NFL Picks: Week 5


NFL Picks: Week 5

By Rich Levine

No time to sit around and type in the glow of my first winning week of the 2010 season. And even so, can I really brag about 8-6? Whats the big deal? A payday like that barely supports my Mountain Dew habit.

So, lets just ride the hot hand and move on to Week 5, hopefully fast enough for you to forget that thing I said about Mountain Dew:

The Game: Jacksonville (-1) at Buffalo

There are a few reasons I planned to take Buffalo. First, theyre due for a victory which I know is an especially stupid reason, but in this world of NFL parity, its bound to happen. And against who better than a warm weather team, coming off a huge win and operating under the assumption that theyre a lot better than they really are?

Theres also the fact that this is Buffalos last home game until November 7, and given that they have one of the more rabid (if not mercilessly tortured) fan bases in the league, I figured the faithful Buffalonians would bring it, give the wary Bills some confidence, and help them get win No. 1 on the board.

The Bills arent a better football team than the Jaguars. They might not be much better than Jacksonville University (Do it, Dolphins!). But for one day, I thought they could be. I was ready to pull the imaginary trigger on this imaginary bet . . .

And then I read this (from ESPNs AFC East blog):

The Bills officially announced Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be blacked out on local television because they couldn't sell enough tickets. Ralph Wilson Stadium hasn't had a game blacked out since the season finale in 2006. The Bills have sold out every game from then on, a remarkable streak of 26 straight.

Oh well, looks like footballs dead in Buffalo; at least for this season. And when you throw in the fact that the Bills league-worst rush defense is matched-up against a reinvigorated Maurice Jones-Drew you have the pick.

The Pick: Jaguars (-1)

The Game: Tampa Bay at Cincinnati (-6.5)

I usually try to use legitimate reasoning andor logic in picking these games. Once in a while, that logic actually pays off, but with Bucs as you know if youve been following this column I dont even bother. I look at the Bucs, and immediately see defeat.

Its going to take a lot for me believe in these guys. Not to even believe in them winning, but not getting blown out, especially on the road.

Yeah, I know, theyre 2-1, but those two victories came against the Panthers and Browns, and even though the Bengals (most notably Carson Palmer) have seen better days, theyre still better than the Bucs.

At least a touchdown better.

The Pick: Bengals (-6.5)

The Game: Atlanta (-3) at Cleveland

Congrats, Cleveland!

Win No. 1! Win No. 1!! Win No. 1!!!

Theyll have plenty of time to revel in it, too.

The Pick: Falcons (-3)

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

A year ago, this would have been the most depressing game of the NFL season. But now?

Only mildly depressing!

Speaking of which, the Rams have a pretty decent chance of winning the NFC West this season. And doing so with a losing record.

The Pick: Lions (-3)

The Game: Green Bay (-2.5) at Washington

The NFL season is a non-stop carousel of concussions, broken bones, strained muscles and twisted limbs. We hear about injuries all the time, and eventually, we grow immune to their horror regardless of the severity.

But then every once in a while, an injury report comes a long that really makes you thank God you dont play football:

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan revealed Wednesday that Clinton Portis will miss 4-6 weeks with a 'third-degree separation' of his groin. The separation involved the muscle being torn off the bone.

Sweet mercy.

Anyway, Ryan Torrain has some potential as Portis replacement, as do Brandon Jackson (er, maybe not) and John Kuhn as replacements for Ryan Grant but thats not where this game will be decided.

Aaron RodgersGreg JenningsDonald DriverJerMichael Finley vs. the Redskins and their 31st ranked pass defense.

The Pick: Packers (-2.5)

The Game: Kansas City at Indianapolis (-8.5)

REALLY starting to like this Chiefs team. I mean, I really liked them from the beginning, but at this point, its getting a little weird; Im not supposed to feel this way about a non-Boston team.

Anyway, this isnt to say that the Chiefs are going to cruise into Indy and emerge still undefeated, but I have a hard time believing theyll get killed especially since Colts started getting hurt like theyre the 2010 Sox.

The Pick: Chiefs (8.5)
The Game: Chicago (-3) at Carolina

A useless 38-year-old quarterback or a useless 23-year-old quarterback:

Who you got?

Im taking the youngster, but honestly, its got nothing to do with him.

Its just that the Panthers are desperate. They need a win like Clinton Portis needs an attached groin muscle. Much like the Browns land Jags last week, the Panthers arent really competing for the playoffs, but more for their jobs and careers. Theyre on the verge of total embarrassment. Were talking Um, Brandon, have you ever been on something called Chat Roulette? embarrassment. They need to win.

Throw in the added motivation of Julius Peppers coming back to town, and thats what theyll do.
The Pick: Carolina

The Game: Denver at Baltimore (-7)

(Ravens huddle)

Ray Lewis: Aight now, fellas. We playing these m fs to pass! I want you blitzin this fool like its the last blitz of yo life!!

Terrell Suggs: Damn, Ray. We in the fourth quarter already and you said that erry single play!

Lewis: They run the ball yet? They run it even one damn time?

Suggs: Uhh, no


The Pick: Ravens (-7)

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

Tom Coughlins a hard ass, and as we learned back in 2007 -- as well as during any one of Coughlins six double-digit win seasons as an NFL coach -- sometimes that hard-assery breeds results. But sometimes, when you get the right (or in this case, wrong) mix of players, it turns disastrous.

This Giants team just isnt mentally tough enough to deal with Coughlins craziness. Last week, they had their rookie punter scared senseless and mishandling punts and holds; you had Brandon Jacobs completely screwed in the head and nearly fumbling two straight routine hand offs. You had offseason acquisition Antrel Rolle calling a radio show and complaining that Coughlin micromanages too much. Its a mess, and on the road game, against a good team and in a hostile stadium, it only gets worse.

Did I mention Ahmad Bradshaws hurting?

This could be a cakewalk for the Texans, especially if Arian Foster can finally snap out of it and prove he was worthy of all the offseason hype. Man, its Week 5 already. Whens he going to break out?

The Pick: Texans (-3)

The Game: New Orleans (-7) at Arizona

The Saints have look awful recently. The Cardinals have looked awful always. Decisions, decisions.

OK, Ive had the Cardinals written in this spot for the last two hours. The Saints have just looked so wrong since Reggie Bush and then Pierre Thomas went down. Youd think Brees could still spread the wealth with that deep stash of receivers, but 14 points against the Panthers says differently. Maybe the offense is human after all?

Maybe, but not for sure. And for now, Im keeping faith.

The Pick: Saints (-7)

The Game: San Diego (-6.5) at Oakland

The Chargers are 0-2 on the road this year, where theyve lost to a pair of supposedly inferior teams (SeahawksChiefs). At home, theyve beaten the Cardinals and Jaguars by a combined 79-23.

The Raiders . . . whatever, theyre the Raiders. They have issues. Theyre always going to have issues, especially with Darren McFadden out this week with a bum hamstring. But as depressed Raiders Nation may be, they still can get up for the AFC West. The Chargers are one of the few teams they hate more than their own, and that will show on Sunday, making it difficult for an already awful road team to run away with a win.

The Pick: Raiders (6.5)

The Game: Tennessee at Dallas (-6.5)

Every Dallas season is defined by its many ups and downs. Its dramatic victories and crushing losses; the few weeks where everyone's picking them to win the Super Bowl and the many more when those same people are obsessing over the teams demise.

That poorly written passage is from my Week 2 Picks column, but its worth repeating. Dallas does this EVERY year long stretches of success, long stretches of incompetence, 10 or 11 wins and then a first-round exit.

Right now, theyre hot. And it will stay like that for a while.

The Pick:Cowboys (-6.5)
The Game: Philadelphia at San Francisco (-3.5)

How many different ways can the Niners find to lose games?

This week, Ill say theyre up 20-14 and have the ball at the two-minute warning. No time outs for Philly, so Singletary sends out the victory formation. Only when the Niners run first down, he doesnt like the way Alex Smith takes a knee. He REALLY doesnt like it. I think he maybe prefers his QBs to go down right knee first, and Smith uses his left. You just cant pull that stuff with Singletary. Anyway, the coach loses it, benches Smith, is so mad he mistakenly tells the punter to get under center, the punter fumbles on second down, the Eagles recover and take it to the house.

Philly wins, 21-20.

The Pick: Eagles (3.5)

The Game: Minnesota at N.Y. Jets (-4)

The presence of Randy Moss played mind games with Tom Brady, one of the calmest, most methodical and precise QBs in the league. It forced him into some bad throws, led to some bad interceptions, and sometimes took him out of rhythm.

Considering all that: Can you imagine how stupid Brett Favre is going to be with Randy in his life? Can you even fathom how many huge, crucial, back-breaking interceptions hes going to throw trying to force the ball down field?

Certainly, enough to doom Minny on Monday.

The Pick: Jets (-4)

The Record:Last Week: 8-6&8232;Season: 28-31-2

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

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


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. 


Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season


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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.