Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010
By Joe Collins
When it comes to NFL knockout pools, almost all of us are tomato cans. We are has-beens. We are no-names. Heck, maybe you were even called a "never-was" or a "never-will-be" at some point. We are there just to fill out the lot so that somebody else can run off with the money, title and glory. We get suckered into participating because of the illusion of money. Then, when our team doesn't win, we smash our Ikea coffee tables and punt the remote off the back porch. We're just not fully equipped to go 12 rounds in NFL's boxing ring.
Well, either that or we're just not lucky. Right?
How many of you are in an NFL knockout pool? Better yet: how many of you are still standing after Week (Round) 3? If you are not familiar with what a knockout pool is: it's a survival game, of sorts, where each participantplayer selects one team per week to win an NFL game. If your team wins? Great! You survive until the following week. If your team loses, you go Clark Griswold and punch the nearest stuffed animal and then wait to make your donation to next year's pot. Some pools have rules stating that you can't pick the same team in back to back weeks. Some pools go as far as saying once you pick a certain team you can't pick them again the rest of the year. There are even others where you can't pick a favorite with a point spread of seven or greater. Talk about the risk of hitting the canvas early on, you know?
It seems like everyone has a little system for picking a team in a knockout or survivor pool. What about you? Is there a set of rules or hunches that most of us can agree on? Here is my list of knockout rules that I abide by on a (semi) regular basis:
Never pick a team that's playing in front of a national audience: I always flash back to what a conference room full of executives would look like at, say, NBC when they pick their Sunday Night game lineup: "We simply cannot have a matchup like (contending team in small market) going up against (chump in a top 10 market) ever again! We lost so many eyeballs in the third quarter. Look at these numbers! And who got this catering order all screwed up? Where are those interns?" Anyway, TV executives want the absolute best matchups for prime time, nationally televised games. Trust me, these guys do their homework in finding the best possible matchups that don't result in blowouts. Plus, I would think that these games impact players a lot more than the noon Sunday games: "We better bring it! We're playing in the spotlight tonight!" The atmosphere is just too intense to put all of your faith into one game. Plus, a national spotlight gives the would-be "lesser" team a chance to shine. How many of you picked San Diego over Kansas City in Week 1? Look at all the warning signals in that game: Kinda-sorta-good-yet-untested team (SD) playing (1) on the road, (2) on national TV, (3) against a team with a crappy record in 2009 that's (4) looking to break out and has (5) a crazy fan base (6) who doesn't mind watching a game in a monsoon. You know what happened next.
Never pick a team that's playing against a "new" quarterback: I went against the grain on my own theory and nearly had an ulcer in the third quarter Sunday afternoon. Seriously, did any of you have a funny feeling that Ryan Fitzpatrick would help hang 30 on a New England team in Foxborough? Or that dinosaur Seneca Wallace would hang with a Ravens team with a venus fly trap-like defense in their home opener? I went with the Ravens and nearly fainted. To me, any team that look for a "spark" with their second-string quarterback (by choice or by circumstance with injuries to Plan A) have nothing to lose. Too many wacky things can happen.
Never pick the team that you cheer for on a regular basis: Having a random team let you down in a knockout pool is one thing. But having the team you love break your heart in a money-based knockout pool is tantamount to football's version of the show Cheaters. It's not going to end well. I can just see Joey Greco coming up to you after your team lost: "We know where your team is right now. If you want to confront that team, it is up to you."
Seek out the angry teams and make them your friend: I wish I had the huevos to pick the Cowboys in knockout this past weekend but I just couldn't pull the trigger. Let's face it, a team is better when its back is up against the wall. Think about it, if you're at work and you get called out in your supervisor's office for being a lazy mail-it-inner who is constantly updating your Facebook status with things like, "What am I going to eat at Arby's today?" or "UGH, I am having the worst day ev-errrr! LOL ROFL OMG BRB K", you should come out of that meeting a little more focused. The Dallas Cowboys were in that office after losing to the Bears. If they were to fall to 0-3, they cease to exist. Jerry Jones would have turned them all into hummus. They HAD to win in Week 3. And the Texans were ripe for a letdown anyway. Sure enough: Dallas 27, Houston 13.
Never pick a team in any bitter rivalry: Like the wobbly punt that is coming your way, you just have to think "GET AWAY! GET AWAY!" to picking knockout teams that play in games like: Bears-Packers, Jets-Patriots, Steelers-Browns, Redskins-Cowboys, Eagles-Giants, Eagles-Redskins (or heck, any NFC East matchup for that matter). Just say no! Again, too many wacky things can happen.
If you dare pick a road team, you better know something we don't: Home-field advantage doesn't really carry the same weight it used to. NFL stadiums all look the same now. The crowd noise is the same, the insults are the same (except maybe in Philly), the layout is similar ... etc. There just isn't that intimidation factor. So how does this theory come into play: if you dare pick, say, Arizona to go across the country to beat, say, Jacksonville, kudos for having big brass ones. This all is kind of an offshoot to another rule I have: never pick a road team to win that has to travel through more than two time zones to get to the game.
There are other crazy rules in pools like this that make us think we're knockout savants, like: Never take a team that's going up against a top-10 defense (no matter what the records are), never take a team that flunks the turnover ratio, never take the Detroit Lions in any scenario, look for home teams against non-divisional foes in the same conference ... etc. It just gets delirious after a while. Bottom line, we know nothing. If we did, we would all have won we would have built our own "knockout pool" in the Caribbean, only we'd be swimming in it with margarita in hand. It's an inexact science. And maybe that's what make NFL knockout pools so much fun. We think we have everything figured out and then something comes along (Miami beating Minnesota in the dome for instance) that makes us want to go Mike Tyson on the entertainment center.
The closest I have ever come to winning a knockout pool was 16th (out of a pool of over 300). So, you're not exactly getting 1-800 number advice here. But the minutiae of every mental rule and detail when it comes to pools like this is nothing short of fascinating. Our wallets are gluttons for punishment. We get knocked out every year and come back hungrier.
Because this might be the year that we end up getting the dough to buy a new coffee table.
Or something like that.
Joe Collins is an assignment desk editor for Comcast SportsNet and contributor to CSNChicago.com.