You better watch out: Shanny Claus III: Escape Clause is coming to town! Mike Shanahan may be trying to take the whole NFL down with him when he's fired, but while he claims he benched Robert Griffin for his own good, other teams are doing good things for their own good. The Lions are trying to put their reputation behind them against a Ravens team too young to remember the 0-16 days. The Cardinals know that good ain't good enough in the NFC West, but they refuse to fall off the pace. Adrian Peterson vows to play the spoiler, Ben Roethlisberger shrugs off the latest Haley drama so he can focus on upending the Bengals and Pete Carroll heads to the library to look up "late game strategy" in the card catalog. Who will join Shanny on the naughty list? This week's Game Riffs are good, for goodness' sake.

Redskins at Falcons

1:00 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Falcons by 6 ½

Game Riffs proudly kicks off Week 15 with a regular feature: the Top Five Most Dysfunctional Teams in the NFL!

Oh, wait, the Most Dysfunctional Teams countdown has been cancelled due to anticlimax. Compared to the Redskins, the Jets are an elite Navy SEALs unit after a bonding retreat.

So instead, Game Riffs proudly kicks off Week 15 with the Top Five People Trying Hardest to Be Fired This Month!

5. National Weather Service East Coast Meteorologists: "Sunday's forecast calls for flurries and a light dusting … whoops, Nick Foles is building an igloo and Adrian Peterson just sledded onto a freeway overpass. Well, brace yourself for 'Mega Blizzard Primetime' on Tuesday! Oh, it seems to only be an inch of midday slush. Sorry you canceled the kindergarten Christmas party." We get it: you guys got the forecasts flipped. Cop to it!

4. Jed Whedon: The chief writer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has turned the most promising action adventure on the television dial into Star Trek Voyager without the foxy Borg. Tuesday's midseason cliffhanger consisted of characters knocking on each other's office doors and having one-on-one conversations about the plot, like a one-act play staged by a 10th grader in a church basement. The show's one likeable character, Agent Coulson, was then separated from the rest of the cast for narrative purposes. Whedon was apparently jealous of actor Clark Gregg's relationship with big brother/show boss Joss Whedon, though he claims he has sidelined Coulsen for his own safety.

3. Mike Shanahan. When being self-destructive, dishonest, and almost pathologically delusional, it's best to insult the intelligence of as many people as possible while performing vindictive actions and claiming they are "for your own good." LET'S SEE HOW MUCH YOU REDSKINS FANS LOVE RG3 JERSEYS AFTER I STAND HERE AND WATCH YOU SMOKE A WHOLE CARTON OF RG3 JERSEYS!

2. Kim Jong Un's Uncle. Shanahan won't let his son Kyle read anything about this story, going so far as to remove all Internet browser images of the North Korean dictator removing all images of his uncle.

1. Fake Mandela Funeral Sign Language Guy. Millions of people around the world showed respect for the pageantry and solemnity of services to remember one of history's great human rights champions, and one nitwit takes the opportunity to stand on a dais and signal read-option plays. Thamsanqa Jantjie now claims he was having a schizophrenic episode during the ceremony; not to doubt the tale, but diagnosed mental instability would probably have been discovered during the vetting process before Jantjie got to stand next to half the leaders of the civilized world. Experts say Jantjie was signing gibberish, which makes him highly qualified to interpret Shanahan press conferences.

Now, Shanahan is not really trying to be fired. He is trying to prove his point. His sad, incomprehensible point: the Redskins are terrible because of Dan Snyder and Robert Griffin, who apparently run onto the field and stop gunners from tackling punt returners and order the defense to allow a 101.2 opposing quarterback rating. The last two years of Redskins football have been a nightmare, Shanahan wants us to believe, and the parts that most of us thought were best (Redskins draft Griffin! Redskins win with Griffin! Griffin returns from injury!) were really the worst. The image of Shanahan sulking in his office and cleaning his desk drawers after his team won seven straight games to reach the playoffs is the second-craziest Shanahan image in our minds right now. The craziest image is Shanahan himself leaking reports of the first image and thinking "yeah, this makes me look smart and sympathetic." Benching Griffin and baldly lying about the reason ranks third. Which is amazing.

Most of all, Shanahan wants to show up his mean-old boss and impudent quarterback by proving Kirk Cousins is better -- better! -- than Griffin thanks to the Shanahan family's proven Rex Grossman/John Beck/Brian Griese guru-ship. He doesn't want to say that, mind you; he wants us to reach that conclusion our controversy-lovin' selves. To guarantee Cousins looked his best at the start of his first news cycle, Shanahan needed an opponent that is very charitable to inexperienced quarterbacks.

Enter the Falcons. They allowed three touchdowns to Geno Smith, four touchdowns and no interceptions in two games to Mike Glennon and got into a shootout with EJ Manuel's Bills that they only won because two receivers handed fumbles directly to Falcons defenders. The Falcons recorded five sacks in five games before facing Matt Flynn in the sleet last Sunday, so they are not nearly as much of a threat to Griffin's health as, say, a sack-heavy Chiefs defense on a slush-covered demolition derby track. (And Flynn picked them apart when not getting dumped). The Falcons are merely a threat to Shanahan's storyline: a two-touchdown day by Cousins will make him look like a genius; a four-touchdown day by Griffin would make him look ridiculous. Ridiculouser.

The last week, therefore, has been an elaborate blame-deflection subterfuge that could only snooker the least observant observers. Unless Griffin records six special teams tackles and returns a punt for a touchdown; then, Shanny's a genius again. Hey, Joe Theismann played special teams early in his Redskins career. What makes Griffin so special? Oh, he's buddy-buddy with the owner. We'll see about that. THINGS BETTER CHANGE OR ELSE I AM FILLING MY TRUNK WITH OFFICE SUPPLIES AND DRIVING STRAIGHT TO TAMPA …

Oh dear, thinking like Shanahan all week has caused a psychotic break; I'm typing gibberish. The scariest thing about this sad episode is that Shanahan will convert some believers if-when Cousins has a semi-competent game on Sunday. Shanahan looked a nation in the eye and pitched self-aggrandizing snake oil to distance himself from his own failures; he can claim victory after a tiny blip of success, and darned if some people won't buy what he's selling. Come to think of it, Snyder should not fire Shanahan. Washington is the perfect place for him.

Prediction: Redskins 31, Falcons 27

* * *

Bengals at Steelers

8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: Bengals by 3

It always comes down to this for the Bengals. You want to make the playoffs? Beat the Steelers. So what if you are 9-4? So what if you have a tiebreaker advantage over the Patriots? So what if you scored over 40 points in two of your last three games? You still have to beat the Steelers. Then, two weeks later, beat the Ravens.

Every Bengals playoff scenario starts with a Sunday night win in Pittsburgh. If they win after a Dolphins loss, they clinch a berth. If they win and the Ravens lose on Monday, they clinch the division. If they win, the Ravens lose and the Dolphins beat the Patriots, they move into the #2 seeding in the AFC. If they lose, they are still in decent shape, but they risk putting their postseason fate in the hands of teams like the Detroit Lions.

The Bengals are also catching the Steelers in an irascible mood, which may not be a good thing. Ben Roethlisberger made an "ask the coach" remark when reporters questioned the Steelers play calling in the second half of the Dolphins loss: some reporters wanted to know why the Steelers did not run the football more late in the nip-and-tuck 34-28 loss. The extracted phrase predictably blew up and became more HALEY ROETHLISBERGER BROMANCE FRICTION.

"It's unbelievable," Roethlisberger said on his midweek radio show. "It gets blown up, and it's by reporters that come in there and ask the dumbest questions after a game, and it makes it ridiculous when they only take part of your answer." Dumb questions? Why didn't your superiors trust a rookie running back behind a terrible offensive line to protect a four-point lead in the snow when you, a veteran two-time champion, were having a three-touchdown afternoon? is so totally not a dumb question!

Fair enough; Roethlisberger does not want reporters taking blurbs out of context and reinterpreting them as shots against Todd Haley. "I think the offense is as good as it's been in a long time. We've got guys doing some great things. I genuinely am enjoying this offense and what Coach Haley is doing and where we're going." Notice how he kept singled out the offense. There is obviously friction between Roethlisberger and his defense. You can tell from that portion of that quote.

At press time, no one has asked Haley questions about his play calling, dumb or otherwise, because we are afraid to hear the answers.

Prediction: Bengals 26, Steelers 17

* * *

Patriots at Dolphins

1:00 p.m Sunday, CBS
Line: Patriots by 2

The last Patriots-Dolphins game hinged on a funky late-game penalty. Oops, gotta be more specific. The last Patriots-Dolphins game hinged on a funky late-game penalty that went the Patriots way. Oops, gotta be more specificer. The last Patriots-Dolphins game hinged on a funky late-game penalty that went the Patriots way which involved a strange interpretation of a rarely-called infraction.


Tiresome, isn't it? Granted, the Patriots already took the lead against the Dolphins before Olivier Vernon's reverse Holy Roller. (If you play the Holy Roller backwards, is it evil? On the broadcast, you can clearly hear "Here's to My Sweet Stabler.") The Patriots are the greatest fourth quarter team ever to be slightly above average for three quarters, while Ryan Tannehill's fourth quarter sack total is holding firm at 20, five more than Peyton Manning and Mathew Stafford have suffered all year. If the Dolphins expected to hold a fourth-quarter lead against the Patriots, they needed to lead 47-3 at halftime.

The situation may have changed a bit. The Dolphins have won three of their last four, even engineering a comeback on the road last week. Their after-school special melodrama appears to have been compartmentalized. They are facing a Rob Gronkowski-less opponent, and a Wild Card is within reach. The Dolphins just have to play four full quarters at home on Sunday then hope the referees don't decide to make themselves the story.

Few teams have been able to count on both of those things against the Patriots this year.

Prediction: Patriots 23, Dolphins 21, game ending on last-second intentional grounding the end zone by Tannehill

* * *

Packers at Cowboys

4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Cowboys by 7 (on some brave boards)

We all know the Cowboys stink in December. You know who doesn't stink in December? Matt Flynn. He's 2-1 as a starter in December -- his only loss was a tough 2010 game against the Patriots -- and has thrown ten touchdown passes with just five interceptions, completed 64.9% of his passes, and registered a 97.9 rating in the final month of the season. With Flynn trending upward and the Cowboys defense listing leeward, get ready for more Christmas Season FlynnSanity, baybeeee!

Actually, the Cowboys aren't that terrible in December: 11-14 in five years is not too far off the mark for what has essentially been a .500-caliber team since Bill Parcells stopped drafting the players. And Flynn's big six-touchdown game occurred in January, not December.

The facts are getting away from a good story. The Cowboys are reliable homebodies, Flynn is a AAA pitcher, Aaron Rodgers is a fairytale we tell toddlers before bedtime. (There is still a chance he will play Sunday, but if 1/4th of Vegas is ready to make the Packers seven-point dogs, we can assume he's being Shanahanghied, except with a logical reason.)

Neither the NFC East nor NFC North has looked at a calendar lately: both are running out of time to crown a champion, but neither has a contender that knows how and when to make a run -- except, perhaps, the Eagles.

Prediction: Cowboys 30, Packers 21

* * *

Ravens at Lions

8:40 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Line: Lions by 6

Cut Matt Elam some slack for calling Calvin Johnson "old." Elam was 16 when Megatron made his debut for the 2007 Lions. So Elam, like, totally grew up with Johnson as a Madden character. The dude's probably as old as Master Chief! Elam just turned 22 in September; to him, that Carly Rae Jepsen "Call Me Maybe" ingénue is a total cougar. (Jepsen is actually the same age as Megatron, which is creepy, but let's move on.)

Elam also did not play on last year's Ravens. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were two guys you did not want to get stuck behind at the supermarket checkout, unless you like double coupons and price checks for a single radish. The point is that whippersnappers like Elam have no sense of history. The Ravens scratch, claw and drag themselves into the playoffs this year. The Lions self-destruct, if they have not already. So while Johnson may teach Elam what a not-really-old guy can do, experience tells us that the Ravens are getting their act together at the exact time when the Lions are looking for reasons to fall apart.

But experience is not always correct. These two teams are really not that different. Both are far too turnover-prone. The Lions have a bad rushing attack with good stats (a few big games mask lots of fumbling and wheel-spinning). The Ravens have an awful rushing attack with a great reputation (check this out). The Ravens have all the Super Bowl winner sauce, which is mostly nonsense, but not total nonsense: they hold edges in lots of little factors, like special teams and a lack of situational stupidity. The Lions have better talent, better balance, are at home against a bad road team, and possess an advantage along their defensive front that should be game-deciding.

To believe in the Lions, at least for one week, you have to forget history. Elam is already ahead of you, which is a bad sign, because Ravens defenders should be the ones most eager to remember the old days.

Prediction: Lions 24, Ravens 20

* * *

Eagles at Vikings

1:00 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Eagles by 4 ½

Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy are not just the two best running backs in the NFL. They are also the two most likely backs to have their legs crushed beneath a falling stadium support beam in the first quarter, then be seen jogging around the sideline after halftime. Peterson's injury in the Ravens game went from a NFL Red Zone Diagnostics ACL tear to a reported ankle injury to a confirmed foot sprain to "he stepped on a Lego in his bare feet." Peterson was not practicing late in the week, but he refuses to be Shanahanghaied, and vows he will play on Sunday.

McCoy has inspired Eagles fan midgame Facebook obituaries at least twice this season with seemingly gruesome injuries, but you can't even tell from the stat sheet which games they occurred in. Both McCoy and Peterson are electrifying to watch, and while they should share their Liquid Terminator shatter-and-reconstitute secret with health professionals, we understand if it is not the kind of thing the world is ready for.

There was a story floating around Philly sports radio before the Lions game that Chip Kelly is incapable of making "halftime adjustments," as evidenced by near-comebacks by the Redskins and other opponents. Radio hosts and water cooler coordinators who talk about "halftime adjustments" are like your brother-in-law the hedge fund analyst (and weekend bluegrass washboard player) talking auto repair: if you challenge him to identify something under the hood, he'll break a sweat and mumble "engine stuff." Kelly adjusted pretty well to a snowstorm no one predicted and conditions so harsh that the extra point went the way of the Statue of Liberty play last week. Kelly keeps adapting. The critics who don't adapt with him keep responding with boilerplate.

Prediction: Eagles 24, Vikings 16

* * *

49ers at Buccaneers

1:00 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: 49ers by 5

The Buccaneers have intercepted ten passes in their last three games. But five of those interceptions came on passes that were tipped or batted by the intended receivers. The Buccaneers pass defense is pretty good (Darrelle Revis and all), but tip-drill interceptions are essentially dumb luck, and it helps to face the Bills and Lions, two teams who recently abandoned football for a weird mix of volleyball, rugby and the kindergarten gym staple Steal the Dragon's Eggs.

It's hard to intercept a tipped pass when your opponent refuses to throw downfield, so the Buccaneers will have to rely on their run defense, which is stout enough to slow Frank Gore a little bit, and their offense, which will max out at about 80 net yards.

Prediction: 49ers 29, Buccaneers 13

* * *

Cardinals at Titans

4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Cardinals by 3

The Arizona Cardinals would be in first place in the NFC North or the AFC South. They would be tied for first place in the NFC East, though the Eagles hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. (The Cardinals hold the tiebreaker over the Colts in the AFC South; yes, the teams would play twice if they were in the same division, but work with me here.)

The Cardinals hold a 7-2 out-of-division record. Their non-division record is equal to the Patriots, Broncos and Bengals, and better than the Saints (7-3), Panthers (6-3), Bears (5-3), Colts (4-5), Lions (3-5) and Cowboys (3-6). Only the Chiefs (9-0) and Seahawks (8-1) have a better non-division record than the Cardinals. The Chiefs get to face third-string quarterbacks or coaches trying to get fired every time they leave their division. The Seahawks are one of two obvious reasons the Cardinals are in their current predicament.

The Cardinals defense ranks fifth in the NFL in yards per game. They rank third in their division. Their defense is tied for fifth in the NFL in takeaways, but ranks second in their division. Their offense is turnover prone but not terrible; plenty of teams have made serious playoff runs with their offense-defense mix. It is obvious that the Cardinals would be a much-talked about playoff team in any other division. It's not crazy to consider them the equal of the Chiefs. They are clearly superior to the Colts, Cowboys, or Lions. But they wrap the season with rematches against the Seahawks and 49ers, so they will probably go 9-7 and miss the playoffs.

Whoever said it was better to rule in hell or serve in heaven must have been thinking about the NFC West.

Oh yeah, Satan said that. He was definitely thinking about the NFC West.

Prediction: Cardinals 21, Titans 16

* * *

Jets at Panthers

4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Panthers by 11

It was fourth-and-six from the Panthers 31-yard line. The Panthers trailed the Saints 21-6 in the third quarter. Ron Rivera sent his field goal unit onto the field. He felt the cellphone buzz in his pocket. Later, he heard this voicemail message.

Ron, this is your sponsor from Non-Gamblers Anonymous. I saw you attempting a 49-yard field goal down by 15 points and knew you needed my help.

Things have been going so well, Ron. You haven't non-gambled in weeks, and look at you! Your team has beaten some of the best opposition in the NFL. The Panthers are the talk of the league. This is no time for a relapse.

I know fourth-and-six is tricky. I wouldn't be calling you if you were beating the Saints. But what is your plan here: cut the deficit to 21-9? And then what? Despite the score, your offense has moved the ball fairly well. You need a touchdown. You are using non-gambling as a crutch again. All of the people who love the Panthers are worried.

I'm really concerned that you could backslide if you miss this field goal and lose the game. One foolish decision could erase eight weeks of progress. If you start not gambling again, the playoffs could disappear. No one wants to see you punting on fourth-and-inches from midfield in Week 17, surrounded by the smoldering ashes of your midseason achievements. All it takes is one little slip.

There. Gano missed it. Both of us are powerless before non-gambling, Ron. Let's take inventory together. I won't be far away at all next week. Don't be afraid to reach out.


REX RYAN: Say, this is one heck of a Sunday night game. The perfect capper after a tough win against the Raiders. Who are you talking to on the phone?

MARTY MORNHINWEG: No one. No one at all. Say, you think we should install some Wildcat plays on fourth-and-short?

Prediction: Panthers 27, Jets 13

* * *

Texans at Colts

1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Colts by 5 ½

The Colts have run the ball 52 times for 247 yards in their last three games, averaging a healthy 4.75 yards per rush. Not bad, right? Except that Andrew Luck rushed nine times for 105 yards. Take the scrambles and keepers out, and Colts running backs average 3.3 yards per carry, gaining just 142 yards. One of those running backs was Dan Herron, who ripped off a 22-yard run in the Cardinals game and suffered an injury soon after. Donald Brown and Trent Richardson, the two running backs the Colts are counting on, have gained 109 total yards and averaged 2.79 yards per carry in three games. The Colts would give up and switch to a full-time empty backfield before the playoffs, except that they aren't exactly swimming in wide receivers either.

Wade Phillips takes over the Texans, and his first task will be to settle the quarterback situation: Gary Kubiak wanted to switch back to Matt Schaub, but owner Bob McNair wants to see more of Case Keenum. Yes, this is a funhouse mirror version of the Redskins, complete with off-brand Shanahan. Anyway, the Texans have late-season indecision at quarterback, so ownership decided Wade Phillips was the right man to sort things out. If McNair wants Keenum to keep starting, he cannot just fire Kubiak. He has to sign Doug Flutie as well.

Prediction: Texans 23, Colts 20

* * *

Bears at Browns

1:00 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Off most boards at press-time due to Cutler-McCown situation, although Smokin' Jay is now officially back.

Josh McCown played incredibly well in relief of Jay Cutler, and Marc Trestman found himself at a crossroads. Facing the standard deal-with-the-devil choice between the hyper-talented big-money hurler whose whole never adds up to the sum of his parts, or the crafty old guy taking Rich Gannon vitamins, Trestman carefully examined his options and Cutler's ankle, then made the wise decision and threw juicy Delmonico steak to the second guessers. When comparing old JPEGs of sneering Cutler with fresh Monday night images of McCown destroying a Big-12 defense, Trestman appears to be crazy. When you step back for a moment, you remember that you are advocating for a fringe journeyman you scoffed about six weeks ago. It's not an easy decision, and it's a tenure-definer for a coach.

Trestman may still be wavering, and a poor Sunday outing by Cutler could weaken his resolve. So show us what you got, Browns front office: offer to give the Bears the Colts' #1 pick for Cutler RIGHT NOW. Yes, the trade deadline has passed, but you can lay the groundwork now and do the deal at the start of the next league year. Cutler would be the best Browns quarterback since the franchise's zombie reanimation in 1999, and easygoing Norv Turner will happily let him drop back and fling bombs to Josh Gordon to his heart's content.

Make the trade offer, Banner and Lombardi! No, no … we said trade the pick for Cutler, not McCown! Step away from the 34-year old quarterback, slowly.

Prediction: Bears 27, Browns 23

* * *

Chiefs at Raiders

4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Chiefs by 4 ½

Dennis Allen rotated Terrelle Pryor into the Jets loss for a series, then reverted back to Matt McGloin after Pryor did Pryor stuff (a few good passes, a productive run, then lots of startled-fawn romping). Allen threatens to keep platooning his quarterbacks for the rest of the season, so Pryor and McGloin can join a distinguished list of great prospects who blossomed in a platoon situation which includes … David Woodley? Um, Matt Leinart? Er, Cade McNown? Oh my. Roger Staubach! Yes, that's it: the military veteran from 40 years ago who chafed under the rotation until he all-but demanded that Tom Landry scrap. No way that's an outlier.

It has been a few weeks since the Chiefs benefited from an unprepared quarterback. The Raiders are now flinging two at a time at them. That would have saved us a lot of time and energy a month ago.

Prediction: Chiefs 30, Raiders 20

* * *

Saints at Rams

4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Saints by 6

The Saints clinch a playoff berth with their next win. We are all aware of their home-road disparity, but it doesn't really apply to a three-fourths occupied dome the same way it applies to a Legends of Thrash festival in the Seattle rain, so let's not get too amped by the "Saints can prove themselves on the road" angle.

Let's talk instead about the Rams' effort to win the NFL variance crown. Variance is the statistical measure of weekly ups and downs. It's quantified inconsistency, and Football Outsiders has kept track of it for over a decade. Here are the five most inconsistent teams in the NFL, according to deep statistical analysis:

  1. Eagles           
  2. Rams
  3. Jets
  4. Colts
  5. Packers

The Eagles are fading fast from the variance charts. Their place at the top is a holdover from their early-season boom-or-bust experiments and Matt Barkley's brief foray into turnover-per-possession tactics. Similarly, the Packers are not so much week-to-week inconsistent as All Pro-to-"shrimpy quarterback on his third team of the year" inconsistent. That leaves the Rams, Jets, and Colts battling for bipolar position, and it's a heck of a race.

To pass the Eagles, the Rams must have a great game on Sunday. They can then clinch the variance crown by playing poorly against the Buccaneers but routing the Seahawks in the season finale. Of course, doing so would make them predictable, which is no way to claim a prize for unpredictability. Look for the Rams to surprise us by not surprising us this week. It's what they do best. We think.

Prediction: Saints 28, Rams 17

* * *

Bills at Jaguars

1:00 p.m Sunday, CBS
Line: Bills by 1

Optimism is a snowbird. She loves Upstate New York but hates the winters, so after leafing season she flees to Florida, taking hope and the promise of a brighter future with her.

She's wintering in Jacksonville this year, where the local football team suddenly has a knack for beating their downtrodden peers, and while she has fond memories of early-season Bills wins over the Panthers and Ravens, she knows all her friends are shivering in the cold.

Optimism returns to Buffalo every spring, but she sometimes dreams of staying down south all year long, because she knows that no matter how refreshing Buffalo autumns can be, winter is always brutal.

Prediction: Jaguars 17, Bills 16

* * *

Seahawks at Giants

1:00 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Seahawks by 7

The Seahawks lost last week after the 49ers executed a final drive that not only resulted in a chip shot field goal but ate up all the Seahawks timeouts and most of the clock. After the game, reporters asked Pete Carroll if he considered allowing a 49ers touchdown to get the ball back. Carroll admitted that allowing a touchdown is against his nature, then acknowledged that he may need to take a more data-driven approached in the future. "I'm going to do a little research this week and see if anyone has ever done that and won," Carroll said.

Rest assured that Carroll will spend the week calling the preeminent football researchers and finding the best available data on whether to … [ring ring] oh my, the telephone. Hold on.

PETE CARROLL: Hey pal, I got your number from a guy with a pocket protector. He said you do a ton of statistical and historic research. Is it ever a good idea to allow a touchdown late in the game?

ME: I am so glad you called, coach. Historically researching "allowed touchdowns" can be tricky. Most coaches are unlikely to admit they did it; they are like you, loathe to give something up, especially if the plan fails. The most famous "allowed touchdown" occurred in Super Bowl XLII, when the Patriots allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to score when leading by two points. Better to give Tom Brady 57 seconds and a timeout to score a touchdown than just a few seconds and no timeouts to reach field goal range. It didn't work, though.

There's also a chance that a veteran runner like Frank Gore with a canny coach like Jim Harbaugh will call your bluff and flop at the half-yard line. Brian Westbrook did that in an Eagles-Giants game a few years ago.

PETE CARROLL: I watched the Super Bowl too, smart guy. I came to you for number crunching.

ME: Late-game strategies are not my field. I refer you to Chris Burke of Advanced NFL Stats. He did a comprehensive study on the risks and rewards of allowing a touchdown. It's complicated stuff, but the fewer timeouts you have, the better your chance of winning after allowing an on-purpose touchdown becomes once the two-minute warning passes. As soon as the 49ers converted that 3rd-and-7, you should have strongly considered it.

PETE CARROLL: Thanks pal.

ME: Thank you, coach, for contacting lowly Mike Tanier on such a serious matter.

PETE CARROLL: Mike Tanier? They told me this was the number for the New York Times Fourth Down Bot! You're that idiot who tells Todd Haley jokes! Now I have to drink fuzzy navels until I forget everything you just told me. Don't tell anyone I called! (click)

Sheesh. Some people really need to update their contact lists.

Prediction: Seahawks 31, Giants 22