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Stretch-run strategy

Top teams face critical choices during final two weeks

Posted: Wednesday December 19, 2007 3:52PM; Updated: Wednesday December 19, 2007 4:55PM
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A gambler acquaintance told me, "This is the time of the season when you can really clean up if you know." If you know what? "Which team is sending it in and which one is starting to rest people for the playoffs." And how do you find this out? "How the hell do I know? Ask Pete Rose."

Ladies and gents, please forgive me for wasting your time. I really thought I was on to something. And speaking of something ...
(Send comments to siwriters@simail.com)

NFL Power Rankings
Rank LW Team
1 1 I'm starting to get psyched about how the Patriots are going to handle their last two contests. I'm looking at what happened last year. They went hard at Tennessee in the final game and won, 40-23. Ah, but that contest was to determine the No. 3 seed, ahead of the Colts. The Colts won and New England became the No. 4, which meant facing Indy on the road. So after all this painstaking research, does all this have any bearing on how this season will end? No, absolutely none, but since I did the work, I'm not just going to let it slide without mentioning it.
2 3 They dipped deeply into their roster and still beat the Raiders. They're almost as secretive about their injuries as the Patriots are, so I don't really know if some of the guys who didn't suit up were sitting in the owner's box, hitting the buffet table hard or in intensive care. My player of the game was weakside LB Freddy Keiaho. They'd better keep him healthy for the postseason, because without him, the dropoff in talent is intense.
3 4 Yep, we could have the entire NFC postseason coming to Lambeau. I covered the Championship Game there once. Punchy looking parking lot attendant directed me to what he said was the Press Parking Lot and when I came back there was a ticket on the car. Judge's name was on the summons. I wrote to him to complain, enclosed the ticket, and ended my rant with, "I guess this destroys the myth of Midwestern hospitality." I got a return letter from him immediately. Inside was the ticket, neatly torn in two, and written on it was, "Go Packers!"
4 2 The thumb, how bad? I don't care about the rest of it, I want to know about the thumb. Normally he's accurate. Last Sunday he couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. So tell me, please. You'll notice that not once did I mention the name, Jessica Simpson. "You just did," says my Flaming Redheaded companion for life or what's left of it. Damn, trapped again by my own cleverness.
5 5 Quick, tell me what's the second record Fred Taylor set Sunday against the Steelers. Most rushing yards for an opposing player in Heinz Field (147) to go with his Three Rivers record of 234.
6 9 They're a hot team right now, and their task is clear. Keep winning, get a good seed and they'll play the Colts in the divisionals, not the Patriots. I can hear the fight talk now, kind of patterned on one of those Ray Lewis type rituals. "You don't want to go to New England, do you?" And they all yell, 'NO!'"
7 6 Diamonds among the ashes. Big Ben threw for three TDs in the loss to the Jags, which puts him one ahead of Terry Bradshaw's single-season team record. Bad stat -- Big Ben was sacked five times, putting him within conceivable reach of Cliff Stoudt's mark of 51, set in 1983. Except that they didn't call them sacks then. The official NFL designation, crafted by the poetic hands of their publicity department, was "Losses while attempting to execute the forward pass play." "Oh, come on, they didn't say anything like ... " Just kidding, Linda, just kidding. You corporate types have to learn to take a joke.
8 10 After what seems like a lifetime, they finally ran a kickoff back all the way. "Somebody that no one knew about ... it's a great story for us," Ronde Barber said. Street free agent for two teams, Micheal Spurlock was as unknown as you can get. "I ran down as far as they would let me; I ran down until I hit my knees," said special teams coach, Rich Bisaccia, a quote that I'm having a hard time figuring out. "I just assumed he would step out of bounds or something would happen," coach Jon Gruden said.
9 7 Eli, you haven't heard about the Hawk? You see the wind up there in Buffalo starts at the North Pole, and there's nothing really to stop it except for a few barbed-wire fences. I can see poor Eli up there Sunday, winding up and throwing that 90-mph high hard one, as the wind whips the pass into a missile in turmoil and it clangs off the receiver's hands. Don't forget, I was an AFL beat man for many years. I've seen what the Hawk can do to some of the game's fanciest passers. Gotta pick the Bills in this one.
10 11 Well, Jamal, old boy, looks like all us experts were wrong about you. Remember when we were writing Jamal Lewis off as a soft runner, despite his 245 pounds, and he was finished, kaput, certainly not welcome at our dinner table? Well, in that blizzard on Sunday he was the difference. He was the man, a human snow plow, a powerful diesel who ... anymore adjectives, Linda? "How about a bull?" A bull that couldn't be stopped. Yep, we sure had you wrong.