravens, led by head coach Brian Billick and QB Kyle Boller. (Who routinely has to point out that he's the other Kyle; the one in Chicago is the lowest rated QB, while Boller is next to last. And that's good.)
Along these lines, Eric left this comment:
"... while i greet that as great news (because baltimore may stick with boller another year) the thing that got my attention was mark clayton. he looks like he might grow up to be a pretty scary rat-bird. very smooth, ran good routes and had pretty good speed. if he keeps developing (insert boller joke here), heap stays healthy and mason does fall off the map the ravens might have a pretty damn good offense (insert boller joke here)."I was thinking the same thing about Clayton as I watched him run all over Al Harris and his dreadlocks. When the Ravens drafted him, I thought it was a really good pick. Clayton was supposed to be one of the most polished WRs coming out of college, but it's really hard to tell how good a player is when he doesn't get a chance to catch a lot of balls (just ask Cedrick Wilson-- just kidding again). It wouldn't surprise me if Clayton became a real weapon, but like I said while watching the Vikings game: Apparently all of Baltimore's wideouts don't excel until they end up in Minnesota. Let's see, Travis Taylor ... check. Marcus Robinson ... check. It's only a matter of time before Daunte Culpepper is getting his roll on with Clayton (uh, as I re-read this, I should probably make clear that I mean "roll on" in the football sense, not in the sexboat sense).
... Tangentially related to this is another ugly rumor that has been bubbling near the surface for the past few days. The one that has Jam Jam Lewis (I stole "Jam Jam" from Eric. I think it might be my new favorite nickname) coming to the Steelers this off-season. First, it ain't happening. Jamal Lewis might not be over the hill, but then again, maybe he is. It doesn't matter. Running backs are a dime a dozen, and Lewis is going to want a big contract (see Ozzie Newsome). And if the Steelers are going to spend money, it should be to re-sign a whole bunch of guys before they even think about addressing the running back position. And ask Edgerrin James how that big contract worked out for him. The Colts told him to seek a trade last spring and all they wanted in return was a 2nd round pick. Didn't happen. There's no way in hell that Jam Jam is better than Edge. And as far as I know, James has avoided jail time and hasn't said in the papers that he's been half-assing it during parts of the season because he doesn't have a long-term deal.
What's more perplexing about this whole thing is that a lot of Steelers fans want Pittsburgh to go after the guy. God, is nothing sacred? Seriously, what's the point of having rivals if you're indifferent to them playing on your team? And don't even bring up Quincy Morgan, the former Brown, now playing with the Steelers. He's been a perennial underachiever. I'm talking about big-name guys like Jam Jam, or Ray Lewis, or Terrell Suggs. Guys that, under no circumstances, would I want playing in Pittsburgh. That's like J.J. Redick playing for UNC (or even worse, Christian Laettner back in the day), or Derek Jeter playing first base for the Red Sox. Like Randy Hickey says: "It just ain't right."
(Update: Thanks Johnny Damon for completely rendering my two-paragraph diatribe "mute." You're not helping.)
... OK, now that I've gotten myself sufficiently worked up, here's something Gerry Dulac wrote for the Sporting News that I thought was pretty interesting:
Rookie CB Bryant McFadden, a No. 3 draft choice, has shown enough in his first season he will probably be the starting right cornerback in 2006. That will allow the team to use Deshea Townsend as the nickel back, a position that is ideal for him because Townsend covers well in the slot and is probably the best blitzer among the defensive backs. McFadden has received lots of playing time this season as the nickel back, a move designed to get him enough experience to step into a starting role next season. And he has not disappointed, rarely getting beat and showing good coverage skills. His only problem is he does not transition to the ball as well as Townsend, something he will learn with more playing time. McFadden is also the type of corner the Steelers covet -- big, tough and physical -- and plays well against the run.Bryant McFadden sure has seemed to come a long way since the beginning of the season. He had a hamstring injury and was inactive until the Jacksonville game, where he got a big interception at the end of regulation. I don't know if he'll be starting next year (Pittsburgh has to re-sign Deshea), but with either him or Townsend playing nickel, it certainly makes Dick LeBeau's job a hell of a lot easier.
... Finally, I have to give Joe Starkey some props for recognizing Larry Foote's performance after Sunday's game. And Casey Hampton's too. Now if somebody could just do a story on Sean Morey and Jeff Reed. OK, enough silliness.