When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an NFL offensive lineman. I’m not sure why. I was skinny as hell, and, like most Canadian Jewish boys, mainly liked baseball and hockey. Yet I rooted for the Chiefs—again, I don’t know why—and dreamed of being a fat man who got paid to crash up against other fat men.
Harry, my co-author, thinks wanting to be an offensive lineman is like looking up to Chet, the chubby, useless sidekick of the Hardy Boys. But to me it makes sense. I didn’t want to be a quarterback since I couldn’t throw, and I didn’t like running unless it was in the open field. I didn’t have a brother to play catch with but I was always shoving my sister. Later, when I was in high school, I dug that the guards in Any Given Sunday listened to heavy metal before games.
I remain attached to the position, mostly since offensive linemen are the most valuable commodity in the league. If your line sucks, your team sucks. If a good team’s line gets broken up in the offseason, its running backs lose their legs, the quarterback loses his poise in the pocket, and the coach loses his job. (That happened with Seattle after Steve Hutchison left.) Back in the 90s, Mike Shanahan recognized the importance of his offensive line—he wouldn’t let his linemen talk to the media as a form of “bonding” and joked that his big fellas sat in first class on every team flight. Between Michael Lewis’s all-about-the-line book Blind Side and tackle Joe Thomas skipping the 2007 draft, in which he went third overall, to go fishing with his dad, my 11-year-old self has been proven right—this was a position for pimps.
In reality, there’s nothing dreamy about being an offensive lineman. The naïve part of me that still worships the idea of being paid American money to shove people is offset by offensive linemen’s concussion rates, which are some of the highest in football. It’s depressing to think that the people who are working the job I dreamed about may be in walkers, or worse, in 20 years time. Football is a bummer.
Indianapolis (-3) at Jacksonville
I was going to get on my high horse and talk about how bad these teams were and har har what a travesty it is that this game will be shown to all of America tonight when you could just watch a couple of kids hitting old tires with baseball bats and be just as entertained—but then I realized that the Colts are 5-3. Andrew Luck hasn’t been great statistically, but he’s been good enough in key spots, and the team has rallied around coach Chuck Pagano, who has leukemia, shaving their heads in a show of support. Maybe those things make teams better and more motivated? I think my heart just grew three sizes.
Buffalo (+11) at New England
If you like Buffalo or football or sportswriting, you should read this long piece by Ben Austin on Grantland. It’s about the city—which is going through something of an economic revival—and its irrational, almost tragic love for the Bills. Residents are so obsessed with the Bills that a lot of fans still wear Zubaz on game day just because those garish pants were big back in the early 90s, when the Bills were really good and went on that improbable, upsetting run of four Super Bowl appearances in a row without a championship. Zubaz, to be clear, are these things:
PICK: New England
New York Giants (-4) at Cincinnati
If you were betting on this game and taking the advice of this column—which would be FUCKED UP. What are you doing with your life?—you might be interested to know that the Giants are 1-4-0 against the spread at home and 3-0-1 on the road.
San Diego (+3) at Tampa Bay
So Buccaneers safety Ahmad Black got caught with some weed in his car. He’ll play on Sunday, but he might get suspended or fined by the league down the line because it’s OK for him to smash dudes on a field but not to smoke a plant that makes him feel good. (BLAH BLAH TAX AND LEGALIZE IT! RON PAUL ETC.) The worst part about this kind of story is the sportswriters who moralize about it. Tampa Bay Times writer Tom Jones wasted no time wagging his finger at Ahmad: “First off, nothing good happens when you're out at two in the morning,” Jones wrote. FALSE, ASSHOLE. Have you been out at two in the morning? It’s usually a lot of fun. Newspaper columnists just hate it when athletes party because they think everyone should spend their nights like they do: Sitting at home watching golf and waiting for their wives to go to sleep so they can masturbate.
PICK: San Diego
Denver (-4) at Carolina
This probably doesn’t come up a whole lot, but what if a kicker has to poop when he has to go out on the field to attempt a field goal? That has to affect his performance, right? I guess they probably don’t eat before games for that very reason.
Tennessee (+6) at Miami
When I was in ninth grade I remember finding this really poorly designed blog (full-color backgrounds, yellow text, etc.) that was all about this guy’s supposed emotional and sexual relationship with dolphins. He fucked dolphins! Naturally, my friends and I debated whether this blog was real, a hoax, or some sort of weird erotica. I can’t find this blog now, but there are a lot of people on the internet who talk about fucking dolphins. One guy even wrote a book about it. So yeah, bringing this kind of thing up is a good way to derail conversations about the Miami Dolphins.
Oakland (+7.5) at Baltimore
Baltimore is 6-2, but if you look at some stats—score differential, Football Outsiders’ fancy numbers—you might come to the conclusion that they aren’t quite as “heavy metal” as ESPN says they are. So basically I’m saying fuck Baltimore, it is a horrible place to live, the people from there all sell drugs or are drug addicts, Joe Flacco likes little boys, and David Simon is a boring old fart. Fuck you.
Atlanta (-2.5) at New Orleans
Roddy White thinks the Falcons can go 16-0, but he also is on record saying Joe Paterno was a good guy.
PICK: New Orleans
Detroit (-2) at Minnesota
Here’s my favorite line from Paper Lion, George Plimpton’s essential book about playing quarterback with the team: “Everything fine about being a quarterback—the embodiment of his power—was encompassed in those dozen seconds or so: giving the instructions to ten attentive men, breaking out of the huddle, walking for the line, and then taking a bath in the middle of the field like a common Dutchman. Still, I couldn’t help but be impressed. After all, he was my father.” Why don’t people write like this anymore?
New York Jets (+6) at Seattle
Check out this EXCLUSIVE video of the Jets practicing I found:
Dallas (-1.5) at Philadelphia
Mike “Mad Dog Would Be an Inappropriate Nickname for Him” Vick is having a bad time. Last week, with the score still close, he threw an interception that got returned 99 yards for a touchdown, while his ne’er-do-well brother bitched about the Eagles on Twitter. Meanwhile, ESPN is acting like Andy Reid is already fired. Compared to that mess, the Cowboys are a model franchise.
St. Louis (+11.5) at San Francisco
This week’s BEHIND THE STATS breaks down a critical NFC West game in terms a non-expert can understand. The Rams suck at everything.
PICK: San Francisco
Houston (+1) at Chicago
This will be a great contest between two of the best teams in the league, so it deserves a video preview:
Kansas City (+12) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers’ owner is also the US ambassador to Ireland. I bet he gets loaded over there sometimes and tries to explain football to bemused Irishmen at the pub using the materials at hand: “See, this glass is the quarterback, these salt and pepper shakers are the offensive line, here comes the rush! Shit. OK, that’s a sack, I guess. Can someone come clean up the broken glass? Fuck. Now, say this glass is a receiver…”
PICK: Kansas City
Previous Week's Record: 7-6-1
Overall record: 67-59-6
Previously: Keep It Simple, Stupid Football Guys