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Bill Belichick, Do You Dare Accept This Simple Wager?

It is June of 2006, which means that Bill Belichick has three months to respond to this challenge that I am putting into print before the beginning of the 2006 NFL season. But before we get to the challenge itself, I’ll take a moment to introduce you to the two potential participants.

In the left corner, wearing what appears to be a set of brass knuckles (though it is in fact a collection of Super Bowl rings), and weighing in at something a good deal less than that baggy sweatshirt would lead the casual onlooker to guess, is Bill Belichick. He is widely regarded as a defensive genius, but the more attentive football fan regards him as a master of personnel management and deployment. He is rumored by some to have been the secret of Bill Parcells’ success and known by all to be a success in his own right. In this analyst’s opinion, he is more important than any player (even the still underappreciated Tom Brady) to the staying power of the Patriot franchise—and would be the one human being around which the owner of the next NFL expansion team could most realistically hope to build a competitive team.

And in the right corner, wearing the robe that he has paid for with his earnings from writing about fantasy football, the one emblazoned with his own cryptic Holiday Inn slogan, is Mike Davis. Weighing in at just under 180 pounds, much of which is apparently undigested ego or stupidity, Davis is widely known in the circles of sports journalism as “Never Heard of Him” or “That Fantasy Hack.” He is often consulted about final lineup decisions by fantasy football enthusiasts, but for reasons that remain unclear, these strangers rarely consult him more than once. He produces a book from the pocket of his robe. It is J’Accuse by Emile Zola. He lifts the book over his head and shows it to the audience. They neither cheer nor boo; amazingly, everyone in the audience yawns at once.

The referee approaches the microphone that dangles from the rafters. “Bill Belichick, you have been summoned here today to face the charges of Mike Davis, who apparently needs a refresher course in what sorts of cultural allusions are appropriate in sports writing.” (Aside to Davis, “Put that book back in your pocket, you fantasy hack.”)

Belichick looks confused, but he approaches the microphone to say, “I think this is what you call mixing metaphors. Is this a bet, a boxing match, or a trial?”

“Spell it out, Davis,” barks the ref. “And be quick about it for once in your life!”

Davis can’t bear to look the coach directly in the eye. Instead, he mugs for the audience as he says, “Mr. Belichick, I accuse you of deliberately misleading the public with your injury reports on a consistent basis.”

“Oh, that,” sighs Belichick.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” asks Davis.

“Well, I’m not really trying to mislead the public. I’m trying to mislead opposing teams. Everyone does it. You should really be talking to Jim Mora, not me.”


For those of you who don’t remember, Belichick was greatly annoyed when the Falcons upgraded Vick from questionable to probable prior to the Week 6 game—and then didn’t even have him suit up. The Patriots presumably prepared for the running threat that Vick posed rather than the more consistent passing threat posed by Matt Schaub, which may have accounted in part for the difficult time that the Pats had in edging the Falcons 31-28.

The following week, Belichick appeared to be mocking the injury report by listing two players (Troy Brown and Richard Seymour) as questionable on Friday even though they didn’t travel with the team to a contest in Denver. Questionable is supposed to mean that players have a 50% chance of seeing action, but the chance would appear to be considerably lower than that when the players in question are in their pajamas 2,000 miles away from the game.

I suppose Belichick could argue that he sincerely believed there was a 50% chance that scientists would develop an elaborate system of teleportation between Denver and Boston that weekend, but he was more likely doing unto Shanahan as Mora had done unto him.

I would like to laugh at Bill’s little joke and move on, but apparently Belichick himself has no intention of moving on. For the rest of the season, the Patriots’ injury report was useless—largely because Belichick seems to pay no attention to what the NFL means by its categories of probable (75% chance of playing), questionable (50% chance of playing), and doubtful (25% chance of playing). On a case by case basis, I suppose there is something to what Jim Mora has to say about this system: “What’s ‘questionable’ tell you? It tells you he might play, he might not.” But what it should tell you is that of 100 questionable starter listings over the course of a season, only about 50 should play. Of 100 doubtful starter listings, only about 25 should play. Of 100 probable starter listings, about 75 should play. Since Belichick seems to think that Tom Brady should always be listed as probable (or worse), then we should expect to see him in no more than 12 of 16 games. But those probable listings for Brady in 2005 really translated to “certain,” as he started every game of the season.

Or take a look at this injury report from Week 15, which reads more like a box score summary than an injury report:

Injury Report:  Week 15
New England vs. Tampa Bay
NE QUESTIONABLE T Tom Ashworth (knee);
QB Tom Brady (shin/right shoulder);
RB Corey Dillon (calf);
RB Heath Evans (shoulder);
RB Kevin Faulk (foot);
TE Daniel Graham (shoulder);
S Artrell Hawkins (thigh);
WR Bethel Johnson (pelvis);
T Nick Kaczur (shoulder);
RB Patrick Pass (hamstring);
CB Asante Samuel (infection);
S Michael Stone (ankle);
TE Ben Watson (head)

The first score in that game against the Buccaneers was a touchdown pass from the questionable Tom Brady to the questionable Tom Ashworth. The second score was a touchdown run by the questionable Corey Dillon. The questionable Kevin Faulk had 18 yards rushing. The questionable Daniel Graham made no statistical contributions, but was active for the game. The questionable Artrell Hawkins had 7 tackles. The questionable Bethel Johnson returned a kick for 20 yards. The questionable Patrick Pass snagged a pass for 4 yards. The questionable Asante Samuel had 7 tackles. And the questionable Michael Stone had 2 tackles. Of 13 players listed with a 50% chance to play, only 3 (a starting tight end, a significant offensive lineman, and a scrub RB) missed the game.

If the explanation for Belichick’s injury reports is that he is commenting on Mora’s handling of Vick in Week 5, then is anyone else thinking that he should have wrapped up his commentary by Week 15? And if we really want to blame Belichick’s behavior on something Mora did in 2005, how does that account for the fact that Belichick left Richard Seymour completely off the injury report when he traveled to San Francisco without the player at the end of the 2004 season?


The referee taps Davis on the shoulder, “Everyone’s waiting. What are you doing?”

“Oh, sorry. I just had to attend to some of my fantasy hack stuff.”

“Well, can you get on with this please? Belichick is a busy man.”

“Sure,” Davis says into the microphone. “Here is the wager that I have in mind for you, Mr. Belichick. With percentages, it seems to me that you should be striving to play a zero-sum game.”

“The more you talk,” Belichick snipes, “the less I understand you.”

“It’s like this,” Davis says a bit too loudly into the speaker system. “When you list a player as out, he should have a 100% chance of missing the game.”


“So if you list a player as out, but he plays anyway, you owe $100 to the charity of Paul Tagliabue’s choice.”

“I don’t think people accuse me of abusing the ‘out’ category.”

“No, but it’s a simple place to start. It also works in reverse. A player who isn’t on the injury report at all but misses the game due to injury costs you $100.”

“Oh, you’re still thinking about that Seymour thing in 2004? That was a simple typo!”

“Now, when we get to probable, we have to switch things up a bit. For every probable starter who plays, the pot owes you $25, but for every probable starter who doesn’t play, you owe the pot $75.”

“You mean if I want to keep listing Brady as probable every week, I have to find some scrub to list as probable every fourth week?”

“No, we’re talking starters here. You’ll completely steamroll this system if we let you say that your 6th running back in a full body cast is probable but isn’t likely to get a chance to come in.”

“You really think I would do such a thing?”

“Let’s skip my opinion and get onto questionable, Bill.”

“I’m pretty sure I understand things from here. You’re saying that if a player listed as questionable plays, then the pot owes me $50, and if a player listed as questionable doesn’t play, then I owe the pot $50.”

“You catch on quick.”

“And as for doubtful, when a doubtful player doesn’t play, the pot owes me $25, but each doubtful player who sees action costs me $75.”

“Exactly,” Davis says, relieved to be spared the pains of explanation.

“But there’s one thing I don’t get,” Belichick adds.

“What’s that?”

“Why should I take your stupid bet? I have nothing to gain, and you have nothing to lose. It hardly seems like a bet at all. It’s as screwed up as your metaphors.”

“The idea is that I keep track of how you handle your starters all season, and if you finish anywhere between -$150 to $150, I publicly apologize for saying that you abuse this system, but if your deviation from zero is greater than that in either direction, you give a corresponding donation to the United Way or some such thing.”

“It’s pretty obvious that there’s a huge gap in your logic,” says Belichick.

“What’s that?” asks Davis.

“You fantasy hacks can’t do anything in public. For something to be done in public, people have to be watching.” Belichick walks away in disgust.

I hate that man. He’s smarter than I am even in my own mixed metaphors.

For responses to this fantasy question please email Mike Davis. Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.