Opportunity knocks

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Opportunity knocks

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

The NBA season is a little more than two weeks old. The NHL's barely been at it for a month. The NFL just passed its halfway point.

At this stage in the game, all three leagues need binoculars to see the finish line. Yet this week, three Boston teams can make a statement to help propel themselves towards the checkered flag.

Wednesday, November 10: Bruins at Penguins

Thursday, November 11: Celtics at Heat

Sunday, November 14: Patriots at Steelers

It's a five-day stretch that starts Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, and ends Sunday night in Pittsburgh; just for fun, there's a trip down to Miami sandwiched in between. It features villains like Cooke, LeBron and Harrison. Rivalries (both budding and established) like Crosby vs. Seguin, Big Three vs. Big Three and Ben vs. Brady. It includes six teams that will very likely still be playing when it matters; who will probably meet again when the stakes are at their highest. So for that reason, maybe we can't get too carried away with the results.

And we won't.

If the Bruins, Celtics or Patriots lose the next time they take the respective ice, court or field, no one will write them off. No one will ever say, "Ah, they can't beat the Steelers on the road in November, the Pats are screwed!" This isn't do-or-die.

Instead, it's an opportunity.

Tonight in Pittsburgh, the Bruins have an opportunity to take care of some unfinished business, and will take the ice with two objectives:

1. Win.

2. Ensure that Matt Cooke wakes up tomorrow morning feeling like he was run over by a Zamboni.

The first objective needs no explanation. Neither does the fact that without No. 1, No. 2 loses a lot of flavor. But Objective No. 2 is what makes this game so crucial. Up to this point, the B's have done a great job of distancing themselves from last year's history-making mess. They already look like a tougher, more potent and inspired team. But there are still a few demons floating around the locker room, and the stench of Matt Cooke might be the most menacing.

It's now been seven months since Cooke's cheap shot on Marc Savard, and Savvy's career has been drastically altered. His life's been drastically altered.

Take a second and think about how long ago March feels all that's happened since then and now consider that Savard's been living a nightmare everyday of that.

Now imagine you're one of the teammates who failed so miserably in gaining retribution. That must be awful.

Tonight's game not only provides the Bruins a chance to make good on last March's disaster, but also a chance to prove they're officially not that team from last March anymore; that they're willing and able to fight for what's important and still come out on top.

On Thursday night in Miami, the Celtics have an opportunity to gain a serious mental edge on the biggest threat to their Eastern Conference crown.

Sure, the Heat have played better since Opening Night, but still, they're about as emotionally stable as a PMS-ing supermodel. For every step forward, at least in the eyes of the national media, they take seven steps back, and it's got to be wearing on them. Erik Spoelstra can't open the Internet without reading about the eventual Pat Riley takeover. Chris Bosh can't check his Twitter feed without nearly 290K followers telling him he's a fraud. LeBron James can't gaze into the mirror and ask, "What should I do?" without the mirror yelling back, "How about taking over in crunch time of a big game, fool!?!"

I'm not saying the Heat are teetering on any brink of destruction. But if Boston can go into Miami's gym, in the midst of a four-game road trip, without an entirely healthy roster, and win? This game will stick with the Heat for a while.

After Thursday, there are three months before the Heat and Celtics play again, and that's back here at the Garden. If Miami loses tomorrow, then no matter what they accomplish between now and that next meeting, all they'll hear is, "But you can't beat Boston! You can't beat the reaaaaal Big Three!"

And for a team that's already under constant scrutiny, already has the weight of the NBA world on its shoulders, and already boasts a highly flammable arsenal of egos, who knows where that might lead?

I don't, but wouldn't it be fun to find out?

And lastly, on Sunday night, the Patriots have an opportunity to erase that loss to Cleveland.

OK, they can't erase it. We're not talking Men in Black here. But how about Back to the Future?

Maybe the Pats can't remove that game from history, but can't they alter its place?

Right now, the loss to the Browns is a warning sign, a red flag, perhaps the game that exposed all their weaknesses.

With a victory over the Steelers, the loss to the Browns becomes an aberration, a much needed wake-up call, the game that got the Pats back on track!

A loss will be, well, a loss. The specifics will go a long way towards deciding how seriously we take it. But there are very few harder places to win than Heinz Field, especially in prime time. Truthfully, a loss is probably expected.

In fact, the Bruins, Celtics and Patriots will all be underdogs the next time they take the respective ice, court and field. So that's why if they do lose, we won't freak out.

But if one, two or all three can step up and seize the opportunity before them, we'll have reason to remain optimistic, and maybe even increase our expectation, regardless of how far away the finish line might seem.

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

Jerod Mayo: 'Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year'

Jerod Mayo: 'Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year'

Jerod Mayo still has faith in New England Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones.

The cornerback, who was the Patriots' top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, struggled mightily in his rookie season. He fumbled his way out of a role on special teams, where he served as a returner.

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He then failed to perform at nickel cornerback, and the Patriots traded for Eric Rowe, who pushed Jones down the depth chart and often onto the inactives on game day. Jones' emotional outburst during Week 5 when he got ejected for punching Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins didn't help.

Despite all that, Mayo thinks Jones will turn things around.

"I think Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year," Mayo said in the latest edition of "The Ex Pats" podcast. "I want people to remember a rookie [Matthew] Slater. A rookie Matt Slater was terrible. He would sit here on this podcast and tell you he's terrible, and I think Cyrus Jones is more athletic than Matthew Slater. I think -- I know for a fact, because I've seen it time and time again, the biggest leap not only in athleticsm but also in confidence is from year one to year two."

Jones admitted to the Baltimore Sun that his rookie was "hell." He added he felt "embarrassed." The 23-year-old cornerback said he didn't feel like he was a part of New England's Super Bowl LI win.

“Failure is another opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” Jones wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post.

Mayo seems to think Jones has learned his lesson, and will rebound with the help of Bill Belichick. And the Patriots may need Butler to be the most-improved player. Malcolm Butler's future with New England has become uncertain, and the remaining top cornerbacks are over 6-feet.

The Patriots need a slot corner. Jones is the next man up.

"As much as the media has kind of battered this young kid, Bill's going to boost him up this entire offseason," Mayo said. "Bill -- he's the best at putting lowlights up after a game . . . But during the offseason, he kind of -- it's individualized coach. He knows this guy's confidence is in the toilet. He's going to boost him up as much as possible.

"You know [Jones] can play football. He played in the SEC. He played on the top team on the country, and was a standout performer. So this is a confidence issue. This entire thing is a confidence issue, and I think they fix that."

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

PHOENIX -- The Patriots pulled off what many considered a surprise free-agent signing when they acquired corner Stephon Gilmore. As it turns out, before they picked up the former Bills cover man, they inquried about a separate move that would have been even more eye-opening. 

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, ahead of coming to a deal with Gilmore, the Patriots were among the teams that spoke to the Seahawks about a potential trade for Richard Sherman.

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During the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday morning at the Arizona Biltmore, Seattle coach Pete Carroll acknowledged that multiple teams have contacted the Seahawks about Sherman. But, Carroll said, "I don't see anything happening at all."

Sherman, who turns 29 next season, will make $11.431 million for 2017. He's due $11 million in the final year of his contract in 2018.