By Bill Simmons
Page 2

During one of the last two episodes of "Inside the NFL," they showed a wide receiver sitting disgustedly on his team's bench as the final seconds of a loss ticked away. Based on what we watched this season, in your opinion, which player said the following quote:

"We're killin' ourselves ... we lose games like that all the time, man ... we're killin' ourselves. We gotta make plays AND gotta stop crazy penalties. That's all, play sound football, we'll win every game we play."

Figure it out yet?

Joe Horn
When is Joe going to learn? Doesn't he know his coach is Jim Haslett.

Of course you didn't. There's no way you could have guessed when half the players in the league could have said it. Credit actually goes to the great Joe Horn, who was bemoaning the 538th sloppy performance of the Jim Haslett Era. But anyone from the Vikings, Raiders, Packers, Cowboys, Seahawks, Broncos, Bears, Rams or Cardinals could have muttered those words during the last two Sundays. For whatever reason, sloppiness has become the unforeseen epidemic of 2005. Have we seen a well-played game yet? Seriously, can you think of one?

Take last week's San Diego-Denver debacle, which was like watching two drunken buddies having a 2 a.m. argument about the chick with the cold sore by the jukebox who looks a little like Kevin James. You take her ... no, you take her ... no, you go for it. Ever seen a team look like it was playing from behind with an 11-point lead? I'm telling you, it happened. Drew Brees' interception TD to Champ Bailey almost seemed intentional, to the degree that he should have earned fantasy points for it. Meanwhile, the Broncos had two scores called back (including a kick return in which the poor guy's teammates stupidly ran onto the field), missed two field goals and watched their coach desperately try to botch a game-winning drive ... only the Chargers were even more determined to blow the game. And they did.

Of course, that wasn't the only sewage leak last week:

1. The Cards squandered a game-winning drive when the Rams sacked Kurt Warner with 20 seconds left -- a moment so predictable, I even predicted it (with witnesses) -- followed by an unfathomable false start penalty and the rarely-seen, "We're counting down 10 seconds off the clock, game over" ending from the refs (punctuated by a phenomenal helmet-smashing tantrum from Anquan Boldin).

2. The Cowboys choked so egregiously and incomprehensibly against the Redskins on Monday night, and in such swift and stunning fashion, it instantly became one of those, "I'll wait until my buddy who roots for the Cowboys breaks the ice and e-mails ME about it, because I wouldn't feel right about bringing it up first" games.

3. Seattle nearly blew a 21-point lead to Atlanta, followed by Mike Holmgren's telling reporters, "It was a great win for us, a great win. The guys battled their hearts out."

(Um, Mike? You got outscored 18-0 in the second half. When your fans were filing out, they looked like the passengers on that Jet Blue plane that landed with the front wheel going sideways on Wednesday. That's not a great win. That's not a good win. That's not even a half-decent win.)

4. The Raiders killed another possible upset with penalties, to the point that Lamont Jordan admitted afterward that every time they made a big play, he started self-consciously glancing around the field looking for flags. That didn't stop Norv Turner from complaining about the refs after the game, followed by Kerry Collins' pushing his coach down the stairs (note: I refuse to use "throw under the bus" anymore, it's becoming the new "jump the shark") by saying, "That kind of attitude is not going to help ... we're hurting ourselves." Who could have predicted Kerry Collins' evoking memories of the Vito Corleone/Johnny Fontaine "You can act like a man!" scene ... only with Collins' playing the part of Vito? Did that really happen?

Tom Brady
What's that smell? It's the Pats' performance last week in Carolina.

5. Even the defending champs submitted a certified stinkbomb in Carolina ... although it wasn't the worst offensive performance of the Belichick Era as some normally astute columnists and broadcasters (Skip Bayless and Cris Collinsworth, to name two) mistakenly argued this week. Remember the Buffalo shutout on Opening Day of 2003, when Brady threw for 124 yards and four interceptions, followed by Tom Jackson's "These guys hate their coach!" comment? I think that was a little worse than a 27-17 defeat, on the road, against a team many people picked to go to the Super Bowl this season. Call me crazy.

Still, nothing compared to the atrocities committed by Culpepper and the Vikings. Look, I watched Moses Moreno in his prime. I followed Spurgeon Wynn and Glenn Carano at their absolute apexes. I lived through the Detmer brothers and the McCown cousins. I remember the heydays of Anthony Dilweg, Rusty Hilger, Scott Secules, Tony Graziani, Turk Schonert and Kelly Stouffer. I even wagered against Babe Laufenberg once. With all of that said, never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER have I seen a QB play a worse game than Culpepper played in Cincinnati. By the second half, I called my buddy Geoff (diehard Vikes fan) to make the obligatory, "I think the Warden from Longest Yard visited Culpepper at halftime and threatened to pin Caretaker's death on him unless he got a 21-point spread" joke. This was a once-in-a-lifetime collapse. I can't say enough about it. Culpepper could throw six touchdowns a game for the next three years and I would still never trust him again.

FRUSTRATED NFL FAN OF THE WEEK
As a Minnesota Vikings fan and a broke college student whose only means of income is sports gambling, I have a few thoughts regarding your Week 2 column:

1. Don't ever, EVER, bet on the Vikings when they are playing on the road. It doesn't matter whether they're playing at New England or the University of [Stink]itude -- you'd be a total moron to do so. In fact, if the Viqueens are giving any less than 7 points on the road, take the home team.

2. If Mike Martz gets to surpass the maximum of a 10 on the Shaky Scale, then Tice should be a 15 by himself. This is a man who was our TIGHT END coach when he was promoted to take over the team. The only reason he has not been hacked up and stored in my freezer right now is because of strict punishments for crimes against the mentally handicapped. My buddies and I have already coined the phrase: "Ticey." Definition: Any person, place, thing, or action that exudes total and complete stupidity.

3. The problem with Culpepper is that he has to be told what to do. He is unable to read defenses and make changes at the line. This is why the Vikes should get an extra 10 points on the Shaky Scale for offensive coordinator Steve Loney (promoted from offensive line coach), who has been stuck with the "Chris Tucker Face" since he got the job.

4. You're totally right about the Bears being the NFC North champions. Minnesota will be at LEAST a one-point favorite in Chicago, and they NEVER win in Chicago. I already have that game marked on my calendar as "Pay Day."

5. Worst of all is the hot rumor in 'Sota on who our next head coach will be: Pete Carroll. I really hope you realize how good you have it right now. So why don't you go watch your Sox and Pats championship DVDs again. I hate you.
--Matt Huss, Winona, Minn.

(One more thing: I watched more of the Vikings over the past two weeks than any team other than the Pats. They're finished. They stink. Like many others, I underestimated the effect of Moss' departure on this team -- he stretched the field, made mediocre running backs look good, saved Culpepper's hide 3-4 times a game on those downfield heaves and always got the home crowd going. Now? It's a poorly-coached team with no running game, no playmakers, a mediocre defense and an erratic QB who obviously can't handle the increased burden of being The Guy. Those first two games were not a fluke. I'm writing them off. I implore you to do the same.)

What does any of this have to do with gambling, you ask? Sloppiness equals unpredictability ... and that's the single scariest word in gambling. Well, other than "Martz." So even though it's about nine weeks early, I'm anointing Week 3 as the first Michael Conrad Memorial weekend of the season.

But seriously ... let's be careful out there. Onto the Week 3 picks:

RAIDERS (+7.5) over Eagles
Here's why you can't make too much of the first two weeks of the season: The Raiders played two of the best teams in football (KC and New England), hung tough in each game, eventually fell short (mostly of their own doing), and everyone thinks they're done. The Bengals played two of the worst teams in football (Minnesota and Cleveland), destroyed them both, and everyone thinks that they're a serious playoff contender, and that Carson Palmer is the next great quarterback. Well, if you switched the Cincy and Oakland schedules, the Bengals would be 0-2, the Raiders would be 2-0, and we would be reading roughly 45,000 stories about how Randy Moss is the most important player in football right now.

Translation: Everyone needs to calm down. It's Week 3. The season doesn't start until Week 10. In the words of William Goldman, nobody knows anything.

By the way, at some point during this game, they're going to split-screen Andy Reid and Norv Turner, leading to the question: Do you want to wager on the confident, jolly-looking guy who looks like he would be fun to go hunting with, or do you want the guy with ruffled hair who looks like he just spent the last 15 minutes in the back of Best Buy looking in vain for the digital camera you just bought, then decided to quick-smoke a cigarette before he mustered up the courage to tell you that they didn't have it in stock?

(On second thought ... )

EAGLES (-7.5) over Raiders
One more question: Why didn't anyone tell me that the NFL decided to remake "Weekend at Bernie's" with Al Davis? I saw his corpse propped up in the owner's box during Monday night's game and kept waiting to see Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman applauding behind him. When are they going to take him water skiing?

Titans (+6.5) over RAMS
Lemme get this straight ...

Katrina wipes out Brett Favre's childhood home and it's the lead of every highlight show and newspaper section for like three straight days. Meanwhile, Steve McNair's entire town gets wiped out in the same hurricane, and it's mentioned by the national media in passing like he tore a muscle in his rib cage or something. So here's my question: Where's Scoop Jackson? Is he trapped under something? How did he miss this? That's the easiest 2,000 words he could have written this year.

Mike Brown
The safety position has become critical to any defense.

BEARS (+3) over Bengals
Remember the scene in "Field of Dreams" when Costner and Jones are driving back from Fenway, and the sun is shining, and they're both giddy because they saw Moonlight Graham's name on the scoreboard and everything's just grand? That's how me, Matt "Money" Smith and the three 300-pound guys from Chicago covered in mustard felt driving in the Bears Bandwagon after that 38-6 shellacking of the Lions. Last Friday, they were getting 6-to-1 odds to win the NFC North. This Friday? 8-to-5. And dropping.

(Where's my horn? I feel like doing some tooting.)

Jaguars (+3) over JETS
We need to break out the radar gun for some of these Chad Pennington throws -- it's like watching Johnny Damon trying to reach second base from the warning track at Yankee Stadium. Good golly. How can this possibly end well? Wouldn't you just stack the line, keep blitzing and force him to throw deep? Why do anything else?

Speaking of quarterbacks, here's my favorite e-mail of the week, courtesy of Matt K. in Ann Arbor, Mich.: "When Fox finally kills off Jack Bauer in '24,' they should they turn the show over to Byron Leftwich. Did you see some of those hits he took in the Colts game? Yet somehow, he still gave his team a chance to win at the end. Take that gutsy performance, combined with the game he played in college when his offensive lineman carried him down the field between every play because he couldn't run, and the only conclusion is that the guy is indestructable. Just imagine Leftwich tracking down Season 8's bad guy, and with 40 minutes to go in the final episode, Dwight Freeney comes out of nowhere and levels Leftwich, breaking his right leg in half. Is there any doubt that Leftwich would get up and drag his broken right leg around for the rest of the episode as he saved the world?"

(Actually, no. There's no doubt. And so it's done -- when Kiefer Sutherland pulls a Caruso and leaves "24," his replacement will be Byron Leftwich. I'm signing off on this. He should just start practicing for the show during games -- he could grab the third down running back as he's running into the huddle and scream, "Where's the play? TELL ME THE PLAY! YOU HAVE 10 SECONDS! TELL ME RIGHT NOW! THERE'S NO TIME! TELL ME THE PLAY!")

DOLPHINS (+3.5) over Panthers
Let's see ... Nick Saban is a Bill Belichick disciple ... they talk all the time ... and the Pats just played the Panthers last week ... hmmmmmmmm ...

(By the way, could somebody break the news to "60 Minutes" that nobody gives a crap about Ricky Williams anymore? What's next, a Dennis Rodman piece? Come on. Enough is enough.

COLTS (-13.5) over Browns
Gotta love this stretch for the Colts: Home for Cleveland, at Tennessee, at San Fran, home for the Rams, at Houston, bye week. Apparently the NFL forgot to sneak Columbia University in there. Has any team ever been favored by 10 points or more for five straight weeks before? And will Manning break his own record for "Most meaningless touchdown passes after a game has been decided over a five-game stretch?"

Saints (+3.5) over VIKINGS
On behalf of the Guys Who Own Daunte Culpepper In Their Fantasy League And Are Officially Sweating Bullets Association, I'd like to apologize for what happened to our special hotline number last week -- we simply didn't have enough operators available to talk to everyone. Please be patient, we're doing the best we can. In the mean time, avoid any and all fantasy Web sites, don't read the Minnesota papers, don't operate any heavy machinery, make sure you're around plenty of people this Sunday, and if you need to drink heavily, do so -- just make sure you have a ride home. We're going to get through this. Just remember, a QB can still put up solid fantasy stats in 38-24 blowout defeats, especially in a league in which turnovers don't count. Keep telling yourself this.

SEAHAWKS (-6) over Cardinals
The Cardinals are the Clippers of the NFL: every few years, they can suck you into thinking they might be good ... and then the season starts.

JP Losman
Most fans remember JP from season one of "Laguna Beach."

BILLS (-3) over Falcons
I hope you had the under for the "When will J.P. Losman get benched during the fourth quarter of a blowout loss" future wager. Still, I think he's OK at home. And since I have nothing else to add, here were my favorite broadcasting moments from last week, in reverse order:

4. Al Michaels' voice barely going up an octave after Brunell's crazy scramble on third and like 58, the one when he juked a linebacker and gained enough yards for a realistic fourth down play ... leading to Washington's eventual comeback. Remember when Eddie Murphy ended up in a car with a transvestite hooker? He was probably bored after an entire decade of getting any women he wanted, and he'd probably done everything he could do with any combination of women imaginable. So he was looking for anything to pique his interest. At least that's my theory. But I think Michaels is like that with football now -- unless it's an astounding, life-altering play that will go down for the ages, he's just not impressed, and he's not getting excited. And you know what? Give me that tactic over someone screaming and yelping "What a play!" and "What a throw!" after every decent play.

3. Shannon Sharpe narrating halftime highlights. This should be its own show.

2. Mike Tirico and Sterling Sharpe doing Sunday night football ... I spent about 10 minutes thinking of the right word to describe this rare treat, and here it is: Refreshing. It was refreshing to listen to them. I was refreshed.

1. During halftime of the Panthers-Pats game, CBS decided to show us the "Fantasy Performers" from the first half. Instantly, I perked up. Who doesn't get excited for a random "Fantasy Performers" graphic? God forbid they show them more than once a game. Anyway, Dan Dierdorf starts reading a split-screen graphic with Brady and Delhomme's stats, and the first fantasy comment he makes is, "Brady's 9-for-19 in the first half, that's under 50 percent, not good." So either Dierdorf's fantasy league includes a rare category for "QB Completion Percentage," or the CBS guys might want to explain the whole fantasy concept to him before this Sunday's game. Or else he might be saying stuff like, "Four catches for DeShaun Foster so far -- that's gotta be like 25 points, right, Dick?"

NINERS (+6.5) over Cowboys
It's jarring to watch Drew Bledsoe and Kurt Warner running two-minute drills at the end of games, isn't it? They can't move around, teams just blitz them up the middle, and eventually, they (A) commit a turnover, (B) take a killer sack or (C) throw a one-hopper. Sadly, there's no "D." Twenty-five years ago, when the defenses were three times slower, those guys would have been right back in that thing.

(Note: That should be its own Web site: Guys Who Would Have Been Much Better 25 Years Ago. For instance, I think Troy Murphy would have been a perennial All-Star. Same with Tim Dwight and Danny Fortson.)

Giants (+5) over CHARGERS
The Chargers haven't looked the same since Schottenheimer coached that playoff game against the Jets with both hands wrapped around his own neck -- they don't have any semblance of swagger anymore, and the Broncos completely manhandled them during the second half last week. So I'm supposed to pick them just because Eli Manning is coming to town and Chargers fans are allegedly going to "let him have it?"

Are you kidding me? Have you ever been to San Diego? That's the most laid-back city in the country -- San Diego makes Switzerland look like Compton. I think young Eli will be fine.

THE BOOK TOUR
Want to meet the Sports Guy?

Then check him out on his book tour for "Now I Can Die In Peace"

Patriots (+3) over STEELERS
Welcome to the NFL, where you can win 33 of 35 games, lose one, and suddenly you're three-point underdogs against a team you crushed nine months ago. Don't get me wrong -- I'm concerned about Corey Dillon's Renteria-like performance in the first two games, and the lack of blocking for Brady last Sunday was downright odd (although the Panthers intimated on "Inside the NFL" that he was tipping off his snap counts). But the defense looked just as good as ever. And hasn't Belichick earned a little leeway here? I just feel like they're showing up this week.

(And just to distract you from writing any "You're biased!" e-mails, here are my TV recommendations of the week. First, watch Bjorn's birthday party on "My Super Sweet 16" -- he's like a cross between Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Richard Simmons. Plus, it will make more sense when you see me on my book tour wearing a blazer with "Sports Guy" written in diamond sequins on the back. And second, check out Clinton Portis' episode of "MTV Cribs" this week, if only for the part when he brings the cameras down to his basement -- where there's a waterbed with mirrored ceilings at the bottom of the stairs, along with a jacuzzi, a pool table and a stripper's pole and stage. Needless to say, there wasn't a wife or a girlfriend to be seen. And you wonder why I TiVo "Cribs" every week.)

Buccaneers (+3.5) over PACKERS
In my ongoing "Which of the Mikes are getting canned first?" pool, the odds currently look like this: Tice: 1-2 ... Sherman: 1-1 ... Martz: 2-1 ... Holmgren: 4-1 ... Shanahan: 6-1 ... Mularkey: 100-1 ... Nolan: 250-1.

(Last week, Sherman had the worst odds. So, um ... good news for Packers fans there.)

BRONCOS (-3) over Chiefs
The Chiefs winning in Oakland on a Sunday night, followed by the Chiefs winning in Denver on the following Monday night ... that seems like a lot to ask, doesn't it? I'd have more to say, but an old "Arli$$" episode just came on ESPN Classic. I will now swallow my own tongue.

Last Week: 8-7-1
Season: 17-14-1

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace" hits bookstores on Oct. 1 and is available right now on Amazon.com.




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