Some thoughts and e-mails before we get to the Week 7 picks:
• Last Monday's guillotine loss by Arizona received a surprising amount of media attention this week, mainly because of the nature of the meltdown (unprecedented) and Denny Green's hissy fit afterwards (delightful). But allow me three follow-up notes to everyone else's follow-up notes:
First, I can't believe nobody mentioned Arizona's incredible decision to throw twice in the final four minutes, then punt to Devin Hester (a genuine threat to break one) instead of simply running the ball three times, punting away from Hester, then making Rex Grossman (up to six turnovers at that point and an out-and-out basket case) engineer a two-minute drill 75-80 yards to beat them. That was the most amazing thing about that game: Not that Chicago came back from 20 down, but that their floundering QB didn't have to make a single play, and even more incredible, Arizona didn't make him make a single play. How do you think Belichick or Shanahan would have handled that situation? Remember, Denny Green was famous for blowing big leads well before he came to Arizona. I just don't understand how he comes out of that one unscathed. As Mad Dog Russo would say, "I mean, Mikey, I don't mean to kill Denny Green here, but you have to make Grossman beat you there! You have to!"
Second, I've heard multiple writers and announcers claim that, had the Cardinals won that game, that would have been the most important victory in franchise history. Um, nobody remembers when Plummer and the Cards shocked Aikman, Irvin, Emmitt and the Cowboys IN DALLAS during the '98 playoffs? The whole "whatever happened five minutes ago was the biggest thing that ever happened" school of making sports arguments has to be one of the most annoying sports media trends of this decade. I can't handle it anymore.
Here's what you missed this week from the Sports Guy:
• NLCS: The Running Diary
• The Mailbag
• Beat The Sports Guy
Third, I thought this e-mail summed Monday's game up nicely, courtesy of Joel B. in Reno: "I'm sure you're going to get a ton of e-mails from Cardinal 'fans' about how this Monday night loss to the Bears is a stomach punch game. I just have one thing to say to them: They're no fans of the Arizona Cardinals. Real fans of the Arizona Cardinals knew that the Cardinals were going to blow this. Hell, I spent the third quarter on the phone with fellow 'real fans' of the Cardinals discussing exactly how they were going to lose. In other words, for us true Cardinal fans it's wasn't even a question of 'if' but merely a question of 'how' the Cardinals were going to blow this game. I do have one positive thing to say though. Whoever signs Leinart in free agency in five or six years is going to get a hell of a quarterback."
• Eau Claire reader William K. makes a good point: "Why does every good Bears team HAVE to be compared to the 1985 juggernaut? It's like trying to compare every Springsteen album to "Born to Run." There is only so much genius, execution and emotion that the universe can handle. If the '06 Bears were as good as the '85 Bears, the fabric of existence would begin to tear apart (probably beginning with Ditka's mustache falling out). No Bears team will ever capture the spirit of the '85 team. Do you think a Buddy Ryan-led defense would have allowed a rookie QB to walk off the field under his own power, much less have success in a nationally televised game? No chance. I love the Bears regardless of the season, but the '85 team should only be compared to other similar life-altering events ... earthquakes, hurricanes, or TECMO Super Bowl."
(Note: I agree with everything. The '85 Bears remain the most dominant team I've ever seen. Much like Tyson on the night of the Spinks fight, I believe the Bears on the night of Super Bowl XX would have beaten any other football team from any other season. It's insulting to compare another Bears team to those guys. They had everything. Plus, this Bears' offense doesn't have anything even remotely approaching Walter Payton. So stop it.)
• I thought of a new gambling theory after last week's Denver-Oakland game when the Broncos sat on a 13-3 lead for the entire second half: The Milton Berle Theory. In case you didn't know, Berle was famous in Hollywood circles for being more endowed than anyone else. Basically, he was the Dirk Diggler of Hollywood. (Note: There's a hysterical anecdote in the SNL book "Live From New York" about this. Highest of high comedy.) Anyway, the famous story about Berle (maybe an urban legend, maybe not) was that somebody challenged him to a "who's bigger?" contest once, and Berle soundly defeated the guy, then bragged to someone else in the room, "I only pulled out enough to win." I've heard this story 20 different ways but that's always how it ends.
What does this have to do with gambling? In the age of perpetual putridity, I feel like we're seeing these games now where double-digit favorites play bad teams straight up, let them hang around for four quarters, then prevail in an unsatisfying, closer-than-we-thought win that leaves their fans wondering what the hell just happened. Well, why does this happen? Because they only pulled out enough to win. And the thing is, only a couple of coaches have enough confidence to do this: Belichick, Dungy, Shanahan, and that's about it. But they do it because they don't want to waste surprise formations, no-huddle offenses, gimmick plays or anything else that they need to save for a good team. Look at the Broncos: They were home against the decrepit Raiders, then they're going to Cleveland this week to play a subpar Browns team ... and that's followed by two mammoth conference games against Indy and Pittsburgh. Why show anything against Oakland and Cleveland in the meantime? Why not pull out just enough to win?
Anyway, there are two Milton Berle Games this week. We'll get to them. Please, try to contain your excitement.
• Here were this week's winners of the "Best Raider-Related E-mails" contest:
From Chad in La Grande, Ore.: "New slogan for the 21st century Oakland Raiders: 'Commitment to Excrement.'"
From Nick B. in Bakersfield, Calif.: "John Madden just explained how Art Shell installed the silent count that helped the Falcons beat the Vikings in the NFC Championship game. WOW! Could you pick a better coach to teach the silent count? This has to be 90+ on your Unintentional Comedy scale. How do you think he teaches the silent count? I imagine very few words and Coach Shell acting like a mime."
From Will Johnson in New York: "From the San Francisco Chronicle: 'Oakland RB LaMont Jordan missed practice with back trouble Wednesday, and coach Art Shell hopes Jordan gets better in a hurry. If not, the Raiders are in big trouble.' Does big trouble mean 0-5? You have to love hometown sportswriters who just don't care anymore."
From BJ in Syracuse, N.Y.: "If you ever wondered what it was like to be a Raiders fan, you are in luck because I'm about to give you some insight: First, take an ice pick and just ram it into your left testicle. Just do it for no reason at all. If you can make it all the way through so it sticks into a table or chair, that is preferable. Next, headbutt the nearest immovable object (table, brick wall, etc.) seven times or until you draw blood, whichever comes first. After that, put your left hand on a table and smash it with a hammer three times as hard as you can, then dip it in scalding hot water. After that wears off, eat an Oreo cookie because they actually look like they are going to score, but as soon as you eat the cookie wash it down with a quart of antifreeze because they found some way to screw it up. While you are still alive, slowly remove the ice pick to make sure you acheive maximum torture, and then stab yourself in the temple."
(Ladies and gentleman, the 2006 Raiders!!!!!! We're witnessing history in the making! By the way, here's their best chance to avoid 0-16: at home against Houston on Dec. 3. I'm not asking for Gus Johnson to announce this game, I'm demanding it.)
• Couple of corrections from Wednesday's mailbag: (A) There was a screwup in one of my answers that we fixed (the Burgundy/Corningstone question); (B) I neglected to put Laura Linney, Sela Ward and Lori Loughlin on the Diane Lane All-Stars (just an egregious oversight); and (C) Holy Cross was playing at Dartmouth in their post-game brawl that received no media attention whatsoever. Which reminds me, M.T. Miller from Atlanta sent this along:
"I got an advanced copy of the punishment for 11 Dartmouth players involved in the melee with Holy Cross: (1) Banned from the fall regatta; (2) Valet parking privileges suspended for one month; (3) Spa services limited to Swedish massage for two weeks. It's time we send the Ivy League thugs a message."
• I'm taking a little heat from St. Louis Cardinals fans for not being gracious enough about their big win in last night's running diary. Look at it from my vantage point -- your team is currently five games over .500 in a CLEARLY inferior league and only managed one run combined against John Maine and Oliver Perez in the deciding two games of a playoff series. I know you're happy about making the World Series, but you can't honestly think you have a great team, right? I don't know a single person outside of Detroit or St. Louis who's excited about the 2006 World Series. So if you guys think you belong, then prove it. Let's see if your boys can win a couple games and give us a reason to give a crap. And if that happens, we'll all be happy to admit we were wrong. I don't know what else to tell you.
• That reminds me, my friend Camper sent me a salient e-mail about last night's Endy Chavez catch: "Maybe you had a different viewing on the West Coast, but here in New York, Fox went to commercial almost as soon as Edmonds was punched out. I'm sitting there questioning what I just saw -- greatest catch I can remember seeing live, immediately going into the pantheon of "holycrapthatwasunbelievable" sporting moments with Starks' dunk over the entire Bulls lineup and BC beating ND with a knuckleball field goal in the early-'90s -- and wanted to see the catch over and over again, but Fox immediately cuts to a Levi's commercial. So, having ADD, I say the F word and go to the kitchen to get some food and a drink, then get distracted by the latest issue of Details, start reading it and forget to get back in front of the TV in time to see the replay. (I eventually rewinded on TiVo.) Network TV sucks."
• The Ravens aren't playing this week, but I hope everyone noticed four things from last week's game: (A) McNair finally went down (you knew he wasn't making it out of October); (B) Boller threw two tipped balls that ended up being caught for bogus scores by Mark Clayton (translation: don't trust either of them for fantasy purposes); (C) their secondary is below-average and you can throw on them at any time; and (D) Billick fired Jim Fassel as his offensive coordinator, which was fascinating because this meant that Baltimore's offense was apparently coordinated during the past three seasons. I had no idea. Anyway, I still say they're not making the playoffs.
• One week after I wrote about Antrell Rolle's vicious facemask penalty that could have broken Larry Johnson's neck, Johnson did something that I've been calling for since 2002: He tackled Troy Polamalu from behind by his hair. Totally legal, by the way. So what happened? He held on for a fraction of a second too long and received an unsportmanslike conduct penalty. How ironic is that? Rolle deliberately tries to breaks his neck and gets 15 yards. Seven days later, LJ legally pulls Polamalu's hair for a tackle and gets the same 15 yards. The NFL is ridiculous.
Speaking of ridiculous, Edge James keeps complaining that he doesn't touch the ball enough. Thankfully, I have my STATS Inc. account so I can look this stuff up on my own. Not only does Edge lead the league in rushing attempts (148 in all, 18 more than the next guy), but they've thrown to him 30 times (for 23 catches). In six games, he's been the target of an offensive play 178 times! Really, that's not enough for you, Edge? Gimme a break. Another interesting stat: He's been stuffed behind the line 23 times for a total of minus-48 yards (both numbers lead the league). And he looks slow and tentative. Other than that, great signing by the Cards.
• In case you were wondering, I'm still kicking myself for not realizing that last week's SF blowout had "this Tomlinson-Turner thing is taking on a life of its own ... let's feed LDT the ball against a crappy team, get him some TD's and put a smile on his face" potential. Should have seen that one coming. With that said, let's see who gets the ball the next time they need a first down in the last five minutes of a close game against a good defense.
• Sandy from New Orleans sent along an insightful column from Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose that appeared three weeks ago. Thought this was really well done.
• Speaking of New Orleans, after the Philly/Atlanta upsets, we heard the same comments from the losers after the game: all kinds of variations on the whole "I hate losing, but if we're going to lose, I don't mind losing this one" mindset, with Jim Mora Jr. and Warrick Dunn openly admitting that it was the easiest loss they ever had. I'm not suggesting that visiting teams are subconsciously throwing these games or anything, but could there be something to the notion that Hurricane Katrina has removed just a shred of their killer instinct?
Think about how football works: You go into an opposing stadium, you want to shut up the fans, you want to destroy the other team, you want to dominate everyone and everything. Well, what happens when that killer instinct is modified in some way? What happens when you're not saying, "We're gonna shut these stupid fans up!" and "We're gonna roll over these guys and leave them for dead!" What team is going into New Orleans and not subconsciously feeling bad for everything that happened while they're staying in the city? You can't NOT think about it, right? And when you think about how much the Saints have meant to the city over the past six weeks (and we keep hearing the stories, like how Brees went into Emeril Lagasse's restaurant on Sunday night and received a standing ovation from everyone there), I refuse to believe that there isn't some mental spillover to the opposing teams. At least right now. Every visiting team that heads into the Superdome right now feels like the Russians at Lake Placid in 1980. And that's just a fact.
Onto the Week 7 quick picks ...
(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)
Through six weeks, against the spread:
Favorites vs. spread: 37-45-5
Panthers (+3.5) over BENGALS
Finally figured out this Panthers team: Take the points on the road, give the points at home. Also, you know one of those Bengals DBs will be dumb enough to trash talk Steve Smith. I'm calling the outright mini-upset: Carolina 27, Cincinnattica 24.
Patriots (-5.5) over BILLS
Is there a reason we haven't started calling J.P. Losman "J-Lo" yet?
Chargers (-5.5) over CHIEFS
I'm totally sold on Philip Rivers, even if his name makes him sound like a dentist. By the way, who was the guy in your fantasy league who started discreetly offering Larry Johnson around this week and hoping that one of the other owners had been traveling out of the country since late-September? Mine was Mike McCullers.
Steelers (-2.5) over FALCONS
Two teams going in opposite directions. You know things are bad when Atlanta fans are getting fired up for the Hawks. Now I'm starting to think that Pittsburgh takes that division. I've flip-flopped on them twice already and it's not even Halloween.
BUCS (+5.5) over Eagles
I don't know what's happening with Brian Westbrook's knees, but I do know this: Just hearing the words "microfracture surgery" would make me react like one of the poor guys who wakes up handcuffed to a radiator in the "Saw" movies.
(Random prediction: Before everything is said and done, Bruce Gradkowski is going down as the greatest Polish-Italian QB ever.)
I've seen "Devil Wears Prada" four times already: twice in the movies, then on both ends of a cross-country flight last week. Bill couldn't understand why I would watch it four times so I tried to explain it to him. They don't make enough movies where there's a young girl who has no style and can't fit in, and then, as the movie goes along, she realizes you need to look the part to get ahead. So she finds somebody non-threatening who's willing to help her understand how to dress and act, and the whole time, everyone's wearing great clothes, looking great and going to high-society events. And by the end, she's cooler and more stylish than anyone in the movie. Pretty Woman worked the same way: Julia Roberts was a hooker with no style, then she found a billionaire boyfriend and a new wardrobe and everything turned out fine. I'm glad she fell in love and it was a nice story, but I really liked her clothes more than anything, especially the brown dress she wore in the polo scene.
Bill joked that, if that's what I liked about these movies, then they should just keep remaking "Prada" in different environments. Like if, instead of a fashion magazine, they tried a high-class gossip magazine, or a black fashion magazine, or a teen fashion magazine, or they could get out of the magazine industry and use an ad agency or a daytime TV show. It could be the same premise every time -- a young girl gets a job in a hectic workplace and has no style, people are mean to her and, eventually, she fits in and succeeds at her job even though she has an evil boss. Then she gets a promotion, falls in love and gets her revenge on everyone who thought she was worthless and didn't have any style. I thought this was a neat idea until Bill said he was kidding. But why is that a bad idea? Bill has something like 50 favorite sports movies and they're all the same movie -- somebody's an underdog, nobody believes in them, then they win the big game in the end. That's every sports movie. So how is that different than making my fashion movie premise 50 different ways? I think Bill is a hypocrite.
Here are my picks for Week 7: K.C. +5.5, Houston +9.5, N.E. -5.5, Pitt -2.5, Miami -5, Philly -5.5, Detroit +2.5, Carolina +3.5, Cleveland +4.5, Washington +9, Seattle -6.5, Arizona -3, Dallas -3.
Last Week: 5-8
JETS (-3.5) over Lions
Jon Kitna ... the Meadowlands ... no thanks.
Packers (+5) over DOLPHINS
But seriously ... if Brett Favre can't cover a five-point spread against a 1-5 team with Joey Harrington at QB, he needs to retire immediately. And I mean, immediately. Within 10 seconds of the final whistle.
Jaguars (-9.5) over TEXANS
According to STATS, Jacksonville ranks second in the league in opposing time of possession (26.32); Houston ranks 31st (33.31). Jacksonville ranks second in fewest first downs allowed (70); Houston ranks 28th (119). And Jacksonville has given up the least number of drives that lasted 10 plays or more (two out of 61 potential drives) and Houston has given up the fourth-most (12 out of 50).
(Translation: I think Jacksonville will have the ball more than Houston in this game.)
COWBOYS (-3) over Giants
Covered most of the angles in this week's edition of "Beat the Sports Guy," but here's one that didn't get mentioned: If Bledsoe craps the bed on Monday night, that's probably it for him, right? Should the Raiders start making 2007 Bledsoe jerseys now to get a jump-start on things?
BROWNS (+4.5) over Broncos
Milton Berle Game No. 1, but here's the question: Can you pull out just enough to win when you're playing on the road with Jake Plummer? I guess we'll see.
Redskins (+9) over COLTS
Milton Berle Game No. 2. I'm even making this the Near-Upset Pick of the Week: Colts 30, Redskins 27.
Vikings (+6.5) over SEAHAWKS
I liked what the Hawks did last week: They couldn't run the ball since Maurice Morris sucks, so they pull a "Madden" move and start throwing every down ... and it works! Then they're running out the clock and Morris fumbles (I mentioned he sucks, right?), then Holt catches that insane six-tip touchdown and it looks like the Hawks might lose because their kicker missed a field goal that hit both uprights. So what happens? They march down the field and the same kicker buries a 54-yarder at the whistle. Now that's a gutsy win. But you know what? They still can't run the ball. I don't like picking teams to cover big spreads when they can't run the ball.
Cardinals (-3) over RAIDERS
See? It was all the offensive coordinator's fault! Anyway, this is the week that Raiders fans fully realize that their team passed up on a Sure Thing QB (Matt Leinart) to take a safety last April ... and then things start getting broken and people will start being punched. I will never understand that one.
Last Week: 7-6
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.