Adam Underhill


Mo’. Huh. For what, exactly, is it good? I’m talking about the Big Mo’, otherwise known as momentum. We hear a lot about it in the NFL this time of year. Some teams have it, some teams don’t. If momentum had an NFL-related definition, it would be something like, “the progress of a football team as it heads toward the post season, generally measured in victories.” Like spacecraft that use the gravitational pull of planets to fling them to the outer reaches of the solar system, teams like to use one win to propel themselves to the next, building velocity as they hurl toward the Super Bowl.

Anything that compromises momentum is anathema to coaches and players. Anything, that is, except for nothing. Maintaining momentum while playing for “nothing” can cause injuries to key players. If a team is locked into its playoff seeding, and cannot possibly improve upon it, then momentum be damned. Such games are deemed meaningless, because, as any true fan knows, even the worst NFL game (Lions-Rams) has more meaning in its stat sheet than the sexual congress of Zeus and Hera. Thus here we sit, eating Cheetos and questioning the judgment and competitive nature of a team that had a shot at greatness but settled for pretty-goodness, and wondering about the momentum of all the others. We forget that NFL games do not happen as back-to-back-to-back events. They are self-encompassing. Winning and losing streaks exist, to be sure. But whether a team wins a game or not depends on plenty of variables, including talent, game planning, execution, weather conditions, venue, conditioning, and injuries. What happened last week has little bearing on anything this week, besides team confidence. Players and coaches always preach about taking it one game at a time, having a short memory, moving on after a win or loss, etc. In this sense, they are right – at least more right than when they cite momentum as a factor. If momentum were truly so important, then teams would not be battling for a first-round bye!

The Indianapolis Colts were smart to rest their starters the past couple of weeks insofar as it gives them a shot at a healthy run in the playoffs, which is far better than chasing the false promise of momentum. However! The Colts had an opportunity to make NFL history. At 14-0, with many of their wins achieved in come-from-behind fashion, the Colts (and we’re not sure whether it was coach Jim Caldwell, team president Bill Polian, or owner Jim Irsay) chose to sit their starters and not play to win. No doubt the team justifies the decision with its pursuit of the Lombardi trophy. Yet, every year one team wins the Super Bowl; only one team (1972 Dolphins) went undefeated (17-0) while doing it. No team has gone 19-0. Two years ago, when the New England Patriots lost their 19th and only game, we saw how difficult making history can be. It’s the dream of every athlete to be mentioned as the greatest among his peers. It’s the nature of any competitor to do what’s never been done before and may never be done again. The Colts decided that the status quo was good enough. Of course, fans and players will savor a championship, but they’ll always be saying, “We coulda been the best.” Now we’ll never know.

Let’s take a look at this week’s games.

New York Jets at Cincinnati:
How do you like them apples: A week after the Giants stunk up Giants Stadium in their final home game ever there, the New York Jets demolish Cincinnati to close out the stadium they’ve played in as sub leasers since 1984. And they get a playoff berth in the process! That would stick in my craw if I were a Giants fan. What must stick in the Bengals’ craw is the Jets’ 257 yards on the ground. Yes, it was a “meaningless” game for Cincy, but even the JV team shouldn’t be that lax. I expect serious payback for Chad Ochocinco. Bengals by 14.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys:
Our second rematch from Week 17. Dallas is the “hot” team, though Philly had won six in a row before last weekend’s goose egg. I don’t get the Eagles, and I never will. But it just seems a given that McNabb will come to life and light up the Dallas secondary, while Wade Phillips stands on the sideline thinking, “This still might not be enough to get me fired. We’ll see.” Eagles by 4.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots:
The Patriots are like a cornered dog – they could get angry and lash out. Then again, they could just be caught in a net by the right dog catching team. Are the Ravens that team? The Patriots still have a respectable defense. But they’ve lost receiver Wes Welker – 123 catches in 2009 – and Tom Brady has not looked sharp. The Ravens aren’t great, but they’ve fought tooth and nail in each of their losses. Baltimore by 7.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals:
The Cardinals’ party line in their 33-7 loss to Green Bay on Sunday was that they had nothing to play for and didn’t try. After the game coach Ken Whisenhunt acted like he had an ace up his sleeve, but other than the Cards’ receivers versus the Packers’ weakened secondary, I don’t see it. Here is where the Cardinals rank in the league in six categories: Total offense (14), rushing offense (28), passing offense (12), total defense (20), run defense (17), pass defense (23). Sound like world beaters? Packers by 10.

And now for a look at the twelve teams in the playoffs, through the prism of Beatles lyrics.

On Arizona Cardinals’ chances of getting back to the Super Bowl:
Whatever happened to the life that we once knew
Can we really live without each other
Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much
It always made me feel so
Free as a bird.

On the Baltimore Ravens, being black birds and what-not:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

On the mental health of the Cincinnati Bengals:
I don’t want to spoil the party so I’ll go,
I would hate for my disappointment to show,
There’s nothing for me here so I will disappear.

On Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips:
Day after day, alone on a hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see he’s just a fool
And he never gives an answer.

On the improving offensive line of the Green Bay Packers:
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go.

For Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who lost the opportunity to go undefeated:
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight,
Carry that weight a long time.

On Minnesota Vikings quarterback/diva Brett Favre:
All thru’ the day I me mine,
I me mine, I me mine.
All thru’ the night I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Now they’re frightened of leaving it,
Ev’ryone’s weaving it,
Coming on strong all the time,
All thru’ the day I me mine.

On the embattled New England Patriots:
When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way,
But now these days are gone and I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind I’ve opened up the doors.

On Saints fans’ pleas to the New Orleans Saints:
Don’t let me down
Don’t let me down
Don’t let me down
Don’t let me down.

On the unbelievable luck of the New York Jets, who got into the playoffs by beating two teams resting their starters:
I get by with a little help from my friends,
I get high with a little help from my friends,
I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.

On Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid and quarterback/kemosabe Donovan McNabb:
Two of us riding nowhere
Spending someone’s hard earned pay,
You and me Sunday driving,
Not arriving on our way back home.
You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.

On the superb but overlooked San Diego Chargers:
Ev’rybody had a good year,
Ev’rybody let their hair down,
Ev’rybody pulled their socks up,
Ev’rybody put their foot down.

Lastly, for the NFL and the NFL Players Association, on the possibility of a lockout in 2010:
Try to see it my way,
Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?
While you see it your way,
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone.

We can work it out.
We can work it out.