The Week 13 Mailbag: Giving Thanks, Making Picks

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

On Sunday night, I thought I had a foolproof plan: Watch Survivor Series with my son, record the Giants-Cowboys game on DVR, then rip through the second half of football after wrestling ended. Of course, I never expected to miss the most randomly thrilling in-the-moment football catch ever made. Yeah, I saw it afterward — after people started texting me and emailing me about it, after I said to myself, “There’s no way it could have been THAT good” — then watched in horror as Odell Beckham Jr. pulled off his full-fledged Spider-Man imitation.

You know what? This one hurt. I watch an insane amount of football every week. I’m probably in the 99.5 percentile for “Most NFL Football Watched.” That’s the case for rational reasons (it’s my job), selfish reasons (I love watching football), financial reasons (I’ve enjoyed a wager or 10,000 in my life), self-loathing reasons (fantasy football), emotional reasons (I love the Pats and hate anyone who gets in their way) and social reasons (many of my friends, family members and coworkers also love football).

But there’s one other part, and it’s probably my favorite: I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to miss any Hail Marys, 80-yard runs, kick returns, pick-sixes, cheap-shot tackles, indefensible Mike Smith decisions … I don’t want anything to slip by me. That’s the fun of being a football fan. You never know what’s gonna happen next, so you obsess over monitoring EVERYTHING just so you don’t miss those rare moments that actually matter. Missing that Beckham catch live damn near killed me. Seeing 55-year-old Sting make his long-overdue WWE debut wasn’t exactly a consolation prize that softened the blow.

So how great was the Beckham catch? Will it stand the test of time? It’s certainly the most acrobatic NFL catch ever — highest degree of difficulty, greatest display of athleticism, you name it. But it also happened in the middle of a Giants loss during a completely forgettable Giants season. You can’t call it the GREATEST catch when it had no real impact other than owning the Internet for about 18 hours.

My short list of greatest catches is determined by the following formula: “degree of difficulty” plus “impact in the moment” multiplied by “the stakes of the game itself.” So Lynn Swann’s Super Bowl tip catch is way up there. Same for Santonio Holmes’s Super Bowl–winning catch, Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception and the Tyree FML Helmet Catch. And the truth is, Tyree’s catch is probably your answer. He caught it off his helmet, fended off Rodney Harrison, somehow kept the ball from hitting the ground and single-handedly swung a Super Bowl. Oh, and he never caught another pass. So that’s a worthy candidate.

But what if you’re a giant homer who can’t live in a world in which the obvious choice (the Tyree FML Helmet Catch) is your answer? Then you’re going off the board. So I believe that Terrell Owens made the greatest catch ever. Lemme set the scene …

1998 playoffs. Wild-card round. Green Bay at San Francisco.

You have the Montana-Young-Rice era holding on for one last run, desperately trying to fend off Apex Brett Favre and a Packers juggernaut coming off two straight Super Bowl appearances.

You have Candlestick Park, an iconic NFL stadium, the home to five Super Bowl champs and a significant, Celtics-like level of championship pride.

You have the Niners trailing by four points, stuck on Green Bay’s 25, with just eight seconds remaining.

You have Owens crossing the middle, finding about 10 inches of open space between five Packers, catching a perfect pass from Young while knowing that he’s about to get annihilated by two safeties (remember, these were the old “JACKED UP!” rules).

You have Owens somehow holding on for the game-winning touchdown even as he’s bouncing off two Packers like it’s a three-car collision.

There’s only one way that catch could have been greater: if Owens had laid motionless on the field for 45 seconds, made everyone fear for his life, then hopped up and performed a flawless Rod Tidwell impersonation.

Other than the Tyree FML Helmet Catch, I was more amazed by that T.O. catch than by any other important NFL catch I’ve ever watched. And if that’s not enough, the GOAT announcing team (Madden and Summerall) were announcing … and Pat Summerall’s voice even jumped a couple of octaves! Watch the video and let Summerall do the rest.

What’s better than that? Beckham’s catch was spectacular and impossible, but it also didn’t mean anything. Tyree’s catch was impossible and inconceivable, but when you factor in the rest of his underwhelming career, you’d have to call it at least a little lucky. (Do me a favor — just concede me that point, and I’ll concede that I’m a humongous homer.) Swann’s catch didn’t win the Super Bowl, although it set up the game-clinching drive. Santonio’s catch (and Dwight Clark’s ‘The Catch,” as well) were unforgettably clutch catches that also could have been made by dozens of players.

But that T.O. catch … I mean, how many receivers in NFL history had the talent and speed to find that 10-inch hole on a do-or-die play, run the perfect route, haul in the football while knowing that an absolutely hellacious double hit is coming, then survive that double-barreled hit while holding on to the ball? Maybe eight or nine guys? Add everything up and it’s the greatest catch I have ever seen. Just tell me when we see another playoff game end with THAT catch.

There’s one bonus moment from that clip: The introduction of the Brett Favre Face at 8:20 … along with the introduction of the “Wait, Why Are Brett Favre’s Head and Neck Seemingly 20 Percent Larger in 1998?” conversation that I hope you’ll have with your friends after you finish reading this column. I love that clip so much. Long live Summerall and Madden, long live Favre’s swollen neck and noggin, long live Candlestick, and long live the T.O. catch.

Let’s hit the Week 13 picks, starting with the three Thanksgiving games.

(Home teams in caps)

Bears (+7) over LIONS

Detroit’s offense dropped 35 on the Giants in Week 1. And then it turned into Greg Monroe: seven points in Week 2, then 19, 24, 14, 17, 24, 22, 20, 6 and 9 points last week. That’s 16.2 points per game for that 10-game stretch, the same number as the lowly Raiders and less than a point higher than Monroe’s 15.3 this season. Check out these scoring numbers since Week 2 (throwing out defensive TDs and special-teams TDs) …

Geno Smith, Mike Vick and New York’s offense: 158 points, 16 TDs

Derek Carr and Oakland’s offense: 155 points, 17 TDs

Matthew Stafford and Detroit’s offense: 146 points, 15 TDs1

Blake Bortles and Jacksonville’s offense: 144 points, 16 TDs

Sorry, Detroit — that’s not a slump, that’s something else. (The fact that “Megatron” turned into “Calvin” this season ain’t helping.) On the flip side: Chicago (303 points allowed) belongs to the ignominious 300 Club, created for teams that somehow allowed 300 points before Thanksgiving.2 If Detroit’s offense doesn’t get going this week, it’s never happening. Then again …

Q: Having watched the Jim Caldwell-led Lions for the last three months, I think it’s time to reboot the Flabbergasted Four, inspiration for one of the best cartoon shorts on YouTube. Caldwell’s decision to settle for field goals against the Patriots last week was like bringing a spit ball to a tank fight.
—Eric Wisniewski

BS: 2009’s Flabbergasted Four starred Romeo Crennel, Andy Reid, Herm Edwards and Brad Childress. Who qualifies for the 2014 edition? Jim Caldwell, Mike Smith, Andy Reid … who’s our fourth? Somebody alert the dudes at Bindledog!

Q: Have you noticed that every Jay Cutler touchdown and interception looks the same? Chucks it up into coverage, either the receiver makes a play or it gets picked. I came up with a nickname for it: “Jay and Pray.”
—Brian D, San Diego

BS: Shouldn’t “Jay-and-Pray” just be 50 percent of their offense? Lean on Matt Forte for runs and screens, send the big receivers over the middle every so often, then spend the rest of the time unleashing Jay-and-Prays? I fully support Chicago embracing San Francisco’s early-1990s Tecmo Bowl offense.

Q: You know how you go to concerts not for the music as much as the band because they put on one hell of a show? That’s Brett Favre. Then you have that band/artist who is comparable in talent, but you would NEVER see them in concert because you know it wouldn’t be fun. That’s Jay Cutler.
—Joe, Jacksonville, IL

BS: That was one of the better responses to last week’s reader email wondering if (a) Brett Favre and Jay Cutler were closer as QBs than anyone wants to admit, and (b) Packers fans still loved Brett Favre. More than a few Packers fans DID defend Favre, although the collective sentiment mirrored the feeling behind the next email.

Q: Rodgers is the wife who is pretty but not supermodel gorgeous (plays too conservatively when trailing late), and maybe she nags about yardwork when you’re watching football (perceived as a bit cocky, calculating, and unengaging), but other than that she’s perfect and you have no idea how you managed to land a girl like her. But Favre’s strongest characteristics were those two areas where Rodgers isn’t quite perfect. So asking us if we still love Favre is like your wife coming across that sexy wallet photo of your college girlfriend, then asking who was prettier. Answering honestly with “She is, but she was also crazy and controlling and threw season ending pick sixes and you have so many better qualities than her and I’m so much happier being with you” — that’s marital suicide. That’s kind of where we are with Favre; we’re obligated to lie about any positive feelings towards him because of our loyalty to Rodgers.
—Jon, Stevens Point, WI

BS: Translation — Favre was our first love and a thrilling roller coaster ride, but Rodgers has been a better and safer long-term relationship. So basically, Packers fans are like McNulty in The Affair. Sounds great. Hold on, we need one pissed-off Packers fan to weigh in.

Q: It’s despicable that any of your readers would compare Favre to Cutler, but I don’t put it past Bears fans. How can you compare a shoo-in Hall of Famer to a guy that Bear fans wanted to sit behind Josh Freaking McCown? Chicago tried to buy success and failed miserably. Sorry a billion dollars on free agents didn’t pay off, Chicago. Sorry your QB is eating up so much cap space that it’s sinking your god-forsaken franchise, Chicago. Sorry massacring you in both games this year, especially the second one on national TV, Chicago. Typical Bears fans. And to think I almost felt sorry for you guys when we were up 42-0 at halftime. P.S. Brett Favre will never advertise for Cialis or Viagra, those commercials would be too unbelievable. He’ll be firing on all cylinders until the day he dies. And yes, I did buy 2 pairs of Wrangler jeans after I saw him in their ads. Burn in Hell, Bears fans.
—Wiley, Philadelphia

BS: YEAHHHHHHHHHHHH! Brett Favre lives! Sing it, Eddie!

COWBOYS (-3.5) over Eagles

In last week’s column, we discussed splitting up the MVP award into two different trophies (the MVP and MVQ). This week, I’m piggybacking on a point from Barnwell’s Monday column: Should Dallas’s offensive line be one of the 2014 MVP favorites along with Aaron “Relax” Rodgers and Tom “Everyone Gave Up On Me In Week 4” Brady?

I can’t imagine enough voters ever backing an offensive line over a franchise QB, no matter how good that O-line is. So why couldn’t we just create the MVU award for “Most Valuable Unit”? If we’re using end-of-the-season awards to capture who mattered most — not just as an in-the-moment prize, but also to create some sort of historical legacy — then an MVU award makes a ton of sense. 2013’s MVU winner would have been Seattle’s secondary. 2014 would belong to Dallas’s O-line, barring an unexpected turn of events. Going backward, units like the 1999 Rams receivers and the 1986 Giants linebackers would get their just due. Fun idea.

Anyway, I see Dallas’s O-line dominating yet again on Thursday — even though the NFL screwed the Cowboys by sticking them with a Sunday-nighter followed by a Thursday day game. Saying the NFL cares about player safety is like saying the 2014-15 Sixers care about their fans. That reminds me — two readers took last week’s “Should the Sixers be relegated?” conversation even further:

Q: What about combining NBA relegation with wrestling’s “loser leaves town” concept? 30 spots every season for 31 franchises. Worst team “leaves town” (or in the case, disappears for a year), to be replaced by Seattle’s expansion team. The next season, 2015’s worst team returns and takes the spot of 2016’s worst team. (Obviously, this works for other sports- hello, L.A. Raiders!) Can you imagine the difference in the environment at the end of the year- when, instead of playing in dead arenas, teams would play in front of a bunch of frenzied fans worried about losing their franchise?
—John, Santiago, Chile

Q: Create a 31st “expansion” team (Seattle anyone?) that serves as the first franchise to sit out Year One. The worst team from Year One’s season then sits out Year Two — they can’t sell tickets, but break even through revenue sharing. I’m still working on what the sitting-out players would do for the year.
—Younger, Houston

BS: Yeah, that’s a problem. You can’t force 15 NBA players to sit out a season. But we actually have this rule in my West Coast fantasy football league — 11 franchises, 10 spots, the previous year’s winner gets to “vote out” one team before every draft. It’s always exciting, but it peaked in 2012 when our crazy friend Brad nearly snapped after getting voted out. Here, look:

I don’t know how you capture that magic for a professional sports league, but here’s one possible way: We make Seattle a franchise-in-waiting. If any other franchise loses 70 games AND gets outscored by 15 points per game, Seattle immediately assumes control of that team. Like, for good. That roster become the Seattle SuperSonics for the following season; meanwhile, Philly becomes the franchise-in-waiting and can’t get another team until someone loses 70 games AND gets outscored by 15 points per game.

Ask yourself this: If this rule were in place … would any NBA franchise even think about tanking a season as egregiously as the Sixers are throwing away the 2014-15 season? No way. Not a chance. By the way, kudos to these Yeshiva University students for sneak-attacking David Stern for this picture last week:

49ERS (-1) over Seahawks

Q: Please keep writing about the Seahawks not being the same team and how quiet the crowd at the Clink is. I cherish every word. The Seahawks control their own destiny, they’re rallying around each other, and they are still more talented, more hungry, and better coached than 90% of the league, and now they’re healthy. This bandwagon only has a few seats left. Don’t abandon us now Simmons, or, you are no longer welcome to our coffee, our future Sonics games, or the February victory parade after we trample your geriatric Patriots, 54-10.
—Kenny, Seattle

BS: How dare you! And after I gave you the Sixers AND posted the Stern/Sonics photo? HOW DARE YOU! To be fair — I wouldn’t have taken the Cards +6.5 in the Clink if I knew Larry Fitzgerald was out. But Arizona’s D beat up the Seahawks offense in that game; four days later, the Hawks have to battle San Francisco? And I’m giving less than three points with San Fran’s suddenly excellent defense in a do-or-die game? Yes, please.

Q: Over the course of a calendar year, Aldon Smith got a DUI, was charged with three felony counts of owning illegal assault weapons, was accused of firing a shotgun AT guests at his own party, and made a bomb threat directly to a TSA agent at an airport. His suspension was one less game than Josh Gordon’s suspension for smoking pot. God Bless America.
—Corry, South Portland, ME

BS: And he’s playing on Thursday night! Niners giving one! Sign me up! DOUBLE MY BET!

Q: Everyone keeps expecting Carlos Hyde to take Frank Gore’s job. Isn’t this exactly what Harbaugh does? Keeps things vanilla for the regular season, then busts it out for the playoffs? Cant you just see a Niners team busting it to the NFC title game on the legs of an uber fresh Carlos Hyde?
—Bill, Winston-Salem

BS: I think the Hyde Bandwagon takes a test run on Thursday night. (And I’m sitting in the third row.) By the way, can you remember a better “looking terrible for the first three and a half quarters while also making you believe that he’ll absolutely pull out the game-winning drive” QB than Colin Kaepernick? I mean, other than … well …

COLTS (-10) over Washington
TEXANS (-6) over Titans

I like backing Andrew Luck against crap football teams; I like backing J.J. Watt at home against bad QBs; and I like betting on QBs who lost their job and then awkwardly regained the position thanks to an injury. Oh, wait, I like only two of those three things. But Washington and Tennessee have two combined wins (one against the other) and at least 38 combined starting QB changes since Week 2 (including today’s McCoy-for-Griffin news). Just lay the points all the way around. Please.

Anyway — in last week’s column, we broke down a hypothetical Thunderdome fight to the death between Watt and Gronk. You sent me a slew of email responses; I’d say about 80 percent of them backed Watt, with Carlos in Houston even declaring, “JJ Watt eats pain like candy. JJ Watt stares at the sun and the sun blinks. JJ Watt is Smaug. Gronk is Puff the Magic Dragon. JJ Watt is a polar bear. Gronk is a panda bear.”

But Matt in Dallas made the strongest case: “Gronk and JJ Watt a dead-even matchup? Are you kidding me? Spoken like a bunch of little guys who never played real football. JJ Watt dominates OFFENSIVE LINEMEN, Gronk dominates safeties and linebackers half his size. Watt would obliterate your boy in seconds. Do you know why JJ outweighs Gronk by nearly thirty pounds? Because he has spent his entire football career developing back, shoulder, and chest muscles and physical techniques that allow him to move guys around that outweigh him by thirty pounds. I’m 6’3 and 280, played right guard in college and would fight Gronk just for the story. You couldn’t pay me to fight JJ Watt.”

Yeah, but still.

BILLS (-2.5) over Browns

FYI: The odds of Sammy Watkins coming back to haunt the Browns on Sunday are already off the board in Vegas.

By the way, do you realize how close Cleveland was to turning that into one of the best trades of the century? I thought they should have just stayed at no. 4 and taken Watkins, if only because (a) they’re not exactly loaded with impact guys, and (b) the thought of a post-suspension Josh Gordon–Watkins combo is just plain petrifying. Instead, they moved down a few spots, picked up Buffalo’s 2015 first- and fourth-round picks and drafted cornerback Justin Gilbert … who hasn’t exactly been Joe Haden 2.0 so far. You’d rather have Watkins than Gilbert and Buffalo’s pick, obviously.

OK — imagine if the Browns made the same trade, only they picked Odell Beckham Jr. Would you grab Buffalo’s first-round pick just for the slight “downgrade” from Watkins to Beckham that might not even be a downgrade since there’s a 27 percent chance that Beckham is actually Spider-Man? Of course! OF COURSE! The Browns were so damned close. The lesson, as always … well, you know already.

Q: The one thing I keep hearing from Hoyer supporters: his 10-4 record as a Browns starter. First off, it’s only 9 wins because when got hurt not even 5 minutes into last year’s Buffalo win (and they were trailing). Only 3 of those 9 wins were against teams with winning records; the other 6 wins were against teams with a combined record of, wait for it, 6-24. Is it possible that Browns fans are so used to seeing terrible QB’s that, when a semi-mediocre one comes along and wins a few games, we’re tricked into thinking he is actually good?
—Torey, Cleveland

BS: Um … is it “possible?” Are you kidding? Face/Off 2 should be a 2014 football movie starring Brian Hoyer and Kyle Orton. They could switch faces/teams right now and we’d have no idea for like three years. Not even their wives would know. It’s like looking in a mirror … only … not.

Speaking of shaky, here’s the Shakey’s Pizza Watch for Week 13: Drew Stanton playing from behind on the road … Megatron’s prime Seattle’s O-line Blake Bortles going 29 spots ahead of Teddy Bridgewater the Cordarrelle Patterson bandwagon Mark Sanchez even when he’s leading by 17 Josh McCown starting over Mike Glennon when you’re 2-8 the Hanley Ramirez signing Indy’s running backs Indy’s running backs a second time any defense that doesn’t blitz the living hell out of Andy Dalton any Walking Dead scene when the guy who plays Abraham tries to go 1970s Pacino on us every end zone fade route the phantom holding on Tavon Austin’s game-swinging kick return in San Diego (single worst call of the season) all grand juries that don’t return indictments when a cop fires more than 10 gunshots and kills someone, nobody knows what happens and multiple witnesses have different accounts of what actually happened any prosecutor who tries to explain that non-indictment and comes up more condescending than the principal from The Breakfast Club.

RAVENS (-5.5) over Chargers

The 2014 Ravens are starting to look a little playoff-sleepery — there’s a lot to like from a football standpoint.3 (Just not from an organizational standpoint.) Meanwhile, last week’s Crazy Proclamation of the Week (“I don’t think San Diego wins again this season”) came within a Shaun Hill end zone pick of staying alive for San Diego’s brutal last five weeks: @Bal, NE, DEN, @SF, @KC. They’re too banged up to win in Baltimore.

Q: You missed the real Nobody Believes in Us team, the San Diego Chargers, and for that I sincerely thank you. For not believing in them.
—Rusty, Pasadena

BS: You’re welcome. That brings us to this week’s Crazy Proclamation of the Week: I don’t think San Diego wins again this season. That’s right … we’re running it back!

Q: You wrote that Goodell is the worst sports commissioner ever. There is no way. Gary Bettman: three lockouts, one lost season, terrible division structure and just an overall bad job. Goodell to the NHL would probably be a slight upgrade. But Bettman to the NFL would be a disaster. Two of the top links when you search Google for “Gary Bettman” are and You don’t get that search for “Roger Goodell”.
—Amr, Hartly, DE

BS: Excellent points. The first 12 to 13 Bettman years set the standard for commissioner incompetence. So if you want to argue that Roger Goodell is ON PACE to becoming the worst sports commissioner ever, that’s fine. But I think he’s already there.

Q: You’re quite familiar with the theory that Gary Bettman was secretly sent by David Stern to ruin the NHL.4 But what if Stern didn’t stop there? What if Roger Goodell was also the Manchurian Commissioner, secretly programmed by Stern to discredit the NFL while Stern’s true successor (Adam Silver) leads the NBA to the top spot?
—Rick Healey, Somerville

BS: I’m in on any and every Goodell conspiracy theory. You cannot throw one at me that I wouldn’t believe.

Q: What level of irony is it that the NFL used Horrible Bosses as a major sponsor of Sunday Night Football? On top of that, had it been pointed out that the SNF theme is based around “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” something I have felt all season long about the NFL…
—Eric Clouse, Aurora, CO

BS: It’s quite a league. Even Terry Bradshaw is turning on it!

Q: Do you realize the Madden 25 cover guy was Adrian Peterson? How do we get Roger Goodell on the cover of the next Madden game?
—Phil K, Groveland, MA

BS: I don’t know if it’s realistic. But we can dream, right?

madden16_coverElias Stein for Grantland

RAMS (-7) over Raiders

The Rams just survived a brutal 3-6 stretch against quality teams with a combined record of 61-27;5 amazingly, they could have gone 5-4 if two plays had gone differently in the Cowboys and Chargers games. This is a fancy way of telling you that this Raiders line might be three points too low. The Rams are somewhere between “frisky-decent” and “sneaky-decent,” but not quite sneaky-good. Regardless, here’s the Sneaky-Good Watch for Week 13:

Miami as the “Better Than You Think” team … Belichick’s belichickian burial of Jonas Gray in Week 12 … Indy’s Good Bad Teamness … Andy Dalton in non-televised afternoon games that are available only in a couple of markets … the unintentional comedy of every Two and a Half Men promo … wagering against Brian Hoyer in Round 1 … any and all Jarvis Landry stock … the Pablo Sandoval signing … Molly Lambert’s Eminem piece … Calais Campbell’s DPOY potential in a non–J.J. Watt world … any LaGarrette Blount–New England conspiracy pieceLucy as a ridiculous-but-keeps-your-attention airplane movie … Cris Carter’s ESPN work (enjoyed him this season) … RG3’s Reclamation Project potential for a different team … Minnesota’s rebuilding potential … every Julian Edelman punt return … Grantland’s weekly newsletter (subscribe for free!).

Giants (-3) over JAGUARS

Q: Can Eli play his way out of the Hall of Fame? Can a surefire Hall of Famer perform so poorly in his last 4-5 seasons that he plays his way out of the hall?
—Jamie, Philadelphia

BS: The short answer: Nobody can play their way OUT of the Hall of Fame. Joe Namath won a Super Bowl in Year 4, then submitted eight straight lousy seasons before retiring: 71 games, 65 starts (25-40 record), 12,176 passing yards (171.5 YPG), 50.0 completion percentage, 76 touchdowns, 116 interceptions, 59.9 QB rating.6 Eli is making the Hall of Fame. Even though it’s hard to imagine any Hall of Fame QBs laying only three points to the 2014 Jags.

(Speaking of Eli: Isn’t it funny that he threw two errant passes that led to two of the most memorable football catches ever? If there’s ever a game show/reality show pitting retired receivers against one another called “The Most Incredible Catch,” Eli has to be the QB.)

Q: I know he is only a rookie, and I know he is playing for the Jaguars, but has Blake Bortles shown us ANYTHING this season that should lead us to believe he isn’t going to be a huge bust?
—Kevin, Long Island

BS: The good news: You shouldn’t jump to conclusions with any rookie QB playing behind such an abysmal offensive line. The bad news: Bortles has tallied 15 picks, five fumbles and just eight passing TDs, along with an impossibly low 21.8 QBR. That’s really, really, really, really dreadful. Since 2006, only six qualifying QBs dipped under 25 QBR.

2013 Brandon Weeden: 24.7
2007 Kellen Clemens: 22.3
2011 Blaine Gabbert: 19.1
2006 Andrew Walter: 17.4
2009 JaMarcus Russell: 11.6
2010 Jimmy Clausen: 11.0

(That’s a murderer’s row. Literally — they murdered seasons. What a terrible omen for the Blake Bortles era. But hey, at least Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack weren’t the next two 2014 draft picks after Bortles.)

Q: If London landed an NFL team, what would their team name be? I love the idea of the London Redcoats becoming natural rivals with the Pats. Imagine the Pats scoring a touchdown and the minutemen standing at one end zone shooting blanks towards a group of perfectly formed redcoats at the other end zone. Amazing. I’m in on the London team.
—Andrew Gerry, San Diego

BS: I vote for the London Redcoats or London Monarchs. If you caught me before I spent a month there in 2012 (for the Olympics), my answer would have been either the London Douchebags or the London We-Kicked-Your-Ass-In-1776ers. But I actually like London now. Six things I never thought I’d like that I actually like: London, sushi, Chris Bosh, Dodgers fans, Joe Buck and a Pitbull song.

(Rereading that last sentence.)

Um … let’s agree NEVER to discuss this again.

STEELERS (-4) over Saints
VIKINGS (-2.5) over Panthers
Bengals (-4) over BUCS
Cards (-3) over FALCONS

The Mississippi River is flowing with the blood of the NFC South!!! My god, where do we begin?

Q: finally put its Playoff Machine back up. Do you realize Carolina can win the NFC South with a record of 5-10-1? This isn’t a joke.
—Kass, North Dakota

BS: If the Saints win the NFC South, at least we could halfheartedly talk ourselves into the whole Superdome/Brees/Payton/mega-underdog thing. If the Falcons win it, at least we could talk ourselves into the whole Ryan/Julio/Roddy/Georgia Dome/high-scoring thing, only it would be combined with the compelling possibility of Mike Smith botching one last big game in the final two minutes. But if the Panthers win it? I mean … I don’t even like when the RedZone channel throws it to Carolina for 15 seconds. They’d be the first-ever “Nobody Believes In Us OR Wants To Watch Us” playoff team. I really hope that doesn’t happen.

Q: Does anyone really want to see a 6-10 Falcons team hosting a home playoff game while Detroit or Seattle watch from the couch? Since Goodell just makes shit up as he goes along and applies it retroactively, can we get him to strip the NFC South of its automatic playoff bid this year?
—Charley, Baltimore

BS: That would be awesome if Goodell held a press conference just to announce, “Look, you guys know that I make shit up as I go along, and that I belatedly overreact to whatever way the public wind is blowing. That’s my calling card, and that’s how you’ll remember me. So for one time only, I have decided to use my powers in a positive way. Starting this season, only teams that finish .500 or higher can make the playoffs. And on that note, I am taking a leave of absence — my daughter Stephanie and her husband Triple H will be taking over the NFL, effectively immediately.”

(P.S.: I have been advocating the “.500 or Higher” playoff rule for years now. If you can’t go 8-8, you shouldn’t be a playoff team. Then again, the thought of a Seahawks-Saints Reverse 2010 Round 1 Situation is pretty damned exciting. So is the not-so-insane possibility of a 5-10-1 or 5-11 team being a no. 4 seed, or a coach being fired even though he’s in first place. I’m enjoying the NFC South Train Wreck. I can’t lie.)

Q: Has Mike Smith been going to the Roger Goodell school of situation management?? When a manager of a Football team is on the hot-seat here in the UK and does something moronic, the fans sing “You don’t know what you’re doing, You don’t know what you’re doing.” This song was invented for Mike Smith! I was probably the only Falcons fan at Wembley when Smith did everything in his power to give that Lions game away. This week, to my utter dismay and disbelief, HE F-​-​-​-​-​-​ DID IT AGAIN!!!!! He could be the first coach to be sacked while in first place in their division!
—Dom, Somewhere in England you won’t know

Q: I actually feel bad for Mike Smith. You can tell that he just gets nervous at the end of big games. He seems to completely forget what he’s supposed to with his arms, and just looks genuinely uncomfortable and unhappy. He’s been the Falcons coach since 2008 — does anyone want to continue to see this?
—Arun, Brooklyn

BS: As you can tell, we had two finalists for this week’s “Mike Smith Might Need To Go” email contest. I loved Dom’s email, but it couldn’t top Arun’s astute observation, “he seems to completely forget what he’s supposed to do with his arms.” Your winner: Arun from Brooklyn! You get a free Blu-ray of the upcoming 30 for 30 about Smith’s unforgettable Game Management Fiasco-Off against Jim Caldwell in Wembley, Eyes Wide Shut. And yes, Mike Smith prevailed in London because Mike Smith is the Mike Smith of Clock Management.

(Wait, I’m being a little too mean to Mike Smith. Somebody throw a glass of water in my face, please.)

Q: Just listened to your November 18 podcast. As a table games supervisor (or “pit boss”), I can assure you that when you made your “turn the overhead cameras on!!!” joke in Vegas, and Sal asked for a security escort for him and his $60 in chips, the pit bosses in question thought to themselves, “Sweet, that was the 23rd time I’ve heard that joke this week … I won my bet for the over!” It’s on par with “hilarious” April Fools Day jokes on FM radio stations. So yeah, for better comps, stop with the jokes and concentrate on being polite, tipping the dealers, and not spilling anything on the table. Also, The LeGronk all-stars without Barry Sanders? As always, you’re an idiot.
—Tad Dixon, Kalamazoo

BS: I asked for a glass of water, not a glass of Scotch. Jesus! That burned my eyes! That’s it, I’m playing some Pitbull.

Patriots (+3.5) over PACKERS

The top four most insulting gambling spreads of the Brady-Belichick era …

• No. 1: STEELERS (-10) over Patriots, 2001 AFC title game

• No. 2: RAMS (-14) over Patriots, Super Bowl XXVI

• No. 3: CHARGERS (-5) over Patriots, 2006 Round 2

• No. 4: PATRIOTS (PK) Colts, 2004 Round 2

Should this Packers line crack that illustrious group? The Pats have been underdogs in three of the last four weeks … even though they’re 9-2 with a plus-130 point differential. They haven’t lost since the day before the Royals-A’s wild-card game. They’re averaging 39.6 points since Week 5. They won six of their last seven by 15 points or more. They’re second in DVOA and weighted DVOA, with Football Outsiders now projecting them as the Super Bowl favorite. And they’re 32-3 in Weeks 9 through 16 since 2010.7

The case for Green Bay: They’ve been great at home, Rodgers has been on a tear, and it’s been five whole weeks since THEY GOT THEIR ASSES HANDED TO THEM IN THE SUPERDOME BY A SAINTS TEAM THAT’S NOW 4-7. I could understand the Packers being favored by 2.5 or even 3. But 3.5??? That’s insulting. That’s Vegas saying, “home-field advantage is worth three points, and we’re throwing in an extra half-point because we think Green Bay is better.” I hope Belichick writes “3.5” on the chalkboard on Sunday while running this clip on a loop:

Q: Did you happen to notice Belichick completely effing with not one, but TWO head coaches on Sunday? First, poor Jim Caldwell. Patriots are up 27-9 with fourteen minutes to go, Julian Edelman clearly traps a throw setting up fourth and one on the Patriots 29 yard line. The Pats are definitely punting here but … Belichick keeps the offense on the field just to force Caldwell to throw his FIRST CHALLENGE FLAG OF THE YEAR! The look on Caldwell’s face was absolutely priceless. But Belichick also used Jonas Gray’s benching to give 12 carries and a meaningless TD to Blount — making Mike Tomlin look like a total assface. By the way, the remaining coaches facing Belichick: Mike McCarthy, Mike McCoy, Joe Philbin, Rex Ryan, and Doug Marrone. It’s good to be the king.
—Andrew Y., Somerville, MA

BS: God, we sound waaaaaaaaaay too confident right now. I don’t like this at all. Let’s throw some water on this fire.

Q: What’s more important: The no. 1 seed for homefield throughout the playoffs or a healthy Gronkowski? It’s definitely a healthy Gronk right? Should the Pats consider resting Gronk down the stretch? Have him only play in the red zone?
—Ryan Fuller, Boston

BS: You’re talking to someone who worries about Gronk every single play. It’s like reliving Pedro’s 1999-2000 apex in this respect — every pitch after 90 pitches (or in Gronk’s case, every play, period), I’m worried about something bad happening. He’s like a walking Lombardi Trophy.8 I support any plan that includes the words “Let’s keep Gronk healthy for January and February.”

Q: I was pleased to see your discussion of Gronk and Watt in your last column. The NFL is increasingly defined by the actions of a small group — the uber-mensch — that, like Nietzschean supermen, have the will to dominate and represent a higher stage of human evolution. Remember how at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, astronaut Dave Bowman touches the monolith and is reborn as a starchild, just as the apes at the beginning of the movie touched the monolith and began evolving into humans. Well these two players have touched the monolith. I don’t think they’re starchildren quite yet — maybe just the next step. I call their species Homo Supremus. Rodgers and Watt are members of Homo Supremus. Gronk, especially after destroying the will of another human being last week, might be a member, but we have to seem him stay healthy for a long period. Uber-mensch don’t get injured frequently. I, for one, accept our new superevolved overlords.
—Adam, Los Angeles

BS: I was just saying that.

Q: I’m not that shocked that you’re correlating the Douchey Brady pictures with the Pats success. What shocks me: that you’re putting so much weight into it. Would 1999 Bill Simmons trust anyone from New York for the success of a Boston franchise? What happens during the playoffs if Eric from NY doesn’t send a douchey Brady pic? That’s way too much power for a person from New York. What if it’s some sort of elaborate jinx? Or is it a reverse jinx at this point? And by calling it out, am I reversing the reverse jinx, therefore jinxing the Pats? I feel like we’d need to get Dierdorf in here to figure out if this email should be printed or just burned. Either way, I fear that there’s some bad juju around this.
—Steve C., Chelmsford, MA

BS: I hope we never find out.

Q: Billy Boy! Your Pats are on a tear, and while Jon Gruden dubbed Peyton “The Sheriff,” it looks like this little cowboy has been getting the job done at a better pace. Do you think he wrassled the Bucking Bronco for good this year? Perhaps he’ll lasso himself some cattle for kicks. New douchebag stat for you: pretending to be a cowboy and Woody from Toy Story is more intimidating. This man ranks high in this stat, and that’s why Tom Brady is our 2014 Douchbag Champion!
—Eric, NYC

BS: The Douche Train rolls on! And kudos to Eric from NYC for allowing New York to have an ongoing impact in one of the three biggest American professional sports this year.

CHIEFS (+2.5) over Broncos

Get well soon, Eric Berry.

Dolphins (-6) over JETS

Q: The best team in New York is … the New York Islanders. Please don’t put the Simmons stink on them by acknowledging this.
—T. Smith, Yorktown, NY

BS: He’s not even kidding. When did New York and Cleveland switch places? Last week, I passed through JFK Airport and they were selling Jeter’s jersey as the gift shop’s token Yankees jersey. He retired almost two months ago! Why not sell Mantle and DiMaggio while you’re at it? The Yankees don’t have one marketable active player for the JFK gift shop? What happened? How sad it is that Mike and the Mad Dog getting back together would be the single biggest New York sports story of the past two years? I don’t know how to follow sports when I don’t have at least three semi-threatening New York teams to hate at all times. Get your shit together, New York.

Q: The Jets cut Drew Stanton to make room for Tim Tebow. How does this not get any more press? Wouldn’t that be the most Jet move of all time to cut a future Super Bowl winning QB they thought was worth less of a roster spot than Tim Tebow.
—Steven W, NYC

BS: I mean … when you’re bemoaning the day you let Drew Stanton go, you’ve really hit rock bottom.

Q: How bad must it smell in the world of The Walking Dead? I’m serious can we get some sort of biologists, mortician or something on this? It’s got to be awful.
—Brian B., Tulsa

BS: I think about this every time I watch an episode. Nobody showers, uses soap or washes their clothes, which means the B.O. Factor has to be a 28 out of 10 at all times. Everyone goes to the bathroom outside. You can’t go 12 hours without killing multiple zombies and getting sprayed with zombie guts. There are tens of thousands of rotting zombies littered across Atlanta. My guess is that it smells so continuously appalling that, after a while, you can’t even notice the stench because your brain adapts and learns how to shut off its sense of smell. In other words, it’s just like rooting for the Jets.

Q: All season I’ve been reading your columns/mailbags with readers trashing their QBs. Jay Cutler is Jeff George. Never bet on Andy Dalton. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the worst QB to start 85+ games. You know what I have to say to that? F—k you, everyone. I’m a Jets fan. There’s not a QB situation in the league that I wouldn’t trade Vick/Geno/Simms straight up for right now. I’m 31 years old. The best Jets QB that I’ve been alive to see is probably Vinny Testaverde, and yes, I’d take currently 51 year old Testaverde over what we have now. Everyone who is not a Jets fan needs to shut the hell up. Cool? Thanks.
—Mike N, Bethlehem, PA

BS: Fair enough. And on that note — Happy Thanksgiving and happy 10th birthday to Rufus Simmons. We finally got a dog to double figures.

Last Week: 9-6
Season: 120-56

Filed Under: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins


Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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