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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?

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NFL Quarterly Report: Are the Cowboys and Raiders the best teams in the league?

All 32 NFL teams have now played 12 games, which means we’re three-quarters through the regular season. With just 25% of the season remaining, the playoff picture is becoming much clearer. It appears as if the Cowboys are continuing to coast to the top seed in the NFC as they are the first team to clinch a playoff spot, while the Patriots likely won’t be as dominant in the postseason as people thought they could be earlier on, and the Raiders could be heading toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Patriots took a hit a couple weeks ago when TE Rob Gronkowski suffered a back injury that required surgery and will sideline him for the rest of the season. While the Patriots are still the best team in the AFC East and will make the playoffs, their chances of making a deep postseason run are not as good as they would have been if they had Gronkowski, who is QB Tom Brady’s favorite target and best receiver. TE Martellus Bennett has not yet stepped up in Gronk’s absence. For the rest of the division, the Dolphins are currently in second place at 7-5 but coming off a bad loss to the Ravens to end their winning streak. At 6-6, the Bills are in third place but gave up 29 unanswered points on Sunday to lose at the Raiders. The Jets, meanwhile, are playing out the string for the final four games of what has been a disappointing season. Judging by how their defense played on Monday night, it could be a long four games for the Jets. The Patriots are likely going to be the only playoff team coming out of the division.

Things are going better for the first-place team in the NFC East as the Cowboys have won 11 in a row behind QB Dak Prescott after dropping their season opener. At 11-1, they have clinched a playoff spot, the only team to do so to this point, and are the front-runners to land home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Giants lost a tough game to the Steelers this weekend, with QB Eli Manning not playing well, to end their six-game win streak and put them at 8-4, good for second place. They will continue to try to hold off the 6-5-1 Redskins for second place in the division and a potential Wild Card berth. The Giants currently hold the No. 5 seed in the conference, while the Redskins have fallen out of the NFC’s second Wild Card but are still in the hunt. The Eagles continue their downward spiral into last place in the division at 5-7, having lost their last three games and five of their last six. QB Carson Wentz has regressed significantly from his hot start and the team is now likely out of playoff contention.

The Ravens and Steelers are tied at 7-5, though the Ravens lead the AFC North due to tiebreakers. Baltimore’s convincing Week 13 win over the Dolphins was the team’s second straight win, and the Steelers have won three in a row but are on the outside of the playoff race. The Bengals picked up their first win since October on Sunday, but it won’t do them much good at this point as they sit at 4-7-1. The only thing keeping them out of last place in the division is the Browns, who are still winless at 0-12. After their bye in Week 13, they host the Bengals this week as they look to finally get in the win column. It appears as though QB Robert Griffin III could get the start after missing much of the season with an injury. Will that be what the Browns need to win a game? If not, their final three games are at the Bills, hosting the Chargers and visiting the Steelers. I think San Diego is the best shot for the Browns to pick up a win but it’s obviously not a certainty.

The Lions are in control of the NFC North, with an 8-4 record and two-game lead over the Vikings and Packers, who are each 6-6. The Lions appear to have the advantage in the division, facing the lowly Bears this week while the Vikings battle the Jaguars, which should be a winnable game, and the Packers face a stiff test against the Seahawks. If the Packers can gain a game on the Lions in the next couple of weeks, Week 17 could feature a win-and-in game for the division title with the Lions hosting the Packers. Winning the division will be important because there will likely be just one playoff team coming out of the NFC North. And it won’t be the Bears, who are 3-9, with their most recent win coming at the expense of the 1-11 49ers.

The AFC South is up for grabs after the Texans dropped their third straight this week, losing a snowy contest at Lambeau Field, putting them in a dead heat with the Titans, who had their bye this week, and the Colts at 6-6; the Texans, who are a perfect 3-0 in the division, hold the tiebreakers and are technically in first pace. The Texans’ offseason signing of QB Brock Osweiler is looking worse every week as he has not shown much improvement as the season as progressed. Houston’s defense, still without DE J.J. Watt of course, will have to continue to play well enough to keep scoring low and the Texans offense in games if they want to have a chance to repeat as division champs. An 8-8 record could win this division with the way things are looking right now. And the Jaguars are on their way to a last-place finish as the breakout season that many predicted for QB Blake Bortles and the Jags offense has not materialized. The Texans play the Titans in Nashville in Week 17, which could be a winner-take-all battle for the division title.

The NFC South has turned into a good two-team race between the Falcons and Buccaneers as the former suffered a tough loss to the Chiefs in Week 13 and the latter continued their winning ways, winning their fourth straight game to tie the Falcons at 7-5. The Falcons currently hold the tiebreaker over Tampa and technically lead the division, but the Bucs have a hold on the NFC’s second Wild Card. The Saints, at 5-7, hold third place in the division, but the biggest surprise in the South is the 4-8 Panthers, who were blown out by the Seahawks on Sunday night. After making it to Super Bowl 50 last season, the Panthers have really dropped off this year with QB Cam Newton not able to live up to expectations that were set for him after his MVP campaign in 2015. Back at the top of the division, winning the division is obviously important to get a home playoff game, but it may not be the only way to get into the postseason as one of the Wild Cards could come out of the NFC South.

The Raiders’ successful season continues after coming back to beat the BIlls in Week 13 to improve their record to 10-2, putting them at the top of the AFC. With Gronkowski out for the Patriots, the Raiders may be able to make a deep playoff run, possibly even making it to Super Bowl LI in Houston. Oakland isn’t the only good team in the AFC West, though, with the Chiefs at 9-3 and the Broncos right behind them at 8-4. I believe both of the AFC’s Wild Card teams will come out of the West, meaning all three of those teams will make the playoffs. The division winner will likely get one of the top two seeds in the conference and the important first-round bye that comes along with that. The Raiders visit the Chiefs on Thursday night, which could be a key game in determining the division champion. The Chargers, who aren’t having a bad season but have given up leads late to lose some games, round out the division with a 5-7 record heading into the last quarter of the regular season.

The NFC West race is all but over, with the 8-3-1 Seahawks holding a three-game lead over the 5-6-1 Cardinals, who picked up a surprising win against the Redskins in Week 13. The Rams, who recently gave head coach Jeff Fisher a contract extension, sit at 4-8 and the 49ers are just 1-11 after losing to the Bears on Sunday. The Cardinals’ lack of success is sort of surprising but people weren’t expecting much out of the Rams or 49ers this season. The Seahawks are currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC so they could be on their way to a first-round bye in the playoffs as QB Russell Wilson appears to be as healthy as he has been all season at the best time for that to happen.

With four weeks left in the regular season, just one team has punched its ticket into the postseason, but others are well on their way to doing that and will clinch playoff berths in the next week or two. At the bottom of the league, the most interesting storyline is whether the Browns will win a game. They have only four more chances to avoid becoming the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16.

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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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My NFL Picks Week 13: Cowboys-Vikings opens the week as December begins

Having Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror is a sign that we are entering the homestretch of the NFL’s regular season. Week 13 begins with the Cowboys, the NFC’s best team, taking on the Vikings, who are hanging on to their fading playoff hopes in the conference. Other notable games this week include the Chiefs visiting the Falcons in an interconference matchup of potential playoff teams and the Bills heading to he West Coast to take on the Raiders. The Sunday night game features two teams coming off tough Week 12 losses with the Panthers at the Seahawks. The Monday nighter ends the week with two teams having disappointing seasons as the Jets host the Colts. This week features the last byes of the season, as the Titans and the Browns — who have still not won a game — get the week off. I went 10-6 last week, bringing my record to 84-91 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: Browns, Titans

Thursday Night Football

Cowboys at Vikings (+3.5) – Cowboys QB Dak Prescott faces one of the tougher challenges of his rookie season when he goes against a Vikings defense that is one of the better squads in the league. I think the Cowboys offense will still easily be able to outscore the Vikings offense and likely win the game by at least a touchdown.

Sunday 1PM games

Chiefs at Falcons (-4.5) – The Chiefs defense will have to be able to stop QB Matt Ryan and the Falcons offensive attack to have a chance to win this game because their offense isn’t nearly as explosive as Atlanta’s. Like the Cowboys-Vikings game, I expect the Falcons offense to overcome the Chiefs defense to win the game and cover.
49ers at Bears (-2.5) – The 49ers offense has picked up in recent weeks since QB Colin Kaepernick took over the starting job from QB Blaine Gabbert, and I expect that to continue against a Bears defense that hasn’t been overly impressive this season. With QB Matt Barkley expected to start again for the Bears, I’m not sure how they’re the favorites in this one. I expect the 49ers to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Eagles at Bengals (+1.5) – With Bengals WR A.J. Green expected to miss another game this week, the Bengals will likely struggle to put points on the scoreboard as they did last week. Despite a disappoint performance against the Packers on Monday night, the Eagles still likely have a better offense than Cincinnati, with QB Carson Wentz leading the way. Eagles win the game on the road.
Broncos at Jaguars (+5.5) – The stout Broncos defense shouldn’t have much of a problem keeping the mediocre Jaguars offense from scoring many points, so even though Denver’s offense itself isn’t very impressive, the defending Super Bowl champions should be able to score enough points to cover the spread in this one.
Lions at Saints (-5.5) – This game looks to be a shootout at the Superdome with two strong offenses doing battle. I expect the Saints to win at home, but with both teams likely putting up a lot of points, I have a hard time seeing them covering the spread so I’ll take the Lions and the points.
Texans at Packers (-5.5) Texans QB Brock Osweiler looks to redeem himself following a three-interception game last week as he faces a Packers defense that hasn’t looked good for much of the season, Week 12 notwithstanding. On the Green Bay side, the entire offense is on the shoulders of QB Aaron Rodgers as the team hasn’t had much of a running game this year. I think the Packers win the game, but I think the Texans can keep it to within a few points so I’ll take the points.
Rams at Patriots (-13.5) – This is a big spread for a Patriots team that could be without its best pass-catcher, as TE Rob Gronkowski is nursing the back injury he suffered in last week’s game that forced him to leave early. The Patriots should win the game at home, but I expect the Rams to keep it within two touchdowns.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Ravens (-3.5) – The Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, having won six straight games. They go into Baltimore for a game against a Ravens team that, despite being 6-5, doesn’t have a great offense. I think the Dolphins can’t extend their winning streak so I’ll take the points.
Bills at Raiders (-3.5) – The health of Raiders QB Derek Carr could be a key to this game. He temporarily left last week’s game with a thumb injury but did return, which bodes well for him to be able to play this week. If that is the case, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor won’t be able to keep up with him and the rest of the Raiders offense. Bills RB LeSean McCoy has to have a big game for his team to win, and I don’t see him doing enough for that to happen. Raiders win and cover. 
Giants at Steelers (-5.5) – Like the Dolphins, the Giants are riding a six-game winning streak into Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. Unlike the Dolphins, I don’t think the Giants make it seven in a row. The Steelers offense, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell is too much for a Giants offense that didn’t look great for much of last week’s game against the winless Browns. Steelers cover.
Redskins at Cardinals (-2.5) – The Cardinals haven’t looked great in their last couple of games, both losses, while QB Kirk Cousins and the Redskins have been putting up a good number of points in their games. I’m surprised the Cardinals are favored so I’m taking the points as I think the Redskins win the game straight up.
Buccaneers at Chargers (-3.5) This is another game in which I’m surprised the home team is favored. The Bucs have been playing well in recent weeks, including holding the Seahawks to five points in Week 12, and I think they’re a better team than the Cardinals so I think they win the game outright. Give me the points.

Sunday Night Football

Panthers at Seahawks (-6.5) – I expect the Seahawks to bounce back from last week’s mediocre five-point effort against the Bucs and QB Russell Wilson put up some points this week. Seahawks win and cover, as the Panthers’ disappointing season continues.

Monday Night Football

Colts at Jets (+2.5) – The Jets put up a good fight against the Patriots last week despite losing the game at home. I think the Jets have more success against the Colts, who aren’t nearly as good as the Patriots, this week. The Jets are underdogs, but I think they have a shot to win the game so I’ll take them with the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 12: Key divisional matchups on Thanksgiving highlight the week’s slate

The annual Thanksgiving tripleheader kicks off the Week 12 schedule, with Thursday’s two afternoon games featuring divisional battles that feature teams near the top of their divisions. In the first game, the Vikings head to Detroit to take on the Lions in a game that will determine which team takes over sole possession of the first place in the NFC North; both teams are currently 6-4. Then, the Cowboys host the Redskins, who are looking to overtake the Giants for second place in the NFC East behind the Cowboys, who are an NFL-best 9-1 on the year. The AFC West takes center stage on Sunday night, with the Broncos hosting the Chiefs. The Monday night contest features two teams that could be fighting for their playoff lives with the Packers visiting the Eagles. I went 9-5 last week, bringing my record to 74-85 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: none

Thanksgiving games

Vikings at Lions (-2.5) – The Vikings finally ended their four-game losing streak last season and their defense looked better after a month of mediocrity, but I’m not convinced they’re back just yet. I’ll take QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions in this one to remain in first place in the NFC North.
Redskins at Cowboys (-7.5) – QB Kirk Cousins and the Redskins will look to end the Cowboys’ nine-game win streak. The visitors are coming off a Sunday night game and have to travel to Arlington for the game, which puts them at a disadvantage. I think the Cowboys win the game, but the Redskins keep it close and stay within the spread.
Steelers at Colts (+7.5) – Colts QB Andrew Luck was put in the concussion protocol following Sunday’s game, which puts his status for Thanksgiving night into question with the short week. I’m assuming he will miss the game and backup QB Scott Tolzien will fill in under center, which should help the Steelers easily cover the spread behind QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell.

Sunday 1PM games

Cardinals at Falcons (-4.5) – The Cardinals didn’t look good against the Vikings last week and now must face one of the league’s best offenses coming off their bye. Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be able to continue the strong season he’s been having and lead the Falcons to an easy win at home.
Jaguars at Bills (-6.5) – While the Jaguars aren’t good, the Bills don’t have a strong offense themselves. RB LeSean McCoy, who had surgery on his thumb after Sunday’s game, may not be able to take the field on Sunday, which would hurt the Bills offense. I expect the Bills to win the game but I think it’ll be relatively close, especially if McCoy misses the game, so I’ll take the points with the Jaguars.
Titans at Bears (+3.5) – Bears QB Jay Cutler suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday’s game that could be a season-ender, which means there’s no chance of him playing this week. That puts backup QB Matt Barkley in the starting lineup for the first time in his NFL career. That’s not going to be good for the Bears. Titans win easily.
Bengals at Ravens (-4.5) – The Bengals lost more than the game on Sunday, with WR A.J. Green and RB Giovani Bernard both suffering injuries that could be season-ending. Bernard’s torn ACL has ended his season, but Green’s hamstring injury may not keep him out for the year, but it will cause him to miss Week 12. With that in mind, the Ravens should not only win the game but cover the spread with the Bengals missing two key pieces of their offense.
Giants at Browns (+7.5) – Browns QB Cody Kessler suffered a concussion in Week 11, which means the revolving door of starting quarterbacks in Cleveland has revolved back to QB Josh McCown as the Browns hope this is the week they get their first win before getting their bye in Week 13. I don’t expect it to happen, though. The Giants offense has been doing well in recent weeks and I don’t think the Browns will be able to keep up with them. It’s kind of a big spread, but I think the Giants cover against the winless Browns.
Rams at Saints (-6.5) Rams QB Jared Goff wasn’t particularly good or bad in his debut last week, throwing neither a touchdown nor an interception, but he’ll likely have to throw multiple touchdowns if he wants to keep up with the Saints offense, which is typically at its best at the Superdome. Despite playing a Saints defense that isn’t great, I don’t expect Goff to be able to keep up with Saints QB Drew Brees, who should lead the Saints to an easy victory at home.
49ers at Dolphins (-7.5) – The 1-9 49ers have a tough task ahead of them to play an early game after traveling across the country to Miami. The offense has been better since QB Colin Kaepernick took over the starting job, but West Coast teams often don’t do well in 1pm Eastern games on the East Coast, so I’ll go with the Dolphins to cover, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes the other way.
Chargers at Texans (-1.5) – The Texans are coming off a tough Monday night loss to the Raiders in Mexico City and now return home to take on QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers. The Texans looked better in Week 11 than they have just about all season. Combine that with their strong defense, and I think the Texans get back to their winning ways at home, where they are 5-0 this season.

Sunday 4PM games

Seahawks at Buccaneers (+5.5) – The Seahawks are playing the best they’ve played all season in recent weeks, but the loss of RB C.J. Prosise means RB Thomas Rawls, who has been injured for most of the season, will take on featured-back duties. Despite that, the defense should be able to contain the Bucs enough to give the Seahawks the win as they continue their march toward the postseason
Panthers at Raiders (-3.5) – The Panthers defense will have to hold down QB Derek Carr and the Raiders offense, like the Texans defense did for the first three quarters on Monday night, if they want to have a chance to beat the AFC West leaders. I think QB Cam Newton and the Panthers should be able to put points up on the Raiders defense, so it’ll come down to how much the Raiders can score. I think the Panthers keep it close, and could win outright, so I’m taking the points.
Patriots at Jets (+7.5) – The Jets’ dismal season continues, with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick getting the start off of the team;s bye week. This game has blowout written all over it, with QB Tom Brady leading the Patriots, who haven’t scored fewer than 24 points in any game since Brady returned from his four-game Deflategate suspension in Week 5. Expect the Patriots to win big.

Sunday Night Football

Chiefs at Broncos (-3.5) – The Broncos offense hasn’t been impressive this season, but their defense is still among the best in the league and should be able to do well against a Chiefs team that lost to the Bucs last week. I expect a relatively low-scoring game with the Broncos ultimately winning and covering the spread.

Monday Night Football

Packers at Eagles (-3.5) – The Packers defense has looked really bad throughout the team’s current four-game losing streak, giving up at least 32 points in each game — including back-to-back games giving up 47 and 42 points, respectively. While QB Aaron Rodgers is still playing well, until the defense can show they have improved I’m going to have a hard time picking them. I’ll take the Eagles to win their second straight game.

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My NFL Picks Week 11: Rams’ Goff set to make debut, Texans and Raiders battle south of the border

The London games may be done for the season, but that doesn’t mean the NFL is out of international games for the year. Week 11’s Monday night game sees the Texans taking on the Raiders in Mexico City. Back in the States, 2016 No. 1 overall pick QB Jared Goff is scheduled to make his first career start for the Rams when they host the Dolphins. Notable games include the Saints visiting the Panthers in a Thursday night contest that could be a must-win for both teams if they want to stay in the playoff race in the NFC and the Eagles heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. I went 4-10 last week, bringing my record to 65-80 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: Falcons, Broncos, Jets, Chargers

Thursday Night Football

Saints at Panthers (-3.5) – Both teams lost crucial games late in the fourth quarter last week and are looking to bounce back this week. The Panthers are the better overall team when accounting for both offense and defense, but the Saints have the better offense. New Orleans doesn’t do as well on the road as at home, though, so I think the Panthers will win the game to keep alive any slim playoff hopes they have.

Sunday 1PM games

Bills at Bengals (-3.5) – Both teams have been inconsistent this season and are on the fringe of playoff contention in the AFC. Neither offense has been impressive this season. The Bills have a better defense so I’ll give them the edge here. They are also coming off their bye while the Bengals have a short week, coming off a Monday night loss to the Giants.
Bears at Giants (-7.5) – I think 7.5 points is a lot for the Giants to be giving pretty much any team, but the Bears will be without WR Alshon Jeffery, who will be serving the first game of his four-game PED suspension, and QB Jay Cutler hasn’t been good of late. I think the Giants win the game, but I don’t see them covering so I’ll take the Bears with the points.
Steelers at Browns (+9.5) – The Browns’ record has now reached 0-10 as they continue to look for their first win. I don’t think they’ll get it this week. Despite losing to the Cowboys last week, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger looked like himself after a subpar performance the week before. With Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, I think the Steelers have the offensive firepower needed to cover the 9.5-point spread against the Browns.
Ravens at Cowboys (-7.5) – QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott have led the Cowboys to an NFL-best 8-1 record. The offense is among the best in the league. I don’t think the Ravens will be able to keep it a low-scoring game, and Ravens QB .Joe Flacco and the offense won’t be able to keep up with Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the Cowboys offense. Cowboys win and cover.
Jaguars at Lions (-6.5) – The Jaguars aren’t good. QB Blake Bortles hasn’t done much in most games this season until garbage time, when the game was already out of reach. QB Mathew Stafford and the NFC North-leading Lions should be able to win by a touchdown and cover.
Titans at Colts (-2.5) – I’m surprised that the Colts are favored in this game. The Titans just put up 47 points on the Packers last week and have the two best offensive players in the game with QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray. Don’t expect them to score 45 points again, but they should be able to put up numbers on a bad Colts defense. I expect the Titans to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Buccaneers at Chiefs (-7.5) – The Chiefs came back at the end of last week’s game to beat the Panthers and the Buccaneers looked good in easily beating the Bears. I think the Chiefs win the game, but I expect the Bucs to keep it close. I’ll take Tampa Bay and the points.
Cardinals at Vikings (-0.5) – The Vikings continued their downswing last week, losing their fourth straight after starting the year 5-0. The Cardinals have been the better team in recent weeks and, although QB Carson Palmer hasn’t been having a great season, I expect the Cardinals to win the game.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Rams (+0.5) – The Dolphins defense has been playing well of late, and this week the unit gets to go against Goff in his NFL debut. Goff is the No. 1 overall pick in this yer’s draft, but the fact that he’s been serving as the backup to QB Case Keenum for the team’s first nine games indicates that the Rams may not be thrilled with the way he’s been performing in practices. I don’t think Goff will have much success against the Dolphins in his first game in the league so Miami wins the games.
Patriots at 49ers (+13.5) – I got burned last week by picking the Patriots +7.5 against the Seahawks, who won the game. I don’t think the 49ers have a chance to win the game but I think they’ll keep it within two touchdowns to stay within the spread. Patriots QB Tom Brady usually performs well after a loss, but he may be without TE Rob Gronkowski, who reportedly suffered a punctured lung in Sunday night’s loss and may sit out this game. Patriots win but don’t cover the spread.
Eagles at Seahawks (-6.5) – The Seahawks beat the Patriots on the road last week and they should have an easier time of things at home against the Eagles this week. QB Russell Wilson seems to be as healthy as he’s been all season and RB Thomas Rawls looks like he’s on track to return this week and see his first game action since suffering an injury back in Week 2. Seahawks win the game and cover.

Sunday Night Football
Packers at Redskins (-2.5) – The Packers got blown out by the Titans last week, giving up 47 points, and I think this is going to be a statement game for QB Aaron Rodgers so he can prove to people that the team’s not done yet. Redskins QB Kirk Cousins has been playing well of late but he’s still not at the same level as Rodgers, who is playing fine despite the team’s struggles. I think the Packers win the game outright so give me the points.

Monday Night Football (Mexico City)

Texans at Raiders (-6.5) – The Raiders are nominally the home team in Mexico City for this battle of the Texans’ strong defense against the high-scoring Raiders offense. Texans QB Brock Osweiler has not played well all season while Raiders QB David Carr has, but I think the Texans D can at least keep the game close so I’ll take the Texans with the points, though I’m not convinced they win the game.

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My NFL Picks Week 10: Big-name teams collide with Cowboys-Steelers and Seahawks-Patriots

Week 10 is upon us, with a couple of big games on the slate for late Thursday afternoon and evening. QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys head to Pittsburgh to take on a Steelers team reeling from last week’s loss. Then in the primetime game, the Seahawks head to Foxboro to take on QB Tom Brady and the Patriots. The week begins with a less-than-appealing game, with the Browns — still looking for their first win, traveling to Baltimore to take on the AFC North-leading Ravens Thursday night. The Monday night game isn’t bad as the Bengals visit the Giants, who are on a three-game win streak. I went 7-6 last week, bringing my record to 61-70 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: Bills, Lions, Colts, Raiders

Thursday Night Football
Browns at Ravens (-10.5) – I realize the Browns are 0-9, but 10.5 points is a lot for a team like the Ravens, which relies on its defense more than its offense to win games, to be giving up. I expect a low-scoring game and while the Ravens should pick up the win, I don’t think they cover the points. The Browns have been competitive and kept things relatively close in most of their games this season, and that should continue this week.

Sunday 1PM games
Falcons at Eagles (-0.5) – The Falcons have had one of the best offenses in the league this season, with QB Matt Ryan frequently getting the ball to WR  Julio Jones. The Eagles, on the other hand, haven’t looked good in recent weeks with QB Carson Wentz significantly regressing from his performance early in the season. With that in mind, I am surprised that the Eagles are favored. I expect the Falcons to easily win the game outright, so I’m taking them with the points.
Bears at Buccaneers (+0.5) – This game is pretty much a toss-up for me. Neither team has had a great offense this season and Bears QB Jay Cutler is prone to throwing interceptions. The Bucs have several injuries to running backs, though, limiting their running game. I think it could come down to the defenses, and I think the Bears have the advantage there so I’ll take them to win the game by a slight margin.
Broncos at Saints (-1.5) – The Broncos haven’t had much offense lately with QB Trevor Siemian not putting up big numbers. They have been dependent on their defense to pick up wins this season, but the Broncos defense wasn’t able to stop the Raiders and QB Derek Carr on Sunday night. Now having to take on Saints QB Drew Brees in New Orleans will be another tough task. The Saints typically do well at home, and I think they’ll be able to put up just enough offense to pick up the win and cover the 1.5 points.
Packers at Titans (+2.5) – The Packers offense hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, but I still find it hard to doubt QB Aaron Rodgers and his ability to put points on the scoreboard against a Titans team that has given up 226 points in nine games. Titans QB Marcus Mariota will have to have a terrific game to lead his team to victory. I don’t think he’ll be able to do it. Rodgers should be able to outplay Mariota and get the Packers back in the win column after losing to the Colts in Week 9.
Chiefs at Panthers (-2.5) – The 3-5 Panthers are on the upswing, having one two in a row largely because of their defense. Against a ‘Chiefs team that will likely be without No. 1 WR Jeremy Maclin and QB Alex Smith, who isn’t known for his offensive prowess, the Panthers’ defensive success should continue this week. RB Spencer Ware is expected to return from his concussion for Kansas City this week, but I don’t think he’ll be able to do enough to help his team win. Panthers win and cover.
Rams at Jets (-1.5)It looks like QB Bryce Petty might be getting the start for the Jets. If that’s the case, the team will have to rely on RB Matt Forte to carry the load on offense for the Jets to have a chance. With the Rams insisting on continuing to start QB Case Keenum over top draft pick Jared Goff, I think the Jets will be able to score just enough to sneak a win and cover at home in a low-scoring game.
Vikings at Redskins (-2.5) – With the Vikings on the downturn, I think the Redskins are the better team. The Vikings defense, which they were riding to success for much of the season, has gotten worse in recent weeks. With a lack of offense over the last several games, especially at the running back position, the defense will need to step up and be able to stop QB Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense if the Vikings want to stop their losing skid. I don’t think they’ll be able to do it. Redskins win.
Texans at Jaguars (+1.5) – The Jaguars are the worst team in the mediocre AFC South and don’t have much of an offense. The Texans offense hasn’t shown much consistency this season, but I think their defense will be able to stop the Jaguars enough to get the win on the road.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Chargers (-3.5)After a slow start to the season, the Chargers have won three of their last five games. The running backs are likely to lead their respective offenses in this games; Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi has had three straight games of more than 100 rushing yards (including two 200-yard games) while Chargers RB Melvin Gordon has eclipsed the century mark in his last two contests. Despite beating the Jets last week, I don’t think the Dolphins are very good. I’m going with the Chargers at home.
Cowboys at Steelers (-2.5) – Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott lead the Cowboys into one of the marquee games of the week, on the road against the Steelers. QB Ben Roethlisberger looked rusty last week when he returned from his leg injury. If he plays like that again this week, the Cowboys should easily get the win. Even if Big Ben does play better than he did last week, I think the Cowboys have a decent shot at winning with their strong offense. I’m going to take the Cowboys and the points.
49ers at Cardinals (-13.5) – The 49ers aren’t a very good team, as evidenced by their 1-7 record, but 13.5 points is a lot of points for any team to get, especially in a divisional game. Outside of RB David Johnson, the Cardinals offense hasn’t been great this season, with QB Carson Palmer not putting up his typical stats. Cardinals win the game, but give me the points. The 49ers aren’t losing by two touchdowns.

Sunday Night Football
Seahawks at Patriots (-7.5) – The week’s other marquee game sees QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks ahead across the country to take on Brady and the Patriots. It’s a battle of the Seahawks’ strong defense against one of the league’s best offensive attacks, led by Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski. I don’t like to go against the Seahawks when they’re getting more than a touchdown, but the Patriots are probably the only team I would give 7.5 points with against Seattle. I’ll take the Patriots to cover the spread.

Monday Night Football
Bengals at Giants (-2.5) – The Giants host the Bengals in the week’s final game. The Giants have played themselves into the midst of the playoff picture in the NFC with their current three-game win streak. The Bengals, on the other hand, are on the verge of dropping out of the AFC race if they don’t start getting some wins. The Giants offense is on the upswing. I’ll take them to cover.

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NFL Quarterly Report: Romo-less Cowboys lead the NFC, Patriots continue to roll

With Week 9 in the books, we’re halfway through the 2016 NFL season and have a good idea of how good — or bad — teams are. We also have a better idea of which of the teams that got off to surprisingly good starts were for real and have kept it up — such as the Raiders — and which have come back to reality, perhaps most notably the Rams.

The Patriots made it through the first quarter of the season and QB Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension with a 3-1 record. Since Brady returned to the team in Week 5, not only are the Patriots undefeated but Brady is playing on a pace that would make him a lead MVP candidate if he can keep it up through the second half. In four games, Brady has more than 1,300 yards, 12 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. At 7-1, the Patriots are running away with the AFC East; the Dolphins are behind them at 4-4, while the Bills — who handed the Patriots their only loss so far — and Jets are both under .500 and quickly falling out of the playoff race.

Over in the NFC East, when Cowboys QB Tony Romo injured his back in the preseason and expected to miss the first half of the season, things weren’t looking good for the team as rookie QB Dak Prescott would have to lead the team in Romo’s absence. In the team’s first eight games, all Prescott has done is lead the Cowboys to a 7-1 record and two-game lead in the division. Romo has returned to practice, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to the starting lineup anytime soon. As long as the Cowboys keep winning and Prescott performs to the level he has been — he has 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in eight games — the team will likely stick with the rookie under center. Fellow rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is also exceeding expectations, having run for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns through the first half of his first professional season. After starting the season 3-0, the Eagles have lost four of their last five to put their record at 4-4, last place in the division. Rookie QB Carson Wentz, who had 7 touchdowns in his first four games, has not thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since Week 5. The Giants are on the upswing, having won three in a row to go to 5-3, good for second place in the division. The Redskins are in third place at 4-3-1.

A Week 9 win over the Steelers put the Ravens in a tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North, each at 4-4. The loss to Baltimore gave the Steelers a three-game losing streak as QB Ben Roethlisberger returned after missing a few weeks with a leg injury. The Steelers — who have RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, who are among the best in the league at their positions — are underperforming. As Roethlisberger recovers from his injury, the offense should return to form. With the Ravens defense playing well, the Steelers don’t have much room for error or a lot of time to wait, however. The Bengals’ streak of five straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy. At 3-4-1, they can’t fall too far behind the Ravens and Steelers if they want to have a chance at winning the division, which could be their best chance of a sixth straight postseason berth. And then there’s the Browns. At 0-9, they’re still looking for their first win. With the Ravens and Steelers on their schedule the next two weeks, it doesn’t look good for them to get the zero out of their win column anytime soon. They may not get their first win until Week 14 or 15, when they play the Bengals and Bills, respectively. A 0-16 finish isn’t out of the question for Cleveland, though they’ll likely win a game before the season ends.

When the Vikings lost QB Teddy Bridgewater for the season and traded for QB Sam Bradford just before the season started, people weren’t expecting much from the team this season. Which is why their 5-0 start surprised people. They have since lost three in a row to drop to 5-3 on the year, which is still good for first place in the NFC North. The Lions are right behind them, though, at 5-4 having beating Minnesota in overtime in Week 9. Lions QB Matthew Stafford is having one of the best seasons of his career, on pace for 32 touchdowns, which would tie the second-best touchdown total of his career. The Packers find themselves in unfamiliar territory, in third place in the division at 4-4. Green Bay’s offense has been inconsistent this season. QB Aaron Rodgers does have 20 touchdowns through eight games, but he has as many one-touchdown games as he does four-touchdown games, two each. The Bears are in last place at 2-6, but their two wins have come against the top two teams in the division, the Vikings and Lions.

At 5-3, the Texans lead the mediocre AFC South — no other team in the division is above .500 — but their offense has been inconsistent this season as QB Brock Osweiler hasn’t played well in his first full season as a starter. With DE J.J. Watt out for the season, the team has been all right but not what people were expecting coming into the season. The Jaguars were a trendy pick to possibly win the division this season, but at 2-6 it doesn’t look like they’ll factor into the playoff race. The 4-4 Titans look like they could present the biggest threat to the Texans repeating as division champs, but the Colts could still sneak in there at 4-5. If the Texans can just go .500 in the second half to finish 9-7, that should be a good-enough record to win the division for the second straight year.

After going 15-1 and making it to Super Bowl 50 last year, the Panthers were the favorites to win the NFC South, but they have not had a good first half of the season. They started the year 1-5 but have won two in a row to get to 3-5, which ties them with the Buccaneers for third place in the division. Panthers QB Cam Newton has been able to continue the success he had in his MVP run of a year ago; in six starts, he has 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Falcons QB Matt Ryan, meanwhile, has led his team to a 6-3 record and the division lead. He is in the MVP discussion at the midway point, having thrown for 2,980 yards, 23 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions in nine games, putting him on pace for a career year if he can keep it up. The Saints got off to a 0-3 start but have had a bit of a resurgence to get to 4-4 and secure second place in the division.

The Raiders are living up to their preseason hype, now in first place in the AFC West by themselves after Sunday night’s win against the Broncos. QB Derek Carr is having a breakout season, with 17 touchdowns and 3 interceptions through nine games, putting him in the MVP discussion. The Chiefs are in second place at 6-2 despite not getting any production out of RB Jamaal Charles, who is on IR and out for the season, and not having a top-tier quarterback in Alex Smith. The Broncos, coming off their Super Bowl title are in third place with a 6-3 record. They have one of the top defenses in the league, but their offense is lacking, with QB Trevor Siemian throwing just 10 touchdowns with 5 interceptions in his eight starts this season. The Chargers, who had trouble holding fourth-quarter leads early in the season, are at the bottom of the division with a 4-5 record. With the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos playing as well as they are, don’t be surprised to see three playoff teams come out of this division, including both of the AFC’s wild cards.

The Seahawks offense hasn’t been as prolific as we’ve come to expect in recent years, largely due to injuries that have been hampering QB Russell Wilson’s play, but they still sit atop the NFC West as the only team in the division with a winning record. The defense has played a significant role in the success the Seahawks have had so far this season. The Cardinals are in second place with a 3-4-1 record, followed by the Rams, who have dropped four straight after starting the season 3-1. The 49ers, who have gone back to QB Colin Kaepernick as their starter after QB Blaine Gabbert couldn’t get the job done, are 1-7. If the Seahawks offense doesn’t pick things up, they could be in danger of the Cardinals passing them for the division lead in the coming weeks.

Halfway through the season, some teams — including the Patriots and Cowboys — look like they’re virtually locks to make the playoffs. Others that many people picked to be playoff teams before the season started, like the Panthers, have some work to do if they want to live up to those expectations and play beyond Week 17.

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