Patriots

NFL Picks: Week 12

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NFL Picks: Week 12

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

I was 2-1 on Thanksgiving, but Im back for another helping of NFL gambling goodness.

Hope everyones holiday went as well as it did for the Patriots, or as well as Im about to do on my Week 12 Picks.

So hide your kids and hide your wife, because I'm picking everybody up in here

The Game: Tennessee at Houston (-6.5)

I hate blaming everything on Randy Moss. But can it really just be a coincidence that both teams that acquired him this season imploded within two weeks? Or how about the fact that in both cases it was the quarterback and head coach at the center of the controversy?

Furthermore, at this point, what team is going to be stupid enough to bring Randy in next season? Jerry Jones? Maybe Daniel Snyder? Who else? Has Randy suddenly become the new TO?

Who could have believed things would unravel so quickly? Its been barely two months since that one-handed grab at the Meadowlands; doesnt that feel like two years ago?

Anyway, thats all the rhetorical questions I have for this game, so lets get to the basics.

1. Rusty Smith is the Titans starting quarterback. Yes, THAT Rusty Smith.
2. Chris Johnson is the Titans starting running back.
3. Against a defense like Houstons, No. 2 more than makes up for No. 1.

Also, I know Rusty Smith wont be the most qualified starting quarterback in the NFL on Sunday, but he and Randy are a decent fit. Smith doesnt really know any better, he just wants to let loose which means a potential increase in bombs headed Randys way.

I think I smell his first Titans touchdown this week.

And it smells like a combo straight cash and a poorly catered lunch.

The Pick: Titans (6.5)
The Game: Jacksonville at N.Y. Giants (-7)

Ladies and Gentlemen, your first-place Jacksonville Jaguars!

Huh?

Thats right. In a division that features the Colts, Texans and Titans all teams that at one point or another were allegedly destined for greatness this season the Jacksonville Jaguars are leading the way. Of course, they technically have the same 6-4 record as Indy, but the Jags have the tie breaker, and anyway, stop killing their buzz!

It does help Jacksonvilles cause that the Giants receiving corps is more beat up than Antonio Margarito, and that the G-Men are reeling on the heels of two straight division losses. But a team that needed last-second scores to earn home wins over the Texans and Browns isnt ready for the New Meadowlands spotlight.

The Pick: Giants (-7)The Game: Minnesota at Washington (-2)

We all know that the Vikings arent a bad team. Well, OK, they are a bad team, but theyre a bad team made up of legitimately talented players. And like the Cowboys before them, theyve spent the season struggling to sync those talents together. You can blame Favre. You can blame Randy. You can blame whomever you want, but unless youre blaming Brad Childress, youre wrong. And if you dont think the removal of the mustachioed moron is going to motivate Minnesota on Sunday then . . . then . . . you must be Childress himself!

Also, as I wrote last week, the Redskins might be better off playing on the road for the rest of the season. Theres too much controversy brewing in their hometown; too much pent-up hostility. If they come out and stumble even a little, the fans will get testy, and seeing how the 'Skins reacted two weeks ago against Michael Vick, that wont be good for business.
The Pick: Vikings (2)The Game: Pittsburgh (-6.5) at Buffalo

I dont mean this in any condescending way, but Im happy for Buffalo. They didnt deserve that Worst Team in the NFL label, and with their two straight wins regardless of whom they came against theyve salvaged the season. Its not longer up there with one of the most pathetic years in league history. Instead, it just goes down as another bad year in Buffalo which is fair, because Buffalo is undoubtedly a bad team. They were better than 0-8. 2-8 makes much more sense.

Anyway, 2-8 teams dont go into Heinz Field and come out smiling.

Unless they have a fetish for beat downs.

The Pick: Steelers (-6.5)The Game: Green Bay at Atlanta (-2)

I wish this game was in Green Bay.

Why? Because we already know what the Falcons can do at home. They can beat anyone; at home, they might be truly elite.

Judging by that, you probably know where I'm leaning here. I think the Falcons win by at least a touchdown. I just wish they'd play another significant game on the road so we can start to understand who this team really is.

The Pick: Falcons (-2)
The Game: Carolina at Cleveland (-10)
So, who do you like:

The Panthers' former crappy QB vs. their current crappy QB?

It really is too bad Colt McCoy went down with his injured ankle. The kid is a lot of fun to watch, and certainly has a career ahead of him. Besides the fact that McCoy has started only five NFL games, I would have bet on the Browns (-10) in a second had Colt been behind center. He just gets it.

With Jake Delhomme calling the shots, I always dont feel quite as strongly about a Browns blowout, but I still think theres a good chance we see it. Even though the Browns are undoubtedly worse without McCoy, the other guys on the team, especially Peyton Hillis and a few key members of the defense, made the leap along with McCoy and should be able to lead the Browns to a big win against a really bad team.

The Pick: Browns (-10)The Game: Kansas City (-1.5) at Seattle

There are two games this week that feature a pair of a first-place teams. The first is EaglesBears. The second is . . . wait, what?

SeahawksChiefs?

But yes, the Sons of Dave Krieg each find themselves atop their division. Even if they only have a combined 11-9 record.

The Seahawks are 5-5, but only two of those wins have come outside the division. The first was at home against San Diego before they stopped using special-teams plays as nap time and the second was a pretty decent win at Soldiers Field in Week 6.

But since Week 6, the Seahawks are only 2-3, and both wins have come against awful Arizona. Not the most inspiring stretch, even by NFC West standards.

So, why am I picking them to beat my newly-beloved Chiefs?

The Seahawks still have one of the best home-field advantages in the league, and even though they might not be that good, the fact that theyre in first place gives the fans a reason to takeover. Meanwhile, five of the Chiefs six wins have come in Kansas City this year; theyre 1-4 on the road.

I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt the last time they were one-point favorites outside of KC, and they ended up surrendering 49 points to the Broncos. Cant do it this time, fellas. Im so sorry.

The Pick: Seahawks (1.5) The Game: Miami at Oakland (-3.5)

The Dolphins and the Raiders have identical records (5-5), but their NFL realities could not be much different.

On one hand, the Dolphins are done. Theres no way they can catch the Pats or Jets, and the wild card is essentially out of reach. Their quarterback situation is a disaster. Their No. 1 receiver might be down for a few weeks and Miami is 1-4 this season at home(!), which doesnt have any bearing on this week but is a sign of a team thats not going anywhere.

Then you have the 5-5 Raiders one game out of first place, with only the fading Chiefs and the injury-riddled Chargers standing in their way. Their QB situation is a disaster, too, but thats nothing new. Not really a surprise. Thats something this team is already prepared to deal with. Meanwhile, theyre 4-1 at home this season, and, despite that tough loss in Pittsburgh, playing pretty solid football.

The Pick: Raiders (-3.5)The Game: St. Louis at Denver (-4)

If youre Josh McDaniels, why not just make Tim Tebow the starting QB? I mean, your season might be over, but your job is still on the line. And the way youre doing it now which is essentially to let Kyle Orton fade back 40 times a game, and pray that Brandon Lloyd can pull a few catches out of his ass isnt working. Its clear that this team doesnt have it, and that something has to change. Is that something the head coaching position? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, why not give the fans a reason to cheer?

It doesnt matter if Tebows not ready. No ones expecting him to be. He can squirm and struggle and throw interceptions galore, but no ones going to turn on him. Not when he only has six weeks to work with! When he fails, hell be a rookie, but when he succeeds even if its just a touchdown or two a game hell be Lord Tebow! Broncos fans will go wild! So much so that theyll maybe forget about their struggling head coach.
The Pick: Rams (4) The Game: Tampa Bay at Baltimore (-7.5)

As I explained last week, at this point in the season, picking Buccaneers games is easy. They are, quite simply, the Best Worst Team in the NFL

They win every game that they should win, which is a testament to the work being done by Raheem Morris. They also lose every game they should, which is a testament to the fact that they just arent THAT great a team.

The Ravens and Bucs might have the same record, but we all know theyre not in the same league. Especially when the games being played in Baltimore.

The Ravens have a rematch with the Steelers coming up Week 13, so I guess theres a chance that theyll lack a little focus and let Tampa stick around, but until the Best Worst Team theory fails, Im riding it to the imaginary bank.

The Pick: Ravens (-7.5)The Game: Philadelphia (-3) at Chicago

This feels like the suckers bet of the week, but . . .

(Prepares to become a sucker)

. . . do we really think that the Bears can win this game?

I know that their defense is good, very good at home. And I know that they somehow bounced back from their midseason slump to win three straight games. Its just that when the Bears are bad, theyre so unbelievably bad. They might be 7-3, but two of those losses may have been the worst two performances any teams had all year. When I look at this team, those awful losses are all I see; they were too bad to actually be good. Does that make any sense?

Also, for what its worth, those two losses where the Bears scored two touchdowns and committed nine turnovers came to the Giants and Redskins. Chicagos just not at the NFCs East level (not counting Wade Phillips Cowboys, because neither were they).

The Pick: Eagles (-3)The Game: San Diego at Indianapolis (-3)

Its usually as easy as saying: Peyton Manning in primetime? OK, give me the Colts.

And . . . yeah, its still that easy.

Dont give me the excuse that the Colts are too banged up. Did you notice that Norv Turners actually listed as the Chargers third receiver for Sunday night?

The Pick: Colts (-3)The Game: San Francisco (-1) at Arizona

At 3-7, the Niners are somehow only two games back in the NFC West. Actually, I shouldnt say somehow. This was expected. The divisions a joke and not a funny one. A twisted joke where the punch line involves a little kids dog getting run over by a bulldozer. Its truly disgraceful.

But while its easy to look at the Niners situation and think, Ooh, theyre still in the hunt! Theyve still got something to play for!, Im not buying it.

First of all, the schedule doesnt get any easier after this. San Francisco still has games left at Green Bay and San Diego. Those are losses, which give Singletarys boys at least nine on the season. As bad as the West is, I still think the winner finds a way to finish .500. And second of all, its not a fluke that the Niners are 3-7. Sure, if a couple different plays had gone a couple different ways, they could have a few more wins, but when you look at their first 10 games, it becomes pretty obvious that this just isnt a great team. Their only wins have come against Oakland (before they figured it out), Denver (in London) and the Rams (at home, in OT).

Journey is going to be pissed at me, but its time to stop believing. The Niners arent winning the NFC West.

The Pick: Cardinals (1)The Record&8232;&8232;:
Last Week: 11-4&8232;2-1 on ThanksgivingSeason: 84-72-5

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

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

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Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

MORE - Bortles earning respect from teammates, Patriots

Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

0:41 - Tom Brady injured his right hand during practice on Wednesday. Tom Curran, Albert Breer, Michael Holley, and Tom Giles discuss how this injury could impact Brady’s ability to throw against the Jaguars on Sunday.

6:06 - Isaiah Thomas has asked the Celtics to cancel his video tribute on Paul Pierce Night, and Pierce said that Thomas was trying to ‘punk’ Danny Ainge into a tribute video. Michael Holley, Kyle Draper, and Tom Giles debate if Isaiah Thomas or Paul Pierce is in the wrong.

11:19 - Albert Breer discusses how much credit Tom Coughlin deserves for the Jaguars great season and if Coughlin’s success against the Patriots and Bill Belichick will come into play on Sunday.

15:37 - Joe Haggerty joins BST from the TD Garden to break down the Bruins win over the Canadiens and Claude Julien’s return to Boston.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE EPISODE