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Game-Changers

The Sports Guy applauds the Browns and Colts for acting like NBA teams and makes Week 3 picks.

NFL Week 3

My first reaction: What?????

My second reaction: Wait, shouldn’t the Browns have gotten more for Trent Richardson?

My third reaction: If Richardson turns into Edge James 2.0 for the Colts, Lombardi will be back on my podcast in time for the 2014 draft!

My fourth reaction: Come on, Trent Richardson! KILL IT FOR THE COLTS! I WANT LOMBARDI BACK!

My fifth reaction: (That’s terrible. I feel bad. I shouldn’t have thought that.)

My sixth reaction: Wait a second … are we sure Trent Richardson is good?

(Did some Googling … looked at his numbers … noticed he ran for just 3.4 yards per carry behind what we thought was a solid offensive line … noticed he played only half of Cleveland’s plays last week … noticed the Browns converted only five of 29 third downs in two weeks … noticed Richardson had only 14 runs of 10 yards or more in 267 carries last season … remembered he’s battled multiple injures … remembered that he never showed any real explosiveness anytime I ever watched him … realized that he might have been a bigger part of Cleveland’s offensive futility than I realized … and then, I wondered if that was the case because the Browns have horrible quarterbacks, because he’s not that good, or both.)

My seventh reaction: Just because Richardson went third overall in the 2012 draft, does that mean that’s where he should have been drafted?

(More Googling … found a PFT piece with Jim Brown saying he thought Richardson was “ordinary” and that he “wasn’t impressed” with Mark Ingram one day before the draft … found Mel Kiper calling Richardson a “rare talent” in his 2012 draft grades … found a bunch of “Richardson is overrated” articles heading into that draft … remembered how dumb Cleveland’s old regime was for trading up one spot to get him when Minnesota just wanted to take Matt Kalil anyway … vaguely remembered that at Alabama Richardson backed up Ingram, someone who absolutely sucks for the Saints right now … in general, the consensus seemed to be split between “can’t-miss franchise guy” and “overrated.”)

My eighth reaction: But wait — Lombardi worked for NFL Network and NFL.com back then. Now he’s the GM of the Browns. What did he think of Richardson before that 2012 draft? I looked up his NFL.com archives. Here’s what Lombardi wrote.

“I believe the safest pick in the draft — beyond Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III — is Alabama running back Trent Richardson. He’s a blue-chip player and has all the skills to quickly establish himself as a top-five player at his position. Forget the nonsense about not taking backs early — everyone would love the chance to get this guy.”

My ninth reaction: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? THE PLOT THICKENS!

My 10th reaction: Was Lombardi’s premise, “Forget the nonsense about not taking backs early,” flawed? Yes and no. He’s right if you’re talking about Adrian Peterson, or a prospect close to Peterson. He’s wrong if it’s anyone iffier than that. You don’t need a franchise back to win a Super Bowl in the 21st century, as the Willie Parkers, Joseph Addais, James Starkses and Ahmad Bradshaws taught us.

Also not helping: The league’s shift to pass-pass-pass-pass (the new rules pushed us there); specialization (many teams love juggling multiple backs with different skills); wear and tear (elite backs lose it almost overnight, as we might be seeing right now with Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice); the Concussion/Safety/Caution Era (it’s dangerous to build your offense around franchise backs when they take the biggest hits out of anyone); and the abject randomness of finding a quality back (as the likes of sixth-rounder Alfred Morris and undrafted Arian Foster show us). Think about the haphazard dudes who swing your fantasy league every year. How many of them are running backs? Just about all of them, right?

In real life, that’s why everyone waits until the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s to draft them.1 This wasn’t happening three decades ago. In a five-year stretch from 1986 through 1990, an inconceivable 34 backs were taken with top-32 picks. Only four rushed for more than 4,500 career yards: Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Rodney Hampton and Neal Anderson … one less than the number of guys picked after the top 32 who did it (Christian Okoye, Thurman Thomas, Marion Butts, Terry Allen and Chris Warren). After that bloodbath, teams wised up and started waiting … until 1995, when everyone forgot and five backs went in the top 25 (Ki-Jana Carter, Tyrone Wheatley, Napoleon Kaufman, James Stewart, Rashaan Salaam). Or as it’s better known, the Backocalypse of 1995.


1.

In 2013 the first five backs went between picks 37 (Giovani Bernard) and 62 (Christine Michael). In 2012, after Richardson went third, the next five backs went between 31 (Doug Martin) and 67 (Ronnie Hillman). In 2011, the first seven backs went between 28 (Mark Ingram) and 73 (Stevan Ridley).

But 1995’s draft DID have two stud backs. They just went in Round 3 (Curtis Martin) and Round 6 (Terrell Davis). Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. After that, we saw first-round running back binges only two other times: in 2000 (we went 3-for-5 — Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones and Shaun Alexander) and 2008 (we went 1.7-for-5 — Chris Johnson made it, and Darren McFadden kinda sorta made it). In 2013, we made history: No first-round backs whatsoever, but five taken between picks 37 and 62.

As for “luxury” running backs like Trent Richardson, teams have spent 13 top-16 picks on backs since 2002: Richardson (3), C.J. Spiller (9), Ryan Mathews (12), Knowshon Moreno (12), Jonathan Stewart (13), McFadden (4), Marshawn Lynch (12), Reggie Bush (2), Peterson (7), Ronnie Brown (2), Cedric Benson (4), Cadillac Williams (5), William Green (16). It’s a grisly list. Only Peterson and Lynch made it. Bush and McFadden kinda sorta made it. Spiller made it in the “everyone overpaid for him in fantasy this year” sense. And that’s it. Leading to …

My 11th reaction: If the Browns had just trumped Washington’s offer for Robert Griffin III in 2012, they never would have found themselves in this pickle.2 Instead, Cleveland inexplicably traded up one slot for Minnesota’s third overall pick (giving up a fourth-, fifth-, and seventh-rounder even though Minnesota was always taking tackle Matt Kalil), passed on Ryan Tannehill (who went eighth), then rolled the dice with Brandon Weeden at no. 22. To recap: They were outwitted by Daniel Snyder and the Vikings (Daniel Snyder and the Vikings!), then “landed” their QB by rolling the dice with a 28-year-old rookie.


2.

Cleveland had the fourth pick; Washington had the sixth pick. Somehow, Washington put together a better offer. And yes, I know Griffin hasn’t started off too well.

Would you rather have Richardson and Weeden … or Tannehill and Doug Martin?

I mean …

My 12th reaction: Is it possible that Cleveland’s old regime had no idea what they were doing? We knew the Weeden experiment was probably doomed, but why didn’t it bother us more at the time when the Browns spent a top-three pick on a back? Two additional notes here …

• When my illegitimate son Barnwell wrote his 2011 and 2012 Trade Value columns, you might remember, he almost completely devalued running backs. Only Peterson made 2013’s list (no. 30). Only Ray Rice made 2012’s list (no. 39). So why take one in the top five? What’s the point?

• Shouldn’t it mean something that, over and over again, quality running backs have fetched relatively cheap trade packages? Justin Higdon of DraftBrowns.com defended the Richardson deal and made a shrewd point: He’s the first back since Ricky Williams to fetch a first-rounder in a trade. Normally, they go for much less. St. Louis gave up a fifth- and second-rounder for Marshall Faulk. Seattle gave up a fourth and a fifth for Lynch. Indy allowed Edgerrin James to leave for nothing. Now Richardson is fetching a first-round pick? Doesn’t this seem … off?

My 13th reaction: Could Cleveland be the first NFL team to steal my NBA-centric concept of “It’s better to bottom out than be stuck in no-man’s-land?”

In the NBA, you either want to be really good or really bad (with no in-between). You don’t want to finish 42-40 and lose in Round 1 every year. Basically, you don’t want to be the Bucks. With next June’s watershed draft looming, one-third of NBA teams either threw away their 2013-14 seasons or might be headed that way. The Sixers have pole position — they made history by tanking away June and July, which had never happened before and should probably win them some sort of award that’s shaped like a port-a-potty. Next March and April, it’s only getting worse. We’ll see more tanking than we saw in the final 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.

But whenever this happens in the NBA, the general public gets it. They might not like it, but they get it. They see the light at the end of the tunnel — you can only land LeBron, Durant, Rose and Griffin by being shitty enough to draft them. That concept never trickled into the NFL because of the league’s commitment to parity (also-rans transform into juggernauts almost overnight), the physicality of its games (it’s impossible to mail in an NFL game), its lavish rookie salary scale (until 2011, that scale penalized anyone with a top-five pick unless he became a superstar) and the size of NFL rosters (only a superduperstar QB can swing your fortunes overnight). Everyone always wants a franchise quarterback — that hasn’t changed since the Namath era — but we’ve never seen anyone preemptively stack the deck to get one.

Well, until this week. And that’s the most compelling part of this Richardson trade: For the first time, an NFL team is thinking like an NBA team. Fifteen years of futility nudged them there. Since football returned to Cleveland in 1999, the wretched Browns have ripped through seven head coaches and 957 starting QBs (all numbers approximate), including Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy and, most recently, the unequivocally atrocious Weeden (who is somehow older than Alex Smith). Every season for 15 straight seasons, they’ve been dead on arrival because they couldn’t find the right coach and the right QB.

The 2013 Browns have hung around in both losses but haven’t been able to run or throw. Sadly, those are the only two ways to score in football. (Hold on, I’m using my Talking Head Voice.) If you can’t run the ball or throw the ball, you can’t win in the National. Football. League! So they accepted their fate much like the 76ers did and said, “Screw it, this is ridiculous, WE’RE NEVER GONNA HAVE A CHANCE until we find a franchise quarterback.”3 Every 2013 contender employs either an elite QB (Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta) or a decent-enough QB that they can’t be ruled out (Chicago, Miami, Houston, maybe K.C.). That’s just the NFL in 2013. It’s flag football with pads. If you don’t have someone who can chuck the ball and take advantage of the pass-friendly rules, you’re DOA.


3.

Coincidence or no coincidence, we should point out here that Lombardi is a lifelong Sixers fan.

You know what else? The revamped rookie scale practically begs teams with top-12 picks to roll the dice on quarterbacks. In retrospect, Miami grabbing Ryan Tannehill with 2012’s no. 8 pick wasn’t just smart, it was borderline brilliant. He could absolutely be Joe Flacco 2.0 … and they have him on a four-year guaranteed deal worth $12.67 million. That’s an insane price. San Francisco and Seattle are even luckier — they have Kaepernick and Wilson, respectively, locked up for this year and next for less than $5 million combined. Compare those numbers to St. Louis’s situation with the eternally half-decent Sam Bradford — under the old rules, he signed a six-year, $78 million deal with $37.2 million guaranteed. Yeeesh.

So if you think about Cleveland’s Richardson trade like it’s an NBA trade, it makes more sense: The Browns will have a top-five pick at worst (probably higher), and then, if Indy misses the playoffs, that gives them a second chance at finding their QB. Let’s say Jacksonville lands that first pick after losing to Cleveland in the Toilet Bowl on December 1 (yes, they play). Cleveland then ends up with the no. 2 and no. 12 picks, and let’s say everyone agrees that Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater dwarf every other prospect. Flipping Richardson for that extra first-rounder gave Cleveland better options, especially because (a) his price would have dropped if he kept struggling, and (b) only the Colts were desperate enough to make that trade. The Browns could make a Godfather offer for Bridgewater, or they can pick Clowney at no. 2 (Clowney and Barkevious Mingo????) and pick Johnny Football at no. 12. Or they could make it easy by out-sucking everyone else and picking first.

Translation: Thanks to that trade, the Browns are officially in Drowney for Clowney AND Play Dead for Ted mode. Well, why not? How is that strategy any different from what eight NBA teams just did? Cleveland’s brain trust just told its fans, “We’ve sucked for 14 years, and we’re tired of it … it’s Quarterback or Bust.” Of course, that didn’t stop every Browns fan from freaking the fuck out. Why trust these guys when they’ve had a revolving door of shortsighted dummies in charge since 1999? What makes these guys different?

The short answer: Until they prove otherwise, we don’t know if they’re different. I know Lombardi, obviously. I know team president Alec Scheiner, a Sloan Conference staple who happens to be one of the smartest sports people I’ve ever met. I don’t know CEO Joe Banner, or owner Jimmy Haslam, or coach Rob Chudinssksglskgskdkskski. I know they’re trying to build a first-class organization, and I know they believe that big decisions are made collectively, with everyone on the same page, from the owner down to the coach. I know they also believe that an NFL franchise cannot succeed short-term and long-term without such a decision-making structure in place.

So for them to flip Richardson into a future pick, that tells me (with no inside info, by the way) they didn’t want to build around him, worried about his durability and various injuries (red flags when you’re trying to get 375 touches per year from the same back), believed he was the wrong fit for Chudinssksglskgskdkskski’s offense, and didn’t believe he would come back to haunt them.4 They saw the same things we saw — that for a blue-chip running back, Trent Richardson sure looked average as hell. And they KNEW they’d get absolutely murdered for the trade, only they did it anyway. What does that tell you?


4.

In the Plain Dealer today, Bill Livingston wrote a column headlined “TRENT RICHARDSON MADE A PROPHET OF JIM BROWN” that included this Richardson take: “He was not explosive. He had become a stutter-stepper this season, indecisive about hitting a hole, any hole. Often enough, none was there, but often enough too he didn’t give the play a chance.”

The only catch: What if the change of scenery lights a fire under Richardson? What if the embarrassment of getting dumped turns him into a cross between Steven Jackson 2.0 and Edge James 2.0? What if he develops an Eff You edge and devotes his career to haunting the Browns? Can you think of a more likely franchise to endure that ongoing “God, why did we give that guy up?” pain than the Cleveland Browns? And what if they don’t land a franchise QB in May, or even worse, what if they land one … and he sucks?

Here’s what happens: Their severely tortured fans will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER forgive the people running this team.

Put more simply: THERE IS NO GOING BACK.

That’s what makes this such a riveting trade, and that’s why it left the football world so stunned. NFL teams rarely make these kind of trades; when they do, it’s usually a panic move by a regime on the outs (like Oakland foolishly sacrificing a first and a second for Carson Palmer). For the Browns, their “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” mind-set is almost an anti-panic, even if their beleaguered fans don’t want to hear it.

For the Colts, the trade felt a smidge panicky, even if you can’t blame them for taking the plunge. (Other than drafting an elite player, the easiest way to get one is by acquiring a former high draft pick whose first team gave up on him too early.) Owner Jim Irsay spent the week hyping this deal as one of those “WE ARE SERIOUS ABOUT CONTENDING RIGHT NOW!” moves, which was a horrible mistake. These Colts weren’t one good back away from making the Super Bowl; if anything, they were this season’s no. 1 regression candidate, and that’s even before they nearly lost to the Raiders and got bested at home by a better Miami team.5 After the Colts lose in San Francisco this Sunday, they’ll be 1-2 with a home-and-home against Houston, home games against Seattle and Denver, and road games at San Diego, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Arizona and Kansas City remaining. They won’t be favored in any of those nine games. It’s true.


5.

That was a telling game. Our six AFC playoff teams look like they’re going to be Denver, K.C., Cincy, New England, Miami and Houston, with Tennessee and San Diego as the wild-card dark horses (not Indy). I think Indy is the ninth-best AFC team right now, regardless of how well Richardson plays.

And by the way, Luck continues to get creamed behind a shaky offensive line; as Barnwell pointed out on Wednesday, he’s getting knocked down at a legitimately unsustainable rate. Twice as much as any other starting QB, basically. So instead of Richardson propelling them to 10 or 11 wins, there’s a much better chance this trade swings the other way, with Indy missing the playoffs and maybe even losing a top-10 pick. Our friends at PredictionMachine.com simulated the 2013 season 50,000 times and earmarked the “improved” Colts for 6.5 wins, projecting that they’d be handing Cleveland the sixth pick in next April’s draft.

(And if Luck gets hurt … I mean … )

My 14th and final reaction: Whatever happens, it’s the ballsiest NFL trade in years — two teams that said, “SCREW IT!” for wholly different reasons. We’ll remember it as a watershed transaction, because either …

A. The Browns ushered in a new era of football thinking (the NBA’s “avoid no-man’s-land at all costs, even if it means throwing away a season” mind-set) right as the Colts were retiring an antiquated way of thinking (that running backs matter this much when they really don’t).

B. The trade became Cleveland’s latest sports disaster (and chapter 38 of someone’s “God Hates Cleveland” book) right as the Colts were being hailed for improbably building another post-Manning offensive juggernaut.

I can’t wait to see how it plays out. Phenomenally entertaining trade. One of the best in a while, in any sport. Just know that, if the Browns REALLY want to bottom out while keeping their fans vaguely intrigued by their 2013 season, I have a 27-letter word for them:

“TEEEEEEEEEEEEE-BOWWWWWWWWWWW!!!”

CLICK HERE FOR THE WEEK 3 PICKS

Let’s make some Week 3 picks (home teams in caps) …

Chiefs (+3.5) over EAGLES
I nailed one! By the way, I zipped through this game in 35 minutes on DVR thanks to my new philosophy, “Don’t watch the Thursday-night game live because it’s always a disjointed, sloppy suckfest of a money grab with beaten-up players who played just four days earlier.” I highly encourage you to follow suit.

What did I do instead last night? I took my daughter to the Sparks-Mercury WNBA playoff game. And I’ll tell you what else … NO REGRETS. My daughter had a fantastic time and made me buy her a Sparks T-shirt, nachos, Sour Patch kids and a soda. We saw Floyd Mayweather and Mr. Belding. We sat next to Lisa Leslie (who couldn’t be nicer). We saw Brittney Griner’s first playoff game, although she was saddled by a massive knee brace and didn’t look anything remotely like the Female Bill Russell … but still. We saw the best women’s player of all time, Diana Taurasi, who is absolutely brilliant and killed the Sparks in the second half as I repeatedly told my daughter (who loves basketball) to watch her command of the court, watch how hard she tried on every play and watch all the subtle things she was doing. Then again, my daughter couldn’t really concentrate because she was zonked out on a sugar high. I blame myself.

You know what was interesting? They gave Candace Parker the MVP before the game, even though Taurasi is still the league’s best player. As Taurasi laid the smack down — 30 points and seven assists — I was sitting there thinking, This is a little like the game when Hakeem got pissed because David Robinson won the ’95 MVP and decided to kick his ass. So I told my daughter the Hakeem story, but her eyes were rolling back in her head from the Sour Patch Kids, and she has no idea who Robinson and Hakeem were. Other than that, she totally followed it. Regardless, we had fun and I support any event that includes (a) getting to watch the absolute best at something (in this case, Taurasi), and (b) getting three hours of quality time with my daughter, because in five years, she won’t want to hang out with me anymore and it already makes me sad.

(Hold on, I’m going to give you a few seconds to recover from the last two paragraphs.)

(You ready?)

(You need another few seconds?)

(We good?)

Cards (+7.5) over SAINTS
Say this much for the Cards: They’re one of those teams that, when they make a big play near their own sideline, suddenly 20 guys are excitedly leaping toward the field with their fists pumped. They just seem locked in. They aren’t a playoff team, but you’re not rolling over them, either. Dangerous home game for the Saints. Oh, wait — Carson Palmer on the road. Let’s tweak that to “semi-dangerous.”

Anyway, here’s our Sneaky-Good Watch for Week 3: the DeAndre Hopkins era; the way Christian Ponder played in the second half in Chicago; T.Y. Hilton, Gamebreaker (he’s Reggie Cobb without the PR); the fact that I can’t stop calling Randall Cobb “Reggie Cobb”; Ray Lewis on TV; Dontari Poe’s Vince Wilfork 2.0 potential; Ed Reed officially looking like someone who lives under a bridge; and the Honey Badger era (at least for now). Have you SEEN the Honey Badger? Third round??? They stole him.

Browns (+7) over VIKINGS
You’re afraid to take the 0-2 Browns because (a) they’re starting their third-string QB on the road in a dome against Adrian Peterson, and (b) they had to exhume Willis McGahee’s running back corpse this weekend. I get it. But when you’ve tallied 16 points and five third-down conversions in two weeks, can you really call Brian Hoyer a “third-string QB”?6 I’d gravitate toward a phrase like “Next In Line,” “He Can’t Be Any Less God-Awful” and “Screw It, Why Not?” And how much will the Browns really miss someone who ran for 3.2 yards per carry and only played half their offensive plays in Week 2? Really, the 2013 Browns can get WORSE offensively? You didn’t think it was strange that Cleveland just traded their best offensive weapon (on paper, anyway) for a future pick and Vegas moved this line only one point?


6.

Multiple times on the B.S. Report, now-Browns GM Mike Lombardi praised Hoyer’s potential and wondered why teams that needed a QB wouldn’t try to get him. This is the first time in B.S. Report history that a guest made a proclamation, then inadvertently ended up with a chance to prove himself right or wrong in real life. I hope this keeps happening — fast-forward to five years from now, when Bill Barnwell is running an NFL team and loses a playoff game because his coach didn’t go for it on fourth-and-1 on the opponent’s 39, punted, gave up a punt return TD, then the ensuing momentum led to a blowout.

Throw in Josh Gordon’s return and … well …

EWING THEORY ALERT!!!!!!!

Fine, maybe not. But I’m grabbing the points. The Vikings easily could have been blown out both weeks. They’re 0-2 for a reason. Anyway, last week I mentioned RedZone host Scott Hanson calling the Browns the “Factory of Sadness” without realizing that that phrase came from Cleveland comedian Mike Polk (and this video) …

Apparently they make Factory of Sadness T-shirts and everything. I love that there’s a “Cleveland comedian.” Who knew those words were legally allowed to appear in the same sentence, especially this week, when they’re sending me e-mails like this, from Scott in Cleveland:

“Having overcome the shock of the Browns tanking the season before fall begins (literally, it’s only September 19th), I sent this email to my friends. It sums up being a Cleveland fan. ‘I’ve been getting weekly junk emails from the Browns for years now and have just been deleting them in case there is really important or awesome news. I just got one about Sunday’s game. I finally unsubscribed. Fuck the Browns. But we should still watch the game. Mike and I agree someone’s house is probably best. I don’t want to be seen in public in Browns gear. We can still usher in the Brian Hoyer era by getting drunk.’ The really awful part is that I now have tickets to the seven remaining home games that are worth less than Jimmy Haslam’s word at a trucking convention.”

Sounds like Browns fans desperately need some cheering up. These three links won’t do it, but hey, at least you’ll forget about the Factory of Sadness for a couple minutes.

Link No. 1: Remember the time Tim Couch threw a Hail Mary to win a Browns game? Me neither. But dammit, it happened.

Link No. 2: Who wants to see footage of someone completing a 118-yard Tecmo Bowl bomb for a Browns touchdown as his buddies cheer him on? Wait, you do? You’re not gonna believe this, but I have it right here!

Link No. 3: Hard-core evidence that, in your lifetime, you can take the Browns to the Super Bowl in a situation that doesn’t involve toilet paper and flushing.

Packers (-3) over BENGALS
Say it out loud with me: Aaron Rodgers vs. Andy Dalton … Aaron Rodgers vs. Andy Dalton … Aaron Rodgers vs. Andy Dalton … Aaron Rodgers vs. Andy Dalton.

Rams (+4) over SAME OLD COWBOYS
Your official “The NFC West Is A Juggernaut And The NFC East Is A Doormat” game. If you add up the rankings for every Week 3 team from my Half-Assed Power Poll and separate them by divisions, the lower the number, the better that division is overall, right? Example: Seattle (1) + San Francisco (3) + Arizona (19) + St. Louis (20) = 43, our lowest number for the eight divisions. Who has the highest number? Well …

NFC West: 43
NFC North: 53
AFC West: 57
NFC South: 66
AFC East: 67
AFC South: 72
AFC North: 84
NFC East: 86

Translation: The NFC East blows. This would have been the perfect season to adopt my “You can’t make the playoffs unless you finish above .500” rule, if only because the Cowboys finishing 8-8, winning the NFC East and being ruled ineligible for the playoffs would have been the greatest thing that ever happened. Speaking of great things, I’m excited to introduce a new weekly feature called “This Week’s Really Mean E-mail About Roger Goodell.” Our first installment comes from Jeff Z. in Weston, Florida:

“It appears that the porn industry voluntarily shut itself down after Cameron Bay tested positive for HIV. Who would have thought that porn purveyors would show more responsibility for the safety of employees than Roger Goodell?”

TITANS (-3) over Chargers
Congrats to the Chargers for regaining their “High-Scoring, High-Flying & Ultimately Harmless” identity; they were sorely missed. It’s good to have a gun-slinging, consistently annoying Phil Rivers back. I missed that dude. And congrats to the Titans for outplaying Houston last week, causing Houston fans to boo the Texans for half the game, before the Titans blew the game in overtime. But not before earning some poignant words from Bernard Karmell Pollard — who, by the way, gave Andre Johnson a concussion in the game and earned a $42,000 fine, because he’s Bernard Karmell Pollard and these are the things he does. Here’s what he said afterward:

“Oh, we beat the piss out of them. We did. I truly believe that … We outhit them. We did some good things, we did some really good things. We’ll see them. We’re going to see them again, I’ll promise you that. We know they’re in the division [AFC South] and we’re going to play them again at home. And hopefully it goes further than that.”

Hopefully it goes further than that? You mean, like, a murder? I think Bernard Karmell Pollard just vowed to murder the Texans!

Bucs (+7.5) over PATRIOTS
The good news for the Bucs: They’re a stupid late hit and a missed 46-yard field goal from being 2-0. The bad news for the Bucs: everything else. Meanwhile, here’s how bad it’s gotten for my Patriots this month (I’m using “we” if that’s OK) …

• After getting 10 days off, we are barely favored by a touchdown over an 0-2 team with a QB who might get traded and a coach who might get fired.

• Our five best receivers have that little red flag next to their names on fantasy websites.

• On the phone this week, my dad seriously wondered if we could get Danny Woodhead back from the Chargers — and what pick we’d have to give up — then said the words, “I mean, he could save us right now.”

• Rhode Island reader Dr. Jeff sent this chilling e-mail: “Is it me, or is Tom Brady starting to act a bit like a late-career Dan Marino? Physically he can’t throw the ball with the velocity or accuracy he used to, but he expects perfection from his receivers. This leads to screaming on the field and tantrums on the sidelines.”

That last one killed me. Like every other Pats fan between the ages of 37 and 47, I grew up hating the Dolphins and despising Marino, who beat us nine straight times at one point before everything turned. Near the end of his career, he suddenly turned into a cross between a rabid pit bill and an Egyptian mummy — he couldn’t move and he was snapping at everybody. Mummy Pit Bull Dan Marino lost five of his last seven career starts against the Pats, throwing three TDs and 12 picks while we remained scared the entire time, because Dan Marino could have been throwing passes from a wheelchair and we still would have been scared. But I specifically remember loving the sight of him getting knocked around, then blaming everyone else. So the thought of people who hate Brady and the Pats feeling that same satisfaction … I mean … it’s a little sobering.

Or, it WAS a little sobering. Because on Wednesday night, I was watching America’s fifth professional sport (The Challenge) and one of America’s greatest competitors, CT, described his feelings about making the Challenge finals like this …

“I don’t wanna be Dan Marino, I wanna be Tom Brady.”

(I’m back in! HERE COME THE PATS!)

Lions (+1) over SHANE FALCO’S OLD TEAM
A compelling case AGAINST the Lions from Brandon M. in Ann Arbor: “Since moving to Detroit, the Lions have never won in Washington. Under no circumstances do I believe they will win this Sunday. The one reliable thing about the Lions is when they don’t win somewhere (Washington, Arizona & Green Bay) they don’t win there for extremely long periods of time. So the Washington fans can relax and enjoy the upcoming week of ‘RG3 Lights up the Lions’ & ‘RG3 Returns to Form’ articles and segments on SportsCenter.”

Sorry, Brandon, I’m not picking Robert Garbage Time III until (a) his defense gets through a first half without giving up 25 to 30 points, and (b) he throws a football without planting his right leg in a way that makes it look like he’s wearing shoes with knives in them. That reminds me, I enjoyed this idea from Jeff in Fort Wayne: “I was listening to Tim Hasselbeck describe the problem with RGIII’s throwing motion and how, because of his injury, he is not throwing properly. Hasselbeck described him missing a receiver by a ‘mile.’ It instantly occurred to me that we need to change this to a ‘Tebow.’ As in, ‘He was open by a full Tebow.’ It seems so obvious, besides, it is likely the only way we can keep Tebow in the league.”

Twist my arm — I’m onboard. One more relevant e-mail, courtesy of Connor in Delaware: “On Tuesday’s Around the Horn, they discussed a report by Jay Glazer that said that Suh gets physical and mean with teammates at practice. Bob Ryan said, ‘At this point in time, we are prepared to believe anything negative that we hear about Suh with regard to over aggression or dirty play. We have no trouble believing it.’ Ndamukong Suh’s dirty play has entered the Tyson Zone!” It’s a great point — I keep waiting for him to get penalized for grabbing a bag of salt from his trousers and throwing the salt Mr. Fuji–style at the opposing center. Couldn’t you see Suh doing this?

Texans (-2.5) over RAVENS
DOLPHINS (-2) over Falcons
Don’t blink — just take the better teams here. I loved the way the Dolphins reacted to Sunday’s road win in Indy — no celebrating, no acting surprised, no pouring Gatorade on their coach (come on, Kansas City), just a few handshakes and a collectively icy jog back to the locker room. The Dolphins are for real, and no statistic sums it up better than this: in Indy last week, they didn’t commit a single penalty. No penalties! NONE! I wish I had known they were good two weeks ago when I gave Baltimore their playoff spot.

As for the Ravens, they’re a 30-40-50-40-30 team this year — every time you flip over to one of their games, the football is located somewhere between the 30s. Houston’s too good offensively to lose to a 30-40-50-40-30 team right now, especially a team that has Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark on pace for 128 catches total. That offense is miles away from being good. And speaking of miles, HAVE YOU SEEN this piece from the Philadelphia magazine writer who figured out that Rocky Balboa’s running montage in Rocky II was geographically absurd and actually would have taken 30.61 miles to complete? Just send a 2013 Pulitzer to Dan McQuade’s house right now.

Although that’s not the craziest Stallone link of the week. Tim Cohane in Plymouth, Massachusetts, sent me this: “As a fellow Sly Stallone fan, I wanted to bring your attention to this gem of a theme song from his 1978 film Paradise Alley.” He didn’t sell it nearly well enough. Oh. My. God.

Giants (-1.5) over PANTHERS
You know the problems with the Giants right now: Eli is the first player since 2005 to throw at least seven picks in the first two games. They’ve given up 77 points in two weeks. And even though only 22 teams have come back from 0-2 since 1990, the fact that they did it in 2007 and are saying things like “We’ve been 0-2 before, we’ve dug ourselves into a hole before, and been able to fight our way out of it.” (Tom Coughlin’s words) … I mean, is that a positive or a negative? Can you possess real urgency if you know better and feel like there’s no real reason to panic yet? This happened to them last year, too — they kept waiting for that “Nobody Believes In Us” switch to kick in and it never happened.

The good news: They’re going against the immortal Ron Rivera, who has run out of ways to blow victories and is now repeating the same late-game mistakes that he’s already made in other games. Steve Smith defended last Sunday’s Rivera boner by saying “It was the right decision. I don’t care what you think. You’re sitting up there in the press box,” which makes me want to move on because, like everyone else, I’m terrified of Steve Smith. But here’s a sampling of what my readers thought.

Josh L. in Baltimore: “I was texting back and forth with a friend who is a Bills fan. As the Panthers clung to a 20-17 lead, they reached the Bills 30 at the two minute warning. This is the exact text that I sent my Bills friend (with the typos left in): ‘Panthers chewing up clock. But Bills still have all 3 timeouts. Lets see how Rivera blows this one. FG unit on 4th and 1 on 22 with 1:43 left. Bills get Td at end. Final score Bills-24, panthers-23.'”

Ben Logan in Austin: “Ron Rivera is now 2-14 in games decided by 7 points or less. Is this epic enough that we can start using ‘Ronrivera’ as a euphemism for a disease in which a coach just can’t win the close games? E.g. ‘He was a great guy and players liked him, but was prone to the debilitating spasms of Ronrivera.’ Also, it’s 2013 — how come scientists can’t find a cure for Ronrivera?”

Dave in Greensboro: “I am sure we’ll see a lot of ‘EJ Manuel is Coming of Age’ pieces this week, but isn’t this really like losing your virginity to a post-meltdown Lindsay Lohan? If Ron Rivera isn’t the worst head coach in the NFL, surely he is the easiest?”

Jake in D.C.: (Extended and totally inappropriate analogy that includes phrases like “Ron Rivera storms into the room” and “lay there in pain” and ends with this line: “Stop punching me in the dick, Ron Rivera.” You’re better off not seeing this one. But I fully enjoyed it.)

Grant M. in Raleigh: “Seeing the Panthers blow game after game in the 4th quarter due to Rivera’s complete ineptness is starting to take years off my life. I find it funny that Rivera, the worst game closer in the NFL, shares his name with the best baseball closer ever. In October when both of them are out of work (hopefully), my only wish is to see them paired together. Maybe Mariano and Ron star in a sitcom called the Two Riveras. Story lines include them going to a bar with Ron buying drinks for a girl all night until Mariano sweeps in at closing time to take her home while Ron stands there with a blank look on his face. Every week the same situation happens and nothing changes because that is the life of a Panthers fan.”

To recap: We just heard Ron Rivera compared to a disease, losing your virginity to Lindsay Lohan, getting punched in the dick, and being the Bizarro Mariano Rivera. Also, he made someone feel telepathic. I’m parlaying the Giants with “Rivera gets fired during Carolina’s Week 4 bye.”

Bills (+2.5) over JETS
Reason No. 29 why Cleveland made that Richardson trade: Look how excited Bills fans are right now about EJ Manuel. Find the right QB and you just bought five years of goodwill. Only one red flag: Last week, he became the fifth rookie QB to lead a game-winning drive in his first or second game. The other four: Archie Manning, Jim Druckenmiller, Ryan Leaf and Geno Smith. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here’s the Shaky Watch for Week 3: anyone in New York stuck watching this Bills-Jets game without NFL Season Ticket or the RedZone channel; SF’s receivers; the Luke Joeckel era; Josh Freeman’s chances of starting for even one fantasy team this season (nine completions last week!); the Rams/Browns/Giants RBs; Detroit’s offense whenever a trainer is working on Reggie Bush; Houston’s kicker; Carolina’s secondary; Baltimore’s passing game; Ben Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame chances; Joe Flacco’s nine-figure contract; the Mike Shanahan era; anyone who bet the under on 2013 NFL lightning delays; every fantasy team featuring Tom Brady or Ray Rice; the NFC East; the NFC East a second time.

49ERS (-10) over Colts
The two 2013 teams you wouldn’t want on the road one week after they were embarrassed in a night game: San Francisco and Seattle. Three leftover notes from Sunday night’s shellacking in Seattle.

• Robert Mays’s “We Went There” piece on Grantland was excellent. You should read it.

• Andy in Temecula wonders, “If Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll did throw down after a game, what would the line be? Straight up, I would take Harbaugh. Besides being younger and possibly stronger, I think he may be face-eating crazy and his grin is more manic and is suggestive of McMurphys. Carroll doesn’t frighten me.” Hmmmmm. I’d have Harbaugh as a -250 favorite, just because he’s younger and we know he broke his hand punching Jim Kelly once. Can you really go against someone just described as “face-eating crazy”?

• You might remember that I centered last Friday’s column on the “Should you watch Niners-Seahawks or Breaking Bad?” decision. Well, God ended up deciding for us — He decided to have a one-hour weather delay from 9:05 ET until 10:05 ET, allowing everyone to just watch the episode in real time. The poetic justice here: When AMC launched Breaking Bad in January 2008, it researched possible dates and settled on the Sunday after both NFL conference title games. It picked 10 p.m. thinking that it would be far-fetched for the second game (in this case, Packers-Giants) to stretch past that time. Basically, the second game would have to go into overtime. What happened? New York’s Lawrence Tynes missed the game-winning kick, the game stretched into overtime, and Breaking Bad‘s premiere got crushed by what became the second-highest-rated telecast of 2008 (trailing only the Super Bowl).

Fast-forward five years to last Sunday: They’re showing an episode that creator Vince Gilligan deems the best of the series, only it’s going against a monster football game. And then, fate intervenes. Lightning. For an hour. Breaking Bad ends up with its most viewers ever, and it happens for its most important episode ever. Karma? Coincidence? Blind luck? You tell me.7


7.

Two Breaking Bad e-mails that I enjoyed this weekend (SPOILER ALERT FOR BOTH). From Jacob in Chicago: “Has any actor, actress, or other prevalent TV thespian ever had two characters on separate shows die on the same night? I think Dean Norris made history on Sunday night with his deaths on both Breaking Bad and Under the Dome.” And from Tom in Philly: “Texting my brother after (re)watching last night’s episode of Breaking Bad (we only text about football, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, literature, and my years-long string of bad breakups), I was trying to think of another time that I was so shocked to my core by, really, anything. But in particular, that I could keep watching while being shocked. The closest I could come was ‘Two Girls One Cup.’”

SEAHAWKS (-20) over Jaguars
Poor Gus Bradley — he’s returning to Seattle with Chad Henne against a juggernaut with an insane crowd that won its last nine home games by an average of 30-11. They couldn’t make this line high enough. There’s only two tiny cases for the Jags +20: Bradley knowing how to slow down Seattle’s offense, and Carroll feeling bad and going out of his way NOT to embarrass Bradley. But here’s how to ignore those +20 urges in two steps.

Read this story.

Read this e-mail (courtesy of Jacksonville reader Louis Richman) …

“We need a new statistic to truly define the stink that is the Jaguars offense. I think I have it. You see, my cousin was given a clock with the Jaguars’ score as the hour and the visitors’ score as the minutes. His coworkers have taken it upon themselves to show up to the Clock whenever the Jaguars are able to successfully complete a clock game. What’s a Clock game? Any time the Jaguars score 12 points or less and the opposing team has anywhere from 2 to 59 points. I am proud to say the Jaguars have started off the year with two consecutive clock games (2:28, 9:19). Any bets on how many clock games they have this year. I think the over/under at 8.5 is acceptable.”

That’s brilliant. A Clock Game! The key for a Clock Game is that you can’t get shut out — you’d think the 1977 Bucs (103 points in 14 games and six shutouts) would be the Clock Game leaders, but they were shut out six times. I don’t know who had the most Clock Games in NFL history, but I couldn’t resist looking up the offensively impotent 1990 Pats — coached by Rod Rust’s cadaver, the worst Pats team of my lifetime — and they churned out a whopping NINE Clock Games. NINE! If anyone can beat nine, by all means, lemme know. Regardless, Jacksonville’s quest to have 16 straight Clock Games is my new favorite subplot of the 2013 season. Who else is rooting for 2:59 this week?

Bears (-2.5) over STEELERS
I know it’s a Kitchen Sink game for the Steelers — they lose this one and they might as well Play Dead For Ted, trade Roethlisberger to the Vikings or Cardinals and blow everything up. You’re right, they’ll never do that. But if they blow Sunday night, they’re screwed. You know what’s not helping? Their utter inability to block, run the ball or call a decent sequence of offensive plays. The Steelers stink. And I kept fighting off the urge to say, “I think the Bears are legitimately good” until Jaws lavished praise on them on Thursday’s PTI as Wilbon beamed like a proud dad. If they have the Jaws Seal of Approval, I’m in.

(Fast-forward to me swearing at Jay Cutler on Sunday night and kicking myself for making this pick.)

BRONCOS (-16) over Raiders
The good news: Ninety points in two games for the Broncos! The bad news: They’re suddenly missing their All-Pro left tackle and their best two centers. Uh-oh. Thank God it’s Peyton Manning in a night game and we don’t have to do anything here other than say, “Never bet against Peyton Manning in a night game.”

As for the not-quite-as-putrid-as-we-thought Raiders, this e-mail from San Francisco reader Kris T. sums it up: “I realized this weekend that Terrelle Pryor is the absolute perfect RedZone Channel player. I got more and more excited whenever I saw the ‘Update — Raiders/Colts’ message, and started betting with friends whether it would be an amazing run for a score, or a stupefyingly dumb turnover. Or a score AFTER a stupefyingly dumb turnover. Either way it was going to be amazing. I love the Terrelle Pryor Era!” So there’s that.

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 7-8-1
Season: 14-17-2
8


8.

I messed up my record last week and mistakenly gave myself an extra win for Week 1. We fixed.