NFL picks: Week 4

197883.jpg

NFL picks: Week 4

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Do you know that no Patriots team has ever finished the season at 7-9?

I know the NFL has only been playing the 16-game schedule since 1988, but wouldn't you think that they'd finish with seven wins at least once over the last 22 years? I mean, how hard is it to go 7-9?

Or is it that we maybe don't give 7-9 enough credit . . . Maybe going 7-9 is more difficult than we think . . . Maybe 7-9 is an achievement!

Seriously, think about it.

In the meantime, I invite you to read along as I make a fool out of myself for the fourth straight week. (Something Mike Singletary and I will have in common.)

The Game: NY Jets (-5.5) at Buffalo

Lets all remember something: Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 250 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against an overall average Patriot defense and a below-average Patriot secondary.

Is he an upgrade over Trent Edwards? Yes. Of course. Chan Gailey himself would be better than Edwards. But that doesnt make Fitzpatrick a legitimate NFL quarterback. It just makes him better than Trent Edwards. Theres a huge difference; well see it on Sunday.

And with that glowing review, Im taking the Bills.

I dont think theyll win, but with the Jets coming off back-to-back gigantic Ws, the Bills looking like easy prey, the Buffalo crowd, the division rivalry and the fact that Rex Ryans boys having the collective mental capacity of Nate Robinson I think Buffalo keeps it close.

Just close enough for Fitzpatrick to screw them at the end.

The Pick: Bills (5.5)

The Game: Detroit at Green Bay (-14.5)

Im feeling for Lions fans. After a decade of misery that saw them withstand two years of Marty Mornhinweg (we defer!), four years of Joey Harrington and NINE years of Matt Millen (that comes to like 27 rookie receivers), 2010 was supposed to be their season. Not to make the playoffs, necessarily. Or even have a winning record. But 2010 was supposed to be a season for progress; the time for the team to make a collective leap, knock off a few quality opponents, maybe win six or seven games and then next year, come into the season atop everyone sleeper list.

But you know what happened next.

In Week 1, Matthew Stafford got hurt and Megatron "dropped" the touchdown in Chicago. In Week 2, they ran into Michael Vick. In Week 3, they went into one of the toughest stadiums in the league to play the most desperate team in the league. Oh, and Jahvid Best, the most exciting player on the roster and the biggest reason for Lions to keep the faith? Turf toe. Probably one of the most nagging injuries a running back can have.

So, now the Lions head into Week 4 in Green Baby with Shaun Hill at quarterback, probably Maurice Morris (yes, THAT Maurice Morris) at running back, against a Super Bowl contender coming off a crushing loss.

I feel for you Detroit.

(Im sure that makes it all better)

The Pick: Packers (-14.5)

The Game: Seattle (-1) at St. Louis

Did anyone else see the Pete Carroll mic'd up segment on Inside the NFL?

On one hand, I'll give Pom-Pom Pete credit he works it on game day. Granted, he doesn't so much work it like an NFL coach; it's more like a hyperactive, fourth-year equipment manager who's being allowed to suit up for the last game of his senior year (minus the uniform, but that can't be far behind). But still, for four quarters, Pom-Pom is HYPED. Its got to be exhausting. Maybe even a little bit contagious.

But I've got to be honest: The whole thing kind of creeped me out. Or more, I couldn't help but feel like it was creeping all his players out. Carroll's not coaching teenagers anymore; these are older, more rigid, jaded, and less idealistic professionals. And while the cheering and high fiving and relentless positivity might fly when youre 2-1, as the season wears on, the act will get stale.

The Pick: Rams (1)

The Game: Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-1)

Either Peyton Hillis is a lot better than we think, or the Ravens run defense is a lot worse. The answer? I have no damn idea, which is what makes this game such a crapshoot. But in the end, I think it comes down to Charlie Batch. Yeah, the same guy I was talking up last week. But also the same guy whos fresh off the least impressive three-touchdown performance in NFL history. The guy threw two jump balls that happened to end up in Mike Wallace's hands. That's all he did. Unless you count the two interceptions.

The Ravens will stack the box against Rashard Mendenhall; they know hes Pittsburgh's only legitimate offensive weapon. After that, Batch will make enough mistakes by himself to seal the deal.

The Pick: Ravens (1)

The Game: San Francisco at Atlanta (-7)

The same way Carroll;s well of exuberance will eventually run dry, you have to think Mike Singletary's is down to its last bucket. I mean, you can take the psychopathic ramblings when it translates into wins, but when youre 0-3, your quarterback sucks, your offensive coordinator just got fired and you coach is still running around screaming like someone just poured Tobasco down his pants, at some point you just turn it off. You turn your coach off. And that's not good for business.

This week, the Niners try to save their season, yet again, on the road against a Falcons team coming off the biggest, most dramatic win of the entire year to this point. With a win over the 49ers, regardless of how down they are, the Falcons take a huge step in proving that theyre for real. With a loss, the New Orleans victory becomes significantly less important. At least in the big picture.

I think the Niners fight, but stupidity, the Georgia Dome crowd and Singletary's insanity proves too much to overcome.

The Pick: 49ers (7)

The Game: Denver at Tennessee (-6.5)

The Broncos are a Top 10 rush defense after three games, going up against a Top 1 running back. But that's not where this game will be decided. Unlike the Titans, Denver has no running game (hello, Mr. Maroney!), so it will have to throw against a Tennessee defense that's tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks and has only allowed one passing touchdown all season (and zero in the last two games).

Did I mention that Laurence Maroney is Denver's No. 1 back?

The Pick: Titans (-6.5)

The Game: Cincinnati (-3) at Cleveland

This is Cleveland's last chance to win for a while. After Sunday, the Browns play at Atlanta, then go to Pittsburgh and New Orleans, before coming home for a pair against the Pats and Jets. If Cleveland loses on Sunday, they're going at least 0-9.

Meanwhile, who the hell knows whats going on with this Bengals team? Somehow, theyve gone 2-0 since that loss to the Patriots, and even beat a pretty good Ravens team. But their offense is in a bad place right now. Their quarterback is in a bad place. Honestly, Carson Palmers fallen so far that I'm not even sure how much of an advantage he has over Seneca Wallace. Hey, at least Wallace can leave the pocket if he needs to. And wouldn't this be the perfect time, on the road, in hostile territory, against an inferior opponent, for Operation Diva to blow in the Cincinnati huddle?

The Browns are more desperate. The Bengals are lucky to be 2-1.

The Pick: Browns (3)

The Game: Carolina at New Orleans (-13.5)

Insult to injury

"Hey, listen, Garrett, not only are we taking you off the job, but we think so little of your abilities that we're actually replacing you with a recently retired 46-year-old, who's so reliable that he once missed a last-second extra point that could have helped send us to the playoffs.

"Anyway, hope you didnt already blow that Super Bowl bonus . . . "

The Pick: Saints (-13,5)

The Game: Houston (-3) at Oakland

This gets the Mind-Eff Game of the Week award.

First of all, we know that the Raiders are a bad team. They've gotten blown out by the Titans, barely beat the Rams, and then lost to a sad Cardinals team. Their coach is grossly overmatched unless he's fighting one of his own staff. Their owner's old enough to be Johnny Pesky's grandfather. They suck.

(Also heres a few words of wisdom on Bruce Gradkowski: If you have this guy on your roster, chances are you're in trouble. This is Gradkowskis fifth season in the league, and over those five seasons while he hasn't started even close to every game Dradkowski teams are a combined 23-44. Thats a .343 winning percentage. That's horrendous. Remember this when the Pats sign Gradkowski as a backup in 2013.)

On the other side, aren't we only a week removed from declaring the Texans the breakout team of 2010? Weren't they the real deal? Did the loss to Dallas expose that much? Arent they at least good enough to beat the hapless Raiders?

Yes, they are. But this is the Mind Eff Game of the Week. Somethings fishy. The line doesn't add up. And in those situations, I always go against my gut. I just assume Vegas knows something I don't.

And I go with the Raiders.

The Pick: Raiders (3)

The Game: Indianapolis (-7) at Jacksonville

Jacksonville's 1-4 in its last five games against the Colts, but we're gambling here. Who cares who wins?

More importantly, here are the final scores in those five games:

28-25, 23-21, 31-24, 14-12, 35-31.

Indy's been dominating the AFC South for the better part of a decade now, but they always play close, tough games within their division. Combine that with the fact that Jack Del Rio and David Garrard are coachingplaying for their jobs, Maurice Jones-Drew still hasn't broken out (he has to eventually, right?) and seven's a LOT of points to lay down on the road within your division, and I like the Jags.

On that note . . .

The Pick: Jaguars (7)

The Game: Arizona at San Diego (-8)

Heres my Lock of the Week: Before the end of this game Max Hall will be playing quarterback for the Cardinals.

I dont care what Ken Whisenhunt says, there's only so much any coach take of Derek Anderson.

The Pick: Chargers (-8)

The Game: Washington at Philadelphia (-6)

First, everyone overreacted to Michael Vick's back-to-back monster games. Then they overreacted in the other direction to the fact that those two games were against the Jaguars and Lions.

The real Vick lies somewhere in the middle, which is the Vick we'll see Sunday. There's no way the Redskins shut him down completely; he'll have a few big plays. But you can't discount the fact that this is Vick's first time starting an interdivision game since December 24, 2006. Theres an added level of importance and intensity that he might not be ready for. Or at least will need some time to adjust to.

By then, the Eagles will already find themselves in a tight one.

The Pick: Redskins (6)

The Game: Chicago at NY Giants (-4)

I keep hating on the Bears, and they keep me making me look stupid. I just cant help it though ay Cutlers too much fun to hate.

The Pick: Giants (-4)

The Game: New England (-1) at Miami

Chad Henne to Brandon Marshall. Get used to hearing it. Over and over and over. Get used to hearing Jon Gruden drool over Marshall's length and athleticism, Ron Jaworski nearing climax over Henne's presence in the pocket, arm strength and accuracy. Get used to hearing Mike Tirico ask a series of open-ended questions like: "Guys, what can the Pats do to save this secondary?" and "Guys, does it matter how deadly this offense is if they cant get on the field?"

Maybe Im just pessimistic, but I left that Buffalo game feeling unquestionably worse about the Pats' chances on Monday night.

I still can't believe theyre actually giving points.

The Pick: Dolphins (1)

The Record:
Last Week: 7-9&8232;Season: 20-25-2

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

Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?

patriots-brady-gronkowski-121315.jpg

Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?

There are times during Tom Brady's Monday morning interviews with WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show when he feels like opening up about some of the things that have helped him stay on the field as long as he has. In those moments, when his passion for nutrition and position-specific training comes through, he provides insight into an approach that he says he has tried to share with others. 

On this particular Monday, Brady was asked if one of his teammates might benefit from a similar focus on hydration and muscle pliability.

Rob Gronkowski has been the best tight end in football for several years due in part to his size and strength, but he had season-ending back surgery on Friday, making this the third year that he will finish on injured reserve since 2012.

"I think it’s always up to the individual," Brady said when asked if it would help Gronkowski to work more with Brady's body coach Alex Guerrero. "He’s dealt with certain things that are almost impossible to avoid on the football field. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. For me, I try and do all the things I can do to avoid as many things as possible and be as proactive as possible so that I can try to be out there every week. I believe that if you have a great foundation, it ends up being a lot harder to get hurt. That’s kind of where I focus my time and energy over the course of the week so that . . . you know you’re going to get hit, you know you’re going to sustain these impacts, and how can your body be prepared to withstand those things?

"I've definitely gone about it a different way than probably 99 percent of the people that have played in the NFL. And I have a lot of belief and conviction how I feel, and I try to instill that in the guys that I am with, but some guys definitely understand it, and work hard at it, and want to do the right thing. Sometimes when you’re young you don’t feel anything, so why do I need to put time and energy into something that I really don’t feel is a problem?

"It probably took for me to be 30 years old to really understand, ‘Wow I really notice a difference.’ I noticed it a little younger than that, but not on a really catastrophic scale. Guys are working hard at feeling as best they can. I think that is important. Every step of the way, every year you try and improve on different things."

Gronkowski has openly discussed that he likes to have fun off of the field, but he has also insisted that he understands when it is time to put in the work to prepare for an upcoming season. He spent part of last offseason training at Jay Glazer's Unbreakable Performance Center -- the same gym where fellow Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett worked out -- where improving mobility and flexibility are part of the regimen along with building strength, speed, power and explosiveness.

But might Gronkowski find himself avoiding some of the injuries he's experienced if he focused more of his time on pliability? Brady didn't want to take the conversation in that direction, acknowledging that Gronkowski works hard on staying in shape, but he did say that in his opinion there isn't enough focus on flexibility in athletics in general.

"I mean Gronk is so hard working, and Gronk has spent a lot of time with Alex at different points," Brady said. "Gronk has his rehab and he’s going to do it, and I have no doubt he’s going to come back stronger and better than ever. All of us learn every year about things that work and don’t work. And it’s really up to the individual. Gronk, it depends what all the . . . I don’t want to single out Gronk because he’s the only one that's injured. There's a lot of players that get injured over the course of the year, and then you go about changes in your routine because you think this may work and this may not work.

"To me, I feel like it’s very touch-and-feel with how you do take care of your body. Some weeks it is a little more strengthening. Some weeks it’s a little more conditioning. Some weeks it’s a little more pliability depending on how your body feels. I don’t think people spend enough time on pliability at all. I think that is the missing third leg to what athletes in high school should be learning and college athletes. We learn at a young age it’s all about strengthening and conditioning. And strengthening at the expense of pliability, to me, gets you injured. If you’re injured you can’t play. If your body is your asset and you’re injured, you’re not going to have much of a career for any athlete. Every team is trying to incorporate the things they see and they feel and they want to do a better job of. I think, I feel like that is part of what I want to teach people is how I've done it."

Brady said he has had conversations with Gronkowski about his training and that Gronkowski has been "committed." But one wonders if there's any more that a physically-gifted 27-year-old with a long injury history can learn from a 39-year-old who has withstood physical ailments over the course of his career and still seems to improve with age.

Brady admitted that the physical needs for a player at his position are different than the ones for someone who plays tight end and is expected to execute blocks or break tackles. Going with longer, softer muscles may not work when you have to block down on a 320-pound defensive tackle.

"It’s great to have that. It’s great to be a very strong physical person," he said. "That definitely helps you in your field, especially whatever your job is. For me, strengthening is really just to withstand the hits. I don't need . . . You guys saw me block last week, I don’t really strength train so I can go block people. It requires a different level of strength for certain positions, and a lot of people need to put a lot of strength for their positions.

"Whether it's baseball players or hockey players . . . so much of what you guys have seen me do is try to replicate playing quarterback when I work out. Over the offseason I work on my drops and my mechanics so that I can be the best quarterback. Those functional exercises are what's important for me. I don't want to do anything that's going to throw my timing off, and my throwing mechanics, by slowing down or densening certain parts of my body -- my hips or my core -- I need to be really pliable so I can maintain the timing and mechanics of my throwing motion so that I can throw the ball accurately because ultimately that's what my job is." 

Brady added: "You can't help the team if you're not out there. Different positions require different levels of strength and conditioning. I think that the key to sustaining the impacts is having your muscles pliable and that's soft and long and the ability to absorb the hits and really balance. That’s what I focus on. I’ve spent a lot of time with Alex keeping my muscles long and soft. Along with that goes the nutrition and feeling my inflammation rates down and keeping my muscles really hydrated. You go on these cross-country flights and you do a lot of things to dehydrate you. I stay very hydrated so it’s a combination of things that I feel put me in a great position to take those hits. Again, there are some that you can’t avoid and that is part of football. The ones I feel that you can avoid, those are the ones I want to avoid, and I think that's how I have stayed out there as long as I have."

The work he has put in with Guerrero, the changes to his diet, the commitment to rest and recovery -- it doesn't feel like a sacrifice to him, Brady went on.

Take Saturday's celebration of the 2001 Patriots that team owner Robert Kraft threw, for example. It sounded like the kind of thing any player would have built their schedule around, but Brady could only check in briefly before getting to bed. 

"I think there will be a time to sit back and reflect and enjoy those experiences," he said. "I take them for what they are . . . It's important for me to get my rest. It was nice to see a lot of the guys that I played with, but I couldn’t stay that long because my meetings finished at 8:30 at night, and I wanted to stop in because it’s important for me to see those guys. And Mr. Kraft, he put on a great event and I wanted to just make sure I was supportive of that. But I wanted to get home and to get to bed. Then to get up the next day and to be focused on the game, that’s where my energy was at.

"It’s not a sacrifice because I love it. At the end of the day I love what I do. I love the experiences that I’ve had. That is what I enjoy. I always feel my motivation is that I could have, should have done better.

"After every game that is what I think. 'God, I could have done this. I should have done this.' I think it’s a little maniacal because you do and you deal with so much stuff, sometimes the games, there’s a lot of imperfection in football, and there’s a lot of imperfection of what you do out there, especially when you’re making split-second decisions. It’s gratifying to come out of a game and go, 'Man, that was pretty good game.' And that’s happened, definitely. That is what you’re always trying to strive for. For me, I just want to try and put myself in that position every week to be the best I can be for my team."

As Brady said, some of the things Gronkowski has dealt with have been unavoidable. But one has to wonder, given everything he's been through, if he might not consider a real change in how he takes care of his body -- his "asset," as Brady put it -- in order to more consistently put himself in position every week to be the best he can be for himself and his team.

Belichick on keeping Brady in: 'Seen those double-digit leads evaporate'

patriots_bill_belichick_120416.jpg

Belichick on keeping Brady in: 'Seen those double-digit leads evaporate'

With 5:52 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Rams, and with the hosts up 26-3, quarterback Tom Brady was back on the field to lead the Patriots offense. 

It was a decision that had some scratching their heads. Why risk the health of your Hall of Fame quarterback in a game that's essentially been decided? Particularly at this point in the year? Particularly just days after the team lost it's most dynamic offensive weapon to season-ending back surgery?

"Well, after the game turns out, it's easy to go back and make those suggestions," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. "I've seen a few games in this league. Seen those double-digit leads evaporate in a minute or two. I know that's not a big concern when it does happen and then when it does happen it's a major crisis and [there's] a lot of second-guessing about what should've been done or what shouldn't have been done. Trying to win the game."

The Patriots held the ball for a little over two minutes before punting it back to the Rams. By the time the Patriots got the ball back for the final time with 1:15 remaining, Brady was on the field to take two kneeldowns and wipe out the clock. 

He told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show on Monday morning that he wasn't looking for an early hook. The Rams have been accused of dirty plays in the past, and their coaching staff has a reputation for encouraging a reckless style, but Brady explained why he wanted to remain in the game late.

"All these games are close. I know yesterday, 26-3 at one point, but we’re playing for a lot here," he said. "i don’t think it’s ever right to take your foot off the gas pedal. We could use as many reps as possible, all the guys out there. There are different situations that come up in every game. You only get 16 weeks a year to try them out. You try them in practice, but there’s not the speed. There’s not the urgency. It’s not the decision-making because it’s unscripted.

"In practice you go and talk about these are the plays you’re going to run, these are the defenses you can get. Then you go into the game and they it’s all about decision-making really under pressure with everything on the line, so the more reps you can get with Malcolm [Mitchell] and [Chris] Hogan and Martellus [Bennett], guys that I haven’t played with, the better it gets."

Brady escaped his late-game reps no worse for the wear -- he completed three of four passes for 14 yards on his team's second-to-last drive -- but he did take one shot earlier in the game that had him ticked. Rams safety TJ McDonald got into the Patriots backfield untouched and drove Brady into the ground during a second-quarter drive. Brady got the ball away, but he was walloped, and when he got up he sought out McDonald for a few words.

"I think it was pretty emotional," Brady told Kirk and Callahan. "I didn’t see the replay yet, but he made a good clean hit. They were blitzing us. I knew we didn’t have him picked up and he put a little extra something on.”

Asked if the threat of a play like that late in a lopsided game bothered him, Brady said no.

"I said to my wife as I was driving home, she was like, ‘What was that?’ She wants to know about all these things and I was like, ‘I think it is all fair on the football field.’ You put yourself out there," Brady explained. "You’re up 20, you’re down 20. Everyone is playing hard and whatever happens out there is on the football field. I don’t think it was a dirty play.

"Guys love going in there and hitting the quarterback. They’ve been trained to hit the quarterback their entire careers, especially on defense. They get paid more hitting the quarterback. Their team is 4-8 so they are going to play hard 'til the end no matter what. They haven’t been in a lot of games this year so they are going to play hard to try and set them up for next year. I had no problem with that hit. I thought it was a real clean play. I was pretty pissed off for the most part yesterday because we weren’t executing as well as we could and that probably had something to do with it as well."