Remember the Dolphins, Ravens, Browns, Cowboys, Redskins and Rams? They're not playing in Week 5, our first "bye" week of the 2011 season. Even if losing Matt Moore, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Rex Grossman, Colt McCoy and the RomoCoaster was a big loss for Grantland's Bad QB League, for gambling purposes I enjoy "bye" weeks because the condensed schedule gives us more time to study the remaining games, overthink possible results, create crazy teasers or parlays, or, in the case of the column, make up fake lines for things beyond the weekend's matchups. Here are my Week 5 picks for all kinds of things.
Home teams in caps.
PANTHERS (+6.5) over Saints
Come on, you can't lay this many points with the King of the Backdoor Cover, Cam Newton! It's suicide!
Steve Smith 3.0 (-4) over Steve Smith 2.0
Remember when New York's Steve Smith took the Steve Smith mantle from Carolina's Steve Smith? Steve Smith 3.0 features a faster hard drive, more explosiveness, a better QB and increased swagger. Everyone's saying this is the best Steve Smith yet. Don't worry, he's not pulling an iPhone and releasing Steve Smith 4.0 next week only to reveal it's the exact same phone.
Darren Sproles (+5.5) over Reggie Bush
That was the line last summer. And now
Darren Sproles (-13.5) over Reggie Bush
And climbing. How did we not know this was going to be a bigger deal? Bush went for like 15 bucks in my West Coast auction; nobody bought Sproles. Crazy. When Marques Colston finally gets rolling again, you could argue pretty convincingly that New England's third-down offense (Hernandez, Gronkowski, Welker, Branch and electric rookie Stevan Ridley), New Orleans' third-down offense with Sproles, The Emerging Jimmy Graham (his new name), Colston, Meachem and Henderson is slightly more dangerous than Green Bay's third-down offense (Jennings, Finley, Nelson, Jones and Starks), but as a threesome, with the pro-passing rules in place (more on this later), we've never seen anything quite like it. Those three have converted 112 of 203 third downs; San Diego (32-for-53) is the only other NFL team better than 50 percent; 20 of the 32 teams have completed 38 percent or less. Since 2002, only the 2002 Niners, 2004 Vikings, 2006 Colts and 2008 Colts have topped 50 percent for the season. Now we're on pace for four in one season?
My theory: We'll remember the concussion crackdown as an unequivocal tipping point for passing dominance. A bunch of smaller tweaks have helped over the years (can't touch the QBs, can't jam receivers, etc.), but now that you can send receivers and tight ends over the middle ad nauseam without worrying about them getting decapitated by safeties and linebackers? It's a different sport. Two weeks ago, the Patriots threw to Wes Welker twenty times in Buffalo. If they had run some of those same routes with him in 2002, he'd be in a coma right now. And why do you think we have so many emerging tight ends (Graham, Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Pettigrew, etc.) all of the sudden? Football is changing before our eyes and people aren't even seeing it yet — the same offenses that always worked in Madden (either two TE/two WR, five WR or 4 WR/1 TE) now work in real life. In video games, you didn't care about sending Welker over the middle 16 times and having him get pounded — he was a video-game character. Now, you can do it with the real Welker. That means three things ultimately
1. We're going to see a boom in receiving numbers that parallels the home run numbers during the steroids era. Welker really might finish with 160 catches and 2,000 yards. It's not crazy.
2. Green Bay, New Orleans, New England and (possibly) San Diego have a distinct advantage this season and I think they're slowly starting to realize it.
3. Peyton Manning must be going nuts.
Eagles (-3) over BILLS
The Bills can't rush the passer (Philly's had protection issues), love to throw the ball (Philly's secondary has to come around at some point, right?), lucked out with takeaways so far (+8, including 2 TDs) and just aren't as talented. Put it this way: If Buffalo wins this game, then we have to (a) write off the 2011 Eagles, (b) give Buffalo 2011 pole position for the "Place Where Home-field Advantage Means the Most," (c) circle the wagons (I don't know what this means, or how it applies to the Bills, but I'll go with it), and (d) adjust the following line
The "Everybody Believes In Us" Factor (+3.5) over "The Nobody Believes In Us" Factor
The 2010-11 Heat, then the 2011 Red Sox, now the 2011 Eagles — in the 24/7 Sports Coverage/Hyperbole/Beating-Every-Angle-Into-The-Ground era, you should do everything possible to avoid becoming an attention-getting favorite with a giant bull's-eye on your back. Had I been running the Eagles, I would have gone the opposite way after the Nnamdi Asomugha signing — instead of allowing the "Dream Team" thing to get momentum, I would have called a team meeting and told Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, "Hey guys, we're about sign Asomugha — when it happens, can you bitch to the press about how we should have signed an offensive lineman so everyone can start writing about Philly's in-house dissension and overlook the fact that we're effing loaded on both sides? Just trust me, it's for the best."
2011 Andy Reid (-2.5) over Every Other Andy Reid
A classic Andy season thus far: The Eagles have outgained their opponents by 275 yards, notched 25 more first downs, held the ball for 16-plus more minutes and they're 1-3. Last week's Niners debacle featured Andy's usual goal-line struggles, an inexplicable pass/run ratio (how can a team that led 23-3 finish with a 2-to-1 pass/run ratio) and the 573rd time I made the "Andy needs to hire a 14-year-old pimply faced Madden junkie to help him with clock management down the stretch" joke (as Mike Lombardi pointed out, it's the umpteenth straight year that Andy botched the "how do you handle your timeouts around the two-minute warning?" dilemma, which isn't really a dilemma because there's only one way to handle it). And then there's
Juan Castillo's Hiring as Philly's Defensive Coordinator (+17) over Rick Perry's Presidential Campaign
You work as Philly's offensive line coach for 13 solid years and suddenly, you're given seven weeks post-lockout to figure out a defense with new parts, figure out its strengths and weaknesses, game plan and coach it?
Philly's Regrets for Michael Vick's Nine-Figure Extension (+4.5) over Adrian Peterson's Regrets for Signing a Nine-Figure Extension in Minnesota
Even the biggest Vick fan would admit this: These next three months are make-or-break for him. He hasn't had a relevant playoff moment in seven years. He's 2-5 in his past seven games (dating back to last year). There's mounting evidence that he's better in video games, highlight reels and fantasy leagues than in real life, and his durability is always going to be suspect but if he misses the playoffs with this team and these weapons? Yikes.
Chiefs (+2) over COLTS
Bengals (-2) over JAGUARS
BYE WEEK (-3) over Rams
Here are four of our six Andrew Luck Sweepstakes contenders (not counting the Dolphins and Vikings, and not counting the Bengals, who inherited 2011's "Good Bad Team" void once the Niners made it clear in Philly that they're slightly better than that). Who's tanking? The unexpectedly incompetent Rams should keep playing hard because they're in the NFC West (where you're never really out of it). The Jags, Vikings and Chiefs have coaches fighting for their jobs and won't roll over yet. I'm keeping my eye on the Dolphins — if you were going with a "Suck for Luck" plan, wouldn't you keep Tony Sparano, make up a fake Chad Henne season-ending shoulder injury and sign Sage Rosenfels? Yes. Yes you would. Meanwhile, the Colts keep getting crushed by injuries (the latest: Melvin Bullitt and Gary Brackett) and they weren't talented to begin with. If anyone's smart enough to say "roll over and play dead," it's Bill Polian. If Indy blows this week's Chiefs game, their next three are on the road: Cincy, New Orleans, Tennessee. Hello, 0 and 8!
My unofficial Luck Sweepstakes odds: Colts: -250; Dolphins +160; Rams: +180; Chiefs: +200; Jaguars: +220; Vikings: +300; the Field: +250. I'm parlaying Indy with the over of 23,475.5 for "Should Indy keep Luck and trade Peyton to a contender?" stories in 2012.
Andy Dalton (-4.5) over Blaine Gabbert
Conversation with my son in four years
Son: Hey, Dad, is it true the L.A. Jaguars passed on Andy Dalton in the 2011 draft?
Me: Yup. They gave up the no. 49 pick to move up six spots and take Gabbert.
Son: We could have just stayed put and grabbed the Red Rifle! This sucks.
Me: For God's sake, just root for the Patriots already. Please. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!!!!!!!
Jack Del Rio (+225) over Leslie Frazier (+400), Tony Sparano (-350), Todd Haley (-500) and Jim Caldwell (+1200)
These are sportsbook.com's odds for "First Coach Fired" right now. If Miami was going to fire Sparano, they would have done it during this bye week (and didn't). I see the Jags blowing their next four (Cincy, at Pittsburgh, Baltimore, at Houston), then Del Rio getting canned during their Week 9 bye and recovering in time to become a valuable member of ESPN2's Numbers Never Lie by Week 11.
GIANTS (-9.5) over Seahawks
Take Seattle at home, go against it on the road, thank me later. Although
Tarvaris Jackson (+7.5) over The Guy Who Used To Be Donovan McNabb
At least through the first four weeks. I have to admit, I'm stunned by this line and the topsy-turvy world of "bad" QBs in general. In Grantland's Bad QB Fantasy League draft, our first round went like this: Cincy, Seattle, Carolina, Miami, Washington, Tennessee, Arizona, San Francisco. If we did it over again? Six second-rounders (Indy, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Denver, Cleveland and the Jets) and two third-rounders (St. Louis and Kansas City) would go ahead of everyone in the first round except Miami, right? How could Tarvaris not be one of the top eight picks in a Bad QB Fantasy draft???? I'm counting on Tuck, Osi, JPP and the rest of the Giants to rectify this travesty on Sunday and vault Tarvaris back to his rightful place of sucktitude.
Eli Manning's Husband Potential (+10.5) over Every Other NFL Starting QB
Last Sunday, we were watching football when Sarah Larimer (Grantland's sports blog editor) was asked the question, "If you could marry one NFL QB, who would it be?" Without blinking, she responded, "Eli!"
We were dumbfounded and immediately demanded an explanation. Sarah quickly spouted out three reasons: he's handsome; he lives in New York (making a long-distance romance more realistic since L.A. to NYC is an easy flight); and most important, she loves that Eli is such a sensitive guy. Apparently, Archie Manning doted on Cooper and Peyton as kids, and poor Eli was left hanging out with his mom and learning how to be sensitive or something (as this 2008 New York Times feature covered). This left us even more dumbfounded, and once Sarah's Eli selection was quickly and vociferously backed up on e-mail by Grantland's Katie Baker, we were practically stupefied.
Forget about the fact that I will never look at Eli Manning again without thinking of him making Sarah a mixtape or standing outside Katie's apartment in the pouring rain holding a boom box over his head and blaring "In Your Eyes" for a second, or that the whole exchange inadvertently gave us a running Eli/Sarah joke for the rest of the season, and really, the rest of the decade. Here's my question to my 18 female readers out there: Do women really dig Eli Manning, or is it just a massive coincidence that our two-person sample size produced this result? Either way, I'd like to dedicate this song to Eli and Sarah.
VIKINGS (-3) over Cardinals
Jared Allen, meet Kevin Kolb's back foot.
Titans (+3) over STEELERS
Tennessee's D, meet Ben Roethlisberger's badly sprained foot. Of course
People Not Counting Out The Steelers (+7) over People Counting Out The Steelers
If we've learned anything about the NFL these past few years other than "You can't win without a good QB" and "Don't text a picture of your penis to someone you don't know," it's this: Nothing that happens before Halloween really matters, as long as you don't fall into an unrecoverable crater (like 2-6 or 1-7). Right now the Steelers are 14-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. If they blow this game (and I think they will, even if the line's dropping 3½ points was a major "STAY AWAY!" betting flag), that should drop to 20-to-1 and that's when it becomes a pretty good value play. Look at the AFC: New England, Baltimore, San Diego and Houston are playoff teams; Tennessee, Pittsburgh and maybe the Jets/Raiders are lurking; I can't take anyone else seriously. All they need to do is get in.
Matt Hasselbeck (+10) over Kevin Kolb
Would you trade a 2012 second-round pick, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Matt Hasselbeck for the right to pay Kevin Kolb three times as much as Hasselbeck? Didn't think so. Neither do Cardinals fans, apparently. This won't end well.
Jamaal Charles' 2011 Fantasy Season (+185) over Chris Johnson's 2011 Fantasy Season
It's closer than you think right now: Charles has 14.9 points, Johnson has 30.1 points. This seems relevant because, you know, Charles blew out his knee in the first half of Game 2.
Raiders (+6) over TEXANS
Classic overvalue/undervalue line: Houston looked better than it actually is last week (thanks to the banged-up Steelers) and Oakland looked worse than it is against the Pats (a bad matchup for the Raiders), so the line crept to six even with Andre Johnson (Houston's only deep threat) out for three weeks. I'm making this my Week 5 upset special: Oakland 27, Houston 17. And by the way, here are Oakland's next four weeks: home for Cleveland and Kansas City, bye week, home for Denver. They could easily be 6-2 heading into their Thursday nighter at San Diego in Week 10. Easily. You know where I'm going with this, right?
Raiders (+400) over San Diego, Kansas City and Denver
Those are their AFC West odds right now. Can I talk you into them? Anybody? (Crickets chirping.) You mean, I can't get you more excited to wager on Al Davis, Jason Campbell and Hue Jackson to win an NFL division? I find this hard to believe.
Hue Jackson (-8) over Everyone Else In The Barry Bonds Look-alike Contest
Kudos to Dave Jacoby for pointing this out last week.
Homeland (-10) over Every Other New Fall TV Show
I'm totally, unequivocally, 100 percent in. Speaking of TV, I can't put up a line for American Idol vs. X-Factor because Vegas pulled it off the board. Too much action on American Idol.
Bucs (+3) over 49ERS
One of those lines that makes you say, "No-brainer, I'm laying the three!" And then you start digging. Why isn't this line higher? The teams are pretty even; San Francisco has a ton of momentum; Tampa played Monday night (and didn't look that good against Indy), now they're going cross-country on a short week. I'm suspicious. Something's up. This feels like one of those "San Francisco 24, Tampa Bay 23" finals.
Jim Harbaugh (-4.5) over Every Other New Coach
I'm kicking myself here: If there hadn't been a lockout and Harbaugh had been given six months to affect this team post-Singletary (the perfect coach to follow — like being the next boyfriend after a horrible boyfriend who was hung like a mouse), I would have jumped on them to win the NFC West. But pulling it off this fast? Never expected that. The key moment of that Niners-Eagles game happened right after the decisive Maclin fumble in front of the Niners sideline, when at least 25 Niners players and coaches went happily jumping onto the field to celebrate with the players who recovered the fumble. Their whole sideline was locked in. You could see it. Which reminds me
San Francisco (-400) over Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis
Those are their odds to win the NFC West right now. Did Cousin Sal text me on Tuesday that we needed to parlay the Niners/NFC West (-400), the Patriots/AFC East (-600) and Cam Newton/Offensive Rookie of the Year (-400) together for 6-to-5 odds as a hedge for our disastrous Rams/NFC West wager in August? Yes. Yes he did.
(And did I jump on it? Yes. Yes I did.)
Chargers (-4) over BRONCOS
Last week, I picked Green Bay to cover a big spread over Denver because Green Bay hadn't played a kick-ass, start-to-finish game yet. Same for San Diego this week. When you've thrown for 454 more yards than your opponents, converted nearly 60 percent of your third downs and held the ball for more than eight minutes per game, and your point differential for the season is +6, that tells me you're due.
2011's White Receiver Renaissance (-3.5) over Every Other White Receiver Renaissance
Wes Welker on pace to obliterate every Jerry Rice record, Jordy Nelson on pace for 1,200 yards and 12 TDs, Danny Amendola's injury sinking the Rams' passing game, Austin Collie successfully playing four straight games without getting concussed, the Cornell dude on the Chargers, Eric Decker, Kevin Walter doing Kevin Walter things, Julian Edelman thriving as a receiver/returner for the Pats, Brandon Stokley continuing his quest to play for every NFL team by joining the Giants all we're missing is an Easy Ed McCaffrey comeback.
Jets (+9) over PATRIOTS
Total overreaction line. The Jets can't protect Mark Sanchez; the Pats can't rush the passer. The Jets have trouble moving the ball; the Pats are down to 2½ above-average defensive players (Vince Wilfork, Patrick Chung and half of Devin McCourty, since he's stinking this season). The Pats offense thrives on throwing the ball; the Jets defense has been astonishingly good against the pass (2 TDs, 6 picks, 57.1 QB rating so far). Throw in last January's playoff win in Foxborough, the Jets' consecutive stinkers at Oakland and Baltimore (really, they're gonna get blown out three times in a row?), and Rex Ryan's playing up the whole backs-against-the-wall thing and I'm genuinely terrified of this game. Final pick: New England 24, New York 20. But it won't be easy. By the way
Nick Mangold-Related Excuses (-53.5) over Dan Koppen-Related Excuses
I'm gearing this line directly toward Cris Collinsworth, who gleefully laid the 53½ last Sunday night and made it seem like the Jets were the first team in NFL history to lose their All-Pro starting center. Please.
Mark Sanchez (-2.5) over Joe Flacco
FYI: This was the final line for their poop-flinging contest last Sunday night. Sanchez covered as David Garrard screamed at his TV, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? I REALLY CAN'T START FOR ONE OF THESE TEAMS????" over and over again.
Larry David's 2011 Season (-3) over Louis CK's 2011 Season
Heading into the homestretch of 2011's Funniest Man of the Year award (mentioned multiple times in previous Mailbags), here's the line right now, as well as my explanation: The second season of Louie wasn't that funny. Groundbreaking season, incredibly raw, totally memorable, totally rewatchable, featured some of the best scenes I can remember (including the incredible six-minute Dane Cook sequence) but it was more of a dramedy than a comedy. It just was. Curb only tried to be funny; Louie tried to be more than that. What's weird is that, if we added an unofficial "2011's Creative Guy Of the Year" award, Louis CK still wouldn't win — you'd have to give it to Matt Stone and Trey Parker for juggling another South Park season with the incredibly successful "Book of Mormon." Either way, one of my favorite comedy/creativity years in a while.
FALCONS (+6.5) over Packers
I don't love this pick (and I'm not a 2011 Falcons fan) but man, if the Falcons can't rise to the occasion for THIS game, especially after what happened last January, they're a write-off for the season. At the very least, there's some major back-door cover potential here. (Thinking.) God, I hate this pick.
Getting Julio Jones & Roddy White Confused (+8) over Getting Jon Gruden & Ron Jaworski's Voices Confused
Not since the days of Mike McKenzie and Al Harris have I gotten confused this often by two dreadlock-wearing teammates who look exactly the same until you can see their numbers. I can only imagine how their fantasy owners feel. Couldn't White and Jones have a coin flip to see who has to cut the dreads?
LIONS (-5) over Bears
You want to grab the points. You want to be scared off by the SI Jinx, the whole "Too Many People on the Bandwagon" thing and the fact that Detroit fell behind by three scores in consecutive weeks. I get it. Here's my counter: Imagine how crazy that Ford Field crowd is going to be. Imagine those two Cal Johnson touchdowns that you know are coming. Imagine you have that fired-up Lions defensive line attacking Chicago's depleted offensive line. Imagine seeing a rattled Jay Cutler (15 sacks, 5 turnovers already) under siege play after play after play. Wouldn't you be delighted to lay only five in this game? I'm not crazy about the Lions, because they can't run the ball at all — seriously, what the hell happened to Jahvid Best??? — but that won't matter this week.
Cal Johnson (-3) over Everyone Else
Look, Jerry Rice is the best receiver of all time. Randy Moss is the most unstoppable deep threat of all time. These two facts are indisputable. But I can't remember ever seeing a receiver basically say, "Just throw it up there and I'll catch it, I don't care how many people are around me" like Cal Johnson has been doing these past few weeks. When I was growing up, Philly used to throw alley-oop passes to an especially tall receiver named Harold Carmichael that always made you say, "Wow, why don't they just do that every play?" The 2011 Cal Johnson is like watching Carmichael crossed with Moss at his peak. It's insane. At the very least, every semi-long pass to Johnson has reached those old-school Moss "Uh-oh, he's throwing to him, something's gonna happen!!!!!" levels. I continue to be happy for the once-beleaguered Detroit sports fans. And by the way, thanks for knocking out the Yankees — it was the first time baseball made me smile in a week. Enjoy the weekend.
Last Week: 8-8
Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.
Previously from Bill Simmons:
We Need a Renegade Basketball League
A Running Diary of Game 162
Welcome to Amnesty 2.0 in the NBA
NFL Preview: It's All About Continuity
Summer of Mailbag V: Passing the Buck
Summer of Mailbag IV: Dawn of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag III: Attack of the Mailbag!
The Glorious Return of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag: The Revenge