By Bill Simmons
Page 2

The plan for today: A whopping mailbag to make up for the crummy, destined-to-lose NFL playoff picks at the end of the column. In the mean time, as always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.

Q: Theo's back! C'mon ... we're waiting. Doesn't this demand an emergency cowbell from you? It's even up there with Pat Morita dying, and "Bronson Arroyo and consistency" being in the same sentence.
-- Sarah, Boston

SG: Normally I would agree, except Theo never left: Never stopped working for the team, never stopped being involved in personnel decisions, never stopped anything. This was like one of those trial separations in which Dad announces to the kids that he and Mom are splitting up for a little while, so everyone flips out, and then Dad says, "I'm staying in the guest bedroom for the next 10 days, then I'm getting my own place," and it's awkward at breakfast every morning, and you feel bad seeing him sleep in the guest room every night -- especially because Mom was definitely to blame -- and then you get sidetracked by the holidays and everything, and suddenly you look up three weeks later and Dad's still around, only he's sneaking into Mom's room to sleep every night, and everyone knows they're back together, only they don't want to jinx it by announcing it yet, so another three weeks passes before it becomes official. And then you have to act surprised when you hear the news. That's what this Theo thing was like.

(By the way, that analogy is much more fun if you imagine Larry Lucchino in drag wearing a pink bathrobe, smoking cigs with a scowl on his face and playing the role of "Mom.")

Q: The Fake Crying Olympics would make for riveting TV, but we all know that the final two will be the Nigerian guy who plays Adebisi and Mr. Eko vs. Clint Eastwood. Could you imagine the finale? OK, Adebisi go ... anytime now ... "I'm crying right now!" ... umm, Adebisi you just have spit running down your face ... "Yes I am crying" ... Yes, thank you Adebisi, on to our next contestant Clint Eas ... Oh my God, get the paramedics in here, Clint is having a heart attack ... "No I'm not, I'm crying" ... ah yes, just like in the movie were you kill the girl, your grunt crying is legendary. Wow, ladies and gentleman, it does not get any better than this!
-- Jeremy Monteith, Corpus Christi, Texas

SG: I just have one question -- which one of them upset Tom Cruise in the semifinals, Adebisi or Eastwood? And how far did Dennis Franz go? What about Jason Priestley? Can somebody create some sort of bracket where we could vote on this? Isn't this what the Internet is all about?

Q: Bill, I'm worried Isiah Thomas might actually be trying to find you. Do yourself a favor and hide behind a decent free agency prospect -- he'll never look in your direction.
-- Jermaine P., Richmond, Va.

SG: I'm going to spend my summer at Al Harrington's house. He'll never know where I am.

Q: I just heard they cancelled "Emily's Reasons Why Not" after ONE episode! Please tell me this is Heather Graham's final step toward Cinemax soft-core stardom. This needs to happen!
-- Dave Sund, Portland, Ore.

SG: I think it's inevitable at this point -- she's a terrible actress and it's only a matter of time. She's one bad business investment away from accepting a role in one of those two-word Cinemax movies where the two words don't really make sense like "Indecent Seduction" or "Sensual Restriction."

But I'm glad you brought this up, because I think the Shannon Elizabeth Corollary applies here: Any time a smoking-hot actress gets naked early in her career, and that nakedness was pretty much the only reason they became famous (like Graham as Rollergirl), then it's only a matter of time before their career goes in the tank. It's almost like there's an expiration date, like with a carton of milk. Look at Shannon Elizabeth after "American Pie" -- where could she possibly go from there? We've already seen her naked and she's a mediocre actress. What's left? Same with Denise Richards in "Wild Things," or even Rebecca DeMornay in "Risky Business." Someone like Charlize Theron can avoid this fate because she can actually act. But if you can't act? You're done. That's why Jessica Alba was so smart not to get naked in "Into the Blue" -- now she can appear in three or four more movies before everyone realizes that she's a terrible actress. And then she'll get naked and that will be that.

(Note: This isn't related to the Sharon Stone Corollary, where a decent, sexy actress whom everyone always liked jump-starts her career with a famous nude scene or graphic sex scene, and then milks another five years and some paychecks out of the subsequent hullabaloo. Just look at what happened to Halle Berry after "Swordfish" and "Monster's Ball." Let's hope this becomes a trend.)

Q: I just saw a picture of Jennifer Love-Hewitt (or does she now go by Jennifer Hewitt? whatever) at the recent Television Critics Association press tour in her obligatory tight, revealing, cleavage-overflowing top. Is there anyone else in Hollywood (or elsewhere, for that matter) who has teased the male population over a longer period of time than her?
-- Carl, Houston

SG: See? Case in point -- Jennifer Love Hewitt. If she went topless in "Can't Hardly Wait," do you think she would have the "Ghost Whisperer" right now? Of course not. Let's move on.

Q: So my mom bought my dad your book for Christmas, not knowing it was by a Boston guy. My dad, being a Yankee fan, and my mom, being ignorant of the ramifications of her purchase, have not talked since my dad opened his gift Christmas Eve. If my parents get divorced over this, I will blame you, but still read your columns.
-- Kevin, Villanova, Pa.

SG: You brought up something that I've been dying to mention -- nearly 20 percent of my total book sales so far happened in the two weeks before Christmas, so I'm assuming many of those were Christmas presents. And out of all those people who received the book as a gift, there had to be some people who either (A) didn't like my columns, or (B) didn't like the Red Sox, right? Which means that my book was one of those turd-in-the-punch-bowl gifts for those people, the ones where you open it and pretend you're excited, only you secretly want to throw it across the room as hard as you can. Then it ends up in some bag with some DVD that you already had, a crappy picture frame and a T-shirt that's the wrong size, and three years later, you find this bag crammed under your bed. That was my book for countless people around Christmas time. And honestly? I couldn't be prouder.

Q: I don't know how you feel about the Damon signing, but I'll tell you what I've been telling everyone that has brought it up: This is like having a crush on a girl since you knew who she was, then one day finding out she has a penis. You just feel betrayed.
-- Mike Holland, Glenolden, Pa.

SG: Ah, sure.

Q: How great is it to have a John Holmes on the PGA tour this year? I can only imagine the possibilities, like the first time David Feherty mentions that Holmes is "good with the long stick."
-- Kevin, Hanover, Md.

SG: Obviously, he's my favorite non-Boston professional athlete right now. I want to hang out with him for a weekend, follow him around on the course, make some Johnny Wadd jokes, make some long putter jokes, see if he's heckled at all by the gallery ... maybe I could even caddy for him, just so I could casually say things like, "Man, it's grueling carrying John Holmes' bag around" and "Careful, John Holmes, you don't want to use too much club here." And imagine if he ever won the Masters? How would Jim Nantz announce the winning putt with one of those trademark Nantz-like puns? Would he say, "Just like old times, John Holmes has worn out the field?" What about, "Put that thing away, John Holmes, you just won the Masters!" Plus, can you imagine a Masters ceremony with Hootie Johnson, John Holmes and a maniacally grinning Jim Nantz?

(You know what? If that happens, I'm done. I'm retiring. That's the comedy ceiling, right there. Nothing could top Hootie Johnson and Jim Nantz helping John Holmes put on the green Masters jacket. Nothing. I would have to quit my column and find another challenge in life.)

Q: Mariah Carey observation: Now that she is relevant again and all over MTV and the recent awards shows, have you noticed that she is turning into Stiffler's Mom?
-- Mike D., Baltimore

SG: I can't tell if that was more insulting to Mariah Carey or Stifler's Mom. By the way, I don't care how much weight she gains -- I still dig Mariah Carey. And I don't think I'm alone. She's a woman. Make no mistake about it. She's all woman. And the fact that every other woman hates the fact that guys dig Mariah Carey makes it even better. Just think, if Brad Pitt had dumped Jennifer Aniston for Mariah instead of Angelina, it would have potentially caused a riot -- he would have been blackballed by the entire female population. Not one of them would have forgave him. Poor Brad would have been the Hollywood version of O.J. But not only do women understand Angelina's appeal, many of them would probably make out with her if they were drunk enough. That's why this whole thing was somehow OK -- women don't like Angelina, they don't trust her, but they can't totally blame Pitt for what happened. And again, this is why Angelina Jolie should be the president in 2008. Nobody can resist her.

Q: How long has it been since the two best players in college basketball were both white? I find it fascinating that no one in the media is willing to address this.
-- Fletcher Ray, Portland, Ore.

SG: Address it in what sense? That this is hardcore proof that we're headed toward the worst March Madness of all time?

Q: I know you saw the ending of the Lakers-Cavs game, when they panned to the Cavs bench at crunch time and LeBron was chewing nervously on his fingernails like a school girl about to go perform at her piano recital. He was literally going after each finger. I am a LeBron guy and I was at a bar commenting, "Good Lord, he is already on his second hand." My buddy came back with, "Remember, he is only 20, you are older than him." I quickly replied, "Yeah, so was Jordan in the 1982 championship game, and there was no way he looked like this." As predicted, LeBron went on to miss the game-winning jumper, which came after the Mamba hit two HUGE jumpers in the final minute. What are your thoughts on this?
-- Adam G, Amherst, Mass.

SG: With LeBron struggling at the end of games lately, this could evolve into one of the dominant themes of the second half of the season, and only because there's nothing to talk about because the 2006 Finals matchup was decided three months ago (unless Amare Stoudemire makes it back and turns the Suns into a threat, although I remain dubious). I'm not sure this is entirely fair -- after all, he's further ahead at his age than anyone ever. But you're right, the fingernail chewing needs to go. Pronto. Franchise players should not chew the fingernails. Even Peyton Manning doesn't do this. So the NBA needs to have an intervention or force LeBron to dip his hands in that gross-tasting sour apple stuff that people use to make sure their dogs don't chew the furniture.

As for his crunch-time chops, I think it's WAY too early to tell -- remember who tossed up two air balls to end the Jazz-Lakers series in 1997? The bigger problem lies in how Cleveland uses him: They should be posting him up (where nobody can handle him), yet they continue to give him the ball 25 feet from the basket and let him create, usually leading to an awful jumper or an out-of-control drive because he's almost too fast for his own body right now. And this brings me back to the whole Bad Coaching thing ... at some point, common sense has to prevail, right? LeBron is a physical mismatch for anyone in the league under 6-foot-8. Why not play him at the point in crunch time, post him up and force opponents to adjust? He absolutely abused Kobe when he posted up at the tail end of the Lakers game. Why wouldn't they do this all the time? Why?

(Along those same lines, Mike Dunleavy has allowed Shaun Livingston -- one of my favorite young players, but someone who isn't even remotely ready to contribute for more than 15 minutes a game on a good team because he makes too many mistakes -- to pretty much derail the Clippers season. They spent two months defining themselves as a veteran team that didn't kill themselves, took care of the ball, made their free throws and got good shots, and suddenly everyone's deferring to a 19-year-old point guard who has no idea what he's doing yet? How does that make sense? This team had a chance to win 55 games, now they're struggling to stay alive for a playoff spot! Good grief. Sometimes Dunleavy makes Doc Rivers look like Norman Dale. I swear to God.)

Q: I read that Elton John had a bachelor party. Is this the only bachelor party in history that it would be OK to decline the invitation to? Can you think of anyone's bachelor party that you would want to go to less than Elton John's?
-- Mike Bell, Baltimore

SG: No. I really can't. But you did get me thinking -- the best bachelor party would be the one for Jake Gyllenhaal, just because he'd be so desperate to preserve street cred and shake the "Brokeback Mountain" thing that everyone would end up participating in some mammoth hooker orgy or something. That should be a contest on when he gets engaged: "You and a friend can win a chance to attend Jake Gyllenhaal's bachelor party!"

Q: Did you see "The Gauntlet" this past week on MTV? The reaction of Beth's teammates when she beat Ruthie was priceless. Similar to what would happen if the Yankees had to endure a loser goes home tug of war featuring A-Fraud vs. Jeter or the Colts with Manning vs. Freeney. Can you imagine the look of horror on the faces of Posada and Harrison if/when A-Fraud or Manning actually came through in the clutch and eliminated their teammates?
-- Jay Golden, Hopkinton, Mass.

SG: I have to be honest: Any e-mail that successfully compares Manning and A-Rod to Beth from "The Gauntlet" is a mortal lock to make the mailbag. I'm that easy.

Q: Someone should have Ron Artest answer this question: Could there possibly be a more sobering experience than Larry Bird, the Basketball Jesus, using your name and the phrase "I felt betrayed" in the same sentence?
-- Brad S., Dallas

SG: This has all the makings of a movie that ends with the credit, "Directed by Mel Gibson."

Q: Is it just me, or is Tyronn Lue the ugliest woman in the NBA?
-- Dave F., Littleton, Mass.

SG: I keep pitching this idea for my friend Jimmy's TV show that I continue to watch, even though he never listens to my ideas anymore -- a game show called "NBA Player or WNBA Player?", in which they pull two people out of the audience, then show them headshots of NBA players and WNBA players and they have to match the player and the league. Wouldn't this be riveting? Either Tyronn Lue, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Fortson or Teresa Weatherspoon would be the picture for the final round every time. You're telling me that anyone would turn the channel during a round of "NBA Player or WNBA Player?" That's it, I'm giving the idea to Craig Ferguson.

Q: For most of my life, the greatest athlete I had ever seen was A.C. Slater, but now I am pretty positive it is Alton Williams from the "The Gauntlet." Have you seen him? When I watch, I feel like an 8-year-old thinking Magic Johnson can do anything again. If Alton ends up losing somehow, I won't have anything to believe in anymore.
-- Shaun Tygart, Salem, Ore.

SG: Quite simply, Alton is lifting us all to a higher place. There's nothing much more to say. He's the modern-day Jim Thorpe. Other than host T.J. Lavin saying the sentence, "That was a very challenging challenge," Alton's heroics have been the highlight of the season so far.

But here's my question: Why hasn't some name nonfiction writer spent a season with all of these MTV crazy people for a sweeping opus about celebrity and fame in the 21st century? I mean, this is a cottage industry at this point -- you have all of these unemployed rejects making enough money to survive in Los Angeles, partying all of the time, being treated like real celebs, hooking up with one another and getting into various forms of trouble. And that's basically their life. It's a life in which it's totally OK to scream at another person, throw that person's suitcase of clothes in a swimming pool, go dancing six nights a week and compete in challenges when you're wearing a thong and transferring body paint by rubbing it from your body onto someone else's body. Am I the only one who finds this interesting? What are their goals? What do their families think? How did they get to this point? At what age does someone like Mark (who's legitimately in his mid-30s) say to himself, "Maybe I should think about doing something else?" Do they keep coming on these shows because they like being quasicelebrities, or because they can't think of anything else to do for a living? Don't we need someone like Malcolm Gladwell to make sense of everything here?

Q: I just found out that the girl from "Just One of the Guys" (Joyce Hyser) was born in 1957. 1957! She's almost 50. Am I over-reacting?
-- Mike M, Atlanta

SG: Considering I just spat out a mouthful of coffee, I would say no.

Q: Some guy named Mark Moseley was NFL MVP in 1982. I was wondering who he was, considering how great you have to be to win the MVP award. He was a [expletive] kicker? How the [expletive] was a [expletive] kicker a [expletive] MVP?
-- Ryan, Cleveland

SG: Calm the [expletive] down. It happened for three reasons. First, that was the strike-shortened nine-game season, so nobody really cared. Second, he made 20 of 21 field goals for the future champion Redskins. And third, he was the last straight-on field goal kicker -- and the last ever, as it turned out -- during a time in which football fans were feeling xenophobic about all the foreign soccer-style kickers coming into the league. I always felt like that was a "Let's throw a bone to the American dude who kicks straight on!" vote. Can you blame them? We were under attack!

Q: Two words -- Tanith Belbin. The hottest athlete I've seen, maybe EVER ... She was SO HOT that I sat there on Thursday Jan.12, and watched an entire three minutes of ice dancing, simply because of Tanith Belbin. She was so hot that I lost all sense of judgement. I was actually saying that the ice-dancing choreography was really good and "Wow, look at her skates!!" I realized afterward that it was similar to the "South Park" episode about Bebe's Boobs. If you've never seen it, this fourth-grade girl starts to get boobs, and all the boys are possessed, thinking all sorts of nonsense like, "Bebe is really smart" and "I wish I could be more like Bebe" ... Then they all start fighting over her like cavemen/monkeys ... All because of her boobs. The moral of all this -- I got sucked in by some hot girl on TV, who I will never even see in person ... She made me watch ice dancing!!! She made me make my friends watch the same performance later that night ... And guess what! They loved her! Even ridiculously hot women on television, who really aren't even physically within 2 feet of you, can make you do things you normally would never think of doing. God bless 'em ... or damn them all to hell. Either way, she's still hot and I will look forward to the ice-dancing championships at this year's Olympics.
-- Blaise, San Diego

Who is Tanith Belbin?
Watch Tanith Belbin from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with this featured video from ESPN360.
Watch here

SG: See, this is the stuff you don't get in Sports Illustrated's Winter Olympics preview.

Q: I think I was actually more upset over the assassination of former President David Palmer on "24" last night than I would have been if our actual president would have been assassinated. It was like I lost a member of my own family. Maybe I'm just screwed up, but I don't think so. Here is my question: If you forced every registered voter in America to watch seasons 1-4 on DVD, and convinced Dennis Haysbert to legally change his name to David Palmer, don't you think he would win in a landslide in 2008? I have bounced this question off several people and Palmer has every vote so far, and most would have voted for him over Bush and Kerry.
-- Ryan Desmond, Miami

SG: Obviously I'm with you. But while we're here, some readers were upset that I revealed the "24" plot twist in Wednesday's column because they hadn't watched the show yet. So here's my question ... how can you call yourself a "24" fan and not watch the season premiere of "24" right when it airs? Are you kidding me? Would you save the Super Bowl on TiVo and watch it later? What about Game 7 of the NBA Finals? When "24" came on the tube Sunday night, my baby daughter could have had a diaper covered in six pounds of poop and I would have waited until 10 o'clock to change her. I'm not apologizing for this one. You had three days to watch it -- unless you were trapped in a well or something, there's no excuse. That's like saying that I shouldn't have discussed the Bettis Fumble.

Q: In honor of Jack Bauer's triumphant return, I demand that we all start using the phase "Flank Two Position" as a part of our everyday language, of course meaning "in trouble" or "under duress." The uses are limitless. For example: "If 80-year-old GM Marv Levy decides to become 80-year-old GM/head coach Marv Levy, the Bills organization will be in Flank Two Position for the next five years. Or, "I just had my bachelor party in Vegas and blew my honeymoon money on a hooker that gave me the clap. Now my marriage plans are in Flank Two Position." Can you please help spread the word?
-- Matt, Somerville, Mass.

SG: I can't ... I don't want to upset the 10 people who haven't watched "24" yet. Let's give them another six months to catch up. It's tough to carve 90 minutes out of a day to watch a recorded program. People are busy.

Q: Why should Antonio Davis get suspended for any games? He was a man at work who saw his wife in a threatening situation that security obviously had done nothing to diffuse. He addressed it calmly and without violence, then left it to the authorities. Clearly either the fan(s) or his wife (or both) were involved in it escalating to what it was ... and Davis' entry ended it. Punish THEM, not him. The problem isn't Davis, the problem is that the league still has not done enough to prevent confrontations in the stands. Control the stands, and the players won't be in them.
-- Jack McDonald, Naperville, Ill.

SG: Very fair point on confrontations in the stands. One problem: The facts point to Davis' wife escalating the incident and having a history of acting, um, erratically at her husband's games. That's why I don't think Davis should have been suspended for what happened, just in case he's The Dude Who Married A Slightly Crazy Chick. We all have one friend who married someone who's a little crazy, and occasionally she gets into random fights at bars or tries to run him over in her car, and then things settle down and they're OK ... but you never judge, and you never stop cutting the guy slack because it's not his fault that he married a crazy person, and besides, crazy girls are always the ones who are phenomenal in bed. Why do you think the plot of every Cinemax movie revolves around some smoking-hot chick who kills a bunch of people, seduces a detective and has over-the-top sex with him before being revealed to be crazy?

The only reason I mention this is because Davis' body language as he entered the stands wasn't, "Oh my God, somebody is threatening my wife, I'm gonna kill the guy, I have to protect her!" but rather, "Oh, no, she's doing it again, this just happened two weeks ago at Target, I hope she doesn't stab the guy with her sunglasses or something." And he went up there, made sure everything was cool, then meekly returned to the court after realizing that everything was under control. So commissioner David Stern should have found out whether Davis' wife was nuts or not, then doled out the punishment accordingly. You should always have compassion for any male who was sucked in by crazy sex and couldn't get out in time. You know, if that was the case here. I'm not saying it was. Just a theory.

Q: Rumors from Minneapolis say that the Wolves are exploring the possibility of trading former No. 1 overall pick Michael Olowokandi to your Celtics for the legendary Mark Blount. That's like trading herpes for syphilis!
-- Ben Kennedy, Minneapolis

SG: Come on, that's an insult to both herpes and syphilis.

Q: I've been on a four-week bender since my wife went away with our daughter and my two pigs (Boston terriers). I am maxing my Home Equity Line of Credit currently and our house has been uninhabitable for those with toddlers. Having said that, last week I was wasted at a nudie bar ... then went golfing early the next morning ... then drank as much as possible on my friend's boat ... then stuffed my six chins at a cheesy hibachi restaurant ... and then (after 29 cumulative cigarettes in less than 12 hours) capped it all off at Baskin Robbins for a my fat boy special (Reeses Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream). Anyway, we see the hottest high school chicks around and get this: One guy we were with tells me I have issues. Puh-lease. Although they may or may not have been 18 ... at what point is it not OK to comment and drool over high school chicks when you are into your early 30s? And, Simmons ... don't lie to me and tell me you and your dirt bag friends are different.
-- Stump, Old Greenwich, Conn.

SG: Normally, I would be ending the mailbag with a "Yup, these are my readers" comment, but it's time to make picks for the championship games. After last weekend's games, I took the Playoff Gambling Manifesto behind my garage and shot it to smithereens with a hunting rifle. I'm done with that thing. The Manifesto can go to hell. For the rest of the 2005 playoffs, I'm sticking to my gut, and my gut tells me this ...

Pittsburgh seems like a team of destiny.

Look at what happened in the past six weeks. With the Steelers needing help to make the playoffs, the Chargers obliged by blowing a home game to Miami, then the Chiefs couldn't tackle Tiki Barber in the Meadowlands. So Pittsburgh ran the slate against some weak teams and grabbed the sixth seed. Heading to Cincy for Round 1, they caught a break two plays into the game when Cincy's franchise quarterback blew out his knee in 34 places, leading to a full dose of the Jon Kitna Experience. Then their nemesis (New England) self-destructed in Denver in Round 2, one night before the Steelers played in Indianapolis. With the door wide open now, they whupped the Colts for three quarters, nearly blew a big lead after a bogus call, finally clinched the game, watched in horror as the Bettis Fumble happened, and then Nick Harper cut right into Roethlisberger when he could have taken it outside for the game-winning touchdown. Yet another bullet dodged. Then Manning and Vanderjagt took care of the rest.

After all of that ... do you really think the Steelers aren't going to the Super Bowl? From a karma standpoint, the Palmer/Pats/Harper trifecta doesn't feel much different than the Tuck Rule, the Music City Miracle or anything else of that ilk. They're also the only team in the Final Four that can run the ball, stop the run, pressure the passer, break a big play and make something happen on special teams. They're bringing everything to the table. That's the thing about karma in the playoffs -- catch a few breaks and suddenly a very good team turns into a great one. This Steelers team looks like they're peaking at the right time. At the very least, this Denver matchup feels like a three-point game, and I trust Roethlisberger a helluva lot more than I trust Jake the Snake. That's why I'm taking the Steelers +3.5 over the Broncos.

As for the NFC Championship Game ...

After unsuccessfully picking a Panthers game for the 11th straight week (I took the Bears), I was deluged by e-mails from Seattle fans begging me to pick Carolina and vice-versa. Not a good sign for a guy writing a gambling column. Just one more loss away from a losing season (I'm 3-5 in the playoffs and 127-129-6 overall), I find myself so rattled by the Panthers at this point, they're like a 53-man gambling intervention. In fact, I'm thinking about not wagering on this game. To put this in perspective, the last time I didn't have a wager on the NFC Championship Game, Paula Abdul and Bobby Brown were two of the biggest pop stars in the world, people were wondering whether Michael Jordan could ever win the big one, and you had a better chance of seeing Bigfoot than having sex with someone on the first date.

There's only one way to end this misery: By picking the Panthers. If they cover, my Carolina curse is over. If they don't cover, they're out of the playoffs and I won't have to worry about them anymore. More important, many people seem to be counting them out because Seattle is such a good home team (if that's the case, why did they make so many mistakes last week?); Nick Goings is replacing DeShaun Foster at running back (come on, it's not like either of them is Walter Payton); and Seattle can't possibly be dumb enough to leave Steve Smith open all game like Chicago did (what if he's just playing so well, nobody can cover him right now?). Also in Carolina's favor: They have the best player on the field (Smith) and a better coach. And if that's not enough, Seattle has all of those skeletons in its closet -- three straight decades of mediocrity, as well as a tortured fan base that doesn't exactly seem overconfident right now (especially after that uninspiring effort against the Skins). At the very least, this should be a close game.

So you're thinking, "All right, cool, he's taking Carolina, I'm going with Seattle." Well, hold on a second. I finally figured out why the Panthers are killing me. Eddie from Charlotte, N.C., explains:

"How can you not figure out this Panthers gambling curse? You said it yourself in today's column -- they've been beating you since the Super Bowl two years ago. What happened a few days before that game? You and Kimmel's cousin pulled that prank on the Panthers kicker [at Media Day]. You even wrote about it and were all happy with yourselves. A few days later, he kicked the ball out of bounds and gave your Pats the ball at the 40 for the game-winning drive. If you hadn't screwed with him, maybe he wouldn't have screwed up -- the karma gods have been paying you back ever since. You deserve it you [expletive]."

Call it the Curse of John Kasay. And since we have that settled, I'm breaking it this weekend -- the Panthers are covering that +3.5 in Seattle and winning the game outright. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

The final picks: Pittsburgh 24, Denver 16 ... Carolina 21, Seattle 18.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available on and in bookstores everywhere.