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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.
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
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?"
"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?
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.
(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."
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
TITANS (-2.5) over Jets
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
(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
LIONS (+6) over Seahawks
CHIEFS (-2.5) over Bengals
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.
Falcons (+6) over PANTHERS
Cowboys (+2.5) over JAGS
CARDS (-7.5) over Niners
PACKERS (+3.5) over Bears
(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
Vikings (+5) over REDSKINS
Chargers (-3) over RAIDERS