This is shaping up as the most action-packed NFL season of all time. Can you remember a year when more stuff happened before Thanksgiving?
Think about everything that has happened since Labor Day: Brett Favre finding the Fountain of Youth; CameraGate turning the Pats into the Cobra Kai Yankees; Adrian Peterson threatening to become the Barry Sanders of his generation; the dueling quests for 19-0 and 0-16; the running-up-the-score debates (one of the top-10 sports radio topics ever); Michael Vick’s incredible fall from grace; big-time years from two spectacular receivers (Moss and T.O.); an increasingly bitter Colts-Pats rivalry; Brady’s quest to shatter the TD record; the Norv Turner Face climbing to new heights; another Ricky Williams comeback; Roger Goodell turning into Buford Pusser; the Cris Carter-Steve Smith interview; one of the greatest “Monday Night Football” games ever (Favre beating the Broncos with the OT bomb to Greg Jennings); the Saints improbably climbing back from 0-4; Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger emerging as big-time QBs; the Browns finally waking up as a potential playoff team; Jimmy Kimmel getting banned from “MNF”; Herm Edwards shattering the Unintentional Comedy Scale on “Hard Knocks”; Vinny Testaverde’s improbable comeback; Andy Reid’s bizarre season; Jon Kitna and God’s Team potentially sneaking into the playoffs; the Travis Henry Show (which should really be a reality show); Tiki Barber’s quiet run for the Ewing Theory Hall of Fame; and the Niners potentially handing over a top-three pick to the Patriots in 2008.
And that’s just the stuff I could remember off the top of my head. More importantly, we’re looking at a 2007 playoffs in which five teams have a realistic chance of winning the Super Bowl: New England (the team of the decade and the NFL’s biggest villain since the Raiders of the late ’70s); Indianapolis (the defending champs); Pittsburgh and Dallas (arguably, the two most popular franchises in the country); and Green Bay (the NFL franchise with the most history, the best stadium and the most popular player). If you were picking five teams to battle in January for a Super Bowl trophy under the criteria, “Which five teams would generate the most interest?” … I mean, wouldn’t you pick those five teams?
SPORTS GAL’S PICKS
The Sports Gal promises to return to ranting next week. In the meantime, here are her Week 11 picks: Chargers +3; Browns -2.5; Jets +9.5; Cowboysl -10.5; Dolphins +10; Bucs -3; Raiders +5; Cards +3; Colts -14.5; Giants -2.5; Texans -1; Packers -9.5; 49ers +3; Bears +5.5; Pats -16; Broncos -2.
Last Week: 7-7
The way it’s lining up right now, we’re looking at six riveting playoff games out of a possible 11: Colts-Steelers in Round 2; the Pats possibly putting an undefeated record on the line in a Round 2 game; the Packers hosting a divisional playoff game on the Frozen Tundra; the Pats playing Indy/Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game; Cowboys-Packers in the NFC Championship Game; and whatever the Super Bowl matchup turns out to be. When’s the last time we had six kick-butt playoff games in one month? And if the Patriots were going for a perfect season in the Super Bowl against the Packers or Cowboys, wouldn’t that break every ratings record? Who’s not watching that game? Would there ever be a harder Super Bowl ticket to get than Pats-Cowboys or Pats-Packers?
Maybe we can’t answer that question for another 10 weeks, but we can definitely bang out the Week 11 picks. By the way, I’m guaranteeing 10 wins this week or you’ll get a full refund for this column.
(Home teams in caps)
JAGUARS (-3) over Chargers
The Chargers were an Adam Vinatieri shank away from blowing a game in which they got five interceptions (they added a sixth after the shank) and two special-teams touchdowns. Even for Norv Turner, that would have been amazing. I can’t take them seriously anymore. I just can’t. When they make the video of San Diego’s 2007 season, it should just be a one-hour loop of Phil Rivers awkwardly scrambling around and chucking the ball out of bounds, followed by that crazed close-up of Norv’s face in the second half Sunday when it looked like he might be having a nervous breakdown, then LaDainian Tomlinson breaking down in that news conference after the Packers game. That’s all we need to see.
(Random question: Did you know that LaDainian’s wife is named LaTorsha? Do you think LDT openly looked for someone whose name began with “La,” or did he like her already and the “La” pushed it over the top? I can’t wait for them to start having kids.)
Browns (-2.5) over RAVENS
For the past three weeks, I’ve been riding the high-scoring Browns like I’m Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.” (In retrospect, we should have known they were good right after Week 5, after their inspired quest to cover a 16½-point spread against the Patriots.) Do you realize they have a chance to finish 12-4? Here’s Cleveland’s schedule the rest of the way: at Baltimore; Houston; at Arizona; at the Jets; Buffalo; at Cincy; San Fran. Stick the ice pick under your mattress and start riding the Browns.
(The only potential drawback for Cleveland bettors: In terms of clock management, Romeo Crennel makes Herm Edwards look like a Rhodes Scholar. Have you ever seen a coach blow two timeouts on the same play like Crennel did in the waning minutes of the Steelers game? He called a timeout to SEE if he should challenge the go-ahead touchdown, watched the replay a few times, decided to challenge, then lost the challenge. … Of course, the Browns eventually ran out of time and had to attempt a game-tying 54-yard field goal that fell short. Did Romeo know he should have called timeout and challenged the play during that same timeout so he didn’t waste two? It’s unclear. More importantly, why hasn’t “Best Damn Sports Show” produced a “50 Worst Timeouts” show yet? Don’t we have enough of them stockpiled at this point?)
JETS (+9.5) over Steelers
I loved what we saw from “Ben” (as every announcer lovingly calls him) in the Cleveland game last week. You have to admit, he pulled out all the stops to win that one. If you were making a list of quarterbacks you’d want for the next five years, after Brady and Manning, the next two guys would be Romo and “Ben” in some order, and I have absolutely no idea who’d be fifth. Derek Anderson? Carson Palmer? Drew Brees? The only thing we know for sure is that it’s definitely NOT Alex Smith. Anyway, I like the way the Steelers are playing right now, but we have too many favorites in that 9- to 11-point range this week, and you know what that means …
Redskins (+10.5) over COWBOYS
… everyone and their degenerate brother will be making three-team teasers this week …
Dolphins (+10) over EAGLES
… which means the Eagles, Steelers, Cowboys and/or Packers are either losing or squeaking out one of those heart-attack, three-point wins. I’m picking the first three teams just to be safe.
(By the way, the most underrated 2007 sports media story was how the talking heads and radio hosts debated Andy Reid’s family life for a solid week. I don’t know him. I don’t know his troubled kids. I don’t have any information about the situation other than what has been reported, but that’s not stopping me from plowing ahead, anyway: Andy Reid needs to leave the Eagles and be with his family. I think we’ve reached a stage in sports when you have to have an opinion on EVERYTHING, even if you come off like an ass in the process.)
FALCONS (+3) Buccaneers
Who else is excited for somebody to win the NFC South with a 7-9 record??? I’m downright giddy. Come on, Falcons!!!! Salvage my sleeper pick! Come on! Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!!!!!!!
Raiders (+5) over VIKINGS
Blame me for Adrian Peterson’s injury: After the 296-yard game, I sent out some taunting e-mails in my West Coast fantasy league that inadvertently injured Peterson’s knee a few days later. It’s all my fault. That reminds me, you might remember me writing about my quest to go undefeated in my Week 7 picks column: I ended up losing by two points in Week 8 because Jay Cutler bounced a game-winning TD pass to Brandon Marshall at the end of the Packers-Broncos game; in Week 10, I was down by 17 points heading into Sunday night with Tomlinson and Vernon Davis left for me … and I ended up losing by two because Tomlinson had a pedestrian game (for him) and Davis threw up a goose egg. Now I’m 8-2 and Peterson might be done for the season.
The lesson, as always: If your fantasy team is undefeated, it’s a terrible idea to write an entire column about it and/or send out taunting e-mails like this one: “999 points thru 9 weeks! Just remember, when Wilt scored 100 points against the Knicks, eventually, the Knicks all learned to appreciate that they were part of history that day. The same will happen for all of you … anyway, relish the next two months and enjoy being in the same league with such an unforgettable team. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all winners.”
BENGALS (-3) over Cardinals
God, I hate this game …
Cardinals (+3) over BENGALS
That doesn’t feel right, either …
BENGALS (-3) over Cardinals
Neither does this …
Cardinals (+3) over BENGALS
I just don’t know … I can’t predict the push, right?
BENGALS (-3) over Cardinals
Screw it, let’s just move on …
COLTS (-14.5) over Chiefs
I see Indy running this one up to regain its mojo a little. By the way, I’m furious about all these Colts injuries that probably killed their season. The football fan in me is furious because this particular Colts team was built for cold weather/January football, which would have made the AFC Championship Game a helluva lot more interesting than the Steelers getting blown out in Foxborough (which is where we’re headed). The Patriots fan in me is furious because a 19-0 season wouldn’t feel quite the same if they didn’t beat the Colts twice.
Simmons (74-77-9): Packers (-3) over LIONS; Jets (+14) over COWBOYS; Colts (-12) over FALCONS.
Sports Gal (83-68-8): Packers (-3); Jets +14; Colts -12.
You know what it’s like, actually? When the ’86 Celtics were slapping together the greatest NBA season ever, they avenged the ’85 Finals in two regular-season wins over the Lakers, rolled through the East in the playoffs and were poised to destroy Showtime as we knew it. So what happened? The Lakers never showed up! They got smoked in the West finals by an underrated Houston team. To this day, every Celtics fan feels cheated by the fact we didn’t get the Lakers. The following season, the Celtics fought back to the Finals despite a wave of injuries and lost to the Lakers in six, and now I have to watch Magic’s Sky Hook for the rest of my life instead of whatever Bird would have unleashed on them in the ’86 Finals, and only because the ’87 Celtics had more dignity and pride than the ’86 Lakers. How the hell is that fair? I feel the same about what’s happening with the 2007 Colts. If the Pats could claw their way to the AFC Championship Game with a battered secondary and a CFL receiving corps, then the Colts should do the same this season without Freeney and with Harrison limping around. It’s only fair.
GOD’S TEAM (+2.5) over Giants
I have to admit, the Giants roped me in with the winning streak and all the “Coughlin is a good guy now!” stories. When the Cowboys smoked them in Jersey last week, I wasn’t even thinking, “Wow, I’m an idiot!” but “Good God, what happened???” Then I looked at their 2007 schedule again and saw the six victims in that aforementioned winning streak: Washington, Philly, the Jets, Atlanta, San Fran and Miami. Why didn’t I notice that before the Giants game? Because I’m an idiot. Anyway, I’m going with God’s Team and predicting the long-awaited Calvin Johnson Fantasy Breakout Week.
TEXANS (-1) over Saints
Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. Reggie Bush. Mario Williams. …
PACKERS (-9.5) over Panthers
Remember the scene in “Caddyshack” when the bishop was having the round of his life in a pouring rainstorm and every putt was dropping? That has been Brett Favre for the past 10 weeks. And, yeah, the media has beaten this to death. But isn’t this one of those rare stories that can’t really be beaten to death? Some of these Packers games have had endings more improbable than some of the “Friday Night Lights” endings. When he killed Denver in OT with the Jennings bomb, it was like watching the bishop drain the putt that went past the hole and back for a birdie. I’m tired of picking against Green Bay — clearly, something is happening here that transcends sports. And if it ends with Favre throwing a critical interception in the Super Bowl, looking at the sky and screaming “RAT FARTS!” then getting hit by lightning, so be it.
(Random stat of the year: In six out of nine games, the Panthers have used two quarterbacks or more. Last week, they used three. Like everyone else, I’m excited to see how Steve Smith will snap over the next seven weeks. It’s going to be epic.)
Rams (-3) over NINERS
Having San Fran’s No. 1 pick next year is like owning a casino and seeing Charles Barkley walk in.
Bears (+5.5) over SEAHAWKS
I know, I know … Rex on the road. But if this Seattle team has proven anything over the past few years of the Holmgren Era, it’s this: Just when you think you can count on them to cover a game, they’ll shoot 200 mph of air into your head like Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” And you won’t see it coming, either. All of the sudden, there’s just a hole in your head.
(By the way, if somebody has a good explanation for the last 25 minutes of that movie, I’d love to hear it. Everyone at my theater applauded when it was over, like something special had just happened. Meanwhile, I was sitting there going, “Wait, it’s over? What the hell just happened?” Without spoiling it, from the moment we see a hotel pool for the first time, the wheels come off so fast that it’s like Norv Turner took over for the Coen Brothers. So frustrating. If you see one movie this year, go see “Michael Clayton,” George Clooney’s movie about a second-year NFL receiver who kills more than 200,000 fantasy teams. Just kidding. It’s fantastic.)
Patriots (-16) over BILLS
Come on, you missed having the Pats around a little last weekend. It’s OK. You can admit it. Meanwhile, here’s an intriguing e-mail from Jim in Boston: “I want the Patriots to bring back Doug Flutie out of retirement for the sole purpose of kicking an ‘eff-you’ drop kick. This will hopefully occur in Week 15, just before halftime with the Pats up 84-0 against the Jets. During the postgame news conference, Belichick will deadpan to the reporters, ‘Hey we’re just playing the game — what did you want us to do, kick a field goal?’ This has to happen.”
(That reminds me, I can’t wait for the Belichick-Mangini handshake after the carnage is finally over in Week 15. Every week when Belichick does the handshake, he has the same satisfied smirk on his face that someone has when they’re meeting the boyfriend of a kinky ex-girlfriend — like he’s particularly delighted to make eye contact for that split-second as they’re shaking hands. The Mangini handshake is going to be epic. He’s going to look like Ray J meeting Kim Kardashian’s new boyfriend at Le Deux.)
BRONCOS (-2) over Titans
Reason No. 43,587 why I hate making picks Friday morning: Sending them in, then finding out a few hours later that Albert Haynesworth is out for Week 10.
(Flash-forward to next weekend, when Reason No. 43,588 is “Sending them in, then finding out a few hours later that Albert Haynesworth is in for Week 11.”)
Last Week: 6-8
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.