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Friday, October 17, 2008
In a goofy year, there's a thing about the Titans

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

I threw out the possibility in my Week 3 Power Poll, and now it has been confirmed: This is the goofiest NFL season in six years.

(Hold on, lemme rephrase that and play it up so I sound like one of the pregame show guys.)

"Guys, hold on a second, hold on a second ... (waiting for the other four guys to stop interrupting each other) ... guys, hold on, lemme just make this point ... (waiting two more seconds, finally deciding to just yell louder than everyone else) ... I GOTTA BE HONEST. I GOTTA BE HONEST. I'm not so sure this isn't one of the craziest seasons we've seen in the National Football League in a long, long time. (Insert sound of the other four guys inexplicably laughing like this is one of the 10 funniest things that has ever been said.) No no no, hold on, hold on -- guys, I'm serious. I think you have to go back to the 2002 season to find a stranger season in the National Football League. (Insert sound of one guy starting to laugh, then realizing the other guys aren't laughing, so he stops.) When you don't have a dominant team in the National Football League, that means anything can happen, and I think we have definitely seen that through these first six weeks in the National Football League. (Insert an inaudible joke followed by the sound of everyone laughing hysterically again.)"

You don't believe me? Here's a sampling from my "Power Poll" three weeks ago ...

My rankings for those same seven teams just three weeks later ...

We should also mention that the only undefeated team through six weeks ...

A. Starts Kerry Collins at quarterback.

B. Whiffed on consecutive top-six picks in '05 (Pacman Jones, No. 6) and '06 (Vince Young, No. 3).

C. Starts Kerry Collins at quarterback.

Trying to make sense of such a quirky season, I studied the '02 campaign looking for clues. Here's what I learned.

WEEK 7 POWER POLL

THE ROD RUST DIVISION
32. Detroit
31. Cincinnati
30. Kansas City
29. Oakland

THE BRUCE COSLET DIVISION
28. St. Louis
27. San Fran
26. Seattle

THE STRAW-GRASPERS
25. Baltimore
24. Cleveland
23. Minnesota
22. Houston

A WHIFF OF FRISKINESS
21. NY Jets

A WHIFF OF DECOMPOSITION
20. New England

HANGING AROUND
19. Denver
18. Miami
17. Chicago
16. Green Bay

BEER-BOOZE-COKE-SLEEP
15. New Orleans
14. Atlanta
13. Carolina
12. Tampa Bay

LURKING, NOT QUITE LOOMING
11. Philly
10. Jacksonville
9. Pittsburgh
8. Dallas

RIP VAN WINKLE
7. Arizona

THE FEEL-GOOD SLEEPER
6. Buffalo

THE CONTENDERS 5. Washington
4. San Diego
3. Indianapolis
2. N.Y. Giants

THE FAVORITE
1. Tennessee

  • The consensus '02 favorite (St. Louis) blew its first three games and lost its MVP quarterback (Kurt Warner) for 10 weeks during a Week 4 defeat in Dallas. The Rams stumbled to a 7-9 finish that opened the door for everyone else. Shades of the '08 Pats and Brady, anyone? I will now plant my left foot into my front lawn, pull out a spare-rib and wait for one of my charging dogs to crash into my left knee like Bernard Pollard.

  • The '02 Raiders started out 4-0, lost their next four (with everyone writing them off and making jokes about the Jon Gruden-Bill Callahan downgrade), then went 9-1 before losing in the Super Bowl. The 2002 Eagles were 3-2 after their Week 6 bye, then went 11-1 before losing the NFC title game. The Jets started out 1-4, eventually stole the AFC East with a 9-7 record, then made the second round of the playoffs. In other words, you don't know much after six weeks of a goofy season except for things like, "Team X sucks" and "Team Y really, really sucks." That's right, I'm talking about you guys: Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, San Fran, Oakland, Cincinnati and Seattle. Thanks for playing. See you in 2009.

    (Insert sound of depressed Seattle fans cranking Soundgarden, smoking cigarettes, staring out the window and watching the rain fall. Black hole sun ... won't you come ... to wash away the raiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin. This is just cruel. Hey, at least you can look forward to me trashing Kevin Durant's Future Former Team during the NBA season and making jokes about Aubrey McClendon losing so much of his $2.1 billion nest egg during the current Wall Street swoon that he's being compared to the Dukes in "Trading Places." Looking good, Aubrey! Feeling good, Clay! Good times! One down, one to go. Now, we just have to wait for the Karma Police to come after Clay Bennett like those three psychopaths in "The Strangers." And you know it's coming. That's just how these things work. By the way, let's add the "McClendon Margin Calls" to the ever-expanding list of pseudonyms for the Team That Shall Not Be Named, as discussed in last week's mailbag.)

  • The 2002 champs (the Bucs) resemble the 2008 Titans: Great defense, excellent coach, decent offense, veteran QB who bounced around ... and at no point did anyone ever think, "Yes, that's the team to beat!" The Bucs even lost one of those "COMING UP, IT'S AN NFC SHOWDOWN ON FOX!" games to Philly in Week 7, mustering just 207 total yards of offense in a discouraging 20-10 defeat. I'm telling you this because the Titans will undoubtedly look horrendous at some point from Week 8 to Week 11 -- Indy at home (Monday night), Green Bay at home, at Chicago, at Jacksonville -- and when it happens, let's just shrug it off and forget it happened. Unless it happens twice.

  • You might not believe in the '08 Cardinals because they recently got trounced by Favre and the Jets 56-35 in the most dominant performance by a washed-up superstar since Magic Johnson won the All-Star MVP the year everyone was afraid to guard him. And I don't blame you. As far as franchises go, the Cardinals are the Clippers of football, and actually, that might be an insult to the Clippers. But did you know the 2002 Titans started out 1-4, endured a humiliating 52-25 thrashing at Oakland in Week 4, then ripped off an 11-1 streak before losing in the AFC Championship Game? We can't dismiss the Cards when they play in a brutally bad division -- they're headed for a No. 3 seed at worst -- and they feature a sneaky number of playmakers on both sides of the ball. If only Anquan Boldin wasn't still out with a face.

    (And remember, in the past 13 months, we've seen an 18-0 team lose the Super Bowl; Kansas win the NCAA hoops title; a WNBA star blow out her ACL during a bench-clearing WNBA brawl; Michigan lose to Toledo and Appalachian State at home; Federer lose Wimbledon to a Spanish clay court specialist; A-Rod and Madonna become a hot tabloid rumor; Michael Phelps win eight gold medals; Tiger win the U.S. Open with a torn ACL; CBS dump Billy Packer; the Red Sox pay Manny Ramirez to play for someone else and everyone in Boston being fine with this; the U.S. hoops team nearly blow the Gold Medal game to a team that started Marc Gasol and a 17-year-old point guard; the Tampa Bay Rays come within a game of the World Series; and an improbable throwback Celtics-Lakers Finals. You're really telling me Arizona making a Super Bowl is far-fetched at this point? I just want to know when Cuba Gooding Jr. gets involved as the team's token bandwagon celebrity. You know it will happen soon.)

  • Look at the 2002 standings again. What two things jump out? For me, it's the staggering number of teams that had seven, eight or nine wins (15 in all), as well as the fact the team with the No. 1 offense ended up playing the team with the No. 1 defense in the Super Bowl. Which brings us to my big point: When you have an unconventional season filled with good teams and no great ones, the Super Bowl will come down to one question and one question only ...

    Which team does its one "thing" better than anyone else does their "thing?"

    The 2002 Buccaneers won the Super Bowl because their "thing" (defense and ball control) was better than Oakland's "thing" (offense), and because the Eagles didn't really have an elite "thing." During a similarly goofy 2000 season -- which featured a whopping 12 teams with at least 10 wins and nine teams that scored 80-plus points more than they gave up (compared to just four in 2002) -- the Ravens prevailed because their "thing" (defense) was better than anyone else's "thing." Those were the two silliest seasons of the salary-cap era, and since we are clearly headed for Goofy Season III, and since Tennessee's "thing" (defense) is better than anyone else's "thing," the Titans have to be considered the 2008 favorites. You know, as long as they keep doing their thing.

    On to the Week 7 Picks ...

    (Home teams in caps.)

    Titans (-9) over CHIEFS
    The classic Gus Ramsey Patented "How many points are they gonna score?" game for the Chiefs. Will they get to seven? Will they get to 10? Suddenly, that line doesn't seem so high. Speaking of the Titans, you won't believe this, but I have another dumb All-Star Team for you -- from the producers of the Lindsey Hunter All-Stars, the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars and the Emilio Estevez All-Stars, it's the Troy O'Leary All-Stars! That's right, it's the long-awaited team of African-American athletes whose names sound Irish. So far we have Troy O'Leary, Patrick O'Bryant, Cortland Finnegan, Jonathan O'Sullivan and, um ... that's it. Consider it a work in progress. If only Shawn Kemp had named one of his kids "Seamus."

    SPORTS GAL'S RANT

    I became a real person again last weekend. Our friends Dyan and Daniel got married in Austin, Texas, and Bill and I were kid-free. Since I'm sure there are drinks named after Daniel across the world, we knew this was going to be a blowout. It has been 18 months since I was able to let loose without worrying about poisoning a fetus, getting a baby drunk on breast milk or drinking too much and then accidentally diapering my dog while my son screamed in his crib. Normally Star Magazine's "Stars Without Makeup" issue would have been the highlight of my month, but this was much better

    Bill was just as excited. He had several bets with his friend Sal going into the weekend: "Would Daniel cry?" (Bill lost $20.) "Which single people would hook up?" (Didn't pay.) "Which Mom would get the most plastered?" (Too hard to say.) Nobody bet on "Which Mom would 'touch the back' of the bus?" If you haven't heard of this game, it's a fun one for any party bus. One person decides they want to touch the back and everyone else attacks them as they flail, turn upside down, get their dress straps ripped and break both of their heels. Oh wait, that might just have been my experience. But on Friday in Austin, apparently I became the first female to "touch the back." I don't know if that's a good thing.

    I also found out there's such a thing as getting "pickled." My friend and fellow mom, Melissa, created this word for any two-day event (like a wedding or Vegas bachelorette party) where we "blow our wad" on the first night, show off our A-game and have the most fun. On the second night, usually the "main event," we can't shake our semi-sobriety. We can do 10 shots of tequilla and nothing happens! These are always the nights when we seem to be stuck talking to the wrong people, get handed gross mixed drinks we don't like, or have husbands watching an extra-innings playoff Red Sox game and refusing to dance (or get us a drink, or get up). I ended up dancing for two hours at the after-party and getting pawed by drunk guys. Actually, what am I complaining about? That was a great night, too!

    At least I know there is a fun person still lurking inside me. I'd tell you more, but my son is attempting another suicidal climb up the stairs and I have to stop him. Here are my Week 7 picks: Ten -8.5, SD (pk), Dal -7, Pitt -9.5, Bal +3, Chi -3.5, Car -3, SF +11, Det +9, NYJ -3, Was -7.5, GB +1.5, TB -10.5, NE -3.5

    Last Week: 6-8.
    Season: 42-43-3

    Cowboys (-7) over RAMS
    I say Tony Romo plays. Why? Because Brett "I Played With a Fractured Thumb Once" Favre called him for a pep talk this week, and you know he made some good-natured jokes like, "This break will be good for you, you can finally catch up on your 'Sex and the City' DVD box set." Mark my words: Romo plays and the Cowboys roll. While we're here, my long-awaited thoughts on the Roy Williams trade ...

    1. I would understand, say, Dallas giving up a No. 1 and a No. 3 for a healthy Anquan Boldin. I would even understand Tennessee overpaying for Williams because the Titans are contending for the title with a fairly mundane receiving crew. But how did it make sense for Dallas? Are we even sure he's that good? And have you ever seen a team that bent over backward for a not-quite-a-franchise player like Dallas has catered to the selfish Terrell Owens this season? The Cowboys got away from pounding the run to make him happy, and now, they just mortgaged their immediate future to stretch the field for him ... and meanwhile, the team's biggest problems are on the defensive side of the ball. I don't get it. Even for Jerry Jones, this was a weird one.

    2. Like everyone else, I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this Roy Williams-Roy Williams thing -- not just how it will confuse some of my favorite broadcasters, but how we haven't had a double identity issue this blatant since the double order of Vanessa Williams back in the early-'90s. Do we call them Receiver Roy and Safety Roy? Should we just come up with nicknames for them like Roy "Clyde" Williams (the wide receiver) and Roy "Sugar" Williams (the safety)? Should we make them flip a coin to see who has to use his middle initial? I need a resolution before Sunday. I'm not kidding. I'm not going into that game with two Roy Williamses on the field, and I'm not doing the "Roy J. Williams and Roy E. Williams" thing.

    (Speaking of the Cowboys, Boomer Esiason criticized Troy Aikman this week for being biased toward Dallas during the Cardinals game, which obscured the real story: Troy saying Antrel Rolle "continously continues to miss tackles" during that same game. Between that moment and Troy telling fill-in partner Dick Stockton, "You're exactly right, Dick," I don't care what Boomer says -- that was my favorite Aikman performance yet. He continously continues to entertain me.)

    BILLS (PK) over Chargers
    And the 2008 award for "NFL Body Part That I'm Tired of Hearing About" goes to ... LaDainian Tomlinson's big toe! Did you know he can't effectively cut on it? The last time I heard this many excuses for an ongoing poor performance, the Fox News Channel was involved.

    By the way, Week 7 graciously gives us two "West Coast team flying east and playing the early game" scenarios (this game and Niners-Giants). Take it from someone who lives in California and flies east from time to time -- when your body is on West Coast time, it's impossible to fall asleep on the East Coast at a reasonable hour. You end up killing time until 3 a.m., which, for your average NFL player, means one of the following scenarios: Making a booty call; watching TV; surfing porn online; playing video games; or playing poker with five other teammates. And you wonder why the West Coast teams always lose the 1 p.m. ET games.

    (Sad note: Two weeks ago, I joked that Buffalo's coaching staff could have doubled as an all-male cast for a porn movie called "Lotion In the Basket." Much to my delight, a few readers took a crack at photo-shopping the movie poster, including one reader who bemoaned, "Thanks, I wanted to make it as authentic as possible and ended up seeing some things that I can't unsee." The two best ones made me laugh out loud to the point that I started coughing. Unfortunately, we can't run them because I don't want to offend our Ombudsman -- not just because she's my favorite ESPN.com columnist, but because I'm truly, legitimately, unequivocally terrified of her. Every time I check my e-mails, I fear seeing one from her with the subject heading, "Do you have time for a quick interview to tell your side?" She's like a prison warden at this point -- I don't even want to make eye contact with her. So you'll have to use your imagination for the "Lotion In the Basket" posters. As much as it kills me.)

    Steelers (-9.5) over BENGALS
    Through six weeks, Chris Perry has rushed for 253 yards on 96 carries (2.6 per carry) and the Cincy QBs have thrown for 1,039 yards, four TDs, seven INTs and one TAINT. Those aren't skill positions; those are still positions. This would be the worst team in the league if Detroit's Dan Orlovsky didn't scramble out of the end zone undaunted for three seconds last Sunday before anyone fully processed what was happening.

    Anyway, I was admiring the beard of former Pittsburgh great Jerome Bettis in HD last Sunday and realized it looked like an impeccably groomed front lawn, like the one you'd see in front of a mansion that has 10 different landscapers trimming hedges every morning. It's really magnificent. I haven't heard a single point Bettis has made this season. They go to a close-up of him and I just start staring at his beard. It's like the maze in "The Shining." I keep expecting to see Wendy and Danny Torrance running around inside it. Yet another reason to love HD.

    Two more "Sunday Night in America" notes:

    1. After listening to Cris Collinsworth speak for three hours a week (no lie, I added it up) on NBC and Showtime and not coming even close to getting tired of him, I realized there should be a 24-hour Collinsworth channel where he could give his opinions on everything, whether it was the election, movies, the stock market, the real-estate swoon or whatever. More importantly, I would check out that channel at least six times a day, especially late at night for the racier Collinsworth opinions, where he says things in his pseudo-drawl like, "Guys, I watched the tapes and I gotta tell you something -- pound for pound, Alexis Texas might just be the best young actress working in porn right now."

    SIMMONS PODCAST

    Bill discusses the NFL with Mike Lombardi and goes through the Week 7 lines with Cousin Sal. Plus, JackO weighs in on reality television and more. B.S. Report
    2. In case you missed it, CNN pushed the envelope for swollen pregame shows by unveiling a 13-person studio team during Wednesday's presidential debate. It looked like a rehearsal dinner. We'll see how "Sunday Night in America" responds. I'm excited.

    DOLPHINS (-3) over Ravens
    Thanks to our friend Mike Lombardi for finding this tidbit from Wednesday's press conference with John Harbaugh: The Ravens coach praised offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and said, "He did a great job last year for what he had to work with (in Miami)." That might be the Bulletin Board Quote of the Year so far. Throw in Joe Flacco's "one TD, seven INTs" line through five weeks, and this might be the lock of the week.

    (Random note: Did you notice that various media guys are trying to get the term "Green Zone" going for any possession between the opposing team's 20- and 35-yard lines? First of all, that's absolutely inane -- I already have enough things to worry about during a football game, now I have to worry if my team is being effective in the Green Zone? And second, if this term is really going to stick, and I fear it will, then I demand that we call every possession between the 35-yard line and 35-yard line "The Reid Zone," because that's the stretch of turf where Andy Reid inexplicably turns into the 21st century Bill Walsh. To recap: I'm fine with the Green Zone, but only if we can also have the Reid Zone. You can't have one and not the other.)

    BEARS (-3) over Vikings
    You have to love Brad Childress -- after a discouraging two-point victory over the lowly Lions that featured Minnesota fans chanting, "Fire Childress!" for most of the second half, he told his team afterward, "As far as I'm concerned, that's a great win! There's no such thing as a bad one in the NFL." I beg to differ -- when your fans limp out of the stadium trying to talk themselves into Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, that's a bad win. It just is.

    Speaking of coaching mishaps, here's why every team needs to hire a 17 year-old "Madden" junkie as its Common Sense Coordinator, Vol. XXXII. Because it would have led to the following conversation with 11 seconds left in the Bears-Falcons game last week:

    Lovie Smith: "All right, we can't let Norwood break another kickoff return, let's do a squib kick."

    The CSC: "Wait, Lovie, that gives them the ball at the 40 with six or seven seconds left -- that's enough time to nail a pass and try a field goal, and they have Jason Elam, who lives for these situations"

    Lovie: "Yeah, but we can't let Norwood break another kick return, he's already got one TD."

    The CSC: "What are the odds of Norwood breaking two kickoff TDs in the same game? It probably happens once a year. I'd say the odds are much higher that the Falcons break the Cover 2 with a long pass and kick the winning field goal, right? Trust me, I play 'Madden' for 15 hours a day and have a 0.9 GPA right now. Kick away. Please. I'm begging you."

    FALCONS (-4.5) over Bye Week
    Things I never guessed I would say during the 2008 season, Vol. MXXIV: "I wish the Patriots had Atlanta's rookie QB." I have to say, it has been a revelation to see a Boston College product get a job right out of college and do well for himself.

    PANTHERS (-3) over Saints
    We're officially in "Take the home team in every NFC South matchup" mode. Anyway, I accidentally deleted the e-mail, but one of my readers had a spectacular idea for any Saints road game -- what if the home team handed out "faces on a stick" like the kind that the "PTI" guys use, only the face on the stick belonged to Ray J, the guy who made the sex tape with Kim Kardashian (Reggie Bush's fiancée)? How could that NOT mess with Reggie's head? You know that tape just kills him and continues to kill him. Why? BECAUSE HIS FIANCEE MADE A SEX TAPE WITH ANOTHER GUY!!!! Or what if the home team went a step further and hired Ray J to actually sing the national anthem before the game? These are the ideas we need to spice up the NFC South.

    GIANTS (-10.5) over Niners
    I wrote before last week's game, "Andy Reid has doubled the total of any other coach for 2008 coaching boners through five weeks. I am convinced," prompting Andrew R. in Ottawa to e-mail me on Sunday night, "And then in Week 6, he met Mike Nolan. Can't you just picture Nolan screaming 'Not on my watch!' as he throws the challenge flag on the Akers field goal? Or, when up nine with a 100-yard rusher in the fourth quarter, he calls nothing but passing plays until the Eagles had rattled off 23 unanswered points? Mike Nolan is like Andy Reid minus the hope of a playoff appearance." That and about 125 pounds. But hey, at least the suit looks good!

    (That reminds me, did you notice Reid finished the first half by sending David "But Coach, I Only Have a 43-yard Leg?" Akers to kick a 52-yard field goal which was blocked and returned for a touchdown, giving the Niners a boost heading into the half? And you thought I was making this stuff up.)

    TEXANS (-9.5) over Lions
    I just can't quit the '08 Texans. After their lousy season ends, I'm going to be smelling their jersey, dipping my face into it and sobbing "Brokeback"-style like Heath Ledger's character. By the way, Matt Schaub ripped off my favorite touchdown spike after the game-winning QB draw last week -- the one where the guy just whips the football against the end zone wall at 110 mph. Not only should we be rooting for this to catch on like the Lambeau Leap, there's always a chance that they might misfire the spike and plunk some fan in the head.

    (Follow-up note: I'd like to congratulate myself for becoming the first sportswriter this century to successfully use a "Brokeback Mountain" joke in a column that didn't have any gay overtones whatsoever. This should have earned me a GLAAD award, or at least a nomination, and since I have no chance of actually winning, here's the acceptance speech I would have given: "I'd like to thank my editors at ESPN.com for keeping this paragraph. I'd like to thank my parents and my wife. I'd like to thank my kids for continuing to inspire me, and lastly, I'd like to dedicate this award to the memory of Heath Ledger, a wonderful actor who left us too soon. Thank you.")

    Colts (-1.5) over PACKERS
    Thanks again to the Vikings and Texans -- they could have chopped Indy's head off Jason Voorhees-style, but instead, they just whacked the Colts with a machete a few times, walked away, turned their back and waited for them to get up. Now the Colts are 3-2 and rounding into January form. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be excited because Tom Brady's reconstructive knee surgeries went well. Damn it all. I might break the record for "Most NBA Games Watched In One Month" in November.

    Jets (-3) over RAIDERS
    A quick mini-Ramblings for this game ...

    If you made hats for the Tom Cable Era in Oakland, would you use an "L" or a "$$$" as the symbol?

    I can't believe it took the Jets an extra 10 years to realize, "Hey, if we change our uniforms and look nothing like the crappy franchise that everyone remembers, maybe our luck will change."

    When DeAngelo Hall covers Javon Walker in practice, it must be like watching CGI'ed footage of the Titanic crashing into the Hindenburg.

    Note to CBS Sports.com: I think it's time to remove Trent Dilfer, Tim Hasselbeck and Jesse Palmer from your "Available Free Agent QBs" list. Also, you can probably dump Michael Vick for a year or two. Just a thought.

    Note to DirecTV: You can't use the "Poltergeist" girl for a commercial when she died in real life, then show it every 15 minutes during the NFL season. It's creepy and continues to be creepy. Well, unless your goal is to make us feel creepy ... and if that's the case, then I want to see the running back from "The Last Boy Scout" alternately running downfield, shooting defenders and telling us about DirecTV.

    "Paging Dr. McFadden ... Dr. McFadden, please report to the 2008 fantasy season ... paging Dr. McFadden ... this is an emergency ..."

    Why do I have this sinking feeling that I'll be flicking channels in 20 years, notice an aging Eric Mangini coaching the defense of some obscure WAC team on ESPN2 and think to myself, "Hey, wait a second ... that's the guy who started the chain of events that brought down the Patriots dynasty!"

    Browns (+7.5) over REDSKINS
    Every time they show Romeo Crennel on the sidelines, it seems like he's thinking to himself, "Five ... five ... five dollar foot loooooooooong ..." And you know what? I still like the Browns this week no matter what's happening with Kellen Winslow's testicles. Hey, did anyone else feel dumb about laying 13 points with the Redskins last week, losing the game outright, then realizing they had won their previous four games by a total of 20 points? Or was it just me?

    Seahawks (+10.5) over BUCCANEERS
    Seneca Wallace, come on down! It's time to save the 2008 Seattle Seahawks' season! Or at least cover a 10-point spread this week. That reminds me, I'd like to apologize for writing that Wade Phillips celebrates like an overjoyed "Family Feud" contestant two weeks ago. Clearly, the better analogy would have been, "an overjoyed contestant who just won the bid on 'The Price is Right.'" I don't know what I was thinking.

    (Random question: has there ever been a time in Joey Galloway's career when he didn't have the red cross next to his name on a fantasy lineup?)

    Broncos (+3.5) over PATRIOTS
    Here's what you're getting from the Patriots: A lifeless crowd where all the rowdy fans are stuck three levels above the field and ticked off because they can't tailgate in front of the stadium anymore thanks to the new super-mall and have to set up 35 minutes away from the entrance, pay $50 to tailgate in a 4-foot-by-6-foot piece of turf surrounded by 450 other cars, then walk off their buzz heading to the game and bemoan the fact life was much more fun when it was just little old Foxboro Stadium; a dreadful secondary that features the likes of Deltha "Now you know why I was available in late August" O'Neal and Ellis "I cannot cover anyone over 6-foot-2, not even if it was Jeff Goldblum" Hobbs; a QB performance that harkens not-so-fond memories of Marc Wilson and the strike guys in 1987; a bummed-out defense that secretly knows there's no way in hell anyone could ever win a Super Bowl with Matt Cassel; a slightly chagrined Randy Moss beating guys by 10 yards and then having to practically break his own ankles to stop for underthrown footballs, then eventually realizing, "Screw it, I'm just gonna jog through my routes"; and many more depressing e-mails like the three I received last Sunday during the Chargers game:

    Ben B. in Boston: "Every Sunday at 4:30 a.m. (after the mandatory blazing session) I end up watching Tom Brady highlights and becoming more and more cognizant of the fact that the Matt Cassel Era has been the worst period of my life as a sports fan other than watching Sebastian Telfair. I don't think it's possible to quantify in any respect the Brady injury using any metaphor or analogy. Honestly, I've been thinking about this for the last month, and the closest thing I can think of to my reaction to watching Cassel play against the Chargers today is in "Seven" when Brad Pitt's character finds out his wife's head is in the package. It just sucks more than anything knowing there's no real hope on the way until about 10 months from now. Thank god for YouTube."

    Matt in Harvard, Mass.: "It's halftime of the Pats game, and I decided to come up with a list of things I would feel better about than Matt Cassel as my starting QB: Mike Tyson taking out one of my sisters on a date ... asking Lindsay Lohan to hold onto my blow for a night and not use any ... my chances of eating if I'm in line behind Vince Wilfork at an all-you-can-eat buffet ... Pete Rose as my ethics professor. Needless to say, confidence is low."

    Jon in Worcester, Mass.: "Have you ever thought about coming up with a name for the kind of game Matt Cassel had against the Chargers. It's the kind of game where if you didn't watch it you thought the QB played all right (22-for-38, 200+, one INT), but if you watched the game you know the guy played like garbage and there was no chance your team had of winning. Guys who I've noticed playing such games include David Carr, J.J. Harrington, Rick Mirer, and most recently Matt Cassel. Your thoughts on a name for such a performance?"

    The answer: I'd love to name this one after Cassel ... but unfortunately, it's better known as the "Jim Everett." Either way, we're one more Pats loss away from the first wave of "Belichick stinks as a coach unless he's cheating and has Tom Brady!" e-mails from the general Cleveland area. Just another goofy outcome in the especially goofy 2008 season.

    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.