Tag Archives: 49ers

5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Minnesota Vikings

Our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days leading up to the start of the season, continues as the NFC North comes to an end with the Minnesota Vikings, who won the division last season.

The Vikings came within a game of making it to Super Bowl LII last season, losing to the Eagles in the NFC Championship, after finishing the regular season 13-3. Despite that success, they didn’t stand pat and stick with the same team this season. Instead of doing that, they signed QB Kirk Cousins to a three-year contract, with $84 million guaranteed. He’s replacing QB Case Keenum, who was the starter for the bulk of the 2017 season. Other signings this offseason included WR Kendall Wright and DT Sheldon Richardson, That’ll help them stay atop the division and fight off an expected challenge from the Packers, who are coming off a disappointing season because of a shoulder injury to QB Aaron Rodgers.

The Vikings’ offense finished 11th in the NFL with 5,710 yards and 10th with 382 points scored last season. With the Redskins, Cousins threw for 4,093 yards — almost 900 fewer yards than 2016 — with 27 touchdowns and a career-high 13 interceptions. His favorite target was WR Adam Thielen, who had 91 receptions for 1,276 yards but just four touchdowns. WR Stefon Diggs caught 64 balls for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games, while TE Kyle Rudolph added 532 yards and eight scores on 57 catches. On the ground, RB Latavius Murray carried the ball 216 times for 842 yards and eight touchdowns. Rookie RB Dalvin Cook was limited to four games, but he ran for 354 yards and two touchdowns on 74 carries. The defense led the league in both yards and points allowed.

The schedule sees the Vikings opening at home against the 49ers before heading to Lambeau Field for a battle with the Packers in Week 2. After a Week 4 game at the Rams, the Vikings have to fly across the country to Philadelphia for a Week 5 rematch with the Eagles. They host the Saints and Lions in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively, before getting their bye in Week 10. The Vikings visit the Bears in Week 11 and host the Packers in Week 12. Next on the docket is a Week 13 matchup at the Patriots. That leads to another cross-country trip, as they play the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 14. The season wraps up with a home game against the Dolphins in Week 15, a road game against the Lions in Week 16 and a final home contest with the Bears in Week 17.

The Vikings won 13 games last season and seem to have improved their team this offseason, with Cousins in particular an improvement over Keenum. They’ll face tougher competition in the division with Rodgers’ returning from his injury for Green Bay, but the Vikings probably have a better team than the Packers, so they should repeat as division champs. The offense is improved with Cousins and there’s no reason to think the defense will take a step back after it was the best unit in the league a season ago. Cook will have an increased role in the offense, which should improve the running back if he reaches the expectations the Vikings had when they drafted him. The Vikings should win back-to-back NFC North titles this season.

Sources: http://www.vikings.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Green Bay Packers

The next NFC North team in our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Green Bay Packers, who are coming off a third-place finish in the division.

The Packers’ streak of eight straight playoff appearances ended last season, due to QB Aaron Rodgers missing most of the season with a fractured collarbone. He suffered the injury in Week 6, then only played one more game — in Week 15 — the rest of the season. Without him, the team went just 3-6 and finished 2017 with a disappointing 7-9 record, the franchise’s first sub-.500 mark since 2008. Getting a healthy Rodgers back is the biggest “acquisition” they Packers made this offseason, but as far as signings they added TE Jimmy Graham and CB Tramon Williams in free agency. The biggest loss the Packers had this offseason was WR Jordy Nelson, who they released after nine seasons with the team.

With Rodgers missing several games, the offense ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL with 4,891 yards and in the bottom half of the league with 320 points scored. In his seven starts, Rodgers threw for 1,675 yards and 16 touchdowns, with six interceptions; QB Brett Hundley put up worse numbers in more starts. WR Davante Adams was the team’s leading receiver, recording 74 receptions for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games, and WR Randall Cobb added 653 yards and four touchdowns on 66 catches in 15 games. With the Seahawks, Graham had 57 receptions for 520 yards and 10 scores. RB Jamaal Williams was the biggest part of the ground game, though his numbers weren’t that impressive; he ran the ball 153 times for 556 yards and four touchdowns. RB Aaron Jones had 448 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries in 12 games. RB Ty Montgomery was limited to eight games — five starts — and had 71 rushes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. The defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in both yards and points allowed.

The Packers get a prime-time home game to open the season, hosting the Bears at Lambeau Field in the Sunday-night game in Week 1. They have another home game in Week 2, this one coming against the Vikings. They hit the road to take on the Redskins in Week 3. Week 5 has them at the Lions, and they host the 49ers in Week 6, with a bye following that game. The Packers have two tough road tests coming out of the bye, taking on the Rams in Week 8, then flying across the country to battle the Patriots the following week. They return home to face the Dolphins in Week 10, and Graham gets a homecoming when the Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in Week 11. A road game at the Vikings is up next in Week 12. After hosting the Falcons in Week 14, the schedule appears to get easier for the Packers in the final three weeks of the season. After road games at the Bears and Jets in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, the Packers wrap up the regular season at Lambeau when they take on the Lions.

Last year’s losing record was obviously an aberration caused by Rodgers missing significant time with the collarbone injury. Getting him back will clearly help the offense, but not having Nelson could take some getting used to for Rodgers. Adding Graham to the team, though, gives the quarterback what is potentially the best tight end he has had since taking over for Brett Favre as the team’s starter. Despite a subpar defense, the offense should be good enough to get the Packers back into the 10-win range as they will likely be battling the Vikings to see which team ultimately wins the NFC North.

Sources: http://www.packers.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Detroit Lions

We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2018 season in the  NFC North with the Detroit Lions, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division last season.

The Lions are coming off of two straight 9-7 seasons and the team remains largely intact at the skill positions, other than releasing oft-injured TE Eric Ebron, who is being replaced by TE Luke Willson. They added some running-back depth, inking free-agent RB LeGarrette Blount to a contract and selecting RB Kerryon Johnson in the second round of the draft. They need all the offense they can get because they could be involved in some shootouts in a division with teams like the Vikings and Packers, who can point points on the scoreboard. They have first-year head coach joining the team in longtime Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

The Lions were in the top half of the NFL last season with 5,404 yards and their 410 points was the seventh most in the league. Those positive results on offense are largely because of QB Matthew Stafford, who had his best season since 2013 and one of the best of his career. He threw for 4,446 yards and 29 touchdowns witht 10 interceptions. WR Golden Tate led the team with 92 receptions, accumulating 1,003 yards and five touchdowns. But WR Marvin Jones had team highs with 1,101 yards and nine scores on 61 catches. Rookie WR Kenny Golladay had 28 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns in five games. RB Ameer Abdullah was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 165 times for 552 yards and four touchdowns and RB Theo Riddick had 286 yards and three touchdowns on 84 rushes. In the passing game, he caught 53 balls for 444 yards and two touchdowns. The defense ranked sixth in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed.

In Week 1, the Lions host the Jets on Monday night, then head out to San Francisco to play the 49ers. They host the Patriots in Week 3, the visit the Cowboys in Week 4. The Lions’ first divisional game comes in Week 5 when they host the Packers. Their bye follows, with a road game against the Dolphins in Week 7. They have back-to-back divisional road games in Weeks 9 and 10, taking on the Vikings and Bears, respectively. Following that, the Lions have home games against the Panthers, Bears and Rams. They face a tough last two weeks of the season, hosting the Vikings in Week 16 and heading to Lambeau Field in Week 17 to take on the Packers.

The Lions have a pretty complete team with a good offense led by Stafford and a stout defense. The running game wasn’t great last year, but the team is hoping to turn that around after drafting Johnson. Golladay should be a bigger part of the passing game in his second season in the league after missing five games with a hamstring injury last season. They’re probably around a nine- or 10-win team again this year, but that may only be good enough for third place in the division — unlike last year when the Packers had a worse-than-expected record because of QB Aaron Rodgers missing several games with an injury.

Sources: http://www.detroitlions.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Chicago Bears

We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season with the NFC North. Up first in the division is the Chicago Bears, who are coming off a last-place finish in the division last season.

It’s been a rough stretch for the Bears in recent years, having finished in last place in the NFC North for four straight seasons and not finishing better than 6-10 during that span. Their big offseason acquisition was signing WR Allen Robinson, hoping to improve upon a passing game that was the worst in the NFL in 2017. The team also signed WR Taylor Gabriel and TE Trey Burton to give QB Mitch Trubisky more offensive weapons. They went defense with their first pick in the draft, though, selecting LB Roquan Smith.

The Bears ranked 30th in the league with 4,599 yards of offense and 29th with 264 points scored. After starting last season as the backup to Mike Glennon, Trubisky ended up starting 12 games, throwing for 2,193 yards while throwing seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. RB Jordan Howard led the ground game with 276 carries for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns. RB Tarik Cohen had 370 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 87 carries, but he was almost as productive in the passing game with 53 catches for 353 yards and a touchdown. With the Falcons, Gabriel had 33 receptions for 378 yards and a touchdown in 16 games — four starts — last season and Burton had 23 catches for 248 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games, with just one start, with the Eagles. The defense was in the top 10 in the league last season in both yards and points allowed.

The Bears begin their season against their biggest rival, visiting the Packers for the Sunday night game in Week 1. Another primetime game follows when they host the Seahawks for Week 2’s Monday nighter. After games at the Cardinals and home against the Buccaneers, the Bears have an early bye in Week 5. Coming out of the bye, the Bears face the entire AFC East in four consecutive weeks — at the Dolphins, hosting the Patriots and Jets, and visiting the Bills — in Weeks 6-9. They face the Lions in Weeks 10 and 12, with a home game against the Vikings sandwiched between those. The Bears have home games against the Rams and Packers in Weeks 14 and 15, respectively, before ending the season with road games against the 49ers and Vikings.

Trubisky is going to have to put up better numbers in his sophomore season if the Bears want to avoid a fifth straight last-place finish in the North. The team spent this offseason acquiring pass-catchers who can help Trubisky succeed. If Robinson is healthy — he tore in ACL in the Jaguars’ season opener last season — he could prove to be a valuable option in the passing game for the young quarterback. In terms of talent, the Bears could be the third-best team in the division, at best, and they have a tough schedule ahead of them this season so, despite the additions they’ve made since the end of the 2017 season, I don’t see them being a .500 team. They were 5-11 last year, and that could be a good prediction for 2018 as well. With some luck, they could get to six wins, but I don’t expect better than that for the Bears this season.

Sources: http://www.chicagobears.com, http://www.pro-football-reference

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My NFL Picks Week 17: Playoff spots up for grabs, Browns look to avoid 0-16 (Updated)

It’s the final week of the 2017 NFL regular season, which means some teams are still battling for the final playoff spots, others are just playing out meaningless games, and the Browns are trying to avoid becoming just the second team in league history to go 0-16. Seven of the eight division titles have been wrapped up — only the NFC South remains in contention, along with both AFC wild cards and one wild card in the NFC. The teams that have not clinched a spot in the postseason but remain in the hunt are the Titans, Ravens, Chargers and Bills in the AFC and the Falcons and Seahawks vying for the final NFC berth.

As usual in Week 17, some teams with nothing to play for will either not play their key players or only play them for part of the game. The Chiefs have already announced QB Alex Smith will sit out and rookie QB Patrick Mahomes will make his first career start, and the Rams have said a number of starters, including QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley, will not play in their season finale. That makes picking games more difficult than usual this week, especially with teams like the Jaguars who are looked into their playoff seed but claim they’re still going to play to win this week. I went 6-10 last week, giving me an overall record of 123-117 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

Sunday 1PM games

Bears at Vikings (-12.5) – The Vikings, who are coming off a shutout of the Packers, are currently the NFC’s No. 2 seed, but could fall out of that spot — and the accompanying first-round bye — this week, so they’ll likely play their starters this week. But I think the spread could be a bit much because the Bears have a pretty good defense. I’ll take the points.

Browns at Steelers (-14.5) The 0-15 Browns need to beat the Steelers to avoid joining the 2008 Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history. I don’t think that’s going to happen, it’s just a question of how much the Steelers win by. The Steelers are locked into the No. 2 seed but could still move up to No. 1 and get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a Patriots loss. If the Patriots get a big lead on the Jets and look like they’re on pace to win by halftime, the Steelers could pull their starters in the second half, which would limit their scoring potential so I’m going to take the points.
(Update: There are reports that OL Marcus Gilbert has said that QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell will not play in the game. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t change my pick of taking the points with Cleveland.)

Cowboys at Eagles (+2.5) – The Eagles locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC when they beat the Raiders Monday night, which means they’ll probably put their backups in at some point during the game — if the likes of QB Nick Foles and RB Jay Ajayi play at all. The offense didn’t even look good on Monday with them playing, so I think the Cowboys have a pretty good chance to win the game. I’ll give the points.

Packers at Lions (-7.5)The Packers couldn’t score last week against the Vikings. The Lions defense isn’t as good but Packers QB Brett Hundley isn’t good. The Lions lost to the Bengals last week, but they should be able to beat the Packers and I’ll give the points.

Texans at Colts (-3.5) – Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons but the Texans have the best offensive player in the game with WR DeAndre Hopkins, so I’ll take the points. (Update: There are reports that Hopkins is not expected to play, but even if he sits I still think the Texans will be able to stay within a field goal, if not win outright, so I’ll keep my original pick.)

Jets at Patriots (-15.5) The Patriots need to win this game so clinch the top seed in the AFC, which they should do. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sit some of their starters late in the game, so I’ll take the points.

Redskins at Giants (+3.5) The Redskins and Giants have both been plagued by injuries this season but the Redskins seem to be handling it better. The Giants were shut out by the Cardinals last week and I don’t see them keeping this game very close. The most notable aspect of the game for the Giants is the possibility that it will be Eli Manning’s last start with the team. I’ll go with the Redskins.

Sunday 4PM games

Panthers at Falcons (-3.5) – The Panthers have already punched their ticket to the postseason and have a chance at winning the NFC South with a win and a Saints loss. They also have a shot at the No. 2 seed with a win and help. The Falcons are currently the No. 6 seed with a wild card but need to win to hold off the Seahawks, who would overtake them with a win if the Falcons lose. That means both teams are playing for something, but it’s more critical for the Falcons to get a victory. They’re at home, but I think the Panthers are the better team. I’ll take the points.

Bills at Dolphins (+2.5) – The Bills are on the outside looking in for their first playoff berth since 1999. They need a win and a Ravens loss, or other help, to get into the postseason. They’re facing a relatively easy game against the Dolphins and I think they should be able to win by about a touchdown, so I’ll give the points on the road.

Bengals at Ravens (-9.5) – The Ravens are currently the fifth seed and just need to win to clinch a spot in the playoffs. If they lose, losses by Bills or Titans would also get them in. They shouldn’t need that help, though, as I think they beat the Bengals, but I don’t think they’ll win by double digits so I’m giving the points.

Chiefs at Broncos (-3.5)- With the news that the Chiefs, who are the AFC West champions and locked in as the No. 4 seed, starting Mahomes at quarterback, you have to wonder how much their other stars — such as RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce — will play in the last game of the regular season. That gives the Broncos a better chance to win the game, but I’m still not sure they’ll be able to do it. If they do win, it probably won’t be a big margin of victory so I’ll take the points with the playoff-bound squad.

Jaguars at Titans (-5.5) – The Jaguars continue to say they’ll play to win on Sunday despite  being locked into the third seed, but given the line the oddsmakers aren’t believing them. I believe the jags will play their starters for at least the first half, which I think would be enough to win the game. Give me the points.

Raiders at Chargers (-7.5)The Chargers need a win (or tie) and help to sneak into the playoffs, and they’re playing a Raiders team with nothing to play for that didn’t have much offense on Monday night. One concern for the Chargers is the availability of RB Melvin Gordon, who suffered an ankle injury on Sunday but says he’s ready to go this week. I think the Chargers win and it probably won’t be that close.

49ers at Rams (-3.5) – The Rams can’t improve their playoff positioning beyond their current No. 3 seed and have already said that Goff, Gurley and DT Aaron Donald are among their starters who will sit for the finale, so they are clearly treating it as a preseason-type game. With the way the 49ers have played since installing Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback, and with QB Sean Mannion getting the start for the Rams, I expect the 49ers to give the Rams outright so I’m taking the points.

Saints at Buccaneers (+7.5) – The Saints simply need  a win (or Panthers loss) to clinch the division title, and I expect them to get it easily. I’ll give the points.

Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) The Seahawks need a win (or tie), combined with a Falcons loss, to earn a playoff spot. I think both of these will happen, and I don’t expect the Cardinals-Seahawks game to be that close so I’ll give the points.

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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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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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