Cheat Sheet: Bruce Arians should be grateful Steelers sent him packing

This week’s "Cheat Sheet" starts with former NFL wide receiver Lee Evans.

Rewind the clock to January 2012 and if you recall, Bruce Arians was removed as the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers in an almost awkward way. The word “retired” was used by the team, but Arians certainly never used the “R word” himself.  After the regular season, he was made aware that he wasn’t being asked back, and Arians, who’d logged more than 30 straight years as a college and NFL coach, decided it was time to enjoy the post-football life. He told his wife it was likely over. They eyed their dream situation of living in a country home in the mountains, and they considered what a winter would be like with no pigskin and no stress on Sundays.

But then Lee Evans intervened.  

It’s the final drive of the AFC Championship Game, and the Ravens are on the move. Joe Flacco hits Ray Rice. Big gain. Flacco hits Anquan Boldin. Big gain. The Ravens are on the doorstep of knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs, in the Patriots’ building (something they’d do a year later), and Evans has a step on the Patriots defensive backs. Less than a minute to go, down three, Flacco places the ball in the perfect spot, New England defender Sterling Moore gets a finger on it, and Evans drops the potential game-winning touchdown in the end zone.

Seconds later, Billy Cundiff missed a field goal that would have tied the game, and the Ravens are sent packing. Season over.

Over the course of the next 48 hours, Colts owner Jim Irsay brings then-Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in for an interview. There’s a vacant head coaching position in Indianapolis, they have the first pick in the draft, and Pagano is high on Irsay’s list. He wows the owner and is hired. One of his first phone calls when assembling his staff? Well, his old friend and opponent Arians, of course.

“Come to Indianapolis with me. Be my offensive coordinator."

Here Arians and his wife were, all set for a post-football life of John Grisham novels, iced teas and sunsets, and Pagano comes calling. It didn’t take much arm twisting. Arians joined Pagano in Indy, Pagano is diagnosed with cancer three weeks into the 2012 season, and Arians takes over as the interim head coach. A year later he’s the head coach of the Cardinals, and three years later he’s going back into Pittsburgh this weekend for the first time since 2011 — and facing the team that nudged him out the door and used the word “retirement” long before Arians necessarily wanted to use it.

So, why does Lee Evans matter? Because if Evans catches that ball on that fateful January day, the Colts have to wait until after the Super Bowl to hire Pagano — something they never would have done — and would have selected another head coach. That head coach wouldn’t have thought to call Arians to be offensive coordinator, Arians might have never gotten another shot, and he certainly wouldn’t have been the man who helped bring a 2-14 team to the playoffs in a matter of one year.

Football is incredible that way. And as Arians prepares for maybe one of the last remaining truly “personal” games for a head coach in the corporate world of professional football, somewhere Lee Evans likely will be watching, having no idea that he was partially responsible for it all.

Week 6 Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week

Tom Brady is the third starting quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to a 4-0 start four different times. Who are the other two?

This Week’s Podcast

FOX Sports 1’s Katie Nolan joined me to discuss her Greg Hardy first person essay that took on a life of its own last week, being Katie Nolan, and her new podcast, debuting this week. Listen here:

Now, on to the picks.

Week 5 Record: 10-4

Overall Record: 42-35

THURSDAY NIGHT

GRUDGE MATCHES

Atlanta at New Orleans: Falcons defensive end Jonathan Babineaux spoke about the Falcons-Saints rivalry this week, saying: "It’s two brothers that don’t get along. I think we’re similar and have been throughout the past years. All these games that we’ve played amongst each other, it’s less than seven points. Sometimes, it’s less than three points. It’s always a close battle, no matter what our record is. It’s always going to be a great matchup." All that, and I’ve got the Falcons winning by 20.

The Pick: Falcons 42, Saints 22

The Result: Saints 31, Falcons 21

SUNDAY

Cincinnati at Buffalo: Can we start the Adam Jones Pro Bowl campaign yet? Can I put his name in ink next to Aqib Talib’s as the AFC’s starting cornerbacks? Darrelle Revis and Chris Harris, Jr. may disagree, but few players have had more of an impact on defense than Jones this season. Bills keep it close, but Cincinnati’s rolling.

The Pick: Bengals 20, Bills 16

Denver at Cleveland: With public pressure mounting, a fan base ready to explode and TMZ reports knocking on the door, the Browns have resisted making a quarterback change, sticking with a plan they laid out in August. Josh McCown is the starter and mentor, and Johnny Manziel is the long-term answer who’ll be on the bench until he’s fully ready to be an everyday starter. Unlike so many teams that rush the need to start the young guy, the Browns are waiting until this one is ready. And in the meantime, McCown’s been awesome the past two weeks. It’s going to be a hostile environment for Denver on Sunday. It’s time the Broncos’ anemic offense isn’t bailed out by their outstanding defense.

The Pick: Browns 20, Broncos 17

Chicago at Detroit: I know Week 4’s Monday night loss to the Seahawks ended in heartbreaking fashion, but you can’t respond by losing 42-17 at home. The Lions fans are bringing paper lunch bags to the stadium and it’s only October. This can get worse. Two division games at home in a row. Fail to show up for this one and the Vikings game next week, and that could be a very interesting London week that follows. I’m taking the Bears and am fascinated to see how this Lions team responds to last week’s disaster.

The Pick: Bears 24, Lions 20

Houston at Jacksonville: Bill O’Brien is going with Brian Hoyer at QB, but as we’ve learned, that can change at the drop of a hat or with one bad pass. The Jaguars are getting healthier. Tight end Julius Thomas should be the guy to watch this week, fantasy football owners. Put that in ink.

The Pick: Jaguars 27, Texans 23

Kansas City at Minnesota: The Chiefs suffered a devastating blow in losing RB Jamaal Charles for the year and I’m not sure it’s something they can bounce back from. The offense has been struggling and now loses its top weapon. The Vikings are winners of five straight at home. Make it six. If they keep winning in that college stadium they’re playing in, they may have to delay the opening of WILF WORLD next year.

The Pick: Vikings 24, Chiefs 13

Washington at New York Jets: Sheldon Richardson is back and that’s an embarrassment of riches for a Jets defensive line that’s been as good as any in football this season. But I can’t dismiss the Redskins just yet. They entered their Week 5 contest in Atlanta as the NFL’s top rushing team, but left as No. 12 with just 51 yards on the ground. This one won’t be pretty, but I think Washington wins in its second trip to New York in four weeks. The NFC East is still very much up for grabs; offensive coordinator Sean McVay draws up the game plan and the players deliver with a big win for the Redksins.  

The Pick: Redskins 26, Jets 24

Arizona at Pittsburgh: What a Monday night win for the Steelers. Up against it the whole game, struggling to move the ball, the defense which has struggled all season keeping them in it, Michael Vick bursts out for a 24-yard scramble in crunch time, and Le’Veon Bell gets it done in the end. Just awesome. It won’t be so easy against this loaded Cardinals team, though. You can have the others, but this is your game of the week, and after a week of practicing in West Virginia, I think Arians wills his team to victory in the stadium he used to call home. Oh, and by the way, Chris Johnson is tied for third in the league in rushing. What magic power does GM Steve Keim have out there in the desert?

The Pick: Cardinals 24, Steelers 20

Miami at Tennessee: I have no doubt at all that interim head coach Dan Campbell can motivate this Dolphins team to win a few games right off the bat with a more aggressive, angrier style of football. Whether he can sustain that over the course of a whole season is another story. Hey, Ken Whisenhunt is 4-28 in his past 32 games as an NFL head coach. Not picking him to win on Sunday, either.

The Pick: Dolphins 27, Titans 17

Carolina at Seattle: One of the things I’ve always loved about Russell Wilson is the way he pulls things out in the fourth quarter. Yet, the Seahawks have failed to hold fourth-quarter leads in all three of their losses this season, including a 17-point lead last Sunday in Cincinnati. Wilson has beaten Cam Newton every time they’ve played. The Seahawks are inching toward “Must Win” mode. Wilson gets it done here.

The Pick: Seahawks 24, Panthers 16

San Diego at Green Bay: The Packers allowed a season-worst 191 rushing yards last Sunday, but Todd Gurley isn’t in that Chargers backfield. I love the idea of a Rivers-Rodgers shootout, but I just don’t see this San Diego offense being able to keep up with Green Bay at Lambeau. The Pack have won 12 straight at home and I don’t see them losing there all season.

The Pick: Packers 37, Chargers 20

Baltimore at San Francisco: Unfamiliar territory for the Ravens here. Tough two weeks ahead, too. In San Francisco followed by in Arizona? I don’t know. I rarely question Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh, but this team is so banged up that I didn’t recognize it Sunday vs. the Browns. Colin Kaepernick and Co. need this one. I think they get it. Name to watch here? Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who was all over the field for the 49ers last Sunday.

The Pick: 49ers 23, Ravens 17

New England at Indianapolis: The Patriots outscored the Colts 88-29 in two meetings last year, and that was before the Colts tattled on the Patriots about the air pressure in footballs. If you think the Patriots are above making this one personal, you don’t know the Patriots. 

The Pick: Patriots 38, Colts 20

MONDAY NIGHT

New York Giants at Philadelphia: The Eagles aren’t the people’s favorites they were in August anymore and after Sunday’s two red-zone interceptions, Sam Bradford was being compared to Ryan Leaf. But Philadelphia bounced back, blew out the Saints and got its second win. I think the Eagles take advantage of the Giants’ myriad injuries on Monday night and DeMarco Murray nets his second big game in a row. The NFC East is wide, wide open.

The Pick: Eagles 31, Giants 20

Reader Email of the Week

Peter,

I can’t get over the fact I drafted CJ Anderson in the first round of my fantasy football draft. Fantasy football guys on TV are like weathermen. No accountability. I could list a dozen of them that said CJ Anderson was the breakout guy this year and here we are, five weeks in, and he’s not even starting on my team.

Dylan, Monticello, New York

Dylan,

It’s a great little niche and one that I can’t hate on. Those guys all do the work and have legions of fans. I tried watching one of the fantasy football TV shows you’re talking about recently and they had all these acronyms I’ve never heard of and were referring to players by their first names and I quickly realized I work in a different world than they do. My advice as always when it comes to fantasy football is to read and listen to the beat reporters. I can’t name any in Denver who were putting C.J. Anderson’s name alongside Matt Forte or Adrian Peterson.

Week 6 Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week

Fran Tarkenton and Peyton Manning are the only other quarterbacks in NFL history to start out 4-0 four or more times.