Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Friday, October 2, 2009
Updated: October 3, 1:15 PM ET
Welcome to the NFL Power Poll

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

At media day for the Lakers this week, reporters asked Lamar Odom why he married reality star Khloe Kardashian so quickly. After all, they had known each other for only a month, after Ron Artest -- Odom's new teammate who once started the biggest melee in basketball history -- introduced them at a nightclub. Seemed a little hasty. Not according to Odom.

"I've been in L.A. for 10 years," Odom explained to a local radio show. "I've never had a problem meeting women. … Whether a woman works at Burger King or she was a model that we all know by name, it never was a problem. But I finally met the one that I knew if I had lost her, it would hurt the most."

Translation: Sometimes, you just know when it feels right. Even if you're marrying into a publicity-hungry family that became famous because of O.J. Simpson and a sex tape.

Well, football seasons can feel like that, too. After three weeks, we invariably know whether the season will be either (A) a total crapshoot, or (B) relatively easy to figure out. Last season was a total crapshoot. This season feels much more logical. Nine teams stink. Eight teams have a ceiling of "lucky to sneak into the playoffs." Eleven teams range from "Well, we can't write them off yet, but I certainly wouldn't bet on them" to "Yeah, I could see them making a Super Bowl as long as these 15 things happened." And four teams definitely have "The Look," as Mike Lombardi calls it.

You know what that means? It's time to take a snapshot of the NFL heading into Week 4. Here's the first Sports Guy Power Poll of the season:

THE ROD MARINELLI DIVISION

32b. Cleveland
32a. St. Louis

Like the season finale of "Ultimate Fighter 1," only the exact opposite. The Rams have quietly dropped 30 of their past 35 games, 19 of them by two touchdowns or more, and haven't won in nearly 12 months. The Browns have lost their past nine games, including the past seven by a combined score of 206-48. We're talking about degrees of completely hopeless bile here. So why does Cleveland get the nod as King Crappy? Because Browns fans AND players quit on Eric Mangini within two weeks of the season. Two weeks! Has that ever happened before? This e-mail sums it up, courtesy of J. Jivens in Canton, Ohio:

"The best player on our team is our kick returner. Both of our quarterbacks suck. We play a 3-4 with 4-3 personnel. We traded back twice in the first round to draft a center (who can't put points on the board) after scoring zero offensive TDs in the last five games of the '08 season. We hired a coach who looks like Mayor Quimby over Northeast Ohio native (and right now 3-0) Josh McDaniels. I've never been embarrassed to say that I am a Browns fan until these three stinkers they have unleashed to start the season. I feel like I'm an SCLSU Muddog fan before they discovered The Waterboy."

(One more just in case you weren't sold, from Kyle in Canton: "Today a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns WON A STARTING JOB by throwing three interceptions in one half of last week's game. Meanwhile, you're writing columns about what a crisis it is that the Pats might, MIGHT go 8-8. I've begun worshipping Tim Tebow because he may be the only thing to save the most abysmal football in the country for 10 years running. That's right. I've turned to Tim effing Tebow." Yeah, I'd say the Browns are No. 32.)

30. Tampa Bay
If you're scoring at home, an overwhelmed rookie head coach who fired his new offensive coordinator two weeks before the season, then named someone the coach himself recently deemed a "career backup" and "my Jason Garrett" as his Week 4 starter, is hoping to turn things around with a team that's currently a league-leading $30 million under the 2009 salary cap. And they aren't one of the two worst teams in football? This is amazing.

(Random but true fact: Josh Johnson, Tampa's Week 4 starting quarterback, is a 38 in "Madden 2010." In other words, I'm older than his Madden rating.)

29. Kansas City
Worst spin-off of the decade: Joey Tribbiani getting his own show, Heidi Montag's music career or Scott Pioli getting his own team? (Waiting.) Do you need more time? Fine, you can have more time. Just remember, my peeps back in New England always swore that Belichick made every minor/major decision for the Pats -- literally, every single one -- while Pioli was along for the ride like DJ Jazzy Jeff. Actually, that's an insult to DJ Jazzy Jeff. But you get the idea.

28. Oakland
From Anthony in Philly: "Has there ever been a uniform number that so perfectly describes a player's performance as JaMarcus Russell's No. 2?" Nope. And that wasn't even the best Raiders-related e-mail this week. Vallejo, Calif., reader Steddy Long writes, "I was at the Broncos-Raiders game on Sunday. Took my son for his ninth birthday as part of his *gift.* How am I supposed to keep my little guy interested in a product like that? So he is sitting there on the ride home and finally he just says it: 'Hey, Dad, can we not have the Raider tickets be part of my birthday present next year?' Kills me."

(The Oakland Raiders … where "Just Win Baby" has given way to "Hey, Dad, can we not have the Raider tickets be part of my birthday present next year?" Al Davis, I think it's time to sell.)

THE FEEL-GOOD STINKER

27. Detroit
Thanks to the Stafford-Smith-Johnson troika, the Lions can actually move the football and make plays from time to time. Isn't it strange that highly drafted quarterbacks have become sooooooooo unreliable, we all find ourselves slightly surprised that Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are doing well as rookie starters? So wait, the first and fifth picks in the 2009 draft might be good? I can't believe it! What a weird sport.

THE BRUCE COSLET DIVISION

26. Carolina
25. Miami

Something that never would happen if Julius Peppers was still alive: The Panthers (12-4 last season) have a chance to break the record for biggest drop in win total from one season to the next. According to Elias, here are the current leaders: '94 Oilers (12 to 2); '83 Niners (13 to 3 in a strike-shortened season); '02 Bears (13 to 4); '99 Falcons (14 to 5). As for the Dolphins, if you're 0-3 and looking at the Chad Henne era, the Tyler Thigpen era or going full-time Wildcat with Pat White and at least keeping opponents and fans on their toes every week, wouldn't you go with the Wildcat 100 times out of 100? Wildcat! Wildcat! Do it! Unleash the Wildcat! It's like a 43-year-old cougar at a topless pool in Vegas who won't take her top off. Unleash the hounds! You have nothing to lose! UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!!!!

24. Washington
Watching football with three friends last week, we flicked over to Skins-Lions in time to see Jason Campbell launching a bomb as the announcer said excitedly, "Jason Campbell going deeeeeeep … !" For whatever reason, this made all four of us laugh out loud. And that's before the pass went five feet over Santana Moss' head. How can we wager on a Tony Dungy/Michael Vick combo in Washington next season? Would you give me 50-to-1 odds? Lower? Higher?

(Random Skins note: Check out this incredulous column by Tim Kawakami about Washington's decision to hire Jim Zorn over Mike Singletary -- written when the decision was made. One of the great crystal ball moments in Sports Column History. It's like watching one of those Nostradamus specials on the History Channel. Which I thoroughly enjoy, by the way. Signs you're getting old, Vol. 57: You watch the History Channel. Shoot me.)

THE CROWS ARE CIRCLING

23. Houston
22. Jacksonville
21. Buffalo

We just ran through 39 percent of the league … have I mentioned a team yet that you like even a little? I bet not. What sets this group apart: All three head coaches (Kubiak, Del Rio, Jauron) might get fired within the next three weeks, leaving the door slightly ajar for "momentum with the new guy" potential. Or in Buffalo's case, "momentum with a guy who seems like he might have a pulse."

(Tangent related to nothing: For the past couple of years, I had been getting strange e-mails that there was an NFL referee who sounded just enough like "The Ladies Man" that it was funny. While watching the Niners-Vikes game last weekend, I realized whom they meant: Jerome Boger. Every time he announced a penalty, my friends and I were chiming in things like, "And al-tho, I'd like to invite you back to my crib for some Courvo-th-ier" and it never got old. The Ladies Man, Jerome Boger! He's now on my Mount Rushmore of NFL refs along with Ed Hochuli, Jerry Seeman and Jerry Seeman again.)

SEARCHING FOR LAZARUS

20. Tennessee
The best 0-3 team of all time. OK, maybe this decade. Fine, it's a good 0-3 team. Can they make the playoffs? The next 13 weeks aren't exactly overwhelming: at Jax; Indy; at NE; Jax; at SF; Buff; at Hou; Zona; at Indy; StL; Mia, SD; at Sea. Hmmmm. Pretty easy second half of the season, right? I mean …

(Thinking … )

(Thinking … )

Nahhhhhh. Too tough. But I wouldn't cross them off yet. By the way, can someone start a support group for everyone who took LaDainian Tomlinson over Chris Johnson in a 2009 fantasy draft? I made that move in my East Coast draft; now I just want to sit in a room on Tuesday nights with other depressed fantasy owners as we shake our heads at one another, feel sad and watch video clips of Norv Turner saying that LDT is feeling better but he still might need another week before he's ready to come back.

(FYI: I continue to hate fantasy football and wonder why I participate in something that gives me a 90 percent chance of being angry and feeling bad about myself. This is fun? It's fun to watch your first-round pick standing sullenly on the sidelines every week as his backup whom you forgot to pick as a handcuff is putting up points? That's fun? REALLY? THAT'S FUN? I'M HAVING FUN? #$^@ YOU, TOMLINSON! #$^@ YOU! #$^@ YOU! OK, I feel a little better.)

GROUNDHOG DAY

19. Seattle
18. Arizona

Let's see … Seattle is ridiculously banged up … Arizona is definitely talented but forgets to show up every week … and you can't write either of them off because their division sucks. I feel like I've been here before. Wait a second, is Ned Ryerson walking toward me?

(Important note: I just condensed half of the NFC West into three sentences. I couldn't be prouder. By the way, no truth to the rumor that Fox is working on new technology that will allow Chris Myers and Trent Green to announce all the NFC West games simultaneously.)

FATALLY FLAWED?

17. Atlanta
You were surprised to see Atlanta here. Me, too. The bottom line? It's a smallish football team. You don't really want to be described as "smallish," ever. I can't think of a single time. Anyway, I watched the Pats-Falcons replay trying to figure out how the Pats possibly could have dominated the game when they played so sloppily. What happened? They were just bigger. Atlanta couldn't match up with Moss' size, and on the game's defining play, Belichick went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 25 to keep Atlanta from getting the ball back. Why? Because he knew he could get the yard. Not a good sign if you're a Falcons fan.

(On the bright side, Georgia reader D. Carl reports, "You haven't posted any e-mails lately from lonely/horny Atlanta chicks, so I thought I'd share a personal experience with you: I went to the new Fado's for my birthday last weekend and within 15 minutes of being in there, two girls grabbed my ass and looked me in the eye as they walked past. Another girl ran her hand down my chest and told me she liked my shirt, which was just an ordinary button-down. This all occurred with my girlfriend STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO ME. Tell your readers if they can't score in ATL, then they have less game than JaMarcus Russell after a weekend bender celebrating his win at the World Krystal Eating Championships.")

16. Chicago
I watched all three Bears games and still can't figure out if they're half-good, kind of good or even a teensy bit good. Remember, they beat Pittsburgh and Seattle ONLY because of missed field goals of 43, 38, 34 and 43 yards. So either they were lucky and remain not-so-good, or those lucky wins are a sign of more luck to come. Remember the crazy-lucky 2001 Bears season? Luck can become a specific trait; when it happens for a football team, it feels like watching someone catch face card after face card at a blackjack table. Any team can get lucky once, or even twice in two weeks. Once we get into the threes and fours, you just have to roll with it for the rest of the season. The Bears are one more kooky victory away. Stay tuned.

15. Dallas
How I could I mention my concept of Third-Year Bad Coach Atrophy last week (about Norv Turner) and forget to include Wade "I'd have this same blank expression on my face whether I was watching a delay-of-game penalty or looking at a tornado coming towards me" Phillips? That was like leaving out Jon and Kate's eight kids in any "Who will be the most screwed-up celebrity kids in 2025?" discussion. Which, by the way, is an AWESOME idea. In fact, after I thought of it, I decided that Britney's two kids would have to be the Adrian Peterson/Drew Brees of the draft -- get one of them and it almost doesn't matter whom else you draft. Your team is already loaded.

Just to be sure, I roped five friends into an impromptu, "I know you're at work, but just humor me and let's have a mini-fantasy e-mail draft for a few minutes." We went in snake fashion for four rounds. To be honest, I was ready to go six, but my buddy House was threatening to pick my daughter in the fifth round. So that's when we stopped. Without further ado, our top 24 picks for screwed-up celeb kids in 2025:

First round: Sean Preston Federline (my first pick and first overall); Shiloh Jolie-Pitt; Heath Ledger's kid; Tripp Johnston-Palin; the Baskett/Kendra baby; Prince Jackson.

Second round: Justin Brown Simpson; John Edwards' love child; Alexis Faith Gosselin; Bronx Ritchie; Dannielynn Hope Marshall Birkhead; Jayden James Federline (me again, I handcuffed the Federline/Spears kids).

Third round: Lola Rose Sheen (very good value for me there); Lourdes Leon; Suri Cruise; Frances Bean Cobain; Jamie-Lynn Spears' daughter; Elijah Solomon (the eldest of Octomom's 14 kids).

Fourth round: Miguel Tyson (these were back-to-back picks from House and much funnier in e-mail just because I will never get another e-mail that simply says "Elijah Solomon and Miguel Tyson"); Maddox Jolie-Pitt; Ireland Baldwin; Jaden Smith (Will Smith's kid); the Brady-Bundchen baby (note: this pick made me unhappy); and rounding things out, Zahara Jolie-Pitt (my final pick, and a total sleeper in my opinion).

Some leftover thoughts: One-fourth of the draft was made up of kids related to Britney or Brangelina; we all agreed that Anna Nicole Smith's kid went way too late; it's almost unfathomable that Al Pacino and Beverly D'Angelo's twins weren't taken; we left seven Jon and Kate kids and all eight Octomom octuplets on the board, which means this draft could have gone 10 rounds easy; none of the Beckham kids were taken (a huge oversight); and really, we could have gone 20 rounds and televised this thing. At the very least, why doesn't ESPN.com have a mock draft function that allows guys like us to have made-up drafts like this? Can this be my Christmas present, ESPN? OK, back to the column.

A WHIFF OF FRISKINESS

14. Denver
Brutal schedule coming up for my 2009 sleeper. Yes. I know. But the Broncos are catching the Pats and Chargers early (Weeks 5 and 6) before those teams get healthy. The Pittsburgh game (Week 9) is a Monday night. The Giants (Week 12) come to Denver on Thanksgiving on three days' rest. And they have one left against the Oakland Can We Not Make Them Part Of My Birthday Present Next Year? and a home and home against the Kansas City Montag Tribbianis. I still say they get to 10 wins.

(FYI: Don't forget, this could end up being the Season of Simmons. Through three weeks, I'm 20 games over .500, my sleeper is 3-0 and I wrote the best Reverse Jinx column of my career last week. I also spent the past 2½ years working on ESPN's "30 for 30" project that now miraculously launches 24 hours after Brett Favre's first game against the Packers -- possibly the highest-rated telecast in the history of ESPN -- which means we'll be piggybacking it during commercials by shoving "30 for 30" ads down your throat like Playmates forcing Viagra down Hugh Hefner. You really want to get in my way right now? I'm like Charles Barkley going coast to coast with a full head of steam in the mid-'80s. Do NOT take a charge from me. Broncos, 10-6, book it.)

13. San Francisco
A 3-0 team if they didn't fall asleep twice last week (on Percy Harvin's kick return and Brett Favre's miracle game-winner). With an easy schedule the rest of the way, even with Glen Coffee replacing Frank Gore for three weeks, I think we can pencil the Niners in for 9-10 wins and a 4-seed and never discuss the NFC West again. No, really. Let's make a pact and everything. The Niners it is. Who wants to bet against Shaun Hill in a playoff game? (Raising hand.)

12. Cincinnati
Could they do it? Could the Bengals break the "Hard Knocks" curse? My two concerns: Carson Palmer (serviceable/mediocre so far and that's all) and Marvin Lewis (Herm Edwards' successor as the head coach who makes you scream, "My God, what the hell are you doing?" at least twice in any close game). You never want coach/quarterback/game management to be your three football concerns. By the way, did anyone else get the warm fuzzies when Brian Leonard broke a tackle on fourth-and-10 to keep last week's Steelers upset alive? The only way that moment could have been better for "Hard Knocks": If they cut to Bengals turk Jim Lippincott celebrating the play as J.D. Runnels came flying out of nowhere and pounded him into a pulp while screaming, "Cut this, fat man! Maybe you should cut this!"

(As for the big-picture ramifications of Cincy's upset, a reader named Peter in Montreal summed them up: "I became a Bengals fan in 1991. This means that I became a Bengals fan at the exact moment where they turned into the Clippers of the NFL. The one time they made the playoffs, our quarterback blew his knee out on our first offensive play. So here I was, watching my team completely outplay the champs in the fourth quarter on the way to a dramatic comeback win. And I was completely silent. I just did not know how to react to what I was seeing. It was unthinkable. It was like watching Hulk Hogan join the NWO all over again. Is this a moment that every franchise needs to go through in order to get over their crap era? Please say yes." Yes. It's true. Yes.)

THE ENIGMAS

11. Green Bay
10. San Diego
9. Pittsburgh
8. New England
7. Philly

Wouldn't be shocked by anything from 7-9 to 12-4 for any of those five. Too early to say. I like Green Bay's ceiling the most and San Diego's the least -- the Chargers seem like the safest bet to fall off, between injuries (NT Jamal Williams gone for the year, C Nick Hardwick gone for half the year, Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman banged up already) and the Norv Factor. Five other thoughts since we're here:

A. Did you ever think that the Phil Rivers/Vincent Jackson hookup would become the most exciting long ball hookup in football? Love everything about it: always a perfect ball, always catches Jackson in stride, and Jackson always seems to have two steps on the d-backs as he's hauling it in. It's always disorienting when they hook up on a 54-yard bomb, and then, five plays later, you flick over to a Raiders game right as JaMarcus Russell is sailing a pass 35 feet over Louis Murphy's head.

B. Combined number of big NFL plays that will involve you, me and Michael Vick in 2009? Zero. Just wait. The two dumbest picks of your fantasy draft were Vick and Mike Crabtree. The latter of whom was still on my West Coast team until last night. Again, I hate fantasy football and it makes me sad.

C. In case you missed it, the Steelers put Fast Willie Parker's nickname on waivers this week.

D. I have been watching football since I was Verne Troyer's height, and can't remember hearing a receiver get greeted by a sarcastic cheer from the home crowd just for successfully catching a 10-yard pass. Last week against the Falcons, Pats fans did it for Joey Galloway. High comedy. For at least three seconds. Then we all went back to wishing that Galloway wasn't on the Patriots. But that's what happens when you play Old Guy Roulette -- the Pats signed Fred Taylor, Shawn Springs and Galloway and hoped two of them would work out. We're on pace.

E. In one of those Nostradamus specials, I'm almost positive that he predicted floods, fires and pestilence if Brett Favre ever played against the Packers in a sanctioned NFL game. This is really a sporting event unlike any other. I can't stop thinking about Packers fans; if Larry Bird had ever played against the Celtics, I would have wandered the streets of Boston for weeks and probably ended up trying heroin. Hard to believe we're here.

LURKING, NOT QUITE LOOMING

6. Minnesota
The fan side of me loves what's happening with the Vikes. The cynical side in me wonders if Favre is rope-a-doping the fan base for 11 rounds before punching them right in the protector's cup, then kneeing them in the chin as they keel over and kicking their limp body in the kidneys for good measure. (Even in those first three games, they broke some huge plays but had trouble moving the chains. Not a good sign.) Whatever. It's just fun to have Favre, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen's "Con Air" hairdo, the purple uniforms, Viking helmets, the Metrodome, the mesmerizing Brad Childress, an offense capable of busting a long TD at any time, and a special-teams unit that might combine for 20 TDs (scored and given up) by Week 17. Fun story, fun team to watch. The 2009 Vikings almost make up for the 2009 NFC West. Almost.

(Important note: We had an exciting race for the Meanest Brad Childress E-mail/Tweet of the Weekend on Sunday. @greentroit's tweet of "Brad Childress' headset is preparing him for his future in the fast food industry" was narrowly edged by Garrett in Boca Raton, Fla., asking, "At what point will Brad Childress have to publicly deny having sex with Mackenzie Phillips?" Again, these jokes are really, really mean … but as long as Childress keeps that creepy beard, in my opinion, it's totally fair game. Good luck to all our competitors this weekend.)

THE FEEL-GOOD SLEEPER

5. N.Y. Jets
The Jets lead the league in swagger, as well as NFL experts gushing about how much swagger they have. Wouldn't a Jets-Vikings Super Bowl be the single most incredible Super Bowl matchup of all time? Every Vikes/Jets fan would be sitting in the stadium with that glassy-eyed, overwhelmed, "A.C. Green on his wedding night" look going. It would almost be too much.

(You're right, you're right, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's see the Jets win one game in which Mark Sanchez has to make some do-or-die fourth-quarter plays. Not saying he can't … just saying we need to see it once. Good test for him this week in the Superdome.)

THE CONTENDERS

4. New Orleans
3. Indianapolis

Manning reached "As long as I'm healthy, and as long as I have a half-decent defense and skill guys who can make a few plays, pencil me in for 10-12 wins and a playoff spot" status about five years ago. (And he's better than ever, by the way.) Brees looks like he's assuming that same status this season. The beating hearts of their respective Super Bowl contenders, Brees and Manning have to be considered MVP favorites A and B in some order. (And there's no C.) I like New Orleans better than Indy right now only because of the Saints defense (faster, scarier) and the Superdome (one of the only home-field advantages left in the league).

Now, remember how Brady was regarded heading into the 2007 playoffs: 16-0, passing records, the new Montana, etc. Did you ever think in a million years that he'd be bounced from the previous paragraph completely in 20 months? From 2003 to 2005, Brady was Russell and Manning was Wilt. Things switched briefly when Indy won the Super Bowl. Brady seized it back with the Eff You season. If the Helmet Catch doesn't happen, not only does Brady become immortal, but now the Pats are opening up on Thursday night and we never see Bernard Pollard in Week 1. Nope. They lose the title and Brady gets wiped out in Week 1. From that point forward, Manning became Russell and Brees became Wilt. And Brady is on the outside looking in. At least for now. Crazy.

(I will now rub plutonium on my chest like it's Vicks Vapor Rub.)

THE FAVORITES

2. Baltimore
1. N.Y. Giants

Mirror images to some degree: young playmaking quarterbacks; pounding running games with multiple backs; defenses that can make plays; veteran leaders; great drafts the past few years; good coaching staffs; and an innate ability to turn leads into blowouts (easier said than done). Baltimore didn't beat Pittsburgh in January mainly because Joe Flacco wasn't ready. This year? He's ready. These are the best two teams in the National Football League. At least until we do another Power Poll in four weeks.

One last note: As I mentioned earlier, ESPN's "30 For 30" series premieres Tuesday night with Peter Berg's "King's Ransom" (about the Gretzky trade). I had the pleasure and privilege of working on this project from day one. It was a collaborative effort in every sense. The concept is simple: 30 stories from the past 30 years, told by 30 accomplished filmmakers, with ESPN footing the bill and giving each director an astonishing amount of creative autonomy. You can't even imagine the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. OK, maybe not blood. And I don't think anyone cried. But there was some sweating. I specifically remember sweating multiple times.

Regardless, there's no use pimping it because you made it this far in today's column, which means you like sports, which means you will enjoy "30 for 30." It's that easy. Just know that this is the first project I have ever been involved with -- ever, in my entire life -- that made me say to myself, "Everyone did their jobs, everyone crushed it, and this can't possibly fail."

I would love to have this feeling again some day. About anything.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos and more, check out Sports Guy's World. His new book, "The Book of Basketball," will be released on Oct. 27.