5-at-10: NFL power poll is tilted, portal wide open for college QBs, free bowl picks contest

FILE - Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler looks to throw down field against Baylor during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Waco, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ray Carlin)

NFL Power Poll

OK, this stat will blow your hair back: Twenty-six of the NFL's 32 teams are within one game of a playoff spot.

Read that again.

In some ways, it's the design of the NFL and a by-product of the modern game.

To wit, the game is designed for every team to be within two games of .500 either way and live to the mantra of "Any Given Sunday." That's why the worst teams get the best picks and the schedules are weighted so the teams who had the most success last year have the toughest slates.

The modern game's tangents that are by-products of rules and regulations are simple. Because of limited rosters and salary caps to keep costs governed and limited, there are two things you can't have enough off: good quarterback play and healthy starters.

Which brings us to our Tuesday reflections and another realization: While the league can pitch its "Any Given Sunday" message to its TV partners, who will gladly parrot it to the masses because being TV partners with the NFL is like being business partners with Hyman Roth. And Hyman Roth always made money for his partners.

But, even if we concede the "Any Given Sunday" message is mostly true - yes, the Jags beat the Titans that time and, heck, so did the Texans, so maybe it's just an "Any Given Sunday in Nashville" - there is not the same message of hope for "Any Given January Sunday." And it gets even more narrow when discussing "Any Given February Sunday."

Because, yes, there are 26 teams meeting this morning and discussing the playoffs. But the vast majority of them are closer to the Texans and the Jags rather than the Bucs and the Pats, you know?

With that massive divide to cover, let's find our poll.

Powerful

1. Tampa Bay. Been a pretty good year for ol' TB 12, right? SI Sportsperson of the Year. His 37th Super Bowl title. Sunday he secured the triple crown of QB career records and now holds the marks for completions, yards and TDs. And all of that is amazing. But his walk-off, Cy Young-like unbreakable of unbreakable records may forever be winning the NF: MVP at the age of 44. (Unless of course he wins it next year at 45.)

2. New England. Question for the group: If the Jets had taken Mac Jones at 2, would he be playing like this or playing like Zach Wilson? Conversely, which of the rookie QBs would be having the same success in Foxboro this year? Discuss.

3. Green Bay. The Packers are scary, especially if the NFC playoffs go through the Opposite-end-of-tepid-ground-surface of the Packers stadium named for a legendary coach. (Side question: The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field feels hackneyed these days, no? Side question about the side question: Considering the Global Warming and all, would it be more accurate to say the formerly frozen tundra - that is shrinking like the glaciers - of Lambeau Field?) And here's the hammer about the divide between the elite teams, the mediocre-at-best teams, and the awful teams. Green Bay was lethargic as all get out Sunday night. Chicago got multiple monster play TDs, including a kick return for a score, and still lost by two TDs.

4. Kansas City. Yeah we knew at the end the Chiefs would be back, right? And when that improving - and relatively healthy - defense plays like this and Mahomes and Co. start airing it out, well know this: The Chiefs have the second-best odds to win it all (behind the Bucs) according to BetMGM.

5. Arizona. Yes, the Cardinals lost last night. And yes, Matt Stafford looked great in leading the Rams over Arizona. But that was a game decided by a tipped pass and a very uncommon DeAndre Hopkins fourth-down drop. The Cards are legit, and may have the best 1-thru-22 set of starters in the NFL, and who has better skill players in 11 personnel (one RB-one TE-three WR) than James Conner, Zach Ertz, Hopkins, AJ Green and Christian Kirk?

Powerless

28. Chicago. Urban Meyer has a mess in Jacksonville. Matt Nagy has pieces in the Windy City and the Bears are only two games better than Houston and Jacksonville? There should be more firings for cause - as in being bad at your job, which happens everywhere else in the world - among professional coaches, don't you think?

29. New York Jets. Do you cut the cord on Zach Wilson after one year? It worked for Arizona, which found its home run in Kyler Murray after whiffing with Josh Rosen the year before?

Battle for 30 and 31. Houston and Jacksonville square off this Sunday. Side question: If you were in either locale, would you want your cable provider to show a different game? On a serious note, losing this game means way more for Houston, which needs to figure out its QB plans for the future. Another side question: Even as bad as the situation is in Jacksonville, am I the only one who expected more from Trevor Lawrence?

32. Detroit. How many days until pitchers and catchers report? Oh yeah, lockout. Merry Christmas Motor City.

College football free agency

There are not many clichés around the game of football that have more truth than the quarterback gets too much credit when he wins and too much blame when he loses.

It's the nature of the game and the description of the position.

Yes, I readily admit - frequently, in fact - that QB1 is Job No. 1 across all sports. It's that important.

But the credit/blame corollary is off-the-charts. Heck, the modern-day stat prism gives more credence to QB wins than starting pitcher wins. So there's that.

And with that pendulum between praise and pressure, the transfer portal has become the grass-is-always-greener promise of a better tomorrow.

Yes, my mind started spinning around this with all the college QB news of late that was punctuated by former Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler becoming new South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler.

Not five months ago, Rattler was the betting favorite for the Heisman. Now, he's on the move because he lost his job.

But the portal is not just reserved for those who were replaced. The QBs moved to clipboard status are the easy ones to understand.

In Knoxville, Hendon Hooker is staying. He transferred to UT from Blacksburg in hopes for better, and he found it and will stay another fall to enjoy it.

In Lexington, Will Slovis left Penn State and, despite all the quality infrastructure Mark Stoops has built, without Slovis, who knows what the Wildcats would have been without Slovis.

Heck, Georgia has two portal passers, and not to infringe on Spurrier's wisdom, maybe the 2021 quote should be if you have two transfer QBs, you actually have none. (Side note: I think Georgia has the current setup for QB recruiting for the power programs. Welcome five-star transfers if they are interested. Court five-star prep prospects as diligently as possible. And make sure every couple of years you sign a fringe QB prospect who is either a legacy or a kid who would lay down in traffic to come to your school regardless of playing time. That way you have five-star upside and a QB familiar with your system to manage the situation if the wheels fall off.)

But what about the other names. Guys like three-year starter Bo Nix, who has left Auburn amid conflicting reports, or Texas A&M starter Zach Calzada or USC starter Kedon Slovis or even LSU starter Max Johnson. (Side note: The Bo Nix "SEC Storied" in 20 years or so is going to be intriguing if they are willing to get into all the unknowns in his case.)

The starters on the move beg questions. Are those guys looking for more power? More/different play-calling? A guarantee of starting status that coaches are always reluctant to grant?

The portal is here, and it's not going anywhere any time soon, if at all. Sure there may be tweaks to eligibility and destination details, and the focus will always be on the QBs.

At least on that we can still rely.

Bowl picks

Wow, we got wordy today.

So with that, we are going to fill this third and final spot with our Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success, Bowler Optional reminder.

And we will do it with this picking maxim that I ignored for too long this year: Picking losers is just as entertaining (i.e profitable) as picking winners. So in that honor, we will pay first and we will pay last, since you have to have the picks in before the first bowl starts, there can't be tanking.

Side note: Tanking is actually smart. Not a lot of fun in the moment, but smart.

So here's the link to find the bowl picks contest.

Enjoy, friends. It's that time of year. And feel free to invite some cohorts.

(True or false, you use the word cohort on a regular basis.)

This and that

- Here's today's A2 on our Mayor Coppinger's better half and her thoughts about the 11-year ride of their family leading our county.

- The above cliché about QBs is also true about coaches, but not as hyperbolic. That said, uh, Coach Urban Liar needs to be looking over his shoulder when he gets into parked cars, because I think he's about to get professionally whacked. "Leave the gun, take the cannolis."

- You know the rules. Here's Paschall with the view from high school prospects as the portal continues to overflow.

- You know the rules. Here's TFP sports editor Stephen Hargis on Chattanooga putting its best foot forward in the year one of hosting the BlueCross Bowl.

Today's questions

True or false, it's Tuesday. Morning Ern.

True or false, there are no more than five or six teams with a true chance to win the Super Bowl.

True or false, if you were the GM of, say, the Falcons, and you knew of your needs and your cap crunch, you tank like no one's business and are unapologetic about it.

True or false, an MVP at 44 will be Tom Brady's most unbreakable record.

True or false, an SEC team will stub its toe out of conference between now and the end of the year, and Doug will enjoy it immensely.

True or false, "The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field" is on the Rushmore of sports venue nicknames. (The House that Ruth built is there too, true or false.)

You know the drill. Answer some T or Fs, leave some T or Fs.

Also, what's the "Second" day nominations for our 12 days of Sports Fan Christmas?

As for today, Dec. 14, let's review.

NASCAR was founded on this day in 1947.

Nostradamus was born on this day in 1503. He died in 1566, but he likely knew that beforehand.

Rushmore of famous sports prognosticators. Go.