By Rich Levine

It's a great week to be a home team in the NFL.

OK, it's too early to make a ridiculous statement like that. But if you're living in a Las Vegas state of mind, then there's really no place like home in Week 8.

We have zero home dogs on the schedule this Sunday. It doesn't matter if you're the Lions, Cardinals, Chargers, Rams or Raiders if you're playing at home, you're expected to win. How many actually will? Well, I'm about to tell you.

Anyway, after a fourth straight winning week, I'm finally above .500 for the season on these fake bets. How about some fake applause?!

And how about coming to your senses and betting some real dough on the games this week?

Not talking about the ones I get wrong; just the winners.

The Game: Denver vs. San Francisco (-1) in London

If I'm writing about the Niners, there's a very good chance I'm begging for a Mike Singletary "Mic'd Up" segment. And don't expect me to stop now.

This is a critical time for amassing any and every Singletary sound that we can. I mean, at the most we have, what, a month until he's fired? And at that point he'll just become a defense coordinator for the rest of his career and never find the spotlight again. So, come on NFL Films, let's not allow this opportunity to slip away!

On that note, here's a quick checklist of the Singletary sound I'd like to hear from England:

1. Singletary screaming at a cab driver for driving on the wrong side of the road.

2. Singletary growling into the face of one the guards at Buckingham Palace.

3. Singletary and the Queen politely debating England's refusal to adopt the Euro, over a spot of tea.

4. Singletary barking at Big Ben: "If you ain't five minutes early, then you 10 minutes late!"

5. Singletary threatening to castrate his secondary after Kyle Orton throws his fourth TD pass of the game.

The Pick: Broncos (1)

The Game: Miami at Cincinnati (-1.5)

At one point during the 1 o'clock games last week, the Red Zone channel was switching back and forth between drives by the Dolphins and Bengals.

For about five minutes, literally all we saw were Carson Palmer and Chad Henne helplessly trying to march their team down the field. It was sack, after incomplete pass, after bad decision, after interception. The next thing I knew I was lying on the floor in a puddle of my own drool. Incompetence-induced seizure, they tell me.

In related news, I'm wearing a helmet while I watch this one on Sunday.

For what its worth, the Dolphins are still undefeated on the road this season with quality wins in Green Bay and Minnesota, and another win in Buffalo. Meanwhile, their last time playing at home, the Bengals lost to the Bucs. Advantage: Miami.

The Pick: Dolphins (1.5)

The Game: Green Bay at N.Y. Jets (-6)

The NFL was pretty quiet without the Jets last week, wasn't it? It just didn't feel the same without having a team to root against as hard as you root for the Pats; without hearing Rex burp all over the microphone in his postgame presser; without watching Chris Berman wet himself over LT's resurgence.

One week without the Jets felt like seven. I almost have a hard time remembering all the reasons I hate them. Hmm, what can we do about that . . . oh, OK.

"Bill Parcells is right you are what your record says you are," Rex Ryan told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. "It's hard to say we're not the best team in the league."

Ahhh, now I remember. Welcome back, Jets.

The Pick: Packers (6)

The Game: Minnesota at New England (-5)

Where I come from, if you say "Beetlejuice" three times in a row, Michael Keaton will pop out of a miniature model city and make your life a living hell.

In this world, Bill Belichick isn't nearly as forgiving as my man 'Juice. For the coach, all it takes is one mention of "Spygate" to turn him into the master of disaster.

I'm still not sure what Brad Childress thought he'd accomplish by bringing up SpyGate earlier in the week. Although given his history, I guess the public display of stupidity shouldn't come as a surprise. Neither should the fact that, thanks to his irrelevant cheap shot over an issue so played out that even Gregg Easterbrook's stopped yapping about it, Professor Belichick now becomes Commander Belichick, and will do anything in his power to embarrass the hell out of Chilly.

I'm sure the Vikings players will appreciate it.

Also, for anyone going to the game on Sunday: Have you considered the fact that you might be in attendance for Brett Favre's final NFL game? The guy might be the anti-Christ, but seeing his finale would still be pretty cool, right?

All it's going to take is one awkward fall on that ankle, or one bruising blindside hit, or one horribly thrown pick-six after which Favre will pretend that he fell awkwardly on his ankle, and that's all she wrote.

Or more fitting: That's all he sexted.

The Pick: Pats (-5)

The Game: Washington at Detroit (-2.5)

I've switched this pick five times over the last six hours.

I wonder how long Matthew Stafford will take to adjust back to being under center. I wonder how the Redskins will react to their second straight road game, and how much of an effect the pounding taken at the hands of the Bears even in victory will have in Detroit. I wonder how much better the Lions are than the Bears. Or how much better Washington even is than the Bears. Last week, the Redskins forced 27 turnovers and still only won by a field goal. And this is a Washington team that also lost by 14 points on the road to the Rams earlier this season. Can we really feel confident about the 'Skins getting it done in Detroit?

In the end, I'm going to say yes, mostly because the Redskins season is essentially riding on this game. With a win, they improve to 5-3 (including wins in three of their last four), giving them some momentum and surge heading into the second half of the season. With a loss, they drop to 4-4, with Philly, Tennessee, Minnesota and the Giants on deck.

The Pick: Redskins (2.5)

The Game: Carolina at St. Louis (-3)

It makes you really appreciate what the Patriots have accomplished this decade when you look at the depths to which the Panthers and Rams New England's first two Super Bowl victims have fallen.

Granted the Rams have finally started to right their ship, but the Pats just never sunk.

The Pick: Rams (-3)

The Game: Buffalo at Kansas City (-7.5)

They should have beaten the Ravens! They could have beaten the Pats! Steve Johnson's a star! Lee Evans has a pulse! Fitzpatrick fever!

But, come on, do you really want to bet on the Buffalo Bills right now? Do you really have faith that a team that's given up 34, 38, 38, 36 and 37 points, respectively, over its last five games can go into crazy Kansas City, and stay within a touchdown?

No way.

As for KC, you know I love them like they're my own non-existent children. I've been hyping the Chiefs since the preseason, and with their current 4-2 (and their game-and-a-half lead in the West), Im feeling pretty confident that for once in my life, I won't look so stupid.

BUT, I'm also willing to admit that the Chiefs havent exactly played the league's most impressive schedule. Their wins came against the Chargers, Browns, 49ers and Todd Boumans Jaguars. The only two tests at Indy and Houston are their two losses.

Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about my 100 bet (20-1 odds) on them winning the AFC West, but I'll feel a lot better if they can make easy work of the Bills.

(And I'd feel a whole lot better if I weren't lying about that 100 wager.)

The Pick: Chiefs (-7.5)

The Game: Jacksonville at Dallas (-6.5)

Heres one game I wouldn't bet a penny of real money on. I wouldn't even bet Jerry Jones' money on this game.

Im taking Dallas for the column, mostly because their defense has too much pride to let Davey Garrard and the Jags have too much fun at that stadium, but you don't feel good about investing your cash in either of these teams for the rest of the season.

The Pick: Cowboys (-6.5)

The Game: Tennessee at San Diego (-3.5)

It makes all kinds of sense to just give up on the Chargers. At 2-5, with a bird-brained coach and no discipline whatsoever, it seems crazy to think that the San Diego can still save its season. But I cant help but ask myself:

What if the Chargers were just a little less stupid?

I'm not even asking for a total mental makeover here. It's far too late for that. What if they were just a stupid team, instead of a really, really, unbelievably stupid team? What if, for one Sunday, they managed to only shoot themselves in the foot, instead of both kneecaps? They still have talent. They still have a top QB. They still have a stifling 'D'.

If its going to happen, it has to be this week. The Chargers hit mental rock bottom against the Pats, and if that embarrassment isn't enough to force them to focus on football for a full 60 minutes, then it's time to finally give up.

The Pick: Chargers (-3.5)

The Game: Tampa Bay at Arizona (-3)

Heres what Bucs head coach Raheem Morris had to say last week, after his team needed a last-second touchdown at home to beat the ahem Rams

"I like where we are. We're 4-2. We're the best team in the NFC. Yeah, I said it. We're the best team in the NFC and we're excited."

Really? Isnt thats like proclaiming yourself the best basketball player in the world after beating a fourth-grader in knockout?

Id love to hear what Morris has to say if his team could beat the -- dun dun DUN -- Cardinals! Maybe hell predict a Super Bowl three-peat?

Too bad we won't find out.

The Pick: Cardinals (-3)

The Game: Seattle at Oakland (-2.5)

I usually take great offense any time an announcer dares compare a modern running back to Bo Jackson. I'm not sure why I get so upset, but it just never feels right. It's sacrilege. It's like the guy just insulted my grandmother.

But a funny thing happened last Sunday while Darren McFadden was running train all over the Broncos 'D'. The announcer made a reference to him looking like Bo . . . and I did nothing.

Typically, I'd shake my head, yell at the TV, insult the guy's grandmother. But this time I just sat there, watched the replay Run DMC plowing through the Broncos at full speed, and thought, "Eh, I can actually see it a little."

There's no greater compliment I can give to a running back.

The Pick: Raiders (-2.5)

The Game: Pittsburgh at New Orleans (PK)

I'm the reason this game is a "pick 'em." I'm the reason that despite the fact that the Saints have been outscored 96-78 this year in four games against the 49ers, Panthers, Cardinals and Browns, they still aren't underdogs against arguably the best team in the league. I'm the reason Vegas still gives us this garbage. I'm an enabler. Hey, at least I admit it.

But let me say this: Sunday is the last straw. If the Saints fail to step up and make a statement, then I'm off the wagon. If karma doesnt let the Saints win the same week 'Lil Wayne gets out of jail, than it never will.

The Pick: Saints (PK)

The Game: Houston at Indianapolis (-5.5)

I believe it was Gandhi who first uttered the phrase:

"Use caution when wagering against Peyton Manning in prime time, lest you're keen on two swiftly broken knee caps."

And he's right. You can't do it. Especially at home, especially against a horrendous defense and especially when this team's already embarrassed him once this season.

I know that the Colts are banged up. They're so banged up I hear they're actually activating Bill Polian to play backup tight end (hell be wearing No. 666). Surely, the Colts have seen better days. But theyve still got Peyton . . .

Are you really going to disagree with Gandhi?

The Pick: Colts (-5)
The Record:&8232;
Last Week: 8-6&8232;Season: 50-49-4

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck


Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are looking thin in the secondary as they head into their third and final day of practice before Sunday's matchup with the Falcons. 

Both Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin) sat out the session, as did linebacker Elandon Roberts (ankle). Undrafted rookie defensive end Harvey Langi was also a non-participant as he recovers from injuries sustained in a car crash last week. 

Asked if Friday's practice was a possibility, Gilmore said, "We'll see." He did not give any indications that his symptoms had improved or that he had been cleared for practice as he works through the league's concussion protocol. 

Rowe was spotted in the locker room on Thursday, but he has not practiced since aggravating his groin injury in Week 4. He was injured initially during a Week 2 win over the Saints. 

Roberts suffered an ankle injury when teammate Alan Branch landed on his lower leg during a loss to the Panthers in Week 4. However, he was healthy enough to play in Weeks 5 and 6. It's unclear as to whether or not his current ailment is related to what knocked him from that Week 4 loss to Carolina. 

Here is Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's game between the Patriots and Falcons:


CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle)
LB Harvey Langi (back)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)

RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
WR Chris Hogan (ribs)
G Shaq Mason (shoulder)


LB Jordan Tripp

OLB Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring)
K Matt Bryant (back)
LB Jermaine Grace (hamstring)
LB Deion Jones (quadricep)
DE Takk McKinley (shoulder)
LB Duke Riley (knee)
WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring)
DL Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee)

Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better


Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

Bill Belichick has long been a proponent of altering his team's DNA from season to season. It cuts down on complacency, and also allows the head coach to be correct when he says last year doesn't matter to this year's Patriots. It can't, after all. What can players like Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks or Lawrence Guy, who were on other rosters in other cities and -- in some cases -- other divisions or other conferences, know about last year's Pats? The answer is nothing, or next to nothing. Just the way Belichick prefers.

But last offseason's turnover may have done more harm than good, at least to this point in the year. Yes, the Pats have shown a toughness and an ability to overcome adversity -- see the start versus the Jets and the comeback against the Texans -- but there are clear indicators this group isn't gelling like Belichick believed it would. 


Much of that points to the unusual approach taken by the coach and the front office in free agency. Whether it was the quick-strike signing of Gilmore to an expensive contract, to the surrendering of another first-rounder -- this time by choice -- in the trade for Cooks, or even the decision to walk away from fan favorite LeGarrette Blount in favor of younger, less proven backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, much of what Belichick was trying to do has yet to bear the necesssary fruit. And it's not just on the field where the Pats have shown deficiencies; it's in the locker room and meeting rooms as well.

Start with the bold move to get an in-his-prime Gilmore. Signing a player considered in some circles to be a No. 1 corner makes all the sense in the world. But what perplexed many was the decision to pay an outsider over Malcolm Butler, a proven player not only in this system, but in the biggest of games. Gilmore doesn't have that pedigree because his former team, the Bills, never made the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl. 

Butler's anger at the decision and the way the rest of his offseason played out has been well-documented in this space {}. But what hasn't in many other spaces is the acknowledgement that it still wears on Butler to this day. 

His play is back on the uptick after a reduction of snaps in Week 2, but Butler has always been a player to whom the team has devoted extra attention to get ready week to week. That may have factored in the Pats' decision to only go so far in contract talks. Why then would Belichick assume Butler would be the perfect professional when Gilmore gets what Butler believes is his money? The thought seems to run counter with the argument against keeping Butler longterm in the first place. 

Butler says his relationship with Gilmore is good, that he's glad to have him as a teammate. Perhaps the 28-year-old has come to that now. Perhaps. 

As for Gilmore, he's soft-spoken. That has occasionally come off as though he's a player lacking confidence. His performance against Tampa Bay was a step in the right direction, but it was immediately followed by a day-before-the-game scratch against the Jets because of a concussion that was either suffered late in the week or was unreported until Saturday. His sudden absence put the Patriots in a bind. The fact that Gilmore spoke up was the right thing to do, but if it could have been communicated earlier it should have been, for the good of both player and team. Now he must reassert himself, whenever that opportunity comes.

"[You] grow together as team based on those experiences; some good, some bad, but learning from all of them," Belichick said when I asked him about a team's personality evolving over the course of the year. "I mean, we've only had one roster change since the start of the season but that's certainly on the low side. I would anticipate that there would be roster changes during the course of the year like there always are for every team and so that affects the makeup of the team, the interactions of the team. Maybe that's the personality you're talking about."

Belichick has a tendency to not only remember your last game, but -- if warranted -- hold it against you. Blount would be a prime example. He rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last year but his play in the Super Bowl was poor. So despite his production on the field and his popularity off, the Pats had no inclination to offer LGB a raise. In fact, they were fine with him walking away, and that's exactly what he did. Gillislee and Burkhead were tabbed as replacement parts, and on paper it looked great. It still may end that way. But neither player has provided a) a level of play equivalent to Blount's and b) the energy that Blount brought. And that latter part of the equation is incredibly important. Just ask the Eagles, who get a jolt from Blount every time he lowers his shoulder and runs over a defender. 

The same could hold true for others who fled, were allowed to leave, or never got the chance to come back: 

-- Martellus Bennett could be a pain in the ass but there was never a dull moment around him, and no one can deny the loquacious tight end was an energy player both on and off the field. 

-- Logan Ryan had been through so much with the Pats, both good and bad. He had no problem talking, not just to his teammates but to the other side as well. He had earned his teammates' trust. 

-- Chris Long had an excellent relationship with so many guys on the team, and while he wouldn't be considered a "personality" in the same mold as Blount, he was incredibly well-respected for his professionalism and for his sacrifice, many times playing out of position. 

Then throw in the retirement of old standby Rob Ninkovich and, of course, the season-ending injury to Julian Edelman. If you didn't understand before, you should know now just how much each player is missed. 

It's now up to the newcomers, and some of the holdovers, to elevate their level and find their voice, both on the field and in that room. And that may also be a part of the early issue. These "new" players -- Cooks, Gilmore, Gillislee, Burkhead, Guy -- are, for the moment, quiet. Perhaps they're concerned about stepping on toes, but at some point that may be needed.

"Look, everybody's a shareholder on the team," Belichick said. "It's not one person's team. It belongs to all of us and we try to make it as functional, as effective and as competitive as we possibly can. So, that's what the goal is, to win every game that we play and to have a good season and to make the most out of every day and every opportunity that we have. 

"I don't know if that answers the question or not, but I'm trying."