NFL picks: Week 4


NFL picks: Week 4

By Rich Levine

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 Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up


Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up

FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots traded AJ Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick earlier this week, they were left with just two tight ends on their roster. While those two tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett -- have played as two of the best tight ends in football this season, it's a position group that has been considerably thinned. 

Until coach Bill Belichick adds another player at that spot, James Develin would be the logical "next man up." A position group unto himself as the team's lone active fullback -- the other fullback in the locker room is practice-squad player Glenn Gronkowski -- Develin meets with Patriots tight ends and coach Brian Daboll on a daily basis because the fullback and tight-end responsibilities in the Patriots offense are similar, particularly in the run game.

As much time as he spends with that group, Develin tries to absorb what he can when it comes to the nuances of the position. 

"I always kind of try to prepare, obviously, for my fullback role, but then in any other role that I might be called upon for," Develin said on Thursday. "A couple years ago, we had a bunch of injuries during the offseason program, during OTAs, and I filled in a little bit at tight end. I try to keep myself familiar with all those techniques and that tight end role so if the day were to come where I needed to go out there and do it, I'd be able to go out there and do it."

When the Patriots began the season relying more on the run, Develin was called upon to play a relatively significant role in the offense. He averaged 21.3 snaps per game through the first three games of the season, but that number has fallen to 13.6 since Tom Brady's return from a four-game suspension. Still, his role can be a critical one. 

The Patriots' running game faltered last season after both Blount and Dion Lewis went down with season-ending injuries. Having Develin in the mix as an extra blocker would not have guaranteed a more efficient attack, but it may have helped the team's running-game woes late in the year. 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now has the luxury of bringing Develin onto the field when he wants some added muscle for his blocking schemes, and should the Patriots need a tight end in a pinch, Develin could do that too.

"A lot of times, especially in the blocking game, really the only difference [between fullback and tight end] is that I'm five yards off the ball in the backfield and they're up on the line," Develin said. "The angles are a little bit different. But a lot of times the assignment is typcially the same thing. It's just the technique of getting there and the angles that you take.

"Then in the passing game, as a tight end, there's just a lot more routes and stuff like that. I try to work on that to help me as a fullback to be a little bit better in space . . . It's a sybiotic relationship." 

As it is, Develin will line up occasionally outside. Though not a threat as a receiver in that spot in the same way that Gronkowski or Bennett would be, he understands some of the different looks tight ends have to be comfortable with.

If an emergency arose and he was asked to fill that role, he wouldn't hesitate.

"There's a little bit of carry-over depending on what we're doing or whatever play we have called where I'll line up on the line," he said. "But that's kind of what a fullback has to do. You kind of have to be able to be thrown into whatever position on the field that you gotta do and you gotta just do your job."

Older, wiser Gronk: 'When the journey is over... you need to get down'


Older, wiser Gronk: 'When the journey is over... you need to get down'

FOXBORO -- The move did not require Olympic-caliber speed or other-worldly quickness. There was a subtle head fake, a foot in the ground, a shoulder turn. All of a sudden, Rob Gronkowski was wide open in the middle of the field and reeling in a Tom Brady pass for 37 yards in the fourth quarter of last weekend's win over the Steelers. 

Bill Belichick raved about the play on days after the fact. What Gronkowski did to safety Robert Golden was a thing of beauty in the eyes of the coach.

"This really is a good look at Rob’s route-running ability," Belichick said. "Rob comes in on Golden and takes it down the middle, like he’s going to run a crossing pattern or over route, and gives him a good move here and bends it back out. The receivers clear out the corners. That’s a lot of space there."

Gronkowski's move, combined with the steady diet of crossing routes teams have seen from the Patriots in recent weeks, helped set up the play that led to LeGarrette Blount's second touchdown of the day. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end was like a power pitcher who had been throwing fastballs for six innings and then pulled the string with a change-up in the seventh. Golden was helpless. 

"The number of times we’ve run Rob on over routes, and to come back and counter it -- it looks like Golden is trying to guess on the route and undercut it a little bit. Rob comes back away from it and turns it into a big play and sets up our last touchdown. Really a well-executed play by Rob.

“Sometimes you think it’s all size and strength, but as a technique route runner, he’s very good, too."

A quick mid-route shimmy. A look in one direction before heading in another. A nudge -- sometimes picking up a flag, sometimes not. They're all elements of route-running that Gronkowski has added to his tool belt over the course of his seven years with the Patriots. Considered the team's resident frat boy, it's sometimes hard to remember that he's one of the longest-tenured players on the team, a captain, and that he's picked up his share veteran tricks along the way.  

"I’ve definitely had to work it out plenty since I’ve been here," Gronkowski said of his route-running. "To be successful in this organization and this offense you just got to be working on it big time. It’s not just you just come in and you have it. From day one I remember I could barely even get open but just learning from Tom, from all my coaches here, it definitely helps out going out and focusing on your route detail. 

"Sometimes, necessarily, you don’t have to be the best skilled player out on the field to get open. It’s just learning the game of football, how to get open, what move to make is definitely all part of it."

Getting open is only part of it.

What he does with the football in his hands to run away from defenders is something that comes naturally. What hasn't always clicked for Gronkowski is how to finish. He has a tendency to want to impose his will on opponents at the ends of plays, running them over and leaving them behind, or embarrassing them and their loved ones by dragging them for inordinate amounts of time as he churns forward for extra yards. 

But in recent years, he's accepted that not every play needs to end with an exclamation point. He has come to understand that oftentimes a simple period will do.

Take his 37-yard catch against the Steelers, for example. When he got near the sideline and faced down a Pittsburgh defensive back, instead of trying to trample him to get to the goal line, he lowered his pads, shielded his legs, and went down.

"You always got to protect yourself whenever you can," he said. "You know, when the journey is done, if you’re running the ball, just get down and don’t take that extra shot. You can always show your toughness, you can have five guys take you down, but really that’s sometimes not the case. 

"You really want to show that you just want to get down, you want to preserve your body for the next play when the journey is done and you’re not going to get any more yards."

More often than not, it's the prudent choice. Mature, even. 

"It started coming in the last few years," Gronkowski said. "I remember a couple times my rookie year I'd just try and ‘Boom!' I remember I’d be like, ‘Oh, that one hurt.’ It hurt to go one more inch. 

"Definitely, when the journey is over and you know you gave it all -- you’re not going to be able to carry five guys, sometimes not even two guys -- whenever you just feel like you need to get down, you need to get down. It’s a physical game. Every play is going to be physical so save it for the next one."

Spoken like a savvy veteran.