Tag Archives: Dolphins

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers

NFL Divisional Round Preview: Patriots are big favorites, Packers-Cowboys play to advance to the NFC championship

With the wild-card games in the books, the top two seeds in each conference take to the field for the first time in this postseason. That means the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Falcons host games coming off of their first-round byes. For a team like the Patriots, that means veteran QB Tom Brady, one of the best in the postseason, takes on a Texans team with a mediocre offense while Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott not only gets his first taste of the playoffs but also the first truly meaningful game of his career, as the Cowboys led the NFC East virtually all season. The Falcons and Chiefs, meanwhile, have veteran quarterbacks — Matt Ryan and Alex Smith, respectively — who haven’t achieved a great deal of success in their postseason careers, save for Smith helping the 49ers reach the 2012 NFC Championship game. After finishing two games over .500 with a 129-127 record against the spread (and 156-98-2 picking games straight up) in the regular season, I went 2-2 against the spread (and 4-0 straight up but just 1-3 on the over/unders) last weekend.

Saturday

No. 3 seed Seattle Seahawks at No. 2 seed Atlanta Falcons (11-5, NFC South champions) (-5, over/under 51.5)

The Seahawks are coming off of an impressive win in the wild-card round against a Lions team with a quarterback that has been dealing with a broken finger for the last several weeks. This week, they’ll have a tougher matchup against a squad led by Ryan, who is a leading candidate for league MVP honors. RB Thomas Rawls was the Seahawks’ main offensive weapon last week, running for 161 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. QB Russell Wilson was 23-for-30 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. Catching nearly half of those completions was WR Doug Baldwin, whose 11 receptions led to 104 receiving yards and a touchdown. WR Paul Richardson put up decent numbers for him, with 3 catches for 48 yards, including a touchdown on an impressive catch in the end zone, making up for a lack of production from TE Jimmy Graham.

Ryan is coming off of a career year in which he threw for 4.944 yards and 38 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions, giving him a NFL-best passer rating of 117.1. He hasn’t had much success in his postseason career, though, going 1-4 with a 9-7 TD-interception ratio in five starts, and he has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three of those five games. Looking at what the rest of the Falcons offense did during the season, RB Devonta Freeman led the way on the ground, carrying the ball 227 yards for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. No. 2 RB Tevin Coleman added another 520 yards and 8 scores on the ground on 118 rushes. WR Julio Jones had another of his typically great seasons, with 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and 6 touchdowns in 14 games. WR Mohamed Sanu added another 59 grabs for 653 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Freeman had good production in the air game out of the backfield, with 54 catches for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns. Defensively, the Falcons are among the worst in the league,ranking in the bottom 10 in both points and yards allowed.

This game is a battle of the league’s best scoring offense in the Falcons against a Seahawks defense that allowed the third-fewest points in the league during the season and gave up just 6 against the Lions last week. If the Seattle defense can’t keep the Falcons from getting into the end zone, which I don’t think they will, I think the key offensive weapon for the Seahawks will be Rawls. He’ll have to have another good game, like his 161-yard performance against Detroit, if the team has a chance to win. I don’t think Wilson will be able to keep up with Ryan in the air so it’ll be up to the rushing attack to outplay Freeman and Coleman, in my opinion. I don’t think they’ll be able to do it. Falcons win the game, 30-24, to advance to the fifth conference championship game in franchise history. They’ll cover the five-point spread, and the game will go over the 51.5.

No. 4 seed Houston Texans at No. 1 seed New England Patriots (14-2, AFC East champions) (-16, over/under 44.5)

In a rematch of a Week 3 game that saw the Patriots — with QB Jacoby Brissett starting — shut out the Texans at Gillette Stadium, the Texans head back to Foxborough for a chance at redemption as they try to make it to their first AFC Championship game in team history. Last week, the Texans beat the Raiders at home behind a strong showing by the defense — particularly DEs Jadeveon Clowney, who recorded his first career interception, and Whitney Mercilus, who had 2 sacks and 5 tackles in the game. CB A.J. Bouye had an interception of his own in the winning effort. The offense, as has been the case all season, wasn’t very explosive, although QB Brock Osweiler did show some promising signs at times, making a couple of nice throws to WR DeAndre Hopkins, who had 5 receptions for 67 yards and 1 touchdown on 9 targets. Overall, Osweiler was 14-for-25 for 168 yards and 1 touchdown. Not impressive but the lack of interceptions was a good sign because he had more interceptions than touchdown passes — 16 vs. 15 — during the regular season. The Texans couldn’t get much done in the running game; RB Lamar Miller was only able to get 73 yards on 31 carries, though he did get into the end zone once.

After missing the first four games of the season while serving his suspension for Deflategate, Brady put up impressive numbers, leading many to make him their MVP pick despite missing a quarter of the season. In his 12 starts, Brady had a 28-2 TD-interception ratio while throwing for 3,554 yards. Unlike Ryan, who hasn’t done well in the postseason historically, Brady almost seems to up his game in January. He has won 22 of his 31 starts — including four Super Bowl victories — and thrown 56 touchdowns compared to 28 interceptions. With TE Rob Gronkowski missing most of the season to injury, WR Julian Edelman was the team’s leading receiver with 98 receptions 1,106 yards and 3 touchdowns. TE Martellus Bennett stepped up in the second half of the season after Gronk went on IR. He finished the year with 55 catches for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns. RB James White was productive in the passing game out of the backfield, with 60 catches for 551 yards and 5 touchdowns. RB LeGarrette Blount was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 299 times for 1,161 yards and an impressive 18 touchdowns. As if having one of the league’s best offenses wasn’t enough, the Patriots also had the best scoring defense during the season, giving up only 250 points — 34 fewer than the next best team, the Giants.

On paper this game seems like a blowout, and that is reflected as well in the 16-point spread. The Week 3 shutout doesn’t do much to refute that. While I don’t think this game will be close, I find it hard to give a team 16 points in the playoffs. The Texans defense will have to keep Brady and the Patriots in check if they want to have any chance of pulling off the upset because the Texans offense may be hard pressed to get into the 20s against a Patriots defense that allowed an average of 15.6 points per game during the regular season. Patriots win the game easily, but with a 27-13 score I’ll take the Texans with the points, and that will also be under the 44.5.

Sunday

No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs (12-4, AFC West champions) (-1.5, over/under 44)

The Steelers easily took care of the Dolphins in the wild-card round to earn the trip to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. In Sunday’s game QB Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have a great outing, going 13-for-18 for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions, but he didn’t have to be at the top of his game thanks to RB Le’Veon Bell, who set a Steelers postseason record by rushing for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 rushes. WR Antonio Brown helped the Steelers jump out to an early lead with a couple of first-quarter scores. Overall, he had 5 receptions for 124 yards and those 2 touchdowns. The defense had three turnovers, including an interception by LB Ryan Shazier.

For the Chiefs, Smith set a career high this season with 3,502 passing yards, though that resulted in just 15 touchdowns and he threw 8 interceptions, which was his highest total since throwing 10 in 2010. RB Spencer Ware was the team’s leading rusher, getting the start in 14 games and carrying the ball 214 times for 921 yards and 3 touchdowns. TE Travis Kelce caught 85 passes to lead the team with 1,125 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. It was WR Tyreek Hill who was the Chiefs’ breakout star on offense this season. He had 61 receptions for 593 yards and a team-high 6 touchdowns in the passing game, but that’s not the only part of the game in which he was active. He had 24 carries for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he added another 3 touchdowns on special teams, returning two punts and a kickoff for scores. Defensively, the Chiefs allowed 311 points during the season — seventh best in the league — but was in the bottom 10 in yards allowed.

The 1.5-point spread indicates that this game is expected to be close. The Steelers have the better offense with the Roethlisberger-Bell-Brown triplets, but the Chiefs have the better defense, which the team will rely on to keep the Steelers out of the end zone as much as possible as Smith and Ware can’t compare to Roethlisberger and Bell. The X-factor for the Chiefs is, of course, Hill. If he can continue the strong second half of the season that he had, it could be enough to get the Chiefs the win If he can score on a kick or punt return, that would certainly help take some of the pressure off of both the offense and defense. In the end, though, I don’t think the Chiefs will be able to score enough points to pull out the victory. The Steelers are the slight underdogs so I’ll take the points. I think Pittsburgh wins, 23-20, and I’ll go under the 44.

No. 4 seed Green Bay Packers at No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys (13-3, NFC East champions) (-4.5, over/under 52.5)

The Packers pulled away from the Giants in the second half of their wild-card game last week and ended up winning by 25 points, but they may have lost a key player in the process. WR Jordy Nelson left the game early with what was later determined to be fractured ribs. Even without Nelson playing the entire game, QB Aaron Rodgers had a big game for the Packers, going 25-for-40 for 362 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had two receivers cross the 100-yard mark; WR Davante Adams had 8 receptions for 125 yards and 1 touchdown, while WR Randall Cobb came back after missing a couple games with an injury and had 5 receptions for 116 yards and 3 touchdowns, including one on a hail-mary pass just before halftime. The running game struggled, as it has most of the season, with RBs Christine Michael and Ty Montgomery splitting the touches almost evenly but totaling just 74 rushing yards between them. On defense, LB Clay Matthews had a sack and a forced fumble and CB Damarious Randall intercepted an Eli Manning pass.

Led by rookies Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys had their best season since 2007 with a 13-3 record. Prescott threw for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. He also had 6 rushing touchdowns on 57 carries. That was nothing compared to what Elliott did on the ground, carrying the ball 322 times for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. WR Cole Beasley was the team’s leading receiver with 75 receptions for 833 yards and 5 touchdowns. Veteran TE Jason Witten added 69 receptions for 673 yards and 3 touchdowns while WR Dez Bryant had 50 catches for 796 yards and 8 touchdowns in 13 games. The defense was the team’s weak point during the season, allowing both the fifth-most points and yards in the league.

Both teams have good offenses and questionable defenses so points should be easy to come by in this one. Nelson’s availability is a big question mark for the Packers. The team is saying he likely won’t be able to practice until Saturday, so a decision on his status for the game won’t be known until the weekend. If he can’t go, that would be a blow to the Packers offense and would require the likes of Adams and Cobb to repeat their performances from last week. I give the Cowboys a slight edge in this game because of Elliott. The Packers run game can’t come close to the production he is likely to put up, and that could be the difference in the game. Cowboys win, 30-27, so they don’t cover the spread but do advance to the NFC Championship game. And that score means I’m going over 52.5.

If these results happen, it’ll eliminate the possibility of my preseason Super Bowl LI pick — Packers over Patriots — from happening. With the Patriots likely beating the Texans, that prediction will stay alive if the Packers can manage to beat the Cowboys.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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Green Bay Packers v New York Giants

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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

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

Thursday Night Football

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

Saturday 1PM games

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

Saturday 4PM games

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

Saturday Night Football

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

Sunday Doubleheader

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

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

Monday Night Football

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

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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 11: Rams’ Goff set to make debut, Texans and Raiders battle south of the border

The London games may be done for the season, but that doesn’t mean the NFL is out of international games for the year. Week 11’s Monday night game sees the Texans taking on the Raiders in Mexico City. Back in the States, 2016 No. 1 overall pick QB Jared Goff is scheduled to make his first career start for the Rams when they host the Dolphins. Notable games include the Saints visiting the Panthers in a Thursday night contest that could be a must-win for both teams if they want to stay in the playoff race in the NFC and the Eagles heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. I went 4-10 last week, bringing my record to 65-80 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: Falcons, Broncos, Jets, Chargers

Thursday Night Football

Saints at Panthers (-3.5) – Both teams lost crucial games late in the fourth quarter last week and are looking to bounce back this week. The Panthers are the better overall team when accounting for both offense and defense, but the Saints have the better offense. New Orleans doesn’t do as well on the road as at home, though, so I think the Panthers will win the game to keep alive any slim playoff hopes they have.

Sunday 1PM games

Bills at Bengals (-3.5) – Both teams have been inconsistent this season and are on the fringe of playoff contention in the AFC. Neither offense has been impressive this season. The Bills have a better defense so I’ll give them the edge here. They are also coming off their bye while the Bengals have a short week, coming off a Monday night loss to the Giants.
Bears at Giants (-7.5) – I think 7.5 points is a lot for the Giants to be giving pretty much any team, but the Bears will be without WR Alshon Jeffery, who will be serving the first game of his four-game PED suspension, and QB Jay Cutler hasn’t been good of late. I think the Giants win the game, but I don’t see them covering so I’ll take the Bears with the points.
Steelers at Browns (+9.5) – The Browns’ record has now reached 0-10 as they continue to look for their first win. I don’t think they’ll get it this week. Despite losing to the Cowboys last week, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger looked like himself after a subpar performance the week before. With Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, I think the Steelers have the offensive firepower needed to cover the 9.5-point spread against the Browns.
Ravens at Cowboys (-7.5) – QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott have led the Cowboys to an NFL-best 8-1 record. The offense is among the best in the league. I don’t think the Ravens will be able to keep it a low-scoring game, and Ravens QB .Joe Flacco and the offense won’t be able to keep up with Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the Cowboys offense. Cowboys win and cover.
Jaguars at Lions (-6.5) – The Jaguars aren’t good. QB Blake Bortles hasn’t done much in most games this season until garbage time, when the game was already out of reach. QB Mathew Stafford and the NFC North-leading Lions should be able to win by a touchdown and cover.
Titans at Colts (-2.5) – I’m surprised that the Colts are favored in this game. The Titans just put up 47 points on the Packers last week and have the two best offensive players in the game with QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray. Don’t expect them to score 45 points again, but they should be able to put up numbers on a bad Colts defense. I expect the Titans to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Buccaneers at Chiefs (-7.5) – The Chiefs came back at the end of last week’s game to beat the Panthers and the Buccaneers looked good in easily beating the Bears. I think the Chiefs win the game, but I expect the Bucs to keep it close. I’ll take Tampa Bay and the points.
Cardinals at Vikings (-0.5) – The Vikings continued their downswing last week, losing their fourth straight after starting the year 5-0. The Cardinals have been the better team in recent weeks and, although QB Carson Palmer hasn’t been having a great season, I expect the Cardinals to win the game.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Rams (+0.5) – The Dolphins defense has been playing well of late, and this week the unit gets to go against Goff in his NFL debut. Goff is the No. 1 overall pick in this yer’s draft, but the fact that he’s been serving as the backup to QB Case Keenum for the team’s first nine games indicates that the Rams may not be thrilled with the way he’s been performing in practices. I don’t think Goff will have much success against the Dolphins in his first game in the league so Miami wins the games.
Patriots at 49ers (+13.5) – I got burned last week by picking the Patriots +7.5 against the Seahawks, who won the game. I don’t think the 49ers have a chance to win the game but I think they’ll keep it within two touchdowns to stay within the spread. Patriots QB Tom Brady usually performs well after a loss, but he may be without TE Rob Gronkowski, who reportedly suffered a punctured lung in Sunday night’s loss and may sit out this game. Patriots win but don’t cover the spread.
Eagles at Seahawks (-6.5) – The Seahawks beat the Patriots on the road last week and they should have an easier time of things at home against the Eagles this week. QB Russell Wilson seems to be as healthy as he’s been all season and RB Thomas Rawls looks like he’s on track to return this week and see his first game action since suffering an injury back in Week 2. Seahawks win the game and cover.

Sunday Night Football
Packers at Redskins (-2.5) – The Packers got blown out by the Titans last week, giving up 47 points, and I think this is going to be a statement game for QB Aaron Rodgers so he can prove to people that the team’s not done yet. Redskins QB Kirk Cousins has been playing well of late but he’s still not at the same level as Rodgers, who is playing fine despite the team’s struggles. I think the Packers win the game outright so give me the points.

Monday Night Football (Mexico City)

Texans at Raiders (-6.5) – The Raiders are nominally the home team in Mexico City for this battle of the Texans’ strong defense against the high-scoring Raiders offense. Texans QB Brock Osweiler has not played well all season while Raiders QB David Carr has, but I think the Texans D can at least keep the game close so I’ll take the Texans with the points, though I’m not convinced they win the 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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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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