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How to predict scores without knowing who's playing, and do black holes come in other colors?  
Gregg Easterbrook  By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to NFL.com

(Gregg Easterbrook will contribute his column to NFL.com readers each week during the NFL season. He is a senior editor of The New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. His latest book, The Progress Paradox, released by Random House, is in bookstores now.)

(Oct. 11, 2005) -- I'm ready to predict the exact final score of an NFL game, and just to make things interesting, I will handicap myself by not knowing who's playing. My prediction: Home Team 20, Visiting Team 17.

Regular readers of Tuesday Morning Quarterback know it is a complete waste of time for anyone to attempt to predict an exact NFL final score. Last winter, yours truly tabulated the final score predictions offered over the years by the Sporting News, the New York Times and Scripps Howard News Service; of 2,426 predictions, five were correct. That represents one-in-500 odds of predicting an exact NFL final score. You might as well try to predict exactly on what day the next lunar landing will occur. But while it's a waste of time to attempt to predict scores game by game, generic final scores make sense. In 2004, there were four NFL contests that ended Home Team 34, Visiting Team 31; four that ended Visiting Team 17, Home Team 10; three each that ended Home Team 24, Visiting Team 17, Home Team 20, Visiting Team 17 and Visiting Team 20, Home Team 17. So suppose last season you had simply endlessly forecast that every game would result in the home team winning by a count of 34-31. You would have been right four of 256 times -- better than USA Today, which forecast games individually and went 0-for-256.

For the remainder of the NFL season, I'm forecasting every single game will end with the home team winning by a count of 20-17. That outcome happened three times last season, and has already happened twice this season. The first beauty of my system is that I am predicting a statistically likely combination of scores. Sometimes on sports websites that are, let's just say, not as good as NFL.com, you see touts predicting that games will end 33-19 or 15-12 or some other improbable combination; stick with likely scores. The second beauty of my system is that you don't need to possess incredible insider information, you don't have to pore over tables of statistics, you don't even have to know which teams are playing! You just endlessly predict that every game will be won by the home team by a count of 20-17. Of course, you will mainly be wrong, but you'll be wrong less often than if you tried to forecast game by game. And if you're in an office pool, my system makes far more sense than, say, thinking about it.

In other football news, something happened Sunday that happens all the time in high-school and college football, yet is rare in the National Football League -- the victor ran up the score. Leading 35-3 at halftime, Green Bay kept Brett Favre in the game the entire third quarter, until the count was 45-3; Favre threw eight times after the Packers took the 35-3 lead, which would have required the greatest regular-season comeback in NFL history for New Orleans to overcome. Yes, the spectacular final 52-3 margin was cathartic for the Green Bay faithful, who had endured five consecutive losses. But there's no doubt Green Bay was rubbing it in, and against the hapless, vagabond Saints no less. Running up the score is offensive at the high-school and collegiate levels, where an official reason for games is to teach sportsmanship; running up the score is the reverse of sportsmanship.

The balance is different in the pros, where the first reason for the games is the entertainment of the audience, and where the players are well-paid grownups. There is no doubt the Lambeau Field crowd was better entertained because Favre stayed in and the Packers padded their point total; and while it is wrong for poor-sport high-school or college coaches to hurt the feelings of players on lesser teams by running up the score, the New Orleans Saints are professionals who know their private feelings are irrelevant to a professional event. Still, yours truly was uncomfortable when Favre threw two consecutive passes from the Saints' 8-yard line with Green Bay ahead 42-3; this was an obvious attempt to humiliate an opponent. For Green Bay to show questionable sportsmanship is not good karma -- especially at a time when the Packers need the football gods to smile on them if their season is to be salvaged.

In other news, after his former Jets and Patriots players Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn and Drew Bledsoe came up big in Dallas' rout of Philadelphia, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells announced that Harry Carson, Jimbo Covert, Joe Morris, Jim Burt, Terry Kinard and Bart Oates would join the team for Sunday's Giants-Dallas clash. "There may also be players changing uniforms during the game," Parcells announced.

Finally on the crystal-ball front, reader Omar Jalife of Mexico City notes that not only does the consensus of users continue to lead the experts on the Yahoo! NFL predictions page, but my off-price ultra-generic prediction -- simply, Home Team Wins -- is outperforming them all. The best Yahoo! expert is 44-30; the consensus of users is 45-29; Home Team Wins is 46-28. Dear Yahoo!, I now formally challenge you to include the Tuesday Morning Quarterback ultra-generic prediction on your football picks page. This would be entertaining and keep users clicking, so add the TMQ prediction and see how it does. Whassamatter, Yahoo! -- you scared or something?

Stats of the Week: Owing to penalties, Detroit ran six consecutive plays from the Baltimore 1-yard line -- and needed all six to score.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Dallas outgained Philadelphia by 327 yards and 22 first downs.

Stats of the Week No. 3: Indianapolis leads the league in scoring defense, allowing just six points per game.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Arizona and Washington both exceeded 400 yards of offense and lost.

Stats of the Week No. 5: First overall draft pick Alex Smith of San Francisco threw 23 times for a net gain of 44 yards.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Buffalo has a losing record despite being plus-seven in turnovers; Washington has a winning record despite being minus-five. Half the explanation: Buffalo has six points in the second half.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Baltimore and Miami combined to commit 39 penalties.

Stats of the Week No. 8: The NFC North is 0-8 on the road. Stat submitted by Zack Slabotsky of West Bloomfield, Mich.

Stats of the Week No. 9 The sole victory for Arizona has come in Mexico.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Seven teams allowed more points on Sunday than the Colts have allowed all season. Stat submitted by Craig Ellenport of North Massapequa, N.Y.

Stats of the Week No. 11: With Indianapolis the sole undefeated team, there is no possible pairing of undefeateds for the remainder of the NFL season.

Bengals' Amber pulls double duty as a cheerleader and a nurse.  
Bengals' Amber pulls double duty as a cheerleader and a nurse.    
Cheerleader of the Week: Stacy Pratt of Tulsa, Okla., nominates Amber of the Cincinnati Bengals. She's a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati and an ICU nurse -- male fantasy overload! I mean being a nurse and a cheerleader, not being a graduate student and a cheerleader. According to her team bio, Amy has both a brother and a sister who are United States Marines just returned from Iraq. Asked her favorite Bengals player, she answered, "Carson Palmer and Brian Simmons." That's two players!

Best Purist Drive After the Clock Struck Midnight: Trailing 22-21 at 12:07 a.m. Eastern, Pittsburgh took over on its 38 with 4:36 remaining. Rather than go pass-wacky, the Steelers staged a classic clock-management drive, running seven times and passing just thrice. The result was both the winning field goal and the scoreboard showing 10 seconds left, so the host Chargers could not reply. You just don't see many modern teams running up the middle when trailing late in the fourth quarter, and last night -- rather, this morning -- Pittsburgh did so to perfection.

Sweet Play of the Week: The defending champions leading 7-0, New England had second-and-10 on the Atlanta 45. Tom Brady faked a screen left, then did a dancer's "turn out," spinning around his outside shoulder, and fired a screen right to tight end Daniel Graham, who went the distance behind a perfect block by guard Stephen Neal.

Sweet Special-Teams Play: College coaches often send almost everybody after the punter, while rarely do more than a couple of men rush the punt in the NFL. Why? As TMQ has noted, "If the coach orders a big punt rush and the result is roughing the kicker, then the coach is lambasted; if the coach sends a token rush while everyone else drops back to block, the receiving team may end up with poor field position, but there's nothing to criticize the coach about." Because so few NFL teams go after punts, when the tactic is tried it's often effective. With Jacksonville leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Cincinnati lined up to punt. Eight men came after the punter; block, and a field goal on the possession makes it a 10-0 Jaguars lead.

Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Trailing 10-6 with 3:01 remaining, the Cleveland Browns (3.0b) had first-and-10 on the Chicago 33. The Browns called a "max protect" play on which eight blocked and only two receivers ran routes; Antonio Bryant got deep on the left side for the touchdown that gave Cleveland its winning points. Yours truly watched the tape of this play several times in rapt fascination. First, because eight are blocking five pass rushers, nobody ever gets near quarterback Trent Dilfer -- the Bears' defensive line is a good seven yards from Dilfer as he waits for Bryant to shake his man. Second, Bryant only has one man to shake because he's single-covered. With five Bears rushing the passer and the rest dropping into coverage, six defenders were available to cover just two receivers; yet Bryant, going deep, was single-covered. Where were all the rest of the Chicago defenders? A sweet play for Cleveland, very sour for Chicago.

Sweet High-School Play: Leading 17-3, Dallas faced fourth-and-1 on the Philadelphia 12. A standard high-school trick near the goal line is to bring in someone who never plays, then give him the ball. In trotted backup fullback Lousaka Polite, who had one career reception entering Sunday's contest. Play-fake and a pass to Polite in the flat; no one covered him, touchdown.

Sour Play of the Week: Trailing 20-13 on the second play of the fourth quarter and facing fourth-and-1 on the Jacksonville 39, Cincinnati made the right Maroon Zone call and went for it, rather than launch a Preposterous Punt. The Jax defense stuffed the run; this was the biggest play of the Sunday night game. The Jaguars did not even have an "overstack" on the field, just their regular front seven. Yet runner Rudi Johnson was hit in the backfield -- a sour play for a Cincinnati offensive line that's otherwise having a good season.

Sour Ruling of the Week: The "tuck rule" reared its annoying head again Sunday. The Redskins appeared to score a safety at a key juncture against the Broncos, on an apparent Jake Plummer fumble that Plummer fell on in his end zone. After viewing replays, referee Peter Morelli overturned the safety, saying the tuck rule made the down an incompletion. Morelli was enforcing the rule correctly -- but it's a dumb rule, as it rewards the quarterback for losing control of the ball! Plummer started to move his arm, tried to stop and dropped the ball; in common-sense terms that's a fumble. Denver sent out its kickoff team to free-kick following the safety that Denver coaches thought happened. The obvious reform is to change the tuck rule. An alternative, suggested by Rahul Keshap of Charlottesville, Va., is classify tuck-rule instances as intentional grounding. The tuck rule usually comes into play when the quarterback is about to get sacked -- as in the situation at Denver and the situation in the New England-Oakland Snow Bowl. (As I've argued before, the way the tuck rule is written, quarterbacks could avoid almost all sacks simply by making a tucking motion then dropping the ball on the ground.) Jeff Blanc of Gaithersburg, Md., adds that if the tuck-rule action really is an incompletion, the pass does not get to the line of scrimmage and is never catchable for an eligible receiver -- and this is pretty much the definition of grounding. To prevent the rule from rewarding the quarterback who loses control of the ball as he's about to be sacked, enforce the tuck as intentional grounding.

The Yugo is ready for a transformation.  
The Yugo is ready for a transformation.    
The Yugo Girl -- Get It? Last week, Zastava, the Serbian company that built the now-defunct Yugo, signed a deal to begin producing Fiats under license. The first step will be to rebuild Zastava's factory, which was bombed by NATO in 1999. A Fiat-Yugo alliance -- can you think of a worse conjunction of low quality? It's like saying you've invented a new food that combines Spam and corn husks. Anyway, it's a shame the Yugo went out of production just a few years too soon. If it was still around, the company could offer a model called the Girl.

My "Words Produced Per Dollar of Compensation" Makes Me the All-Time Leader in Sportswriting: News story: "The University of Chicago's Richard Thaler and Yale University's B. Cade Massey applied their science to the annual task facing general managers in the NFL. Using statistics such as 'yards gained per dollar of compensation,' the pair concluded the NFL's top draft picks are overpriced." Thaler and Massey got a lot of sports-page ink for asserting many top draft picks are overpriced. What, you needed an academic study to figure this out? Who doesn't know that many high draft picks get too much while many late-round picks get too little?

Thaler and Massey's paper maintains that the NFL draft system actually penalizes losing teams by awarding them the top picks in the draft -- selections used on players who receive huge bonuses and are overpriced compared to what they accomplish. Maybe, but then why don't teams at the beginning of the first round simply trade their selections straight-up for picks at the bottom of the first round? Presumably most NFL teams are what economists call "rational actors," and would get rid of high picks if such selections actually were worth less than lower picks. That NFL clubs never offer a straight exchange of high picks for low picks suggests they perceive this not to be in their rational self-interest, and it can't be that every single one of 32 NFL teams fails to grasp its own self-interest. Perhaps teams calculate the bad press and fan anger that would be incurred by deliberate sacrifice of high picks would outweigh any salary-cap leverage gained. Thaler and Massey don't address the value of public relations in their study, but public relations is an economic good and one of considerable worth to organizations in the entertainment business, such as sports teams. Here, the Wall Street Journal analyzes the top-paid players in the NFL and finds that general managers actually have been doing a fairly good job of steering the richest contracts to the best performers.

Anyway, it's not the NFL draft system that's misguided, it's the "winner take all" premise of contemporary American society. Top draft choices are hardly the only ones overpaid compared to what they accomplish -- so are most CEOs, and many at the tops of other professions. See this important book for more on that topic. And no, I don't think everyone should be paid the same: Doctors should earn more than cab drivers. But top-versus-bottom pay ratios are way out of whack in much of society; big-corporate CEOs now average more than 300 times the income of hourly workers, and that's ridiculous.

Preposterous Pooch Punt: With the game tied at 7, Die Morgenmuffel -- see below -- faced fourth-and-8 on the Seattle 35. The Rams lined up in field-goal formation, then placekicker Jeff Wilkins pooch-punted for a touchback -- Seahawks ball on the 20. The Rams exchanged a good chance of three points for a trivial gain of 15 yards in field position, plus it took Seattle exactly one snap to get past the point where the ball would have been if St. Louis had gone for the field goal and missed. It would have been a 52-yard attempt under ideal conditions (domed stadium), and Wilkins has made eight of his last nine from beyond 50. You can't help but suspect the Rams, who like surprise calls, got too cute here for their own good.

As for Die Morgenmuffel, for years TMQ has been calling the St. Louis franchise Les Mouflons -- French for the Corsican ram whose curved horn adorns the team's helmets. Then a while back I used the German word "Morgenmuffel," which means a slow starter, especially someone who is not a morning person. Reader Jörg Aumann of Schwarzenholz, Germany, suggests that since the Rams are off to a slow start, we keep with the international theme and change their cognomon from Les Mouflons to Die Morgenmuffel. (Morgenmuffel is both singular and plural.) And "Muffel," Aumann notes, is German for mouflon. So until such time as St. Louis' fortunes improve, the team will be Die Morgenmuffel to this column.

Al Franken's "Sodom and Gomorrah on the Seven Seas" Cruise Was Cancelled When the Ship Began Listing to Port: Last summer, Bill O'Reilly cancelled a planned "values cruise" when few signed up for the trip at $1,099 to $1,629 depending on the room, plus $250 to attend a cocktail party with O'Reilly. The cruise, sponsored by Corporate Travel Service and by the Thomas More Law Center, was to have been held aboard Holland America's ocean liner, the Westerdam, with stops in Jamaica and Grand Cayman; the voyage was to feature ship-board seminars on conservative policy and was titled the "Battle for American Values Cruise." Apparently American values don't include truth in advertising since although O'Reilly's photo was all over the promotional brochure (which has since disappeared from the web), the fine print cautioned, "Passengers agree that neither Corporate Travel Service nor the Thomas More Law Center will be held responsible or liable for any refund in the event that circumstances prevent Mr. O'Reilly's participation in the Battle for America's Values cruise." O'Reilly is hardly the only one pulling this artful dodge: Britney Spears regularly skips the season-ending show at the Britney Spears Camp for the Performing Arts.

Mike Nugent Watch: In my preseason AFC preview, I posited that Nugent, the highest-drafted placekicker in years, would do no better for the Jets this season than Doug Brien, whom Jersey/B cut and who is now with Chicago. So far, my projection is performing about as well as most NFL predictions -- totally wrong. Nugent is 4 for 7, while Brien is 1 for 4 and was inactive Sunday while another gentleman tried out for the Chicago placekicking job. Kicker update: Buffalo's Rian Lindell, whom TMQ last week called out for not hitting a field goal from farther than 44 yards since November 2002, hit a clutch fourth-quarter 47-yarder.

Missed Opportunity: Owing to multiple penalties against the Nevermores, Detroit kicked off in opposition territory, a circumstances almost never seen. The Lions kickoff was spotted on the Baltimore 40. Detroit, leading 21-10 at the end of the third, just kicked away, and the kickoff sailed out of the end zone, giving Jason Hanson a touchback for his stats. Why didn't the Lions onside kick? A failed onside would have left Baltimore deep in its territory anyway, while a success would have iced the game.

Ravens Woes: When do Baltimore fans want to see 21 penalties again? Nevermore! Highlight reels will forever show the play on which Joey Harrington throws what looks like a really bad incomplete pass; Detroit's Kevin Jones casually picks up the rock and stands there patting it; then Jones realizes the whistle never sounded and he's holding a live fumble; Jones runs 27 yards to the Baltimore 2, setting up the touchdown that made it Lions 14, Ravens 0. Yes, the play was strange. But Jones ran past four Baltimore defenders who did nothing at all -- stood watching him, though no whistle had sounded. Even the Stanford band played better defense than that!

On Sunday, Ronde Barber of the Bucs punched an official and was not thrown out, while Terrell Suggs of Baltimore screamed at an official and was ejected; Baltimore sportstalk radio said this shows unfairness against the Ravens. But it was 100 percent clear Suggs should have been disqualified. As an extremely highly paid professional, Suggs is supposed to know that any player who menaces an official gets the thumb. That leaves the question of why Barber wasn't tossed. His punch to umpire Butch Hannah was an accident, in the sense that Barber was trying to punch a Jets player -- which in itself should have gotten him ejected. What was at work here is that Barber has a reputation around the league as a good person, so the officiating crew gave him the benefit of the doubt. There aren't many on the Baltimore team or sideline with good reputations around the league, so when the Ravens-Lions game became tense, officials offered no benefit of the doubt.

Ernest Wilford Play of the Week: "ERN-est WIL-ford, ERN-est WIL-ford," yours truly and Official Child Spenser, a Jax fan, chanted as Wilford caught an 11-yard touchdown. Scott Self of Seffner, Fla., points out that Jacksonville is 4-0 in games in which Wilford scores a touchdown. Work it to Wilford!

Are aliens lighting up the universe with their gamma bombs?  
Are aliens lighting up the universe with their gamma bombs?    
Are Gamma-Ray Bursts the Mushrooms Clouds of Outer Space?: Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful events humanity has observed. In some, for an instant one point in deep space appears to emit more energy than all the stars of a galaxy combined; the brightest recorded such burst, whose light reached Earth in 1998, was so intense that for an instant the source seemed more luminous than the entire universe combined. Relatively long gamma-ray bursts are believed caused by the collapse of giant stars much more massive than our sun. Last week, astronomers in several countries jointly declared their belief, based on results from a spacecraft NASA launched to study gamma bursts, that brief gamma-ray bursts are caused by collisions of neutron stars, which are the dense remnants of old, dying stars.

Maybe this analysis is right, but allow me (actually, you can't stop me) to repeat a fear I expressed here last year: that gamma bursts are muzzle flashes, "the emission lines of horrific weapons being used by civilizations that have acquired fantastic knowledge compared to us, but no additional wisdom." The standard pop-cultural assumption is that advanced aliens will be benevolent, freed of primitive belligerence. What if instead space aliens are at the Henry Kissinger level of development in terms of morality -- but equipped with star drive and gamma bombs? It just seems spooky as if we might be observing the evidence of distant combat using weapons of cataclysmic power.

Sweet Drive of the Week (Deuce Succeeded): Trailing the defending champions 28-20 with 6:08 remaining, Atlanta took over on its own 38 and rather than go pass-wacky, staged a balanced purist drive of four passes and four runs for the touchdown. On the deuce try at 3:32, wide receiver Brian Finneran lined up by himself left; came in motion right; did a spin motion left, and ran the fade-lob route for two points. At 6-foot-5, Finneran is a likely target in this situation. But all that spinning seemed to make the Flying Elvii confused about where he was headed.

Sweet Drive of the Week (Deuce Failed): Trailing host Denver 21-13 with 4:37 remaining, Washington took possession on its 6, a very long way from pay dirt in one of the league's hardest places for a visitor to win: 5,280 feet and steady rain to boot. The Redskins staged a 13-play, 94-yard touchdown drive -- 16 snaps counting plays wiped out by penalties -- to make the count 21-19 with 1:15 on the scoreboard clock. Now it's time for the deuce try. During much of the game and nearly all of the fourth quarter, Skins' quarterback Mark Brunell had been rolling out left; a leftie, he is more effective rolling left than right. On the deuce attempt, Brunell faked a handoff for a sweep right, then once again rolled out left. But the Nanticokes had only rushed or rolled around right end once in the entire fourth quarter; with almost every play going left, who was going to fall for a play-fake here? Not Broncos linebacker Ian Gold, who knocked down Brunell's pass, sealing the Denver victory.

Retired Broadcaster Watch: On Shawn Bryson's 77-yard touchdown run against Baltimore, retired broadcaster Deion Sanders was three yards behind Bryson for most of the run, and never caught him. I can't write as fast as I used to, either.

Best Blocks: Special teams account for one-third of yardage; special-teams blocking can be just as important as offensive-line play. On Chris Johnson's 99-yard kickoff return touchdown for St. Louis, wedge blocking was so good that Johnson ran untouched for his six. It's pretty fun to run 99 yards when everyone in front of you has already been knocked to the ground. Later in the contest, Seattle leading 27-21, the Blue Men Group faced third-and-2 on Die Morgenmuffel's 18. Toss left; Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Mack Strong all made clock-cleaner blocks; Shaun Alexander wasn't touched by a defender until he reached the St. Louis 2, where he bowled over a man for the touchdown that proved the winning margin.

Worst Blocks: Houston's 27 sacks allowed in four games project to 108 on the season, which would break the record for sacks allowed -- 104 by Philadelphia in 1986. It's a wonder David Carr can even walk, he gets hammered so much. Let me reiterate a point from my AFC preview -- given the Houston offensive line was awful in 2004, how could Texans management have taken no significant step to improve the line before 2005?

The Pulitzer Prize Judges Always Go for the Phrase "First of a Series": Recently, Washington Post staffer Libby Copeland wrote about the fad for affluent young women spending $200 or more per pair on jeans that have been elaborately engineered to make the butt more appealing. Now, certainly, appealing female behinds are a noble objective. But consider the line above Copeland's article: "First of two parts." It was a two-part series about young women trying to make their butts more appealing.

The Football Gods Chortled: With New England leading 14-10 with six seconds remaining in the first half, Atlanta let punter Michael Koenen attempt a 58-yard field goal, which missed. But wait! Flying Elvii linebacker Mike Vrabel called timeout an instant before the snap, trying to ice Koenen. Officials ruled the timeout valid and let Atlanta try again; this time Koenen nailed it. Maybe in the era of global warming, icing the kicker won't work!

In the Spirit of Marianne, Olympic Beach Volleyball Should Be Topless: France failed in its bid for the 2012 Olympics after that deft political genius Jacques Chirac declared Finland's food the worst in the world -- saying this on the eve of the vote by the International Olympic Committee, which has two Finnish members. Tuesday Morning Quarterback regrets one thing about the failed Paris bid -- the city's proposal included holding the bikini beach volleyball competition at the Eiffel Tower. The sight of thousands crowding the Eiffel Tower grounds to gawk at string-bikini volleyball babes would have been a humor highlight. And remember, in France they say that if a woman wears something revealing, you are insulting her if you don't look!

Why Are You Kicking???????: Trailing 14-9, City of Tampa faced fourth-and-4 on the Jersey/B 12 with 4:05 remaining. In trotted the field-goal unit. "Has to be a fake," I thought. TMQ's immutable law holds, Kick Early Go For It Late. Now it's late -- go for it! Going for it here might result in the touchdown that wins the game; going and failing pins the low-voltage Jets offense against its goal line. Instead Jon "Once I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden ordered a mincing fraidy-cat field goal. When the Buccaneers got the ball back, there was just a minute remaining, they were on their 12-yard line and out of timeouts; one minute later, they were no longer undefeated.

Why Are You Kicking??????? No. 2: Trailing Indianapolis 14-0 midway through the third, San Francisco faced fourth-and-4 on the Colts' 12. In trotted the field-goal unit. You're down by two touchdowns in the second half against an undefeated team, what good does it do to cut the lead to 14-3? The average NFL play gains more than four yards, odds are you will make the first down! To reverse a team's losing mindset, the coach must challenge the players to win, not launch mincing field-goal attempts when way behind! Plus you're 3-17 since the start of last season, what have you got to lose? And now you are 3-18.

Why Are You Kicking??????? No. 3: Trailing 17-0, Philadelphia had fourth-and-goal on the Cowboys' 5. In trotted the field-goal unit. Going for it might result in a touchdown that changes the flow of the game; going and failing pins Dallas against its goal line, and the Eagles have a stout defense. What was accomplished by cutting the score to 17-3? Nothing, other than signaling Philadelphia players their coaches had quit on the game. The mainly first-rate Eagles seem to play one game each year where they don't even try -- remember last season's 27-3 sleepwalk loss at Pittsburgh? Philadelphia fans had best hope the Nesharim have now gotten this out of their systems for 2005.

At Least Black Holes Can't Be Used As Weapons -- We Think…: Tuesday Morning Quarterback once asked an astronomer, "Do black holes come in other colors?" It turns out the answer is yes! Harvard theorists Avery Broderick and Avi Loeb proposed last week that glowing gas on the boundary of black holes could provide illumination of the area where everything disappears; here is their computer simulation.

Should 535 People Go to Jail?: Several top executives of corporations have been convicted or forced to resign for stock and accounting fraud, for among other things manipulating the reporting of revenue and expenses in order to cause profits to be booked on the dates that benefited their bonuses and stock options. This sort of thing can be a crime and always bespeaks lack of character -- the leading problem in America's corporate boardrooms. But bear in mind that manipulating financial reporting dates is standard operating procedure for the United States Congress. The federal government's fiscal year began Oct. 1, and Congress has enacted only two of the 11 spending bills required by law for that date. This is the ninth consecutive year Congress has failed to enact budget bills by the legal deadline. Plus, in almost every recent federal budget, Congress has slightly altered dates -- usually delaying payments due in one fiscal year until the first day of the subsequent year -- to make the deficit seem smaller, or accomplish some other bookkeeping gimmickry. Arthur Anderson was a model of accountability compared to the House and Senate.

Wacky Food of the Week: Charlie Palmer Steak House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., offers a lobster-filled corn dog with black truffle sauce -- $9 each at the bar. Charlie Palmer is a favorite hangout of the very lawmakers who annually fudge the accounting of the federal budget. At the restaurant, a steak is $36 ala carte, vegetables and potatoes bring the main course alone to $50; dinner for two with cocktails, wine and tip easily runs $250. Members of Congress cannot possibly afford this on their public salaries, so which lobbyists are paying?

NFL in Iran Update: On Sunday, Middle East TV beamed the day's headliner game -- New England at Atlanta -- to Iran. Did our nation's capital see this contest? Washington, D.C., was treated to Baltimore at Detroit -- and the local CBS affiliate, which could have switched to New England at Atlanta after Baltimore-Detroit became a blowout, stayed with every last tedious snap even as the fantastic Patriots-Falcons contest was going down to the final seconds. Once again, Iran saw a better NFL game than was shown in our nation's capital.

NFL in Kuwait Update: Reader Nawaf Al-Rudaini of Kuwait reports that Showtime beamed the New England at Atlanta contest to Kuwait, kicking off live at 8 p.m. Saudi Arabia time. So Kuwait also saw a better NFL game than was shown in our nation's capital.

Running Items Department

Obscure College Score of the Week: Muhlenberg 20, Dickinson 2. The Red Devils' faithful lament -- if only we'd gotten 10 more safeties! Located in Carlisle, Pa., Dickinson College lists 29 administrative offices.

Bonus Obscure College Score: Concordia of Wisconsin 60, Concordia of Illinois 0. Not much brotherly love shown between these affiliated Christian schools. Located in Mequon, Wis., Concordia of Wisconsin features "campus buildings connected by 3.5 miles of indoor walkways". Go to college and never go outside!

Reader Animadversion:

Reader animadversion
Got a comment or a deeply felt grievance? Register it at TMQNFL@yahoo.com, Include your name and hometown, and I may quote from your e-mail and cite your name and hometown unless you instruct me otherwise

Many readers weighed in on whether coaches are now teaching "scoop and score" -- try to scoop up a fumble and run for a touchdown, engaging the risk that you won't recover the fumble -- versus the age-old just-fall-on-it. Ike Himowitz of Baltimore reports that the rule he was taught both in high school and college was: scoop and score on defense, fall on it on offense. Noah Turner of the University of Connecticut reports the rule he was taught was that the first man to a fumble should try to scoop and score; the second man to the fumble should just fall on it, since the first man must have missed.

Numerous readers rose to the defense of Battlestar Galactica, which has many enthusiasts since it is currently the No. 1 ranked sci-fi show. Readers including Gloria Kenner of Portsmouth, R.I., noted I was wrong to say that in the show's pilot, the entire defense network of the human society had been designed so that it could be deactivated by a single code. Rather, the evil robot named Six, who appears human, infiltrated one planetary defense organization and planted a computer virus that generated a deactivation code transmitted to the other planets.

Okay, I described the pilot wrongly. But the premise still seems ridiculous -- a society that can build enormous faster-than-light starcruisers doesn't take precautions to protect its military against computer viruses? (The aliens in Independence Day, though able to build a starcruiser 90 miles in diameter, also did not know about computer viruses).

Philippe Herndon of Columbia, S.C., rose to defend the current plot arc in which a second battlestar, Pegasus, is discovered, but instead of cooperating, the two ships begin to threaten each other. "The Pegasus story line is great," Herndon writes, saying the new ship symbolizes how military culture becomes corrupt when unchecked by democracy. "Pegasus has survived on its own by doing things exclusively the military way, and doesn't want messy democracy revived. They don't care about the fleet of civilian ships that Galactica is protecting and aren't interested in the needs of the weak. Confronting this kind of Ayn Rand selfishness is what makes the show terrific."

Is art imitating life on Battlestar Galactica?  
Is art imitating life on Battlestar Galactica?    
Scott Cordiner of Salem, Mass., adds that the constant internecine bickering on Battlestar Galactica is a reason the series works for him. "The people depicted on the show are technologically advanced but not socially advanced," he writes. "We had wars and infighting 2,000 years ago and still experience those problems today despite significant technical advances. Sadly, we will probably still have human infighting 2,000 years from now."

As Oakland goes for its third consecutive season of leading the NFL in penalties, Joe Bittner of San Jose, Calif., notes the team has led the league in this department 14 times in the last four decades. Penalties, obviously, are the Raiders' calling.

Chiefs cheerleaders are a well-rounded bunch.  
Chiefs cheerleaders are a well-rounded bunch.    
Gawking at the Chiefs' high-aesthetic appeal cheerleaders, last week TMQ asked, "Can these women seriously be from Kansas?" Kevin Olson of Lee's Summit, Mo., conducted a close textual analysis of the Chiefs' cheerleaders website and found that 21 are from Missouri, six from Kansas and four from Nebraska. Kevin, you were using your time wisely! The Chiefs play in Kansas City, Mo.

Finally, Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is the world's most prestigious technical journal. Therissa Libby of Annapolis, Md., a neurobiologist, reports that the new issue of Science, with the Voyager probe on the cover, landed on her desk just as she was reading last week's TMQ item about Voyager. But Therissa, mysteriously the Science magazine special section on Voyager never mentioned that NASA is worried the probe will fall into a black hole and be transported to a planet of living machines. Hey world's most prestigious technical journal, I beat you to the story!

Next Week: The Pepsi dispenser in the NFL Pepsi ads falls into a black hole and is transported to a planet of living machines, only to discover that there, the cheerleaders look like espresso makers.

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