Today's Names to Know: Fantasy Football Misery, Patriots, NFL Network, Vikings, Redskins, Browns, Titans, Jaguars, East Carolina, Kobe, Jimbo Fisher, Roger Clemens and More!
I'll get to the Pats and 15-0 and looking ahead to 16-0 (even if fans won't be able to watch it) in a second. First, a bit of fantasy-related navel-gazing....
Fantasy Hell: Snatching Championship Defeat from the Jaws of Glory! In 10-plus years of playing fantasy football, I have never played for a championship. This season, if you recall, I ended up playing in 5 leagues, which wasn't much fun on a week-to-week basis, because I had rooting interests virtually everywhere.
But, in one league, I made it to the finals (as an 8th seed, no less – it has been a glorious playoff run). In the title game, my opponent was struggling. I wasn't doing great, but after the Sunday afternoon games, I had Adrian Peterson going and needed about 7 or 8 points from him to win the title. I figured with the Vikings playing at home with a playoff spot on the line, a spectacular (even modest) Peterson show was all but guaranteed.
"All but," indeed. Peterson was contained, symbolic of the Vikings' choke. I lost the title by a mere 4 points.
Now, I can't blame it on Peterson; at the last minute, I thought I was being SO smart by swapping Morten Andersen (who hadn't really done much for me this season) for Mike Nugent, who I figured was a better bet. Andersen had 9 points; Nugent was shut out.
Whatever: I lost the closest I had ever come to fantasy football glory. Losing by 4 was way worse than being blown out. And it sucks far worse than I ever thought it would.
Did any of you win your fantasy league title? Or, like me, lose in the title game?
Patriots roll on to 15-0: Even if the Giants hadn't clinched their Wild Card spot and thus have no reason to do anything but show up next week, the Pats were going to rout them and close out the season 16-0.
I'm actually pretty excited: There is an entire generation of sports fans – say, anyone under 40 – who have never experienced a team playing this well. Given the limitations of the free agency/salary cap era, we're watching the greatest regular season in sports history. (Were the '85 Bears more dominant? Possibly, but they weren't perfect.) Also, I can't stand the '72 Dolphins.
There are also the records to be broken: Tom Brady for TD passes in a single season. Randy Moss for TD catches in a single season. The Pats, as a team, for several records. All of which make this the ONLY storyline of Week 17 worth following. And rooting for.
(After all, if the Pats don't go 16-0, it wouldn't make a loss in the playoffs – if it happens at all – the Biggest Bust In Sports History. But that's a dream: They ain't losing.)
NFL Network Mayhem: Now, let's forecast the biggest story of Week 17, by far, or perhaps even the entire season: The Pats' final game – the history-making game – is on the NFL Network. That means that the majority of the country won't be able to see it. That is not good for fans OR for the NFL. And the outcry will be THE story of the week in sports. Again, that is not good for fans OR the NFL. Tracking...
Playoff Outlook: Aside from tracking the Pats, we're looking at two 6-seeds that are up for grabs.
In the AFC, the Browns are trying to fend off the Titans; now, the 6-seed in the AFC this season might be meaningless, but not if you're a Cleveland fan and expected to win about 4 games this year. What a one-season turnaround for the Browns. There's a fine argument to be made that, if they make the playoffs, Romeo Crennel deserves Coach of the Year ahead of Bill Belichick. (By the way, in the AFC, the 2-seed is as meaningless as the 6-seed, if you think the Pats have a manifest destiny to win the conference and the Super Bowl.)
In the NFC, the Vikings are on the verge of totally choking away what seemed like a lock of a Wild Card spot; with their win in Minnesota last night, the Redskins merely have to beat a Cowboys team with ZERO reason to do anything but show up in D.C. and let the clock run out to make the playoffs. It's a heartwarming turnaround story for a team that was hit so tragically by the death of Sean Taylor just a few weeks ago.
Looking Ahead to Next Week: The only thing worth following is the Pats' attempt at 16-0 (and all accompanying single-season records – individual AND team – that they are poised to shatter)… and that's on the NFL Network. Yeesh, that's grim.
More from Sunday: Again: If the Jaguars played in the NFC, we would be talking about them as the conference's team to beat; as it stands now, they will merely be an unusually tough out on the AFC side – I would say that the Jags are the biggest threat to the Pats in the AFC ("threat" being relative… no team is really a threat, but the Jags are a bigger threat than the Colts, Chargers or Steelers)…
In one game, Derek Anderson kind of ruined an entire season's worth of good feeling, but given his slow start, it was a fitting bookend to his Browns career (which will surely be pushed aside for Brady Quinn in 2008)...
Mostly, it was one of those late-season weeks where playoff teams are playing not to get hurt and the difference between that and "tanking" are hard for me to figure out. Next week should be even worse, so don't tell me "tanking" is abhorrent to the NFL way; it's more like the norm.
College Bowl Mania: East Carolina shocks Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, 41-38. Maybe Boise State was suffering a let-down after last season's magic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, or maybe a let-down after losing their Game of the Year to Hawaii. Or maybe it was just too much Chris Johnson.
Know the name: Chris Johnson, the ECU star who set an NCAA bowl record with 408 all-purpose yards. (Let's break it dow: 223 yards rushing, 32 yards receiving, 153 yards on kickoff returns.) In another parallel with last year, it was another Johnson (Boise State's Ian) who stole the bowl season with a wild performance (and engagement).
NBA: Kobe becomes the youngest-ever to 20,000 career points. Now: What's your bet on where he ends up on the final career scoring list?
Consider: Kobe will end the SEASON in the Top 25 (probably just behind Allen Iverson). He'll crack the Top 20 after 2008-2009. He'll crack the Top 15 after the 2009-10 season. He projects to easily clear the Top 10 after the 2010-2011 season.
Top 5 all-time would be 27,410 points, passing Moses Malone. But No. 4 is Wilt at 31, 419. So let me place my bet today at No. 5.
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher won't leave FSU for West Virginia: Yes, even with all of the Noles' many on-field and off-field problems. This was Fisher's "out," his chance to escape the vortex of gloom that threatens to hover over the FSU program for the next half-decade (or longer, depending on NCAA sanctions over this academic scandal). But he's sticking by Bobby Bowden and the FSU program. Good luck with that.
Roger Clemens makes his defense on YouTube: Points for taking advantage of populist new media opportunities, but does anyone really believe him?
(Isn't there a very simple way to solve this: Can't he sue George Mitchell for zillions in defamation? Maybe he won't sue because he can't.)
Again, to those of you logging in today but ducking out tomorrow for the holiday, the merriest of Christmases.
I'm gearing up for 24 hours of "A Christmas Story," only one of the greatest films ever created.