By Bill Simmons
Page 2

I grew up disliking the Yankees. Maybe I didn't have much of a choice growing up in Massachusetts, but much of that dislike happened organically, thanks to a bench-clearing brawl in '76 in which Mickey Rivers and Graig Nettles teamed up to separate Bill Lee's shoulder and give him a black eye, followed by the Boston Massacre and the Dent homer two years later. That antipathy has been part of my life ever since. I enjoy disliking the Yankees. I love watching them lose. When the Tigers upended them a few weeks ago, I was almost embarrassed how happy the whole thing made me, to the point that I decided against writing about it. I actively dislike them.

And sure, I've had other sports flings with extreme dislike: the Dolphins and Sixers in the early '80s; the Pistons and Lakers in the mid-'80s; the Canadiens in the late '70s; the Jets in the late '90s; the Penguins in the early '90s (right before I quit following the Bruins); Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito in the late '70s; and about 20 different broadcasting teams that I'm not allowed to mention. But you know who else cracks that list?

The Manning-era Colts, that's who.

Every year, I dislike them a little bit more. I'm tired of seeing them, tired of reading about them, tired of hearing about them. Seeing their white and blue uniforms puts the same sneer on my face that Nicholson had when he saw Cruise's JAG outfit at Guantanamo Bay. Getting constantly bombarded by those insufferable Manning commercials makes me want to throw my remote against the wall. And after seeing him choke like Aurora Snow against Pittsburgh last January, I thought everyone would realize he was the A-Rod of football, someone who couldn't deliver in the clutch, someone who routinely shrunk from the pressure. How many more seasons of evidence did we need?

Of course, with the Colts undefeated through eight weeks, the same crap has started up again. Manning is the best quarterback ever. The Colts are unstoppable. On and on it goes. Nobody seems to care that their front seven can't stop anyone, or that January football is completely different that regular-season football. The whole thing gives me a headache. Even worse, everyone's lack of historical perspective has been more skewed than ever: Like Phil Simms remarking during the tail end of Indy's victory in Denver, "over on the sideline, you've got two of the best clutch players in NFL history in Adam Vinatieri and Peyton Manning." Um ... what?????? What planet is this? And to think, I used to defend Phil Simms. I don't even know how to react to a statement like that; Simms could have called Manning "one of the greatest African-American quarterbacks of all-time" and it wouldn't have been any less perplexing.

Here's what you missed this week from the Sports Guy:

Memories of Red
To a Celtics fan, losing Red Auerbach -- the soul of the franchise -- is like losing a family member.

• 2007 NBA Preview
Before he picks the next NBA champ, Bill Simmons has 33 reasons you should be intrigued by the new season.

• Beat The Sports Guy
Week 9: Raiders at Seahawks

Meanwhile, here's Tom Brady and his three Super Bowl rings. He's never had a top-10 receiver on his team. He's never had a top-10 tight end on his team. He's never had an elite runner except for Corey Dillon in 2004. His receivers leave for other teams and completely fall off the face of the earth. During his first Super Bowl season, he survived a QB controversy with local hero Drew Bledsoe and the loss of his only deep threat (Terry Glenn). Two summers ago, his offensive coordinator fled for Notre Dame and the team didn't even bother spending money to replace him. This season, they lowballed his top two receivers, pushed them out the door, then expected Brady to break in a new group of guys as the season was going on. And the guy just keeps winning. Out of all the must-win games over the years, he came up short only in Denver last January.

And obviously, I'm horribly biased on this subject. But after everything that's happened since 2001, for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would ...

A. Take Manning over Brady in a big game.
B. Even bring this topic up.

It's perplexing. It's completely illogical. It's like standing in front of a used car dealership looking for something reliable for a cross-country trip, having the oily salesman tell you, "The car on the left won't knock your socks off, but it will definitely make it to the West Coast, while the car on the right is more fun to drive, but there's a 99 percent chance it will break down somewhere around Arizona or Nevada," then saying, "Screw it, I'll take my chances with the car on the right."

If I wasn't a diehard Pats fan, I'd write about this subject more often because it's one of those debates that gets to the heart of sports. What REALLY matters here? Would you rather have the guy with great stats or the guy who comes through when it matters? And if you'd go with the guy with the great stats, why even play these games in the first place?

For instance, there's been a revisionist movement over the past 20-25 years from basketball writers (mostly statheads) arguing that Chamberlain was better than Russell, which is completely absurd. Ask anyone who watched basketball then and they all say the same things: Russell wouldn't be denied in big games, while Chamberlain consistently shrunk from the moment. Wilt was obsessed with individual stats, while Russell was obsessed with team play and doing everything possible to make his teammates better. (Note: If you ever want to read a decent book about Wilt-Russell, check out "The Rivalry" by John Taylor, and if you ever want to read a great piece about Russell's obsession with winning, check out the chapter in "Second Wind" called "Teammates.") That's why Russell won 11 titles in 13 years, and that's why Wilt was the centerpiece of as many titles as trades: two.

Look, I'd never be dumb enough to compare Manning to someone as famously selfish as Wilt. But his playoff track record is eerily similar to Wilt's before the '67 season -- right down to the lack of titles and the boatload of excuses -- and if you really want to get technical, you could argue that Wilt's Philly team beat Boston in '67 only because it was Russell's first year as player-coach, he didn't have any assistants, and he would always lose track of how long people had been playing and forget to bring back his best players into games (something Taylor's book covers really well -- Philly didn't win the title that season as much as Red and the Celtics gave it away by mistakenly thinking Russell could handle his player-coach role without any help). Whether Manning enjoys his version of Wilt's '67 season remains to be seen. But how can we keep comparing a player who repeatedly comes up big to a player who repeatedly does not?

Chris in Allston, Mass.: "Is every Tiki Barber fantasy owner as pissed as I am for the existence of Brandon Jacobs? How is it possible that the NFL's leading rusher DOESN'T HAVE A RUSHING TD? No offense to the people who mistakenly took Culpepper this season, but everyone who took Tiki Barber as their starting RB has to be ready to kill themselves, kill Tom Coughlin for ruining Barber's fantasy stats, or kill Brandon Jacobs. I have never prayed for someone to blow out an ACL before, but it's becoming my only option."

Joe in Chicago: "Considering all the bad things that have happened to Roethlisberger since he won the Super Bowl, don't you think he would be a better fit to star in "Day Break" than Taye Diggs? Every day is the same but different things keep happening to me!"

Jason from Manassas, Va.: "Granted, good teams are supposed to blow out bad teams, but the Bears haven't been tested once. I absolutely loathe the way the media has just handed them the NFC path to the Super Bowl. I swear, they're the NFL's version of Notre Dame. Hey, let's play one or two tough games a year, and have everyone stroke us until we get to the playoffs and lose miserably. They've played six of the 10 worst teams in the league, beat up an RB-less Seattle team and should have lost to the Vikes and Cards. But they WERE who we THOUGHT they were!"

Ben from Woodstock, Ga.: "You've joined the group of idiots who want to give Michael Vick no credit. Who cares if he doesn't have the best passer rating? Who cares if he doesn't throw four touchdowns a game? Atlanta certainly doesn't. We're OK with running over teams. He's got the sixth best winning percentage among active QBs. Isn't this the more important stat? Fantasy stats don't matter, the number of pass yards doesn't matter, the number of touchdown passes doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the scoreboard. Say what you want about Vick, but what I get to say to many of the idiots who trash Vick is: SCOOOOREBOAARD!"

Dave in Chicago: "There are some times when I feel really really white. When I'm driving in my car listening to Steely Dan. When I read Harpers magazine. And when I see the N.Y. Giants shooting jump shots all over the field. What exactly are they doing? It makes my head hurt, and reminds me that I couldn't jump over the Saturday paper."

The ongoing debate (and the inanity of it) makes me dislike the Colts a little more every year. Which is a good thing. I like having rivals. I like having opponents to actively dislike. And now we're at the point where I don't just want the Pats to win on Sunday night, I want to destroy the Colts. I want to see their hearts get ripped out. I want to see Manning limping off the field with his chin strap dangling and one of those dumb looks on his face where he looks like a psychiatric-ward patient who was just heavily sedated after he hit someone over the head with a metal chair. I want to see them leave Foxborough with everyone saying, "Yup, we're idiots, we forgot that you shouldn't go against Brady in a big game" and "God, I'm dumb, I forgot that you can't beat a great team in a big game if you can't stop the run."

All of this would make me happy. Really, really happy. As weird as this sounds, I'd like to thank Manning and the Colts, as well as everyone who keeps blowing smoke up their butts. You're making sports more fun for me. It's always fun to have a team you actively dislike. In my case, I have two. So thank you.

Two more extended notes on the game:

1. It's interesting that Red Auerbach was laid to rest during the same week that Adam Vinatieri arrives in New England, since Belichick's unwillingness to keep the most clutch kicker alive was eerily similar to something that happened 30 years ago, right after Boston beat Phoenix for the '76 title: At the time, Paul Silas was the soul of the Celtics team, a terrific rebounder and locker room leader who controlled the boards with Dave Cowens in every big game. In fact, they could have won four straight titles if not for Havlicek's separated shoulder ('73) and a random Bullets player named Nick Weatherspoon catching fire and having the series of his life ('75).

So Silas became a restricted free agent and wanted a multiyear contract for market value. And here's where Red made a rare mistake: Instead of shifting with the times and admitting, "All right, the financial climate has changed a little bit here thanks to the ABA merger, I need to take care of this guy," he stubbornly stuck to his "Nobody will make more money than the best guy on my team" policy (in this case, Havlicek), even though Cowens and Havlicek were begging him to pay Silas the money. So what happened? Red traded Silas to Denver in a three-way deal that got him Curtis Rowe (a shaky character guy), Boston quickly fell from a perennial contender to an also-ran, and poor Cowens was so disillusioned, he actually took a 40-game leave of absence that season and ended up driving a cab around Boston. (Imagine if Gilbert Arenas did that?)

Four years later, Red was faced with a similar decision when Larry Bird (who the Celtics drafted as a junior-eligible in the '78 draft) finished his senior year at Indiana State. They had something like five weeks to sign him before his name was placed back in the '79 Draft, and Bird's agent was asking for something like $3 million over five years. Just like with Silas, Red pulled his whole "Nobody's making more money than my best player" (in this case, Cowens) routine. Both sides dug in. Then, something weird happened: Red caved. He gave Bird the money. The rest was history. And I'm not sure this would have happened if Red hadn't blown Silas' situation a few years before.

Now we're looking at a similar situation with the Patriots. Belichick and Pioli adamantly stuck to their model for building a team -- they evaluate what each Patriot is worth in their minds, determine his probable value on the open market and then, if the difference between those two figures is too significant, they jettison the player and find someone else. In the salary cap era, they've been the only team with the resolve to stick to their guns EVERY TIME, without fail. And any time those two figures didn't mesh, they either traded the player or allowed him to leave: like Damien Woody, Patten and Givens, Joe Andruzzi, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Christian Fauria, Tebucky Jones and, most famously, Deion Branch a few weeks ago.

Hey, I'm fine with that model. I love when front offices use common sense to build a team; I especially love when they stick to a specific game plan and avoid being pressured by owners, fans, media members or anyone else. It's the single hardest thing to achieve in sports -- a stable front office with definitive goals that can't be swayed by anyone or anything. You can count the number of professional teams that pulled this off over the past 10 years on one hand.

And with that said ...

They screwed up with Vinatieri.

A hearty thanks to everyone who wrote in about Red Auerbach and Monday's column. Much appreciated. Some of the e-mails were extremely nice. Anyway, needed to clarify a couple of things from that column and Wednesday's NBA Preview:

1. I screwed up the timeline for John Y. Brown's sale of the Celtics. He actually acquired the team by swapping his Buffalo franchise with Celtics owner Irv Levin, who moved the Braves to San Diego. The following year, Red used an offer from the Knicks to turn public sentiment against Brown, who ended up selling his share to co-owner Harry Mangurian.

2. The "Swedish guy" on the Bulls (Thabo Sefolosha) is actually Swiss. And the Swiss are FURIOUS that I mixed them up. All right, not really.

3. In the sidebar with my West picks, I forgot that they changed the seedings this summer (top-four teams by record, with the worst division winner being no lower than fourth). So we fixed that and the ensuing matchups, with the Spurs still beating the Clips in the Finals. Also, the Suns were supposed to have 50 wins (not 54) but I screwed that up somehow. Oh, well.

4. I made fun of Quentin Richardson's "weight gain" ... but after seeing him again on a bigger TV, it looks like it's muscle as well as fat. His arms are ripped. It's hard to to tell where the muscle ends and the fat begins. Eddy Curry, however, is still very fat.

It wasn't about the money, either. He's one of the greatest Patriots ever. Out of the 12 greatest kicks in NFL history, he probably made four of them. He was our version of Mo Rivera; we wouldn't have won a single title without him, much less three. So to belittle his contributions by sticking the franchise tag on him for a couple of seasons, then allowing him to explore his market value and sign with your biggest rival ... I just thought the whole thing was preposterous, and when you factor in the team's copious amounts of cap space right now, it's even crazier. You let one of the most famous Patriots ever leave the team over a few hundred thousand dollars? Really? And why did Vinatieri seem so dead set on leaving, to the point he was reportedly saying goodbye to everyone after last January's game, like he knew he wasn't coming back?

Now we're halfway through the season and the Pats have openly avoided using their new kicker, rookie Stephen Gostkowski, including a bizarre instance last Monday when they were leading 31-7 late in the fourth quarter, had a fourth-and-5 on the Minnesota 31 and chose to go for it -- with Brady getting popped on the play -- over the rookie attempting a 49-yard kick in a dome. Inexplicable. One day before, Vinatieri had nailed the game-winner for the Colts in Denver, a 37-yarder that split the middle of the uprights like a sniper bullet, and after the kick went through, you could see the joy on Indy's sideline -- not that he made the kick as much as they knew he wasn't going to miss it.

Watching Manning celebrate on the sidelines while we were at my friend Jimmy's house, I made the perfect analogy that I can't use here because it's a family Web site, so I'll pass along the sanitized version: Manning looked like a guy who had just spent the past five years dating someone who never made him chocolate chip cookies, and now, he found himself dating a girl who made the best chocolate chip cookies in town. And the look on his face was like, "Woo hoo! I FORGOT HOW MUCH I LOVE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES! I'm gonna get chocolate chip cookies all the time!!! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!"

Well, you know what? This Pats-Colts rivalry was too tight over the years to even THINK about throwing them a bone like that. They knew the Colts were dumping Vanderjagt after what happened against Pittsburgh. They knew Vinatieri was the perfect replacement for two reasons: It wouldn't just help them, it would hurt New England. (Shades of the Damon signing.) But they stubbornly stuck to their guns, just like Red did with Silas 30 years ago.

Of course, Red learned from his mistake. We'll see if Belichick and Pioli learn from theirs.

2. On Wednesday afternoon, I made an appearance on Mike Felger's radio show back in Boston. Co-hosting with Felger was the Globe's Ron Borges, a Mariotti-like villain back home for his anti-Belichick columns and comments (and the way he revels in the attention). Everyone who complains about Borges fails to realize that he's doing it specifically so that they'll fuss and moan about him. It's 95 percent schtick and 5 percent residual bitterness because Belichick benched and eventually traded his best source on the team (Drew Bledsoe). And it's working. Boston Magazine even ran a profile of Borges in their current issue.

Anyway, Borges knows two things: football and boxing. So when they were asking me about the Pats-Colts matchup, I mentioned watching the Broncos-Colts game with Reche Caldwell eyes as Denver's running backs sliced and diced Indy's front seven. Home run-threat Tatum Bell never broke one, but their power guys (Mike Bell and Charlie Sapp) combined for 175 yards on 17 carries, mostly on carries right up the gut (where you can simply break the Colts, as Jacksonville showed a few weeks ago). What could Dillon and Maroney do against these guys? According to STATS Inc., out of the 219 rushes against the Colts this season, a whopping 119 went for four yards or more (52.9 percent, the highest in the league). It just seems logical that the Pats will run the ball as well as Denver did, only with a more dangerous passing game (thanks to Brady). Control the ball, keep Manning off the field, force two turnovers and you win. That's how teams have beaten the Colts every year. It's the perfect matchup for the Pats.

And as I was mentioning this, Borges agreed and even chimed in with a perfect boxing analogy: Back in the '70s, Frazier and Norton gave Ali fits, Foreman crushed Frazier and Norton, and Ali knocked out Foreman in Zaire. It was all about the matchups. Sound familiar? Under this scenario, Denver would be Frazier/Norton, the Colts would be Foreman, and the Pats would be Ali. If you really wanted to extend the comparison, the Chargers would be Earnie Shavers (a heavy puncher who scared everyone but never seemed to get it together), the Steelers would be Ron Lyle (only if Lyle had prevailed in the famous Foreman-Lyle fight, which surpassed last year's Colts-Steelers playoff game on the Roller Coaster Ride Scale), and the Raiders would definitely be Chuck Wepner. But you get the idea.

That's why I'm picking the Pats to knock out Indy in the eighth round. Pats 30, Colts 20. They're the Ali to Indy's Foreman.

(Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye!)

Before we get to the rest of the picks, here's a wacky stat: The underdogs are 60-49-5 against the spread this season. Out of those 60 dogs, 42 won outright. In the last three weeks, 20 of 24 underdogs covered and won those games outright, including 10 dogs getting five points or more (all +200 money lines or higher), and four of those 10 were getting seven points or more (all +250 lines or higher). For gambling purposes, this means two things. First, teasers and parlays have become exceedingly dangerous plays because you never know when you're about to get burned by a big dog. And second, anyone who's been banging underdog money lines has been making an out-and-out killing. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who does this. But I know many people who love teasers and parlays. In a related story, I typed this column without the use of my thumbs.

One more thing to watch: The Dolphins are an astonishing 0-7 against the spread. I have absolutely no proof of this, but I'm willing to bet that nobody ever finished an NFL season without covering a game. Sadly, there isn't a single Web site that keeps the recent history of NFL numbers against the spread (like a, but for gambling) so there's no way to research this.

And I guess my point is this: Could somebody create a Web site that features the recent history of NFL numbers against the spread? Come on, like you wouldn't spend time surfing through that site and remembering some of your favorite bets, looking at the line of the Music City Miracle game, seeing how many +9 or higher favorites won outright over the last 10 years, or even just spending 30 seconds to see if anyone ever went 0-16 against the spread? Isn't there one football nerd out there who could create this for me? Um, us?

Onto the rest of the Week 9 picks ...

The Sports Gal Speaks
Clippers games have been really fun since Sam Cassell showed up. This is our third year with season tickets and I was excited to see everyone again last night, especially Elton, Cuttino, Sam and the people who sit in our section. I also like the Kiss Cam -- I wish that was its own cable channel. But I'm most excited for the food. The food during baseball and basketball games tastes better than it does in any other setting. Here are my favorite foods at Clippers games. Please don't think I'm a fat pig, because I'm not.

4. Wetzel's Pretzels -- But only the "Sinfully Cinnamon" ones soaked in butter and cinnamon sugar. Really tasty and I support any food that's fun to say as well.

3. Hot dogs -- Usually at games, hot dogs are steamed, but these are grilled and have a little more consistency. Mmmmmm. After running the NYC marathon I stopped at every block for a hot dog on the way to the car.

2. McDonald's chocolate chip cookies -- People think I'm crazy when I tell them how delicious these gobs of chocolate gooeyness are. They're like NO OTHER chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, when you go to the real McDonald's they aren't as good -- although I did bring them to a friend's house for a party once and passed them off as my own. They were the first thing to go.

1. Popcornopolis -- Toasted caramel popcorn served in a giant paper cone -- and it's even better than it sounds. Bill and I always ask each other before games if you plan to journey to the land of Popcornopolis that night. Then Bill ruins it for me by saying "Popcornopolis" sounds like a deeply disturbing porno movie. He's disgusting.

Here are my picks for Week 9: KC +3; Ravens -3; Giants -13; Titans +10, Packers +4; Saints -1; Cowboys -3; Falcons -5; Bears -13.5; Vikings -5.5; Browns +12.5; Steelers -2; Pats -2.5; Seahawks -8.

Last week: 7-7
Season: 56-53-5

(Home Teams in Caps)

RAMS (-3) over Chiefs
The Chiefs beat the Chargers in Week 7. The Chargers killed the Rams in Week 8. So naturally, the Rams will beat the Chiefs in Week 9. It's been that kind of season.

Bengals (+3) over RAVENS
Remember the end of "Happy Gilmore," when Sandler makes that crazy putt off the fallen grandstand that ricochets off about 25 things? I'm waiting for Steve McNair to throw the football equivalent of that putt for a touchdown pass. He's caught every other possible lucky break this season. By the way, I'd like to think Chad Johnson for starting the mohawk trend; Al Harrington broke one out for the first Pacers game and even wore a headband over it. If this leads to a Ricky Davis mohawk, it will be like Christmas come early.

GIANTS (-13) over Texans
Two competing lines of reasoning here: (A) the terrifying thought of taking the Texans +13, then watching in horror as David Carr and/or Sage Rosenfels try to throw spirals in the howling winds of the Meadowlands, and (B) the Giants possibly going Milton Berle on us because they play the Bears next week. You got me. Just remember, I haven't picked a Giants game correctly all season.

Titans (+10) over JAGS
Thanks to Jack Del Rio for benching Leftwich for Garrard last week about three hours after we posted last week's column that included points like, "Byron Leftwich is single-handedly killing the Jags" and "Take the Eagles over the Jags." And yes, this is a total spite pick.

BUCS (+1) over Saints
In their last 17 games as a home dog, Tampa is 14-2-1 against the spread. Intriguing. By the way, what were the odds that the Saints would have the offensive Rookie of the Year, only that person would not be named "Reggie Bush?" 25,000-to-1? 200,000-to-1? A million to one?

Packers (+3) over BILLS
Only because I'm excited for the whole "the Packers are 4-4, Favre is back" scenario that I spelled out last week.

Hey, speaking of aging icons who need to hang it up, how 'bout Bob Barker announcing his retirement this week?!?!?!?!? We lose Red Auerbach, Mr. Eko and Bob Barker in the same week? I can't wait for the week to be over. Anyway, I have three thoughts on this one ...

1. Replacing Bob Barker is going to be like replacing Dean Smith or Vince Lombardi ... why even try? They could replace him with Jerry Seinfeld and people wouldn't be happy. It's a disaster in the making. Just cancel the show. It's the only way.

2. Two years ago, my parents were visiting and we had dinner at a restaurant in Santa Monica ... and wouldn't you know it? Bob was eating about three tables away with three other people who looked to be a combined 350 years old. So when the check came, Bob handled the check, only he noticed something that seemed off, so he called the waiter over and the two of them spent about 30 seconds going over something in the bill. And the whole time, my family was restraining me from screaming stuff like, "Lower! Lower!" and "I'm telling you, the price is NOT right!" And you wonder why I still live in California.

3. My buddy Gus and I have had a running joke since forever -- any time someone dies, retires or gets traded who meant something to the other guy, we'll either call or e-mail just to ask, "How was the So-and-So Era for you?" And usually, that's followed by a response like, "It was great -- thoroughly enjoyed it" or "A little disappointing, I really thought he would be an All-Star." So here was Gus' response to my "How was the Bob Barker Era for you?" e-mail last week, which somehow summed everything up:

"It's in my top five all-time eras. I mean who gave me more enjoyment than that guy? I scheduled college classes around being able to watch the show. He could make the putt every time. He had the beauties and he showed men everywhere that going gray was not a big deal. He and Gene Rayburn made the long mic fashionable well after most hosts gave it up. He was funny and charming. Quite an era, indeed."

(Of course, I would have added, "And he even banged a couple of the Showcase models in his '70s!" ... but Gus is much classier than me.)

LIONS (+5) over Falcons
I know there's a movement afoot to cancel the rest of the season, give Vick the MVP trophy and hand the Super Bowl to the Falcons ... but can we see them take care of business in a game they're supposed to win first? Thanks.

BEARS (-13.5) over Dolphins
Joey Harrington on the road in Chicago? Come on. The real question: Has there even been anything like Chris Chambers basically running 75 wind sprints every Sunday for five straight years while his QBs bounced the ball in front of him or sailed passes over his head? For all we know, Chambers might be one of the five greatest receivers of all-time. Is there a way to simulate how his career would have unfolded playing on the Colts?

Cowboys (-3) over REDSKINS
Number of Dallas readers who e-mailed me some form of a "We're turning into a city of Romosexuals!" joke last week: between 75 and 100. And here's a salient question from Connor in Texas: "Is there a more awkward moment in sports television than having to watch networks repeatedly show the 'recently benched starting quarterback who has to act like he is still cheering for the team?' Kurt Warner used to be the king of this glorious camera time, but it appears as though Drew Bledsoe will be taking the throne very soon. There has got to be a real-life equivalent of this ... "

Come on, that's easy: the real-life equivalent is a buddy is meeting the new boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend, followed by pleasantries being exchanged and then the new boyfriend standing there with the Bledsoe-on-the-sidelines look. Anyway, I'm glad you brought this up. Since Tony Romo is good enough that it's conceivable he could save the Cowboys season, I have an announcement to make: If Dallas ends up making the playoffs, I'm changing the name of the Ewing Theory to the Bledsoe Theory.

49ERS (+5.5) over Vikings
This has all the makings of the Upset Special: San Fran 24, Minnesota 14. By the way, I bought a 36-inch Sony TV in 1997, the same year my roommate Ricky and I bought a cable box from a guy named Big Al (for details, check out my book). I can't even fathom how many hours this TV has logged over the years, yet we've never had to bring it in to get fixed. Not once. It's like the Cal Ripken Jr. of TVs. Right now, it's in my bedroom and making a weird hissing noise when I turn it on, although the noise eventually goes away. But the end is near. You can feel it. So watching Brad Johnson get crushed by the Pats on this same TV last Monday ... let's just say there was some symmetry there.

CHARGERS (-12.5) over Browns
I will no longer be picking against the Chargers at home.

Broncos (+2) over STEELERS
If Ben Roethlisberger tries to pick on Darrent Williams in this game ... well, that would be a little weird.

SEAHAWKS (-8) over Raiders
Check this week's edition of "Beat the Sports Guy" for gambling props for the worst Monday night game of the season. But I thought Seahawks fan Chris Nelson summed things up pretty well: "You know your season has gone horribly wrong when you're a fan of the defending NFC champions and you find yourself uttering the following sentence on a Friday afternoon: 'Hey, Damon Huard got hurt in practice, we might have a chance to win this weekend!'"

(As for my favorite moment of last week's Monday night game, I'll take Michele Tafoya finishing up her interview with Warren Moon on the sidelines, followed by the camera accidentally staying on them for a few more seconds, then both of them loosening up and a smiling Moon leaning into Tafoya for a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Obviously they're just friends, but that got me thinking -- if Moon had leaned in and french-kissed Tafoya there, would that have surpassed Namath-Kolber and Suzy Shuster asking "Was that one of the most satisfying dumps you've had?" as the greatest moment in sideline reporting history? I say yes.)

Last week: 6-8
Season: 52-57-5

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.