Patriots

NFL Playoff Picks: Week 1

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NFL Playoff Picks: Week 1

This weekend, while the Pats spend their time resting, relaxing and tweeting photos of their unsuspecting girlfriends, you could be making cash.

Cold, hard, judging-by-my-track-record-youd-be-an-idiot-to-take-my-advice cash.

Here are my Picks for Week 1 of the NFL Playoffs

Game 1: Cincinnati @ Texans (-3)

The big news in this one is that Andy Dalton and TJ Yates are set to become the first pair of rookie QBs to face off in the playoffs. In other words, prepare for a not-so-great game from two not-so-great teams.

The knock on the Bengals is an obvious one: They finished the season with an 0-7 record against 2011 playoffs teams. Seven times they had a chance to prove that they were worthy of our respect and seven times they failed. So its hard to believe theyll have what it takes in raucous Reliant Stadium. Granted, with the Texans luck, half the crowd will lose their voices by halftime, and the other half will collectively snap a hamstring in third.

Still, Im going with Houston. I know theyve lost three straight, but they also clinched the division in Week 13, and with the state of their roster had very little to realistically play for. And even though the offense has struggled since Matt Schaub went down, the defense has remained solid in Mario Williams' absence and will be enough to once again sneak by Cincy this time by four points.

Final score: Texans 24, Bengals 20

The pick: Texans (-3)

Game 2: Detroit @ New Orleans (-10.5)

In the early game, Yates and Dalton become the first pair of rookies to square off in the playoffs. In this one, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford become the first pair of 5,000 yard passers to butt heads in the second season. Of course, 20 years from now, this wont be a big deal. By then, 10,000-yard seasons will be the new norm, touchdown totals will be up in the 90s and Dan Marino will be looked upon as a modern day Y.A. Tittle. (Did you know that Tittle also starred alongside a dolphin in the 1931 silent film Squeaky Surprise?)

But regardless of where the game is going, for now, LionsSaints is historic and will be hell of a lot of fun.

I know the Saints beat down Detroit in Week 13, but that was a dark time for the Lions. You ever have one of those days where you wake up feeling fat, head outside and find a ticket on your car, sit in traffic for an hour and show up to work depressed, defeated and knowing its only about to get worse? That was Week 13 for the Lions: Fresh off their Thanksgiving embarrassment against Green Bay, in the middle of a crapstorm of criticism for their unsportsmanlike play and still withoutNdamukong Suh. Sure, the Saints were great and still are but they also caught the Lions on a bad day. Detroit wont win on Saturday, but theyll be better.

Final Score: Saints 38, Lions 31

The pick: Lions (10.5)

Game 3: Atlanta @ New York (-3)

The Giants get a lot of flack for their four game losing streak, and deservedly so. I mean, thats like if a baseball team lost 40.5 straight! OK, not really. But while people like to throw around the four-game drought as a harbinger for the Giants eventual failure, they very rarely mention who Eli and friends actually lost to over that stretch:

Week 10: At the 13-3 San Francisco
Week 11: At home against Philly (OK, that one was bad)
Week 12: At 13-3 New Orleans
Week 13: At home against the 15-1 Packers, at the height of their dominance, on a last second field goal.

Im not making excuses, but most teams in the NFL would be lucky to go 1-3 over that stretch. That the Giants went 0-4 isnt very inspiring but hardly means theyre done.

Still, the Giants biggest problem is consistency. One week Tom Coughlin's pushing all the right buttons, the offense can't be beat, and the defensive line gets enough pressure on the opposing QB to make up for the fact that the rest of their defense sucks. The next week, the offense can't click, the defense looks slower Vince Wilfork in the open field, and Coughlin spends the entire game looking like he's fighting off a stroke.

I know I've focused entirely on the Giants here, but honestly, that's what I believe this will come down to. If they play their game, the Falcons don't have a chance. If New York's alter ego shows up, the Falcons might win by 30. And to be honest, I'm not sure what's going to happen. In fact, no one is, hence the cop out (-3) spread. But put a gun to my head and I'm taking the Giants, because if it's a close game down the stretch, and I want Manning over Matt Ryan

Final score: Giants 31, Falcons 27
The Pick: Giants (-3)

Game 4: Pittsburgh (-9) @ Denver
Tim Tebow can't beat a defense as imposing as the Steelers, and the Broncos can't consistently stop an offense that dependable, even if Pittsburgh's without Rashard Mendenhall and 100 percent of Big Ben.

That being said, this will still be a relatively close game, thanks to the Mile High crowd and a little bit of Tebow Magic. But in the end, there's no question as to who will come out on top. No question at all. (Except from Big Ben in the postgame locker room: "Hey guys, does it still count as the Mile High Club if it's assault?)

Also, remember that Denver defense that no one would shut up about all season? The one that was the real reason the Broncos was so good and potentially headed for impressive heights?

They finished the season ranked 24th in points, 20th in total yards, 18th against the pass, 22nd against the run and 28th in turnovers with a juicy -12. I guess the turnovers aren't all their fault, and neither will this game be. But the Broncos aren't coming out on top.

Final score: Pittsburgh 31, Denver 23

The Pick: Denver (9)

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

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Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

Cassius Marsh was brought to New England to help a depleted defensive end group and play in the kicking game. The Patriots wanted him badly enough that they parted with two draft picks -- a fifth and a seventh -- to acquire him in a trade with the Seahawks just before the start of the season. 

Less than three months later, they've decided to part ways with the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder. 

Marsh played in nine games for the Patriots this season, providing the team with an edge defender and someone with special-teams experience. He blocked a kick in Week 7 against the Falcons that earned him an enthusiastic attaboy from coach Bill Belichick. 

Coming off the edge, Marsh recorded one sack and 13 hurries. Against the run, he was used more sparingly, and he was one of the Patriots on the scene for Marshawn Lynch's 25-yard run in the second quarter on Sunday. He played in just two snaps in Mexico City after missing the previous week's game in Denver due to a shoulder injury. 

Without Marsh the Patriots remain thin at defensive end. In order to help bolster that spot, the corresponding move the Patriots made to fill the open spot on their 53-man roster was to sign defensive lineman Eric Lee off of the Bills practice squad. 

Lee entered the league with the Texans last season as an undrafted rookie out of South Florida. Listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Lee has bounced on and off of the Bills practice squad this season since being released by the Texans before this season.

The Patriots got a good look at Lee during joint practices last summer with the Texans at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. In the preseason game with the Texans that week, Lee played 40 snaps and according to Pro Football Focus he had two quarterback hurries. The Patriots have a history of snagging players they've practiced against, and with Lee, that trend continues

Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

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Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.

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