Tag Archives: Cardinals

5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Atlanta Falcons

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we turn our attention to the NFC South, beginning the division with the Atlanta Falcons, who came in third place in the division last season .

A season after playing in Super Bowl LI the Falcons finished in third place in the NFC South, but their 10-6 record was good enough to earn one of the conference’s wild cards. The Falcons still have one of the top quarterback-receiver tandems in the league with QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones, and they added to their offensive depth this offseason by taking WR Calvin Ridley with their first pick in the draft. They also signed TE Logan Paulsen to serve as the No. 2 at the position.

The offense ranked eighth in the NFL last season with 5,837 yards and they were 15th with 353 points. Ryan’s 2017 numbers were down significantly from 2016; he threw for 4,095 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Jones had 88 receptions for 1,444 yards — which was the second most in the league — but just three touchdowns. WR Mohamed Sanu caught 67 balls for 703 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games, and TE Austin Hooper added 49 catches for 526 yards and three touchdowns. RB Devonta Freeman was the team’s top rusher with 196 attempts for 865 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games, adding 36 receptions for another 317 yards and a touchdown. RB Tevin Coleman played in 15 games, including three starts, and ran the ball 156 times for 628 yards and five touchdowns, with another three scores through the air. The Falcons were pretty good defensively, as well, ranking ninth in yards allowed and eighth in points allowed.

The Falcons’ season begins with the season opener as they visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles on the first Thursday night of the season. After that they have three straight home games, beginning with divisional rivals the Panthers and Saints, followed by the Bengals in Week 4. They then head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in Week 5 before hosting the Buccaneers in Week 6. The Falcons host the Giants in Week 7 before their Week 8 bye. Coming out of the off week, they have consecutive road games at the Redskins and Browns. A home date with the Cowboys is on the slate for Week 11, followed by a Week 12 game at the Saints. The Falcons head to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in Week 14 and host the Cardinals in Week 15. They then end the regular season with back-to-back road games, at the Panthers and Buccaneers.

The NFC South is a tough division, with three of the four teams having made the playoffs a year ago. The Falcons may be the best all-around team in the division, with a strong offense and a defense that was in the top 10 in the league in 2017. If the defense can continue that success into this season, it will help the Falcons stay out of shootouts against teams like the Saints and Falcons. They have a relatively easy schedule on paper, including a game with the Browns. I think the Falcons should be able to get to double-digit wins again this year, with another postseason appearance likely for the team that hopes to return to the Super Bowl after a one-year hiatus.

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

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5th 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 came in last place in the division last season.

The Texans’ 4-12 record last season is not representative of the amount of talent on the roster. The defense took a big hit with injuries to DE J.J. Watt and LB Whitney Mercilus, who each played just five games. And QB Deshaun Watson was on pace to set rookie records before he suffered a torn ACL in Week 7 that ended his season. Getting those three players back improves the team — especially on offense, which wasn’t good with Watson out — so they feel like the team’s big offseason acquisitions. The one major free agent the Texans signed was S Tyrann Mathieu, who was released by the Cardinals. They also signed veteran QB Brian Hoyer to serve as Watson’s backup. In terms of losses, the team released veteran LB Brian Cushing.

The Texans ranked in the bottom half of the NFL with 5,120 yards and 338 points in 2017. In the seven games — six starts — Watson played, he threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions; he also ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns. WR DeAndre Hopkins had 96 receptions 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns in 15 games last season, and WR. No one else had more than 36 catches — and that was RB Lamar Miller, who went for 327 yards and three touchdowns on the 36 receptions. In 10 games, WR Will Fuller caught 28 balls for 423 yards and seven touchdowns. Miller was the team’s leading rusher, with 888 yards and three touchdowns on 238 carries. In 10 games, RB D’Onta Foreman ran the ball 78 times for 327 yards and two touchdowns, and RB Alfred Blue had 71 carries for 272 yards and a touchdown in 11 games. With Watt and Mercilus out for most of the season, the defense ranked 20th in yards allowed and last in points allowed.

The Texans face the tough test to begin the season, playing at the Patriots in Week 1. They stay on the road to take on the Titans in Week 2, then get their first home game in Week 3, when the Giants come to town. The Texans visit the Colts in Week 4, then host the Cowboys in a Lone Star battle. Week 7 sees the Texans heading to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, then the Dolphins come to Houston in Week 8. After a game in Denver against the Broncos, the Texans have a bye in Week 10. Coming out of the bye, the Texans visit the Redskins. After that, they have three straight home games — against the Titans, Browns and Colts in Weeks 12, 13 and 14, respectively. Following a road game with the Jets, the Texans visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles in Week 17. They finish the regular season at home, taking on the Jaguars.

The health of Watson, Watt and Mercilus is going to be the key to how the Texans do this season. If Watson can continue the success he had in the first half of the 2017 season and the defensive guys can play like they have in the past, that will prove the defense that played most of last season, which is already improved by the signing of Mathieu. The Texans have also not had Watt and DE Jadeveon Clowney both healthy at the same time for an extended period. It appears that they will finally get that luxury this season. If things go right for the Texans this season, they should be competitive with the Jaguars for the top spot in the division, and could compete for a wild card if the Jags win the South.

Sources: http://www.houstontexans.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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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Baltimore Ravens

It’s August, which means the NFL season is approaching and it’s time for our annual preview of all 32 NFL teams over the next 32 days (or so), followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2018 season. We begin this year’s previews with the AFC North and the first team in the division, the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division last season.

The Ravens’ finished last season at 9-7, their first winning season since 2014, which is also when they made their last playoff appearance. This offseason, the team focused on adding wide receivers to help QB Joe Flacco, signing free agent WRs Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown. They also added some depth at the quarterback position, selecting QB Lamar Jackson in the first round of the draft and signing QB Robert Griffin III as a free agent. Their running back core includes RBs Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon.

Overall, the offense ranked 27th in the league with 4,886 yards and ninth with 395 yards.Flacco only threw for 3,141 yards last season — about 1,200 yards fewer than the year before — and 18 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Collins led the running game with 973 yards and six touchdowns on 212 attempts. Allen ran the ball 153 times for 591 yards and four touchdowns, adding 250 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 46 receptions. The receiving core has been completely overhaul so none of last year’s top receivers are on the team in 2018. Snead played in 11 games, including seven starts, with the Saints and had just eight receptions. Crabtree recorded 58 catches for 618 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games with the Raiders, and Brown had 21 receptions for 299 yards and three touchdowns 10 games — 5 starts — in an injury-shortened season with the Cardinals. On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens allowed the 12th-fewest yards in the league and ranked sixth with 303 points allowed. The defense led the league with 22 interceptions in 2017.

Looking at the schedule, they begin things with a winnable game at home against the Bills, then visit the Bengals in Week 2. They have a stretch of three straight road games in Weeks 4-6, visiting the Steelers, Browns and Titans in that period. They then face tough games the next three games when they host the Saints, visit the Panthers and have their second game with the Steelers. The Ravens get a late bye in Week 10,  then face the Bengals and Raiders at home. They face tough opponents in the road in Weeks 13 and 14, visiting the Falcons and Chiefs. They get a home game with the Browns in Week 17, which could be beneficial if they need to win that game t secure a playoff spot.

This could be a make-or-break season for Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh. They won a Super Bowl in the 2012 season but have made the playoffs just once since then. If the Ravens aren’t playing in January this season, it could be the end of the Flacco-Harbaugh era in Baltimore. Jackson is likely the heir apparent under center for the team and could see some playing time if Flacco disappoints. They have a pretty tough schedule and I think the best they can hope for is to finish 8-8, or possibly match last year’s 9-7 mark.

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

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Over/under and playoff picks

Now that we’ve previewed the 2018 season for all 30 MLB teams, let’s take a look at how the season is going to play out. In this post, I’ll be analyzing Vegas over/under totals for each team and make my playoff picks.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: 74.5
The Braves have some young prospects with potential — including OF Ronald Acuna, who is starting the season in the minors. If they can play well this season, the Braves should be able to get to 75 wins, which is only three more than last season. I’ll go Over.

Miami Marlins: 64.5
The Marlins had a fire sale this winter, getting rid of all of their stars save for C J.T. Realmuto, and I think he’ll be dealt at the trade deadline. They should be the worst team in the majors this season. Under.

New York Mets: 81
Last year, I said the health of the starting pitchers is key to how successful the Mets will be this season. The same applies for this year. They have to be healthier than they were last season, so I think the Mets can barely go Over the 81.

Philadelphia Phillies: 75.5
The Phillies won 66 games last season and I think they’ll be better this year after adding guys like 1B Carlos Santana and SP Jake Arrieta to a roster with young guys like 2B Scott Kingery and SS J.P. Crawford, but I don’t think they’ll see 10 games worth of improvement. It’ll be close, but I’ll go Under.

Washington Nationals: 92.5
The Nationals are the best team in the division with SPs Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg on the mound and OF Bryce Harper providing power in the middle of the lineup. They won 97 games last season so I think they could be around 95 this season. Over.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: 73
It won’t be an easy road for the Orioles, who have to face the Yankees and Red Sox nearly 40 times this season. I expect them to win around 70 games, so I’ll go Under.

Boston Red Sox: 91.5
Adding J.D. Martinez this weekend will provide the Red Sox with much-needed power, which should help them stay above 90 wins this season after winning 93 in 2017. I’ll go Over.

New York Yankees: 94.5
Adding OF Giancarlo Stanton to a team that already includes OF Aaron Judge gives the Yankees a duo that could hit 100 home runs between them. Stanton’s health is a concern, though, as last season was us the second time in his career he’s played at least 150 games. I don’t think he’ll get there this year, so I’m going to go slightly Under.

Tampa Bay Rays: 77.5
The Rays won 80 games last year and I think they’ll do worse than that this season. I think who they trade — or don’t — at the deadline could be key to how well they do this season, but I think SP Chris Archer will be dealt. If he is, I think they end up Under 77.5 wins.

Toronto Blue Jays: 81
The Blue Jays aren’t the worst team in the division, but I also don’t think they’re a .500 team. They won 76 games in 2017 and I don’t think they’re five games better this season, so this is a relatively easy Under for me.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: 94.5
NInety-five wins is a lot for a Cubs team that lost Arrieta and replaced him with SP Yu Darvish, who I think is past his prime and will ultimately be a disappointment with his new team. Overall, I think the starting rotation is worse than last year, so I don’t think the Cubs get to 95 wins. They could get to 90, but that would still be Under.

Cincinnati Reds: 73.5
I think the Reds will be hard-pressed to get to 70 wins after winning 68 a year ago. Other than 1B Joey Votto, they don’t have many stars on the team. It’s going to be Under for them.

Milwaukee Brewers: 84.5
The Brewers were one of the most-improved teams this offseason, trading for or signing OFs Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. They won 86 games last season and I don’t think they’ll win fewer than that this year, so this is Over.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 73
The Pirates traded SP Gerrit Cole and OF Andrew McCutchen this winter and got mainly prospects back in return, which doesn’t bode well for their results this season. I’m not sure they get to 70 wins this season, let alone 73 so I’m going Under.

St. Louis Cardinals: 85.5
Like the Brewers, the Cardinals improved their team this offseason, adding OF Marcell Ozuna, who should hit more than 30 home runs again this season to provide more pop for an offense that already includes SS Paul DeJong, who had 25 home runs last year. I’m going Over for the Cardinals.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: 68
The White Sox don’t have much upside this season. I don’t think they’ll lose 100 games, but I think their loss total will be in the 90s, so their win total could be close to 68 but I’m going to go with what I think is the safer pick and go Under.

Cleveland Indians: 94.5
The Indians won 102 games last season, but I don’t think they break 100 again in 2018., They won more than 20 straight games last year, which I think helped inflate their win total. But they’re in a division with four teams that aren’t very good, so I think they can get up to 95 victories. Over.

Detroit Tigers: 68.5
The Tigers won 64 games last year, when they had SP Justin Verlander for most of the season. Without him on the roster in 2018, I don’t see how they beat that total. They could lose 100 games this year, so it’s Under.

Kansas City Royals: 71.5
The Royals lost 1B Eric Hosmer and OF Lorenzo Cain in free agency this winter, which will hurt them at the plate and cause them to fall from their 80-win total a year ago, but 71 wins may be dropping them a little too far. I think they’ll finish with about 75 or so wins, so I’m going Over 71.5.

Minnesota Twins: 82.5
I think the Twins won more games last year than they should have given their talent. They’ll be starting this season with SP Ervin Santana on the DL and SS Jorge Polanco serving an 80-game PED suspension, so they won’t match last year’s 85 wins. But I think they can get 83 or 84 so it doesn’t give me much margin for error, but I’m taking the Over.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: 85.5
The Diamondbacks have a good offense led by 1B Paul Goldschmidt and their pitching can be good if SP Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray continue to pitch well, like they did in 2017. I think the Diamondbacks go Over 85.5.

Colorado Rockies: 82
The Rockies won 87 games last season, but I think they’ll be worse than that this year. They’ll still be better than .500 and I think they could win 84 or 85 games, so I’ll go Over.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 96.5
The Dodgers will be without injured 3B Justin Turner to start the season, which will hurt them early on. They did trade for OF Matt Kemp, who could make up for some of Turner’s lost production. Other teams in the division got better this winter, so the Dodgers probably won’t lead the majors in wins like they did last season, with 104. They should stay above 90, though, and it’ll be close but I’m going Over 96.5. They could hit the 97-win mark.

San Diego Padres: 69.5
For the second straight winter, the Padres spent money to sign a free-agent bat, this time with Hosmer. He’ll help the offense put runs on the board, along with OF Wil Myers, who moves off of first base to make room for Hosmer defensively. The Padres had 71 wins last season, and I think they’ll have at least that many this year so I’m going Over 69.5.

San Francisco Giants: 81.5
The Giants improved their offense this season, trading for McCutchen and 3B Evan Longoria. Their starting rotation took a hit in spring training, though, with SPs Jeff Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner both suffering injuries that will keep them sidelined for a significant length of time. Those injuries will tamper expectations, but I still think they can surpass .500 this year, so I’ll go Over.

AL West

Houston Astros: 96.5
The Astros won 101 games last season and this year have Verlander or the entire season, in addition to Cole, who they acquired from the Pirates. With the offense they have — headlined by 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa, 3B Alex Bregman and OF George Springer — and their pitching, the Astros should surpass 100 wins again this season. I’m going Over.

Los Angeles Angels: 84.5
The Angels made one of the biggest signings of the offseason with SP/DH Shohei Ohtani, but he has struggled this spring so he may not do as well as the Angels had hoped he would. I still think they can get to 85 wins behind the bat of OF Mike Trout,so I’ll go Over.

Oakland Athletics: 74.5
The A’s won 75 games last year and I think they may be a little better this season after acquiring OF Stephen PIscotty. I think they can barely get Over 74.5 wins.

Seattle Mariners: 81.5
I think the Mariners are around a .500 team. They won 78 games last year and I think they’ll end up within a couple games of that total this season, so I’m going to go Under 81.5, but it could be close.

Texas Rangers: 77.5
The Rangers are clearly the worst team in the division and I don’t think they’ll come close to the 78 wins they earned last season. I think this is an easy Under pick.

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven

Playoff Picks

National League

NL East Champs: Washington Nationals
NL Central Champs: Chicago Cubs
NL West Champs: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals

American League

AL East Champs: Boston Red Sox
AL Central Champs: Cleveland Indians
AL West Champs: Houston Astros
AL Wild Cards: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels

World Series: Astros over Brewers in 6 games

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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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