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Friday, September 19, 2008
Updated: September 26, 9:55 PM ET
Time to flick the power switch

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

I am a football fan, and I am a Patriots fan. Sometimes those interests collide. For instance, if I were that creepy double-faced lady from the airline commercial, one face would look depressed (because my beloved Pats had their Super Bowl hopes crippled in eight minutes), while the other face would look delighted (because the Era of Perpetual Putridity has finally ended). So let's have Delighted Face write this week's column. Heading into Week 4, incredibly ...

... 25 teams are thinking, "We can absolutely make the playoffs."

... 16 teams are thinking, "We can absolutely make the conference title game."

... 12 teams are thinking, "We can absolutely make the Super Bowl."

... seven teams are thinking, "We can absolutely win the Super Bowl."

... three teams are thinking, "My God, this is a living hell. Four months to go? Really? Just shoot us. Shoot us in the head right now."

Peyton Manning
It's time to face the facts: the Colts are no longer the Colts (even with Peyton Manning playing).

Those are pretty good numbers, right? With the Patriots and Colts falling back to the pack, we're headed for the most wide-open NFL season since 2002, when no team finished higher than 12-4; 15 teams finished with seven, eight or nine wins; two nine-win teams made the second round; Rich Gannon won the MVP award; Dexter Jackson won the Super Bowl MVP; Ryan Leaf threw for 4,500 yards; Brad Johnson was the winning Super Bowl QB; and Tommy Maddox won "Comeback Player of the Year." By the way, I made up only one of those last five things. Now that, my friends, is a goofy season.

Don't rule out any 2008 scenario over these next 14 weeks, whether it's three NFC East teams' winning 12-plus games ... the Bills finishing 13-3 and having the mayors of Buffalo and Toronto flip a coin to host their second-round playoff game ... J.T. O'Sullivan throwing for 4,000 yards and 35 TDs, then realizing his destiny by opening a sports bar in San Francisco called "J.T. O'Sullivan's" ... the Colts and Pats missing the playoffs ... Michael Turner rushing for 2,000 yards ... Brandon Marshall catching 150 passes in 15 games ... Matt Millen getting hired to run the Raiders ... Jay Cutler and Phil Rivers making awkward conversation at the Pro Bowl ... Romeo Crennel successfully figuring out what to do when his team is down two scores with five minutes remaining ... Al Davis successfully replacing his entire blood supply with the blood of the Jonas Brothers ... or even Gus Frerotte, Kerry Collins and Brian Griese taking home the NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Comeback Player of the Year awards in some order.

Crazy league, crazy season ahead. I like it so much, I couldn't resist banging out the first Sports Guy Power Poll of the season. By the way, we wanted to find a sponsor for the Power Poll this season -- something like, the Under Armour Power Poll, the Dunkin' Donuts Spice Power Poll, or even the Vivid Video Power Poll -- but since the season already started, I'm coming up with made-up sponsors for the 2008 season. Without further ado, the Playtex Power Poll for Week 4:

THE ROD RUST DIVISION

32. St. Louis Rams
Is there a more frightening scenario than poor Trent Green starting behind a porous Rams offensive line? At the very least, he should be forced to play with a special helmet like the one Gazoo wore on "The Flintstones." Meanwhile, Eddie in Greensboro, N.C., sends along the 2008 Rams team photo.

31. Kansas City Chiefs
Carl from Milwaukee sums it up best: "Is it sad that I'm rooting against Kansas City just so Herm Edwards gets fired and we get a 'We play to win the game! WE PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!' Coors Light commercial?"

30. Detroit Lions
Matt Millen's firing might have broken the record for "most movie analogies from a euphoric fan base landing in my mailbox in a 48-hour span." I liked these two a lot:

Andy in North Palm Beach, Fla.: "Being a Lions fan today is like being one of the inmates who remained in Shawshank penitentiary after the warden blew his brains out. We're still in prison, but hope is once again a good thing."

Matt Millen
Matt Millen now has more time to hang out with Charles Rogers.

Ryan F. in Tulsa, Okla.: "Who do you think was more relieved: the senator's daughter when Jodie Foster rescued her from Buffalo Bill, or every Lions fan on the planet when they found out today that the Matt Millen Era is finally over?"

But this was my favorite, courtesy of Kevin in Columbus, Ohio: "I was on campus yesterday just getting out of class when I found out Millen was gone. I had received several congratulatory texts and messages from my friends and immediately had a huge grin on my face the rest of the day. As I had the fortune (some would say courage) to wear my Lions hat yesterday, random strangers on campus walked up to me and high-fived me and shook my hand and patted me on the back, most of them not Lions fans. It's amazing how horrible of a general manager Millen was that people all around the country celebrated when he got fired, even people who aren't fans of that team. Yesterday was honestly one of the happiest days of my life."

Ladies and gentleman, one last time ... the Matt Millen Era!

(One more Lions note: They fell behind 21-0, 21-0 and 21-3 in their first three games, and yet, they're not one of the two worst teams in the league. I don't think the Rod Rust Division has ever been this potent. Er, impotent.)

THE BRUCE COSLET DIVISION

29. Cleveland Browns
The league didn't just catch up with Derek Anderson; it trampled him from behind like the bulls in Pamplona. Hey, at least we don't have to watch the Browns play four more times on national TV.

(Speaking of TV, Oakland-Buffalo was the only early game on the local L.A. stations Sunday. That should be DirecTV's new marketing campaign -- instead of having Jimmy Kimmel ask people where they were when Rob Bironas kicked eight field goals, they should target local fans and start ads like this: "Week 4, 2008, 10 a.m. on the West Coast, you were psyched to watch football ... and the only game on was Oakland-Buffalo. YOU IDIOT! GET DIRECTV ALREADY! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?")

Chad Johnson
Considering his 2008 production, maybe Chad Ocho Cinco is in need of another name change.
28. Cincinnati Bengals
The highlight of Sunday's Bengals-Giants game: In the first half, Cincy's offense trotted out after a Giants punt as Greg Gumbel told us, "Carson Palmer and the Bengals, back to work." At this point of the season, Cincy had scored 24 points total in nine-plus quarters. Not sure "back to work" was the right analogy there; I would have gone with "Cover your eyes," or "Folks, if you were thinking of making yourself a sandwich, I'd do it right now." Meanwhile, Chaz Cinco is morphing into Carl Pickens 2.0 -- not the part when Pickens was a top-three fantasy receiver, the part when he inexplicably lost his fastball and was out of football within two years. Stay tuned.

27. Oakland Raiders
Normally, I wouldn't care how dysfunctional the Raiders are, but when they tried to bully Tim Kawakami this week, that's when I start taking it personally. You don't do that to Tim Kawakami! OK? All right? You do NOT do that to Tim Kawakami! This never would have happened if Al Davis was still alive.

THE SUICIDE POOL BUSTER

26. Miami Dolphins
As the trash-talking e-mails from Dolphins fans came pouring in Sunday, I laughed the same way someone from Goldman Sachs would laugh after getting a ball-busting e-mail from one of the custodians at Lehman Brothers. Please keep them coming. Anyway, here's my big question of the week: My daughter has gotten into "Scooby Doo" (and thank God, because I couldn't have taken another week of "Max and Ruby"), and, um ... how did I never realize that Fred was gay? I figured out Clay Aiken in about three seconds, but I never wondered about Fred while he was wearing an ascot and refusing to make a move on Daphne? I was much more flabbergasted by this revelation than "Dolphins 38, Patriots 13."

THE STRAW-GRASPERS

25. Houston Texans
24. New York Jets
23. Seattle Seahawks
Hurricane Ike gave the Texans three straight brutal road games (Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Jacksonville), followed by four straight winnable home games (Indy, Miami, Detroit, Cincy). Can you really count them out when Steve Slaton showed so much juvenation last week? Same for the "maybe we should just go run-and-gun" Jets, who have Arizona at home, a Week 5 bye, then Cincy, Oakland, K.C. and St. Louis. And Seattle got saved by a bye in Week 4, giving the Hawks time to dump the Lindsey Hunter All-Stars (Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne, Jordan Kent, Koren Robinson, Keary Colbert) and bring back Bobby Engram and Deion Branch so Matt Hasselbeck can remember what it's like to throw to an NFL receiver again. Sadly, we can't cross any of these teams off. At least not yet.

(Speaking of fake All-Star teams, JW in Pembroke, N.H., has a solution for my "Anthony Gonzalez All-Stars or Jeff Garcia All-Stars?" question from last week's column: "Any All-Star team devoted to guys with Latino names who don't look remotely Latino should be called the Emilio Estevez All-Stars." Done and done.)

A WHIFF OF FRISKINESS

22. San Francisco 49ers
John Thomas O'Sullivan! I looked it up.

21. Atlanta Falcons
I'd feel a little better if their two victories hadn't come against Nos. 31 and 30 on this list. Still, your average Falcons fan is like a broke college student who went to a casino with $100 to gamble, turned it into $300 in 20 minutes, put a $100 chip in his pocket, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Whatever happens from now on, worst-case scenario, I'm breaking even."

HANGING AROUND

WEEK 4 PICKS

Home team in CAPS:

Broncos (-9) over CHIEFS
BENGALS (-3.5) over Browns
Texans (+7.5) over JAGUARS
Cardinals (+1) over JETS
49ers (+6) over SAINTS
PANTHERS (-7.5) over Falcons
TITANS (-3) over Vikings
BUCS (-1.5) over Packers
Bills (-8) over RAMS
Chargers (-7) over RAIDERS
Eagles (-3) over BEARS
Redskins (+11) over COWBOYS
Ravens (+5.5) over STEELERS

Last week: 10-6
Season: 23-23-1

20. Chicago Bears
During last week's Panthers-Vikes game, Ron Pitts threw it to Curt Menefee for the highlight of Kyle Orton throwing a "T.I.N.T." (the acronym for "touchdown interception" and a nice alternative to the annoying "Pick-Six"), then Menefee threw it back to Pitts, followed by a second of silence and Pitts finally saying, "I'm fairly convinced that Orton isn't the answer." I'd like to nominate that quote as the biggest understatement of the 21st century. If you can top that one, I'm all ears.

(Your fantasy sleeper for this week? Brandon Lloyd. I know, I know -- we've been here before. But they threw to him constantly during that Bucs game and he made a number of impossible catches. Remember, when you catch six balls for 124 yards and a touchdown with Orton throwing to you, that's like catching 14 balls for 225 yards and three TDs with a real quarterback.)

19. New Orleans Saints
Bad sign for their playoff hopes: When tens of thousands of fantasy owners look at their lineups and think, "Cool, I have three guys going against the Saints this week!" Speaking of the Saints, here's my list of running backs who put the fear of God in you every time they get the ball if you either gambled against them, you're rooting for the other team or you're going against them in fantasy: (1) Adrian Peterson, (2) Reggie Bush, (3) LaDainian Tomlinson (if healthy), (4) Felix Jones, (5) Chris Johnson and (537) Deuce McAllister.

18. Arizona Cardinals
A Kurt Warner comeback, a Christian Slater comeback, a Mickey Rourke comeback and an "Entourage" comeback in the same month? YES, WE CAN! I'd feel better about Zona's NFC West hopes if I didn't check the schedule and realize the Cards are going to be favored in only four of their remaining 13 games: The St. Louis home-and-homes, Week 10 against San Fran and (maybe) next week against Buffalo. And that's assuming Warner plays every game when he's 37 -- he hasn't played 16 games since 2001.

(Random question from Kevin in Boston: "If Gene Upshaw's parents named him 'Fred,' you think the players would still be wearing that patch?" That would be no. I think they would have gone with a "FRED" patch. But if his parents named him "Franklin"? Then they would have had to go with his old Oakland number. I'm glad I'm here.)

Jim Zorn
On the bright side, Jim Zorn is 2-1. On the other hand, red wine isn't allowed on the sidelines.
17. Washington Redskins
They just beat the Saints and Cardinals, so, um ... yeah. You know what scares me about the Redskins other than the fact Dan Snyder is a stubbier, less successful Mark Cuban? Poor Jim Zorn looks like he's wound tighter than a substitute teacher at Watts High. And it's not like a Mike Shanahan thing in which it looks like he's trying to melt a referee's brain; it's more of a "Don Draper running into an old friend from the Korean war back when everyone called him Dicky" type of nervous intensity, like he's battling a complex about never having been a head coach before. If Dallas beats the Skins by 25 this Sunday, I could see Zorn screaming, "I'm in charge here! OK? All right? I am the one in charge!!!!!!" and losing the locker room for good. He should start drinking red wine during games. I don't see this ending well.

(The good news: When Bill Cowher takes the job, CBS will have a four-man studio show again. That's right, more air time for Shannon Sharpe! Every one of his sentences should be preceded by a dentist saying, "You should start feeling the Novocain right about now.")

THE ENIGMAS

16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Carolina Panthers
14. Minnesota Vikings
13. Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore hasn't played anyone decent; Pittsburgh has worse protection than Calvin Murphy; Carolina showed some bad signs in that Minnesota loss last week (namely, no running game and bad body language from Jake Delhomme, who spent so much time frowning and complaining that Steve Smith filed a trademark violation against him); and the Vikings are headed for 1-3 after Tennessee spanks them this weekend (although they get Bryant McKinnie back for Week 5, right as their schedule gets easier). We'll know more after this weekend, especially if the Ravens steal a winnable Monday night game in Pittsburgh against a banged-up Steelers offense.

In unrelated news, I became so confused by the baffling Roy Williams Rule last week -- you know, how they throw a flag for horse-collar tackles only about 30 percent of the time, when it should be closer to 100 percent of the time like with every other penalty -- I actually looked up the definition on NFL.com. So let's clarify this confusing rule once and for all:

(Glad we got that settled.)

THE OLD GUARD

12. Indianapolis Colts
Bill Murray has been mailing in every public ad-lib situation for about 10 years, only every time he makes a cameo in a baseball booth or a celebrity golf tournament, everyone reacts more hysterically than the crowd during Eddie Murphy's "Delirious" concert taping. You know why this happens? Because he's Bill Murray. He earned our fake laughter over the years. It doesn't matter if he's funny, just that he's Bill Murray; hence, we should be laughing, even when he's being surly and mumbling deadpan jokes that aren't jokes. Anyway, I think the Colts reached that point this season -- they're not really the Colts anymore, and they have a legitimate chance to finish 6-10, only we're still presuming they will find a way to contend because they're the Colts. That's why I have them ranked 12th. I swear, this all made sense when I started the paragraph.

SPORTS GAL'S RANT

I would be the world's greatest mourner. I can cry at the drop of a hat. Bill still teases me because I once cried during a Nike commercial, the one in which they showed pictures of Michael Jordan's career, with "Bittersweet Symphony." You don't see it coming when I cry; it's like a drive-by shooting. I get warmed up pretty quickly. When I watched "The Bucket List" with Bill's parents recently, I started bawling at the end, then I started laughing because Bill always makes fun of me for crying, so I was crying and laughing at the same time. I'm pretty sure Bill's dad is going to file for legal custody of our kids after witnessing the display I put on.

My problem is I have too much compassion for every living thing. I won't even let Bill kill spiders in our house! So since we found out in February that the Dooze (our oldest dog) was dying of lymphoma and probably wouldn't make it to 2009, it has been waterworks central at Casa Simmons. I haven't handled it well. We have Kleenex in every room. Every time I throw tennis balls to her outside, I think, "This could be the 39th-to-last time that I'll ever throw tennis balls with the Dooze." But after watching the "Bucket List," I finally figured out how to send Dooze out with a bang. I created a "Bucket List" for her.

First, I'm taking her on a beach vacation for two days. Her two favorite things are swimming and chasing down tennis balls, so that's what we will do. Second, I'm buying a kiddie pool and filling it with 30 cans of tennis balls and letting her jump in. I just want to see the look on her face. Third, I'm making her favorite meal: filet mignon (bloody), an ear of corn and carrot cake. I don't care if she poops all over the house afterward. Fourth, I'm teaching her how to keep two tennis balls in her mouth at the same time. She has been trying to do this for years! I really want to see her do it once. Fifth, right near the end, I'm taking her to Hollywood Boulevard at 4 a.m. and throwing tennis balls to her. It will be our best ball-throw ever, even if I end up getting mugged or arrested. And sixth, after she passes on, we're throwing her ashes into the Pacific Ocean. That's what she would want.

You can count on one thing: I will definitely be crying.

Here are my Week 4 picks: KC +9, CIN -3.5, Jax -7.5, NYJ -1, NO -6, ATL +7.5, TEN -3, GB +1.5, STL +8, SD -7, Phi -3, Dal -11, Pitt -5.5.

Last week: 9-7
Season: 24-22-1

11. New England Patriots
To recap: Bill Belichick's theory that everyone on a football team can be replaced at any time is absolutely true ... as long as you're not replacing Tom Brady with Matt Cassel. I appreciate Brady's talents for the QB position even more than I did three weeks ago, and I'm the same guy who once caused a blog to post a fake video of me swooning over Brady on YouTube. Last week's Miami game was like watching one of the Andrettis climb out of the best possible Indy 500 car and turn it over to some drunk guy in the stands. It has just been cruel. Whether you loved the 2007 Pats or despised them with every fiber in your body, you have to admit, you weren't turning the channel when they were on offense. Now you do. Alas.

(P.S.: Don't worry about me, I'm fine. I'm just gambling more. Everything can be solved by gambling and fantasy. How do you think I got through the Rod Rust and Dick MacPherson Eras?)

LURKING, NOT QUITE LOOMING

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If Jon Gruden can win a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson, turn Rich Gannon into an MVP, make the playoffs with Chris Simms and revive Jeff Garcia's floundering career, then turning Brian Griese into a solid quarterback should be a piece of cake. I'd have the Bucs higher except for that garbage win in Chicago last week -- they botched a third-down play in OT inside their own 12, then one of their offensive linemen (Jeremy Trueblood) started a fight, threw the first few cheap shots and kept it going and going; then everyone jumped in, and then Chicago's Charles Tillman inexplicably got hit with the "unnecessary roughness" flag to keep Tampa's drive alive. Huh? Considering the Bucs went from "punting from their own end zone" to "scoring a few plays later," this was the biggest injustice since Hurricane Carter got framed. Why can't all fighting-related "unnecessary roughness" plays be challenged? That seems fair, right?

9. Green Bay Packers
Tough team to figure since Dallas should have thrashed them by 40 last week. (You might have missed it because you were watching the 2008 Emmys and trying to figure out why they thought it was a good idea to have five unfunny reality hosts handle the proceedings at the same time. I watched the whole thing thinking there would be a payoff -- like, the guy who plays Dexter calmly walking onstage and killing all five hosts as the crowd cheered. Didn't happen. But, hey, it was all worth it to see the redhead from "Mad Men" spilling out of her dress. If I were running a studio, I'd give her $15 million to star in "Basic Instinct 3.") So is Green Bay worse than we thought, or is Dallas better than we thought? There's no way to know.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars
Here's why you have to love football: If Josh Scobee misses that 51-yarder, the 2008 Jags are done in three weeks. If he makes it, they're alive. And the thing was, we knew this as he was lining up for that kick. Anyway, only one of the two AFC South teams is grabbing a wild card -- either Jax or Indy -- and I still like the Jags even with all their O-line problems.

(Note: I discussed it with Rich Eisen on the B.S. Report this week, but it's worth mentioning again: Dick Enberg did a phenomenal job with last week's Jags-Colts nail-biter, good enough that I wikipedia'ed him to make sure that Gus Johnson wasn't his illegitimate son. Greatest football play-by-play guy ever, in my humble opinion. And he's 73! And still cranking it! A few months ago, I wrote that Phil Jackson would be the coolest grandfather possible -- and that still stands -- but Enberg might have to rank fourth behind Jackson, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. Imagine turning on that Jags-Colts game and hearing grandpa hit it out of the park like that? By the way, the greatest great-grandfather of all time isn't nearly as much fun as a debate -- the answer is clearly John Wooden and that's that. Unless you want to say Sumner Redstone for the inheritance. I'm fine with either.)

THE FEEL-GOOD SLEEPER

7. Buffalo Bills
On a truly enjoyable episode of "Inside the NFL" this week, Bill Cowher, Phil Simms and Cris Collinsworth -- three guys I respect -- all listed the Bills in their top fives and James Brown didn't even do his trademark "Ack ... ack ... ack ... ack" laugh afterward. Really? Top five? That seems high after Roscoe Parrish went out with a finger, undeniably affecting one of Buffalo's biggest strengths (special teams) for the next four to six weeks. Just look at what happened with Tampa-Chicago last week: a healthy Devin Hester springs one big return and swings that game, right? On the other hand, Buffalo's schedule remains easier than Kirsten Dunst. We'll stick the Bills here to be safe.

Trent Edwards
Maybe Trent Edwards will one day surpass Vincent Gallo as a great Buffalo celebrity.

Meanwhile, Becky from Boston writes, "Just curious -- when the SuperSonics were being ripped from Seattle, you dedicated several columns to the topic. Now that the same thing is happening to the Bills, your reaction is the complete opposite. Not only are you NOT outraged, you seem to derive pleasure from rubbing salt in my wounds. You don't mention the Bills without mentioning the possible move to Toronto and are tainting an otherwise exciting season for lifelong Bills fans like myself who have been waiting for the glory years of the early '90s to return. What do you have against the good people of Buffalo? Haven't we suffered enough?"

All good points. My initial response is that when Vincent Gallo is your city's signature celebrity, maybe you shouldn't have an NFL team. But I'm willing to be talked into it. From everything I've read, the Bills are struggling to survive financially and lack the funds to build a better stadium, only they don't have the balls to leave Buffalo, only they don't want another NFL team to move to Toronto -- the best territory that isn't an NFL city yet -- so they're basically "marking" that Toronto territory like a dog by playing eight games there over the next three years. Either it was a shrewd business move (they made $78 million, more than their 2006 and 2007 operating income combined), a passive-aggressive play that deserves to be mocked, or both. But it's nothing like the 1979 NBA champs getting hijacked from Seattle for no good reason. Seattle could support an NBA team; it's unclear if Buffalo can support the Bills.

(Note: If I'm wrong, then tell me why. And try to do it without using swear words or comparing me to various orifices. Thank you.)

THE AIR CORYELL DIVISION

5b. San Diego Chargers
5a. Denver Broncos
Two killer offenses with emerging superstars at quarterback ... and embarrassingly bad defenses. In comparison, Denver's defense is worse, but San Diego's schedule is tougher; Denver doesn't have a runner like LDT, but it also doesn't have Norv Turner; Denver has a two-game lead, but San Diego hosts the rematch of the Ed Hochuli Bowl. (Note: what a shame that their inevitable 48-44 slugfest will happen in Week 17 after every fantasy league is already decided.) I'm leaning toward the Broncos right now for one reason: It just feels like it's their year. When it's your year, you start winning games because of premature whistles and shanked 41-yard field goals in perfect weather. It happened to the 2006 Bears and the 2006 Ravens and now, it's happening to the 2008 Broncos. So hold on for the ride.

(A great example of an "it's your year" game -- the Snow Game between the Pats and Raiders, not just the Tuck Rule play but Troy Brown fumbling the punt return on the game-tying drive and the ball ricocheting off the snow right to Larry Izzo. When stuff like that starts happening, you know it's your year. The Broncos aren't there yet, but the signs are encouraging so far.)

THE CONTENDERS

4. New York Giants
You might remember my writing last week, "Did you notice the Brady-Manning-Brees-Palmer-McNabb Era suddenly has the Romo-Rivers-Cutler-Roethlisberger-Rodgers Era breathing down its neck?" Of all the agitated e-mails from Giants fans over the next few days, this one from Rich in Stamford, Conn., was my favorite: "You and I both know you purposely left Eli Manning out of the second part of that sentence, you bitter [expletive]."

Guilty as charged! I still think the G-Men have a chance to become the first-ever "Nobody Still Believed In Us!" Team ... although it's hard to watch their defense (really good, not great) and not think, "Man, what if Strahan and Osi were playing?" And how will this Plax thing affect them? Will it blow over or keep festering? You know it's worse than we're being led to believe because Steve Smith uttered the dreaded "Plax is Plax, he does what he wants. ... We never know when it comes to Plax" quote this week.

Plax is Plax?

This has always been one of Adam Carolla's greatest theories -- any time someone describes a co-worker by saying their name twice (like "Plax is Plax"), that's code for either "This guy is one of the biggest a-holes in the history of mankind" or "This guy is one of the stupidest, most confusing and most inexplicable human beings I've ever met." Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Steve Smith, Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant, Stephon Marbury, Dennis Rodman, Chad Johnson ... they've all been slapped with the "[Name] is [Name]" quote over the years. It's never a good sign. For that reason alone (as well as the four upcoming games against Philly and Dallas), I can't put them ahead of ...

Titans Defense
Can you really reach the Super Bowl with Kerry Collins at QB? You can with this defense.

3. Tennessee Titans
In four parts ...

A. They have the league's best defense, and if you don't believe me, you will believe me this Sunday after they do everything short of actually having sex with Gus Frerotte.

B. You can learn a lot about a team's playoff chances by how "locked in" (for lack of a better word) their sideline seems to be during a game. With the Titans, Jeff Fisher is prowling back and forth like a prison guard barking orders at a chain gang; any time a good play happens near their sideline, you'll see every guy react happily right away; and if there's a cheap shot on their sideline, 20 Titans come flying in within 0.02 of a second. The 2008 Tennessee Titans are locked in. You can't use the italics forcefully enough. The Titans seem hungry to me.

C. After being initially confused with Chris Johnson's erratic playing time (after all, he's clearly their best back and looks like the next Marshall Faulk), I finally figured out what Fisher is doing there: He doesn't want to burn out a rookie runner who might play 19-20 games this season, so he's spotting him early, wetting his feet and saving him for later in the season. That has to be it. They're keeping his touches around 15-17 a game and setting us up for one of those Dr. Evil-like, "Release the Fembots!" moments in a big November game. Smart move.

D. You probably can't win a Super Bowl with Kerry Collins, but you can definitely make it to one. In fact, it has even happened.

(That sound you just heard was all the Giants fans slamming their heads against the desk.)

2. Philadelphia Eagles
We have to take the Eagles seriously after their defense put up a Wilt-like triple-double against "Ben" last week: 57 hits, 39 hurries and 17 sacks (all numbers approximate). Throw in their big-play guys, McNabb's revival, Brian "The Reuben" Westbrook, the impending return of two more receivers (Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis) and these guys look dangerous. Of course, they can't beat these guys ...

THE FAVORITE

1. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys do one thing (score points) better than anyone does anything else. Now that they have Miles Austin going as a much-needed third receiver, really, the only guy who can stop this offense is Tony Romo. What do we make of this guy? Will he ever stop self-destructing in big moments? Why does he keep forcing those "Brett Favre circa 2001-2006" throws when the Cowboys are in the red zone? And if you want to flip it around, what happens when he stops making dumb mistakes and just starts cranking out 228 mph laps with this Ferrari he's driving right now? I think we can safely say that, after three weeks, barring injuries, the 2008 NFL season rests in the hands of Jessica Simpson's boyfriend. Now that's weird.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy's World.