One of my favorite Saturday Night Live musical numbers ever was one Steve Martin did to open the Christmas show about 15 years ago, where he comes on blase and ready to cruise through the 90 minutes until Chris Farley pulls out his old King Tut costume and something comes over him...
"I'm not gonna phone it in tonight," he sings, eventually joined by the whole cast, producer Lorne Michaels (enduring an interruption of his manicure), the crew, etc.
If only somebody could've played the DVD in the Arizona Cardinals' locker room about 12:45 last Sunday afternoon, or in the Oakland Raiders' the week before.
Yes, the Patriots benefitted from phoners the past two weeks. One of them from a playoff team. Think about it: Arizona (and possibly San Diego) could go 8-8 and be in the playoffs. New England may go 11-5 and not make the playoffs (which has happened only once, to the Broncos in '85 - ironically, they were nosed out by the Pats, who won three straight on the road to get to their first Super Bowl).
And if the Patriots and Ravens had won, locking them out of a playoff bid, think the Jets might've phoned it in against Miami just to keep the Pats out? Given the animosity between the New England and New York organizations...
You like to think professional pride would motivate these guys when playoff bids can't. Look what happened four years ago, when a 2-11 Miami team stole a Monday night game from a Patriots team that eventually won it all. Or even the woebegone Detroit Lions two weeks ago, playing the Colts even well into the second half (before phoning in a 42-7 pounding from the Saints last week).
Jacksonville looks like a candidate for a phoner against the Ravens Sunday. The Jags have been plagued by injuries and dissent all year, heads are already rolling in the front office (as may well coach Jack Del Rio's before we tear off the final page of the 2008 calendar), and boy. did the Ravens do a number in Dallas when they had to.
I don't think that's going to happen.
If the league hadn't juggled starting times so the Jets-Dolphins and Ravens-Jags games started after the Pats-Bills game ends (barring OT), I'd worry about the Jets doing that. They have the ready excuses in their late-season collapse and Brett Favre's bum shoulder. Think Eric No Longer Mangenius wouldn't want to raise two middle digits to Bill Belichick again?
Word to all 32 teams Sunday: Intergrity. Play that game like it will be your last (because it may well the last for some of you, even if you're old enough to call Favre "Dad"),
Last week: 9-14, seven days of fail reaching epic proportions. For the season. 210-117-1. For the final time...confidence pool picks in parentheses:
PATRIOTS 27, BILLS 16 (12): Unlike Arizona, Buffalo will not be intimidated by Mother Nature.
RAVENS 24, JAGUARS 12 (15): Baltimore is looking like one lively dark horse...shades of 2000?
DOLPHINS 23, JETS 13 (4): Not trusting the Jets. As Frank Zappa might've sung 40 years ago about the Pats, brown shoes and an 11-5 record don't make it.
TEXANS 20, BEARS 17 (3): Sorry, Bears. Monday night's comeback notwithstanding, you're just not a playoff team.
PACKERS 34, LIONS 27 (2): The Green Bay collapse makes this a winnable game. But the Lions will go 0-16 kicking and screaming. Like the Patriots in the '07 regular season, they're perfect on merit.
FALCONS 31, RAMS 10 (13): The Dirty Birds have an outside shot at a division title if Carolina stumbles...
PANTHERS 34, SAINTS 30 (8): ...but the Panthers won't.
VIKINGS 17, GIANTS 10 (9): Simple - the Vikes have a division title to play for. The Jints have nothing left after nailing the top seed last week.
BENGALS 27, CHIEFS 26 (1): Break up the Stripes! They're ending the season on a roll.
STEELERS 19, BROWNS 6 (16): How impotent is the Cleveland offense? Enzyte Bob is the designated third quarterback.
EAGLES 27, COWBOYS 24 (7): Jessica Simpson will never do anything as embarassing as giving up 82- and 78-yard touchdown runs on consecutive plays, as the Dallas defense did in the final minutes last Saturday.
CARDINALS 28, SEAHAWKS 25 (11): Well, the Cards are at least back indoors.
49ers 27, REDSKINS 17 (5): The Niners may well be the best team in the NFC West right now.
CHARGERS 31, BRONCOS 24 (6): But really, do either of these teams deserve to be in the playoffs?
On to the bowls:
MOTOR CITY BOWL: CENTRAL MICHIGAN 30, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 15. This matchup's about as attractive as a GM financial statement.
MEINECKE BOWL: NORTH CAROLINA 24, WEST VIRGINIA 10. Because one team is much more happy to be there than the other.
CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL: FLORIDA STATE 27, WISCONSIN 25. Outcome depends on badly FSU gets hit by its traditional bowl-eve suspensions.
EMERALD BOWL: CAL 24, MIAMI 20. Still not quite the old The U yet, 'Canes.
INDEPENDENCE BOWL: LOUISIANA TECH 32, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 24. At least there's a nearly-home team in Shreveport.
PAPAJOHN'S.COM BOWL: RUTGERS 40, NORTH CAROLINA STATE 20. How did Rutgers start the season 1-5?
ALAMO BOWL: MISSOURI 41, NORTHWESTERN 34. A shootout that would make Sam Houston proud.
HUMANITARIAN BOWL: MARYLAND 26, NEVADA 21. How much will Boise get behind this matchup?
TEXAS BOWL: RICE 44, WESTERN MICHIGAN 27. The hometown Owls can hang up some points.
HOLIDAY BOWL: OKLAHOMA STATE 48, OREGON 43. An old-fashioned orgy of offense lights up your Tuesday night.
ARMED FORCES BOWL: HOUSTON 36, AIR FORCE 33. It's actually the Cougars who show more force in the air.
SUN BOWL: OREGON STATE 38, PITTSBURGH 16. Why are the Beavers here? They played both halves of the Rose Bowl matchup (and beat one).
MUSIC CITY: BOSTON COLLEGE 27, VANDERBILT 12. The Eagles will win their tenth straight bowl because they've once again been matched below their weight.
INSIGHT BOWL: KANSAS 51, MINNESOTA 34. There's something agrarian about this match.
CHICK-FIL-A BOWL: GEORGIA TECH 37, LSU 20. Where's your defense, where's your defense, where's your deeeeeeeee-fense, LSU?
OUTBACK BOWL: SOUTH CAROLINA 20, IOWA 16. I can sleep a little longer, thank you.
GATOR BOWL: CLEMSON 34, NEBRASKA 32. Good enough game to ease you out of the hangover.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL: GEORGIA 34, MICHIGAN STATE 13. When you think about it, did any Big 10 teams beyond Penn State and Ohio State really merit New Year's Day bids this year?
ROSE BOWL: USC 28, PENN STATE 26. Now this is a BCS-worthy game.
ORANGE BOWL: CINCINNATI 20, VIRGINIA TECH 13. Now this is not worthy, even if both schools technically did earn their spots.