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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?

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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My NFL Picks Week 5: Vikings-Eagles in a NFC Championship rematch

The second quarter of the NFL season gets underway in Week 5, beginning with the Colts visiting the Patriots, who are coming off a blowout of the Dolphins. There are several key matchups highlighting the Sunday slate, including the Falcons visiting the Steelers in an interconference game between two one-win teams who had high expectations entering the season and are looking to stay alive in the playoff race. But the biggest game of the week sees the Vikings, who are looking to end their two-game losing streak, heading to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game. The Sunday night game features a Lone Star battle with the Texans hosting the Cowboys, and the Monday nighter features the NFC East-leading Redskins, who are coming off their bye, taking on the Saints, who sit atop the NFC South. I went 7-8 last week, giving me an overall record of 27-46 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: Bears, Buccaneers

Thursday Night Football

Colts at Patriots (-10.5) – The Patriots won big over the Dolphins on Thursday, while the Colts lost to the Texans in overtime. The Patriots may be without TE Rob Gronkowski, who left their last game early with an injury, but they get WR Julian Edelman back from his four-game PED suspension. The Colts are likely to be without their best pass-catcher as WR T.Y. is expected to be inactive as he continues to deal with a hamstring strain he suffered in Sunday’s loss. A 10.5-point spread is a lot, especially with the Patriots’ less-than-stellar defense and with Gronkowski possibly missing the game. Patriots win, but I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Steelers (-3.5) – Neither of these teams has a great defense, but the Falcons have had the better offense during the season’s first four weeks. Falcons rookie WR Calvin Ridley has emerged as a strong No. 2 receiver for QB Matt Ryan, with six touchdowns thus far. On the other side, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has made for a good 1-2 combo with WR Antonio Brown for the Steelers. I think the Falcons win the game outright, so I’ll take the points.

Titans at Bills (+3.5) – The Bills are coming off of a shutout loss at the hands of the Packers last week. The Titans’ offense seems to be coming together, with WR Marcus Mariota appearing to be healthier. WR Corey Davis had a breakout game last season, but the Titans struggle in the running game with RBs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. The Bills, meanwhile, don’t have any stars on offense with even RB LeSean McCoy struggling so fr this season. I’ll give the points.

Dolphins at Bengals (-6.5) – The shine came off the previously undefeated Dolphins last week after their 38-7 loss to the Patriots. The Bengals continued their strong early-season performance, edging out the Falcons 37-37, but they did lose oft-injured TE Tyler Eifert to a season-ending injury. That’ll put more pressure on WRs A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd to catch passes from veteran QB Andy Dalton. The Bengals are the better team. I’ll give the points at home.

Ravens at Browns (+2.5) – The Browns had another close loss on Sunday, losing to the Raiders in overtime. Now they face a Ravens team that is 3-1 and playing well early in the season. Ravens QB Joe Flacco has built up a good rapport with WR John Brown thus far, giving Brown good stats on the season. Browns QB Baker Mayfield had a good game in his first career start, but I don’t think he’ll be able to help the Browns keep up with the Ravens’ offense. I’ll give the points on the road.

Broncos at Jets (-0.5) – I’m not sure how the Jets are favored in this game. They haven’t looked great since Week 1 and rookie QB Sam Darnold has been inconsistent in his first four games. Other than WR Quincy Enunwa, the Jets don’t have many positive things going on on the offensive side on the ball. The Broncos, on the other hand, have rookie RB Phillip Lindsay, who has started to come into his own in recent weeks. They also have a veteran receiving corps led by WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders catching passes from QB Case Keenum. I’m going with the Broncos, and I don’t think it’ll be a very close game.

Packers at Lions (+1.5) – The Packers are slightly favored in the road in this NFC North battle against the Lions. The Lions have some good wide receivers this season with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Kenny Golladay, but they don’t have much of a running game to speak of. And the Packers have the better overall offense, so I’m going to give the 1.5 points with the road team.

Jaguars at Chiefs (-3.5) – With the way these teams are playing, this could be a potential playoff preview in the AFC. For the second season in a row, the Jaguars have one of the top defenses in the league, but the Chiefs have a strong offense, led by QB Patrick Mahomes, who has thrown 14 touchdowns and no interceptions through the season’s first four games. He has some help around him with the likes of WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce and RB Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs defense has been bad, but the Jaguars don’t have enough of an offense to really take advantage of it, especially as RB Leonard Fournette has already been ruled out as he recovers from the hamstring injury that caused him to leave Sunday’s game early. With Fournette out, RB T.J. Yeldon is likely to get the majority of the snaps out of the backfield. In a game of defense vs. offense, I’m going with the offensive juggernaut. Giving the points with the Chiefs at home.

Giants at Panthers (-6.5) – Giants QB Eli Manning had a good game in Week 3 but fell off the rails again in Week 4. The Giants offense will be undermanned again this week with TE Evan Engram expected to remain out with his knee injury. WR Sterling Shepard stepped up in Engram’s absence last week, but the passing game is limited by Manning’s performance. As has been the case for most of this season, the offense will have to run through rookie RB Saquon Barkley  if it wants to find much success. The Panthers are coming off of their bye so they’re well-rested and have had plenty of time to prepare for the Giants. They haven’t had a dynamic passing game this season, either, but RB Christian McCaffrey has been carrying the load and finding success in the team’s first three games. I think the Panthers will win the game, but I’m going to take the points with the Giants. 

Sunday 4PM games

Raiders at Chargers (-5.5) – The Raiders needed overtime — and a questionable call or two by the officials  — to beat the Browns in Week 4 to pick up their first win of the season and avoid a 0-4 start under head coach Jon Gruden. This week they’re facing a division rival in a Chargers team that has a pretty good offense. The Raiders haven’t been great this season, partially because of the trade late in the preseason that sent LB Khalil Mack to the Bears, and I think the Chargers can win by at least a touchdown, so I’ll give the points.

Rams at Seahawks (+7.5) – The Rams have looked like potentially the best team in the NFL while going undefeated in their first four games of the season, with QB Jared Goff having some good receivers — Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp — to throw to, in addition to RB Todd Gurley taking control of the ball on the ground. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, on the other hand, is leading a middle-of-the-pack offense that doesn’t have much of a running game, and the Seahawks defense is struggling this season. All of that points to a Rams blowout. I was expecting a double-digit spread in this game, so I’m going to give the 7.5 points.

Vikings at Eagles (-3.5) – These two teams are pretty evenly matched as they compete in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game. Both teams have different quarterbacks starting this week, though. Vikings free-agent signing QB Kirk Cousins gets the start for the road team, and QB Carson Wentz is back under center for the Eagles, who had Nick Foles getting the starting nod when they beat the Vikings back in January. These are two teams are pretty evenly matched and I’m expecting a close game, so I’m going to take the points on the road but I think the Eagles win the game outright.

Cardinals at 49ers (-4.5) – The Cardinals looked better last week with QB Josh Rosen getting his first career start than they did with QB Sam Bradford starting in the first three weeks of the season, but they still couldn’t pick up the win to avoid an 0-4 start. QB C.J. Beathard is the starter for the 49ers with Jimmy Garoppolo out for the year, so neither team is likely to be very successful in the passing game. I think the difference in this game will be Cardinals RB David Johnson. If he can have a good game, I think the Cardinals could pick up their first win of 2018. I’m expecting a close game, so I’ll take the points in a game that I think either team could win.

Sunday Night Football

Cowboys at Texans (-3.5) – The two Texas teams play each other in the regular season once every four years, and this meeting is in Houston. Both offenses have been subpar through the first quarter of the season, though Texans QB Deshaun Watson looked better last week than he had in his first three games. And DE J.J. Watt has successfully come back from last year’s season-ending back injury and has recorded five sacks in the last two games. I think the Texans defense is going to be the X-factor in this game because I think it’s the best unit on either squad, so I’m going to give the points with the home team.

Monday Night Football

Redskins at Saints (-6.5) – This could be a record-setting game for Saints QB Drew Brees, who needs just 201 yards to pass QB Peyton Manning and set a new NFL record for career passing yards. He didn’t throw any touchdown passes last week against the Giants. With those two things in mind, I think Brees is going to have a big game this week, with WR Michael Thomas likely going to put up big numbers as a result. And the Saints, of course, have second-year RB Alvin Kamara to get things going on the ground. The Redskins offense, whose best player may be 33-year-old RB Adrian Peterson, isn’t nearly as good as the Saints. I’ll go with the Saints at home.

MLB Postseason Preview: 2018 Predictions

After two Game 163s on Monday, in which the Brewers beat the Cubs to nab the top spot in the NL Central and the No. 1 seed in the National League and the Dodgers beat the Rockies to win the NL West, it’s time for the 2018 postseason to begin.

Image courtesy ESPN

It begins Tuesday night with the Cubs hosting the Dodgers in the NL Wild Card game, then the Yankees host the A’s in the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday. The winner of the NL game faces the Brewers in the National League Division Series, with the AL winner facing the Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

The Cubs have been reeling of late, losing a five-game lead in the division in early September to end up in the Wild Card game. The Rockies, meanwhile, went 19-9 in the month of September. With the teams headed in different directions, the Rockies have positive momentum on their side. It should be a good pitching matchup with SP Kyle Freeland going for the Rockies and SP Jon Lester taking the mound for the Cubs. Despite the game being at Wrigley Field, I don’t think the Cubs are good enough right now and I think the Rockies win the game to advance to the NLDS.

There’s a similar story at Yankee Stadium as the A’s are coming off a 16-10 September while the Yankees were just 15-12 in the month, their worst record in a calendar month this season. Neither team has announced its starter yet, but SP Luis Severino figures to get the ball for the Yankees with the A’s potentially going with a bullpen game. Even though Severino hasn’t pitched well in the second half of the season, the Yankees would probably have the advantage there. And they certainly have the advantage on offense after setting a new MLB record for home runs in a season. If the A’s have a lead after six or seven innings, I trust their bullpen — especially closer Blake Treinen — more than the Yankees’. I don’t think it’ll come down to that, though, and I think the Yankees will win the game to go to the ALDS.

American League
Division Series
Red Sox beat Yankees in 4 games
Astros beat Indians in 4 games

Championship Series
Astros beat Red Sox in 6 games

National League
Division Series
Brewers beat Rockies in 5 games
Braves beat Dodgers in 5 games

Championship Series
Braves beat Brewers in 6 games

World Series

beat

in 5 games.

So I think the Astros will become the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to repeat as World Series champions.

We’ll update these predictions, with further analysis, after each round as the postseason progresses.

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My NFL Picks Week 4: Thursday Vikings-Rams contest highlights the week

Week 3 saw some surprising results in the NFL, including the Bills upsetting the Vikings, who were more than two-touchdown favorites. And now the Vikings have a short week to come back from their disappointing performance on Sunday as they face the squad that could be the best team in the league on Thursday night when they visit Jared Goff and the Rams. Tom Brady and the Patriots, who are coming off back-to-back road losses, return home to face the undefeated Dolphins as the Pats look like to gain ground on the AFC East leaders. The Sunday nighter features an AFC North rivalry with the Ravens battling the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and the Broncos host the Chiefs in an AFC West battle to close out the week on Monday. This week has our first byes of the season, with the Panthers and Redskins getting an early off-week. I went 5-11 last week, giving me an overall record of 20-38 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: Panthers, Redskins

Thursday Night Football

Vikings at Rams (-6.5) – The Vikings have to travel to Los Angeles for a Thursday game against the undefeated Rams just four days after losing to the Bills in a major upset. Things don’t seem to be in the Vikings’ favor in this scenario. One potential positive for them is they may get back RB Dalvin Cook, who missed the Week 3 loss with a hamstring injury. On the other side, the Rams will look to continue their strong offensive performance to date with Goff, RB Todd Gurley and WRs Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp leading the way. Both teams will be without key pieces of their defense, with DE Everson Griffen out for the Vikings and the Rams expected to miss CB Aqib Talib and DB Marcus Peters. I’ll give the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Bengals at Falcons (-5.5) – Both of these teams are expected to be without their starting running back — Joe Mixon for the Bengals and Devonta Freeman for the Falcons — for the second straight week, but the Falcons have the advantage with their backup RB Tevin Coleman being better than the Bengals’ Giovani Bernard. The Falcons also have the better offense overall, with QB Matt Ryan being able to throw to WR Julio Jones and emerging rookie WR Calvin Ridley, who had three touchdowns last week. I’ll give the points.

Bills at Packers (-10.5) – The Bills were 16.5-point underdogs against the Vikings last week and won the game. Now they’re 10.5-point dogs to another NFC North opponent. QB Josh Allen played decently last week as the Bills picked up their first win of the season. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is still dealing with a knee injury but will play through it. I expect the Packers to win the game, but I’ll take the points with the BIlls on the road.

Buccaneers at Bears (-2.5) – The Buccaneers have a decision to make at quarterback this week. After two weeks of passing for more than 400 yards, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t do as well last week against the Steelers, but he still had a pretty good game despite three interceptions. But QB jameis Winston is coming back this week after serving a three-game suspension. Fitzpatrick is expected to get the start again this week, but regardless of which quarterback is under center it will be a tough matchup against a strong Bears defense led by LB Khalil Mack. I think defense wins out in this game so I’ll go with the home team.

Lions at Cowboys (-2.5) – A couple of 1-2 teams are trying to get to .500 in this game. Despite the Lions beating the Patriots on Sunday night, I’m not overly impressed with either team’s offense. But the Lions are better than the Cowboys, so if they’re getting points I’ll take them because I think either team could win the game outright.

Eagles at Titans (+3.5) – Eagles QB Carson Wentz returned from his knee injury last week, beating the Colts. The Titans also won in a bit of a surprise over the Jaguars, but they only scored nine points in the game. QB Marcus Mariota, who is continuing to recover from a hand injury, is expected to get the start with QB Blaine Gabbert in the concussion protocol after leaving Sunday’s game early. The Titans signed QB Austin Davis to add some depth at the position with Mariota and Gabbert both dealing with their various maladies. The Eagles, meanwhile, may get back starting RB Jay Ajayi, who missed last week’s game with a bad back. The Eagles are the better team in general, but especially with injuries and question marks at quarterback for the Titans. I’ll give the points with the road team.

Texans at Colts (-0.5) – The Texans continue to look for their first win of the season after an 0-3 start. Texans DE J.J. Watt had his best game in a while last week, recording three sacks against Giants QB Eli Manning. I think Watt and the Texans defense will be the difference in this game. And if QB Deshaun Watson can get off to a better start than he has in the first three games, it’ll help out the defense if the Texans can put some points on the board early. Colts QB Andrew Luck has played better than expected so far this season, but he doesn’t have many good options in the receiving corps beyond WR T.Y. Hilton, and the Colts don’t have much of a running game. I’ll go with the Texans to pick up their first victory of 2018. 

Dolphins at Patriots (-6.5) – The Patriots are in the midst of a rare two-game losing streak with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at the helm of the team. Now they have a home game against the 3-0 Dolphins. WR Josh Gordon may make his Patriots debut this week after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury, which would give Brady another weapon to help in getting the win against the Dolphins. I don’t think the Dolphins are going to go 4-0 so I expect the Patriots to win the game, but I’ll go with the Dolphins to cover.

Jets at Jaguars (-7.5) – The Jags are looking to bounce back from their loss to the Titans when they host QB Sam Darnold and the Jets, who have been inconsistent through the first three weeks of the season. Putting a rookie quarterback like Darnold up against a defense like the Jags have likely isn’t a recipe for success for the visitors, and RB Leonard Fournette may be ready to return to the Jaguars after missing last week’s game, so I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Browns at Raiders (-2.5) – Rookie QB Baker Mayfield is going to get his first NFL start after coming into last week’s win in relief of Tyrod Taylor. He’ll be going against CB Derek Carr and a Raiders team in search of their first win of the season. I think Mayfield could be overwhelmed in his first start and I don’t think the Raiders go 0-4, so I’ll give the points.

Seahawks at Cardinals (+3.5) – Like the Browns, the Cardinals are giving their rookie quarterback his first career start. In this case, it’s Josh Rosen, who was given the reins late in last week’s game in place of veteran QB Sam Bradford. In order for the Cardinals to win, RB David Johnson will have to perform better than he has in the first three games of the season. I don’t think Rosen will be able to keep up with Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, so I’m going with the road team, leaving the Cardinals reeling at 0-4.

Saints at Giants (+3.5) – The Giants picked up their first win last week, but now they face one of the top offenses in the league with QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara. Giants QB Eli Manning, who played better last week, isn’t in the same league as Brees at this point in his career so — like with the Cardinals — the Giants will have to succeed in the running game with Saquon Barkley if they are going to win this game. I don’t expect that to happen, so I’ll give the points.

49ers at Chargers (-10.5) – The 49ers were dealt a massive blow last week when their up-and-coming QB Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ACL injury that leaves C.J. Beathard as the starting quarterback. That is not a recipe for success, so I expect the Chargers to win the game and it comes down to what the margin of victory to be. A 10.5-point spread is a lot, but the 49ers will struggle on offense so I think the Chargers barely cover.

Sunday Night Football

Ravens at Steelers (-3.5) – The Steelers held on to barely beat the Bucs on Monday night to win their first game of the season, and now they face a divisional foe as they look to improve to 2-1-1. They’re still without RB Le’Veon Bell as he continues to holdout amid rumors that the Steelers are exploring trade opportunities for him. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has started the season strong and is a good second option for QB Ben Roethlisberger behind star WR Antonio Brown. I think the Steelers’ offense is significantly better than the Ravens, so I’ll give the points despite Pittsburgh’s less-than-stellar defense.

Monday Night Football

Chiefs at Broncos (+5.5) – The Chiefs have looked like the best team in the AFC so far behind the arm of QB Patrick Mahomes, who has thrown a league-high 13 touchdowns in the team’s first three games. His pace will likely slow down at some point, but he should still play well enough against the Broncos to get the Chiefs another win and get them to 4-0 on the year. I’m giving the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 3: Rams look to stay undefeated in a battle of L.A.

As is usually the case in the NFL, there are some surprising teams after the first two weeks of the season, including the Dolphins leading the AFC East at 2-0 and the Buccaneers, who are undefeated with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick filling in for suspended QB Jameis Winston, sitting atop the NFC South. Among the notable games this week are a NFC South battle between the Saints and Falcons in Atlanta, the Chargers facing the undefeated Rams in a battle of Los Angeles, and the Seahawks looking for their first win of 2018 when they host the Cowboys. The Monday nighter features the 0-1-1 Steelers looking to finally get in the win column as they head to Tampa looking to deal the Bucs their first loss. I went 6-10 last week, giving me an overall record of 15-17 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Jets at Browns (-3.5) – The Thursday night game isn’t the most compelling contest of the season, with two mediocre teams facing off in Cleveland. Rookie QB Sam Darnold looks to lead the Jets to their second win of the season against a Browns team that traded WR Josh Gordon to the Patriots earlier in the week. This game could go either way, so I’m going to take the Jets and the points but I think the Browns may pick up their first win since 2016.

Sunday 1PM games

Saints at Falcons (-3.5) – The Saints were barely able to hold off the Browns in Week 2 to get the win, QB Drew Brees had a strong performance. On the other side, the Falcons came back from a disappointing Week 1 defeat to beat the Panthers last week. Falcons QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones will need a big game to hold off the Saints’ offense. And they’ll be doing it with RB Tevin Coleman filling in for Devonta Freeman for a second-straight week. I think the Saints have the better offense, so I’m taking the points on the road.

Bills at Vikings (-16.5) – Through their first two games, the Bills have looked like potentially the worst team in the league, and now they’re heading on the road to take on QB Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. The Vikings are almost certainly going to win the game, so this is a question of what the margin of victory will be. Winning by 17 is a lot to ask of any NFL team, so even though the Bills aren’t good I have to go with the road dog for the third straight game.

Bengals at Panthers (-2.5) – The Bengals are 2-0 and QB Andy Dalton has looked good so far this season, but RB Joe Mixon was injured in Week 2 and underwent a surgical procedure this week that will cause him to miss this week’s game, leaving RB Giovani Bernard to get the start in the backfield. That puts the Bengals at a disadvantage against a Panthers offense that is led by QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey. I might pick differently if Mixon was healthy, but because he’s not I’ll give the points with the Panthers.

Broncos at Ravens (-4.5) – These are two teams who I think have overperformed so far through the first two weeks of the season. I think the Ravens are the better team, so I think QB Joe Flacco will lead them to a victory but I expect a close game so I’ll go with the Broncos getting 4.5 points.

Packers at Redskins (+2.5) – The Redskins looked good in Week 1, beating a bad Cardinals team, but they took a step backward in Week 2 when RB Adrian Peterson had a disappointing game after a stronger effort in Week 1. The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off of a tie against the Vikings. Though QB Aaron Rodgers still isn’t 100%, the Packers are the better team in this game and are getting RB Aaron Jones back from his two-game suspension, which should only help the offense. I’m going with the road team to win and cover.

Titans at Jaguars (-7.5) – The Titans beat the Texans last week despite starting backup QB Blaine Gabbert. QB Marcus Mariota was close to playing in Week 2, so he should get the nod on Sunday but he will be facing a Jaguars team that just beat the Patriots a week ago. RB Leonard Fournette missed that game for the Jaguars but, like, Mariota, there was some thought that he might be able to play so he may be in the lineup for Jacksonville this week. Regardless, the Jaguars are the better team and I think they’ll cover.

Colts at Eagles (-6.5) – The Eagles are expected to get starting QB Carson Wentz back from his knee injury this week when they host Andrew Luck and the Colts. That should give them a boost, but the news isn’t as good for RB Jay Ajayi, who suffered an injury in Week 2’s win that could cause him to miss this week’s game, which would force RB Corey Clement to carry the bulk of the workload in the running game. Luck has done better than many people expected in the early part of this season, but the Colts have a bad defense that should allow the Eagles to put points on the board on the way to winning the game, and I think they’ll cover the 6.5 points.

49ers at Chiefs (-6.5) – Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has thrown 10 touchdown passes in the first two games of the season, helping them get out to a 2-0 start. He has some playmakers helping him on the offense, namely WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce and RB Kareem Hunt. The 49ers’ offense isn’t nearly as good as the Chiefs have been through two weeks and it will be tough for them to keep up with the home team on the scoreboard, especially if WR Marquise Goodwin misses his second game in a row with a quad injury. I’ll go with the Chiefs and give the points.

Raiders at Dolphins (-3.5) – The Raiders are still looking for their first win under returning head coach Jon Gruden, and if they want to get it this week they’ll have to do it after a cross-country trip and against an undefeated Dolphins team. The Raiders only lost to Dolphins by a point in Week 2 and facing an overachieving Dolphins team could be what they need to pick up their first win of the season. I think the Raiders will win the game outright, so I’ll take the points on the road.

Giants at Texans (-5.5) – A couple of 0-2 teams are looking to avoid a three-game losing streak to start the season. Both teams’ offenses have been subpar in the first two weeks, with the Texans losing to Gabbert and the Titans. If the Texans have their offense performing well, they probably have the better unit with QB Deshaun Watson compared to Giants QB Eli Manning. As Watson continues to recover from his knee injury that cost him the second half of 2017, I think he’ll continue to improve, and I think he’ll have a good game along with WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. I’m hesitant to give this many points with the Texans, but I’m going to. The Giants will have to rely on rookie RB Saquon Barkley to lead the way offensively if they want to get their first victory of the year.

Sunday 4PM games

Chargers at Rams (-6.5) – The Rams have outscored their opponents 67-13 in their first two games and look like one of the best teams in the league, thanks to an offense led by QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and a wide-receiving corps headed up by Brandin Cooks. The Chargers have done well this season, too, but I don’t think they’re much of a match for the Rams at this point. I think the spread is a little higher than I’d like, but I’ll give the points.

Bears at Cardinals (+4.5) – The Cardinals look like they’re going to be in competition with the Bills to determine the worst team in the NFL this season. They don’t have much of an offense, so LB Khalil Mack and the Bears defense should make easy work of them. The Rams just shut the Cardinals out last week, and Arizona probably won’t do much better than that this week. Bears easily cover.

Cowboys at Seahawks (-2.5) – Even though the Seahawks are at home, I’m surprised they’re the favorites in this game because they haven’t looked good this season. With WR Doug Baldwin out, QB Russell Wilson doesn’t have anyone good to throw to, and the running game is virtually nonexistent. I think RB Ezekiel Elliott will lead the Cowboys to a road victory to improve to 2-1.

Sunday Night Football

Patriots at Lions (+6.5) – Under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the Patriots typically follow-up a loss with a good performance in their next game. So I expect the Patriots to have a strong performance after losing to the Jaguars last week. I’ll give the points.

Monday Night Football

Steelers at Buccaneers (+1.5) – This game pits the so-far-poor Steelers defense against the surprising play of Bucs backup QB Jameis Winston. With the Bucs playing as well as they have been and at home,m I think they could win the game outright, so I’ll take the 1.5 points.

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My NFL Picks Week 2: Patriots-Jags AFC Championship rematch on tap

Week 1 is always a tough one to pick games because you don’t know what to expect from teams coming out of the gate when many stars don’t play much during the preseason. Given that, I did respectably last week with a 9-7 record against the spread. This week has a couple of big games on tap, including the Vikings visiting the Packers — and a potentially-not-100% Aaron Rodgers — in a battle of teams that should compete for the NFC North title and an AFC Championship rematch with the Patriots heading to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, who will be likely without star RB Leonard Fournette. The Sunday night game features an NFC East rivalry as Odell Beckham and the Giants visit Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Ravens at Bengals (+0.5) – The Ravens looked impressive in Week 1 with a 47-3 victory over the Bills, but QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals will pose a greater challenge, especially with home-field advantage in Cincinnati. Bengals RB Joe Mixon last week looked like he’s poised for a breakout season and if he can have a similar performance this week, it’ll make it that much harder for the Ravens to go 2-0. I’m still not necessarily buying into the Ravens. I’m going to take the Bengals at home on a short week.

Sunday 1PM games

Panthers at Falcons (-5.5) – The Falcons didn’t look good last week, losing to QB Nick Foles and the Eagles in the season opener. Falcons QB Matt Ryan couldn’t get the ball to star WR Julio Jones in the end zone, which was also an issue for the pair last season. The Panthers beat the Cowboys in Week 1 but struggled offensively, scoring just 16 points behind QB Cam Newton. The Panthers are without TE Greg Olsen, who suffered a foot injury in Week 1 that will keep him out of action for several weeks.  I think this will be a close game, so I’ll take the Panthers and the points but the Falcons could win the game.

Chargers at Bills (+7.5) – That’s a big number for a West Coast team to give on a cross-country trip to the northeast, but the Bills really didn’t look good last week. The Bills have announced that after one start from QB Nathan Peterman they have decided to go with rookie QB Josh Allen for his first NFL start in Week 2 as the Bills have decided to go in another direction under center. The Chargers are coming off a loss to the Chiefs, but the Bills appear to be one of the worst teams in the league and I don’t trust either of their quarterbacks, so I’ll give the 7.5 points.

Browns at Saints (-8.5) – The Browns may not have won last week, but they didn’t lose either, so their tie with the Steelers ended their losing streak but extended their winless streak. They’re still looking for their first win since 2016, but I don’t think they’ll get it this week. The Saints’ defense looked bad against the Buccaneers last week, but they still have a good offense led by QB Drew Brees and RB Alvin Kamara, which should be able to outscore the Browns to pick up New Orleans’ first win of the season. This is another big number that’s giving me pause, but i think the Saints will barely cover it, so I’ll go with the Saints at home.

Vikings at Packers (-0.5) – Rodgers is unlikely to be at full strength for this game after dealing with an injury in Week 1 against the Bears. That will hurt the Packers against a good Vikings defense. If I knew Rodgers was fully healthy, I’d probably go with the Packers, but I don’t think he is so I’m going to go with the road team at Lambeau.

Texans at Titans (+2.5) – The Titans were dealt a couple of injuries in Week 1, with TE Delanie Walker suffering a season-ending ankle injury and QB Marcus Mariota dealing with an elbow injury. Mariota’s status for this week’s game is unknown, which opens up uncertainty about how the Titans will perform if backup QB Blaine Gabbert draws the start. The Texans didn’t look great in their Week 1 loss to the Patriots, but QB Deshaun Watson is coming back from an injury of his own that caused him to miss the second half of the 2017 season. I think the Texans will win the game whether Mariota or Gabbert plays, but the chances of a Texans win goes up if Gabbert starts.

Colts at Redskins (-5.5) – The Redskins looked better than expected last week in beating the Cardinals 24-6. RB Adrian Peterson surprised by gaining nearly 100 yards on the ground, and QB Alex Smith had a good start in his team debut. The Colts had an early lead against the Bengals but ended up losing after being outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter. It’s that subpar defense that gives the Redskins an advantage and leads me to think the Redskins will win the game and cover the 5.5 points.

Chiefs at Steelers (-5.5) – The Steelers were without RB Le’Veon Bell last week as he continues his holdout, but RB James Conner had a good showing in Bell’s absence. It wasn’t enough to beat the Browns, though, as the teams ended up tying. The Chiefs present a much bigger challenge for Pittsburgh, and I think the Chiefs could win the game outright so I’ll take them with the points.

Dolphins at Jets (-2.5) – The Jets put up 48 points against the Lions in Week 1, so they may be better than people gave them credit for entering the season, but they’re not that good. After throwing a pick-six with his first career pass, Jets QB Sam Darnold ended up throwing a couple touchdown passes to his teammates and RB Isaiah Crowell had a good showing on the ground, running for more than 100 yards and a couple touchdowns. After that showing last week, I think the Jets can beat Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins, covering the spread in the process.

Eagles at Buccaneers (+3.5) – Like the Jets the Buccaneers overperformed last week, but i’m buying it even less with the Bucs than I did the Jets because of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been a fairly pedestrian quarterback throughout his NFL career. While Foles, who also isn’t great, is expected to get another start for the Eagles I think the defending Super Bowl champions are the better overall team than the Bucs, so I’ll go with them to cover on the road.

Sunday 4PM games

Lions at 49ers (-5.5) – After giving up more than 40 points to the Jets at home in Week 1, the Lions are hitting the road to take on QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers. Last week’s results notwithstanding, the 49ers have a better offense than the Jets and should provide another tough challenge for the Lions defense. Lions QB Matthew Stafford needs to play better than he did last week to keep his team in it. I’ll give the points with the home team.

Cardinals at Rams (-12.5) – I’m all-in on the Rams this season — I even picked them to win Super Bowl LIII — and I fully expect them to win this game against a Cardinals team that struggled last week in their first game with QB Sam Bradford. But I always have a hard time giving a lot of points, like the 12.5-point spread in this game. So I’m going to go with the Cardinals and hope Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the rest of the Rams offense don’t go off too much in a blowout.

Raiders at Broncos (-5.5) – Neither team looked very impressive last week and I don’t have high hopes for either team this season, so I think it’ll be a pretty close game. I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but I’ll take the points since I think it’ll be close.

Patriots at Jaguars (+2.5) – This AFC Championship rematch likely won’t be as competitive as it otherwise might have been if Fournette can’t play, which I don’t think he will. That means RB T.J. Yeldon will get the bulk of the work on the ground, which should be a big workload considering the team usually likes to limit the amount of passing plays for QB Blake Bortles. On the other side of the field, the Patriots defense looked good in Week 1, and combine that with QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the offense, and I don’t think this game is going to be particularly competitive. I’ll give the points on the road.

Sunday Night Football

Giants at Cowboys (-2.5) – Neither offense looked good last week, so this could be a low-scoring game. While I don’t think Eli Manning is a good quarterback anymore, I think the Cowboys have two of the best offensive players in this game with Beckham and rookie RB Saquon Barkley. The Cowboys don’t have any good receivers after losing TE Jason Witten and WR Dez Bryant in the offseason. They’ll have to rely on Elliott if they want to have much success. I think the Giants will win the game outright, so I’ll take the points.

Monday Night Football

Seahawks at Bears (-3.5) – This is a matchup of teams that fell just short of winning last week, with the Bears losing a 20-0 lead in the second half of their game with the Packers. Since I don’t have much faith in either team, I’ll take the home team and hope QB Mitch Trubisky can get something going for the Bears.

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