NFL picks: Week 4

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NFL picks: Week 4

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Do you know that no Patriots team has ever finished the season at 7-9?

I know the NFL has only been playing the 16-game schedule since 1988, but wouldn't you think that they'd finish with seven wins at least once over the last 22 years? I mean, how hard is it to go 7-9?

Or is it that we maybe don't give 7-9 enough credit . . . Maybe going 7-9 is more difficult than we think . . . Maybe 7-9 is an achievement!

Seriously, think about it.

In the meantime, I invite you to read along as I make a fool out of myself for the fourth straight week. (Something Mike Singletary and I will have in common.)

The Game: NY Jets (-5.5) at Buffalo

Lets all remember something: Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 250 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against an overall average Patriot defense and a below-average Patriot secondary.

Is he an upgrade over Trent Edwards? Yes. Of course. Chan Gailey himself would be better than Edwards. But that doesnt make Fitzpatrick a legitimate NFL quarterback. It just makes him better than Trent Edwards. Theres a huge difference; well see it on Sunday.

And with that glowing review, Im taking the Bills.

I dont think theyll win, but with the Jets coming off back-to-back gigantic Ws, the Bills looking like easy prey, the Buffalo crowd, the division rivalry and the fact that Rex Ryans boys having the collective mental capacity of Nate Robinson I think Buffalo keeps it close.

Just close enough for Fitzpatrick to screw them at the end.

The Pick: Bills (5.5)

The Game: Detroit at Green Bay (-14.5)

Im feeling for Lions fans. After a decade of misery that saw them withstand two years of Marty Mornhinweg (we defer!), four years of Joey Harrington and NINE years of Matt Millen (that comes to like 27 rookie receivers), 2010 was supposed to be their season. Not to make the playoffs, necessarily. Or even have a winning record. But 2010 was supposed to be a season for progress; the time for the team to make a collective leap, knock off a few quality opponents, maybe win six or seven games and then next year, come into the season atop everyone sleeper list.

But you know what happened next.

In Week 1, Matthew Stafford got hurt and Megatron "dropped" the touchdown in Chicago. In Week 2, they ran into Michael Vick. In Week 3, they went into one of the toughest stadiums in the league to play the most desperate team in the league. Oh, and Jahvid Best, the most exciting player on the roster and the biggest reason for Lions to keep the faith? Turf toe. Probably one of the most nagging injuries a running back can have.

So, now the Lions head into Week 4 in Green Baby with Shaun Hill at quarterback, probably Maurice Morris (yes, THAT Maurice Morris) at running back, against a Super Bowl contender coming off a crushing loss.

I feel for you Detroit.

(Im sure that makes it all better)

The Pick: Packers (-14.5)

The Game: Seattle (-1) at St. Louis

Did anyone else see the Pete Carroll mic'd up segment on Inside the NFL?

On one hand, I'll give Pom-Pom Pete credit he works it on game day. Granted, he doesn't so much work it like an NFL coach; it's more like a hyperactive, fourth-year equipment manager who's being allowed to suit up for the last game of his senior year (minus the uniform, but that can't be far behind). But still, for four quarters, Pom-Pom is HYPED. Its got to be exhausting. Maybe even a little bit contagious.

But I've got to be honest: The whole thing kind of creeped me out. Or more, I couldn't help but feel like it was creeping all his players out. Carroll's not coaching teenagers anymore; these are older, more rigid, jaded, and less idealistic professionals. And while the cheering and high fiving and relentless positivity might fly when youre 2-1, as the season wears on, the act will get stale.

The Pick: Rams (1)

The Game: Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-1)

Either Peyton Hillis is a lot better than we think, or the Ravens run defense is a lot worse. The answer? I have no damn idea, which is what makes this game such a crapshoot. But in the end, I think it comes down to Charlie Batch. Yeah, the same guy I was talking up last week. But also the same guy whos fresh off the least impressive three-touchdown performance in NFL history. The guy threw two jump balls that happened to end up in Mike Wallace's hands. That's all he did. Unless you count the two interceptions.

The Ravens will stack the box against Rashard Mendenhall; they know hes Pittsburgh's only legitimate offensive weapon. After that, Batch will make enough mistakes by himself to seal the deal.

The Pick: Ravens (1)

The Game: San Francisco at Atlanta (-7)

The same way Carroll;s well of exuberance will eventually run dry, you have to think Mike Singletary's is down to its last bucket. I mean, you can take the psychopathic ramblings when it translates into wins, but when youre 0-3, your quarterback sucks, your offensive coordinator just got fired and you coach is still running around screaming like someone just poured Tobasco down his pants, at some point you just turn it off. You turn your coach off. And that's not good for business.

This week, the Niners try to save their season, yet again, on the road against a Falcons team coming off the biggest, most dramatic win of the entire year to this point. With a win over the 49ers, regardless of how down they are, the Falcons take a huge step in proving that theyre for real. With a loss, the New Orleans victory becomes significantly less important. At least in the big picture.

I think the Niners fight, but stupidity, the Georgia Dome crowd and Singletary's insanity proves too much to overcome.

The Pick: 49ers (7)

The Game: Denver at Tennessee (-6.5)

The Broncos are a Top 10 rush defense after three games, going up against a Top 1 running back. But that's not where this game will be decided. Unlike the Titans, Denver has no running game (hello, Mr. Maroney!), so it will have to throw against a Tennessee defense that's tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks and has only allowed one passing touchdown all season (and zero in the last two games).

Did I mention that Laurence Maroney is Denver's No. 1 back?

The Pick: Titans (-6.5)

The Game: Cincinnati (-3) at Cleveland

This is Cleveland's last chance to win for a while. After Sunday, the Browns play at Atlanta, then go to Pittsburgh and New Orleans, before coming home for a pair against the Pats and Jets. If Cleveland loses on Sunday, they're going at least 0-9.

Meanwhile, who the hell knows whats going on with this Bengals team? Somehow, theyve gone 2-0 since that loss to the Patriots, and even beat a pretty good Ravens team. But their offense is in a bad place right now. Their quarterback is in a bad place. Honestly, Carson Palmers fallen so far that I'm not even sure how much of an advantage he has over Seneca Wallace. Hey, at least Wallace can leave the pocket if he needs to. And wouldn't this be the perfect time, on the road, in hostile territory, against an inferior opponent, for Operation Diva to blow in the Cincinnati huddle?

The Browns are more desperate. The Bengals are lucky to be 2-1.

The Pick: Browns (3)

The Game: Carolina at New Orleans (-13.5)

Insult to injury

"Hey, listen, Garrett, not only are we taking you off the job, but we think so little of your abilities that we're actually replacing you with a recently retired 46-year-old, who's so reliable that he once missed a last-second extra point that could have helped send us to the playoffs.

"Anyway, hope you didnt already blow that Super Bowl bonus . . . "

The Pick: Saints (-13,5)

The Game: Houston (-3) at Oakland

This gets the Mind-Eff Game of the Week award.

First of all, we know that the Raiders are a bad team. They've gotten blown out by the Titans, barely beat the Rams, and then lost to a sad Cardinals team. Their coach is grossly overmatched unless he's fighting one of his own staff. Their owner's old enough to be Johnny Pesky's grandfather. They suck.

(Also heres a few words of wisdom on Bruce Gradkowski: If you have this guy on your roster, chances are you're in trouble. This is Gradkowskis fifth season in the league, and over those five seasons while he hasn't started even close to every game Dradkowski teams are a combined 23-44. Thats a .343 winning percentage. That's horrendous. Remember this when the Pats sign Gradkowski as a backup in 2013.)

On the other side, aren't we only a week removed from declaring the Texans the breakout team of 2010? Weren't they the real deal? Did the loss to Dallas expose that much? Arent they at least good enough to beat the hapless Raiders?

Yes, they are. But this is the Mind Eff Game of the Week. Somethings fishy. The line doesn't add up. And in those situations, I always go against my gut. I just assume Vegas knows something I don't.

And I go with the Raiders.

The Pick: Raiders (3)

The Game: Indianapolis (-7) at Jacksonville

Jacksonville's 1-4 in its last five games against the Colts, but we're gambling here. Who cares who wins?

More importantly, here are the final scores in those five games:

28-25, 23-21, 31-24, 14-12, 35-31.

Indy's been dominating the AFC South for the better part of a decade now, but they always play close, tough games within their division. Combine that with the fact that Jack Del Rio and David Garrard are coachingplaying for their jobs, Maurice Jones-Drew still hasn't broken out (he has to eventually, right?) and seven's a LOT of points to lay down on the road within your division, and I like the Jags.

On that note . . .

The Pick: Jaguars (7)

The Game: Arizona at San Diego (-8)

Heres my Lock of the Week: Before the end of this game Max Hall will be playing quarterback for the Cardinals.

I dont care what Ken Whisenhunt says, there's only so much any coach take of Derek Anderson.

The Pick: Chargers (-8)

The Game: Washington at Philadelphia (-6)

First, everyone overreacted to Michael Vick's back-to-back monster games. Then they overreacted in the other direction to the fact that those two games were against the Jaguars and Lions.

The real Vick lies somewhere in the middle, which is the Vick we'll see Sunday. There's no way the Redskins shut him down completely; he'll have a few big plays. But you can't discount the fact that this is Vick's first time starting an interdivision game since December 24, 2006. Theres an added level of importance and intensity that he might not be ready for. Or at least will need some time to adjust to.

By then, the Eagles will already find themselves in a tight one.

The Pick: Redskins (6)

The Game: Chicago at NY Giants (-4)

I keep hating on the Bears, and they keep me making me look stupid. I just cant help it though ay Cutlers too much fun to hate.

The Pick: Giants (-4)

The Game: New England (-1) at Miami

Chad Henne to Brandon Marshall. Get used to hearing it. Over and over and over. Get used to hearing Jon Gruden drool over Marshall's length and athleticism, Ron Jaworski nearing climax over Henne's presence in the pocket, arm strength and accuracy. Get used to hearing Mike Tirico ask a series of open-ended questions like: "Guys, what can the Pats do to save this secondary?" and "Guys, does it matter how deadly this offense is if they cant get on the field?"

Maybe Im just pessimistic, but I left that Buffalo game feeling unquestionably worse about the Pats' chances on Monday night.

I still can't believe theyre actually giving points.

The Pick: Dolphins (1)

The Record:
Last Week: 7-9&8232;Season: 20-25-2

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

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”