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Friday, October 6, 2006
Updated: October 13, 11:09 AM ET
There's no reality in fantasy

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

While glancing at available free agents in my West Coast fantasy league this week, I noticed David Carr's name at the top of the point list. Any time you see Carr leading a category of anything other than "most sacks" or "most times a QB looked like he might cry on the sidelines," it's a little jarring. But since we have 10 teams and 18 rosters spots apiece, you wouldn't call it incredible or anything.

David Carr
Whaddya know, David Carr's coming up big for once!
Well, until I noticed Carr had 78 points. Seventy-eight points through four weeks? Seems a little high, right? It's not as though we have a goofy scoring system or anything; we count four points for every passing TD, six for every TD run/catch, one for every 10 rushing/receiving yards and one for every 20 passing yards. If you're getting 20 points a week from your QB, that's pretty good. Intrigued, I clicked on another button that listed the highest point-getters in our league (roster players and free agents). Here was the top five:

1. Donovan McNabb, 115 pts
2. Peyton Manning, 89 pts
3. Charlie Frye, 84 pts
4. Rex Grossman, 81 pts
5. David Carr, 78 pts

Look at those last three guys! Are you kidding me? The list became more and more amazing as I scrolled down. Jon Kitna was eighth. Chad Pennington was 10th. Brian Westbrook and Frank Gore were the only non-QBs in the top 20. The Bears' defense had as many points as LaDainian Tomlinson. I could go on and on.

And granted, bye weeks have screwed up some of the rankings. But we could be headed toward the weirdest fantasy football season ever. Consider these 10 realities after four weeks:

1. Three backs (LDT, LJ and Alexander) cracked the 300-point mark in 2005 … and nobody's on pace for 300 this year. I'm not even sure you could call it an aberration that will rectify itself over the course of the season. Other than Tomlinson, is there a back that makes you feel, "Wow, I'm totally set with this guy"? Didn't think so. Plus, only 12 points separate the No. 11 RB (Willis McGahee at 46) from the No. 26 RB (Tiki Barber at 34). It's a swollen middle class, with a tiny upper class and a humongous lower class. And it's really not that fun.

SPORTS GUY REWIND
Here's what you missed this week from the Sports Guy:

The Game 1 Diaries:
Game 4: Dodgers-Mets
Game 3: Tigers-Yankees
Game 2: Cards-Padres
Game 1: A's-Twins

(Note: I blame the platoons. If we drafted team running games like we draft team defenses, it wouldn't be so much of a crapshoot every year and we wouldn't have to slave over the waiver wire dregs every week. Running back platoons are slowly ruining fantasy football. We need to accept this and embrace it. When multiple teams are putting in bids for Vernand Morency, things have gone too far.)

2. The tight end position has become as useful as a sideline reporter or an appendix. Nobody has more than 34 points total. Ridiculous. Which reminds me, we're about two weeks from me making the first "Where are they holding the funeral for Antonio Gates' fantasy career?" joke. Just warning you now.

3. The QB position (always dismissed as overrated for fantasy purposes) is making a major comeback: Five QBs are averaging 20-plus points this season (McNabb, Frye, Grossman and the Mannings) and three others (Carr, Pennington and Leftwich) are damn close, and we haven't even mentioned the old standbys (Brady, Palmer, Delhomme and Bulger) yet. If you aren't getting big points from your QB spot, I guarantee you aren't doing well in your league right now. By the way, zero QBs averaged 20 points a game last season.

TIVO ALERT
On Sunday at 6:00 p.m., ESPN Classic is showing a movie that never, ever, EVER gets shown on TV: "The Jericho Mile." Not only was this Michael Mann's first movie, it's one of the 10 greatest sports movies of all time. You need to watch it.

4. The Baltimore and Chicago defenses are well ahead of every other fantasy D right now, which isn't surprising because two or three stand out every year. But when you consider that Chicago's sked includes three more NFC North games, Losman/Gradkowski/Alex Smith/Culpepper at home, Matt Leinart's second start (on national TV, no less), at least six or seven cold-weather games and a mid-November Jets game scheduled for after Pennington's season-ending-injury-that-hasn't-happened-yet … I mean, we could be looking at a situation here where (A) the Bears' D doubles the fantasy points of every other defense except the Ravens', and (B) it could be a top-20 fantasy "entity" (for lack of a better word) after everything's said and done. In my league last season, the highest defense had 122 points. The Bears are on pace for 200 right now. Crazy.

(Which got me thinking: Imagine if we were playing fantasy back in the mid-'80s? Would the Chicago D have been a first-round pick? With all the crazy Web sites we have now, why couldn't someone start one where it's a fake "fantasy preview" of an upcoming season where the top 10 players/defenses are ranked at each position, using only the information from the previous few years and "projecting" how they might do. Come on, like you wouldn't click on a 1985 fake preview to see who made up the top 10? I refuse to believe it. You're lying.)

Mike Furrey
We always knew Mike Furrey had Randy Moss-like potential.
5. Four white receivers (Mike Furrey, Drew Bennett, Wes Welker and Matt Jones) have more fantasy points than Randy Moss. Actually, Furrey has nearly three times as many points as Moss: 34 to 13. That's why he has replaced Kurt Warner as the pride of the Arena Football League.

(Motivational note: One of the Raiders coaches needs to show Moss tape of some Furrey catches, then tell him, "I waived you in my fantasy league this week and picked this little white dude up." If that doesn't wake Moss up, I give up.)

6. I hate playing the "he's on pace" gimmick because we all know things even out over the course of a season. To some degree, anyway. But Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins is on pace for 60 field goals and 20 PATs right now, and if you've watched St. Louis' end zone struggles at all -- take it from someone who watches every Rams game now -- you know these final numbers are absolutely conceivable. Sixty field goals in one season! This number is actually in play!

7. Not only do rookies Laurence Maroney (52), Joe Addai (37) and Maurice Jones-Drew (30) have more points than Reggie Bush (29), but you wouldn't be able to trade him for any of those guys, and there's a decent chance Jerious Norwood and DeAngelo Williams could pass him in the next few weeks. You know the guy in your league who took him five rounds too early? You can officially start busting his balls.

(Question: Why hasn't anyone started calling Maurice Jones-Drew "Mo-Jo" yet? Or is that too easy?)

8. The top 12 in everyone's draft featured four potential lemons: LaMont Jordan (stuck in a fantasy quagmire in Oakland); Ronnie Brown (being slaughtered by the Culpeppocalypse); Cadillac Williams (has a first-rounder ever landed on a fantasy waiver wire when he's been healthy?); and Steve Smith (I still don't trust those hammies). And that's before we get to Bush, Chambers, Moss, T.O., Lewis, Droughns, Delhomme and everyone else.

9. There's no way to corroborate this, but we're probably on pace to break the record for "most cheap fantasy points at the end of already-decided games," highlighted by Marques Colston's spread-busting 86-yard TD in the final 90 seconds of the Carolina game (a mortal lock for the "Alcoa's Greatest Gambling Moments" 2006 wrap-up show on ESPN6).

10. Bernard Berrian, Donte' Stallworth, Greg Jennings, Jerricho Cotchery, Reggie Williams, Doug Gabriel, Colston, Furrey … I mean, why even spend the money on a fantasy magazine in August anymore? What's the point? These guys never even hint about emerging until the last two weeks of the exhibition season or unless they were suddenly traded somewhere else, right? Let's all agree to stop buying magazines. Waste of money.

Which brings me back to my original point: We're overthinking this whole fantasy football thing. It has evolved into a billion-dollar industry, a convoluted excuse to waste time and keep in touch with friends, one of those rare hobbies that balances competitiveness, male bonding and trash talking in the best ways possible. We kill ourselves trying to outsmart one another, and there isn't a single moment on Sundays and Mondays when we're not monitoring dozens of guys at once. But there are two hard-core realities that can't be ignored:

Reality A: There's either a 9-in-10 chance or an 11-in-12 chance that you're going to lose your league, depending how deep it is.

Reality B: Thanks to platoons, free-agent movement, injuries, unpredictable rookies, bad luck and everything else, fantasy football has turned into a freaking crapshoot.

Laurence Moroney
You'd have to think long and hard about trading Laurence Moroney from your fantasy team -- seriously.
Nowadays, anyone has a chance. Take my buddy Camp, the original commissioner of my East Coast League before he got married, had a couple of kids and stepped down. OK, we fired him for negligence. Now he's one of Those Guys in our league -- the guy who starts players during their bye weeks, waits four weeks to waive someone who's out for the year and offers crazy trades like "Wes Welker for Laurence Maroney." He's also one of the funniest owners (the master of inappropriate mom/sister jokes); he laughs at everyone else's jokes on the annual conference call; his team name is high comedy (a college joke I can't print), and his teams have the bizarre ability to remain annually competitive even though he's two to three guys short every week. The pluses always outweigh the minuses with Camper, even after you get bounced from the final playoff spot because he accidentally started a running back with a blown ACL against the guy who ended up beating you out.

Well, Camper's 2006 team includes Tomlinson, Eli Manning, Tatum Bell, Antonio Bryant, Stallworth and Anquan Boldin. Did we make fun of him for taking Bell, Bryant and Stallworth too early? Yes. Yes, we did. Does he even know who half these guys are? It's unclear.

But here's something I do know: His team whupped my team in Week 2.

That's right, Camper's a contender this season. And when he waived Jake Plummer before Week 3 and picked up David Carr, it was destiny. Yup, Camper is going to win our league title; David Carr will help lead the way; and all of this makes sense because this is fantasy football and nothing makes sense anymore.

On to the picks for Week 5:

(HOME TEAM IN CAPS)

COLTS (-19) over Titans
Note to Jeff Fisher: The next time you decide to give a rookie QB his first start (against a good defense, no less), could you please announce it before I hand in my Friday picks? A little "heads up" would be nice. Thanks. By the way, get ready to see Dom Rhodes on your league's waiver wire in about three weeks. Addai looked great against the Jets; you could see him getting better as the game went on. He's about two weeks from getting a Chris Berman nickname like Joseph "Live and Let" Addai, which works perfectly because that song came out in 1974.

NFL By The Numbers
Through four weeks …

Favorites against spread: 25-33-2
Home teams against spread: 31-27-2
Road favorites: 9-13-1
Underdogs winning outright: 22 of 33

(Little-known fact: After every big Marvin Harrison catch, NFL analysts are required to chuckle loudly, make some comment about how he's still going strong, then mention that he's a "young 34." Apparently, this is in the new TV contract and everything.)

Redskins (+4.5) GIANTS
The past few years, no athlete has vacillated from "completely horrendous and inept" to "totally rejuvenated" more times than Mark Brunell. Do you think the rest of his life is like this? Like, he's a fantastic husband one week, then the next week, he's peeing on toilet seats and refusing to take out the trash, then he's right back to being a great husband again? What would it be like to gamble with him? Does he have sudden mood swings like Ed Norton in "Primal Fear?" I'm completely flummoxed by him.

(Important note: This is a stay-away game for gambling purposes: The 4.5 line is Vegas' way of saying, "We have no idea, either.")

Lions (+6.5) over VIKINGS
For this week's Lions-Vikes page in USA Today Sports Weekly, the Lions headline on the left said, "Offense is fine but defense lacks teeth," and the Vikings headline on the right said, "Anemic offense causing problems." That's right, it's the movable object taking on the resistible force! I'm taking the points.

(Random note No. 1: Peter King is my favorite football writer because of lines like, "You know you're getting old when the host and musical guest on the first 'Saturday Night Live' of the season are Dane Cook and the Killers, respectively, and you've never heard of either." When somebody is so committed to covering a sport that they don't know the hottest comic in the country and the hottest band in the country, you know you're in the right hands. Do you think he's heard of Angelina Jolie?)

SAINTS (-6.5) over Bucs
Two gambling rules in direct conflict here: "Never take a crappy QB on the road" (in this case, Bruce Gradkowski) and "Never pick a team when you can't think of a single reason not to take it." You know what? I'm riding the Saints at home until they blow one. Too much crazy karma going on there.

Marques Colston
If you've got Colston on your squad, you're awfully lucky.
(Random note No. 2: Colston being available at tight end in Yahoo/ESPN.com fantasy leagues might be the all-time fantasy glitch to end all fantasy glitches. It's like being able to use Travis Hafner at catcher. This has been the biggest story of the 2006 season that nobody covered -- they should have been leading "SportsCenter" with it.)

Rams (-3) over PACKERS
Have to say, that was a lonely first month on the Rams 2006 Sleeper Bandwagon. Kinda like opening a new restaurant and getting some good reviews, then standing around every night waiting for someone to show up. I mean, they're going to be 4-1 after this weekend. Maybe I should start running a blue plate special or something.

Time for a random e-mail: Rob M. from Lansing writes, "During their most recent loss to the Rams, Lions' radio color commentator Jim Brandstatter said that fantasy football was for 'people with no lives.' My buddies and I were trying to put this statement into context, and compared it to a NASCAR announcer talking about how stupid watching cars go around in a circle is, or a Catholic priest telling his parishioners that the bible probably shouldn't be taken literally. Your thoughts?"

(Thoughts? I'm supposed to have thoughts? The radio color commentator for the worst football franchise of this decade just told me that I don't have a life. I'm a little shaken, frankly. It's like being called short by Mike Fratello. How do you regroup?)

PATRIOTS (-10) over Dolphins
Had my first "Could Maroney end up being the most exciting Patriots player of all time?" conversation with my buddy J-Bug this week. Went extremely well. But even we weren't as excited as Patrick from D.C., who asks, "What's the Laurence Maroney corollary to the Papelboner? Whatever it is, I have one." The Laurection? I dunno.

As for the Dolphins, lost in the sweeping incompetence of Culpepper and Mularkey -- quick aside: how can you run a halfback option pass for a game-tying two-point conversion and keep your job? -- has been the decline of poor Zach Thomas, who can't keep up with any fast tight ends or shifty running backs anymore. Watson, Graham and Maroney are going to eat him alive Sunday. It's going to be like the scene in "Rollerball" when the three Tokyo guys teamed up on Moonpie. Throw in the Culpeppocalypse and I'm laying the points.

(Question: Do you think Nick Saban lies awake at 3:30 in the morning talking himself into the Joey Harrington Era and telling his wife, "You know, he was saddled with the worst receivers in the league in Detroit … and the crowd never gave him a chance … and he had three coaches in four years … and if his name was 'Joe' instead of 'Joey,' he'd sound much more competent … " as his wife keeps mumbling, "Go back to sleep, honey, go back to sleep."?)

PANTHERS (-8.5) over Browns
All the makings of the Jake Delhomme Roto Breakout Week. And since I have nothing else to add, you know, I'm more than willing to give "Friday Night Lights" multiple tries since it's exceedingly well-done and all … but I can't stomach another climactic game scene in which the home team recovers an onside kick, runs the next play for 20 yards, then, on the final play, the QB throws a 50-yard pass that his WR catches on the opposing 30 and takes off for the winning TD. Not even the CFL has 140-yard football fields. Come on. This isn't rocket science.

BEARS (-10) over Bills
Eye-opening game of Week 4: Chicago annihilating the Seahawks in every possible way. That was like a boxing match where you wager on one guy, and two minutes into the first round, he's getting beaten up and beaten to the punch and you're thinking, "Wow, I have no chance, this is a mismatch," only you feel obligated to watch the next 11½ rounds just in case something changes. And it never does. That was me with the Seahawks on Sunday. You won't see me going against the Bears at home again. That's a good team. Chicago looks hungry, too.

(One guy who isn't biting on the Bears yet: My dad, who dismissed their chances this week by saying, "I'm not sold on that Rex Chapman yet.")

Cowboys (+2) over EAGLES
I know, I know … T.O. overkill. But you're lying if you say you aren't excited for this game. You just are.

By the way, was anyone else in shock that Gurode forgave Haynesworth and declined to press charges? The guy deliberately stomped him in the face for 30 stitches worth of scars! How was that not worse than the Kermit Washington punch? If anything, the Kermit punch was more defensible because he was in the middle of a fight and he caught someone running at him out of the corner of his eye, so he whirled around and threw a punch. Haynesworth's move was deliberate, vicious and heartless. What normal, good-hearted person would do something like that? That was like something Schillinger would have done to Beecher in "Oz." I couldn't get over that whole thing. Did you ever think Leonard Little would have competition for his "most loathsome player in the league" title? Me neither.

(One more note: Imagine Joe Buck announcing the Haynesworth stomp? I wish there were a Web site where somebody pretended to be Joe Buck announcing heinous sports incidents. This should be a Frank Caliendo bit on Fox. Which reminds me, Frank made a big deal about picking three "upsets" Sunday when two of them were actually favorites: Cleveland and Jacksonville. We're not stupid, Frank. I know it seems like we're stupid, but we're not. You have to believe me.)

The Sports Gal Speaks
Bill and his friend Hench own a fake baseball team together. I call it the League of Dorks. It's hard to say how much time they spend on it, but I'd guess five hours a week, maybe more. Hench is one of Bill's nicest friends, but he's even nuttier about this stuff than Bill. One time, I peeked over Bill's shoulder as he was reading a bullet-pointed e-mail from Hench about their fake team. It was like a legal document, I couldn't believe it. Hench used to leave messages and not identify himself, you'd just hear, "message No. 1" and then Hench complaining about something that happened with their fake team. He wouldn't even say, "Hey, guys, this is Hench" first. So I made Bill get a second phone line just for Hench's calls -- they call it the "Bat Phone." I can't believe I married someone who needed a second phone line to talk about a fake baseball team.

You'd think the extra line was enough, but no. A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I were driving home from somewhere and trying to figure out something. Bill said, "I bet Hench knows," and before I knew it, he was calling Hench and they were talking about the League of Dorks. And I was trapped in the car listening to them. It was like being at the nail salon when everything's quiet and relaxing, then something happens and the nail ladies all start screaming in another language. I have no idea what they're talking about, but they're agitated and talking in annoying voices and it's not relaxing at all. That's what Bill and Hench sounded like. Actually, this was worse because I can understand the language and still can't understand them. Finally, I got mad and told Bill to hang up or I was going to jump out of the car.

This week, I noticed playoff baseball started, so I asked Bill, "What happened with the League of Dorks?" Bill said they won first prize. He didn't even seem happy about it. He was just relieved that they didn't lose. Then he said he's having a celebratory lunch with Hench next week. I said they should order a bottle of fake champagne and fake pour it on each other. I hate the League of Dorks.

Here are my picks for Week 5:

Titans +19; Giants -4.5; Lions +6.5; Bucs +6.5; Packers +3; Patriots -10; Bills +10; Panthers -8.5; Jaguars -7; Cards +3; 49ers -3.5; Cowboys +2; Steelers +3; Ravens +4.

Last week's record: 10-4
Season record: 35-23-2

Jets (+7) over JAGUARS
Two former Marshall QBs go head to head. Can't say I'm that excited.

By the way, two plays in the Jets game last week made me think of playing "Madden" -- when they went for it on fourth-and-3 (completely moronic, but I do the same thing every time), and when the kick returner scored the go-ahead TD and left Manning too much time on the clock (in the same situation, I run out of bounds at the 2, then kill some clock before scoring the go-ahead TD). Both those moves are phenomenally dumb and should never be attempted in real life, yet the Jets attempted one of them in a game. Now I'm hoping they try more of my "Madden" ploys, such as trying to get through a whole season without using a punter, or going for every two-point conversion, or throwing Hail Mary passes for an entire half. Keep your fingers crossed.

CARDS (+3) over Chiefs
You probably stopped taping "Inside the NFL" because they don't run highlights for every game and it's so frustrating to watch Collinsworth moderate a debate with Carter and Marino when he knows more about the 2006 teams than both of them combined. And that's fine. But check out this week's show just for the bizarre Larry Johnson segment -- he's more emotionally fragile than a pregnant 14-year-old. The KC coaches spend the entire game alternately hugging him and consoling him. It's crazy. After the Chiefs won the game, I thought Herm Edwards was going to reward him with cotton candy and a new Transformer. You have to see it. I can't take the Chiefs for at least one week after seeing that.

49ERS (-3.5) over Raiders
Wait, the Raiders are getting 3½ against a team that lost 41-0 last week? Please tell me somebody is writing a book about them. Did you know offensive coordinator Tom Walsh was operating a bed-and-breakfast when they hired him? A bed-and-breakfast! Last year at this time, his biggest concern was whether they were going to run out of pastries and jam for the first foliage weekend in October. Now, he's drawing up plays and breaking down NFL defenses. No wonder Randy Moss doesn't care anymore. Unbelievable.

That reminds me, my two favorite Art Shell e-mails of the week:

1. Ben from San Jose: "Thanks for the tip on the Art Shell Era. He might convince me to give gambling a try."

2. Bri from Indiana: "My buddy Ty and I have ongoing discussions about how Shell would do in other jobs, like as a deli manager, or manager of the Oakland A's. I contend that he would stand utterly still, with a headset on, in every situation, while things unraveled around him. For example, as a deli manager he'd stare blankly out at the oncoming lunch crowd as the deli ran out of cold cuts that he forgot to order. Don't you think this could be a show, something like 'The Shell Situation,' where they just move Art around to a bunch of different jobs to see if he really reacts the same way to everything? I'm sure Fox or MTV already has the rights to it though."

Randy Moss
Randy probably wishes this season was over already.
(I love this idea. One week, he could be the executive producer of a talk show. The next week, he could be the bouncer in a bar. It would never get old. Although I'd be just as happy with a show where Art screws up replay challenges every week. And I think that's a realistic hope.)

CHARGERS (-3) over Steelers
On Sunday, the Chargers were looking good against the Ravens and I turned to my buddy Sal and said, "You ready to hop on the Chargers bandwagon yet?" Within two seconds (no joke), Rivers threw that killer interception to let Baltimore back in the game. It was uncanny.

Anyway, I'd love to pile on Marty this week; nobody has coached more games when they resembled a Ken doll anatomically. But he did the right thing this time: Rivers wasn't quite ready for a game like that, and they couldn't kill his confidence this early in the season. So Marty kept it close to the vest and tried to protect the lead with his D (and it almost worked). I'm not killing him on that one. All things considered, this is still the best AFC team. The Chargers will prove it Sunday night.

(Note: Not everyone is sold. Disgruntled San Diego fan Dominic wonders, "Can you think of any analogies where the Martyball concept can be applied outside of football? What about folding a $500 pot when you're $5 from all-in because you're afraid someone will get you on the river? Working the machine for a walk in a batting cage? Five-hitting your way to a 19, then surrendering because the dealer is showing a face card? Landing a three-way with the Olsen twins, only to have them walk out because you fell asleep halfway through?")

BRONCOS (-4) over Ravens
Four predictions for this one:

1. Air McNair gets fully exposed. He has played four decent minutes in the past two weeks. You can't pull that crap against a defense like Denver's.

2. Once the Broncos get a lead, Shanahan won't ask Plummer to do anything. And I mean, anything. He'll do the same thing Marty did last week.

3. You will hear a lot of barely audible "IN-COM-PLETE" chants on your TV.

4. Mike Tirico officially starts to look like one of the kids from "The Squid and the Whale."

Last Week: 6-8
Season: 29-29-2

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.