NFL Playoff Picks: The WikiLeaks Edition


NFL Playoff Picks: The WikiLeaks Edition

By Rich Levine

The NFL Playoffs are a very special time. So for that, its only fitting to provide an extra-special helping of NFL Picks.

To ensure the extra specialness, I reached out to my friends at WikiLeaks (Julian Assange and I went to summer camp together) to see if they might help me track down some under-the-radar NFL information.

Ten thousand dollars later, and we were in business.

Anyway, here are those extra special NFL Playoff Picks . . . with an assist to WikiLeaks

The Time: Saturday, 8 p.m.The Jets Leak: The similarities between Richard Nixon and Rex Ryan are few and far between, but theres something that Coach Bigfoot and the former president do have in common: Recordings. Just like Nixon, Ryan records every conversation that takes place in his office. Nixons tapes were eventually the source of his undoing. Ryan? See for yourself. Wikileaks got a hold of some footage

Tuesday, January 4. 2:15 pm

Secretary: Excuse me, Coach?

Ryan: Yes, Doris?

Secretary: Coach, we just got word that the mother of one of our equipment managers passed away this morning. I was going to send some flowers on your behalf, but just wanted to see if you had any preference . . .

Ryan: That right, Doris? God, thats too bad. Yeah, flowers are the right move here. Its the least we can do. What are my choices?

Secretary: Well, we can go with roses . . . or perhaps a lone sunflower . . . or how about this beautiful arrangement of daisies?

Ryan: Hmm, well, can I ask you a question, Doris?

Secretary: What is it, Coach Ryan?

Ryan: Well . . . Can I, uhhh, smell em?

The Colts Leak: Earlier this week, Colts ownerTwitter maven Jim Irsay received a Direct Message from team president Bill Polian. Wikileaks uncovered the details of that conversation

@JustBillP: Hello, Jim.

@JimIrsay: Hey, Im not following you! Howd the hell you DM me?

@JustBillP: I annoyed them until they change the rules, Jim.

@JimIrsay: All right, Billy! Thats my guy! Hey, you hear I might get Cheap Trick to play halftime on Saturday? Pioneers!

@JustBillP: Yeah, thats great. Listen, you need to stop Tweeting.

@JimIrsay: Aww, Billy, come on! Stop being such a square! You ever try that Pink FloydWizard of Oz thing I told you bout the other night?

@JustBillP: What?

@JimIrsay: Oh yeah, brother. So whats this all about? Gotta be honest here. They just started a Credence block on Satellite. My attentions fading.

@JustBillP: Just stop tweeting, Jim. Youre compromising our situation. This is not good for the team. And most of all . . .

@JimIrsay: ?! Dont leave me hanging, Billy. Thats so uncool! Billy?!

@JustBillP: Bababooey Bababooey Bababooey!

@JimIrsay: Ahh! Zygi Wilf, you sandbagger! I knew Polian was too straight for this jazz! See you next month in Cabo, you crazy Zygi, you . . .

Actual Analysis: So heres what I still dont get about the Colts this year. They were not a great team. Through 13 weeks, they were 6-6, and had lost three straight. Peyton was struggling. Injuries were getting the best of them. It was obvious that this just wasnt their year. Then, next thing you know, they beat Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland and then Tennessee again. They never look particularly good doing so, but in the end, all we see are the four wins. The 10-6. All we hear is about how the Colts have finally figured it out. Watch out, its playoff time! But did they ever really prove that they were anything better than just an OK team? Not really.

And yeah, I get that one wants to face Peyton Manning in the playoffs. Its literally terrifying. But its not like hes unbeatable. Mannings made the playoffs 10 times in his career, and 6 out of 10 times hes gone home in the first round. Thats not to say he wont go out there and throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Of course he might; hes Peyton Manning. But hes also Peyton Manning. And most of those teams that got knocked out in the first round were a hell of a lot better than the one hell have behind him on Saturday.

As for the Jets, of all the road teams, theyre the one I worry about least. Theyre so messed up that I dont think it matters where they are. When it comes to distractions, playing on the road is like fifth in line.

I think they get to Peyton and make their way to Foxboro.

The Time: Sunday, 1 p.m.The Chiefs Leak: On Thursday afternoon, Charlie Weis and Todd Haley met in Haleys office to discuss the Chiefs offense weve received video of the affair and transcribed the conversation for you perusal:

(Weis enters the office wearing Florida Gators jump suit and white sneakers. He has a coffee mug in his right hand; donut in his left. A USA Today is rolled up under his arm. He takes a seat on Haleys couch.)
Todd Haley: All right now, Charlie. What are we thinkin for Sunday?

Charlie Weis: Morning, coach. Well, Im not quite ready to discuss this yet. Still need a little more time to brainstorm, if you catch my drift . . .

Haley: Charlie, it is THURSDAY, and Ive been begging you for this all DAMN week! Now we talked about this. You said you were gonna focus. Man, frankly, HALEY is starting to get fired up.

Weis: Listen, Todd . . .

Haley: HALEY.

Weis: Sorry, HALEY. Listen, I told you I had this under control, so please just chill out. Wanna see some progress? Check out this new play . . .

(You can hear the faint scratch of marker on a dry erase board)
Haley: Ooh. Ooh, yeah. HALEY LIKES. Now youre speaking my DAMN language, Charlie. Whered you come up with this PUPPY?

Weis: Well, I was watching college footba

Haley: DAMN it, Weis. We talked about this! You cant be giving us your all when youre off watching the (bleepin') Gators! Honestly, if this spray tan werent still drying, I would ROUGH you up right now!

Weis: Oh come on. Have some respect. I swear this has nothing to do with Florida. I was just up late working in the office, and ESPN was re-running some random games from earlier in the week. And I was barely even watching! I just happened to catch this one play during a quick push-up break. Well be fine. TRUST me.

Haley: Charlie, I dont believe what Im about to do, and you better not screw me on this, but Im gonna give you the benefit of the doubt here.

Weis: Nice! Thank you ver

Haley: But not because I LIKE you. I just like this play. So, tell me, what do they call it?

Weis: OK, now this is a HUGE coincidence, but they actually call it GATORS Z27 . . .

(At that point, there was about five straight minutes of inaudible swears and chaos.)

The Ravens Leak: After Thursdays team practice, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs exchanged a series of text messages surrounding a new poster on display in Suggs' locker. WikiLeaks has gained access to each mans phone records and can now bring you the details of their correspondence.

Ray Lewis: Yo, T. I gotta ask you, man. Whats up with that new poster?

Terrell Suggs: Oh, you talking about that Brady thing? Ahhh! I hate that dude SO much!

Lewis: Yeah, yeah. I know, man. I hate Brady, too. But why do you have a poster of him up on your locker?

Suggs: Really? You dont get it? It motivates me, Ray!

Lewis: Motivate?

Suggs: Yes, motivate. You know, Ill come in after practice or finish in the weight room, and Ill walk over to that locker thinking that Im the man. Like I just worked REAL hard. But then Ill see that dudes chiseled face, and the hatred just takes over. It makes me work harder. It makes me STRONGER.

Lewis: OK, I get that part. But T, man, why a poster of him topless on the beach? And whered you even get it? That thing looks custom made . . .

Suggs: Thats because it WAS custom made. Man, cant you see . . . I have a shirtless poster of Brady up on my locker because thats just how much I HATE him! God, its so obvious.

Actual Analysis: Weve had four months to watch them play, but the Chiefs are still somewhat of a mystery. On one hand, its hard to imagine them winning a playoff game especially not against a team as mentally tough and playoff-tested as the Ravens. Also working against the Chiefs? Their schedule. Of Kansas Citys 10 wins, only one came against a current playoff team. That team? The Seahawks.

Todd Haleys boys were also killed by the 4-12 Broncos, lost twice to the Raiders, also lost to the 6-10 Texans and needed overtime (at home) to beat the Bills.

But on the other hand, the Chiefs have playmakers. In running back Jamaal Charles they have the NFLs second-leading rusher who also averaged six-plus yards a carry. In Dwayne Bowe, they have the guy who caught more touchdowns than anyone in the NFL this year. Kansas Citys quarterback threw for 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. (On paper, that should make him a star, but for some reason Matt Cassel still wont get the recognition.)

Theres also the fact that the Chiefs have one of the most intense fan bases in the league. A fan base that hasnt seen a playoff game since 2006; that hasnt seen a playoff win since Joe Montana. Theyre going to be nuts. And if they can get a few big plays from Charles and Bowe; if Cassel can avoid big mistakes; if Charlie Weis can whip up a few surprises (try to act shocked when they call GATOR Z27); then who knows? Not to mention, the KC defense isnt great, but theyre not awful. They can ride the wave of this killer crowd, make a few game changing plays, put Baltimore on the defensive and then . . .


Stop right there.

I knew this would happen.

I knew Id try to talk myself into the Chiefs. And honestly, it wouldnt be the worst thing that ever happened; to invest your fake money in a team that matches all the descriptions spewed out above.

But at the same time, the Ravens are still just the better team. Theyve been better than the Chiefs all season. Charles and Bowe are great, but are they that much more dangerous than Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin? Can Cassel stay mistake free when Lewis, Suggs, Reed and friends are going for blood? If the Chiefs look overmatched early, how quickly will Arrowhead lose steam?

When it comes down to it, the Ravens just seemed destined for Foxboro, at one point or another, and I dont see the Chiefs getting in the way.

The Pick: Ravens (-3)
The Time: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.The Seahawks Leak: Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has kept a journal this season. WikiLeaks has obtained an excerpt of this journal, specifically a page labeled: HAIKUS!!!!!

Let us celebrate!
Spare no emotion, my boys!!
First-quarter field goal!!!

I must slap high five
How else will they know I care?
An ass-slap works too.

Football is the tops
Nothing I would rather do
But miss Tink, Lost Boys

My thanks eternal
Where would I be without you?
Sweet NFC West

The Saints Leak: Believe it or not, Reggie Bush had his phone tapped for most of this season. Yeah, I dont know. Anyway, WikiLeaks got their hands on some of the goodness, including this midseason conversation between Bush and a former USC teammate:

Bush: Ill tell you, my life just isnt the same without that trophy . . . its the worst feeling, man. Who am I without that thing? It takes away from all I accomplished in college; it really makes me second-guess taking all that unbelievable money. How can I get rid of this feeling?

Friend: Aww man, shut the hell up!

Bush: Haha, what?! Come on, I know you bought that for a second!

Friend: Man, youre stupid.

Actual Analysis: If Pom Pom Pete had gone with Charlie Whitehurst, then I may have considered Seattle here. Its not that I think they can win either way. But if theres one QB Ill put fake money on to keep it close, its the crazy-looking guy with the beard, not the 36-year-old who injured himself jogging into the end zone. Im slightly worried about the Saints running game no Chris Ivory or Pierre Thomas as well as Seattles crowd. Thats one of the best in the league.

But I cant overlook the fact that the Seahawks went 7-9 in the NFC West. I cant forget the feeling I had watching the play-in game last Sunday night, thinking, Holy God, these guys suck. And I cant promise you that I wont change my bet if Charlie Whitehurt somehow ends up starting.

The Pick: Saints (-10.5)The Game: GREEN BAY PACKERS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-2.5)

The Time: Sunday, 4:30 p.m.The Eagles Leak: Earlier this week, FOX announced that, prior to the Super Bowl, theyll be broadcasting Bill OReillys interview with President Obama. But what they didnt announce is that, as a warm up of sorts, the network had OReilly interview Michael Vick prior to this weeks playoff game.

The interview was slightly awkward, and ultimately wont air. But thanks to WikiLeaks, we still have access.

Bill OReilly: Michael Vick, thank you for being brave enough to face the FACTOR.

Michael Vick: Hey, um, thanks, but I

OReilly: Oh but nothing, lets get going. So heres what the WORLD wants to know: Earlier this season, you said that someday you might consider owning another dog, and to that, the country went ballistic! How dare he?! Right? Yet, last week, Ben Roethlisberger announces that hes engaged, and no one says a peep! You see what Im getting at here? Theres no difference! You see why this is a problem?

Vick: (stares blankly)

OReilly: You follow me?

Vick: (stares blankly)

OReilly: OK, good. So, the next question is: Do you want to know how this is the TERRORISTS fault?

Vick: But Bill, I . . .

OReilly: So you agree with me! Ahhh, I knew Id like you, Michael. I knew youd see it the FACTORs way. You can spin with the best of them on the field. But even YOU are no match for the NO SPIN ZONE. OK, next question . . .

Vick: Man, come on, if youd just let me answ

OReilly: NEXT QUESTION! OK, Michael, old buddy, old pal, lets talk about Clay Mathews.

Vick: Yeah, well, you know, Clay is quite a talent and were gonna

OReilly: Havent asked the question yet!

Vick: OK, listen . . .

OReilly: It is OK, Michael, but just remember youre in the NO Spin Zone. OK, so, ahem, where was I . . . Oh yes, right, Clay Matthews. The question is, Mr. Vick: Doesnt that haircut just SCREAM hippie! I mean, isnt that kind of freedom of expression EXACTLY what is wrong with this country!?

Vick: I . . .

OReilly: Of course, it is! Well played, Vick. And thats all the time we have!

The Packers Leak: For the past two seasons, Brett Favre played for the Vikings. The year before that, he suited up for the Jets. But now that Favre is officially retired, his heart is back with Green Bay. So with the Packers big playoff game on the horizon, Favre reached out to former protge Aaron Rodgers. What follows is what WikiLeaks believes is their text correspondence.

Aaron Rodgers: Hey man. I think that last text might have been intended for someone else . . .

Brett Favre: Aw, dang it, Aaron. Sorry about that. Getting a little sloppy in my old age here. Just disregard that pic. Anyway, you ready for the Eagles!?

Rodgers: Yeah, man. Ready to go. Think this might be our year! Would love to bring this city the kind of excitement you did back in '97!

Favre: Oh yeah. So whattaya think of THIS!?

Rodgers: You just did it again, Brett. Please stop sending me that photo.

Favre: For God's sake, these new fangled phones! Sorry, Aaron

Rodgers: Its OK. But yeah, just real focused on this weekend.

Favre: I bet you are . . . But what about THIS!

Rodgers: Im gonna go now.

Actual Analysis: While the Jets are a team that I can see thriving under late-season controversy, I feel like the Eagles are the team most likely to fall apart. Personally, Id much rather see them win this game. Id like to be able to watch Vick for three more games and then have them lose in the NFC Championship.

But I dont know. Theres just something about them that feels highly combustible. Between their QB (who knows how healthy he is), their WR (I wouldnt be shocked if DeSean Jackson went for 150 yards with three touchdowns; I wouldnt be shocked if he made a bonehead play that cost his team the game), and their coach (Andy Reid!) theres just a lot of room for error. Its not unavoidable, but it wont be easy especially against a Packers team thats in pretty good shape itself. Rodgers is back in the groove, theyve got dangerous receivers, a solid enough ground game and a big time, big play defense. They went 7-3 in their last 10 games, and two of those losses came at Atlanta and at New England.

Randomly enough, the Packers have already won a game in Philly this year. In Week 1, they beat the Eagles 27-20 in a game thats pretty much impossible to compare this one to because Philadelphias such a different team. But I see a similar outcome.

If you feel like throwing some fake money on it.

The Pick: Packers 3
Thanks again to WikiLeaks for all their tireless efforts.

Ill see you at the reunion, Julian.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.
Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.
Although Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.
“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”
As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.
“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”
Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones


Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.