San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was suspended last week by the NFL for four games after he tested positive for steroids, but he was allowed to play Sunday while he appealed. He recorded three sacks and led the Chargers to a 38-24 win over the St. Louis Rams.
He was great. Really. It was almost like, like ... like he had taken some kind of shot to make him a better player!
Merriman denies intentionally taking the steroid nandrolone, blaming the positive test on a tainted supplement. Translation: The dog ate my homework, I didn't get your message, the check is in the mail.
Merriman had a hearing on his appeal scheduled for Nov. 7, but early this week he dropped it and began serving the suspension. In essence, since he had virtually no chance of winning his appeal, Merriman chose to sit out Sunday's home game against the Cleveland Browns rather than the Dec. 3 game at Buffalo.
Except for some mild griping in the St. Louis paper, Merriman's standout performance against the Rams didn't seem to strike many people as weird. Chargers fans greeted Merriman like he'd just discovered the cure for cancer, just as San Francisco Giants fans still shower Barry Bonds with love.
That's to be expected, mere rooting for laundry. But where was the outrage that surely would have accompanied Bonds or any other baseball player testing positive for steroids and then going on a home run tear while appealing his suspension? The differing reactions to steroid issues in baseball and football are a complete puzzle to me.
Full disclosure: I'm a Rams fan, not a terribly rabid one, but that's not what this is about. I'd complain about the situation whatever week it came up, and anyway the Rams weren't going to beat the Chargers, Merriman or no.
The appeal system is part of the collective bargaining agreement, but as with baseball, it needs to be fixed. According to press reports, Merriman was informed of his suspension while flying home from the Kansas City game on Oct. 22. There's no good reason why 16 days -- and two league games -- should have to go by before his appeal is heard.
The NFL and the players union should use the wonders of modern communication and get the hearing done within a week. Players shouldn't be allowed to choose which games they sit out.
And so we turn, needles sticking out of our behinds, to Week 9, in hopes that the long nightmare of this column's horrific picks, bad enough for last place in the Panel o' Experts standings, will come to an end at last. Winners in capital letters, with the much more reliable picks of Panel o' Experts leader Buster, coin-flippinest 3-year-old in the free world, following.
Sunday early games
ATLANTA (5-2) at Detroit (1-6): So for years the mainstream media has been falling all over Michael Vick while the smartguys have been saying he's a spectacular athlete but a lousy passer, and I've been like, Hang on, I think he's doing something right, I think the stats aren't catching it, and I think he's going to get better.
Then this year, all of a sudden, the mainstream media turned on him, seeming to realize all at once that he's, you know, a lousy passer. And I was still all, Hang on, he's doing something right, the stats aren't catching it, and he's going to get better. But then, finally, I gave up on him. I turned on him too.
And now he's the hottest passer in the NFL.
Buster's pick: Atlanta (coin)
Tennessee (2-5) at JACKSONVILLE (4-3): In their last four games, the Jags have 1) managed to lose to Washington, 2) beaten a reasonably decent Jets team by six touchdowns, 3) gotten smoked at Houston and 4) beaten the Eagles in Philly. At roughly the halfway point of the season, we know two things about them for sure: 1) They're not going to win 12 games again and 2) they play in Jacksonville.
Coach Jack Del Rio says David Garrard will start at quarterback over Byron Leftwich, and it's unclear if that's because Leftwich is hurt or because he's been playing badly and this is becoming Garrard's team. Garrard should get a win, which should fuel a good ol' quarterback controversy, but here's the real question: Has there ever been a day when Byron Leftwich wasn't hurt?
Buster's pick: Jacksonville (10-point favorite)
New Orleans (5-2) at TAMPA BAY (2-5): Tampa's ugly loss in New Jersey last week notwithstanding, I think these are two teams moving, in opposite directions, from out-of-whack starts toward the middle of the league where they belong.
Buster's pick: New Orleans (coin)
MIAMI (1-6) at Chicago (7-0): A tailor-made What the Heck Pick of the week.
Buster's pick: Chicago (13.5-point favorite)
KANSAS CITY (4-3) at St. Louis (4-3): So, Rams. Hey. What's up. So listen. LaDainian Tomlinson. How'd that go for you last week? Oh really? Huh. Yeah. Mm-hmm. I can see that would be a problem, yeah. Well anyway, here comes Larry Johnson.
Buster's pick: Kansas City (coin)
Houston (2-5) at N.Y. GIANTS (5-2): Have you heard that Tiki Barber might retire at the end of this season? Hey, by the way, I'm thinking of retiring at the end of the year.
Buster's pick: New York (13-point favorite)
GREEN BAY (3-4) at Buffalo (2-5): Brett Favre's playing well and Ahman Green is healthy and gaining yards. That should continue against a team that's looking pretty lost lately.
Buster's pick: Green Bay (coin)
DALLAS (4-3) at Washington (2-5): So for years the mainstream media has been falling all over Drew Bledsoe, and ... Oh, forget it. The undefeated Tony Romo era continues for the Cowboys, and what happened to Washington and its defense?
Buster's pick: Dallas (coin)
Cincinnati (4-3) at BALTIMORE (5-2): The Bengals offense may be coming around a little bit as Carson Palmer hits his stride following an off-season of injury rehab, but it'll take a step backward on the road against a very tough defense. Early returns on Brian Billick taking over the Ravens offense were pretty good too.
Buster's pick: Cincinnati (coin)
Sunday late games
MINNESOTA (4-3) at San Francisco (2-5): So I was right about the Vikings last week. I picked them to beat the Patriots, and they lost by 24 points. I wrote that I'd been underestimating them, right up until they went to Seattle and pounded the Seahawks, "and now I think I'm about to overestimate them." And I was right. And if you agree with that, you're probably stealing from your employer.
Buster's pick: Minnesota (coin)
DENVER (5-2) at Pittsburgh (2-5): It's supposed to be the Super Bowl loser that struggles the next season, but it's the champion Steelers who are reeling. They probably don't need to run the table to make the playoffs, but they'll have to if they lose this one. Thing is, the Steelers aren't as bad as 2-5, and, as the Colts showed, the Broncos' defense isn't in '85 Bears territory, though as a team Denver is probably about right at 5-2.
This is probably a tossup game, but until Ben Roethlisberger shows he's shaken the effects of various injuries, including a concussion, I'll go against Pittsburgh in a toss.
Buster's pick: Denver (coin)
Cleveland (2-5) at SAN DIEGO (5-2): Two teams that are probably a little better than they've seemed so far. The Chargers will miss Merriman, but Cleveland's struggles stopping the run should allow Tomlinson to go wild again. Last week's win over the Jets showed that the Browns are committing to the run under new coordinator Jeff Davidson, but the Chargers are better at stopping the run than the Jets are.
Buster's pick: San Diego (12.5-point favorite)
Sunday night game
Indianapolis (7-0) at NEW ENGLAND (6-1): The Colts can't stop the run, which hurt them but didn't kill them in Denver last week. It'll kill 'em in Foxboro. The Patriots can run up the middle, where the Colts are really, really terrible, and they can also throw. You may have heard of this Tom Brady character, even if you may not have heard of such unheralded, underrated receivers as Doug Gabriel, Reche Caldwell and David Eckstein.
Peyton Manning and the quick-strike Colts offense can make up for a lot of defensive sins, as we saw last week. But there are limits.
Buster's pick: Indianapolis (coin)
Monday night game
Oakland (2-5) at SEATTLE (4-3): Is it my imagination or are the Raiders always either playing in prime time or beating the Super Bowl champions? I can't think of a good reason for either. Without Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, the Seahawks aren't prime-time material, but they'll be good enough to win this one while you spend some time with your family or something.
Buster's pick: Seattle (7-point favorite)
Season record: 60-54 (please avert your eyes)
Last week: Orfay and entay
What the Heck Picks: 0-8!
Record of Buster's coin this week in coming up "heads": 9-0. Always trying to one-up the old man.
Previous column: The power of luck
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