Inside the Lines: Steriods, Achilles troubles enough to derail Cowboys?

Bill Liesse

The easy copout would be to blame my research staff.

Problem is, Inside the Lines never has had a research staff. And with the Journal Star employee parking lot half as full as it was last season, we aren’t going to add one now.

So all these discoveries I’ve made since early in the week, when I sat down and picked the Dallas Cowboys to go 12-4 and win the NFC? They’re on me.

OK, I knew Dallas would have to get by without an amped-up quarterback coach. Saw that news about how Wade Wilson was banned by the NFL for using HGH and "real" steroids.

What a relief for the fans. Who could trust the integrity of the game if a clipboard holder on one sideline could bench press 100 more pounds than his counterpart on the other?

But we shouldn’t joke. These steroids are serious business. And there can be no better lesson to show our kids than Wilson, whose lawbreaking was revealed by the same probe now linking HGH to Rick Ankiel.

Why? Wilson returned to Dallas from Chicago, so his work while under the influence of these evil supplements was one Rex Grossman. (Small world: ITL was going to call the Chicago QB Rex Ankiel all season, but lest we put any undue drug taint on the little fella, let’s instead go with Sax Grossman.)

Coach Wilson tried to deflect blame by talking about a lifetime of diabetes, but some unnamed sources from the Bears exposed that ruse. Wilson was called a "body freak" who lived in the weight room, which tells us either that Sax was seldom in the same room or Wilson has no real wisdom to impart, anyway.

That’s not why we’re having buyer’s remorse on the Cowboys.

It has more to do with Greg Ellis’ Achilles, which could leave the once-promising pass rusher out for the season if things don’t go well. And top cornerback Terrence Newman’s foot problems. And Terry Glenn’s knee injuries, which have the veteran receiver out at least two games.

Dallas’ machine is not well-oiled enough to overcome all these faulty wheels.

We’re not backing off the NFC title pick just yet. Nor are we making a promise to immerse ourselves in league injury reports 24/7.

You want geeks like that, fantasy football sites across cyberspace are teeming with them.

ITL goes more by the gut, particularly if the gut is getting points.

So, per tradition, these games are listed by confidence, from most to least. The picks are made against the spread while holding the belief that actual betting on said spreads is not only illegal in most quarters, it will make you far angrier at your losses than happy with your wins.

And thus will take the enjoyment out of the real national pastime: the NFL.

Love ’em

Steelers -6 at BROWNS: If you live in northern Ohio, this is the annual game to die for. If you live in northern Ohio and play for the Browns, it's the annual game you die in. PITTSBURGH.

Like ’em, but I'm scared

RAMS -1 vs. Panthers: Didn't you used to be Jake Delhomme? ST. LOUIS.

BENGALS -3 vs. Ravens: Proving nothing is sacred (and we realize this is not the first time), this is one of TWO Monday Night games. BALTIMORE.

SEAHAWKS -7 vs. Buccaneers: Long flight. Even longer flight back. SEATTLE.

RAIDERS -1 vs. Lions: The storyline everyone's talking about: Josh McCown vs. his former team! Or is it Luke McCown? Or McNown? Or Cade Something? And which is his former team, anyway? DETROIT.

I'll know more Monday

TEXANS -3 vs. Chiefs: How come everyone accepts that LaDainian Tomlinson sees no preseason action, but they're all worried that Larry Johnson had only three exhibition carries? The man toted the pill 416 times in 2006; he should have rested in August. KANSAS CITY.

Eagles -3 at PACKERS: The overhaul is complete. Brett Favre is now older than the rest of the Packers combined, head coach included. GREEN BAY.

CHARGERS -6 vs. Bears: Shawn of the Dead II: Chargers ends Merriman and Phillips, with upward of 30 sacks between them last year, going against OTs like Fred Miller. Sax sacks galore. You suppose he'll turn it over? SAN DIEGO.

Broncos -3 at BILLS: Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman says, "We are very, very confident." Coach Dick Jauron says, "We have a lot of questions to answer." Go with Jauron. He went to Yale. DENVER.

Patriots -6.5 at JETS: It'd be easier to gauge the upstart Jets if they ever played a team other than the Patriots. NEW YORK.

COWBOYS -6 vs. Giants: So here I go, taking a team I picked 4-12 to cover vs. a team pegged for 12-4. Doggone point spread. Complicates everything. NEW YORK.

I hate these games

JAGUARS -6.5 vs. Titans: Wicked choice, because the Jags are magical at home, especially in September. Yet they're consistently poor against Jeff Fisher's team. Default to the dog. TENNESSEE.

49ERS -3 vs. Cardinals: We all know the Niners dynasty has long since crumbled. But if you need piling-on evidence: They've lost four straight to the It's Never in the Cards. ARIZONA.

REDSKINS -3 vs. Dolphins: These two promise to provide all the thrills they did in Super Bowl VII, a 14-7 Dolphins thriller remembered only for Garo Yepremian's blooper reel. MIAMI.

VIKINGS -3 vs. Falcons: Remember that story this summer about the Grim Reaper cat in Rhode Island? Whatever nursing home patient he'd visit would die within a few hours? His name is Oscar, and he's Joey Harrington's agent. That guy can make a QB depth chart fall apart faster than Dave Wannstedt. ATLANTA.

Bill Liesse is sports editor of the Journal Star. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3213 or email to bliesse@pjstar.com.