NFL Playoff Picks: The WikiLeaks Edition

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NFL Playoff Picks: The WikiLeaks Edition

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

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

AFC The Game: NEW YORK JETS at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-2.5)
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 Pick: Jets (2.5)The Game: BALTIMORE RAVENS (-3) AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
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 . . .

WAIT!

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)
NFCThe Game: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-10.5) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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 CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Mazz: Is David Price the Peyton Manning of MLB?

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Mazz: Is David Price the Peyton Manning of MLB?

After a rough start to the season Tony Massarotti is starting to wonder if David Price has struggled due to the cold weather early in the season, and if he should be considered the Peyton Manning of MLB.

Time for struggling David Price to fix what's been ailing him

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Time for struggling David Price to fix what's been ailing him

BOSTON -- It’s safe to say the “David Price Experience” has been eerily similar to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Through his first six starts, he’s had three good outings and three towards the other end of the spectrum. He’s maintained the sequence of good-bad-good throughout the process, with Sunday night being his most recent poor performance.

Additionally (as Red Sox Insider Sean McAdam pointed out in Sunday’s postgame press conference) all three of his rough starts have been at home -- in a park where he was known for pitching well prior to 2016.

“I haven’t executed in this ballpark as well as I know that I’m capable of,” Price said. That’s frustrating, but that’s something I can fix. I felt better today than I did my last start [at Fenway] for sure. But it doesn’t matter how good you feel; you’ve got to be able to execute and that’s what I didn’t do.”

Now, yes, he did keep his team in striking distance -- with just a little help from his offense – and allow John Farrell avoid the bullpen until it was Koji Time, followed by Jonathan Papelbon 2.0. That was a sign that Price is a true ace, especially when Farrell kept the ball in his hands to face Alex Rodriguez in the seventh after giving up two big hits to the righty in previous at-bats.

“He asked me if I was going to really make good pitches in that situation and I told him absolutely,” Price said about his mound conversation with Farrell before he faced Rodriguez.

But in looking at the numbers, Price has only looked like half an ace to start the year. Yes, April has traditionally been his worst month, but his first start in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry came in the first day of May.

So clearly Price has adjustments to make and can’t just switch things off and on whenever he pleases.

After Sunday night’s game, he expressed how execution was his biggest problem, with no better evidence that the home run and double he gave up to Rodriguez.

On the home run, Christian Vazquez called for a fastball down and in, but Price missed up in the zone down the heart of the plate with his first pitch. Then the next time up, Price threw a fastball right down the middle, again -- this time when the count was 1-and-2 – resulting in the two-base hit, which was nearly another home run.

The lefty explained how those pitches were a result of not “getting on top” of the ball enough, making his misses costly.

“If you’re going to miss, miss down not up,” Price said. “And that’s what I haven’t been able to do so far.”

He appears to be aware of the issue. Now's the time for him to adjust.

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”