Week 8 Picks: A Gambling Epiphany

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The last time I wrote a Friday football column — 35 days ago, if you’re keeping score — Washington fans thought they had upgraded from RG3 to Kirk Cousins, Bills fans were dreaming about EJ Manuel leading them to the Super Bowl, Seattle fans believed a healthy Percy Harvin would propel them to a repeat, and Cowboys fans were dreading their umpteenth straight 8-8 season. As the old saying goes, the NFL really stands for Not For Long. Just think — five weeks ago, Adrian Peterson’s football career was up in the air, the NFL didn’t have a foolproof plan to deal with domestic violence, and Roger Goodell was going to give a full account of what actually happened during the Ray Rice scandal.

(Thinking.)

OK, maybe not everything is different. But it’s good to be back. Thanks to Bill Barnwell for carrying this space for four straight Fridays — it was like watching Josh McCown putting up monster stats in Jay Cutler’s place in 2013, only if McCown were  younger and more talented. Barnwell did a fantastic job and I couldn’t have been prouder. But now … get ready for some picks, some fumbles, some pouting, some horrendous body language and yet another mediocre season. BECAUSE JAY CUTLER SIMMONS IS BACK!

My “hiatus” was productive for a variety of reasons. First, I found out that I have two kids and a wife — apparently we were living in the same house and everything. Who knew?

Second, my long-dormant golf game improved dramatically. I hadn’t played more than five rounds total in the past 20 years; two weeks ago, I shot a 94 from the blues. At this rate, I will be playing the Masters by next April.

Third, you know what’s really fun about not working? Not working! Being a lazy-ass is just incredible. I loved it so much. Wait, you want to play golf with me for the third time in three days? SURE! What time?

And fourth, I rededicated myself to understanding football gambling better. I mean, why not? What else was I going to do? One morning, I was killing time power-walking on a treadmill before a doubleheader of The Equalizer and A Walk Among The Tombstones when I came up with a gambling brainstorm: What if there were a better way to figure out NFL records than just wins and losses? For instance, Arizona battled back in Week 1 to beat San Diego 18-17 on Monday night — the Cardinals got the “win” and San Diego got the “loss,” but really, that was an “either/or” game, right? For gambling purposes, there had to be a better way to capture that.

I went through the first few weeks of games and redid everyone’s records, tagging each game as either a legitimate win or loss, an ass-kicking win or loss, or an either/or game. And if anything else happened in that game with gambling repercussions — a comeback win, a blown lead, major dysfunction, whatever — I tagged that, too. And again, I did this because I had an incredible amount of time on my hands.

So Buffalo might be 4-3 in real life, but its revised record would be 1-2-4 — one legit win, two legit losses and four either/or games.

Looks a little different than just “4-3,” right? The Bills are also 16th in DVOA (29th offensively and fourth defensively); they just lost their best two running backs; they’re minus-19 in first downs (123-142); and they’re averaging only 16.6 points these past five weeks. This week, they’re going against a 1-4-2 Jets team that has played a tougher schedule (last six weeks: Packers, Bears, Lions, Chargers, Broncos, Pats). Add everything up and taking the Jets — at home, giving a field goal — looks smart even after you remember that they’re the Jets and you’re backing Geno Smith.

One more example: Check out the Colts …

That Week 1 loss looks better in retrospect when you remember how well Indy played in the second half, and how splendidly Denver has played since. That Week 2 Eagles loss was ridiculous; if Luck gets that no-brainer pass interference call in the fourth, they win it. After that, they kicked ass for FIVE straight weeks. And the smarter numbers back it up: They’re in the top 10 in all three DVOA categories (eighth in offense, ninth in defense, fourth in special teams); they have the ball for 37 minutes a game; they’re an astonishing plus-64 on first downs (187 to 123); they’re 44 percent on third-down conversions (compared to 26 percent for their opponents); they have led by double figures in each of the past six games; and they’ve thrown for a dominating 806 yards more than their opponents.

Look at it from every angle and it’s hard not to come to this conclusion: The 2014 Colts are REALLY good. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the most important point: You don’t want to face Andrew Luck in a big game, under any circumstances. He’s been dynamite. Quarterbacks usually make four leaps …

Leap 1: “I’m definitely a playoff QB.”
Leap 2: “I’m definitely a franchise QB.”
Leap 3: “I can win a Super Bowl for you.”
Leap 4: “I AM A BEAST! YOU WILL FUCKING FEAR ME!!!!!!”

I can’t tell if Luck is making Leap 3 in 2014, or if he just decided to combine Leap 3 and Leap 4 into one mega-leap. But SOMETHING is happening here. Because I can tell you this much: As a Patriots fan, I want no part of Andrew The Giant in the playoffs. None. Zero. Nada.

OK, let’s do a quick 2014 power ranking, in reverse order, using everyone’s revised records (legit wins, legit losses, either/or games).

THE ROD MARINELLI DIVISION

32. OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-4-2)
31. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-6-0)
30. ATLANTA FALCONS (1-5-1)
29. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (0-2-4)
28. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-4-1)

Your top five for the 2015 draft in some order. The Vikings might have mild “frisky November/December gambling underdog” potential once they get healthy and Teddy Bridgewater gets going, but that’s it. Also, you could talk me into moving all five of these teams to London for the rest of the season. Seriously — Atlanta, don’t come back next week.

THE HEADLESS HORSEMEN

27. WASHINGTON D.C.’S (1-4-2)
26. TENNESSEE TITANS (2-3-2)
25. HOUSTON TEXANS (2-3-2)
24. NEW YORK JETS (1-4-2)

Take it from a Pats fan who rooted for the likes of Hugh Millen, Matt Cavanaugh and Traumatized By Super Bowl XX Tony Eason — there’s nothing worse than being stuck with a subpar-or-worse QB. It’s the same feeling as the few hours after losing your wallet, but every Sunday for four straight months. Short-term, couldn’t these teams just make a four-way Geno/Cousins/Locker/Fitzpatrick trade just to mix it up?

THE ROAD TO MEDIOCRITY

23. ST. LOUIS RAMS (0-3-3)
22. CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-3-3)
21. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (3-3-1)
20. NEW YORK GIANTS (3-4-0)
19. CHICAGO BEARS (2-2-3)

I don’t believe in any of these teams, with one exception: You can’t rule out the Bears getting out of their own way and ripping off some wins. They have two Vikings games, a Bucs game and home games against Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit left … and I hate to say it, but they scare the shit out of me in New England this weekend. (Wait, you just smelled out my elaborate jinx? Crap, I’m rusty.)

A WHIFF OF FRISKY

18. BUFFALO BILLS (1-2-4)
17. CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-1-4)

Just a whiff. Not quite a strong odor. For the record, they play each other in Week 13. And for the record, Mike Lombardi signed Brian Hoyer and traded Trent Richardson’s carcass for a first-rounder well before anyone realized Trent Richardson was a carcass … and yes, he absolutely would have kept that no. 4 overall pick and drafted Sammy Watkins last May. Whatever.

THE DISAPPOINTERERS

16. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (1-1-4)
15. CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-2-2)
14. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-3-2)

In Week 10, the Niners and Saints have the Season From Hell Bowl to decide who’s actually having the Season From Hell. So stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, I’m not giving up on the Bengals yet — let’s wait until A.J. Green comes back before we pour dirt on those guys. Remember, the NFL season doesn’t REALLY start until November.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

13. DETROIT LIONS (4-1-2)
12. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (3-1-3)

Two flawed playoff teams with the same fundamental problem — if Megatron or Gronk isn’t 90-100 percent in January, they have no chance. Cross them off. Without Gronk, New England’s offense is a bunch of .280 hitters with .740 OPSes; and it might not matter, anyway, after the Mayo/Ridley/Jones injuries. And the Lions have more weapons, but would you rather have Matt Stafford and Jim Caldwell … or Brady and Belichick? Come on.

THE YEAR-AFTERERS

11. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2-2-2)

Just a textbook Super Bowl hangover season. I’m officially in “Are we sure they’re good?” mode with them. (You’ll see where I settled later in the column.) By the way, Pete Carroll turned out to be a terrific peacetime president … but you don’t want him as your wartime president. Every Patriots fan knew this already. Myself included.

THE SLEEPERS

10. MIAMI DOLPHINS (2-2-2)
9. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2-2-2)

Love the way both teams are playing. Miami should have beaten Green Bay, and they absolutely housed the Bears. Tannehill looked fantastic last week — repeat: FANTASTIC. And the Chiefs hung with Denver and San Francisco, won in San Diego, annihilated the Pats and Dolphins and have the Rams/Jets/Bills/Steelers and two Oakland games left. That’s right, we all have a legitimate chance to wager against Andy Reid in the playoffs again. I’m giddy.

THE FEEL-GOOD ENIGMAS

8. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-0-4)
7. ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-1-1)

Similar teams in this respect: superb coaching staffs that spent time “creating a culture,” playmakers on offense, overachievers on defense, good home crowds, helmets with birds … and I don’t even remotely trust their QBs. Ironically, they’re playing each other on Sunday! (Was that the right use of “ironically?” I botch that word 75 percent of the time.) Editor’s note: No.

THE CONTENDERS

6. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-1-3)
5. GREEN BAY PACKERS (3-2-2)
4. BALTIMORE RAVENS (4-1-2)
3. DALLAS COWBOYS (4-1-2)

San Diego might be ranked too high, but I like those guys and they’re undeniably banged up right now. Even last night in Denver, they were in that game until they got jobbed by putrid officiating. They’ll be heard from in January. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind; the Ravens have been lights-out at home and they’re a top-10 team in all three DVOA categories, even if they’re last in the Karma DVOA category that doesn’t exist; and I love how the Cowboys are playing offensively, but I don’t trust their defense even a little and you can’t make me. So there.

THE SLEEPING GIANT

2. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (5-1-1)

Week 11, home for Brady and the Pats — that’s when we’ll know with these guys one way or the other. I am a believer.

THE FAVORITE

1. DENVER BRONCOS (5-0-2)

Shaping up to be a historically great juggernaut, as our friend Aaron Schatz broke down even before last night’s San Diego win. I see them finishing 14-2 overall — they’ll lose in San Diego or Kansas City, but that’s it. And if Manning can’t win the Super Bowl with THIS team, then I don’t know what to tell you.

One more thing: Before we get to the Week 8 picks, I wanted to clear up my 2014 record against the spread. After three weeks, I was sitting at 25-23 … and then I didn’t make picks in this space for four weeks. So what’s my real record?

Well, if Roger Goodell can claim that Ray Rice deceived him on June 16, or that Goodell didn’t know what was on that second elevator tape, then I’m claiming that I went 58-0 against the spread from Week 4 through Week 7.

Here are the Week 8 picks …

(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)

BRONCOS (-7.5) over Chargers
I swear on the lives of both of my dogs, I picked the Broncos in this one. Going against Manning at home in a Thursday-night game? Come on. Let’s run some mean Manning emails to make me feel better about where this Broncos season is going.

Q: I’ll get right to the point …

Regular season: 98-49, 2.48 ERA
Postseason: 1-4, 5.20 ERA

Is Clayton Kershaw the actual little brother Peyton Manning should have had?
—Billy Bahnsen, Fresh Meadows, NY

BS: (Biting my tongue.)

Q: While you were on vacation, the Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs and Clayton Kershaw became the Peyton Manning of Baseball. Other sports: Karl Malone (basketball), Joe Thornton (hockey), Lee Westwood (golf), Andy Murray (tennis), Leo DiCaprio (acting). Who am I missing?
—Dave Cellucci, Melrose, MA

BS: I mean …

Bears (+6) over PATS
This line is three points too high. I’m taking solace in the whole “I could see the Bears dominating for 56 minutes as the Pats improbably hang around, then Cutler doing something dumb in the final four minutes, then Brady winning it with 20 seconds left” scenario that every Bears fan is dreading right now. By the way, you should be VERY happy that you didn’t get to read me and listen to me after Week 4, when I was getting emails like this one …

Q: I just dropped Brady from my fantasy team. Didn’t even bother trying to trade him. Yep. That’s where we are.
—Brian K, Eugene, OR

BS: Brady landed on the waiver wire for my East Coast fantasy league for like 36 hours. It was incredible. Absolutely, unequivocally, the rock-bottom moment of the entire Brady-Belichick era. (Thinking.) Wait, that’s not true. We lost a Super Bowl because the Giants’ fifth-string receiver caught a third down pass off his helmet. I forgot. But I couldn’t believe the sight of TOM FREAKING BRADY sitting on the waiver wire with the likes of Toby Gerhart and Geno Smith. Yes, I picked him up. Yes, he’s starting for me this week.

Q: Billy Boy! A recent douche sighting caught this man on camera. Apparently he is so ashamed of being 20th or lower in yards/game, completion percentage, and yards/attempt that he has taken a public disguise. (My, those curls!) Appearing as a mix between a Colombian drug dealer, an FBI informant, and a barbershop quartet singer is a new stat on the douche rankings. But hey, Tom Brady keeps breaking barriers, and that’s why he’s the 2014 Douchebag Champion!
—Eric, NYC

137th Kentucky Derby - Inside

BS: Remember, the 2014 Pats are 2-0 when we run a mean Brady-related email from Eric in NYC!

Q: I’ve developed a theory on Jay Cutler: he will ruin the mood in any room he enters. When the Bears play at home and people want to see him win, he throws disastrous interceptions and they lose. When they go on the road and the entire stadium is rooting for him to implode, he plays efficient football and looks like a top-10 QB. To back up my theory, the Bears are currently 3-1 on the road and 0-3 at home. And now it seems this has extended from ruining the mood in stadiums to destroying the Bears locker room. Thoughts?
—Matthew Evans, Peru, IL

BS: That’s a good one! You’re saying Jay Cutler ruins the atmosphere, basically — so his nickname should be something like “Global Warming” or “The Global Warmer”? I’m in. Now watch him throw six touchdowns this weekend. Dammit.

Lions (-4.5) over FALCONS
London, 9:30 a.m. ET, 6:30 a.m. PT … that’s right, it’s the dumbest sporting event of the year! Plus, we kept our streak alive of sending England the crappiest NFL games possible. I’m waking up early and watching this only because I hate myself. That reminds me …

Q: Have you ever listened to the lyrics from The Piña Colada Song? It’s about a husband who is bored with his wife and sees a newspaper advertisement for a woman who is looking for a man who likes Piña Coladas (among other things — like sex in dunes!). The husband responds in the newspaper saying he in fact does like piña coladas (among other things) and wants to meet at a bar called O’Malleys. He gets to the bar, and it’s his freaking wife! They laugh, never realizing they both liked Piña Coladas. My question: What NFL team does this song most represent?
—Marc, Madison, WI

BS: Two words: the Lions! No Super Bowl appearances. Decades and decades of losing. They’ve never had a great coach, and their last superstar QB (Bobby Layne) retired in 1962. Their most iconic player abruptly retired during his prime. And they haven’t even blown enough memorable games that their fans can claim they’re tortured. They’re just kinda drifting through an unhappy marriage like the one in “The Piña Colada Song.” By the way, this clip is amazing.

Rams (+7.5) over CHIEFS
Game 5 of the World Series is that night. In other words, this will either be …

A. One of the greatest days in Kansas City sports history
B. One of the worst days in Kansas City sports history

… with no in-between.

I’m leaning toward “one of the worst.” Hope I’m wrong. Sincerely, The Guy Who Has The Royals At 18-1 To Win The World Series right now. Speaking of sneaky-good bets, here’s the rest of the Sneaky-Good Watch for Week 8: Todd Bowles, Dan Bailey field goals, Philly’s special teams, Austin Davis (!!!), Odell Beckham Jr., every Antone Smith screen pass, every Jim Caldwell sideline shot, Detroit’s front seven, every Le’Veon Bell run, Miami’s front seven, the Golden Tate signing (gulp), Ryan Tannehill, the thought of Sammy Watkins with a great QB, Steve Smith since he added the “Sr.,” the conspiracy theory that Dallas is running DeMarco Murray into the ground because he’s a free agent in four months.

TITANS (+3.5) over Texans
Question: Would you rather wager against J.J. Watt when he’s gleefully chasing around a rookie QB on a team missing its left tackle, or would you rather wager on Ryan Pickspatrick playing on the road? Is this what Russian roulette feels like? Meanwhile, something important happened when I was away …

Q: Did you A) Take a big drink B) Evil Laugh with hand wringing C) Subtle Head Nod D) Yell Woooo! and do a little Rick Flair Strut or E) Tiger Woods Fist Pump when you found out Bernard Karmell Effing Pollard was out for the season?
—Fred D. Jones, Lexington

BS: I did none of those things. I obeyed Rule No. 25 of the Sports Fan Karma Rules: “Thou shalt not celebrate the injury of anyone on any other team for karmic reasons … not even if this man single-handedly murdered three of your football seasons.”

BUCS (-3) over Vikings
Is it too late to send this game to London? More emails …

Q: I keep hearing writers, analysts, and commentators call Teddy Bridgewater “Teddy Football.” No. No. NO. Just stop. He already has the best nickname in the NFL — Teddy Throwsavelt!
—Benjamin, Madison, WI

BS: Outstanding. By the way, Teddy Throwsavelt is having his fantasy breakout game this weekend. You watch.

Q: Remember when you wrote before the season, “In December, when the Vikes are 9-6 and Dallas is 2-13, we’ll be laughing about how Adrian Peterson wanted to be a Cowboy.” Do I win a prize for being the 1000th person to resend this sentence to you?
—Jeff, Minneapolis

BS: What about when I wrote before Week 3, “BS: If you ever want to fluster a Cowboys fan, ask them if they’d trade DeMarco Murray for Adrian Peterson right now. Wouldn’t that be the jerryjonesiest move of all time? And shouldn’t jerryjonesiest be a word?” My column archives are the jerryjonesiest of column archives. I am terrible at this. Don’t tell anyone.

Seahawks (-6) over PANTHERS
Just a ridiculous line. The Seahawks haven’t looked good since Week 1; they’ve been outscored 125-123 in the past six weeks. They just endured consecutive weeks of insane news cycles — first, the Percy Harvin trade followed by the Lucchino/Werner/Henry-esque smear campaign of Harvin on his way out the door, followed by this week’s super-insane “report” (I use the word loosely) of Seahawks players allegedly bitching behind closed doors that Russell Wilson isn’t black enough. And yet … they were saddled with a brutal early schedule, got Kitchen Sinked by St. Louis last weekend (seriously, the Rams did everything short of trying a Fumblerooski) and have a sweet Panthers/Raiders/Giants stretch coming up. I can’t give up on the 2014 Hawks yet.

Q: Did you see this Katy Perry tweet? “@katyperry: All I want for my birthday is my name on the Shakey’s Pizza marquee on Santa Monica Blvd. Please.” How can you not love this? Katy Perry likes the same crappy pizza that you and your friends eat at your annual fantasy football postseason banquet. Maybe next, instead of Trevor Knight, she will say “Bill Simmons … call me.” You lucky SOB. I hate you already.
—Brett R., Tulsa

BS: Thanks for setting up our Shakey’s Pizza Watch for Week 8: the Marc Trestman Era, the Ken Whisenhunt Era, the Mike Smith Era, EJ Manuel’s mental conditioning coach, the Andy Dalton Era, Seattle’s special teams, Carolina’s front seven, the Browns/Chargers/Vikings/Niners O-lines, Buffalo’s secondary, every Jerome Boger Game, anyone who trades with Bill Belichick, Green Bay’s run D, any Detroit kicker, all “Jason Garrett Will Be The First Coach Fired” bets (R.I.P.), the Reggie McKenzie Era, New England’s banged-up defense, any under-oath testimony from any sports commissioner.

BENGALS (+1.5) over Ravens
If this isn’t a Kitchen Sink Game for the Bengals, then I don’t know my Kitchen Sink Games anymore. As for Baltimore …

Q: Is anyone going to cover the Ravens’ response to the OTL report? It was a serious accusation, their response made NO SENSE, and NOBODY has said a word about it.
—Ava, Santa Clara

BS: Nah … people are tired of the Ray Rice story. He punched his fiancée out in an elevator and we were all horrified by the video. Nobody wants to watch him play football, so we don’t really care that the NFL may have violated his rights (and the collective bargaining agreement) by suspending him twice for the same offense. We don’t care that the Ravens knew about the second video — according to multiple reports — and never explained why they handled it the way they did. We don’t care that Roger Goodell re-suspended Rice because of “new evidence” from the second elevator video, even though Rice told Goodell on June 16 exactly what happened in that elevator and had multiple witnesses in the room with them (including an NFLPA attorney taking copious notes). We don’t care that Goodell later claimed that Rice’s June 16 account was “ambiguous” and that the video showed a “starkly different sequence of events,” even though Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg reported on September 19 that “with his wife sitting by his side in a conference room, Rice told Goodell that he hit her and knocked her out, according to four sources.” (FOUR!) We don’t care that the NFL claims it never saw the second video, even though Rice and his team went into that June 16 meeting believing that the NFL had seen it — which is why he told the truth — and even though we know a law enforcement official mailed that video to the NFL’s director of security. We don’t care that the NFL diligently tried to keep Goodell from testifying about this under oath … and failed.

(Will we care in two weeks, when Goodell testifies under oath … and we find out if he violated the CBA by re-suspending someone for no real reason, or why the NFL seemingly tried to filibuster this story away? I hope so.)

Colts (-3.5) over STEELERS
Dolphins (-4.5) over JAGUARS
Raiders (+7) over BROWNS

I’m allowing you to throw the Colts and Dolphins into a two-team money line parlay. I am NOT allowing you to tease the Browns. Just don’t. Stay away. Meanwhile …

Q: How much lower do my Jaguars have to sink before we at least get an honorable mention in the list of tortured fan bases? Is there any more hopeless situation in the NFL? We suffered through a decade plus of wasted drafts, incompetent coaches, and GMs. In the last five years, the most positive thing to happen was getting a new owner who looks like Ron Jeremy, and the second most positive thing was that he installed pools in the stadium so that fans have something to do other than watch their team get their asses kicked week in and week out. Throw in the years and years of mean jokes, nonstop stories about the team moving to Los Angeles or London, zero Super Bowl appearances, and Barnwell’s weekly “Here’s how shitty Jacksonville is” column and I don’t think any other fan base is going through as much agony right now as Jags’ fans are.
—Jeffrey M, Chattanooga, TN

BS: Stop it! Gus Bradley is a keeper, Blake Bortles is a keeper, and your owner stole the show in South Park’s legendary Goodell-Bot scene. Things are looking up.

Q: Could Goodell’s cameo in Draft Day become the highlight of his tenure? I mean, he actually gets cheered as he walks onto the draft stage (the most unrealistic moment in a movie LOADED with unrealistic moments, as you laid out in your column). I can just picture Goodell, after he gets inevitably canned, sitting in front of a big screen TV watching and rewinding himself walking onto the stage to cheers in the movie with a blank look on his face like he doesn’t understand what went wrong.
—Chris, Kansas City

BS: There’s no way Goodell saw that movie — it was barely in the theaters and went straight to video, which means they sent him the video and he never got it. (Sorry, I had to.)

JETS (-2.5) over Bills
Q: Please refute this conspiracy for me: Doug Marrone, sitting on his couch on August 29th decides to watch The Replacements. He then asks himself, ‘Could I win with Shane Falco instead of E.J. ‘God I hope they run the football here’ Manuel?” From there, he cross-references ‘retired NFL quarterbacks’ with ‘long hair’ and ends up with Kyle Orton. Orton shows up, takes over, inspires the fans and by Week 8, they’re thinking they might make a run in AFC East for the 1st time in almost forever. So what’s next? Future suggestions include getting Marrone a Bear Bryant hat, getting Dan Carpenter to smoke cigarettes while kicking, getting the whole team to fight in a bar and dance in the prison, and having Kyle “Falco” end up with the hottest Bills cheerleader.
—Tanner, State College, PA

BS: I cannot refute that conspiracy … or any NFL-related conspiracies, for that matter. But I don’t trust Shakyle Falcorton this week. Whatever happens, just remember … pain heals, chicks dig scars and glory lasts forever.

CARDS (-1.5) over Eagles
Here’s your “NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!” line of the 2014 season. I’ll let Dave explain …

Q: The Cardinals were almost unanimously picked third or fourth in their division. Four of their top six defensive players got hurt/suspended. Palmer is their QB. Their players have little to no fantasy value except for Ellington. But these guys just keep winning games. Do you realize their one loss was at Denver, where they trailed by only four points in the fourth in the midst of LOGAN THOMAS playing the entire second half and completing one of his eight passes? Or that they have hands down the most underrated home field advantage in the NFL? Seriously, does anyone ever talk about “the nest”? One of the loudest buildings in the NFL and the Cardinals are only 9-2 there since the beginning of 2013! So did you settle on the Cardinals as this year’s “nobody believes in us” team yet?
—Dave M, Salt Lake City

BS: I MEAN …

Q: We could be one week away from the 6-1 Arizona Cardinals hosting the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys with the inside track to home field advantage in the NFC in the balance. Is it time to just admit that we are all Jon Snow now? Because it should be obvious that we know nothing.
—Kevin, Long Beach CA

BS: To be fair, I’ve known that about myself for years and years. But I know this much: I love laying less than two in this Cardinals game.

Packers (+1.5) over SAINTS

You’re giving me a red-hot Aaron Rodgers, playing indoors, against the single-worst defense in football according to DVOA? And I’m GETTING points??? Here you go, Vegas — I’m giving you a 15-minute loop of the chorus of Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best” as a thank-you present.1

Q: Welcome back! I know we Saints fans are notorious for ridiculous conspiracy theories, but I think I’ve finally figured out what’s going on this season. Since the rest of the NFC South is terrible and the Seahawks are struggling, what if the Saints are just hoping to go 7-9 and stumble into hosting Seattle in the wild card round? It would be the ultimate long con for all the playoff misery Seattle has inflicted on us since 2011, right?
—Jessica Lotz

BS: I can see it now … Seattle fighting back to grab the top wild-card spot, New Orleans backing into the NFC South title, then the Seahawks laying 8½ points in New Orleans in Round 1 before everything goes to hell. What an excellent call by Jessica! See, NFL — you haven’t driven away all your female fans yet. This is great.

Washington (+10) over COWBOYS
Has there ever been a more dangerous “WE ARE LOOKING SO DAMNED GOOD RIGHT NOW, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!?!?” Monday-night home game than this one? At the very least, the Cowboys have to sweat this one out, right? Speaking of sweating …

Q: Do you and Sal have odds on when Murray and Romo go down? Feels like Murray has two more weeks max, and Romo could go at any moment. Can you guys set these dates? And do you get 20-1 if you pick the game they BOTH get carted off?
—Eric Legg, Denver, CO

BS: Copy-paste that email and forward it to your buddy who loves the Cowboys. One of four things will happen.

1. No response whatsoever.

2. Swear words.

3. Swear words followed by an insult about someone on your favorite team.

4. The overcompensating “I know, I know, this is a house of cards right now!” email in which they’re secretly trying to reverse-jinx the contents of the email immediately.

Before we go, I wanted to run two more reader emails because I thought both were important for different reasons, and they also reflected the general sentiments of hundreds and hundreds of readers over these past few weeks. Thanks to everyone who wrote in, whether it was to speak their mind, check in, say a couple of nice words or whatever. It helped a lot. Seriously. Thank you. Anyway …

Here’s email no. 1:

The NFL has a lot of problems these days. It’s increasingly clear that the sport’s violence does permanent damage to its players, making the league’s very existence morally dubious. Players are raised and steeped in a culture of violence — if someone hits you in the mouth, you hit them back harder. That’s part of the game. But it also seems to make them particularly prone to violent conduct off the field. The fact that many are suffering brain trauma probably doesn’t help. This problem isn’t going away anytime soon, either. The players keep getting bigger and faster and recovering from injuries quicker. The effects of PED use are there to see every Sunday, yet the league seems more interested in busting players for pot. Will the new substance abuse rules fix this? Doubtful.

So, three big problems with no easy fixes. And that is why Goodell is so great for the 32 owners. As long as he is commissioner, these are not the NFL’s problems, these are HIS problems. He is an invaluable scapegoat, a convenient punching bag for those who want to love the NFL while at the same time reserving the right to be morally outraged at its problems. It’s not the NFL; it’s Goodell! The owners no doubt know this. They know that without the bumbling Goodell between them and the media, all those fingers suddenly get pointed at them. A new commissioner might spin these problems better, but unless you think he or she has some magic solution that I fail to see, they aren’t going away. That means the main effect of a competent commissioner would be to remove the scapegoat and make these problems the NFL’s problems. No owner wants that. That is why Goodell is so valuable. That is why he will stay.
—Jack H, Washington, D.C.

And email no. 2:

I am writing to you as a lifelong Chicago Bears fan. I wore little Bears sweaters as a baby, and dressed dolls in the same as a toddler. I decorated my bedroom with Bears posters, and watched every game that was broadcast nationally with my parents and sisters. This eventually expanded into a personal passion not just for the Bears, but for football in general. I haven’t missed a Bears game (including preseason) in years. My dog walks around in a Bears collar. I spend every Sunday during the season in front of multiple screens. My podcast downloads consist of about 10 different daily football podcasts. I am commissioner of my fantasy league, and I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that I know at least as much about the NFL as any guy in my league. All that is to say that I saw myself as the NFL’s ideal female consumer.

I took pride in the fact that I can ‘hang with the guys’ in any discussion about football, and about the fact that the depth of my knowledge pleasantly surprised every new coworker, friend, or boyfriend.

For me, to be a football fan is to feel part of a larger community. Sure, it’s a male dominated community that centers on the most masculine of sports. But there has always been a certain amount of kinship felt towards Bears fans I happen across in NYC, or people who share my podcast lineup. The events of the past few weeks have made this feeling seem inappropriate and misplaced. As a female NFL fan, to wear a jersey in public is to feel alien and dirty – it is to feel like I’m betraying some sort of female solidarity. I feel like the community I’d previously seen myself as a part of had never sought to have me to begin with; that my stay was only welcomed so long as it didn’t interfere with the larger machine.

As a former victim (and it still feels strange and shameful own up to that) of intimate partner violence, I feel torn. I will admit that I have watched the past few weeks of football. But I also hate myself for still wanting the entertainment of an entity that would have treated me as it has treated victims in similar circumstances.

I don’t want to get into the politics of it all, or get into how frustrated I am, not with just with the reactionary nature of the Commissioner, but also how most national media is equally as reactionary in this situation. And as a lawyer, I am frustrated when teams hide behind the criminal justice system, and refuse to take action to suspend players that haven’t been charged with a crime. Shouldn’t we all know too well by now that a large percentage of time, those charges never come because the victim ‘deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident’ and refuses to speak again the man she loves?

I can’t draw any larger societal conclusions regarding the nuanced events of last month. But the point of writing you was to voice the emotional effects that these events have had on me, a female, former victim, and lifelong avid football fan. Last month, I lost my community. I hope that at some point in the future, I can again be proud of being part of ‘NFL nation’ again.”
—Laura, NYC

I hope so, too, Laura. Thanks for writing in. See you next week.

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 15-0
Season: 84-23

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

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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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