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Friday, September 24, 2010
Don't bet against Steelers' defense

By Bill Simmons
ESPN.com

If you missed Part One of my Week 3 column, click here. Here are my Week 3 picks (home teams in caps):

Titans (+3) over GIANTS
Steelers (-2.5) over BUCS

Why I don't worry about Vince Young's stinker Sunday (or the effect being benched had on his psyche): There's an overwhelming chance that (A) Pittsburgh's 2010 defense is absolutely fantastic; (B) Troy Polamalu is the league's most important defensive player and we all just forgot; and (C) had Polamalu not gotten hurt last year, Pittsburgh's season never would have gone south. Through two games: 20 points allowed (tied for first); one touchdown allowed (and it came in garbage time of Week 2); minus-41.2 Defense VOA (first); eight forced turnovers (first); six sacks (fourth). And those numbers came against Atlanta and Tennessee, two teams that combined for 79 points in the eight quarters they didn't play Pittsburgh. I shudder to think what the Steelers might do against a young Bucs team that can't run the ball.

Troy Polamalu
With Troy Polamalu (six tackles and an interception last week) back, the Pittsburgh defense looks Super Bowl-worthy.

One more Steelers thought: When you look at the contenders with the best Super Bowl odds right now …

Green Bay: 6-1
New Orleans: 6-1
Baltimore: 10-1
Indianapolis: 10-1
New England: 12-1
N.Y. Jets: 12-1
Pittsburgh: 12-1
San Diego: 12-1

… aren't the Steelers clearly the best bargain? They have the league's best defense; they didn't fall apart in September without Ben Roethlisberger; and you know he'll jump-start their offense when he returns in Week 5. Can't you see Not So Big Ben on Super Bowl media day in Dallas surrounded by 1500 reporters as everyone braces for somebody to cross the line with an uncomfortable question? I wish I'd picked the Steelers before the season. Guess I'll have to settle on betting on them at 12-to-1. You know, if gambling were legal.

RAVENS (-10.5) over Browns
My buddy Gus would call this a "How Many Points Are They Gonna Score?" Game. In other words, the line seems too high until you remember that Baltimore's defense is going to marinate and grill Seneca Wallace. How many points can Cleveland score? Seven? Ten? Did you know Seneca is the 15th quarterback Cleveland has started since it re-entered the league in 1999? The complete list (in order of appearance as a starter):

Ty Detmer
Tim Couch
Doug Pederson
Spergon Wynn
Kelly Holcomb
Jeff Garcia
Luke McCown
Trent Dilfer
Charlie Frye
Derek Anderson
Brady Quinn
Ken Dorsey
Bruce Gradkowski
Jake Delhomme
Seneca Wallace

(The lesson, as always: God hates Cleveland.)

Bills (+14.5) over PATRIOTS
Allow me multiple thoughts on this one …

• The worst thing about Tom Brady's stinker at New Meadowlands last week: As things were getting worse and worse, CBS kept showing commercials for "Blue Bloods," the new cop show starring Tom Selleck and Bridget Moynahan … and I swear, the guy in charge of CBS ads was a Jets fan getting a massive kick out of it. I think they had two "Blue Bloods" ads scheduled for that game and ended up showing 28. Brady would overthrow someone, we'd punt, they'd go to commercial, and then, "Coming Friday … BLUE BLOODS!" Screw you, CBS guy in charge of the ads.

• After I moved to California in 2002, I returned to Boston a year later wearing a nice cashmere jacket that led my buddy J-Bug to mockingly call me "Malibu Billy" all night. (In an unbelievable turn of events, I lost the jacket that same night after our friend Sully passed out while we were playing pool and we had to rush him out before he started throwing up on everyone.) After Sunday's Jets loss, Bug angrily texted me, "Hey Malibu Billy -- send Brentwood Brady your old cashmere jacket with a note, 'You'll be needing this.' F***ing Gisele Ono turned him into a soccer star. I was hoping he had two more Super Bowls in him, but he's too busy wondering whether he should go with lizard or alligator belly for his new man purse. " Needless to say, Brady's hair is NOT going over well back in Boston. Especially when he's playing like his hair. If that makes sense.

• Actual tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter on Monday: "Bills HC Chan Gailey announced that he is looking for a spark and that Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at QB Sunday at the Patriots." When "looking for a spark" and "Ryan Fitzpatrick" are in the same sentence, you know your season's over. Then again, this Patriots defense shouldn't be favored by more than two touchdowns over anyone right now. They'd need 40 points to cover this spread.

• Few realize how badly Kevin Faulk's season-ending ACL injury screws the 2010 Patriots. He wasn't just Brady's security blanket, a beloved captain and one of the best third-down backs in football; they don't have anyone to replace him. Actually, I'll go further -- they don't even REMOTELY have someone like him on the roster. It changes everything they do. Secretly gigantic injury. You watch. I see the Pats eschewing a running back altogether and going with more five-receiver sets (quite a coincidence because this is what I do in "Madden," and actually, I've always wondered why a team doesn't just do this for four quarters because it's effectively unstoppable if your receivers are good enough, as the '99 Rams proved), but that means more punishment for Brady (33 years old). Not good.

• I hosted four days of "PTI" this week. (It was fun. Thanks for asking.) We had Ron Jaworski as Thursday's "Five Good Minutes" guest and asked him what to make of Mark Sanchez's solid performance against New England. Jaws responded that he watched the tape and was shocked that the Patriots stubbornly kept playing zone against Sanchez, saying that he completed 15 of 18 passes when they were in a zone … followed by me fighting off the urge to say, "This never would have happened if Bill Belichick were still alive."

(By the way, I'm allowed to complain about my quarterback and coach. We're a year and two games past the five-year grace period. So screw off.)

Falcons (+4) over SAINTS
Pittsburgh's defense is better than we realized (meaning Atlanta is probably better than we thought). The Saints struggled to beat Vikings and Niners teams that were worse than we realized (meaning New Orleans is probably worse than we thought). See where I'm going with this one? Bam! UPSET PICK!!! Atlanta 27, New Orleans 16.

Speaking of the Saints, Drew Brees landed on all three of my 2010 fantasy teams, which is something I usually try to avoid: fantasy QB monogamy. Now there's too much at stake for me and Brees. For instance, he tortured me in Week 2: Needing a half-decent game from him to win two of my leagues, I ended up losing my East Coast matchup by a point and gutting out my West Coast matchup by 0.15 points (gotta love decimals!). It's fun to have one guy mean SO much, but on the other hand … if anything happens to him, my entire fantasy year would have its knees taken out by Bernard Pollard. Just two weeks of this experience made me a fantasy QB polygamist. Never again.

CHIEFS (+2.5) over Niners
Did you know we're living in a world in which Darrius Heyward-Bey has twice as many catches and receiving yards as Michael Crabtree? Take a bow, Al Davis!

(Hold on, I'll help you up.)

(That's it, hold on to my shoulder, you can push off me, that's fine.)

(Wait a second, why aren't you moving?)

(Al?)

(Al?)

(AL!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Bengals (-3) over PANTHERS
Carson Palmer is on pace for 16 interceptions and 40 dropped interceptions. The VH1 guys will be turning on him Lord of the Flies-style any week now. Just wait. And by by the way, Palmer won't be the worst QB in this game: That's Jimmy Clausen (thrown to the wolves about two years before he's ready).

Poor Steve Smith. I was watching "Missing in Action 2" on cable the other night and thinking that he's the fantasy football version of the Vietnam vets Chuck Norris goes back and saves, only instead of being stuck in a prisoner camp, he's trapped in Carolina passionately running great routes only to be overthrown by dreadful QB after dreadful QB. Then I was thinking how Lee Evans was like that, too. And definitely Larry Fitzgerald for this season. And maybe even Dwayne Bowe. (Is Dwayne Bowe good? How would we even know?) Then I was thinking how these guys needed a nickname for fantasy purposes -- like how we have "handcuff guys" and "fantasy kryptonite guys" and things like that -- and within three seconds, it hit me: "POWRs." My brain works best at 1:15 a.m. when I'm watching bad TV. I don't know what else to tell you.

SEAHAWKS (+5.5) over Chargers
Redskins (-3.5) over RAMS

I thought the Redskins should have traded for Vincent Jackson. Why not? They're already spending $168 million this season … what's another six-year, $42 million deal with a $20 million signing bonus and two picks at this point? The good news: Things became so contentious that Jackson's agent ripped Chargers GM A.J. Smith to shreds and claimed that other GMs derisively call Smith "The Lord of No Rings," which immediately moved ahead of Michael "'70s" Bush and Tim "Virgin Air" Tebow as the best name of the 2010 season. The Lord of No Rings. You're never shedding that one, A.J. It's like a tattoo.

Lions (+11) over VIKINGS
I feel the same way about the Vikings that I do about Sally Draper -- just a ton of red flags early on, and it actually might play out even worse than we expect. My new prediction: Brett Favre makes an Exit Stage Right by Week 6 by pulling an Al Czervik. You could already see him laying the groundwork when he left the locker room after last week's Miami loss and milked that limp with the camera following him. He never wanted to come back. You can't convince me otherwise. Chevy Chase seemed happier filming "Caddyshack II" than Favre seems filming his Vikings sequel. This will not end well.

(Journalism highlight of the week: USA Today Sports Weekly dubbed Shaun Hill an "efficiency expert" this week, which might be my favorite spin for a mediocre quarterback in eons. It's so much snappier and smarter than "he just wins football games" or "his calming veteran influence." Efficiency expert. So good. For the record, Hill has completed 53 percent of his 2010 passes, ranking him 28th overall. Of anyone who threw 100-plus passes in 2009, Hill's 58 percent completion percentage ranked 31st. But don't mind those stats … he's an efficiency expert!)

TEXANS (-3) over Cowboys
Take the salad fork that was stuck in the Texans for eight years, pull it out gently, then ram it into the back of the Cowboys as hard as you can. Run! Run, Texans! Run free! You're all growns up! Do your thing!!!!!

(Speaking of the Texans, I received some interesting feedback from Vols fans after praising Arian Foster last week. And by "interesting," I mean "vitriolic." Apparently, they called him "Fumbles Foster" when he played there. One fan even listed all the games in which he killed them the same way I would list my least favorite 2010 John Lackey performances -- with meticulous detail and creepy, serial-killer-like overtones. The Tennessee fans vow that Fumbles Foster will rear his ugly head and ruin the Texans' season (and about 3 million fantasy seasons). And soon. Even though they sounded like spurned boyfriends whose girlfriends dropped 20 pounds and got implants, it did worry me just a tiny bit. I'm not gonna lie.

Colts (-5.5) over BRONCOS
Hold on, I'm not done writing this on the chalkboard yet.

Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.
Don't bet against Peyton Manning at night.

(By the way, I was thinking about it: The only scenario that would get me to watch "$#*! My Dad Says" with William Shatner is if the producers held my kids hostage and that was their one demand. And even then, I'd spend two hours agonizing over whether to do it.)

JAGS (+3) over Eagles
On PTI this week (5:30 on ESPN!) we talked about the Vick/Kolb QB controversy for two days. I'm actually not sure it was a QB controversy, more of a QB town hall. But I took the following stances …

1. I was proud of Andy Reid. The most stubborn NFL coach of our generation finally did the right thing for once: He admitted he was wrong and started the much better guy over the much worse guy. This opens the door for him to potentially start using his timeouts correctly and stop calling ludicrously dumb fourth-and-2 plays. Baby steps.

2. I am not even remotely sold on Mr. Vick. Two garbage-time quarters in a Green Bay blowout plus four easy quarters indoors against a young Lions team does NOT equal "MICHAEL VICK IS BACK, BABY!" Week 3 will be a decent test: outdoors, on the road, in humid Florida. So will Week 4: home against McNabb's Redskins. And so will Week 5: at San Francisco. To paraphrase the great Winston Wolf, don't start sucking each other's Popsicles yet.

EDDIE MURPHY'S SNL CAREER (-8.5) over Jay Pharoah's SNL Career
This will all make sense Saturday night. Just wait. By the way, do NOT be afraid to take the points on this one. I know it's heresy. And again, this will all make sense on Saturday night. I wish I could buy Jay Pharoah stock.

Raiders (+4.5) over CARDINALS
We almost had two new starting QBs for this game (Bruce Gradkowski and Max Hall) until Ken Whisenhunt gave Derek Anderson another whirl. Is it just me, or did the quarterback position go into a free fall this season? The Week 2 QB performances were so bad that, at one point on Sunday, I compared the Worst QB of the Day race to the '94 Oscars best picture race in both depth and scope. That prompted a few people to wonder which QBs resembled which movies. Screw it, let's play it out:

Vince Young (66 passing yards, three turnovers) as "Forrest Gump": He won the Oscar (playing so poorly that he got benched, which earned him the most attention afterward) for Week 2, but much like with "Gump," Vince's performance was a little overblown. So Vince got rattled by the best defense in football. It happens. We'll forget about it by Week 8. Much like we forgot about the agonizingly stupid 10-minute scene when Forrest went running.

Joe Flacco (154 yards, 4 picks, 23.8 rating) as "The Shawshank Redemption": "Shawshank" was my personal favorite in '94; Flacco was my personal favorite in Week 2 because he stunk out the joint AND killed about 3 million fantasy teams. For Ravens fans, this September 2010 Flacco stretch is the equivalent of the part in "Shawshank" when Andy was getting repeatedly gang-raped and beaten up by Boggs and the Sisters and Red said, "I do believe those were the worst two years for Andy." You know, because that was unclear.

Brett Favre (three picks, 44.3 rating) as "Pulp Fiction": The most stylish of the performances, and, like with John Travolta in "Pulp," the word "comeback" hovered over everything. And yes, Vikings fans are Marsellus in Zed's basement with the red ball in his mouth.

Derek Anderson (161 yards, 0 TDs, two picks, 46 rating) as "Quiz Show": Remember how Rob Morrow dragged down "Quiz Show" (and killed his movie career) with the worst Boston accent ever delivered in a movie? Larry Fitzgerald was just good enough in the Atlanta game that it dragged Anderson's performance up. He was the Reverse Rob Morrow of the Derek Anderson movie.

Trent Edwards (102 yards, two picks, 37 rating) as "Four Weddings and a Funeral": Just as underrated. Why? He never got pulled! Even in garbage time, when the Packers were winning by four touchdowns and playing a Cover 3, Trent couldn't piece together a few first downs. He might be the first starting NFL QB to jump to the UFL midseason.

Honorable mention: Matt Cassel (two picks, 46 QB rating) as "Clerks" (the indie movie that was never meant to be more than an indie movie); Matt Hasselbeck (three picks) as "The Last Seduction" (he keeps roping Seattle fans back in); Tom Brady (covered above) as "Bullets Over Broadway" (self-explanatory); Carson Palmer (covered above) as "True Lies" (as in, every Bengals fan is lying to himself if he thinks Palmer is still good); Jason Campbell (87 yards, one pick, benched) as "Dumb and Dumber" (explains his first two weeks); David Garrard (four picks in a San Diego game that was blacked out in Southern California) as "Ed Wood" (I never saw either); and Matt Moore (125 yards, two turnovers, benched) as "Nell" (I think he came out of the woods, and I definitely can't understand him). Wow, I spent too much time on that.

DOLPHINS (-2) over Jets
No Darrelle Revis (definitely), no Braylon Edwards (probably), no luck in Florida (perennially). Not looking good for the Jets. While we're here, I'm handing out soduk (reverse kudos) to Braylon for getting pulled over at 4:47 a.m. in an NFL season (way to take the Super Bowl run seriously!), blowing a 0.16 on his Breathalyzer (not easy for a 220-pound man), being dumb enough to get charged with DUI in Manhattan (a place with 10 million cabs at all times), turning a suddenly moral Joe Namath against him (the same guy who drunkenly hit on a sideline reporter on live TV several years ago) and forgetting that, just two years ago, he was out drinking with Donte' Stallworth on the night Stallworth drunkenly killed a guy. The Jets rolled the dice with all these problem guys. Guess what? They're having problems! I'm blown away.

BEARS (+3) over Packers
Jay Cutler! He's the surprise of the 2010 season: slinging BBs, buying himself time, making do with a mediocre receiving crew, showing (gasp!) leadership, playing as well as any quarterback and improbably pulling the good people of Chicago on his side (and they hated him). He even started dating former "Hills" star Kristin Cavallari, a savvy move because nobody can win a title anymore unless they're dating a reality star. (Just do it already, Tiger.) I loved rooting against Cutler and admitted as much; he reminded me of every entitled preppy I ever hated. But, as always, gambling trumps everything else. I believe in the Bears -- a team I picked three weeks ago to finish 3-13.

(The lesson, as always … well, you knew already.)

Last week: 8-7-1
Season: 15-14-3

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times best-seller "The Book of Basketball." For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy's World. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.

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