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

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.