Seven teams are 7-7.
Yes, all but one of those teams that are 7-7 have a shot at the playoffs, a vision of parity so horrifically mediocre that it's scarier than the sight of Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box in the movie "Seven."
Let's face it: There's more 7 and 7 going on around the league than at a Naval officer's club during happy hour. If, on the seventh day, God rested, wasn't it so he could watch some football better than the unbelievably average fare being offered by these seven squads?
The great rapper Ice Cube pays homage to the number "seven" in his free verse, "It Was A Good Day," but in Cube's case, the seven is a good thing when he's rolling bones with his compadres in the middle of the best day anybody could ever ask for. If Cube had to rap about these 7-7 teams, you'd best look for a Parental Advisory sticker on the lyric sheet.
You almost want to assign each of the seven teams a name to go with its companion dwarf from "Snow White," except you'd want to substitute "Sneezy" for a dwarf named "Soon-to-be-Pink-Slipped" to represent Pete Carroll's status with the New England Patriots, the only of the seven that has been eliminated from the playoff race.
Why, all this is almost enough to make this week's "List of Five" a "List of Seven," but in the interest of doing less work, we'll keep our standard "List of Five" a tribute to our five favorite 7-7 squads, and a look at how each record tells a different story, how beauty can truly be in the eye of the DirecTV Sunday Ticket beholder:
1. A story of delight: The 7-7 Baltimore Ravens.
Here is the only known (Stoney) Case where a 7-7 record can be cause for such happiness, it gives rise to one of the better end-zone dances of late. The Ravens won their third straight game Sunday, and celebrated one touchdown with a wild little jig where about eight players gathered in a circle, one tossed the ball high and, upon its landing, all did the Nestea plunge backward into the end zone.
Don't ask me why this is amusing. It just is. Were they simulating a bomb's explosion? Perhaps they will offend war victims. A simulation of inebriated happiness? Perhaps they will offend recovering alcoholics. A turn-of-the-century recall of the Nestea plunge? Perhaps they will offend Lipton drinkers everywhere.
But the best part of the Ravens' rise is that they are offending their own fans, who booed them for not pouring it on when they led the Saints 31-8. Booed them! Gotta love the bloodthirsty thing. And coach Brian Billick has forbidden his players from saying the "p" word: No, not parity, baby, playoffs! Hey, coach: Don't worry. You're not making the playoffs, even with the favorable finish against Cincy and New England.
So enjoy, talk playoffs, plan out permutations over Christmas dinner. Live fast, die young and leave a good looking 8-8 corpse.
2. A story of the macabre: The 7-7 New England Patriots.
If this season wasn't so sad, it would be hilarious. And if I didn't like Marin County native Pete Carroll so much, I'd be calling for his head on a pike marched down Boylston Street, like every other crazed New Englander is doing today. My humanitarian wishes aside, I think some Carroll-bashers have already petitioned the city for a parade permit. Whooo-eee.
There are freefalls and there are freefalls, but what the Pats have done in losing five of their last six -- capped by the ultimate disgrace, a loss at Philly -- wouldn't be allowed among the most lax of carnival rides. A somber, moist-eyed Carroll said his team "squatted" at Veteran's Stadium. We can only draw one image from that, Petey, and it ain't pretty. It doesn't smell too good, either. Kind of like this whole New England season.
3. A story of bewilderment: The 7-7 Oakland Raiders.
So, I give you 44 points and the Bucs before last Sunday's kickoff at the Oakland Coliseum. You wake up Monday morning wearing a barrel, and signing over your mortgage to me, thank you very much. How about that one? Forty-five to nothing? It was such a pantsing, even Jon Gruden was caught smiling on the sidelines. Yeah, the same Gruden who has spent his first two years as an NFL coach giving that whole I-just-beer-bonged-a-pint-of-vinegar facial expression.
You know, people, if the Bills fold like a beach chair and lose their last two, you could be looking at a Raiders team in the playoffs. And you know, people, the Raiders might quietly have one of the best offenses in the league. And you know, people, they've beaten Buffalo and Seattle and Minnesota and Tampa Bay and -- wait! Oh, man! I was having a nightmare there. See, I actually thought the Raiders could piece together two consecutive games and go on to beat the -- oh, never mind. Clearly, I was delusional.
4. A story of George: The 7-7 Carolina Panthers.
When George Seifert took that Panthers job, everyone in San Francisco cringed. Well, there goes that whole Vince Lombardi thing. I mean, look: Seifert had the best winning percentage in NFL history, had five Super Bowl rings as an assistant and head coach, had a house out in Bodega Bay, Calif., had more money than God. In sum, he had a great reputation, a killer tan and the world in his palm.
So he goes to Carolina, one of the biggest messes in the league. Formula for disaster. Fast-forward to last Saturday: There's Fighter Pilot George, doing his nostril sniff, skippering a win over -- guess who? -- the 49ers for a 7-7 mark and a legit shot at the playoffs.
The Panthers are playing hard, no one has quit on Seifert and he owns wins over Green Bay and the 49ers in his last two weeks, some pretty neat closure for a guy haunted by both teams. All right, G-Man. You win.
5. A story of weakness: The 7-7 Dallas Cowboys.
Is it me, or did these guys used to be good? Sad to see Troy Aikman and the 'Boys blowing their sixth second-half lead of the season. Quoth the Troy Man: "It's hard to imagine being 7-7 and still thinking you could be a playoff team, but we can."
And that, Mr. Aikman, is my whole point. Thanks for the exit line, pal.
Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Examiner writes a weekly "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" column for ESPN.com.