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.)
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PANTHERS (+7.5) over Falcons
I switched my pick 45 times on this game. And I would have gone for 46 if not for a column deadline. Hey, remember my “creeper” concept from my 2010 preview (how every season since 2002, a non-playoff team jumps five-plus wins and grabs a first-round bye)? I wrote a whole paragraph pushing the Falcons, got scared off because they would have needed to jump from 9-7 to 14-2, then settled on (gulp) the Niners. I have a lot of regrets. And yes, if the Falcons finish 14-2 (totally doable), that’s our 2010 creeper. Our other candidate
BEARS (+3) over Patriots
The 9-3 Bears need to get to 12-4 and a 2-seed to qualify for “creeper” status. Don’t sleep on them Sunday. Haven’t we been here before? A contender looks unstoppable on Monday night at home, everyone spends the next few days fawning over the team, and meanwhile, it has a scary road game looming six days later against an underrated contender that matches up with it pretty well.
Put it this way: If the Patriots win this one, we can officially say they’re peaking better than the 2007 Pats did. The 2007 offense peaked from Week 1 to Week 11 (41 points a game), then faded a little down the stretch (29.7 points a game) when the weather turned, the pressure mounted and defenses realized that the Pats couldn’t really run the ball. The 2010 Pats just dropped 160 points in their past four games (two of them against the two best AFC teams) and are suddenly pushing the 2007 Pats as the best offense footballoutsiders.com has EVER measured. The big differences: They can run the ball better; they aren’t as reliant on big plays from one receiver; and their screens in the two-tight-end offense (whether it’s a running back or a receiver catching the ball) have been absolutely devastating. Teams are terrified to blitz them now because they can unleash one of those screens at any time. On the flip side, their defense isn’t as good as the 2007 crew. Not even close. We’ll know more after Sunday.
Packers (-7) over LIONS
I learned three things on Thanksgiving: Always take an elite QB against Detroit’s pass defense; stop believing CBS when they pretend it’s a new “Survivor” (and it’s really a clip show); and next time there’s an uplifting pregame segment about a deceased NFL player who found redemption in the afterlife when his mother donated his organs to people who desperately needed them, you might want to lie about his cause of death to your sobbing wife if that cause of death is going to make her scream, “Wait a second he did WHAT?”
(Speaking of “Wait a second he did WHAT?” — please tell me you caught CT’s performance on MTV’s “Challenge” this week, then tell me how this isn’t America’s fifth professional sport. Would you rank it above or below Wilt scoring 100 points in a game? I can’t decide.)
Broncos (-4.5) over CARDS
I’m co-signing Mike Lombardi’s take on Denver’s panic firing of Josh McDaniels. You fire a football coach when his team stops playing hard for him; the Broncos played hard against Kansas City last week. Huh? Meanwhile, Leslie Frazier and Jason Garrett covering their first games caused Vegas to overreact with a high Broncos line, then the public to overreact by betting it even higher and me to nearly overreact to the overreaction by grabbing John Skelton +4.5. Isn’t this Rusty Smith, The Sequel? I can’t do it. There’s an 80 percent chance that Larry Fitzgerald is going to pull a Col. Markinson and just disappear soon.
NINERS (-5) over Seahawks
Only in the NFC West could (A) a team that’s tied for first place be a five-point underdog against a 4-8 team, and (B) a 3-9 team playing at home get 4.5 points against another 3-9 team that just fired its coach. Underrated subplot for this one: Alex Smith might return. At Thursday night’s signing, someone mentioned Smith’s return to me and said, “Watch out, here come the 49ers!” and started laughing, then the four guys behind him in line also started laughing. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 San Francisco 49ers!!!!!
Rams (+9) over SAINTS
Total wins by division right now: AFC East: 27; NFC South: 27; NFC East: 25; AFC North: 24; AFC South: 24; NFC North: 24; AFC West: 23; NFC West: 19. Which explains why the inordinately frisky Rams — who have played only two bad games all season — are getting this many points. It’s strictly an NFC South/NFC West line. I get it.
So why take the points? Because Jaaaaaaaaaaash Freeman’s 2010 playoff run was like a son to me. When Jaaaaaaaash’s playoff hopes died, a part of me died, too. But now, Sam Bradford, you’re the one. You’re the one who’s going to make sure that Jaaaaaash Freeman’s season didn’t die for nothing. You’re the young QB who’s going to make the playoffs way before he’s ready and allow us to quietly wager against you in Round 1. You’re the one ready to kill every three-team tease and suicide pool this week. You’re the one who’s going to keep Jaaaaash’s spirit alive. Now, you’re gonna go through hell. But in the end, I know you’re gonna be the one standing. You know what you have to do, son. Do it. Do it.
CHARGERS (-7) over Chiefs
Brodie Croyle’s record as a starter: 0-9. ‘Nuff said. (The Joey Harrington Corollary applies here: Realistically, what are the odds of someone named “Brodie Croyle” becoming an elite NFL quarterback? 100-1? 200-1?) So, really, this is the biggest week for Matt Cassel’s appendix ever. I don’t see it coming through. In other news, here’s your best bet of the weekend: Grab 6-6 San Diego (games remaining: KC, San Fran, at Cincy, at Denver) to rally back from two down and win the AFC West. Three-to-two odds. The Bolts only need to run the slate and have the Rams beat the Chiefs in St. Louis next week. Done. Lock it down.
Dolphins (+5.5) over JETS
On the one hand, Chad Henne out-Delhommed Jake Delhomme last week. On the other hand, the Jets were badly exposed Monday night. When in doubt, take the points. In other news, the 2010 Jets are the first team to blow a seemingly minor personnel decision so egregiously that even wives and girlfriends who know nothing about sports knew they blew it. Yup, I’m talking about Joe McKnight over Danny Woodhead. Gotta love “Hard Knocks.”
(Unrelated, I loved this e-mail from Brock in Winston-Salem: “What do you think the NFL’s response will be when one player makes a big hit on another player and gets up and pretends to throw $100 bills on the semi-conscious player who received the hit?” That’s the first million-dollar fine. I’m calling it right now.)
Eagles (-3.5) over COWBOYS
Feels like Dez Bryant’s injury should have swung this line a little more, no?
Unrelated: I keep getting conspiracy e-mails like this one (from Kent in Seattle): “Is there any way the NFL allows Vick to be the starting QB in the Super Bowl? The PETA protests. The pro-puppy media. The unspoken gambling hypocrisy. Some company will likely change its Super Bowl ad to include puppies or blast Vick. Basically, America will spend two weeks hating the NFL. Against that possible backdrop, how many penalties will the Eagles be flagged with during their playoff game(s)? Isn’t the best postseason bet going to be whatever team the Eagles are playing?”
(Cut to all the Eagles fans throwing up in their mouths a little.)
Ravens (-3) over TEXANS
If only because the speed of that Steelers-Ravens game was unlike anything else I watched last week. Baltimore might have a glaring weakness (its ability to score against good defenses) and a hidden one (Joe Flacco gakking in big moments, which happened again this past Sunday against the Steelers), but that’s not surfacing against Houston’s lousy defense. Especially on national TV.
Speaking of TV, one final note: I’m announcing Friday’s Heat-Warriors game with Dan Shulman and Mark Jackson (10 p.m. ET, ESPN). I will be the third man in the booth unless my head explodes right before the game. So if you don’t see me standing next to Mark and Dan before the opening tip, just assume that they’re still picking pieces of my head off the court. Until then.
This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 7-9
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller “The Book of Basketball,” now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy’s World or the BS Report page. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.