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NFL: Denver Broncos at New England Patriots

My NFL Picks Week 15: Patriots try to get revenge on the Broncos

The end of the regular season is quickly approaching as we enter Week 15, which begins with the Rams — who fired head coach Jeff Fisher earlier this week — heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. The NFC North-leading Lions visit the Giants in an early Sunday game, and the Patriots head to Denver to take on the Broncos in a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game in the doubleheader game. Sunday night features the Buccaneers, who are in the hunt for a playoff spot, taking on the Cowboys, who are coming off their second loss of the season last week. I went 10-6 last week, bringing my record to 100-106 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

Rams at Seahawks (-14.5) – The Rams have been the laughingstock of the league this week, firing Fisher after giving him an extension earlier in the season, and they’re not very good but 14.5 is a big spread. On a short week, there’s usually not a lot of offense in Thursday night games so the Seahawks will win the game but they won’t cover.

Saturday Night Football

Dolphins at Jets (+2.5) – With QB Ryan Tannehill suffering a sprained knee last week, the Dolphins are down to backup QB Matt Moore, who isn’t great but better than some of the backups in the league. The Jets are using QB Bryce Petty and will be without starting RB Matt Forte, who suffered a potentially season-ending injury on Sunday. The Forte injury gives RB Bilal Powell a chance to get the start. I don’t think the Jets will have enough offense to win. Dolphins win and cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Browns at Bills (-9.5) – The Browns continue to look for their first win to avoid going 0-16. With three games left, this could be their best remaining chance to get a win, but QB Robert Griffin III didn’t look good in his return to the field last week. WR Terrelle Pryor is the only Browns player on offense who’s been productive this season. I don’t see them getting the win in Buffalo, but I also don’t think they’ll lose by double digits so I”ll take the Browns with the points, though they’ll be 0-14 when the game is over.
Packers at Bears (+6.5) – The Packers need to win this game to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Bears are just playing out the season. The Bears will get WR Alshon Jeffery back from his four-game suspension and RB Jordan Howard has been having a good season, but I don’t think the Bears have enough playmakers on offense to beat the Packers, who have started to play well in recent weeks behind QB Aaron Rodgers. Packers cover.
Steelers at Bengals (+3.5) – The Bengals have won two in a row — last week’s win came against the Browns — but they’re having a disappointing season at 5-7-1. The Steelers are on a four-game winning streak, and I continue that to continue behind the offense of QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. I’m taking the Steelers.
Lions at Giants (-4.5) – This battle of playoff contenders sees Lions QB Matthew Stafford going into the game with an injured finger, which won’t help him find success against a Giants defense that has looked good in recent games. I think the Giants win the game and cover to stay in the Wild Card chase.
Titans at Chiefs (-5.5) – The Titans need to keep winning if they want to win the AFC South, but that won’t be easy this week against a tough Chiefs defense. The Chiefs beat the Raiders by eight last Thursday and now have extra rest before taking on the Titans at home. I expect the Chiefs to win the game and cover.
Colts at Vikings (-4.5) – The Colts are coming off a loss to the Texans that put their playoff hopes on life support. I think they’ll bounce back to keep this game close, but I think the Vikings defense will ultimately be enough to win the game to stay in the playoff race. I’ll take the Colts with the points, though.
Eagles at Ravens (-6.5) The Ravens had a disappointing game against the Patriots on Monday night, but the Eagles aren’t the Patriots. The Eagles have lost four in a row and I don’t expect them to be able to score much against a Ravens defense that is among the best in the league. I’ll give the points.
Jaguars at Texans (-6.5) – The Jaguars are looking for their third win of the season, but that might be a tough task on the road against a Texans team with a good defense led by DE Jadeveon Clowney. Texans QB Brock Osweiler isn’t very good so I’m not confident about giving so many points with the Texans, but I’m going to do it because the Jaguars aren’t good.

Sunday 4PM games

49ers at Falcons (-13.5)The Falcons put up 42 points on the Rams last week — without WR Julio Jones — and now they get the 49ers, who will have to travel across the country for the game. I normally don’t like taking the favorite with such a big spread, but the Falcons offense can put up points and the 49ers aren’t a good team so I’ll give the 13.5 points.
Saints at Cardinals (-2.5) – Two of the more disappointing teams in the league meet in this contest. I believe QB Drew Brees and the Saints offense can do what they need to win this game against a Cardinals team that has a decent defense. Since I think the Saints can win outright, I’ll take the points.
Patriots at Broncos (+3.5) – This is a battle between one of the league’s best offenses in the Patriots against the Broncos’ strong defense. We saw a similar matchup on Monday night when the Patriots took on the Ravens and won that game convincingly. Despite having to travel to Denver on a short week,I expect QB Tom Brady and the Patriots to win this game and cover the 3.5 points.
Raiders at Chargers (+2.5) – Two teams that could be moving to new cities in the coming years meet in what could be one of the Chargers’ final home games in San Diego. The Raiders are definitely the better team and I expect QB David Carr to bounce back from a subpar performance against the Chiefs last week to lead the Raiders to their 11th win of the season.

Sunday Night Football

Buccaneers at Cowboys (-7.5) – The Bucs are looking for their first six-game winning streak in franchise history, but it’ll be a tough task for QB Jameis Winston and the rest of the team to do that against the Cowboys, who still have the league’s best record after losing to the Giants on Sunday night. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott performance hasn’t been as prolific in his most recent games as it has been for much of the season, but I still think the Cowboys will be able to win the game. I don’t, however, think they’ll cover so I’ll take the Bucs with the points.

Monday Night Football

Panthers at Redskins (-4.5) – The Redskins are looking to stay in the NFC Wild Card race by picking up a win at home on Monday night. I think the Redskins have just enough to cover the spread so I’ll take them to win.

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My NFL Picks Week 14: Cowboys have a chance to clinch the NFC East

The Thursday Night Football games are largely considered to consist of bad football, often with teams that are in the game only to get in their required primetime game for the season. This week, the Thursday night contest could be one of the best games of the week when the two best teams in the AFC West face off with the Raiders traveling to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. Other games of note include the Texans at Colts in a key AFC South battle, the Cowboys at the Giants on Sunday night in a potential division clincher for Dallas, and a Monday night game between division leaders in Foxboro when the Patriots host the Ravens. The byes are done so we have 16 games each week for the remainder of the season. I went 6-9 last week, bringing my record to 90-100 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

Raiders at Chiefs (-3.5)

Sunday 1PM games

Steelers at Bills (+1.5)
Bears at Lions (-8.5)
Bengals at Browns (+6.5)
Broncos at Titans (+0.5)
Texans at Colts (-6.5)
Cardinals at Dolphins (-1.5)
Vikings at Jaguars (+3.5)
Redskins at Eagles (+0.5)
Chargers at Panthers (-1.5)

Sunday 4PM games

Jets at 49ers (-2.5)
Falcons at Rams (+6.5)
Seahawks at Packers (+2.5)
Saints at Buccaneers (-2.5)

Sunday Night Football

Cowboys at Giants (+2.5)

Monday Night Football

Ravens at Patriots (-8.5)

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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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Crossing an item off my sports bucket list: My experience at Lambeau Field

I like going to Major League Baseball stadiums that I’ve never visited before because baseball stadiums, while each adhering to the field dimensions regulated by MLB, have their own distinct features and quirks that separate them from the others, whether it’s the now-gone hill and pole in center field of Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston, or the famed ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley Field.

I don’t have the same feelings about NFL stadiums because, for the most part, there is nothing notable that distinguishes one from another.They are pretty much cookie-cutter facilities without unique features. There is one exception to that rule, in my opinion: Lambeau Field in Green Bay. That is the one NFL building that I feel is a classic that all football fans should visit in their lifetime. For me, that journey took place this past weekend.

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I am a fan of the Texans, who only played at Lambeau Field one time previously — a 24-21 Houston victory on Dec. 7, 2008. With the NFL’s scheduling formula, the Texans only play in Green Bay once every eight years because the teams play in different conferences. Knowing that, I knew if I didn’t go to the Week 13 game this year, I didn’t know if I would ever make it to Lambeau. Seeing a game at Lambeau Field has been on my sports bucket list for a while, so I made the trip from New York to experience a Packers weekend in Green Bay.

Stadium Tour

My Lambeau Field experience began on Saturday morning, with a tour of the stadium. I had never gone on a stadium tour before, but that was one of the things I wanted to do on this trip. It did not disappoint. It was informative, with tour guide Mike sharing a lot of information about the history of the team and facility, and took us to places throughout the stadium, most notably through the tunnel Packers players run through to take the field every home game and onto the outer edge of the field. It was a pretty cool experience to be standing there looking out at the nearly 80,000 empty seats — or, more accurately, bleachers — that just over 24 hours later would be filled with rowdy fans cheering on their team.

While being on the field was the highlight of the tour, there was more to the 90-minute-long experience. Other highlights of the tour included getting a panoramic view from a deck high above the south end zone, which is the highest point in Green Bay. Other stops included areas of the stadium that are accessible to people who buy suites and the Champions Club, which Mike described as similar to a country club, that has indoor seating in an area filled with Packers memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, and access to the aforementioned viewing deck near the south scoreboard.

Packers Hall of Fame

After the tour, my next stop was to visit the Packers Hall of Fame which, as you’d expect, is filled with memorabilia and information about the history of the team and its best players. Highlights of the Hall of Fame include a room that houses the Packers’ four Lombardi trophies, of course named for the team’s famous head coach Vince Lombardi, and a replica setup of Lombardi’s office including the actual desk, chairs and telephone he used while serving as the team’s coach. There were video exhibits showcasing such events as highlights of 1967’s Ice Bowl — which was reportedly the impetus for Lambeau getting the nickname the Frozen Tundra — and the original Lambeau Leap, which was first performed by S LeRoy Butler on Dec. 26, 1993. Among the more unique memorabilia included in the Hall of Fame’s collection is pieces of goalposts from key games throughout Packers history and the trade agreement 1992 deal that sent young QB Brett Favre from the Falcons to the Packers for a first-round draft pick that would ultimately become RB Tony Smith, who totaled 329 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns in his NFL career.

The Game: Texans at Packers

Then came Sunday and the game between the Texans and the Packers. The weather provided what I was hoping for — snow, which I feel is the part of the true Green Bay football experience. There was light snow for most of the morning and throughout the game. With a noon kickoff, there were already people in the parking lot tailgating by the time I got to Lambeau shortly before 9am. The weather didn’t deter fans from getting to the stadium hours early to partake in the usual drinking, eating and game-playing that is associated with tailgating. But it’s not just in the stadium parking lot, it extends beyond the grounds of Lambeau. The owners of nearby homes surrounding the stadium allow people to park in their yards and set up mini-tailgates for a fee — generally ranging from $10-40, depending on the home’s distance from the stadium. Nearby restaurants and bars also run their own pregame tailgate parties, offering unlimited food and drinks for a fee. I opted to go with the tailgate at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, which had Super Bowl champion and Packers Hall of Fame WR Antonio Freeman in attendance signing autographs.

At noon, it was time for the main attraction of the weekend, with a kickoff temperature of 31 degrees and snow falling throughout the duration of the game. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the stadium — the original bowl plus some of the earliest additions — is made up of aluminum bleachers, which can get uncomfortable on cold days so many people either bring their own seat cushions or rent one upon entering the stadium. The newest additions in the upper levels of the stadium offer more traditional stadium seats.

As for the game itself, both offenses got off to slow starts — each team lost a fumble on their first offensive drives of the game — with no points on the scoreboard until Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb nearly halfway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead that stood until Texans QB Brock Osweiler tied to the game with a touchdown pass to TE Ryan Griffin midway through the third quarter. The Packers then took a 14-point lead with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — a pass to a wide-open WR Jordy Nelson early in the period and a three-yard run into the endzone by RB Aaron Ripkowski with 4:18 remaining in the game, putting Green Bay up 21-7. The Texans responded around the two-minute mark with a 44-yard catch-and-run by WR DeAndre Hopkins, but a missed PAT by K Nick Novak kept the score at 21-13. After a failed onside kick, the Texans were able to keep the Packers from earning a game-clinching first down, but with only one timeout remaining on the drive, the Texans got the ball back with just four seconds remaining. With the ball at their own 12-yard line, the Texans tried a short pass followed by several laterals as a last-ditch effort to score, but that failed as the Packers handed the Texans their third straight loss in front of a crowd of 77,867.

Both teams now sit at 6-6 on the season, with the Packers in third place in the NFC North and the Texans falling into a first-place tie with the idle Titans and, following Monday Night Football, the Colts in the AFC South.

Overall, even though the team I was rooting for lost, it was a good weekend as I finally got a chance to experience Lambeau Field for the first time. It is a trip that I would recommend any NFL fan should take at some point — including the tour — because of all of the tradition and history associated with the team and the stadium.

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My NFL Picks Week 13: Cowboys-Vikings opens the week as December begins

Having Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror is a sign that we are entering the homestretch of the NFL’s regular season. Week 13 begins with the Cowboys, the NFC’s best team, taking on the Vikings, who are hanging on to their fading playoff hopes in the conference. Other notable games this week include the Chiefs visiting the Falcons in an interconference matchup of potential playoff teams and the Bills heading to he West Coast to take on the Raiders. The Sunday night game features two teams coming off tough Week 12 losses with the Panthers at the Seahawks. The Monday nighter ends the week with two teams having disappointing seasons as the Jets host the Colts. This week features the last byes of the season, as the Titans and the Browns — who have still not won a game — get the week off. I went 10-6 last week, bringing my record to 84-91 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: Browns, Titans

Thursday Night Football

Cowboys at Vikings (+3.5) – Cowboys QB Dak Prescott faces one of the tougher challenges of his rookie season when he goes against a Vikings defense that is one of the better squads in the league. I think the Cowboys offense will still easily be able to outscore the Vikings offense and likely win the game by at least a touchdown.

Sunday 1PM games

Chiefs at Falcons (-4.5) – The Chiefs defense will have to be able to stop QB Matt Ryan and the Falcons offensive attack to have a chance to win this game because their offense isn’t nearly as explosive as Atlanta’s. Like the Cowboys-Vikings game, I expect the Falcons offense to overcome the Chiefs defense to win the game and cover.
49ers at Bears (-2.5) – The 49ers offense has picked up in recent weeks since QB Colin Kaepernick took over the starting job from QB Blaine Gabbert, and I expect that to continue against a Bears defense that hasn’t been overly impressive this season. With QB Matt Barkley expected to start again for the Bears, I’m not sure how they’re the favorites in this one. I expect the 49ers to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Eagles at Bengals (+1.5) – With Bengals WR A.J. Green expected to miss another game this week, the Bengals will likely struggle to put points on the scoreboard as they did last week. Despite a disappoint performance against the Packers on Monday night, the Eagles still likely have a better offense than Cincinnati, with QB Carson Wentz leading the way. Eagles win the game on the road.
Broncos at Jaguars (+5.5) – The stout Broncos defense shouldn’t have much of a problem keeping the mediocre Jaguars offense from scoring many points, so even though Denver’s offense itself isn’t very impressive, the defending Super Bowl champions should be able to score enough points to cover the spread in this one.
Lions at Saints (-5.5) – This game looks to be a shootout at the Superdome with two strong offenses doing battle. I expect the Saints to win at home, but with both teams likely putting up a lot of points, I have a hard time seeing them covering the spread so I’ll take the Lions and the points.
Texans at Packers (-5.5) Texans QB Brock Osweiler looks to redeem himself following a three-interception game last week as he faces a Packers defense that hasn’t looked good for much of the season, Week 12 notwithstanding. On the Green Bay side, the entire offense is on the shoulders of QB Aaron Rodgers as the team hasn’t had much of a running game this year. I think the Packers win the game, but I think the Texans can keep it to within a few points so I’ll take the points.
Rams at Patriots (-13.5) – This is a big spread for a Patriots team that could be without its best pass-catcher, as TE Rob Gronkowski is nursing the back injury he suffered in last week’s game that forced him to leave early. The Patriots should win the game at home, but I expect the Rams to keep it within two touchdowns.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Ravens (-3.5) – The Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, having won six straight games. They go into Baltimore for a game against a Ravens team that, despite being 6-5, doesn’t have a great offense. I think the Dolphins can’t extend their winning streak so I’ll take the points.
Bills at Raiders (-3.5) – The health of Raiders QB Derek Carr could be a key to this game. He temporarily left last week’s game with a thumb injury but did return, which bodes well for him to be able to play this week. If that is the case, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor won’t be able to keep up with him and the rest of the Raiders offense. Bills RB LeSean McCoy has to have a big game for his team to win, and I don’t see him doing enough for that to happen. Raiders win and cover. 
Giants at Steelers (-5.5) – Like the Dolphins, the Giants are riding a six-game winning streak into Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. Unlike the Dolphins, I don’t think the Giants make it seven in a row. The Steelers offense, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell is too much for a Giants offense that didn’t look great for much of last week’s game against the winless Browns. Steelers cover.
Redskins at Cardinals (-2.5) – The Cardinals haven’t looked great in their last couple of games, both losses, while QB Kirk Cousins and the Redskins have been putting up a good number of points in their games. I’m surprised the Cardinals are favored so I’m taking the points as I think the Redskins win the game straight up.
Buccaneers at Chargers (-3.5) This is another game in which I’m surprised the home team is favored. The Bucs have been playing well in recent weeks, including holding the Seahawks to five points in Week 12, and I think they’re a better team than the Cardinals so I think they win the game outright. Give me the points.

Sunday Night Football

Panthers at Seahawks (-6.5) – I expect the Seahawks to bounce back from last week’s mediocre five-point effort against the Bucs and QB Russell Wilson put up some points this week. Seahawks win and cover, as the Panthers’ disappointing season continues.

Monday Night Football

Colts at Jets (+2.5) – The Jets put up a good fight against the Patriots last week despite losing the game at home. I think the Jets have more success against the Colts, who aren’t nearly as good as the Patriots, this week. The Jets are underdogs, but I think they have a shot to win the game so I’ll take them with the points.

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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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Divisional Playoffs - Denver Broncos v New England Patriots

NFL Quarterly Report: Patriots win three without Brady, Panthers struggling out of the gate

We’re essentially a quarter of the way through the season, with all but two teams now through their first four games of the season. As is typical in the NFL, there are some teams that have been surprising — both positively and negatively. Among the surprising teams are the Ravens, Eagles, Panthers, Rams and Cardinals.

One of the biggest stories entering the season was how the Patriots would do the first four weeks while QB Tom Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension. Most people thought they’d go 2-2 or 3-1 (I had them going 2-2). They’re 3-1 at the quarter pole, but they didn’t get there the way people expected. After beating the Cardinals, Dolphins and Texans — shutting out Houston — the Patriots got shut out Sunday at home against the Bills. Brady comes back in Week 5, getting a road game against the winless Browns — the only team in the league yet to get a win — in his first game of the season. The win over the Patriots put the Bills at 2-2, while the Jets and Dolphins are bringing up the rear in the division, each at 1-3. Even without Brady, the Patriots have been the best team in the AFC East, and they should only get better when their quarterback returns to action this weekend.

At 3-1, the Ravens are leading the AFC North, tied with the Steelers, who are coming off an impressive win against the Chiefs on Sunday night. The Bengals, who won the division last year, haven’t looked great so far this season but have a 2-2 record, so they’re staying in the division race while the Browns are 0-4, down to third-string QB Cody Kessler following injuries to QBs Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. It’s looking like this could be a three-team race for the division, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens falls behind the Steelers and Bengals after their hot start.

Moving on to the AFC South, it’s not pretty. There’s a three-way tie for second or last, depending on your perspective, with the Colts, Jaguars and Titans all 1-3. The division-leading Texans are 3-1 and haven’t looked bad, outside of Week 3 when they lost to the Patriots 27-0. They took a hit this past week, however, when DE J.J. Watt was ruled out for the season with a back injury. That hurts a defense that played well in the first couple weeks of the season. Despite Watt’s injury, this should be the Texans’ division to win with the Colts having a poor defense and the Jaguars not looking like the breakout team some people thought they would be this year.

Despite having QB Trevor Siemian, who left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, being their starter, the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos are 4-0 and leading the AFC West, with the Raiders right behind them at 3-1. Oakland was a trendy playoff pick this year and they’re living up to the hype thus far. I’m still not totally buying into the Raiders, but they’re off to a good start. The Chiefs are 2-2 after losing to the Steelers this week. The Chargers, who had a bad loss to the Saints on Sunday, are at the bottom of the division, at 1-3. I still think this division will come down to the Broncos battling the Chiefs, but let’s see if the Raiders can stick around in the race.

The Eagles, who had a bye in Week 4, are perched atop the NFC East with a 3-0 record. Rookie QB Carson Wentz looks like the real deal under center, even doing well in a tough matchup with the Steelers in Week 3. Dak Prescott, another rookie quarterback, is having similar success with the Cowboys; he has them at a 3-1 record. The Giants and Redskins are each 2-2 at this point. This is still a tight race all around, with all four teams at .500 or better, but as of now it appears the rookies are making Philadelphia and Dallas the teams to beat in the division. The question is can they keep it up all season?

After beating the Giants on Monday Night Football, the Vikings are 4-0, which is particularly impressive when you consider that QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending leg injury in preseason and RB Adrian Peterson suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2.  The Vikings traded for QB Sam Bradford when Bridgewater went down, and he has done a good job leading the team so far. The Packers, who were on a bye this week, are 2-1 but have looked inconsistent on offense in their three games. The Bears and Lions round out the NFC North, each at 1-3. The Vikings and Packers were the best teams in the division last year and that appears to be the case again this season. I still think the Packers will win the division, but the Vikings could stick around the playoff hunt throughout the season.

The Falcons lead the NFC South with a 3-1 record, which is kind of a surprise but not as big of a surprise as the Panthers, who lost again in Week 4 to drop to 1-3 after the first quarter of the season. QB Cam Newton, who left Sunday’s game with a possible concussion, is not playing like his MVP season of 2015. In four games, he has 6 TD passes and 5 interceptions. The defense has also been a disappointment, giving up 48 points to the Falcons this week. The Buccaneers and Saints are also 1-3, meaning both the AFC and NFC South divisions have one team at 3-1 and the other three teams at 1-3.  Unlike in the AFC South, I don’t expect the current division leader to hold on all season. Assuming Newton doesn’t miss much time with the possible concussion, I expect the Panthers to get better in the coming weeks.

The Seahawks are 3-1 to put them at the top of the NFC West, which is to be expected, but the fact that they’re tied with the Rams was definitely not expected. After being shut out by the 49ers in Week 1, the Rams have won their last three games, including handing the Seahawks their only loss so far, to give something for their fans to cheer about in their first season back in Los Angeles. The Cardinals, who won the division last year with a 13-3 record have already matched that loss total this year, going 1-3 in their first four games. QB Carson Palmer left Sunday’s game early and entered the concussion protocol, and he has already been ruled out for Thursday night when the Cardinals visit the 49ers in a battle of 1-3 teams. The Rams are another team that I don’t expect to keep up this hot start so it looks like the Seahawks should win this division, with the Cardinals — who many picked to repeat as division champs this year — getting off to a slow start.

Four weeks down, 13 to go in the regular season. So there’s still the majority of the season left to turn things around for underperforming teams like the Panthers and the Cardinals so they shouldn’t be panicking yet, but they also don’t want to fall too far behind because pretty soon they may be thinking that “it’s getting late early,” as Yankees C Yogi Berra once said.

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