Toiling away on a cross-country flight Wednesday afternoon, I missed the beginning of our in-flight movie because I was too busy staring in disbelief at the USA Today sports section. Spilled across its first page? A collage of head shots of the 60 quarterbacks who have started an NFL game this season.
That’s right, 60 quarterbacks.
SPORTS GAL’S PICKS
The Sports Gal took the week off because she’s protesting the fact her husband refused to help out with X-mas shopping, but she wanted to wish everyone Merry X-Mas and Happy Holidays. Here are her Week 16 picks: Cowboys -10.5; Browns -3; Bears +8.5; Colts -7; Chiefs +5; Dolphins -22; Giants -3; Raiders +13; Saints -3; Vikings -6.5; Falcons +10; Titans -8.5; Chargers +6; Seahawks -10.5; Broncos +8.5.
This week: 0-1
Last week: 9-7
Yeah, I know the current QB (fill in whatever word you think applies: crisis, shortage, calamity, mini-apocalypse) isn’t a secret by any means. During Monday night’s Bears-Vikings clunker, Kyle Orton and Tarvaris Jackson played so feebly you could almost hear Ron Jaworski talking himself into a comeback. We even made history when poor Orton became the first QB ever to draw an intentional grounding penalty simply because he lacked the arm strength to reach an open receiver and he wasn’t even the worst starting quarterback of the night. Even crazier, Jackson is potentially “leading” Minnesota into the playoffs for a road game that Vegas will either have to remove from the board or make the Vikings 20-point underdogs in just so someone will take them.
Here’s the real problem: Once defensive players became impossibly fast and impossibly strong, not only did QBs start getting injured all the time, but those slow-moving, brainy, coach-on-the-field quarterbacks were rendered obsolete. In the late-1980s, you could win 10 games with Bernie Kosar; in the late-2000s, you’d have to put a bull’s-eye on his jersey and customize his own stretcher. Throw in four expansion teams and the number of (Cleo) lemons has apparently tripled. Just look at the quality QBs in 1990: Marino, Kelly, Elway, Montana, Esiason, Cunningham, Simms, Everett, Aikman, Rypien, Moon, DeBerg, Gannon, Harbaugh, Kosar, Krieg, Majkowski, O’Brien, Schroeder, plus two backups (Young and Reich). Any of those guys could have won 10-plus games if they were surrounded by good players.
Well, how many QBs could you say that about now? Ten? Twelve? When Todd Collins and Shaun Hill carried underdogs to victory in two nationally televised games last weekend, nobody was shocked because the sheer volume of lousy quarterbacks increases the chance two unknowns could play well in any given week. For instance, if you double on a 17 with an ace showing, it’s an indefensible decision, but if you make that same decision 20 times over the course of the day, you’ll win three hands thanks to Lady Luck. Would you win money in the long run with that move? Of course not. Same for winning money with Collins or King on TV. Yeah, you can do it — but if you keep trying it, you’ll go broke.
Anyway, I spent a good 10 minutes staring at the 2007 QB collage, then another 10 minutes writing down one of five letter grades under each picture (A, B, C, D or F). The final report card: four A’s, six B’s, 11 C’s, 10 D’s; eight F’s; and then another 21 guys who could have either gotten D’s or F’s depending on how generous you were feeling. (I wasn’t feeling that generous, so I handed out F’s across the board. This is why I’d make a bad professor.) Then I thought, “Screw it, let’s go all the way and separate these guys using tiers — how grisly would that list look on paper?”
The answer: Really grisly. Like, grislier than all four “Saw” movies combined. Introducing the first-ever Powerless Poll for QBs:
THE FRANCHISE GUYS
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning
Comments: I thought about including Tony Romo in this group, but two things held me back: his propensity for the occasional robo-stinker (like the Buffalo and Philly games this season), and his much-ballyhooed, semi-inexplicable romance with Jessica Simpson that inspired nearly 700 “she’s like Kim Basinger’s character in ‘The Natural'” e-mails in my mailbox last weekend.
Many of you asked why Romo would date Simpson in the first place. After all, he could date anyone he wants, and even if he’s attracted to Simpson because he has a thing for top-heavy blondes — we don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing — he could just as easily find an equally top-heavy Texas blonde who (a) doesn’t have a Svengali father who travels everywhere with her, (b) doesn’t have press following her every move, (c) isn’t divorced and (d) didn’t become famous simply for being dumb, right?
Here’s my theory, which we could call the Affleck/J-Lo Corollary: When people become famous, we think of them only as celebrities and forget they were once normal — people like you and me — who became normal people who were also suddenly famous. Now, fame eventually changes just about everyone, but a small part of every celebrity will always be in perpetual disbelief that they’re famous and their life worked out the way they wanted it to work out. It’s that small “part” that draws celebrities like Ben Affleck and J-Lo to each other. So when they started hooking up, Affleck was thinking, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m sleeping with J-Lo!” and J-Lo was thinking, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m sleeping with Ben Affleck!”
This is why celebrities constantly fall for one another, because they’re always in disbelief they scored the other celeb. Once they become accustomed to their fame, they grow out of this little phase. But Romo became famous only 13 months ago — it’s still a whirlwind for him, and he’s probably still the same guy he was when he was backing up Drew Bledsoe and making peanuts, so right now he’s thinking to himself, “Omigod, I can’t believe I’m dating Jessica Simpson!” and calling his buddies from college and telling them about her breasts. Meanwhile, she’s thinking, “Oh my God, the quarterback of the Cowboys likes me!” and relishing the chance to get shown on TV during games. For now, they’re perfect for each other. And they will definitely break up.
Comments: I’m just plain terrified by the possibility of a Pats-Packers Super Bowl — not only will 90 percent of the crowd be Packers fans, not only will the entire country be galvanized behind one team like nothing we’ve seen since “USA 4, USSR 3,” but it will be humanly impossible for the officials to avoid secretly rooting for the Pack in that one. How could you help it? Subconsciously, wouldn’t you give Green Bay every break without even knowing it? Seeing Favre carry a team to a Super Bowl title at his age, with all the miles he’s carrying, would be the best Father Time-defying sports moment since Jack Nicklaus won the ’86 Masters unless you count Hulk Hogan recapturing the WWE title in 2002. Personally, I would count it. But that’s just me.
Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Matt Hasselbeck, “Ben”, Derek Anderson
Comments: Quality QBs who boost their teams one level and possess one specific skill that sets them apart: Three or four times per game, they can turn a negative play into a positive play by either (a) foiling a potential sack with some smart footwork and buying themselves some time, or (b) scrambling for yards when everyone is covered downfield. That’s what killed Bledsoe’s career as a franchise guy — once the defenses became bigger and faster in the late ’90s, he couldn’t make those extra plays to keep drives going and create points from thin air. All of the guys above can do that. That’s right, even you, Derek Anderson.
THE GAME SUPERVISORS
David Garrard, Jeff Garcia
Comments: I hate the phrase “game manager” because it’s a nice way of saying somebody sucks. So let’s call these guys “game supervisors” to differentiate them from everyone else. You wouldn’t want them in a shootout, and you wouldn’t want them if you didn’t have a good running game and a good defense but for those physical, grind-it-out games when you only want your QB to bring stuff to the table and take nothing off it (even if he’s just bringing a couple of plates, two glasses and a fork), you’re in surprisingly good hands with Garrard and Garcia. Combined, they’re 19-9 right now with 28 touchdowns and six INTs. That’s right, 19-9 with 28 touchdowns and six INTs. You read it correctly the first time.
THE FANTASY GUYS
Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning
Comments: Self-explanatory. Out of the three, Cutler could climb higher within the next two or three years, whereas Palmer and Eli are what they are — guys who stink half the time and cover it up with once-a-month fantasy outbursts that make it seem like they’re having a solid offensive season. Ask any Giants or Bengals fan what they think of their QBs — you’ll just get a lot of head-shaking and a few swear words. By the way, these guys are the 11th-, 12th- and 13th-best QBs in the league.
THE MILD UPSIDERS
Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers, Jason Campbell
THE WEEKLY POWER POLL
THE ROD RUST DIVISION
THE BRUCE COSLET DIVISION
30. San Fran
29. St. Louis
27. Kansas City
24. NY Jets
PLANNING FOR 2008
HOPE IS NOT A GOOD THING
15. New Orleans
HOUSE OF MIRRORS
14. N.Y. Giants
THE “GOOD” BAD TEAM
11. Tampa Bay
9. San Diego
THE DARK HORSE
3. Greeen Bay
1. New England
Comments: It’s tough to get excited about any of them, but you can’t really dismiss them, either. And they won’t totally kill you if you have a good team. As you can tell, I can’t even get excited to write this paragraph.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb, Jon Kitna, Jake Delhomme, Kurt Warner (in his current state), Drew Bledsoe (in absentia)
Comments: You’d never want to settle down with them, and you’d constantly disparage them to your friends but as soon as they’re not around for a week or two, you end up wishing they were around for a drunken 3 a.m. booty call. To my knowledge, nobody has ever married an FWB or won a Super Bowl with them. There’s a lesson here.
Vince Young, Matt Leinart
Comments: Approaching the two-year anniversary of the 2006 Rose Bowl, who could have guessed the three stars (Young, Leinart and Reggie Bush) would have made less of a discernable impact COMBINED on the 2007 NFL season than Mario Williams did? Honestly, I don’t know WHAT the hell is going on with Vince Young — he has had a bigger sophomore slump than “Friday Night Lights.”
While we’re here, I have an answer to the Texans fans barraging the VP of Common Sense with “How do you like Mario Williams now???” e-mails: Don’t you realize what happened here? Both Williams and Rudy Gay took heat heading into their drafts because they didn’t seem totally motivated in college, only the events of those drafts solved those motivational issues for different reasons. In Gay’s case, he thought he was going first and dropped to No. 8; in Williams’ case, the Texans were skewered locally and nationally for picking him over Bush and Young. So as weird as this sounds, those slights were the best things that could have happened to them — they supplied them with motivation that they obviously had trouble summoning from any other place. If you don’t think draft-day slights can change the course of someone’s career, you’re crazy. Just ask Tom Brady.
THE GREAT UNKNOWNS
JaMarcus Russell, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Aaron Rodgers, Brady Quinn
Comments: Seriously, we need ALL of these guys to make it. If I had to make Vegas odds for every possible combination here, I’d go with 35-1 for all five making it; 9-1 for four; 5-1 for three; 5-2 for two; and 1-10 for one. And if you had to rank them in order, it would go 2-1 for Rodgers, 3-1 for Kolb, 4-1 for Russell and Quinn and 15-1 for Beck. The best wager on the board is Kolb — high-percentage numbers in college, perfect for the West Coast offense and the natural beneficiary for the Ewing Theory Eagles next season after McNabb finally leaves. I wish there was a way to wager on this.
JUST COMPETENT ENOUGH TO KILL YOU
Chad Pennington, Joey Harrington, A.J. Feeley, Kerry Collins, Jake Plummer (in absentia)
Comments: These are the “looking great for 3½ quarters until they kill you with a pick at the worst possible time” guys, as personified by Feeley’s “timing pass” in the Pats-Eagles game this season. They’re also the most painful QBs to have on your team because you spend an inordinate amount of time either talking yourself into them or talking yourself out of them.
Speaking of Harrington, I outdid myself with the final paragraph in the Falcons section of my 2007 NFL preview: “I believe in the ’07 Falcons, I believe in Petrino and (gulp) I believe that Harrington could be a half-decent quarterback in the perfect situation. I’m even willing to hinge my 2007 Sleeper Pick on it. Stranger things have happened. Yes, stranger things than Joey Harrington leading Michael Vick’s old team to the playoffs while Vick watches the whole thing unfold from behind bars.”
(Note: If you want to spend your weekend sifting through my archives to find a Simmons prediction that worked out worse than that one, please, break out some egg nog and have some holiday fun at my expense. Not even my Okafor/Howard prediction worked out as dreadfully as that one — the “I believe in Petrino” part pushed it to another level.)
Trent Edwards, J.P. Losman, Kellen Clemens, Kyle Boller, Matt Moore
Comments: You can’t overstate the word “potentially” here. Maybe we should change that to, “If the stars completely align and a borderline miracle happens.” By the way, I kind of enjoy Matt Moore’s work. He’s not bad. Even if I just jinxed the rest of his season by writing that, it had to be said.
TALENTED BY OSMOSIS
Matt Cassel, Jim Sorgi
Comments: I’ve written about comedic osmosis before — if you spend enough time with someone who’s truly funny, invariably it raises your comedic IQ because you start thinking like them and you’re always in a “trying to make a funny joke” frame of mind. The same dynamic works for basketball (if you have an unselfish player such as Nash or Bird, eventually everyone else becomes unselfish), dinner conversations with multiple rich people (if one of them starts bragging about something they bought or a trip they took, eventually it will become a “who can sound more like Dan Aykroyd in the first 20 minutes of ‘Trading Places'” contest) and porn (unfortunately, I’m not allowed to explain how this works in porn, although you can probably figure it out).
Anyway, Cassell and Sorgi might not have been salvageable had their careers unfolded on any other team, but don’t their football IQs increase because they are caddying for Brady and Manning? Everyone says the QB position is more mental than physical — well, name me a better mental training program for a QB than Brady College and Manning University? It’s like getting your MBA from Harvard or Wharton, right? If I were running an NFL team, I would absolutely take a chance on one of those guys over any of the names you’re about to read.
FLASHES OF UPSIDE, FLOODS OF DOWNSIDE
Cleo Lemon,Tarvaris Jackson, Rex Grossman, Sage Rosenfels, Brodie Croyle, Alex Smith, the McCown brothers (Josh and Luke)
Comments: I’m not sure what’s more astonishing — that Alex Smith was included in this list, or that you could argue he should be two levels lower. Also, this list actually made me laugh out loud after I typed all the names. There’s something inherently funny about the group itself and the sight of “the McCown brothers” pushes it over the top. They’re like the Buffer brothers, only if both of them were Bruce.
Steve McNair, Trent Dilfer, Damon Huard, Vinny Testaverde, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, Daunte Culpepper, Brian Griese, Byron Leftwich
Comments: Really, it makes zero sense for any NFL team to start another season by telling its fans, “We’re going into the season with (any of the above guys) as our starting QB.” These guys should be finished in that capacity. Please tell me I’m right. Please. I’m begging you.
THE ONE-WEEK WONDERS
Todd Collins, Shaun Hill
Comments: Just remember, William Hung and Delores the Lunch Lady had their 15 minutes, too. Yes, I’m bitter both guys cost me money last week.
THE NO-WEEK WONDERS
Chris Redman, Kelly Holcomb, Brock Berlin, Brooks Bollinger, Chaz Frye, Quinn Gray, Kyle Orton
Comments: If the Flashes/Floods list made me laugh, then this list just makes me sad. It’s almost traumatizing. Just think, ALL OF THESE GUYS started an NFL game this season. How sad it that?
THE PROVERBIAL F-MINUS
The perfect storm of QB crappiness: Artificially heightened expectations for no good reason (the fact an NFL team once made the mistake of drafting him first overall); no discernable talents for the position unless you call “holding the ball too long” a talent; an unparalleled, jeffgeorgian ability to suck the life out of anyone who plays with him; and if that’s not enough, every time he takes off his helmet, he looks like he’s posing for the June 1983 cover of Tiger Beat. When Carr is playing for your favorite NFL team, you’re constantly disappointed/enraged/frustrated/disgusted, only deep down, you’re telling yourself, “Hey, he was the No. 1 pick, maybe he can turn it around.” So even though he’s better than the guys from the “No-Week Wonders” list, at least with those guys, you have no expectations going in. Carr’s suckitude is crueler and more complicated. That’s why he’s last on the Powerless List.
Anyway, since this was such a depressing column, let’s finish on an uplifting note: According to our special 2008 NFL draft section, Scouts Inc. has three QBs (Matt Ryan, Brian Brohm and Andre Woodson) ranked in the top 10; Insider Todd McShay has them going in the top 13; and even Junior Kiper’s Big Board (Insider only) has all of them going in the top 20. So if two of the Brohm-Ryan-Woodson group can make it, and three of the Russell-Kolb-Beck-Rodgers-Quinn group can make it, and Young and Leinart can turn things around in Year 3, and the Schaub-Rivers-Campbell group continues to improve and everyone else in the Top 13 keeps chugging along after Favre retires, by the end of this decade, we might not be battling a QB shortage anymore, right?
(Come on, it’s the holidays. Throw me a bone. Tell me I’m right.)
On to the Week 16 quick picks, and by the way, I’m guaranteeing at least 10 wins this week or your money back (home teams in caps):
PANTHERS (+10.5) over Cowboys
Raise your hand if you’re giddy about the now-the-door-has-been-opened-thanks-to-Romo’s-thumb-injury possibility of a Cowboys-Packers NFC title game happening at Lambeau.
(Yes, even if that gives the Packers a better chance of reaching the Super Bowl.)
THE B.S. REPORT
If you want more of Bill Simmons’ thoughts on what happened in Week 15, including the controversial Brian Westbrook non-touchdown, and what we’ll see in Week 16, listen to this week’s podcast.
BEARS (+8.5) over Packers
Good news for Bears fans: The league ruled Thursday that Chicago gets to roll over the timeout that Lovie Smith never called at the end of Monday’s Minnesota game — mainly so Smith could save face for one of the dumbest oversights in modern coaching history — which gives Smith seven timeouts for this game. See, he’s smarter than you thought!
Browns (-3) over BENGALS
A rematch of the 52-45 shootout with some huge fantasy playoff guys involved. In a goofy way, this might be the game of the week. By the way, I have the Brian Westbrook story to top all Brian Westbrook stories: I know a high roller who’s in a $100,000-per-person fantasy league — $600K for first place, $300K for second place, $100K for third — and got knocked out of last week’s semifinals by five points. He had Westbrook. I defy anyone to top this story.
Dolphins (+22) over PATRIOTS
“Great game, Eric, that was awesome!” Really? What happened to Eff-You Mode?
Texans (+7) over COLTS
Remember, the Colts always mail in these Week 16 and Week 17 games if nothing’s on the line. That’s what they do. By the way, I was flipping channels Wednesday night and caught Archie Manning making a studio appearance on “NFL Live” with Trey Wingo. I see no difference between him and Joe Simpson at this point other than Archie never makes inappropriate comments about his sons’ breasts. You’ll also be happy to know Archie wrapped up the segment by saying, “Thanks, Troy.” I love TiVo.
LIONS (-5) over Chiefs
You know the Chiefs have quit on the season when their GM decides he’s better off walking around with a bodyguard for his own safety. And since the Lions will be fired up with Jesus’ birthday coming up and all, I’m making this one of my two “Locks of the Holiday Weekend.”
Redskins (+6.5) over VIKINGS
I’m predicting a Redskins upset win here
SAINTS (-3) over Eagles
as well as a Saints victory that forces the three-way tie between the Skins, Vikes and Saints at 8-7 for the right to lose in Seattle in Round 1. We’re all on the edge of our seats, guys.
BILLS (+3) over Giants
Here’s the second “Lock of the Holiday Weekend.” Seriously, if you had to bet your life on it, would you bet on Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin pulling through in a must-win road game, in an especially tough stadium, with Kevin Everett on the sidelines for the first time since he was injured? You wouldn’t, right? So why is this line “Giants by 3?” I don’t get it.
JAGUARS (-13) over Raiders
You know the Jags will go all-out in this one because they want to clinch the No. 5 seed and a chance to play Norv Turner and Phil Rivers in Round 1. Just to keep the guys motivated, Jack Del Rio should put a photo of the Norv Turner Face in every guy’s locker on Sunday morning, along with the note, “Here’s the prize if we win!”
(FOLLOW-UP NOTE: After we posted the column, a few readers pointed out that the Chargers would be the No. 3 seed if they win their next two games, rendering the previous paragraph moot. The lesson, as always: I’m an idiot.)
Jets (+8.5) over TITANS
Because the Jets aren’t terrible.
Bucs (-6) over 49ERS
Because the 49ers ARE terrible.
CARDINALS (-10) over Falcons
Arthur Blank would have won the 2007 Award for “Guy You Definitely Wouldn’t Want To Go To Vegas With” if not for PacMan Jones. Seriously, I’m afraid to shop at Home Depot at this point. What else can happen to that guy? I keep expecting to find out he’s the real father of Jamie-Lynn Spears’ baby.
Ravens (+10.5) over SEAHAWKS
Just so you know, the Seahawks are dying to screw up your three-team tease that you’re so excited about for Sunday. They can’t wait. They’re delighted for the chance to give you the shaft when you’re least expecting it, or at the very least, make you sweat like Chris Farley during the “Chippendales” sketch for three straight hours before they knock home a game-winning field goal that just makes it over the crossbar. Proceed at your own risk.
CHARGERS (-8.5) over Broncos
Two selfish reasons for this one: Not only am I openly rooting for the Chargers to run the slate and suck everyone into thinking they’re a good team (opening the door up for an overly favorable Jags-Chargers line in Round 1), but Tomlinson is leading my Double D’s team into the finals of my West Coast league. In fact, let’s make this its own spread:
DOUBLE D’S (-8.5) over Bar Owls
I benched Romo this week and still managed to field a murderer’s row of Palmer, Tomlinson, Peterson (the good one), Welker, Fitzgerald, Cotchery, Marshall, Gostkowski and the Pats’ D; the Owls started Brady, Parker (injured on the first play!), Selvin Young, Moss, Chambers, Colston, McDonald, Crosby and the Packers’ D. That’s right, in the irony of ironies, I have to “root against” Moss and Brady. You have to love fantasy football — it’s not officially a fantasy season until you’re faced with a sweeping moral debate on everything that’s good about sports.
I’d like to think I’ll root for Moss and Brady at the expense of my fantasy title. Repeat: I’d like to think this. I have faith in myself. But you never know.
And on that note, happy holidays.
This week: 0-1
Last week: 6-10
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column — as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more — check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.