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Friday, September 22, 2006
Updated: October 13, 11:43 AM ET
Living in Daunte's inferno

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Thanks to an overflow of panicked fantasy owners in California, we had to hold our weekly Daunte Culpepper Roto Support Group meeting at the Staples Center on Wednesday night. Nearly 14,000 people showed up, shattering the old record of 9,500 from last season. It's always a sobering crowd. You can't imagine how much damage Daunte has inflicted over the past two seasons until you see everyone crammed in one place.

I kicked things off by standing on a makeshift stage, leaning into the microphone and saying, "My name is Bill, and I'm a recovering Daunte Culpepper owner." Everyone said hello. You could feel the warmth.

Then I told everyone my story: Last season, Daunte destroyed my West Coast fantasy team. Co-owner T-Man and I had taken him in the second round. We were expecting big things. He ended up obliterating our season -- six TDs and 12 INTs in six weeks, followed by Daunte blowing out his knee in 35 places in Week 7 and leaving us for dead. We never recovered. And naturally, we vowed never to take him again.

And that's when fate intervened: Daunte was traded to the Dolphins, T-Man's favorite team. The T-Man can't think rationally when Dolphins are involved; he always ends up overvaluing them for fantasy purposes and saying stuff during drafts like, "I know it's early, but I'll tell you who I love right here: Marty Booker!" We all have friends like this. He knew we could never pick Daunte again, not after what happened, but heading into this year's draft, T-Man was super-excited about grabbing Chris Chambers with our third-round pick (No. 22 overall). I found myself getting excited about Chambers as well -- after all, Culpepper couldn't be worse than the Triple-F's (Fiedler, Feeley and Frerotte), right? Playing with a QB with a big arm, it seemed logical that Chambers would become a top-five receiver.

CORRECTIONS
1. In last Friday's column, I made a joke about Dick Ebersol flying the "Sunday Night Football" crew around in GE's private jet, which was directly related to an extended anecdote in Peter King's "Monday Morning QB" column that same week. Thankfully, a few readers reminded me that Ebersol was involved in a tragic crash two years ago that claimed his son, so if you didn't read King's column, it's possible that the joke could have been misconstrued. Anyway, we removed the joke to be safe -- and I've been kicking myself since because I should have made the connection without help from the readers. Sorry about that.

2. I screwed up something in Wednesday's column -- Vince Papale didn't block a punt for a touchdown in "Invincible." Actually, he forced a fumble on a punt return and ran it in for a touchdown. Apparently this DID happen in a real game, only it was a much shorter return (about 10 yards) and didn't count because you couldn't advance fumbles on kick returns by rule at the time. So yes, Hollywood did tinker with that one.

Only one thing worried me: By picking Chambers, we would be indirectly linked with Culpepper again. Deep down, I was hoping someone else would take him. Nobody did. We landed Tomlinson and Harrison in the first two rounds, and just as we anticipated, Chambers was sitting there at 22. It was down to him and Terrell Owens. Neither of us wanted to root for T.O; both of us wanted to root for Chambers. As an aside, this is always dangerous logic when you're picking a roto team -- you can't play favorites, not ever -- but we didn't care. We took Chambers to a barrage of muffled "nice picks!" from the room.

The T-Man and I slapped hands. We were about to enter another season of fantasy hell.

Fast-forward to last Sunday: Miami is losing to Buffalo at home. For the second straight week, Culpepper (about 30 pounds lighter, although much like with Carson Daly, this isn't necessarily a good thing) looks "Chevy Chase Show"-level uncomfortable running the West Coast offense, which relies on timing and precision, two things for which Daunte has never been known. He's taking bad sacks, getting rid of the ball too soon, short-arming sidearm passes and making weird faces after every incompletion, kinda like how someone looks when they're sitting in an airplane and someone else farts -- not when they first smell the odor, but the look about five seconds later, when the smell isn't going away. It's a look that says, "This stinks, I feel sick, I'm trapped." That was Culpepper. With every poor decision, he was giving the Bills life.

Things crested near the end of the first half, when the Fins had driven inside the 20 (finally) and Culpepper rolled to his right to escape the rush, couldn't find anyone and decided to throw the ball away ... only he threw it right to a Bills linebacker who was falling out of bounds. I'm not sure whether this was the single worst pass in NFL history, but it was definitely in the top five. And watching the other Dolphins jog incredulously off the field while Culpepper made the Stale Fart Face, three things became abundantly clear:

1. I would be losing all three of my two-team teasers with Miami in Week 2 ... which I deserved for wagering on Culpepper using the always dubious "he's not so bad that he could lose to J.P. Losman at home, right?" logic. Any time your gambling logic includes the words "he's not so bad that ...", it's probably a good sign to stay away. Whatever. As long as Art Shell remains an NFL head coach, I will not be losing money this season overall. Daunte was just cutting into my profit margin. A lesson learned.

2. Despite receiving more preseason hype than Katie Couric and "Dancing with the Stars" combined, the 2006 Dolphins would not be making the playoffs.

3. Everyone who drafted Chris Chambers as a top-25 guy was potentially screwed. As in, "not only is he relatively worthless, but he's not even a big enough name that we can talk someone else into trading for him" screwed. This news was decidedly undelightful. And if you think I was distraught, imagine poor T-Man, who had Daunte killing his fantasy team AND his real team and actually screamed the words, "I swear to God, it looks like he's throwing this game on purpose!" on Sunday.

Anyway, I finished my tale of woe, absorbed the applause from the 14,000 on hand and asked if anyone had questions. Paul from Santa Monica stood up and wondered how bad Culpepper could have been since his stats for the Buffalo game were half-decent: 23-for-32, 250 yards, one touchdown. Fair question. I explained that you really needed to see the game. His completion percentage was high because he was either (A) taking sacks instead of throwing the ball away, and (B) dumping to his closest outlet guy whenever there was pressure. (There were multiple third-and-longs when he completed harmless passes well short of the first down, the kind of throws that John Madden rips apart when you're playing "Madden" because you didn't get to the marker.) Also, his final stats were artificially inflated by a garbage-time drive in the final three minutes when Buffalo was in a prevent.

"Here's how bad he was," I told Paul and the crowd. "During the second half, the crowd was chanting, 'Jo-ey! Jo-ey! Jo-ey! Jo-ey!"

"Who's Joey?" Paul asked.

"That would be the Dolphins backup ... Joey Harrington."

There was a quick groan in the Staples Center, followed by a mortified silence, kinda like when a batter gets beaned during a baseball game.

"Oh, yeah," I said. "They were chanting for Joey Harrington. You heard me."

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 3: Falcons at Saints

That rattled the crowd. Finally, Rob from Manhattan Beach stood up and said, "I don't understand ... this guy was the best fantasy QB alive two years ago. He made the Pro Bowl in 2003 and 2004 and threw for a combined 8,200 yards, 64 TDs and just 22 interceptions, plus he ran for more than 800 yards and six TDs. And he's not even 30 yet. How can somebody just lose it like that unless drugs were involved, or a crippling car accident or something? It doesn't seem possible."

I was prepared for this question. My response: Running QBs are like professional wrestlers and porn stars. In other words, it's such a taxing profession on so many levels, and you end up taking such a pounding, there's only a five- or six-year shelf life before things turn sour.

Think about it. The same variable that made guys like Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Kordell Stewart, Jeff Garcia, Aaron Brooks, Steve McNair and Culpepper successful was the one that killed their longevity: Namely, defenses always had to pay attention to their scrambling (which opened up more passing options downfield), but by scrambling 6-7 times per game to keep defenses honest, they subjected themselves to more punishment than the average QB. As they neared their 30s and their bodies started to break down, they realized they couldn't scramble as much anymore, and so did their coaching staffs, which led to two major problems: First, defenses realized it as well (removing their advantage downfield), and second, they were trying to become something they weren't (efficient passers who remained in the pocket). Taking away that scrambling threat was almost like removing Pedro Martinez's slider AND his changeup in 2001, then expecting him to adjust and win 20 games every season.

Look at those aforementioned QBs again. Cunningham had four good seasons, peaked as a runner in '91 (118 carries, 942 yards, 11 TDs), blew out his knee the following season and was never the same. Kordell started for five up-and-down seasons, peaked as a runner in 2002 (96 carries, 537 yards, five TDs), and within four years, he was out of football. Garcia made three straight Pro Bowls, averaging 72 carries and four TDs during those seasons, and now he's a backup in Philly. Brooks carried the ball 80 times in his first full season (2001), remained a running "threat" for the next 2-3 seasons (even though the stats didn't reflect it), tried to become more of a pocket QB, and now he's on his way out of the league. McNair had a longer run of seven seasons in Tennessee, peaking as a runner in '97 (101 carries, 674 yards, 8 TDs) before his body broke down in 2003 (now he's starting for Baltimore and looks terrible). Culpepper had a five-season run, peaked as a runner in 2002 (105 carries, 609 yards, 10 TD's), and within three seasons, he was a complete mess.

Only Young excelled for a prolonged stretch: Seven straight Pro Bowl seasons before concussions did him in. (By the way, notice how these running QBs keep getting hurt?) As Young's career evolved, he picked his spots with scrambling and became more of a pocket QB, something Donovan McNabb is mastering now and Michael Vick can't seem to grasp at all; he's even going the other way and running MORE. The thing is, you can't keep scrambling in the 21st century, not with 350-pound behemoths flying around and smelling blood every time a QB leaves his pocket. Mark Brunell (80 carries in his second full season) realized this almost immediately, that's one of the reasons he's still playing. McNabb realized it, too. Vick is still in denial. And Culpepper realized it too late.

"So you think Culpepper will be out of the league in a few seasons?" Rob from Manhattan Beach asked.

"All evidence suggests that he will," I said. "He used to be a force of nature -- threw the ball 60 yards, scrambled for extra time, barreled over 300-pound lineman for first downs, always made 3-4 "Wow!" plays per game (with help from Moss). Now he's just a pocket QB with a bum knee who makes too many mistakes. He'll have some good weeks and some bad weeks, but I don't see him ever being an elite guy again. And history seems to agree."

Dickie from Monrovia stood up: "So if we took Culpepper this season, we're screwed?"

"Yup," I nodded. "Pretty much."

Everyone groaned. I took questions for another 20 minutes, then we broke off into groups and did our exercises. At 10 p.m., everyone left except for a few dozen disgruntled owners who tried to get a LaMont Jordan spinoff support group launched. While I was driving home, I couldn't help but wonder what will happen if Culpepper submits another stinkbomb this Sunday, or if the Dolphins' crowd derisively chants "Jo-ey! Jo-ey!" for four quarters? Forget that we'd have to move next week's meeting to the Rose Bowl ... will that finally finish Culpepper's career as a starting QB? Will our long national nightmare be over? And most importantly, should I be more or less excited for the Chris Chambers Roto Era with Joey Harrington involved?

One thing's for sure: There are nearly 1,600 players in the National Football League, but it's hard to imagine anyone who's affected more fans than Culpepper. Minnesota fans are delighted he's gone. Miami fans are suddenly terrified that he's there. Gamblers have been burned by him to the point that it should be illegal to throw any Culpepper team into a tease. Everyone who had him in a 2005 fantasy league is still recovering, and everyone who has him or Chambers in 2006 is panicking as we speak. He even helped ruin the promising concept of having bachelor parties on chartered yachts. Add everything up and he's been the single most influential player in the league. Remember the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game? Now we have "One Degree of Daunte Culpepper."

Of course, he could solve every problem by just becoming a good quarterback again. Culpepper's defenders argue that we shouldn't give up on him yet, that he's still getting comfortable with a surgically repaired knee. After last weekend's loss to Buffalo, even Bills linebacker London Fletcher told reporters, "He's not healthy, he's not the same guy I've seen."

And that would be fine ... except it doesn't explain why Culpepper played so poorly last season. Maybe he's not healthy yet, but he's also not the same guy London Fletcher remembers. That guy is long gone. Someday, we're even going to realize it.


On to the Week 3 picks ...

(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)

Panthers (-3) over BUCS
Carolina is too good to start 0-3. Right? Um ... right? By the way, remember the scene in "Bad News Bears" when the Yankees coach keeps riding his son (the pitcher with the glasses) to the point that the son keeps self-consciously glancing over during the games, and the coach is just KILLING his son's confidence, and then everything crests when the coach comes out and whacks his kid across the face? We're legitimately close to having that happen with Jon Gruden and Chris Simms. I'm not kidding. This could be the week.

(Random note: A Delhomme fumble was overturned in the second half of the Vikings game last week because of the Tuck Rule. And guess what? Just like with the Pats-Raiders game five years ago, it was interpreted correctly. Now screw off.)

BROWNS (+6.5) over Ravens
Lost in the hullabaloo of the Ravens D: The Ravens' O looks awful. As always.

(Speaking of awful, for the kajillionth straight time, I traveled to New York, spent more than 48 hours there and came down with a cold as soon as I was home. That place is like Germ Central. Everyone should be required to get 20 different immunization shots before they go to NYC, kinda like taking a trip to Africa.)

NFL BY THE NUMBERS
Through Week 2 ...

Favorites against the spread: 15-17
Home teams against the spread: 15-17
Underdogs that won outright: 12 out of 17

Bengals (+2) over STEELERS
All right, when did it become OK for every announcer to refer to Ben Roethlisberger simply as "Ben?" As in, "third-down-and-10, here's Ben back to pass ..." Can we use last names for broadcasts please? This is all Brent Musberger's fault -- he started it. Wait, watch how annoying it looks in print.

You know who looked shaky in Week 2? Ben. I didn't think Ben looked comfortable at all. You have to be worried about Ben if you're a Steelers fan right now. And I know the Bengals are a little banged up, but they've been waiting to play Ben and the Steelers for nine full months, ever since Cowher gave Kimo the "sweep the leg" order. ...

Packers (+6.5) over LIONS
Past winners of the Easy Ed McCaffrey Memorial "Best Random White WR Who Has A Great Fantasy Season" award include Ricky Proehl, Drew Bennett, Marc Boerigter and Kevin Curtis. And maybe it's early, but it looks like we already have a runaway favorite for the 2006 crown ... that's right, Mr. Mike Furrey! Is there a dorkier touchdown hookup in recent NFL history than Kitna-to-Furrey? He's getting in the end zone this week, mark my words.

DOLPHINS (-10.5) over Titans
Forget about Culpepper -- Miami's defense covers this spread by itself.

(Random note to HBO: It's bad enough that ESPN can't show "Prime Time" anymore and Time Warner just dumped can't come to terms with the NFL Network. Now you're not showing highlights for every game on "Inside the NFL" anymore so you can devote more time to features about random people we don't care about, including this week's piece on an NFL photographer who was inexplicably dressed like Freddie Krueger? Why tinker with a show that everyone universally loved? I don't get it.)

Jaguars (+7) over COLTS
Feels like a close game: Indy can't run the ball and the Jags' D looked excellent against Dallas and Pittsburgh. And since I have nothing else to add, let's take a couple of Jerome Bettis e-mails.

1. Aaron from Tallahassee writes: "I just wanted to let you know that the 'in-studio-fake-laughing scale' is currently being recalibrated to account for Jerome Bettis. In case you were looking for it or wanted to use it."

Aaron's right, the fake-laughing battle between Shannon Sharpe on CBS, Terry Bradshaw on Fox, Bettis on NBC and Tom Jackson on ESPN could end up being more interesting than any of the division races. It's too bad nobody's keeping score. We have all these evil blogs now that go after everybody in the media, couldn't one of them keep a fake-laugh tally on the pregame shows? And what happens if you're not good at fake-laughing, does that automatically disqualify you from appearing on a pregame show? Is this why Joe Montana didn't make it?

2. Mike from Boston asks: "My friends and I are wondering the over/under for pounds that Bettis puts on before the end of the season. We say over 30 pounds, probably in the range of Sir Charles when he retired. Your thoughts?"

An excellent question. I'd put the over/under at 33 and probably take the over -- after all, the season ends after Thanksgiving and Christmas, and he's good for 10 pounds per holiday alone. By the end of the season, it's going to be impossible to fit all four NBC guys on the screen at the same time. Which reminds me, have you noticed that Madden and Michaels liven up noticeably during Cris Collinsworth's in-game cameo each week? They're like one of those married couples who've been married too long and clearly wants to have a threesome, but neither of them want to come out and admit it. Why not just have him in the booth for the games? Doesn't it make sense to have your smartest football guy in the broadcast booth breaking down the game as it happens? And by the way, I could also be directing that question at ESPN. But you know what I mean.

Jets (+5.5) over BILLS
Let's see J.P. Losman make a play before we favor the Bills by more than four points against anyone but the Raiders. More importantly, will a WR combo named "Laveranues and Jerricho" ever be topped? I say no.

VIKINGS (+3) over Bears
My buddy Gallo (lifelong Vikes fan) calls the 2006 Vikes "potentially the most likable Vikes team since the days of Studwell and Wilson." Strong words.

Speaking of Gallo, we're both big "Halloween" fans -- in fact, we might be the ONLY "Halloween" fans at this point -- so I have to tell this story in his honor: I'm watching the start of "Halloween 2" on the Sci-Fi channel just so I can see the part where Dr. Loomis is screaming, "Tell the sheriff I shot him! I shot six times!" followed by the neighbor saying, "Is this some kind of Halloween joke or something? I've been trick-or-treated to death tonight," and Loomis quickly firing back, "You don't know what death is," followed by the evil piano music and Loomis running away. It's the best scene of a relatively crummy sequel.

So what does the Sci-Fi Channel do? The neighbor says, "Is this some kind of joke or something?" ... and then they quickly cut to Loomis running away. THEY CUT HIS LINE! They cut the best part of the movie!

So here's my question: Cable networks obviously hire people to transfer movies into TV broadcasts, and sometimes, these people have to make hard choices. Would it really be that hard for them to hire someone with an IQ over 70 to do the job? Same goes for ESPN Classic and NBA TV -- if you ever watch "Hardwood Classics," they'll show entire second quarters of games, then speed-cut the final three minutes because they ran out of time. I can't get over this stuff. I mean, isn't this a legitimately important job?

TEXANS (+4) over Redskins
Here's how bad the Redskins are: They didn't even have enough talent to blitz Bledsoe last week. How can you not blitz Drew Bledsoe?????? Unbelievable. By the end of the game, he even had the Kostanza-like "I'm back, baby!" glow about him. Throw in the fact that Brunell looks done and I'm taking the points. Of course, Portis could end up playing and going for 200 yards, making all bets moot. And you wonder why I hate picking these games on Thursdays.

(One more note on that: Over the weekend, I was telling my dad that I was worried about the Pats-Jets game, so he tells me, "No way we're losing -- I heard Brady on WEEI this week. Great interview. He was totally pissed about the Bills game. Said he played terrible. Said he let the Branch thing get to him. Made it seem like there was no way they're losing to the Jets." So I said, "Great, I wish I knew that before I picked the Jets," followed by Dad saying, "Hey, you're the one who moved 3,000 miles away." Yeah, but still.)

BYE (-10.5) over Raiders
Matt S. in Santa Barbara writes, "This weekend I was hanging out with two of my buddies, one of whom is a hardcore Raiders fan, when we came up with one of our best ideas in a while. When Al Davis finally dies we're going to throw a party where we celebrate his death by wearing jumpsuits and gold eyeglass chains." See, these are the things we would be showing if they ever put me in charge of ESPN6: live footage of the "Al Davis is dead" party in Santa Barbara.

NINERS (+6) over Eagles
Can the Eagles bounce back from last week's debacle? I watched the first three quarters of that game -- they KILLED the Giants. Then the G-men got that bogus fumble TD and Andy Reid subsequently turned into Junior Schottenheimer, culminating in an improbable OT loss and Jevon Kearse blowing out his knee. If the Eagles recovered that fumble, everyone would have spent the whole week talking about how Philly was the contender to beat. Now Kearse is out, Westbrook is hurt, they're coming off a soul-crushing, four-hour loss, and they have to fly 3,000 miles to play a frisky San Fran team? I'm taking the points.

(Important fantasy note No. 1: this Frank Gore thing has reached the point where you feel the need to brag if you picked him for a fantasy team -- I have him in one league and just missed getting him in the other. It's like having a son get a scholarship to Harvard or something.)

The Sports Gal Speaks
US Weekly has a feature called "Who Wore it Best?" where 100 people in NYC choose between side-by-side photos of two celebs wearing the same outfits, then the results run in the magazine. I hate this feature because the judges have no credentials and could be homeless or Russian for all we know. Bill loves it because he said they used the same process in "Card Sharks." But I think US Weekly is already responsible for enough eating disorders. Now female celebs have to feel bad because they didn't wear an outfit as well as someone who had better posture or bigger breasts? Last week Ashlee Simpson (who's really pretty I think) lost by a 2-to-1 margin to Heidi from the Hills (who's an airhead and a skeleton). Like Ashlee needed to feel worse about herself. It's bad enough to be caught wearing the same clothes as a bimbo with no work ethic, they didn't need to rub it in.

US is so desperate for vote-offs, they don't care if the outfits are the same anymore. Last week Meadow Soprano had a red dress with an empire waist and went against the girl from "Crash," who had a shorter cream dress with a different waist. I think that's cheating. Instead of forcing vote-offs, why not open it up to male celebrities as well? Oh wait, that can't work because female celebs can't feel bad about themselves this way. But what really made me mad was The Rock's wife losing 86 percent to 14 percent to Charlize Theron. She's not even a celebrity!!!! Yeah like that was ever going to be close. If Bill were famous and Charlize trounced me by a landslide in US Weekly, I'd never attend another red carpet event and probably wouldn't leave the house anymore. Although I guess I'd be kind of psyched that I was in the magazine. I don't know. Either way, I think US Weekly owes Mrs. The Rock an apology.

Here are this week's picks: Tampa +3; Minnesota +3; Pittsburgh -2; Green Bay +6.5; Jacksonville +7; Jets +5.5; Tennessee +10.5; Washington -4; Cleveland +4.5; NY Giants +3.5; Philly -6; Arizona -4.5; Denver +6.5; Atlanta -3.

LAST WEEK: 11-5
SEASON: 16-16

(Important fantasy note No. 2: The announcer for the Rams-Niners game claimed that Antonio Bryant is a big Journey fan and warmed up for Sunday's game listening to some of Steve Perry's solo stuff. I'm not making this up. Where do you think he stands on the "Separate Ways" video?)

SEATTLE (-3.5) over NY Giants
Eli Manning -- clutch QB, or someone with a knack for pulling lucky throws out of his ass? Frankly, we still don't know. But I'm leaning toward the latter.

Hey, here's the final word on the Deion Branch trade, courtesy of Chuck B. in Princeton: "Why spend $60,000 on a 'common sense advisor' when the Seahawks could have spent $60 on a copy of Madden NFL 07? Try to trade the first-round pick for Branch in franchise mode and the game will clearly show it's a bad move (because the engine rejects the trade). As a loyal Pats fan in N.J., I couldn't be happier with the way this turned out." Agreed. Is it wrong that I dressed a voodoo doll in a Seahawks No. 37 jersey and sliced the areas where its ACLs would be?

Rams (+4.5) over CARDINALS
This one hurt from Adam in Bedford Hills: "Hey, how's the St. Louis bandwagon now? You might as well be sharing a seat with Mel Gibson while Haley Joel Osment drives the thing into oncoming traffic. Good pick, keep it up."

Look, I'm not making excuses. Really, I'm not. But the Rams lost starting center Adam McCollum in Week 1, replaced him with seventh-round-pick Richie Incognito and subsequently fell apart in Week 2, which raises the question, "Just how important is the center position?" Minnesota lost Matt Birk last season and took three months to recover. Cleveland lost LaCharles Bentley in the preseason and has floundered ever since. Now the Rams are struggling. Are centers more important than we thought?

(You're right, you're right ... I'm making excuses.)

Broncos (+6.5) over PATRIOTS
With this Plummer-Cutler stuff heating up, you couldn't pick a better week to be getting the Broncos at home for a nationally televised night game. It's not possible. Still, I feel like the Broncos did a little rope-a-dope last week against the Chiefs. They knew they had that game, they weren't losing to Damon Huard at home, so they went ultraconservative and did juuuuuuuuust enough to win (the old Belichick trick). Now they're ready to throw the kitchen sink at the Pats the following week -- reverses, trick pitches, flea flickers, play-actions, you name it. Keep in mind, these Shanahan-Belichick matchups are ALWAYS close. Seven points is too much. Even when Plummer's involved.

(Highlight No. 1 of last Sunday's Pats game: Dick Enberg hearing his partner say the phrase "Clock-Killin' Corey Dillon" for the first time, laughing in delight, then accidentally calling him "Time-Killin' Corey Dillon" later in the game. I wish I could have wagered on this sequence in Vegas.)

(Highlight No. 2: After Chad Jackson caught his first touchdown as a Patriot, I called my dad for the obligatory "Chad Jackson!" phone call, and as we were taking turns raving about him, CBS came back from commercial and showed him on the sidelines, without his helmet, and he had his hair arranged in tight corn rows, with little blue beads dangling from the ends. So Dad's talking at the time and it sounds like this: "Yeah, the guy looks like a gamer, I like everything I've seen and rea- (three seconds of silence as we see Chad and his beads on TV) ... wow ... (searching for something positive to say) ... well, they say those Florida guys are a little different. ... ")

SAINTS (+3) over Falcons
With my heart and not my head.

LAST WEEK: 8-8
SEASON: 15-17

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.