If you missed my Friday column trying to figure out the exact moment when God started hating Cleveland (and whether He actually does hate Cleveland), click here.
And now, the Week 16 picks …
(Home teams in caps.)
JAGS (-4) over Titans
Why did I lay that many points with the now 3-12 Jags? Because Matt from London reminded me before the game, “Do you realize the Jags have a chance to (possibly) gift the #1 overall pick to a team in their division for the third time in four years? Handing Andrew Luck, Jadeveon Clowney and Marcus Mariota to the rest of their division has to go right to the top of Jags fans’ all-time grievances.” Don’t worry, everything will flip when you become the London Werewolves.
Q: I know you’ve gotten fully behind the London Werewolves, but shouldn’t a team based in London be called the London Fat Ignorant Americans? It would be following the historic NFL tradition of naming a team in a way that is extremely insulting to a group who are completely unrelated to the team in any way.
—Jaice Granson, Campbell River, BC
BS: Allow me to revise my previous answer — “Don’t worry, everything will flip when you become the London Fat Ignorant Americans.”
Eagles (-8) over WASHINGTON
Q: Just finished reading your Dan Snyder column. What if you put in various clauses for sports owners that, if not met, would allow the league to take over the team and sell it? For example: if you don’t make a playoff appearance in 10 consecutive years; if you don’t finish at least .500 in five consecutive years; if you hire more than five coaches over any consecutive 10 year stretch. Wouldn’t non-financial deterrents force these guys to ‘give a crap’ and save us from a Sterling/Snyder type situation?
—Anthony Falco, Ancaster
BS: This wouldn’t happen for the same reason that you wouldn’t push to bump the worst owner from your fantasy league. The other owners look at Snyder the same way you look at the guy in your fantasy league who just had his third kid, works 75 hours a week and asks things before the draft like, “Golden Tate is still on Seattle, right?” You WANT that guy in your league.
Chargers (+1) over 49ERS
The Niners scored 56 points total in their last five games, got knocked out of the playoffs, got punked by the Seahawks twice in three weeks, had to release Ray McDonald because of yet another “incident,” dealt with nonstop rumors that their coach is leaving, and have a QB going full-scale Josh Freeman on us. And it’s a must-win game for the Chargers. What am I missing? Is this a trap?
Q: Just make it stop. Let it end. Watching these last three Niners games felt like the Red Wedding all over again, with our joy playing the role of Rob Stark’s wife’s stomach.
—Robbie B., Healdsburg, CA
BS: Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 San Francisco 49ers! Seriously, how are the Chargers GETTING points? This is a trap. Has to be a trap.
Q: Isn’t this Jim Harbaugh/Colin Kaepernick/49ers thing playing out like the plot of Any Given Sunday with Tony D’Amato/Willie Beamen, just stretched out over a couple seasons instead of the one in the movie? And aren’t we well within range for Harbaugh to leave for Oakland, swing a trade for Kaep and live out a real life sports movie plot?
—Tom, Brownsburg, Indiana
BS: I love the Kaep/Beamen parallels, but there’s no way M. Night Harbaughlan pulls off the “Inches” speech. I’m sorry. By the way, Any Given Sunday and For Love of the Game were the two sports movies from the past 15 years that ALMOST got there, had a slew of good scenes, desperately need a quality re-edit … and yet, I watch them every time they’re on. Wait, the inches are all around us? Are we sure?
Q: Now that the Harbaugh-era 49ers are on their last legs, can we look back and add them to Chris Connelly’s list of “critically-acclaimed” teams? There’s never been a great-but-not-championship NFL team with more drama: the rivalry with Seattle, Harbaugh’s sideline antics, the Smith/Kaepernick QB controversy, the comet-like rise of Kaep in 2012, the Aldon Smith & Ray McDonald suspensions this year, the hoopla over the new stadium, the front-office power-struggle … it’s all there except the Lombardi trophy. There hasn’t been a team this critically-acclaimed since the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns, right?
—Tony, Mountain View, CA
BS: I went to the Critically Acclaimed Czar for an answer. Here’s what Chris Connelly says …
“The 49ers? Really, Tony? Sure, there’s been no shortage of drama … but shouldn’t a critically acclaimed team (or player) leave behind a buzz of delight and warm feeling? Put it this way: the most critically acclaimed movie of the year is Boyhood. In the 49ers’ remake of Boyhood, the kid is showered with love and encouragement … until his mother attempts to adopt the angry professor’s far more accomplished son; eventually the family welcomes a new arrival from Las Vegas, and the kid is sent to boarding school out-of-state. So I’m gonna go with ‘no’ — though I suppose you could say the end of the last couple of 49ers’ seasons gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘The moment seizes us.’”
Patriots (-10.5) over JETS
Q: If you wrote an all-Patriots Mail Bag, I would be so mad about the jinx potential, but I would still read every word. We’re really sorry about our incredibly good looking quarterback who is also the winningest m’fer in NFL history.
—Jonathan Flanders, Austin
BS: That just about sums up Pats fans right now. Confident, defiant, very conscious of the rug that can be pulled out from underneath us. Just give me five more healthy Gronk games. Just five more. Then he can make 20 terrible commercials, knock boots with the Top Chef host, open a kitten orphanage … I don’t care. Five more healthy Gronk games, please.
Q: The Jets are so incompetent that we cannot even lose games when we need to. Losing was our biggest strength as an organization, the skill that might have landed us our savior, Marcus Mariota, but now we get to draft some anonymous right tackle and suck for another five years. Bill Simmons, you will never understand the struggle of the life of a Jets fan.
—Tyler, Washington, D.C.
BS: That’s the thing — I do understand! I was a Patriots fan from 1974 through 2001. We were kindred spirits with Jets fans for four solid decades. You drafted Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino; we drafted Tony Eason over Dan Marino. We were black sheep brothers! You even stole Parcells from US. If anything, you had the upper hand before 2001 thanks to that Super Bowl you won. And you’ll probably grab the upper hand back after Brady retires and Belichick retires to launch the Boomer and Belichick morning show on ESPN Radio with Chris Berman. The point is …
Q: One plus with regard to the Jets season is that I don’t have to listen to Dan Dierdorf anymore. So, we’ve got that going for us.
—Dan, New York, NY
BS: See, things are looking up!
Q: A few days before your Washington/Snyder column, I asked a friend, “Would you rather be a fan of Washington or the Jets?” He looked at me and without any hesitation he says the Jets, and it’s not close.
—Cale, Northfield, MN
BS: It’s getting better and better! By the way, if you missed it, I did a podcast with Larry David on Tuesday and we spent a few minutes discussing his favorite team (yes, the Jets).
Ravens (-6) over TEXANS
Everything continues to break Baltimore’s way. The Ravens’ secondary absolutely stinks, only they lucked out with Miami and Jacksonville these past two weeks, then will draw Houston’s ghastly Case Keenum–Thad Lewis duo on Sunday AND Johnny Football next weekend. For all we know, they’re getting Alex Smith or Kyle Orton or Andy Dalton in Round 1. I’m onto you, Ravens. Just remember, the karma chameleon is coming. Sing it, George!
Q: I love your Andrew the Giant impersonation on your podcast. Can you please add do a Macho Man Tom Savage one? “I just need to work on some thiiiings with my offense YEAAAAAAAAAAH. I’m not afraid of Case Keenum challenging me for the starting title YEAH. QUIT LOOKING AT JJ! HE’S MINE AND YOU’LL NEVER ever ever have him. I have to improve at dropping my elbow and everything will work out brilliantly YEAH. DIG IT BILL O’BRIEN!!!”
—Taylor, St. Louis
BS: And just like that, I’m rooting for a Week 16 Texans upset, followed by Macho Man Tom Savage coming back from injury to save Houston’s playoff hopes in Week 17. YOU GOT JEALOUS EYES, RYAN FITZPATRICK! OH, YEAHHHHHHHH … YOU GOT JEALOUS EYES!!!!!!!
Q: You said you’d endorse J.J. Watt for MVP if he carried the Texans to a win in Indy. Fitzpatrick got knocked out and the Texans were forced to trot out a fourth-round rookie with exactly zero NFL pass attempts — AND THE TEXANS WERE IN IT AT THE END OF THE GAME!!!! That’s thanks to a positively Herculean effort by the entire defensive unit, anchored by Watt (who, despite double- and even triple-teams and countless uncalled holds throughout the whole game as usual, managed 2 sacks, 2 TFLs, 2 QB hits, and a batted pass). Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers threw up an absolute stinker in Buffalo. Given these results, I humbly request the support of the Simmons Super-PAC for J.J. Watt’s MVP candidacy.
BS: It’s tough for me to give the MVP Award to someone from a .500 team. Floyd Gondolli was a simple man who liked butter in his ass and lollipops in his mouth; I’m a simple man who likes his MVPs to play for a playoff team. That’s just what I like. But feel free to keep trying to sway me with Watt emails. Speaking of Floyd, my buddy House and I broke down our 20 favorite Boogie Nights characters as part of Paul Thomas Anderson Week. It’s a real podcast, Jack.
Q: JJ Watt makes his defensive peers worse just by being JJ Watt. You mentioned Campbell, Dumervil, and Richardson are having all-world seasons, and other guys like Von Miller, Suh, Justin Houston, DeAndre Levy and Marcell Dareus have been great. But this is why Watt should win MVP; NOBODY HAS SPENT ANY TIME ON THESE GUYS BECAUSE JJ WATT IS BANE PLUS THE ALIENS FROM SPACE JAM. Nobody else is freaking eligible for the DPOY, right? Rodgers, Brady and Peyton don’t do that. Nobody but Watt makes their peers feel average by simply existing.
—Zach Miller, Boston
BS: Now that one swayed me a little. I’ve always been partial to the “He’s SO much better than everyone else who does what he does” argument. But I need one more great Watt email. Anyone?
Q: I believe JJ Watt can do every single thing on the football field better than Thad Lewis and Case Keenum. That includes playing quarterback. I see Casethad Lewnumis looking horribly incompetent for 2.5 quarters, with the game hanging in the balance as the Texans D (mostly just Watt) dominates and Flacco struggles. So why not let Watt warm up at QB, take a couple snaps and see if he can at least put his shoulder down and move the ball? Keep in mind, there is nothing JJ Watt can’t do on a football field right now. You would bet against him being able to get you 8.5 points in a quarter and a half with a delirious crowd fawning over his every move? I wouldn’t. Rodgers struggling last week was a sign from the Football Gods — this is Watt’s year to win MVP. As a Houston diehard, I can honestly say JJ Watt excelling at quarterback while the crowd chants “MVP” for 45 straight minutes would be the franchise’s proudest moment. If nothing else, I might have just written you the opening act of Power Wattage starring James Wattman.
—Stephen, South Bend
BS: You know what was great about that email? Stephen from South Bend is totally right. First, I’d feel better about Houston’s offense with Watt playing QB just because he’s J.J. Watt and his general invincibility feels so much more threatening than anything Keenum or Lewis would bring to the table. Just think about how crazy that is. And second, Watt repeatedly taking shotgun snaps and ramming through the line as the crowd chants “MVP! MVP! MVP!” would be one of the most exciting football moments in like 30 years. Can you imagine? It reminds me of William Goldman’s incredible story in Wait Till Next Year (one of my favorite sports books) about an aging Bronko Nagurski coming into a Bears game and turning into a battering ram one last time. Anyway, my MVP vote has been swung. The fact that a defensive player just submitted such an incredible season that I wouldn’t bet against him if they inexplicably played him at QB … I mean, what does that tell you?
Browns (+4) over PANTHERS
Vikings (+6) over DOLPHINS
Packers (-12) over BUCS
Giants (+6.5) over RAMS
My tentative plan: I’m skipping 240 of the 240 combined minutes of these four games. Of course, if Johnny Football starts scampering around and doing Johnny Football things …
Q: A month after The Catch, is it fair to say there’s been a spike in men naming their penises Odell Beckham Jr?
—Josh, San Mateo
BS: There’s no question. It’s replaced Barkevious Mingo as the go-to NFL penis name. Congratulations, ODB.
Q: I had to hit pause on my DVR about ten times during the final fifteen minutes of the last episode of The Affair. If your wife didn’t secretly search your drawers after watching that, congratulations — you’ve found true love.
—Kevin Y., Williamsburg, MA
BS: I realized a few days ago that my favorite TV shows right now are The Walking Dead (about a zombie apocalypse), Homeland (about Middle Eastern terrorism), The Affair (about a cheating husband who ruins his life) and The Missing (about a couple who go crazy after losing their young son). First of all, I think I need to loosen up a little. And second, if they ever created a show about a cheating husband who loses his son during a terrorist zombie apocalypse, I’m all in! SIGN ME UP!
Lions (-9.5) over BEARS
Lost in all the Jay Cutler coverage — Jim Caldwell finally showed some emotion on the sideline last week!
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Even if multiple readers compared Caldwell’s reaction to “A puppet having his fist pulled across his face,” don’t lose sight of the bigger point: If Jim Caldwell is unleashing fist pumps on the sideline, we’re moving closer and closer to the day when he might actually say something into his headset. I’m on pins and needles.
Q: Would you EVER play poker with Jim Caldwell? He has the same face if his daughter was kidnapped by the Eastern European enemies of Liam Neeson or won the $346 million lottery. He might suck as a coach, but I would never raise the river on that dude in Texas hold-em.
Q: Who’s more emotional — Jay Cutler or Jim Caldwell? ESPN just replayed a close up of Jay Cutler watching his telegraphed pass to Jeffrey get picked off, with no reaction whatsoever. Cutler should retire from football, take his $100M, and play poker for a living.
BS: The lesson here — no matter what happens to Cutler and Caldwell from a football standpoint, they have a pay-per-view heads-up poker match sitting there for them whenever they want it.
Q: My buddy and I bought a Jay Cutler bobblehead for the office White Elephant swap, just to torture our colleague who is an unfortunate Bear’s fan. She ended up actually getting the Jay Cutler package, just like we had planned. But then, my buddy stole it back on his turn, and now we hide the bobblehead around the office so that she randomly stumbles upon it at unexpected moments. P.S. when you Google “Jay Cutler Bobblehead”, the first link is to the Chicago Bears Official Store, and the link is broken.
—Richard S and James B
BS: Things just aren’t going well for Jay Cutler right now.
Q: A perfect example of the difference between fantasy and reality has been Jay freaking Cutler the last two weeks. In the 4th quarter, with those Saints/Cowboys games well out of reach, he was a combined 23-of-32 for 294 yards and 3 TDs (plus a rushing TD), for a QB rating of 131.5. Yes, I’m bitter. The garbage TD last night with 30 seconds left bounced me out of the playoffs. Another reason to hate the biggest tool in sports.
—Chris M, Nashua
BS: Jay Cutler. Bad times.
Q: Whats a worse sentence for Bears fans to hear on Monday Night Football: Tirico saying “With that interception, Cutler passes Blake Bortles for most interceptions on the year” or Gruden saying “Maybe the Bears should have gone with McCown?” I honestly can’t figure out which statement is more depressing.
BS: Come on, Gruden’s statement was much worse — Josh McCown has as many wins for the 2014 Bucs (one) as press conferences in which he broke down crying (one). But hey, at least the Bears have a good coach. Hold on, there’s more from Shaun in Winnipeg!
Q: Your photo and mention of Trestman’s book, “Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork” made me laugh. When he coached in the CFL and won those Grey Cups with Montreal, he was gifted with possibly the greatest QB in CFL history. In the two years he won the Grey Cup he had a QB who went 776 for 1112, 9,478 YDS, 58 TDs and 13 INTs. That’s over two years! trust me, Winnipeg went 1-6 against Montreal in those two years, and no one for a second thinks that the result would have been any different if you picked up a kid who had played maybe 15-20 hours of Madden. Trestman is terrible!
BS: Now that’s why you come to my Friday column — for inside info from CFL diehards in Winnipeg. By the way, couldn’t you have sent me this email 15 months ago, Shaun? You could have saved me some money and a slew of failed Bears picks. Dammit.
Q: I run a Fantasy Football league back in my hometown of Chicago and this season we just implemented our first Toilet Bowl. The subject of a traveling trophy for the yearly Toilet Bowl champ had been a matter of intense debate. But, thanks to you, we now know exactly what will forever be handed down through the years to the worst team in our league: a copy of Trestman’s “Perseverance”, which we didn’t know existed until last Friday’s column.
—DB, Laguna Beach
BS: It’s been a historically bad QB-coach combo. I’d put 2014 Cutler-Trestman against just about anyone — they were like Bizarro Brady-Belichick. If anyone can think of a more inept QB-coach combo this century, email it to me, please.
Falcons (+6.5) over SAINTS
RAIDERS (+7) over Bills
STEELERS (-3) over Chiefs
I genuinely like all of these picks: Atlanta can throw on New Orleans; Kyle Orton shouldn’t be laying that many points in Oakland in a must-win game no matter how well his defense is playing; and Pittsburgh is the AFC’s monkey wrench playoff team. By the way, I thought Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier made a terrific case for Pittsburgh being a legitimate threat to New England and Denver. Here’s the story he wrote — I thought I’d link to it directly instead of embedding that column on another Grantland window that gives us the page view while also keeping you on our site. Because that would be scummy. Merry Christmas, Bleacher Report.
Q: We’ve always heard that shirts and hats are made for both teams in the Super Bowl and NBA Finals. Then after the games the shirts of the team that has the losing team as champion are donated to Africa. Can we all agree that the actual NFC South champion shirts should be donated to Africa?
—Mike, Santa Monica
BS: Like, right now. What are we waiting for? Just send them early so they can have them before Christmas. Like anyone in Atlanta, New Orleans or Carolina would wear them.
Q: I was listening to your podcast with Cousin Sal, and you asked, “Now that Seattle-San Francisco is dead, what is the best rivalry in football?” I immediately said, “Andy Reid Vs The Clock”. But then I wavered, because “Mike Smith Vs 4th Down” is just as compelling.
—Scott T Kenny, Seattle
BS: Those are great choices. My top six NFL rivalries right now …
2. Mike Smith–Fourth Down
6. Andy Reid–The Clock
(And finishing last for the third straight year … Titans-Jags!)
Colts (+3.5) over COWBOYS
Look, I don’t love the Colts, either. But if you think Andrew Luck can’t …
1. Win this game by himself against a team with a lousy defense, a banged-up QB, a running back with a broken hand, a legacy of December misfortune and no home-field advantage whatsoever, and
2. Give you a garbage-time backdoor cover TD pass down 10 with 65 seconds remaining,
… then I don’t know what to tell you.
Q: I love Andrew Luck, but I continue to read articles like this and wonder whether he is crazy or crazy like a fox. Is he too soft to win a Super Bowl?
—Alan O, San Francisco
BS: I fully support Andrew Luck’s ongoing Jedi Mind Trick of niceness. It’s brilliant.
Q: What if we had a televised Goodell firing, only as a show called Decision 2.0? I see a 90 minute episode highlighting the lows of Goodell’s career, with John Clayton discussing the promising run Goodell could have had before going down his trail of screw ups. Every so often the broadcast could cut to Jon Gruden for “Just what the hell were you thinking there?” and Cris Carter for a “Seriously, c’mon, man!” After that, Overlord of Ethics Tim Tebow could talk about how unethical it would be to fire someone who tried his hardest to do a good job, leading the crowd to think he might save Goodell, before he just ends it with his final verdict: “But really, Roger, you failed. You’re fired.” I mean, who wouldn’t watch this? Nobody. The ratings would be off the charts. Think about it.
—Anthony C., Chicago
BS: I’m starting to think you guys send in anti-Goodell emails just because you know I will run them. Am I that easy??? (Thinking.) You’re right, I’m that easy.
What Dallas Got in the Rondo Trade (-14.5) over What Boston Got in the Rondo Trade
I’m saving my thoughts for another time. So long, Rondo. It was fun watching you blossom into someone who mattered, and as someone who watched you for eight-plus years — for better and worse — I am amazed that people don’t see your impending Dallas rejuvenation coming. (Think Rasheed on the 2004 Pistons.) And so long, 2008. Great memories, great era, great times. And with that, I am now ready to Choke More for Okafor.
Seahawks (-9) over CARDINALS
They can’t make this line high enough. And why?
Q: Wait a minute… Oh God… It can’t be… that’s… that’s Ryan Lindley’s music!!
—Ryan, Des Moines
BS: Noooooooooooo! Noooooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooooooooo! MY GOD, RYAN LINDLEY IS CLEANING HOUSE! HE CAN’T STOP THROWING THE BALL TO SEATTLE! Wait, so what would Ryan Lindley’s entrance music be? Wouldn’t it have to be “Better Man” by Pearl Jam? Literally, they can’t find a better man.
Q: It feels like the setup for the worst ripped-from-the-headlines sports-themed horror movie of all time: ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-ONE ATTEMPTS. ZERO TOUCHDOWNS. SEVEN INTERCEPTIONS. THIS SUMMER, RYAN LINDLEY IS: CRAZING ARIZONA.
BS: Well, at least he’s not going against the scariest pass defense in the entire league.
Q: Three facts from a Seahawks NFL nation post on ESPN: The only time Ryan Lindley has played the Seahawks previously? 58-0 … Lindley has never thrown a TD pass in 181 career passes (most attempts in NFL history without a TD) … and Lindley has the worst passing numbers in the NFL over the last three seasons (51.4 completion percentage, only 4.3 yards per attempt). What’s the over/under on points this offense scores on Sunday? 6.5? 3.5? 0.5?
—Stu, Stirling, Scotland
BS: I recommend throwing the Pats and Seahawks in a three-team, 10-point teaser with (pick any third team that you like). If you lose, you do so to either Geno Smith or Ryan Lindley. Acceptable odds.
Q: I’m young, stupid, and have only been a Cardinals/NFL fan since 2006, so I don’t have the greatest sense of history for this kind of topic. Is Ryan Lindley the worst QB to potentially start a playoff game? In my generation the go-to reference for a bad playoff or Super Bowl QB has been Trent Dilfer, but even he wasn’t third or fourth on the depth chart to start the year and wasn’t cut and signed to another team’s practice squad during the season?
—Chance, Columbus, OH
BS: In 2006, I wrote about the The Backhanded Compliment Scale for QBs.
2.0: I mean, he’s not a train wreck or anything.
3.0: You could do worse.
4.0: You could definitely do worse.
5.0: You know, he’s really not that bad.
6.0: I’ll tell ya, he’s NOT that bad.
7.0: Say what you want about the guy, but he makes plays.
8.0: He’s not pretty, but he’s pretty effective.
9.0: You could make the playoffs with this guy.
10.0: Look, if the Ravens could win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer …
I don’t know where Ryan Lindley rates here. Is he just a flat-out 0.0? Are we allowed to go negative? Is he a minus-4? How does this work? As much as I love the thought of Arizona’s unbeaten crowd carrying the “Nobody Believes In Us” Cards to an improbable upset win … I mean … if Seattle goes up by seven points, the game is over, right? There’s nothing worse as a football gambler than having a bad QB against a great defense. Repeat: nothing. Arizona’s offense has as much of a chance against Seattle’s defense as Texas BBQ had against Joe House.
Broncos (-3.5) over BENGALS
Prime Time Peyton Manning against Prime Time Andy Dalton? Thank you, Santa!
Last note: My Week 17 picks column will be coming next Wednesday, on Christmas Eve. And if you missed our latest Grantland Basketball Hour, it’s rerunning on ESPN2 Sunday at 7 p.m. ET and Monday at 11:15 p.m. ET. Enjoy the weekend!
This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 8-6-2
I went 58-0 from Weeks 4 through Week 7. Also, Roger Goodell had no idea what happened inside the elevator with Ray Rice until September 8.