"Once again the NFL season is upon us," writes a fellow from Northern Virginia named Woody, "and once again I am being mortally wounded in attempting to scientifically pick 14 winners each week (with an office pool of $125).

"I have suffered these past 30 years by being beaten out each week by nincompoops who don't know a football from a stadium. No matter how close I come each week to picking all the winners there is usually some idiot who has picked with his eyes closed and robs me of the $125."

So now my Plaintive Plunger is going to go after the pool shotgun-style. "Can you tell me," he asks, "how many different combinations I would have to submit (to cover every possibility)?"

Before I answer you, my friend, let me present my credentials:

The office pool around here would spring a terminal leak without me. I have been a devoted handicapper of National Football League games for more than 15 years. I used to play football. I often watch football. I used to write about it for the very journal you're holding in your hands.

I have tried every system and hot statistical theory ever invented, and I have never won the office pool. Never even came in second. In fact, one year they figured up season's totals for every regular bettor and my cumulative score was the lowest in the whole joint.

Despite that magnificent track record, I won't hesitate to tell you this, Woody: You won't get rich playing every combination.

Sure, each week you'll have a ballot with 14 winners on it. But if your office pool costs $1 to enter, you'll have to invest $196 (or 14 times 14) to cover every possible outcome. And if there's only $125 in the pot each week, you'll be minus a cool $71 each time.

Stretched across the whole NFL season, it'll cost you $1,136 just to keep the office idiots from getting lucky. No idiot is worth that much.