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The New Quarterbacks’ League

With new rules, and a desire to deflect attention from head injuries, the NFL has handed the league to the guys under center

When baseball antagonized fans with the ’94 strike, the sport eventually recovered by juicing baseballs and becoming more lenient with performance-enhancing drugs. And by “lenient,” I mean “ignoring them entirely, even as head sizes swelled and sluggers grew quintupleceps.” Football’s situation isn’t nearly as bleak — heading into the 2012 season’s first weekend, the NFL remains as popular as ever — but still, the league has never faced anything as potentially damaging as concussions. (I wrote about this topic last April and won’t rehash my thoughts here.) If the 32 owners wanted to distract fans the way baseball did, they would probably take the following four steps.

1. Allow their arrogant commissioner to bestow himself with unprecedented power without any real checks and balances.

Oh wait, they did that! Roger Goodell can do whatever he wants. It’s amazing. He changes the rules as he goes along like he’s the Bachelor Pad producer or something. If the NFL’s commissionership worked like the American presidency, can you imagine the attack ads that Goodell’s competitor could run during the 2012 election?

Roger Goodell looked the other way with concussions for years and years and years. (SHOW A DAMAGING VIDEO FROM 2008.) Now he cares? (SHOW A VIDEO FROM 2011 THAT MAKES HIM LOOK LIKE A TOTAL HYPOCRITE.)

Would there be an easier incumbent candidate to topple? After the way he handled this Saints debacle, I’m seriously starting to wonder if he’s the worst sports commissioner of my lifetime. And that would be saying something because (a) Gary Bettman ran a league in my lifetime, (b) Larry O’Brien ran the NBA while being in a coma, and (c) again, Gary Bettman ran a league in my lifetime.

2. Pull a Joe McCarthy and scapegoat a signature team for being “too violent,” whether they have enough evidence or not, just to prove that they’re taking things seriously now and stuff.

Oh, wait, they did that, too. (Cut to everyone in New Orleans nodding.)

3. Lowball their officials even though the league makes billions of dollars — literally, billions and billions of dollars — and bring in a slew of inferior replacements so writers, bloggers and talking heads will waste millions of hours venting about shoddy officiating and how “THE LEAGUE NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING!!!”

Oh, wait, they did that, too! I mean … there can’t possibly be any other explanation for lowballing your officials when they make a pittance compared to your overall profits and the well-being of your players, right? If Starbucks baristas ever went on strike, would Starbucks respond by saying, “Let’s just throw homeless people behind the counter” instead of just increasing their pay from $10 an hour to $12? But that’s the thing — it’s such a stupid game plan, it HAS to be a distraction. That’s the only explanation.

4. Execute their version of “juicing the balls” by doing everything possible to ensure that “5,000 passing yards is the new 4,000″ and maybe even have one of their stars flirt with 6,000 yards this season.

Hmmmmmmmmm. I never considered this angle until Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King wrote about the faint possibility of a 6,000-yard season … but it’s pretty shrewd, right? How could the league help us get there? By subtly changing contact rules so only truly talented defensive backs can actually cover somebody. By protecting quarterbacks in the pocket to comical degrees. By overreacting with a massive fine every time a defensive back can’t change the trajectory of a tackle at the last possible split second as a receiver is ducking, making all the defensive backs so gun-shy that every game turns into a faster version of the Pro Bow— Oh, wait, they’ve done all of those things!

Was it intentional? Was there a genuine strategy here? Or am I stringing together circumstantial evidence and running with it like Oliver Stone did in JFK? The answer, clearly, is the latter. And yet, that’s going to be the outcome — this was already a Quarterback’s League, but now it’s a Quarterback’s League to a comical degree. And ultimately, 13 of them will decide what happens in the 2012 NFL season. Let’s count them down from 13 to 1.

(And no, I’m not including Tony Romo just because he looked good on Wednesday night. You can’t make me. I’m betting on Dallas’s rug-pooping track record these last 15 years over two good Romo quarters against some third-string DBs. If the Romocoaster comes back to haunt me, so be it.)

13. Peyton Manning

I wanted to leave him off, I fully expected to leave him off, and yet I couldn’t leave him off. Even the chance of him morphing back into the old Manning has to be this season’s most compelling football story. (Sorry, Every Network Trying To Cram The Jets’ Backup QB Down Our Throats.)1 In my West Coast fantasy auction on Tuesday night, I threw Manning out for two bucks and the room went silent — nobody knew what to expect. He ended up going for eight bucks. Was it a steal? Was it like setting eight bucks on fire? Nobody knew.

The case against Manning’s 2012 revival: Shouldn’t we worry that he’s throwing the ball just about as well as he did two seasons ago, before spinal fusion surgery nearly ended his career … you know, when he submitted his worst season in 12 years and secretly wasn’t that good? Or that a man of routine — someone who spent his entire career in the same city, with a stable supporting cast and coaching system, with a weatherproof dome for home games — suddenly got uprooted to a West Coast team that plays outdoors? Or that there’s a big difference between Marvin Harrison in his prime, Reggie Wayne in his prime … and Eric “Why the Hell Are You Taking Me So High In Your Fantasy Draft” Decker? Or that no 35-and-over QB truly carried a contender’s offense with one exception (Brett Favre with the 2010 Vikings, who was playing indoors with Adrian Peterson flanking him), but Manning would genuinely have to carry the 2012 Broncos for them to accomplish anything? Or that even Manning, at one point, believed there wasn’t any way he could actually make it back?

If Manning does regain his old form (or most of it), that would have to rank among the most incredible comebacks in recent sports history. Judy Battista’s recent story about him banged that point home: Not only was Manning struggling to throw a basic spiral, his shame led him to play secret games of catch with college friends who weren’t even football players. The guy had to think he was done, right? So it’s hard not to get swept up in this comeback. I include myself — a die-hard Pats fan and Brady Kool-Aid drinker who sports-hated the Manning brothers so much at one point that I even started rooting against Danieal Manning just out of principle. I missed rooting against Peyton last year, and if you want to know the truth, I missed gambling on him watching him. Was there a surer thing in football than Peyton eviscerating some patsy on a Monday night?

So it’s nice to have him back. Just don’t let it shift your attention away from Denver’s defense (definitely mediocre, possibly lousy), running game (shaky, to say the least) and undeniable potential for regression (severe considering how many victories Tebow pulled out from his sphincter last season). The 2012 Broncos aren’t as good as the 2011 Broncos. Which means they need 2006 Manning, not 2010 Manning, just to make the playoffs. If he pulls it off, the “Greatest QB of All Time” conversation will have shifted again. I can’t see it happening, but somehow, a 36-year-old QB with a fused spine and a mediocre supporting cast can’t be totally disregarded, either. That’s all you need to know about the Peyton Manning era.

12. Matthew Stafford If He Stays Healthy

Has a puncher’s chance of making a splash if something funky happens with the Bears and/or Packers (full confession: I’m not a big fan of the 2012 Lions), or if he starts flinging it for 350 yards a game (which Detroit’s lousy running backs might enable unless Mikel Leshore miraculously pans out). Where does Stafford really have a chance to shine? Highlights. Last year’s Stafford-Megatron hookups spawned the most exciting “Look at what just happened!” in-game highlights since Brady and Moss in 2007. Will that translate into a Super Bowl appearance? Noooooooo! Not a chance! Not this year, anyway. But settling for “The GP and Kemp of the 5,000-Yard Passing Era” status is better than nothing. Those Stafford-Megatron highlights will outlast them both.

11. Jay Cutler
10. Matt Schaub

Remember when the 7-3 Bears grabbed “Super Bowl Dark Horse” status for exactly 39.72 seconds before learning Cutler broke his throwing thumb, then their fans watched in horror as the Giants hijacked their dark-horse spot? Remember when the Texans almost won a Round 2 playoff game in Baltimore with T.J. Hooker? Er, T.J Quinn? Er … which T.J. was that? If you pressed the RESET button for 2011 and started a new season, would it spit out a Texans-Bears Super Bowl? Does this mean Schaub and Cutler missed their Super Bowl window? Is it still open? Is it a different window than Tony Romo’s window and Matt Ryan’s window? Does Alex Smith even have a window? Why do I enjoy Russell Wilson’s window so much? Can you even bring Tom Brady’s window into this when it’s such a fancier window? When did windows become the go-to analogy for quarterbacks? Should I close the window of this paragraph ever working?

9. Tim Tebow

Just kidding.

9. Andrew Luck

Why Luck and not Bob Griffin? I think the 2012 Colts will be significantly better than people expect because of the usual sleeper-related stuff (low expectations, poor division, easy schedule, etc.), but also because they massively upgraded at the NFL’s two most important positions (quarterback and coach).

Let’s start with their coaching upgrade. In baseball, they have a stat called “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR), which tries to determine every player’s value as it relates to the least-talented player possible for his position. We couldn’t create this statistic for NFL head coaches, but if we did, it would definitely be called “Wins Above Raheem Morris” (WARM) … and of our new slew of coaches, the best bets for high WARM are Tampa’s Greg Schiano (who has a built-in advantage because he’s replacing Morris) and Indy’s Chuck Pagano (replacing a guy who didn’t move, blink or show any discernable signs of life). Remember what happened with Jim Harbaugh’s record-setting WARM in San Francisco last season? The right coaching change can be worth six or seven WARM. So Indy’s in play there.

As for the QB position, I don’t need to explain the formula “Andrew Luck > Curtis Painter & Dan Orlovsky” to you, right? If you’ve been following Luck’s performance in the preseason — not just his play, but everybody’s quotes about how Luck handles himself day-to-day — there’s a chance he might be underrated even though he was the no. 1 overall pick, generated a ton of buzz/hype/anticipation last year and bought Andre the Giant’s voice on eBay just to sound more intimidating. Last year, we had a ginger rookie playoff QB. Why not Luck? How many wins will that Paintlovsky-to-Luck upgrade be worth? Three? Four? More? Could the Colts climb to 10 wins? Could they sneak into the last wild-card spot? And how much fun would Jim Irsay’s deranged Twitter account be if that happened?

8. Drew Brees

The 2012 Saints season is going one of two ways …

A. A full-fledged Eff You season along the lines of the post-Spygate Patriots.

B. A full-fledged Bad Mojo season where Saints fans are saying things like, “My God, what else can go wrong?” and “I’ve never seen a running back’s leg actually come off his body before.”

As you know, I like to make predictions before NFL seasons, then stubbornly stick to them for gambling purposes (see 2010′s “Simbotics” rules for more details). That means I have to choose between Eff You or Bad Mojo here … and I’m going with Bad Mojo. No offense, Saints fans. If anything, I’d thoroughly enjoy seeing your boys shove it in Goodell’s mug, then play in your own New Orleans Super Bowl as you lustily boo him the whole week. I just don’t think it’s realistic. How are you going to survive with an interim interim coach for six weeks? An interim interim coach???? Even after six weeks, you’re upgrading the interim coach … I mean, let’s say the first guy is worse than Jim Caldwell and the second guy is dead-even with him. Where is that getting you? After years and years of every media member blowing Sean Payton and gushing about how fantastic he is, suddenly SEAN PAYTON DOESN’T MATTER???????

This feels like a Bizarro WARM situation to me — Singletary-to-Harbaugh in reverse — so let’s all agree that if Drew Brees flings it for another 5,500 yards while winning 10 to 12 games and effectively coaching his side of the ball, we’re just sending the MVP trophy to his house without voting. Of course, if Sean Payton is secretly still coaching the Saints with dummy Gmail and Skype accounts that are being rerouted through Malaysia to escape detection from the league, then disregard everything in these paragraphs. The NFL can’t catch anyone using PEDs, but they’re going to catch Payton secretly corresponding with Brees and his coaches?2 Let’s just move on before I change my mind on the ceiling of the 2012 Saints.

7. Matt Ryan

All signs point to a breakout year for Ryan and the Falcons, for all the reasons Cousin Sal and I discussed on our over/under wins podcast two weeks ago (Julio Jones breaking out, bad Saints mojo, they have some playoff experience now, etc). Since then, everyone on the planet started pimping the Falcons, scaring me off and eventually pushing me into, “You know what, Matty Ice? I’m gonna need a few weeks” mode. As the Eagles taught us last season, beware of the “Everybody Believes In Us!” team.3

6. Eli Manning

You saw the Giants’ time-tested blueprint in full form on Wednesday: Look dreadful at home, lower everyone’s expectations, exhibit some seemingly glaring flaws that can’t be fixed (in this case, pass defense), fall under the radar for a few weeks, somehow right the ship without ever seeming like it’s totally been righted, claw your way to 10-6, sneak into the playoffs without anyone taking you seriously, and then FLIP THAT SWITCH, BABY! They’re right where they want to be. The 2012 Giants aren’t fooling me.

(Remember, it’s still the Year of the Giants. They stole the Super Bowl from the Patriots. Eli improbably assumed “The League’s Most Clutch QB” status and even hosted SNL. Victor Cruz released an autobiography that somehow managed to be longer than 75 pages. Rooney Mara earned an Oscar nomination. Michael Strahan became the new Regis, which was like the ultimate Eff You to everyone’s least favorite Giant, Tiki Barber. Even Lawrence Taylor redeemed his life enough that he successfully pulled off an ESPN media “Car Wash” last week. We still have four months left in the Year of the Giants — they aren’t going away.)4

5. Tom Brady

In my aforementioned West Coast Fantasy Draft, Rob Gronkowski went for 40 bucks;5 Aaron Hernandez went for 20; Wes Welker went for 30; Brandon Lloyd went for 20; and even Steven Ridley went for nine bucks. Had one of our owners bought all five guys and Brady (who went for $45), they only would have had 36 bucks to spend on 14 other players. Let’s just say expectations for the 2012 Pats offense are a little high. But on paper, Brady’s never had a better chance to succeed — not even in 2007 — because of Ridley’s potential, Lloyd’s ability to stretch the field, and the benevolence of the Schedule Gods (who handed the 2012 Pats a fresh-baked creampuff right out of the schedule oven).

There’s just one problem … what if Brady isn’t totally Brady anymore? When was the last time he laid the smack down in a truly big playoff game? Should we worry about the shakiest offensive line he’s had in years? What about the fact that he just turned 35, an age that’s been a tipping point of sorts for even the greatest QBs? Part of me wants to believe age doesn’t matter as much anymore, especially after watching what happened with NBA stars these past few years — there’s a chance that, for quarterbacks (because of conditioning/training advancements and copious amounts of PEDs), 38 will become the new 33, and the Brady-Manning-Brees generation will thrive much longer than Montana and Marino back in the day.

Or, you could look at it the other way. It’s football. You can only take so many hits before your body starts breaking down. You start dreading every hit and becoming a little gun-shy, your accuracy slips by about 1.29 percent, and those three barely perceptible slips transform you from a lights-out Hall of Famer to a very good starting QB. That’s been Brady these last few years: Superb most of the time, but in four playoff games from the past three years (2009 Ravens, 2010 Jets, 2011 Ravens, 2011 Giants), he just didn’t play up to his usual standards. Having a significantly improved defense and more weapons will help. But let’s say the 2012 season comes down to two or three throws again. Will he make them? I really don’t know. If you remember, Eli threw the biggest completion of Super Bowl XLVI (Manningham down the left sideline), and Brady threw the biggest incompletion (the Welker overthrow, and yes, it WAS an overthrow). Switch those two results and the Pats are defending the title right now.

4. Alex Smith

On the one hand: The 49ers returned all 11 starters from an undeniably stacked defense loaded with blue-chippers.

On the other hand: Regression! Regression! Regression! (That was for my buddy Bill Barnwell, who had an especially rough week. See the sidebar.)

As you know, I love the stat nerds and consider myself an honorary stat nerd — kind of like how Robert De Niro got an honorary doctorate from Bates College a few months ago and could list himself in movie credits as “Dr. Robert De Niro, Ph.D.” if he really wanted. If the stat nerds unanimously believe that 2012 Alex Smith can’t possibly replicate what happened with 2011 Alex Smith, then Dr. William J. Simmons III, Ph.D. has to take that assertion seriously. But even if Smith regresses and San Francisco’s overall luck shifts the wrong way, wouldn’t a full year with all-time WARM leader Jim Harbaugh offset at least some of that? Remember, Harbaugh only had seven post-lockout weeks to establish a new attitude with the 2011 Niners. He pulled it off. Now he’s had an entire offseason to do Jim Harbaugh things. Why couldn’t the Niners grind out 10 wins — only three fewer than last year, by the way — even as Alex Smith is regressing? I have them grabbing a wild card but not winning the division. (More on this in a second.)

3. Joe Flacco

Outplayed Brady in the AFC championship game and came within a split second of making the Super Bowl … and then Lee Evans never tucked that touchdown away and the rest was history. All signs point to a career year for Flacco: He’s finally surrounded by the right weapons (including probable fantasy breakout guy Torrey Smith, the deep threat Baltimore never had); the Ravens are going mostly no-huddle this year; he’s hitting the right age; it’s a contract year for him; and I even spent four bucks for him in fantasy without anyone laughing. I have the Ravens penciled in as the AFC’s no. 1 seed, a complete 180 from my over/under podcast with Cousin Sal from two weeks ago. What changed? I like everything I’m reading about Joe Flacco. This will be the year Flacco grabs the AFC North QB Torch from poor Ben Roethlisberger, who’s going to be pounded like a piece of veal behind yet another shaky offensive line. I’m not saying “The Leap” is coming or anything … but a crazy-efficient Pro Bowl season in the “4,400 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 picks” range? It’s in play.

2. Aaron Rodgers

If he hadn’t won a Super Bowl already, we would have been treated to an offseason of “I don’t care how good Aaron Rodgers was last year, he choked in that Giants game and the playoffs ARE ALL THAT MATTERS!” stories. But he already won a Super Bowl, so, um … did you see that sweet mustache he grew?

1. Russell Wilson

You heard me … Russell Wilson!

You know where I stand: I believe the quarterback position comes down to 50 percent charisma/personality/leadership/intelligence/coolness-under-pressure, 25 percent hard work and 25 percent talent. If you’re the smartest, coolest and most charismatic guy in the huddle, if you’re the one who stands out even when 53 dudes are busting each other’s balls in the locker room after a practice, if you’re the one everyone likes, if there’s just something indefinable about you that makes people say, “There’s just something special about the way that dude carries himself,” you’re halfway there. Playoff hockey teams become unbeatable once they believe, “Nobody is scoring on our goalie, he’s locked in.” (See: Quick, Jonathan, 2012.) Playoff basketball teams become virtually unbeatable when they believe, “Our guy is better than everyone else’s guy, period, end of story.” (See: James, LeBron, 2012.) And football teams turn into playoff teams when they believe, “I would run through a wall for my quarterback.” We have decades and decades of evidence to back this up.

Well, have you read the preseason stories about Wilson? People gush about him like they’re Tom Cruise gushing about his latest co-star — Wilson turns people into smiling, raving, super-intense Level Seven Thetans. I’ve never seen anything like it. Wilson outworked everyone on the Seahawks this summer, showing up every morning at 6:30 a.m. to study film. By mid-August, he was stealing Matt Flynn’s job away, and maybe even Pete Carroll from his wife — a giddy Carroll has done everything short of trying to hyphenate his last name to Carroll-Wilson. And every time a national media member crosses paths with Wilson, they’re reduced to a trembling pile of goo: like ESPN’s Jon Gruden, who recently gushed, “When Russell Wilson walks in the room, you feel his presence. He has an incredible vibe about him that’s outstanding for an offensive football team and a team.”

You can feel his presence??? Thank God Russell Wilson decided to become a quarterback instead of an evil cult leader — we could have had the next Manson on our hands. Anyway, you know how much I love this stuff. I spent a good three hours Googling Russell Wilson stories last week and getting more and more sucked in. Did you know he transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin after his junior year, only none of the NC State fans held it against him — if anything, they kept rooting for him??? Did you know fans in Wisconsin gush about Wilson the same way they once gushed about Dwyane Wade? Did you know that Wilson once struck a deer with his car, then brought the deer back to life just by touching it? (Fine, I made that one up.) Did you know Wilson repeatedly says things like “I want to be great” and actually seems like he believes it?

I feel like Russell Wilson fell out of the sky for me. He vindicates everything I ever thought about football — that it takes more than just talent, that it doesn’t always have to make sense, that it’s more of a chemistry/personality/intangible sport than we think, that there’s no safer bet than a talented kid with a chip on his shoulder who spent his entire career proving people wrong (and can’t wait to do it again). He’s a shorter Drew Brees with even more to prove. He’s the ultimate litmus test — a QB who fell 50 picks too late because of his height, and now he wants to shove that indignity in everyone’s face. Throw in Seattle’s sneaky-good defense, its killer home-field advantage, a quality running game and a city that’s been dying — repeat: dying — to have a sports hero again, and to absolutely nobody’s surprise, I’m riding shotgun in the Cult of Russell this season.6

Will the Seahawks win 11-12 games? I say yes.

Will they win the NFC West? I say yes.

Will they make the Super Bowl? (Deep breath.) YES! I’m picking a Ravens-Seahawks Super Bowl. And if when it happens, you’ll hear more about Wilson than any other quarterback this season: More than Brady, more than Rodgers, more than Peyton Manning, more than Tim Teb— actually, you won’t hear more about Wilson than Tim Tebow. ESPN and the NFL Network will make that impossible. But everyone else? Hell yeah! And on that note, let’s breeze through the Week 1 picks …

(Home teams in caps.)

Colts (+10) over BEARS
How shaky is the left side of Chicago’s offensive line? The Bears actually plan on rolling Cutler right as much as possible to give themselves the best chance to win. Look, I’m not saying it CAN’T work … but I’m not ready to lay double-digits with them either. Couldn’t you see Indy’s pass rushers and Luck keeping this close? Oh, and every year, one 1 p.m. Sunday Week 1 game features a massive upset that ruins hundreds of thousands of teases, parlays and suicide pools and causes every degenerate gambler to double their bets for the late games. See where I’m going with this? That’s right … it’s the Upset Special! Colts 27, Bears 23.

VIKINGS (-4) over Jaguars
Blaine Gabbert in a loud dome. Blaine Gabbert in a loud dome. Blaine Gabbert in a loud dome. Blaine Gabbert in a loud dome. Blaine Gabbert in a loud dome. Blaine Gabbert in a loud dome.

JETS (-3) over Bills
Love how Buffalo beefed up its defense; love their easy schedule; love the whole “nobody is more overdue for a 10-win season and some smiles than Bills fans” angle; and you could even talk me into Ryan Fitzpatrick’s broken ribs ruining their playoff run last year (although it seems like a convenient excuse, especially after all the money they gave him). Just remember, the Jets owned Fitzpatrick last year. And I can’t shake the sense that they played possum during the preseason with their missionary position offense — I’m prepared for crazy reverses, wildcat formations, double QBs, flea flickers, and of course, a healthy dose of Teeeeeeeeeeeeee-bowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! At least in Week 1. By the way, you’re lying if you say you aren’t excited for this impending Sanchez-Tebow disaster. Even the Katy Perry–John Mayer relationship has a better chance.

TEXANS (-12) over Dolphins
After downing five Hard Knocks episodes, I still haven’t decided if Joe Philbin is Brad Childress 2.0 or the poor man’s Brad Childress … but either way, it’s not good.

Rams (+7.5) over LIONS
Am I the only one who remembers how badly Jeff Fisher did in those last few Titans seasons? Now he’s turning over 60 percent of an already crummy team and we’re supposed to think anything other than, Wow, the 2012 Rams are going to be an absolute train wreck? What am I missing? So why grab the points? Because you know there’s going to be one Sunday game that includes a historically dreadful performance by the replacement officials that inadvertently swings the spread and pisses everyone off … by rule, wouldn’t this HAVE to happen in Detroit?

PATRIOTS (-6) over TITANS
I can’t believe Patriots.com isn’t selling Chandler Jones’s jersey yet. I may or may not have looked. By the way, I turn 43 in three weeks.

SAINTS (-7) over Redskins
A banged-up Skins secondary yields the “EFF YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Saints performance that gets everyone thinking we’re headed for a year of “EFF YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” performances. Don’t be fooled. By the way, I bought two of Washington’s three running backs in my West Coast auction (Roy Helu and Evan Royster) and somehow didn’t end up with the third (Alfred Morris). Is there any doubt how this is turning out? Do you think Morris will run for 2,000 yards this season? God, I hate Mike Shanahan. I’m convinced his wife cheated on him with someone who had 10 fantasy football teams or something.

Eagles (-9.5) over BROWNS
Who else is excited for the GABW (Gambling Against Brandon Weeden) era? It’s like the Browns are mailing wads of $100 bills to our houses for the entire month of September. The lesson, as always …

Falcons (-2.5) over CHIEFS
Feels like a “fool’s gold” victory much like the one Dallas just had — Atlanta comes through outdoors on the road against the banged-up Chiefs, everyone gets a little too excited, and ultimately, it doesn’t mean much. Here’s where I remind you that Rex Grossman and the Redskins beat the Giants in Week 1 last year, followed by people picking up Rex in fantasy leagues and stuff.

Seahawks (-3) over CARDINALS
Yes, please.

BUCS (+2.5) over Panthers
Why are the Panthers laying points on the road again? Against anyone? Don’t forget about Greg Schiano’s WARM. By the way, Cousin Sal and I praised these new 4:25 p.m. starts in our Week 1 podcast that tragically disappeared in a faulty hard drive, so I’m rehashing the point here — this was obviously done to (a) give gamblers an extra 10 minutes between the early and late games, and (b) give fantasy owners an extra 10 minutes to check on potentially injured starters. As two degenerate gambling fantasy owners, we really, really, really appreciated it. Thanks, NFL. You know how to look out for your fans.

PACKERS (-5) over Niners
Alex Smith only played one truly difficult road game outdoors last year: a 16-6 defeat in Baltimore on Thanksgiving. I’m just sayin’.

BRONCOS (+2) over Steelers
Revised Gambling Rule No. 39: “Never bet against Peyton Manning at home during a nationally televised night game, not even after he’s had four neck surgeries and can’t totally turn to his right.”

RAVENS (-6.5) over Bengals
RAIDERS (-1) over Chargers

Now that’s a Monday-night slate! I’m riding both home teams into the sunset of Week 1, but only after debating “Laying points with Carson Palmer vs. Betting on Norv Turner in September” for the last 19 hours straight. I missed you, football.

This Week: 0-1
Season: 0-1

Filed Under: Art, General topics, NFL, Sports

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Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland.

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