PatsBroncos: The Pick

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PatsBroncos: The Pick

From now until the end of the NFL season, the Friday plan will be to post the NFL Alphabet Preview sometime between 12-1 p.m., and then have one more post where I pick the Pats game against the spread. I'm not sure why I felt the need to share that, but now we're all on the same page.

Anyway, the Pats are favored by 6.5 points on Sunday.

Early weather reports predict a 40 percent chance of rain, with northeast winds between 9-14 MPH and a game time temperature of 55 degrees. Also, I think the Patriots are going to cover.

For me, it comes down to two things. Both are obvious, but that doesn't make them any less important.

1. Protect Tom Brady: Protect him from Von Miller. Protect him from Elvis Dumervill. Protect him for Joe "The Ear Monger" Mays. Denver's only registered 10 sacks on the season, which places in the middle of the NFL pack, but when they get there, they make it count.

2. Get to Peyton Manning: You don't have to sack him. In fact, it might be better just to spook him, let him hear and feel the footsteps, start having flashbacks to past Gillette Stadium failures . . . and then do something stupid.

Stupid isn't a word you typically associated with Manning, one of the smartest QBs of all-time, but right now, this isn't the same Peyton Manning that we saw for all those years. He still might be better than 85 percent of quarterbacks out there, but until he gets his sea legs (and sea neck?) under him, he's susceptible to panic, and then stupidity. The guy's only human.

But if he has time, he'll pick the Pats apart. As i wrote earlier this week, and as you probably already know, Denver has two big, strong and athletic receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas that are built to have their way with a secondary like New England's.

Still, I'm counting on panicked Peyton. Why? Because Bill Belichick had this guy's number when he was on top of the world. He consistently beat Peyton Manning at All-Madden level; he'll find a way to get it done at All-Pro. Look for a couple of Manning interceptions to turn the game, and a late Brandon Bolden touchdown run to seal it.

Final Score: Pats 31, Broncos 20

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

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Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.

Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign. 

Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player. 

Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.

Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform. 

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

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Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

FOXBORO -- On a daily basis, Patriots players are in the presence of perhaps the best late-30s player to ever lace up cleats. That's why it's noteworthy when those who inhabit the same locker room as Tom Brady marvel at another player playing at a high level despite being one of the oldest in the league. 

That's exactly the case with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, 38, who is the oldest non-quarterback, non-kicker in the NFL. 

Since the Patriots last saw Harrison, he's become an every-down player for Pittsburgh's improving defense, missing just nine total defensive snaps for the Steelers since Week 14. He's saved his best football for the postseason -- three sacks, two quarterback hits and seven quarterback pressures in the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus -- and the Patriots have noticed.

Julian Edelman, who wears the same Kent State t-shirt to every Patriots practice, raved about his "fellow Flash."

"He’s an unbelievable stud," Edelman said of Harrison, who went undrafted seven years before Edelman was taken in the seventh round. "The guy has been doing it consistently for a long time.

"I’ve been a huge fan of him before I got in the league, and just to see and kind of have an idea where he came from, it’s unbelievable to show how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s got. He’s a large man that is fast, explosive, and if he’s coming my way, it’s going to be a 'get down.' "

While Edelman will do his best to avoid the 6-foot, 242-pounder, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett will likely be asked to block Harrison at some point. The Steelers defense will move Harrison to different spots at times, but he does much of his work on the outside where Bennett will be situated. 

"Harrison is playing well," Bennett said. "He’s almost as old as my pops, and he’s still playing like a beast out there."