Recently in the Grantland offices, we developed a nasty conversational habit of discussing everything like stocks. As in, “I’m in on the new security guard, I’m buying 500 shares of him,” or, “I can’t believe how much I enjoy Diet Dr Pepper, I’m selling my Diet Coke shares.” It’s a stupid, indefensible, annoying and strangely addictive gimmick. Things went too far when the buying/selling routine started affecting my approach to football gambling — specifically, the days leading up to Week 2 in the NFL, that 120-hour stretch when we stare down eight to 10 teams and wonder, “After what I just witnessed in Week 1, am I in or out?”
A good example: the Lions of Detroit. I liked them as a sleeper this summer and flaked when so many others came to the same conclusion. You never want too many people saying you’re sleeping; just ask the 2010 Houston Texans. Since the Lions were relying on three key skill guys with checkered injury histories (Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best and Matthew Stafford If He Stays Healthy), I stubbornly decided, “I’m going the other way on the Lions, I think they’ll be this year’s ‘The Bandwagon Collapses From All The Weight’ team.” When they pummeled my Patriots in Week 3 of the preseason — with noticeable/likable/undeniable swagger, by the way — I amended that feeling to, “I’m still going against them, but if they handle their business in Tampa Bay in Week 1, I’ll happily sell my Bucs shares and grab some Detroit shares.”
Well, they handled their business in Week 1. The most intriguing part: The Lions didn’t even play well. Their opening 12-play drive stalled inside the 10 (Lions 3, Bucs 0); they gave up a 78-yard kickoff return that led to a tying field goal (Lions 3, Bucs 3); Stafford If He Stays Healthy threw a pick-six on their second possession to Aqib Talib Who Battled Legal Problems In The Offseason (Bucs 10, Lions 3); then the Lions had another 11-play drive stall inside the 15 (Bucs 10, Lions 6). In the second quarter, they swung momentum by picking off a Josh Freeman bomb, then going for it on fourth-and-2 at Tampa’s 36 and getting a Calvin Johnson touchdown catch out of it. (By the way, if the Lions accomplish anything significant this season, we’ll remember that play as their “Take us seriously, WE ARE NOT EFFING AROUND!!!!” moment.) From there, they played a quarter and a half of beautiful football in a 21-3 run that iced the game.
You know what really swayed me? In garbage time, one of Detroit’s offensive lineman committed an unnecessary roughness penalty that stopped the clock and eventually gave Tampa just enough time to consider a Hail Mary sequence that even the great Jaaaaaaaaaaash Freeman!!!!! couldn’t pull off. On the sideline, a furious Jim Schwartz looked like Christian Bale ready to freak out on a key grip. It ruined the win for him. That’s what I want from my party-crashing playoff teams — don’t break your arms patting each other on the back, don’t be satisfied, win ugly if you don’t have it, always play aggressively. The Lions played a C-plus game on the road — in insufferably hot conditions against a decent team — and won fairly handily. Sold. I’m buying 500 shares of Lions stock and holding onto them for as long as their offense remains healthy. It’s the smart move.
As for the other Week 1 overachievers and underachievers …
4th and 1 at NE 1 C.Henne pass incomplete short left to B.Hartline.
1st and 10 at NE 1 (Shotgun) T.Brady pass deep left to W.Welker for 99 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
TAMPA BAY: Even if Freeman got banged up in last week’s loss, the Lions had the ball for more than 36 minutes, Tampa’s front seven barely touched Matty Ice Pack, and LeGarrette Blount moved into pole position for 2011′s Alvin Harper Memorial “Guy Who Definitely Went 12 Bucks Too High In Every Fantasy Auction” award. I like Tampa’s next four games (at Minny, home for Atlanta, home for Indy, at San Fran) and can’t write them off. But the magic marker has been brought out. SELLING: 500 of my 1,000 shares.
WASHINGTON & BUFFALO: Not yet, fellas. Show me another week.
CLEVELAND: Remember when Miami ran that awful fade pass on fourth-and-goal to Brian Hartline in Monday’s Pats-Dolphins game, the classic “trying to get too cute” football play that seemingly works about 12.77 percent of the time because four things can go wrong1 and only one thing can go right? And remember how the Football Gods paid them back for their idiocy with Wes Welker’s 99-yard touchdown on the next play? Well, I ran that version of the fourth-and-goal fade pass in last week’s NFL preview, rolling the dice with Baltimore to miss the playoffs and Cleveland to jump in its place. In retrospect, we’ll remember that plan as the second-worst idea of the fall, behind The Playboy Club. After the Bengals hung around for three quarters, then ran a trick play for A.J. Green’s go-ahead touchdown catch in the fourth, Colt McCoy completed just 3 of 12 passes for 20 yards and a pick in crunch time. What happened? Put it this way: There’s a reason Mohamed Massaquoi, Greg Little, Brian Robiskie, Josh Cribbs, Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore didn’t get drafted in your fantasy league. You can’t make the playoffs in the National Football League if you can’t play from behind. SELLING: All 1,000 shares.
INDIANAPOLIS: (Glancing away awkwardly.)
PITTSBURGH: Every September, a contender gets destroyed in Week 1 and we try to figure out what it means. The consensus? Let’s not get carried away with Week 1. Remember when the 2003 Bills crushed New England 31-0, then the Pats ended up winning the Super Bowl and Buffalo finished 6-10? Well, there have been nine decisive Week 1 “Let’s Not Get Carried Away” beatings since then.
2004: Pack 24, Panthers 14 (Finishes: Pack 10-6, Panthers 7-9)
2005: Lions 17, Packers 3 (Finishes: Lions 5-11, Packers 4-12)
2006: Falcons 20, Panthers 6 (Finishes: Falcons 7-9, Panthers 8-8)
2006: Bengals 27, Ravens 20 (Finishes: Bengals 7-9, Ravens 5-11)
2007: Chargers 14, Bears 3 (Finishes: Chargers 11-5, Bears 7-9)
2008: Bears 29, Colts 13 (Finishes: Bears 9-7, Colts 12-4)
2009: Eagles 38, Panthers 10 (Finishes: Eagles 11-5, Panthers 8-8)
2010: Texans 34, Colts 24 (Finishes: Texans 8-8, Colts 10-6)
2010: Chiefs 21, Chargers 14 (Finishes: Chiefs 10-6, Chargers 9-7)
Seven of nine times, the “contender” that got whupped in Week 1 made everyone say, “Don’t worry, it’s only Week 1!” and eventually missed the playoffs anyway. Only Manning’s Colts (2008, 2010) fought it off. After that Ravens pounding, I thought about Pittsburgh’s offseason turmoil (extensive), the Super Bowl Loser Curse2 and their possibly aging defense (the oldest in the league), then took one of those “Todd Palin hearing the Glen Rice story for the first time” gulps. Look, it’s totally likely that (a) Pittsburgh just wasn’t ready for Baltimore’s intensity and played with “Wait, I thought the lockout ended seven weeks ago and everyone was supposed to be a little sloppy in Week 1, what are you guys doing?” vigor, and (b) it was a classic “No Effing Way” game (like when the computer decides there’s no way you’re winning a Madden game and crazy things start happening). But still … as someone who would have wagered heavily on Pittsburgh’s 2011 over (10.5 wins) if gambling were legal … I’m a little freaked out. Hold me. SELLING: 500 of 1,500 shares.
BALTIMORE: When you make football predictions, you have to take chances because (a) the league is specifically designed for weird things to happen every year (thanks to the NFL’s quest for perpetual parity), and (b) nobody wants to read 4,000 words of someone going chalk. I gambled on a 9-7 Ravens season and Baltimore fans went crazy. You hate us! You always go against us! What do you have against the Ravens????? After the Ravens trounced Pittsburgh this past Sunday, you can only imagine what happened to my e-mail inbox. My only hesitation: That game clearly meant more to the Ravens. My counter to that hesitation: Of the Week 1 teams, only New England, Green Bay and Baltimore had what our friend Mike Lombardi calls “The Look.” You know it when you see it. I saw it with the Ravens last week. BUYING: 500 shares.
N.Y. GIANTS: If you have any friends who root for the Giants, casually slip this question into your next football conversation: “Do you guys think you’ll trade Eli when you get the rights to Luck?” Then wait for the double take and the stammering. SELLING: Sold my shares before the season, feeling good about it.
ATLANTA: The whole “Atlanta is making the leap!” angle always seemed flimsy; now the Falcons follow a Week 1 no-show by hosting Vick’s Eagles on
Monday Sunday night without their two best defensive tackles. Yikes. Their only silver lining: Couldn’t 9-7 grab an NFC playoff spot this season? If we’re looking at a wild-card pool of Dallas, Washington, Detroit, Tampa, Atlanta, Chicago and the Giants,3 do you feel confident in two of those teams winning 10 games? Me neither. SELLING: Sold my shares before the season.
DALLAS: In Tuesday’s BS Report with Cousin Sal, I compared Tony Romo’s big-game performance to Kenny from South Park — you know he’s dying in every episode, you just don’t know how. Scott from Dallas summed it up even better a few hours after the Jets’ collapse: “I’d like to propose a new statistic: It seems unfair that all interceptions, fumbles, drops, and mistakes are equally weighted, when clearly some are more costly than others. Why not identify the most boneheaded or disastrous offensive play of each NFL game and dub it ‘The Romo?’ This might give us a better picture of the win/loss contributions of a player. So when someone says a quarterback threw for 4,200 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, you can counter with, ‘Yeah, but he led the league in Romos!’”
It’s a great idea for multiple reasons, but mainly because Romo’s destiny seems to be “star-crossed quarterback whose legacy became a negative QB stat that we used for the rest of our lives.” Also, it sounds a little catchier than “QBR,” and it’s something that could have a dramatic difference in Grantland’s Bad QB League if we ever figured out an official way to score it. For instance, I’d argue that Kyle Orton committed a Romo on Monday night when he inexplicably dropped that ball against the Raiders right as Denver was riding a wave of momentum. But they were trailing at the time, so, arguably, you could say it was a borderline Romo or even a half-Romo. (See how easily this works?) Either way, this can’t be a good development for the 2011 Cowboys … and that’s before we get to their defensive back crisis, or how the single dumbest decision of the summer was Dallas keeping Terence Newman for $8 million instead of cutting him and splurging on Nnamdi Asomugha. I wish I could have my “Dallas will win the NFC East” pick back. SELLING: 750 of 1,000 shares.
KANSAS CITY: The Chiefs looked like 2011′s “Mortal Lock To Regress” Team even before losing Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry (two of their key players). My buddy Connor (die-hard Chiefs fan) points out that they are $27.5 million below the salary cap, adding, “I think they spend the least amount of money in the league, no idea why this never comes up. Any injury kills them because they haven’t spent any money on depth. Berry is the Chiefs’ best defensive player and probably the second-best player on the team behind Jamaal Charles. Your boy Barnwell has the guy replacing Berry as the second-worst player in the league.” Move over, Indianapolis — there’s a new contender in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. SELLING: Sold my shares before the season, doing backflips.
ST. LOUIS: Allow me to be the voice of reason. First, the Rams’ defense handled the Eagles pretty well — Vick made four or five “If I were anyone else, you’d have the sack here and we’d be punting” highlight plays that eventually sucked the marrow out of the D. Second, St. Louis’s offense looked fine until Steven Jackson limped off and they replaced him with Cadillac Williams, causing just about everyone to say, “Wait, is that … is that Cadillac Williams?”4 And third, anyone who caught the Niners-Seahawks stinker or watched Cam Newton shred Arizona’s secondary can tell you, without hesitation, that the NFC West will be keeping its streak alive of being the Hung of NFL divisions in 2011. (You know, the one that makes you say, “Hold on a second, we’re going through this again???”) I can’t sell my Rams stock until I see them play an NFC West team. Unfortunately, that means I’ll have to see them play an NFC West team. But still. SELLING: 0 of 1,000 shares.
Let’s tackle the Week 2 picks …
(Home teams in CAPS.)
BILLS (-3.5) over Raiders
Do you go “Don’t take a West Coast team playing a 1 p.m. Sunday game on the East Coast 5½ days after playing the late game in a Monday-night doubleheader” or “Don’t take a Chan Gailey team giving more than three points unless it’s a UFL, Arena Football or Mountain West game” here? I’m leaning toward the Bills only because the Raiders are banged up and haven’t been 2-0 since Al Davis was alive.
LIONS (-9) over Chiefs
A good Vegas value game: You have a potentially overvalued team (Detroit) going against a potentially undervalued team (KC). Except … I think those values are dead-on. I’d lay two touchdowns to the free-falling Chiefs, so it’s almost like getting five free points. Meanwhile, here’s a great idea from Mark in Pittsburgh: “You know how we feel the need to put ‘male’ before certain occupations (nurse, secretary, flight attendant)? Shouldn’t we do the same for sideline reporters? ‘Let’s go to Mike Lombardi, our male sideline reporter … ‘” Done.
TITANS (+6) over Ravens
The kind of game that the Ravens should win handily if they’re really good. Quietly at stake as the undercard: Ray Rice stealing the BRBA (Best Running Back Alive) championship belt from Chris Johnson. It’s in play. I’m grabbing the points only because Week 1 overvalued the Ravens and undervalued the Titans — you’re getting an extra two points here for no real reason.
Browns (-2.5) over COLTS
If I showed this line to Colts fans six weeks ago and said, “This will be the line for your Week 2 game against the Browns,” they would have asked things like, “Are the Browns about to trade a 2012 third-round pick for Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson?” and “Did our entire team get malaria?” Speaking of catastrophes, I’m launching a new segment in the NFL picks column this season: the NBA Lockout Watch, sponsored by Anusol. That’s right, Anusol, the cream you should buy for your itchy anus. If you’re clawing at your anus like a bear trying to break through a camper’s tent, it’s time for Anusol. Anyway, here’s this week’s edition of the Anusol NBA Lockout Watch (feel free to skip four paragraphs to the next game) …
After wasting nearly the whole summer pointing fingers, leaking stories to reporters and doing everything except getting in a room and negotiating, Billy Hunter’s side finally came down a little … and, of course, instead of just agreeing on a better revenue split (right now it’s 57/43 for the players, but both sides know it will land somewhere around 51/49), four-year maxes for guaranteed contracts (easily achievable, and absolutely necessary because teams literally can’t stop themselves from overpaying players and being crippled by their deals) and a slightly harder salary cap — three moves that would have gotten us 87 percent of the way there — a few of the newer owners (Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert and Phoenix’s Robert Sarver are the biggies) are now pushing for even more stuff and that’s bogging everything down. This faction believes the players’ side is crumbling because a few of the biggest NBA agents (Jeff Schwartz, Arn Tellem, etc.) lost faith in Hunter and are investigating the decertification process (which would be THE dumbest thing they could do). These owners don’t just want to win this lockout, they want to take a hatchet to 65 years of progress by NBA players … who, by the way, did nothing wrong other than continue to cash in on the ridiculous contracts that owners kept giving them.
Let’s take a step back and consider the stupidity of this. Sarver and Gilbert both overpaid for their teams and hope to blow up the system, then create a more favorable one that would cover up the fact that they overpaid for their teams. In Gilbert’s case, he coddled LeBron for years, overpaid just about every player on his team (did Daniel Gibson write his deal himself?), showed no roster savvy whatsoever (his front office was really the Bizarro Sam Presti), crippled his own cap season after season, then flipped out when LeBron finally said, “I gotta get out of here, I need to play with better players”5 … and now he blames “the system” for what happened because there are apparently no mirrors in his house. Sarver overpaid for the Suns, realized it about a year later, then spent the next few years pinching pennies … which would have been fine if he didn’t have a legitimate chance to win the title from 2005 to 2008 and also in 2010. He’s the kind of guy who watched Steve Kerr build a team that came within a couple of breaks of making the 2010 Finals, then offered Kerr a pay cut. His fans hate him; hell, his own players hate him. When I made a few Sarver/Gilbert tweets yesterday, Steve Nash retweeted one of the anti-Sarver tweets.
Why do two owners with CLEAR AGENDAS like Sarver and Gilbert have any input here? It’s a great question. The NFL had three of its best and most ruthless owners (Bob Kraft, Jerry Jones and Jerry Richardson) handling its lockout; the NBA has the likes of Sarver, Gilbert, New York’s James Dolan and Minnesota’s Glen Taylor involved. Have you watched how they run their teams? For god’s sake, Taylor just splurged on a coach (Rick Adelman) who told him in no uncertain terms, “I am not answering to your current GM,” so instead of firing that GM (David Kahn, the least respected GM in the league by a landslide), Taylor decided, “OK, you don’t have to answer to him” AND KEPT BOTH GUYS!!!!!!!! And Dolan is Dolan — he’s basically the train from Unstoppable at all times. Why should I expect those four owners to have great insight into solving something as complicated as a labor dispute?
And are we really missing games over this? You should have labor stoppages only because of real issues — like what we had in 1964, when the players nearly sat out the All-Star Game in Boston because they were being treated so badly, or in 1998, when the players were suddenly making so much money that the owners needed a better way to protect themselves. We’re not even close to that. I can tell you right now where we’re ending up: 51/49 split, four-year max deals, slightly harder cap. So effing get there already. Enough with the posturing. And by the way, both sides could mention the fans once in a while, or show at least a little urgency that they’re about to blow all momentum from one of the best seasons in the history of the league. If they think anyone except for die-hard basketball fans will care that there’s no NBA in October, November and December — when we’ll be focused on the baseball playoffs, the NFL and college football — then they’re even more delusional than I thought. I hate everybody in this. Seriously. Both sides make me want to throw up. That was your Anusol NBA Lockout Watch for this week. Back to football.
VIKINGS (-3) over Bucs
Remember when Drew Bledsoe, Daunte Culpepper and Dan Marino lost it almost overnight, but it took us about 15 months to realize it? I think we’re there with Donovan McNabb. But the Vikings can sneak out a couple of “Let’s ride Adrian Peterson into the ground” performances until the league totally realizes it. PS: I think Tampa loses this game, then wins its next five.
Bears (+6.5) over SAINTS
Upset special: Bears 34, Saints 24. I don’t think the Saints can play defense anymore. By the way, I spent $19 on Marques Colston in my West Coast fantasy auction, then another $7 on Robert Meachem as a receiver handcuff for the inevitable Colston injury … and, of course, Colston broke his collarbone in Week 1. Instead of handcuffs, I still say we should pick six fantasy football tandems each season and agree to combine their stats as one superguy: This year, Marqbert Colchem, Aarob Gronkandez, Marren Sprolegram, Ryames Granarks, Ryanike Mathbert and Ben-Danvis Greenwood Ellis-Head would have gone for big bucks.
GIANTS (-6) over Rams
Hate this pick.
Rams (+6) over GIANTS
Hate this pick 0.00035 percent more.
GIANTS (-6) over Rams
(Shaking my head … )
REDSKINS (-4) over Cardinals
Packers (-10) over PANTHERS
I watched that Cards-Panthers game pretty closely last week and came away convinced that those are two of the five worst teams in the league: Arizona’s secondary would have been the single worst thing I witnessed on Sunday if not for the final episode of Entourage, and Carolina was such a mess defensively that it made Kevin Kolb look somewhat competent (making matters worse, the Panthers lost Jon Beason for the season). But because they played each other, it seems like bettors mistakenly came away thinking, “Arizona might be back with Kolb!” and “Carolina’s offense is gonna be exciting this year with Cam Newton and Steve Smith!” which is why both of their Week 2 lines landed three points too low. You’ll see.
Cowboys (-3) over 49ERS
Another example of Week 1 results stupidly affecting Week 2 spreads: Dallas dominated that Jets game and blew it because of Romo’s Romo and a blocked punt; San Fran couldn’t move the ball against Seattle and won only because Ted Ginn Jr. went bonkers in the fourth quarter.6 Dallas’s monstrosity of a secondary will be exploited eventually (Week 4 vs. Detroit, Week 6 vs. New England), just not by Alex Smith. Semi-related: If you asked me for “This will be the number of wins it takes to win the NFC West” odds, I would think about it for between two and 12 hours, then come back with 10 wins (+500), nine (+200), eight (even), seven (+180) and six (+450) … and be terrified that you’d take the “six wins” bet.
JETS (-9) over Jaguars
STEELERS (-14) over Seahawks
“Wow, you got me a gift? That’s so nice … hold on, lemme open it. (Opening present.) Wow, it’s Luke McCown and Tarvaris Jackson playing on the road against good defenses! You shouldn’t have!”
Bengals (+3.5) over BRONCOS
Was anyone else stunned by Denver fans lustily booing Kyle Orton on Monday night? What happened to the mellow Denver fans we knew and loved? You would have thought Orton was trying to pass anti-marijuana legislation or something. I’d call this a home-field disadvantage for the Broncos. Meanwhile, the Bengals played well in Cleveland — they could absolutely control the clock with their running game like Oakland did and do just enough defensively to win. And if they do, you realize their next five games (San Fran, Buffalo, at Jacksonville, Indy, BYE, at Seattle) were baked by a pastry chef, right? I’m putting down $100 on 100-to-1 odds that Carson Palmer’s comeback for the 6-0 Bengals during their bye week will bring back memories of Dirk Diggler’s emotional return to Jack Horner’s house.
Texans (-3.5) over DOLPHINS
I’m still trying to figure out how Tom Brady didn’t break Norm Van Brocklin’s passing record in Monday night’s game against the Dolphins. Every pass play seemed like it could have gone for between 10 and 50 yards; you would have thought Miami was playing two guys down because of two red cards. Throw in the Dolphins’ lack of home-field advantage (1-8 in their past nine at home) and the Ben Tate bandwagon (still time to hop on) and I’m thoroughly confused by this line.
Chargers (+7) over PATRIOTS
Another overvalue/undervalue situation: The Pats looked superhuman in Miami, while San Diego had everything go wrong in that Vikings game (it started with the Chargers giving up a kick return TD and their kicker blowing out his knee, so they eventually had to go for fourth-and-longs a couple of times) and squeaked out a game that never should have been close. I can’t see either defense getting off the field in this game. By the way, Tom Brady is putting Pats fans through the grinder right now: He’s playing with his hair Vujacic-style on the sideline, he’s throwing for 517 yards in one game, he’s making UGG commercials, he’s making likable cameos in Bill Belichick documentaries … the heads of Boston fans are spinning.
Eagles (+2.5) over FALCONS
I somehow ended up with Michael Vick as my quarterback in both fantasy leagues and it’s infinitely more exciting than I expected. Every play feels like it might go for 15 points. The experience reminds me of a famous Hollywood story that HAS to be an urban legend; it’s so ridiculous that I feel comfortable passing it along, only because it’s impossible that anyone could be this much of a douchebag. Anyway, back when Craig Kilborn had his CBS late-night show, he supposedly had a male actor on for two segments and they were supposedly talking about women during commercial. Either the actor didn’t realize that they were miked and everyone in the control booth could hear him, or he didn’t care. The actor asked if Kilborn had ever “had the Theron,” meaning Charlize Theron. Kilborn said no. That’s when the actor smirked, leaned in and said, “Kilby … you have GOT to try the Theron.”
Here’s the point: It takes an urban legend to describe how I feel about having Michael Vick on both fantasy teams. Kilby … you have GOT to try the Vick.
LAST WEEK: 8-7-1
Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.
Previously from Bill Simmons:
NFL Preview: It’s All About Continuity
Summer of Mailbag V: Passing the Buck
Summer of Mailbag IV: Dawn of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag III: Attack of the Mailbag!
The Glorious Return of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag: The Revenge
Red Sox Report Card
‘Good Lord! That’s His Music!’