Avoiding the Lockout and the Red Sox

The Week That Was

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What Have We Learned From the NFL?

Making the Week 6 picks by remembering a few things we've learned in the first five weeks of the season

If you missed Part 1 of my Friday column, click here. Let’s talk about the Week 6 picks while weaving in 24 things we’ve learned through the first five weeks …

Panthers (+4) over FALCONS
The Reason: If Michael Vick hadn’t gotten hurt in Week 2, Atlanta would be 1-4 just like Carolina … with a worse offense and less of an identity. Besides, when you’re getting four with the Panthers, it’s really 10 when you include garbage time. Grab the points with Backdoor Cam. Wait, that’s a horrible nickname.

Thing We’ve Learned: You should have bought Cam Newton’s rookie card two months ago.

Thing We’ve Learned: A variety of contenders dropped the ball over these past 18 months by not trading for Steve Smith before Cam reminded us, “Oh wait, Steve Smith is spectacular, I totally forgot that he’s been carrying a slew of dreadful QBs for basically his entire career.” Can you imagine if the Patriots had stolen him for a couple of second-rounders last April? I can’t stop shaking my head. I’m dizzy.

Colts (+7) over BENGALS
The Reason: I love the Bengals. They’re the Good Bad Team this year. Just know that they’ve played 300 minutes this season and have led a game by more than three points for exactly 1 minute and 49 seconds.

Thing We’ve Learned: Peyton Manning picked the perfect season to get injured. I think the Colts would have stunk anyway. Impeccable timing. Instead, he’s inspiring e-mails like this one (from Mike in Orlando): “If I take over today as coach of the Colts, I will activate Manning and put him right next to Painter in the shotgun. I would have Manning call out the signals/audibles and then turn to Painter and tell him exactly what to do when the ball is snapped to him. When Painter receives the snap, Manning would run backwards 10-20 yards just to get out of the way and ensure that he would not get hit. Wouldn’t you play 10 on 11 just to have Manning do that? P.S. — I am not joking.”

LIONS (-4.5) over 49ers
The Reason: I wanted to take the points … then I started thinking about the possibility of a “I can’t believe I took Alex Smith on the road, in a dome, against a loud crowd and a monster pass rush one week after they helped force nine Chicago false starts” moment in the fourth quarter and got freaked out.

Thing We’ve Learned: If you’re launching a new QB rating metric, you should probably put in a couple of fail-safe measures to make sure that Smith doesn’t hold your record through five weeks. Is it too late for the QBR inventors to add this tweak: “Minus-10 points if your name is Alex Smith”?

Thing We’ve Learned: The “Uh-oh, they’re throwing deep, something potentially superhuman is about to happen!!!!!” torch has been belatedly passed from Randy Moss to Calvin Johnson.

Thing We’ve Learned: Jim Harbaugh is this season’s “Wow, I always forget that a new coach can single-handedly swing a team’s season!” coach. I love the “Who’s got it better than us?” chant, I love the way the guys are reacting on the sideline to big plays, and I love reading articles like this. Let’s move on before I talk myself into Alex Smith getting 4½.

PACKERS (-15) over Rams
The Reason: Sorry, Vegas, you couldn’t make this line high enough for me. Think of it this way: The Packers are probably headed for 14-2. The Rams are probably headed for 2-14. In Week 6 in 2009, the (soon-to-be 14-2) Colts whupped the (soon-to-be 1-15) Rams, 42-6. In Week 7 in 2007, the (soon-to-be 16-0) Patriots beat the (soon-to-be 1-15) Dolphins, 49-28. In Week 1 of 2006, the (soon-to-be 14-2) Chargers blanked the (soon-to-be 2-14) Raiders, 27-0. In Week 7 of 2005, the (soon-to-be 14-2) Colts beat the (soon-to-be 2-14) Texans, 38-20. See where I’m going here?

Thing We’ve Learned: Green Bay is doing Bill Belichick’s Bill Belichick routine as well or better than Bill Belichick ever did. The latest: The Packers lost their left tackle and plugged in 2010 fifth-rounder Marshall Newhouse, who kept their offensive line going without it missing a beat. Shades of Troy Brown playing nickelback during a Super Bowl season. When you can keep rolling no matter what happens, you know you’ve built something special.

Thing We’ve Learned: Your husband, boyfriend, father, uncle, nephew, son or grandson is going to annoy you more than usual on Thanksgiving. Can you believe “Packers at Lions, 12:30 ET, Thursday” has a chance to be the single best game of the entire 2011 season? I’m already trying to come up with the best way to tell my wife, “Look, I know we don’t have any family here, and I know you’re cooking today for me and a few of Grantland’s West Coast transplants, and I know we have two kids … but I’m gonna be out of commission for the entire morning and that’s just how this is gonna play out.” Unless Matthew Stafford If He Stays Healthy gets injured soon, I have a worse chance of being married in December than Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore do.

GIANTS (-3) over Bills
The Reason: It’s been a feel-good story for the Bills … and it’s going to stop feeling good as soon as their fans notice that these are the same uniforms from the Norwood Game.

Thing We’ve Learned: I’ll let Justin in Omaha explain the stupidity of me grabbing the Giants -9.5 at home against Seattle last week: “I honestly can’t believe you would take Eli in an obvious ‘people think I am good again so I will show them how bad I can be’ game. It seems like he has a couple of these every year. If not for the Victor Cruz tip catch TD and Seattle fumbling on the 3, this game would have gotten out of hand. I actually took the Seattle moneyline on this game I felt so strongly Eli would have one of his trademark games. I love seeing that mopey face after a pick 6. It brightens my whole day.”

Thing We’ve Learned: Remember my riff in last week’s column about Grantland’s Sarah Larimer and Katie Baker making Eli Manning their “QB I’d Marry If I Could Marry Any QB” choice, then me wishing that I had more than 18 female readers to find out if Eli was a consensus pick or just the beneficiary of small sample size? Let’s just say that I have more than 18 female readers. We’ll deal with this next week, but here’s a sampling (courtesy of Lydia in Seattle): “Since I am one of your 18 female readers, I can totally see Eli Manning. He’d probably be my #2 choice, though, behind Aaron Rodgers. He’s cute, seems like a good guy, and being in Wisconsin, you’ll never have to worry about people thinking you’re fat.”

STEELERS (-12) over Jaguars
The Reason: We’re two more easy Steelers victories away from them hosting the Patriots in Week 9, as everyone has a good laugh that we thought the 6-2 Steelers were washed up after three weeks. And then … the Patriots will beat them by 20, and everyone will start wondering if the Steelers are washed up again.

Thing We’ve Learned: The NFL would be more fun if in-season trades happened that were more exciting than “Houston just traded a 17th-rounder in 2039 for Derrick Mason.” If you’re the downtrodden Jags, and you’re looking at 2012 with a new coach and a top-five pick, why not just go into Suck For Luck mode and trade Maurice Jones-Drew right now? What if the Patriots offered Stevan Ridley and a no. 2 pick in 2012 for him? That’s a double win — you built for the future AND you made yourself worse in 2011. Just look at the Broncos’ shopping their only decent receiver (Brandon Lloyd) right now. Now that’s a team that understands how to tank: First, you start Tim Tebow so he can keep your fans excited as he keeps losing agonizingly close games while also inspiring people to gush about what a winner he is (done). Second, you trade his only deep threat (Lloyd) to eliminate any chance of a defense NOT putting eight guys in the box to stop Tebow’s running (that’s coming). And third, you tell Von Miller and Champ Bailey that they gave each other mononucleosis and they’re out for the season (that’s coming, too).

Hey Jacksonville? That’s what you’re competing against. Put MoJo on the block, Suck for Luck, then deal Blaine Gabbert next winter after it all pays off. You’re going to bring Los Angeles a Super Bowl title a few years from now, I can feel it. My son is already pumped.

MISSING THE BRONCOS ON THEIR BYE WEEK (+10) over missing the Chargers/Titans/Chiefs/Cards/Seahawks on their bye weeks

The Reason: Tebow!

Thing We’ve Learned: No, seriously … Tebow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thing We’ve Learned: It’s better to play a seemingly stupid beanbag game in your locker room than it is to drink beer, eat fried chicken and play video games. Check out this link. And also, how can we get one of these games for the Grantland offices? This seems like a good time to mention that (a) I’m in my 40s, and (b) over the past two days, I spent over an hour searching for a beanbag game and a replica life-size Stanley Cup.

Thing We’ve Learned: If you’re going to trade two assets for an unproven QB, hand him a $64 million contract and guarantee $21 million of the deal, you should probably make sure he’s good first. Actually, I already knew this.

REDSKINS (+1.5) over Eagles
The Reason: Revenge for last year’s Monday-night game when Vick finished with 277 fantasy points. If the Redskins win, it will be one of those “outgained by 220 yards but won the turnover battle and managed the clock/challenge/last-minute stuff infinitely better” games … you know, like how the Eagles lose every week.

Thing We’ve Learned: It’s extremely easy for Philly fans and Boston fans to get their “sky is falling” anti-mojo back.

Thing We’ve Learned: It’s a better career move to appear on Numbers Never Lie and NFL Live than to try to become the potential savior of an expensive defense that was a Super Bowl favorite in August. Thanks for letting us know the answer to that one, Eric Mangini. By the way, did you ever think in a million years that the Mangenius would be good on TV? He’s excellent! I’ve given up trying to figure this stuff out.

RAVENS (-8) over Texans
The Reason: Feels like one of those, “That line is too high, I’m taking the dog just out of principle, even with Mario Williams and Andre Johnson” traps … and my leg was briefly caught in it before someone dragged me to safety. You’re not running on the Ravens. That means Daniels, Casey, Walter, Dreessen and Jones will have to cover this spread. I’m dubious.

Thing We’ve Learned: Matt Schaub is basically Tony Romo with a less exciting name, a less famous team and a better PR agent.

Thing We’ve Learned: If you have a good team and need offensive line help, you should always gamble on overweight former All-Pros who packed on a few pounds during an extended lockout. You know, like the Ravens did with Bryant McKinnie (check out this story). It’s just too bad this can’t translate to real life.

“How did you meet your wife? She’s gorgeous.”

“Thank you. It’s a funny story — remember when my company locked everyone out for six months in 2009? She packed on like 45 pounds, then her live-in boyfriend dumped her. I gotta be honest, I just rolled the dice and asked her out … ”

RAIDERS (-7) over Browns
The Reason: You beat the Raiders by throwing the ball on them. Do you trust Colt McCoy and the Massaquoi/Little/Watson/Cribbs brigade? Me neither.

Thing We’ve Learned: It’s easy to forget this stuff when the past few years of someone’s career go badly, but when I think of football during my childhood, the first few things that always jump to mind are those gorgeous red Patriots uniforms, John Madden and the Raiders, Chuck Fairbanks leaving, Earl Campbell, Howard Cosell, those Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls, Topps football cards, Darryl Stingley’s getting paralyzed, the Sugar Bear Hamilton roughing-the-passer penalty and the Al Davis mystique, in some order. If you rooted for any team other than the Davis’ Raiders, you were terrified of them, and him, and you always believed (a) they knew things that other teams didn’t know, (b) they were tougher than everyone else, and (c) they could somehow rig the outcomes of games. Last week’s Al Davis retrospectives reminded me that I felt that way once upon a time. And totally forgot about it.

Saints (-4.5) over BUCS
The Reason: The 2011 Bucs have scored 87 points. The 2011 Saints have scored 157 points.

Thing We’ve Learned: If LeBron James decided to join a football team right now, it would be the single biggest sports story since Tiger crashed his Escalade. Even his one joking tweet launched a 24-hour talking-head show/sports-blog cycle. Couldn’t you see an NFL team using LeBron in the following three ways: deep routes, jump balls inside the 10-yard line, and field goal blocks? Couldn’t he just do those three things without risking real injury? And would anything be funnier than him signing with the Steelers and sending everyone in Cleveland into another frenzy? Now I’m rooting for this.

Cowboys (+7) over PATRIOTS
Vikings (+3) over BEARS

The Reason: The Cowboys will do what the Jets should have done last week (throw 50-plus times against a defense that can’t pressure passers or cover receivers), and the Vikings are healthier than the Bears (and slightly more talented, anyway). Let’s make the Cowboys my Almost-Upset Special (Patriots 38, Cowboys 37) and the Vikings my Semi-Upset Special (Vikes 27, Bears 17).

Thing We’ve Learned: Jay Cutler is a man. He’s a man!!!!!!!!! I am vigorously cosigning this post-Lions defeat e-mail from Dave in Providence: “Cutler played like a man tonight. Jesus what an arm, what throws he made, sometimes literally by the seat of his pants. Imagine what he’d be like if he had receivers and a line. Right now he’s like a slower, more tragically and futilely heroic version of Aaron Rodgers and his crappy line of a few years ago, since he has no decent options besides Forte. Cutler’s suffering is also more epic because F-ing Mike Martz is his evil overlord. He’s the living embodiment of that Charge of the Light Brigade essay that Movie Michael Oher wrote to be academically eligible and made his stern teacher look all thoughtful.”

Thing We’ve Learned: Thanks to all the pro-passing rule changes, you might be able to make the Super Bowl with a fairly atrocious defense. Of course, that’s not as fun of a lesson as the one passed along from Andrew in Gainesville after Brett Favre seemingly ripped Aaron Rodgers two weeks ago: “It’s time to start the Favre Zone for athletes — when you are never surprised by hearing any douchy thing the athlete says or does, because he has proved himself time and again to be a complete d-bag.” Done.

JETS (-7) over Dolphins
The Reason: I can’t take Matt Moore on a Monday night. I think it’s illegal, actually.

Thing We’ve Learned: Anytime a team’s best offensive player predicts that he’ll be ejected in the second quarter of his next game, then says, “I’m not joking, I’m serious,” then has his coach diffuse defuse things by saying, “He’s 50 percent serious,” it’s a good idea to pick against that team in that game. I’m just projecting.

Thing We’ve Learned: There might be a Curse of Marino brewing. As Adam Schefter noticed this week, the Dolphins have trotted out 16 QBs since Dan Marino retired in 2000: Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, A.J. Feeley, Sage Rosenfels, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green, John Beck, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen, and now, Matt Moore. What a murderer’s row! And by murderer’s row, I mean, literally, they’ve murdered the Dolphins. You know Marino secretly enjoys it. I have to go, John Henry just walked into my office.

Last Week: 7-5-1
Season: 41-33-3

Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.

Previously from Bill Simmons:

We Need a Renegade Basketball League
A Running Diary of Game 162
Welcome to Amnesty 2.0 in the NBA
NFL Preview: It’s All About Continuity
Summer of Mailbag V: Passing the Buck
Summer of Mailbag IV: Dawn of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag III: Attack of the Mailbag!
The Glorious Return of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag: The Revenge

To submit questions for next week’s mailbag, click here; to comment on this story through Facebook, click here.

Filed Under: Bill Simmons, NFL, People, Simmons, Sports

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