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Friday, November 10, 2006
Updated: November 13, 11:25 AM ET
What happened to sports?

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

The defending Super Bowl champs are 2-6.

Emmitt Smith is one of the two celebrity finalists remaining on "Dancing with the Stars."

David Eckstein and Scott Spiezio
World champion Cardinals? More like October champs.
Our reigning World Series champion is an 83-win team featuring Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver as its Nos. 2 and 3 starters.

The Clippers, Hawks, Hornets, Nets and Jazz are leading their respective divisions right now.

In the annual Pats-Colts showdown, Tony Dungy outcoached Bill Belichick and Peyton Manning outplayed Tom Brady.

Until last weekend, all four of our heavyweight champions were Russian or Lithuanian.

If somebody gets you an official NBA game ball for Christmas, that means they spent only $25 on you.

John Cougar Mellencamp ended up having a bigger impact on sports in October and November than anyone who actually played in a game.

A seventh-round draft pick from Hofstra University is going to win the NFL Rookie of the Year.

I have readers openly rooting for Osama bin Laden to become the cover boy for "Madden 2008" -- and they're dead serious.

Heath Shuler is now "Congressman Heath Shuler."

The NHL regular season is being shown on a network called "Versus."

A few years from now, we will be casually referring to pro teams named the Santa Clara 49ers, Fremont A's and Oklahoma City SuperSonics.

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

Making a list
With so much happening in the NBA's opening week, Bill Simmons lists what you should be talking about.

• Beat The Sports Guy
Week 10: Bucs at Panthers

The best running back in football continues to call himself "LT," with no repercussions.

Three of the top college football teams are Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers.

"Rocky VI" comes out next month.

Our President signed a bill to outlaw Internet gambling, but I could drive to a gas station right now and buy $500 worth of scratch cards.

The most famous active American male tennis player is Andy Roddick.

You can turn on one of the HBO channels at just about any time of the day and see Adam Sandler playing Paul Crewe in "The Longest Yard."

Ultimate fighting and poker are both more popular than boxing.

Because of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, every "live" sporting event runs on a televised delay that extends between four and 12 seconds.

Lamar Odom
Think the commissioner would drop dead handing Lamar the trophy?
If the NBA season ended today, Lamar Odom would be the MVP.

You're better off having money against Brett Favre during the final two minutes of any close Packers game.

The first pick in last June's NBA draft has the same name as the girl who had the crush on Brandon Walsh while they were working on the Beverly Blaze together.

Three of the most depressing franchises in sports right now are the Celtics, Knicks and Raiders.

Just in the past eight months, the best American baseball players, basketball players and golfers all had their asses handed to them in international play.

Steve Nash is the reigning two-time NBA MVP.

David Eckstein is the reigning World Series MVP.

It would be shocking to most people if they found out that the greatest baseball hitter and greatest baseball pitcher did NOT use performance enhancing drugs.

Ben Wallace makes $15 million per season.

One of our "Monday Night Football" announcers openly talks about his fantasy football team on the air.

ESPN Classic shows re-runs of "Arli$$."

NFL By The Numbers
Through nine weeks, against the spread:

Favorites: 54-69-5
Home teams: 69-54-5
Road favorites: 14-27-3
Dogs covering + winning outright: 49 of 696

A few weeks ago, a Huard brother came off the bench to save Kansas City's season and turn the Chiefs into a playoff contender.

Screw it, you get the point. Everything's been turned upside down. And I'm not sure I want to live in this sports world anymore. I feel like Brooks in "Shawshank." I want to go back to the place where everything makes sense. Give me a time machine. Give me my sanity back.

What does this have to do with a football handicapping column, you ask? Well, we're nine weeks into the NFL season and the underdogs are 15 games better than .500. Just in the past four weeks, 27 of 33 underdogs covered AND won outright. It's a financial catastrophe. It's a gambling quagmire. I have friends calling me just to say, "Yo, I closed up shop -- going cold turkey until the playoffs." I have readers e-mailing me just to tell me, "I've lost 14 of 16 teasers this season." I have other readers telling me that they did a George Costanza a few weeks ago (went the opposite of what they would have done) and had big weeks ever since.

When we were going over the lines this week, my buddy Sal and I tried to figure out the question, "If you had to bet your life on a two-team tease involving two 2006 teams, and the top 10 teams in the league were all playing at home against mediocre-to-decent opponents, which two teams would you pick?" Guess what? We could only come up with the Colts, a team that's currently giving up the second-most yards per carry in the history of pro football. We couldn't think of a second team.

It's an unpredictable, chaotic, inexplicable season. Teams look great one week and Shat-tastic the next. (Note: thank you to ABC for creating the word "Shat-tastic" in its promos for the Shatner game show this week. I wish ESPN would promote the rest of its Monday night schedule this way. "ESPN's 'Monday Night Football' ... it's Shat-tastic!") Belichick and Brady are no longer reliable at home. Neither are the Steelers, Eagles or Broncos. Bad quarterbacks routinely win on the road. Monday night home teams routinely lose. Terrible coaches can cover against good ones. And you know what? I'm throwing out every rule I ever had and basing the rest of this season's picks around one rule, and one rule alone. Here it is:

"Always take the underdog unless it literally pains you not to be backing the favorite."

My old NFL Gambling Manifesto used to be something like 4,500 words. Now I'm down to 15. I don't know what happened to sports, but I'm about three more losing weeks away from carving "SIMMONS WAS HERE" into a wooden wall.

Without further ado, the picks for Week 10 ...

(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)

Damon Huard
When you think NFL powerhouse, you think Huard.
Chiefs (EVEN) over DOLPHINS
Did you ever think anyone would say, "You know, the Dolphins spent all that time and money bringing in all these different replacements for Dan Marino, and little did they know that the right guy was his backup, Damon Huard?" I'm telling you, someone will say that with a straight face on a pregame show over the next three weeks. And you'll find yourself nodding. Let's just hope the one who brings it up is Boomer Esiason, only accompanied by some kind of sarcastic remark about Marino, followed by Marino pursing his lips and making the "Should I get in a pissing match with him when he couldn't carry my jock when we played?" face, while Shannon Sharpe laughs like a hyena in the background for no real reason.

(Random Boomer note courtesy of Josh G. in Hoboken, N.J.: "I was watching the Knicks game on MSG and they aired a spot for 'The Boomer Esiason Show' which apparently airs Wednesdays at midnight. How many people watch this show? Ten? Twenty? Do they have to pay the guests to appear? I wonder if Boomer leaves his house at 10 p.m. and says, 'See ya later kids, dad has to go do his show which airs once a week on late night cable on a Wednesday.'")

Texans (+10.5) over JAGS
We're now at the stage of the Mario Williams-Reggie Bush saga when every true Texan fan on the planet (A) knows that Reggie Bush is averaging only 2.6 yards per carry, and (B) had mentioned that to at least 10 of his friends in the past few days, accompanied by a line like, "Hey, maybe this worked out for the best!" And you know what? You might be right. Bush looks terrible. I know he's been a valuable decoy, but it doesn't explain why he's stutter-stepping behind the line on every rush. It looks like he spent the summer studying Thomas Jones' game films from his Arizona days. Step it up, Reggie.

BENGALS (+1) over Chargers
I can't wait for Frank Caliendo to make this one of his "upset specials." Anyway, on behalf of every fantasy owner who has Antonio Gates, I'd like to formally request that someone on the Chargers introduces Gates and Phil Rivers before the end of the season? It's Week 10. Rivers apparently has no clue that the most unstoppable tight end of this decade is on his team. Seems like relevant information.

Ravens (-7.5) over TITANS
Throwing a rookie QB against Baltimore's D right now just isn't fair. They're playing too well and have enough luck going at this point to bring down a casino. And speaking of unfair ... well, I'll let the readers explain:

Jack S. from Galesburg, Ill.: "Has any television show in history ever ripped off a movie as bad as ABC's 'Daybreak'? It looks like they mixed 'Groundhog Day' with '24,' except threw in bad acting, deducted comedy and claimed it to be their own idea. Unbelievable. Tell me you've seen the commercials. I'm catatonic."

Josh from Knoxville, Tenn.: "Are you as excited about black 'Groundhog Day' as I am?"

Tim from Montrose, Colo.: "I couldn't help but notice the 352 promo spots for 'Daybreak.' My question is, when Taye Diggs is trying to explain to his girl that 'every morning I wake up and it's the same day,' shouldn't Diggs just tell her, 'You remember that movie "Groundhog's Day"? That's happening to me except it's a drama, not a comedy.' Is this really the best ABC can come up with to follow 'Lost'?"

You get the idea. Here's the problem, ABC: You can't rip off a popular idea THAT BADLY without acknowledging that same idea in some way. We're fine with black "Groundhog Day" crossed with "24" -- just admit what you're doing from the get-go. If there's one thing that everyone universally hates, it's somebody ripping somebody else off and not admitting that they're ripping somebody else off. That's a recipe for disaster. You have to believe me. My advice would be to have Taye Diggs dub in at least three, "Man, this s--- feels like that movie 'Groundhog Day'!" jokes in every episode. It's the only way.

Browns (+7) over FALCONS
Wait ... so Michael Vick isn't the MVP now?

(Important note: Every season, one crappy team makes a second-half surge and becomes "the team that covers every week and even pulls off a few wins." There are two choices to fill that role this year: Cleveland and a more likely candidate that we'll tackle in a second. But it's one or the other.)

Troy Williamson
"Troy! The baby! Oh my god!"
Packers (+5.5) over VIKINGS
My daughter is 18 months old and I haven't come close to dropping her yet, or even nearly dropping her, even though I've been holding her and tripped over phone cords and dog tails and everything else you can imagine. I mean, I would never drop her. The parental instinct gives you super-powers -- it's hard to explain unless you're a parent, but somebody could shoot my kid out of one of those T-shirt cannons that they use for NBA games and I would catch her 100 times out of 100 even if you had me hogtied and wearing high heels.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because every time I watch a big Vikes game, Troy Williamson drops at least one huge pass. So why couldn't they hypnotize him to have the same instincts for a football that parents have for their children? Couldn't this work? I feel like this would definitely work. And honestly? I haven't been this excited about an idea since I was pushing for the networks to hire lip readers a few years ago. Have sports teams ever explored hypnosis before? I would also want the Celtics to hypnotize Tony Allen into realizing that he shouldn't dribble or shoot under any circumstances, not even in pregame warmups.

Saints (+4.5) over STEELERS
I know, I know ... five-year grace period. But don't you have to defend a world championship with at least a modicum of professional pride? This is a disgrace. Titles in professional sports are becoming like fantasy league titles -- you win, it feels good, everyone makes a few commercials, and then the next season has no relation whatsoever to the last. But I'm sure this was all Ike Taylor's fault.

And now ... a word from our sponsors.

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COLTS (-12.5) over Bills
Hold on ...

(Taking my right shoe off ... )

(Taking my right sock off ... )

(Jamming my entire right foot into my mouth.)

There. You happy, Colts fans? Just remember, Chamberlain's teams beat Russell's teams plenty of times in the regular season. Didn't mean anything in the big scheme of things. But with that said ...

1. For the life of me, as long as I live, I will never, ever, ever, ever, EVER understand why the Patriots didn't pound the ball down Indy's throats in that game. That may have been the most frustrating Pats game of the Brady era. I couldn't handle it. I was going crazy. I was calling every Pats fan I knew during the game. I watched the fourth quarter rocking from the fetal position. I was so perturbed afterward, I ended up playing "Madden" and beating up on the computer until 2 a.m. Why didn't they pound the ball? Why? Dungy pulled a Belichick on Belichick -- he brought Bob Sanders up for the eight-man front and dared the Pats to throw deep, and they were stupid enough to take him up on it. Terrible. Just awful. I still can't believe it. It was like Doc Rivers was running the Pats' offense. During the final drive, I kept waiting for them to isolate Brady on the right side of the field and have the other 10 guys standing around watching him try to create a play.

(Sorry, that was a veiled joke for the 25 people still watching the Celtics. You have to believe me -- we're officially at the Chinese Water Torture stage of the Doc Rivers era. I could write 15 more words about this, or I could write 15,000. For your sake, we'll settle for 15.)

The Sports Gal Speaks
Two big celebrity breakups this month and it's not even Nov. 15!!! I could see Reese and Ryan coming to the Oscars -- Ryan wasn't that happy for Reese when she won, but when "Crash" won best picture he reacted like his team just won the World Series. Bill has said for years they would break up because she's much more successful than him and no guy could handle that. I agree and it's never a good sign when you meet on the set of "Cruel Intentions." But couples that play together stay together. If both of you are always traveling around to film movies, how is that a relationship unless you're going out of your way to spend time? I think this is why Justin and Cameron stay together -- Us Weekly always has pictures of them surfing in Hawaii and stuff, it really seems like they like each other. They are my favorite celeb couple.

Anyway, I feel bad for Reese and Ryan because Britney and K-Fed trumped them this week. This was the most inevitable celebrity breakup ever. Any wedding reception that includes the groom wearing a pimp-emblazoned sweat suit and bridesmaids wearing sweat suits with the word "ho's" doesn't have a chance, obviously. I also think celebrities lose their minds when they become too famous because they get picked apart all the time, so they end up reacting in strange ways. You know, like marrying a white-trash loser with no talent who has a baby with someone else. This isn't even worth talking about because it was so predictable.

But I did want to say one thing. Sometimes Bill makes bets ahead of time for who will win the NFL or NBA. (I can't remember him ever winning, but he claims he's won a few. Whatever.) I think they should have these bets for celebrity breakups. Every year would be a season and there would be odds for each couple. If they had this when I was in Vegas this summer, I definitely would've bet on Ryan/Reese and K-Fed/Britney. Now I'd bet on Patrick Dempsey and his wife. When he married her, he was just the guy from "Can't Buy Me Love." Now he's the hottest guy on the hottest TV show and his wife is probably a basket case every time he leaves the house. He'll end up breaking up with her and immediately hooking up with someone awful like Kirsten Dunst. I am already mad at him and it hasn't even happened yet.

Here are my picks for Week 10: Dolphins (even); Texans +10.5; Chargers -1; Ravens -7; Saints +4.5; Falcons -7; Bills +12.5; Eagles -7; Giants (even); Vikings -5.5; Pats -10.5; 49ers +6; Raiders +9; Seahawks -3; Cowboys -7; Panthers -9.5

Last week: 5-9
Season: 60-63-5

2. Brady didn't win three rings by winging the ball downfield into triple coverage. Do you think he's getting caught up in the whole Brady-Manning thing and feeling some sort of pressing need to match points with Manning every time he plays the Colts? Sure seemed like it on Sunday. Not his finest hour. On the flip side, I thought Manning was unbelievable -- that's the single-best game he's ever played against the Pats. They threw the kitchen sink at him and he ended up making 3-4 "WOW!" plays over the course of the game. Just a phenomenal job. I'm not even following this up with some sort of "I will now take a bath with a running hair dryer" joke. You have to hand it to Manning and the Colts. Last season's win in Foxboro was tainted by all the New England injuries; this was just an old-fashioned gut check.

(With all of that said, I'd still wager against them in January. The only team I can remember winning a Super Bowl when it couldn't stop the run was the '98 Broncos. It's just too hard -- one mistake and you're trailing and that's it. We will see.)

3. Deion Branch, you were missed. No, really.

4. Here's what really bothered me about that game: it had the potential to be truly great. When Vinatieri shockingly missed the clinching field goal and Brady started their final drive, I found myself remembering that classic Monday night game when Montana led the Chiefs past Elway and the Broncos and hoping for a sequel ... then suddenly, Kevin Faulk (who was washed-up a year ago) botched the catch and that was that. You rarely see football games live up to the hype; this one had a chance. Too bad.

Jets (+10.5) over PATRIOTS
All right, one more thing: Was there a more damaging play this season than the Pats D-line just missing Manning on the third down of Indy's first series, followed by the 44-yard strike to Harrison and Rodney Harrison blowing out his shoulder? Good God. I can't stop thinking about that game. I haven't shaved in 10 days. I am not prepared to live in a world where Manning and Dungy own Belichick and Brady. I'm just not.

(One silver lining: Isn't this the weakest Colts team of the past few years? Mediocre running game, porous run defense, no reliable third receiver, inexperienced backs. They can be taken down, right? Um ... right?)

EAGLES (-7) over Redskins
I'm not counting out the Eagles yet. Even if Westbrook is week-to-week with a knee. That reminds me, here's an interesting question from John in Boston: "If Toomer is out 'with a knee' and Simms is out 'with a spleen,' can you help me understand, in today's vernacular, how to describe McGahee's injury (three broken ribs)? Clearly being out 'with a rib' isn't acceptable given the multiple ribs associated, right?"

John, the right thing to say would be, "McGahee is out with some ribs." That's what Al Michaels would say. I tried about 10 different sentences, and that's the one that sounded right. By the way, the most exciting injury for Al to describe would either be ruptured testicles or a hysterectomy.

Broncos (-9) over RAIDERS
I mean, it's almost like Oakland's offensive coordinator was running a bed-and-breakfast last year or something.

LIONS (-6) over Niners
And here's your other potential second-half cover team: The Lions of Detroit! I think they're inspired by St. Louis' blueprint for winning a world championship -- start with two good players, a washed-up star and an injured star; pick up two cast-off pitchers, a cast-off shortstop, a cast-off outfielder and an overweight second baseman and build your nucleus around them; build your bullpen with failed closers from other teams; hand the closer job to a young pitcher who hasn't done anything yet; and go .500 over the course of six months so nobody will see you coming in the playoffs. Hell, the Lions are the NFL version of that -- they blew two top-10 picks on receivers, gave Jon Kitna the starting QB job, handed their No. 2 WR job to a former Arena League safety, made the most polarizing coach of the decade an offensive coordinator and dumbed down everyone's expectations with an atrocious start. Don't count these guys out.

(One more note on the Cards: I was flicking channels and stumbled across the commercial for their Sports Illustrated World Series video ... wouldn't it have been funny if it started off with the narrator doing the whole, "The St. Louis Cardinals are your World Series champions, catch all the highlights on one great video!" routine, only every highlight in the ad was a Tigers hitter striking out or a Tigers pitcher throwing a bunt over somebody's head? These are the days when I wish SNL was still alive.)

PANTHERS (-9.5) over Bucs
Check this week's edition of Beat The Sports Guy for all the details. And now ... a word from our sponsors.

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Rams (+3) over SEAHAWKS
The Not-Quite-An-Upset Special: Rams 32, Seahawks 29. By the way, that Raiders-Seahawks game was so boring on Monday night, I fell asleep and had a dream that they interviewed Christian Slater and Brian Bosworth during the game. But it was one of those dreams where I woke up slightly confused and feeling like the interviews actually happened. Ever had those dreams? Eventually, I realized that there was no way ESPN would ever be desperate enough to count Slater and Bosworth as that week's celebrity cameo unless it was 1993. But I was pretty confused for a second.

CARDS (+7) over Cowboys
The Backhanded Compliment Scale for QB's goes like this:

1.0: (Shrugging)
2.0: I mean, he's not a train wreck or anything.
3.0: You could do worse.
4.0: You could definitely do worse.
5.0: You know, he's really not that bad.
6.0: I'll tell ya, he's NOT that bad.
7.0: Say what you want about the guy, but he makes plays.
8.0: He's not pretty, but he's pretty effective.
9.0: You could make the playoffs with this guy.
10.0: Look, if the Ravens could win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer ...

(And I guess my point is this: Cowboys fans are about an 8.5 with the Tony Romo era right now. And I don't blame them. He's not pretty, but he's pretty effective. You could make the playoffs with this guy.)

GIANTS (EVEN) over Bears
Rex Grossman on the road. Rex Grossman on the road. Rex Grossman on the road. This is ouuuuuuuuur country.

Last week: 4-10
Season: 56-67-5

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.