By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

If you missed Part 1 of my 2003 NFL Preview, I'm handing out quotes from "Top Gun" as movie awards. But before we jump into Part 2, let's break out a little pre-column music to get you fired up:

A classic action movie or an overrated piece of junk?

    Revvin' up her engine
    Listen to her howl and roar
    Metal under tension
    Begging you to touch and go
    Highway to the danger zone
    Ride into the danger zonnnnnnnne

Pass the goosebumps! Time for Part 2 ...

18. "Wait a second ... you were in a 4G inverted dive with a MIG-28?"

To Brett Favre, firmly entrenched in the "Marino in the mid-'90s" stage of his career. In other words, he's just great enough to win some games on his own, not quite as great as he used to be, and unable to accept the fact that he isn't quite as great as he used to be. So he forces balls in big spots, tries to do too much, and invariably ends up killing the Packers against good teams. And it has been happening for three seasons now. And counting.

(And with that said, I STILL wouldn't bet against him. Ever. You would see me in a 4G inverted dive with a MIG-28 before it happened.)

19. "It's too close for missiles! I'm switching to guns!"

To Joey Porter, who has a chance to become the "Best linebacker with a bullet lodged in his left butt cheek" in the history of the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Not a good omen for the Steelers season ... although I'm titillated to see how he's described in the injury report this weekend.


Baltimore (+5) over Pittsburgh

Titans (-3) over Raiders

Saints (+3) over Seahawks

Bengals (+6) over Denver (upset special)

20. "I can't shoot this son of a bitch ... let's see if we can have a little fun with him."

To poor Mark Brunell ... why wouldn't the Jags just waive him and go with the kids? Why string him along? And isn't it possible that, hitting his mid-30s soon, Brunell could have one of those Gannon-like resurgences on the right team, especially with Our Lord's Savior Jesus Christ in his corner? If he gets waived, Paul Tagliabue should make Brian Billick and John Fox fight to the death to see who gets to claim him.

That reminds me ...

20a. "The communications ship USS Layton has become disabled and wandered into enemy territory. A rescue operation will begin within the hour. Your mission is to give air support for that rescue. There are MIGs in the area and tensions are high. If you witness a hostile act, you are to return fire. ... Gentlemen, this is the real thing. This is what you've been trained for. You are America's best. Make us proud."

The biggest hole in the movie goes to the two biggest holes of the season: The QB situations in Baltimore and Carolina, two Super Bowl-caliber D's relying on two quarterbacks from the "Chris Redman, Kyle Boller, Rodney Peete, Jake Delhomme and Chris Weinke" group to come through. Yikes.

It was one thing when Baltimore won with Dilfer. Maybe he didn't bring anything to the table, but at least he wasn't taking anything off the table that season (for details on my Table Test, click here and scroll down to the Breckin Meyer paragraph). These guys are different. You can't hand the ball off every down. You just can't.

(As for the "Top Gun" plot twist ... I mean, who were we fighting? And where? And why? Did it matter? Did we really need to protect the Indian Ocean? Did they ever bring the USS Lawton back to safety? Was this an actual war? And was there a bigger stretch in movie history than Maverick getting sent to provide backup support when his confidence was still shaken from Goose's death? An incredible chain of events. Literally.)

LaDainian Tomlinson
The Sports Guy feels LT is the best of the NFL's current star running backs.

21. "Jesus, this guy's good!"

To the current crop of star running backs -- Tomlinson, Williams, Portis, Faulk, Holmes, Alexander and McAllister -- the top seven picks in everyone's fantasy draft last month, unless you were in a draft with foreigners and chicks. This happens every six to eight years -- great running backs always come in waves, much like rock bands, wrestlers, porn stars and waves. It's always an epidemic.

(And just for the record, I like Tomlinson the most. His 200-yard game against the Pats last September was the best rushing performance I've ever seen. He must have made 20 guys miss in that game. And nobody talks about him. Go figure.)

22. "You remember one thing: You screw up THIS much and you'll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dogs**t out of Hong Kong."

To Gregg Williams, who could be about four weeks away from changing his name to Embattled Buffalo Coach Gregg Williams. There's a reason he didn't get a contract extension, just like there's a reason the Bills didn't make the playoffs with a talented team and a creampuff schedule. Nobody had more gunshot wounds to the collective foot last season.

They look like a prime candidate to become one of the "Teams That Aren't Quite As Good As Everyone Thinks" Teams, along with ...

Brett Favre
Brett Favre's best days may be behind him.

22a. "When I first met you, you were larger than life. God, look at you."

To the Niners and Packers ... The Pack not just because Favre's slipping, but because of Mike Sherman. Every time they show him on the sidelines, you feel like he's filling in for 10 minutes because the real coach ran off to take a whiz. Have they ever even won a playoff game with him? And forget about Jeff Garcia's bulging disk. What about the Niners going from Mariucci to Dennis Erickson? Dennis Erickson? Really? Does anyone remember the hatchet job he did on Seattle? What has changed? I don't get it.

Also, remember my "six playoff teams fail to make it back every year, you just have to figure out which six" theory? Well, here's my six: San Fran, Green Bay, Atlanta, Cleveland, the Jets ... and the Raiders. They're like one of those successful sitcoms that chugs along for years and years, then you look up and the show's suddenly unwatchable -- that's going to be the Raiders this year. Aging cast members, shaky management, declining chemistry ... they might as well be the '97-98 season of "Melrose Place."

23. "You didn't learn a damn thing, did you? Except to quit. You've got that maneuver down real well. So long, Pete Mitchell."

To the Dolphins ... I mean, who else would get this one? As one of my readers wrote last year, Miami's annual collapse is like Hanukkah -- you know it's happening over an extended period in December, you just don't know when. Also, did you notice how Miami plays December road games in Buffalo (Dec. 7) and New England (Dec. 21)? Too perfect. Jay Fiedler should just break his throwing hand over someone's helmet right now to get it over with.

(Note: I always thought the "So long, Pete Mitchell" line was a kick in the groin, considering Mav had just inadvertently killed his best friend. Nice show of sympathy there. And don't forget that McGillis' character didn't return after this scene until the final minutes of the movie, long after Maverick found his juvenation and became a war hero. The moral of the story, as always: Women are purely and simply evil.)

Wasn't "Top Gun" as much of a chick flick as an action movie?

True action flicks wouldn't feature men singing '50s songs together in a crowded bar, men speaking two inches apart, or men consoling other men when they're both in their underwear. You would never hear Berlin's ultra-sappy "Take My Breath Away" blaring at every turn. You would never see the hero cry in front of someone, and he'd get angry if one of his buddies tried to stage a "You need to be more careful" intervention with him.

The hero wouldn't date someone 7 inches taller and 12 years older than him, and he wouldn't go on a double-date with her and sing "Great Balls of Fire" on a piano together. Also, their love scene wouldn't unfold in hazy slow motion, like a scene from Melissa Gilbert's latest Lifetime movie. If the hero got dumped, he'd get drunk, find the nearest local prostitute and probably end up with a communicable disease. And his old girlfriend definitely couldn't get him back by playing "You Lost That Lovin' Feeling" on a jukebox.

24. "Son, your ego is writing checks your body can't cash! You've been busted, you lost your qualifications as section leader three times, you've been put in hack twice by me, with a history of high-speed passes over five air control towers and one admiral's daughter!"

To the Eagles ... don't you just get the sense that the window is closing for them? It's like Andy Reid is going for the "degree of difficulty" thing here. He keeps losing impact players and replacing them with bit parts, almost like somebody brainwashed him into thinking he's Billy Beane. "Andy, you're doing a great job of competing against these big market teams. Oh, wait, there are no big market teams in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE."

More importantly, why would a Super Bowl contender leave eight figures of cap space on the shelf this summer? You get stampeded by the Bucs because A.) you can't run the ball, and B.) you don't have an impact receiver on the roster. So you just bring the same crew back for another run? How does this make sense? It's right up there with a "Jeepers Creepers" sequel getting released.

25. "You've lost, that lovin' feeling. ... Ohhhh that lovin' feeling ... "

To Freddie Taylor's groin. Is this thing finally healed or what? He went 16th overall in my West Coast roto draft last week and nobody even laughed. This might sound weird, but, I mean ... I miss Fred Taylor's groin. It was always good for a laugh. Now it has been replaced by Joey Porter's butt cheek. Sad day.

(By the way, was there a more improbable scene in movie history than a crowded, noisy bar suddenly going quiet as two Top Gun candidates sang "You lost that lovin' feeling" to a chick, then everyone in the bar joining in and singing along with them? I think not.)

26. "I gotta do something here. I still can't believe it. I gotta give you your dream shot. I'm gonna send you up against the best. You two characters are going to Top Gun."

This goes to ... actually, wait a second. I spent my summer searching for the 2003 sleeper (remember, I gave you the Falcons last year) and trying to find a below-.500 team for my tried-and-true formula. For this season, I ruled out Baltimore and Carolina (the QB's); Seattle (too obvious); Dallas, Detroit and Jacksonville (not enough horses); and Cincinnati (not in that division, not with Kitna so prominently involved, and especially not when it's Cincinnati).

So that leaves Minnesota: crummy division, easy schedule, second-year coach, low expectations. Plus, they have some playmakers, and they improved down the stretch last season. Pencil them in for 9-6-1, a share of the NFC North crown, and at least 300 camera shots of a half-asleep Red McCombs in the owner's box.

(And if the Bengals turn out to be this year's sleeper ... well, it will take me years to recover. I'm not kidding. Please don't let them go 10-6. Please.)

27. "It's classified. I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

To HBO ... for not telling us why they didn't bring "Hard Knocks" back this summer. At the very least, they could have aired a special "Reverb" reunion concert with Chad Hutchinson and Richmond Flowers.

28. "I feel the need... the need... for speed!"

To the Saints ... after consecutive (and easily explainable) meltdowns in 2001 and 2002, they look like the sleeping giants in the NFC. Remember: A.) they were never the same down the stretch after Aaron Brooks' injury; B.) they beat the Bucs twice last season (along with a host of other good teams); C.) between Brooks, Deuce McAllister and that fleet of receivers, they have more speed than anyone in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE; and D.) they beefed up a defense that wasn't so bad in the first place. I just have a feeling about these guys.

(They're 40-1 to win the whole thing, by the way. Hmmmmmm.)

Steve McNair
One of the true warriors of the NFL -- Steve McNair.

29. "Goose, your such a (expletive). Whose butt did you kiss to get in here?"

"Well, the list is long but distinguished."

"Yeah, well so's my (expletive)."

My favorite exchange of the movie goes to my favorite non-Patriot: the great Steve McNair. I'll tell ya something -- Steve McNair is just a football player, folks. Plain and simple. All he cares about is about winning football games.

(Sorry, I wanted to sound like a generic football announcer. That was fun. Let's do it again.)

30. "Maverick, you'll get your R.I.O. when you reach your ship ... and if you don't, give me a call. I'll fly with you."

The feel-good moment of the movie -- Maverick's Dad's buddy giving him a chance -- goes to the feel-good two-part story of the season: A.) Marvin Lewis finally getting his chance to turn a franchise around; and B.) the Bengals having a glimmer of hope for the first time since I was in college.

1. New England, 10-6
2. Miami, 9-7
3. Buffalo, 9-7
4. N.Y. Jets 5-11

4. Baltimore, 9-7
1. Pittsburgh, 8-8
2. Cincinnati, 8-8
3. Cleveland, 8-8

1. Tennessee, 12-4
2. Indianapolis, 11-5
3. Jacksonville, 6-10
4. Houston, 4-12

1. Kansas City, 10-6
2. Denver, 9-7
3. Oakland, 8-8
4. San Diego, 7-9

All right, I wanna tell you something: With the Corey Dillons, Chad Johnsons and Carson Palmers, you might see these Bengals competing for a playoff spot sooner than anyone thinks. And lemme tell you somethin' else, folks: Marvin Lewis is the best thing that has happened to this franchise in years. He is some kind of human being. Just a special, special man.

(All right, I got that announcer thing out of my system. By the way, did anyone fall further than Tom Skeritt after "Top Gun"? Seven years after uttering the above quote, he was doing love scenes with a teenaged Drew Barrymore -- in the rain, on an automobile -- in "Poison Ivy." When do you think Skerritt finally gave up hope that Cruise would OK "Top Gun 2"? 1991? 1992?)

31. "That was some of the best flying yet ... right up to the part where you got killed. You never never leave your wingman."

To Laveranues Coles and Peerless Price ... Yeah, I know they had to take the money. It just scares me when receivers switch teams. When you pull a receiver away from his QB and stick him in a different offense, sometimes he doesn't make it. It's like flying a dog cross-country -- sometimes they just don't survive the flight. There isn't even really a reason. Like J.J. Jefferson, Keyshawn Johnson, Andre Rison, Antonio Freeman and Carl Pickens. Somebody needs to study this.


1. N.Y. Giants, 10-6
2. Philly, 10-6
3. Washington, 8-8
4. Dallas, 6-10

1. Minnesota, 9-6-1
2. Green Bay, 9-6-1
3. Detroit, 6-10
4. Chicago, 4-12

1. New Orleans, 12-4
2. Tampa Bay, 10-6
3. Carolina, 8-8
4. Atlanta, 6-10

1. St. Louis, 10-6
2. Seattle, 8-8
3. San Francisco, 7-9
4. Arizona, 1-15

32. "You could quit. There'd be no disgrace -- that spin was hell. Woulda shook me up."

To the Giants ... remember my Levels of Losing? That fluke collapse against San Fran was a combination Guillotine/Stomach Punch Game -- one of the toughest football defeats ever, right up there with the Earnest Byner game, the Snow Game in Foxboro and the game in which my buddy Gus rallied from 35 down in the second half to beat me in Intellivision Football (summer of '83, Connecticut, and I still can't talk about it).

(I think the G-Men bounce back this year. I mean, REALLY bounce back. Like winning the NFC -- that kind of bouncing back. They just seem like the most solid all-around team to me. And if I've just jinxed them and ruined the season for New Yorkers everywhere ... well, that's a good thing.)

33. "You're everyone's problem. That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous."

"That's right ... Ice ... man. I am dangerous."

The funniest moment of the movie goes to the funniest subplot of the season: A promising Jets campaign suddenly falling in the hands of one Vincenzo Testaverde.

What a disaster. Poor Vinny was decrepit and washed-up last season. Jerry Lewis moved around better in his telethon than Vinny was moving in the final exhibition game last week.

(As much as I feel bad for Chad Pennington -- who was turning into a terrific QB -- it was fun watching the Jets bandwagon flip 19 times and explode into flames on the Jersey turnpike. Never have a group of fans locked out of a season, at the same time, that fast. It was like a party in college when campus security shows up. I'm going to the keg, you want anythi ... RUN! RUN! RUN!!!!!!!!!!!)

34. "Slider? (Sniff) You stink."

To DirecTV, for charging nearly $200 for this season's NFL package without including preseason games. Would that have killed them? How am I supposed to follow the Patriots from 3,000 miles away when I can't even see their games? I don't mean to criticize one of the greatest inventions of all-time. It's just a little frustrating, that's all. If you insist on having these stupid exhibition games and injuring your marquee players, at least televise them so I can see them.

Baltimore 20, Kansas City 17
Indianapolis 26, Denver 11
Tampa Bay 28, Minnesota 6
Philly 20, St. Louis 17

New England 17, Baltimore 6
Tennessee 38, Indianapolis 10
New Orleans 30, Philly 24
N.Y. Giants 21, Tampa Bay 20

Tennessee 20, New England 17
N.Y. Giants 31, New Orleans 21

Tennessee 24, N.Y. Giants 20

That reminds me ...

Did you ever play the "How Much Would You Pay?" Game? Like, what's the maximum amount you would pay for a copy of "Madden 2004?" Or, how much would you pay to know for sure who killed JFK? Or, what's the most you would pay to see Zack from "Paradise Hotel" get punched in the face?

Well, my buddy Sal and I were playing this game with the NFL Package last week. I decided I would pay up to $2,000 dollars for the package. After that, you couldn't justify the price when we're getting five games a week on free TV, anyway. But Sal claims that no price is high enough for him and the NFL Package; if anything, he would start selling some of his stuff if it came to that.

Now that's a true football fan. Even I wouldn't go that far. And yet I digress.

35. "You! You are still dangerous! But you can be my wingman any time."

"Bulls**t. You can be mine."

The climactic scene in the movie -- as well as one of the most uncomfortable exchanges of all-time -- goes to the climactic team of the season: Your 2004 Super Bowl champions ... the Tennessee Titans! In a season where offensive stats are about to shoot through the roof, it seems only fitting that a physical team devoid of skill-position stars would win the whole thing. This is the season that Steve McNair -- healthy, happy and just entering his prime -- puts himself on the map.

He's so good, he doesn't even need a wingman. But if he finds one, then he seeks that guy out in the post-championship celebration -- pointing at him, screaming "You!", then talking to him from two inches away, finally hugging him with his eyes closed in creepy ecstasy -- well, so be it.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for Jimmy Kimmel Live.