Remember when Baltimore won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer? That was the year when everyone collectively decided, You don't need a good quarterback to win a championship ... heck, you don't even need a QB with a full head of hair! As long as Generic QB could make some plays and avoid killer turnovers, your team had a chance. At least, that's what we thought.
Well, five years have passed. And I'm here to tell you something: You need a good quarterback to win a championship.
Dilfer's brief, Joshua Jackson-like apex for the Ravens turned out to be deceiving. That was a goofy season in the National Football League. Many contenders from 1996-2000 sacrificed their long-term cap flexibility for a short-term fix, shelling out crippling bonuses without fully realizing the ramifications. That opened the door for the '00 Ravens and the '01 Pats, unequivocally the two least talented champions of the past 20 years. In particular, New England's title was astounding if you examine its team statistics and personnel at the time; in David Halberstam's upcoming book, he even quotes Bill Belichick as screaming on the sideline at the end of the Rams' game, "Can you believe we won the f***ing Super Bowl with this team?"
But here's the other thing: Trent Dilfer is better than you think. Did you know he made the Pro Bowl in 1997 and even won a playoff game? Did you know his postseason record is 5-1? As he showed during Baltimore's Super Bowl season, he's a big guy who can throw deep, absorb a pounding and keep his team in games. Now he's one of the few reliable veteran QBs in the league. Maybe he won't carry an offense, but you can certainly compete with him. And you know what? Half the teams in the league would kill to have him.
Seriously, look around the league: Is there a major difference between the Giants, Bears, Ravens, Panthers, Broncos, Steelers, Bills, Jets, Redskins, Bengals, Cowboys, Lions, Dolphins and Jaguars other than the QB position? Half those teams (Detroit, Miami, Baltimore, Buffalo, the Jets) are impossible to take seriously because of the schmucks leaning over the center. In Washington's case, they're competitive as long as Brunell stays healthy, but we all know he's getting hurt (even the Nick-Jessica divorce isn't this inevitable). In Dallas' case, it's an especially cruel experience to follow a Bledsoe-led team (as they're slowly finding out). With Carolina, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Denver, their QBs bring just enough to the table to make their fans think, "Wow, we might be able to make some noise this year," although it's hard to imagine any of them winning a title.
Then you have the Giants and Bengals, both of whom are sitting pretty because of their stud QBs (Palmer and Manning). Ranking the top 10 teams in the National Football League, the list currently looks like this:
1. Indy (Manning)
2. Philly (McNabb)
3. San Diego (Brees)
4. Atlanta (Vick)
5. Cincy (Palmer)
6. New England (Brady)
7. Denver (Plummer)
8. Pittsburgh (Roethlisberger)
9. N.Y. Giants (Manning)
10. Carolina (Delhomme)
See any other shaky QBs, other than Jake the Snake? And Plummer is a unique case. Maybe he self-destructs when his teams rely on him too much; but surround him with a great defense and a good running game (precisely what they did this season), then keep him out of situations in which he can kill you (third-and-long passes, dangerous rollouts in the red zone, etc.) ... and you might be able to survive. He's like the NFL version of David Caruso; in the wrong hands, he's a complete disaster. In the right hands, with the right shackles in place, you can compete with him.
As for Dilfer, the Jets would take him right now. And the Bills. And the Lions. And the Bears. And the Dolphins. And especially the Ravens, who never should have jettisoned him in the first place. So let's cut old Trent some slack in the historical sense. Maybe you CAN win with the Dilfers of the world as your QB, but that doesn't mean you can win with a bad QB. Yes, there's a difference.
Before we get to the Week 5 picks, here's my impression of Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire announcing my Wednesday night book signing in Chicago, which was scheduled weeks in advance and (incredibly) managed to somehow coincide with Game 2 of the White Sox-Red Sox series, an alarming turn of events on about 1,000 different levels. All right, here we go:
Patrick: "Fifth inning, Red Sox leading by two, man on first for Chicago, one out ... WHAT A PERFORMANCE by Bill Simmons at the ESPN Zone right now! Just an INCREDIBLE job handling this line of readers while watching the game! Guys, you CANNOT say enough about him!"
Theismann: "Mike, we talked to Jessica Dickerman last night, one of the coordinators for Bill's book tour, and she told us that she has NEVER seen Bill this focused. I mean, HERE'S A GUY who's coming into his own for the Worldwide Leader right now!"
Maguire: "And I want you guys to look at something, look at Simmons's right hand! Look at that thing! He's signed like 2,500 books this week, that hand is still going strong! It's like a claw! Let's get a close-up of that hand. LOOK AT THAT THING! I'm tellin' you guys, it's a claw! Watch him sign this book, watch this -- BAM!!!! You see that? Did you see how fast he signed that book? Look at that claw go!"
Patrick: "Here's a double-play ball to second, should end the inning ... and it GETS THROUGH Graffanino! Oh, MAN! He missed it! Now the go-ahead run comes to the plate for Chicago! Shades of Bill Buckner! WHAT A TURN OF EVENTS! And look at Bill Simmons. HE ... HAS ... TURNED ... PURPLE!!! What a moment for him right now! And everyone at the ESPN Zone is staring at Bill Simmons in DISBELIEF!"
Theismann: "Mike, we talked to Ellie Seifert last night, the head of PR for this tour, and she told us that this was her biggest fear: How Simmons would handle a Red Sox collapse during tonight's signing. I mean, HERE'S A GUY who bleeds for the Red Sox, and you can just tell, he can't believe this is happening right now. He can't believe it!"
Maguire: "Guys, I want you to watch something, watch this replay, watch Simmons's reaction to that error, watch this, here it comes ... he's watching, he's watching, he's watching, he's watching, he's watching, he's watching, he's watching ... WHAM!!! RIGHT THERE!!!"
Patrick: "What a replay! Great job in the booth, guys!"
Maguire: You want to talk about a guy who doesn't want to be signing books right now? You want to talk about a guy who's the color of an eggplant? I'm telling you, guys, he is DYING right now! He is absolutely DYING!"
Patrick: "And WHAT A JOB by Simmons just hanging in there, guys. Just a GREAT, GREAT job by Bill Simmons right now!"
On to the Week 5 picks ...
(Home teams in caps ... )
JETS (+3) over Bucs
There are disturbing similarities to Vinny's return to the Jets and Dylan McKay's 1998 return to "90210." Not just the same sense of complete desperation, but how it's just an interesting enough gimmick that it makes you want to watch the show again.
(Just remember, "90210" ended up getting canceled about 18 months later, and we all agreed to proceed like Dylan's comeback never happened. So beware.)
RAMS (-3) over Seahawks
Three notes about this one:
1. Seattle's receivers are so banged up, there was actually a fantasy football run on Joe Jurevicius this week, which raises the question, "Who do you feel worse for -- the Seahawks, or the owner in your league who was hoping for a spark from Joe Jurevicius?"
2. On the phone this week, ESPN.com editor and (long-suffering Seattle fan) Kevin Jackson and I tried to remember all the painful Seahawks losses from the past two calendar years, eventually coming up with six beauties: Last week's crushing missed FG against the Skins; Engram's drop in the 2004 playoff game; Hasselbeck's INT TD in Lambeau; Anthony Wright's unfathomable comeback against them in Baltimore (2003); Vinny's even more unfathomable comeback on Monday night last year; and the crushing collapse against the 2004 Rams that started last year's mini-slide. Six of the most memorably devastating NFL losses in the last 24 months happened to the same team! How does this happen?
3. Even though I'm picking them this week, I'd be remiss if we didn't run this e-mail from Washington reader Daniel Baxter:
"There was nothing scarier for me as a football fan than seeing that Mike Martz was in the hospital on Thursday. Fortunately, it was soon reported that he would coach against the Giants on Sunday, and I felt much better. Yes, I'm a Giants fan. Is there any other coach that would reasonably provoke this response? Of course, Martz didn't disappoint, calling for a reverse on the Giants' 10-yard line, when the Giants couldn't stop the regular offense. Naturally, this resulted in a fumble that basically sealed the game. Stay healthy Mike!"
Colts (-15) over DARTMOUTH
Tough tune-up for the Colts before next week's showdown against Penn.
Patriots (+3) over FALCONS
Not only did I have the Falcons penciled in for the pick here, I even was ready to write the obligatory "Sometimes you can just lose too many key guys/not even Belichick can overcome this" pseudo-obituary for the 2005 Pats ... and then Brady flew off the handle in Wednesday's news conference. As my buddy Bug later said, "It's like Brady was daring everyone to pick the Falcons. He was daring them."
(By the way, the Bug will be wagering on the champs this weekend. And so will I.)
BROWNS (-3) over Bears
Ladies and gentleman, the newest member of the There's No Way In Hell I'm Picking You On the Road Club ... Mr. Kyle Orton! Hold on, Kyle wants to say a few words.
"First of all, I'd like to thank Anthony Wright, Gus Frerotte, Tim Rattay, David Carr, J.P. Losman, Brooks Bollinger, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Josh McCown and everyone else who made it so easy for me to fit in. I'd also like to thank some of the older guys who paved the way, especially Scott Mitchell, Neil O'Donnell, Heath Shuler, Marc Wilson and Rick Mirer, all of whom inspired me as a young QB. I'd like to thank Brian Griese for showing me how rumors about excessive partying CAN be a major distraction. Most of all, I'd like to thank Rex Grossman, whose tragic injury opened the door for me to kill Chicago's season when we should have been the 2005 sleeper. Thanks again."
(By the way, I was thinking about this whole Browns thing, since it appears they could end up being somewhat frisky this season. When I was working at Kimmel's show, someone came up with a theory that just hanging out in the same room with Adam Carolla every day raised our comedy IQ by about 5-10 points. In a roundabout way, we all became funnier by osmosis. Well, except for Rick Rosner. So here's my question: Do you think this happens with the coaches who work with Bill Belichick? And if it does, wouldn't that make Romeo Crennel a little more dangerous than we initially realized? We might have to reconsider the 2005 Browns. I'm not saying we're at that point; just keep an eye on it.)
PACKERS (-3) over Saints
Favre looked like the old Favre on Monday night. Warrants mentioning. Which raises another question ...
Why can't they trade him to a contender? Don't the Packers fans WANT him to finish his career on a good team? By the time the Packers are relevant again, Favre will be long gone ... so why not deal him to one of those "We could be good with the right QB" teams for a slew of young players and picks (assuming one of them has the cap space)? For instance, if Chicago traded Cedric Benson, next year's No. 1 and a future No. 2 for Favre right now ... from a pure football standpoint, which team would blanch before making that deal? Wouldn't the Bears immediately become a Super Bowl contender? Somebody needs to grease the skids on this one. Favre was too memorable to watch him end things like this. Even seeing DeNiro in "Hide and Seek" wasn't this depressing.
Dolphins (+3) over BILLS
Switching from J.P. Losman to Kelly Holcomb is like switching from a 2004 Mazda Miata to a 1993 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible: Different car, same effect, and your friends are still going to be horrified.
(By the way, am I the only person on the planet right now who thinks that the Dolphins have a legitimate chance to win the AFC East? Couldn't they get to 10 wins? Hello?)
LIONS (-1) over Ravens
Taking away Anthony Wright's aforementioned Miracle Game against the Seahawks (312 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs), do you realize that (A) he's thrown 12 career TDs and 20 career INTs; (B) he's never thrown for more than 215 yards in a game; and (C) he's 29 years old? Still feel good about taking him on the road this week?
Some other questions: Does Charles Rogers exist solely to make Detroit fans feel better about the Darko Milicic Era? Is Joey Harrington the Freddie Prinze Jr. of the NFL, or is it the other way around? How many fantasy seasons were saved by that early-September e-mail about Jamal Lewis' being in bad shape from the food/weights problems in the joint? Isn't it weird that there's a second Mark Clayton? Doesn't Ed Reed desperately need a cool nickname to replace his first name (like "Widowmaker Reed" or "Night Train Reed")? Wouldn't you feel 10 times better about the Joey Harrington Era if he just changed his first name to "Joe?" And does anyone else feel the Mike Williams Roto Breakout Week coming on?
TEXANS (-3) over Titans
This is one of those games when CBS should say, "Screw it, let's use the three hours to promote our shows!" and have Jeff Probst and Charlie Sheen announcing and Marg Helgenberger as the sideline reporter. Seriously, why not?
(And while we're here, does anyone else think Probst would immediately be better than three-fourths of the play-by-play announcers? What's harder, announcing a football game or announcing one of those crazy immunity challenges when everyone's running around and 20 things are happening? I'm telling you, Probst is underrated. Watch what happens when he leaves "Survivor" next season. It's going to fall apart. You wait.)
CARDS (+3) over Panthers
Hmmmmm ... home team plays on a Monday night, then travels cross-country to play its next game on short rest ... this one feels familiar.
(By the way, can you imagine playing cards in Vegas with Denny Green? Would his percentages chart for blackjack look anything like his two-point conversion chart? "Dealer holding a 17, I'm holding a 7 ... DOUBLE DOWN!" I keep pushing for it, but this should be its own show like the Quarterback Challenge -- just NFL coaches competing in poker and blackjack. Never would we learn so much about 32 guys in one weekend.)
COWBOYS (+3) over Eagles
After the way Andy Reid botched the clock down the stretch of that Chiefs game, I'm picking against him this week out of protest. Unbelievable. Three minutes to go, you're up by 10, the other team has no timeouts, you're in field goal range ... and you throw twice? Seriously, what's going on with the coaches in this league? It's like Planet of the Dimwits. Here's an e-mail from Dan in Minneapolis:
"Now, Mike Tice sucks as an NFL coach. That much is obvious. But, in his defense, I think that he'd win an all-NFL coaches version of 'Survivor.' He'd be one of those guys who nobody thinks can go anywhere and insults everyone during the course of the show and somehow wins the whole thing. Thoughts? By the way, I'm 13."
(I mean, even 13-year-old kids are making fun of the coaches this season! What's happening????)
JAGS (-3) over Bengals
One day after the Week 3 games, I flew back East on Delta Song (which is just like Jet Blue, only with cuter flight attendants). So I'm watching ESPN on my mini-TV and Tom Jackson comes on to discuss the Bengals, who were 3-0 at the time because of their Krispy Kreme schedule. Jackson proceeds to compare Cincy's Big Three (Palmer, Johnson and Johnson) to Dallas' Big Three back in the day (Aikman, Johnson and Irvin), complete with video footage comparing each guy, although he was careful to say, "Now, obviously Rudi Johnson is not Emmitt Smith ... " Gee, you think so, Tom?
Anyway, I have two points:
1. We need to slow down with this Bengals thing. Seriously, slow the heck down. It's a nice story, they're clearly headed for the playoffs and President Palmer is for real. Heck, they might be headed for a second seed, mainly because their schedule makes Indy's schedule look grueling by comparison. But breaking out clips of the Triplets because Cincy trounced the Browns, Vikings and Bears ... seriously, that's embarrassing. I can't accept this. I won't accept this.
2. During that Triplets montage, which I was watching in sheer disbelief, the pilot suddenly interrupted the audio to report that we were an hour away from New York ... and then he kept jabbering, and somehow I missed the rest of Jackson's piece. Earlier in the flight, right as Chris Mortensen came on "ESPN News" with an update on Rodney Harrison's injury, the exact same thing happened. Same with Michael Smith's trouncing Woody Paige at the end of "Around the Horn" and Ron Jaworski's "Five Good Minutes" on "PTI." That's when I decided that the pilot had ESPN showing in the cockpit and was intentionally chiming in during any key moment, just to screw with the sports fans on the flight. I kept imagining him chiming in, then high-fiving the other pilot afterward and laughing like crazy.
But since something similar happened to me on a Jet Blue flight last year, now I'm wondering if this is a unique phenomenon in itself, much like the way my stepmother consistently walks in the door and ruins the last two minutes of any big Boston game for my father, almost like she has a homing device implanted in her skull. Do Jet Blue pilots and Delta Song pilots have a similar homing device, or do I just have terrible luck on airplanes that have TVs? I really need to know.
Redskins (+7) over BRONCOS
Doesn't this seem like a 3-point game, or am I crazy?
(By the way, in my ongoing "Which of the Mikes are getting canned first?" pool, the odds currently look like this: Tice: 1-3 ... Sherman: 1-1... Martz: 3-2 ... Holmgren: 5-1 ... Shanahan: 35-1 ... Mularkey: 50-1 ... Nolan: 100-1. Although I think we should convince Norv Turner to change his name to "Mike" just to spruce things up.)
CHARGERS (-3) over Steelers
Sometime during the Pats game last week, I decided that Tomlinson was the best overall running back of my lifetime. There's nothing he can't do: deadly receiver, tough inside runner, explosive to the outside, you name it. Did you ever think you would see someone who has the best qualities of Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders AND Thurman Thomas? He's just a force of nature, despite the fact that he stole Lawrence Taylor's nickname.
So when I was talking to my buddy Gus on Monday night, I triumphantly announced that I would be writing this new Tomlinson theory in today's column, followed by a split-second of silence and Gus disdainfully responding, "Wait a second. What about Walter Payton?"
Good point. Long live Sweetness.
(The lesson, as always: I'm an idiot.)
Last week: 8-6
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" is available right now on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.