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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 4

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NFL WEEK FOUR: A 9-7 record in Week 3 is good but not great, but I'm tickled that two of my three upset picks (Seattle and Chicago) came through. A third in Oakland ended up sailing wide left. Also, being a Georgia boy, I don't mind that I muffed my Saints-Falcons prediction. I did say it would be "a close one," but forgot to specify "as close as kissin' cousins behind the barn door at a Labor Day barbecue." And that's close.

Woody has compiled a 27-21 overall record this season. Here we go for Week 4!

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N.Y. Jets (2-1) @ Buffalo (0-3)

This is the 99th regular-season meeting between these two long-time AFL/AFC rivals. Putting Buffalo’s league-worst offense (242 yards per game) up against New York’s defense is like, well, asking a bison to outrun a 747; it ain’t gonna happen. And when that big ol’ Jet airliner lands in Buffalo this Sunday, it’ll be the Bills playing the part of “The Joker.”

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: The Jets’ defense has allowed opponents to complete more than half their third-down attempts this season (23 of 43).

Click "more" to see my picks on the 13 other games in Week 4.

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Seattle (2-1) @ St. Louis (1-2)

The Rams earned a rare home win last week, their first in 15 attempts dating back to 2008. The Gold Horns remain at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 4 when some angry-looking Seahawks swoop in from the northwest. Is the spirit back in Saint Louis? Although the Ocean Birds have won the last 10 games of this matchup, they’ve not shown enough to gain Woody’s confidence this year. Eyes will open all over the NFL when rookie QB Sam Bradford shows just how Ram tough he really is.

Woody’s Winner (in a mild upset): St. Louis

FACT: Rams kicker Josh Brown has been blocked twice in 8 FG attempts so far this season.

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Carolina (0-3) @ New Orleans (2-1)

With RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas hurting, this week’s stat line for Saints QB Drew Brees may be more impressive than usual, and that’s saying something. Of course, that’s only if New Orleans doesn’t jump out to an early, insurmountable lead – which is a distinct possibility. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 15 meetings against the team from Louisiana, but that means little to a team still smarting from a division loss at home last week against the Falcons. This Sunday at the Superdome, every quarter will be the French Quarter.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: Five fumbles by Carolina RBs this season have rendered the team last in the NFL in scoring, averaging only 10.7 points per game.

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Detroit (0-3) @ Green Bay (2-1)

Detroit RB Jahvid Best leads the NFL with 5 TDs this season (4 rushing, one receiving), but he won’t find any holes in the type of cheese that the Packers’ defense will be serving this Sunday afternoon. The Lions will smell like #2 until they manage to get their #1 QB, Matt Stafford, back on the field. Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley leads the NFC with 17 catches and 265 yards, but has yet to cross the goal line in 2010. QB Aaron Rodgers will rectify that this week, perhaps more than once.

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: Green Bay doesn’t believe in going for it on fourth down; they’re the only NFL offense yet to attempt one this season, and their defense has held opponents to 0-for-4 in fourth-down conversions.

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Cincinnati (2-1) @ Cleveland (0-3)

The Bengals’ high-risk, high-reward style has paid dividends this season, including a perfect 5-for-5 conversion rate on 4th-down attempts. They’ve also converted all 8 of their field goal attempts this season, including two from 50+ yards. Of course, I don’t expect Cincy to have too much trouble crossing the goal line in Cleveland, so none of that matters. The Battle for Ohio goes to the Tigers, who should have plenty in the tank to turn the Browns various shades of black and blue.

Woody’s Winner: Cincinnati

FACT: The Cleveland Browns have converted a league-low 1 of 3 field goal attempts in 2010.

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Baltimore (2-1) @ Pittsburgh (3-0)

Having won two straight road games, the Steelers sit all by their lonesome atop the AFC North. Pittsburgh’s first in-division matchup brings the Ravens to Heinz Field. As might be expected from two defense-focused clubs, the last five meetings between these teams have all been decided by fewer than 7 points. Which Joe Flacco will show up, the one who threw 4 interceptions in Week 2, or the one who threw 3 touchdowns in Week 3? The Raven QB will decide the game, and Woody predicts that he’ll be Joe Cool (or maybe Cold).

Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh

FACT: Pittsburgh’s offense has generated a league-low 12.7 first downs per game.

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Denver (1-2) @ Tennessee (2-1)

Because of scheduling quirks and realignment, Tennessee and Denver have only faced one another twice since the Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season. Injuries to Bronco running backs have kept the team from developing a rhythm this season, and they’ll need that stompin’ beat if they hope to headline in Nashville. A healthy dose of RB Chris Johnson up the gut will prove that folks in the Volunteer State know just how to deal with a bunch of wild horses.

Woody’s Winner: Tennessee

FACT: Denver leads the NFL this season with 350 passing yards per game.

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San Francisco (0-3) @ Atlanta (2-1)

Not all that long ago, the 49ers and Falcons battled each other twice a season in the NFC West, and San Francisco dominated. Since Atlanta moved to the NFC South in 2002, the Dirty Birds are a perfect 3-0 against the Red-and-Gold. San Francisco’s defense has allowed an NFC-worst 87 points this season, and their one-dimensional offense centers on RB Frank Gore, who leads the team in rushes and receptions. The Birds of Prey should swoop down on the hapless Gold Miners with enough speed to make them spit out their beans and coffee.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: Atlanta is back to winning games on the ground. The Falcons have run the ball 120 times so far this season, 34 more than the next-closest NFC team.

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Indianapolis (2-1) @ Jacksonville (1-2)

Through 3 games, the Jacksonville defense has allowed 16 passing plays of at least 20 yards. That’s a downright scary statistic considering that the team has to face Peyton Manning this week. The QB already has one 400-yard passing game this season, and an “Indy 500” isn’t out of the question. The Colts have shoes, so they don’t really need to change tires, but if they decide to do so, they’ll have Jax to make the job a whole lot easier.

Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis

FACT: Jacksonville is 4-4 on field goal attempts this year, all of them from 40+ yards.

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Houston (2-1) @ Oakland (1-2)

The Texans are 4-1 all-time vs. the Raiders, but Houston’s defense has allowed almost 7 yards per play, and their O-line has allowed 11 sacks over three games. This Sunday, Houston heads out to Oakland, whose kicking machine has been misfiring recently. Sebastian Janikowski is 2-for-6 on field goals of 40+ yards, and a miss last week cost the team a win at Arizona. The Men in Black will hold their own at home against the Schaub-Foster-Johnson trio, but won’t be able to pull out a W.

Woody’s Winner: Houston

FACT: Oakland has committed a league-leading 33 penalties this season for a league-leading 290 yards.

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Washington (1-2) @ Philadelphia (2-1)

The Eagles are 2-0 on the road but lost at home, so Michael Vick and his High-Fliers are hoping to treat the fans at Lincoln Financial to some Redskin Ragoût  in Week 3. Washington’s defense has allowed an NFL-most 424 yards per game this season, and that average isn’t going to shrink against the Philly offensive juggernaut. The Redskins seem to play well against strong teams but lose to weaker ones. Luckily for the City of Brotherly Love, their squad falls in the former category.

Woody’s Winner: Philadelphia

FACT: Washington has converted only 6 of 33 third-down attempts this season, for an NFL-worst 18 percent.

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Arizona (2-1) @ San Diego (1-2)

Down 17-0 last week after Seattle’s Leon Washington opened the second half with a 101-yard KO return for a touchdown, the Chargers fought back to tie the score. But then a second KO-return TD for Washington (this one only 99 yards) left San Diego with its second loss. Still, the Bolts’ offense leads the NFL with 461 yards a game, so victories are imminent. It would be a Cardinal sin to let Arizona’s winning record fool you, as their victories have come against St. Louis and Oakland. Expect the California Current Company to deal the Cards a bad hand in the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium this week.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: Malcom (yes, he spells it that way) Floyd has gained 240 yards on 12 receptions this season, each of them for a first down.

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Chicago (3-0) @ N.Y. Giants (1-2)

The Bears’ up-front defense has held opponents to only 2.1 yards per rushing attempt this season, and if they can keep that up against New York, they’ll force Eli Manning to throw the pigskin. This worries fans of the G-Men, since their QB has thrown 6 interceptions, succumbed to 7 sacks, and 2 lost fumbles so far in 2010. Unless he plays better, Goldilocks will end up clinging to Jack’s beanstalk as some fearsome Bears climb up and knock a few Giants out of the clouds.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Chicago

FACT: The Bears are the only NFC team yet to score a rushing touchdown this season.

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New England (2-1) @ Miami (2-1)

New England’s opponents are 4-of-4 on fourth-down conversions in 2010, and Miami is just the type of team to take advantage of that statistic. The Patriot defense is as spotty as a Dalmatian, and the Dolphins will spout enough water to put out the musket fire. It was a little over two years ago that the Fish unleashed the “Wildcat” formation on an unsuspecting bunch of Pats. It’ll be interesting to see what tricks they pull out of their blowholes on Monday Night Football.

Woody’s Winner (in a mild upset): Miami

FACT: The Pats lead the league with 90 points through 3 games, but they’ve needed every one of those scores, since their shaky defense has allowed 82 points during that span.

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BYE: Kansas City (3-0), Dallas (1-2), Minnesota (1-2), Tampa Bay (2-1)

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Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!

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Pop Culture
Evel Knievel, Insurance Salesman
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To his coworkers at the Combined Insurance Company of America in Chicago, he was just Bob. A few months shy of his 24th birthday and newly married, Bob was ambitious, charming, and sincere—all qualities company president W. Clement Stone valued in his salesmen. To push high-volume, short-term disability insurance, customers needed to trust their words. Bob Knievel could look a man in the eyes and tell him that $3 worth of insurance was money well spent, and they'd believe him.

Years later, when Bob adopted the Evel Knievel persona and made breaking his bones a spectator sport, his former colleagues would stare at their televisions in amazement. There went Bob, clearing 10 or 14 or 20 cars on a motorcycle. There lies Bob, a heap of fractured limbs that needed to be scraped off the pavement like chewing gum.

In the span of just a few short years, the best insurance salesman in his assigned district had become the most famous daredevil in the world.

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Born in Butte, Montana, in 1938, Robert Knievel stole his first motorcycle at the age of 13. Prone to delinquency and petty crime, he failed to get a high school diploma and instead entered the U.S. Army Reserves. By the time he was 19 years old, he was out of uniform and starting up a semi-pro hockey team, drawing crowds at local arenas and even playing Olympic hopefuls from the Czech Republic. (Knievel’s team lost 22-3.)

By 1960, any discernible skills beyond mediocre athleticism and amoral behavior weren’t quite ready to reveal themselves. Knievel struck upon the idea of becoming a merchant policeman in Butte, which was a fancy term for being a private security specialist. Knievel would approach businesses and promise he’d act as a kind of sentry, checking their locations for suspicious activity and thwarting any robbery or vandalism attempts.

What Knievel wouldn’t admit until much later was that he was frequently the perpetrator of that activity, breaking windows and robbing the registers of businesses that didn’t sign up for his services. It was his version of property insurance.

A few things conspired to redirect Knievel’s ambitions. He married Linda Bork in 1959, and the couple started a family. He also grew concerned that Butte authorities were close to catching up with his security monitoring scam. In the summer of 1962, Knievel decided to go straight and become a salesman for Combined Insurance.

The company’s district manager in Montana dispatched Knievel to Chicago, where he underwent a two-week training course in sales tactics endorsed by president W. Clement Stone. Stone had co-authored a book, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, and considered it his business gospel. The lessons were at the level of fortune cookies and free of cynicism (“Big doors swing on little hinges,” “Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will”) but Knievel never once rolled his eyes. He absorbed the strategies and hit the road back in his home state, prepared to sell the $3 policies and collect his 60 cents per signature.

Earning an honest living at that rate would require volume. So Knievel traveled to working-class towns and paid bars to allow him to set up an “office” in a booth, where he could catch the steady stream of farmers coming in for a drink. He stopped workers at a train repair station during lunch breaks, and preached the virtues of the payments Combined would offer in the event the insured had an accident. Sometimes he’d pass up the $3 and do barter trades, like when a rancher once offered to give him a lame horse.

If Knievel had a crowning moment in his gone-straight, suit-and-tie life, it was when he set a district record for the most policies sold in a single week. He had talked his way into a state mental hospital in Warm Springs, Montana, and sold coverage to the staff—and if company legend is to be believed, to many of the hospital's patients as well. Knievel logged 271 sign-ups that week.

For this, Knievel got an award and recognition; he was feted by company executives as an example of the can-do spirit their president endorsed. While he enjoyed the attention, what Bob really wanted was to occupy the office of the vice president. When Combined refused to promote him, he quit. Without advancement in sight, making a living out of a suitcase ceased to be appealing. Knievel wanted to do something else.

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After leaving Combined, Knievel returned to his rudderless lifestyle. He found work at a motorcycle shop in Wyoming and thought a good way to drum up business would be to hop on a bike and try to jump over a pit infested with rattlesnakes.

It was.

That then gave him the idea to jump greater distances, which eventually led to him convincing the operators of Caesars Palace that he could make the 150-foot jump over the fountains near the front entrance of their Las Vegas resort and casino. He didn’t make it, but footage of the 1967 wipeout was absolutely mesmerizing: Airborne one minute and tumbling on the ground the next, Knievel looked like a crash test dummy. Convalescing in the hospital with multiple broken bones, Knievel’s popularity soared. He became one of the most famous men in America in the 1970s, rivaled only by Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali.

Matt Tonning, one of Knievel’s former coworkers at Combined, was one of the millions of people who saw the footage. He was alarmed, but not because of the gruesome outcome. Over the years, Knievel had phoned Tonning to catch up and buy policies—10 in all, which was nine more than a salesperson was technically allowed to sell to any one person. Tonning liked Knievel so much that he usually just entered another salesman’s name to complete the transaction. The policies could not be canceled and covered any accident.

At no point did Knievel ever list his current occupation: daredevil.

Tonning was fired. When Knievel heard of his friend’s dismissal, he agreed to drop claims on nine of the policies.

If there were any hard feelings, Knievel never voiced them. He would later credit the unflinching optimism of Stone and his book as one of the key reasons he became a professional cheater of death. Staring up at the ramps that would launch him into the air, those sales lessons led him to believe he could make it—even when past experience proved otherwise.

Additional Sources: Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel.

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Lists
20 People You Didn't Know Were Southpaws
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Pernell Whitaker
Simon Bruty / Getty Images

The "southpaw advantage" is more than just a boxing superstition. Fighting with a dominant left hand has helped some of the sport’s fiercest competitors rise to the top of their class. Here are 20 boxers who assumed the southpaw stance.

1. PERNELL WHITAKER

Pernell Whitaker launched his career at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when he defeated Cuban fighter Luis Ortiz (a fellow southpaw) to take home the gold. As a professional he claimed the world champion title in four weight classes: lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight, and light middleweight. Popular boxing magazine The Ring declared him the best boxer in the world pound-for-pound for a period in the 1990s.

2. MANNY PACQUIAO

Manny Pacquiao in the boxing ring.
Sunil Grover, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the best boxers of the 21st century also may be the most famous southpaw of all time. The Filipino athlete has racked up numerous distinctions over his career: He’s the first and only eight-division world champion, the first boxer to earn the lineal title across four weight divisions, and the first to win 10 world championships in eight classes. After achieving all that, he took a break from boxing to become a senator in the Philippines.

3. MARVIN JOHNSON

Marvin Johnson made a name for himself at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where he won a bronze medal boxing for the U.S. team. After returning to the States, he broke into the professional circuit and gained a 43-6 record during his 15-year career. He told his local Indianapolis news station in a 2008 interview, "Not trying to sound boastful, but I would describe myself as one of the best in the ring during my time."

4. TIGER FLOWERS

Portrait of Tiger Flowers.
Topical Press Agency / Stringer / Getty Images

Theodore "Tiger" Flowers entered the professional boxing ring at a time when the sport was still segregated in America. He broke racial barriers in 1926 when he became the first black man to earn the world middleweight title. Flowers is also credited for helping make integrated audiences a more common sight at boxing matches.

5. RAFAEL LIMÓN

Born in Mexico in 1954, Rafael Limón won world titles in the super featherweight division. His performance in the ring earned him the volatile nickname “Bazooka.”

6. ADA VÉLEZ

Boxer Ada Velez in the ring.
Yuri Cortez / Getty Images

Ada Vélez became the first Puerto Rican boxer to secure a women's world boxing title in 2001. In this case, it wasn’t her southpaw that gave her the winning advantage—the champion she unseated, Kathy Williams, is also a leftie.

7. LEW TENDLER

He may have never won a world title, but that didn’t stop Lew Tendler from becoming a boxing legend. The athlete ascended to prominence in the 1920s, a golden age for boxing in the United States. Today he’s immortalized in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

8. YOUNG CORBETT III

Two boxers in the ring.

Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Born Ralph Giordano in Italy, Young Corbett III was most famous for holding the world welterweight title for a short stint in 1933. Of the 151 professional matches he fought in the 1930s and '40s, he came out victorious in 123.

9. CARMEN BASILIO

Portrait of Carmen Basilio.
Al Bello / Getty Images

Italian-American athlete Carmen Basilio is best known for his matches against boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson. He won the first of the storied fights in 1957. He was challenged to a rematch in 1958, and the second time, Robinson came out on top. After relinquishing his middleweight champion title to the victor, Basilio boxed only occasionally before retiring for good.

10. MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER

In 1987, Marvelous Marvin Hagler (his legal name) was the most formidable name in boxing. The American boxer was riding high on a seven-year reign as middleweight world champion, one of the longest streaks the class has ever seen. After defending his title 12 consecutive times, he made headlines for a different reason: losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in one of the most anticipated fights of the decade.

11. JACK PETERSEN

Boxers pose for photo in the ring.
Topical Press Agency / Stringer / Getty Images

Jack Peterson was 18 years old when he reached the finals of the Welsh Amateur Boxing Association in the late 1920s. He returned the next year to win two titles (he also claimed a title from the British Amateur Boxing Association that same year). After going professional, Jack Petersen earned his place in history as the first Welshman to be crowned British heavyweight champion.

12. OSCAR DE LA HOYA

Portrait of Oscar De La Hoya in the boxing ring.
Alexis Cuarezma / Stringer / Getty Images

Mexican-American boxer Oscar De La Hoya represented the U.S. at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when he was still a teenager. Earning gold in the featherweight division was just the start of his decorated career. From there he earned world titles in six different weight classes and became the top-earning pay-per-view athlete of his day.

13. CHRIS BYRD

Boxer Chris Byrd hits Andrew Golota.
Al Bello / Getty Images

There was a second southpaw competing for the U.S. at the Barcelona Olympics. During the 1992 games Chris Byrd took home the silver medal in the middleweight division. In the years to follow he rose to the ranks of two-time heavyweight world champion.

14. HECTOR CAMACHO

Hector
Tom Pidgeon / Stringer / Getty Images

Hector "Macho" Camacho’s quick punches and fancy footwork helped him bag world titles across multiple weight classes in the 1980s and early '90s. He was known for his flashy brand of showmanship: Some of the outfits he wore in the ring included a Roman gladiator costume and a monogrammed fur robe.

15. HOLLY HOLM

Holly Holm celebrates victory over Ronda Rousey.
Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

As a boxer, Holly Holm has earned and defended world champion titles many times over. She’s also known for being one of the few fighters to defeat superstar Ronda Rousey in the mixed martial arts ring.

16. GUILLERMO RIGONDEAUX

Guillermo Rigondeaux throws a right to the face of Drian Francisco during their junior featherweight bout.
Al Bello / Getty Images

Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux is the current holder of the super bantamweight world title. He's also the owner of two Olympic gold medals—one he received in 2000 and the other in 2004.

17. SERGIO MARTINEZ

Sergio Martinez in boxing gear.
Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

From 2010 to 2014, Argentine boxer Sergio Martinez dominated as champion in the lineal middleweight division. He officially retired one year after losing the honor to Miguel Cotto.

18. REGGIE JOHNSON

James Toney throws a punch at Reggie Johnson during a fight.
Ken Levine / Getty Images

One of only eight men to win a world light heavyweight title after earning a title in middleweight, Reggie Johnson was one of boxing’s brightest stars in the late 1990s. He lost his light heavyweight title to Roy Jones Jr. in 1999, but even his rival had nothing but respect for the native Texan. Jones spoke of him to The Ring: “You won’t find a better person than Reggie Johnson in boxing.”

19. VICENTE SALDIVAR

Vicente "Southpaw" Saldivar is famous for more than his left-sided fighting stance. The Mexico City native competed in the 1960 Olympics, held world featherweight titles, and fought before massive crowds. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.

20. ERISLANDY LARA

Erislandy Lara in the boxing ring.
Rob Foldy / Stringer / Getty Images

The junior middleweight world title currently belongs to Erislandy Lara. He adopted the nickname "The American Dream" after defecting from Cuba, and in early 2017 the boxer became an American citizen.

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