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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 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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World Series preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox — Two storied franchises meet

The ALCS and NLCS didn’t go the way I expected and as a result, the World Series will be contested between two the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball, with the Dodgers and Red Sox meeting in the Fall Classic for the first time since 1916, when the Red Sox beat the then-Brooklyn Robins. The Dodgers went to the full seven games in the National League Championship Series, getting past the Brewers, while the Red Sox needed just five games to beat the defending champion Astros in the American League Championship Series. The Dodgers are in the World Series for the second straight season after losing to Houston in a seven-game classic a year ago, and the Red Sox are in it for the first time since 2013, when they beat the Cardinals. Los Angeles is looking for its first title since 1988.

The Dodgers won the NL West — after winning a tie-breaking Game 163 over the Rockies — and finished the regular season with a 92-71 record that was the third-best in the National League. The Red Sox, on the other hand, won a franchise-record 108 games en route to securing the best record in the majors over the course of the season. That MLB-best record gives the Red Sox home-field advantage, securing them Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park, along with Games 6 and 7, if necessary.

Games 1 and 2 are at Fenway Park on Tuesday and Wednesday with first pitch scheduled for 8:09pm. After a travel day Thursday, the series moves to Dodger Stadium for Games 3-5 set for Friday through Sunday. First pitch for Games 3 and 4 is also at 8:09pm, with Game 5 (if necessary) set to begin at 8:15pm. If the series goes beyond five games, Games 6 and 7 are back in Boston on October 30 and 31, respectively. First pitch for both of those games is again at 8:09pm. All games are on Fox in the U.S., and all times are Eastern.

How did they get here?

After winning the NL West in the aforementioned tiebreaker, the Dodgers beat the Braves in a four-game NLDS and then eked past the Brewers in the NLCS that went the distance. The Red Sox finished eight games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East before beginning their postseason run by beating the Yankees, 3-1, in the ALDS and then the 4-1 ALCS victory over the Astros.

Pitching

Game 1 looks to feature a matchup of two top-tier pitchers, with the Dodgers expected to start SP Clayton Kershaw — who pitched the ninth inning of Game 7 of the NLCS — with the Red Sox likely going with SP Chris Sale, who didn’t make his scheduled Game 5 start in the ALCS after being hospitalized for a stomach infection. Both pitchers spent time on the DL during the regular season and threw around 160 innings, but they put up good numbers when they did start. Kershaw posted a 2.73 ERA with a 9-5 record, while Sale went 12-4 with an impressive 2.11 ERA. I think Sale is the better pitcher at this point in their careers, so I have the Red Sox the advantage in Game 1 starting pitching.

Beyond those starters, things get a little more murky. The Game 2 matchup looks to be Dodgers SP Rich Hill opposing Red Sox SP David Price, who has historically struggled in his postseason career but is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 10.2 innings in two starts this month. As the series moves to Dodger Stadium for Game 3, the anticipated pitching matchup pits Red Sox SP Nathan Eovaldi, who they acquired in a trade with the Rays during the summer, facing Dodgers SP Walker Buehler, who had an impressive rookie season. Fourth in line to take the mound are SP Rick Porcello for Boston and SP Hyun-Jin Ryu for Los Angeles. I think Buehler is the best of this group, and each of the Red Sox starters behind Sale have question marks, so I give the Dodgers the advantage in starting pitching from Nos. 2-4 in the teams’ rotations.

Both teams were top 10 in the majors during the regular season in bullpen ERA with an identical 3.72 ERA . The Dodgers’ bullpen has been impressive through the first two rounds of the playoffs, posting a 1.30 ERA in their 11 games. Boston’s bullpen ERA is closer to its regular-season numbers with a 3.62 ERA in nine games. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has yet to allow an earned run in 6.2 innings over his six appearances, with 10 strikeouts on his ledger. Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, on the other hand, has struggled to the tune of a 7.11 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP in 6.1 innings over five games; he has struck out eight batters. And Kimbrel’s ERA could be worse, but he has stranded a number of runners on base through the first two rounds. The Dodgers have the advantage in relief pitching.

Advantage: Red Sox 

Offense

The Red Sox finished the regular season at or near the top in many of the major hitting categories. Their .268 average, 829 RBI, 355 doubles, 876 runs and .792 OPS all led the majors, and they were in the top 10 with 208 home runs. The Dodgers were closer to the league average with a .250 average, but they were second in the majors with 235 home runs and third with a .774 OPS and were in the top 10 in many of the other categories on offense, and they had a MLB-best 647 walks.

The Dodgers have continued their power surge in the postseason, with their 13 home runs so far second only to the Astros, but their .268 average places them around the middle of the 10 playoff teams. The Red Sox are hitting .253 through the ALCS, second in the postseason, but their nine home runs are the fewest among the four teams that made the league championship series and played the most games so far in the playoffs.

Leading the offense for the Dodgers are OFs Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, 1B Cody Bellinger, IF Max Muncy and midseason acquisition SS Manny Machado. Leading the Red Sox lineup are offseason free-agent addition DH J.D. Martine, who hit 43 home runs during the regular season,  American League MVP candidate OF Mookie Betts, 3B Rafael Devers, SS Xander Bogaerts and OF Jackie Bradley Jr., who was named MVP of the ALCS.

Advantage: Red Sox 

Defense

The Red Sox were the better team defensively during the regular season, making 77 errors compared to 100 for the Dodgers.

Advantage: Red Sox 

Managers

The 2016 NL Manager of the Year Dave Roberts is in his third season as a major-league manager, and managing in the World Series for the second straight season. Red Sox skipper Alex Cora is in his first season as a manager in the majors.

Advantage: Dodgers

Prediction

Throughout the season, the American League has had the best teams at the top of the league, and many people expected whatever AL team made it to the Fall Classic to win it. I have been of that opinion, and I am sticking to it now that we know the World Series participants. I don’t think the Dodgers can match up with the Red Sox, and I expect Boston to win its ninth World Series title.

Red Sox in six.

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My NFL Picks Week 7: Brady leads Patriots into Chicago, Chiefs try to rebound from first loss

One of the best games of Week 7 is in the early Sunday slot when the Patriots — coming off a tough Sunday night game against the Chiefs — head to Chicago to take on the Bears, who are coming off an overtime loss to a Brock Osweiler-led Dolphins team. Two four-win teams meet in Baltimore when the Saints, coming off their bye, take on the Ravens. The Cowboys and Redskins do battle in a NFC East rivalry game, and the Sunday night contest pits two of the AFC’s best teams against each other with the 4-2 Bengals visiting the Chiefs, who are playing in their second straight Sunday nighter coming off their first loss of the season. I went 8-7 last week, giving me an overall record of 42-61 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: Packers, Raiders, Steelers, Seahawks

Thursday Night Football

Broncos at Cardinals (+2.5) – A couple of struggling teams meet in the Week 7 opener, with the 2-4 Broncos visiting the 1-5 Cardinals. Both squads are coming off close losses in Week 6, but I think the Cardinals are on the upswing while the Broncos are headed in the opposite direction. Arizona has young QB Josh Rosen, RB David Johnson and emerging WR Christian KIrk, and QB Case Keenum hasn’t been doing much for the Broncos and has led to questions about whether he’s close to being benched in favor of QB Chad Kelly. Given that, and the Cardinals being at home, I’m going to take the points.

Sunday 9:30AM game (London)

Titans at Chargers (-6.5) – The second London game of the season sees a couple of AFC teams taking each other on. The Chargers have gotten off to a good start this season behind veteran QB Philip Rivers and RB Melvin Gordon, and the Titans have struggled in recent weeks despite leading the AFC South at 3-3. The Titans are coming off a shutout loss to the Ravens, who sacked QB Marcus Mariota 11 times. The Titans don’t have any playmakers on offense, so I’m going to go with the Chargers and give the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Bills at Colts (-6.5) – The Colts haven’t been good so far this season so I would normally be hesitant to pick them to win by a touchdown, but the Bills are going to start veteran QB Derek Anderson — who hasn’t started a regular season game since Week 13 of the 2016 season — rather than QB Nathan Peterman with rookie QB Josh Allen sidelined for the next two or three games. In a matchup of Anderson, who just signed with the Bills last week, against Colts QB Andrew Luck, I’m going to have to give the points at home.

Patriots at Bears (+3.5) – Last week was probably the worst game the Bears have played this season, losing to Osweiler and the Dolphins in overtime. QB Mitch Trubisky came back to Earth in the game after a six-touchdown performance in Week 4, prior to the team’s bye. After losing to Osweiler, the Bears now have to deal with QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Julian Edelman, RB Sony Michel and the rest of the Patriots. That’s a tough task for a good Bears defense. I’m going with the Patriots on the road to cover.

Browns at Buccaneers (-3.5) – The Buccaneers came out on the losing end of a shootout with the Falcons last week, but this week they face a significantly less-powerful offense in the Browns. The Bucs lack a good run game, but QB Jameis Winston has some good weapons in the passing game, including WR Mike Evans and TE O.J. Howard. The Bucs don’t have a great defense, but I don’t think the Browns will be able to capitalize on that so I’m going to go with the Buccaneers to snap their three-game losing streak.

Lions at Dolphins (+0.5) – Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has been ruled out for Sunday’s game with his lingering shoulder injury, which means Osweiler will get a second straight start. Despite Osweiler leading the Dolphins to a win last week, his track record in the league isn’t great so I give the advantage to the Lions. I’m going with the road team.

Vikings at Jets (+3.5) – This will be a tough test for Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold, facing a stout Vikings defense. On offense, Vikings RB Dalvin Cook remains a question mark in terms of his health after he was inactive for last week’s game. RB Latavius Murray would get another start if Cook again sits. Even if Cook doesn’t play, the Vikings receiving corps led by WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs should be able to put enough points on the board for the Vikings to cover the spread on the road.

Panthers at Eagles (-4.5) – This looks like it should be a close game with a couple of three-win teams battling it out. The Panthers got TE Greg Olsen back from his foot injury in Week 6, and he played well in his first game in a few weeks. For the Eagles, RBs Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood are doing a decent job of filling in for injured RB Jay Ajayi. I think the Eagles win the game, but I expect it to be by a field goal or so, so I’ll take the points.

Texans at Jaguars (-4.5) – The Jaguars are coming off a surprising 40-7 thrashing at the hands of the Cowboys, while the Texans have won their last three contests after starting the season 0-3. The Cowboys game was the second straight in which the vaunted Jaguars defense allowed the opposition to put up at least 30 points. Texans QB Deshaun Watson struggled in Week 6 as he dealt with a chest injury. Facing a struggling Texans offense could be what the Jaguars defense needs to get back on track. If the Texans are going to win the game, it’ll likely be because of a good game by DE J.J. Watt and the defense getting to QB Blake Bortles. I think the Jaguars win, but it’ll probably be a close, low-scoring game so I’ll take the points with the Texans.

Sunday 4PM games

Saints at Ravens (-2.5) – The Ravens defense has played well so far this season but faces a tough matchup with QB Drew Brees and the Saints, who are coming off their bye. I think the Saints offense — with WR Michael Thomas and RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram — is too good for the Baltimore D to be able to stop it. I expect the Saints to win the game, so I’ll take the points.

Cowboys at Redskins (-1.5) – The Cowboys are coming off a surprising 40-7 victory over the Jaguars and now head into FedEx Field to take on the division-rival Redskins. If the Cowboys play like they did last week, they should easily win this game. Even though I don’t expect another 40-point performance, I think the Cowboys are the better team and could win outright, so I’ll take the points with the road team here.

Rams at 49ers (+10.5) – The 49ers came surprisingly close to beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Monday night, and may have earned the victory if the defense did a little better down the stretch in the game. Now they have another similarly tough challenge with another good offense with the Rams, who are the lone undefeated team remaining in the NFL. The Rams will be without WR Cooper Kupp, who has been ruled out for Sunday with a knee injury. That’ll mean more targets for WR Brandin Cooks from QB Jared Goff and potentially more work for RB Todd Gurley, who ran for a career-high 208 rushing yards against the Broncos last week. The 49ers kept it close with Green Bay last week and I think they can do the same this week. Rams win the game, but I’ll take the points.

Sunday Night Football

Bengals at Chiefs (-5.5) – The Chiefs faced off against a potential playoff foe in the Patriots last week and now have another potential playoff opponent this week when the Bengals come to town. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes goes against another veteran thrower this week with Bengals QB Andy Dalton opposing him. The Bengals have the better defense of these teams, but the Chiefs have better playmakers with Mahomes, WR Tyreek Hill and RB Kareem Hunt. Dalton’s best pass-catcher is WR A.J. Green, with RB Joe Mixon leading the ground game. I’m giving the points with the Chiefs at Arrowhead.

Monday Night Football

Giants at Falcons (-6.5) – These are two of the more disappointing teams in the NFC, with the Giants having just one win through six games and the Falcons with two victories. Neither team has a great defense, and the big difference offensively is at quarterback, with Eli Manning struggling for the Giants and Matt Ryan having one of his typically good seasons for the Falcons. Atlanta will again be without RB Devonta Freeman , who was placed on IR this week, and will rely on RBs Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith in the running game, with Ryan throwing to WR Julio Jones and TE Austin Hooper, who had a touchdown on nine catches last week. The Giants’ best player on offense is clearly rookie RB Saquon Barkley, but I don’t think he’ll have a good enough game to be able to keep the Giants close to the Falcons, who I think could win by 10 or more. I’ll give the points.

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LCS Predictions: Dodgers-Brewers and Astros-Red Sox

The wild card games and division series are in the books, and I did pretty good with my predictions. I got both wild cards right and went 3-for-4 with the division series. Unfortunately, the one I got wrong was the BravesDodgers series, and I had the Braves making it all the way to the World Series. With four teams left in the Major League Baseball postseason, I’ll have to change my pick for the National League champion, as the NLCS features the Dodgers and Brewers. In the ALCS, it is the Astros and Red Sox, which means I can stick with my pick of the Astros making it to the World Series, if I still feel that’s going to happen. With the Astros and Dodgers both still alive, we have the possibility of having the same World Series as in 2017, when the Astros won it in seven games. Let’s take a look at my predictions for the National League Championship Series and American League Championship Series.

National League Championship Series

The Brewers swept the Rockies in a fairly noncompetitive NLDS, while the Dodgers needed four games to dispose of the Braves in their series. Both teams won quickly enough that they had enough rest to be able to set their rotations they way they wanted. That means Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw is the projected Game 1 starter for the defending NL champs, and the Brewers will be opposing him with SP Gio Gonzalez, who posted a 2.13 ERA in five regular season starts after being traded to the team at the end of August. Where the Brewers probably have the biggest advantage is in the bullpen, which includes three pitchers — Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress — who could be a closer on most teams in the majors. The Dodgers’ pen struggled this season, including Kenley Jansen, who isn’t the elite closer he once was.

Offensively, the Brewers have the hottest player on either team in the NL MVP front-runner, OF Christian Yelich, who hit .370 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI in the month of September and added a home run and two steals in the team’s three NLDS games. Brewers 1B Jesus Aguilar also had more than 100 RBI in the regular season. For the Dodgers, IF Max Muncy had a breakout season with 35 home runs and 79 RBI, and veteran OF Matt Kemp had a bit of a resurgence this season, with a team-best 85 RBI to go along with 21 home runs and a .290 average — his best mark since 2012.

The Brewers have the better overall team and are hotter right now, riding an 11-game win streak, including the regular seaso. Add in home-field advantage for Milwaukee, and I think they have a good chance to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1982, and the first time they would be representing the National League in the Fall Classic.

NLCS Prediction: Brewers in six games

American League Championship Series

Like in the National League, the top two seeds in the American League are battling it out in the ALCS. The Astros swept the Indians in three games on the strength of their strong starting pitching, and the Red Sox knocked out their hated rivals the Yankees in four games in their ALDS. Two of the best pitchers of this generation are scheduled to take to the mound for Game 1 Saturday night at Fenway, with SP Justin Verlander going for the Astros and SP Chris Sale for the Red Sox. This is probably the most even pitching matchup we’ll get in the series because after Sale, the Red Sox don’t have starters who can match up with what the Astros are able to throw out there. The rest of Houston’s rotation consists of SPs Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, while the Red Sox likely have SPs David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello slotted behind Sale. Those guys have been inconsistent this season, while the Astros had the best starters’ ERA and bullpen ERA in the regular season. That bullpen is now anchored by RP Roberto Osuna, who the team traded for during the season, and includes the likes of  P Lance McCullers Jr. and RP Collin McHugh. The Red Sox have RP Craig KImbrel at the back of their bullpen to close out games, but the rest of their bullpen is good but not as good as what the Astros have. The pitching advantage definitely goes to Houston.

Both teams have good offenses, but the Red Sox probably have the advantage at the plate. They’re led by AL MVP candidates OF Mookie Betts and DH J.D. Martinez, who both hit well over .300 during the regular season, with Martinez hitting 42 home runs and knocking in 130 RBI. SS Xander Bogaerts hit .288 with 23 homers and 103 RBI, and 3B Rafael Devers also surpassed the 20-homer mark. The Astros’ lineup doesn’t have anyone who can match up to the numbers Martinez put up, but it is deeper and led by 3B Alex Bregman, who hit .286 with 31 home runs and 103 RBI during the season, with another two home runs in the ALDS, during which he hit .556 in the three games. 2B Jose Altuve hit .316 but has a decrease in power with just 13 home runs, and OF George Springer hit .265 with 22 homers, but he hit three dingers in the ALDS and has homered in seven of his 10 postseason games since the start of the 2017 World Series. The biggest question mark for the Astros is the health of SS Carlos Correa, who continues to suffer from back pain that caused him to miss a significant amount of time during the regular season. He was just 1-for-10 in the ALDS, but his hit was a home run.

The Astros’ biggest strength is their starting rotation, while power hitting — and offense in general — is where the Red Sox excelled this season. If the Astros’ pitching is on-point, like it was against the Indians in the ALDS, it may be able to mitigate Boston’s strength, which gives the Astros an advantage in the series.

ALCS Prediction: Astros in six games

So, I am projecting a Brewers-Astros World Series, which would be a matchup of the last two teams to change leagues. It would also pit the defending champions against a team that has never won a World Series title, which was the situation the Astros were in last October.

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My NFL Picks Week 6: Mahomes and the Chiefs put undefeated record on the line at Patriots

The game of the week is scheduled for the Sunday night slot when QB Patrick Mahomes leads the 5-0 Chiefs into Foxborough to take on the Tom Brady-led Patriots. Other highlights of the Week 6 slate include the Bears visiting the Dolphins in a battle of surprising three-win teams and an AFC North rivalry game pitting the Steelers against the Bengals in Cincinnati. This week also features the first London game of the season, with the Seahawks and Raiders battling it out at Wembley Stadium. I went 7-8 last week, giving me an overall record of 34-54 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: Lions, Saints

Thursday Night Football

Eagles at Giants (+2.5) – The Super Bowl LII champion Eagles head to New Jersey to take on their division-rival Giants. The Eagles announced this week that RB Jay Ajayi will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, leaving the bulk of the running-back duties to Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. On the other side of the field, the Giants are dealing with drama with star WR Odell Beckham calling out veteran QB Eli Manning in a recent interview. The Eagles are underperforming compared to expectations for this season, but they’re still a better team than the Giants so I’m going to give the points on the road.

Sunday 1PM games

Buccaneers at Falcons (-3.5) – Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston makes his first start of the season after serving a three-game suspension and serving as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick for his first game back. Falcons QB Matt Ryan is dealing with a foot injury but is expected to play in Sunday’s game. He’ll have to do a better job of getting the ball to WR Julio Jones, who still doesn’t have a receiving touchdown this season, for the Atlanta offense to get its act together. I think this will be a close game and I expect the Falcons to win, but I think the Buccaneers stay within 3.5 points.

Bills at Texans (-7.5) – Both of these teams are 2-3 entering this game, but the Texans are clearly the better team. The Bills don’t have any playmakers on offense other than RB LeSean McCoy — who is reportedly on the trade block — whereas the Texans have QB Deshaun Watson and WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, as well as rookie WR Keke Coutee, who has 17  catches in his first two career games in Weeks 4 and 5. Defensively, DL Jadeveon Clowney and DE J.J. Watt should be able to limit the Bills offense, led by QB Josh Allen, enough for the Texans to win the game, but I will again be taking the points with the road team.

Bears at Dolphins (+2.5) – The Bears are coming off their bye, which came after QB Mitch Trubisky threw for six touchdowns in their Week 4 contest against the Bucs. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have dropped two in a row after beginning the season 3-0. I think they’ll be dropping to 3-3 after this game because LB Khalil Mack and the Bears defense will likely be too much for Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the offense to deal with. Bears win easily.

Steelers at Bengals (-2.5) – The Bengals are the best team in the AFC North early in the season, and this week they’re taking on the Steelers, who have been at the top of the division for much of the last decade or so. But the Steelers have had a struggling defense this season, which I think will allow Bengals QB Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green and RB Joe Mixon to put some points on the board. I’m going with the home team to improve to 5-1.

Chargers at Browns (+0.5) – The Browns are coming off their second win of the season and now face the Chargers at home. Rookie QB Baker Mayfield has played well for Cleveland, but now he will have to try to keep up with veteran Chargers QB Philip Rivers to give the Browns to get their first back-to-back wins since October-November 2014. I don’t think the Browns are in the Chargers’ league yet and I’m surprised the spread is just half-a-point, so I’m going to give the points on the road.

Colts at Jets (-2.5) – The Jets are coming off a surprisingly convincing victory against the Broncos and now face a Colts team with a defense that isn’t as good as Denver’s. The Jets offense looked good last week, with WR Robby Anderson having his  best game of the season and RB Isaiah Crowell setting a franchise record with 219 rushing yards. I think the Jets win and cover.

Seahawks at Raiders (+2.5) – The Raiders are the designated home team for this London duel  and searching for their second victory of the season. i don’t think they’ll get it, though, because the Seahawks seem to be getting better on both offense and defense of late. I think Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will outplay Raiders QB Derek Carr in this one. Seahawks win by at least a field goal to cover.

Cardinals at Vikings (-10.5) – The Cardinals notched their first victory of 2018 on Sunday and now look to make it two in a row this week at the Vikings. It’ll be a tall order for rookie QB Josh Rosen to lead his team to victory on the road against the team that just missed making it to the Super Bowl last season. It is unknown if the Vikings will have RB Dalvin Cook, who missed last week’s win over the Eagles with a hamstring injury, and RB Latavius Murray will get another start if he can’t go. Whoever is the lead running back in the game will likely take a back seat to the receiving duo of WRs Adam Thielen ane Stefon Diggs, who will be the focus of the offense for QB Kirk Cousins. The Vikings win the game, but I don’t think they’ll cover the 10.5-point spread.

Panthers at Redskins (-1.5) – The Panthers are underdogs on the road against a Redskins team that just lost to the Saints by 24 points on Monday night and now have a short week to prepare for Carolina. Even though they’re on the road, I’m surprised the Panthers are the underdogs because I think they’re going to win the game outright. I’m taking the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Rams at Broncos (+6.5) – The Broncos are coming off a loss to the Jets, and now the defense has to face one of the league’s best offenses in the Rams. Two of the Rams top receivers — Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks — entered the concussion protocol in Sunday’s game, but the team is confident both players will be able to play this week. If they play, it will be easier for the Rams to remain undefeated, as they wouldn’t have to rely so much on RB Todd Gurley. Assuming all their receivers play, I think the Rams will win by at least a touchdown, so I’ll give the points.

Jaguars at Cowboys (+2.5) – The middling Cowboys offense faces a formidable test this week against a good Jaguars defense. Offensively, the Jaguars are still without RB Leonard Fournette, and they signed veteran RB Jamaal Charles to help with depth at the position, although RB T.J. Yeldon should continue to get the bulk of the workload in Fournette’s absence. I don’t think the Cowboys will be able to score many points, so the Jags should win easily.

Ravens at Titans (+2.5) – The Ravens are looking to bounce back after losing to the Browns on Sunday, and they’ll do it in a game against a Titans team that has been inconsistent through the first five weeks of the season. Both teams are 3-2, but I think the Ravens are the better squad of the two. I think Ravens QB Joe Flacco will outplay his counterpart Marcus Mariota enough for the Ravens to

Sunday Night Football

Chiefs at Patriots (-3.5) – This game that pits one of the best quarterbacks of this generation — and possibly ever — against one of the rising stars at the position. The rising star is Mahomes, who has led the Chiefs to a 5-0 start in his first full season as the team’s starter. On the other side, Brady continues to perform well for the Patriots. Mahomes faced his biggest challenge to date last week and succeeded, as the Chiefs beat the Jaguars 30-14. In that game, the Chiefs went against a tough offense. In this one, the challenge is going up against Brady and an offense that includes WR Julian Edelman, TE Rob Gronkowski and RB Sony Michel. Mahomes has some good weapons at his disposal, as well, namely RB Kareem Hunt and WR Tyreek Hill. This will be a high-scoring game, and I think it’ll be close. I think the Chiefs win outright — as they did when they played the Patriots last season — so I’ll take the points on the road.

Monday Night Football

49ers at Packers (-9.5) – The week ends with a bit of an underwhelming matchup as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers host the C.J. Beathard-led 49ers. There would be more excitement about this game if Jimmy Garoppolo was under center for the 49ers, but since he is injured this likely won’t be a close game. A 9.5-point spread is big, but I think the Packers can cover it against a 49ers team that isn’t great.

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