My NFL Picks Week 16: Zeke returns, Falcons-Saints battle in the NFC South

The penultimate week of the regular season in the NFL has an underwhelming slate of games after last week’s schedule had a number of featured matchups. The best game of the week looks to be the NFC South battle between the Falcons and Saints, as the visiting team is a game out of first place in the division. The Cowboys are among the teams looking to win to stay alive with their slim playoff hopes, and they get RB Ezekiel Elliott back after he has finished serving his six-game suspension. There’s an unusual schedule this week with the Christmas holiday. There’s no Thursday game and there are doubleheaders on both Saturday and Monday, with no Sunday night game due to Christmas Eve. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 117-107 for the season. 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

Saturday games

Colts at Ravens (-13.5) – This is a surprisingly large spread for a Ravens team that doesn’t have a great offense. They did win by more than I thought last week against the Browns, but the Colts aren’t the Browns. I have a hard time picking a Joe Flacco-led offense to win by two touchdowns, so I’ll take the Colts and the points, but I expect the Ravens to win the game to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Vikings at Packers (+6.5) The Falcons’ win on Monday Night Football eliminated the Packers from playoff contention, and with that the team decided to shut QB Aaron Rodgers down for the season and placed him on IR. That means QB Brett Hundley is back as the starter for the last two games of the season. With that in mind, the Packers probably won’t score many points against a good Vikings defense. At 11-3, the Vikings are battling for the top seed in the NFC, and they should beat their division rivals to stay alive in that race. I’ll give the points on the road.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Saints (-5.5) – The Falcons need to win this game to try to stay alive in the race for the NFC South as they currently sit a game behind both the Saints and Panthers, who are tied for the division lead. I don’t think the Falcons will be able to keep up with the Saints’ offense, led by QB Drew Brees and RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, enough to win the game. I do think they’ll keep it close, though, so I’ll take the points but the Saints win the game.

Bills at Patriots (-12.5)The Patriots hold the top seed in the AFC after the thrilling win against the Steelers on Sunday. Now they hit the road for a divisional game against the Bills, who are desperate for a win as they try to hold on to the No. 6 seed in the conference. I don’t think the game will be a blowout, but the it’s hard to go against the Tom BradyRob Gronkowski combo on the Pats. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor isn’t good enough, so it’ll have to be RB LeSean McCoy to lead the way, and I don’t think that’ll be enough to pull off the upset. Patriots win, but I’m taking the points again.

Browns at Bears (-6.5)The Browns have just two more chances to avoid becoming the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. With the Steelers looming in Week 17, this could be the Browns’ last realistic chance to get a win. I don’t like their chances, though. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer doesn’t look like he’s getting better as the season progresses. I think the Bears will win and cover, though I’m not confident about that part.

Lions at Bengals (+4.5) It seems like the Bengals have given up on the season, coming off of back-to-back losses of 33-7 and 34-7. I’m expecting another blowout here and am surprised the spread is as low as it is. I think the Lions win by double digits.

Broncos at Redskins (-3.5) Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons, but the Broncos have been the worse of the two. Their defense has not been good lately and they don’t seem to know yet who will start at quarterback this week, Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch. I’ll go with Kirk Cousins and the Redskins.

Rams at Titans (+6.5) – The Rams are coming off of a blowout win against the Seahawks, and I don’t think the Titans are much better than the Seahawks so I don’t know why this game would be much different. Titans QB Marcus Mariota may be the most disappointing player in the league this season. I expect Rams RB Todd Gurley to have another big game like he did last week. Rams win big.

Dolphins at Chiefs (-10.5) – The Chiefs seem to be back to playing the way they were early in the season when they were 5-0, as opposed to how they played during their midseason swoon. Facing a Dolphins team led by QB Jay Cutler, I don’t think this game will be that close, and WR Tyreek Hill and RB Kareem Hunt will lead the way for the Chiefs as they look to potentially wrap up the AFC West this week.

Chargers at Jets (+6.5) – The Chargers are on the fringe of playoff contention but need significant help to get over the edge. Bryce Petty is the Jets’ starting quarterback, which is why I’m taking PHilip Rivers and the Chargers to do their part and win the game — and cover — but I don’t think they’ll still be alive for the postseason by the end of the weekend.

Buccaneers at Panthers (-9.5)- Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston had his best game in a while on Monday, dropping a close one to the Falcons. I think Winston and WR Mike Evans can keep it close again this week when they take on the Panthers, but I think the Panthers win. TE Greg Olsen looked like himself in Week 15 as he continues to work his way back from injury, which gives QB Cam Newton another offensive weapon. Panthers win, but the Bucs cover.

Sunday 4PM games

Jaguars at 49ers (+4.5) – QB Jimmy Garoppolo has played well in the games he’s played for the 49ers this season, but he faces perhaps his biggest test yet against the Jaguars, who have one of the best defenses in the league. Last week, the Jaguars clinched their first playoff berth in a decade, but they still have something to play for because they can earn a first-round bye if things go in their favor. RB Leonard Fournette looks like he will play after missing last week’s game. I’m going with the Jags.

Seahawks at Cowboys (-4.5)The Seahawks are coming off a bad loss to the Rams, while the Cowboys held on to beat the Raiders last week and now get Elliott back from his suspension as they try to keep their playoff hopes alive. With Elliott, who could get a heavy workload, back I think the Cowboys will win this one fairly easily. I’ll give the points.

Giants at Cardinals (-4.5) – The Giants offense came alive last week, with QB Eli Manning throwing for more than 400 yards, while Blaine Gabbert had a forgettable game for the Cardinals and is being replaced by Drew Stanton this week. Overall, neither team has been good this season so I’ll go with their most recent performances and take the points, though I think the Cardinals could eke out the win at home.

Christmas games

Steelers at Texans (+9.5)The Steelers will be without WR Antonio Brown this week after he injured his calf in the team’s nailbiter against the Patriots on Sunday. That could be a blow to the offense if WRs Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t make up for Brown’s lost production. It could also lead the team to lean more on RB Le’Veon Bell than if Brown was healthy. I expect the Steelers to win the game, but I think the spread may be too high since the Steelers tend to play down to their competition when they’re facing an inferior team. Give me the points. 

Raiders at Eagles (-8.5) – Eagles QB Nick Foles played well in his first game starting in place of Carson Wentz on Sunday, but I need to see him do it again before I truly buy into him being able to play like that again. I’m going to go with the Raiders to cover, but the Eagles should win the game.

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MLB Hot Stove: Marlins fire sale continues, Angels keep building around Trout

The MLB Winter Meetings are now over and while some coveted free agents — including Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta — are still on the market, there have been some transactions of note made since our last hot stove report, including the Marlins continuing to trim payroll and the Angels adding to the team beyond the signing of Shohei Otani.

As far as the Marlins are concerned, after trading 2B Dee Gordon and OF Giancarlo Stanton, they shipped OF Marcell Ozuna out of town, sending him to the Cardinals in exchange for four minor leaguers, including OF Magneuris Sierra and P Sandy Alcantara. Ozuna had a career year last season, hitting .312 with 37 home runs 124 RBI on the way to being named to his second straight National League all-star team. He’ll be joining an outfield in St. Louis that includes Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler. The Cardinals also traded OF Stephen Piscotty to the A’s for a couple minor leaguers and added RP Luke Gregerson to provide late-inning work out of the bullpen, and potentially compete for the closer role.

The Angels made the first big splash of the winter when they signed Ohtani, known as the Japanese Babe Ruth for his ability to both pitch and hit, but that didn’t stop them from acquiring other players. They made a trade with the Tigers to get 2B Ian Kinsler for a couple minor league players and they signed SS Zack Cozart, who hit a career-high 24 home runs in 2017, to a three-year deal. The Angels, who finished five games out of a playoff berth in October, appear to be going all-in in an attempt to make a World Series run while they still have OF Mike Trout, who will be a free agent after the 2020 season. It won’t be easy, though, being in the same division as the defending World Series champion Astros.

The Cubs have been focused on adding to their pitching staff this offseason. After having already signed Tyler Chatwood, this week they added SP Drew Smyly and RPs Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to their team. The addition to their rotation and bullpen are likely in anticipation of losing Arrieta and Davis in free agency.

A day after finalizing their trade for Stanton, the Yankees shed some salary by sending 3B Chase Headley, along with RP Bryan Mitchell, to the Padres — with whom Headley played the first several seasons of his career before being traded to the Bronx — in exchange for OF Jabari Blash. And, although it’s not official yet, the Yankees are reportedly going to re-sign SP CC Sabathia on a one-year, $10 million contract.

In addition to getting Headley, the Padres traded for Phillies SS Freddy Galvis and are rumored to be pursuing Hosmer as they continue to remake their infield as they look to improve upon their 71-91 record from last season.

There were a couple more notable trades made in the last couple of days, both involving other NL West teams. The Giants traded veteran SP Matt Moore to the Rangers, who lost out on the Ohtani sweepstakes, for a couple of minor leaguers. And the Dodgers — who came a game short of winning the World Series — made a salary dump, sending 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SS Charlie Culberson, and Ps Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy to the Braves in exchange for OF Matt Kemp, who played for the Dodgers from 2006-2014. The Braves have already designated Gonzalez for assignment.

Among other signings that have taken place over the last week, the Twins signed SP Michael Pineda and RP Fernando Rodney, who will likely serve as the team’s closer when the season begins; the Rockies re-signed RP Jake McGee and added RP Bryan Shaw to their bullpen; the Phillies reached an agreement with RP Pat Neshek; and the Astros added to their bullpen, inking RPs Joe Smith and Hector Rondon.

There were rumors during the Winter Meetings that the Orioles might trade 3B Manny Machado, who will be a free agent following the 2018 season. While they didn’t reach a deal to move him, that’s something to keep an eye on in the coming days and weeks as the team continues to consider its options, knowing that they will likely lose him to free agency in a year if he isn’t traded now. The Yankees are reportedly interested in acquiring Machado, but the Orioles probably aren’t interested in trading him within the division, especially to the team that just acquired the reigning NL MVP. They’re likely not going to make the playoffs in 2018, though, so they should probably trade Machado this offseason to get something for their best player.

The next couple of weeks of the hot stove could be quiet as team executives and the players’ agents take some time off, but then the activity should pick up again in January as guys like Martinez and Darvish start to sign deals. Other lesser-but-notable names still available include pitchers Greg Holland, Alex Cobb, Jaime Garcia and position players Mike Moustakas, Jay Bruce and Lorenzo Cain.

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My NFL Picks Week 15: Rodgers returns, Patriots battle Steelers for AFC supremacy

The game of the week looks to be the Patriots visiting the Steelers in the late afternoon slot on Sunday. They are probably the two best teams in the AFC, and the Patriots are going to be looking to bounce back from the loss they suffered against the Dolphins on Monday night.  Other games of note on the Week 15 slate include the Rams heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in a game for first in the NFC West and the Cowboys visiting the Raiders on Sunday night as those teams look to hold on to their slim playoff hopes. We also get our first Saturday games of the season, with a doubleheader. I went 6-10 last week, giving me an overall record of 110-98 for the season. 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

Broncos at Colts (+2.5) – The week begins with the Peyton Bowl, as Peyton Manning‘s former teams play each other. Neither quarterback in the game — Trevor Siemian for the Broncos and the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett — is in the same class as Manning. I trust the Broncos’ offense more than the Colts’, so I’ll give the points to start the week.

Saturday games

Bears at Lions (-5.5) – The Bears are coming off what was probably their best game of the season last week, a 33-7 victory against the Bengals, but you can’t expect that kind of offense out of QB Mitch Trubisky every week. Obviously the Lions have the better pass-thrower in Matthew Stafford, but they’ve had some issues in the run game, with RB Ameer Abdullah having missed the last two games. The Bears have a decent defense, which I think will be able to keep it a close game. I think the Lions win,but I’m taking the points with the Bears.

Chargers at Chiefs (+1.5) – First place in the AFC West is on the line as these 7-6 teams meet. The Chiefs finally won a game last week after an extended losing streak while the Chargers are on a four-game winning streak. Part of the reason for the Chiefs’ win last week was rookie RB Kareem Hunt having his best game in several weeks, and he’ll likely need a repeat performance this week because QB Alex Smith can’t be trusted right now. I think Chargers QB Philip Rivers will do well enough to get his team the win.

Sunday 1PM games

Dolphins at Bills (-2.5) – There is a question about who will draw the start at quarterback for the Bills this week, with it looking like it could be Joe Webb. If that’s the case, it would hurt the BIlls’ chances of beating a Dolphins team coming off a win over the Patriots. I think Dolphins QB Jay Cutler is better than whoever is going to start for the Bills, and RB Kenyan Drake is looking like a viable starter for Miami, so I’ll take the points with the visitors.

Bengals at Vikings (-10.5)The Bengals were on the short end of a blowout loss against the Bears last week and face a tougher test this week against the Vikings, who lost to the Panthers on Sunday. I don’t like giving more than 10 points, but the Bengals look like they may have given up on the rest of the season, so I’ll give the points.

Ravens at Browns (+7.5)The Browns had their best chance yet last week to pick up their first win of the season. They were leading the Packers most of the way but ultimately lost in overtime. I don’t think they’ll have such a lengthy lead in this game, but I think they’ll keep it close because I don’t like the Ravens’ offense that much. The Browns likely drop to 0-14 this week, but I’ll take the points.

Packers at Panthers (+0.5) This could be an interesting game for the Packers as QB Aaron Rodgers is expected to action after missing the last several games with a collarbone injury. If he plays, I think the Packers win. If it’s Brett Hundley under center for some reason, I would expect the Panthers to win.

Jets at Saints (-15.5) – After QB Josh McCown suffered a season-ending wrist injury on Sunday, the Jets are expected to start Bryce Petty, which is likely one reason why there’s such a big spread on this game. The Saints should win easily, but I’m taking the points. I think the Jets can stay within two touchdowns.

Eagles at Giants (+7.5)The Eagles also suffered a season-ending injury at quarterback on Sunday when MVP candidate Carson Wentz tore his ACL. That leaves QB Nick Foles as the starter heading into hostile territory on the road against the Giants. QB Eli Manning started again last week, but he didn’t look good. But who knows how Foles will perform in his first start of the season. I still think the Eagles win the game, but I’ll take the points.

Cardinals at Redskins (-4.5) Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons and neither offense has been great this week, but Redskins QB Kirk Cousins is better than Cardinals QB Blaine Gabbert, which I think will be the difference in the game. I’ll go with the Redskins.

Texans at Jaguars (-11.5)QB T.J. Yates will start for the Texans after Tom Savage suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. When these teams met in Week 1, the Jaguars won in a blowout — and that was with Deshaun Watson playing in the second half. With Yates under center for the Texans, I don’t think this game will be close. I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Rams at Seahawks (-2.5) – First place in the division is on the line in this match, with QB Jared Goff and the Rams facing a Seahawks defense depleted by injuries. I expect this to be a close game, but I think the Rams can pull out the win.

Titans at 49ers (-1.5) – 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo has done well in his first two starts with the team, but the team around him still isn’t great. While Titans QB Marcus Mariota has been struggling of late, I think he’ll be able to lead the team to a victory so I’ll take the points.

Patriots at Steelers (+2.5) This seems like the game of the year in the AFC, with the winning squad getting the inside track on the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Patriots are coming off a Monday night loss to the Dolphins, but they’ll have TE Rob Gronkowski back after he was suspended for that game. The Steelers have one of the best offenses in the league, though, with QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell. I’m expecting a pretty high-scoring game, with the home team winning.

Sunday Night Football

Cowboys at Raiders (+2.5) – Both teams are hanging on to playoff contention to a thread and a loss could kill either team’s chances of making it to the postseason. I think the Cowboys, who are slated to get RB Ezekiel Elliott back in Week 16, are the better team of late and should win the game.

Monday Night Football

Falcons at Buccaneers (+6.5) – The Falcons are trying to hold on to the No. 6 seed in the NFC, and a win over the Buccaneers would help them fend off the likes of the Cowboys and Packers. I think Atlanta can beat the disappointing Tampa Bay team so it becomes a question of whether they’ll win by a touchdown or better. I think it’ll be close, but I’m giving the points.

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MLB Hot Stove: Ohtani to the Angels, Stanton in pinstripes

It’s been more than a month since the Astros won their first World Series title, but it’s been a slow start to player signings and trades in the offseason. Part of that is probably teams and players waiting to see where the winter’s two biggest available names — Japanese sensation Shohei Otani and reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton — would land. They have now both found new homes in the last two days, which means the hot stove should start to heat up, especially with the Winter Meetings now upon us.

Ohtani was the first domino of the two to fall, signing with the Angels on Friday. Earlier in the week, his camp announced that he had narrowed his choice to seven teams, and the Mariners were thought by many to be the frontrunners of that group. The 23-year-old, who comes to Major League Baseball from Japan’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, signed a six-year deal with the AL West runners-up that will pay him just $2.3 million (with a $20 million posting fee paid to his former team) due to the way MLB’s international free agency rules work.

Ohtani has been referred to as the Babe Ruth of Japan for his ability to both pitch and hit. Joining an American League team gives him the chance to hit as a DH on some days when he isn’t the starting pitcher. He was hampered by injuries last season, but Ohtani was named the MVP of Japan’s Pacific League in 2016. That season, he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA on the mound and at the plate he hit .322 with 22 home runs and a 1.004 OPS. Joining an Angels rotation that includes SPs Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, Ohtani is expected to serve as the No. 1 guy in the rotation. Offensively, he’s joining former MVPs Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Pujols has served as the team’s DH in the majority of the games he’s played over the last two years, but if Ohtani is in that role a couple games a week, that will force Pujols to play first base more often, which could hurt the team defensively as he will be 38 years old by Opening Day on March 29.

The other coveted player who was expected to be on the move this winter was Stanton. News came out Saturday morning that the Marlins reached an agreement in principle, pending physicals, to send the right fielder and approximately $30 million to the Yankees in exchange for 2B Starlin Castro and minor leaguers Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. Stanton had a full no-trade clause so could choose where he wanted to go. He would not waive his no-trade clause to the Giants or Cardinals. His first choice was reportedly to go to the Dodgers, but they couldn’t agree to terms of a deal with the Marlins. The Yankees were reported to be second on Stanton’s wish list, and they were able to reach a deal with the Marlins’ new co-owner Derek Jeter.

Stanton hit .289 last season with a MLB-best 59 home runs and 132 RBI on the way to earning the first NL MVP  honors of his eight-year career. Over that time, he is a .268 hitter with 267 home runs and 672 RBI. He does have a history of missing time with injuries, however. He played in 159 games last season, the first time he surpassed 150 games played in his career; he played 119 in 2016 and just 74 in 2015. Going to the AL could help his durability as it gives him a chance to take a break from playing the field and settle in at DH some days, but the Yankees have other players who split time in that role.

Stanton joins a Yankees lineup that includes OF Aaron Judge, who hit 52 home runs in his rookie season in 2017, and C Gary Sanchez, who launched 33 homers in 122 games last season. There’s no question that the Yankees have power hitters in their lineup but also some guys who strike out a lot — including Judge who led  the majors in that category last season.

Other transactions that have been made since the conclusion of the World Series include the Diamondbacks trading for RP Brad Boxberger, the Mariners acquiring 1B Ryon Healy in a trade with the A’s, the Rangers signing Ps Doug Fister and Mike Minor, the Tigers signing P Mike Fiers and OF Leonys Martin and the Cubs inking P Tyler Chatwood. The Mariners also traded for 2B Dee Gordon and international signing money from the Marlins in a deal that was thought to help them land Ohtani, which of course didn’t come to pass.

The Winter Meetings, which is traditionally when a lot of signings and trades happen, begin in Orlando on Sunday and last through Thursday. Notable free agents still on the market include pitchers Yu Darvish, Wade Davis, Jake Arrieta, Greg Holland, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Brandon Morrow, CC Sabathia, Jaime Garcia and position players J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jay Bruce, Lorenzo Cain, Carlos Gonzalez, Jonathan Lucroy and Mitch Moreland.

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My NFL Picks Week 14: Eagles face the Rams in a battle of NFC elites

For the second straight week, there are some big games in the NFC playoff picture in Week 14. It starts on Thursday night with the Saints visiting the Falcons, and it continues Sunday with the Eagles looking to bounce back from their loss to the Seahawks to take on the Rams in Los Angeles. Other games of note include the Panthers hosting the Vikings and a Sunday night AFC North matchup between the Ravens and Steelers in Pittsburgh. I went 9-7 last week, giving me an overall record of 104-88 for the season. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Saints at Falcons (+0.5) – The Saints offense continues to roll with rookie RB Alvin Kamara making his case to earn Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He is providing a boost to future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. For the Falcons,’WR Julio Jones had a fairly quiet game last week after a strong performance in Week 12. I expect the Saints to win, so I’ll take them in what is essentially a pick ’em.

Sunday 1PM games

Colts at Bills (-3.5) – With QB Tyrod Taylor having suffered an injury last week, Nathan Peterman will be under center for the Bills this week, which didn’t go well last time he started. Given Peterman’s poor performance a few weeks ago, I don’t expect the Bills to score a lot of points so Colts QB Jacoby Brissett should be able to keep his team in the game. The Bills may win the game, but I’m taking the points.

Bears at Bengals (-6.5)The Bengals came close to beating the Steelers on Monday night, but RB Joe Mixon left the game early with an injury and may miss this week’s game with the Bears. That shouldn’t prevent the Bengals from winning the game, however.

Packers at Browns (+3.5) – This could be Brett Hundley‘s last start as the Packers’ quarterback before Aaron Rodgers‘ potential return in Week 15. If this is Hunley’s last game, he has a relatively easy opponent in the 0-12 Browns. Browns WR Josh Gordon had a good performance in his return from his lengthy suspension last week, but he won’t be enough to help the Browns pick up their first win. I’m giving the points.

Cowboys at Giants (+4.5) – The Giants’ soap opera continued this week with the firing of head coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese. Eli Manning will return to the starting quarterback role after Geno Smith played last week. For the Cowboys, RB Alfred Morris had a big week last week. If he can follow it up with another 100-yard performance, it’ll help the Cowboys pick up a much-needed win. I’ll take the road team.

Lions at Buccaneers (+3.5) – Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston performed well in his return to the field in Week 13 but he has a tough task ahead of him to keep up with the Lions offense led by QB Matthew Stafford. I think the Lions win the game but the Bucs keep it close so I’ll take the points.

Raiders at Chiefs (-3.5) This is an important game in the AFC West race, particularly for the Chiefs, who have gone 1-6 since their 5-0 start to the season. Chiefs QB Alex Smith has regressed in recent weeks and if the Chiefs fall out of the playoff picture, they may choose to get a look at backup QB Patrick Mahomes. This game could go either way so I’ll take the points with the Raiders, who I’m also picking to win the game outright.

Vikings at Panthers (+2.5) – The Vikings are looking to stay alive in the race for the top seed in the conference as QB Case Keenum leads them into Charlotte to take on the Panthers and QB Cam Newton, who faces a tough test against a Vikings defense that ranks among the best in the NFL. I think the Vikings D will be too much for the Panthers to overcome and the Vikes will pick up their 11th win of the season. I’ll give the points.

49ers at Texans (-2.5)49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo did well in his first start for the team last week and he’ll try to follow that up with another good game against the Texans. He’s going against a better opposing quarterback than last week, though, in Tom Savage, who has improved in recent weeks compared to when he first took over as the starter when Deshaun Watson suffered his season-ending injury several weeks ago. I think the Texans win the game and cover at home.

Sunday 4PM games

Jets at Broncos (+0.5) – The Broncos have lost their last eight games and now face a Jets team that is looking for a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Jets QB Josh McCown has had some good games in the last few weeks and I think he’ll be able to continue that streak this week against a Broncos defense that has regressed of late. I’ll go with the Jets on the road.

Titans at Cardinals (+2.5) – I don’t think the Titans are as good as their 8-4 record would indicate they are, with QB Marcus Mariota having a down year. The Cardinals, however, are beset by injuries that are forcing QB Blaine Gabbert to continue to start and RB Adrian Peterson is expected to miss another game due to injury. The Cardinals offense just isn’t very good as it currently stands, aside from WR Larry Fitzgerald, so I have to go with the Titans.

Redskins at Chargers (-6.5) – The Chargers are trying to keep pace in the three-way race for the AFC West title against a Redskins team that will again be without oft-injured TE Jordan Reed. I think the Chargers win the game, but I think it’ll be relatively close so I’ll go with the Redskins to cover.

Eagles at Rams (-2.5) – The Eagles stayed on the West Coast after last week’s loss to the Seahawks to avoid having to take two cross-country flights this week, which they hope benefits them in this game between two teams hoping to get first-round byes in the NFC playoffs. i think the Eagles are a slightly better team and I trust Carson Wentz a little more than Jared Goff at quarterback, so I think the Eagles will win the game outright. Given that, I’m taking the points on the road.

Seahawks at Jaguars (-2.5) – The Jaguars will have to be at the top of their game to win this game because Jacksonville’s offense can’t match up with the Seahawks. Despite some notable injuries, the Seahawks still have a decent offense that will likely be able to shut down Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, leaving it up to RB Leonard Fournette to lead the offensive attack. I don’t think he’ll be able to do enough to get the win for his team. Seahawks win outright so I’ll take the points again.

Sunday Night Football

Ravens at Steelers (-5.5) – The games in this divisional rivalry are usually close and the Steelers almost lost on Monday night so the Bengals, who aren’t as good as the Ravens, so I expect this game to be decided by about a field goal or so. I’m taking the Ravens, but I think the Steelers win the game.

Monday Night Football

Patriots at Dolphins (+11.5) The Patriots will be without TE Rob Gronkowski on Monday night as he serves a one-game suspension for a late hit in last week’s game, which puts the offense at a disadvantage. QB Tom Brady still has some good targets to throw to, including WR Brandin Cooks, and the Patriots should still win the game even without Gronk. On the road in Miami, though, I think 11.5 is too many points so I’ll take the points with the Dolphins.

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My NFL Picks Week 13: Two of the NFC’s best teams meet when the Eagles visit the Seahawks

There are some big games scheduled for this week in the NFC with playoff contenders playing each other, with the Vikings visiting the Falcons, the Saints hosting the Panthers and the Eagles meeting the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. The week starts, however, with a matchup of disappointing NFC East teams when the Cowboys host the Redskins. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 95-81 for the season. 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

Redskins at Cowboys (-1.5) – It’s surprising to see the Cowboys favored in this game. They have failed to score more than nine points in each of their last three games, and the Dallas offense has not looked good without RB Ezekiel Elliott, who is in the midst of serving his six-game suspension. Even though it’s a Thursday game, neither team is on a short week because both teams played on Thanksgiving so being on the road midweek shouldn’t be an issue for the Redskins. I expect Washington to win outright, so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Vikings at Falcons (-2.5) – The Vikings take a seven-game win streak into Atlanta to take on the defending NFC champion Falcons, who haven’t been the same team this season. The Vikings offense has performed well behind QB Case Keenum, but the defense has also played a big role in the team’s success this season. On the other side, Falcons WR Julio Jones had his best game of the year, with a 253-yard, two-touchdown performance. The teams are pretty evenly matched, but I think the Vikings may be slightly better so I’ll take the points.

Patriots at Bills (+8.5) – Tyrod Taylor is back at quarterback for the Bills, but that won’t help them much against the Patriots, with QB Tom Brady leading the offense and a strong defense. I expect the Patriots to win big so I’ll take,the road team.

49ers at Bears (-3.5) – The 49ers have announced that QB Jimmy Garoppolo will make his first start for the team, which is a difficult task against a pretty good Bears defense. The Bears offense, on the other hand, has struggled this season behind QB Mitch Trubisky. With Garoppolo getting the start for the 49ers, though, I think the Bears will be able to score enough to win and barely cover.

Broncos at Dolphins (-0.5)This is a meeting of two teams who have not done well this season. Dolphins QB Jay Cutler is out of the concussion protocol and is expected to start after Matt Moore played last week. QB Brock Osweiler is expected to draw the start once again for the Broncos, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for them. I’ll give the home team the advantage and go with the Dolphins.

Lions at Ravens (-2.5) – The Ravens beat the Texans on Monday night but face a better offense this week with the LIons and QB Matthew Stafford. I don’t think Ravens QB Joe Flacco will be able to score enough to keep the Ravens in the game so I’ll take the LIons with the points.

Buccaneers at Packers (-2.5) Packers QB Brett Hundley played perhaps his best game of the season last week, barely losing to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. For the Buccaneers, QB Jameis Winston has been named the starter, returning to action after Ryan Fitzpatrick has started in his absence for the last few games. I don’t think the Bucs are very good right now and Winston will probably be rusty and not at 100% so I’ll reluctantly take the Packers at Lambeau.

Texans at Titans (-6.5) – With injuries to QB Deshaun Watson and DE J.J. Watt, the Texans aren’t a great team right now and they’re facing the first-place team in their division this week. Titans QB Marcus Mariota hasn’t been good this year, but he’s still better than his counterpart, Tom Savage, so I expect the Titans to win and I think they can be a touchdown better so I’ll give the points.

Colts at Jaguars (-9.5) – The other two AFC South teams are meeting in this game, with the Jaguars nearly double-digit favorites. After losing to the Cardinals last week, I’m not confident that Blake Bortles and the Jaguars will be able to cover that type of spread despite having one of the best defenses in the league. I’ll go with the Colts.

Chiefs at Jets (+3.5)- The Chiefs have lost three straight and five of their last six after beginning the season 5-0. I think they get back on track against the Jets. The defense should be able to keep the Jets offense from scoring a lot, which means Chiefs QB Alex Smith won’t be much of a handicap for the team if he keeps playing the way he has been of late. Give me the Chiefs on the road.

Sunday 4PM games

Browns at Chargers (-13.5) – It’s Week 13 but the Browns are still looking for their first win of the season. A few weeks ago, I would have thought they could get it against the Chargers, but they have been playing better of late so I’m not so sure the Browns will be able to pull off the win on the road. One thing working in Cleveland’s favor is the fact that they will have WR Josh Gordon for the first time since Week 16 of the 2014 season. With nearly three full years since the last time he played in a regular season NFL game, I’m not sure if Gordon will be able to play at the level he did before he started facing suspensions by the league. I think QB Philip Rivers will lead the Chargers to victory, but I don’t think they can win by two touchdowns to cover the spread so I’ll take the points despite expecting the Browns to fall to 0-12.

Giants at Raiders (-6.5) This will be the first regular season Giants game since Week 10 of the 2004 season to be started by a quarterback other than Eli Manning after the team announced that it will bench the veteran — ending his consecutive starts streak at 210, the second longest in NFL history behind Brett Favre — in favor of Geno Smith, making his first start since Week 7 of last season. The Raiders will be shorthanded on offense, with WR Michael Crabtree suspended for the game and WR Amari Cooper likely missing the game due to injury. If the receivers can’t go, that gives the Giants a better shot to win the game, but I don’t think Smith can be trusted to play well enough to win. I’ll go with the Raiders.

Rams at Cardinals (+6.5) – Both teams are coming off of wins last weekend, but the Rams’ victory over the Saints was more impressive than the Cardinals barely pulling off the upset of the Jaguars. The Rams are clearly the better team and I don’t think the game will be that close. I’ll give the points.

Panthers at Saints (-3.5)It’ll be a tough test for Panthers QB Cam Newton to keep up with the strong Saints offense led by QB Drew Brees and impressive rookie RB Alvin Kamara in this key game in the NFC South race. The Saints are the better overall team and I think they’ll be able to cover.

Sunday Night Football

Eagles at Seahawks (+5.5) – The Eagles, who are among the best teams in the league, head to take on a Seahawks team with a defense that has been depleted by injuries. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will have to have a tremendous game to be able to keep up with Eagles QB Carson Wentz, and I don’t think he’ll be able to do it.,Go with the Eagles.

Monday Night Football

Steelers at Bengals (+6.5) – The Steelers barely got passed the Packers last week but I don’t think they’ll have such troubles with the Bengals on Monday night. I think Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell are too good and the Bengals offense won’t be able to score enough points to keep the game close, despite last week’s breakout performance by RB Joe Mixon. I’m giving the points on the road.

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My NFL Picks Week 12: Saints-Rams leads a weak Thanksgiving weekend

With byes done for the year, there are full 16-game slates each week the rest of the year. This week features the now-traditional three games on Thanksgiving, including a battle of the top two teams in the NFC North. The game of the week, however, is looking to be Drew Brees leading the Saints to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in a game between two of the top teams in the NFC. Most of the rest of this week’s schedule features either mismatches or games involving two teams that are already out of the playoff hunt. I went 8-6 last week, giving me an overall record of 88-72 for the season. 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

Thanksgiving

Vikings at Lions (+2.5) – The Vikings are coming off an impressive win against the Rams and are looking to maintain their division lead over the Lions, which currently stands at two games. They’re facing a road game on a short week, but I think QB Case Keenum and the Vikings will be able to full up the victory by at least a field goal, so I’ll give the points.

Chargers at Cowboys (-0.5) – The Chargers won’t score more than 50 points again this week because Cowboys QB Dak Prescott won’t throw five interceptions in a half like Bills QB Nathan Peterman did last week. The Cowboys offense, however, hasn’t looked good the last couple of weeks with RB Ezekiel Elliott serving his six-game suspension. Things should be better for the Cowboys on Thursday if OT Tyron Smith can play to help shore up the offensive line. Even if he misses another game, though, I think the Cowboys will have just enough offense to beat the Chargers at home.

Giants at Redskins (-7.5) – The Redskins gave up a lead last week to lose to the Saints, while the Giants secured their second win of the season by beating the Chiefs, who are on the decline, despite needing overtime to score 12 points. Despite those Week 11 results, I expect the Redskins to win this divisional game rather easily with the lowly Giants hitting the road on a short week. I’ll give the 7.5 points.

Sunday 1PM games

Buccaneers at Falcons (-8.5) – The Buccaneers will be without QB Jameis Winston for a third straight game, giving Ryan Fitzpatrick another opportunity to start — which could actually be beneficial for the Bucs. I don’t think they’ll be able to score enough points to beat the Falcons and QB Matt Ryan, but I think Fitzpatrick can keep it relatively close. l’ll take the points but expect the Falcons to win the game.

Bills at Chiefs (-9.5) – Both teams are coming off bad losses, with the Bills having lost by 30 to the Chargers, and the Chiefs losing in overtime to a Giants team that had just one win at the time. As of the time of this writing, the Bills have not yet announced if they’ll give Peterman another start or go back to QB Tyrod Taylor as the starter. They should do the latter as he is clearly the better quarterback and is more likely to keep the Bills in the game. But regardless of who gets the start for Buffalo, I find it hard to give so many points with the Chiefs against any team right now after they scored just nine points a week ago, so I’ll take the points with the Bills.

Bears at Eagles (-13.5) – The Eagles continued to roll last week, with QB Carson Wentz helping them improve to a 9-1 record on the season, and I don’t see the Bears giving them much of a challenge this week. I think 13.5 points is a little too high, though, so I’ll pick the Eagles to win the game but I expect the Bears to keep it within 13.5 points.

Browns at Bengals (-8.5) After losing their first 10 games, the Browns are still looking for their first win and this could be one of their best chances to get it as they take on a mediocre Bengals team. Even against the Browns, I find it hard to envision the Bengals winning by at least a nine-point margin so I’ll take the Browns to cover the spread but they’ll likely fall to 0-11.

Titans at Colts (+3.5) – Both teams have had an extended period of rest coming into this game, with the Titans coming off a Thursday night game last week while the Colts had their bye in Week 11. With those extended periods between games, both teams have had plenty of time to prepare for the game. I think that gives the Titans the advantage since they are the better team. Although QB Marcus Mariota hasn’t had a great season, he’s still better than Colts QB Jacoby Brissett and should be able to lead the team to a win. The spread is only 3.5 points so I think the Titans will be able to cover it.

Dolphins at Patriots (-16.5) – This is one of the biggest spreads you’ll ever see in an NFL game. There is uncertainty about who will start at quarterback for the Dolphins with Jay Cutler in the league’s concussion protocol, opening the possibility for Matt Moore to get the start against a tough Patriots team. The Patriots are certainly going to win the game behind QB Tom Brady, but I don’t like giving so many points so I’ll take the points and hope the Dolphins don’t get completely blown out.

Panthers at Jets – The Jets are just 1-4 in their last five games after starting the season 3-2 and they continue to fall out of the playoff race. i expect that decline to continue this week when they face a Panthers team that is fighting for the lead in the NFC South. QB Cam Newton should lead the road team to a win, and I think it’ll be by at least a touchdown so I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Seahawks at 49ers +6.5) – The Seahawks are coming off a tough loss to the Falcons but they should be able to rebound this week against the 49ers. The Seahawks defense is depleted due to injuries, including season-ending maladies for CB Richard Sherman and S Kam Chancellor, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against the 49ers. I think the Seahawks cover.

Broncos at Raiders (-5.5) – The Broncos have announced that QB Paxton Lynch will get the start on Sunday against a Raiders defense that has yet to record an interception this season. Facing a subpar defense may help Lynch have a decent performance, but it probably won’t be enough to win the game. I think the Broncos will keep it relatively close, though, so I’ll take the points.

Saints at Rams (-2.5) – The Saints continued their winning ways last week, coming back to beat the Redskins and extend their winning streak to eight games. The Rams, on the other hand, only scored seven points against a Vikings defense. Rams QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley will have a better chance at success this week against an improved but still not great Saints defense. I don’t think Goff will be able to outplay Brees, however, and I expect the future Hall of Famer to lead New Orleans to a road victory. The Saints are getting points so I’ll take them.

Jaguars at Cardinals (+4.5) – The surprising Jaguars have been leaning on their defense all season to win games, and that will likely continue this week with the Cardinals expected to give QB Blaine Gabbert his second straight start. Neither offense is very good and the Jags defense is the best unit in the game, which I’m expecting to be the difference. I’m giving the points.

Sunday Night Football

Packers at Steelers (-13.5) – The Packers were shut out by the Ravens last week, and with Brett Hundley at quarterback they likely don’t have much of a chance to beat the Steelers at Heinz Field in a primetime contest. Keeping that in mind, 13.5 points is a big spread, especially with the Steelers having a tendency to play down to opponents who aren’t very good. I think the Steelers will win the game by about 10, but I think 13.5 points is a little too many so I’ll take the Packers.

Monday Night Football

Texans at Ravens (-6.5) – Texans QB Tom Savage had his first career two-touchdown game last week and, while he’s not very good, he has some offensive help, notably with WR DeAndre Hopkins, who can help him put some points on the board. The Ravens don’t have a strong offense themselves so I think this will be a pretty close game. I’ll take the points.

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