NFL Picks: Week 15

197883.jpg

NFL Picks: Week 15

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

There are very few things that can keep me from these picks. Earlier in the year, I deferred in the name of the Celtics taking their talents to South Beach. A few weeks ago, it was because LeBron was taking his talents back to Cleveland. And this week marks the third time in 15 chances that NFL picks take a back seat because . . .

Antoine Walker's taken his talents to the D-League!

I'm headed up to Maine to check in on everyone's former favorite Celtic, and will report back Friday. In the meantime, enjoy an abridged version of my Week 15 Picks.

I went 23-10 last week, based on my new units system. And by "new" I mean new for me. I know I didn't invent it. Here's a quick recap and then it's on to the picks.

Games are broken into three categories:

1. Both teams are in playoff contention.

2. Only one team is in playoff contention.

3. Both teams have already checked out.

Games from Category 1 will count three times (win or lose), Category 2 games will count twice and Category 3 will count once. Makes sense, right?

Here we go

CATEGORY 1

The Game: San Francisco at San Diego (-10)

I wish a blowout loss to the Chargers could put us out of our 2010 Niners misery. That finally, we'll be able to move on, forget they ever existed and stop wasting time our wondering if maybe (just maybe!) they'll turn a 1-6 (and then 3-7) start into a playoff birth.

Instead, that won't happen until Week 16 when San Fran's blown out by the Rams.

The Pick: Chargers (-10)

The Game: Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-5)

So, let me get this straight. Peyton Manning is in the midst of one of the worst statistical stretches of his career. His offense is banged up. His defense is a mess. He's throwing picks like Brett Favre in his prime. "What's wrong with Peyton?", everyone freaks out. Then he has one good game against a really bad Titans team and everything is right with the world. Really? It's that easy? The Titans?!

The Pick: Jaguars (5)

The Game: Kansas City (-1.5) at St. Louis

I'm officially rooting for the Rams to emerge from the NFC West, if for no other reason than because Steven Jackson deserves it. The guy's been killing himself for that franchise since 2004, hasn't made the playoffs since his rookie year, and has yet to have a winning season. You know I love my Chiefs, but this one's for Steven

The Pick: Rams (1.5)

The Game: New Orleans at Baltimore (-1)

The 10-3 Saints have beaten only two teams with a winning record. Only one of those came on the road. That one came against Tampa.

The Pick: Ravens (-1)

The Game: Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants (-3)

Why is it news that Michael Vick wants to own another dog? Seriously, can't we just stay focused on the issues that really matter? For instance, what kind of dog will he get? Pug? Ooh, maybe a Jack Russell? This is interesting stuff, right?!

The Pick: Giants (-3)

The Game: Atlanta (-6) at Seattle

A battle of first-place teams! God, that just feels dirty, but regardless of the piece of trash division that the Seahawks currently call home, they are, in fact, very much in playoff contention and I think their insane home-field advantage helps keep this game close.

The Pick: Seahawks (6)

The Game: N.Y. Jets at Pittsburgh (-6)

Oh, Marky. It's OK. I know you've had a rough go at it lately, but I have just the cure for what ails you. That's right . . . Pittsburgh! And 12 of the meanest, dirtiest, "we aren't happy until we concuss you defenders" in the league. Good luck, champ!

The Pick: Steelers (-6)

The Game: Green Bay at New England (No Line)

You really get the sense that Aaron Rodgers will sit this one out, which really gives me the sense that I'll take the Pats against Matt Flynn, regardless of where the line finishes.

The Pick: Patriots (-Whatever)

CATEGORY 2

The Game: Denver at Oakland (-6.5)

There's no other way around it and I'm sure the Bills' Steve Johnson agrees God is punishing the Broncos for refusing to play Tebow.

The Pick: Raiders (-6.5)

The Game: Chicago at Minnesota (-1.5)

It's hard to really trust the Bears based on last week, so I'm going with the Vikings and rookie QB Joe Webb, based mostly on this.

The Pick: Vikings (-1.5)

The Game: Detroit at Tampa Bay (-6)

The Lions registered their face-saving win last week against the Packers, and can now look ahead to next season not that it would against the Best Worst Team in the NFL!
The Pick: Buccaneers (-6)

CATEGORY 3

The Game: Cleveland at Cincinnati (-1.5)

Eric Mangini announced on Thursday that Colt McCoy is his starter for the rest of the season. Great news for Browns fans, but awful news for gamblers, because with Jake Delhomme out of the mix, I don't know what to think.

Oh wait, yes I do . . . Carson Palmer!
The Pick: Browns (1.5)

The Game: Washington at Dallas (-6)

Rex Grossman alert. I repeat, we have a major Rex Grossman alert on our hands, people. He's not officially slated to start yet, but his name is officially in the conversation. Abort! Abort!

The Pick: Cowboys (-6)

The Game: Houston at Tennessee (-1.5)

When the most interesting storyline heading into a game is that the opposing No. 1 receiver and cornerback beat the crap out of each other a few weeks ago, then . . . eh, you're not doing bad for a one-star game.
The Pick: Titans (-1.5)

The Game: Buffalo at Miami (-5.5)

I really think last week's Miami win was more a matter of the Jets' ineptitude than any sort of Dolphin resurgence. Not to mention it's hard to experience any real resurgence when you started off the season by digging yourself into a hole the size of the Chilean miners'.

The Pick: Bills (5.5)

The Game: Arizona at Carolina (-2.5)

This is hands down the worst game on the 2010 NFL schedule, and in accordance, I'd like to personally shake the hand every single Panthers fan who makes the trek to Bank of America Stadium. You, my friend, are a true fan. OK, so come on, all 15 of you, line up!

The Pick: Panthers (-2.5)

RECORD:

Last Week: 23-10
Overall: 118-100-4

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

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

BOSTON – With his new head coach Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics ownership and front office officials surrounding him, Jayson Tatum’s mind seemed to be somewhere else briefly.

He looked ahead, way, way ahead to the other end of the Celtics’ practice court where there were banners, lots of banners, raised high above all else in the gym.

This wasn’t just a passing glance, either.

TATUM SPEAKS

It was clear that the newest Celtic was in deep thought as he stared at the 17 banners and the one left blank, a steady reminder of what this franchise is about, past and present.

Yes, it’s a lot to soak in for anyone let alone a 19-year-old kid whose career with the Celtics can be timed on a stopwatch.

But the soft-spoken 6-foot-9 forward has been here long enough to understand that success around here is about more than playing well; it’s playing to win a championship.

And that in many ways separates Tatum from his teenage brethren who made up the majority of Thursday night’s NBA draft which included an NBA-record 17 players taken in the first round who like Tatum, were just one year removed from high school.

All come into the NBA with lots to learn, as well as goals and aspirations for this upcoming NBA season.

During an interview with CSN on Friday, I asked Tatum about what in his mind would make for a successful season.

And his answer initially was to ask me a question, “Individual or team?”

So I replied, either one.

“To get back to where they were last year and get over that hump,” he said. “Championships, chasing that number 18, that would be the ultimate success for me.”

That served as a reminder as to why despite having a handful of players under consideration at No. 3, the Celtics did the right thing in selecting Tatum.

His words may seem like the politically correct response, but take a look at the kid’s basketball resume and you’ll quickly see he is indeed about winning and doing so in whatever way possible.

After missing his first eight games at Duke with a foot injury, Tatum gradually improved as the season progressed and wound up on the all-rookie team as well as being named to the All-ACC third team.

Once the Blue Devils got to the ACC Tournament, Tatum became a different, better, more dominant player.

Indeed, Tatum led the Blue Devils to their first ACC championship since 2011 and did so in historic fashion as the Blue Devils became the first ACC school to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

Late in the title game against Notre Dame, Tatum put together a sequence of plays that speaks to why the Celtics were seriously considering taking him with the number one overall pick had they not been able to trade it for the No. 3 and a future first-round pick.

With the scored tied at 65, Tatum made a free throw that put Duke ahead.

Moments later, he blocked a shot and finished off the play with a lay-up that gave Duke a three-point lead.

After a Notre Dame basket, Tatum connected with a teammate for a 3-pointer that pushed Duke’s lead to four points with around a minute to play.

And then there was the 3-point play Tatum converted after getting fouled on a dunk which secured a 76-69 Duke win over the Fighting Irish.

Free throws. Blocks. Getting out in transition. Passing.

When his team needed him most, he gave whatever was required at that moment which is one of the intangibles that makes Boston feel good about his future.

“He does whatever he has to do to help you win,” said an NBA scout who said he has seen Tatum play “at least a dozen times.”

He added, “Like all of these kids coming into the league now, he has some things he has to get better at, get more consistent with. But he makes winning plays, whether it’s for himself or others. He’s a lot more unselfish a player than he’s given credit for being.”

And he’s 19 years old, which is both a blessing and a burden when you’re an NBA team executive charged with committing at least two years and millions of dollars into a young man.

Part of the process when making a draft choice, especially when it’s one of the top picks, is character evaluation.

Of the players at or near the top of the draft board, multiple league executives contacted by CSNNE.com in the past couple of weeks said this was an area where Tatum stood out in comparison to all of the top prospects.

“He’s the kind of young man you’d love whether he was a basketball player or not,” one Western Conference executive told CSNNE.com. “If you’re ranking guys on character alone in this draft, he’s your number one pick.”

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, acknowledged the challenge of differentiating between miscues made by a teenager as being problems of concern going forward, or whether that’s a teenager making the kind of bad/questionable decisions most teens make.

“It’s dangerous to play too much into a 19-year-old kid’s behavior,” Ainge told CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper on Friday. “But I think that, with all the things we do, from physical, emotional, mental, character, work ethic and their skills … it’s just really hard at 19. You hate to just be labeled what you are at 18.”

But in regards to Tatum specifically, Ainge added, “Jayson is a high character guy. We know he will get better because of his character and his work ethic.”

Said Tatum: “It’s a great feeling. Being part of a great organization like the Celtics; think of all the great players of the past and you can follow in their footsteps.”

And in doing so, blaze a trail of his own in the pursuit of Banner 18.

David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

red_sox_david_price_062417.jpg

David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

BOSTON — David Price and Rick Porcello showed improvement on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday, important signs for the Red Sox after a difficult month for both pitchers prior to this homestand.

Price on Saturday night went six innings and allowed three runs, two earned, in a 6-3 loss to the Angels. He fanned five and his velocity has been consistently better this year than last year.

But the most important number was his walk total: one. He walked three batters in his previous start, and four in both of his starts prior.

“Two outings ago, the first start here in Fenway,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “There was better timing in his delivery and overall better separation over the rubber. And he carried that through I thought, even though there's a higher pitch count in Houston, and has been able to maintain it here. I can't say there was one specific thing. It's been more the timing over the rubber. And you're seeing him pitch out of the stretch exclusively. Just less moving parts in a better position to repeat it.”

After Price’s final inning, the telecast captured Price calling pitching coach Carl Willis into the tunnel. Neither Farrell nor Price detailed the conversation. 

“Yeah, everything was fine,” Farrell said of the conversation. “Everything is OK there.”

Price made it sound like he’s dealing with some sort of physical ailment, but was vague.

“There's a lot of stuff going on right now,” the pitcher said when asked about the desire to stay out there. “You don't want it to linger into the next start, or two or three weeks from now, and that's why we did what we did.”

Asked to elaborate, Price reinforced that the decision was to save his body for another day.

“You never want to come out of a game. But you have to look forward at the time,” Price said. “You don’t want today to cost you your next start or you know, the start after that. So that’s what happened.

“It has nothing to do with my elbow or anything like that. This is — you get past one thing and there’s another So that’s what it is.”

Price in New York in early June felt a blister develop on his ring finger. He missed an in-between start bullpen because of it.

Asked about the blister Saturday, Price said, “That one’s gone.”

Farrell indicated the blister was diminished, if not entirely gone.

“He's been dealing with that,” Farrell said. “I think while it's still present and maybe not as severe as it was when it first happened, I'm sure he's going to check on it occasionally."