Call Me "Coward of the County"

I don’t bet much. I don’t win, I don’t — like Jerry Seinfeld — “break even.” I lose. About the only thing I could maybe win money on is betting what new TV shows are prime candidates for early cancellation. (At least, I thought that was the case until it turned out that people actually wanted to see Jennifer Love Hewitt talking to dead people. I would have bet my dog that that show was a, well, dog.)

The intelligence behind my choosing a largely non-gambling lifestyle was further confirmed over the weekend. If I was — like my idol Kenny Rogers — a gambler, I would have lost large sums of money on three of the four NFL divisional games. (Only the Seahawks beating the Redskins was expected by me, and even in victory Seattle barely covered the spread.)

Although to be fair to myself, I’m sure Half Price Books is a little busier today with NFL fans who gambled a bit too much and now find themselves having to sell their child’s book collection in order to pay the mortgage. (“Fifty cents for this? But this is one of Richard Scarry’s classics! Father Cat really screws up in this one! And look at that pickle car! That’s genius! You gotta give me seventy-five at least!”)

If this weekend proved anything, it’s that you can’t expect players, even the best ones like Peyton Manning, to enter the postseason playing at the level of intensity required by the playoffs when they’ve been out of serious competition for several weeks. Notice I didn’t say resting. Because even if Manning had taken every snap in the final two weeks of the Colts’ season when the Colts had absolutely nothing to play for, he couldn’t possibly have taken the games any more seriously than I take games of air hockey with my two-year-old son.

[Although my heart bleeds for Tony Dungy, I was pleased that the Steelers won that game. I was deathly sick of all of the hype surrounding the Colts and angry especially at that rotten call on the Troy Polamalu fourth-quarter interception. Plus I like things that are consistent — I like knowing that I’m going to laugh every week when I watch the underrated “King of Queens” and I like knowing that Peyton Manning can’t win big games.]

Although Tony Dungy was outwitted by Bill Cowher, no coach did a worse job this weekend than the Bears’ Lovie Smith. Smith started making mistakes when he sat Rex Grossman for the final regular season game against the Minnesota Vikings. This is the quarterback that you expect to take you to the Super Bowl and you think six quarters of experience this year are enough? And it wasn’t just Grossman that looked lost on Sunday — Charles Tillman and the rest of the Bears defensive starters were about as intimidating as The Backyardigans. But the majority of the blame has to go to Smith and his coaches for not tweaking their schemes when it became painfully obvious that Carolina receiver Steve Smith was open anytime he wanted to be, which was quite a lot — 218 yards and two long touchdowns worth. AP Coach of the Year Lovie Smith looked like anything but on Sunday, and his sideline performance fuels the argument that such selections shouldn’t be made until after the playoffs.

So now with the Colts and the Bears out — the two teams I would have picked to reach the Super Bowl — who’s going to make it to Detroit? I’m going with the two teams whose victories most surprised me this weekend: The Carolina Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

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