FILE - Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach talks with players during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

NFL power poll

OK, the playoff picture is taking shape, especially in the NFC, where the heavy hitters are moving to the front and jockeying for home-field advantage.

As the best team continues to scrap by with closer-than-forecast Ws, it is the NFC that looks to be a playoff donnybrook with four of the five teams listed in this power poll. Only the Chiefs, who appear helmets and shoulder pads better than the rest of the AFC right now, crack the upper echelon.

But the playoff breakdowns and the 'What ifs' and 'Then whats' can be found all over the interweb.

Here, with two weeks left in the regular season and one precious by at stake in each bracket, think of how truly important that free week is now.

Sure, there's the time off. Sure, there's an extra week to prepare and rest.

But in an age of Omicron and in a time when 140 NFL players — closing in on 10% of the league on game days — are on the active COVID-19 list, that extra week to isolate could be huge.

In fact, if you are positioned for the playoffs and let's say have the 1 seed heading into week 18, could it actually be strategic or even fortunate to have a COVID-19 outbreak with plenty of time to quarantine and recover before the postseason starts?

Yes, that's how crazy the world is around us these days.

Like a momma frog looking for her only son, let's hustle to the (tad)poll. (Whaddya think Spy? And yes, the 7:30 show is different from the 9:30 show.)  

1. Green Bay. I have asked this indirectly here, and asked it pointedly with a dear uncle and a cousin who is like a brother over the holidays. Is Davante Adams great? His numbers are for sure, and you see 10 for 100-plus and two TDs and he's a no-doubt fantasy football all-timer. But is Adams all-time great? His numbers suggest it, of course. But if Adams was WR1 for the Las Vegas Raiders or the Cleveland Browns or a slew of other franchises that do not have Aaron Rodgers pulling the trigger, how would we describe Adams? And I ask this knowing that a) the numbers are off-the-board great and must be considered, and b) conversely, Adams drops way more passes than some of the all-timers of this and the previous generation. Discuss.

(Side question: Quick poll break for a possible tangent question on which good players became Hall of Famers because of the team they were on and the cast they had around them? Is Emmitt Smith on this Rushmore? I think Marvin Harrison is a first-ballot pick for this one. How many old-school Steelers make the list? If Tom Glavine picked, say, the Royals over hockey and spent the bulk of his career in baseball purgatory, would he still have been a Hall of Famer? Quirky how landing spots can impact legacy, no?)    

2. Kansas City. And with an eight-game winning streak, we all remember that Patty Mahomes is still Patty Mahomes. Side question: Is StateFarm excited or nervous considering the increase in costs of a possible Rodgers Rate vs. Patrick Price Super Bowl extravaganza? Discuss.

(Side question about the earlier side question: Another quick poll break for a possible tangent question on the opposite angle of good players who became Hall of Famers because of the team they were on and the cast they had around them? What about the all-time greats who toiled in wastelands and still had the skill to shine like new money? It's pertinent because Tony Gonzalez was going to be an all-time great whether he played in K.C., D.C. or the B.C. And yes, Barry Sanders is a poster star for this galaxy, but let's ponder for a second what Larry Fitzgerald's numbers would have been if he had played with a quarterback as above league average as a Matt Stafford or a Matt Ryan? Look out Jerry Rice.)

((Side note about the above side question about earlier side question: Speaking of Larry Fitzgerald, this may be my favorite wide receiver stat in the history of wide receiver stats. Dude played with 15 different starting quarterbacks in his 17-year career with the Cardinals. That's not that amazing. This is: In those 17 years, Larry Fitzgerald had more tackles (41) than drops (29). Yeah, that'll do.))

3. Dallas. In a different version of the tale of 'Was it coach or QB' that played out with Brady and Belichick last winter, we have a similar storyline in the NFC. Who has more at stake come January and into February, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers or Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy, because we have been completely content to say McCarthy wasted Rodgers prime with questionable moves in Green Bay. But if Mike McCarthy finds a way to lift the Lombardi in Big D, well, well, well.

4. Los Angeles Rams. There is not a team with more game-breakers on each side than the Rams. Speaking of players and coaches with a lot at stake this postseason, good and bad, where does Matt Stafford fall on the lingering and lasting legacy list over the next six-plus weeks? He rattles off some grand performances and the Rams get to a conference title game or beyond, well, he can wash away a large lump of the Lions laundry. He flounders with this cast around him — gang, please remember when you see the Rams stars all over the field their No. 2 WR (Robert Woods) and their No. 1 RB (Cam Akers) have been lost for the season with injuries — and well, maybe Detroit was not the problem.  

5. Tampa Bay. This one seems simple: If the Bucs get healthy, they have as good a title shot as anyone. If they don't, well, they don't.


28. Seattle. There are a lot of teams that could be here. The Giants and the Bears, oh my, are candidates. But consider the plight of the Seahawks at the moment. First, Russell Wilson is on the way out. Second, you have to wonder if Pete Carroll is not soon to follow. Third, the Seahawks gave up their first-round to get Jamal Adams from the Jets. So yeah, when that window closes, it can sometimes close and shatter all over the place.

29. New York Jets. What do you write about a team that does so little right so frequently? How about this: The Jets are next to last in covering the spread this season, tied with the Bears at 5-10 against the number. The worst? Jacksonville with is 4-11 after the Jags' 26-21 loss to these Jets on Sunday. (Side note: One of the reasons this has been a rocky year for Vegas and the books — not that we should waste any tears on them — is that two of the betting public's favorites are crushing the numbers. Dallas is an NFL best against the spread at 12-3 this year and Green Bay is second at 11-4.)

30. Houston. Too late for the Davis Mills, RoY campaign, huh? So it goes.

31. Detroit. Wanna know something? That the Lions are still playing this hard with this little at stake in a season with so much craziness means that this coaching staff had a pretty decent first year in a lot of ways.

32. Jacksonville. So if you are the Jags and have unlimited money and know that the college fling worked as well as New Coke, who do you target to be your next coach to help groom what everyone believes can/will be a franchise QB? One of your first calls almost has to be Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, right? Right? (And if it's not, well, the cavalcade of ESPN talking heads blasting the league's hiring practices will be long and loud, even if the Jags lured Saban from Alabama, landed a Super Bowl champ like Doug Pederson or raised Lombardi from the grave.)  


Bowl picking

Who goes bowl shopping, like for actual bowls? I'll wait.

Or as Larry Hockett accurately noted, "OK, well, candlesticks always make a nice gift, and maybe you could find out where she's registered and maybe a place-setting or a silverware pattern. OK, let's get two."

Our bowl picks have been better, even with falling into the trap that Florida was Florida and Malzahn was going to be the Auburn-bowl Malzahn even though JTC called it when the bowls were announced that his Gators were going to roll over in the Gasparilla.

And that's more pertinent this morning because I'm going to fall for the ol' banana in the tailpipe trick again. Just call me Rosewood or Taggert if you must, and the Auburn Tigers will play the part of Axel Foley this morning.

But before we get to our Spalding Smails impression and start picking with gusto, let's just cross our fingers that we will get a full bowl slate and the word 'protocol' is not used unless the announcers are referencing that 1980s Goldie Hawn movie.

Auburn minus-2 over Houston and over 51. Another bowl home game with this one in Birmingham, and that makes it a real chance for some live in-game options. (Explainer: With the modern betting options in states with legalized sports wagering, you can make the traditional bets, but you can also re-bet after kickoff as the point spreads are moving to reflect the action. Make sense?) In this case, if Auburn starts quickly and the crowd gets a little excited, it could get nasty. And the reverse is true considering that TJ Finley's down-field accuracy is nothing close to Martin Riggs, a former lethal weapon who once did a guy in high Laos in high winds from 1,000 yards. Plus, who wants to be the guy who picks and/or bets on the opposite side of the team you pull hardest for, right?

Air Force plus-1 over Louisville and over 54.5. It's theoretically a pick 'em game, and despite all the made props Marcus Satterfield deserves for redirecting a mess at Louisville, military academies in bowl games are way more prepared and focused almost every single time. Research alert: The military academies are 20-9 against the spread in bowl games since 2005. Hmmmmmmmm. Double research alert: In the analytics world, Air Force and its dynamic option game is No. 7 in America in offensive success rate; Louisville is 105th in success rate against the run.

Mississippi State minus-9.5 over Texas Tech. Anyone think Mike Leach is going to go gently into this good night? Uh, nope. Run it up Herman, and boys, make sure they never forget the day they played the Bulldogs.

UCLA plus-2.5 and over 59. Yes, I'm wall-to-wall today and expect a load of points, but that's what happens when you load up on the defensive parlays on a Monday night game that had a defensive TD (plus-2200), each side with scoreless quarters, each side with at least one pick and each side with multiple sacks. Pay dat man his money. (It also doesn't hurt to have the Bulls minus-4.5 against the depleted Hawks and James Harden to go over 30 with a depleted Nets bunch. But I digress.) NC State was torched by a dual-threat QB in the season finale. Guess what UCLA has? Yep.

Minnesota minus-5 over West Virginia. First, motivation is Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck's strong suit. That's the whole Row, Row, Row thing. But more than that, the strengths align in a very Minnesota way. West Virginia is 6-0 this year when it runs for more than 100 yards and bagel-6 when it doesn't. West Virginia's leading rusher, who had more than two-thirds of the team's rushing yards, is out for this one. Minnesota's run defense is top-10 nationally. Hmmmmmm.

Regular season: 47-46 against the spread (50.5%, hi Matt)

Bowl season: 10-7 against the spread (58.8%)


Issue with the times

Saw this stat on social media, and thought it was discussion worthy.

College basketball players are shooting 33.2% from 3. It's the lowest mark since the 3-point line was universally adopted in 1987.

The reasons are myriad, though.

Yes, there's an over-reliance on the 3. The analytic world telling everyone that it's a 3 or a lay-up and everything in between is not worth the risk. (Side note: Not sure how many people know this, but Rick Pitino in a lot of ways was so ahead of this curve. His Kentucky teams lived by this offensively — and by playing 10 deep and fouling and pressing on defense — way before the numbers proved it out analytically.)

Yes, there are too many marginal at best 3-point shooters who think the green light should apply to them too.

Plus there is the defensive reaction to the offensive design of 3-or-layup. Conversely, defenses guard the paint and the extended perimeter and allow wide open 15 footers, which teams struggle with because they do not practice them as much.

It's a cycle. And it's making for clunky games.

And for UK's Whosehisboots to average 35 rebounds a game.


This and that

— OK, I'm caught up on "Yellowstone." Anyone else think John Dutton overreacted with that diatribe that made Beth cry and go look for solace in the barn with a man not named Rip? Yeah, me too. In a season poised with this much drama and possibility, I know too much about Jimmy and the adopted delinquent who is assuredly a card cheat because no one gets back-to-back pocket aces. Plus, uh, Kayce, we got some issues here in town, we don't need you going all Wayne's World 2 and chasing the smoke teepee dream sequence. Thoughts?

— Day two of the Best of Preps tournament is today at East Hamilton. Here are some of the recaps from Monday.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the pace of the UT offense and its advantages when it's working properly.

— Saw an interesting story on about the rising number of MLB free agents looking overseas for free agent deals. Could be an anomaly. Could be that some agents are telling some fringe players that the labor fall out will a) not be settled any time soon, and/or b) could squeeze the middle-of-the-road free agents since teams will always over pay for monster stars with monster names.  


Today's questions

True or false, it's Tuesday.

True or false, you never bet against your favorite team.

True or false, Davante Adams is all-time great and would be a Hall of Famer if he played for the Jets.

True or false, Matt Stafford has the most to gain this postseason.

True or false, the over-reliance on 3s is hurting college basketball.

True or false, there are at least 10 random movie references in today's 5-at-10. It's all ball bearings these days.

As for today, Dec. 28, let's review.

On this day in 1860, Harriet Tubman made her last run of the Underground Railroad.

Denzel is 67 today. Rushmore of people with the last name Washington.