NFL Picks: Week 15

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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

Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

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Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

BROOKLYN -- For the second year in a row, Boston's franchise goaltender and $7 million man Tuukka Rask couldn’t physically answer the bell for one of the biggest games of the year.

Rask was unable to go Saturday night when the Bruins faced the Islanders at the Barclays Center because of a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin stepped in and helped the B's to a 2-1 victory that snapped their four-game losing streak, moved them past the Isles back in the second wild-card spot, and enabled them to close to two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

It wasn't quite the same as last year, when Rask was too sick to play the win-or-go-home regular-season finale against Ottawa. The Bruins got shellacked in that one and missed the playoffs. There are still two weeks left in the regular season, so Saturday didn't have the same do-or-die consequences.

But Khudobin, who made 18 saves, gave Boston some energy and enthusiasm in the crease with the same kind of battling, chaotic style that Tim Thomas exhibited. Watching Khudobin throw a double-pad stack at John Tavares on a late third-period Islanders power play in a one-goal game was a clear sign that Rask wasn’t in net, and his unconventional technique perhaps distracted Tavares enough that he ripped his open shot off the crossbar and away from harm.

Afterward interim coach Bruce Cassidy fervently sang Khudobin’s praises, and almost seemed to be shedding some light on what they aren’t always getting from their top goaltender in these crunch-time games.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots," he said. "And you kill that many penalties. (The Islanders failed to score on six power plays.) It was a nice building-block win for us.

"I loved [Khudobin’s] performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

So now the Bruins have a choice about what to do Tuesday against the Predators. And the hope here is that Khudobin gets a second straight start, whether or not Rask is healthy enough to go.

Khudobin has won five games in a row and has a 1.98 goals-against average and a  .920 save percentage since the All-Star break. Rask, in contrast, has an inflated 2.91 GAA and .892 save percentage in that span.

More than that, however, there’s a real issue developing with Rask and how much trust the Bruins can have in him when the games matter most. He gave up a couple of bad goals in the loss to the Lightning on Thursday night, and afterwards looked like the boy who lost his dog when answering questions with a soft, unsure voice that began to trail off when it came time to accept responsibility for his part in the ugly defeat.

The downcast expression was a concern, and it certainly seemed like Rask was rattled mentally as much as he was beaten physically after that defeat.

So the overriding question now is: What good is a No. 1 goaltender if he doesn’t play like one when it matters most?

Maybe Rask is seriously injured and we’ll find out after the season that he needs hip surgery, and was far less than 100 percent all year. Or maybe playing three games in four nights was too much of a strain, and he needed the weekend away from the ice after the unavoidable bump in workload.

The fact that the Bruins expect Rask to practice on Monday, however, really takes some of the oomph out of the serious-injury argument, and makes one wonder how he can practice Monday after not playing in the biggest game of the season on Saturday.

Maybe Rask was angered by Cassidy calling him out by saying the team “needs more from him” after the goalie's lackadaisical performance in the loss to Tampa Bay, and that played into the goalie’s sudden case of “lower body discomfort” on Friday after saying Thursday he felt fine physically.

Maybe Rask is frazzled emotionally after the burden of carrying the team at times this season, and he needed a few days away from the ice to recollect himself and get ready for the crucial seven remaining games on the schedule.

Still, the Bruins can’t look at Rask as someone they can rely on when the chips are down for the rest of this season. That cost them last year, and shame on the Bruins if they again make the mistake of putting all of their playoff eggs in the Rask basket.

Perhaps it’s time to even start thinking about other goaltending options this summer. Rask will no longer have full no-trade protection once the season is over. He's been inconsistent at best in the biggest moments over the years, and the B’s shouldn’t pay a goaltender like he’s one the best if he isn’t when the late-season heat is on.

But that’s a question to ponder in a month or two.

For now, the Bruins should ride the hot goalie -- Khudobin, who showed Saturday he's willing to battle his butt off -- and let Cool Hand Tuukka cool his heels on the bench while recuperating from whatever it is that kept him out of a gigantically important game in Brooklyn this weekend.

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