Tag Archives: AFC South

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Tennessee Titans

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we conclude our look at the AFC South with the Tennessee Titans, who finished in second place in the division last season.

The Titans are coming off their first season above .500 since 2011, but a late-season injury to QB Marcus Mariota derailed their hopes for a playoff appearance. Mariota is recovered and ready for the season, and he’ll have new weapons to throw to with the offseason addition of WRs Corey Davis — the No. 5 overall draft pick out of Western Michigan — and Eric Decker, who the Titans signed after he was released by the Jets. They’ll join returning WR Rishard Matthews, who is coming off a career year.

In the 15 games he played last season, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 9 interceptions. Matthews had 65 receptions for 945 yards and 9 touchdowns. TE Delanie Walker wasn’t far behind Matthews; in 10 games, he also caught 65 passes for 800 yards and 7 touchdowns. Decker played in just three games with the Jets last year but averaged a respectable 21.6 yards per reception in the limited sample size. RB DeMarco Murray carried the ball 293 times for 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns, adding 53 catches for an additional 377 yards and 3 touchdowns. RB Derrick Henry, No. 2 on the depth chart, had 110 carries for 490 yards and 5 touchdowns. In total, the offense ranked in the top half of the league in points scored, and the defense also ranked in the top half of the NFL in points allowed.

Adding the likes of Decker and Davis to an offense that already includes Matthews and Walker gives the Titans with an offense that has a chance to compete with just about any other team in the league. The defense was middle-of-the-pack or so last year so even a slight improvement on that side of the ball should give the team an even better chance to win games. In a division like the AFC South that doesn’t have a Patriots-esque team that’s expected to be significantly better than the others, the Titans have a legitimate shot at winning their first division title since 2008.

The Titans open the season at home to take on the Raiders. Their schedule then brings them to Jacksonville to do battle with the Jaguars in Week 2. The Seahawks come to Nashville in Week 3, and road games against the Texans and Dolphins follow in the next two weeks. The Titans’ first primetime game comes in Week 6, when they host the Colts on Monday night. A visit to the Browns is next, followed by a Week 8 bye. After the bye, the Titans have three straight games against AFC North foes, starting with a home game against the Ravens in Week 9. That’s followed with another home tilt against the Bengals, then a Thursday nighter at the Steelers in Week 11. The Titans stay on the road for Week 12, taking on the Colts, before hosting the Texans in Week 13. After another stretch of three games against teams from one division — this time the NFC West — the Titans finish the season at home against the Jaguars in Week 17. I’m thinking they’ll win nine or 10 games and again be in contention for a playoff spot in late December.

Source: http://www.titansonline.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Jacksonville Jaguars

Moving on with the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days, today it is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished in last place in the division last season.

A lot of people thought the Jaguars were going to take a step forward last season and have a shot at winning the division. Not only did that not happen, but the Jaguars actually took a step backward. After going 5-11 in 2015, they went 3-13 in 2016. This offseason, they traded TE Julius Thomas to the Dolphins for T Branden Albert while their big move in free agency was signing CB A.J. Bouye, who had a breakout season last year with the Texans. In the draft, the Jaguars went with LSU RB Leonard Fournette with the No. 4 overall pick. That selection is probably a sign that the team wants to put an emphasis on the running game and not rely so much on QB Blake Bortles, something that head coach Doug Marrone has also hinted at.

Like the team, Bortles regressed last year compared to 2015, completing less than 59 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns — 12 fewer than the year before — with 16 interceptions. WR Allen Robinson led the team with 73 receptions for 883 yards and 6 touchdowns. WR Marqise Lee caught 63 balls for 851 yards and 3 touchdowns. RBs T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory put up similar stats, with Yeldon totaling 130 rushes for 465 yards and 1 touchdown, adding 50 receptions for 312 yards and 1 touchdown. Ivory carried the ball 117 times for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. Overall, the offense ranked 25th in points scored and the defense allowed the eighth-most points in the NFL.

Fournette could be the key to the Jags’ offense this season. If he has a good rookie campaign, the team should be improved. Ivory and Yeldon will be backing him up, providing a veteran presence able to give him some rest. The more Fournette can carry the ball, the less Bortles will have to throw it. When Bortles does pass it, though, he has some good receivers on the team if he can get the ball to them. Overall, though, the offense will likely be in the bottom half of the league again and have to rely on the defense to keep the teams in games. The defense should be better this year than it was last year, but I’m not sure the improvement will be enough to keep the Jaguars in the conversation for a possible playoff run.

The Jaguars begin their schedule with two divisional games, at the Texans in Week 1 and hosting the Titans in Week 2. After that, they head to London to take on the Ravens in Week 3. When they return stateside, they visit the Jets in Week 4 and then the Steelers in Week 5. They get their first true home game in nearly a month in Week 6 when the Rams visit. The Jags then visit the Colts in Week 7, followed by a Week 8 bye. They come back from the week off to host the Bengals in Week 9. They later visit the Cardinals in Week 12, then host the Colts in Week 13. They host the Seahawks in Week 14 and have a third straight home game in Week 15, their second game with the Texans. Their final game of the season is in Nashville to take on the Titans in Week 17. I’m thinking the Jaguars will win four or five games this season, a little better than last year but still not good.

Source: http://www.jaguars.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Indianapolis Colts

Next up in the AFC South as part of our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days, is the Indianapolis Colts, who finished in third place last season.

The Colts are coming off of consecutive .500 seasons after three straight playoff appearances from 2012-2014. With QB Andrew Luck dealing with a shoulder injury in preseason and questions about whether he’ll be ready to take the field for Week 1, the Colts may be looking at another disappointing season in 2017. The team traded TE Dwayne Allen to the Patriots in March, leaving TE Jack Doyle as the top guy at the position. As for players joining the team, the Colts tried to bolster their defense by signing DT Johnathan Hankins and a couple smaller signings in LBs Jonathan Bostic and Barkevious Mingo. They also went with defensive picks in the first two rounds of the draft, selecting Ohio State S Malik Hooker and Florida CB Quincy Wilson. Offensively, the team added to its receiver depth by signing WR Kamar Aiken.

Luck played in 15 games last season, throwing for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, a nice comeback season after missing much of 2015 with injuries. WR T.Y. Hilton led the receivers with 91 receptions for 1,448 yards and 6 touchdowns. Doyle was next with 59 catches for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns. WRs Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief had 33 and 30 receptions, respectively in seven starts apiece. RB Frank Gore carried the ball 263 times for 1,025 yards and 4 touchdowns, in addition to 38 receptions for 277 yards and 4 receiving touchdowns. Backup RB Robert Turbin only had 47 attempts but made the most of them with 7 rushing touchdowns. The offense ranked in the top 10 in both points scored and yards gained last season, but the defense allowed the third-most yards and was in the bottom third of the league in points allowed.

Luck’s health will be important for the Colts to have a good season. He is currently on the PUP list, but the team said he should not still be on the list to start the season — which would require him to sit out the first six games — but that doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go in Week 1. QB Scott Tolzien is Luck’s backup; he threw for 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions in his lone start last season. If Luck is able to play for most of the season, the passing game should be fine with some good receivers for him to pass to, with Doyle likely getting more involved in the offense with Allen now in New England. The running game, however, is a question mark with Gore now 34 and a veteran who has gotten a lot of reps in the league and due to start breaking down sooner rather than later, as most players do. Turbin, the likely No. 2 on the depth chart, has never had more than 80 rushes in a season. And the defense will have to do better than last season to help keep the team in games in prevent the offense from being forced to put a lot of points on the board to win games.

The schedule has the Colts starting the season in Los Angeles to play the Rams in Week 1, then head home to take on the Cardinals in Week 2. The Colts visit the Seahawks in the Sunday night game in Week 4. Their first divisional game comes in Week 6, playing at the Titans on Monday Night Football. Another divisional foe follows when the Colts host the Jaguars in Week 7. The Colts are at the Bengals in Week 8 and at the Texans in Week 9. They then host the Steelers in Week 10 before getting a late bye in Week 11. They host the Titans coming off the bye in Week 12. They get a Thursday night game in Week 15 when they host the Broncos, then finish the season at the Ravens in Week 16 and hosting the Texans in Week 17. I’m projecting the Colts to be right around .500 for a third straight season, maybe finishing the year at 9-7.

Source: http://www.colts.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Houston Texans

We move on to the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), with the Houston Texans, who won the division last season.

The Texans’ offseason centered around QB Brock Osweiler for the second straight season — last year for signing him to a big-money contract, this year for being able to trade him after a mediocre season. With Osweiler now on the Browns, the Texans decided to trade up in the draft to make Clemson QB Deshaun Watson their first-round pick, and he will compete with QB Tom Savage for the starting job. Whoever gets the nod will be without a key piece of the offense for the first half of the season after WR Will Fuller broke his collarbone early in training camp, which is expected to cause him to miss up to three months. The defense was among the league’s best last season — and that was with DE J.J. Watt not playing after Week 3. With him back and expected to be healthy, the defense should be even better than it was in 2016. The defense will, however, be without veteran NT Vince Wilfork, who retired, and CB A.J. Bouye, who went to the division-rival Jaguars in free agency. Veteran T Duane Brown has yet to report to camp as he holds out in an attempt to get more money, but he will likely to join the team before the regular season begins.

Osweiler started most of the Texans’ games at quarterback last season, with Savage starting two games and playing in three overall. He went 46-for-73 on pass attempts for 461 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass — or an interception — in his limited playing time. WR DeAndre Hopkins was the team’s best receiver, but his production was limited given the team’s quarterback play. He had 78 receptions for 954 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz became a favorite target of Osweiler, who liked to throw short passes his way, and he caught 54 balls for 559 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE Ryan Griffin went 50 for 442 with 2 touchdowns. Fuller played in 14 games and caught just 47 passes — partially due to his tendency to drop passes — for 635 yards and 2 touchdowns. RB Lamar Miller carried the majority of the workload on the ground, with 268 yards for 1,073 yards and 5 touchdowns in 14 games; he also caught 31 passes for 188 yards. Backup RB Alfred Blue totaled 420 rushing yards on 100 attempts, scoring 1 touchdown in the process. In his final season at Clemson, Watson completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, though college stats don’t always translate well to the NFL because collegiate competition often isn’t to the level that it is in the NFL. The offense was tied for the fourth-fewest points scored last season, but the defense was the top-ranked team in terms of yards allowed and 11th in points allowed.

No matter who gets the bulk of the starts under center — and it’s looking like Savage will get first crack at it in Week 1 — will almost certainly perform better than Osweiler did last year. With Fuller likely out for about half the season, other wide receivers will have to step up their game, so expect WRs Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong to see increased reps and targets, with Fiedorowicz probably continuing to be an important part of the passing game. Lamar Miller is still the starting running back, but Blue may lose some of his work as the backup with the Texans having drafted Texas RB D’Onta Foreman in the third round. As the season goes on, he should see an increased workload as he gets more entrenched in the system as he goes through his rookie season. If Watt and DE Jadeveon Clowney can both stay healthy and on the field together — which hasn’t been the case much in Clowney’s first three seasons in the league — the defense should again be a formidable unit and among the best in the league.

The schedule opens with a divisional battle at home against the Jaguars, then the Texans head to Cincinnati for Week 2 to take on the Bengals on Thursday night. Then, for the second straight year, the Texans play at the Patriots in Week 3 as they look to avenge their playoff loss against the eventual Super Bowl LI champs. They go back home to play the Titans in Week 4. They could face off against Osweiler when they host the Browns in Week 6. Their bye follows that game, then it’s off to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in Week 8. The Texans host the Colts in Week 9 and the Cardinals in Week 11. They’re on Monday Night Football in Week 12 when they play at the Ravens, then stay on the road for their second game against the Titans in Week 13. They host the Steelers in Week 16 for a nationally televised game on Christmas Day, and the Texans finish the season on the road in Week 17 to take on the Colts. Obviously the quarterback play will affect how many games the Texans win, but with their stout defense I can see them getting double-digit wins with just decent quarterback play.

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

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My NFL Picks Wild Card Playoffs: Giants-Packers highlights a weekend full of backup quarterbacks

After 17 weeks of the regular season, the NFL playoffs have arrived with 12 teams hoping to end up in Houston on Feb. 5 to play in Super Bowl LI, although just a handful or so have a realistic chance of making it there. There’s not a lot of star power in the wild card round, with teams like the Patriots and Cowboys having earned first-round byes. The best matchup of the weekend figures to be the last game of the weekend slate, when the Giants head to Green Bay to take on the NFC North champion Packers. Two of the other three games each feature at least one backup or third-string quarterback getting a start. During the regular season, I finished with a 129-127 record against the spread (and 156-98-2 picking games straight up).

Saturday

No. 5 seed Oakland Raiders (12-4, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed Houston Texans (9-7, AFC South champions) (-3.5, over/under 36.5)

For the second straight season, the Texans won the AFC South with a 9-7 record and host the first game of the postseason. It didn’t go well last season, when they got shut out by the Chiefs, 30-0. This time, they’ll play the Raiders, who are going to start third-string QB Connor Cook. QB Matt McGloin started in Week 17, filling in for QB Derek Carr, who suffered a broken leg a week earlier. McGloin left the game with a shoulder injury, though, so he will not be ready for action this week, setting Cook up to make his first career start in the NFL. The Texans quarterback situation is also a mess. QB Tom Savage started the last couple of games, but he had to leave Sunday’s game as he entered the concussion protocol and did not return to the game after that. That let QB Brock Osweiler, who was benched for Savage earlier in the season, get back in the game. At this time, Osweiler is expected to start for the home team.

Neither team is likely going to be able to rely on its running game, either. RB Latavius Murray is the Raiders’ leading rusher, but he totaled just 788 yards on the ground in 14 games. Texans starting RB Lamar Miller missed the last two games with injury but is expected to be ready to go this weekend. If healthy he can have a good game, but his health is a question mark. The Raiders likely have the advantage in the receiving game, with WRs Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper each having amassed more than 1,000 receiving yards. Subpar quarterback play limited the production of the Texans’ receivers, with WR DeAndre Hopkins leading the way with 954 yards but just 4 touchdowns. Rookie WR Will Fuller V showed promise at times, hauling in 47 catches for 635 yards and 2 touchdowns. If Osweiler starts, look out for TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, who is Brock’s favorite target not named Hopkins. Fiedorowicz had 559 yards and 4 touchdowns on 54 receptions, second only to Hopkins.

The biggest discrepancy between the teams comes on the defensive side of the ball. Even without DE J.J. Watt, who hasn’t played since Week 3, the Texans have one of the best defenses in the league, while the Raiders were in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and in the bottom 10 in yards against. With the teams expected to struggle to score points with the quarterbacks who will be starting for them, defense will likely be the X factor in this game, which is why I give the Texans have the overall advantage. In a rematch of the Mexico City game from Week 11, I’ll take the Texans to win the game, 16-10, so I’ll take the Texans (-3.5) and under the 36.5 total.

No. 6 seed Detroit Lions (9-7, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1, NFC West champions) (-8, over/under 43.5)

Losing to the Packers on Sunday night forced the Lions on the road in Seattle instead of hosting a playoff game as the NFC North champions. This quarterback matchup is the opposite of the early game, with two quarterbacks who have strong track records over several seasons in the league. For the Lions, QB Matthew Stafford threw for 4,327 yards and 24 touchdowns with a career-low 10 interceptions. On the other side, QB Russell Wilson was inconsistent over the course of the season but got better as the season progressed and he got over some injuries that nagged him early in the season. He threw for 4,219 yards and 21 touchdowns with a career-worst 11 interceptions, although he ended the season without throwing a pick in the last two games. Overall, the two teams are pretty evenly matched at the quarterback position.

Injuries caused both teams’ running backs to significantly underperform. No back carried the ball more than 92 times for the Lions. That was RB Theo Riddick, who hasn’t played since Week 13. RB Zach Zenner was the LIons’ best running back late in the season, starting the final two games and scoring 3 touchdowns on 32 rushes. Despite being limited to nine games, RB Thomas Rawls led the Seahawks’ rushing attack, with 109 carries for just 349 yards and 3 touchdowns. Both teams had more success through the air, with each squad having a 1,000-yard receiver. For the Lions, it was WR Golden Tate, who had 91 receptions for 1,077 yards and 4 touchdowns. Veteran WR Anquan Boldin also had a good season; he had 8 touchdowns on 67 receptions. For Seattle, WR Doug Baldwin led the way 94 catches for 1,128 yards and 7 touchdowns. TE Jimmy Graham had 65 receptions for 923 yards and 6 touchdowns in a comeback season after playing in just 11 games in 2015.

The Seahawks have the advantage defensively, ranking in the top five for the season in both points and yards allowed. Even without S Earl Thomas, who is on injured reserve, the Seahawks have the better defensive unit than a Lions squad that allowed 66 more points than Seattle did during the regular season. Although the Lions have a good offense, I think the Seahawks will be up to the challenge and that should be the difference in the game. People say defense wins championships, and I think it’ll win this game for the NFC West champs. Seahawks win the game, 27-20, so I’ll take the Lions with the points and over the 43.5 total.

Sunday

No. 6 seed Miami Dolphins (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5, AFC North champions) (-10, over/under 46)

Heinz Field will be the site of the early Sunday game when the Dolphins visit the Steelers. QB Matt Moore is going to get the start for the Dolphins, as he’s done each of the last three weeks as QB Ryan Tannehill recovers from his sprained knee. The Steelers will be starting a quarterback with plenty of playoff experience, Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t have the best season of his career but is still better than the opposing quarterback. Steelers have the definite edge at the position.

The Steelers may have a slight advantage in the running game — with RB Le’Veon Bell, one of the league’s best at the position — but it’s probably the closest among the offensive skill positions. Despite being suspended for the season’s first three games and not playing in a meaningless Week 17 game, Bell ran for 1,268 yards and 7 touchdowns in 12 games. Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi had similar numbers — 1,272 yards and 8 touchdowns — also in 12 starts. A large chunk of Ajayi’s production, however, came in just a few games when he had back-to-back games of 200-plus yards in Weeks 6 and 7, with a third 200-yard performance in Week 16. Outside of those three weeks, his stats don’t look overly impressive. In the receiving game, WR Jarvis Landry led the Dolphins with 94 receptions, 1,136 yards and 4 touchdowns. But the Steelers again have the advantage at this position with WR Antonio Brown –perhaps Pittsburgh’s best offensive player — catching 106 balls for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns despite not playing in Week 17. Bell is also a key part of the receiving core; he was second on the team with 75 receptions on the season, adding 616 yards and 2 touchdowns to complement his rushing numbers.

Although neither team’s defense is particularly noteworthy, the Steelers also have the better unit on that side of the ball, having given up 53 fewer points during the season than the Dolphins did. And the Dolphins allowed the fourth-most yards in the league, which isn’t good when you’re facing a team with Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown. Overall, the Steelers are the clear favorites and should win the game, but I think a 10-point spread is a bit much for a game like this because the Dolphins can put points on the board. I’ll take the Steelers to win the game, 32-27, so give me the Dolphins (+10) and over the 46 total.

No. 5 seed New York Giants (11-5, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed Green Bay Packers (10-6, NFC North champions) (-4.5, over/under 44.5)

Wild-card weekend concludes with a matchup of one of the league’s best defenses against one of the top offenses. The Packers won 23-16 when these teams met at Lambeau in Week 5 so the Giants are looking to avenge that loss. Giants QB Eli Manning didn’t have great season, putting up his worst numbers since 2013. He threw for 4,027 yards and 26 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, almost single-handedly led his team to the division title as he had to deal with a lack of a running game and a poor defense. He had his best season since 2011, throwing for 4,428 yards and 40 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions.

The running game wasn’t either team’s strong suit this season, although Giants RB Paul Perkins started to come on in the last couple of weeks, culminating in a career-best 102-yard performance against the Redskins in Week 17. For the Packers, WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery was the team’s leading rusher; he ran the ball 77 times for 457 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Giants have a strong one-two punch at receiver, with WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. Beckham had 101 receptions for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns while Shepard totaled 683 yards and 8 touchdowns on his 65 catches. For the Packers, WRs Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams lead the receiving core. Nelson had 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns. Adams just missed the 1,000-yard milestone; he had 997 yards and 12 touchdowns on 75 receptions.

The Giants have the advantage on defense, ranking second in the league in points allowed. Conversely, the Packers were 12th-worst in that stat, having given up 106 more points than Big Blue. And the Giants’ defense will have to perform well if they want to win the game because the offense isn’t as potent as Green Bay’s. I expect the Packers to win the game and think they’ll cover, 27-21. I’ll give the 4.5 points and go over the 44.5

Awaiting this weekend’s winners in the divisional round are the Patriots and Chiefs in the AFC and the Cowboys and Falcons in the NFC. If my picks hold up, next week’s AFC games would pit the Texans against the Patriots and Steelers taking on the Chiefs in the AFC, while the Cowboys would host the Packers with the Seahawk visiting the Falcons in the NFC.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks Week 17: The Packers and Lions play for the NFC North crown in Game 256

As we enter Week 17, most of the playoff spots have been clinched, with just some seeding up for grabs. The only playoff berths that are still to be decided are in the NFC, with the NFC North champion set to be determined in Game 256 Sunday night and the No. 6 seed also unknown to this point. The winner of the PackersLions game will win the division and the loser has a chance at the NFC’s second wild card. The Redskins have the inside edge on the final playoff spot in the conference; if they win, they’re in. All six playoff teams have been determined in the AFC, but Sunday’s results will determine whether the Raiders or Chiefs win the AFC West, with the runner-up in the division landing a wild card. With QB Matt McGloin in for injured Raiders QB Derek Carr, it appears that the Chiefs could have the inside track to winning the division and the home playoff game that comes with that. I went 10-6 last week, bringing my record to 121-119 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Sunday 1PM games

Bills at Jets (+3.5) – The Bills are coming into this game having fired head coach Rex Ryan this week, while the Jets are back to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter after QB Bryce Petty suffered an injury in last week’s blowout loss to the Patriots. The Bills have announced they’re benching QB Tyrod Taylor, for financial reasons, and starting QB EJ Manuel. I trust Fitzpatrick to have a better game than Manuel in the battle of backup quarterbacks, so I’ll take the Jets and the points.
Bears at Vikings (-5.5) – The Vikings’ season has taken a sharp turn since the team’s 5-0 start and they will miss the postseason in what began as a promising campaign. The Bears, meanwhile, have struggled all year. The way the Vikings have been playing, I”m not confident is giving this many points with them, but I’ll do it because the Bears aren’t good.
Ravens at Bengals (-2.5) – I’m surprised the Bengals, who scored 10 points last week, are favored over the Ravens, who barely missed the playoffs. I think the Ravens are demonstrably better than the Bengals so give me the points with the road team.
Browns at Steelers (-6.5) – With their win last week, the Browns avoided a winless season, but they have a tougher task this week against the Steelers. The Steelers are locked into the three seed in the playoffs and have made indications that their starters may not play — at least for the entire game. Even the Steelers’ backups should be able to beat the Browns, though, so I’ll take them.
Cowboys at Eagles (-2.5) – The Eagles being favored over the NFC’s top seed in the playoffs likely reflects the fact that the Cowboys probably won’t play their starters all game. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said QB Dak Prescott will get the start and QB Tony Romo won’t play, which means third-string QB Mark Sanchez will likely see action if/when Prescott is pulled. Regardless, if the Cowboys are getting points, I’m taking them. Give me the Cowboys.
Texans at Titans (-2.5) – The Texans are another team that is locked into their playoff seed with nothing to play for this week, which means RB Lamar Miller will in all likelihood sit out his second straight game. The Titans are going to have QB Matt Cassel under center, though, after QB Marcus Mariota suffered a fractured fibula last week. With Cassel at quarterback, the Texans defense should have a strong game and help the Texans to victory. Give me the Texans and the points.
Jaguars at Colts (-4.5) – The Jaguars are coming off of a win but they’re still not a good team and win the quarterback matchup is Blake Bortles against Andrew Luck, I find it hard to pick the team led by Bortles. I’m going to go with the Colts in this one.
Patriots at Dolphins (+9.5) Two playoff teams meet in this game pitting division rivals against each other. The Patriots are coming off a 38-point victory against the Jets last week, but they likely won’t be able to put up those types of numbers against a better Dolphins team. While the Patriots likely haven’t locked in the top seed in the AFC playoffs yet, they currently hold that spot and may not play the likes of QB Tom Brady for all four quarters. I expect the Patriots to win the game, but I’ll take the points with the Dolphins at home.
Panthers at Buccaneers (-6.5) – The Buccaneers are technically still alive for the six seed in the AFC, but they need a win and a lot of help in other games to get it. I expect this to be a close game so I’m going to go with the Panthers and the points, but I think the Bucs can win the game.

Sunday 4PM games

Saints at Falcons (-6.5)The Falcons are playing for the NFC’s No. 2 seed, which would give them a bye in the first round of the playoffs so I expect them to go all out to win the game. The Saints, on the other hand, have nothing to play for and are just finishing out the season. Falcons win the game and I’ll take them to cover the spread.
Raiders at Broncos (-1.5) – The Raiders need a win to clinch the AFC West title and the two seed in the playoffs, but that will be tough to do with McGloin replacing the injured Carr. Even though the Broncos don’t have a good offense and their defense hasn’t looked as good in recent weeks as it had earlier in the season, I’m going to go with the Broncos because I think the Raiders offense takes a significant hit with McGloin under center. 
Chiefs at Chargers (+5.5) – The Chiefs need a win, coupled with a Raiders loss, to win the division and earn a first-round bye. What stands in their way is a Chargers team that handed the Browns their first win of the season a week ago. I expect the Chiefs defense to be able to hold down a Chargers offense that is riddled with injuries so I’ll take the Chiefs and give the points in what can be the Chargers’ final home game in San Diego if the rumors of the team moving to Los Angeles are true.
Cardinals at Rams (+6.5) – The Rams’ return to Los Angeles hasn’t gone well, with the team sitting on a 4-11 record heading into the final week of the season. The Cardinals’ record isn’t much better, but I think they’re a significantly better team than the Rams. I’ll take veteran QB Carson Palmer over rookie QB Jared Goff. I’ll pick the Cardinals to cover.
Giants at Redskins (-7.5) – Giants head coach Ben McAdoo has said their starters will play even though they have nothing to play for as far as playoff positioning. The Redskins, however, are in a win-and-in situation. If they can beat their division rivals, they will earn the second wild card in the NFC. A Washington loss would open the door for the loser of the Sunday night game to grab that final playoff spot. While the Giants are saying their starters will play, who knows if they’ll do so for the whole game? I expect the Redskins to win the game — solidifying their entry in the postseason — but I think the Giants will keep it close so give me the points.
Seahawks at 49ers (+9.5) – A win would allow the Seahawks to land the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye if the Falcons lose to the Saints. It shouldn’t be hard for the Seahawks to hold up their part of that scenario facing a bad 49ers team. The question is will they win by double digits to cover the spread? I think they can as I expect a blowout in this one. I’ll take the road team.

Sunday Night Football

Packers at Lions (+3.5) – The final game of the regular season will determine who wins the NFC North and is guaranteed a playoff spot. If the Redskins lose earlier in the day, both the Packers and Lions will make it to the postseason, with the winner clinching the division and the loser getting a wild card. With both teams potentially playing for their playoff lives, you don’t have to worry about them not playing their best players as is the case with other teams. The Lions haven’t played well recently while the Packers are among the best teams in the league over the past month or so. I expect that trend to continue with QB Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers to the division title and a home playoff game. That would leave the Lions on the outside looking in at the playoffs if my prediction of the Redskins beating the Giants comes true.

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My NFL Picks Week 16: Giants, Steelers, Chiefs among teams looking to clinch playoff berths

With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, this week’s NFL schedule is different than it usually is; in addition to the typical Thursday and Monday games — the final ones of the season, as all Week 17 games are played on Sunday — the majority of the games will be played on Saturday, with just a doubleheader late Sunday afternoon and evening. A number of teams have the chance to clinch a playoff spot this week, including the Giants, Steelers and Chiefs — all of whom just need to win to guarantee themselves postseason action. Other teams that need some help to get into the playoffs this week are the Lions, Falcons, Packers, Texans and Dolphins.  I went 9-7 last week, bringing my record to 109-113 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Thursday Night Football

Giants at Eagles (+2.5) – Visiting teams typically don’t do well on Thursday nights, but it’s a quick trip from MetLife Stadium to Philadelphia so the travel shouldn’t affect the Giants too much on their short week. With the way the Giants defense has been playing over the last several weeks, I don’t expect QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles to have much success on offense. Giants win — and cover — to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

Saturday 1PM games

Falcons at Panthers (+2.5) – The Panthers looked good against the Redskins on Monday night, but I expect the Falcons to provide a tougher test for the defending NFC champions, who are barely hanging on to playoff contention. I expect QB Matt Ryan to continue leading the Falcons to another strong offensive showing and the Panthers won’t be able to keep up. Falcons cover.
Dolphins at Bills (-3.5) – I’m surprised the Bills are favored in this game. I realize QB Matt Moore will be starting for the Dolphins, but he played decently last week and it’s not like the BIlls offense has been lighting defenses up of late. I think the Dolphins win the game outright so I’m taking the points on the road.
Redskins at Bears (+2.5) – Their loss to the Panthers on Monday night knocked the Redskins out of the second Wild Card slot in the NFC, so they know there’s no room for error. I think QB Kirk Cousins and the rest of the Redskins offense will play better this week, despite a short week on the road, so I think they can do what they need to get the win over the Bears. I’ll take the visitors again.
Chargers at Browns (+6.5) – Two games is all that stands between the Browns and becoming just the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. They play the Steelers in Week 17, which means this is their last realistic chance to avoid that fate. I don’t think they’re going to do it. Especially with WR Terrelle Pryor having an injured finger, I think the Browns fall to 0-15. I do think, however, they can keep the game somewhat competitive so I’ll take them with the points.
Vikings at Packers (-6.5) – The Packers need this win to stay alive in the NFC North race. The Colts easily beat the Vikings on Sunday so even a hobbled QB Aaron Rodgers should be able to lead the Packers to victory against a Vikings team that has lost three of its last four games. I don’t expect this game to be close so I’ll take the Packers and give the points.
Titans at Jaguars (+4.5) – It’s been more than two months since the Jaguars — who fired head coach Gus Bradley after Sunday’s game — last won a game. QB Blake Bortles has been among the worst players in the league at the position this season, while Titans QB Marcus Mariota has been playing well. I expect the Titans to easily beat the Jaguars so I’ll take them to cover.
Jets at Patriots (-16.5) The Jets looked bad last week, but 16.5 points is a lot to give any team. I expect the Patriots to win this game easily, but there’s no way I can take them to cover that spread, which is among the biggest in any game this season. Patriots win, but I’ll take the points.

Saturday 4PM games

Colts at Raiders (-3.5) – The Colts are looking to stay alive in the AFC South, while the Raiders are hoping to win the AFC West and get a first-round bye in the playoffs. Despite how well the Colts played against the Vikings last week, I don’t think they’ll be able to put up the points they’ll need to beat QB Derek Carr and the Raiders. Oakland covers.
49ers at Rams (-3.5) – The 49ers haven’t won since Week 1, but the Rams seem to be getting worse as the season has progressed. This should be a tough game to watch without a lot of points being scored by the offenses. For that reason, I’ll take the 49ers with the points although I think the Rams are the better team and will win the game.
Buccaneers at Saints (-2.5) – QB Drew Brees plays well at home at the Superdome, and after putting up 48 on the road against the Cardinals last week, I think the Saints will be able to beat the Bucs this week. It’ll be a higher-scoring game than their meeting two weeks ago when the Bucs won 16-11. Go with the Saints.
Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) – The Seahawks have already wrapped up the NFC West title but are still vying for a first-round bye. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson bounced back last week from a poor showing against the Packers the week before and I think he’ll have a good game this week — after all, the Cardinals gave up 48 points last week. The Seahawks should win the game, but I don’t think they’ll cover the spread so I’ll go with the Cardinals on the road.

Saturday Night Football

Bengals at Texans (-2.5) – The Texans made a big change during last week’s game, benching offseason free-agent signee QB Brock Osweiler in favor of QB Tom Savage, who showed some promising signs, helping to lead the Texans to a comeback victory against the Jaguars. That earned him the start this week against the Bengals, who may get WR A.J. Green back from his injury. The Texans control their own destiny in the AFC South — if they win their last two games, they’re the division champs. The offense should be improved with Savage at the helm, as opposed to Osweiler. With the defense the Texans have, I think they can win this game.

Sunday Doubleheader

Ravens at Steelers (-5.5) – The first Christmas Day game could determine the AFC North champion. The Steelers, who have won their last five games, sit a game ahead of the second-place Ravens in the division and will clinch the division if they win the game. It won’t be easy against a good Ravens defense, but the Steelers have one of the better offenses in the league, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. Ravens QB Joe Flacco will have to be at the top of his game in order to lead the Ravens to a win that would keep them alive in the division race. I think the Steelers win the game but I think it’ll be close so I’ll take the points with the Ravens.

Broncos at Chiefs (-4.5) – The Chiefs suffered a tough loss against the Titans last week that could have cost them the AFC West title. They’ll get a chance at redemption against the Broncos, who have slim hopes to return to the playoffs a season after winning Super Bowl 50. I don’t think the Broncos offense will have much success against the Chiefs defense. Give me the Chiefs in this game.

Monday Night Football

Lions at Cowboys (-7.5) – The penultimate week of the regular season concludes with a battle of division leaders when the NFC North-leading Lions visit the Cowboys, who sit atop the NFC East. If the Packers lose on Saturday, a win would guarantee the division for the Lions, while the Cowboys are looking to clinch their division and earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory. Both teams rely on their offenses to win games and the Cowboys are better overall, with QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott leading the way. Because both teams have good offenses, I think it’ll be a close game so the Cowboys win but don’t cover. I’ll take the points.

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