Salary Cap Roster Challenge

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"Who do you like?" he said, and I mean I was born in Pennsylvania but I'm not a farmer, so I told him, "You first, Dookey," and he said, "I know you like the Lombardies and you're gonna have to lay 12½."

Big number, and my trap formula says it's too big, ergo I must go against my own judgment and give the points, you dig? But there was just something about the way that Lombardi team was put together that didn't sit right. So before I could really think it through, I said, "I got the dog, five times" which means I'm down on the Brooksies plus 12 ½ for the sum of ... ah, maybe I'd better not get into all this betting stuff, OK?

Mike Lombardi, unlike the days when he was juggling rosters of the Raiders, has all this unchallenged cash with which to build a dream team, so he gives his first look to the quarterback position and what does he do? Signs up Tom Brady for the big cap dollar, and backs him up with the Broncos' Jay Cutler. Right, and how about throwing in Park Place and Pennsylvania Avenue, too, and a few nifty Community Chest cards, because this is strictly piesville.

Mike Shanahan went to the wall for Cutler, when he was a rookie, and benched Jake Plummer for him, and last year the kid moved his ratings up to the top half of the league and threw 20 touchdowns to 14 picks. Pretty decent for a guy still learning, and now he's going to turn around and sit behind Brady, who is only 30, for the next six or seven years?

"Yes," Mike told me in confidence, not to be repeated. "He wants to learn from the master. Besides, I'm giving him a huge salary, way above the cap figure."

And he's got as his third QB, Troy Smith, who was projected as the starter in Baltimore this season. That's three guys with starting credentials sitting in one QB meeting. Who's going to be the first one to hire a hit man? OK, OK, I didn't set the rules. So be it.

To combat this onslaught of quarterbacking wizardry, Bucky Brooks offers the very modest twosome of Drew Brees, backed up by Damon Huard. Brees is fine ... threw for the second-most yards in football last year, after Brady. But Damon Huard?

"First you're moaning about three starters on the same roster," Brooks says, "so I give you a starter and an honest back-up and you're still ..." OK, OK, already. But you understand why I think your guys are a bit overmatched. And to coach this dynamic duo, we give you .... MARTYBALL! That's right, Marty Schottenheimer is Brooks' guy, but wait. The coordinator is Cam Cameron, and maybe things didn't break right for him in Miami last year, but this is a guy who knows how to coordinate an offense, which is what he did in San Diego, with Brees as the QB, and ... you know, I'm a little slow, but it's finally coming to me. With Marty as the head coach. It's old home week, the three of them back together, sending it all in for the Intramural Championships. Wow, what an angle!

You know I'm feeling a bit happier about my bet now. OK, let's play this game. The Lombardies come out in multiple wides right away. I mean my gosh, why not? There's so much talent that their third wideout, the slotman Wes Welker, was tied for No. 1 in the NFL in receiving last year. The wideout group alone accounted for 336 catches in '07. That's more than any wideout corps in football could manage, more, in fact, than the total for all passes caught by 19 teams -- wides, tight ends, runners, the whole schemer.

Oh yeah, the Lombardies are putting it up early, especially with that undersized group of runners they have, but the odd thing is that they've signed up a primarily run-blocking O-line, but what the hell. Brady's going to get plenty of yards.

Bucky's countering with a thumping ground attack, with Steven Jackson and Brandon Jacobs pounding away behind an offense that can come in with a fullback and not one but two run-blocking tight ends, Kevin Boss and 286-pound Brandon Manumaleuna. It's effective. It's controlling the game. Lombardi's D-line is overloaded with pass rushers. He brings in the Ravens' Haloti Ngata early to shore up the middle. The linebackers are basically speed guys. MLB DeMeco Ryans is being suckered with counters. Thomas Howard, a speedy outside man, is overrunning the plays.

Brady puts up a couple of sixes but he throws a pick, too, underestimating the speed of the 49ers' Patrick Willis. The Brooksies are grinding and putting up field goals, but then they get a break on special teams. The 49ers' Michael Robinson, an underrated special teams demon, and the Chargers' Kaseem Osgood, force a fumble on a kick return, Robinson scoops up the loose ball and takes it all the way. It's a 20-20 tie in the fourth quarter.

Seven minutes left. Brady goes to work. The Brooksies have dressed only six D-linemen and that's their undoing. They're exhausted. The rotation is killing them. The rush has died. Brady works them over with his mini-backs, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ahmad Bradshaw. With three minutes to go, he runs Jones-Drew on a sucker-trap for six points. The Brooksies get the ball at midfield, after a nifty return by Devin Hester. Will this be an overtime contest, the first one in a title game since Colts-Giants?

But the numbers game kills Brees, too. The Lombardies have loaded their lineup with D-linemen, nine, count'em, nine! On third-and-long, the well-rested pair of wingmen, Dwight Freeney and Justin Tuck, get him in a squeeze and knock the ball loose. The Lombardies only have to run the clock now, but on third and long they run a draw play, over Shaun Rogers, who is too tired to get out of his stance, and little Maurice breaks it for 40 yards and the last score of the game, which gives the Lombardies a 34-20 victory. Dr. Z's bet, taking the 12½, sinks beneath the waves with all hands singing Nearer My God To Thee.

And I swear to you folks, that's the way it happened.