ATLANTA - OCTOBER 03: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 and Tony Gonzalez #88 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate after their 16-14 win over the San Francisco 49ers at Georgia Dome on October 3 2010 in Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Place your bets for the NFL's Week 5. Only if it's legal, of course.
Sometimes you have to admit, "Ok, fine, I'm not better than this."
A couple years ago, I bought an Atlanta Falcons helmet, intending to cover it in player autographs. I was soon to move into a new office, and wanted to create a "local sports" vibe to it. And I've done just that with, among other things, a Herschel Walker painting, framed Chipper Jones jersey, and the helmet, slathered with silver-penned signatures ranging from starters to back-ups to a few never-made-it training camp cuts (I tried to avoid this, but man, I really thought Von Hutchins would make the team last year).
As cool as it looks sitting on that shelf -I can catch it in my peripherals right now - it doesn't take the sting out of feeling like a damn dork every time I ask for a signature. On Tuesday night, I attended a Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser with about 20 Falcons players. It was billed as a "get pictures and autographs" event, so I toted my helmet along, wanting to fill the few remaining spots. Of course, I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, hiding it in a duffel bag 99% of the time, fooling exactly 0% of the people there.
"Hey man, do you mind signing this?" Even typing the words makes me queasy. Because, I know, autographs are so damn stupid. You're asking a person, in my case a person likely 10 years younger, to write down their name. That's it. How moronic is that? And yet, knowing that full well, there was still a thrill when I saw Matt Ryan scribble his name, accompanied by "#2." I can't explain it. I should be better than this, but I'm not.
(Short aside: there are some things I AM better than. I am better than making small talk as the signature is being applied. Please listen, people I overheard on Tuesday: the players don't need strategic suggestions. They aren't going to reveal game plans. And, in poor Erik Coleman's case, he doesn't need to update his injury status every 30 seconds. My dorkdom is limited to a quick "Do you mind? Thanks." And that's all it needs to be.)
Anyway, my helmet is now full, resting comfortably until somebody steals it. And that's fine - no matter how dumb I felt getting it signed, nobody else remembers the moment but me. Except now I'm chasing the dragon - there will be new draft picks next year, free agents acquisition, I still haven't met Coach Smith, and a player-signed, framed print of the new-look Georgia Dome would look perfect behind my desk. Dammit.
Atlanta (-3) @ Cleveland. Friday's lunch was spent at a bar because, hey, I'm a professional. ESPN was running a presumably contractually obligated feature on the Browns, and coach Eric Mangini was talking about his quarterback situation. I ever-so-paraphrase: "Well, yeah, Jake Delhomme is still suffering from a high ankle sprain. Hurts a lot. But hell, he's better than any of the other bedpans we have on the roster, so he's starting. Go team!" It was at this moment I became fully confident in a Falcons victory. PICK: Atlanta
Denver @ Baltimore (-7). Joe Flacco has yet to enter my Circle of Trust. Then again, Denver's backfield of Laurence Maroney (11 carries for five yards last week) and Correll Buckhalter isn't exactly setting the shorts a'flame. Let's just hope for some Tim Tebow-meets-Ray Lewis time. PICK: Baltimore
Jacksonville @ Buffalo (-1). The line has shifted a few points toward the Bills this week, meaning a lot of gamblers presume Buffalo is going to finally win. A few points: 1) What kind of degenerate junkie is betting on this game in the first place? 2) No, really, how much of a desperate lowlife are you to think, "I might have to physically bend my satellite dish to find the game on TV, I can't name 10 people on the field, my God it will be awful, but here's five hundy on Ryan Fitzpatrick's arm!" 3) As evidenced by their win over the Colts, Jacksonville isn't totally terrible. 4) The Jags won't suffer because of typical Buffalo frigidity - it's expected to be in the mid-60s at kickoff. 5) The Bills just jettisoned Marshawn Lynch this week to rely on a raw C.J. Spiller, while Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew is at the height of his 2010 health. 6) I still can't get past those first two. PICK: Jacksonville
Chicago @ Carolina (-1 1/2). Those allergic to douchebags should not come within 500 miles of Charlotte on Sunday - this game is going to be toxic. Seriously, Jay Cutler vs. Jimmy Clausen; the Panthers could resign Rae Carruth, and the QBs would still be the least likable people on the field. PICK: Chicago
Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-7). Having the lone undefeated record after four weeks apparently doesn't mean much in Vegas. The oddsmakers figure a home-comforted Peyton Manning won't flinch in the face of the KC defense, even if it hasn't allowed more than 14 points to any opponent. And they probably have a point, considering those opponents are a combined 3-9. PICK: Indianapolis
St. Louis @ Detroit (-3). A note from a very odd year: St. Louis/Detroit has a good shot at being the most entertaining game of Week 5. The not-that-bad Lions trying to get their first win in front of a home crowd, the continued story of Sam Bradford, the Rams going for a 3-game winning streak for the first time in four years - and there's even a revenge factor, as Detroit's ineptitude was the only thing between St. Louis going 1-15 and 0-16 in 2009. PICK: Detroit
Tampa Bay @ Cincinnati (-6 1/2). I know he's polarizing, but Chad Ochocinco's Twitter stream about his pregnant pigeon was some of the funniest stuff I read this week. Can't help but like him. PICK: Tampa Bay
Green Bay (-2 1/2) @ Washington. Eh, so I guess this qualifies as Sunday's feature game? There isn't a single matchup in Week 5 between two teams with winning records, so this will have to do - big teams, big names, big aspirations. And, taking a stab here, some big ol' sloppy football ahead. I'm not sure this game will reveal anything about either team. PICK: Washington
NY Giants @ Houston (-3). "Eli's coming!" Yep, the two least frightening words you'll hear in the NFL all year. The Texans ride high. PICK: Houston
New Orleans (-7) @ Arizona. Max Hall will be the starting quarterback for Arizona on Sunday. The Cardinals have beat a rookie QB in his first start, and a woeful Raiders team by a single point. In their other two games, the ones against legit teams, they've lost by a combined 82-17. Max Hall will be the starting quarterback for Arizona on Sunday. Did I mention Max Hall? PICK: New Orleans
San Diego (-6) @ Oakland. California love. More specifically, I'd love California to sink into the ocean. (Get Alison Brie out first, please.) PICK: Oakland
Philadelphia @ San Francisco (-3). At some point in the NFL season, I'll go through an entire weekend schedule and not be reminded of baseball. We ain't there yet, however, and it's pretty easy to see why: these are two cities I want to see in pain. At the moment, ESPN Radio is still crowing about Tim Lincecum's "masterful" Game 1 performance against the Braves, and it's enough to make me want to shake that little hippie until he pukes on an umpire's face. And that's the G-rated version of what would've gone on Twitter last night had I, maybe, one more beer. It was close. (Let's save the completely rational violent impulses against the Phillies until next week.) PICK: Philadelphia
Minnesota @ NY Jets (-3 1/2). The Jets were 4-point favorites on Monday morning, which means Randy Moss is worth a lone half-point. And actually that seems about right, as there has to be some sort of learning curve in play. As a Falcons fan, the Moss trade isn't exactly welcome news, but I'm starting to think the Minnesota's complete implosion is already fated. PICK: NY Jets
Last week: 5-9-0 (ouch)