NFL's Rags to Riches, as Rick Reilly Tweets

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Welcome back to the NFL Pregame Flyover, which Rick Reilly had first on Twitter.   

Before we slap the NFL injury report on this week’s schedule of games – and tell you which games are Probably worth watching, which games are of Questionable worth, Doubtful worth, and no worth – let’s come clean about something: I am Nate Silver’s ghostwriter, and I am about to blow your freaking mind with NFL predictions.

No playoffs last year = conference championship this year

In 2010 I penned a column for the now-defunct Page 2 at that described a 13-year streak in the parity-laden NFL. Allow me to quote myself: “The most recent time the four teams in the conference title games had all made the playoffs the year before was after the 1997 season, with Denver, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and San Francisco. That's right, 1997 - when high school freshmen were learning how to walk. Here are the teams, year by year, who made their conference title games (and sometimes advanced to and won the Super Bowl), but who had missed the playoffs the year previously:

• 2009: New Orleans Saints, New York Jets. 

• 2008: Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. 

• 2007: Green Bay Packers. 

• 2006: New Orleans Saints. 

• 2005: Carolina Panthers. 

• 2004: Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers. 

• 2003: New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. 

• 2002: Tennessee Titans. 

• 2001: Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. 

• 2000: Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders and New York Giants.

• 1999: Tennessee Oilers, Tampa Bay Bucs and St. Louis Rams. 

• 1998: Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets.”

Two years later, we might as well revisit this phenomenon, because the streak remains intact. In both 2011 and 2010, two teams reached their conference title games one year removed from missing the playoffs. Here they are:

2011: San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants.

2010: Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears. 

That makes 15 straight years that this has happened. Is this streak merely a curious fluke? Is it reflective of the premium placed on parity in the modern NFL? I’d say it’s a little bit of both.   

Will this streak continue this year? I, for one, would not bet against it. Consequently I think it’d be interesting to look at the teams that might keep it going. The best way to do that is to look at the teams thatwould qualify for the postseason if the playoffs started today. As Don Banks at Sports Illustrated and Jason Lisk at The Big Lead have pointed out, the field won’t likely change in the coming weeks - even if the 4-5 Cowboys are rounding into shape and they have several games left against the Sisters of the Blind. They’re out!

These guys are in:

AFC: Texans, Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Broncos.

NFC: Falcons, Bears, Seahawks, Packers, Niners, Giants.

So, which of these teams did not make the playoffs last year?

“The Colts!” – random Colts fan.

“The Bears! – random Bears fan.

“The team that stole our victory with a BS simultaneous catch!” – every Packers fan.

Yup, it’s the Colts, Bears and Seahawks. A betting man would say that one of those three teams will be playing in their conference title game this year, one year removed from missing the playoffs. 

The Bears, who are currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC, would have to be the odds-on favorite among those three. Then again, this is the year of the amazing rookie quarterback, so would you really be surprised if Andrew Luck led the Colts to the AFC title game? And would you really be surprised if Russell Wilson stayed out of the way long enough for the Seahawks’ defense to carry them to the NFC title game?

One of the teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year will be playing in a conference title game this season, of that I am rather sure. And to be fair, yeah, it might even be the Cowboys. 

The NFL Network is whitewashing history

I’m a regular patron of the NFL Network, and I enjoy their game day crew led by Rich Eisen. Each time they introduce Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, or Michael Irvin, they post a bio box outlining their bonafides, mentioning that Sanders, Faulk, and Irvin are all Hall of Famers and that Warner was a Super Bowl winner and two-time NFL MVP.

This all makes sense. You want to highlight the achievements of your commentators, justifying their role as a so-called expert. So why does it always irk me that Steve Mariucci’s bio box only makes reference to his 57-39 record as a 49ers head coach? And why does it underwhelm me that his San Francisco teams made four playoff appearances in his six seasons as coach? Because it’s willful deception, and it will not stand!

Mariucci also coached the Lions for three years, where he was 15-28 and the Lions missed the playoffs every year. You may choose to omit that blotch on Mariucci’s resume, NFL Network, but my mind subconsciously accounts for your willful omission – just as it adds, “Plus that whole hooker-and-cocaine incident,” to Michael Irvin’s bio box.

The Jets will persist for some reason

As a means of boosting team morale, some members of the New York Jets are wearing T-shirts that read “We will persist.” 

Mark Sanchez sucks? We will persist. Anonymous players are taking cowardly shots at our backup quarterback? We will persist. Rex Ryan has been staring at my feet when I get out of the shower? Get thee to a silkscreen shop, it’s time to make new shirts.

It’s endearing that certain members of the Jets have banded together in the face of adversity. Other squads might take a cue from the Jets and have some team T-shirts made, too.

Chargers: “T-minus seven games, Norv.”

Lions: “Madden Curse? No, it’s just Lions football.”

Giants: “We want David Carr.”

Bucs: “Kneel downs are for (bleeps).”

Packers: “Volunteer wambulance driver.”

Redskins: “Black skin? White skin? Nope, we’re all red skin.”

Falcons: “We’re for masturbation ‘cause we beat ourselves.”

Steelers: “I donated $1000 to the James Harrison fund and all I got was this piss yellow T-shirt.”

The Weekly Best

Pull up a high-back chair, you’re about to peruse the Weekly Best.

Best team in the AFC: Maybe not the Steelers anymore.

Best team in the NFC: Maybe not the Niners anymore.

Best candidates to replace them: Houston and some NFC team other than Chicago.

Best to remember: Jason Campbell is now starting for the Bears.

Best move by Cam Newton this week: Donating $150k to three Charlotte schools.

Best reminder that the NFL is dangerous to your health: Niners coach Jim Harbaugh just had surgery to fix an irregular heartbeat, which doctors said was caused by stress.

Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out

Just as the NFL puts out an injury report on the likelihood that certain players will suit up each week (Probable, Questionable, Doubtful or Out), we rate the NFL schedule on the likelihood that games will be worth watching. Because let's face it, you can't watch them all.

Probable Game of the Week: Baltimore at Pittsburgh.

Last week the Ravens had a 41-17 lead over the Raiders when they ran a successful fake field goal. Predictably this spurred discussions of whether the Ravens were showing up the Raiders, which in turn prompted others to say that the Raiders are professionals and they should worry about stopping the other team and not be concerned with hurt feelings. If the Ravens want to go out of their way to belittle the Steelers this week, a fake field goal will not be necessary. All they have to do is remind Pittsburgh that they actually lost to Oakland this year.

With Ben Roethlisberger out with an injury, there was a temptation to elevate the Colts-Patriots game to this spot. Does Tom Brady lose at home? Rarely. Does Bill Belichick lose to a rookie quarterback at home? Rarely. Does a rookie quarterback replace Peyton Manning and put his team in position to make the playoffs? Who would have predicted this? But Andrew Luck is doing it, and the Colts – bolstered by the emotional inspiration associated with Chuck Pagano’s health concerns – are the 2012 team most equipped to achieve the unlikely. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Colts beat the Patriots, nor would I be surprised if I find myself rooting against New England. It seems to happen every week, almost by magic.

(Other games receiving votes: Indianapolis at New England; San Diego at Denver; Chicago at San Francisco.)


Questionable Game of the Week: Green Bay at Detroit.

This is a lazy correlation for sure, but the Lions consistently remind me of the Carson Palmer-era Bengals, a team laden with talented players that could never put it all together, thanks in part to the predilection of Cincinnati players to get arrested and for the devastating knee injury to Palmer in the 2005 playoffs versus the Steelers. 

Lions players like to get arrested, too. And though they haven’t suffered the kind of franchise-killing injury that happened to Palmer, well, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Calvin Johnson is on the cover of Madden 13. 

At 4-5, Detroit now faces a gauntlet that sees them play Green Bay; Houston; Indianapolis; @ Green Bay; @ Arizona; Atlanta; and Chicago. How many wins can they expect out of that remaining schedule? One? We’ll give them the Cardinals, of course, but who else? Indianapolis, Andrew Luck and the Chuck Pagano Feel-Good Brigade? 

No, this Detroit team is staring 5-11 right in the face. But hey, at least we get to watch Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving. (Um, we hope.)

We also hope that Megatron pins another 200-yard game on cornerback Traman Williams of the Packers, who had the audacity this week to name himself Optimus Prime.

I’m definitely Optimus Prime,” the Green Bay Packers cornerback told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’m the leader of the Autobots. I’m the leader of the young guys right now and when it comes down to the tough battles, I’ll lead those guys out there.”

Did Calvin Johnson give himself the nickname “Megatron”? No, he did not. That handle was bestowed on him by others. That’s how nicknames work. When you try to give yourself a nickname, you sound like a mental patient, i.e., “I’m definitely Optimus Prime. I’m the leader of the Autobots.” 

(Other games receiving votes: Arizona at Atlanta; Philadelphia at Washington.)


Doubtful Game of the Week: Jets at St. Louis

Seriously, we can’t stop thinking about those “We will persist” T-shirts by the Jets. Here’s some more teams who need to get in on the team T-shirt train.  

Panthers: “The wheels on the bus run over me, over me, over me.”

Raiders: “The autumn wind is … rather chilly. Brr.”

Saints: “Our interim coach can kick your coach’s butt.”

Patriots: “Gisele picked this out.”

Eagles: “We hate our fans, too.”

(Other games receiving votes: Tampa Bay at Carolina; Cleveland at Dallas; New Orleans at Oakland.)


Out Game of the Week: Jacksonville at Houston

Jaguars: “LA bound, baby.”

(Other game receiving vote: Cincinnati at Kansas City.)

Cameron Martin has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic,, Yahoo! Sports, and CBS Sports. Send your ideas to

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