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

Fridays' Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Fridays' Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's practice participation/injury report for Monday night's Patriots-Ravens game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder)
DB Jordan Richards (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring)
DB Eric Rowe (hamstring)
WR/SpT Matthew Slater (foot)

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (not injury related)
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
C Jeremy Zuttah (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
G Alex Lewis (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

Youkilis weighs in on Valentine possibly being Japan ambassador

Youkilis weighs in on Valentine possibly being Japan ambassador

Among the reactions to the news that Bobby Valentine was possibly being considered to be the US amassador to Japan in President Donald Trump’s administration was this beauty from Kevin Youkilis. 

Valentine famously called out Youkilis early in his stormy tenure as Red Sox manager in 2012. Remember? "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason," Bobby V said of Youk at the time. 

The Red Sox traded Youkilis to the White Sox for two not-future Hall of Famers, outfielder Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, later that season.

Youkilis, now Tom Brady’s brother-in-law by the way, had a 21-game stint playing in Japan in 2014 before retiring from baseball.