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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 8

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What I've learned through seven weeks of NFL play this season:

  • Buffalo will win a few games before the season's over
  • Oakland will become a contender over the next three years
  • Teams have figured out how to beat New Orleans
  • Dallas has leadership issues and needs veteran help
  • It's no fun for anyone when games are blacked out
  • Tennessee is good enough to reach the Super Bowl
  • Any team can beat any other team on any given week

There are no particularly potent slices of brain food on that list, I know. But you have to admit, it's been a wild season thus far in several regards. Last week's 7-7 record brings me to 56-48 overall, but I know I'll ruin things with the number of upsets I've predicted for Week 8. When the games pan out, I'll either look like a fool, or I'll look like a lucky fool. Let's find out:


Green Bay (4-3) @ N.Y. Jets (5-1)

The New Meadowlands will be awash in a Sea of Green this Sunday as the Packers and Jets compare notes on how lucky they both are to have “moved on” from the Brett Favre days. New York has only allowed 12 QB hits this season, compared to 20+ for every other NFL team, so the Pack pass rush won’t have much effect. Both teams sport capable pass defenses, but Gotham can run the ball, and plans to do so early and often to control the line of scrimmage. If Aaron Rodgers can toss a few aerial bombs to keep the 747s at bay, he just might be able to shut down the airport. Too bad George Kennedy is a Jets fan.

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: The Packers have never beaten the Jets on the road.

Please click "more" to see my picks for the dozen other games scheduled for Week 8!


Denver (2-5) @ San Francisco (1-6)

The last thing both the Broncos and 49ers needed at this point in the season was a distraction. Denver gave up 59 points last week – at home – while San Francisco’s QB went down in a loss to punchless (and previously winless) Carolina. So let’s send these two teams across the Atlantic to London to play at Wembley Stadium in front of a bunch of fans yelling things like “Sissies wear pads!” and “Wot’s up with the funny-shaped ball?” The Golden Gate guys are just trying to stay afloat, while the Mile High men could still salvage their season. That glimmer of hope, and the anger of last week’s embarrassing show, will make all the difference for Denver.

Woody’s Winner: Denver

FACT: In 1989, the 49ers shellacked the Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV.


Jacksonville (3-4) @ Dallas (1-5)

The Cowboys’ offense has racked up plenty of yardage this season, but mistakes regularly keep them out of the end zone. The solution is to crank out a few long plays, and QB Jon Kitna will have that opportunity against a Jaguars defense that has allowed more 20+ yard pass plays (28 of them) than any other team in the NFL. While Cowboys Stadium is gorgeous, the home team is 0-3 there this season, and it’s sure deafening when 100,000 fans boo in unison. As long as the Silver can contain RB Maurice Jones-Drew, they have no reason to lose this game. But that hasn’t mattered so far this season, has it? Still…

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: Jacksonville’s QBs have thrown more interceptions (11) than anyone else in the AFC.


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

The notion that this Flipper-vs.-Fluffy matchup involves two middle-of-the-road teams all but guarantees an exciting game. Both squads hope to recover from Week 7 games that they could have (and should have) won. With a tough second-half schedule looming, the Bengals are happy to be playing in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium. But Miami is 3-0 on the road in 2010, and they’d just as soon keep that streak alive. In a surprise, the salt-water Dolphins will thrive in the muddy Ohio River this Sunday.

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

FACT: Since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, the Bengals are 3-12 against the Dolphins. Cincinnati has, however, won the teams’ two most recent matchups (in 2004 and 2007).


Carolina (1-5) @ St. Louis (3-4)

Some questioned how much St. Louis had improved following Week 5’s debacle in Detroit, but the team’s other three losses have come by a combined 7 points. Carolina comes to town with the league’s lowest-scoring offense, and it looked like they went all-out to garner a 3-point win vs. the hapless 49ers last week. Despite having surgery on a broken ring finger earlier this week, Rams RB Steven Jackson vows to play in this game. He won’t put a Super Bowl ring on that finger this year, but with that sort of determination, it may not take long.

Woody’s Winner: St. Louis

FACT: The Panthers have won their last four games against the St. Louis Rams (including a 2003 playoff matchup).


Washington (4-3) @ Detroit (1-5)

Last season, the Lions squeaked by the 'Skins 19-14 at Ford Field, but that was against QB Jason Campbell. His replacement, Donovan McNabb, has torched the Detroit secondary in his career, completing 50 of 68 passes (73.5%) for 6 TDs without an interception. His skill set should allow D.C. to outlast Motown, provided they don’t fall behind too far. QB Matthew Stafford makes his heralded return for the Cats after a Week 1 injury, and had a bye week to prepare, but is he up to speed? I picked the Lions to win once this season, and they did. They’re slightly favored here, but I’m no fool.

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

FACT: The Redskins are the only NFC team that hasn’t attempted to “go for it” on fourth-down this season; not surprising, since they’re worst in the NFC on third down (converting only 25 percent).


Buffalo (0-6) @ Kansas City (4-2)

These long-time rivals faced off in the 1966 AFL Championship, in which KC earned a spot in the very first Super Bowl (where they were unceremoniously disposed of by Vince Lombardi’s Packers). The Chiefs hope to tan some Buffalo hide when the Bills rumble into Arrowhead Stadium in Week 8. Kansas City feasts on the NFL’s dregs, with all 4 of their wins coming against teams with a combined 8-20 record. The Buffs have hung tough against some of the AFC’s best (notably New England and Baltimore) and if their defense ever shows up, they’ll win a game this season. But not this week.

Woody’s Winner: Kansas City

FACT: The Chiefs’ stellar running game averages a league-leading 176.5 yards per game.


Tennessee (5-2) @ San Diego (2-5)

Fifty years ago, these two franchises (then in Houston and Los Angeles) met in the AFL’s first title game. The Oilers won, proving that petroleum had an advantage over electricity back in 1960. It’s 2010 now, however, and the buzzword is “hybrid.” In the NFL, this means that, in order to win, you have to play defense AND run the ball. (Just ask Dallas, Detroit, and Denver.) RB Chris Johnson and the Titan offense has picked up steam to become the second-highest-scoring team in the NFL, and that’s advantage enough for them to leave the Chargers looking for a place to plug themselves in.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Tennessee

FACT: The Chargers last lost to the Titans franchise in 1992 (when they were still the Houston Oilers).


Minnesota (2-4) @ New England (5-1)

I’ve heard a few fans grumble that Brett Favre rises slowly from hits – and feigns aches after games – just to make his return the following week appear all the more amazing. A twice-broken heel can’t feel good for anybody, and while the league’s oldest starting QB is still a tough competitor, some time off might be best for Minnesota. The Vikes do need to stir up some excitement (whether it’s orchestrated or not), but they’ve got to win games along the way. Will this be the week that Favre’s record of 315 consecutive games comes screeching to a halt? It matters not to the powerful Patriots, where business as usual will result in a victory at Foxboro.

Woody’s Winner: New England

FACT: The Patriots’ defense is last in the league in opponent pass completion percentage (70) and opponent third-down conversion percentage (49).


Seattle (4-2) @ Oakland (3-4)

Oakland is 1-2 against the NFC West this season, and finishes off the division when the Seahawks fly south this Sunday. After scoring only 9 points in Week 6, the Raiders shocked everyone last week by hanging 59 points on the Broncos. They won’t have that kind of success against Seattle’s solid run defense, but may have to worry about their own. The one-two punch of Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch will take the pressure off QB Matt Hasselbeck. Black-clad fans will sit with mouths agape by the time the ‘Hawks fly off over the horizon with eye patches in their beaks, swatches of silver in their talons, and a “W” where it counts.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Seattle

FACT: The home team has won the 9 previous games in this matchup.


Tampa Bay (4-2) @ Arizona (3-3)

So far this season, the Cardinals have won one week and lost the next. They were defeated at Seattle last week, so it’s “win” week, right? Not so fast. The return of Arizona WR Steve Breaston should help rookie QB Max Hall, but pass defense is one thing (perhaps the one thing) at which the Buccaneers excel. The Redbirds haven’t been performing well on either side of the ball, and their inconsistency is bound to catch up with them. I’m predicting that this will happen in Week 8.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Tampa Bay

FACT: The Cardinals have fallen to last in the league in passing yards (172.5) and total yards (237.8) per game.


Pittsburgh (5-1) @ New Orleans (4-3)

With 3 interceptions and 2 fumbles returned for TDs, opponents have feasted on Saints mistakes this season. The Steelers arrive in town in this contest between the two most recent Super Bowl winners, and they want to add to those numbers in the worst way. Pittsburgh’s powerhouse defense can stop a team’s rushing game in its sleep – which is how Nawlins runs – so they’ll turn their attention to the passing game. Sadly, for the home fans, QB Drew Brees won’t make much of a ruffle in the Steel Curtain.

Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh

FACT: The Steelers have completed only 86 passes this season (fewest in the NFL) but have averaged 8.7 yards per completion (second-best in the league).


Houston (4-2) @ Indianapolis (4-2)

In Week 1, the Texans surprised the Colts in Houston, but it will be a tough order to repeat that success this Monday night in Indianapolis. While Peyton Manning’s iron-man streak continues, Indy’s offense has lost several playmakers. The team’s leading RB (Joseph Addai), WR (Austin Collie) and TE (Dallas Clark) are all out. This trio has accounted for 12 of the offense’s 18 TDs this season. The Colts are 8-1 on MNF since 2003, but the luck in their horseshoes might have finally fizzled. If the Texans can control the ball, they’ll prove that their season-opening victory wasn’t just a cow patty.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Houston

FACT: The Colts have not played in a regular-season overtime game since 2004 (87 consecutive games).


BYE: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, N.Y. Giants, Philadelphia.


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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TheTribeofJudahTeach via YouTube
The Unbelievable Life of the 'John 3:16' Sports Guy
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TheTribeofJudahTeach via YouTube

Sometimes, the man in the rainbow-colored wig would be able to purchase tickets at the stadium gate. Other times, scalpers near the entrance would provide access. Occasionally, television announcers would leave him complimentary admission at the will call window.

If it was a football game, he would try to find a seat behind the goalposts. For NBA and MLB games, behind the backboard or home plate was ideal. A portable, battery-operated television would tell him where the broadcast crew was pointing its cameras. If his preferred seat was being occupied by a child, he’d approach the parents and ask if he could just hold the kid. If they recognized him, they would often oblige.

Once he was settled in, Rollen Stewart would hoist a sign or sport a T-shirt emblazoned with a slightly cryptic message: “John 3:16.” Spiritual devotees recognized it as a Bible verse; others would look it up out of curiosity.

That’s exactly what Stewart wanted. The outlandish wig that earned him the nickname "Rainbow Man," the on-camera visibility, and the homemade message were all intended to spread the Gospel.

Throughout the 1980s, Stewart traveled 60,000 miles a year as a full-time spectator, living out of his car, getting stoned, and using television’s obsession with athletics as a vessel for promoting his faith. In doing so, he made the Bible passage a fixture of professional sporting events.

It was a noble effort—but one Stewart would end up undermining with some increasingly eccentric behavior. The signs gave way to stink bombs, and his cheerfully peculiar persona gradually morphed into a mania that, in 1992, led to an eight-hour standoff with a Los Angeles SWAT team.

By the time he was handed three consecutive life sentences in 1993, Rainbow Man had understandably lost much of his luster. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Sally Lipscomb described him as another “David Koresh waiting to happen.”

Stewart was born in Spokane, Washington in 1945. In interviews, he described his parents as alcoholics. His father passed away when he was 10; his mother died in a fire in 1968. When he was 23, his sister was strangled to death by her boyfriend.

A family inheritance kept him afloat until he found regular work as a drag racer and motorcycle shop owner. Later, Stewart operated a ranch that led to a marijuana farming business. When that ceased to be either profitable or interesting, Stewart decided to head for Hollywood to become an actor.

It was slow going. He netted a Budweiser commercial but was otherwise low on job prospects. Though he was able to pay the bills with what remained of his inheritance and proceeds from the sale of his ranch, Stewart decided that the best way to increase his profile was by drawing attention to himself at sporting events. Donning a rainbow wig and a fur loincloth while performing a dance routine, he made his broadcast television debut during the 1977 NBA Finals. He was dubbed Rainbow Man, or “Rock ‘N Rollen,” a crowd mascot of sorts who could be counted on to deliver a vibrant camera shot when directors felt like juicing their coverage of spectators.

After attending the 1979 Super Bowl in Miami (although some accounts place it during the 1980 game) Stewart went back to his hotel room and turned on the television. It was then, he said, that the epiphany struck. Stumbling on a program called Today in Bible Prophecy, Stewart realized his television exposure could be used in the service of spreading the gospel. So off came the fur loincloth and on went a T-shirt reading “Jesus Saves” in front and “Redeem” in the back. The "John 3:16" sign was the finishing touch. In the King James version of the Bible, it reads:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Stewart liked that it was succinct, making it a perfect visual cue for delivering his sermon to the masses. Living out of his car to save on expenses, he shuttled himself from state to state, and sometimes even out of the country, popping up like the sporting world’s version of Waldo. He was spotted at the Kentucky Derby and the Olympics, and was at the Royal Wedding, where he was seen dancing just underneath the balcony where Princess Diana and Prince Charles stood.

Stewart averaged two events a week. Prime seating was crucial, so he relied on his portable television to show him where the cameras would be pointed. Donations from evangelical groups helped support his ticket and travel costs. As a presumably harmless presence, he could sometimes talk his way into a family block of seats by offering to squeeze in next to a baby.

But not everyone was charmed by Rainbow Man. Directors of sports broadcasts sometimes felt his fanatical presence ruined dramatic moments in games and cursed at him from production trucks. Arena security personnel would often ask him to leave, or block his entry from the start. But Stewart persevered, achieving his earlier goal of becoming a minor celebrity while enticing viewers with his cryptic sign.

At a point in the late 1980s, Stewart began to tire of his own persona. He slipped into a funk after he totaled his car, which limited his ability to travel; his fourth wife filed for divorce in 1990. (They met in 1984 at a Virginia church; she later claimed he tried to choke her at New York's Shea Stadium during the 1986 World Series for not standing in the right spot with her "John 3:16" sign, an allegation he denied.)

Stewart’s faith took a turn for the paranoid. He feared the end times were near, and started being a disruptive presence at events. He set off a remote-controlled air horn during the 1990 Masters golf tournament, just as Jack Nicklaus was about to swing. The following year, an arrest warrant was issued by the Santa Ana, California police after Stewart triggered electronic stink bombs at events in New Jersey and Connecticut and at an Orange County church. Authorities feared he had a firearm and was growing increasingly unhinged. They told the media he should be considered dangerous.

They were correct.

On September 22, 1991, Rollen Stewart was hammering nails into the front door of a room at the Hyatt Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. A terrified maid had locked herself in the bathroom. Stewart was armed with a .45 revolver and several stink bombs, which he would periodically lob toward the law enforcement officers gathering outside his room.

By Stewart’s own account, his desire to warn the world of a pending apocalypse had gotten out of hand. Barricading himself in the hotel, he demanded that the SWAT unit deliver a news crew so he could address the audience directly; SWAT was more concerned with making sure Stewart didn’t begin taking errant shots at planes that were landing at the airport less than 2000 feet away.

The standoff went on for over eight hours, at which point a squad smashed the door in and tackled Stewart. Faced with 11 charges, Stewart had the proverbial book thrown at him. With the Los Angeles deputy district attorney arguing he was a “very sick and very dangerous man,” he was sentenced to three consecutive life terms and shuttled to Mule Creek State Prison on August 3, 1993, where he has remained ever since. As of 2008, three parole hearings have resulted in three denials.

While Stewart’s personal legacy may have come to an unfortunate climax, his message has not. “John 3:16” has been a regular sight at sporting events for over three decades now, and has even been adopted by several athletes. Tim Tebow famously wore strips under his eyes with the verse written out during a 2009 Florida Gators collegiate game; In-N-Out Burger has printed it on the bottom of drinking cups; Forever 21 shoppers have likely noticed it on their shopping bags. Men like Canada-based Bill King have carried on Stewart’s mission, traveling to games and raising the sign in the hopes that the enduring popularity of sports on television will remain a viable way of inviting people to join their faith.

For Stewart, who saw some of the biggest sporting moments of the 1980s, attendance was a necessary evil. Speaking with the Los Angeles Times in 2008 from prison, he admitted that his old life involved a little bit of pretending.

“I despised sports,” he said.

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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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