Revisiting the Y2K-Compliant Quarterbacks

AP Photo/Al Behrman

Nearly 15 years later, I remember three things about Y2K. First, many people were legitimately concerned that computers would freak out at midnight, all hell would break loose, and we’d land in a real-life version of The Purge crossed with The Walking Dead … even though we didn’t know what either of these things were in 1999.1 It was secretly disappointing when midnight came and went without an electronic catastrophe. Like so many others, I wanted to know what it would be like to live without electricity, loot grocery stores and murder others to survive. Maybe someday.

Second, the Y2K hype spawned one of wrestling’s greatest entrances — Chris Jericho’s “Y2J” gimmick, which claimed first place in my wrestling-entrances column that you probably blocked out of your mind.

And third, I remember thinking about the end of the world and being bummed out about one thing and one thing only: not that I’d be losing the chance to have kids or get married, not that I’d be losing my dream of building a big audience for my “Sports Guy” column, not that I’d be losing the last two-thirds of my life … but that I’d live and die without seeing a Boston team win a World Series or a Super Bowl.

So yeah, Y2K feels like it happened roughly 70 years ago. And now, we’re starting to slap the makings of a century together. We’re 14 years in. The words “21st century” actually mean something. And in the 21st century, exactly 10 quarterbacks have won Super Bowls.

• Tom Brady (five times)
• Ben Roethlisberger (twice)
• Kurt Warner
• Trent Dilfer
• Brad Johnson
• Peyton Manning
• Drew Brees
• Aaron Rodgers
• Joe Flacco
• Russell Wilson

Fine, fine. You caught me. ELEVEN quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl in the 21st century.

• Tom Brady (three times)
• Ben Roethlisberger (twice)
• Eli Manning (twice)
• Kurt Warner
• Trent Dilfer
• Brad Johnson
• Peyton Manning
• Drew Brees
• Aaron Rodgers
• Joe Flacco
• Russell Wilson

So what jumps out about that list? You know, other than the fact that Eli Manning won two f-​-​-​ing Super Bowls? Let’s see …

• The weakest QBs? Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson definitely “game managed” their way to titles,2 which happened occasionally until the NFL changed its pass-defense rules so Peyton Manning had a better chance to succeed. Did you know that Baltimore won four straight playoff games with Dilfer completing 35 passes … total? And Johnson played for four teams, started all 16 games just three times and threw for 691 career yards fewer than Jon Kitna. But give him Jon Gruden’s offense and Tampa Bay’s loaded 2002 defense and what happened? BRAD JOHNSON COULD MANAGE THE GAME!3 Every time a Chiefs fan says, “I think we can win the Super Bowl with Alex Smith,” they’re really saying, “I mean, the 2002 Bucs won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson!” I don’t know. Those were different times.

• The third-weakest QB on that list? Eli Manning. I’m the wrong person to shepherd a “Could the 2007 Giants and 2011 Giants have won Super Bowls with any decent QB?” conversation, if only because I might intentionally injure myself. So let’s just agree that the Giants scored 38 points combined in those two Super Bowls, one of which went New York’s way because their 17th-string receiver caught the last pass of his career with his helmet.

• It’s too early to have an opinion on Russell Wilson’s Super Bowl, but the “Luck or Wilson?” debate finished filming in October. (Spoiler alert: Luck won.) Is Wilson an infinitely more athletic Brad Johnson? Is his 2014 performance suffering because his offensive line collapsed and he doesn’t have enough weapons (and not because we overrated him)? Or, could you say he’s where Brady was in 2002 — one year away from jumping a level, and three years away from jumping two levels, and five years away from finishing the video game? To be continued.

• I’m happy that Warner won a Super Bowl because, for a few years at least, he was every bit as frightening as Marino, Favre, Montana and every other great QB. He also triggered the remarkably effective “never bet against God, puppies or gambling theories hatched in Pakistan” rule (one of my favorites). He belongs.

• For four straight postseason games in 2013, Flacco had an out-of-body experience: 1,140 yards, 11 TDs, 0 picks, 9.05 YPA, 117.2 rating and one of the great season-saving miracle throws ever (the Jacoby Jones–Rahim Moore pseudo–Hail Mary). Bill Barnwell dubbed it the second-greatest postseason hot streak ever, trailing only 1989 Joe Montana and finishing 745 spots ahead of 1985 Tony Eason. Were those four Flacco weeks the football equivalent of, say, Nic Cage randomly crushing Leaving Las Vegas and winning an Oscar, then immediately reverting back to being Nic Cage? Absolutely. But you can never take away those four Flacco weeks, and you can never take away Nic Cage’s Oscar.

(Well, at least not yet.)

(Then again … )

(Actually, it’s probably a good idea to take away Nic Cage’s Oscar. But Joe Flacco, we’re letting you keep those four weeks.)

• The five best QBs of the 21st century, by any calculation, are Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning in some order. Well, every Super Bowl from the one with Janet Jackson’s nipple until the one with the still-mysterious, momentum-turning Superdome blackout involved one of those five guys. They’ve captured eight combined Lombardis and made 13 Super Bowl appearances in all.

Why bring up that Y2K list? For one thing, if you forced me into a 21st Century QB Mount Rushmore decision, I would bump Brees before Roethlisberger. Brees has six career playoff wins, one Super Bowl win and one conference title game appearance. He spent his entire career playing home games in 75-degree weather (San Diego) or indoors (New Orleans). And the team that drafted him eventually gave up on him. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger joined the NFL three years after Brees — right now, he has 10 playoff wins, two Super Bowl wins, three Super Bowl appearances, four conference title game appearances and one of the great throw-and-catches in football history (the Super Bowl winner to Santonio Holmes that beat Arizona). He has also spent his entire career outdoors for the same cold-weather team. It’s no contest. For regular season — Brees. For everything — Roethlisberger.

He’s the most underrated quarterback of the 21st century. It’s true.

Could you argue that the general public doesn’t want to place him on that Brady-Rodgers-Manning pedestal because of whatever happened in Lake Tahoe and Georgia? The Tahoe incident was eventually settled out of court, and the Georgia incident earned him a six-game suspension from Roger Goodell (eventually dropped to four games). Both damaged Roethlisberger’s reputation. In retrospect, every Goodell suspension seems suspect after how egregiously the commissioner botched Bountygate, then acted irresponsibly, incompetently and maybe even illegally and mendaciously after Ray Rice knocked his wife out (hopefully, we’ll have a result from the hearing about Rice’s re-suspension next week). But Roethlisberger DID act inappropriately, and he DID get suspended, and he DID settle out of court.

I believe those incidents affected how many fans regard Roethlisberger’s football résumé as a whole. There’s a mythology that comes with Brady, Manning, Rodgers and Brees — great quarterbacks, great leaders, solid interviews, great “public” people. They say the right things and do the right things. They take extraordinary pains to be thought of as role models. And that’s why they land so many endorsements — because major companies desperately want to associate themselves with those four guys.

Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure that Roethlisberger hasn’t filmed a major commercial since 2009. (I couldn’t find one on the Internet, that’s for sure.) His national profile effectively consists of 16 to 20 football games per year, dozens of press conferences and the occasional “insightful” sitdown with Bob Costas (or whomever) that never reveals anything interesting. And we’re fine with it. That 2009 incident inspired us to collectively reject the mythology of Roethlisberger’s greatness, even though so many went the other way with Kobe Bryant earlier in the decade (in an undeniably similar situation). And that was the case for years and years. Quarterbacks are sacred to us, for whatever reason.

But Roethlisberger’s recent 12-touchdown barrage, and his phenomenal season in general, propelled him back into that Great QB conversation once and for all. You know when I officially realized this? After I read this email from Kurt Hetrick in San Diego:

“Your final Week 9 pick (Colts over Giants) came with the explanation, ‘I’m not betting against great QBs in night games anymore unless they’re going against another great QB. (Sorry, Eli.)” Meanwhile ONE PICK EARLIER you took the Ravens over the Steelers who PLAYED IN A NIGHT GAME, and just one week after Roethlisberger threw for six touchdown passes … which was also what he did this week. He’s been to three Super Bowls, won two and is one of four quarterbacks to win 100 games in his first 150 starts (joining Bradshaw, Montana, and Brady). He’s the only QB with two 500 yard games, one of only two quarterbacks (YA Tittle is the other) with two 6-TD games in a season, and now has 22 TD’s and 3 picks. Even Sammy Jankis wouldn’t have forgotten something in the time period it took to type those two picks. I’ll be waiting for your Zack Mettenberger Titans pick in that Monday Nighter in two weeks.”

In the words of Dave Dameshek quoting Jerry Orbach from Dirty Dancing, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Roethlisberger IS great. Of any quarterback that I’ve ever gambled against or rooted against, Big Ben remains the most terrifying in one specific situation: Three of your guys are about to sack me, only I fought them off like a wildebeest fighting off three hyenas, and now I’m scampering free and I’m about to drop a back-breaking 25-yard pass on third-and-14 on you. Even if he doesn’t routinely throw up video-game numbers, you’d feel 100 percent comfortable riding him for any big game or any season-saving drive. That’s a short list … and he’s definitely on it. Ben Roethlisberger plays quarterback better than just about anybody.

Back to the Y2K/Super Bowl thing: I brought it up because there’s another list of memorable 21st-century QBs who haven’t won a Super Bowl. Here’s that list …

• Rich Gannon
• Steve McNair
• Donovan McNabb
• Jake Delhomme
• Carson Palmer
• Philip Rivers
• Tony Romo
• Matt Ryan
• Colin Kaepernick
• Andrew Luck4

Gannon and McNair came damned close to pulling their own Brad Johnson moments. McNabb’s Eagles teams revolved around him, for better and worse, only he was never quite good enough. Delhomme’s topsy-turvy career peaked with 2003’s improbable hot streak — two playoff upsets, then Delhomme scaring the bejesus out of every overconfident Patriots fan during the Nipple Bowl. (Can we start calling it that, please?) You could have conceivably won the Super Bowl with all four guys; it just never happened.

As for the non-retired guys, Romo is Romo — the most polarizing QB of this century not named Michael Vick. But he could have made a Super Bowl on the right team. Same for Rivers, who’s really a better version of Romo with more kids. Ryan nearly won the NFC title in 2013, although he didn’t — so maybe that says something, too. Kaepernick came within one botched first-and-goal series of fending off Ray Lewis’s deer antler spray and winning the Super Bowl. And Luck, of anyone on that list, is the surest wager to win at least one Lombardi. Maybe sooner than we think.

For everyone on that list — you need luck, timing, coaching and a killer support system just to sniff the Super Bowl, much less win it. Which brings us to Carson Palmer, who becomes The Most Underrated QB Of The 21st Century as soon as we stop underrating Roethlisberger. You might remember me making fun of Palmer in this column many, many, many times. Many times. Many, MANY times. And I stand by all of it.

[Update: The Cardinals must think Palmer is underrated, too; tonight the team announced that it gave him a three-year extension that sources told ESPN was worth $50 million.]

Still, no 21st-century QB had worse luck than Carson Palmer did. Barnwell covered this angle perfectly less than 13 months ago on Grantland, so I won’t rehash it here. But I love playing the “What if?” game with certain never-quite-got-there NBA stars (Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, etc.) that’s framed around a specific question:

If you were blessed with a “Reset” button and the ability to play an athlete’s career 10 times, would the real-life outcome be the unluckiest career of those 10 times?

For instance, if you replayed Webber’s career 10 times, he goes down as one of the NBA’s 30 greatest players ever at least seven or eight of those times. Only three things could derail someone that talented: a major injury (happened), circumstances (happened) and bad luck (happened). If Orlando never traded Webber’s rights for Penny Hardaway’s rights and three first-round picks, he and Shaq would have destroyed everybody. (That’s bad luck.) If Webber hadn’t entered the NBA during the height of the Too Much Too Soon era, he wouldn’t have used his contract leverage to bully his way from a loaded Warriors team to a mediocre Washington team. (That’s circumstances — you never want to give a 21-year-old that kind of power, but that’s what the NBA was doing in the mid-’90s.) And if he never ruined his knee, Webber’s prime would have lasted twice as long. (The injury card, obviously.) So it took THREE different flukes to prevent Webber’s career from being as good as or better than Kevin Garnett.

Now, Carson Palmer wasn’t as sure of a thing as C-Webb. On the list of franchise QBs drafted first overall, his chances for a kick-ass Hall of Fame career were below Peyton and Luck, ahead of Tim Couch and David Carr, and probably dead even with Eli and Stafford. But one thing after another happened to him: The cheap-ass Bengals drafted him, then he blew out his knee on his first playoff pass during 2005’s breakout season, then he injured his throwing elbow in 2008, then he got traded to Siberia (the Raiders), then he landed in Arizona as the team’s 345th attempt to replace Kurt Warner with anyone competent.

When Barnwell posted his “Can’t-Miss Kid” article on October 18, 2013, it read like something of a football obituary. And rightly so.

So what happened?

Did Palmer read the article and go into Rocky-in-Russia mode?

Did we underestimate Barnwell’s reverse powers?

Was this the all-time coincidence in the history of Grantland coincidences?

We only know that Palmer — within a few days of Barnwell’s column — suddenly transformed back into Someone You Might Be Able To Win A Super Bowl With. He’s won 12 of his last 14 starts, losing the other two by three points apiece. According to Mike Sando, he ranks sixth in QBR during that stretch (69.8, trailing only Peyton Manning, Rodgers, Rivers, Brady and Brees), and he has thrown for 3,918 yards and 27 TDs with just 11 picks.

It’s the uncarsonpalmeriest Carson Palmer stretch in nearly a decade. Some of the reasons make sense — he’s been blessed with a killer home-field advantage (The Nest!), an excellent defense (sixth in DVOA), an explosive runner (Andre Ellington), three dangerous receivers (including the dramatic return of Fitz!), and what has probably been the league’s best coaching staff (seriously, should we convince Bruce Arians to run for president in 2016?). But you know what doesn’t make sense? That Carson Palmer looks like he’s having one of those 2008 Warner moments. You know, the washed-up guy who’s suddenly killing it again.

And he’s coming through in big moments, too. What’s the Throw of the Year right now? Palmer’s ballsy, game-saving third-down bomb to John Brown against Philly. Look at this baby.

This isn’t one of those Josh McCown five-game rope-a-dope situations. Palmer has been playing extremely well for 13 solid months, even persevering when his receivers caught a recent case of the dropsies (mentioned here). Here’s how President-Elect Arians described his team this week.

“Swagger is a true belief. I think guys that talk a lot sometimes are trying to talk themselves into it. You watch for that. But our guys, I don’t see any cockiness in our football team. I see a true belief that we’re going to win every week. And our quarterback is Carson Palmer! Can you f-​-​-​-​-​g believe this????”

Fine, I made the last two sentences up. But the Cardinals have some subtle omens going against them. They’re 16th in overall DVOA; they have a Pythagorean record that’s two wins lower than their real record (Barnwell Link No. 3!);5 and they’ve recovered nine of 14 fumbles (third-luckiest in the league) and they’re plus-10 in turnover differential. Any numbers nerd is waving a “REGRESSION!!!!!” flag right now.

They were also stripped of “Nobody Believes In Us!” status after that Philly win; it’s never good when it’s Week 10 and people are writing articles like “Arizona Cardinals have what it takes to host Super Bowl XLIX” and “Are Cardinals walking road to Glendale?” and even “What an Arizona Cardinals berth would mean for the Super Bowl’s economic impact.” Does that mean Arizona should consider throwing this week’s Rams game to be safe? Of course not. But the “Everybody Believes In Us” factor unnerves me.

Oh, and if I had told you 13 months ago that Carson Palmer would be leading a 2014 title contender, you would have asked which CFL team had signed him. There’s that, too.

Flipping it around, the 2014 Cardinals are loaded with compelling stories that everyone would beat into the ground during Super Bowl week. Palmer and the Juvenation Machine. Larry Fitz and Larry Fitz’s pop (the sequel!). The Honey Badger. The whole “hosting your own Super Bowl” thing, as well as the “How ’bout the dominant NFC West?” thing. Bruce Arians nearly retiring after the 2011 season when Pittsburgh didn’t renew his coordinator contract, then belatedly emerging as a top-five coach. #ChuckStrong showing up to support Arians and saying #ChuckStrong things. Todd Bowles being The Next Great High-Demand Coaching Candidate. John Brown’s promise to his late brother. The missing stars (John Abraham, Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington) cheering their dudes on. Patrick Peterson’s inevitable “We need to appreciate that this is one of THE best players in football” story arc. Kurt Warner giving 290 interviews about how close they came in 2009.

It goes on and on and on. You can SEE them in the Super Bowl. But I believe in the Cardinals simply because they remind me of the 2003 Patriots, an exceptionally well-coached team with a knack for pulling out close games. From October 5, 2003, through February 1, 2004 (the Nipple Bowl), the Patriots ripped off 15 straight wins, with 10 coming by eight points or fewer. And look, I love advanced numbers for football. Those numbers tell us, emphatically, that there’s a pretty thin line between success and failure in close games, that a 16-game football season is a smaller sample size than we realize, and that your luck eventually reverts back to the norm (one way or the other). I understand and concede these points.

But let’s also agree that, occasionally, a football team shows up that just seems comfortable playing close games. For the Cardinals, there are six tangible reasons for this: exceptional coaching, an A-list secondary that shuts down third-and-longs, a superb red zone defense, multiple playmakers who can explode at any time, a running game that can protect tight leads, and a veteran QB who’s too old to get scared. (And that’s not counting what’s become the best home-field advantage in football now that the 12th Man has contracted bandwagonitis.) And yet, Arizona’s intangibles are just as impressive. I loved what Brian Billick wrote this week:

“The Cardinals are playing loose and with a confidence bordering on arrogance. You don’t necessarily want your guys making ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’ videos, but you do like that authentic sense of self-assurance. As Former Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, ‘Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.’ I saw it with my Baltimore Ravens the year we marched to the Super Bowl. They went from hoping they’d win games to knowing they were going to win games, and that can make a crucial difference.”

So to recap …

Bruce Arians: “Swagger is a true belief … I see a true belief that we’re going to win every week.”

Colin Powell: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

Brian Billick: “I saw it with my Baltimore Ravens the year we marched to the Super Bowl.”

I’m in! I’m all in! Sign me up! I don’t care if the Cardinals have inadvertently become the “Everybody Believes In Us” team — they’re the NFC’s best football team, I believe in their tangibles and intangibles, and I even kinda-sorta-maybe believe in their QB. Besides, in a 21st century that’s been as goofy as advertised, it makes perfect sense that Carson Palmer would start a home Super Bowl game … right? Please manage your gambling wagers accordingly.

On to the Week 10 picks …

(Home teams in caps)

Browns (+6.5) over BENGALS
I picked the Browns on Instagram because the line was three points too high, but also because of Andy Dalton’s slow-simmering meltdown and these two emails (from last weekend):

Al in Cincy: “Is it too late for the Bengals to redo Dalton’s deal to pay him based upon the schedule? He’s really good in 1:00 Sunday games at home against teams that are, at best, slightly above average. He could get paid the pro-rated max for those games, then a sliding scale down to prime time games (which he could work pro-bono). As a Bengal fan I would feel better knowing that he’s not getting paid for crumbling under the lights. This week would be interesting — a prime time home game against both the City of Cincinnati’s arch-rival and the football gods who seemed determine to have Cleveland stay just good enough that Johnny Football does not see the field. I’d say veteran minimum for this one.”

John May in Vermont: “Do you ever recreate CBS commentary on Andy Dalton in Morgan Freeman’s voice in your head? I do it all the time, and I might be losing my mind.

“‘In 2014, Andy Dalton escaped from the pocket and threw another pick under pressure. All they found of him was a set of bushy ginger eyebrows, a helmet that looked like the furniture in Hugh Hefner’s bedroom, and a tired arm, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man six hundred years to win a Super Bowl with it. Old Andy let us know he wouldn’t do it in less than five. Oh, Andy loved geology. I imagine it appealed to his maladroit nature. A fumble here, million picks there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time. That, and a horrible offensive line. Like I said, in Cincinnati a man will do most anything to keep his mind occupied. Turns out Andy’s favorite hobby was throwin’ his ball away on the football field, a fanful at a time. I guess after Gio was killed, Andy decided he’d been here just about long enough. Andy did like he was told, muffed those plays with a high ginger whine. The coaches simply didn’t notice. Neither did I … I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s hair? Andy crawled to Cleveland through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards … that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of what Roethlisberger throws every week.’

“Anyway, once you start saying things in your head like Morgan Freeman, you can’t stop. Be careful.”

(We liked John May from Vermont immediately. Also, how could I lay 6.5 points with the Bengals after those two emails! Is it time for AJ McCarron and Katherine Webb to become the First Couple of Cincinnati? Are we there yet?)

Jaguars (+7.5) over COWBOYS
Does anyone else love that we keep torturing the English by sending them terrible football games? They shouldn’t have messed with us in the 1700s — it’s their fault. I fully expect the Cowboys to finish 8-8 again, which means they’re blowing this game to Bad News Blake Bortles. My upset special: Jags 24, Cowboys 10.

Q: In your Sal podcast, you said you wouldn’t put Romo on the plane if you were running the team. But if you don’t take Romo to London, you’re killing the morale of the team. Do you really want your team spending a 12-hour flight thinking about how terrible Brandon Weeden was?
—Dustin, Houston, TX

BS: That’s a great point — even if Romo spends the entire flight standing in the aisle and repeatedly telling people, “I can’t sit down, I have two broken bones in my back, holy shit this hurts, I wish someone would dip me in a tub filled with Toradol,” at least that’s better than, “Tony isn’t on this plane.”

Q: Wouldn’t it be the perfect plan/secret coverup for the Cowboys to fly Romo to London under the guise that he may be able to play in the game, but instead spend the week (and bye week if need be) smuggling him into Germany and getting the magical back cure (Regenokine)? Seems like the only reasonable explanation to make Romo fly all the way to Europe with a fractured back … But obviously reason goes right out the window with Jerry Jones. I for one cannot wait for the inevitable 8-8 Cowboys finish!
—Dan S., Johnson City, NY

BS: America is giddy! If they blow this Jags game, they’re suddenly 6-4. From there: bye week, at Giants, home for Philly, at Chicago and Philly, home for Indy, at Washington. Come on, they could blow four of those! Let’s do this! We want 8 and 8! We want 8 and 8!

New England’s Bye Week (-8) over Houston’s Bye Week
Presented without comment …

Q: Hi Bill, as a Texas Ex, I still believe Colt has a chance to make it and found your Week 9 comment (“And hold your heads high, the 20 UT fans who still believed Colt McCoy might make it!”) hilarious. I decided to email it to my college buddies and here are the results:

Me: “How many of the 20 are in this email??”

David B: “Alright you have one of the twenty here. Watching Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Texans starter I say Colt is every bit as talented.”

Howard: “Watching Colt play just made me nostalgic for a QB at Texas who can make accurate passes to receivers on his own team. He’s no Manning but he isn’t any worse than Fitzpatrick.”

Joe: “He’ll be the starting QB for the Texans next year as they get rid of Fitzpatrick!! It was awesome to see him win in the Death Star.”

Bill, Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2015 Houston Texans!! Hook’em!
—Sal, Munich

BS: You left out, “Ryan Mallett: You guys aren’t even giving me a chance?” By the way, I think we should put a bow on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career as a starting QB.

Record as a starter: 31-54-1
Number of NFL teams that started him: 5
Number of winning seasons: 0
Most wins in one season: 6
Career: 117 touchdown passes, 101 picks, 28 lost fumbles, 185 sacks, 78.4 rating6

Here’s why I brought this up. The internet offers just about everything at this point, right? Why can’t I look up the career winning percentages of everyone who ever started an NFL game? I can find a comprehensive (and excellent) breakdown of the worst DYAR seasons from 1991-2012, but I can’t find a simple list of the worst QB winning percentages? Has anyone started 85 NFL games and won less than Fitzpatrick? We know Joey Harrington finished 26-50 and David Carr finished 23-56 … but did anyone win a lower percentage of 85 or more games than Fitzpatrick’s minus-23?

Fortunately, Grantland has one of the best editorial assistants/competitive eaters in the world: the one and only Danny Chau. Here’s what Danny found out: Only one player in football since 1920 has won less than Fitzpatrick after starting at least 85 games, a 5-foot-9 quarterback named Eddie “The Little General” LeBaron, who had a 26-52-3 record from 1952 to 1963.

San Diego’s Bye Week (-5.5) over Washington’s BYE WEEK
Q: Every analyst is jumping off the Chargers bandwagon like it’s carrying rabid dogs. Maybe it’s just out of room because it’s carrying all of Rivers’ children. Are the Chargers building themselves up to be the “nobody believes in us” team this year? They have all of the pieces — injured players that can fill the gaps, a defense that has been good when healthy, and a QB from the 2004 draft class that can catch fire. If Eli and Ben could do it twice, why can’t Rivers? NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!!

—Brian Djavaherian

BS: Glad you brought this up. Right now, the Chargers are 5-4 and coming off three straight losses to a definite Super Bowl contender (Denver), a possible Super Bowl contender (Miami) and a probable 10-win team (Kansas City, a game that could have gone either way). They have a bye week to lick their wounds (and get healthy), then home games against Oakland and St. Louis. Let’s say they win those two. After that — at Baltimore, home for New England, home for Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City. And they can’t finish worse than 10-6.

I mean … even I don’t believe in them. And I picked them to be a Super Bowl contender.

(In other words … literally, NOBODY BELIEVES IN YOU, SAN DIEGO!!!! Keep an eye on this one.)

Minnesota’s Bye Week (+8) over Indy’s Bye Week
Q: I’m sure you’ve gotten 100 emails on this, but the guy who had Adrian Peterson in my fantasy league dropped him last week. I have top priority this week so I can grab him for the stretch if his suspension is ended. This is clearly the best move from a fantasy perspective, but as a father it makes me feel ‘unclean.’ What should I do?
—Jacob, Somerville

BS: Hmmmmmm … I don’t know. Let’s ask Thom Yorke.

BILLS (+2) over Chiefs
Grabbing the points for four reasons: home dog, Buffalo fans, Sammy Watkins and the undeniable reality that we haven’t had one of those patented Andy Reid snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory games in five solid weeks. Remember, he’s good for three a year and we’ve had only one so far (Week 5, San Francisco). Speaking of Sammy …

Q: I know he isn’t there yet, but how many more holy shit plays are needed before Sammy Watkins is deserving of a nickname? We have MegaTron, so I was thinking Sammy would be MegaWatt.
—David, New York

BS: Come on, you don’t need a nickname when your first name is “Sammy,” and you definitely don’t need a nickname when you’re “Sammy Watkins.” That name is better than anything a screenwriter could make up. Let’s all agree never to call him anything other than Sammy Watkins.

But you know what we DO need a nickname for? Anytime Mike Carey awkwardly breaks down any review of one of Jerome Boger’s atrocious calls. It’s like the streams crossing in Ghostbusters. Send me the best nickname and I’ll run it next week.

Dolphins (+3) over LIONS
Great game. Like both of these teams. I had the Lions all week but couldn’t shake the memory of Week 8’s amazing Bad-Coach-Off between Jim Caldwell and Mike Smith that, frankly, might warrant its own 30 for 30 at this point. What if I told you that two coaches would travel to England and proceed to play checkers in a sport where everyone else plays chess? ESPN Films presents a new original film, Eyes Wide Shut, directed by Michael Davies. Two of my favorite emails after that game …

Joe in North Carolina: “You forgot Gambling Rule #437: Anytime Jim Caldwell coaches in another continent, his team will score zero points in the first half while he wonders where he is. Take the other team.”

Andrew in Ann Arbor: “Jim Caldwell’s weekday coaching deserves a nomination for Sneaky Good Watch status. The Lions commit considerably fewer dumb penalties, turn the ball over less, and are generally a much less stupid football team this year. Under Schwartz facing the kind of adversity they had the last few weeks, they would have fallen apart and been blown out. That said, Jim Caldwell’s gameday coaching definitely needs to be included in the Shaky Watch this week. He punted on 4th-and-6 from the opponent’s 37 down 14, kicked a FG from the 2 down 21, kicked another FG from the 4 down 11, decided to settle for a 48 yard FG despite the Lions kicking woes, and most amazingly ran the ball with no timeouts left on third down and 25 seconds left. Which means his plan was to sprint the field goal team onto the field, which almost never works. And to give me an aneurysm.”

And I’m supposed to take Caldwell’s Lions against a cresting Miami team that might be REALLY good? No thank you. Speaking of Miami …

Q: When we bet on sports, there are a crazy amount of variables to consider. One that’s never prominently featured is the Emotional X-Factor. I bet against the Steelers last week; you did as well. Did you know ahead of time that they were going to retire Joe Greene’s number at halftime of that game? I sure didn’t. I also bet against the Dolphins, not realizing that Joe Philbin’s father had just passed away just two days prior. Obviously, as soon as the game kicked off and the announcer emphasized the Dolphins were about to play “inspired football” I knew how that one was going to play out. Can you please make some room in your weekly columns to account for these kinds of non-football variables? Sometimes I really feel like they matter more than the actual players on the field!
—Michael S-G, New York

BS: Couldn’t agree more. And I try to pick games accordingly. For instance, I felt bad for Philbin and his family, but at some point, you drift into “I wonder how that will affect the game” mode. And many times, emotion carries the day with this stuff — especially in football. But as Michael points out, we need a better system for capturing non-football variables — definitely a Twitter feed (I don’t know what it should be called, but it should exist) for now, but when ESPN launches a gambling channel someday (and why wouldn’t we?), that’s the kind of stuff I want to see crossing the ticker. The Dolphins love their coach — they played hard for him last Sunday, and they’re going to play hard for him this Sunday.

SAINTS (-6) over Niners
I can’t believe the Saints have a chance to go from 2-4 to 12-4. They’re catching the Niners at a perfect time, right when I’m getting emails like this …

Q: My brother and I just realized what the Jim Harbaugh era is. It’s mirroring M. Night Shyamalan’s career.

2011 – NFC Championship Game = Sixth Sense. (Wow that was awesome! Didn’t see that coming.)

2012 – Superbowl = Unbreakable. (Hey that was solid! Can’t wait for many more like this. The guy can’t miss. BEST COACH/DIRECTOR OUT THERE RIGHT NOW!)

2013 – NFC Championship Game = Signs. (Solid, but got a little bumpy. Next one will be better for sure.)

2014 – 4-4 so far = The Village. (Um WTF was that? Seriously???)

2015 = Lady in the Water (HOLY HELL!!! GET ME OUT OF HERE!!)

We need to get rid of Harbaugh ASAP! Just let the Jets have 2016 – THE YEAR OF THE HARBAUGH CRAPPENING.
—Jay Cohen, San Francisco

BS: Come on — we all know that Harbaugh is out of there after the season. Five months from now, M. Night Harbaughlan is going to be filming Lady in the Water in New York with Geno Smith. It’s coming. I wish we could bet on this.

JETS (+6) over Steelers
Q: I can’t believe you wrote an article in which you bitch about the Patriots. Try being a Jets fan. Fuck you.
—Dan D.

BS: Didn’t you read what just I wrote? You’re getting M. Night Harbaughlan! Things are looking up! By the way, I think the Jets somehow cover this one. Can’t explain it. The line is suspiciously, curiously low for reasons that CANNOT be explained.

Q: Watching the Sunday Night Football game and listening to Al and Cris marvel at the incredible “James Harrison was retired three weeks ago and now is somehow playing like one of the best linebackers in the game” story for the 50th time that quarter, I couldn’t be the only one to come up with an easy explanation for that “somehow?”
—Zach H., Cleveland

BS: The Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry, everybody! It’s heating up!

RAVENS (-10) over Titans
Broncos (-12) over RAIDERS

Two-Team Teaser alert!

Sound the alarm!!!!!


BUCS (+3) over Falcons
Empathy for Falcons Fans (-2.5) over EMPATHY FOR BUCS FANS

I’m not watching one minute of this game. And neither should you. The better question: Which fan base is more depressed right now? Normally you’d lean toward Atlanta because the Falcons have never won a Super Bowl, but check out this email from Al Jespee:

“Which will end up more disappointing: the cream of the 2013 NBA draft or the 2013 NFL quarterback class? Mike Glennon is FAR AND AWAY the best QB of that group. Not only that, but thanks to passing stat inflation, he’s on his way to becoming the best quarterback in Buccaneers history! He’s going to finish this season seventh in passing touchdowns. After less than two years! And he’s already fifth in career passer rating behind four generic Jon Gruden projects. God this team is depressing. I miss Raheem.”

My verdict: I’m grabbing the points while also feeling more empathetic for the Falcons in the Most Depressed NFC South Fan Base battle. One Super Bowl appearance, no Lombardis, the Michael Vick thing, Eugene Robinson, 20 years when I can’t remember anyone on their team other than Billy “White Shoes” Johnson … I mean, at least Tampa DID win a Super Bowl, right?

Rams (+7) over CARDS
Here’s where you say, “Wait a second, didn’t you just pick the Cards to go to the Super Bowl? Is this why your picks suck so much?” The short answers — yes and yes. The longer answer: This has all the making of the “Everyone teases Arizona because they’re a sure thing in the middle of a week of Super Bowl hype, only to freak out when the Rams go up 10-0” game. I see the Cards clawing back and winning by three or fewer.

Quickly on the Rams: They’re the NFL version of me as a golfer. I started playing golf again this year after a self-imposed 20-year hiatus, which is actually a good story that I will tell some other time. In the past six months, I’ve played 15 times. My game is slowly coming back. Right now, I’m shooting between 95 and 100 from the blues. And every round is the same — I have four awesome holes and four horrible ones, with a slew of bogeys and double bogeys in between. That makes me a good best-ball partner as long as I’m playing with someone good.

That’s the Rams — you’d want them for best ball, but not real life. During a 16-game season, they’re going to bogey or double bogey eight holes, fall apart on four holes and overachieve on four holes. They already birdied Week 7 (the Seattle game) and shot par in Week 9 (the Niners win). In Week 10, I see them crushing a great drive on a par-4, just missing the approach, then three-putting for a frustrating bogey. I swear, this made more sense before I started writing it.

Q: You may be on to something with this, “team is due for a stinker” theory. Looks like Denver just had theirs, which really only leaves one team … Arizona. Should we expect a stinker out of Arizona sometime soon? Or have they been inoculated to having a stinker game by virtue of playing several mediocre games?
—Isaiah, Oneonta, NY

BS: I think Arizona’s stinker game is coming either next week (home for Detroit) or in Seattle (Week 12). Every NFL team plays one crappy game per season. You can’t avoid it.

SEAHAWKS (-9.5) over Giants
Check out this addition to this week’s Shakey’s Pizza Watch, Presented by Jim Caldwell: Andy Dalton, Andy Dalton a second time, the Chargers/Niners O-lines, Teddy Bridgewater’s deep balls, Denver’s special teams, Wes Welker, the Wilson-Kaepernick rivalry, Peyton in bad weather, Cam Newton, Dallas’s D, Jadeveon Clowney’s rookie cards, the 2013 QB draft class, and in all caps … THE 12TH MAN.

That’s right, Seattle. You know I love your city and you know I hate how OKC stole the Sonics from you. But save for opening night, your crowds have sucked this season. Peyton Manning went 80 yards in like three seconds to force OT on you. You lost to Dallas at home. You couldn’t blow out the lowly Raiders last week, for God’s sake. Are you suffering from Pink Hat Syndrome (a.k.a. too many bandwagon fans)? Are you taking this stuff for granted now? What’s up? You’re like the husband who marries his dream girl and immediately stops working out and puts on 25 pounds. Get back on the treadmill. “The 12th Man” used to mean something.

Oh, and by the way, Arizona took your “Best Crowd in the League” corner. The Cardinals fans just swooped right in and stole it from you. You’re Avon, they’re Marlo. That’s a fact. Do you care? Do you care at all? NOW GO OUT THERE ON SUNDAY AND BE THE CROWD I KNOW YOU CAN BE!

PACKERS (-7) over Bears
Q: Today I got an update on my phone saying Mike McCarthy signed an extension. I immediately took a screenshot and sent it to my fantasy league and all I said was “F-CK.” Everyone sent back something talking about how much we thought McCarthy sucks except for the two Bears fans and they were happy. I know the guy “won” a Super Bowl but it has more to do with Rodgers being great than McCarthy coaching the team to a win. What does this say about our playoff/Super Bowl chances? When Bears fans are happy about something the Packers did it can’t be good right??
—Travis, Milwaukee, WI

BS: The good news … Jay Cutler is coming to town!

That brings us to the Sneaky-Good Watch for Week 10: Jeremy Maclin’s contract year, Miami’s pass D (first in QBR allowed), the ceiling of New England’s pass D, Jerick McKinnon, DeSean Jackson’s F.U. season, Brandon Browner’s 2001 Bryan Cox potential, Jamie Collins’s All-Pro potential, Ryan Tannehill’s athletic ability, Football Baby, Travis Kelce’s Heath Miller 2.0 potential, and anytime Jay Cutler comes to town.

EAGLES (-7) over Panthers
Two of Grantland’s finest employees are Sean Fennessey and Chris Ryan. They happen to be close friends, they occasionally drive to and from work together, and they can even communicate in staff meetings just by glancing at one another. Fennessey is a long-suffering Jets fan; Ryan is a long-suffering Eagles fan. Once upon a time, Mark Sanchez tortured Fennessey to the point that he thought about quitting football completely. This was rock bottom.

In 2014, the Sanchize landed in Philly as Chip Kelly’s reclamation project. Last week, Nick Foles broke his collarbone and Sanchez saved the day against Houston. He looked good enough that some people (a) picked him up in fantasy football, and (b) wondered if he could have a Plunkett-esque rejuvenation in Philly. And even if Chris Ryan will deny it to the death, deep down, he’s talking himself into the parallel “I mean, Sanchez did play in an AFC title game and beat the Patriots in the playoffs on the road” and “If anyone can turn him around, it’s Chip Kelly” narratives. Again, he’d never admit this. But he’s thinking it.

And Fennessey? He’s just sitting there with a big smile on his face, like someone in college with a crazy ex who just found out that his or her good friend might be falling for that crazy ex. Should I intervene here? Nahhhhhhhhh. We all know how this season is going for Jets fans — they’re going to finish 2-14 or 3-13 and miss out on whatever franchise QB is sitting there by one pick, then they’re going to chase Jim Harbaugh for weeks only to watch him sign somewhere else at the last minute. They’ll end up settling for Jim Schwartz or Gary Kubiak as their head coach because they’re the Jets. But at the very least, they get to root for Mark Sanchez to screw up the 2014 Eagles … right?

(Gambling Manifesto Rule No. 72B: When in doubt, always bet against any scenario that might bring joy to Jets fans.)

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 7-6
Season: 96-39


This column has been updated to reflect that Ben Roethlisberger was alleged to have assaulted women in both Lake Tahoe and Georgia; the original column conflated the two incidents.

Filed Under: NFL, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals

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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