Minnesota’s Stolen Game Plan

The Breaking Point

Jamie Squire/Getty Images NFL referees

The Mailbag: Referee Armageddon

The Sports Guy fears an official-induced riot as he goes through his inbox and makes his Week 3 picks

My first experience with “replacement” anything was with my favorite TV shows growing up, usually when they were going well and one of their actors stupidly pushed for more money. Three’s Company replaced Suzanne Somers with Jenilee Harrison, which was like replacing Magic Johnson with Jerry Sichting. That didn’t work and wasted a year of John Ritter’s prime (which is unforgivable, frankly). Fantasy Island dumped Tattoo for the guy who eventually became Mr. Belvedere. That didn’t work, although the thought of tiny little Tattoo saying things like, “I’m the key to this show, I need more money!” was high comedy. The nadir happened when Dukes of Hazzard replaced Bo and Luke Duke with their moronic look-alike cousins, Coy and Vance. That didn’t work to startling degrees, to the point that “Coy and Vance Duke” became something of a go-to joke over the next 15 years.

None of those shows ever recovered, unleashing a four-decade link for me between the words “replacements” and “didn’t work.” Still, I can’t remember that strategy bombing worse than it did during Week 2 of the 2012 NFL season. The overmatched officials achieved the unthinkable: They actually ruined a 36-hour stretch of football. It was practically an act of American sabotage. Destroy an NFL weekend and you’re messing with America, right?

Needless to say, my e-mail box was flooded with pissed-off missives from readers who just wanted to vent. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers (except for the ones that were clearly made up).

Q: After watching a phantom pass interference call in the Steelers-Jets game, I wondered how susceptible is the NFL to a Tim Donaghy type scandal right now? At the time of the fishy play, the Jets were down by ten in the 2nd half with a spread around 5 and a half. We already know the NFL’s background checks for replacements were next to nothing. (See: the New Orleans Saints’ fan wearing Saints stuff on his Facebook page that went unnoticed until the 11th hour). If I am one of the replacement refs and my normal annual salary is around $25,000, I might be taking calls from “Tony the Shark” in New York.
—Ryan Galvin, St. Paul

SG: Plus, the fake refs were so dreadful in Week 2, how could we tell if they crossed the line and decided to start throwing games? It would be like Honey Boo Boo’s mom deciding to act dumber than usual. You did? I had no idea! What Donaghy achieved was much tougher: He artfully manipulated the scores of dozens of games (usually skewing them higher, to cover “over” bets) without raising any real suspicion. Replacement officials would only need to make a couple of crucial calls that couldn’t be reviewed: One bad pass interference, two dubious holding penalties, and suddenly, they’re home free. Or, they could swing the other way and do nothing as all hell is breaking loose … you know, like every official as the Giants were committing holds left and right during the Helmet Catch. (Sorry, I had to.) Either way, we’d never be able to tell because the bar has been lowered so dramatically already. For instance …

Q: You know that moment everyone was waiting for? When the replacement officials blew a call that literally changed the outcome of a game, which inevitably led to the NFL coming to its senses and paying the extra money to return the league to respectability? That already happened! It was the offensive pass interference call against Jacoby Jones in the Ravens-Eagles game. Flacco threw a perfect ball to extend the Ravens’ lead to ten with about 4:00 to play — essentially ending the game. Asomugha clearly never turned to play the ball, hence defensive PI, but it didn’t matter as Jones was still able to reel it in. And then somehow they called it on the WR?!?!?
—Joe, Baltimore

SG: Exactly. The perfect example of a totally fishy call that everyone chalked up to sheer incompetence. Because the Eagles won without covering the 2½ point spread, nobody wondered if something more sinister was going on. But if the NFL keeps rolling these fake refs out there, one of these fishy calls is eventually going to swing a game AND a point spread … and that’s when the whispers will start. You know how easy it would be to pay a fake ref $50,000 to throw three calls on one game, then spread $2 million of bets around at 15 Vegas casinos for that same game? The answer: Easy. Especially if that ref was plucked from his career as the head manager of a Costco in Anaheim. However it plays out, it’s going to make for an incredible Lifetime movie starring Tom Cavanagh someday.1

Q: On Monday’s BS Report, you and Sal talked about the shoddy replacement refs and home teams doing better against the spread this year, but you did not connect the dots. Of course the home teams are doing better! Inexperienced refs are going to be more likely to favor home teams — and hence be “popular” with the crowd — than experienced pros. My prediction is this home team resurgence lasts exactly as long as the replacement refs do.
—Kristan, Brisbane, AU

SG: Now we’re talking! If we have to endure these replacement refs, we might as well profit from them, right? Before the Giants covered in Carolina last night, home teams were 19-11-2 against the spread, and home underdogs are 8-3 … so it’s easy to think, Yeah, the refs favor the home teams! Unfortunately, the actual numbers don’t back it up: 55.1 percent of the calls in Weeks 1 and 2 favored home teams, as opposed to 54.8 percent last season. That’s a negligible difference. And yet, the three worst-officiated games in Week 2 clearly favored the home teams: St. Louis, Atlanta and Philadelphia. So who knows? I’m monitoring this one.2

Q: Goodell should be making Godfather offers to the real refs at this point. The Redskins-Rams game looked less like a football game and more like Sidney Dean and Billy Hoyle playing Dwight the Flight and Willie Lewis after trash talking them. The biggest issue is the officials’ inability to keep control of the game. Guys are jawing at each other, hitting after the whistle, and amping up the animosity on both sides. For Skins/Rams, you could see the tension rising almost play by play, until it boiled over into Josh Morgan morphing into a 5-year-old, and possibly changed the outcome of the game. To challenge one of your long-standing gripes about NFL rules (double unsportsmanlike penalties), this was one game that sorely needed them. Players kept retaliating because they weren’t being protected by the refs, but also because there was little to no retribution for retaliation (until Morgan).
—Mark M., Fairfax, VA

SG: I’d rather adopt a yellow-card/red-card system like the one soccer uses, but you’re right — double unsportsmanlikes are better than the current strategy of “Just whistle the guy who does something irrational after a play and never assume he was provoked.” Anytime things have clearly swung in Cortland Finnegan’s favor and he’s bragging about it, it’s time to reevaluate things … right?

Q: With all of the replacement ref controversies (e.g. blatantly missed calls, Saints Homer Ref and Fantasy Football Ref, to name a few) destroying the integrity of the game, what team’s fan base do you think is the odds on favorite for going crazy and starting a riot (a la Lakers fans after winning a championship) when a missed/questionable call costs their team the game? Not a gambling man, but I’d put my money on Raiders or Eagles fans. Thoughts?
—Miguel, Burbank, CA

SG: Thanks for the unprovoked potshot at Lakers fans and thanks for a really good question. I mulled it over for about 15 minutes and changed my answer multiple times before realizing that it was nearly impossible to pick between Eagles fans and Raiders fans — it’s like picking sides in the Lindsay Lohan–Amanda Bynes Career Destruction contest. They’re both the odds-on favorites, with Baltimore fans trailing slightly behind. (FYI: Those were the three fan bases mentioned in a reader’s “Who would win a Hunger Games–type battle between Raiders fans, Eagles fans and Ravens fans?” mailbag question last April and nobody challenged those three picks.) So I’d have the final odds looking like this: Raiders (-130), Eagles (even), Ravens (+150), The Field (+250).

Here’s the catch: I see Eagles fans taking it personally that they weren’t favored, increasing their odds of a referee riot because they’d be in “Nobody Believes in Us!” mode. So I wouldn’t favor the Eagles, but for that same reason, I’d wager on the Eagles. Either way, you know Roger Goodell has lost control of both his marbles and the 2012 NFL season when fans are seriously debating things like “Which fan base is going to riot over the referees first?” and “How easy would it be to bribe a replacement ref and swing a game?” Stay classy, Roger.

Q: Can you create a “Bad Officiating Crew League” next year? I call dibs on the Falcons-Broncos crew … wait, I want the guys who did the Rams-Skins game. No wait, I want the Ravens-Eagles crew. Actually, just flip a coin for me.
—Brian Lang, Philadelphia

SG: We briefly tried to figure out the BOCL before realizing it would be too hard to keep track. To do the league right, you’d need categories like “Number of times the home team’s fans chanted that you sucked,” “Number of flags you meekly picked up while pretending that it never happened,” “Number of times the announcers knew the rules but you didn’t,” “Number of near-melees that threatened to become the biggest brawl in NFL history” and “Longest and most interminable delay between the thrown flag and the resolution of that flag.” Either way, I’d pick the Rams-Redskins crew first in any BOCL draft — they looked the other way as the Rams were doing everything short of hitting Robert Griffin III with two-by-fours.

Q: I was thinking of what Steve Young said last Monday Night about the current refereeing debacle, basically that the NFL doesn’t care about the fans’ disgust of the situation as it doesn’t affect their bottom line. The extent of everyone’s outrage seems to be expressed through intermittent booing at the games and bitching on the Internet from home. Could you imagine if this situation happened in a major European soccer league? If the EPL or La Liga brought in amateur referees who regularly gave phantom cards and muffed penalty kick call[s], there’d be rioting. I’m not saying NFL supporters should take it that far, but there has to be more of a backlash. It is times like these that I wish American sports fans were more organized.
—James Lynn, Austin

SG: If we couldn’t stop “The Wave” from happening these past 20 years, I’m pretty sure we can’t pull off an “Occupy NFL” movement. Really, these replacement refs mesh perfectly with life in 2012 — a time when we love going on the Internet, getting self-righteous and complaining about shit with no real payoff. You know who the biggest failures have been? The players. If they’re as disenchanted about the officiating as they claim, then why not threaten to boycott games until the real officials come back? They could say it’s a safety issue — that they don’t feel safe playing a violent sport when it’s being overseen by incompetent officials. If they threatened to boycott the first quarter of Sunday’s early games in protest, we’d see the real officials return in about 1.39 seconds.

Q: How bad are the replacement refs, you ask? I’m watching Blue Crush 2 instead of the Broncos-Falcons game after waiting 10 minutes while they dealt with the fallout from Knowshon Moreno’s fumble. Blue Crush 2. This movie is like a porno, except that they completely forgot to add the sex. What!? Grant is an elephant poacher? Please just pay them already.
—Chris, South Boston

SG: Absolutely. I’ve watched just as much football these first two weeks as I did every other season. At no point did I ever even consider saying, “The officiating is too shoddy, I can’t watch anymore.” But Young was 100 percent right on Monday night — as long as ratings aren’t affected and players aren’t getting needlessly hurt, is there really that much of a downside here for the NFL? If anything, all the kvetching about officials has …

A. Made everyone appreciate the real referees, a group of people that weren’t exactly held in high esteem these past few years.

B. Pulled everyone’s attention away from things like “How long did the NFL know about concussions before they did anything?” or “Why is Goodell trying to railroad the Saints?” or “Are we really supposed to believe that NFL players aren’t using PEDs when their pectoral muscles are just randomly ripping off their bodies?” or even “So why did Junior Seau kill himself, anyway?”

It’s the old David Stern ploy — create an annoying diversion right before the season and get everyone riled up. Only in this case, Goodell REALLY needed the diversion. It’s hard to remember a sports commissioner needing a diversion more than Goodell heading into the 2012 season, actually. And unless one of his signature players foils this little ruse by getting seriously injured — something that easily could have happened to Griffin during one of the umpteen times St. Louis cheap-shotted him — he probably pulled it off. We’re all still bitching about the refs. If you can come up with a better explanation for why the NFL would compromise the quality of its league just to save a little more than $1.5 million per team, I would love to hear it.

On to the Week 3 picks …

(Home teams in caps.)

PANTHERS (-2.5) over Giants

Q: Sports Guy, I thought you had seen enough of Big Blue over the past few years to have this figured out. But after reading your Thursday skunk pick this week, I was floored by your prediction of Bennett regressing. I’ll throw the pieces out there and let you put the puzzle together … Steve Smith (the other one), Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz, Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, now Bennett. Receivers/tight ends don’t come to the Giants and regress! How many ex Giant pass catchers are you jumping all over for fantasy after they leave the swamp? Eli and his doofy face still has everyone fooled. Keyser Soze!!
—Ari, New York

SG: Hold on, I’m not done vigorously nodding while simultaneously punching myself in the head. How did I miss the Giants last night? Who loves being counted out more than they do? Who loves playing on the road more than they do?3

Unrelated: Are we sure Cam Newton is an elite quarterback right now? Are we sure he’s not the Tyreke Evans of football, one of those Über-athletic guys who puts up fantasy numbers but can’t be trusted against quality teams? I thought he was appallingly, shockingly, mind-blowingly atrocious last night. His career numbers right now: seven wins, 12 losses, 23 TDs, 22 picks, 787 rushing yards. Oh, and here were his seven victories: 2011 Tampa (twice), 2011 Washington, 2011 Indianapolis, 2011 Jacksonville, 2011 Houston (with T.J. Yates), 2012 Saints (with an interim interim coach). Not exactly a murderer’s row. I’m not crossing him off or anything, just saying that Cam’s next four games (at Atlanta, home for Seattle, home for Dallas, at Chicago) are suddenly looming as an “early fork in the road” test for him. His career record might be 7-16 a month from now. Yikes.

Rams (+7.5) over BEARS

Q: There was a QB in the early-to-mid 2000s that had a decent start to his career and fooled many into (temporarily) believing he was a franchise player. Only he eventually evolved into a turnover machine who just didn’t have what it takes to consistently lead a team to victory. Said QB was relegated to the bench and mop-up duty after his seventh season. Today, there is an active QB currently in his seventh season as a starter, yet he’s nowhere close to sniffing the bench or being pegged as a flop. Many believe that he could be a starter for a Super Bowl winning caliber team.

QB #1: 83 starts; 45-38 record; 62.7% career completion percentage; 119 TDs; 99 INTs; 19,440 career yards; 7.0 YPA; 82.7 QB rating

QB #2: 80 starts; 42-38 record; 60.9% career completion percentage; 120 TDs; 91 INTs; 18,742 career yards; 7.3 YPA; 83.9 QB rating.

Jay Cutler is QB2. Who is QB1 you may ask? Brian F-ing Griese. Please … tell Barnwell that Cutler is not just Cutler at this point in his career. He is Brian Griese 2.0.
—Chris, Falls Church

SG: I respectfully disagree with you, Chris. Barnwell nailed the thing that makes Smokin’ Jay Cutler who he is — like Tony Romo, he’s going to stink out the joint two to three times per season. You just need to learn to ride out those stink bombs and hope they don’t happen in January. More important, there NEVER would have been a “Smokin’ Brian Griese” meme. Cutler owns him there. Hell, he might own the McKayla Is Not Impressed meme. And every other meme that’s happened. How can we call him anything other than Smokin’ Jay Cutler from now on?

Q: Two years ago the NFC West sent a 7-9 team to the playoffs. Is it possible that this is now the best division in football? How did this happen??
—Hunter, Washington, DC

SG: The short answer: It’s 2012 and these are the kinds of things that have been happening in 2012. (Would a Washington-Baltimore World Series even be one of the top five weirdest sporting moments of 2012?) The NFC West suddenly has a potential juggernaut (San Francisco), two potential wild-card teams (Seattle and Arizona) and the best “fourth” team in any division (the frisky Rams, who should give the Bears a good battle on Sunday). This doesn’t make sense, which is precisely why it makes sense. I am fully prepared for Alex Smith and Kevin Kolb to share the 2012 MVP. That reminds me …

49ers (-7) over VIKINGS

Q: When we get the inevitable Harbaugh Bowl this February, can we all petition to have them both move back to their parents’ house during media week, and then have HBO film it 24/7 style?
—Kamal G., San Diego

SG: I love this idea almost as much as I love the thought of Jack Harbaugh stealing commercials away from Archie Manning. Besides, the words “have HBO film it 24/7 style” have never led to a bad place — I’d even watch a 24/7 series promoting a celebrity boxing match between Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens, two top-five picks in any “Sports Figures Who Just Need to Go Away” fantasy draft.

(The first round, in case you were wondering: Gary Bettman, Roger Clemens, Roger Goodell, Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, James Dolan, Lance Armstrong, every former cycling teammate of Lance Armstrong, Bob Bowman, and Gary Bettman a second time because he should count twice.)

Q: You agreed with a reader who wrote that any time “a player hits a home run and steals a home run in the same game, that should be called a ‘Mike Trout.’ My response?

Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
Kirby Puckett, Game 6, 1991 World Series
—Alex, Minnesota

SG: It’s a great point. I blew it. Let’s call it a “Kirby Puckett.”

BROWNS (+3) over Bills

Q: Did you just pick me to cover a spread? What the hell is going on here?
—B. Weeden, Cleveland

SG: Look, it was either “grab three points with Brandon Weeden at home” or “Lay three points with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey on the road.” Rock, meet hard place. Fortunately, I read that Gailey answered the question, “Why hasn’t your team won on the road in over a year?” by saying, “I don’t know. If I knew, I would have fixed it.” No, you wouldn’t have! You’re Chan Gailey! When in doubt, grab the points.

Lions (-3.5) over TITANS
Jets (-2.5) over DOLPHINS
Texans (-2) over BRONCOS

Q: You realize I’m averaging 1.1 yards per carry? And that we nearly had to round up to get to 1.1? Just send me the Daunte Culpepper Fantasy Football Serial Killer trophy now — we don’t need to wait four more months.
—Chris Johnson, Nashville

SG: And as far as I can remember, you’d be the first two-time winner! Somehow you roped people into spending first-round picks or 30 percent of their auction budget on you for reasons that remain unclear. It’s going to be awkward when Mikel Leshoure quintuples your rushing total on Sunday. Still, I’m not willing to hand out the Culpepper after just two weeks, even after you blamed everyone else for your horrible numbers. We still need to see how Cam Newton’s season plays out, right?

(As for the Lions, Texans and Jets, I see these games playing out like that Panthers-Giants game did — three superior teams taking care of business on the road. Well, unless the Dolphins can force the Jets to wear black uniforms and wilt in the Miami heat like the Raiders did last week. They can’t do that, right? Are we sure?)

COWBOYS (-8) over Bucs

Q: So this past Thursday, my wife and I are watching PTI. We’re both huge fans of yours, so naturally we’re excited to see you pop up opposite Uncle Tony at the start of the show. I stop paying attention for *maybe* 30 seconds, and the next thing I know, my wife starts yelling, “Quick! Play it back! Sports Guy just said something about Tony Romo’s boner!” Of course, I dismissively respond by saying she must have misheard you, but she is adamant that you said this, so we play it back and … she was right. Now, call me a Sports Guy apologist, but immediately I shift into spin mode — “Aw, he didn’t mean it that way!” and “People use the word ‘boner’ innocuously to describe screw-ups all the time!” and “I’m sure nobody else took it the way you did — shame on you, wife!” — but then she Googles “Sports Guy Tony Romo Boner,” and (as we’re watching on DVR on a three-hour delay) we found there were websites already talking about it like it was a key moment in our nation’s history, I conceded defeat right then and there.
—Chris G., Brooklyn

SG: First of all, I couldn’t be prouder that I was involved in anything that led to someone Googling “Sports Guy Tony Romo Boner.” I’m adding that to my career highlight list. Second, saying the word “boner” on national TV and keeping a straight face was the greatest moment of my TV career — which, admittedly, isn’t saying anything if you’re assessing my mediocre TV career, but still. Third, if this helped open the door for “boner” to make a comeback as a word that described a massive sports mistake, then I did my job. When I was growing up in the ’70s, “Fred Merkle’s boner” in 1908 was one of baseball’s most famous moments. Don’t believe me? There’s a long Wikipedia page devoted to “Merkle’s Boner”! I urge you to go there right now and read about Fred Merkle’s gigantic boner. By the way, I turn 43 next week.

Q: Can we thank Greg Schiano for bringing back the triple negative? “I don’t know if that’s not something that’s not done in the National Football League, but what I do with our football team is we fight until they tell us game over,” Schiano said.
—Max Handrus, Thailand

SG: Incredible! Not even Dan Dierdorf could successfully pull off a triple negative. I’m not so sure that the Greg Schiano era hasn’t been something that isn’t totally entertaining so far. And for the record, I fully support any situation that leads to Tom Coughlin’s face turning dark maroon, whether it’s swarming the line during a kneel-down situation, running up the score, annoying him during a press conference, farting on a team plane … I don’t care how we get there, just that we get there.

COLTS (-3) over Jaguars

Q: Who on earth came up with the idea for a segment called “Stephen Jackson Eats Fried Ribs in Slo-Mo“? Can you possibly explain the thinking behind this? The same channel posted Jackson shooting threes in the gym the same day. So did they say to themselves — hey, that workout footage isn’t enough, we should follow Stephen and see what he eats for lunch!? I nominate this clip for Grantland’s YouTube Hall of Fame.
—Reinis, Riga, Latvia

SG: We did a ton of brainstorming before we launched the Grantland Channel on YouTube … at no point did anyone ever say, “We should hunt down Stephen Jackson and videotape him eating fried ribs in slo-mo.”4 And frankly, I’d like to apologize to America on behalf of me and the Grantland staff. By the way, Stephen Jackson eating fried ribs in slow motion will be three times more entertaining than this Colts-Jags game.

Chiefs (+9) over SAINTS

Q: With the Saints starting off the season 0-2, what do you think are their chances of pulling a 96/97 Spurs season, making up a mysterious injury for Drew Brees and tanking the rest of their games in order to secure a top draft pick? Sure, they could still make the playoffs, but does Drew Brees really care about having another playoff appearance under his belt? No! He cares about championships and they aren’t going to win one this year. So why not go for the high draft pick instead?
—Ben, Milwaukee

SG: Makes sense on paper, especially if they blow this Chiefs game (and I see them either blowing it or coming close). The problems in order: Why would Brees ever go for this? Isn’t Chase Daniel significantly better than the likes of Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky last year? What if Daniel pulled a Matt Cassel and kept the Saints competitive? And couldn’t you make the case that the Saints are getting a high draft pick whether Brees plays or not? Have you watched them this month? They make the Red Sox seem crisply run by comparison. I’d put the odds for a fake Brees injury at 10-to-1.

Q: At first I was with you in thinking Sean Payton would be likely to help the Saints out by placing calls from random pay phones and holding meetings at Jersey turnpike diners (a la Goodfellas). But as I watch the Saints struggle without him I’m starting to realize that the exact opposite is true. Why would Sean Payton help the Saints when he has absolutely no incentive to do so? If he helps them and they’re just as good without him he becomes a primo candidate for the Ewing theory and looks completely replaceable, but if they struggle without him and then he comes back and they’re good again he looks like the genius/visionary/guru gushing announcers have always told us he is. You compared it to your experience with Grantland, but the New Orleans Saints aren’t Sean Payton’s creation; he works for them. A better analogy would be if you were back at ESPN and they suspended you for some reason. Wouldn’t you NOT secretly help ESPN but instead watch them crash and burn without you while you patiently wait for your suspension to run out so you can come back as the savior/golden boy/invaluable asset you always knew you were? Of course you would you egomaniacal son-of-a-bitch.
—Mike M. Chicago

SG: That was this month’s winner of the “Backhanded Compliment” award. But Mike was 1,000 percent right — it’s in Sean Payton’s interests (and really, the interests of every quality head coach) for the 2012 Saints to look comically rudderless and unprepared for this entire season, sparking the inevitable slew of “SEE, COACHING MATTERS!!!!!!” and “I guess this was Sean Payton’s team all along!” stories. When I was suspended for two months during the summer of 2008 and had to pretend publicly that I was “finishing my book,” I rooted for ESPN.com to suck that entire time.5 Do your thing, Sean Payton. Don’t feel guilty about it. You’re headed for a top-five draft pick and universal acclaim.

Bengals (+3) over REDSKINS

Q: Isn’t it entirely possible that the Big Four commissioners are colluding at this point? I’m fairly convinced Roger Goodell hired Gary Bettman to kill off hockey, which he’s doing a great job at. David Stern had Roger Goodell levy Bountygate, which drives up demand for Hornets tickets. And Bud Selig is … Bud Selig. I’m telling you, it’s entirely possible.
—Paul Algu, New Orleans

SG: The only thing I’d definitely believe is that Goodell, Selig and Stern are all paying Bettman to destroy the NHL. Here, look.

Q: Once again the NHL is breaking my heart. The NHL is like that bad boyfriend, who keeps breaking up with you, ironically right after you thought things were going really well, and then eventually begs for you back. You know that you care about him more than he cares about you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And he knows that you’re so in love, that you’ll always keep going back for more. Now is the time that you begin eating a lot of ice cream and drinking wine by the bottle, telling yourself over and over again that you are done and will never take him back. On the outside you appear to show some resolve, but on the inside you are just desperately waiting for him to come back. This is so depressing.
—Ashley R., Rahway, NJ

SG: The NHL, everybody! Look at the bright side, fellow NHL season-ticket holders — we don’t have to pay for preseason games, and we’re probably heading for a 60-game regular season followed by an action-packed playoffs. That’s not exactly the worst outcome on the planet. Speaking of bad outcomes, I’m writing off the Redskins after the Orakpo/Carriker injuries. Brutal.

CARDINALS (+3.5) over Eagles

Q: When you predicted the Arizona Cardinals would go 1-15 this year, were you predicting the team’s win/loss record, or were you predicting your personal record picking the winner of the games they played?
—Kevin, Phoenix

SG: (Searching for a comeback.)

Q: What was Bill Belichick’s WARM (Wins Above Raheem Morris) for that last minute of the Pats-Cards game?
—David, OKC

SG: Negative-two. That was the worst-coached minute in recent Patriots history. It was almost like Belichick decided, “Instead of winning by one point, it would be much more fun to destroy every suicide pool in America.”

Q: So what excuse are you going to use for the Patriots losing to the lowly Cardinals? So far everyone is saying the Patriots offense just didn’t execute. Could it be that the Cardinals defense is really good? Will you be the first sports writer to give the Cardinals credit rather than blaming the Patriots?
—Rob, Allentown, PA

SG: You came to the right place. Look, I thought Arizona’s defense was terrific in Week 1 and even mentioned that the Pats line was far too high in the Week 2 podcast with Sal. A few days passed. I started thinking about Kevin Kolb on the road, trailing by 10 and trying to “make things happen.” I panicked. The rest was history. But I’ve watched both Arizona games in their entirety — their defense is really good and you’re preaching to the choir. That’s why I picked the Cards AND benched Michael Vick in my East Coast fantasy league.

Q: Bill, are you sitting down? Because this NFL stat of the week will blow your balls off. Four NFL Teams have gone 9-2 in their last 11 regular NFL games. The first three are easy: Green Bay, San Fran, and New England. The fourth? No, not Baltimore. Sorry, not Houston. Wrong, not Atlanta. The answer? The Arizona Cardinals. Their only losses during that stretch? At San Fran and at Cincinnati. And they are getting more than a field goal at home this week vs. Philly? This is my gift to you. Enjoy it.
—Danny Kneecaps, Atlanta

SG: That was your gift to me? You just blew my balls off. I don’t have balls anymore. How was that a gift?

Q: If Peyton Manning had chosen Arizona — which Chris Mortensen said Arizona eliminated itself (not Peyton eliminating Arizona off his list) — would they currently be the second best team in the NFC with that defense and someone who could throw to Larry Fitzgerald?
—Quinn Saturday, Bloomington

SG: That’s a pretty good “What if,” right? Fitzgerald has done nothing and we’ve seen exactly two decent drives from an Arizona QB in two weeks … and somehow, they’re 2-0. But after seeing Manning throw those fluttering ducks on Monday night, why would any defense do anything other than say, “Hey, Denver, we’re taking away the short stuff, you’re going to have to throw over the top on us”? I need to see a few more Manning games before I can properly answer this question. We only know one thing for sure: Manning totally blew it by not going to San Francisco, and maybe … I mean, maybe San Francisco dodged a bullet with how it turned out. Do we know for sure that the 2012 Niners are better off with Alex Smith rather than Peyton Manning? Not yet … but it’s in play.

(Those last two sentences are reason no. 344 why the Mayans might have been right about 2012. This headline was reason no. 345.)

Q: By all means Simmons keep driving the anti-Eagles bandwagon. You have no idea how refreshing it is to be the nobody believes in us team. Keep ignoring the fact that we have the no. 1 yardage offense and no. 4 defense. Keep ignoring the fact we outgained Cleveland 500 to 200 and Baltimore 500 to 300. I’ll do my part and get sucked in again by Reid come playoff time, convince myself it’s different, only to be sucker punched in the NFC championship game.
—Colin, Philadelphia

SG: Ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles! I will say that I loved Inside the NFL‘s footage of Michael Vick defiantly strutting around the Eagles locker room after their Baltimore win yelling, “I’d go to war with y’all anytime!” It was the inverse of how I felt seeing Chad Johnson co-hosting that show a month after he allegedly head-butted his wife and one day after Steve Sabol died.

Falcons (+3) over CHARGERS

RAIDERS (+4) over Steelers

Q: My friend just crowned me Czar of Opinions on Hot Older Working Women.
—Daniel S., Atlanta

SG: Yup, these are my readers. (Sorry, we had to get that one over with a little bit earlier this week.) And yup, I’m begrudgingly sticking to last week’s “The Chargers will start out 2-0, get everyone thinking that they’ve finally turned things around in September with Norv Turner, then turn the ball over 29 times at home against the Falcons” prediction even if I don’t feel remotely as good about it. Atlanta’s performance on Monday night left me a little cold — if you’re allegedly a Super Bowl contender, and you’re playing a team at home on Monday night that spots you four turnovers and a 20-0 lead, how are you sweating out the final five minutes of that game?

(On the other hand … Norv Turner going 3-0 in September??? Really??? Norv blankly staring out to the field like he just witnessed a murder is my favorite September tradition other than my birthday. The Football Gods can’t take that away from me. Come on.)

RAVENS (-2.5) over Patriots

Q: You have no idea how terrified I am for Sunday night’s Pats-Ravens matchup. Yet another chance for Bernard Karmell Pollard to single-handedly ruin a Patriots season by injuring an irreplaceable part of our offense. Luckily the top candidate for this year’s season-crushing injury (Hernandez) is already out this game so he can’t get injured further. Somebody’s gotta stop this madness, right?
—Lee Y., New York

SG: Total Revenge Game for the Ravens, no Hernandez, New England’s legitimately shaky offensive line, Baltimore’s belief that they’ve been better than the Pats these last few years, the inexplicable Welker situation that’s been hijacking the local headlines in Boston, another Gronk/porn-star story, a fired-up Sunday-night crowd, Pats assassin Bernard Karmell Pollard … I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse about a big Patriots game. And that’s usually when they thrive most. Who loves a “Nobody Believes in Us” situation more than the Belichick/Brady Pats (with the possible aforementioned exception of the Coughlin/Manning Giants)? Had Baltimore prevailed in Philly, and if the Patriots didn’t need the Simmons Stink so much right now, I’d be picking the Pats. Instead, I’m picking the Ravens to win 38-10. And it won’t even be that close.

(By the way, if Pollard injures another Patriot in this game, you have to admit, this would be the single creepiest running streak in sports. Has any fan base ever feared a random player more than Patriots fans fear Bernard Karmell Pollard? I don’t even fear him just with football anymore. If you handed one of my kids to Bernard Pollard even for three seconds, I think I’d have a stroke. When is Bernard Pollard retiring? How many years away are we?)

SEAHAWKS (+3.5) over Packers

Q: I believe the Pats actually helped you out with their loss to Arizona because we know now that the Cards are no longer WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE! This in turn means that the Seahawks maybe aren’t WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE EITHER! (Never mind the Hawks win over the Cowboys, that’s not as important as the fact that they were competitive with the actual best team in the NFC … the 2012 Kevin Kolb-led Arizona Cardinals!!!!) Seattle’s Week 1 loss no longer looks so bad and the Seahawks Super Bowl train is back on the tracks full steam ahead!
—Brian, Olympia, WA

SG: LET’S DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Q: The Seahawks are overrated at home. The last three years: 14-11 at home. In 2008: 2-6. Does that sound scary to you? As for the rest, Pete Carroll and the Seattle fans are like soccer Moms who think their kid is the best, even though he sits on the bench and can’t kick a ball that isn’t moving. They always think they’re better than they are.
—Mark, Seattle

SG: Um … LET’S STILL DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the record, I never climbed out of the Seahawks bandwagon even when it was upside down and on fire. The semi-upset special: Seattle 27, Green Bay 23.

Q: You have to write about Steve Sabol and NFL Films. The slow motion action, the orchestra music that nobody ever listened to unless it was playing in the background to NFL football highlights, the Voice of God booming through the television to the viewer, etc. Simple brilliance. Guys our age cut our NFL football teeth on NFL Films. I don’t think his passing is getting the recognition it deserves. We lost a legend.
—Dave Sherman, Warren, PA

SG: I enjoyed Chuck Klosterman’s brief eulogy of Sabol and would only add this: You could argue that the NFL would have been 99.9999 percent as fun/compelling/entertaining over the past 50 years if you removed ANY person except for a small handful of legitimate influencers: Pete Rozelle, Bill Walsh, John Madden, Roone Arledge, maybe Howard Cosell (depending on how you felt about him), definitely Sabol … however many people make your final list, the point is, it’s not the longest list. But if 50 different knowledgeable football fans made their own lists, only Rozelle, Madden, Alredge and Sabol would appear on all 50.

No other sport had its own version of Sabol — he was an original prototype, a true visionary and someone who made it easier to like football, understand football and care about football. You also have to give Steve and his father massive amounts of credit for seeing the future (that football was the most visual of all the professional sports, and that they had to do everything possible to capture this), for their commitment to excellence (even in the 1970s, back when nobody really cared about this stuff, they were blanketing football fields with state-of-the-art cameras, hoping it would pay off down the road), and for being responsible for more goose bumps than any two people ever. What an inspiring family.

Rest in peace, Steve Sabol. And thanks for everything.

This week: 0-1
Last week: 8-6-2
Season: 16-15-2

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.

Archive @ BillSimmons