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Stadium Series: Crossing an item off my sports bucket list — My experience at Lambeau Field

I like going to Major League Baseball stadiums that I’ve never visited before because baseball stadiums, while each adhering to the field dimensions regulated by MLB, have their own distinct features and quirks that separate them from the others, whether it’s the now-gone hill and pole in center field of Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston, or the famed ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley Field.

I don’t have the same feelings about NFL stadiums because, for the most part, there is nothing notable that distinguishes one from another.They are pretty much cookie-cutter facilities without unique features. There is one exception to that rule, in my opinion: Lambeau Field in Green Bay. That is the one NFL building that I feel is a classic that all football fans should visit in their lifetime. For me, that journey took place this past weekend.

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I am a fan of the Texans, who only played at Lambeau Field one time previously — a 24-21 Houston victory on Dec. 7, 2008. With the NFL’s scheduling formula, the Texans only play in Green Bay once every eight years because the teams play in different conferences. Knowing that, I knew if I didn’t go to the Week 13 game this year, I didn’t know if I would ever make it to Lambeau. Seeing a game at Lambeau Field has been on my sports bucket list for a while, so I made the trip from New York to experience a Packers weekend in Green Bay.

Stadium Tour

My Lambeau Field experience began on Saturday morning, with a tour of the stadium. I had never gone on a stadium tour before, but that was one of the things I wanted to do on this trip. It did not disappoint. It was informative, with tour guide Mike sharing a lot of information about the history of the team and facility, and took us to places throughout the stadium, most notably through the tunnel Packers players run through to take the field every home game and onto the outer edge of the field. It was a pretty cool experience to be standing there looking out at the nearly 80,000 empty seats — or, more accurately, bleachers — that just over 24 hours later would be filled with rowdy fans cheering on their team.

While being on the field was the highlight of the tour, there was more to the 90-minute-long experience. Other highlights of the tour included getting a panoramic view from a deck high above the south end zone, which is the highest point in Green Bay. Other stops included areas of the stadium that are accessible to people who buy suites and the Champions Club, which Mike described as similar to a country club, that has indoor seating in an area filled with Packers memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, and access to the aforementioned viewing deck near the south scoreboard.

Packers Hall of Fame

After the tour, my next stop was to visit the Packers Hall of Fame which, as you’d expect, is filled with memorabilia and information about the history of the team and its best players. Highlights of the Hall of Fame include a room that houses the Packers’ four Lombardi trophies, of course named for the team’s famous head coach Vince Lombardi, and a replica setup of Lombardi’s office including the actual desk, chairs and telephone he used while serving as the team’s coach. There were video exhibits showcasing such events as highlights of 1967’s Ice Bowl — which was reportedly the impetus for Lambeau getting the nickname the Frozen Tundra — and the original Lambeau Leap, which was first performed by S LeRoy Butler on Dec. 26, 1993. Among the more unique memorabilia included in the Hall of Fame’s collection is pieces of goalposts from key games throughout Packers history and the trade agreement 1992 deal that sent young QB Brett Favre from the Falcons to the Packers for a first-round draft pick that would ultimately become RB Tony Smith, who totaled 329 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns in his NFL career.

The Game: Texans at Packers

Then came Sunday and the game between the Texans and the Packers. The weather provided what I was hoping for — snow, which I feel is the part of the true Green Bay football experience. There was light snow for most of the morning and throughout the game. With a noon kickoff, there were already people in the parking lot tailgating by the time I got to Lambeau shortly before 9am. The weather didn’t deter fans from getting to the stadium hours early to partake in the usual drinking, eating and game-playing that is associated with tailgating. But it’s not just in the stadium parking lot, it extends beyond the grounds of Lambeau. The owners of nearby homes surrounding the stadium allow people to park in their yards and set up mini-tailgates for a fee — generally ranging from $10-40, depending on the home’s distance from the stadium. Nearby restaurants and bars also run their own pregame tailgate parties, offering unlimited food and drinks for a fee. I opted to go with the tailgate at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, which had Super Bowl champion and Packers Hall of Fame WR Antonio Freeman in attendance signing autographs.

At noon, it was time for the main attraction of the weekend, with a kickoff temperature of 31 degrees and snow falling throughout the duration of the game. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the stadium — the original bowl plus some of the earliest additions — is made up of aluminum bleachers, which can get uncomfortable on cold days so many people either bring their own seat cushions or rent one upon entering the stadium. The newest additions in the upper levels of the stadium offer more traditional stadium seats.

As for the game itself, both offenses got off to slow starts — each team lost a fumble on their first offensive drives of the game — with no points on the scoreboard until Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb nearly halfway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead that stood until Texans QB Brock Osweiler tied to the game with a touchdown pass to TE Ryan Griffin midway through the third quarter. The Packers then took a 14-point lead with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — a pass to a wide-open WR Jordy Nelson early in the period and a three-yard run into the endzone by RB Aaron Ripkowski with 4:18 remaining in the game, putting Green Bay up 21-7. The Texans responded around the two-minute mark with a 44-yard catch-and-run by WR DeAndre Hopkins, but a missed PAT by K Nick Novak kept the score at 21-13. After a failed onside kick, the Texans were able to keep the Packers from earning a game-clinching first down, but with only one timeout remaining on the drive, the Texans got the ball back with just four seconds remaining. With the ball at their own 12-yard line, the Texans tried a short pass followed by several laterals as a last-ditch effort to score, but that failed as the Packers handed the Texans their third straight loss in front of a crowd of 77,867.

Both teams now sit at 6-6 on the season, with the Packers in third place in the NFC North and the Texans falling into a first-place tie with the idle Titans and, following Monday Night Football, the Colts in the AFC South.

Overall, even though the team I was rooting for lost, it was a good weekend as I finally got a chance to experience Lambeau Field for the first time. It is a trip that I would recommend any NFL fan should take at some point — including the tour — because of all of the tradition and history associated with the team and the stadium.

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Why I Don’t Agree With New York Banning DraftKings and FanDuel

On Tuesday, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman ordered daily fantasy sports (DFS) operators DraftKings and FanDuel to stop accepting bets by state residents, arguing that the companies’ games are considered illegal gambling, according to state law. I disagree with the decision, which affects me as a New York resident who has been playing in NFL contests on DraftKings this season. The companies plan to appeal the decision.

For some background, DFS companies are legal under federal law; a 2006 federal law exempted fantasy sports from a prohibition that was instituted on online gaming, under the guidance that it is a game of skill as opposed to luck. Schneiderman apparently doesn’t agree that DFS is legal under that law, saying “it is clear that DraftKings and FanDuel are the leaders of a massive, multibillion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country.”

In his letter to DraftKings, Scheiderman stressed some of the differences between DFS and traditional, seasonlong fantasy sports that makes DFS illegal while the seasonlong variety is legal, including that the “instant gratification” makes it easy to play DFS, which has “no long-term strategy.” He also argues that DFS is closer to poker — in that a small number of pros profit at the expense of more-casual players — than a lottery. According to Schneiderman’s investigation of the site’s data, the top one percent of winners get the majority of the winnings.

Let me address the points made by Schneiderman. First, I think comparing DFS to poker hurts his argument because I have long argued that poker is a game of skill that, like DFS, should be exempt from that 2006 ban on online gambling. Schneiderman seems to think that because the outcome of the contests relies on outside forces that the DFS players cannot control — namely the athletes — there’s no skill involved in winning at DFS. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, DFS participants have no control over the performance of the players they select, but there is skill involved in choosing which players you want on your team. The people who do it right study stats of previous games and the players’ matchups in the coming games to determine who to select — you’re not randomly selecting players with no basis for your choices.

This also goes into my counterargument to Schneiderman’s point that the top one percent of DraftKings players win the most money. Many of them are DFS professionals who do it full-time. They spend hours, and even days, to select their lineups each week. Conversely, a casual player like me often spends some time on Sunday morning choosing players before the kickoff the 1:00 games. Naturally, you would expect the people who are able to put more time and research into it to win more often — and that would kind of indicate there’s some skill involved in DFS, not that it’s a “multibillion-dollar scheme,” which was the conclusion that Schneiderman jumped to.

Further, those DFS pros are wagering a lot of money, with the possibility of a large payout. So, of course, they’re going to get the majority of the winnings when most DFS players are probably closer to me; I play in one $3 contest a week, and sometimes add a second, similarly priced contest. I don’t expect to win thousands of dollars when I’m wagering so little. I’ve won $10 each of the past two weeks, which is a decent return on my small investment.

Going back to Schneiderman’s letter, he charges that DraftKings promotes its games as “a path to easy riches that anyone can win,” enticing player with claims of becoming a millionaire. That scenario sounds familiar. Where have I previously heard claims of easy riches and becoming a millionaire? Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m thinking of New York Lottery commercials. Of course, that’s it.

So how do DraftKings’ and FanDuel’s claims of winning big differ from the New York Lottery’s? Simple. New York runs its lottery and profits from the people who gamble on it, hoping to win millions in contests in which they have no control over the outcome. Which is pretty much the argument Schneiderman makes for banning DFS — which, I should point out, New York doesn’t make any money off of. And that, in my opinion, is why Schneiderman is going after the DFS companies — he wants his share of the pie from the more than 500,000 New Yorkers who play DFS, according to DraftKings spokeswoman Sabrina Macias.

The fact that Schneiderman only banned DraftKings and FanDuel — by far the two largest and most successful DFS operations — and not the other, smaller sites that run DFS games seems to confirm my suspicion that it’s about money. He is going after the two sites that make the most money off of DFS becasue the state stands to gain the most by going after those two sites.

So the solution is simple. Rather than banning DFS, New York should regulate and tax it. By regulating it, the state can control how DraftKIngs and FanDuel run their games, to make sure it’s not the “scheme” that Schneiderman thinks the sites are running. By taxing it, New York gets its share of the millions of dollars that the sites take in from New York residents. New York is obviously not opposed to gambling; in addition to the lottery, the state regulates the New York Racing Association, which runs several horse racing tracks across the state, and a couple years ago legalized casino gaming other than the Indian casinos that have long operated on Indian reservations in the state.

Thoughts?

My NFL Picks Week 14: Eagles battle the Cowboys in key NFC East battle

The Week 14 schedule is pretty underwhelming, due in part to teams like the Falcons and Packers — who are playing each other — disappointing and not living up to preseason expectations. The games to watch for this week include the Eagles visiting the Cowboys in an important contest in the NFC East race. Also of note are the prolific Rams offense going up against the strong Bears defense on Sunday night and the Vikings visiting the Seahawks on Monday night as both teams try to keep pace in the NFC Wild Card picture. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 92-110 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Jaguars at Titans (-3.5) – The Jaguars ended a seven-game losing streak on Sunday when they beat the Colts, but they only scored six points in the process. They’ll need more offense than that if they want to make it two in a row. They’ll have RB Leonard Fournette back this week after he missed that game while serving a one-game suspension. The 6-6 Titans hope QB Marcus Mariota can lead them to victory so they can stay alive in the AFC playoff race. I think the Titans win at home on the short week, and I’ll say they cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Packers (-5.5) – The Packers fell to the Cardinals in an upset last week, which led to the ousting of long-time head coach Mike McCarthy, with Joe Philbin taking over on an interim basis. I don’t know how the Packers are favored in this game. The Falcons don’t have a good defense, but the Packers’ offense hasn’t been very good this season save for QB Aaron Rodgers, who doesn’t have much to work with with the players around him. On the other side of the field, the Falcons still have a strong QB-WR combo with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. I think that duo could play well enough to lead the Falcons to victory, so I’m going to take the points.

Jets at Bills (-3.5) – The Bills’ offense has improved since getting rookie QB Josh Allen back from injury, and they have a good defense which should be able to hold down the struggling Jets offense led by fellow rookie QB Sam Darnold. I think the Bills win and cover the spread behind the strength of their defense.

Panthers at Browns  (+1.5) – At the beginning of the season, it would’ve been hard to imagine the Panthers being favored by less than a safety against the Browns, but the Panthers are just .500 heading into this week and fighting to stay alive for the postseason. Having said that, I think they win without much of a problem. The Browns struggled against the Texans last week, and the Panthers still have a good offense with QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey. I don’t think Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield can keep them close in this one. Panthers easily cover.

Colts at Texans (-4.5) – The Colts were shut out by the Jaguars last week, and now QB Andrew Luck and his offense have to face a tough Texans defense led by DE J.J. Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney. While they won’t get shut out again, it won’t be easy for the Colts to put a big number on the scoreboard against the Texans defense, as Houston looks to win its 10th straight game. I expect the Texans to win the game, and they should cover.

Ravens at Chiefs (-6.5) – The Chiefs faced some adversity late last week when they released RB Kareem Hunt after video surfaced of him attacking a woman. RB Spencer Ware took over for him as the team’s starting running back, and the Chiefs have since signed RB Charcandrick West for some depth at the position. This week, they face a Ravens team that faces a dilemma at the quarterback position over whether to continue starting rookie QB Lamar Jackson or go back to veteran QB Joe Flacco. With his scrambling ability, I think Jackson gives the Ravens a better chance to win, but either quarterback will have a tough time keeping up with the Chiefs’ prolific passing attack with QB Patrick Mahomes and WR Tyreek Hill. I’ll go with the home team.

Patriots at Dolphins (+8.5) – The Patriots are nearly nine-point favorites on the road in Miami. They got TE Rob Gronkowski and RB ReX Burkhead back from their respective injuries last week, but the offense still isn’t what it used to be, so I think that spread could be a bit high. I expect the Patriots to win the game, but I think the Dolphins could keep it to within a touchdown or so, so I am going to take the points.

Saints at Buccaneers (+8.5) – The Saints only managed to put up 10 points against the Cowboys last Thursday, but that isn’t likely to happen again with the good offense that the Saints have with QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara. Plus, the Buccaneers’ defense isn’t as good as the Cowboys’, so I expect a bounceback game for Brees and the rest of the New Orleans offense. It’s kind of a big spread, but I think the Saints will cove on the road.

Giants at Redskins (-0.5) – The Redskins lost QB Alex Smith to a season-ending leg injury a few weeks ago, then the same thing happened to backup-turned-starting QB Colt McCoy in Monday night’s loss to the Eagles. That leaves QB Mark Sanchez — who only signed with the team following Smith’s injury — in line to make his first start since 2015 this weekend after having only been in the system for a few weeks. That, combined with injuries to the offensive line, will make it hard for the Washington offense to find much success the rest of the season. The Giants have been playing better in recent weeks and are probably a better team than the Sanchez-led Redskins. I think they win the game outright, so I’m taking the Giants here.

Sunday 4PM games

Bengals at Chargers (-14.5) – The Bengals are starting QB Jeff Driskel with Andy Dalton out for the year and WR A.J. Green suffered a season-ending foot injury last week, leaving the Bengals with a compromised offense. The Chargers were without starting RB Melvin Gordon last week and his status for Sunday is up in the air. If his MCL sprain keeps him out another week, RBs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will split the workload in the running game once again. With the Bengals’ injuries the Chargers should easily win the game, but I have a hard time giving more than two touchdowns so I’ll take the Bengals to cover.

Broncos at 49ers (+5.5) – The Broncos lost WR Emmanuel Sanders to a season-ending Achilles tear during practice this week, limiting their receiving corps after trading WR Demaryius Thomas to the Texans earlier in the season. That leaves WR Courtland Sutton as the main pass-catcher for QB Case Keenum, which means rookie RB Phillip Lindsay is likely to be a bigger part of the offense and will have to continue the success he has had in recent weeks. The 49ers are dealing with their own injury as RB Matt Breida will miss this game after injuring his ankle last week. I expect the Broncos to win a close game, but I’ll take the points.

Eagles at Cowboys (-4.5) – The Cowboys’ defense limited Brees and the Saints to 10 points last Thursday and have 10 days to prepare for this game with the Eagles, who are on a short week after beating the Redskins on Monday night. WR Golden Tate is coming off his best game since being traded to the Eagles, while WR Amari Cooper has been the Cowboys’ best receiver since they acquired him in a trade with the Raiders. Cowboys win and cover.

Lions at Cardinals (+2.5) – The Cardinals are coming off an upset victory over the Packers, but I’m not sure if they can make it two in a row against NFC North foes when the Lions come to Arizona. Neither team has a great offense, but the LIons have a better squad on that side of the ball behind QB Matthew Stafford, so I’m going to give the points on the road.

Steelers at Raiders (+11.5) – The Steelers have relied on RB James Conner as their workhouse back all season with RB Le’Veon Bell not playing this year, but they will not have Conner on the field Sunday after he suffered a high ankle sprain last week against the Chargers. So RB Jaylen Samuels is expected to get his first career start alongside QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown. The Steelers should be able to bounce back from last week’s loss to beat the Raiders, but I’ll take the points.

Sunday Night Football

Rams at Bears (+3.5) – Bears QB MItchell Trubisky has missed the team’s last two games with a shoulder injury, but he appears to be back on track to start this week. It won’t be easy to lead his team to the win, though, against a strong Rams team with QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley leading the way. The Bears will likely have to rely on their defense to win the game, and I’m not sure the defense will be able to stop the Los Angeles offense. I’ll give the points.

Monday Night Football

Vikings at Seahawks (-3.5) – The Vikings head to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in the final game of the weekend. The Seahawks are riding a three-game win streak into this one behind strong play from QB Russell Wilson, and I think they continue their winning ways to maintain their hold on the first Wild Card in the NFC. I’m going with the home team.

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My NFL Picks Week 13: Teams continue jockeying for playoff seeding

The byes are done as we enter the last month of the NFL regular season and teams make a final push to make the playoffs or improve their seeding. A battle of NFC division leaders gets the week underway when the Cowboys host the Saints on Thursday night. The Sunday schedule is highlighted by an interconference game pitting the Vikings against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, and the Sunday night contest sees two potential playoff teams in the AFC meeting with the Chargers — minus RB Melvin Gordon — visiting the Steelers. The last game of the week is a divisional battle in the NFC East with the 6-5 Redskins taking on the disappointing 5-6 Eagles in Philadelphia. I went 6-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 85-101 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Saints at Cowboys (+7.5) – The Saints are continuing to roll over their opponents, and the Cowboys are the next team in their path. The Cowboys have won three in a row to take over first place in the NFC East, but I’m not sure they can stop the offensive juggernaut that is QB Drew Brees and the Saints. I expect the Saints to win the game, and think they barely cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Ravens at Falcons (+1.5) – The Ravens are expected to give rookie QB Lamar Jackson another start under center, which gives them a more explosive offense than they have with QB Joe Flacco. I think Jackson will be able to move the ball down the field against a subpar Falcons defense, but it won’t be easy for him to keep up with veteran QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones on the other end of the field. I think the Falcons win the game, so I’ll take the points.

Bills at Dolphins (-5.5) – Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill returned last week in the team’s loss to the Colts. This week, he faces a better defense but a worse offense with the Bills. Neither team has a great offense, so I don’t think either team can win by a sizable margin, so I’ll take the points on the road in the divisional matchup. 

Bears at Giants (+4.5) – Backup QB Chase Daniel led the Bears to a win on Thanksgiving and it’s unknown if he’ll start again this week or if QB MItchell Trubisky will return from his injury in time for the weekend. Either way, I think QB Eli Manning will have a hard time finding much success in the passing game against the tough Bears defense. If the Giants are going to be successful this week, it’ll be because RB Saquon Barkley has another big game. I don’t think he’ll play well enough to keep the Giants close to the Bears, so I’m giving the points.

Broncos at Bengals (+3.5) – The Bengals suffered a big loss last week when QB Andy Dalton suffered a broken thumb that ended his season. QB Jeff Driskel took over for the rest of the game and will continue to draw starts, and the team signed QB Tom Savage to serve as Driskel’s backup. Driskel performed decently last week against the Browns, but he’s still a step down from Dalton and should have a negative impact on the whole Cincinnati offense. You should expect to see a bigger workload on the ground for RB Joe Mixon, but the passing game will suffer — especially if WR A.J. Green remains unable to play, and with Dalton out for the year the team may hold Green out for the remaining games as well. The Bengals are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, while the Broncos have won two in a row, thanks in part to the play of RB Phillip Lindsay. I think the Broncos extend their winning streak and cover the 3.5 points.

Browns at Texans (-6.5) – With their win over the Titans on Monday night, the Texans became the first team in NFL history to win eight straight games after starting the season 0-3. Now at 8-3 and in control of the AFC South, the Texans are looking to keep their winning ways alive against a Browns team that has won two straight. Texans RB Lamar Miller is performing well of late, including with a 97-yard touchdown run last week, which gives the team another strong offensive weapon to go along with QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins, with DE J.J. Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney leading the defense. The Browns have a pretty good defense, though, so they may be able to keep the game relatively close. Texans win but Browns cover.

Rams at Lions (+9.5) – This seems to be a bit of a mismatch between the offenses, as the Lions aren’t nearly as good as the Rams. I think the Rams, coming off their bye, should win easily with QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley leading the way. LIons WR Marvin Jones is out for the season after being placed on IR, which should open up more opportunities in the passing game for WR Kenny Golladay. I just don’t think the Lions’ offense is in the same class as the Rams, so I’m giving the points on the road.

Cardinals at Packers (-14.5) – The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league, but I don’t know how the Packers can be favored by more than two touchdowns against any team right now. QB Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have many reliable options in the passing game, other than WR Davante Adams. And that is even truer if WR Randall Cobb isn’t ready to go this week. RB Aaron Jones is stepping up in the ground game. RB David Johnson is really the best part of the Cardinals’ offense, as QB Josh Rosen hasn’t been putting up impressive numbers so far in his rookie year. The Packers should win the game as they hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, but I’m taking the points.

Colts at Jaguars (+3.5) – The Jaguars  are in a tailspin right now. They’ve lost their last seven games, and this week announced they’re benching QB Blake Bortles and fired their offensive coordinator. And they will be without RB Leonard Fournette this week as he serves a one-game suspension for his role in a fight in last week’s game against the Bills. With Bortles losing his starting job, head coach Doug Marrone and the Jags are turning to QB Cody Kessler to try to reinvigorate the offense. With Fournette out, RBs Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon will split the running back duties. The Colts have won their last five contests, but TE Jack Doyle suffered a kidney injury in their game last week, and that has ended his season. That means TE Eric Ebron, who already has 11 touchdowns this season, is in line for a bigger role in the offense. With the state of the Jaguars right now, I expect the Colts to win the game, and I think they cover the spread, as they hope to keep pace in the AFC playoff picture.

Panthers at Buccaneers (+3.5) – The Panthers are looking to end their current three-game skid and stay in the Wild Card picture in the NFC. The Buccaneers could be a good opponent for them to try to get back on a winning track. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey is coming off a terrific game in which he had more than 100 yards rushing and receiving, and WR D.J. Moore is becoming a reliable pass-catcher for QB Cam Newton, as he has had at least 90 receiving yards in each of his last two games. The Bucs’ only big playmaker is WR Mike Evans, and I don’t think they’ll be able to put enough points on the board to beat the Panthers. I’m giving the points. 

Sunday 4PM games

Jets at Titans (-9.5) – The Titans are coming off a Monday night loss that hurt their chances of making the playoffs. They’re a better team than the Jets, but I don’t know that they’re almost 10 points better. Titans win the game, but I’ll take the points.

Chiefs at Raiders (-14.5) – Here’s another game with a two-touchdown spread. The Chiefs are coming off their bye and looking to avenge their 54-51 loss from two weeks ago, but I find it had to pick any team to win by at least 15 points. The Raiders could be the worst team in the league at this point, but because the spread is so high I’m taking the points.

Vikings at Patriots (-6.5) – The Vikings have a good defense and have some good playmakers in the passing game with WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, so I think they’ll be able to keep up with QB Tom Brady and the Patriots enough to keep the score within a touchdown, though the Patriots likely win the game outright.

49ers at Seahawks (-10.5) – The Seahawks are looking to win their third straight game as they try to keep pace in the NFC Wild Card race, and I think they get the win over the 49ers but I don’t think they win by double digits, so I’ll take the points on the road.

Sunday Night Football

Chargers at Steelers (-3.5) – The Chargers are expected to be without Gordon for several weeks, leaving RBs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson to bulk of the workload in the running game. The Steelers, meanwhile, have the main cogs of their offense with QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB James Conner and WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers should have enough offensive firepower to hold off the Chargers and cover the 3.5 points. I’ll go with the Steelers in what could be the best game of the week.

Monday Night Football

Redskins at Eagles (-6.5) – One game separates these teams in the division, and the Eagles are looking to pick up the win to improve to .500 at 6-6. With QB Colt McCoy starting for the Redskins, the Eagles are probably the better team, but the teams are pretty evenly matched so I’m not sure that they’re a touchdown better than Washington. Eagles get win, but I’ll take the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 12: Key NFC East matchup highlights Thanksgiving tripleheader

Week 12 features an underwhelming slate of games on Sunday, with the Chiefs and Rams both on bye and three games on Thursday, with Redskins-Cowboys a key game in the NFC East. The Seahawks visit the Panthers in what could be Sunday’s most intriguing game with both teams looking to stay alive in the NFC Wild Card race with their respective divisions all but out of reach for them. And the Monday nighter features the AFC South-leading Texans looking to increase their two-game lead over the third-place Titans. I went 4-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 79-92 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Chiefs, Rams

Thanksgiving

Bears at Lions (+4.5) – The Bears picked up a key victory over the Vikings on Sunday night, but it may not have been all good news for the NFC North leaders QB Mitch Trubisky suffered a right shoulder injury, leaving his availability for Thursday’s game in question given the team’s short week. If he can’t go, backup QB Chase Daniel will get the start. Trubisky is day-to-day, but I don’t think he’ll play, so I’m going to take the points although I think the Bears could still win a close game with Daniel under center.

Redskins at Cowboys (-7.5) – The Redskins’ lead in the NFC East shrunk to one game on Sunday with their loss to the Texans and the Cowboys’ winning at the Falcons. The Redskins suffered an even bigger loss, though, when QB Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibula that ended his season. That leaves QB Colt McCoy as their starter, and they signed QB Mark Sanchez — who hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2016 — to back him up. With McCoy getting the start, and injuries to the offensive line, I don’t think the Redskins will be able to score many points this week. While I’m not confident in this pick, I’m going to give the points with the Cowboys at home.

Falcons at Saints (-13.5) – The Falcons are coming off back-to-back losses to the Browns and Cowboys, and now have to head to New Orleans to take on the hottest — and perhaps best — team in the NFL, as the Falcons look to get back on a winning track to remain in the playoff hunt in the NFC. All signs point to this being a blowout, but with a division rivalry and a desperate Falcons team, I can see them putting up a respectable point total, especially since QB Matt Ryan can be good. Saints win, but I expect it to be closer than people think.

Sunday 1PM games

Jaguars at Bills (+3.5) – Both of these teams made the playoffs last year but sit at 3-7 so far in 2018, with the Jaguars a big disappointment this season sitting in last place in the AFC South. The Jaguars obviously aren’t as good as anticipated this year, but they’re still better than the Bills. I’ll go with the road team here.

Browns at Bengals(-3.5) – The battle of Ohio sees the Bengals needing a win to stay alive in the AFC playoff hunt. The Browns are coming off their bye, while the Bengals lost to the Ravens last week. The Browns surprisingly beat the Falcons in their last game, but that was an aberration as they haven’t played well lately other than that game. I’ll give the points. 

Raiders at Ravens (-10.5) – The Ravens picked up a win as rookie QB Lamar Jackson made his first start on Sunday with QB Joe Flacco out with a hip injury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jackson get the start again this week. Regardless of which quarterback takes the first snap, the Ravens should be able to beat the disappointing Raiders. But I don’t think Baltimore’ s offense is good enough to pick up them giving 10.5 points, so I’ll go with the Raiders and take the points.

Patriots at Jets (+9.5) – This is another big spread, but I’m more confident in the Patriots to be able to cover it than I am for the Ravens in the previous game. It is unknown if the Patriots will have TE Rob Gronkowski this week, but they may see the return of RB Rex Burkhead, who has begun practicing this week as he looks to come back from his stint on IR. Even without Gronk, the Patriots have enough weapons in WRs Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon, RB Sony Michel, and of course QB Tom Brady to be able to beat the Jets. The only question is what the margin of victory will be. I think the Patriots can win by 10, so I’ll give the points — though it’ll likely be close.

Giants at Eagles (-6.5) – The Eagles got torched by the Saints last week and their hopes of making the playoffs are slipping away, while the Giants have won two in a row after starting the season 1-7. If the Giants win this game, the two teams will have identical 4-7 records — which nobody could have expected before the season began. The scuffling Eagles team knows that it that needs to win this game to have any chance at making the playoffs. So I expect QB Carson Wentz to lead them to victory, but I’m not confident that they’ll win by a touchdown so I will take the points with the Giants.

49ers at Buccaneers (-3.5) – The Buccaneers have been switching between QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston as their starter, and it appears that Winston is back to the top of the depth chart after he performed well on Sunday when he came into the game in relief of Fitzpatrick. Winston has, however, been prone to turn the ball over this season but I don’t see the Raiders being able to take advantage of that. I’ll go with the Bucs in Tampa.

Seahawks at Panthers (-3.5) – These teams are in similar situations in which they know they can’t win their respective divisions but still have a chance to make the playoffs as a wild card and thus need to win this game. The teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Panthers have more playmakers on offense, so I’ll go with them at home.

Sunday 4PM games

Cardinals at Chargers (-12.5) – The Cardinals aren’t a good team and probably don’t have much of a chance to win this game, but I’m not sure that the Chargers will win by 13 points so I’m going to take the Cardinals and the points.

Steelers at Broncos (+3.5) – Both teams are coming off of come-from-behind victories last week, but I don’t think the Broncos are in the same class as QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB James Conner, WR Antonio Brown and the rest of the Steelers. I think this spread is kind of low, so I’ll go with the Steelers.

Dolphins at Colts (-9.5) – The Colts are on a four-game winning streak and in the thick of the playoff chase in the AFC, including in second place and just two games behind the Texans in the AFC South. They have an identical 5-5 record as the Dolphins, but the teams are going in opposite directions of late. Even so, I don’t think the Colts are good enough to win the game by double digits against a Dolphins team that is trying to stay in the AFC playoff picture. Colts win the game, but the Dolphins cover.

Sunday Night Football

Packers at Vikings (-3.5) – The Packers find themselves in third place in the NFC North and, at 4-5-1, on the fringe of the wild card race. The Vikings are looking to bounce back from a Sunday night loss to the Bears to maintain their hold on the NFC’s second wild card. It’s hard for me to go against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers when he knows he needs to win a game for his team. Even though they’re road dogs, I think the Packers will win the game outright so I’ll take the points.

Monday Night Football

Titans at Texans (-6.5) – The Texans are on a seven-game winning streak, which ties the franchise record, and could put some more distance between themselves and the Titans in the division with a win on Monday night. The Titans had a disappointing loss against the Colts on Sunday after convincingly beating the Patriots in their previous game. Titans QB Marcus Mariota left Sunday’s game with an elbow injury, and it is uncertain if he will be able to make the start this week. With it being the Monday night game, he has an extra day to rest and rehab, so i think he’ll be able to play. But if he’s not at 100%, he may not be able to do much against a good Texans defense that saw rookie S Justin Reid score on a 101-yard pick-six last week. I’ll give the points.

My NFL Picks Week 11: Chiefs visit Rams in potential Super Bowl preview

There are six teams on bye this week, but with the Patriots the only contender not playing, there’s no shortage of meaningful games on the docket for Week 11. The week begins on Thursday night with the Packers heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in a game between a pair of four-win teams looking to stay in the NFC playoff race. The featured doubleheader game is another contest between NFC contenders with the Eagles visiting the Saints. The Sunday night game — Vikings at Bears — could go a long way in determining who eventually wins the NFC North, but the game of the week is on Monday night when two 9-1 teams meet. In a game that was originally scheduled to be played in Mexico City but moved to Los Angeles due to poor field conditions at Azteca Stadium, the Rams host the Chiefs in a game that could be played again in Atlanta in early February at Super Bowl LIII. I went 7-7 last week, giving me an overall record of 75-83 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: 49ers, Bills, Browns, Dolphins, Jets, Patriots

Thursday Night Football

Packers at Seahawks (-2.5) – This is a road game for the Packers in a tough stadium for visitors, but I still think they may be a better team than the Seahawks. Seattle has played better of late, but they don’t really have any playmakers. They don’t have a bona fide starting running back, with RB Chris Carson‘s status uncertain, leaving RBs Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny to split the carries if he can’t go. QB Russell Wilson doesn’t have any star receivers, with WR Doug Baldwin having a down year. The Packers, meanwhile, have QB Aaron Rodgers throwing to WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has gotten better as the season has progressed and he has gotten more opportunities. Likewise, RB Aaron Jones is starting to put up some good numbers in the ground game. I think the Packers win the game, so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Cowboys at Falcons (-3.5) – The Cowboys had an impressive, and needed, win over the Eagles on Sunday night, while the Falcons lost a road game against the Browns in a game in which the offense wasn’t as prolific as it usually is. The Falcons are a better team at home, and I think QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones are going to have a good game. The Cowboys offense — led by QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Amari Cooper — could rack up some points, as well, against a Falcons defense that struggles. I don’t think the Cowboys can match up with the Falcons, core, though. Falcons win and cover in the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Bengals at Ravens 
(-3.5) – The Bengals are coming off a game in which they gave up more than 50 points to the Saints, which led to their defensive coordinator being fired. Now they face a Ravens team that could be without QB Joe Flacco, who is dealing with a hip injury. If he can’t play, that could mean rookie QB Lamar Jackson would get his first career start, unless the Ravens decide instead to turn to QB Robert Griffin. The Bengals are dealing with quarterback issues of their own after they benched QB Andy Dalton during last week’s blowout loss. Neither team has a great offense, so I’m going to bank on the Ravens’ better offense to lead to the win. I’ll go with the home team.

Panthers at Lions (+3.5) – Like the Bengals, the Panthers gave up more than 50 points last week. But that was against an explosive Steelers defense, and this week they face a Lions offense that isn’t at the same level as the Steelers. The Panthers still scored 21 in the loss on Thursday, and that was coming off of games in which they scored 36 and 42. The Panthers have a good offense with QB Cam Newton, RB Christian McCaffrey and TE Greg Olsen, with WRs D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel becoming a bigger piece of the offensive attack in recent games. For the Lions, rookie RB Kerryon Johnson has had his touches increasing over the last several games, but WRs Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones have been inconsistent. That’s not good because they need to step up in the wake of the Golden Tate trade last month. I think the Panthers win this game easily, potentially by double digits, so I’ll give the points on the road. 

Titans at Colts (-2.5) – The Titans are riding high after beating the Patriots on Sunday by a score of 34-10, while the Colts squeaked by the Jaguars by a field goal after nearly giving up a sizable lead. Titans QB Marcus Mariota has been playing well lately, and RB Dion Lewis has been seeing an increasing number of carries in recent games. I’m going to take the points.

Buccaneers at Giants (-0.5) – The Buccaneers are expected to start QB Ryan Fitzpatrick again, even though the team scored just three points in a loss to the Redskins last week. If he doesn’t play well, he may not have a long leash with QB Jameis Winston waiting the wings. The Giants picked up their second win of the season on Monday night and now face a short week. Despite the win last week, I still don’t have much faith in Giants QB Eli Manning. RB Saquon Barkley is the best offensive player on either team, but I’m not sure if he’ll be enough to get the Giants another win, with WR Mike Evans catching passes on the other side. I’ll take the Bucs on the road.

Steelers at Jaguars (+5.5) – The Jaguars have lost five straight games, and now their defense — which isn’t nearly as good as it was a year ago — has to go against a Steelers team that scored six touchdowns on offense last Thursday night, giving them a few extra days to prepare for this game. The Steelers are now officially without RB Le’Veon Bell for the season after he failed to sign a contract with the team prior to Tuesday’s deadline, meaning RB James Conner will definitely be the starter for the rest of the season, barring injury, but he is currently in the league’s concussion protocol; the team expects him to be ready for Sunday’s game. Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette performed well last week in his return to the field after missing several games. But he is the extent of the Jags offense, while the Steelers have QB Ben Roethlisberger and WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster in addition to Conner. I think the Steelers win easily,

Texans at Redskins (+2.5) – A couple division leaders are playing each other in this game, with the Texans coming off their bye and looking to extend their win streak to seven games. They’ll likely get back WR Keke Coutee from his hamstring injury, and WR Demaryius Thomas should be more involved in the offense after having more time to learn the playbook since being acquired from the Broncos at the trade deadline. And the Texans, of course, have QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins leading the offense. The Redskins still don’t have much of a passing game, with RB Adrian Peterson continuing to be the team’s lead running back. I think the Texans are the better team on both offense and defense, so I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Broncos at Chargers (-7.5) – The Raiders Broncos are coming off their bye looking to bounce back from two straight losses heading into the off week, while the Chargers are riding a six-game win streak into this home game. The Chargers should win the game with QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon and WR Keenan Allen leading the way. The Broncos have a decent offense, as well, so I think they can keep it close enough to cover the spread.

Raiders at Cardinals (-3.5) – Neither of these teams is very good, but the Raiders seem to be regressing as the season goes on, and they may be the worst team in the league at this point. The Cardinals at least have a couple of playmakers with RB David Johnson and WR Larry Fitzgerald, so I’ll give the points at home.

Eagles at Saints (-8.5) – The Saints have won their last eight games since dropping their season opener to the Buccaneers, and their offense is firing on all cylinders.They signed veteran WR Brandon Marshall this week after last week’s signing of WR Dez Bryant didn’t work out when he tore his ACL in practice before even playing a game for the team. That’s just giving the team wide receiver depth, though, as QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas and RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are the keys to the offense. It won’t be easy for the Eagles to head down to the Superdome to face the Saints, who could be the best team in the league. I expect the Saints to win the game, so it’s just a question of whether the Eagles can keep it within nine points to cover the spread. The Saints have scored at least 43 points in three of their last five games, so I think they’ll easily get past the Eagles too. I’m going with the home favorites.

Sunday Night Football

Vikings at Bears (-2.5) – This game is for first place in the NFC North, and I think the Bears have the advantage. I think they have the better team on both sides of the ball, and Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky has more upside than Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. The Vikings will need to count on WR Adam Thielen to make some big plays if they want to win this game, but the Bears’ defense won’t make it easy for him. The Vikings may be hard-pressed to put a lot of points on the board. Bears cover.

Monday Night Football

Chiefs at Rams (-2.5) – IThe week ends with one of the most anticipated games of the season, with two 9-1 teams facing off against each other. QB Patrick Mahomes leads WR Tyreek Hill, RB Kareem Hunt and the rest of the Chiefs into Los Angeles to take on a Rams team that was dealt a significant blow last week when WR Cooper Kupp suffered a season-ending injury. While that hurts the team, it’s not devastating because they still have a couple star receivers in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, with QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley also among the top players in the league at their positions. This game has shootout written all over it, so it could be the type of game where the last team to possess the ball wins it. I don’t think it’ll come down to that, though. I think the Rams could win by seven to 10 points, so if they’re essentially giving a field goal I’ll give the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 10: Panthers-Steelers on Thursday highlights a weak slate

Week 10 doesn’t have many good games on the schedule, and the best of the 14 contests looks to be the Thursday nighter, which has the Panthers visiting the Steelers in a battle of two potential playoff teams. Other games to watch for this week include the Saints visiting the Bengals and the Cowboys at the Eagles in an NFC East showdown on Sunday night. The rest of the games either involve two bad teams or don’t look to be competitive with a good team against a mediocre team. I went 9-4 last week, giving me an overall record of 68-76 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Broncos, Ravens, Texans, Vikings

Thursday Night Football

Panthers at Steelers (-4.5) – The Panthers are coming into their own on offense, as TE Greg Olsen is getting healthier every week and appears to be playing at the top of his game at this point. Combined with QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey, they can put points on the board. The Steelers also have a good offense. RB James Conner continues to start with RB Le’Veon Bell still not with the team, and WR Antonio Brown continues to be one of the best pass catchers in the league. This should be a high-scoring game. I think the Panthers are the better team and will win the game outright, so if they’re getting points I’m taking them.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Browns (+4.5) – The Browns started the season decently, but they seem to be regressing as the year goes on. In their first game under interim head coach Gregg Williams, the Browns got RB Duke Johnson more involved in the action along with rookie RB Nick Chubb, but the offense still isn’t great. The Falcons, on the other hand, are coming off a 38-point performance against the Redskins in what was their third straight win, and QB Matt Ryan threw a touchdown pass to WR Julio Jones for the first time this season. WR Calvin Ridley also remains heavily involved in the offense. Atlanta’s defense leaves something to be desired, but I don’t think the Browns will be able to take advantage of it. Falcons win and cover.

Bills at Jets 
(-7.5) – Neither of these offenses was very good last week, as Bills QB Nathan Peterman continues to struggle and Jets QB Sam Darnold threw four interceptions against the Dolphins, including a pick-six that was the only touchdown of the game for either team. Darnold will miss this game with a foot injury, meaning veteran QB Josh McCown will see his first game action of the season. This will likely be a sloppy game with not many points scored. Neither of these teams has scored more than 10 points in either of their last two games, which is why I think a 7.5-point spread is a lot for this game. Even though the Bills likely won’t score a lot, the Jets probably won’t either. Because of that, I’m going to take the points even though I think the Jets win a bad game.

Lions at Bears (-6.5) – The Lions are looking tot avoid a three-game losing streak, but it won’t be easy on the road against a tough Bears defense. The Lions’ offense didn’t excel last week in their first game after trading WR Golden Tate, while the Bears thrashed the Bills 41-9. The Bears did lose G Kyle Long to IR with a foot injury, which hurts the defense but I don’t think it’ll be enough to allow the Lions to score a lot of points. I think the Bears win by at least a touchdown to cover the spread.

Saints at Bengals (+4.5) – The Saints are coming off a convincing win against the previously undefeated Rams, but now they head out on the road to face a 5-3 Bengals team that will be without injured WR A.J. Green, meaning guys like WRs Tyler Boyd and John Ross will have to pick up some of the slack in the receiving game and RB Joe Mixon will also need to take on a bigger piece of the workload on offense. QB Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offense are likely going to be involved in a shootout with Saints QB Drew Brees and his top receiver Michael Thomas, who set a franchise record with 211 receiving yards on 12 catches Sunday, for his third game this season with at least 100 receiving yards. The Saints added to the offense this week, signing free agent WR Dez Bryant, but it is unlikely he will play this week after having limited practice with the team; if he does suit up, he will probably be limited and not see many snaps, so he shouldn’t have much of an effect on the game. Still, I think the Saints offense is too good for the Bengals to keep up so even though it’s an outdoor game on the road — a situation Brees sometimes struggles in — I think the Saints cover.

Patriots at Titans (+7.5) – TE Rob Gronkowski and RB Sony Michel missed the Patriots’ game against the Packers on Sunday night, but they still won the game. Michel looks like he’s on track to the return to the field this week, but there is more uncertainty surrounding Gronk. The Titans are coming off a win against the Cowboys on Monday night in which they had a couple of early turnovers before settling into a groove with QB Marcus Mariota eventually accounting for three touchdowns, two passing and one rushing. Monday night’s win ended a three-game skid for the Titans, but I think they’ll start another losing streak because I don’t see Mariota keeping up with Patriots QB Tom Brady. Patriots win the game and barely cover.

Jaguars at Colts (-2.5) – This is an important game for both of these teams — each currently at 3-5 — as they look to stay alive in the AFC South race. The Jaguars have lost four in a row, but they should get RB Leonard Fournette back in the backfield after he has missed the last several games with a hamstring injury, but the defense hasn’t been living up to expectations and QB Blake Bortles isn’t very good. The Colts have the better offensive attack with QB Andrew Luck, but their defense is inferior to Jacksonville’s. In this case, I’m going with the better defense. I’ll take the points. 

Cardinals at Chiefs (-16.5) – This is one of the biggest spreads you will ever see in an NFL game, and there is a huge discrepancy in the offenses of these two teams. The Cardinals cut veteran QB Sam Bradford this week, leaving rookie QB Josh Rosen as the unquestioned starter. QB Patrick Mahomes, RB Kareem Hunt and WR Tyreek Hill can put a lot of points on the scoreboard for the Chiefs, but the Cardinals have a couple playmakers of their own with veteran WR Larry Fitzgerald and RB David Johnson, so I think they can stay within the 16.5 points. The Chiefs will easily win the game, but I’ll go with the Cardinals here.

Redskins at Buccaneers (-2.5) – The Redskins didn’t look great in their Week 9 loss to the Falcons, and they lost a couple of their offensive linemen to injuries that will hurt the offense, particularly with veteran RB Adrian Peterson. But the Buccaneers don’t have the same level of offense as the Falcons, so Washington won’t need to score as much this week to have a chance to win. I think the Redskins could win the game, so I’m taking the points on the road.

Sunday 4PM games

Chargers at Raiders (+9.5) – The Raiders looked terrible last Thursday, losing 34-3 to a 49ers team that played QB Nick Mullens in his first career start. Now they’re facing a better Chargers team led by veteran QB Philip Rivers and WR Keenan Allen. The Chargers will be able to score on the Raiders’ defense, so I think they can win by double digits and I’m giving the points.

Dolphins at Packers (-9.5) – QB Brock Osweiler is making his fifth consecutive start for the Dolphins, who won the low-scoring game against the Jets last week. This week, they are going against a much better offense in the Packers. They placed WR Geronimo Allison on IR, but WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had three catches for 101 yards last week, will look to take up much of the hole his absence will leave in the offense. Some of Green Bay’s defenders, including LB Blake Martinez, may miss this week’s game with injuries they suffered in Week 9. That could help the Dolphins get an ettra score or two. I expect the Packers to win the game, but I’ll give the points.

Seahawks at Rams (-9.5) – The Rams suffered their first loss of the season last week against the Saints, so they’re looking to get back to their winning ways against the division-rival Seahawks, who are .500 and looking to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. RB Mike Davis is taking over as the lead back for the Seahawks, but he isn’t in the same league as Rams RB Todd Gurley, who is just one of many weapons they have on offense. Rams win the game, but the Seahawks should stay within 10 points to cover the spread.

Sunday Night Football

Cowboys at Eagles (-6.5) – The Eagles had a Week 9 bye, while the Cowboys are coming off a short week after losing to the Titans on Monday night. Philadelphia is playing its first game since acquiring WR Golden Tate in a trade with the Lions before the trade deadline. That gives QB Carson Wentz another pass-catcher he can throw to, in addition to TE Zach Ertz and WR Alshon Jeffery. The Cowboys have struggled to score since putting up 40 against the Jaguars a few weeks ago. Eagles win and cover.

Monday Night Football

Giants at 49ers (-2.5) – It’s a 1-7 team taking on a 2-7 team to end the week’s action. The Giants are coming off their bye, while the 49ers have extra rest after their convincing win over the Raiders last Thursday night. Mullens will get his second career start for the 49ers after his impressive debut outing in Week 9. He has a good chance to outperform veteran Giants QB Eli Manning, and if the Giants are to win the game it will likely be due to a good performance from RB Saquon Barkley. I don’t expect that to happen. Give me the 49ers at home.

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My NFL Picks Week 9: Rodgers meets Brady as the Packers visit the Patriots

Week 9 is the first of two weeks this season in which six teams are on a bye. Despite that, there are some big games on the slate for this weekend. There’s an important AFC North battle as the Steelers face the Ravens in Baltimore, and a potential NFC Championship preview in New Orleans with the Saints hoping to hand the Rams their first loss of the season. And the Sunday nighter is an interconference game pitting two of this generation’s best quarterbacks against each other. Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers into Foxborough to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots. I went 9-5 last week, giving me an overall record of 59-72 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Bengals, Cardinals, Colts, Eagles, Giants, Jaguars

Thursday Night Football

Raiders at 49ers (-2.5) – The first game of the week features the two Bay Area teams in a contest that likely won’t have much interest — outside of for gambling purposes — for people not in Northern California because the teams have one win apiece. Neither team is good, so I’m going to go with the team getting the points, the Raiders.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Redskins (-1.5) – This spread is kind of surprising. The Falcons are on the road, but they’re coming off the bye and they have the better offense in my opinion. The Falcons have the best quarterback and pass-catcher in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, respectively. The Falcons’ defense isn’t great, but I don’t think Redskins QB Alex Smith will be able to take full advantage of it. I think the Falcons will win the game outright, so I’m taking the points.

Bears at Bills (+8.5) – The Bills stayed surprisingly close to the Patriots for three quarters on Monday night before New England pulled away for a 25-6 victory. But with QB Derek Anderson suffering a concussion in the game, QB Nathan Peterman is back as Buffalo’s starter this week. Facing a tough Bears defense, that will likely result in at least a couple of interceptions. I think Bears QB Mitch Trubisky will be able to put up enough points that the Bears could win by double digits. I’ll give the points.

Chiefs at Browns (+8.5) – The Browns fired both head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday, then named defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the interim head coach. Having such a tumultuous week won’t help the team perform well against a 7-1 Chiefs team that has one of the top offenses in the league behind QB Patrick Mahomes, RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. Browns QB Baker Mayfield won’t be able to come close to keeping up with all the scoring the Chiefs are likely to do in the game. Chiefs win big on the road.

Lions at Vikings (-4.5) – The Lions are coming off a loss to the Seahawks in which they scored just 14 points, then on Tuesday they traded WR Golden Tate to the Eagles. Despite that trade, they still have two good receivers with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, but that duo is likely inferior to the Vikings’ top two receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. And the Vikings have a better defense and running game — especially if RB Dalvin Cook is healthy enough to return to action this week — so I think the Vikings win the game and cover the 4.5 points.

Jets at Dolphins (-3.5) – The Dolphins have lost two in a row and four of their last five games after starting the season 3-0, now they face a 3-5 Jets team at home. The Dolphins have announced that QB Ryan Tannehill will not return from his shoulder injury this week, meaning QB Brock Osweiler will get the start for a fourth straight game. For the Jets, it’ll be rookie QB Sam Darnold under center. Both of these teams have middling offenses, so I think it’ll be a close game with neither team pulling away from the other. Dolphins win the game, but I’ll take the points with the Jets.

Steelers at Ravens (-2.5) – It’s almost always a close game when these division rivals meet. These teams are going in opposite directions heading into this game; the Steelers are on a three-game winning streak, while the Ravens have dropped their last two. At 4-4, the Ravens are looking to get the win to stay in the playoff race, but I don’t think they’ll do it. They have a good defense, but I think the Steelers will be able to put points on the scoreboard with the offense led by QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB James Conner, who has performed well filling in for RB Le’Veon Bell through the first half of the season. Steelers win the game on the road.

Buccaneers at Panthers (-6.5) – The Buccaneers benched QB Jameis Winston during Sunday’s loss to the Bengals after he threw four interceptions, and he will start this week’s game on the bench after the team announced that QB Ryan Fitzpatrick — who threw two touchdowns in relief of Winston last week — will get the start. It won’t be easy for Fitzpatrick, though, because he’ll have to try to keep up with a Panthers offense that is rolling of late. QB Cam Newton has TE Greg Olsen back from his foot injury, and  he also has RB Christian McCaffrey — one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL — and rookie WR D.J. Moore, who had 90 receiving yards in his first career start last week. Carolina has too much firepower on offense, so I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Texans at Broncos (-2.5) – The Texans and Broncos made a trade on Tuesday, with Denver sending WR Demaryius Thomas to Houston for a fourth-round draft pick, and he’ll get a chance to face his old team in his first game with his new squad. Thomas fills a hole in the Texans’ receiving game after WR Will Fuller suffered a season-ending ACL tear late in Thursday night’s win against the Dolphins. He’ll form a strong one-two punch in the receiving game with WR DeAndre Hopkins for QB Deshaun Hopkins to throw the ball to. And the Texans have gotten their running game going in the last couple of games with RB Lamar Miller gaining at least 100 yards in the last two games. For the Broncos, the Thomas trade leaves WR Emmanuel Sanders as the No. 1 pass catcher for QB Case Keenum, but it’ll also open up an opportunity for rookie WR Courtland Sutton to get more involved in the action coming off a career-best 78 receiving yards last week. As for this game, the Texans are the better team on both sides of the ball and should win the game — which would be six in a row — so I’m taking the points.

Chargers at Seahawks (-1.5) – The Seahawks have gotten better of late, going 4-1 since their 0-2 start, but the Chargers are on a four-game win streak and coming off their bye as they head to Seattle for this interconference affair. Chargers RB Melvin Gordon missed the team’s last game in Week 7 with a hamstring injury, and his status for Sunday is still up in the air. If he can’t go, that’ll hurt the Chargers’ chances of pulling off the victory on the road. Even without him, I think the Chargers may be the better team than the Seahawks. I expect a close game and I’m going to take the points.

Rams at Saints (-1.5) – The Rams needed a late fumble from former Packers RB Ty Montgomery — who they traded to the Ravens on Tuesday — to keep their undefeated season intact last week. Now QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and the rest of the Rams face another tough test against QB Drew Brees and the Saints in a potential playoff preview. The Rams added to their defense this week by trading for LB Dante Fowler from the Jaguars. The Rams still don’t know if they will have WR Cooper Kupp, who missed last week’s game, when they head to the Superdome this week in what should be a shootout between two of the league’s best offenses. Brees should have his full complement of offensive weapons, including RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, as well as WR Michael Thomas. This should be a high-scoring game, but I’m going to give it to the Saints at home to end Los Angeles’ hopes of going 16-0.

Sunday Night Football

Packers at Patriots (-5.5) – This is another game that should feature a lot of scoring as Rodgers and Brady start against each other for just the second time in their illustrious careers. The Packers are coming off a close loss to the Rams, while the Patriots beat a bad Bills team on Monday night. The Patriots are unsure about the status of RB Sony Michel, but he has been practicing this week after missing Monday night’s game. The Packers have a good offense, but I think the Patriots have the advantage, with Brady having WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski catching passes from him. Neither defense is great, but the Packers’ defense got worse this week when they traded S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Redskins. This should be a close game, so I’ll take the points with the Packers but I think the Patriots win the game.

Monday Night Football

Titans at Cowboys (-6.5) – Both teams enter the Monday night contest after their byes, which means the Cowboys will be playing their first game with WR Amari Cooper, who they acquired for a first-round pick in a trade with the Raiders during their Week 8 bye. The Cowboys hope Cooper fills a hole in the passing game that the Cowboys have had all season long without a true No. 1 receiver for QB Dak Prescott. The Titans are having a disappointing year at 3-4 under first-year head coach MIke Vrabel. At home, I think the Cowboys can win by a touchdown, so I’m going to give the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 8: NFC contenders do battle with Packers-Rams and Saints-Vikings

There are a couple big games in the NFC this week with potential playoff teams facing off against one another. But Sunday starts with a Sunday morning contest from Wembley Stadium between the defending Super Bowl champions and last year’s runners-up in the AFC as the Eagles play the Jaguars in London. But the week’s featured games are in the late-afternoon slot and on Sunday night. The first of the two sees the Packers visiting the Rams, the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL this season. Then the Sunday nighter pits the Saints against the Vikings in Minnesota in what is a rematch from last season’s playoffs. I went 8-6 last week, giving me an overall record of 50-67 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Chargers, Cowboys, Falcons, Titans

Thursday Night Football

Dolphins at Texans (-7.5) – After starting the season 0-3, the Texans have won four in a row to take over first place in the AFC South. This week, they get Week 8 underway by welcoming one of their former quarterbacks, Brock Osweiler, who is going to get another start as he continues to fill in for injured QB Ryan Tannehill. He has performed pretty well in his first two starts, but he faces a formidable defense in the Texans, who have DEs J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. I think the Texans win at home, but I think the 7.5-point spread may be a bit high, so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 9:30AM game (London)

Eagles at Jaguars (+2.5) – The Jaguars were a trendy Super Bowl pick in the preseason after falling a game shy of playing in Super Bowl LII in February. But they’re 3-4 through the first seven weeks of the season and are in danger of not even making it to the postseason. The Eagles are also underachieving and hold the same record. The Jaguars will again be without RB Leonard Fournette, but they will have recent trade acquisition RB Carlos Hyde in the backfield along with Rb T.J. Yeldon. Jacksonville benched QB Blake Bortles in favor of QB Cody Kessler during last week’s game, but Bortles will get the start again this week. For the Eagles, the receiving game is doing well with WRs Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery, along with TE Zach Ertz, but the running game hasn’t been great since RB Jay Ajayi went on IR. It’s a battle of two struggling teams, but I like the Eagles better. I think they win, and cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Jets at Bears (-6.5) – The Bears fell a yard short of forcing overtime against the Patriots last week, and now they face a Jets team that isn’t early as good as New England. LB Khalil Mack and the Bears defense should be able to perform well against Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold, and with the way Bears QB Mitch Trubisky has been playing in recent weeks, the Bears should be able to score enough points to cover the 6.5-point spread.

Buccaneers at Bengals (-4.5) – The Bengals were embarrassed at the Chiefs in primetime on Sunday night, losing 45-10. But now they return home to play a worse team in the Buccaneers. Offense is an area of strength for both teams, so there could be a lot of points scored in this one. I believe in the Bengals’ offense more, especially on the ground behind RB Joe Mixon, and the combination of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green should be able help the Bengals come out on the top. I’m giving the points.

Browns at Steelers (-8.5) – There was speculation that Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell might end his holdout and join the team during the team’s bye last week, but that did not happen to RB James Conner will remain the starter heading into Sunday’s game. And, of course, there’s no question that the Steelers have one of the league’s best receivers with WR Antonio Brown catching passes from QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns traded Hyde to the Jags last week, opening the door for rookie RB Nick Chubb to finally take over the bulk of the carries on the ground. He did well with his expanded role last week and will look to repeat that this week. Despite that, I expect the Steelers to win the game, but I don’t know that they’ll cover the spread, so I’ll take the points.

Broncos at Chiefs (-10.5) – The Chiefs just beat the Bengals by 35 points on Sunday night and now play a Broncos team that, despite scoring 45 against the Cardinals last week, isn’t very good. The Broncos offense isn’t close to being at the same level as the Chiefs, who have QB Patrick Mahomes leading the way, with WR Tyreek Hill, RB Kareem Hunt and TE Travis Kelce also at or near the top of the league at their respective positions. This should be an easy win for the Chiefs, and I think they cover the double-digit spread.

Seahawks at Lions (-2.5) – The Seahawks are coming off their bye and, after having their last game in London, they face the Lions on the road. Seattle’s offense has improved as the season has gone on, but I don’t think Seattle’s players can match up with the Lions’ playmakers, notably WR Kenny Golladay and rookie RB Kerryon Johnson. I’ll go with the home team.

Redskins at Giants (+0.5) – This is a surprising spread. The Redskins are 4-2 and are favored by less than a point against a one-win Giants team in what is essentially a pick ’em. The Redskins have a better team at nearly every position but RB, where the Giants’ rookie Saquon Barkley is outperforming the Redskins’ veteran Adrian Peterson, who is playing better than many expected him to this season. I’ve never been a fan of Redskins QB Alex Smith, who isn’t anything special, but he’s definitely better than Giants QB Eli Manning at this point in the latter’s career. Manning’s poor play limits the upside of WRs Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. Redskins easily win on the road.

Ravens at Panthers (+1.5) – The Ravens suffered a heartbreaking loss last week when K Justin Tucker missed a game-tying PAT — the first time in his career he has missed an extra point. On the other end of the spectrum, the Panthers came back from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Eagles, 21-17. If the Panthers want to win back-to-back games, they’ll have to get past a tough Ravens defense. I think they’ll be able to do it with QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey leading the offense. I’ll go with the favorites at home.

Sunday 4PM games

Colts at Raiders (+2.5) – The Raiders are playing their first game since trading WR Amari Cooper to the Cowboys earlier in the week. They also placed RB Marshawn Lynch on IR, weakening an offense that already wasn’t very good. That limits the weapons available to QB Derek Carr. WRs Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson will get a bigger workload, as will RBs Jalen Richard and Doug Martin. It’ll be tough for that group to compete with the Colts’ offense, led by QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton. I’ll give the points on the road.

Packers at Rams (-9.5) – Two of the best teams in the conference meet in this potential playoff preview that also pits one of the best quarterbacks of the last decade-plus against a star of the future, with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers leading his team into battle to oppose QB Jared Goff and the strong Rams offense. Goff has better players around him, including RB Todd Gurley and WR Brandin Cooks, so I give the Rams the edge in this matchup. However, I find it hard to pick any team that’s favored by nearly 10 points against a team led by Aaron Rodgers. Rams win the game, but I’ll take the points.

49ers at Cardinals (-0.5) – The two worst teams in the NFC West are playing each other in the final game of the Sunday afternoon slate. Both teams are coming off of blowout losses at home in Week 7. In a pick ’em between two bad teams, I’m going to go with the team with the best player on offense. That is Cardinals RB David Johnson, so I’ll go with the home team.

Sunday Night Football

Saints at Vikings (-0.5) – The Saints are slight favorites on the road in this playoff rematch from January. The Saints definitely have the more explosive offense of these two teams — with QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas — but the Vikings have the better defense. On offense, Minnesota will again be without starting RB Dalvin Cook, but RB Latavius Murray has done well in Cook’s absence in recent weeks. And the Vikings have WR Adam Thielen, who has been among the top players at the position this season. But he has QB Kirk Cousins throwing him the ball, and Cousins is clearly a level below Brees. I’m going with the better offense to outperform the better defense. Give me the Saints.

Monday Night Football

Patriots at Bills (+14.5) – The Bills lost to the Colts 37-5 last week and now have to face a better team in the Patriots, so it’s not surprising that the line is nearly 15 points. With QB Derek Anderson expected to start again this week for Buffalo, it probably won’t be much better. For the Patriots, TE Rob Gronkowski should return to the lineup after missing Week 7, but rookie RB Sony Michel is likely going to sit out the game after suffering a leg injury last week. I typically don’t like giving double-digit points, but I’m going to make an exception in this case. I’ll go with the Patriots.

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