Tag Archives: Broncos

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: Cincinnati Bengals

The second preview in our look at all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), followed by a season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2017 season features the Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a third-place finish in the AFC North last season.

A year after going 12-4, the Bengals finished the 2016 season with a disappointing 6-9-1 record, the first time they finished under .500 since going 4-12 in 2010. That poor showing didn’t prevent head coach Marvin Lewis from retaining his job, as he enters his 15th season leading the team despite not having success in the postseason. Without any free-agent signings in the offseason, the roster he coaches this season will look similar to what it was last season. Probably the most notable — and controversial — addition the Bengals made was their second-round draft pick, Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon, who had some legal troubles in college led likely led to his dropping out of the first round. They also went with offense with their first-round pick, selecting Washington WR John Ross.

QB Andy Dalton took every snap at the position last season, throwing for 4,206 yards, which was the second-highest total of his career, but a career-low 18 touchdowns. He also threw 8 interceptions, which was well below his career average of 13.5. His leading receiver was WR A.J. Green, who played only 10 games but led the team with 66 receptions and 964 yards, to go along with 4 touchdowns. WR Brandon LaFell added 64 catches for 862 yards and 6 scores. TE Tyler Eifert saw limited playing time as he dealt with an ankle injury that kept him out until Week 8. He ended up playing in eight games, catching 29 balls for 394 yards and 5 touchdowns. The ground game was dominated by RB Jeremy Hill, who ran the ball 222 times for 839 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns in 15 games, 13 starts. RB Giovani Bernard ran for 337 yards and 2 touchdowns on 91 carries in 10 games, including two starts. He added 39 receptions, including a receiving touchdown. Overall, the team was in the bottom 10 in the league, scoring 325 points, more than 200 points fewer than the league-leading Falcons. The defense, led by DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap, finished the season eighth in the league, allowing opponents to score 315 points.

If the Bengals want to have success this season, Dalton will have to throw for more touchdowns. If Green and Eifert — who each missed significant time last season –can stay on the field this season and if Ross can be NFL-ready in his rookie season, Dalton should have more success in the passing game. The team shouldn’t have issues with the running game with Hill and Bernard being one of the best running-back duos in the league. Adding Mixon at the position could help, as well, as a third back because he had first-round talent that was hindered by his infamous off-the-field actions. The core of the defense remains, with Atkins and Dunlap, so you wouldn’t expect to see much of a drop-off on that side of the ball in 2017.

The Bengals start the season with a tough schedule, hosting the Ravens in Week 1 then having a short week before getting the Texans at home for a Thursday nighter in Week 2. Week 3 sees them head to Green Bay for an interconference game with the Packers. With that three-week stretch, it’s not inconceivable that the Bengals could start the year 0-3. They get an early bye in Week 6, then head to Pittsburgh for Week 7. The Bengals visit the Broncos in Week 11 and host the Steelers in Week 13’s Monday night game. They finish the season at the Vikings in Week 15, home against the Lions in Week 16 and heading to the Ravens to end the season in Week 17. It looks like it’s going to be a tough slate of games for the Bengals, who I see being around a .500 team, which would be an improvement from last season but likely not good enough to make the playoffs. If the team does miss the playoffs for a second straight season, it might finally lead to the end of Lewis’ run as the Bengals’ head coach.

Sources: http://www.bengals.comhttp://www.pro-football-reference.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byes: none

Thanksgiving games

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

Sunday 1PM games

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

Sunday 4PM games

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

Sunday Night Football

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

Monday Night Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My NFL Picks Week 9: Broncos and Raiders battle to stay atop the AFC West

The featured game of Week 9 is the Sunday night contest, which sees the Broncos head to Oakland to take on the Raiders for first place in the AFC West; both teams are currently 6-2 on the season. Other notable games include the Eagles visiting the Giants for second place in the NFC East and the Panthers hoping to prove last week’s impressive win over the Cardinals wasn’t a fluke when they go to Los Angeles to take on the Rams, who are coming off of their bye. I had my best week of the season last week, going 9-4 to bring my record to 56-64 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: Cardinals, Bears, Bengals, Texans, Patriots, Redskins

Thursday Night Football
Falcons at Buccaneers (+3.5) – The Falcons have been one of the better offenses in the NFL this season. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston has been doing better lately, but I don’t think he can keep up with with Falcons QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones. Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers injured his foot in Sunday’s game and it isn’t looking good for him to play on the short week, which will also limit the Bucs’ chances of challenging the Falcons. I’m surprised the spread isn’t bigger. I think the Falcons easily cover.

Sunday 1PM games
Cowboys at Browns (+7.5) – The Browns are still looking for their win, but they were able to stay competitive against the Jets last week with QB Josh McCown returning from his injury. He’s the best quarterback they have on their roster so he gives the team the best chance to win. But the Cowboys aren’t the Jets and QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott should be able to continue the success they’ve had all season. Cowboys win the game, and I think they barely cover the spread.
Lions at Vikings (-6.5) – The Vikings didn’t play well in any part of the game in Monday’s loss to the Bears. Even the defense, which has been the unit on the team this season, played poorly. QB Sam Bradford‘s hot start is cooling off. Meanwhile, QB Matthew Stafford leads one of the league’s better defenses in Detroit. I think the Lions have a shot to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Jaguars at Chiefs (-8.5) – The Jaguars didn’t put up much of a fight against the Titans on Thursday night until garbage time when the game was already out of reach late. The Chiefs could be without a couple of key players on offense, though, as QB Alex Smith and RB Spencer Ware both left Sunday’s game and are going through the concussion protocol. Smith has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, which means QB Nick Foles will make his first start since Week 13 of the 2015 season. The Chiefs don’t have an explosive offense normally so I don’t expect a blowout, particularly if Ware joins Smith in missing the game. If Ware can’t go, RB Charcandrick West is expected to be the team’s lead back. Chiefs win but I don’t think they cover.
Jets at Dolphins (-3.5) – This battle of three-win AFC East teams could go either way. The Dolphins will be rested coming off their bye. Neither quarterback has been particularly good this year — the Jets even benched QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at one point for Geno Smith — but the Dolphins could have the best offensive player on either team right now, with RB Jay Ajayi, who ran for more than 200 yards in each of his last two games. The Jets offensive woes include WR Brandon Marshall, who has been disappointing of late. I think this could be a sloppy game. I’ll go with the home team.
Eagles at Giants (-2.5) – The Eagles are 1-3 on the road this season and coming off a loss to the Cowboys. Both teams are 4-3 and the winner of this game will hold sole possession of second place in the NFC East. Giants QB Eli Manning has not been good this season. Even though Eagles QB Carson Wentz has regressed since the first couple weeks of the season, he’s still been better than Manning so far and I expect that to continue this week. I’m surprised the Eagles are the underdog and I think they’ll win the game outright.
Steelers at Ravens (-.5) – QB Ben Roethlisberger is a big question mark for the Steelers, which is likely why the Ravens are favored. Roethlisberger returned to practice on Monday after missing the team’s last game, but it’s not clear if he’ll be able to play this week. If he can’t go, QB Landry Jones will get a second straight start. Even if Jones is under center, I think they can beat the Ravens outright with RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, who are among the best players at their positions. i’ll take the Steelers and the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Panthers at Rams (+3.5) – The Panthers are coming off perhaps their best game of the season, particularly with a nice defensive performance against the Cardinals. QB Cam Newton should be able to put up enough points to outscore the Rams. The Panthers are 0-3 on the road this season, but I expect them to get their first win this week and cover the spread in the process.  
Saints at 49ers (+3.5) – QB Drew Brees and the Saints don’t do nearly as well on the road as they do at home at the Superdome, but the 49ers aren’t a good team. The Saints beat the Seahawks last week and even a less-than-100% Russell Wilson is better than 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick so I think the Saints win this one relatively easily.
Colts at Packers (-6.5) – The Packers offense looked like it was back to what we’re used to seeing from it last week, with QB Aaron Rodgers throwing four touchdowns, and their offensive success should continue this week against a subpar Colts defense. The lack of a running game with RB Eddie Lacy on I shouldn’t have much of a negative effect. Packers roll the Colts at home.
Titans at Chargers (-5.5) – Despite a 19-point performance against a tough Broncos defense last week, the Chargers shouldn’t have much trouble with the Titans this week. Titans QB Marcus Mariota has done better in recent weeks, but he’s not as good as Chargers QB Philip Rivers. Titans RB DeMarco Murray got banged up in last Thursday’s game with the Jaguars so his availability for the game is up in the air. Chargers win the game but don’t cover.

Sunday Night Football
Broncos at Raiders (+.5) – This is a matchup of one of the league’s top offenses in the Raiders against one of the NFL’s best defenses in the Broncos. Both teams are 6-2, and whichever squad wins this game will be in first place in the AFC West by themselves. Even though the game is in Oakland, I think defense is going to win out in this one, with the Broncos getting the road victory over a young Raiders team that may not be ready for such a big game on national TV.

Monday Night Football
Bills at Seahawks (-7.5) – The Seahawks offense hasn’t looked good for much of this season and couldn’t even do much against a poor Saints defense on Sunday. The Seahawks will likely have to rely on their defense if they are to win this game. It’s  a long trip to the West Coast for the Bills. I think the Seahawks will find a way to win the game, but I expect it to be close so I’ll take the Bills with the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 7: Osweiler returns to Denver and the Steelers battle the Patriots without Roethlisberger

An injury in Week 6 put a damper on one of Week 7’s biggest games, with QB Ben Roethlisberger out when the Steelers host the Patriots on Sunday afternoon. The week begins with a NFC North rivalry game as the Bears visit QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. In the week’s final game, QB Brock Osweiler returns to Denver on Monday night, leading the Texans into action against the Broncos, with whom he won the Super Bowl last season. The reeling Panthers, who are just 1-5 this season, have a bye this week, as do the 5-1 Cowboys. I went just 3-12 last week (but 7-8 straight up, without the spread) to bring my record to 40-52 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 is in red

Byes: Panthers, Cowboys

Thursday Night Football
Bears at Packers (-9.5) – The Packers offense has been disappointing so far this season, while the Bears offense has picked up since QB Jay Cutler went down and QB Brian Hoyer has stepped into take his spot in the starting lineup. Due to that, I expect this game to be closer than some people might expect it to be. Packers win the game, but I think the Bears keep it to a single-digit differential.

Sunday morning London game
Giants at Rams (+2.5) – In the second of three London games this season, QB Eli Manning leads the Giants into action against the Rams. Both teams are 3-3 on the season, but the Giants are in last place in the NFC East and the Rams are in second in the NFC West. The Rams have a long flight to make from Los Angeles to get to this game, which won’t make it easy for a team that is that good to begin with. I think the Giants cover the 2.5 points.

Sunday 1PM games
Bills at Dolphins (+2.5) – The Bills have looked good during their current four-game winning streak, with RB LeSean McCoy running all over the competition, although McCoy’s availability is in question after leaving Wednesday’s practice early with a hamstring injury. Despite pulling off the upset of the Steelers on Sunday, the Dolphins aren’t a good team. RB Jay Ajayi seems like he may have found his groove, but QB Ryan Tannehill isn’t putting up good numbers. The Bills should easily win this divisional game on the road.
Browns at Bengals (-9.5) – Giving up 9.5 points is a lot, and the Bengals aren’t a team that I would normally pick when favored by that much, but I think they can cover it. The Browns best player, WR Terrelle Pryor, is nursing a hamstring injury and may not be able to play. If he can’t go, I think the Bengals cover. If Pryor is able to play, then I have a little more doubt about it. Regardless, I expect the Bengals to win the game outright, forcing the Browns to wait another week for their first win.
Redskins at Lions (-1.5) – Expect a blowout in this one, with Redskins QB Kirk Cousins and Lions QB Matthew Stafford heaving the ball throughout the game. The Lions’ running game is diminished due to ongoing injuries, and the Redskins’ run game picked things up last week, which bodes well for a Washington win on the road.
Colts at Titans (-2.5) – The Colts blew a big lead against the Texans on Sunday night, ultimately losing in overtime, while the Titans beat the Browns. At the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t have expected to be saying this, but I think the Titans are better than the Colts right now, especially with the way Marcus Mariota has been playing in the last couple games. If he can keep it up, I think the Titans win this game and put the last-place Colts even further behind in the AFC South race.
Saints at Chiefs (-6.5) – QB Drew Brees doesn’t play as well on the road as he does at home at the Superdome, but I don’t trust the Chiefs to get out to a big lead in this one. Home or road, I think Brees is a better quarterback than the Chiefs’ Alex Smith so I think the Saints keep this game closer than 6.5 points. The Chiefs may win the game, but I don’t think they cover the spread.
Raiders at Jaguars (-0.5) – I’m surprised the Jaguars are favored, even if it’s just by half a point. I realize the Raiders are traveling to the East Coast to play a 1:00 game, which often results in a loss for a West Coast team, But the Jags aren’t a good team and, barring last week’s loss to the Chiefs, the Raiders have the best team they’ve had in several years. QB Derek Carr should lead the Raiders to the win.
Vikings at Eagles (+2.5) – Coming off their bye, the undefeated Vikings head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles as Vikings QB Sam Bradford takes on the team that traded him during training camp. Rookie QB Carson Wentz, who has cooled off a bit since his hot start, leads the Eagles at home. The Vikings have the best defense in the NFL, and it’ll likely be hard for the Eagles to put up a lot of points. Vikings should easily cover the 2.5-point spread.
Ravens at Jets (-0.5) – The Jets are 1-5 and just got blown out by the Cardinals, 28-3, on Monday night. The Ravens aren’t as good as the Cardinals, but I don’t see how they lose to the Jets, who are somehow favored by half a point. The Jets defense isn’t good so QB Joe Flacco and RB Terrance West should be able to move the ball down the field for Baltimore. On the other side of the ball, QB Geno Smith came into Monday’s game in relief of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has played poorly the last several weeks. The Jets are expected to give Smith his first start of the season, which likely won’t work out well for the home team. Ravens win.

Sunday 4PM games

Chargers at Falcons (-6.5)The Falcons high-powered offense gets to go against a subpar Chargers defense in this game. The combo of QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones has helped lead the Falcons to their 4-2 record. QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers can also put points on the scoreboard, but I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up with Ryan and his teammates.
Buccaneers at 49ers (+1.5) – Installing QB Colin Kaepernick as the starter didn’t do much to help the 49ers offense in last week’s loss to the Bills. The Bucs don’t have nearly as good of a defense as the Bills, but I still don’t see the 49ers putting up a lot of points, especially with RB Carlos Hyde potentially having to sit out the game. I expect the Bucs to get the road win, and it shouldn’t be hard to cover that small spread.
Steelers at Patriots (-6.5) – With QB Landry Jones getting the start in place of Roethlisberger, I don’t see the Steelers being competitive in this game. Patriots QB Tom Brady should continue his streak of fine performances he has put up in his first two starts of the season, especially with TE Rob Gronkowski appearing to be at full health, or close to it, after sitting out the Patriots’ first couple games of 2016.

Sunday Night Football
Seahawks at Cardinals (-1.5) The Seahawks look to expand their lead in the NFC West in this divisional battle. QB Russell Wilson still may not be 100 percent as he continues to deal with some minor injuries, but RB Christine Michael has looked good starting in place of injured RB Thomas Rawls. For the Cardinals, RB David Johnson has been one of the best at the position this season, but QB Carson Palmer hasn’t been living up to the numbers that people have come to expect from him. The Cardinals are slight favorites in this prime-time game, but I think the Seahawks win it outright.

Monday Night Football
Texans at Broncos (-7.5) – Osweiler returns to Denver, leading the Texans against his former team, the Broncos. The Broncos, coming off a two-game losing streak, have one of the better defenses in the league but their offense hasn’t been clicking recently. Texans RB Lamar Miller, meanwhile, had his best game of the season on Sunday night as Osweiler led the team on impressive drives late in the game to eventually pull off the overtime win against the Colts. I think the spread is a little too big and the Texans should stay within a touchdown, even though I think the Broncos may win the game.

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