The NBA finally has its curves back

Sports Czar is fired up, ready to go

Powerful glimpse into the future

As the weather turns cold and the NFL enters its stretch run, Bill Simmons ranks all 32 teams in his latest power poll. Story

    “To those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright: Tonight, we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.”
    — Barack Obama, Nov. 4, 2008

I wanted to have one great paragraph in this column. So there you go. It’s all downhill from here. Anyway, it’s November, and the NFL season officially has entered its second half. Can we blow out a mega-version of the Sports Guy Power Poll heading into Week 10? Yes, we can. Can we pump out 6,600 words and keep you trapped on the john for 20 solid minutes? Yes, we can. Can we make your eyes glaze over by the midway point? Yes, we can. Can we give you hemorrhoids? Yes, we can. Without further ado …


TV draft
32. Detroit Lions
When your fans are bemoaning the loss of Dan Orlovsky and talking themselves into Daunte Culpepper, it’s usually not a good thing. Unless you’re trying to get the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft. Then it’s a great thing. Hey, has Calvin Johnson’s unparalleled ability to turn it on for fantasy purposes during blowouts turned him into the Jerry Rice of garbage time? It has gotten to the point that, as soon as you see “Team X 31, Detroit 7” scrolling along the ticker, you know it’s only a matter of time before Curt Menafee interrupts your game and says, “Let’s go to Detroit …” and the ensuing 44-yard Johnson TD. Why aren’t we calling him “Garbage Man”?

31. San Francisco 49ers
Mike Singletary’s first postgame news conference broke the record for “most e-mails from readers making the exact same joke.” In this case, some variation of, “How badly did Singletary want to be in the next Coors Light commercial?” So, I guess one good thing has come out of the Singletary era. But Phil Simms made a great point recently: No truly successful coach would have tried the pants ploy or spitefully sent Vernon Davis to the locker room like that. That’s just not how the likes of Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, Tom Coughlin, Jon Gruden, Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer and Tony Dungy handle their business. Aren’t those the guys you want to emulate? Hell, even Coughlin rejuvenated his career at an impossibly late age by drifting away from the tyrant routine and becoming more accessible and likable. It’s just weird to me that Singletary hasn’t seen where the league has been moving when he has been working in that same league.

Anyway, Alexander in Minneapolis asked me, “Was Singletary even in the top 1,000 people you’d guess for somebody who would appear on an ESPN crawl associated with the phrase ‘pulled down his pants’? Who would have been your top seven guesses?” I spent about 20 minutes figuring this out, and here are my seven picks: John Daly, Terrell Owens, Mike Tyson, John McEnroe, Tony Stewart, Michael Irvin and Joe Paterno.

(The good news for Singletary: Again, Coors Light royalties some day! Woo hoo!)

30. Oakland Raiders
The scene: Al Davis’ office on a Monday morning. It’s pitch black.

(Someone knocks on the door.)

Al: “Come in. … DON’T TURN ON THE LIGHTS!”

(We see two minions awkwardly stumble in the dark and fumble around to find two chairs.)

Minion No. 1: “Al, I know we gave up a second-round pick for DeAngelo Hall, and I know we topped his next-highest offer by a good $20 million, but the coaches think he’s a complete liability.”

Minion No. 2: “He could kill our cap space even more than he already has if we don’t waive him this week.”

Daunte Culpepper
Al: “Cap space? What is cap space?”

Minion No 1: “We’re allowed to spend only a certain amount of money every season.”

Al: “What? This is an outrage! Get me Rozelle on the phone!”

Minion No. 2: “Al, bad news …”

Al: “And get Madden and Stabler up here, right now! I need to talk to them before I get my blood replaced at 11:30.”

Minion No. 1: “Al …”

Al: “And bring me one of those Raiders jogging suits Jordache made me in 1979 — I want to change!”

Minion No. 1: “Hold on, Al …”



29. Seattle Seahawks
From Seattle reader Justin Sund: “I don’t know who else to write to, SG. This has been ABSOLUTELY the worst year in Seattle sports history, and now the Tuba Guy has been killed. This is worse than a Sucker Punch, worse than finding your girlfriend sleeping with your brother. … Our number one fan is dead, and it only further reminds me of how dead Seattle sports are in general. What do you do when that guy you saw before and after EVERY Mariners game disappears?”

(I don’t know what to say anymore, Justin. If there’s a silver lining, the rest of the country finally seems to be catching on after I spent two straight months writing about it and printing your e-mails in this column. A Sports Illustrated writer even regurgitated most of those thoughts and ideas for a column this week. So, I’d say national empathy is coming around. Hang in there.)

28. Kansas City Chiefs
So what if the Chiefs just blew a 21-point lead at home one week after they blew an upset bid against the Jets at the Meadowlands? WE CAN BUILD ON THIS! I swear to God, we can build on this. Meanwhile, I would like President-elect Obama to pass a bill on Jan. 21 that Bernard Pollard’s middle name should be said at all times — like how we would describe an assassin — to properly convey how he killed the Patriots’ 2008 season. I can’t get over it. I’m calling him Bernard Karmell Pollard from now on. We would have been 8-0 with that cream-puff schedule, and Brady would have 2,700 yards and 25 TDs at this point. Damn it all. I need therapy.

Jags -7, Titans -3, Pats -4, Saints +1, Jets -8.5, Seahawks +8.5, Vikings -2.5, Panthers -9.5, Chiefs +15.5, Steelers -3.5, Giants +3, Ravens PK, Niners +9.5.

This week: 0-1
Last week: 6-8
Season: 65-60-5

27. Cincinnati Bengals
The best part about the Bengals right now: They have a starting QB from Harvard! It’s like VH1 sneaking a Rhodes Scholar into the next crop of bachelorettes for “Flavor of Love.” More importantly, Gus Johnson’s performance this past Sunday — live play-by-play of Cincy’s first victory this season, followed by taped play-by-play of the Slamball championship on CBS — was like reliving Al Michaels and Lake Placid for six solid hours. I turned off the TV, walked into the kitchen and had the following exchange with my wife:


Her: “I’m making chicken milanese …”


Her: “… broccoli and sweet potatoes.”


26. St. Louis Rams
A.J. in St. Louis sent me this: “Jim Thomas is our Rams beat writer. In his weekly chat, someone asked, ‘After the year, what position(s) do the Rams need to address via the draft and free agency?’ Jim responded, ‘Everything but punter and place-kicker.’ Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 St. Louis Rams!”

Ladies and gentlemen, yo- … wait, you took my line. By the way, the Rust and Coslet divisions suddenly are stacked. Those are seven stinky teams.


25. Cleveland Browns
If you don’t think this is the worst-coached half-decent team in the league, you didn’t see the Browns blow a 10-point lead Thursday night to an atrocious defensive team that was down to a backup fullback as its only running back. (Actually, you probably didn’t see it — you could see the game only on the NFL Network. Great.) I remember this past Sunday when Fox’s Rich Gannon said, “You can’t second-guess Romeo Crennel here.” I won’t even tell you the context. Just know that, yes, at all times we are allowed to second-guess Romeo Crennel. Even if he’s single-handedly disarming three gunmen during a bank robbery as I’m lying on the floor with my hands behind my head.

Al Davis
In other news, everyone keeps blaming Braylon Edwards’ vision for his severe case of the dropsies. I’d like to throw another theory at you: I think he’s still scarred by his experience on “Costas Now,” when Buzz Bissinger briefly lost his mind about blogs and turned into Coach Kilmer at the end of “Varsity Blues.” If that was a train wreck — and it was — remember, Edwards was IN the train wreck. If he’s not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, I don’t know anything. And by the way, if I hadn’t had the good sense to turn down HBO, I would have been sitting in Edwards’ seat that night. Can you imagine? I’d be wrtitngf sentunces lik thiss riggght nowe. Every time I watch Edwards drop a pass, I feel more guilty than Ben Affleck in “Bounce.”

(Random note on the evils of pregame shows: Thanks to Daylight Savings Time last week, my Sunday morning routine got screwed up, and I ended up being ready for some football at 9 a.m. PT. However, we still had an hour to go, so I got suckered into the pregame vortex of hell. And after 45 solid minutes of hearing everyone make it seem like Baltimore should just forfeit the Cleveland game because the Ravens were missing both starting corners, I finally switched to the Browns in my Picks League. And lost. Thanks, guys. By the way, when is someone at Fox going to have the “We think you might need to start doing impressions of someone younger than 45” conversation with Frank Caliendo? Next month? Next year? 2011? When he shows up as the Skipper from “Gilligan’s Island” one week?)

24. Houston Texans
I quit the Texans. Didn’t think I could, but I did. They can’t win on the road. Also, this quote from new starting QB Sage Rosenfels did me in: “I have been a backup for eight years. So if there’s 32 teams in the league times eight years, that’s 256 times that teams have said, ‘This guy is not our starter.’ So, yeah, I think there are some [naysayers] out there.” I’d like to add myself to the list, Sage.

Speaking of lists, David in San Francisco writes, “Thanks for mentioning Alexis Texas in your last football column. I was really getting worried that it is weird that I know the names of most — if not all — of the up-and-coming porn starlets. The Sports Guy: helping sports fans feel less pathetic for over a decade.”

Thank you, David! Looks like I have a front-cover blurb for my next book! You know what’s crazy? The “Inside the NFL” guys read that Cris Collinsworth/Alexis Texas section during their Week 8 show, and we received a whopping three e-mails about it. And that was when I realized something: Nobody has Showtime. Look, you need to get Showtime if only for “Dexter” and “Weeds” and “Inside the NFL.” Well worth it. In fact, if I joined a fantasy draft for channels in which my three friends and I split up all the channels and could watch only the ones we drafted, here would be my top-16 wish list heading into the draft: ESPN, Fox, TNT, ABC, NBC, CBS, NBA-TV, NFL Network, CNN, MTV, Comedy Central, ESPNEWS, Showtime, VH1, AMC and HBO, which narrowly edged Starz and the National Geographic HD Channel (owner of my favorite new show of 2008, “Critical Situation”). I guess I have three points:

Romeo Crennel
1. If it comes down to HBO versus Showtime for your $9 a month, get Showtime.

2. ESPN Classic not making the cut: the greatest idea that should have worked and hasn’t yet.

3. I passed along this idea to four ESPN co-workers who had the draft in their office in New York on Thursday. The guy on the right (Horowitz) had such a bad list that we all decided he should be fired. Check out the draft board to the right.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars
With their 2008 season on the line this past Sunday in Cincy, the Jags opted against running their 200th QB draw of the season with David Garrard and went with a slant pass to Jerry Porter, who has something like three catches more than me over the past two years. That was one of those “we need to break the fire extinguisher case open and come up with our emergency best play” moments … and a slant to Porter was the play. Well, then. See you in 2009, my 2008 Super Bowl pick. Thanks for the memories. And while we’re here, a fond farewell to Freddie “90 yards on 36 carries in the past five weeks” Taylor. We will miss you and your groin more than you know.

(Note: I was going to make a joke about Jack Del Rio throwing chairs on the Titanic this week — he switched some lockers around, banned music in the locker room and kicked Mike Peterson out of a meeting — before realizing we need a new go-to reference there. I vote for “making a cameo on ‘Saturday Night Live.'” You’re basically telling America, “I’m screwed, I’m going to lose and my campaign people claim it might miraculously stop the bleeding if I prove I have a sense of humor about the whole thing, so screw it, let’s give it a whirl.”)

Coach Jack Del Rio

22. Denver Broncos
We all can agree with Dan Dierdorf that “Brandon Marshall is the most go-to receiver in football right now.” Unfortunately, the Broncos also have the most flat-bad defense in football right now. They just aren’t very efficient by any stretch. Somehow it didn’t matter Thursday as Jay Cutler and Mike Shanahan beat the Cleveland Cromeos by themselves. I don’t see that happening again. As my buddy Gus (a die-hard Broncos fan) e-mailed afterward, “That was a stay of execution.”

21. Dallas Cowboys
Thoughts after the ignominious end of the Brad Johnson era in Dallas: When you can’t run, you have no arm strength and you aren’t accurate, your team is better off using actors such as Keanu Reeves or James Van Der Beek over playing you as quarterback … the tag “Super Bowl-winning QB” can go only so far … you can’t complain about Matt Cassel when one of the other 2008 contenders is starting Brad Johnson … it’s probably not a good idea for a contender to skimp on the backup QB position to sign a man who has been arrested more than a dozen times as its nickel back … the Football Outsiders guys need to create a stat for “routes run by a receiver on which he stops in disbelief as the ball sails seven feet behind him, looks confused, gets bummed out, then takes an extra two seconds to regroup before joining the huddle” … somebody needs to make a YouTube clip of all of Johnson’s throws from the past few weeks with someone screaming “PULL!” as he uncorks every throw … when your fans are openly pining for Brooks Bollinger, something has gone horribly, horribly, historically wrong.

(My buddy Sal makes a good point: What if the Cowboys had promoted Tony Sparano 18 months ago instead of digging Wade Phillips out of his mausoleum and giving him a whistle? I countered with, “What if Bernard Pollard hadn’t ended the Patriots’ season in eight minutes?” We changed topics. Quickly.)

20. San Diego Chargers
I vote for the following new rule: If you win your division with a record of 8-8 or worse, you don’t get a playoff spot. It goes to someone else. If we can prevent people from dancing after touchdowns, we can prevent 8-8 division champs from making the playoffs. Meanwhile, here’s a great question from Jon King in Ventura, Calif.:

“Can we safely say that in two seasons LaDainian Tomlinson will be out of the NFL looking for a one-year contract with a team (a la Shaun Alexander)?”

Hmmmmmm. I don’t know whether we can SAFELY say it. But we can say it. Just know that he is a sensitive guy and won’t appreciate it. Just because he’s running for 3.9 yards a carry and killed 200,000 fantasy teams this season doesn’t mean we should mention it or bring it up.


19. Chicago Bears
My West Coast fantasy team has something in common with the 2008 Bears: We both got finished off by Kyle Orton’s ankle sprain. I ended up losing by three points last week because I started Orton over Donovan McNabb and got only one half out of him. Now, I’m 3-6 with four devastating losses: Brady going down eight minutes into Week 1; the DeSean Jackson premature espikeulation game; Kellen Clemens throwing a last-minute pick to San Diego’s D to beat me; and last week, when I lost in the final minute of Monday night. At least I know I’m done, whereas Bears fans have to talk themselves into Rex Grossman for a few weeks.

My big epiphany: Really, the fantasy football season isn’t fun. Winning is OK; losing is agonizing. You constantly feel awful about your choices and your bad luck; it’s the only exercise that causes arguments with friends you normally never would argue with; and you spend roughly a kazillion hours managing your team for the 10 percent chance that you might win your league. There’s just not a ton of upside. It’s almost like smoking cigarettes — it started out with good intentions, and it’s something to do, and it can be fun in the right moments, but ultimately, there are an inordinate amount of moments when you find yourself leaning out a window in 20-degree weather to puff out a quick cig as your nose gets frostbitten, or bumming a cig from a group of horrible girls and then feeling obligated to talk to them, or waking up in the morning and coughing up your right lung. Really, it’s more harm than fun. And yet, we continue to do it. And love it. This entire paragraph made me want to smoke.

18. Minnesota Vikings
I can’t write off the Vikings yet because of Adrian Peterson, who could have a LeBron-like “man against boys” run lurking in him down the stretch. Would I bet on this or the more likely possibility of the Brad Childress-Gus Frerotte tandem killing Minnesota in a few close games? The latter, obviously. Anyway, why do I have to hear announcers bring up Frerotte’s head-butting incident every week with the inevitable clip, but nobody ever seems to bring up Leonard Little’s DUI arrest after his drunken-driving involuntary manslaughter conviction, or the time Albert Haynesworth stomped a defenseless Andre Gurode in the face, or even Matt Jones’ arrest for allegedly blowing lines in his car this summer? Somehow Frerotte ended up being the one tainted for life. Great. I will never figure out sports in 2008.

Drew Brees
17. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is my runner-up for the 2008 Halfway MVP. Look at the Saints right now: They have below-average talent; they lost their two best skill-position guys for weeks at a time; they had to deal with the potential of another hurricane in Week 1; they lost a home game to play in London; they’re in the toughest division in THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE; and somehow, they’re 4-4 and favored on the road this Sunday against an underrated Falcons team. It has been Brees and Sean Payton, and that’s really it. Speaking of halfway points, let’s take a commercial break before the second half of the column.

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(By the way, I did that off the top of my head. We are reaching the point that I am two weeks away from stopping by my local Toyota dealership, buying a brand-new Toyota Tundra with zero APR financing, driving the car off the lot, doing a U-turn, then plowing it through the front window of the dealership at 60 mph while screaming, “SAVED BY ZERO,” like the guys from “Red Dawn” screamed, “WOLVERINES!” Cut down on the ads, Toyota. We’re not kidding. You know why you haven’t see John Mellencamp in two years? He’s trapped in the basement of some frustrated baseball fan who dressed him like the Gimp and keeps him in a trunk after hearing “Our Country” for the 700,000th time. Look, we’re all ecstatic that the guys from the Fixx are getting royalties again. Just tone it down. We get it. Zero APR financing. Heard you loud and clear.)

And we’re back!


16. Buffalo Bills
There is one silver lining to Buffalo’s Cinderella season slowly falling apart to the point that the Bills now might miss the playoffs. I am not allowed to mention it, but if you rack your brains, you will figure it out. Think about the insufferable way that Oprah attached herself to Obama, and you will be getting warm. Speaking of the election, I enjoyed four innovations this week that we definitely need to incorporate into our NFL coverage:

Jaguars (-7) over LIONS
Titans (-3) over BEARS
PATS (-4) over Bills
FALCONS (-1) over Saints
JETS (-8.5) over Rams
DOLPHINS (-8.5) over Seahawks
Packers (+2.5) over VIKINGS
Panthers (-9.5) over RAIDERS
Chiefs (+15.5) over CHARGERS
Colts (+3.5) over STEELERS
Giants (+3) over EAGLES
Ravens (PK) over TEXANS
CARDINALS (-9.5) over 49ers

This week: 0-1
Last week: 7-7
Season: 67-59-5

1. At least one network needs to stick laptops in front of its guys. My preference would be CBS, if only for six straight weeks of Shannon Sharpe joking he has never seen a computer before and doesn’t even know whether it’s turned on properly as everyone overlaughs except for Bill Cowher, who will be glancing at his e-mails to see whether Jerry Jones e-mailed him yet with the subject heading, “What about $35 million for five years?”

2. I enjoyed CNN’s informal use of a gigantic pregame show with multiple tables and demand that ESPN try this. At this point, let’s blow this baby out! We could have two desks and Chris Berman awkwardly walking back and forth like Anderson Cooper, and then a third row in the back with Matt Berry, Eric Karabell and Stephania Bell doing fantasy stuff, and maybe even a fourth row where I’m sitting on my sofa in my underwear as a hologram. That reminds me …

3. Next time CBS shows Ralph Wilson in the Bills’ box, I demand a superimposed hologram of Anna Nicole Smith sitting on his lap. I don’t ask for much. Also …

4. Hologram studio guys! NBC should take the plunge here with Tiki Barber. It’s really his destiny when you think about it. We also need Hologram Tony Siragusa so Fox can show the Dick Stockton-Moose Johnston duo interacting with Hologram Tony in their booth. Maybe he could even be eating. You cannot go wrong with the hologram gimmick.

(Speaking of Tony, if you were friends with Johnston, wouldn’t you slyly convince 12 to 15 of his friends to send him e-mails within a three-minute span that had some variation of a “Congrats on Siragusa getting fired!” theme just to give him the happiest three minutes of his life before he calls his producer to confirm and finds out it’s all a prank? I would do this to him every three weeks.)

15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New England Patriots
One hour before this past Sunday’s game, my little boy started “Exorcist”-puking all over the place. I should have known right then that Sunday night’s game wasn’t going to be fun. And it wasn’t: deader-than-dead crowd; no drama; no exciting plays; no Brady and a gimpy Peyton Manning; Dave Thomas murdering any chance of a decent ending; Belichick turning into Ray Childress for three hours and lacking the balls to go for it on fourth-and-1 when the Belichick-Brady era was defined by balls in those situations; Madden and Michaels needing two extra minutes to realize Manning had ended the game with the second-down pass to Reggie Wayne with three minutes left (because the Pats didn’t have any timeouts left); everyone back home pulling the “Hey, Cassel looked good in that game — he might be a player!” routine even though the Pats scored only 15 freaking points; and the Colts somehow getting to 4-4 even though they trailed five of those games by at least 14 points and have had a double-digit lead only twice all season.

Anyway, NBC kept promoting Sunday night’s show as “The Rivalry of the Decade,” and I realized that, yes, that was definitely true. Past tense. I now will put on my Pat Patriot helmet and dive out of a moving car.

13. Miami Dolphins
12. Green Bay Packers
I like both teams and believe their 4-4 records (thanks to some bad luck) are deceiving. Both have favorable schedules down the stretch. Both show up for every game and carry themselves like THEY think they should win. Both are well-coached. Both can come from behind if they need to. I just can’t figure out how to push them through to the playoffs without a 6-2 or 7-1 streak. Anyway, you know what’s great? Playoff appearances from the Jets and the Pack are in play — not locks by any means, but in play — which means the tiny chance of a Packers-Jets Super Bowl remains in play. My God. Can you imagine? Not even the Last Supper had as much tension, awkwardness and soul-searching as a hypothetical Pack-Jets Super Bowl.


11. New York Jets
Really nice win in Buffalo this past Sunday. The Jets appear to be rounding into … something. Of course, if you e-mail this to Jets fans, they will send back one of the three following responses:

A. “Stop it. We suck. Why are you trying to make me mad?”

B. “Favre is roping everyone in. It’s all part of his master plan. I am already holding my ankles.”

C. “Great, we can lose in the first round and get a bad draft pick! Yes! Sign me up!”

(Translation: Move over, Philly fans, there’s a new sheriff in town! Which reminds me, I’d like to extend a belated congrats to everyone in Philly for the delightful events of Oct. 29, 2008. I had a book signing in Philly in December ’05, and it was three hours of people asking me to sign books with notes like, “Some day, you’ll be able to die in peace,” and “I swear, it will all be worth it some day!” They were about as happy as Russians standing in a bread line in the 1950s. I felt terrible for them. That World Series title was long overdue and sorely needed. Just know that you couldn’t have won it any other way — two rain delays, near-hurricane conditions for the deciding game, an agonizing 48-hour delay, the pressure ratcheting up immediately when the game resumed, a one-run ninth inning and then … total euphoria. I was convinced Ryan Howard’s leg was going to break in the celebratory pile or something. Didn’t happen. You will feel strangely happy and optimistic for the next nine to 12 months about everything in your life. Enjoy the ride.)

10. Atlanta Falcons
In the words of Dave Dameshek, quoting a 20-year-old chick flick that centers around dancing, “As the great Jerry Orbach once said, ‘When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.'” And I was wrong about Matt Ryan. Maybe my B.C. bias played into it, but Ryan has turned out to be the most polished rookie quarterback I can remember watching since … since … I don’t even know. Dan Marino? I might have to go with Marino. (Marino was better obviously, but still …) I just don’t think it’s realistic for a young guy with size to move around this well, run the offense this efficiently and actually get better in the clutch. He keeps the Falcons in every game. Road crowds don’t faze him. He nails the deep ball as good as anyone. He’s a franchise QB in every sense for a franchise that desperately needed some hope again. And that’s why a Boston College graduate is my 2008 Halfway MVP. And you thought I was petty.


9. Washington Redskins
What a humiliation! Monday night, hours before the election, Steelers-Skins … and the place was packed with Steelers fans! How does that happen???? Redskins fans deserve a paragraph as short as their owner.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
My in-laws were in town this past weekend, and we watched “Georgia Rule,” or as it’s more commonly known, “The Last Time Lindsay Lohan Looked Good.” It’s one of those movies that feels like it should have been good, only it’s an unequivocal train wreck and you spend most of the time either staring at Felicity Huffman’s face and wondering whether it’s tighter than a Halloween mask, or trying to figure out how late Lindsay had been out the night before she filmed the scene you’re currently watching and how many times she threw up between takes. I have to say, I enjoyed “Georgia Rule.” It’s truly and memorably awful. Anyway, we were about 20 minutes in, and my father-in-law suddenly starts out a sentence, “That Lindsay … she seems like she’s a little loose.”

We thought this was funny. Even guys in their 70s who don’t follow this stuff can tell right away about Lindsay. So we were laughing, only he thought we were laughing at the word “loose,” so he followed it up with, “That’s what we called girls like her back in my day: loose.” This was even funnier. I don’t know why the term “loose” dropped out of our everyday vernacular, but really, this was the only downside of John McCain losing the election, because maybe he would have brought back words like “loose.”

Can we use that word for a football team? Sure, why not? Tampa seems a little loose to me. You can’t fall behind by 21 to Tyler Thigpen, Jamaal Charles and Herm Edwards, and tell me you’re a serious playoff contender. I’m sorry. This is about five spots too high for the Buccaneers, but I couldn’t figure out a way to rig it differently.


7. Philadelphia Eagles
The one team I definitively have figured out for gambling purposes: Take the Eagles over every bad team, home or away, no matter the spread; go against them any time they’re facing a good team. Got it? Got it. Poor coaching, a crappy short-yardage game and a tendency to give up big plays will bite you in the bizzum every time. And since I have nothing else to add, a quick tangent to keep you engaged in a 6,600-word column:

So, I went to a BlackBerry Bold party Thursday night with my friends Will and Ben. Everyone who went to the party got a free, engraved BlackBerry Bold, and since it hadn’t been released yet and celebs love free stuff, there were an inordinate amount of B-list celebs in the house. I went only because Ben invited me as his plus-one; please don’t think BlackBerry bribed me for this plug. Anyway, I have three mini-stories, and there’s no way you aren’t excited for all of them. Strangely, none of these stories involves Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol, who briefly attended the event before quitting in the second quarter. Whoops, I’m getting this confused with Game 6 of the 2008 Finals. My bad. OK, here are the stories.

Kate Bosworth
Story No. 1: Kate Bosworth was there and wearing six-inch high heels. I have seen countless women stop a room with their breasts; I had never seen anyone stop a room with their legs. Ridiculous. I had no idea. Those legs were like the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest and the LaBrea Tar Pits. A natural phenomenon. Don’t ever allow any of your friends to put down Kate Bosworth in your presence again. She is a work of art. By the way, I could be her dad. I know. But if someone is that stunning, we should be able to appreciate this objectively without wanting to jump her bones. As opposed to Will, who wanted to jump her bones and was so intimidated that he couldn’t even approach her, a significant development since he would have been my No. 1 fantasy pick for “Friend Who Would Talk To Any Girl Under Any Circumstances.” Nope. Kate Bosworth reduced him to stone. I feel like you need to know these things.

Story No. 2: The cast of “Entourage” was there. Jeremy Piven might be 5-foot-7. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) isn’t taller than 5-foot-6. The guy who plays E (Kevin Connolly) is a solid 5-foot-4. We were joking that they had to ask for mini-BlackBerry Bolds or else they would have been carrying the real ones against their chests like Moses carried one of the Commandments tablets. I have been out here for six years and will never get over how short celebrities are.

Story No. 3: I was waiting for my car afterward and standing next to Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) from “Friday Night Lights.” Wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what. He seemed like a nice guy. And as I was thinking about what to say, suddenly an SUV pulled up and Kim Kardashian jumped out wearing a Halloween costume as 20 photographers descended on her in 0.0008 seconds from a 50-foot radius. I have never, ever, EVER in my life seen someone swarmed that quickly. She just kept moving and ate it up with flashbulbs clicking 18 inches from her face. She loved it.

And I was standing there thinking two things. First, “Friday Night Lights” is the best sports show in 30 years. It lost its way a little in the second season but came back strong this season. It’s a must-watch again. When people tell me they don’t watch the show, I get confused the same way I get confused when someone tells me they haven’t tried ice cream or drunk a beer. It’s just illogical to me. Even more illogical, someone who became famous because of a sex tape “mattered” in this little paparazzi world infinitely more than a star from one of the only television shows that matters right now. Nobody was even taking his picture. I understand why … it’s just depressing, that’s all.

The second thing? Kim Kardashian’s butt is like Kate Bosworth’s legs: simply staggering in person. It’s like nothing you have ever seen. I feel like we don’t even belong to the same species. So crossing off Kim’s butt and Kate’s legs in one night was almost like seeing the Grand Canyon and the Leaning Tower of Pisa within a span of 90 minutes. I probably will lose that BlackBerry Bold within the next two months, but I will not forget what I saw at the party. Back to the column.


6. Arizona Cardinals
For better and worse, I have been riding the Cards like Arnold Rothstein rode the 1919 Reds. It finally paid off last week with the single dumbest line of the year: Zona giving less than three points to a lousy Rams team. KA-CHING! Now the secret is out — the Cards are loaded at the skill spots, they can make plays on special teams and defense, and they have been blessed by a brutally bad division. Of course, I told you these things three weeks ago, and you didn’t believe me. Now? You believe me. The Arizona Cardinals … (gasp) … are going to host a home game in the 2008 playoffs and (gasp) lay points in that game. You watch.


5. Carolina Panthers
4. Baltimore Ravens
3. Pittsburgh Steelers

One of these three teams will emerge as an A-list contender over the next few weeks thanks to the following formula: physical defense, smart coaching, good special teams, one or two big plays per game, a solid running game, quarterbacks who can move around and make plays … basically, it’s a cold-weather recipe, and it’s just starting to get cold. And each team has a fatal flaw: a rookie QB (Baltimore), an erratic QB (Carolina) and a shaky offensive line (Pittsburgh). How will it play out? You got me.

Ray Rice
We know Carolina has two easy games coming up (Oakland and Detroit), which means the Panthers are about to be 8-2 and a legitimate threat for a first-round bye. We know the 5-3 Ravens lost two heartbreakers to top-three teams (Pittsburgh and Tennessee), played one lousy game (at Indy), laid the smack down in Week 7 (at Miami) and Week 9 (at Cleveland), and seem to be rounding into playoff form as their rookies (Joe Flacco and Ray Rice) emerge. And Pittsburgh has the highest ceiling, since the Steelers won’t be healthy for a few more weeks and they might have the best young coach in football: Mike Tomlin, my No. 1 choice for “guy I’d love to play for if he ever needed a washed-up WR with 7.3 speed in the 40.” We’ll know more in a week.


2. New York Giants
Our friend Mike Lombardi did a tremendous job describing Tom Coughlin’s coaching style over at the National Football Post last week: “He is using a very simple leadership strategy called the ‘Law of Threes.’ On each team there are three types of players. The first are the ones who will do anything that is asked, willing to help the program. The second group are the undecided players, the players who are not sure what to do. And the third are the malcontents. These are the players who want to buck the system all the time and try to break down the team. As a leader, there is a tendency to try to win over the players in group three by trying to make them happy. But all that does is move the players from group two into group three, and cause you to start to lose the players in group one. What Coughlin has done is focus on group one. He pays no attention to group three and what has resulted is that Plaxico is on an island and no one wants to join him. The team is bigger than Plaxico.”

Love it. Now THAT makes perfect sense to me. The Law of Threes. I really respect how the Giants have defended their title this season. We don’t see it enough in sports anymore. The road to Super Bowl XLIII goes through them.

1. Tennessee Titans
And yet, the league’s only undefeated team gets the pole position heading into Week 10. You know what I like about the Titans? They get it done. First-and-goal … they punch it in. Huge third-and-8 from midfield … they make the play. Big defensive play on third-and-short … they get the stop. Sometimes football is that simple. I had the Titans as the favorite three weeks ago, and nothing has changed. You know, except the fate of the country.

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.

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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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