NFL Playoff Picks: Week 1

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NFL Playoff Picks: Week 1

This weekend, while the Pats spend their time resting, relaxing and tweeting photos of their unsuspecting girlfriends, you could be making cash.

Cold, hard, judging-by-my-track-record-youd-be-an-idiot-to-take-my-advice cash.

Here are my Picks for Week 1 of the NFL Playoffs

Game 1: Cincinnati @ Texans (-3)

The big news in this one is that Andy Dalton and TJ Yates are set to become the first pair of rookie QBs to face off in the playoffs. In other words, prepare for a not-so-great game from two not-so-great teams.

The knock on the Bengals is an obvious one: They finished the season with an 0-7 record against 2011 playoffs teams. Seven times they had a chance to prove that they were worthy of our respect and seven times they failed. So its hard to believe theyll have what it takes in raucous Reliant Stadium. Granted, with the Texans luck, half the crowd will lose their voices by halftime, and the other half will collectively snap a hamstring in third.

Still, Im going with Houston. I know theyve lost three straight, but they also clinched the division in Week 13, and with the state of their roster had very little to realistically play for. And even though the offense has struggled since Matt Schaub went down, the defense has remained solid in Mario Williams' absence and will be enough to once again sneak by Cincy this time by four points.

Final score: Texans 24, Bengals 20

The pick: Texans (-3)

Game 2: Detroit @ New Orleans (-10.5)

In the early game, Yates and Dalton become the first pair of rookies to square off in the playoffs. In this one, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford become the first pair of 5,000 yard passers to butt heads in the second season. Of course, 20 years from now, this wont be a big deal. By then, 10,000-yard seasons will be the new norm, touchdown totals will be up in the 90s and Dan Marino will be looked upon as a modern day Y.A. Tittle. (Did you know that Tittle also starred alongside a dolphin in the 1931 silent film Squeaky Surprise?)

But regardless of where the game is going, for now, LionsSaints is historic and will be hell of a lot of fun.

I know the Saints beat down Detroit in Week 13, but that was a dark time for the Lions. You ever have one of those days where you wake up feeling fat, head outside and find a ticket on your car, sit in traffic for an hour and show up to work depressed, defeated and knowing its only about to get worse? That was Week 13 for the Lions: Fresh off their Thanksgiving embarrassment against Green Bay, in the middle of a crapstorm of criticism for their unsportsmanlike play and still withoutNdamukong Suh. Sure, the Saints were great and still are but they also caught the Lions on a bad day. Detroit wont win on Saturday, but theyll be better.

Final Score: Saints 38, Lions 31

The pick: Lions (10.5)

Game 3: Atlanta @ New York (-3)

The Giants get a lot of flack for their four game losing streak, and deservedly so. I mean, thats like if a baseball team lost 40.5 straight! OK, not really. But while people like to throw around the four-game drought as a harbinger for the Giants eventual failure, they very rarely mention who Eli and friends actually lost to over that stretch:

Week 10: At the 13-3 San Francisco
Week 11: At home against Philly (OK, that one was bad)
Week 12: At 13-3 New Orleans
Week 13: At home against the 15-1 Packers, at the height of their dominance, on a last second field goal.

Im not making excuses, but most teams in the NFL would be lucky to go 1-3 over that stretch. That the Giants went 0-4 isnt very inspiring but hardly means theyre done.

Still, the Giants biggest problem is consistency. One week Tom Coughlin's pushing all the right buttons, the offense can't be beat, and the defensive line gets enough pressure on the opposing QB to make up for the fact that the rest of their defense sucks. The next week, the offense can't click, the defense looks slower Vince Wilfork in the open field, and Coughlin spends the entire game looking like he's fighting off a stroke.

I know I've focused entirely on the Giants here, but honestly, that's what I believe this will come down to. If they play their game, the Falcons don't have a chance. If New York's alter ego shows up, the Falcons might win by 30. And to be honest, I'm not sure what's going to happen. In fact, no one is, hence the cop out (-3) spread. But put a gun to my head and I'm taking the Giants, because if it's a close game down the stretch, and I want Manning over Matt Ryan

Final score: Giants 31, Falcons 27
The Pick: Giants (-3)

Game 4: Pittsburgh (-9) @ Denver
Tim Tebow can't beat a defense as imposing as the Steelers, and the Broncos can't consistently stop an offense that dependable, even if Pittsburgh's without Rashard Mendenhall and 100 percent of Big Ben.

That being said, this will still be a relatively close game, thanks to the Mile High crowd and a little bit of Tebow Magic. But in the end, there's no question as to who will come out on top. No question at all. (Except from Big Ben in the postgame locker room: "Hey guys, does it still count as the Mile High Club if it's assault?)

Also, remember that Denver defense that no one would shut up about all season? The one that was the real reason the Broncos was so good and potentially headed for impressive heights?

They finished the season ranked 24th in points, 20th in total yards, 18th against the pass, 22nd against the run and 28th in turnovers with a juicy -12. I guess the turnovers aren't all their fault, and neither will this game be. But the Broncos aren't coming out on top.

Final score: Pittsburgh 31, Denver 23

The Pick: Denver (9)

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

Report: Cavs. Pacers, Nuggets discuss deal involving George, Love

Report: Cavs. Pacers, Nuggets discuss deal involving George, Love

Don’t count the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the Paul George sweepstakes just yet.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes, the Cavaliers are still working on a way to get George with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Ohio.

The latest rumor involves a three way deal being discussed between the Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, and Denver Nuggets. According to Hayes, the deal would send George and Kenenth Faried to Cleveland and Kevin Love to Denver.

Presumably, Indiana would end up with good picks and a few young assets.

Click here for the complete story.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.