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Friday, September 8, 2006
Updated: October 13, 11:45 AM ET
Week 1: I already stink

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Wow. We haven't even gotten to Sunday of Week 1 and I'm already 0-1.

Convinced that Nick Saban's Miami defense would swallow up Chaz Batch on Thursday night, I brushed off an even more likely scenario: Daunte Culpepper submitting his eighth consecutive stink bomb since the beginning of last season, which ties him for the overall lead with Bobby Kelly from "Tourgasm." As always with a bad Daunte game, the numbers failed to reflect the depth of his suckitude -- grounders to wide-open receivers on third downs, lob passes to opposing cornerbacks in the end zone, receivers running back to the bench and shaking their heads, interceptions in crunch-time served on a platter to free safeties and outside linebackers. When you wager on Daunte, he doesn't just beat you. No, he pulls your soul out of your body and stomps on it a few times. After nearly a decade of making picks for my column, I should have known better.

I first started posting Friday picks for my old "Boston Sports Guy" site in September of '97. Other than the NBA draft diary, it's always been my favorite column to write, even though it's the one that requires the most preparation time: Fourteen hours of games every week, multiple newspapers and magazines, a few relevant Web sites, even some obligatory calls with a few buddies who are just as obsessed as I am. I write the bulk of the column on Thursday night, usually after watching "Survivor" and inhaling a giant coffee. As my editors can attest, it's always mailed to them in the wee hours.

BEAT THE SPORTS GUY
Each week, as part of Monday Night Surround, Bill will preview the Monday night game and make some predictions and observations. The challenge is for you decide whether Bill will be right. Can you beat the Sports Guy?

Week 1: Min-Was | S.D.-Oak

But here's the funny thing: As you witnessed last night, most of the time, all that work fails to even remotely pay off. I always end up a shade better than .500, with the exception of one season -- I think it was '99 -- when I finished a whopping 35 games better than .500. And I've been trying to recapture the magic ever since. Do I overthink everything? Is it simply impossible to pick games against the spread on Thursday nights when so much can change during the next 72 hours? Should I dumb everything down and do LESS work? Had this all been a complete waste of time?

Quick story: When I sat down to watch last night's game, after enduring the excruciating pregame show that featured P Diddy, Rascal Flatts, Pink, some Madden highlights and a nearly orgasmic Rich Eisen (where the hell was the football talk?), the Sports Gal asked me which team I picked. After I told her Miami, she glanced at the TV and shook her head.

"Isn't the game in Pittsburgh?"

"Yeah."

"Why would you pick against a team that just won the Super Bowl? Won't the crowd be really excited?"

"Well, yeah. But ..."

"No wonder your picks stink. Pittsburgh's gonna win."

Just like that, she walked away. And she turned out to be right.

Now I'm wondering: Can I even pick games better than someone who doesn't know ANYTHING? That's why I'm adding a wrinkle to this year's picks column: Every week, we're running a related story with picks from someone in my life who doesn't follow football. At first, I considered having a different handicapper each week -- in Week 1, my mom; in Week 2, my stepmother; in Week 3, Jimmy Kimmel; in Week 4, the foreign guy who runs my neighborhood newsstand -- but having that many would be too confusing. I needed to settle on one. And since she started this whole mess, why not the Sports Gal?

NOW I CAN DIE IN PAPERBACK
FYI: We just released the paperback version of my Red Sox book ("Now I Can Die In Peace"), which includes a 20-page afterword (with footnotes) that I made just long enough that you can't read it in a bookstore without starting to feel uncomfortable because you've been standing for so long. Also, I handed in the afterword in June, about six weeks before Boston's season fell apart, making it the first afterword that was already dated before the book was released. So that's always fun. (You'll especially love my glowing words about Josh Beckett. Shoot me.)

Just for kicks, we even included a photo of me and my buddy J-Bug holding the 2004 World Series trophy (with matching deer-in-the-headlights looks, no less). And there's a shocking story about the time I punched out Johnny Pesky at the Cask and Flagon. All right, I made that last one up. But you can find the paperback in any bookstore, or you can order it on Amazon.com for a measly 10 bucks. So get the thing already. Come on. I don't ask for much.

Here are her credentials: She knows nothing about football. More importantly, she hates football. She's been counting down the weeks to the 2006 season the same way somebody looks forward to hernia surgery. It's not the sport as much as me. She knows I'm out of commission for the next 21 Sundays and 16 Monday nights. She also knows that my number of made/received phone calls quintuples during the season, which means she has to hear "the annoying voice," as she calls it.

(Note: Apparently my voice becomes 10 times more grating when I'm discussing football with my buddies on the phone. I'd like to think my voice is always grating, but she insists that it goes to another level during any NFL-related conversation. She describes it thusly: "It's like being trapped on an airplane next to someone who's screaming on a cell phone right before the plane's about to take off. Only it happens for three hours a week from September to January." I'm not saying this is true or untrue, but she believes it, and that's the important thing.)

When I offered her a chance to pick games every week, she begrudgingly accepted under one condition: Along with her picks, she gets one paragraph to rant about something each week. And I can't edit it. In fact, nobody can edit it. She gets to pull a George Solomon and say whatever she wants. Her exact words were, "You've been making up quotes from me ever since we started dating, I want complete creative control." (And by the way, I don't make up her quotes. She just can't remember anything -- too many Dead concerts and Phish concerts in her past. But that's a whole other story.) We struck a deal and that was that. Her picks will run in a sidebar near the end of this column. My picks will run below like always. May the best spouse win.

Actually, I'm a little frightened. What if my wife beats me? Would that throw 10 solid years of NFL handicapping down the drain in one fell swoop? Am I risking a wave of negative picks karma from every female reader who will be rooting for her to beat me? Or will this be my most triumphant season yet -- the season I finished 50 games over .500 and demolished the Sports Gal in the process? Ah, who am I kidding? If I'm dumb enough to pick Daunte Culpepper, on the road, against the defending Super Bowl champs, in his first game back since having his knee repaired, I'm probably dumb enough to lose to my own wife. I hate myself.

And on that note … are you ready for some football??????????????


Before we get to this week's picks, let's zoom through some quick NFL e-mails to get us in the mood:

Q: I should have known your NFL preview would have read like this: "Blah blah blah, New England (without a single NFL caliber receiver) will win 10+ games. Blah blah blah, I love Tom Brady. Blah blah blah, New England will win the Super Bowl."
--Brian, New York, N.Y.

SG: Now I'm kicking myself -- that's what I should have written! Would have saved me two full days and 5,000 words of writing. Damn. Maybe next year.

Q: You know what I want "Madden NFL 08" to have? If you take a knee with less than 35 seconds on the game clock, both benches should walk onto the field and mingle instead of having to sit and look at the playbook for another 20 seconds.
--Andrew, Des Moines, Iowa

SG: You're right, that should be in there. For instance, my favorite part of any Cowboys win is Drew Bledsoe walking around and shaking hands with that, "I feel like the man again, it's just like the old days!" smile on his face. Seeing Video Drew do this would be a dream come true. I demand they work that wrinkle into next year's game. As well as a Gatorade bath. And maybe even 12 black players forming a prayer circle at midfield with the token white guy who doesn't quite belong.

Q: Has anyone, as far as you know, given thought to why the NFL teams that play on Thanksgiving don't save a bye for the Sunday before Thanksgiving? It seems like that would be the smart thing to do, but nobody ever does it.
-- Cindi, Wethersfield, Conn.

SG: Come on, Cindi, that's way too logical. This is the same league where a coach can't get a referee's attention to challenge a touchdown unless he sprints onto the field and whips the red flag at him like Miggs flinging his body fluids at Clarice Starling's face. A bye before a Thanksgiving game could never fly.

Q: I'm in a mixed fantasy league through friends here in D.C. A guy in the league comes up to me and says, "So, is your boyfriend doing your picks for you?" I am by no means a feminist, pretty neutral, but I took offense to this considering I probably have way more knowledge than this dumbass on the subject of football. I thought about bringing up this guy's total inadequacies as a softball player on our company softball team but I thought I better not totally destroy him. ... So my question, since I couldn't think of a good response at that particular time, I was wondering, given my position, what would you have said?
--Gena, Washington, D.C.

SG: See, this is why girls shouldn't be allowed in fantasy football leagues. The guy wasn't being sexist -- he was simply busting your chops. This is what happens in fantasy leagues. For instance, in the draft for my West Coast league on Tuesday night, my buddy Sal took the time to Xerox my sidebar of fantasy sleepers/stayaways from last Friday's column, then hand it out to everyone else in our league so they knew who I liked. That's why God created fantasy leagues, so guys would have new and elaborate ways to make fun of one another for four months each year. But girls aren't like that. Girls don't rag on each other. They act as nice as possible to each other's face, then complain about everyone else as soon as the room clears out (something Season 3 of "Laguna Beach" has captured perfectly).

Here's what you should have said, Gena: "No, I did the picks myself -- and it's just too bad we're not having a 'guys with the smallest schlongs in the room' draft, because I'd have you going in the first round." Or you could have said, "Wait, I thought this was a draft to pick the worst softball player; I have you ranked first on my board." He wouldn't have said another peep.

Look, I have no problem with girls playing fantasy football -- OK, maybe I do -- but if you're crossing the gender line for a guy's league, be prepared to hurt someone's feelings. For instance, on Tuesday night, our friend Elliott picked Fred Taylor in the sixth round. Three full rounds passed, then my friend Hench made believe he was shuffling through a magazine and said, "Good news, Elliott, I finally found the page that Fred Taylor was listed on." Killed the room. It wasn't just the sarcasm but the PATIENCE. That's what made it so fantastic. So if you want to play with the big boys, be prepared to bust some chops. That's all I can tell you.

Q: As a Lions fan I feel like Will Hunting, and at the beginning of every season Matt Millen lays a belt, a stick and a wrench on the kitchen table and tells me to pick one. And each year that I get my hopes up its like I'm picking the wrench, cause f@*& him. Tell me it's not my fault Sports Guy, tell me it's not my fault.
--Tim Carlson, Northampton, Mass.

SG: It's not your fault. It's not your fault. Tim? It's not your fault. It's not your fault, son. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault.

(Follow-up note: I just watched this movie recently for the 1,400th time. Now that enough time has passed, isn't it astounding that Ben Affleck and Robin Williams were great in the same movie? If I told you those guys had a movie coming out next month, what are the odds you would see it: zero or zero?)

Q: I just picked up the "Madden NFL 07" Hall of Fame edition which has John Madden on the cover again. Now that the curse is official, is he immune since he was on previous covers before, or will he mistake his microphone for a turkey leg in November and be out for the rest of the season?
--Joe Schultz, Tucson, Ariz.

SG: I'm leaning toward the latter. By the way, is there anything more frustrating than challenging a call in "Madden," watching the replay, seeing that you were clearly right to challenge the call ... and then the ref runs out on the field and announces, "The call on the field stands"? You can't complain, you can't bitch to anyone, you just have to sit there and grit your teeth. Drives me crazy. (By the way, I graduated from college 14 years ago.)

Q: Please tell me if you can think of a better concept for an MTV show than "Cribs: Five Years Later." For example, in a few years they could have the two surviving members of rap group Pretty Ricky watch their episode, with SuChin Pak interjecting with questions. "So, that's a nice Porsche, you still have that? Whatever happened to that house?"
--Nathan Holtslander, Appleton, Wis.

SG: Not only are you a genius, you're writing me from Appleton, Wis., the home of Beansnappers! Nathan, we're naming you Reader of the Month. Great idea. Although the show seems like it's a little more VH1 to me. But this HAS to happen.

Q: Nice "thumbs up/thumbs down" article. Maybe for your next one you could do a "cheers" and "jeers" feature. Dork.
--Marco Ruffini, Chicago

SG: Wait, you just took two minutes out of your life to fill out an internet form so you could try to insult some random Internet columnist ... and I'm a dork?

Q: It's beginning to get to the point where your picking the Pats to go [to] the Super Bowl is more predictable than Chris Berman picking the Bills and the 49ers to go to the Super Bowl in the '90s.
--Tim, Ohio

SG: Now that one hurt. Please tell me I won't be doing this picks column 20 years from now and quoting U2 lyrics.

Q. My wife and I loved your comparison with Jay Cutler and the 20-year-old au pair. We're both long-time Bronco haters and were watching one of their preseason games on the NFL Network. The crowd was absolutely loving Cutler. They were going nuts for the guy. How long until Broncos fans start doing that stupid 'in-com-plete' chant after every Jake Plummer incompletion? They're going to turn on him. It's only a matter of time.
--Patrick Hall, Ohio

SG: And here's what will eventually happen to Jake: He'll enter that weird gray area where he's juuuuuuuust unappealing enough that he can't sucker another NFL contender into signing him, but he's juuuuuuuuust a big enough name that one of the crappier teams could sell their fans on the whole, "Jake Plummer, he's done some stuff, he's a real QB, you know his name, we're not that good, anyway, you can't really kill us for rolling the dice here" thing. Basically, he's one more year away from entering the Vinny Testaverde Zone. And frankly, I'm excited.

Q: Couldn't agree with you more about Art Shell's lack of clock management. During big moments of any game when he coached in the '90s, whenever they showed the coaches, did you ever notice that Art never had anything to say to anyone (assistants, players, even referees)? He always had this huge headset on but never said a word. My buddies and I always surmised that the coaches in the booth were telling him what to do and how to react through his headset. For example, after a bad call, they were no doubt yelling into his headset, "Art, look mad!" Can't wait to see if he still does this.
--Mike S., Northville, Mich.

SG: So glad you mentioned this. You're right, that was an Art Shell staple -- staring out toward the field with no expression on his face, completely still, to the point that you would worry for a second that your TV's picture froze. I'm telling you, Art Shell's comeback was a gift from the Comedy Gods AND the Gambling Gods. Just you wait. I'm excited for football fans 22 and under to experience him for the first time -- it's almost like finding out that "The Jericho Mile" has been released on DVD or something.

Q: I believe Erin from your last mailbag may be my twin sister separated at birth. For the past two years, I have won my fantasy football league over 11 guys. I am almost afraid to participate again for fear of not winning and therefore diminishing the past two years. And yes, I have been invited to bachelor parties before. I'm also 5-foot-10 120 lbs and a former model, and I have a masters degree. I think Erin and I need to host the next ESPN reality TV show.
--Kristy, New York, N.Y.

SG: Good idea, alleged former model and fantasy football champ who's probably a 275-pound male ex-con writing from Texas. I think this could work.

Q: Since you are a betting man, I was wondering what the over/under is for shots of Archie Manning during Sunday's Colts-Giants game. The halftime interview is a gimme. Complete with old footage of the great Archie Manning himself, followed by the obligatory disclaimer that Archie had to suffer with "horrible teams." Have you ever witnessed anyone living so vicariously through their kids?
--Dan W., Boston

SG: Good point. I'd probably put the over/under at 13.5. Which reminds me, ESPN.com roped me into creating an over/under game for their "Monday Night Surround" package called Beat the Sports Guy. If you like picking dopey over/unders, wasting time on the Internet and holding onto the faint hope that you might do well enough to win a prize, this is the game for you.

Enough foreplay, let's get to the Week 1 picks (home teams in caps):

Bills (+9.5) over PATRIOTS
Transcript of the phone call between Deion Branch and his agent on Sunday morning:

Deion: You sure I shouldn't go back? Coach Belichick is stubborn as hell, he let Adam and Willie go, he won three rings, there's no way he's caving.

Agent: Deion, baby, you have to trust me! The Jets and Seahawks are on board for $39 million, this is all gonna work out! Just be patient!

(By the way, that wasn't the transcript for Sunday morning, Week 1. That was for Sunday morning, Week 8. And yes, I think this is Belichick's "I'm Keith Hernandez!" moment. I'm Bill Belichick! I won three Super Bowls in four years! I don't need a No. 1 receiver!)

BUCS (-3) over Ravens
The countdown to Brian Billick's firing begins. Do you think Jim Fassel sneaks into his office after Billick leaves and thinks about stuff like, "Should I paint it a different color when I take over?" and "Would it be weird if I started moving some boxes in now so I don't have to do everything all at once?"

TITANS (-2.5) over Jets
Confession time: I helped with the planning of "The Fantasy Show," ESPN's new weekly fantasy football show (Thursdays, 6:30 p.m.). There were numerous meetings and conference calls, multiple memos, even a couple of points where I flew off the handle because I wasn't getting my way. All in all, it was a weird/frustrating process and I'm not sure I liked it. But we ended up with a solid cast: The eternally youthful Rob Stone, the always great Ron Jaworski, and Internet cult hero Matthew "The Talented Mr. Roto" Berry, and if that's not enough, we have Danni from "Survivor" lurking as a more elaborate, infinitely more attractive version of Stat Boy on "PTI." And it's a real fantasy show -- not one of those pseudo-shows where the dopes tell you that it's a good idea to start LaDainian Tomlinson this week. You will get something from this show every week. I promise.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I was ready to plug the show in this space until Berry -- who's the key to everything, much like Stu Feiner was the key to the old "Sports Advisors" shows back in the mid-'90s -- recommended Chad Pennington as one of his Week 1 fantasy sleepers this week. Now I'm going to hold off on plugging the show until Berry's drug test comes back.

RAMS (+4) over Broncos
During my fantasy draft Tuesday, I made a motion to combine Tatum and Mike Bell into one 2006 fantasy back called "Uber-Bell." Nobody wanted to do it except the guy who had the No. 4 pick. Unbelievable. Come on, what's more fun for a fantasy season: Mike Bell and Tatum Bell platooning or somebody starting "Uber-Bell" every week? Come on.

(By the way, there's still time to climb on the Rams Sleeper Bandwagon. Plenty of seats available. Seriously, this thing is almost empty.)

BROWNS (-3) over Saints
Has there ever been an NFL rookie with a bigger range of expectations than Reggie Bush? He could stink this season and nobody would be surprised. He could be OK this season (couple of big runs, couple of big kick returns, a few more exciting plays) and nobody would be surprised. He could end up with 2,500 total offensive yards and 18 touchdowns and nobody would be surprised. Really, anything's possible. He has no ceiling and no basement. Bizarre.

LIONS (+6) over Seahawks
If we've learned anything over the past few years, it's this: Never pick against the Lions during a week when one of their assistant coaches is arrested while driving drunk in the nude.

CHIEFS (-2.5) over Bengals
Didn't have space to fit this into Wednesday's preview, so I'm doing it here: The 2006 Bengals and 2006 Falcons didn't appeal to me for the same reason, namely, that bad-character teams always seem to implode at the worst possible times. The Bengals had so many legal problems that my readers spent the summer trying to come up with the best Jail Blazers-type nickname for them (with "Cincinnattica" barely edging out the "Cin-mates"). And the Falcons had so many fights in training camp that it became a national story; even the cast of "Desperate Housewives" has better chemistry. Thanks but no thanks.

The Sports Gal Speaks
There's a new commercial where Lindsay Lohan claims that she uses Proactiv a few times a week for healthy skin. This made me laugh because she lives at the Chateau Marmont and probably gets a facial and massage every other day. Also, this girl can't even show up on a movie set on time, now I'm supposed to believe she remembers to take her Proactiv every day? I don't think anyone who's famous or wealthy should be able to go on TV and endorse skin products unless they divulge the other "keys" to their beauty routine, like acne extractions every week, microderm abrasion two times a month, two facials a week and La Mer moisturizing products at $200 a pop. These celebrities spend at least $2,000 a month keeping their skin "healthy." In Lindsay's case, she's a chain-smoking, club-hopping tramp who spends her spare time getting tanning sessions, shopping and forgetting to eat. She's going to look like a leather purse in 25 years no matter how much Proactiv she takes. She should have to mention that too. I hate that commercial.

Here are my picks for Week 1: Denver, N.Y. Jets, New England, Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Dallas, Green Bay, Arizona, N.Y. Giants, Washington and Oakland.

Eagles (-5.5) over TEXANS
One more story from my fantasy draft: My buddy Shek picked Dominick Davis in Round 8 just to see everyone's reaction, then caught someone's eye who had one of those open-mouthed, "Screw him, I'm not gonna say anything if you guys don't" looks before Shek started screaming, "You were gonna let me do it! I saw you! I saw the look in your eye!" High comedy. Seriously, what's more fun than a roto draft? I wish they could go 35 rounds.

Falcons (+6) over PANTHERS
Toughest game on the board. On the one hand, Steve Smith has not one but TWO strained hammies. And we all know you need your hammies. On the other hand, Falcons cornerback D'Angelo Hall ignored the league-wide "never trash-talk Steve Smith" edict and volleyed a number of shots at him, causing Smith (described as "genuinely hurt" in the Atlanta paper) to fire back, "When you're the court jester and you're talking to the king, you've got to do stuff like that." So what do we do now? Steve Smith is angry, Steve Smith wants revenge, and Steve Smith might be too injured to get it. Basically, anything's possible. Stay away from this game.

Cowboys (+2.5) over JAGS
It's Week 1 and you know what that means ... that's right, it's time for Drew Bledsoe's first "time to get my fans' hopes up so I can crush them three months from now" comeback win on the road! Love when that happens.

CARDS (-7.5) over Niners
So I'm surfing online yesterday morning with "Regis and Kelly" (a Sports Gal favorite) blaring in the background. Regis starts babbling about the NFL, and wouldn't you know it, he's bragging about his acumen for picking an NFL sleeper every year -- he had the Giants last season and the Chargers the season before. Well, now I'm intrigued. So he builds the whole thing up as the painfully thin Kelly Ripa pretends to be interested, and finally, Reeg unveils his sleeper: The Arizona Cardinals! Now I'm counting on either Kelly or his fey producer to chime in with something like, "Yo, Reeg, they're not really a sleeper, everyone's picking them as a sleeper." What happens? Nothing. Everyone lets it go. What an outrage. I hate daytime TV.

PACKERS (+3.5) over Bears
They have no business hanging with a team like the Bears. None. But you know what? After my splendid Lambeau trip last month, I can't pick against the Pack there. At least not yet. And since there's nothing else to say ... Bow ... cha-bow-bow-now ... GO PACK GO!

(Interesting e-mail from Sunnyvale, Calif., reader Steve K.: "I'm watching the Thursday night game and just realized who Madden is grooming to be his next Brett Favre: Hines Ward. Am I the only one who's noticing this?" Nope. I noticed it, too. You'd think he would have waited until Favre retired, right? Madden is like a husband with a fatally sick wife who starts casually dating even though his wife isn't dead yet.)

GIANTS (+3.5) over Colts
Does anyone else feel like Peyton Manning is trying a little too hard to convince us that he's a good guy? How many goofy commercials can he make? There hasn't been a PR campaign this orchestrated and transparent since David Gest and Liza Minnelli were french-kissing on "Larry King Live." But since it seems to be working, maybe Roger Goodell should hire Manning's PR Crew -- did you see him awkwardly interacting with Madden and Michaels in the booth last night? He made Paul Tagliabue look like Dane Cook after about 10 Red Bulls. What a stiff. Everything about this guy screams "airline pilot," right down to his name. Between this guy, Bud Selig and Gary Bettman, David Stern must be doing backflips right now -- he could have a frontal lobotomy and still be the most dynamic sports commissioner alive.

Vikings (+5) over REDSKINS
I was talking about football announcers with my buddy House last night after a three-hour game in which Madden and Michaels didn't offer one critical comment beyond, "I'm not sure I would have gone for it there on fourth down." House watches college football and claims that the announcers are 100 times worse, which I find hard to believe. But we got to talking about Kornheiser, and here's the thing: This HAS to work. He's our only hope. If he doesn't bring up salient questions, offer critical remarks, inject some personality and move a formulaic, cliché-ridden, punchless profession into an entirely different direction, you know who ends up losing in the long run? Us. That's who. Anyway, that's why I'm rooting for Tony to succeed. Same for House.

Chargers (-3) over RAIDERS
I'll leave you with this: Apparently the European version of "Madden" has a glitch where, if you're playing in superstar mode and not controlling the QB, he'll throw the football backward on every play. I mention this not because it's a funny YouTube clip, but because the person who posted that YouTube clip called it, "the Aaron Brooks glitch." In other words, they decided to name the glitch after the real-life QB who's most likely to throw the ball 35 yards backward during a game. And you wonder why I'm laying the three.

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.