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Woody's Winners: NFL Week 7

NFL WEEK SEVEN:

Week 6 brought a bit of normality back to the NFL, with fewer head-scratchers than in weeks past. I won 9 of 14 picks, and three of my losses were upsets that didn’t quite happen (including 3-point losses for Washington and Dallas). Still, things are weird in the standings:

  • In the NFC, every team has lost at least twice, meaning a win could propel a team from third to first in their division in an instant.
  • In the NFC West, all four teams lost in Week 5, but won in Week 6. Over in the AFC South, every team is .500 or better.
  • And with the only five-win team (the Jets) on bye this week, no team will end this week with more than five wins.

On to Week 7, which we’ll start with an upset:

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Philadelphia (4-2) @ Tennessee (4-2)

Last week, Kevin Kolb opened the eyes of Vick-struck Philly fans by passing for 3 TD and near-80-percent completion rate. He’ll start again this week as the Eagles head to LP Field to tackle the Titans, where both teams hope to earn their third consecutive win. The status of injured Tennessee QB Vince Young is still up in the air, but their offense is played on the ground, where RB Chris Johnson gobbles yards like they were Pringles. Philadelphia has yet to lose on the road this season, and the Birds will be humming in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Philadelphia

FACT: The Eagles are the only team ranked in the NFL top-10 in both rushing and passing offense.

Please click "more" to see my picks for the rest of Week 7's games.

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Cincinnati (2-3) @ Atlanta (4-2)

With the Reds and Braves quickly punted from the NL playoffs, sports fans in both cities have shifted their focus to the gridiron. Cats are known for chasing birds, but in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons want to be the predator. Atlanta is 15-1 at home with Matt Ryan at the helm, so they may get their chance. These similar teams sport good QBs, stud RBs, and quality receivers, tempered with defenses that occasionally lose their way. The Felines better pick up some mice and fish to go, because Blackbird won’t appear on the Sunday menu.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: The Falcons’ pass defense leads the NFL with 11 interceptions.

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Cleveland (1-5) @ New Orleans (4-2)

In the 11 matchups between these teams since the 1970 NFL merger, none was decided by a double-digit margin. Still, the experts favor New Orleans by two touchdowns, and I see no reason to doubt them. The NFL has seen some crazy upsets this season, but the Brownies winning at the Superdome would top them all. Unlike last year, the Saints aren’t surprising anyone, but they shouldn’t have any trouble manhandling Cleveland, unless the game comes down to field goals. It won’t.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: The Saints lead the NFL in converting third downs, with a 50.7 percent success rate.

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Pittsburgh (4-1) @ Miami (3-2)

This interesting AFC contest pits the Dolphins’ pass-happy offense against those stingy Steelers defenders. Miami QB Chad Henne has proven he can perform well against tough pass defense, and increased use of their Wildcat offense may keep the Men in Black off their game. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger showed very little rust in his first regular-season appearance last week - call him the stainless Steeler - but that was at home against the Browns. Will he be sharp enough to filet the fish, or will overconfidence doom Big Ben in his second game back?

Woody’s Winner (in a close one): Pittsburgh

FACT: The Dolphins are averaging only 4.2 penalties per game, the lowest rate in the league.

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St. Louis (3-3) @ Tampa Bay (3-2)

The Rams have proven sheepish on the road, and that’s where they find themselves in Week 7. But Tampa has been blown out in back-to-back home games due to their inability to run the ball. Unless RB Cadillac Williams can find second gear, he’ll be kept in the garage yet again. The Buccaneers’ defense is exhausted (insert your favorite muffler joke here), having allowed 90 points over their past three games. St. Louis will take advantage of this by handing off to Ram-tough RB Steven Jackson, who’ll lower his horns and raise his statistics against the league’s worst rush defense.

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

FACT: Rams WR Danny Amendola has caught 36 passes this season (tied for 3rd in the NFC) but none for TD.

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San Francisco (1-5) @ Carolina (0-5)

Pity the poor Panthers, who rank last in the NFL in both yards and points. How bad are things in Carolina? At the QB position, they’ve completed just 68 of 150 passes, with 9 interceptions, 17 sacks, and 4 fumbles. As my daddy would say, “That ain’t gettin’ it done, son.” Meanwhile, the 49ers finally broke into the win column by defeating Oakland in Week 6. San Francisco clearly fields a better team, and that proverbial monkey is now off their backs. Unless Carolina’s two-headed RB attack can find a whole lot of daylight, it’ll be dark early on the East Coast.

Woody’s Winner: San Francisco

FACT: San Francisco RB Frank Gore leads all RB with 33 catches this season.

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Washington (3-3) @ Chicago (4-2)

The Redskins’ defense has allowed a league-most 420 yards per game this season, but their schedule thus far has included Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and Indianapolis. Although Chicago has finally figured out how to run the ball, their offense isn’t nearly that explosive. Bears QB Jay Cutler has publicly blamed his teammates for the offense's struggles, and it remains to be seen if his squad will rally behind him. The truth is, three of the Windy City’s four wins have come against Detroit (1-5), Dallas (1-4) and Carolina (0-5), so they may simply not be as good as their record would have you believe. This just in: Washington rides Bear-back in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner: Washington

FACT: The Bears have converted only 13 of 74 third-down attempts this season, for a league-worst 17.6 percent.

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Jacksonville (3-3) @ Kansas City (3-2)

The Jaguars’ defense has allowed 38, 28, 28, 26, and 30 points in its last five games, but the team won three of those five games thanks to a superb rushing offense. The Chiefs have themselves quite a ground attack as well, running for an NFL-best 164.6 yards per game thus far this season. Kansas City’s run defense has also excelled, so Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew may have a tough time fitting all three names into the small gaps available to him.

Woody’s Winner: Kansas City

FACT: Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee is 11 of 11 for field goals this season, including a league-best 59-yarder. The Jaguars are the only team not to miss at least one FG attempt.

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Buffalo (0-5) @ Baltimore (4-2)

When you think of a buffalo, you think of a large, stocky creature big enough to block one’s path. Sadly, the Buffalo Bills are nothing like that. Their defense has allowed an incredible 182.4 rushing yards per game, 25 more than any other team. Ravens’ RB Ray Rice has been salivating over this opportunity, and he’ll use a few Bills jerseys to dab away the spittle as he saunters downfield. And Baltimore’s defense won’t break a sweat as they pull out a can of Bison-B-Gone and do some further damage to the ozone layer.

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Bills’ defense has intercepted only one pass this season, fewest in the NFL.

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Arizona (3-2) @ Seattle (3-2)

Look in the dictionary under “fluke” and you’ll see Arizona’s most recent game, a Week 5 win against the Saints. The Cards have been blown out 41-7 and 41-10 in their last two road games, so they’re not looking forward to abandoning the Grand Canyon State for a wetter and greener spot. But travel to Seattle they must, to face a Seahawks team fresh off a rejuvenating upset victory in Chicago. Newly-acquired RB Marshawn Lynch scored a TD in his Aquabird debut, and should do even more damage this week. The winner of this game will sit alone atop the NFC West.

Woody’s Winner: Seattle

FACT: The Cardinals have won six of their last seven games against the Seahawks.

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Oakland (2-4) @ Denver (2-4)

It’s rare that a team enters Week 7 without at least one divisional game, but this will be the Broncos’ first time against a fellow member of the AFC West. The last four games in this series have been won by the road team, and the Raiders are just sneaky enough to leave the Rockies with a “W” in their pocket. Unfortunately for the Silver-and-Black, their top two quarterbacks are ailing, and Coach Cable has (as of this writing) not yet named a starter. Oakland has trouble stopping the run, and Denver RB Knowshon Moreno is back in action and ready to gallop. His fresh legs will spell the difference.

Woody’s Winner: Denver

FACT: Of the Broncos’ 151 rushes this season, none has gained more than 17 yards.

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New England (4-1) @ San Diego (2-4)

Thanks to two of the game’s most powerful offenses, this game has 42-38 written all over it. The Bolts prefer the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium, where they’ve earned both of this season’s victories. A third win at home would be sweet, and it should happen. With the Minutemen allowing opposing QBs a 70-percent completion rate, Philip Rivers can hardly contain himself, but that’s okay: the Pat defense won’t be able to contain him either.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: Philip Rivers has thrown for 2,008 yards through 6 games, putting him on a pace for a record-breaking 5,355 yards this season.

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Minnesota (2-3) @ Green Bay (3-3)

Last week’s loss to Miami leaves Green Bay with three defeats this season, each by only three points. The Packers hope to get back on track at the expense of the struggling Vikings, who stumble into Lambeau Field still unsteady on their feet. While fans of the Purple were excited at the reacquisition of Randy Moss, some forget that while he is a former Vike, he’s new to QB Brett Favre. These two should get on the same page when Moss begins to grow on the veteran QB, but until then, it’ll be a struggle in the NFC North. Behold, the power of Cheese!

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: Brett Favre has fumbled 5 times in his 5 games this season, losing 4 of them.

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N.Y. Giants (4-2) @ Dallas (1-4)

The Giants have impressed despite the despicable habit of giving the ball to their opponents. QB Eli Manning has thrown 8 interceptions, while Ahmad Bradshaw leads all NFL RBs with three lost fumbles. Where the G-Men excel is on defense, and they’ll have to perform well against the ball-moving machine known as the Dallas Cowboys. The pass-catching trio of Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Jason Witten has combined for 1,062 yards and 8 TDs. Those type of numbers should begin to show up in the “win” column any week now… like this one.

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: Dallas leads the NFC in passing yards per game (305) and total yards per game (400).

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BYE: Detroit (1-5), Houston (4-2), Indianapolis (4-2), N.Y. Jets (5-1).

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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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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
Al Bello/Getty Images

Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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