The NFL released its 2008 regular season schedule Tuesday, unfurling a sacred scroll that holds the key to solving the mysteries of the months to come.
Now we know everything – which teams will make the playoffs, who'll lock up the No. 1 seeds for the '08 postseason and why the Nov. 2 game between the Houston Texans and the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome will be the pivotal game of autumn.
Can you see my eyes rolling into the back of my head? I thought so.
Look, I suppose I understand the excitement that accompanies the release of the schedule, in the sense that it gives fans a chance to start planning road trips and thinking about the season that is five months away. After all, because of the rampant parity that exists in the post-unrestricted-free-agency NFL, even fans of sad-sack teams like the Miami Dolphins (1-15 in '07) or Oakland Raiders (19-61 over the past five seasons) can dream of their heroes suddenly contending for at least a playoff spot.
When you consider that half of the 12 teams in the '07 postseason hadn't qualified the previous year – and that there was a 7-in-12 turnover in each of the two playoff fields before that – believing that your team is headed for an instant turnaround isn't such a stretch.
Yet it's precisely because of that phenomenon that analyzing a schedule in April is an utterly unfulfilling exercise. Because we don't know which teams will be surprisingly good in 2008, and who their unexpectedly lousy counterparts will be, drawing conclusions is a setup for looking silly down the road.
And if you don't believe me, all we have to do is look back at last year.
For instance, while it was easy to forecast that the Nov. 4 matchup between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts would be the AFC's biggest game of the '07 season, how many people looked at the schedule a year ago and concluded that the Green Bay Packers' Nov. 29 clash against the Dallas Cowboys would be its NFC counterpart?
The answer? About the same number of people who predicted that the Pats' Dec. 29 visit to Giants Stadium would be the league's most significant interconference matchup of 2007, given that it was both a historic night and a stirring Super Bowl preview.
That brings us back to the Texans and the Vikings. I'm not really suggesting that this Nov. 2 game will shape up as a preview of Super Bowl XLIII, but then again, do we really have any clue about how this will all shake out?
To underscore my point that we don't, I looked back at some of what was being written a year ago at this time to make fun of – er, retroactively assess – some of the assumptions.
For example, there was a lot of buzz about the Dolphins' Nov. 26 Monday night road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which marked the return of longtime Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. Sure enough, Porter had a nice game. Alas, his team left Pittsburgh with a 0-11 record.
There was also hype about the Steelers' Dec. 30 season finale against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens, who were 13-3 the previous year against Pittsburgh's disappointing 8-8. So what happened? The 4-11 Ravens rose up to defeat the Steelers, who had already clinched the AFC North and essentially tanked the game.
How about that sweet NFC Championship game rematch on the same afternoon between the Saints and the Bears in Chicago? It turned out to be an underwhelming battle involving one team (New Orleans) whose faint playoff hopes were extinguished by another (Chicago) which had already squandered its chance to repeat as conference champs.
A year ago, one national writer looked forward to a marquee Thanksgiving night clash between Peyton Manning and the Colts and Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. It turned out that post-turkey fantasy was … well, I could make a joke here, but I'll let it go.
Even my esteemed colleague Jason Cole, who is as informed and reasoned as anyone in the business, couldn't call what was coming. Among Cole's projected "best games" for '07 were the Rams and Seahawks in Week 7 (it turned out St. Louis was 0-6 going into that one) and the Eagles and Saints in Week 16 (eccch). His "worst games" included the Chargers and Packers in Week 3 (both teams ended up a victory short of the Super Bowl), the Browns and Steelers in Week 10 (it essentially decided the AFC North and a playoff berth), the Jags and Colts in Week 13 (it had AFC South division title implications) and the Bills and Browns in Week 15 (both teams were in the playoff hunt).
Few people got overly fired up about games involving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who won the NFC South title) or the Washington Redskins (who made an inspired playoff run) or the Tennessee Titans (who snuck into the postseason despite a subpar sophomore season by quarterback Vince Young), either.
And while I predictably covered a Week 2 Sunday night clash between the Patriots and Chargers, which turned out to be an AFC title game preview, was there anyone in Giants Stadium earlier that day that had any inkling that the NFC's version (Packers-Giants) was also taking place?
Now, I don't mean to be a total buzzkill. Heaven knows I can make misguided assumptions with the best of them, and there are some I don't mind sharing here. Studying the sacred scroll on my high-resolution screen, it's hard not to get at least somewhat pumped about games like Jaguars at Titans and Cowboys at Browns in Week 1, Cowboys at Packers in Week 3, Steelers at Jaguars in Week 5, Patriots at Chargers in Week 6, Colts at Chargers in Week 12 and Giants at Cowboys in Week 15.
And naturally, though that Texans-Vikings game is mighty tempting, I'm already making tentative plans to attend the Patriots and Colts clash at Indy's cavernous new stadium on Nov. 2, where a pair of familiar quarterbacks will go at it once again for mythical supremacy.
One way or the other, I'll be up late writing something glowing about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or both.
That's one prediction I feel safe in making.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"This is absolutely the dumbest mock draft ever. You should be embarrassed of yourself. You have Jay Cutler over Drew Brees? To top it off, you have him going to the Saints. As if they would rather have Jay 'Can't take a good team to the playoffs' Cutler. Then you have Devin Hester on this list. He is not one of the best five players in the league. You can not use Al Davis for an excuse. This is your mock draft, not your prediction of what any give GM manager would stupidly do. On and before you use Brees' injury as an excuse remember Dwight Freeney's injury was on the other side of terrible. My god, I can go on and on. What qualifies you for this job? I may not even log on Yahoo! anymore for any sports information from now on. This is that bad."
I hate to tell you, Alex, but the right to predict what any given general manager (or, for you auto enthusiasts, GM manager) would stupidly do is implicitly possessed by the creator of the Ultimate Mock Draft. And for what it's worth, there are some of us who believe that every mock draft is absolutely the dumbest mock draft ever.
"Do you really think Miami/ (Bill) Parcells would pick (Tom) Brady (over Tony) Romo? Sorry, I don't think so. Brady is alright! Over rated. When you have all day, a bunch of receivers that can catch, it's easy to be rated the best, but look at what happen the year before this one. Not much! I think he'd take Romo."
Prince George, Va.
Considering that it took nearly 3½ years for Parcells to pick Romo as his starter in Dallas – over Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and ultimately Drew Bledsoe – no, I don't think he'd pick him over Brady. As for your view of Brady's talents, here are some other things which are similarly "overrated": the sun, wireless Internet access, Meryl Streep and the Beatles.
"Did you fall down and bump your noggin? Not only did you not take LT until No. 20 in your ultimate mock draft, but the bigger oops is you took Hester No. 4? Ya, great GM skills. A guy that's good for 9 or 10 TDs in a career, instead of a guy that's good for 16 to 20 every year! How did you get this job, and can I pick up an app?"
I got the job after 13 years at Sports Illustrated, the last four of which I doubled as a web columnist and honed my skills by responding to witty emailers such as yourself. But I have to concede, the blatant disrespect has been kicked up to a new level here at the Y!
"Honestly, I know you get paid to write things like this so even though you write some of the worst, most mentally retarded, asinine garbage I have ever laid eyes on in my entire life, you can still look at your check and feel a bit of relief I suppose. I honestly have no (expletive) clue how you got this job but could you let me know? I'm chomping at the bit to write stuff this hilariously stupid for money, too! Honestly, you are hurting my insides with this Ultimate Mock Draft stuff. And not in a good way. My 7-year-old brother could do a better mock draft and he only knows half the teams and has a couple chromosomes missing. Did you poll crackheads on the street to come up with an idea this grandiosely idiotic or what? I mean, it's almost like a perfect storm of idiocy here … it is seriously hurting. And I'm not even going to bother getting into the actual picks that you made. Those speak in huge bold font for themselves. Jesus Christ! New Orleans Saints have the choice of anyone playing football in the NFL right now and also possess a stud pro-bowl QB and they take Jay (expletive) Cutler? Shoot me now, buddy. Shoot me now."
It is so tempting.
"I can sort of accept TO (Terrell Owens) over (Randy) Moss, but Moss not even in the first round? How about N.E. messing with Parcells and Miami by not letting Moss be there for Brady at the first pick in the second round? Or since you said we could draft anyone, I propose we draft Brady back from Miami. Just a thought. Thanks, that was fun."
This was my feeling on Moss, based on a point raised by a respected personnel man: As an unrestricted free agent, Moss, coming off his record-setting '07 season, was recently available to any NFL team. No one stepped up to break the bank, and the deal he got from New England, while certainly generous, did not make him the game's highest-paid wideout. That leads me to believe that he's not as valued as conventional wisdom might suggest.
"Classless Buffalo weather remark in your stupid mock column. Go (expletive) your self!"
It's still chilly up there, isn't it?
"That's not the draft order and as a Dolphins fan, I'm disgusted at the idea of having Brady on my team."
Ding ding ding! We have a winner. Despite the repeat mention and the all-caps warning, you managed to chide me for getting the draft order "wrong" when, in fact, it was exactly as advertised. You can collect your oversized stuffed pig at the nearest carnival window.
"You are an ediot. Why would the Saints pick Cutler over Drew Brees? Thats one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL."
I've never been called an "ediot" before … though I may have to start using that one on my editor. On a positive note, at least you didn't call me a "dildo" like Tom from Minnesota.
"Dear Mike, your an idiot sincerly. The city of New Orleans, the Saints and everyone else in this town who can't tackle or stop a forward pass."
"Used to love listening to you on KJR when I lived in Seattle. Anyhow, I have an 'ultimate mock draft' question: Assuming everyone is fair game, what's to preclude a team from drafting away someone who was drafted ahead of them? For example, if Peyton Manning goes No. 2, why can't team No. 10 re-draft him? Also, let's say Cincinnati needs a QB because Palmer is gone, and they still have their great WRs. So they take Tony Romo, for example. What's to stop another team from picking off Chad Johnson and/or T.J. Houshmandzadeh, messing up their plans? Thanks."
Good questions, and as the UMD commissioner here are my official answers: A player can only be drafted once, so Brady is off the board after the first pick, etc. However, teams do run the risk of losing a key player (i.e. Johnson or Houshmandzadeh) already on their roster later in the first round.
"How is DeMeco Ryans not on your list of the top 32 drafted players in the league? I am baffled."
It's a valid question, given that he was picked" in UMD3 and proceeded to have a great '07. But look at it this way: Were there a second round, he'd be a steal.
"I have to say whoever hired you should be fired along with yourself! You are a disgrace to Yahoo! and the sports writing industry. The only question I have is why haven't you killed yourself yet? I think you are a laffable fool that knows nothing of the great sport of football. Do everyone a favor and (expletive) off! Michael Silver will always be known as a moron in the sports industry. At least I know your name so if I see your disgraceful rhetoric online again, I can avoid from reading your (expletive)."
OK, we're going to try something new here. You have seemingly reacted very strongly to a column I wrote suggesting five rules changes for the NFL, and I'm going to attempt to help you express yourself in a more constructive fashion. This is what I think you were trying to say: "Dear Mr. Silver. I was very bothered by your proposed rules changes. For one thing, I disagreed with them. It was hard for me to read an opinion with which I blatantly disagreed, and doing so provoked intense feelings of anger. I wanted you to feel that anger, to the point where the thought of both you and your boss losing your jobs brought me great comfort. I thought it would be a good idea to insult you by calling you laffable , misspelling the word for effect. I wanted you to know that I was so upset by this column that it would lead me to stop reading your columns altogether. I remained angry about the fact that I'd read this one, and the anger brought up feelings of loneliness and despair and disillusionment that are deep-seated and mysterious to me. So I lashed back. And now I feel better. Thank you for your time."
"Your 'Ultimate Mock Draft' left me hunched over in the corner puking shards of my own pancreas. My beloved Tony Romo was picked up by my very-much-not-so-beloved 49ers. And in the same sentence you brought up the one us bleeding heart Cowboys fans refer to as 'the one we dare not speak its name,' oops … there went my liver. Then somehow, we pick up JaMarcus Russell, probably the most unproven player in this 'draft' (my lungs are now in my throat) and Coach Wade (Phillips) would probably mistake him for an offensive lineman. Everyone would try to convince him he is our QB and he would just start to jig (riverdance style) singing his praises 'We have one hell of an offensive line now boys!' And then the best player we have (and my favorite) in DeMarcus Ware is with the Browns. Oh god, my heart just went flying across the room splattering against the wall. Now as I lay here in my last breath face down in goop from my innards, the only happy thought is that now I don't have to hear about 'The One we dare not speak its name' any longer."
Now this is how you write an effective email. Joe Montana and I are both laughing.
"I am confused about what the public relations crisis is with (Matt) Leinart. Is it illegal to be in a hot tub drinking with people? Are you just jealous of this guy? Who cares what he does in private if its not illegal or hurting anyone? What early 20s guy doesn't want to spend his downtime with girls in bikini's drinking beer? The focus on this is stupid. I think you guys in the media forget the reason every red-blooded American male wants to be rich and/or famous in the first place is women and prestige. I would be doing body shots off naked women every night of the week, off twins if I could. You guys forget what it's like to be single and in your 20s. I am sorry if you got married too soon or just never figured out how to have a good time when you were younger! Leave these guys alone if they aren't breaking laws. Beer bongs aren't illeagle."
Nor are they "illegal." And for the record, this middle-aged married dude agrees that's a good thing, especially if Cal should win a Pac-10 football championship this year.
"I'm commenting on the Matt Leinart article. So what if he has photos from college that maybe deemed 'inappropriate' for the NFL. We all are young and live life. College culture is about drinking, partying, and crazy nights so people should just accept it and move on. It doesn't change that fact that he is a good athlete!"
Yo go, girl.
"Matt's a dander head!"
If so, could there be a Head & Shoulders endorsement in his future.
"I think Ken Weisenheimer is the only male on this earth who could be 'disappointed' in Matt Leinart. I would like to volunteer the AZ coach for the Mars Mission to make Leinart's approval rating a solid 100 percent."
I'm not sure who Ken Weisenheimer is, but I'm wondering if he might be related to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.
"Let em party! Who caresss?"
My sense is that Leinart caresss … and caresss … and caresss …
"Why are you so hot?"
Some things defy explanation, my friend.
St. Paul, Minn.
Not yet, brother. Not yet.
"I loved your article on the NFL's rules that should be 'tucked away.' As a Raiders fan and young fan of the game, I completely agree with the abolishment of the rules you mentioned. Is the NFL a democracy? Can fans have any say to actually have these rules changed?"
In fact, the NFL is more like a communist dictatorship. But that is a column for another day.