NFL picks: Week 7


NFL picks: Week 7

By Rich Levine

"Hi, my name is Rich."

"Hi, Rich."

"And I havent had a losing Sunday in a month.

"But to be honest, the fear of dropping back down below the .500 mark, even for a week, wears on me each and every day. I can remember how awful it felt. How embarrassed I was just knowing that everyone was watching. That I'd let everyone down. That most of all, I'd let myself down.

"I never want to go back to that place.

"I hate that place.

"So, today, Im here to pledge to you my commitment to a fourth straight winning week at .500 or above. Ive come too far to look back now."

The Game: Pittsburgh (-3) at Miami

Theres nothing strange about Miami's 3-2 record. Given the Dolphins' early season schedule, and the expectations most of us had coming in, 3-2 is right where we figured they'd be. Not great, but definitely good. Sounds about right, doesnt it?

But the way they got to 3-2 is weirder than Ricky Williams. Through five games, the Dolphins are 3-0 on the road including impressive wins in Green Bay and Minnesota but 0-2 at home, where theyve lost to the Jets and Pats. Miami's the bizarre Chargers! And somethings got to give.

Meanwhile, Big Ben got to wade into the NFL waters last weekend with a home game against Colt McCoy and the Browns, but this week the water finally hits his mid-section, and things start to get uncomfortable. By the end of this game, Big Ben's the one wholl feel violated another victim of the Cameron Wake sack parade. And it won't help when James Harrison retires mid-game after a second-quarter encroachment penalty.

"What?!?!? We can't even jump offsides no more??! Yo, coach, I'm outta here."

The Pick: Dolphins (3)

The Game: Cincinnati at Atlanta (-3.5)

Did you catch this week's Sports Illustrated poll where a sample of 269 NFL Players voted Terrell Owens the most overrated player in the league?

Don't get me wrong, I hate me some TO as much as the next guy. But something tells me that if you polled the Bengals locker room right now, TO wouldn't even win for most overrated player on his team.

The de-evolution of Carson Palmer has truly been something to behold, and now's not the time for him to take his (lack of) talents into the raucous Georgia Dome against a Falcons team that's coming off a demoralizing loss to the Eagles.

Speaking of which, last week, Atlanta showed us its true colors . . . wait, what colors mediocre again?

OK, that's probably a little too harsh, but I think it's fair to say that the promise of the Falcons' 4-1 start was slightly premature. They're not a bad team, but they're by no means a great team, and with the Saints now back tied for first in the NFC South, the pressure's on Matty Ice and the Falcons to keep pace, or start praying for the Wild Card.

For one week, they will. Call it the Carson Palmer Effect.

The Pick: Falcons (-3.5)

The Game: Jacksonville at Kansas City (-9.5)

Vegas was late posting a line on this one, as the world awaited word on whether Todd Bouman who was just signed this week, is 38-year-old and hasnt thrown n NFL pass since 2005 would get the start for the Jags.

As it turns out, he will.

Now read that first paragraph again, and youll understand my pick

The Pick: Chiefs (-9.5)

The Game: Philadelphia at Tennessee (-3)

With Andy Reid, the fewer decisions he has to make the better. So, regardless of the fact that everyone is now convinced that the two-head quarterback experiment can work in Philly, I'm not buying it for a second.

Will VicKolb do damage to a few below average teams? Will they have their Sundays in the sun? Sure. But against good teams, when the games on the line, in pressure situations, Reids going to choke.

The Pick: Titans (-3)

The Game: Washington at Chicago (-3)

Outside of their Week 3 loss to St. Louis (albeit it's a loss we can't overlook in picking this game), here are the margins of loss andor victory in the Redskins other five contests.

6, 3, 5, 3, 3.

Shanahan's boys like themselves a close game, and the spread reflects that. It also reflects Chicago's embarrassing home loss to the Seahawks last week, but shhh, that one works against my logic.

Anyway, despite their flare for the nailbiter, this one will get away from the Skins in the running game. Ryan Torain showed he could run on the porous Colts last week, but the Bears don't play like that.

They're only giving up 82 yards a game on the ground, and have the kind of swarming D that will give a slower, north to south runner like Torain fits. Once the running games toast, Julius Peppers and friends can tee off on McNabb.

The Pick: Bears (-3)

The Game: Cleveland at New Orleans (-13)

Its been a hell of a start to Colt McCoy's NFL career. And I mean that literally, this has got to be hell for him.

In start No. 1, he had the pleasure of heading into Pittsburgh to be tied up and gagged by 60,000 terrible towels (although that's probably better than being clobbered by James Harrison's helmet), and for an encore? Why not take a trip down to New Orleans to take on the defending champs in the loudest, most volatile dome in the league?

Granted, McCoy certainly played in front of a few crazy crowds during his college days, but then again, those Texas teams could probably beat the Browns.

The Pick: Saints (-13)

The Game: Buffalo at Baltimore (-13)

The Bills have the second fewest sacks in the league. They're giving up a league high 182 (!) yards a game on the ground. Theyre tied for the league lead in rushing TDs allowed. Theyre tied for fourth in passing TDs allowed. They havent won a game and have looked phenomenally awful not doing so.

And now theyre heading into Baltimore against a Ravens squad that's all kind of pissed off over what happened in Foxboro and well aware they cant afford to drop two straight.

You remember how in The Waterboy, Bobby Boucher would gain motivation from envisioning someone he hated in place of the opposing quarterback's face?

When Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis look across the line at Ryan Fitzpatrick this week, all they're going to see are the long flowing locks of Tom Brady and theyre going in for the kill.

The Pick: Ravens (-13)

The Game: San Francisco (-3) at Carolina

Sucks that my personal research assistant is on his honeymoon this week, because this has to be a first I just don't have time to prove it.

Can you imagine another time when a 1-5 team has been favored on the road?

Anyway, this is a huge game for the Niners. Obviously, at 1-5, every game is huge, but if they have any slim hope of making something of this season, it's riding on Sunday. If they beat the Panthers, the 49ers embark on a three-game homestand against the Broncos, Buccaneers and Rams, followed by a visit to Arizona.

All very winnable games. Combined with the potential win on Sunday, that's a run that could bring the Niners to 6-5, and in a great position to still win the NFC West. It won't be easy, but without a win on Sunday, it's impossible.

Lets just say that SanFran fans better hope the Giants come through in Philly, because otherwise its going to be a dark, dark weekend in the City by the Bay.

With Matt Moore back at the helm, the Panthers dont necessarily earn an upgrade in skill level over Jimmy Clausen, but they do gain a more poised, reliable QB. Of course, a Ritalin-deprived first grader would be calmer in the pocket than Clausen, but still, Moore makes them better for the moment, and with Steve Smith ready to get back on the field, the Panthers are ready to get their first win.

The Pick: Panthers (3)

The Game: St. Louis at Tampa Bay (-3)

I understand how difficult it must be to create 32 equally fair and balanced NFL schedules. I understand how and why teams that were worse last season should have a somewhat easier go this time around. I also understand that with the crazy disparity between some of the divisions, and the fact that those division games make up almost 40 percent of the schedule, some problems are just plain unavoidable. But this is a little ridiculous.

Check out the first 10 games this season for Rams, compared to, lets say, the Dolphins.

St. Louis Miami
Arizona @Buffalo&8232;
@Oakland @Minnesota
&8232;Washington NY Jets
&8232;Seattle New England&8232;
@Detroit @Green Bay
&8232;San Diego Pittsburgh&8232;@
Tampa @Cincinnati
&8232;Carolina @Baltimore&8232;
@San Francisco Tennessee
&8232;Atlanta Chicago

Really? Honestly, take a look at the comparison again.

Out of spite, I'm taking the Bucs here.

Well, spite, and the fact that that the Rams have nothing on the road. Literally, nothing.

Come on, they lost by 38 points to the Lions. Yes, those Lions. Shaun Hill's Lions!

The Pick: Buccaneers (-3)

The Game: Arizona at Seattle (-5.5)

The pitter-patter of ass-slapping echoes throughout the city of Seattle . . . Pom-Pom Pete brought home a winner!

OK, maybe 3-2 isn't reason for any super celebration although by Pom-Poms standards, a second-quarter first down is a worthy cause but in the NFC West, 3-2 is serious business. And with Seattle still holding one of the greatest home field advantages in the NFL, I think we'll start to see the Seahawks make easy work of their division foes.

"W-O-R-K! Work is what we'll do today!! Yeah! Come on, boys! I belieeeeeeeeeve in you!!"

"Um, OK coach."

The Pick: Seahawks (-5.5)

The Game: New England at San Diego (-3)

Let me just get this out of the way I'm a sucker.

If the visiting team in this game were any 4-1 team other than the Patriots, I'd probably bet my paycheck on the Chargers. After what they've been through so far this season with back-to-back losses against the Raiders and Rams (which hasn't been cool since 2001), not to mention all sorts of injuries and chemistry issues it's crazy to think that theyre favored.

Just crazy enough to make complete sense.

Especially with the cross country trip, the Ravens-win hangover, and all the hype of Randy's return looming on the other side.

Its your classic trap game.

But I'm going with my gut on this one. And my gut says that, for the first time since the 2007 season, the Patriots have an identity. Stylistically, it couldn't be more different from that 2007 squad, but it's an identity nonetheless. And my gut says this identity, and how excited the team seems to be to embrace it, will overcome any potential trap game. At least at this juncture.

(P.S. Dont forget: Sucker)

The Pick: Patriots (3)

The Game: Oakland at Denver (-8.5)

After back-to-back weeks against the Ravens and Jets, the Broncos are loving the Raiders 'D' this week. That's like flying from Hong Kong to LA, LA to NYC, and then NYC to Boston. First two legs suck, but third brings serious relief. Compared to the other two, it's a piece of cake.

The Broncos struggled so much in their last two games because the Ravens and Jets knew that Denver couldn't run, developed a solid plan to attack Orton, and forced him into relative inefficiency.

Won't work that way with the Raiders. That's not to say the Broncos are about to rush for 200 yards, but against Oakland's 30th-ranked run defense, and with Knoshon Moreno pretty much back to normal, Denver will run just enough to keep Oakland honest. That allows Orton, Brandon Lloyd and company pick Oaklland apart. Josh McDaniel-style.

Tough times for the Raiders. Al Davis must be rolling over his grave.

The Pick: Broncos (-8.5)

The Game: Minnesota at Green Bay (-2.5)

Wacky month for the Vikings. You had the Randy trade, then the sexting, now Favre's latest return to Green Baby, followed by Moss first return to New England. In fact, with all the craziness, its amazing that Minnesota's been able to remain at a respectable oh wait, oops, it hasnt worked out at all. And if the Vikes cant build on that Cowboys win and get on a roll in Green Bay, then thats how it will stay.

And it will.

Packers by a field goal.

The Pick: Packers (-2.5)

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

You have to appreciate the contrast between these two coaches here. And by appreciate, I mean laugh about how inept Wade Phillips is. Honestly, though, this is one of the most serious and unfathomable story lines of the season.

How does Phillips still have a job?!

On one hand, it seems useless to get worked up about a team I don't care about, but in the end, we've all suffered enough. Jerry, it's enough already!

I'm still picking the Cowboys to take this game, but do so knowing that it will be despite the actions of their head coach. And that at some point, his hijinx will once again hurt them. Meanwhile, Jones will use this victory to justify keeping Phillips around, and ignore the issues that go far beyond basic Xs and Os. Not that Phillips understands that, either.

The Pick: Cowboys (-3)

The Record:&8232;

Last Week: 7-5-2&8232;&8232;
Season: 42-43-4

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

Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set


Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set

MONTREAL – The Boston Bruins weren’t about to dance on any Montreal Canadiens’ graves after it was over and done with, but they effectively closed the door on any flickering playoff hopes for the Habs this week. It all ended with Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre that finished off the sweep of all three meetings between the two arch-rivals over an eight day span, and with the reeling Montreal a stunning 13 points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

It was a close game nearly all the way through in Montreal until David Pastrnak and Riley Nash scored in the final few minutes of the third period, but the Bruins outscored the Habs by an 11-5 margin while clearly establishing they were the better team in all three contests. It all makes sense given the opposite directions that the two hockey clubs are headed at this point in the season, and because of that the Bruins were playing it pretty cool after burying the Habs.

“It was kind of a crazy week because we were playing them three times, so we obviously wanted to play good hockey,” said Tuukka Rask, who won all three games vs. the Habs while improving his lifetime record vs. the Habs to 10-15-3 in the process. “[We wanted to] get as many points as possible, and won all of those games along with the one on Long Island. So it was a great week for us.”

Certainly it seemed like there was more genuine emotion from the Bruins in Claude Julien’s return to Boston midweek, and perhaps a little more adrenaline in last weekend’s first game at the Bell Centre where rookies like Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen were dipping their toes into the storied rivalry for the first time.

But on this Saturday night it was more about a complete dismantling of the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge even as the Bruins initially fell down by a goal after a bad McAvoy turnover. Instead it was Boston’s Perfection Line that went to work with an efficient, dominant performance as David Pastrnak scored the game’s first goal and insurance third goal in the third period. They also accounted for the game-winner when Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak hemmed Montreal’s fourth line in the defensive zone, and Torey Krug eventually stepped up and rifled one short side on Carey Price.

Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak combined for two goals, six assists and a plus-8 in the resounding victory over the Habs, and had a dominant 12 of Boston’s 31 shots on net when the final horn had sounded. They simply overwhelmed Montreal with their depth, the high end quality of their lineup and the fact that Boston was rested while the Habs had to play in Washington DC on Friday night in a three games in four days stretch.

All of that allowed the Bruins to drive the final nail into Montreal’s coffin when the game was over, and it furthermore allowed Boston to keep worrying about the teams they’re trying to catch (ahem…Tampa Bay Lightning) rather than Eastern Conference bottom-feeders like the Canadiens.

“We talked about doing the job against them and finding a ways to push teams down while gaining ground on the teams above us,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought it was a great effort again. We knew that they would be ready for us, but we also knew that they had played last night. So maybe if we had a good start we could jump on them. I thought we had a good game.”

Clearly there have been ebbs and flows to the Bruins/Habs rivalry over their long history together, and both Boston and Montreal have been in the catbird at different times even in the recent editions of their history. But right now Boston is beating the Canadiens badly at their own skill and speed game and dominating thing with pure hockey rather than bullying, and that’s got to sting for a Habs group that simply couldn’t compete with the Bruins in three different chances to do so this week. 


Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch


Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

BOSTON – When Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about what he saw in the team’s newest (10-day) addition Jarell Eddie, his response was, “shooting … shooting.”

Indeed, shot-making has been the one area of play that has been problematic for the Celtics most of this season.

Boston comes into today’s game against Orlando (13-32) shooting just 44.8 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA.

In the month of January, Boston has been even worse, connecting on just 41.8 percent of their shots which ranks 29th in the league this month.

While the addition of Eddie had more to do with the recent flu bug that has made the rounds throughout the Celtics lineup and the uncertainty a couple days ago surrounding Kyrie Irving’s sore left shoulder (it has improved and he’s expected to play today), adding Eddie speaks to a greater problem – guys making shots – that has to be addressed in some capacity sooner or later.

Boston always has the option to pursue a trade. They also have an $8.4 million disabled player exception they can use on free agent players, with the most likely pool of talent that they will choose from consisting of players who would have been bought out by their current teams.

Or there’s raiding the G-League for talent, which is what they did in signing Eddie to a 10-day contract.

Regardless, there’s a growing sense that this team has to add more scoring punch to the mix or at a minimum, improve the overall offensive execution of the roster as it stands now.

“We have to do our stuff better,” Stevens said. “The start of the season it was predictable, losing Gordon (Hayward who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season-opener) and having to adjust. The middle portion of games we were pretty darn good. And then I thought we were reasonable in London, reasonable against New Orleans. But the other three of the last five games, we weren’t very good.”

Boston’s offense should get a boost from Irving’s return to the lineup after missing Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia with a sore left shoulder.

And while it was just one game, Irving understands the challenge that lies ahead in getting Boston’s offense to play better and more consistently.

“We have very unique talents on this team,” Irving said. “When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

Marcus Morris has been one of the players who has been in and out of the Celtics lineup because of a sore left knee.

However, the schedule has eased up to where he’ll be able to play more games, for longer stretches.

He comes into today’s game having scored in double figures each of the last three games.

“I’m just trying to get healthy. I know what I can do,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “My confidence is always going to stay high, no matter if I miss or make shots.”

In the last three games, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.

While Morris’ play of late is promising, it doesn’t diminish the concern Boston should have for an offense that for the most part, has been sputtering this season.