In terms of reality, the Jacksonville Jaguars are 11-1. In terms of respect, they are, oh, 9-3 or so. For people don't seem to believe the Jaguars are as good as their record.
Sure, they win ugly. But this isn't a beauty contest, ladies and gentlemen, this is the National Football League--wins go in the left column, losses go in the right column and Mike Ditka's game plans go straight in the dumper.
The fact is, the Jaguars win ugly and pretty. They win offensive shootouts and defensive struggles. They win at home (26-4 since 1996) and on the road (6-0 in 1999). They even sometimes win without their stellar quarterback, Mark Brunell, or their standout tailback, Fred Taylor.
It's a talented group. Brunell is better on the run than Dr. Richard Kimble. Jimmy Smith leads the NFL in receptions. Tackle Tony Boselli could block a court order. Meantime, the Jaguars, with defensive end Tony Brackens and linebacker Kevin Hardy, are allowing just 11 points a game. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers could figure out a way to keep bats out of a cave.
At the top is old-fashioned, old-school, old-line, Old World Tom Coughlin. The only coach in the franchise's history, Coughlin is a tad conservative. Coughlin's so cautious, he looks both ways before crossing a one-way street.
Frankly, this could be the best team in the league. However, the Jaguars won't quite make it to Super Bowl Sunday--and most of you know why. But this isn't the time or the place to discuss the love of my life, those Indianapolis Colts.
On Monday night, the Jaguars are nine-point favorites at home against Denver. Alltel Stadium sells out every game. (Where else are 73,000 people going to be in Jacksonville on a Sunday afternoon? Target?) And almost every game, the Jaguars send the home fans off to Hooters in happy fashion. As they will, again, against the Broncos. Take the Jaguars.
(TV Note: Curiously, if budding analyst Boomer Esiason were never allowed to comment on quarterback play during ABC's "Monday Night Football," he would instantly be 15 percent better.)
(Postseason Note: Send the entire NFC Central to the playoffs. Send the entire NFC East home. Thank you.)
(Officiating Note: Believe you me, instant replay would have overturned JFK's victory over Nixon in '60.)
As always, the following picks against the point spread are for recreational purposes only:
* Patriots at Colts (-7): I'll be perfectly blunt with you: This 12-week period in which the Colts have been en route to galloping ingloriously to Super Bowl XXXIV has given me more pure pleasure than both of my honeymoons combined. . . . Mike Vanderjagt, the Yoo-Hoos are on me! Pick: Colts.
* Chargers at Seahawks (-10): As part of his quest for total control, Seahawks GM-Coach Mike Holmgren stayed up late Sunday looking at swatches for DT Cortez Kennedy's new curtains. . . . Seattle coffee bars now featuring "Decaf-mocha-venti-skim-you-call-that- defense-latte." Pick: Chargers.
* Rams (-10 1/2) at Saints: Privately, Dick Vermeil is maneuvering to get Robert Redford to play his role in big-screen version of Rams' fairy tale season. . . . As medical precaution, doctors are advising Mike Ditka that he leave by halftime of all remaining Saints games. Pick: Rams.
* Dolphins (-3) at Jets: Next thing you know, Jimmy Johnson will blame Dolphins' running woes on fact that Dan Marino doesn't hand off well. . . . With success of neck pad, Jets LB Bryan Cox now considering adding rear-view mirror to helmet. Pick: Jets.
* Ravens at Steelers (-1 1/2): Trying to fix your offense by using Mike Tomczak is like trying to fix your TV by turning it on and off real fast. . . . Some folks question my head on Brian Billick. Maybe it's not on my shoulders. Pick: Steelers.
* Giants at Bills (-8): The Giants are, I believe, the worst 6-6 team in the history of organized sports at any level on any continent, including Antarctica. . . . Jason Sehorn injured again? Call makeup! Pick: Bills.
* Eagles at Cowboys (-9): Magellan went around the world in 18 months. Cowboys can't even get down the field in 60 minutes. . . . Out of playoffs, Eagles now merely playing "footballtainment." Pick: Eagles.
* Falcons (-4) at 49ers: Sadly, here is, verbatim, Steve Young's order Tuesday at a Bay Area fast-food drive-thru: "Brown left C right three jet X slant on one, hold the pickle!" Pick: 49ers.
* Browns at Bengals (-7): Johns Hopkins scientists estimate chances of Bruce Coslet winning back-to-back-to-back games as "genetic impossibility." Pick: Browns.
* Cardinals at Redskins (-6): Frankly, to paraphrase deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman on "The West Wing": "The Redskins stink." Pick: Cardinals.
* Panthers at Packers (-8 1/2): Off his success with German bookkeeping, Helmut Kohl to serve as Packers' new capologist. Pick: Packers.
* Lions at Buccaneers (-3 1/2): Buccaneers QB Trent Dilfer used sideline phone Monday night to try to contact monster.com. Pick: Buccaneers.
* Vikings at Chiefs (-1): Willy Loman, Red Klotz, George Costanza, Jeff George. Pick: Chiefs.
Last week: 10-4.
Season record: 82-93-10.