Bruins

NFL Picks: Week 15

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NFL Picks: Week 15

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

There are very few things that can keep me from these picks. Earlier in the year, I deferred in the name of the Celtics taking their talents to South Beach. A few weeks ago, it was because LeBron was taking his talents back to Cleveland. And this week marks the third time in 15 chances that NFL picks take a back seat because . . .

Antoine Walker's taken his talents to the D-League!

I'm headed up to Maine to check in on everyone's former favorite Celtic, and will report back Friday. In the meantime, enjoy an abridged version of my Week 15 Picks.

I went 23-10 last week, based on my new units system. And by "new" I mean new for me. I know I didn't invent it. Here's a quick recap and then it's on to the picks.

Games are broken into three categories:

1. Both teams are in playoff contention.

2. Only one team is in playoff contention.

3. Both teams have already checked out.

Games from Category 1 will count three times (win or lose), Category 2 games will count twice and Category 3 will count once. Makes sense, right?

Here we go

CATEGORY 1

The Game: San Francisco at San Diego (-10)

I wish a blowout loss to the Chargers could put us out of our 2010 Niners misery. That finally, we'll be able to move on, forget they ever existed and stop wasting time our wondering if maybe (just maybe!) they'll turn a 1-6 (and then 3-7) start into a playoff birth.

Instead, that won't happen until Week 16 when San Fran's blown out by the Rams.

The Pick: Chargers (-10)

The Game: Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-5)

So, let me get this straight. Peyton Manning is in the midst of one of the worst statistical stretches of his career. His offense is banged up. His defense is a mess. He's throwing picks like Brett Favre in his prime. "What's wrong with Peyton?", everyone freaks out. Then he has one good game against a really bad Titans team and everything is right with the world. Really? It's that easy? The Titans?!

The Pick: Jaguars (5)

The Game: Kansas City (-1.5) at St. Louis

I'm officially rooting for the Rams to emerge from the NFC West, if for no other reason than because Steven Jackson deserves it. The guy's been killing himself for that franchise since 2004, hasn't made the playoffs since his rookie year, and has yet to have a winning season. You know I love my Chiefs, but this one's for Steven

The Pick: Rams (1.5)

The Game: New Orleans at Baltimore (-1)

The 10-3 Saints have beaten only two teams with a winning record. Only one of those came on the road. That one came against Tampa.

The Pick: Ravens (-1)

The Game: Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants (-3)

Why is it news that Michael Vick wants to own another dog? Seriously, can't we just stay focused on the issues that really matter? For instance, what kind of dog will he get? Pug? Ooh, maybe a Jack Russell? This is interesting stuff, right?!

The Pick: Giants (-3)

The Game: Atlanta (-6) at Seattle

A battle of first-place teams! God, that just feels dirty, but regardless of the piece of trash division that the Seahawks currently call home, they are, in fact, very much in playoff contention and I think their insane home-field advantage helps keep this game close.

The Pick: Seahawks (6)

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

Oh, Marky. It's OK. I know you've had a rough go at it lately, but I have just the cure for what ails you. That's right . . . Pittsburgh! And 12 of the meanest, dirtiest, "we aren't happy until we concuss you defenders" in the league. Good luck, champ!

The Pick: Steelers (-6)

The Game: Green Bay at New England (No Line)

You really get the sense that Aaron Rodgers will sit this one out, which really gives me the sense that I'll take the Pats against Matt Flynn, regardless of where the line finishes.

The Pick: Patriots (-Whatever)

CATEGORY 2

The Game: Denver at Oakland (-6.5)

There's no other way around it and I'm sure the Bills' Steve Johnson agrees God is punishing the Broncos for refusing to play Tebow.

The Pick: Raiders (-6.5)

The Game: Chicago at Minnesota (-1.5)

It's hard to really trust the Bears based on last week, so I'm going with the Vikings and rookie QB Joe Webb, based mostly on this.

The Pick: Vikings (-1.5)

The Game: Detroit at Tampa Bay (-6)

The Lions registered their face-saving win last week against the Packers, and can now look ahead to next season not that it would against the Best Worst Team in the NFL!
The Pick: Buccaneers (-6)

CATEGORY 3

The Game: Cleveland at Cincinnati (-1.5)

Eric Mangini announced on Thursday that Colt McCoy is his starter for the rest of the season. Great news for Browns fans, but awful news for gamblers, because with Jake Delhomme out of the mix, I don't know what to think.

Oh wait, yes I do . . . Carson Palmer!
The Pick: Browns (1.5)

The Game: Washington at Dallas (-6)

Rex Grossman alert. I repeat, we have a major Rex Grossman alert on our hands, people. He's not officially slated to start yet, but his name is officially in the conversation. Abort! Abort!

The Pick: Cowboys (-6)

The Game: Houston at Tennessee (-1.5)

When the most interesting storyline heading into a game is that the opposing No. 1 receiver and cornerback beat the crap out of each other a few weeks ago, then . . . eh, you're not doing bad for a one-star game.
The Pick: Titans (-1.5)

The Game: Buffalo at Miami (-5.5)

I really think last week's Miami win was more a matter of the Jets' ineptitude than any sort of Dolphin resurgence. Not to mention it's hard to experience any real resurgence when you started off the season by digging yourself into a hole the size of the Chilean miners'.

The Pick: Bills (5.5)

The Game: Arizona at Carolina (-2.5)

This is hands down the worst game on the 2010 NFL schedule, and in accordance, I'd like to personally shake the hand every single Panthers fan who makes the trek to Bank of America Stadium. You, my friend, are a true fan. OK, so come on, all 15 of you, line up!

The Pick: Panthers (-2.5)

RECORD:

Last Week: 23-10
Overall: 118-100-4

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

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

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Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
 
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
 
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.


 
KYRIE IRVING
 
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?


 
AL HORFORD
 
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.


 
DANNY AINGE
 
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.


 
BRAD STEVENS
 
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.


 
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
 
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.

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