NFL Playoff Picks: The WikiLeaks Edition


NFL Playoff Picks: The WikiLeaks Edition

By Rich Levine

The NFL Playoffs are a very special time. So for that, its only fitting to provide an extra-special helping of NFL Picks.

To ensure the extra specialness, I reached out to my friends at WikiLeaks (Julian Assange and I went to summer camp together) to see if they might help me track down some under-the-radar NFL information.

Ten thousand dollars later, and we were in business.

Anyway, here are those extra special NFL Playoff Picks . . . with an assist to WikiLeaks

The Time: Saturday, 8 p.m.The Jets Leak: The similarities between Richard Nixon and Rex Ryan are few and far between, but theres something that Coach Bigfoot and the former president do have in common: Recordings. Just like Nixon, Ryan records every conversation that takes place in his office. Nixons tapes were eventually the source of his undoing. Ryan? See for yourself. Wikileaks got a hold of some footage

Tuesday, January 4. 2:15 pm

Secretary: Excuse me, Coach?

Ryan: Yes, Doris?

Secretary: Coach, we just got word that the mother of one of our equipment managers passed away this morning. I was going to send some flowers on your behalf, but just wanted to see if you had any preference . . .

Ryan: That right, Doris? God, thats too bad. Yeah, flowers are the right move here. Its the least we can do. What are my choices?

Secretary: Well, we can go with roses . . . or perhaps a lone sunflower . . . or how about this beautiful arrangement of daisies?

Ryan: Hmm, well, can I ask you a question, Doris?

Secretary: What is it, Coach Ryan?

Ryan: Well . . . Can I, uhhh, smell em?

The Colts Leak: Earlier this week, Colts ownerTwitter maven Jim Irsay received a Direct Message from team president Bill Polian. Wikileaks uncovered the details of that conversation

@JustBillP: Hello, Jim.

@JimIrsay: Hey, Im not following you! Howd the hell you DM me?

@JustBillP: I annoyed them until they change the rules, Jim.

@JimIrsay: All right, Billy! Thats my guy! Hey, you hear I might get Cheap Trick to play halftime on Saturday? Pioneers!

@JustBillP: Yeah, thats great. Listen, you need to stop Tweeting.

@JimIrsay: Aww, Billy, come on! Stop being such a square! You ever try that Pink FloydWizard of Oz thing I told you bout the other night?

@JustBillP: What?

@JimIrsay: Oh yeah, brother. So whats this all about? Gotta be honest here. They just started a Credence block on Satellite. My attentions fading.

@JustBillP: Just stop tweeting, Jim. Youre compromising our situation. This is not good for the team. And most of all . . .

@JimIrsay: ?! Dont leave me hanging, Billy. Thats so uncool! Billy?!

@JustBillP: Bababooey Bababooey Bababooey!

@JimIrsay: Ahh! Zygi Wilf, you sandbagger! I knew Polian was too straight for this jazz! See you next month in Cabo, you crazy Zygi, you . . .

Actual Analysis: So heres what I still dont get about the Colts this year. They were not a great team. Through 13 weeks, they were 6-6, and had lost three straight. Peyton was struggling. Injuries were getting the best of them. It was obvious that this just wasnt their year. Then, next thing you know, they beat Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland and then Tennessee again. They never look particularly good doing so, but in the end, all we see are the four wins. The 10-6. All we hear is about how the Colts have finally figured it out. Watch out, its playoff time! But did they ever really prove that they were anything better than just an OK team? Not really.

And yeah, I get that one wants to face Peyton Manning in the playoffs. Its literally terrifying. But its not like hes unbeatable. Mannings made the playoffs 10 times in his career, and 6 out of 10 times hes gone home in the first round. Thats not to say he wont go out there and throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Of course he might; hes Peyton Manning. But hes also Peyton Manning. And most of those teams that got knocked out in the first round were a hell of a lot better than the one hell have behind him on Saturday.

As for the Jets, of all the road teams, theyre the one I worry about least. Theyre so messed up that I dont think it matters where they are. When it comes to distractions, playing on the road is like fifth in line.

I think they get to Peyton and make their way to Foxboro.

The Time: Sunday, 1 p.m.The Chiefs Leak: On Thursday afternoon, Charlie Weis and Todd Haley met in Haleys office to discuss the Chiefs offense weve received video of the affair and transcribed the conversation for you perusal:

(Weis enters the office wearing Florida Gators jump suit and white sneakers. He has a coffee mug in his right hand; donut in his left. A USA Today is rolled up under his arm. He takes a seat on Haleys couch.)
Todd Haley: All right now, Charlie. What are we thinkin for Sunday?

Charlie Weis: Morning, coach. Well, Im not quite ready to discuss this yet. Still need a little more time to brainstorm, if you catch my drift . . .

Haley: Charlie, it is THURSDAY, and Ive been begging you for this all DAMN week! Now we talked about this. You said you were gonna focus. Man, frankly, HALEY is starting to get fired up.

Weis: Listen, Todd . . .

Haley: HALEY.

Weis: Sorry, HALEY. Listen, I told you I had this under control, so please just chill out. Wanna see some progress? Check out this new play . . .

(You can hear the faint scratch of marker on a dry erase board)
Haley: Ooh. Ooh, yeah. HALEY LIKES. Now youre speaking my DAMN language, Charlie. Whered you come up with this PUPPY?

Weis: Well, I was watching college footba

Haley: DAMN it, Weis. We talked about this! You cant be giving us your all when youre off watching the (bleepin') Gators! Honestly, if this spray tan werent still drying, I would ROUGH you up right now!

Weis: Oh come on. Have some respect. I swear this has nothing to do with Florida. I was just up late working in the office, and ESPN was re-running some random games from earlier in the week. And I was barely even watching! I just happened to catch this one play during a quick push-up break. Well be fine. TRUST me.

Haley: Charlie, I dont believe what Im about to do, and you better not screw me on this, but Im gonna give you the benefit of the doubt here.

Weis: Nice! Thank you ver

Haley: But not because I LIKE you. I just like this play. So, tell me, what do they call it?

Weis: OK, now this is a HUGE coincidence, but they actually call it GATORS Z27 . . .

(At that point, there was about five straight minutes of inaudible swears and chaos.)

The Ravens Leak: After Thursdays team practice, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs exchanged a series of text messages surrounding a new poster on display in Suggs' locker. WikiLeaks has gained access to each mans phone records and can now bring you the details of their correspondence.

Ray Lewis: Yo, T. I gotta ask you, man. Whats up with that new poster?

Terrell Suggs: Oh, you talking about that Brady thing? Ahhh! I hate that dude SO much!

Lewis: Yeah, yeah. I know, man. I hate Brady, too. But why do you have a poster of him up on your locker?

Suggs: Really? You dont get it? It motivates me, Ray!

Lewis: Motivate?

Suggs: Yes, motivate. You know, Ill come in after practice or finish in the weight room, and Ill walk over to that locker thinking that Im the man. Like I just worked REAL hard. But then Ill see that dudes chiseled face, and the hatred just takes over. It makes me work harder. It makes me STRONGER.

Lewis: OK, I get that part. But T, man, why a poster of him topless on the beach? And whered you even get it? That thing looks custom made . . .

Suggs: Thats because it WAS custom made. Man, cant you see . . . I have a shirtless poster of Brady up on my locker because thats just how much I HATE him! God, its so obvious.

Actual Analysis: Weve had four months to watch them play, but the Chiefs are still somewhat of a mystery. On one hand, its hard to imagine them winning a playoff game especially not against a team as mentally tough and playoff-tested as the Ravens. Also working against the Chiefs? Their schedule. Of Kansas Citys 10 wins, only one came against a current playoff team. That team? The Seahawks.

Todd Haleys boys were also killed by the 4-12 Broncos, lost twice to the Raiders, also lost to the 6-10 Texans and needed overtime (at home) to beat the Bills.

But on the other hand, the Chiefs have playmakers. In running back Jamaal Charles they have the NFLs second-leading rusher who also averaged six-plus yards a carry. In Dwayne Bowe, they have the guy who caught more touchdowns than anyone in the NFL this year. Kansas Citys quarterback threw for 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. (On paper, that should make him a star, but for some reason Matt Cassel still wont get the recognition.)

Theres also the fact that the Chiefs have one of the most intense fan bases in the league. A fan base that hasnt seen a playoff game since 2006; that hasnt seen a playoff win since Joe Montana. Theyre going to be nuts. And if they can get a few big plays from Charles and Bowe; if Cassel can avoid big mistakes; if Charlie Weis can whip up a few surprises (try to act shocked when they call GATOR Z27); then who knows? Not to mention, the KC defense isnt great, but theyre not awful. They can ride the wave of this killer crowd, make a few game changing plays, put Baltimore on the defensive and then . . .


Stop right there.

I knew this would happen.

I knew Id try to talk myself into the Chiefs. And honestly, it wouldnt be the worst thing that ever happened; to invest your fake money in a team that matches all the descriptions spewed out above.

But at the same time, the Ravens are still just the better team. Theyve been better than the Chiefs all season. Charles and Bowe are great, but are they that much more dangerous than Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin? Can Cassel stay mistake free when Lewis, Suggs, Reed and friends are going for blood? If the Chiefs look overmatched early, how quickly will Arrowhead lose steam?

When it comes down to it, the Ravens just seemed destined for Foxboro, at one point or another, and I dont see the Chiefs getting in the way.

The Pick: Ravens (-3)
The Time: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.The Seahawks Leak: Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has kept a journal this season. WikiLeaks has obtained an excerpt of this journal, specifically a page labeled: HAIKUS!!!!!

Let us celebrate!
Spare no emotion, my boys!!
First-quarter field goal!!!

I must slap high five
How else will they know I care?
An ass-slap works too.

Football is the tops
Nothing I would rather do
But miss Tink, Lost Boys

My thanks eternal
Where would I be without you?
Sweet NFC West

The Saints Leak: Believe it or not, Reggie Bush had his phone tapped for most of this season. Yeah, I dont know. Anyway, WikiLeaks got their hands on some of the goodness, including this midseason conversation between Bush and a former USC teammate:

Bush: Ill tell you, my life just isnt the same without that trophy . . . its the worst feeling, man. Who am I without that thing? It takes away from all I accomplished in college; it really makes me second-guess taking all that unbelievable money. How can I get rid of this feeling?

Friend: Aww man, shut the hell up!

Bush: Haha, what?! Come on, I know you bought that for a second!

Friend: Man, youre stupid.

Actual Analysis: If Pom Pom Pete had gone with Charlie Whitehurst, then I may have considered Seattle here. Its not that I think they can win either way. But if theres one QB Ill put fake money on to keep it close, its the crazy-looking guy with the beard, not the 36-year-old who injured himself jogging into the end zone. Im slightly worried about the Saints running game no Chris Ivory or Pierre Thomas as well as Seattles crowd. Thats one of the best in the league.

But I cant overlook the fact that the Seahawks went 7-9 in the NFC West. I cant forget the feeling I had watching the play-in game last Sunday night, thinking, Holy God, these guys suck. And I cant promise you that I wont change my bet if Charlie Whitehurt somehow ends up starting.

The Pick: Saints (-10.5)The Game: GREEN BAY PACKERS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-2.5)

The Time: Sunday, 4:30 p.m.The Eagles Leak: Earlier this week, FOX announced that, prior to the Super Bowl, theyll be broadcasting Bill OReillys interview with President Obama. But what they didnt announce is that, as a warm up of sorts, the network had OReilly interview Michael Vick prior to this weeks playoff game.

The interview was slightly awkward, and ultimately wont air. But thanks to WikiLeaks, we still have access.

Bill OReilly: Michael Vick, thank you for being brave enough to face the FACTOR.

Michael Vick: Hey, um, thanks, but I

OReilly: Oh but nothing, lets get going. So heres what the WORLD wants to know: Earlier this season, you said that someday you might consider owning another dog, and to that, the country went ballistic! How dare he?! Right? Yet, last week, Ben Roethlisberger announces that hes engaged, and no one says a peep! You see what Im getting at here? Theres no difference! You see why this is a problem?

Vick: (stares blankly)

OReilly: You follow me?

Vick: (stares blankly)

OReilly: OK, good. So, the next question is: Do you want to know how this is the TERRORISTS fault?

Vick: But Bill, I . . .

OReilly: So you agree with me! Ahhh, I knew Id like you, Michael. I knew youd see it the FACTORs way. You can spin with the best of them on the field. But even YOU are no match for the NO SPIN ZONE. OK, next question . . .

Vick: Man, come on, if youd just let me answ

OReilly: NEXT QUESTION! OK, Michael, old buddy, old pal, lets talk about Clay Mathews.

Vick: Yeah, well, you know, Clay is quite a talent and were gonna

OReilly: Havent asked the question yet!

Vick: OK, listen . . .

OReilly: It is OK, Michael, but just remember youre in the NO Spin Zone. OK, so, ahem, where was I . . . Oh yes, right, Clay Matthews. The question is, Mr. Vick: Doesnt that haircut just SCREAM hippie! I mean, isnt that kind of freedom of expression EXACTLY what is wrong with this country!?

Vick: I . . .

OReilly: Of course, it is! Well played, Vick. And thats all the time we have!

The Packers Leak: For the past two seasons, Brett Favre played for the Vikings. The year before that, he suited up for the Jets. But now that Favre is officially retired, his heart is back with Green Bay. So with the Packers big playoff game on the horizon, Favre reached out to former protge Aaron Rodgers. What follows is what WikiLeaks believes is their text correspondence.

Aaron Rodgers: Hey man. I think that last text might have been intended for someone else . . .

Brett Favre: Aw, dang it, Aaron. Sorry about that. Getting a little sloppy in my old age here. Just disregard that pic. Anyway, you ready for the Eagles!?

Rodgers: Yeah, man. Ready to go. Think this might be our year! Would love to bring this city the kind of excitement you did back in '97!

Favre: Oh yeah. So whattaya think of THIS!?

Rodgers: You just did it again, Brett. Please stop sending me that photo.

Favre: For God's sake, these new fangled phones! Sorry, Aaron

Rodgers: Its OK. But yeah, just real focused on this weekend.

Favre: I bet you are . . . But what about THIS!

Rodgers: Im gonna go now.

Actual Analysis: While the Jets are a team that I can see thriving under late-season controversy, I feel like the Eagles are the team most likely to fall apart. Personally, Id much rather see them win this game. Id like to be able to watch Vick for three more games and then have them lose in the NFC Championship.

But I dont know. Theres just something about them that feels highly combustible. Between their QB (who knows how healthy he is), their WR (I wouldnt be shocked if DeSean Jackson went for 150 yards with three touchdowns; I wouldnt be shocked if he made a bonehead play that cost his team the game), and their coach (Andy Reid!) theres just a lot of room for error. Its not unavoidable, but it wont be easy especially against a Packers team thats in pretty good shape itself. Rodgers is back in the groove, theyve got dangerous receivers, a solid enough ground game and a big time, big play defense. They went 7-3 in their last 10 games, and two of those losses came at Atlanta and at New England.

Randomly enough, the Packers have already won a game in Philly this year. In Week 1, they beat the Eagles 27-20 in a game thats pretty much impossible to compare this one to because Philadelphias such a different team. But I see a similar outcome.

If you feel like throwing some fake money on it.

The Pick: Packers 3
Thanks again to WikiLeaks for all their tireless efforts.

Ill see you at the reunion, Julian.

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

Deal is done: Patriots announce they've traded Stork for conditional 7th rounder


Deal is done: Patriots announce they've traded Stork for conditional 7th rounder

FOXBORO -- The Patriots didn't release third-year center Bryan Stork, though they informed him they would do so early on Wednesday. Instead, they traded him to the Washington Redskins. 

The deal was announced on Wednesday afternoon. In return for the former fourth-round pick out of Florida State, the Patriots received a conditional 2017 seventh-round pick from Washington.

Stork is reportedly mulling retirement. If he does not report to the Redskins, and the conditions of the deal are not met, the Patriots would not receive compensation.

The seventh-round pick would provide the Patriots with a seventh-rounder in 2017 that they didn't have when the day began. The team traded its original seventh-rounder to the Lions last season in exchange for tight end Michael Williams.

(The Patriots could, in theory, receive a seventh-rounder from the Lions since they received a conditional seventh in a trade for linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who was sent to Detroit in May. But because Bostic is recovering from foot surgery, the conditions of that trade may prevent the pick from ever making its way to New England.)

The Patriots informed Stork of his release early Wednesday, but before that move was processed, the Patriots and Redskins were able to work out a deal. 

Stork has had difficulty staying healthy as a pro, his emotions sometimes got the best of him on the field, and teammate David Andrews had beaten him for the starting center role with the Patriots. Still, Stork's teammate and friend Jimmy Garoppolo said it was tough to see Stork move on.

Despite the question marks that accompany Stork's arrival in Washington -- that is, if he decides to report -- the Redskins were more than willing to pay the modest price to acquire him. They are desperate for help at the center position.

Sandoval happy to return to the field after shoulder surgery


Sandoval happy to return to the field after shoulder surgery

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For the first time in months, Pablo Sandoval met up with his Red Sox teammates Wednesday, breaking from his rehab program two hours away in Fort Myers.

Sandoval, who underwent shoulder surgery in April to repair a torn labrum, has been working out six days per week at the club's spring training complex and appeared noticeably lighter.

"I just starting taking ground balls two days ago,'' said Sandoval. "I feel a little better. I'm happy to be back here with my teammates and happy that I'm starting to work in the field.'' 

Sandoval said his surgically repaired left shoulder is "not back to normal, but it's feeling a lot better. I've started doing a lot of things in the field -- ground balls, playing catch, handling the ball, working out.''

He plans to see Dr. James Andrews soon, and hopes to get clearance to start swinging a bat.

Sandoval appeared to make some veiled references to his weight and conditioning, saying "you learn a lot. You learn from all the mistakes you make, all the things in the past. I have good people around me, supporting me every single day.''

He added that he feels "way different'' than he did in spring training.

"Now that I've learned my lesson,'' he said, "I can do a better job out there. Everything out there is not easy. You have to work hard to learn all the things you were doing wrong. I'll keep working hard and do everything I can to be a better person on the field and off the field.''

As he grinds through conditioning and rehab, Sandoval said he's motivated by "my little boy (Leon). Every time I wake up, I want to do everything for (him), so he can see me back on the field, playing baseball.''

He deflected a question when asked what role he envisioned for himself next February at the start of spring training.

"Whatever,'' he said. "I'm just going to do best that I can. I just want to prepare myself to be better next year.''

Sandoval met with John Farrell Wednesday afternoon.

"He's in good spirits,'' Farrell said. "I think he feels good with all the work he's done. To date, he's done a good job with what he's been capable of doing. The one thing that's clear in getting to know Pablo, I see a guy who's got a lot of pride. Maybe things haven't worked out the way he anticipated through the first two years.

"But it's clear through my conversation with him that he's motivated, he feels like he's got a lot to prove. And I think when you combine his ability with the drive and motivation, this has got a chance to prove to be a productive player here in Boston.''

Meanwhile, Sandoval acknowledged that the Red Sox had not seen him at his best in his two seasons with the club.

"I know that I can prove more and do a better job out there,'' he said. "Things happen for a reason. I'm happy, but I'm not satisfied with the things I'm doing. I'm just going to keep working hard, continue my rehab and be better for next year.''

Sandoval said he misses the game, but watches the Red Sox on TV "every single day.''

"This (time down) is a bonus for me,'' he said. "I want to play, but at the same time, I (get) to see my baby growing up.''


All signs point to Rodriguez returning to rotation Sunday, Buchholz to bullpen

All signs point to Rodriguez returning to rotation Sunday, Buchholz to bullpen

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It won't be made official until Thursday, but all signs point to Eduardo Rodriguez returning to the Red Sox' starting rotation Sunday night against the Kansas City Royals.

That, in turn, should also result in Clay Buchholz going back to the bullpen after three spot starts recently.

Rodriguez, who pulled himself out of his last scheduled start Sunday in Detroit when he wasn't confident that he could compete with a strained left hamstring, threw a three-inning simulated game Tuesday and emerged from that session convinced that he was heading toward a return to the rotation.

But just to make sure, the Sox want Rodriguez to test himself physically Thursday morning before the Sox complete their road trip with a game here Thursday afternoon.

"He went through some aggressive long toss today,'' said John Farrell of Rodriguez, "and came out that feeling fine, no restrictions in the hamstring. We'll take this each work day at a time. Once we get through tomorrow, we'll have a little bit more clarity going forward.''

Buchholz threw 94 pitches while allowing a run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings Tuesday night, so he wouldn't be available out of the bullpen for a few days.

"He's going to need a couple of days down regardless,'' noted Farrell.