We split Friday’s column into two parts. If you missed my piece about Chainsaw Dan Snyder and the Deadskins, click here. Here are the Week 15 picks.
(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)
RAMS (-5.5) over Cards
I stand by this now-ridiculous pick. The Cards scored 12 points and played Ryan Lindley for 30 percent of the game — what more could you want? Way to kick a field goal down nine on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with six minutes left, Jeff Fisher. No wonder you haven’t won a playoff game in 11 years.
Anyway, the Cards have scored 64 points total in their last five games, so Vegas is currently insulting them with 20-to-1 Super Bowl odds. Repeat: An 11-3 team has 20-1 Super Bowl odds. That’s the best “Nobody Believes In Us” factoid in a couple of years. Remember, the Cardinals ARE undefeated at home. And they ARE a Week 16 home victory over Seattle and a Week 17 road victory over the floundering 49ers away from NEVER LEAVING ARIZONA FOR THE ENTIRE PLAYOFFS. So why wouldn’t you throw down $100 on the Cards at 20-to-1?
Q: WE WANT FAVRE! WE WANT FAVRE! WE WANT FAVRE! WE WANT FAVRE! Why not go for it if your Arizona GM Steve Keim? You know you aren’t getting anywhere in the playoffs with a hobbled Drew Stanton or Ryan Lindley. Hopeful President Elect Bruce Arians needs to show his power if he wants the Democratic nomination come 2016. Bring back Favre. Call up Ed Werder right now.
—Jackson, Glendale, AZ
BS: Oh wait, THAT is why the Cards are 20-1. Because I read that email and thought, He’s right, they should totally sign Brett Favre.
Q: RYAN LINDLEY!!!!!!!! NO!!!!!!!!!! WHY GOD WHY??!!
—Reid Simmons, New York
BS: Might want to bump those odds to 25-to-1.
Q: The final act of your “4th & God” movie is ready to be written! (And you know Roger Goodell would LOVE for ESPN to focus on the wholesome Tim Tebow and not anything else from the past 12 months). Tim Tebow, out of football and humbled by taking a TV job gets the call from Kurt Warner (the original inspiration for the don’t bet against God & Puppies theory) to tell him to do the job he couldn’t finish. That’s right, take the playoff bound Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl Victory. This is the chills moment of the movie!
—Ron Wade, Plymouth Township
BS: Drop those odds to 10-to-1!!!! TEEEEEEEEEE-BOWWWWWWW! Please, find me the one football fan in America who has more confidence in Ryan Lindley than Tim Tebow. I want to meet this person.
PATS (-7.5) over Dolphins
Dear Sports Gods,
I just need six more healthy games from Gronk. Six and only six. I think about this pretty much every hour of every day. Why couldn’t he stay healthy? From a karmic standpoint, he’s played this season perfectly, right? He hasn’t done one dumb thing to antagonize you, right? Please, give me six more healthy Gronk games. I promise he won’t do anything dumb.
Sincerely, Bill Simmons
Q: Congratulations, Simmons! Your Patriots now boast two front runners for this year’s Douchebag Award. I am sure that by now you have seen ESPN Magazine’s “The Softer Side of Gronk” interview featuring a photo of a sleeveless Gronk nuzzling a cute little kitten playfully pawing at his nose. Makers of the 2015 Douchebag Patriots Calendar are already rushing the photo to press. Your recent articles elevating Gronk to super-human status are undercut swiftly and entirely by this pussycat. The only thing Gronk can do now to shake off the Simmons stink and regain his beastliness is to rip off the head of that poor little kitten and drink its blood until it is a raisin. Good job Simmons — you cat-killer.
—Ted, Redwood City, CA
BS: (Belichick voice.) We’re on to Miami.
Q: Do you think JJ Watt ever does that cat interview? Yeah, better bring that Thunderdome line up against Gronk. Watt -5000.
BS: (Belichick voice.) We’re on to Miami.
Q: I know you saw the picture of Gronk with the kitten and the corresponding ESPN fluff piece. You really thought that guy could beat JJ Watt in a fight? The JJ Watt who only lives and breathes to destroy other humans that try to stand in front of him. That’s literally all the guy cares about and he works tirelessly to do it, just read any interview about him ever. He ain’t watching spongebob, he doesn’t know what snuggling means and a kitten that got near him would burst into flames like the flower from Raising Arizona when Tex Cobb drove by.
BS: (Belichick voice.) We’re on to Miami.
Q: What’s the over/under for number of kittens Gronk accidentally murdered Lenny-style during that espnmag photohoot? My friends and I guessed anywhere from 7 to “so many that they ran out and had to photoshop some in,” but we’d love your input, too.
—Cara, Weymouth, MA
BS: (Belichick voice.) We’re on to Miami.
Q: Have you noticed that Ryan Tannehill and Alex Smith are essentially the same player? If you watched the Dolphins-Ravens game, you saw one of the worst secondaries in the NFL completely unafraid that Ryan Tannehill could beat them downfield and jumping every short and intermediate passing route. Remind you of anyone? I can’t wait for the Dolphins to lock Tannehill up for the next 10 years so we can waste away in mediocrity. 19th pick in the draft, here we come!
BS: That made me feel better! WE’RE ON TO MIAMI!!!!!!!
Steelers (-2) over FALCONS
Everything you need to know about the pass-friendly rules in 2014: This is Ben Roethlisberger’s 11th NFL season. He’s 32 years old. He has thrown for 4,000 yards only four times, and he has topped 30 touchdown passes only once. He’s never come within 670 yards of a 5,000-yard season, and he’s never thrown 33 TD passes. This season, he’s on pace to come within a hair of 5,000 yards and throw 36 TDs … and that’s without including this Sunday’s “I’m playing Atlanta’s atrocious defense!!!” bump.
Q: Aren’t you intrigued by the potential of a Mike Smith-Jim Caldwell rematch in Round One? As an Atlanta fan, I see Atlanta somehow being up by 6 points with 5 seconds to go, Detroit with the ball on their own 35, Mike Smith forgets the rule on not being able to take multiple timeouts in the same dead ball period and takes back to back timeouts drawing a 15 yard penalty, moving the ball to midfield. Afterwards, Stafford will complete a hail mary to Megatron who will be wide open in the back of the end zone since during the multiple timeouts, everyone will forget who to cover. Caldwell will then line up to go for 2 because he doesn’t realize he wins with an extra point, only Smith takes his final timeout to let Caldwell think about it, then everyone on the Lions will overrule Caldwell’s decision and they will win by 1. That would pretty much sum up the Mike Smith era.
—Mike, Winston-Salem, NC
BS: My favorite one-game, non-Patriots, 2014 playoffs scenario is the Smith-Caldwell checkers championship in Round 1, narrowly edging Rodgers and the Packers traveling to Arizona to play Brett Favre and the Cardinals in the NFC title game. If Smith-Caldwell happens, Jalen and I might have to do a special Grantland Live postgame studio show on the Grantland Network just to rehash what happened. Jalen, were you surprised when you kicked a field goal down four with three seconds left?
Deadskins (+7) over GIANTS
Raiders (+10) over CHIEFS
Bucs (+3.5) over PANTHERS
Not even Cam Newton’s Ewing Theory potential can get me excited about any of these three games.
BROWNS (-1.5) over Bengals
Q: You called this year’s Chiefs the worst WR crew of this century. Don’t the 2009 Browns hold that title? Leading WR: Mohamed Massaquoi: 34 rec, 624 yards, 3 TDs. Second WR: Chansi Stuckey: 19 rec, 198 yards, 1 TD. It only gets worse. Check it out.
—Matt G., Cleveland
BS: And they had Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson throwing it to them! Cleveland’s 2009 QBs finished with 2,227 passing yards, 11 TDs, 17 picks, 6 fumbles and a combined QBR in the 25 range. This is one of many reasons I am rooting for Johnny Football to work out.
Q: The Factory of Sadness just churned back to life and suddenly all of my orange-and-brown t-shirts are starting to smell like stale beer and briny tears again. Now I predict the Steelers will make a late, improbable run to the Superbowl and Hoyer-the-Pedestrian will get back on the horn with his union-rep to take up some extra shifts at some factory on the outskirts of town. The Browns will win just enough games next season to regress back to their yearly average of five wins, and Jimmy Haslem, tired of scamming truckers and cross-country-vacationers and other middle class pee-ons, will throw a temper tantrum, clean house, and repeat this miserable cycle until the team moves to LA and wins a Super Bowl. All that being said, do you think Johnny Football starts next week or can we expect more of Hoyer the Nighttime Quality Control Manager?
BS: Yet another reason I am rooting for Johnny Football to work out. Come on, Johnny! The world is more fun when you‘re playing football well. It’s just a fact. My Not-Quite-An-Upset Special: Browns 30, Bengals 10.
Texans (+7) over COLTS
And here’s your legitimate Upset Special: Texans 30, Colts 24, J.J. Watt MVP Campaign +1.
Q: Have you seen a defensive player wreak as much havoc on a football field as JJ Watt does since the days of Bobby Boucher?
BS: Great point. He’s the real-life Waterboy. That would be an awesome nickname for J.J. Watt if his name weren’t already “J.J. Watt.”
Q: You missed the mark in your Week 15 column. An action flick starring JJ Watt has to be called Mega Watt. Seriously, ESPN pays you for this?
—RK, Washington DC
BS: I didn’t miss the mark! Hollywood never comes up with the right title for an action movie; it’s always 30 percent off and it never totally achieves its potential. Mega Watt was the obvious pick. But Hollywood would have screwed it up and gone with Power Wattage. Here, I’ll let Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal explain in this recently hacked email exchange.
RUDIN: Did you read the Simmons column? I liked his idea for the J.J. Watt action movie.
PASCAL: I don’t know who Simmons is. Gene Simmons?
RUDIN: Bill Simmons? You’re seriously a studio executive and you don’t read Grantland?
PASCAL: Don’t talk to me that way!
RUDIN: Next time you send me an email with an exclamation point, I will ram it down your throat.
PASCAL: Don’t you fucking threaten me!
RUDIN: You are the dumbest person in Hollywood! YOU COULDN’T MAKE A CUP OF COFFEE!!!
PASCAL: Why r u punishing me?
Q: A useful tiebreaker for an MVP vote with no runaway candidate: who would we want to get the inevitable invitation to host SNL after the season? Is there anyone you’d rather see than J.J. Watt or Aaron Rodgers? And is there any player, coach or owner you would like to see less than Bill Belichick?
—Jeremy, Cambridge, MA
BS: I love this wrinkle. Every year, the NFL MVP has to be a REALISTIC choice to host SNL right after the Super Bowl. (That means we’re down to a three-team race: Watt, Rodgers and Gronk.) But Jeremy stumbled into some ratings gold there — who wouldn’t watch Bill Belichick, fresh off winning his fourth Super Bowl, hosting SNL a week later? The worst SNL host would be Colin Kaepernick — he’d stink for the first 75 percent of the show, then mount a belated garbage-time drive in a good sketch after you’d already turned it off.
BILLS (+6) over Packers
It’s too much of an Aaron Rodgers love-fest right now. Even Grantland’s Robert Mays, a die-hard Bears fan, did everything short of reenacting Scotty J.’s “Can I kiss you on the mouth?” scene from Boogie Nights when he discussed Rodgers in the office yesterday. I kept waiting for Mays to show us his Packers-green Corvette. Rodgers is turning the entire country to mush. Isn’t he due to get banged around by an excellent defense in cold weather for four quarters, get sacked a few times, throw a tipped pick or two, maybe even fumble a shotgun snap? Or am I just overly threatened by him because I keep seeing Rodgers standing in the way of Tom Brady’s fourth Lombardi Trophy? Could it be both? Can we agree it’s both?
Q: Can you please write about the obnoxious/inadequate/possibly criminal officiating in the Bills-Broncos game? I’m not trying to make any argument the Bills are good. It’s just that this game was the culmination of something fans think has been happening all season to our team. Now there are conspiracy theories all over the place. But the worst part is NOBODY is talking about it outside of Western New York and everytime there was a questionable call Sunday the announcers glazed over it (usually with no replay). I don’t even care if you agree Buffalo’s getting a raw deal. Just talk about it so Bills Mafia members can be sure we’re not in some alternate universe!
—Ryan, Buffalo, NY
BS: I watched the whole game. Your defense played great considering referees sometimes treat Peyton Manning’s team the same way the WWE treats Randy Orton’s matches when Triple H is the special guest referee. Oh, and Aaron Rodgers is Seth Rollins. (So if you think last week was bad … )
RAVENS (-14) over Jaguars
Q: Based on your criteria for LVU (“Least Valuable Unit”), shouldn’t 2014’s winner be the Ravens secondary? Keep in mind they’re solid front 7 — how good would this team be with an average secondary, especially at the end of games? If not for their secondary, they’d be sitting at 9-3, leading the division and fighting for a bye. Instead they’re fighting to make the playoffs.
BS: I’m still backing Kansas City’s receivers. When you’re running four-yard outs in a one-minute drill situation down by three in a must-win game, you know your receivers are an out-and-out travesty. Besides, Baltimore’s secondary might not come back to haunt the Ravens until Round 2! They finish the season with Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Johnny Manziel — none of those guys is torching them. If they win the AFC North, they’re hosting a no. 5 seed or a no. 6 seed in Round 1 — that’s either Phil Rivers (trouble), Ben Roethlisberger (trouble), Fitzpatrick, Tannehill, Kyle Orton, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith or Manziel. They have something like a 75 percent chance of NOT facing a playoff QB who might burn them.
And then? It’s Brady or Manning in Round 2 coupled with months and months of horrible karma from the Rice scandal that just keeps getting worse and worse when you read things like “NFLPA lawyer claims Cass coached Rice to understate assault.” Play it, anguished Tori Amos disciple!
Q: Did you know the Jaguars have had a top 10 draft pick every single year since 2008? Their picks: Derrick Harvey, Eugene Monroe, Tyson Alualu, Blaine Gabbert, Justin Blackmon, Luke Joeckel, and Blake Bortles. My eyes are f---king burning.
—Kevin, Long Island
BS: Don’t worry — everything will be fine when they become the London Werewolves in two years. Check out this mock uniform from Jerry Hultsch.
Q: Jim Nantz just previewed next week’s Thursday night game between the Jags and Titans and Phil Simms responded with “I’m really looking forward to it.” No laughter, he seemed dead serious.
—Mike, Santa Monica
BS: That’s reason no. 547 why CBS needs to demote Simms next spring and replace him with Rex Ryan. Sports fans should be allowed to vote every year on secretly important things like “Who’s our no. 1 NFL color analyst for the three major networks?” If that CBS vote were “Rex or Simms,” I think Rex carries 96.7 percent of the vote. But major networks and local cable networks are abjectly terrified of ever demoting a lead play-by-play or color announcer. Just watch NBA League Pass for one night. It’s incredible. Why do we treat TV announcers and radio announcers like they’re tenured professors? GIVE US REX.
Jets (-3) over TITANS
Q: Tickets for the Jets-Titans game this Sunday in Nashville are $9 right now, or roughly the cost of a 6 pack of Coors Light. Which would you rather have?
—John S., Nashville
BS: The tickets! This is a historic battle! We’re about to see the Jets destroy their fans’ holiday season by stupidly winning this game and willingly removing themselves out of the “Suck For The Duck” and “Shame Us For Jameis” races. What’s a better in-person comedy experience — seeing Chris Rock do stand-up or seeing the Jets win this game?
Q: You probably looked at the Jets-Titans line this weekend and thought that it was obvious to pick against any Geno Smith-led team that is favored on the road. One thing that you may not know about Jets fans: none of us will ever admit it, but no matter how bad things get, every Jets fan has a deep, dark part of them that always maintains a sliver of hope. And the New York Jets franchise exists primarily to extinguish that sliver of hope in the most painful way possible. NEVER BET AGAINST THE JETS’ ABILITY TO DISAPPOINT THEIR FANBASE. After last week’s results (Jets somehow allow 87-yard screen pass to lose at Minnesota, Oakland beats San Francisco), threw the Jets into a 5-way tie for the #1 pick, many Jets fans at least considered the following wild conspiracy theory: that Jim Harbaugh blew the game so that the Raiders could win enough games to remove themselves from the “Suck for the Duck” race. Then, in the offseason, the stage would be set for him to go to the Jets and coach Marcus Mariota. So, what’s next? That’s right: The Jets will win this game at Tennessee in the most unexpected, unlikely, and painful way possible. Bet on the Jets, take the money, and laugh all the way to the bank. You can thank me later.
—Tyler, Washington, D.C.
BS: Again, can you put a price on this kind of sneaky-good excitement??? Oh wait, you totally can — it’s $9.
The rest of Week 15’s Sneaky-Good Watch: Jamie Collins; Buffalo’s D; Todd Bowles’s ballsy blitzes during two-minute drills; Sheldon Richardson and Elvis Dumervil’s DPOY candidacies in a world where J.J. Watt doesn’t exist; every story about the dysfunctional Knicks; every wire story that tried to sum up the 631-page transcript of Ray Rice’s appeal that danced around the fact that Roger Goodell came off as either (a) completely and utterly incompetent, or (b) someone who unequivocally said multiple things that turned out not to be true; T.Y. Hilton’s getwidefreakingopenability; Melvin Ingram; any play in which the Pats spread Gronk wide against a terrified CB; Brandon Browner, Old-School Enforcer; this Larry Legend feature in Indianapolis Monthly; Philly’s special teams from a historic standpoint (14th all time in DVOA!); James Harden’s MVP candidacy; Seattle’s D (last three games: 20 points, 507 yards allowed); The Missing on Starz (what a show!); Grantland’s Boogie Nights oral history; Paul Thomas Anderson Week in general.
CHARGERS (+4.5) over Broncos
According to Mike Sando, only Brian Hoyer (nine) and Andy Dalton (nine) have thrown more picks than Peyton Manning (eight) since Week 9. Also, this feels like a cross between a Kitchen Sink Game and a Phil Rivers Doing Phil Rivers Stuff Game for the Chargers … and if you’re the Broncos, do you REALLY need this game? Aren’t they locked into a no. 2 seed? OMAHA!!!!!!!
Q: After watching Chargers punter Mike Scifres get injured in San Diego’s game against your Pats this Sunday I wondered, ‘why are there no players in the NFL that take care of both the kicking and punting duties for their team?’
BS: Chris Kluwe covered this on Twitter — apparently doing both jobs wears down your legs and your body too much. At the same time, if I were a punter, it would piss me off that field goal kickers keep taking over for injured punters without ever imploding. Can’t you see the other 31 starting punters watching Nick Novak taking his first punting snap last Sunday night and muttering, “Shank this! SHANK THIS!” And they never shank it. There’s no bigger disparity between “Whoa, this is gonna be amazingly entertaining!” and “Wow, this isn’t entertaining at all” than the before/after moments when the backup punter becomes involved in an NFL game.
Vikings (+7.5) over LIONS
Minnesota hasn’t played a bad game since Week 6. And doesn’t this “Detroit is cruising into the playoffs” thing look a little too easy? It’s the Lions! Things never go easily for the Lions! At the very least, let’s agree that you aren’t allowed to throw them into a two-team teaser.
Q: You made a “Worst coach to appear in the Superbowl” list without Jim Caldwell? I am giving you the Jim Caldwell/Art Shell look right now.
—Ryan Jacobs, Nashville
BS: I had to cross him off because he’s nine games over .500 for his career (35-26). Believe me … it hurt.
Q: I can’t believe you ran a mailbag answer looking at the worst coaches to make a Super Bowl and didn’t mention Jim Caldwell. People legitimately wondered if the Colts had installed a mannequin on the sidelines. Fingers crossed we get a chance to wager against Mr. Walking Dead in this year’s playoffs.
—Kent Shen, Toronto
BS: Looks like the perfect time to break out Week 15’s Shakey’s Pizza Watch: the thought of Philly or Arizona throwing the ball from behind in January; the Superdome Saints; the Brees-Payton era; SD’s centers; Brandon Browner, Penalty Machine; any team thinking of hiring Mike Singletary as its coach (please, God, let it happen); the fact that coaches can’t review helmet-to-helmet hits; Carolina going 64 days between wins but somehow having a chance to take over the NFC South this weekend; Keenan Allen’s body disappearing on Revis Island; RG3 unexpectedly turning into the MGMT of football (great debut album, and then the wheels came off); the Wall Street Journal’s unfathomably embarrassing puff piece about Goodell; Goodell’s now-documented performance during the Rice appeal hearing; the fact that we have to carefully write headlines like “Transcript shows inconsistencies in Goodell’s testimony on Rice matter.”
SEAHAWKS (-10) over 49ers
They can’t make that Seahawks line high enough. Kaepernick is a broken man — even Mischa Barton didn’t flame out this fast. We need to break up Kaep and Harbaugh.
Q: My Raiders fan friend jokingly proposed a Derek Carr and the #1 pick swap for Harbaugh. Colin and a third rounder. Do you think Mark Davis is idiotic enough to do that?
—Johnny, San Francisco
BS: I just told you — we need to break up Kaep and Harbaugh. Besides, the Raiders should hire Roger Goodell as their next head coach. They could finish 2-14 for the next eight years as Goodell repeatedly contradicts himself; ignores game plans; glosses over player safety; pretends not to have evidence; writes letters to season ticket holders telling them something didn’t happen when it actually did; keeps changing the team’s personal conduct policy depending on how he feels on a given week; and gives one awkward press conference after another explaining that he’s “got to get this right” and knows he “needs to get better.” And every once in awhile, the previous Raiders coach (Tony Sparano) could come back and fix one of his messes by giving a different ruling. I think this makes a ton of sense.
Q: What would be more fun: Harbaugh going to Oakland, making a beast out of Carr (who’s been really promising) and taking the Raiders to the playoffs? Or him going to the Jets, drafting Mariota and laying waste to the AFC East?
—Ibrahim, João Pessoa, Brazil
BS: What about Harbaugh going to Michigan just a few weeks after there was so much action on a “Harbaugh goes to Michigan bet” that a gambling site actually had to PULL THAT BET? I vote for that! By the way, reread the M. Night Harbaughlan email from my Week 10 column. It’s becoming increasingly amazing. Could that Michigan job be Lady in the Water?
Cowboys (+3.5) over EAGLES
Just feels like these forgettably above-average teams should split their season series. It’s really that simple. And also …
Q: The last seven opponents the Seahawks have faced that have played again the following week (so not Philly yet) are 0-7 overall, 0-7 ATS. In the last two seasons, those teams are 8-17-1 overall, 8-18 ATS. You’re welcome.
BS: Why, thank you!
Q: Would the Cowboys winning 11 games and missing the playoffs in our first above average season in half a decade be the most jerryjonesiest thing that’s ever happened? No, and I’ll tell you why: Because it’s also possible that the Cowboys could win 11 games and miss the playoffs WHILE an NFC South team with 6 wins locked up a playoff berth and could rest its starters in week 17 Manning-style.
—Matt, San Antonio
BS: It’s really, really, really, really hard NOT to root for this.
Saints (-3) over BEARS
Q: You mentioned Bill Simmons Road in your last column, which made me giggle uncontrollably in the middle of class, leading my professor to stare awkwardly as I played it off. As a longtime resident of Colleyville, TX I can honestly say that Bill Simmons Road gets little traffic. It’s one of the few roads in town where there are no streetlights and houses are spread far apart, which made it an incredibly convenient place to get down with girls in the backseat of my car when I was in high school. In fact, many a sexscapade was had on Bill Simmons road by my friends, classmates, and other town residents. Congratulations on sharing that legacy. Come visit Bill Simmons Road sometime, although I suggest seeing it during the daytime in order to avoid seeing more than you bargained for.
–Timmy J., Colleyville
BS: Good Lord, we’re in range.
Q: Just wanted to let you know that every Tuesday and Thursday evening of my junior year in high school I would drive my car to the top of the hill on Bill Simmons Road and get some action from my girlfriend. That road was perfect: no lights and a dead-end, all at the top of a hill! I hope for her sake her Dad doesn’t read this column, not like I give a damn though.
BS: Yup, these are my readers.
This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 9-6-1
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.