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Swoon season

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

The New York Giants are dreaming of a light Christmas – and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce has already worked out the game plan.

"If we can go up to Buffalo and win this game and clinch a playoff spot, it'll give Coach Coughlin peace of mind," Pierce said Wednesday. "He'll say, 'OK, I'm giving you two days off. I'll see you Wednesday. Have a nice holiday.' "

It sounds logical: Tom Coughlin, at least in a figurative sense, has abandoned his inner taskmaster this season and become a member of Prozac Nation. The Giants (9-5) are three-point favorites against the Bills (7-7), who have nothing to play for after their postseason hopes were squashed in the Cleveland snow last Sunday.

One potential snag, however, is that Coughlin hasn't yet been informed of the home-for-the-holidays arrangement.

"Not yet," Pierce said. "But we're going to pitch it to him. (Michael) Strahan and I will speak for the defense, and we've got to get the quarterback (Eli Manning) behind it. (Jeremy) Shockey would've gone to him for sure, but he's out for the year now, so we'll need another offensive player to make the case."

Another possible flaw in the plan? Well, they have to win. And the Giants, as has been their custom under Coughlin, seem perilously close to succumbing to another late-season swoon.

One bad day in Buffalo, and it all could fall apart. The Giants, who close the regular season a week from Saturday at home against the Patriots, would face the very realistic possibility of finishing the year on a three-game losing streak and miss the playoffs entirely – and Coughlin might get fired.

Other than that, there's not a whole lot riding on this game.

It didn't have to be this hard. The Giants could have clinched a playoff spot last Sunday night in New Jersey, but they came out with less energy than John McCain's presidential campaign and got rolled 22-10 by the inspired Washington Redskins, one of the teams chasing them for a spot in the postseason.

It was just one game, but because it took place in December – and because it took place in the shadow of The City That Never Sleeps (On A Chance to Overplay A Story) – the air-raid sirens (as opposed to Pierce's trusty air horn, which we'll get to later) started blaring.

For one thing, the clunker got those of us who chart such things to dredge up recent history. In 2004, Coughlin's first as New York's coach, the Giants lost eight of their final nine games. It's a trend that has continued: They're 11-19 in the second halves of the past four seasons, including last year's 2-6 stumble after a 6-2 start.

The Giants were 6-2 this year as well but have split their six games since. And while many of you would love to see them lose on Sunday to set up some serious Week 17 drama – the Giants needing to win against a Patriots team that will likely be trying to complete a history-making 16-0 regular season – that would qualify as a nightmare scenario for the men in blue.

On Wednesday, a report in the New York Daily News suggested that Coughlin might not be back in 2008 were the team to lose its final three regular season games (and a possible wild-card playoff game, should the Giants qualify at 9-7). Still Coughlin, in the final year of his contract, has refrained from bringing back the grumpy old coach routine.

"Most of the time after a loss he is not happy," Pierce said. "Last year he'd have been in panic mode and probably would’ve been screaming at us. This time, he's standing up in front of the room smiling for about 10 seconds before he says anything. And we're like, 'What's going on?'

"Then he tells us, 'Hey, let's kill these long faces. Today's a new day, and the only thing we can do is go out there against Buffalo and not play flat and correct our mistakes. I got tired of looking in that mirror and seeing that long face, so let's get over it and get to work.' "

On paper, the Giants have plenty of reasons to frown. Shockey, the team's talented and passionate tight end, went down with a broken left leg in the Redskins game and is out for the season. Quarterback Eli Manning has completed just 45.2 percent of his passes since Thanksgiving, with a passer rating of 55.3 during that span. The defense has gone three games without forcing a turnover.

New York currently holds the No. 5 playoff seed, but the Vikings (8-6), Redskins (7-7) and Saints (7-7) are in hot pursuit. Minnesota, which hosts Washington on Sunday night, owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Giants. The Saints, were they to catch New York at 9-7, would win the tiebreaker with a better record against conference opponents.

Yet Pierce, a studious seventh-year veteran who is one of the NFL's most underrated players, thinks the Giants have the rest of the world right where they want it. Noting that the team has won its last six road games after losing its first, Pierce says, "To be honest, the mentality of the team is a lot better when our backs are against the wall. When we go on the road and we're getting booed, everybody's screaming at us and flipping us off, and we bond together and fight back. The best example is when we were 0-2 to start the season. People were saying we were the worst team, with the worst defense. And guys responded (with six consecutive victories)."

That was when Pierce, in what he claims was an, uh, overblown incident, interrupted an interview with a local TV reporter by repeatedly blasting an air-horn. He says he was merely trying to be lighthearted, but it became a big story because it happened in the Big Apple. Yet there is no doubt that the linebacker is driven by an inner fury he plans to channel in Buffalo.

"We're a team of 53 guys with a chip on their shoulder, and we talk about that all the time. Even a guy like Michael Strahan, who has accomplished so much – the main reason he wanted to come back for another year was to show all the people who said he had a bad year (in '06) that they were wrong.

If Pierce, Strahan & Co. get it right Sunday, it'll be a much happier holiday for the Giants.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Once the Tuna takes charge of the Dolphins, Cam Cameron will sleep with the marlin. … The Texans would love to have a winning season, while the Colts don't care about their final two regular-season games (even if they swear they do), so Houston will pull the upset on Sunday. … Fred Taylor will take out his Pro Bowl snub on the Raiders in a big (and fast) way.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Glorious Candlestick Park, where I used to spend half my NFL Sundays, to see another of my old Bay Area favorites, Jon Gruden, fine-tune his Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the playoffs against the 49ers. What, they call it Monster Park now? Wouldn't it be easier just to name it the House of York?

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Tony Romo surely will listen to Terrell Owens' advice about keeping Jessica Simpson away from Texas Stadium, since the Pro Bowl wideout is an expert on mitigating distractions.

2. If U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter don't fall into line, Roger Goodell will show them who's boss.

3. FOX sideline reporter Pam Oliver is totally untrustworthy and would fabricate quotes just to make a splash.

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

Though he once won four consecutive NBA championships as a player, Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr knows something about teams who tank once they're eliminated from playoff contention. Thus, after riding the Jaguars and Patriots (over the Jets last Sunday) to victories in his first two weeks, Kerr is betting that the Baltimore Ravens will be slightly less than inspired in the chilly Pacific Northwest this weekend. "I'll pick Seattle," Kerr says. "The Ravens will be fired up and bouncing off the walls following their embarrassing loss to Miami last week. Or maybe they won't. Seattle 31, Baltimore 10."

MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

A week after getting bounced from the playoffs thanks partly to a stinker of a performance by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, my buddy Malibu rode "AD" to a narrow victory over his son, A-Man, in the consolation round. With 14 of the 16 games completed, Beat the Gypsy trailed A-Man's The Big Show by 47 points, but productive efforts by Clinton Portis (against the Giants) and Peterson (against the Bears) gave Malibu the three-point edge. "When Robert Ferguson was ruled down at the 1, and Peterson ran it in on the next play, that was the margin of victory," I informed him. "Whatever," Malibu replied. "I should be in the championship. Fantasy blows." Instead, he'll battle Number 8 or Number 9 for fifth place, with David Garrard, Plaxico Burress, Lee Evans, Maurice Jones-Drew and Laurence Maroney the top players for the opposition. For what it's worth, Malibu is sticking with Buffalo's defense, reasoning that the Giants' second-half struggles will continue.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

If, as Dolphins offensive tackle L.J. Shelton told the Miami Herald on Wednesday when news of the Bill Parcells hiring leaked, "We're going to have a new daddy," shouldn't the team's new theme song be "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"?

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

My kids' amazing ex-babysitter, Emily Azevedo, who teamed with Erin Pac to finish sixth in last Friday's World Cup bobsled race in Lake Placid, N.Y. Despite having been sidelined for most of the fall by a severely sprained ankle – and though she only took up the sport a little more than a year ago, after an impressive collegiate track career – brakeman Azevedo registered the fourth-fastest push of the second run. And very special thanks to Emily's dad, Alan, who finally sent me that "My Babysitter Can Beat Up Your Babysitter" bumper sticker I've been craving.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Guinness Good For You Official

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

Reading, still looking for its first road victory of the season, earned a 1-1 draw at Birmingham last Saturday, equalizing five minutes into the second half when Stephen Hunt rammed home a penalty kick after being tripped by Blues keeper Maik Taylor. Hunt had a late chance to win it in stoppage time after taking a cross from teammate Dave Kitson, but he rushed his shot and pushed it wide. The 13th-place Royals (5-3-9) return home to face 17th-place Sunderland (3-5-9) on Saturday.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

In another era, Jessica Simpson would have dated Joe Namath – with Roger Daltrey as rebound guy. Here's a look at her latest celebrity tryst (and her curious relationship with father Joe), to the tune of The Who's "Sally Simpson":

Outside the house Mr. Simpson announced
that Jessie couldn't go to the game
He went on crashing his Ferrari
and she called him a bad name
She went to the room and tears splashed the picture
of the new Messiah
She picked up her double-D bra from dad
and threw it on the fire!

She knew from the start
Deep down in her heart
That she and Tony were worlds apart
But her mother said never mind your part …
. Is to wear the pink jersey

The reality cameras had followed her
Since the days of Nick Lachey,
So Jessie decided to ignore her dad,
and sneak out anyway
She spent all morning getting real sexy,
and decided she'd try to touch him
Maybe he'd see those Double D's
and talk to her this Sunday

She knew from the start
Deep down in her heart
That she and Tony were worlds apart,
But her mother said never mind your part …
Is to wear the pink jersey

She arrived at three and the box was swinging
to country music by four
Pass after pass careened to the turf
and the cameras just showed her more
Tony jammed his thumb and her brains went numb
As he tried to throw
And then a head coach wearing a headset with a cord
ran out and said 'There's T.O.!'

The crowd went crazy
As Terrell ran the post
But the ball sailed wrong like one of Ashlee's songs
And soon the Boys were toast

Jess and Tony had a fight and her dad said
"Don't say I didn't warn yer"
I been your pimp since that pop musician
We met in California
Tony always talks about the time
That Jessica ruined his day
He swore off celebrity dating
"Unless it's Beyonce"

She knew from the start
Deep down in her heart
That she and Tony were worlds apart,
But her mother said never mind your part …
Is to wear the pink jersey

TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)

"I totally agree with you based on the Dolphins celebration and how it shows the team's revival. I was there. Though this team was 0-13 at the time of Camarillo's reception, I was amazed and screaming when I saw him run 58 more yards past Ed Reed for the touchdown. In all my years, I have never seen the benches clear that fast for a 0-13 team or even after a Super Bowl. I also have not seen a coach who seems to be very quiet, jump on his quarterback the way (Cameron) did. It was odd but unique. Go Dolphins and go Packers! Hopefully, the Fins can turn it around and get a franchise QB to dish Ronnie Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. the ball."

Michael
Hendersonville, N.C.

Alas, it may have been the one and only shining moment of the Cam Cameron era. If so, give Wayne Huizenga credit for cutting his losses and acting boldly. But unless Parcells is as good a GM as he is a coach (and there's no evidence that this is so), the constant misery in the workplace – and the new football operations chief's perpetual wandering eye – will drive the owner nuts.


"Does Brenda Warner have photos of you engaged in some kind of illegal act or something? She's gotten more ink in your column than the 49ers this year. Happy Holidays to you and yours."

John Drummond
Burlingame, Calif. (Home of BALCO)

In fairness, Mrs. Warner has exhibited far more fight on Sundays this year than the Niners.


"Aw, did the big jerk fail to post his 'proof' that the Patriots themselves concocted their 'classy' image? No way, a sportswriter making something up and being unable to back it up? Paging Jason Blair! lol hack."

Jack Mitchell
Location unknown

Here's the proof. And if you ever compare me again to Jayson Blair, I'll hunt you down in "location unknown" and exhibit some seriously non-classy behavior.


"Thank you, Michael, for an always enjoyable column and for your accessibility, but please swing your grammar-cop baton equally vigorously at the skulls of 'Us geniuses from the atheists left,' as a recent poster identified himself. I love your "thirty-two babies" bit. You can take that as far as Bo Diddley took his signature riff. That can be your Groucho's-eyebrows or Leno's-chin. Your list of reasons folks might have to hate the New England Patriots was an eyes-opener. 'Oh, yeah, right, there is that … and, legitimately, that … and, granted, that. Touché, sir.' If the Pats win 32 more Super Bowls, I suppose I'll have some inkling of what it's like to be a Yankees fan."

Ryan Anthony
Tucson, Ariz.

I hear you, but I think my eyebrows can be my Groucho's eyebrows.


"When an NFL running back writes to you and makes a glaring spelling mistake ("effected"), are you as quick to correct him as you are your readers? I'm not trying to shred you here since spelling errors bother me as well, but I'm just wondering if correcting a 250 pound NFL player's writing errors lies within your educational boundaries, or if you value your life more."

Jimmy Williams
Derry, N.H.

Two things: When someone is disparaging my intellect (i.e. "your an idiot"), I'm much more likely to make fun of that person's inability to spell or use correct grammar. And if Warrick Dunn is 250 pounds, I'm Dirk Diggler.


"Guess I'm done reading your column. I have never listened to Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, but for you to say you 'hate' them – fellow Americans and human beings – is class-less and irresponsible. It's easy for people like you who stand for nothing to say whatever you feel like about those who have the guts to stand for something. It follows that you equate those aforementioned two in the same breath as Osama bin Ladin, Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. At least they stand for something. Oh yeah, they also have something in common with you: hatred – particularly of American people."

Brad
Fairmont, Minn.

A quick Yahoo! Search of quotes from Robertson ("Homosexuality is an abomination") and Falwell ("If you and I do not speak up now, this homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women, and children who get in its way … and our nation will pay a terrible price!") will tell you exactly what these men stand for.


"I'm an 'evangelical Christian.' It's a term unfortunately hijacked by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson et al. It used to mean, 'People who really dig Jesus.' Now it means, 'Nutcases who hate gay people and love George Bush.' People like you understand the evolution of the term's meaning. People who get offended have had their noses stuck in a Bible too long to notice that the brand has suffered bit of a bruising of late. Or to understand that it's sort of silly to run around a country with a church on every street corner, more Christians per capita and more wealth per Christian than any country on Earth has ever known and whine about how 'oppressed' they are. Memo to self-professed evangelicals: being burned at the stake is oppression. If your faith is so fragile that it can't handle the faintest of criticisms in a sports column on Yahoo!, then perhaps the problem lies with your faith and not the columnist."

Dave
Asheville, N.C.

Right on.


"In response to Uditha deAlwis of Mansfield, Mass: I think your spell-check changed your attempt at 'Senile' to 'Senior' by mistake. I'm shocked that Mr. Silver didn't ask 'your self' how you wrangled such an important job while lacking the ability to proofread your own writing or make a cohesive argument. Are you suggesting that the Patriots 'give their free time' because of a love of team spirit? They get millions of dollars to perform a job, and if they didn't contribute to the team they would be gone in a second. I'm sure many spend their free time in soup kitchens or retirement communities, but the time spent building the team is ridiculously well-compensated. Finally, please realize that writers of opinion columns are not paid to do things beyond entertain us. Keep up the awesome work, Mr. Silver; you are the most entertaining sports writer around (and by 'around' I mean on Yahoo!, since that's all I read)."

Kris Bates
Seattle

I love the reader-on-reader beat down, every time. Thanks for your loyalty to the Y! You have tremendous taste.


"Great article, and I completely agree that Nick Barnett and Charles Woodson definitely got screwed in the Popular Bowl … how can you only send four guys from a team that's 12- 2 and most likely going to be 14-2 … it's garbage P.S. Great Ted Nugent reference, I didn't know you rawked out."

Cary
Oshkosh, Wis.

With my … well, perhaps not, but you know what I mean.


"Do you really think Trufant's 77 tackles and 7 interceptions (one he ran 84 yards to the house) are not worthy of him getting into the Pro Bowl? Think Barber should have gotten that spot? Really? Give me a break. Marcus Trufant deserves his first Pro Bowl, because of his actions on and off the field, so sit down and shut up (like you told us Seahawks fans to do earlier this week) and let the Truf enjoy this. He is a class act."

Jeff
Tacoma, Wash.

Well, if you put it that way … OK, I'll shut up.


"You were all over the Chargers this season. Now they are the AFC West champions! It's not how you start, it's how you finish. Eat it. Eat it real good."

Chuck
Location unknown

I'll eat five rolled chicken taquitos with guacamole from Roberto's, but that's about it. They won the AFC West. They've won two games against teams with winning records – the gift against Indy and the inspired comeback at Tennessee. I'm definitely impressed with the way they've fought through adversity and positioned themselves for a chance to win a playoff game (for the first time in 13 seasons), but you might want to go take a nice, long stroll on the Pacific Beach boardwalk until they actually accomplish something.


"Don't think name changes have any effects on fruit sales? Ask New Zealand farmers how sales of actilaria grossulus, Chinese gooseberry, changed after they changed its name to Actinidia deliciosa, or kiwi."

Dave Sims
Istanbul

Sort of like Istanbul (not Constantinople)?


"For all those tired of the Patriots winning everything, I say this: they won't stop until someone makes them. People used to hate the 49ers for running up the score, too. Unfortunately, Pat Robertson is made of plasticene and that stuff doesn't break down even in landfill, so we're stuck with him for a while yet … "

Candi
Location unknown

Ah, plasticine. You're only the second person I've ever seen use that word. Sing me with me and John: Picture yourself on a train in a station, with plasticine porters with looking glass ties ….


"Wow you're not very nice! Leave Seattle alone! We'll see when the playoffs begin who laughs last … Tony will choke just like last year, and as much as I love Brett Favre, he will just get tired and start throwing interceptions or get sacked five times. We shall see. … But for the time being … We love our Seahawks!"

Lucy
Moses Lake, Wash.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds! At least now I know I'm not the only one Trippin' …