Commentary

The race for last place

Originally Published: October 6, 2011
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Andrew LuckBob Stanton/Icon SMIStanford quarterback Andrew Luck is so good that he is affecting the NFL season right now. But you have to know where to look for the evidence.

If you really love your NFL team, you will root for its bus to fall into a sink hole. Or an avian flu epidemic to hit the locker room. Widespread jail time would be good, too.

Because if you really love your NFL team, you want it to lose this season like a Jenny Craig class.

That's because the worst team gets to draft the best quarterback to come along since Peyton Manning himself -- Andrew Luck of Stanford.

Luck is so indescribably good, I fully expect somebody to lose in their bye week. The kid's QB rating so far this season is 178. He's already calling his own plays, including the no huddle. He's won 12 straight games. He's such a lock NFL star that, as this season wears on, you will see more tanks than in an episode of "Jersey Shore."

To win Luck, a team's management has to be willing to put out the full zero percent. Everybody has to be sure not to do their part.

SIGNS YOUR TEAM IS PURPOSELY TRYING TO SUCK FOR LUCK:

1. Faking injuries during plays.

2. Betty White really is your flanker.

3. Stud running back keeps pretending he has strep throat.

4. Quick-kicking every third down.

5. Starting Tebow.

It's not going to be easy. The Race To Last Place has been fierce so far. Four teams have managed to go the entire season defeated at 0-4, while seven others have only one blemish on their records at 1-3. There haven't been this many dedicated losers in one place since Comic Con.

But records can be deceiving. To win Luck, a team has to have a true suckability factor. Its management has to be willing to put out the full zero percent. Everybody has to be sure not to do their part.

Here's the way I see Luckapalooza right now:

SUCK FOR LUCK SWEEPSTAKES

10. Carolina Panthers (1-3): Unless Alabama's lawyers can get all Panthers wins vacated, it's going to be difficult.

9. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3): Sneaky bad. Their backups are better than many teams' starters on this list, but they've seemed committed early on.

8. Denver Broncos (1-3): Slim. John Elway is calling the shots now and Elway would sell his mother to the North Koreans for a win. Tough break for Broncos fans.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3): Trending happily down. Players know a horrible season might get the whole team moved to L.A. Where would you rather live?

6. Minnesota Vikings (0-4): Have you ever played the card game Hearts? Donovan McNabb is the Queen of Hearts of the NFL. He's worth minus-13 points to any team that starts him. Very cagey pickup by the Vikes.

5. Seattle Seahawks (1-3): Don't kid yourself. Tarvaris Jackson can take them there. Let it rain.

4. St. Louis Rams (0-4): This week they lost their best pass defender, Bradley Fletcher, and their best receiver, Danny Amendola, for the year. So things are going their way. They don't need Luck, but they could get two No. 1s, two 2s and Ozzie Guillen in a trade for him. That might actually buy Sam Bradford some blockers.

3. Indianapolis Colts (0-4): Rest your starters now, Colts. Forget what your 35-year-old superstar quarterback, Peyton Manning, said Thursday about coming back in December. Don't let him! He has a spinal injury that doctors say is 50/50 career-ending. And it might take two years to know. Draft Luck and he'll be your starter until 2027. The only problem is how would Manning take it? It'd be like you giving him a fishing boat and a gold watch. Don't be a stranger, Pey-Pey! And yes, he and Luck are friends through their fathers, Archie and Oliver, who were teammates on the Houston Oilers. But if you think Manning would be happy with Luck waiting for him to screw up, you don't know Manning. He might never speak to the kid, much less give him a single practice rep. To avoid all that mess, the Colts could (gasp) waive Manning -- they have an out clause on Manning's contract in 2012 that would save them most of the $90 million deal they signed with him. Yes, all this would be ugly and dramatic and Manning would deserve better, but unless current Colts QB Curtis Painter suddenly becomes a master, that's where Indy is headed.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Michael Hickey/US PresswireThings are not looking up for Peyton Manning right now.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3): Yes, they screwed up and won a game, but everybody makes mistakes. Their point differential (-77) is stunning and lags the league. Their schedule is easy the rest of the way, but I think they're down to the challenge.

1. Miami Dolphins (0-4): They have a real chance to pull off the Sweet 16. Their only decent player, QB Chad Henne, is out for the year with a shoulder injury. That might have been the Lucky break the franchise needed. If the Dolphins can keep from doing something stupid -- like signing former Jags QB David Garrard -- Hurricane Andrew can be theirs.

So keep your eye fixed on the bottom of the standings. It's all going to come down to the final weeks.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULES

1 -- Minnesota: Has five games left with winning teams -- including two with Green Bay and one more with Detroit -- and four with teams that are .500. Don't count the Vikings in, whatever you do.

2 -- Miami: A huge advantage for the Awlfins, with unwinnable games against the Jets (twice), Giants, Redskins, Bills (twice), Cowboys, Raiders, Eagles and Patriots. Not that it matters. The Dolphins couldn't beat Rice.

3 -- Indianapolis: Six games left with winning teams, and they've got New Orleans, New England and Baltimore all on the road. If they can keep Manning from getting the first-ever neck transplant, they could do this.

4 -- Denver: Things look good with hopeless games against San Diego (twice), New England, Detroit, Buffalo and the Jets. Unfortunately, they have huge Suck Division games against Miami, Minnesota and Kansas City (twice) that they need to come apart for.

5 -- Kansas City: Four games left against teams with a combined 2-14 record to this point. They need to be careful. If they just play as a team, they could find themselves completely out of Luck.

Remember, people, if it's broke, don't fix it.

The way to greatness is backwards.


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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter," and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.


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