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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 10

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NFL WEEK TEN

I posted last week's column a day late, on Saturday, and for whatever reason, the extra day seemed to make a world of difference. Somehow, I pulled a 12-1 record in Week 9, including Cleveland's upset of New England. (My only slip-up was the Colts' 3-point loss to the Eagles.) It probably won't happen again this season, so remember, I'm not boasting, I'm reveling. I'll leave the boasting to Roy Williams.

Thursday's game was already picked (and played), so here are Woody's Winners for the other NFL contests in Week 10. Enjoy!

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Houston (4-4) @ Jacksonville (4-4)

The Jaguars and the “upstart” Texans bring up the rear in the AFC South with identical 4-4 records. The Texans are the only team to lose to Dallas this season, but don’t hold that against them. In franchise history, Houston has an 8-8 record against Jax while performing much more poorly against the rest of the AFC South (against whom they’re a combined 6-28). Pass defense is a burden for both teams, so points galore should keep the game’s scorekeeper plenty busy. Although the crowd at EverBank Field will be rowdy, Woody has a sneaking suspicion that those Jaguar engines will need a Texas-sized post-game tune-up.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Houston

FACT: The Texans and Jaguars are 2 of only 3 current AFC teams that have never won the AFL/AFC championship. Can you name the third? (Answer at the bottom of this article.)

Please click "more" to see my picks for Week 10's other NFL matchups!

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Minnesota (3-5) @ Chicago (5-3)

Vikings QB Brett Favre was in great form last week, but there’s a world of difference between a home game against Arizona and this Sunday’s brawl at Soldier Field in Chicago. Neither team wants to start the second half of their season with a loss, but for the Big Purple, an “L” would likely put the old kibosh on a return to the playoffs. The North Star comeback last week was nice, but the depth of the team’s turmoil may make a full recovery impossible. If the Bears D is hibernating, RB Adrian Peterson could break out in a big way; but it’s not yet sleepy-time in that toddlin’ town.

Woody’s Winner: Chicago

FACT: The home team has won 15 of the past 16 games between these NFC North rivals.

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Carolina (1-7) @ Tampa Bay (5-3)

The Buccaneers knocked off the Panthers 20-7 in Week 2, the only one of their five wins that were decided by more than a FG. Last week, Carolina lost QB Matt Moore for the season, and this week, they’re down to a fourth-string RB. While the Panthers seem to be falling apart, Tampa seems to be gelling, with improved play on offense thanks to WR Mike Williams and RB LeGarrette Blount. The Car-Cats probably have one more victory ahead of them this season, but it will likely be five weeks down the road. Hoist the Jolly Roger!

Woody’s Winner: Tampa Bay

FACT: The Panthers have averaged only 11 points per game this season, more than 5 points fewer than any other NFL team.

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Detroit (2-6) @ Buffalo (0-8)

This Sunday, a proverbial monkey will stiffly crawl off the back of one of these teams: Either the Bills will earn their first victory of the season, or the Lions will snap their string of 24 consecutive road losses. Not surprisingly, the game is blacked out in Buffalo, with more than 10,000 tickets unsold for the meeting at Ralph Wilson Stadium. With a few games under his belt, the return of second-string Detroit QB Shaun Hill should go smoothly. But will the Leos have any courage left after last week’s heartbreaking OT loss? Barely. Just barely.

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

FACT: A scheduling quirk fostered by the realignment of AFC/NFC divisions prevented the Bills and Lions from playing each other for 11 straight seasons (1980-1990).

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N.Y. Jets (6-2) @ Cleveland (3-5)

The Browns are riding high after back-to-back wins against the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. They hope to complete the “New” trifecta by knocking off another favored team this week, the New York Jets. The J-E-T-S are coming off three straight lackluster efforts, being shut out by Green Bay and squeaking by against Denver and Detroit. They should have just enough fuel to land in Cleveland with a cargo hold full of cans of kick-butt. Shake. Apply liberally. Repeat.

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: Opponents have completed 6 of 7 fourth-down attempts against Cleveland this season.

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Tennessee (5-3) @ Miami (4-4)

“Chad” is a bad word in Florida, owing to some political nonsense a few years ago; but in Miami, they’re trading one for another. Chad Henne will ride the pine while veteran Chad Pennington tries to recapture his years of success behind center. He’ll be doing so at Sun Life Stadium, where the hometown Dolphins have not yet won this season. They’re due, sure, but it might prove a tough order against the Titans, who should be fresh after their bye week. The Fish don’t have to win at home in the playoffs, but they’ll have to win at home to make the playoffs. Maybe next week when the Bears saunter in?

Woody’s Winner: Tennessee

FACT: Despite ranking 24th in the NFL in yards per game (310.6), the Titans lead the league in scoring with a 28 point average.

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Cincinnati (2-6) @ Indianapolis (5-3)

The Bengals have sacked opposing QBs only 7 times this season, fewer than any other AFC team, so it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to put much pressure on Peyton Manning. Of course, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out what’s likely to happen when you let the veteran Colts signal-caller go about his business. Although Queen City WR Terrell Owens seems to have found a new home, he’s not one who enjoys wasting his talent by suffering on a losing team. This personality trait should make itself obvious any time now. Like Sunday.

Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis

FACT: After winning 2 of their first 3 games, the Bengals have dropped 5 in a row.

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Kansas City (5-3) @ Denver (2-6)

This matchup pits the NFL’s best rushing attack (the Chiefs) against its worst (the Broncos).  Denver’s defense can’t stop the run, either; they’ve allowed over 150 rushing yards per game and a league-most 14 rushing TDs to boot. It’s a given that KC will try to control the clock, but will they be able to control the mile-high aerial attack? Woody thinks so. After the Broncos busted out of the gate last season with six consecutive victories, they’ve only won 4 of 18 games since. After Week 10, that’ll be 4 of 19.

Woody’s Winner: Kansas City

FACT: Kansas City has only lost 2 fumbles this season, fewest in the league.

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Dallas (1-7) @ N.Y. Giants (6-2)

New coach, same result.

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: Dallas has allowed 29 points per game this season, second-worst in the NFL behind Buffalo (29.1).

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Seattle (4-4) @ Arizona (3-5)

In Week 7, the Seahawks improved their record to 4-2 with a 12-point victory at home against Arizona. Since then, things have gotten ugly, with a capital “ugh.” Seattle has been outscored 74-10 over its last two games. Still, they’re tied for the best record in the NFC West, and the last thing they want is for the Cardinals to find their way back into the hunt. Will newly-healed QB Matt Hasselbeck find a way to wake up the ‘Hawks anemic offense? That remains to be seen. But even if he fails, the Ocean Birds should outlast the Cactus Birds – and their own back-in-action QB, Derek Anderson – in Week 10.

Woody’s Winner: Seattle

FACT: Seattle’s defense is the NFC’s second-worst against the pass, allowing 270.5 yards per game. (Arizona's defense is third-worst, giving up 255.5 passing YPG.)

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St. Louis (4-4) @ San Francisco (2-6)

It’s the Gateway vs. the Golden Gate as San Francisco welcomes St. Louis to Candlestick Park. Both teams are coming off their bye week after winning 2 of their last 3 games, so expect a little more spring in the step of opposing RBs Steven Jackson and Frank Gore. In the ongoing Niner Smith QB derby, backup Troy Smith will again start ahead of the injured Alex Smith. Unfortunately, he’ll be going up against one of the most improved defenses in the NFL. What’s more, Rams QB Sam Bradford has quickly adjusted to life under center without stalwart WR Mark Clayton. Like Mark Sanchez last year, the rookie wants to lead his team to the playoffs in his first year. This will get him a step closer.

Woody’s Winner: St. Louis

FACT: Rams RB Steven Jackson is third in the NFL with 172 carries, but has scored only 2 rushing TDs.

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New England (6-2) @ Pittsburgh (6-2)

Two 6-2 teams faced off Thursday night, and two others meet up on Sunday in a key AFC contest. The Patriots have earned their record by scoring points, while the Steelers have earned theirs by preventing their opponents from doing likewise. The difference-maker here is that the Iron City Boys have offensive playmakers that have demonstrated an ability to wreak havoc on weaker defenses. New England is susceptible to air attacks, so this game will come down to a bunch of Ws: a WR named Ward, another WR named Wallace, and a mark in the “W” column for the Black-and-Gold.

Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh

FACT: The Steelers’ run defense has allowed only 58.2 yards per game in 2010, by far the fewest in the NFL.

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Philadelphia (5-3) @ Washington (4-4)

Monday Night Football offers a classic NFC East battle between America’s current capital and a former one. Despite playing musical quarterbacks, Philly has found success thanks to a rushing corps that has combined to post a league-best 5.1 yards per attempt. In typical governmental fashion, Washington has stumbled its way to an even record, losing to Detroit in Week 8 after Coach Mike Shanahan benched Donovan McNabb. He seems to be the only one who thought it was a good idea, while everyone else scratched their heads. More head-scratching this week will make the Redskins’ skin even redder.

Woody’s Winner: Philadelphia

FACT: The Eagles have been penalized 652 yards this season, tops in the NFC.

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BYE: Green Bay, New Orleans, Oakland, San Diego

NOTE: With 3 consecutive victories, the Raiders have the AFC’s longest current winning streak.

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ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION: Besides the Jaguars and the Texans, the only other current AFC team never to win the conference championship is the Cleveland Browns.

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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
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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