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

First impressions from Red Sox' 8-0 win over Yankees: Bradley on a tear

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First impressions from Red Sox' 8-0 win over Yankees: Bradley on a tear

First impressions from the Red Sox' 8-0 win over the Yankees:

* Rick Porcello doesn't seem like a weak link in the rotation now.

Porcello blanked the Yankees for seven innings and is now 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA for the season. For the fourth time in five outings, he pitched into the seventh innings.

The Yankees threatened only once - in the fifth, when they had runners at the corners and two out. But Porcello got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out, stranding two and was never in trouble again.

Porcello's command is improved over a year ago. In his first five starts last year, covering 30 innings, he walked 10. This year, he's pitched 32 2/3 innings and issued just five walks.

* Jackie Bradley is swinging it like he did last August.

Bradley went on an extra-base tear late last summer, rocketing doubles, triples and homers for a stretch of a few weeks that was completely unexpected.

The last week has been like that stretch, with seven extra-base hits in the last seven games. He knocked in the first run of the night with a double to left, then delivered another in the sixth with a triple to the triangle and two more in the seventh with a triple into the right field corner.

In the two games against the Yankees, he's got four extra-base hits, a walk and five RBI.

* David Ortiz has started 20 games this season. He's knocked in 19 runs.

Ortiz added his second homer in as many nights, to go along with a single and walk.

It's doubtful that he's going to keep up his RBI-per-game pace, but when he's locked in the way he is now, he impacts virtually the entire lineup from the cleanup position.

* If you think Pablo Sandoval was bad, maybe you haven't been watching Chase Headley.

The Yankee third baseman was a free agent the same winter that Sandoval was and some argued that he would have been a better fit for the Sox than was Panda.

But 22 games into the 2016 season, Headley has yet to collect a single base hit and has an OPS of .405. He's hitting .153 and has virtually no range to speak of at third base.

* A lot has changed for Junichi Tazawa.

A year ago, Tazawa was overworked in the first half of the season. On Saturday night, he got an inning of work in the ninth in a blowout game because he hadn't pitched since last Sunday -- thanks to strong starting efforts from the rotation over the past two series.

Eriksson named Lady Byng finalist for 2nd time

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Eriksson named Lady Byng finalist for 2nd time

Patrice Bergeron will have some Bruins company at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas at the end of the month of June.

Loui Eriksson was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy on Saturday afternoon along with Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar and Florida Panthers pivot Aleksander Barkov. It’s the second time in his career that Eriksson will be named a finalist for the award given annually "to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

The Swedish winger finished his best season in a Bruins uniform with 30 goals (third on team) and 33 assists for the second most points (63) on the team along with 12 total penalty minutes through 82 games played. Eriksson was excited to once again be a finalist for the award, and to be lumped in with a couple of the NHL’s best players in Kopitar and Barkov.

“It is a great honor to be considered for the Lady Byng Trophy, an award that has been won by some of the best players of all time,” said Eriksson, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after three seasons in Boston. “There are many deserving candidates so to be named one of the finalists with Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov is very exciting for me. Thank you to my teammates and the coaching staff and I appreciate all those who voted.”

The last Bruin to win the Lady Byng Trophy was Rick Middleton back in 1981-82, and Eriksson is the first B’s finalist for Lady Byng in more than 10 years.

Belichick seemed to enjoy Faulk's draft-day Deflategate protest

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Belichick seemed to enjoy Faulk's draft-day Deflategate protest

FOXBORO -- When Kevin Faulk's name pops up in a Bill Belichick press conference, it's no surprise that a smile crosses the Patriots coach's face and a complimentary comment crosses his lips. Faulk helped Belichick and the Patriots win three Super Bowls and he's a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame this year. 

When Faulk's name pops up in a Belichick press conference one night after protesting Deflategate on a national stage during the second day of the NFL draft? You can expect much of the same. 

"Love Kevin," Belichick said when asked about Faulk wearing a Tom Brady replica No. 12 jersey underneath his suit jacket while announcing New England's second pick of the draft on Friday night. "He always makes good decisions. Looked sharp out there."

As part of an NFL initiative that had former players announce picks for their teams this weekend, Faulk was asked to announce the No. 78 overall selection, which was made on North Carolina State offensive lineman Joe Thuney.

"With the 78th pick in the 2016 NFL draft," Faulk said proudly, "the New England Patriots and Tom Brady select . . . Joe Thuney."

Brady is facing a four-game suspension, which was reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week. He and his lawyers have a little over a week to petition the Second Circuit for a rehearing. 

When Belichick was asked about the latest Deflategate news on Saturday, he declined to comment, opting to focus on the draft instead. 

"I’ll talk about the draft," he said. "You good on that?"

The Patriots draft was of course affected by the Deflategate punishment issued by the league. They were the only team to begin the draft without a first-round pick, but Belichick said that the absence of that choice didn't neccessarily alter the team's philosophy going into the weekend. 

"No. You control what you can control," he said. "What we had, we tried to do the best we could. That’s how we approach it, whether it is picking guys or moving positions or trading into next year, whatever it was, we just tried to make the most of it. We traded up, we traded down, we [acquired a fourth-rounder in 2017]. Not saying it was great or anything, we just tried to do the best we could."