Can I interest you in Week 10 picks crossed with an NFL mailbag that completely avoids the reprehensible Penn State scandal and barely mentions the NBA lockout? I can? Fantastic! As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.
Jaguars (-3) over COLTS
Q: I've never seen a fan base so unanimously in favor of losing every game in a season like the Colts fans right now. There is not ONE FAN that wants them to win a game this year. Bigger Colts celebration: Game they won the Super Bowl or game they clinch 0-16? When do their Luck jerseys go on sale? Week 12?
— Cody Pope, Springfield, IL
SG: Colts fans are definitely Lucked in. With four home games left (Jags, Panthers, Titans, Texans), I have to ask would you blame them if they started cheering for the visiting team during those games? Why not? Why not affect this thing? Take it from a Pats fan who rooted vociferously against the 1992 Patriots because I wanted Drew Bledsoe (and not Rick Mirer) — you feel bad for two months, but it's a means to an end. As soon as that franchise QB is throwing BBs for you, you realize, "I would absolutely do that again." And look, maybe you don't want to paint your face for the opposing team or anything, but you can make the process easier by (a) not wearing any Colts stuff to the games (no jerseys, no hats, no T-shirts), and (b) gambling large sums of money against your own team. Lay the three this week. Root for the Jags. It's for the best.
Q: Where would Andrew Luck fall in your (Week 8) QB power rankings if he was in the NFL right now?
— Kevin, Chicago
SG: If we were grabbing him from Stanford last Monday with the intention of starting him six days later? I'd stick him in the Matt Cassel Division (no. 20-21 range) with Cassel and Alex Smith. If we gave him six weeks to learn someone's offense and started him on Sunday? I'd bump him into the Older Steve Grogan Division (15-17 range). If he joined a team right after the lockout and had the past three-plus months to learn stuff? I'd stick him 13th in the "Borderline Franchise Guys" group just ahead of Matt Schaub. The important thing to remember: Keep him at least 20 spots higher than Colt McCoy and John Beck at all times.
While we're here: If I remade that list after two more weeks and last night's Chargers-Raiders shocker, Andy Dalton would jump to no. 14 (the last "Borderline Franchise Guy); Philip Rivers would drop to the "enigmas" division with Ryan Fitzpatrick (15-16 range); and Beck would fall out of the top 42 even though I listed only 42 guys. I think I'd have him 55th or 56th. I mean, have you seen John Beck play? The 2011 Redskins have the first NFL offense that revolves entirely around delayed screen passes.
Q: Can we change the phrase "it's like watching paint dry" for something that moves incredibly slow, or takes way too long, to "it's like watching Jim Caldwell blink"?
— Brendon Panther
SG: That doesn't work — Jim Caldwell doesn't blink. By the way, I had to pass along this recent Caldwell quote: "You can see [the Colts] are going to fight you until the end." You can? You just lost your past three games by a combined score of 120-24! I'm starting to wonder if this is a perfect gambling storm: you have an inept coach, an inept QB (Curtis Painter), a possibly inept legacy kid running the show (read this Bob Kravitz piece), a possibly lousy team that's been given an excuse to quit and a legitimate goal (bottoming out for the no. 1 overall pick) I mean, something like this might fall into our gambling laps once per decade.
Semi-related: Since Week 5, the 2-6 Jags lost to Carolina by six in a monsoon, played six other potential playoff teams and recently played Cincy, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston surprisingly tough (even beating the Ravens). They look a little undervalued here. You know, as undervalued as a team with a QB rating of 55.8 can look. Their last eight: at Indy; at Cleveland; home for Houston, San Diego and Tampa Bay; at Atlanta; at Tennessee; home for Indy. I see two tough ones in there and that's it. We also know that a seemingly lousy team catches fire during the second half every year, right? Why couldn't it be the Jags? And yes, the Committee For Dumb Gambling Bets wants me to mention that the Jags are 50-to-1 to win the AFC South right now only 3½ games behind the We-Self-Destruct-Every-Year Texans.
FALCONS (PK) over Saints
Q: In your recent column, you noted how odd it is for six of the NFL's 32 QBs to be named Matt. Not to go all Malcolm Gladwell on you but perhaps it's not so strange after all. Using Wolfram Alpha, you can see that the although the name "Matthew" is only the 16th most popular name overall, it peaked in 1983, making 28 the most common age of all "Matthew's." Now here's where it gets good, according to John Clayton the average age of starting QBs in 2010 was 28.3. There it is, the perfect storm.
a 29 year old guy named Matt (though not an NFL quarterback)
— Matthew S, Cincinnati
SG: You inspired me to look up 2010's most popular baby names. Did you know "Jacob" was one of the five most-popular boy names in 2008, 2009 and 2010? (My deputy editor, Dan Fierman, tells me that this happened because of Twilight. I don't know how he knows this, and frankly, I don't want to know.) You know what that means? In the 2030s, we might be headed for a glut of werewolf-inspired QBs named after Jake Delhomme and Jake Plummer! It's going to be the Great Depression all over again, only for depressed football fans who can't understand why their QB just threw it into double coverage again.
Q: I watched talking head shows non-stop for the five weeks leading up to the 2011 National Football League season. Never did anyone predict that Darren Sproles would be the summer's most important free agent signing. Does anyone know anything?
— Peter, Arlington Heights
SG: No. You're just figuring that out? Speaking of not knowing anything, allow me a random prediction: I see New Orleans blowing a winnable Falcons game with one of those frustrating "first-and-goal from the 8, 1-yard run on first down, incomplete on second down, 4-yard pass to Graham on third down, then incomplete on fourth down because everyone knows they won't run it" sequences that's haunted them these past two seasons.
Steelers (-3) over BENGALS
I was dying to pick the Bengals then I remembered that (a) the Steelers are coming off a loss, (b) Cincy hasn't beaten anyone decent except for Buffalo, and (c) half the crowd will be pro-Pittsburgh. Feels like the line should be 3.5 or 4; I'm grabbing the extra juice. Meanwhile
Q: One of my buddies is a big Bengals fan. We've been trying to get rid of Dalton's "Red Rifle" nickname in favor of "Roadhouse." Why? It's way more satisfying to yell at the TV after every bomb to AJ Green. It gives you so many possible lines to say during a game. Dalton gets leveled and scrapes himself off the ground? "Pain don't hurt." Dalton giving the pregame hype huddle speech? "I want you to be nice until it's time to NOT be nice!" Also, of course, "I used to f--k guys like you in prison," which can apply to numerous scenarios. It's also our duty to keep "Roadhouse" in the National Conscience; well, at least for people who don't watch TNT. Can you help us get this out there?
— Jesse, Louisville
SG: I don't know if I can not after this disturbing deleted scene from Road House surfaced a few weeks ago. Besides, I like the following idea a little more
Q: Can't we just call Andy Dalton "Shawshank"? It's right in front of us: Red and Andy.
— Joe, Winston-Salem
SG: (Furious that I didn't think of that first.)
Rams (+3) over BROWNS
Q: As I read your QB rankings, I knew it would not be an uplifting article for Browns fans. However, I thought to myself "Surely, Colt McCoy isn't THAT bad, right?" and began to rationalize reasons why he could be better. Then I began reading the article. And I scrolled
Died a little inside at the sight of Curtis Painter and Carson Palmer
and finally arrived at Colt McCoy's 40th out of 42 ranking. In the midst of reading the brief dismissal of his career, I sadly agreed to what I know to be true and reflected on the failed venture that has been Cleveland Browns starting QB Colt McCoy. In this moment, I realized that reading this article was Cleveland sports in a nutshell: a vicious cycle of hope and disappointment. I can't wait to read this article again in two years with #39 Cleveland Browns starting QB Kirk Cousins just below Miami Dolphins FB Tim Tebow and CBS Analyst Peyton Manning. Until then, please offer Browns fans some bit of hope.
— Brian, Akron, OK
SG: I will try my hardest
1. If you somehow win this week, that's going to be followed by everyone furrowing their brows and saying, "Wait a second, the Browns are 4 and 5?????"
2. Colt McCoy isn't John Beck.
3. You're three-point favorites in an NFL game despite not having a single skill position guy who will start for someone's fantasy team this week.
4. The NBA might be dumb enough to blow up this entire season, which means another year will pass without LeBron winning a title. That reminds me
Q: hi! im from a third world country. can you explain why in the US a 50/50 split is not considered even?
— @treyviscruz (via Twitter)
SG: I I don't know.
Bills (+5.5) over COWBOYS
Q: Suppose it's the pre-Viagra era and you are basically impotent. Once a year your wife gets all dressed up and goes out "with the girls", but is always dropped off the following morning by a guy with a mullet driving a Cadillac. While deep down it bothers you, you really don't want to say anything because you know that if she leaves you, you're definitely not getting anyone else. Isn't this what it's like being a Buffalo-resident Bills fan during that week when your team heads to Toronto?
— Chris, Louisville
SG: Pretty much. If you combine that e-mail with Buffalo's schedule right now (next three: at Dallas, at Miami, at the Jets), we might have to stop circling the wagons just to be safe. The good news: Vegas bumps every Dallas line because they're a "public" team, and the Bills looked so awful last week that everyone unfairly jumped ship on them (when, in fact, the Jets may have just been a bad matchup for them). You can almost see the "Buffalo 10, Dallas 0" first quarter coming. Hey, did you know Fred Jackson has 1,194 rushing/receiving yards right now, giving him a decent chance of (a) breaking Chris Johnson's all-time record (2,509 yards in 2009), and (b) finishing with three times as many rushing/receiving yards as a healthy Chris Johnson did two years later? Dumbfounding.
Broncos (+3) over CHIEFS
Q: Next year, shouldn't EA let people vote on the most HATED player to grace the cover? Let the fans pick who they want to give the shaft to? Like Tebow or Suh or Romo or, hell, even Favre? You know this is a good idea and should happen, sports czar.
— Grant G, Eugene
SG: Great idea. EA Sports would throw their bodies in front of it, but still, great idea. Just know that if Tebow isn't on the cover of next year's game, we've all failed as a society. We knew he had special powers, but bringing back the option play and making Willis McGahee a genuine fantasy starter again? This is incredible. I'm grabbing the points because the AFC West has taught us the following things so far
• Denver is better than Oakland.
• San Diego is better than Denver.
• Oakland is better than San Diego.
• Kansas City is better than Oakland and dead-even with San Diego.
Naturally, we need a "Denver is better than Kansas City" to complete the "What the F is going on with the AFC West?" cycle.
EAGLES (-13) over Cardinals
Q: Who in the hell first started saying "Wide 9" on TV this season that gave everyone else the idea to start saying it to sound smart? Broadcasters and analysts are busting it out every 30 seconds like no one has ever heard of it even though it's a basic football set that's been around forever. It's driving me nuts. And I'm high.
— Frank, Pittsfield, MA
SG: I'm equally confused. It's this year's "running downhill." Speaking of downhill, Arizona's chances this Sunday don't look so encouraging. Some numbers for you
• Combined record of the five teams that beat Philly: 28-12.
• Combined record of Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle against non-NFC West teams: 2-16.
• Philly has gained 199 first downs and given up 149. Arizona has gained 147 first downs and given up 193.
• Philly coverts 46.6 percent of its third downs; Arizona converts 30.9 percent.
• Patrick Peterson, a cornerback, has as many touchdowns for Arizona as anyone except Beanie Wells.
• Only 2.3 percent of all human beings have ever said, "I'm taking the points on the road with John Skelton" and lived to tell about it.
Q: Is Terrell Owens to Donovan McNabb what Jose Canseco was to steroids? An egomaniacal narcissist who was the first to expose something that no one wanted to believe and was totally discounted only because of who he was?
— Oren Levy, New York
SG: (Cut to the Philly fans nodding grimly.)
Texans (-3) over BUCS
Tasty matchup for the Texans: their ridiculous running game (1,396 yards, 4.5 YPC, 10 TDs, both Foster and Tate on pace for 1,100-plus yards) going against a lousy run defense (1,059 yards, 4.9 YPC) and a Bucs offense that's always playing from behind. Of course
Q: For the past four and a half months, I've been walking across America, raising money for heart transplant patients, raising awareness for organ donation and exploring ways to fight tedium amid eight hours in a cornfield or feed lot. I've even had occasion to read your columns, Internet connection providing. As I was approaching the Queen City this week I thought of your recent QB Power Rankings and the breakdown of Matt Schaub as the league's version of beige window blinds. Then it struck me, that Cincinnati is the Matt Schaub of U.S. cities. Has anything about the city been relevant since 1979 (The Big Red Machine, the Who concert tragedy and WKRP's "Turkeys Can't Fly" episode)? Have you ever heard someone excited to get back to Cincinnati, or conversely, decry what has become of the once-great Queen City? It's just there, as it always is. Couldn't Matt Schaub really be a metaphor for that which that stirs no discernible passions, interest or derision? As in Simon & Simon was the Schaub of '80s detective shows or John Jay was the Schaub of the Founding Fathers?
— Mikey Walks, Los Angeles
SG: And yet, those beige window blinds might be 7-3 and headed for a no. 2 seed by Sunday night!
PANTHERS (-3.5) over Titans
Q: Have an athlete and stock ever been more closely aligned than Chris Johnson and Netflix? Both rose to the top in 2009, were significantly overvalued this summer, they both crashed down to earth due to a series of public relations blunders and general unpreparedness to deal with the reality of their competitive environments. And if you're still holding onto both, you're royally screwed.
— Matt, Santa Monica
SG: So you're saying we should start calling Chris Johnson "Qwikster"?
DOLPHINS (-4) over Redskins
Q: I take my fan loyalty seriously, but the worthless Washington Redskins are pushing my F-ing limits. I am not about to jump ship, but I am also becoming increasingly convinced I will never get to root for a winner. I can see exactly what is going to happen to the Redskins over the next six months. We will finish the year 4-12 or 5-11 good enough for the 5th-10th pick. Indianapolis is going 0-16 and will get the number one pick. They will Draft Andrew Luck and put Peyton on the trading block. Hearing that he has the chance to grab a upper 30s QB who has had three neck surgeries in two years, Dan Snyder will immediately offer three first-round draft picks, two second rounders and Brian Orakpo for Peyton. Followed closely by Peyton only playing part of next season, getting hurt and then retiring. Leaving the Redskins with NO good draft picks for three years and a $90 million contract that we will of course agree to pay all of. FUCK MY LIFE! This is bullshit.
— Brian O., Washington
SG: Ladies and gentleman, your 2011 Washington Redskins!!!!!!!!!! At dinner with some friends in New York City on Wednesday night, we talked about how the hidden NFL story right now is the Colts diplomatically pretending they're not going to trade Manning next spring when everyone knows they'll pull a Montana/Chiefs on him if they get Luck. It's the smart move, and again, if you can't see it happening, I urge you to Google "Montana Chiefs trade." Someone will overpay for Manning — either a contender that's close (like the Niners), or a dumb noncontender who delusionally thinks Manning might put them over the top. And as we laid out the scenarios, my buddy House (Redskins fan) went on an expletive-laden tirade about Snyder overpaying for Manning and setting the team back five more years you know, just like Brian O. did. By the way, what would the odds be for an "Either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning will play quarterback for the 49ers within the next 36 months" wager? 5-to-1? 6-to-1?
Ravens (-7) over SEAHAWKS
Q: Simmons, why have you inexplicably abandoned the term TAINT (for Touchdown After INT) this year? You came up with a good thing. It made me smile every time I read it. Nobody wants.to hear you say pick-six. You are not a real reporter. BRING BACK THE TAINT! BRING BACK THE TAINT!
— Walshy, Easthampton, MA
SG: Fine, fine. I gave up on it after Tarvaris "Taint" Jackson never got any momentum — if he gives me one this weekend, I'll bring it back. Meanwhile, it's time to take the Ravens seriously: They had already whupped the Steelers, Jets and Texans and then on Sunday, they won The Game We Always Wondered If They Could Win With Joe Flacco in Pittsburgh. We'll see how he handles the noise in Seattle during an obvious Letdown Game. My guess: That was one of those tipping-point victories for the Ravens on Sunday night. I think they're locked in now.
(Fast-forward to me screaming: "WHAT ARE YOU DOING FLACCO????????????" in 48 hours.)
BEARS (-3) over Lions
You can almost hear the "PAY FOR-TE! PAY FOR-TE!" chant already. Speaking of getting deals done that should have been done a while ago
Q: I was watching Caddyshack for the 50th time on Saturday night and was struck by the similarities between Judge Smails and current day David Stern. No one likes him, there's a lot of snickering behind his back and seems wildly out of touch with the younger generation. The only way Stern can redeem himself is to bring out his family version of Lacey Underall for the next round of negotiations.
— Paul A., Melbourne, AU
SG: You just ruined Stern for me. Every time I think of the lockout talks now, I'm going to think of Stern letting his latest semi-terrible offer to Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher soak in, then staring them down, eyes bulged, and hissing, "Welllllllllllllll we're waiting." And yes, as my pre-holiday gift for you, that's the only time I will mention the increasingly hideous NBA lockout this week. If you want to read anything else about it, go here.
49ERS (-3.5) over Giants
I know your "Nobody Believed in Us" theory is usually only applied to playoff teams, but I'm wondering if we can make one exception this year's New York Giants. At the start of the season, almost every talking head had them finishing near the bottom of the division due to injuries and free agency losses. After squeaking out wins over Arizona and Miami, everyone said their 5-2 record heading into the Patriots game wasn't indicative of their talent level. Did you see the video of them in the locker room right after the Pats win? That video shows a team with the "Nobody Believed in Us" mantra, right?
— Ryan, Bristol, CT
SG: I'll have to take your word for it — I was going to watch it, but I decided to smash a beer bottle over my head instead. This looks like a bad matchup for them, though: Letdown Game, West Coast, windy, a good running team attacking their weak run defense, a little too much Brandon Jacobs, a little too much confidence for Eli (never a good thing for him), the one special teams blunder that's definitely coming, Trey Junkin flashbacks and most important, you can't say that nobody believes in the Giants anymore.
Patriots (+1.5) over JETS
The last time the Pats lost three in a row, I was still living in my apartment right behind the Store 24 in Charlestown and doing imitations of Joe the Alcoholic Counter Guy. Pack of Marlboro Lights, one Gatorade, one Lucky 7's scratch card, one bag of Sour Patch Kids, $13.74 out of $20, $6.26 is your change annnnnnnnnnnd we thank you! I miss that guy. Anyway, my New England Patriots do NOT lose three in a row. No matter how many drafts we blow, no matter how many undrafted free agents and stiffs we have playing defense, we do NOT lose three in a row. Got it?
Guy In Total Denial Right Now
Q: I am a huge Patriots fan and spent a lot of time thinking about the recent postseason losses going back to SB 42. They were always the top dogs and that is such a disadvantage. Every team that beats them acts like they just won the Super Bowl. Example — the Broncos in 2009, Jets in 2010 playoffs, Bills in 2011 to name just a few. What I said before this season even started was that I want the Pats to be the underdogs for a while. Get the pressure off them -—then maybe they can win in the postseason again ala 2001. What do you think?
— Caroline in NY
SG: Thanks for cheering me up. You're right — we needed to get back to the "NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!!!!!!!!!!!" days. Maybe that's Belichick's strategy here — maybe that's why he turned five picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft into a starting right tackle, an injury-prone cornerback who's already on the IR, third- and fourth-string running backs and a third-string QB, then littered the defense with so many no-names and also-rans that it seems like it would be impossible for the Pats to go 10-6 at this point. Caroline is right — we're right where we want to be! The Patriots are back, baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If only Belichick had been able to fit Ochocinco in Albert Haynesworth's suitcase.
Q: When it is all said and done, shouldn't Herman Cain move to Revis Island? That way he can grab, pull, hold, & touch without any consequences.
— Ryan, Chicago
SG: (Afraid to say anything.)
Vikings (+13.5) over PACKERS
I actually like this matchup for the Vikes. I know, this is why I suck at gambling. Meanwhile
Q: The Packers are +200 to win the Super Bowl right now and Baltimore is next at +600. Everyone else is 10-to-1 or higher. That seems silly to me — we all know that the two best teams in early November are rarely the two best teams in early February. So knowing that, what semi-longshot Super Bowl bet is the best future bet right now?
— Rufus Simmons, Los Angeles
SG: Fine, fine, I wrote that one. Let's go backwards to figure this out. New England at 10-to-1? Not with that defense. San Francisco at 10-to-1? Not with Alex Smith. The odds aren't tasty enough for Houston (12-to-1) or the Jets (12-to-1). I don't like the Saints (15-to-1), Lions (18-to-1) or Cowboys (20-to-1). You're not roping me into the Bills or Falcons (both 25-to-1), and you DEFINITELY aren't roping me into the Raiders or Chargers (both 25-to-1). Even if the Eagles have great odds (20-to-1) for what their talent is, that's a sucker bet and we know it. I like the Giants at 15-to-1 (good QB, great pass rush, no glaring holes), but we'll get better odds next week if/when they blow the Niners game. That leaves two intriguing plays
Bears, 25-to-1: What if they're just good? How many teams have a top-10 QB and running back? How many years in a row can they make big special teams plays before we realize that it's not an accident anymore? What if that Philly "upset" wasn't so much of an upset? What if they thrash the Lions this weekend? These odds feel too high. Why would the Lions be 18-to-1 but Chicago 25-to-1? Aren't they even?
Steelers, 12-to-1: Here's the one that makes no sense to me. They're every bit as good as the Ravens; they've been there before; they can win anywhere; and they're headed for that no. 1 wild-card slot (no. 5 overall), which means they get to beat up on the AFC West champ in the first round, then play Baltimore again (probably) in Round 2. You really see the Ravens beating them THREE times? That's the best bet on the board right now. Then again, as I mentioned before I suck at gambling. And on that note, I'm off to attend the funeral for my Papelboner.
This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 10-4
Bill Simmons is Grantland's Editor in Chief, the host of the BS Report podcast, the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball and the co-creator of ESPN's Peabody-award winning "30 For 30" series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
Previously from Bill Simmons:
Sports Book Hall of Fame: Ghosts of Manila
The Career Arc: Eddie Murphy
Bill and Jay's YouTube Adventure
NFL Quarterback Power Rankings
Proactively Mourning the NBA
Behind the Pipes: Into the Arms of the NHL
Avoiding the Lockout and the Red Sox
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