You know the worst thing about the BCS? It's given lists a bad name.
I like -- nay, love -- lists. I think all sports fans do. If we didn't, columnists wouldn't share their weekly "Fantasy Must Starts," "Best Rookies," "Draft Projections," and so on.
If someone's ranking something, I'm in. The top 100 NFL players of all-time? The best albums of the century? The greatest hockey fights of the '80s? In, in and in ... And ready to point out where the listers screwed up. (Peyton Manning at No. 8? Ridiculous.)
The only thing I like better than reading someone else's list is making a list myself. I rank condiments, fruit, alphabet letters, uniforms from every sport, pizza toppings and, as of a week or so ago, the most shameful plays in the NFL.
Matter of fact, I feel a list coming on right now ...
Best Post-Season Playoff Structure
1. NFL: I wish there were only three divisions per conference so that division champs would each get a bye ... but let's not split hairs. This is the best tourney going. Now if only the Commish and the President would join forces and agree to make Super Bowl Sunday a national holiday. That way, we could all get the following Monday off.
2. NHL: A game every other night for two months. Some upsets, but not too many upsets. Sudden-death overtime with the very real possibility that the game could end on every single rush of the puck. And it all finishes with a team hoisting the coolest trophy in sports.
3. NBA: There's a nice evolutionary process that NBA teams go through. First, they sneak into the playoffs but get eliminated early on. The next season, they not only get in, but they win a round or two. The season after that, they get to the conference finals. And finally, if they're good enough, they might actually break through with a title. Only problem is, the first round takes about six weeks to complete.
4. College Football: I know I opened by bashing the BCS, but I still love the fact that every regular season game is critically important, certainly more so than in any other sport. Beyond that, I can't defend the current system. A playoff would obviously be vastly superior, but so would a return to the old approach.
Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but I loved the scene that'd go down near the end of BBCS season (Before BCS): A good team fresh off a win against their rival, white-haired guys in pastel blazers standing in the stuffed post-game locker room, offering a bowl bid to the head coach with all the players roaring their approval. Over the holiday break, there'd be a some shootout games with fun names like the Bluebonnet or Tangerine Bowl, all of which led up to January 1st, the former title holder of "Best Day on The Sports Calendar." Five great games featuring the ten best teams, and when your head hit the pillow at the end of the night, you knew who the national champ was (at least most of the time). Oh, it was heaven ... Except for the fact that when you woke up the next day, the holiday break was over and it was time to go back to school.
But I digress. Now, we've got more bowl games than teams and the national championship is played in the middle of the week and named after either a financial institution or tortilla chips.
5. College Basketball: When I mention that I think March Madness is the most overrated sporting event in American sports, people look at me like I just announced the food they made wasn't good enough to feed to my dogs. Don't get me wrong, I think it's exciting. And like everyone else, I enjoy filling out the office brackets. But let's not confuse "exciting" or "fun" with "a meaningful determination of who the best team is".
6. Major League Baseball: Because of the nature of the sport, you just can't have wildcard teams ... unless the integrity of the tournament is secondary to keeping fans interested in the waning days of the regular season. They play 162 games because in baseball, the difference between the good teams and bad teams is much slighter than it is in other sports. Consider this: If the Lakers played the Grizzlies in ten best-of-five series, Kobe & Co would win all ten. But if the Yankees played the Royals in ten best-of-fives, KC would probably win a couple of series. That's why the best post-season for baseball was the old two-pennant-winners-in-a-best-of-nine series approach. I know it wouldn't draw in casual viewers, but then again, no one's watching now.
Okay, I'm all warmed up. Let's keep on listing!
Quarterback to win me one game
One of the more common sports clichés that's been tossed around the last couple years is "The NFL is a quarterback's league." Well, if that's true, then I guess they're worthy of being ranked. I don't expect many people to agree with the order in which I've laid out my top half-dozen single-callers, but the only question I considered was: If I needed to win one game, who would I want under center?
1. Ben Roethlisberger: Yes, I'm a Steelers fan, so feel free to accuse me of wearing black-and-gold-colored glasses. Keep in mind, though, that I encouraged the Rooneys to dump Roethlisberger after his "misunderstanding" in Georgia last spring. (For better or worse, the organization decided against accepting my advice.) Point is, I'm not blinded by rooting interest. With that caveat out of the way, let me explain my thinking: Roethlisberger is the only quarterback in the league who's proven he can consistently win while playing behind a subpar offensive line. He's roughly halfway through his career, and he's already got two rings. That virtually guarantees him of a spot in the Hall of Fame assuming he behaves himself off the field for the next half-dozen or so years. Former Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett is the only two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback not in the Hall of Fame -- excluding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who is still playing, wise guys.
Detractors say Roethlisberger has merely been the beneficiary of being on a team with a dominant defense, and they point to his atrocious performance in Super Bowl XL against Seattle as their proof. I wonder, though, if those people actually watched the AFC playoffs that season. Maybe they got distracted by the 36 million mentions of Jerome Bettis' dream to finish his career in Detroit, but Roethlisberger was the driving force (not Bettis and not the dominant defense) in making Jerome's dream come true. As for the second Super Bowl, well, we all know how that ended. (By the way, anyone know whatever happened to that guy who caught the game-winner?)
I know I'm supposed to just slot the names Brady and Manning into positions 1 and 1(a), but let's see either one of them make plays when they have to share the backfield with a couple of the other team's pass rushers every time they drop back to pass.
2. Aaron Rodgers: Heresy, you say! You were willing to give me Roethlisberger because you'd written me off as a homer, but Rodgers ahead of Tom and Peyton, too?! That's right. Rodgers is, to me, the most complete QB around. Huge arm, great in the pocket, good on the move, can make plays running, and seems fearless. The history of sports ain't exactly spilling over with stories about the guy who successfully replaced a legend, but Rodgers has not only done that, he's actually made Lambeau fans happier than they'd be if they still had Favre. Rodgers hasn't been his sharpest the last couple weeks, but I'll forgive him. His team's been brutalized by injury, and he's got zero running game to support him. The Packers choose between a.) Brandon Jackson and b.) John Kuhn for carries ... Which mostly results in coach Mike McCarthy opting for answer c.) Let's throw it again! At this point, Rodgers only lacks two things: 1. A big playoff win, which I think he'll get this January; and 2. A more original nickname. "A-Rod" is already taken, and by a creepy guy at that.
3. Tom Brady: Oh, how I was tempted to upset you even further and go with Drew Brees here, but I couldn't in good conscience leave the three-time Super Bowl champ off the medal stand. There's just something about him that lets you know he's gonna get it done. Maybe it's his chiseled features and those dreamy eyes! Still, it's interesting to note that the Pats haven't won the big one since Spygate (talk about David Tyree's helmet catch all you want, New England fans; you still lost). Five years ago, we were talking about Brady in the same breath with Montana and Unitas. Now he's thirteen spots behind Peyton Manning (At eight?!).
4. Peyton Manning: Yes, he's having another gangbusters regular season in spite of all those injuries to his pass catchers. Yes, he's always been statistically prolific. Yes, he and the offense have had to carry entire seasons because of Indy's sometimes-iffy defense. But -- as I've said before and I'll say again -- he's one forgettable Super Bowl win against Rex Grossman's Bears away from being perceived as a couldn't-win-the-big-one guy.
As it is, the crucial pick six he threw to the immortal Tracy Porter late in last year's Super Bowl is just the latest example of how great Manning is unless the big game is on the line. Remember how he looked in those '03 and '04 playoff games against the Pats? How 'bout the back-to-back losses to the Chargers in '07 and '08? I'm amazed by most experts' refusal to acknowledge how many times Peyton has thrown away big games. I get it: He's got a high "football IQ". Thirteen seasons into his career, though, I'm still wondering if he's got the heart to back it up. (Eighth?! Of all-time?!)
5. Drew Brees: Nice story last year. Do it again and we'll talk.
6. Phillip Rivers: Sorry, Phil, I can't bring myself to rank a guy who looks worse than I do throwing a football any higher than No.6.
Take that, BCS! Who says your rankings are the only ones that can be controversial?
But in a world that almost universally dislikes the BCS, it's strange that so many of the same writers and talking heads who rail against it give their weekly team power rankings. Unlike college football, the only three things that matter in the NFL are getting into the playoffs, and where you're seeded. (And the occasional Brett Favre's periodical retirement plans.) But let's focus on my a list of mid-season playoff projections. (Sidenote: why do commentators say, "Team A would be the division winner if the season ended today." Unless you know of some secret plan the league has to call off the rest of the season, what's the point of mentioning it all?)
Anyhoo, I'm standing by my preseason pick of a Baltimore/Atlanta Super Bowl ... but would be very happy for another AFC team to prove me wrong about the Fightin' Flaccos.
1. Ravens: The biggest obstacle to the division crown still in their way? Who else but the Pittsburgh Steelers, who pay a visit to Baltimore about a month from now. Just like it was two seasons ago, the two best teams in the AFC North might just be the two best teams in the NFL.
2. Titans: Fisher's fellas have been my "Under The Radar Team" through the first half of the season, but they no longer fit that description thanks to this week's little waiver wire transaction. Maybe I'm naive, but VY, CJ2K and Moss oughta make lots of TDs and all sorts of hey.
3. Chiefs: Let the record show that back in August, I was the only person on the face of the earth to pick this team to win the West. If they can get out of Oakland this weekend with a victory, I and they will both be in pretty good shape.
4. Dolphins: Another of my radical preseason picks, Sparano's boys have one very nice win (at Green Bay) and two very tough losses (against the Jets and Steelers). They've got some more tough ones on the slate in the second half, but if they can win in Foxborough on January 2nd (uh-oh, snow season ... convict-driven snow plow alert!), the division can still be theirs.
6. Patriots: On one hand, their offense is pedestrian and their defense seems flimsy. On the other hand, they've only lost one game. Along with that game in Pittsburgh, they've still got Indy, the Jets, Green Bay and Miami coming to town. I have a hunch they're gonna lose three of those.
1. Giants: Eli is good. The receivers might the best in the league. They can run. Their defense is back after taking '09 off. What's not to like?
3. Packers: Write off those three losses as a combination of bad luck and worse injuries. Even without an NFL-worthy running back on the roster, the Pack might end up with one of those two precious first-round byes thanks to their woeful division competition.
4. Rams: I guess Bradford and Co. are a nice story, but that doesn't mean they -- or any other team from this shameful division -- actually deserves a playoff spot.
5. Saints: They're nothing special this season ... but then again, the same could be said about the entire NFC.
6. Eagles: The Vick/Kolb debate has been compelling, but unless either one can transform into a pass coverage specialist, the Iggles aren't going deep in the post-season.
One list of players I feel bad for is the current New England roster. The story of the week was Randy Moss getting waived by the Vikes a month after they traded a third-round pick to the Pats. While the move may be a boon to fantasy owners who got Vince Young stashed on their bench, it's bad news for the guys who are wearing Flying Elvis or Pat Patriot on the side of their helmets this season.
Quick list: Best Patriots Uniforms
1. Pat Patriot (red jerseys/white helmets)
2. Blank, to accentuate the huge dropoff from No. 1
3. Blank -- still falling
4. Flying Elvis (blue jerseys/silver helmets)
In spite of my doubts, it wouldn't be a shocker if it's Brady and Belichick holding the Lombardi in Cowboys Stadium come February. One thing's for sure, though -- with all those draft picks New England has amassed for the next couple years, it won't be long 'til the vast majority of the 2010 roster is replaced by younger, cheaper options. So play hard, Patriots not-named-Brady, 'cause the audition for your next team is already underway.
Another list that involves America's Least Favorite Food Critic, Randy Moss: Best wide receiver of all-time. While I don't know that I agree with the NFL Network's opinion that he's the best player of all-time, Jerry Rice is the clear-cut best pass catcher ever ... but who's next?
Believe it or not, it comes down to Randy Moss versus Terrell Owens. Take your pick -- a guy who skipped two years of his career so he could lollygag in the Bay or a guy who drops a lot of passes and burns every bridge he crosses. I know it's an underwhelming choice, but who else if not one of those two? Marvin Harrison? Nah. I have a soft spot for acrobats like Lynn Swann and John Jefferson, but their (lack of) numbers remove them from consideration. Don Hutson? With all due respect, haven't our elders taught us that the '58 championship was "The Greatest Game Ever Played" because it made pro football relevant? If that's true, nothing that happened before counts. Sorry, Hutson. And sorry to the institutions of dignity and class, because the list looks like this:
1. Jerry Rice
2. Randy Moss
3. Terrell Owens
Yeah, I just called Moss No. 2 ... score one for the good guys!
I've got one more list, and I'd appreciate your help with it. My West Coast fantasy league team, the Kool Kats West, have a must-win game this weekend. Problem is, my No. 1 RB, Chris Johnson, is on his bye. That makes Peyton Hillis a definite start, but who should I go with in the second slot?
Yeah, I know, slim pickings ... But I have to start somebody. The waiver wire's no help; the aforementioned John Kuhn is the best available free agent. So it's down to one of the three names listed above.
C'mon, don't let the BCS spoil the listing fun. I need your help. Besides, I don't want to live in a listless world.