Warning! Warning! I am currently traveling on a mini-book tour to promote the paperback release of “The Book of Basketball,” which means my NFL picks are headed directly for a port-o-john splash. During the previous two book tours, in 2005 and 2009, I finished a combined 3-720 against the spread. (All numbers approximate.) I travel, I sign, I lose. That’s just the rule.
Anticipating the inevitable Week 14 collapse, I decided to throw a curveball at the Gambling Gods: After Saturday’s book signing in Dallas, I’m sticking around for Sunday night’s Eagles-Cowboys game and crossing the streams “Ghostbusters”-style. See, I also have terrible luck picking games and/or gambling if I am attending a sporting event. Why? Because of the Doom Boards. You know how BlackBerrys never get Internet service inside a crowded arena, so you’re always stuck staring at those miniature scoreboards in the corners of the stadium? I call them “Doom Boards.” You just stare at them and wait for awful news. For instance
TENN 21 (4th)
TENN 21 (4th)
TENN 21 (4th)
TENN 21 (4th)
TENN 28 (4th)
What???? They scored? How???? It’s almost worse than watching a game live. Any time a Doom Board is involved, I lose.
The good news: There are no other games happening Sunday night. The bad news: When you get killed in Sunday’s games, the Sunday night Doom Board ends up being your Walk of Shame. Just when you’re getting over the beating BOOM! Let’s roll those scores again! Between the Doom Board and the book tour, if my “Ghostbusters” move doesn’t work, there’s a good chance I might finish minus-2 and 18 this week.
Don’t believe me? I picked the Colts -3.5 Thursday night. Easy money. They were leading 21-0 in the second quarter, got bored and allowed Tennessee to hang around and hang around leading to the most indefensible backdoor cover in recent football history. Trailing by nine points in the final minute, Tennessee got a first down inside Indy’s 25, but embattled Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher — who apparently has never played a video game in his life — eschewed the exceedingly logical field goal/onsides kick/Hail Mary blueprint and kept charging toward the end zone. And all that persistence paid off: Kerry Collins tossed a touchdown pass to Bo Scaife to pull the Titans within two. One problem: There was 0:00 left on the clock. THEY WASTED THE ENTIRE MINUTE TRYING TO SCORE A MEANINGLESS TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!!!!! (Sorry, the situation demanded all caps.) How do these guys get paid to coach for a living when 10-year-olds holding a Wii controller are more logical in the same situation???
It was the perfect way to start Book Tour Massacre III: Losing with 0:00 on the clock on the dumbest backdoor cover drive in recent football history. We’ll be telling our grandkids about it. As for the rest of my Week 14 losers, let’s hit the quick picks
(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)
Bengals (+8.5) over STEELERS
Sandwiched between the Ravens (last week) and the Jets (next week) on Pittsburgh’s schedule? The lowly Bengals, losers of nine straight and, really, just plain losers. Translation: This reeks of the dreaded Trap/Letdown Combo for the Steelers. Be careful, Everyone Throwing Pittsburgh Into a Three-Team Tease This Weekend. In other news, my wife was reading a magazine on Sunday night when Haloti Ngata smeared Ben Roethlisberger’s nose all over his face like a wedding cake. She watched the replay, saw the damage and said, “Hah!” Then she went back to her magazine. Ben, I think there’s some healing left to do.
Browns (+1) over BILLS
I don’t care if Jake Delhomme might be involved — the Browns are one fumble and one 80-yard screen pass from a six-game winning streak right now. In the “Which coach is least likely to get fired?” power rankings, has Eric Mangini vaulted above Rex Ryan or am I crazy?
(Note: Sign you’re probably headed for a bad picks week — you type the words, “I don’t care if Jake Delhomme might be involved,” don’t delete them and keep going.)
VIKINGS (+3) over Giants
Minnesota owns Eli Manning. I’m just the messenger. Anyway, I was thinking about how Dallas and Minnesota immediately started playing better when they dumped their coaches. Getting fired is traumatic in any profession, especially when your employer tells you “We’ll pay you to leave; just go, for the love of God, GO!!!!!” Having that firing covered by the media, and dissected by fans, would be equally traumatic (especially if your players were creaming you after the fact). But if the team quickly turns things around upon your departure, where does that leave your self-esteem? I coached those guys so poorly, even my unqualified assistant ended up doing better than me. I think we’re going to see a bearded Brad Childress wandering around San Diego drinking from a carton of milk soon.
REDSKINS (+2) over Bucs
Can’t take the Bucs in cold weather, especially after their season went down in flames this past Sunday with a fourth-quarter choke, two killer injuries (their center and best cornerback) and Josh Freeman uncharacteristically blowing their last chance. It’s their own damned fault: They wore orange throwback uniforms and triggered memories of 25 years of ineptitude and bad luck. Can’t they burn those things already? You think Jennifer Aniston still has her wedding dress?
(Unrelated: I’m adding the words “Albert Haynesworth” to my ESPN Outsider account. For how long can we rehash the fact that one of the league’s worst owners badly overpaid a shaky character guy who tried hard in a contract year, roped somebody into overpaying him, then mailed it in from that point on? Wow, what a crazy sequence of events! That never happens! Nobody saw that coming! I keep waiting for Daniel Snyder to buy WikiLeaks.)
JAGS (-4) over Raiders
We found our Red-Hot Second-Half Team: The Jags have covered five straight, won four of those, found an identity (MJD left, MJD straight, MJD right) and even had Gus Johnson call their Hail Mary. I’d say something is up. Throw in the “West Coast team playing a 1 p.m. game on the East Coast” thing and we’re done here.
(Unrelated: I had a signing Thursday night at a Borders that was allegedly in San Francisco, although I’m still not positive because we drove 40 minutes from downtown San Francisco to get there. It would have been like scheduling a Boston signing in Hingham. Anyway, one of the reasons I love doing signings is because they capture the sports mood of the city. On Tuesday in New York, everyone was either depressed about the Jets or hilariously fired up about the Knicks. The next day in Washington, people were asking me questions like, “Is it against your ’20 Rules’ column if I stop rooting for the Redskins and pick another team?” and “How much should I hate the Jayson Werth signing?” But in San Fran? At least half the attendees were wearing a Giants shirt or hat and had their chests puffed out. So funny how a title can single-handedly sway the mood of a city.)