2013 ALCS Preview

Vote of Confidence


An Offensive Line Between Love and Hate

The Sports Guy navigates the delicate balance between being a solid starting quarterback and a total washout. Plus, the Week 6 picks.

We’re playing a little game this week. Guess which NFL head coach made the following comments about his starting quarterback last weekend.

“The players are all looking at him. They’re looking at him every snap. That’s their leader out there, and so if you’re wavering at all or you don’t have the right look in your eye, these guys can sense that. They can tell. So how you present yourself is huge. He’s a tenacious competitor, that kid. I love that. I love that part of him.”

High praise, right? So who said it? Here are your eight choices …

A. Chuck Pagano on Andrew Luck
B. Gus Bradley on Blaine Gabbert
C. John Fox on Peyton Manning
D. Andy Reid on Alex Smith
E. Gary Kubiak on Matt Schaub
F. Jason Garrett on Tony Romo
G. Pete Carroll on Russell Wilson
H. Tom Coughlin on Eli Manning

• You ruled out Kubiak immediately — after all, Schaub leapfrogged Jesse Pinkman, Dana Brody, Carrie Mathison, Kenny Powers, Skyler White and The Walking Dead Carl last weekend to become 2013’s most traumatized Sunday-night TV character.

• You ruled out Bradley because you’ve seen Gabbert play professional football this season.

• You ruled out Garrett because that quote was way too lively and insightful for Jason Garrett.

• You ruled out Coughlin because Eli hasn’t had the “right look in his eye” this year, unless it’s the look of someone who’s running for his life every week.

• You ruled out Fox because Peyton is playing the most devastating football we’ve ever seen a QB play — if you were lavishing him with a 65-word tribute, you’d probably throw in words like “remarkable,” “I’ve never seen anything like it” and “I’m just thankful that nobody has asked him to pee in a cup.”

That leaves Carroll, Pagano and Reid. Hmmmmmm. Andrew Luck has been our 2013 NPMVP (Non-Peyton MVP) through five weeks — he has turned a C-plus Colts team into a contender and beaten San Francisco and Seattle already. Pagano wouldn’t just say “how you present yourself is huge” about someone like Luck. He’s too good of a good talker; he’d throw in something like, “That’s why he has a chance to be one of the all-time greats” just to really bang it home. Totally true, by the way. Through 14 months, we’ve seen nothing from Andrew Luck to make us think “one of the all-time greats” is unrealistic. He’d be the first pick in any You Can Have One Football Player For The Next 12 Years draft. He’s playing so well that Colts fans aren’t even fazed that Evil Manning is gunning for a 6-6-6 (6,000 yards, 600 points, 60 TDs). Anyway, Pagano is out.

Now we’re down to Pete Carroll and Andy Reid. If you don’t chew on it long enough, you’d probably guess Carroll if only because those mystery quotes sound exactly like something you’d say about Russell Wilson — you know, Mr. Intangibles, the undersize third-round pick with the giant chip on his shoulder, the guy who inspired me to dump Josh Freeman as my B.S. Report crush (which sent Josh’s career into a tailspin), the charismatic leader who nearly dragged the Seahawks to the Super Bowl as a rookie. But Wilson is overqualified for those quotes. Look at those 65 words again.

“The players are all looking at him. They’re looking at him every snap. That’s their leader out there, and so if you’re wavering at all or you don’t have the right look in your eye, these guys can sense that. They can tell. So how you present yourself is huge. He’s a tenacious competitor, that kid. I love that. I love that part of him.”

You say those things because you believe them, but also because you’re hoping the quarterback hears them. It’s a strategic move. You’re not just his coach; you’re his Bundini Brown. You’re building your guy up, hyping him, trying to get HIM to believe it. Deep down, you know you’re doing it because of the precarious nature of the position itself. No football team can succeed with a quarterback who lost his mojo. Russell Wilson? He’s not losing his mojo. He’s sticking around for the long haul. You don’t need to pump up Russell Wilson. At least until I dump him on the B.S. Report for a new favorite QB to gamble on.

So that leaves us with Andy Reid — and yes, that’s the right answer. Nobody loves defending flawed QBs and building them back up more than Andy. He’s the guy who rehabilitated a once-broken Michael Vick, created actual trade value for Kevin Kolb, and navigated Donovan McNabb’s perilously rocky relationship with Philly fans. When he arrived in Kansas City last spring, he traded for Alex Smith knowing that Jim Harbaugh had already salvaged Smith’s career once with the rescue dog–savior routine.1 Harbaugh spent the 2011 season repairing Smith’s confidence in San Francisco, singing his praises and making sure everyone knew that ALEX SMITH IS MY GUY. Total bullshit. As soon as fate allowed Harbaugh to upgrade at quarterback — in the form of Smith’s concussion and Colin Kaepernick miraculously becoming Randall Cunningham 2.0 — he handed ALEX SMITH IS MY GUY a clipboard and a headset.

Will Reid shank Smith like that someday? For 2013, it doesn’t matter, not when Andy’s undefeated Chiefs were gift-wrapped a schedule that would cripple their hypothetical BCS ranking.2 It’s a relatively loaded team with one pulsating question mark: the quarterback, someone who’s never going to be Brees or Brady. But if he carries himself like them? That’s 75 percent of the battle. As long as Smith’s teammates believe in him, the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs have a chance in January and maybe even in February. Andy Reid knows this. So he’s pumping him up now.

Here’s another thing Andy knows: Quarterback is a truly fucked-up position. You need the reflexes of a Formula One driver and the durability of a professional wrestler. You know you’re taking six or seven monster licks per game (from people bigger and angrier than you, no less). You also know that on every pass play there’s a chance for a season-ending injury with 300-pound bodies tumbling around your knees and ankles. So you have those ongoing physical threats, as well as the relentless responsibility of the position itself: reading defenses, calling plays, audibling at the line, managing the game, perfecting your timing with receivers, mastering the nuances of hitting people in stride.

And that’s just the physical stuff. You also need to be one of the smartest guys on your football team, and definitely one of the coolest. You need to carry yourself like a CEO and motivate your troops like a battle sergeant. You need to convince them to fight for you, to believe in you, to protect you at all costs. You need to keep shaking off bad throws, bad plays and bad luck. You need to live with the fact that, for four or five solid months, you’re going to be the no. 1 reason your team wins or loses. And you need to ignore the failures of your peers — those three or four quarterbacks who mysteriously lose it every season — because deep down, you know it could always happen to you.

It’s the single hardest position to play in any professional sport. And the most fragile one, too. It doesn’t take much for Floundering Philip Rivers (2012) to magically transform back into Totally Competent Philip Rivers (2013) — just give him a new coach, a healthy Antonio Gates, a better offensive line and boom! He suddenly looks like Philip Rivers again. We’ve seen high-pedigree quarterbacks regain their juvenation before — most famously Brett Favre and Brett Favre’s penis. But you can lose your juvenation just as easily, especially if you don’t have the athletic pedigree of, say, Wilson or Luck. In no time whatsoever, before you even totally realize what’s happening, someone like 2011 Matt Schaub can morph into this …

Matt Schaub

Make a couple ghastly throws, hear a couple boos, take a few licks, notice a couple teammates glancing at you with real concern, turn to the wrong sports radio show at the wrong moment, hear one mean comment when you’re out to dinner with your family, have one lunatic fan show up at your house just to berate you, and suddenly you’re deep inside your own head and can’t escape. That’s what just happened to poor Schaub. One of my readers (Nick in San Jose) thinks Schaub just had a free fall into the “Delhomme Zone” (strong name), which reminded me of a valuable learning experience. Back in 2009, Jake Delhomme’s career was imploding in Carolina after a five-pick playoff game in January and a five-turnover game in Week 1 the following September. I dare you to find a more memorably awful two-game performance in NFL quarterback history — this was like Taylor Kitsch following up John Carter with Battleship II: Gigli.

Heading into Week 2 of that 2009 season, I decided to get cute by pushing Delhomme’s potential to turn things around. My theory: Since Panthers fans had completely given up on Jake and were doing everything short of strangling themselves with Delhomme jerseys, I thought that collective loss of faith could actually help him.

“What happens to a player if he can’t hit rock bottom because it already happened? What happens to a player who doesn’t have to worry about regaining the trust of his fans because it’s already gone? Maybe that player becomes liberated. It’s like Seinfeld’s famous joke about why old people back out of driveways without ever looking to see if cars are coming. They don’t care anymore. They’re old. They’re backing up, that’s that, and we have to get out of their way. Period. I think Jake reached that point. He has nothing to lose because it’s already gone. So why wouldn’t Jake just go out there, fling the football and have fun?”

Man, those words looked great on the screen. What I didn’t know: Jake’s right arm was shot. He never fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2007, and once his mojo got sapped, that was that. Starting with that infamous 2009 playoff defeat to Arizona, Jake played in just 18 more games for three teams before finally retiring, throwing 12 touchdowns and an astonishing 30 picks in those games. In an interesting twist, Kurt Warner won that same infamous 2009 playoff game — another QB who once hit rock bottom, only in Warner’s case, he rallied back with the help of God and puppies. Here’s what I wrote about Warner heading into the 2003 season, one year after he went 0-6 as a Rams starter with three touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and 21 sacks:

“His career hasn’t been the same since Super Bowl XXXI. Since then, he’s been dealing with a variety of injuries; his wife pulling a Mrs. [Doug] Christie with that appalling radio-show defense of him; Marc Bulger’s breath on his neck; a splintered locker room; his coach’s lukewarm endorsement over the winter; and at least 500,000 fans making that “Apparently Warner’s deal with the devil finally expired” joke. Has there ever been a tougher fantasy season to predict? He’s either out of the lineup by Week 5, or he’s throwing for 4,500 yards and 35 TDs. There’s no in-between.”

What happened? In Week 1, Warner fumbled (use your LeBron voice here) not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, not five times, but SIX times against the Giants (losing three of them). He never started another game for St. Louis. From 2003 through 2006, Warner finished 8-17 as a starter for three different teams, threw 24 touchdowns and 19 picks, fumbled 37 times, and endured a startling 82 sacks as everyone wondered No, seriously, this is getting weird … do you think Kurt Warner sold his soul to the devil in 1999? Mid-2000s Kurt Warner had just as massive of a salad fork sticking out of his back as 2009 Delhomme did (or as 2013 Schaub does right now).

Here’s how low Warner sunk: Before the 2007 season, Warner signed with Arizona to compete for the starting job with Matt Leinart. That’s when he cut a second deal with the devil, made sweet fantasy football love with Larry Fitzgerald, regained his mojo completely and totally, made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and even carried the Cinderella Cardinals within a whisper of winning Super Bowl XLIII. We’re talking about three different people here from 2002 through 2008, all of whom looked exactly like Kurt Warner. That’s football.

My beloved podcast buddy Mike Lombardi believed that Warner absorbed too many licks in St. Louis and the residual damage changed his “eye level.” That was one of my favorite Lombardi terms — ideally, quarterbacks should be looking past the line of scrimmage, trying to find open receivers and trusting that everything happening directly in front of them will work in their favor. They ignore: missed blocks, 300-pounders rolling around near their feet, and the possibility of being pancaked. They refuse to be swayed from keeping their eyes locked downfield and trusting the process as a whole. But when they’re banged up, hiding an injury, worrying about their blocking, fearing the next pancake sack and/or battling self-doubt? Their eye level drops down to the line of scrimmage (everything directly in front of them), they start quick-throwing passes, they start making decisions they never normally make, their body language goes to hell … and suddenly you’re here.

Jake Delhomme

And by the way, everything I just described can happen to the best quarterbacks alive in a single game — just ask Patriots fans (Super Bowl XLII), Packers fans (Giants-Pack, January 2012) and Colts fans (2004 AFC Championship Game), and definitely ask Vikings fans (2009 NFC Championship Game) while screaming “KILL THE HEAD AND THE BODY WILL DIE!”3 Every quality defense wants to pound a quarterback, change his eye level and transform him into a grimacing, eye-rolling, shoulder-sagging, mojo-lacking mess.

After Eli Manning tossed his second interception in Chicago (a TAINT, no less), it seemed like this might even happen to Eli last night. Were we about to watch a two-time Super Bowl MVP free-fall into the Delhomme Zone? He managed to fight it off … at least for this week. And even if I’d love seeing the guy who murdered my Patriots in two Super Bowls go full Delhomme on us, it still seems a little far-fetched. Maybe he’s played poorly at times, and maybe he’s thrown more interceptions (15) through six games than anyone since Dan Fouts in 1986,4 but it has never felt like Eli was actually breaking down. Same for Ben Roethlisberger. I’ve never lost faith in them as quarterbacks. They’re just stuck on lousy football teams. They know it and we know it.

Matt Schaub? That’s a different story. He passed the point of no return during the tail end of that Seattle game. It wasn’t so much the humiliation of that ghastly game-tying TAINT to Richard Sherman as it was Schaub’s distraught reaction afterward — even he didn’t believe in himself anymore. Imagine playing for the Texans and seeing your leader looking like that. How would you regroup? When it happened again in San Francisco last weekend, I watched Eastbound & Down afterward, saw Kenny Powers’s overwhelmed expression during his first Sports Sesh show, and thought to myself, SCHAUB! That’s a bad sign for the Matt Schaub era.

And let’s face it — he’s never been the same kind of gunslinger he was before a foot injury prematurely ended his 2011 season.5 Like Delhomme in 2009, he might not be the same physically. Could that be why Schaub’s eye level dropped and his mojo disappeared? Or was it a combination of factors? When Gary Kubiak decided to stick with him for one more weekend, his explanation didn’t exactly remind me of an inspirational Andy Reid quote.

“Tough decision. Real tough. I feel like it’s the best thing for our football team this weekend and so there was a lot of thought put into it, a lot of evaluations.”

Translation: Don’t worry, Matt, you’re still kinda sorta maybe our guy! This will end badly.

But Alex Smith? He’s fine for now. His coach believes in him. He’s a tenacious competitor, that kid. I love that. I love that part of him. For now, anyway. Because as soon as Alex Smith doesn’t have the right look in his eye, Andy Reid will dump him and find someone else.

On to the Week 6 picks …

(Home teams in caps)

BEARS (-7.5) over Giants
Yep, it’s Friday, which means I lost another Skunk of the Week Pick! Quick question: Let’s say the Giants thought about offering Eli Manning right now — this very moment — for Cleveland’s no. 1 pick and a second-rounder in 2015. Which team says no to that trade? Why wouldn’t the Giants blow everything up and usher in a full rebuild? Would the Browns give up that much for a QB who turns 33 in January? Can you imagine living in a world where THE CLEVELAND BROWNS started a good quarterback every week? Wouldn’t they win the AFC North with him? Could Eli lead them to a no. 3 seed? Can’t everyone just say “yes” because the 2013 season would be more fun? More importantly …

BROWNS (+3) over Lions
If that trade happened tonight, would Eli be allowed to play in Sunday’s Browns-Lions game? Why not? How would that work from a fantasy standpoint? Could you keep Eli’s fantasy points for both Week 6 games? Would this be the greatest moment in fantasy football history? Would this cause a riot on the Internet? I love everything about Eli-to-the-Browns-right-now.

As for the Lions, Michigan reader Matt Cook wonders, “Can we come up with a title for the opposite of the Ewing Theory? When a team loses their ‘best’ player and becomes so incompetent that you’d think they never played that sport before — like the Lions last weekend — I think we should call it the ‘Calvin Johnson Theory.'” Sorry, Matt, you’re too late — that’s actually the (Peyton) Manning Theory, created after the 2011 Colts had a free fall from the playoffs to 2-14. Good luck topping a namesake who inadvertently yielded the Luck/ChuckStrong era, ended Tebowmania and spawned Evil Manning.

Bengals (-8) over BILLS
I’m enjoying Cincy’s “Please, Don’t Let Andy Hurt Us” offense, which was ripped off from old Trent Dilfer tapes during his Super Bowl season in Baltimore. Maybe it won’t take them far in the playoffs, but it’s definitely taking them past Chad Lewis this week. Er, Thad Lewis.6 Meanwhile, Matt from Cincy writes, “Every week I wait for your picks, and EVERY week you use the Bengals games to randomly talk about something other than the Bengals. Hope you enjoyed last Sunday, dick. Now I hope you waste 1,000 words on Brady’s touchdown streak and the fact you didn’t score an offensive touchdown for the first time in years. Again, Ha Ha, dick.” The Internet is the greatest.

Miami’s Bye Week (-6.5) over Atlanta’s Bye Week
How tough was this week for Atlanta sports fans? A glassy-eyed Rembert Browne asked me after three drinks this week, “Do you think I should own the Atlanta sports corner for Grantland, or is that corner just too depressing?” The answers: yes and yes. (By the way, EVERYONE is depressed about Julio Jones going down. Who wants to live in a world with a RedZone channel that doesn’t have Julio Jones? I certainly don’t.) Here’s the best Atlanta e-mail I received this week, courtesy of Harrison in Atlanta:

“In my 26 years of living in Atlanta, tonight is without a doubt the worst night ever. Tonight was worse than Game 7 of the 1988 EC Semis vs. Bird, Game 6 & 7 of the 1991 World Series vs. the Twins, the 1996 World Series vs. the Yankees (took first two games at Yankee Stadium and promptly lost the next 4), our only Super Bowl appearance (damn you Eugene), the 2005 18 inning NLDS walk-off loss to the Astros and Chris Burke (Yes, Chris Burke), the 2012 Infield Fly Wild Card Game and even the 2013 NFC Championship. Being an Atlanta sports fan is like being in love with a knockout stripper who keeps breaking your heart by stealing all of your money, only you can’t help going back time and time again.”

VIKINGS (-2.5) over Panthers

[We posted this column right as the horrible news about Adrian Peterson’s son was breaking. Best wishes to Peterson and his family. Everyone at Grantland is praying for them.]

In one corner, you have the Vikings trying to resurrect Josh Freeman’s career while somehow not starting him this week AND telling Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder that it’s nothing personal and they like them too. I’m sure that’s going to work out great. (Just make Freeman the starter already.) In the other corner, you have the Panthers, who blew out the Giants in Week 3, used the bye week to make everyone forget that Cam Newton is hopeless against the blitz, roped gamblers into backing them at Arizona last week (the line swung three points), then fell apart like they always do. The Panthers are 1-3 and bringing back not-so-fond memories of their starts in 2012 (1-6), 2011 (1-5), 2010 (1-12) and 2009 (1-3). I can’t pick Ron Rivera again. I just can’t.

Hey, you know what might cheer up Panthers fans? Johnny Lawrence’s “screen-used” karate outfit from the 1984 All-Valley Championships, on sale for a staggering $100,000. A reader named Jason in Austin wanted to know if the price is overvalued, undervalued or properly valued. Um … what? I’m gonna say overvalued! You could probably buy Billy Zabka for less than $100,000 right now, much less his 29-year-old karate uniform. Maybe they’re banking on some wacky billionaire trying to buy up all the classic sports movie props out there: Rocky’s trunks from the first Balboa-Creed fight, Hustler’s game-worn pool cue from Fast Break, Hanrahan’s game-worn Long Island Ducks goalie jersey, Jake Shuttlesworth’s game-worn tracking bracelet, and so on. And if that billionaire is out there, I’d like to befriend him.

JETS7 (-2) over Steelers
One of my goals on Sunday: To not watch a single play of this game. Here’s a much more intriguing line, courtesy of Mark in Gaithersburg:

Marlo Prequel (-6.5) vs Todd Prequel.


(Hmmmmmmm … I’m taking the points. That line is three points too high.)

Eagles (-2) over BUCS
Packers (-3) over RAVENS
This feels like the week when Chip Kelly and Aaron Rodgers start making their runs at … something. Meanwhile, here’s this week’s Really Mean E-mail About Roger Goodell, courtesy of Vydas in Commack, New York: “Instead of dressing up the players in pink for breast cancer awareness, shouldn’t the NFL be heading a concussion awareness campaign? Or are their former players finally doing a good enough job of that for them?”

Rams (+7.5) over TEXANS
A Houston reader named Spencer derisively nicknamed Schaub and Kubiak “Schaubiak,” adding, “Schaubiak has gotten so bad, I now wake up at 6 am to watch the Rockets live from the Philippines in the NBA Global Games.” I love it. They’re the “Bennifer” of this decade. No way I’m laying seven and a half points with Schaubiak right now, not even against this super-shaky Rams team. You can’t make me.

Speaking of shaky, here’s our Shakey’s Pizza Watch for Week 6: Tavon Austin (yeesh) … Cam Newton during any blitz … Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame chances … Mike Vick’s everything … Seattle’s receivers against good defenses … Jay Cutler’s Jay Cutlerness … Miami’s offensive line … Homeland‘s decision to become a CW teen drama (h/t Mark Lisanti) … New England’s run-stuffing ability … the Bob Kraft era … the Bucs’ janitorial staff … pitching to Evan Longoria with first base open (I’ve finally recovered) … San Francisco’s passing game … any Packers game without Clay Matthews in it … any scumbag who leaks a fake “report” to a sports blog … all “How funny would a Pirates-A’s World Series be?” jokes … Chicago’s defense … Denver’s defense … everyone who thought they were getting a steal when they spent $15 on Rob Gronkowski in a fantasy auction … the no. 2 seed in the AFC (whoever it is) … the Chargers in any game that ends at 3 a.m. on the East Coast … Matt Stafford anytime Calvin Johnson is wearing street clothes … any fantasy owner who listened to my suggestion to pick up Kenny Stills … all fantasy advice from Bill Simmons.

SEAHAWKS (-13.5) over Titans
Ryan Fitzpatrick playing in Seattle against the 12th Man? Come on. Stop it.

CHIEFS (-8) over Raiders
I have a few thoughts here …

• I’ve had at least 17 different “Wait, is Terrelle Pryor actually good?” moments and just wanted to make sure I’m not alone. I don’t love him against KC’s defense in Arrowhead this week, but for the long haul, he might be a keeper. I think I’m in on Terrelle.

• Tony Gonzalez to the Chiefs for a third-round pick … um … why can’t we just call this trade in to the League of Denial offices right now? What are we waiting for?

• PJ in Lincoln pays tribute to Matt Flynn: “He played one football game of note in the past six years and somehow parlayed that ONE start into being the de facto franchise quarterback for two separate organizations. He also cashed in a healthy eight figure contract along the way. All while not earning the starting job for either team and not so much as logging one single quality start in his career outside of that single game that spawned his journey. I’m struggling to find a question in there, but I know in my heart there’s a good one somewhere in the nonsensical gumbo. Please help find it … and then answer it.” I can’t come up with a question either — just know that the price of “FLYNN KNOWS” T-shirts continues to drop. Would you rather buy Johnny Lawrence’s game-worn karate outfit or 6,254 “FLYNN KNOWS” T-shirts? Tough call.

• I absolutely loved last Sunday’s ridiculously late Raiders-Chargers game — or as it should have been marketed to husbands whose wives couldn’t believe that the Sunday football TV schedule had inexplicably increased by three hours, “The Don’t Get Divorced Bowl.” I’m fully on board with this e-mail from Max in L.A.: “I’m watching the Raiders/Chargers game right now and this is the greatest start time ever for an NFL game. Wife and kids are asleep and out of my hair. Just a man and his 12th to 14th hour of NFL consciousness. I admit its not great for the guy in Hoboken who’s betting the over and holding out hope at 3:30 am. But for a West Coaster this is kinda nice. Late Night Raider Network. Let’s make it happen.”

One additional tweak: Couldn’t the League of Denial just dump the consistently sloppy Thursday Night Football (if only for player safety reasons) and give the NFL Network the Don’t Get Divorced Super-Late Sunday Night package, hosted by Oakland and San Diego? Just make all their home games start at 8 p.m. on the West Coast. Done. Let’s do this.

BRONCOS (-27) over Jaguars
Denver’s defense gave up 48 points last week without a kick return or defensive TD being involved. Let’s not forget this when they’re up by 40 this week — at some point, the day of reckoning for Denver’s defense is coming. Anyway, Cousin Sal and I have been playing “Guess the Lines” for seven seasons now on the B.S. Report. Since the Broncos-Jags line was destined to be the highest NFL spread ever, it became the Super Bowl of “Guess the Lines” for us … and we both nailed it. Twenty-eight on Monday. Since then, it dropped a point — great news for me since I already wrote that I was taking Denver as long as the line fell under 35 (and that was before Luke Joeckel broke his ankle). The good news: Blaine Gabbert’s QBR rating has climbed to 1.8 — now he’s 1.8 points better than Dead Blaine Gabbert. Poor Jacksonville. Joe in Seattle derisively called them a “tricycle wreck” this week. Perfect.

Last note: Even if Denver might not cover this spread because of the garbage-time TD potential (again, the Broncos gave up 48 last week), I’d bet anything that they will be winning by 28 or more at some point in this game. My buddy Gus came up with a fun idea: “Guess the Exact Point of the Game When Denver First Covers This Spread.” He guessed with 3:12 remaining in the second quarter. I’m saying with 12:48 remaining in the third quarter. But that could be a fun office pool if you’re still at work and not getting drunk at a happy hour right now.

PATRIOTS (-1.5) over Saints
One of those “Nobody Believes In Us” weeks for the Patriots, especially after Cincy’s front seven beat them up and Brady brought back not-so-fond memories of Y2K Drew Bledsoe. I’m not panicking. We’ve been here before. (Fine, I’m panicking.) By the way, readers have been asking me why I haven’t written about the 2013 Red Sox once this season. Um … doesn’t that question answer itself? You think I’m breaking the streak now? You crazy?

Here’s a phenomenal mailbag question from Henry in Boston: “Tom Brady, David Ortiz and Larry Bird arrive at the same Boston restaurant, and they’ve all come separately. Who gets seated first? Who gets the best table?”

My answer after somewhere between 25 and 350 minutes of thought: The Legend gets seated first but doesn’t get the best table because he doesn’t care where he sits. Why does the Legend get seated first? Because he’s the Legend. Earlier this week during a press conference for Indiana’s preseason game in the Philippines, a reporter addressed the Legend as Mr. Legend. Again, this happened in the Philippines. The Legend gets seated first. Big Papi goes next because he’s hungry and because the Red Sox are in the playoffs — they want to feed him and keep him happy. And Brady gets the best table because he’s the only one savvy enough to (a) let the other two sit before him so he seems like a good guy, and (b) slip the maître d’ a hunny so he gets the best table. Everyone wins. Thank you and please drive through.

Cards (+10.5) over 49ERS
Way too many points for a banged-up Niners defense and a Niners offense that has quietly shifted into ground-and-pound mode. Why didn’t Arizona sign Josh Freeman when it’s 3-2 and trotting out a sneaky-good defense every week but also trotting out Carson Palmer? It’s a great question. It’s a really, really great question. Anyway, here’s our Sneaky-Good Watch for Week 6: Arizona’s D … anyone named “Terrelle” … Alshon Jeffery’s stock … Daryl Washington’s All-Pro chances … the Andre Ellington era (about to heat up) … Brandon Jacobs (?!?!?!) … Matt Borcas’s fantasy columns … every Patriots fan’s appreciation for Vince Wilfork … Indy’s Super Bowl odds (still 20-1!) … mailbag questions from Henry in Boston.

COWBOYS (-6) over D.C. Daceys
Can a 6-10 Cowboys team win the NFC East by two games? I sure hope so. Meanwhile, here’s Tony Romo’s season so far: 1,523 yards, 71.8 completion percentage, 13 TDs, 2 picks, 114.3 QB rating, 69.4 QBR, 7-8 unofficial “WOW!” plays, one cruelly unfair game-ending interception that made everyone feel bad for Tony Romo again. It’s officially impossible to root against Romo unless you root for the Giants/D.C. Daceys/Eagles — he’s like the pre-2004 Red Sox, the Cubs/Browns/Suns/Bills right now, or every Daniel Bryan WWE title match. It’s weird to think that a football player’s mojo has reached the point that, even as he’s having the game of his life and one of the best games in quarterback history, you’re sitting there thinking, I wonder what’s gonna go wrong? But that’s where we are. I can’t figure out how much of this is Romo’s fault and how much of it comes down to overwhelmingly bad luck. Just know that I always find myself rooting for him now.

CHARGERS (+2.5) over Colts
Yes, I’m riding the “Everyone who plays the super-physical Seahawks is bruised and battered the following week” theory8 and picking against the Colts, a team that I’ve actually come to respect as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, if only because of Andrew Luck (as covered earlier). But I’m leaving you with this thought: Peyton Manning is a 1-to-10 favorite to win the MVP. In other words, you’d have to wager $1,000 on him just to win $100 back.

Meanwhile, Andrew Luck has 30-to-1 odds to win the MVP right now. It can’t be forgotten that Manning (a) is 37 years old, (b) has already had four neck surgeries, (c) doesn’t have his All-Pro left tackle anymore and (d) hasn’t played a good defense yet. You’re telling me there isn’t a 1-in-30 chance that either he gets dinged up and misses a few games or the Broncos tail off a little in November and December when their schedule gets tougher? And you’re telling me that if Luck carries the Colts to 11-5 or 12-4 and a no. 2 seed, he’s not waiting in the wings for an MVP if ANYTHING happens to Manning? As your unofficial gambling adviser, I strongly suggest that you sprinkle a little MVP money on Mr. Luck if you live in a world where gambling is legal. You never know.

This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 9-5
Season: 37-37-4

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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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