There are three strange things about football betting. First, it’s not legal to make or accept bets from other people, but it’s legal to buy as many scratch cards or lottery tickets as you want, and it’s legal to gamble online. That never has been adequately explained. Second, it’s not legal to make or accept bets from other people, but it’s legal for newspapers to run the lines for every sporting event. That never has been adequately explained, either. Why run these lines if it’s illegal to wager on them? Isn’t that like posting the local street value for cocaine and heroin every day?
Thankfully, the third strange thing about betting on football CAN be explained: It’s easier to pick games after you spend time ranking every team from bottom-to-top every week. See, gambling can be deceiving: With so many teams to remember, only the Raymond Babbits of the world can remember how everyone compares to everyone else at all times. You end up using phrases like, “they’re not that good,” or “they’re better than people think,” when the reality is, you might be a little off because you didn’t think it through. And that kills you with gambling.
For instance, I liked the 2006 Vikings a lot more before I made my first 1-32 list this week and realized there were 15 teams definitively better than them. On Wednesday, I was grabbing the point in Buffalo for them. By Thursday? I was wavering more than Joey Porter’s neighbors when their kids asked if they would get another miniature horse. I have Buffalo ranked No. 24 and Minny ranked No. 16. Throw in the home-field advantage for the Bills and why wouldn’t you grab them? Now I’m going with the Bills, J.P. Losman be damned.
And that’s why it’s good to make lists. Here’s my first 2006 Power Poll, from worst to first, heading into Week 4:
THE BRUCE COSLET DIVISION
32. Oakland, 0-3
Confession time: The Sports Gal dragged me to see “The Last Kiss” this week under the “you make me watch sports for 365 days a year, I ask you to take me to one movie per year” corollary. I didn’t know anything about it other than it looked like “Garden State 2,” which I wasn’t sure was a good thing or a bad thing. Well, it turned out to be a profoundly unhappy movie that will leave you almost in disbelief the entire time that anyone would make a movie so depressing. It’s about as uplifting as the sex scene from “Requiem For a Dream,” only if you threw in Starbucks music, some intermittent screaming and Zach Braff looking secretly pissed off the director isn’t listening to him.
Midway through the 20th straight scene where two people were yelling at one another, I pulled the straw out of the Sports Gal’s soda, then pretended to start slitting my wrists with it. She started laughing and a couple of people turned around and gave us nasty looks, because God forbid we were interrupting such a powerfully crappy movie. That pissed me off — that other people were pissed off, because there’s no way in hell anyone should like this movie — so I spent the rest of the movie mimicking various suicide attempts, with my favorite one being the “open a bottle of pills, turn them over, pour them out, then stuff a bunch of them in your mouth” routine. Let’s see them put this blurb on the movie poster.
Here’s why I’m telling you this: I’m not sure what will end up being a more depressing DVD release — “The Last Kiss,” or the Raiders’ 2006 team video. Probably depends on the number of Imogen Heap songs. But I really don’t want you to see the “Last Kiss,” and I really, really, REALLY don’t want you to wager on the 2006 Raiders. Not ever.
31. Houston, 0-3
Did you see some of the Texans quotes after they were killed at home last week? Just for fun, I made up two of them:
CB Dunta Robinson: “What else can go wrong? If we don’t play better, we’re going to be the laughingstock of the NFL again.”
I was all happy Wednesday night because I thought “Lost” was starting. But no, ABC was showing one of those stupid clip shows instead. We watched everything the first time, now we have to sit through highlights? Our TiVo recorded it like it was a new “Lost,” when it wasn’t new and we have our settings turned to “first-run shows only.” TiVo should have another setting: “No clips shows please.” But that’s not what bothers me. It bothers me that people who didn’t stick with the show from Day 1 get rewarded by being able to catch up in one hour. I stuck with the show for two years, you didn’t watch one show, now you watched a clip show and we’re both caught up? That isn’t fair. It’s like TV cliff notes.
Bill said it wasn’t a big deal because it’s a way for shows to lure new viewers. I don’t agree. He complains all the time about everyone who jumped on the Red Sox bandwagon after they won the World Series — every time he sees someone in a brand new hat he makes a face, and he won’t let me wear my orange Sox hat, he’ll stick it down his pants and throw it in the garbage so I won’t want to wear it. But how’s that different than people jumping on the “Lost” bandwagon? I feel like it’s the same. We need to ban clip shows, they’re not real shows, they reward lazy bandwagon people and penalize real fans. I’m going to keep wearing my orange Red Sox hat until Bill admits I’m right.
Here are this week’s picks: Jets +9; Ravens +2.5; Bills -1; Titans +9.5; Chiefs -7; Panthers -7; Cards +7; Texans +3.5; Rams -5.5; Pats +6; Redskins +3; Browns -2.5; Bears -3.5; Packers +10.5.
Last week’s record: 9-3-2
DT Seth Payne: “Coach Kubiak doesn’t deserve this, and our fans don’t deserve this. It’s just unacceptable, and we deserve any criticism anybody wants to give us.”
QB David Carr: “It’s my fault. I was drunk again.”
DE Anthony Edwards: “Right now, I’m embarrassed for myself, embarrassed for the city of Houston, not representing them better. I know as a team, to a man, we’re all embarrassed right now.”
Coach Gary Kubiak: “Now, I’m starting to understand why Dom Capers always looked like he was recovering from a frontal lobotomy.”
30. Tennessee, 0-3
Did you know they’re 9-26 since the start of the 2004 season? That’s not as bad as …
29. Detroit, 0-3
The Lions are 21-62 since the start of the 2001 season. 21-62!!!!! How hard is Matt Millen rooting for the Tigers’ playoff run to extend into late October, immediately followed by the start of another Pistons season and another Mitch Albom scandal?
INTRIGUING FOR FANTASY PURPOSES
28. San Fran, 1-2
One of the weirdest running subplots of the season: I’d take two backup RBs who barely play (San Diego’s Michael Turner and San Fran’s Michael Robinson) over two-thirds of the starting backs in the league right now. You figure it out.
27. Green Bay, 1-2
Still waiting to hear from Brian Logan. Six weeks and counting.
THE WALKING WOUNDED
26. Tampa Bay, 0-3
Forget the obvious gambling implications of the Bruce Gradkowski Era. This is a guy who threw up before Tampa’s first preseason game. Now, they’re handing him the car keys for the rest of the season. I find this mildly frightening.
The bigger question: Is there a worse-SOUNDING name for a QB than Bruce Gradkowski? Can you imagine hearing George Clooney promoting a football movie and saying, “Yeah, I play the star QB on the team … Bruce Gradkowski.” It’s like he’s dead coming out of the gate. Flipping through footballreference.com, I could come up with only seven QBs in football history who had a less likely name for a successful quarterback: Littlejohn Bradshaw, Bobby Clatterbuck, Anthony Dilweg, Gino Guidugli, Brian St. Pierre, Norris Weese and, of course, Vinny Testaverde.
(Two names on the list who should have been good just because of their names alone: Glenn Carano and Browning Nagle. I feel like Jack Horner. Hey guys, those are great names!)
25. Kansas City, 0-2
Courtesy of Brian in Philly: “Wow, Herm Edwards is getting better. It took him years to turn the Jets into a franchise with no offense, bad defense and an injured quarterback. He did the same thing to the Chiefs in one game!”
Here’s what you missed this week from the Sports Guy:
• From the Mag: Mini-Mailbag
• Wednesday: The Marathon Chat
• Beat The Sports Guy!
Week 4: Packers at Eagles
RUNNING LOW ON JUVENATION FLUID
24. Buffalo, 1-2
You gotta love J.P. Losman lashing out this week: “We don’t believe the hype. You guys don’t understand. We don’t care what you are saying, what people are saying about our team, whether it’s good or bad. We don’t read it. We don’t care. It doesn’t matter to us. We’re going to play hard every week and prepare to win every week no matter what it is. We’re going to play hard. I don’t care if they talk about us on TV. It doesn’t matter. That’s not why we’re playing this game.”
Um, take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you stop talking for a while?
23. Arizona, 1-2
Can we get Elias to figure out if Kurt Warner has lost the most games in NFL history with a fumble in enemy territory in the final two minutes? He has to be the Wilt Chamberlain of this category, right? How many condoms has this guy broken in the heat of the moment? By the way, Edge James has the same look on his face that David Caruso had in “Jade.” What did I do? Is it too late to go back?
22. Cleveland, 0-3
Out of all the dumb things I watched last Sunday, the Browns having Chaz Frye huck one into the end zone (inside the 10, up by two, less than four minutes to play) absolutely took the cake. And I don’t care if he got hit when he threw the ball. A field goal clinches the game. Just terrible. God, imagine if you wagered on the Browns money line at +220 last week? That would have been a tough one to take.
(Slamming my head against the desk … )
(Still slamming it … )
21. Miami, 1-2
They almost lost to Tennessee at home last week. Warrants mentioning. Anyway, a Bills fan sent me a great e-mail about Mike Mularkey, who rose to prominence in Pittsburgh with an offense that hinged on short passes, screens, reverses and trick plays, then tried to do the same thing in Buffalo (and failed), and now he’s trying to do the same thing in Miami (and failing). What the hell? Why don’t they have Culpepper huck the ball downfield? It’s inexplicable. I think Mularkey was the same guy who told David Ortiz to hit for singles when he played for the Twins.
LINGERING LIKE A STALE FART
20. Washington, 1-2
Can’t quite figure these guys out yet. But allow me to be the 10,000th person to chime in on Al Saunders’ 700-page playbook. I’d like to think that I’m a relatively smart person — did well on my SATs once upon a time, haven’t had a job where I had to shower before 10:30 a.m. in my entire life, feel like I’m reasonably well-read, and so on. With that said, the thought of memorizing a 700-page playbook gives me the shakes. I don’t feel like I could do it. So how does someone like Clinton Portis or Chris Cooley pull it off? Wouldn’t there be screw-ups all the time? We’re forced to read 25 stories a day about Terrell Owens, but I’d love to read one explaining why it’s a smart idea to have a 700-page playbook. Just one.
19. NY Giants, 1-2
They were the “team most likely to have a mutiny against the coach” heading into the season … and nothing’s changed. I love how Shockey slammed the coaches for not being prepared against Seattle last week, followed by the backlash of, “Come on, the Seahawks broke out the four-WR offense, they had never shown that before,” as if that’s a good excuse to be completely flabbergasted by one of the most basic offensive sets in football. Wow, the four-receiver offense! That’s edgy! They don’t even offer a four-receiver package on “Madden,” it’s too zany! Puh-leeze.
(Note: I’d write these guys off completely if they hadn’t played three of the top five teams to start the season. Brutal stretch. Although it made up for them getting nine home games last season. Now we’re even.)
18. St. Louis, 2-1
Take it from someone with a one-year attachment to them: You run the gamut of emotions during the average Marc Bulger game. You really do. He’s like the Coco Cordero of QBs: Good numbers, exceedingly competent most of the time, and you never, ever, EVER feel safe. Not for a second.
Goofiest e-mail of the week, courtesy of Matt in St. Louis: “Being a Rams fan, it’s nice to see someone outside of St. Louis jumping on the bangwagon. Even though the ride so far this season has basically been like Neil Patrick Harris’ career. Starting off the season with the big upset victory over Denver (‘Doogie Howser, M.D.’), the horrible loss to the 49ers (one episode guest stints on shows such as ‘Murder, She Wrote’), and by salvaging a win this week in Arizona (‘Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’). Hopefully the rest of the way will be NPH singlehandedly carrying ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ ”
Sure, Matt. If you say so.
17. NY Jets, 2-1
Come on, do I have to?
All right. But only because it’s Paul Raff’s 40th birthday today. Here we go …
JETS!!!! JETS!!!! JETS!!!!
THE GOOD BAD TEAM
16. Minnesota, 2-1
You can come out of the gate with the whole “ball control, no mistakes, keep it close, waste as much time as possible, hope the other team screws up” routine for about three weeks before everyone realizes, “Wait, there’s not a lot here.” Coincidentally, the same goes for mediocre actors — they have about three starring roles in them before everyone eventually realizes, “Wait, there’s not a lot here.” Call it the Josh Hartnett Syndrome. They need some help to make the playoffs — you know, like, three more moments along the lines of that Chris Gamble lateral in Week 2.
15. Pittsburgh, 1-2
Everything about these guys screams, “Year-After Syndrome.” They just don’t look right. Didn’t help that Roethlisberger cost them two straight games. By the way, didn’t he secretly enter the Tyson Zone or am I crazy? Is there a breaking Ben Roethlisberger story that wouldn’t surprise you at this point? After the motorcycle accident and the burst appendix, I’m ready for anything. Well, anything short of his popping up as the cameraman in Dustin Diamond’s sex tape.
14. Carolina, 1-2
It’s tough to get excited about a team that nearly blew a 17-point lead to a QB with a ruptured spleen.
13. New England, 2-1
Let’s recap: While negotiating his last contract in 2005, Tom Brady left money on the table because the Pats promised to use that extra money for his supporting cast. He ended up agreeing to a six-year extension for $60 million ($14.5 million guaranteed), while Peyton Manning agreed to a $99 million extension ($34.5 million guaranted) just a few months later. Throw in the three Super Bowl rings and Brady’s 6-1 lifetime record against Manning and that just seems odd. You have to admit. Also, Drew Brees signed for the same numbers as Brady ($60 million, six years) the following spring. These are the facts.
Now we’re three games into the season, the Patriots are still $13 million under the cap, the money can’t be rolled over to next season, they let three core guys go (McGinest, Vinatieri and Branch) last winter and didn’t sign a single marquee guy, and Brady spent last Sunday trying to get a passing game going with Headlights Caldwell and Troy Brown as his deep threats, which meant Denver just moved everyone up, swallowed their running game and sent the kitchen sink on every down. So, Brady got the crap kicked out of him, they ended up getting shut down at home on national TV, and if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the Broncos puked on Brady’s left tackle.
So here’s my question …
If you’re Tom Brady, you’re supposed to have GOOD body language while this is happening? Really? That’s our verdict here? You wouldn’t have been bummed out? If I were Brady, near the end of that debacle Sunday night, I would have called an out pattern toward the Patriots sideline and aimed a pass right at Belichick’s head. But that’s just me.
12. New Orleans, 3-0
This is either too low or too high for them. I can’t decide.
(Random announcement: The whole “Tagliabue forced Houston to pass on Reggie Bush for New Orleans’ sake” has officially moved past “David Stern had the Knicks’ envelope frozen before the ’85 lottery” as my favorite conspiracy theory of all time. My friend Lewis sent me a long e-mail about it yesterday, even wondering if Charlie Casserly had to sign a confidentiality agreement after he got fired and everything, kinda like what the nanny for the Travoltas would sign or something. Hmmmmm.)
KINDA SORTA LURKING
11. Dallas, 1-1
Why are we still wondering what happened with T.O.? Isn’t it clear? He took some painkillers, received a physical therapy session (which always puts you in a weird mental state) and accidentally took a couple more painkillers. That was followed by his PR lady coming in, mistakenly overreacting and calling police. When they showed up, a zoned out T.O. acted erratically enough that police jumped to the wrong conclusion. They took him to the hospital and realized he was fine. And then everyone subsequently tried to cover it up the fact that he has been depressed/moody/sullen enough lately that his PR person thought it was CONCEIVABLE that he could have tried to kill himself.
Basically, we learned people close to T.O. believe he’s moody, erratic and potentially a threat to himself. All of which we already knew. Making this one of the single dumbest sagas of all-time … unless you’re a Cowboys fan and it’s threatening to derail your season. Then it’s something else.
(By the way, it’s truly alarming when Terry Glenn is considered the sane receiver on a football team.)
10. Atlanta, 2-1
Classic Falcons: Just when you believe they’re good, they mail their next game in more egregiously than Pearl Jam mailed in the “Binaural” album. Did you ever wager on Mora’s Falcons, watch Michael Vick chuck one of those two-hop grounders to a wide-open receiver on third down within the first three minutes of the game, then hold your head like the Senator who was covered in the hooker’s blood in “Godfather 2” and scream, “What did I do? WHAT DID I DO???????” Um, me neither.
9. Baltimore, 3-0
Back in the late ’90s, STATS INC. released a terrific football annual that featured inventive stats and detailed synopsies/predictions for each team. It was ahead of its time, actually. But its best stat was “poor passes,” the percentage of passes thrown by a QB that were completely, utterly uncatchable. (I vaguely remember somebody having a 26.5 percentage one season; it was either Tony Banks or Jake Plummer.) Anyway, McNair is good for eight to 10 uncatchable throws a game: one-hoppers, floaters, sailers, you name it. He looks terrible. Washed-up, even. It just hasn’t manifested itself yet.
But it’s coming. Oh, yes … it’s coming.
You have to believe me.
From a gambling standpoint, be very careful about trusting the 2006 Ravens.
And yes, I’m using short paragraphs to stress the urgency here.
Be very careful.
8. Denver, 2-1
Nobody looks better with a 10-point lead, although we could have said this last season as well. And just for the record, Jake was terrific in New England. You have to hand it to him. I will now shave my face with a cheese grater.
7. Jacksonville, 2-1
I have to say, I love this Jags team. They killed Indy for most of the first half last week. Even after the punt TD, it still felt like Indy had no chance in hell of stopping their running game. So the Colts stacked the line and did the only thing they could do: Told Leftwich: “We’re giving you single coverage all over the field. Good luck. If you beat us, you beat us.” And what happened? Leftwich stunk out the joint and cost them the game. I mean, when you’re averaging four yards per pass attempt against a defense that’s loading up against the run … that’s almost impossible, right?
Which raises the question: Can Leftwich singlehandedly kill a team that looks like a Super Bowl contender? I’m leaning toward “no” because he’s only 26. But this will end up being one of the title-deciding subplots this season, right up there with “How many bones in his body can Shaun Alexander break?” and “Why don’t the Bengals hire chauffeurs for their players?” If Leftwich raises his game over the next few weeks, they become the favorite to emerge from the AFC. If he doesn’t, this paragraph eventually ranks among the 100 dumbest things I’ve ever written. No in between.
6. Chicago, 3-0
I can’t put them any higher after Rex’s interception last weekend. I just can’t. Sorry. I don’t have a good personal history with QB’s who run for their life in the end zone, then throw the ball up for grabs for no real reason. But that’s just me.
(Random Chicago note: HBO’s Cubs documentary is entertaining as hell, especially for the Chicago accents. It’s like a 60-minute-long “Da Bears” sketch. If I had to rank my favorite North American accents, I think the list looks like this: 1. anywhere in Canada; 2. Pittsburgh; 3. Chicago; 4. Minnesota. And Rhode Island would be last. No offense.)
5. Philly, 2-1
I’d have them No. 1 if they didn’t blow the Giants game. Here’s my theory: I’m feeling a sports renaissance in Philly that plays out a little like the one in Boston in 2001-02, when the fans were just broken beyond repair, and then some good luck turned everything around and erased all the bad karma. For instance, let’s say the Phillies can somehow force a playoff game Monday. Do you realize it would be played at the same time as Monday night’s Packers-Eagles game, or that Game 4 of that series (if they made it) would be played at the exact same time as T.O.’s return to Philly on Oct. 8? You don’t see the symmetry here?
Of course, the Philly fans are thinking, “Great, then we can blow both games at the same time. Perfect. I’m skipping the rest of this column and getting drunk again.” BUT THAT’S MY POINT! You guys need some luck, you’re long overdue, and something good is going to happen over these next few days/weeks/months. I’m feeling it. We’ll be back with more “Oprah” after this.
4. Indianapolis, 3-0
Can’t run the ball, can’t stop the run. When has that formula ever worked in January? Has it worked once? Didn’t think so. And since I can’t think of anything else to say, am I the only one who thinks “Joseph Addai” sounds like the name of someone who should be leading the Boston Marathon after 18 miles?
3. Cincinnati, 3-0
Now here’s an intriguing team. They can run the ball, throw the ball, stop the run, create turnovers and make plays on special teams. They’re a five-tool team. So what can’t they do? Other than stay out of trouble?
Anyway, if the Patriots don’t have what it takes this winter for a fourth Super Bowl appearance, I’m pulling hard for Cincy to make it to Miami. And why? Because the Bengals would be out in Miami for two weeks!!!! Hide the women, hide the children, hide the Maxim models … here come the Bengals! That would be the single greatest week in ESPN history. ESPN should station Ed Werder and Shelley Smith 24/7 outside the Miami Dade County courthouse right now just to be safe. Seriously, what would feature more arrests, Super Bowl week with the Bengals or Season 1 of “Miami Vice?” I’m 18 levels beyond giddy about this.
Through Week 3 …
Favorites against spread: 17-27-2
2. Seattle, 3-0
Kevin Jackson — my longtime editor, as well as the man whose dual love for the Seahawks and Steelers spawned my sports bigamy column four years ago — raised an intriguing point on the phone this week: Some people (including me) thought the Seahawks would be sunk by the Super Bowl Loser Curse. But what if Seattle was really the better team last February, and Pittsburgh was earmarked for second place and the eventual Super Bowl Loser Curse, only the refs altered the destiny of the game? Just because the game didn’t play out like it should have, does that mean that the curse still proceeded as planned? And that, my friends, is why the Hawks might be the best team in football right now. That’s KJ’s theory.
Important note: I don’t believe any of this; I just wanted to prove to you that I have an insane editor. But I do think the Hawks are legitimately good. For one thing, they have the only discernable home-field advantage in the NFL right now. It’s impossible to win there. The crowd won’t allow it, and they’re the only team that can definitively say this. More importantly, they overpaid for Branch, but the trade gave them four quality receivers, leading to the ridiculously potent four-WR offense last week that flummoxed the Giants. As any “Madden” junkie knows, there are only three unstoppable offenses: The five-WR shotgun if your line can protect you, the two-TE offense with two quality tight ends who can block and go deep, and the four-WR offense with a great back and four good receivers.
To pull off one of these offenses in “Madden,” you need to rig at least one trade and sign a couple marquee free agents. In real life, it’s almost impossible; in fact, the last time it happened, the ’99 Rams were involved (the most unstoppable “Madden” offense of this generation). But Seattle inadvertently stumbled upon something significant here — they can run, they can throw, and if that’s not enough, they have this obscene four-WR weapon with Alexander and Hasselbeck and tons of freakish jaw-drop upside. Play the pass and they run. Play the run and they pass. Blitz Hasselbeck and he dumps it off to an open guy. I don’t see how you stop them once they get cooking. Throw in the defense, a healthy Alexander and the home-field advantage, and I’d take them over anyone right now.
But since Alexander’s not healthy …
1. San Diego, 2-0
The funny thing about the Chargers: Every team has at least one serious flaw, but everyone wrote off the Bolts because of the “downgrade” at QB to Philip Rivers. You would have thought they were replacing Brees with Bruce Gradkowski’s illegitimate brother, Cliff. Rivers was the No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft, remember? The next seven picks were Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow Jr., Roy Williams, D’Angelo Hall, Reggie Williams, Dunta Robinson, Ben Roethlisberger and Jonathan Vilma. He’s no stiff. I’d say it’s more probable that Rivers becomes a good QB right away over Indy suddenly figuring out how to stop the run, or the Bengals not getting killed by off-the-field stuff, or the Eagles making it to Miami without anyone who can run for a first down when they need one.
Of course, all of this is mitigated by two words: “Marty” and “Schottenheimer.” But you know what? We don’t have to worry about that for another four months. I think they’re the best team right now, and I think they throttle the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday. And that’s why you rank the teams.
Without further ado, the quick picks for Week 4:
(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)
JETS (+9) over Colts
Too many points.
BILLS (-1) over Vikings
Too much McGahee.
Chargers (-2.5) over RAVENS
Too much McNair.
TITANS (+9.5) over Cowboys
Too much T.O.
CHIEFS (-7) over Niners
Too much Arrowhead.
PANTHERS (-7) over Saints
Too much of a letdown.
FALCONS (-7) over Cardinals
Too much Warner.
Dolphins (-3.5) over TEXANS
Too many boos.
Lions (+5.5) over RAMS
Too many points.
Patriots (+6) over BENGALS
Too much pride.
Jaguars (-3) over REDSKINS
Too much talent.
Browns (-2.5) over RAIDERS
Too much incompetence.
Seahawks (+3.5) over BEARS
Too easy on paper.
Packers (+10.5) over EAGLES
Too many injuries.
Last Week: 8-4-2
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.