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Pro Picks: Patriots to repeat December romp

Pro Picks: Patriots to repeat December romp

Bill Belichick insists the rematch of a December game with the Texans will be different.

Not too much different, of course, because he fully expects his Patriots to win the divisional-round playoff game and advance to the AFC title match.

As for another 42-14 outcome, New England's coach is having none of it.

``The plays will match up differently and I'm sure there will be new plays that weren't in that game,'' Belichick said. ``I don't think you can overanalyze that game. We're playing a team, we have our team, they have their team and it's a big picture thing.''

The big picture is that the AFC East champion Patriots (12-4) come off their playoff bye as 9 1/2-point favorites against the AFC South winners. Houston (13-4) beat Cincinnati 19-13 in the wild-card round, not looking particularly overwhelming.

It's pretty simple what the Texans must do at the outset Sunday: stay close. They fell behind so quickly on Dec. 10 that the outcome was decided after one quarter.

``We know that our effort and how we performed last time wouldn't give us a chance against anybody on the road,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``It's about right now refocusing on all the things we have to do to go down there and have a chance to be successful, and I'm sure that's what they're thinking about.''

It won't be as bad as 42-14, but ...


Green Bay (plus 3) at San Francisco

The Packers have no fear about going on the road in the postseason. A similar crew to this year's group won three away games two years ago, then beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

And the NFC North champion Packers who the West-winning 49ers face Saturday night have gotten healthier as the playoffs approached. They have a decent running game to go with that deep receiving corps Aaron Rodgers throws to.

But Green Bay has two significant questions:

-Can the spotty offensive line neutralize one of the NFL's most dangerous pass rushes, something it couldn't do in the season opener?

-Can a defense that has been gorged on the ground at times slow down the league's fourth-best rushing attack, led by Frank Gore.

The Niners also have some uncertainties, notably how second-year QB Colin Kaepernick will handle the playoff pressure for the first time. They do have a secondary that matches up well with Green Bay's receivers.

The Pack has been through this before and succeeded. Why not again?


Baltimore (plus 9 1/2) at Denver

For the Ray Lewis Tribute Tour to keep rolling, the Ravens must beat Peyton Manning and the NFL's hottest team, the AFC West champion Broncos. In the Mile High City.

It's a lot more imposing a task than the AFC North champ Ravens faced at home against the Colts.

``There's probably an element that we'll carry forward because you're always building on what you are,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``Hopefully we take all the things that happened and we take it into that game emotionally and carry it with us. But this is a new game. It's a whole new environment. It's a whole new situation for us. So I think the slate is wiped clean in that sense. This will be a new challenge for us.''

Too big a challenge.

BRONCOS, 27-20

Seattle (plus 3) at Atlanta

Seattle has become the fashionable choice, the outsider that could emulate the Giants of last season, the Packers of the previous year, and so on.

The Falcons, meanwhile, have been stamped by many as the shaky favorite because of an 0-3 postseason record under Mike Smith. There's also the feeling that no team fears going into the Georgia Dome, and with the Seahawks having erased their road woes in the last month or so, they are a formidable foe.

Still, these Falcons are better than the previous three playoff editions, and they have the big, physical and versatile receivers to deal with Seattle's big, physical and versatile secondary.

Like the other NFC game, this will be close.

FALCONS, 22-20


2012 RECORD:

Against spread: 2-2 (114-126-7). Straight up: 3-1 (162-93-1)

Best Bet: 8-8-2 against spread, 12-6 straight up.

Upset special: 11-7 against spread, 9-9 straight up.


Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ravens sign Michael Crabtree to three-year deal

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Ravens sign Michael Crabtree to three-year deal

The Baltimore Ravens have signed wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal on Friday according to general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome.

The deal is apparently worth $21 million, according to Adam Schefter.

After being released by the Raiders on Thursday following the signing of Jordy Nelson, Crabtree heads to the Ravens less than 24 hours later.


The 31-year-old is coming off a 2017 season when he recorded 58 receptions for 618 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2016 he posted 89 receptions for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns.

Since 2015, the Texas Tech product has scored 25 receiving touchdowns, the fifth-most in the NFL. Crabtree and Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown are the only NFL players to post at least eight touchdown catches in each of the past three seasons.


In all, Crabtree has played nine NFL seasons – six of them with San Francisco (2009-14) and three with Oakland (2015-17). The former first-round draft pick (10th overall, Texas Tech) has registered 579 receptions for 6,870 yards (11.9 avg.) and 51 touchdowns in 125 career games (122 starts).

“Michael has played very well against the Ravens, so we know firsthand the attributes he brings to the game,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He is a smart, tough, physical receiver who battles for the ball. We like his temperament and believe he is a good fit for our football team, on and off the field.”

Since he entered the NFL in 2009, Crabtree’s 51 receiving scores rank 10th among active wide receivers, while his receptions (579) are seventh, and his receiving yards (6,870) are 12th.

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Ryan Grant's health issue and why the Ravens couldn't control voiding his contract

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Ryan Grant's health issue and why the Ravens couldn't control voiding his contract

The most obvious move in the NFL this offseason was the Ravens signing a new wide receiver (or three). It was less obvious why the team decided to commit so much money to former Redskins receiver Ryan Grant.

Grant has long been beloved by his coaches and teammates, but the results have never been there on game day. He has some potential to improve if given a larger role in a team's offense, which he likely would have had in Baltimore, but it never made much sense to offer him a 4-year contract worth nearly 30 million, with $14.5 million guaranteed.

Thankfully for fans who were uninspired by the reported agreement, Grant was unable to pass his physical and will not be joining the team.


At a press conference Friday morning, GM Ozzie Newsome called the void a "medical decision" that Newsome had no control over. 

NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that Grant is recovering from a Grade 2 sprained ankle that would need two months rest.

You have to feel for Grant, who by all accounts has worked his tail off for many years just waiting for his chance. It's never easy missing out on nearly $15 million dollars guaranteed, but Grant should be able to find work with another team.

The timing of this news, coming so soon after former Raider Michael Crabtree became available, seemed fishy to some.

At Friday's press conference, Newsome also said the team would have still pursued Crabtree if they signed Grant. 

It's probably not fair to suggest that an NFL franchise would actually so publicly back out of a deal just because another option came along, as any team with that reputation would struggle to attract future free agents. That said, it could end up working out splendidly for the team.

Besides, if all else is equal, shouldn't a team located in Baltimore be going after a guy named CRABtree?