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My NFL Picks: Conference Championships — Young quarterbacks battle Super Bowl-winning vets

Three of the four underdogs won on the road in the wild card round, but things were different in the divisional round when all four home favorites won. That means that the top two seeds in each conference will be playing each other for the right to head to Atlanta to play in Super Bowl LIII on February 3. In addition to both conference championship games pitting the No. 1 and 2 seeds against each other, both feature an all-time great veteran quarterback with at least one Super Bowl ring facing off with a young quarterback with a bright future in the NFL.

The Sunday doubleheader kicks off in New Orleans, with QB Drew Brees and the top-seeded Saints hosting the No. 2 seed Rams, led by QB Jared Goff. When these teams played each other back in Week 9, the Saints won 45-35. The Rams are looking to make the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2001 season, while the Saints are looking to return to the title game for the first time since they won it in the 2009 season. In the nightcap, QB Tom Brady leads the Patriots — who are in the AFC championship game for the eighth straight season — into Kansas City to take on QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, who hope to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Last week, I went 3-1 picking games, but 0-4 against the spread and 2-2 on over/unders. Through the first two weeks of the postseason, that puts me at 4-4 straight up, 1-7 against the spread and 4-4 on over/unders.

No. 2 seed Los Angeles Rams at No. 1 seed New Orleans Saints (-3, over/under 56.5)

When these teams played each other in Week 9, the Saints won 45-35 at home. Both quarterbacks put up big numbers in that one, with Goff throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns and Brees tossing four touchdowns on 346 passing yards. Saints RB Alvin Kamara ran for a couple of touchdowns in that game, but the player of the game was Saints WR Michael Thomas. He caught 12 of his 15 targets for 211 yards and a touchdown. But Rams WR Brandin Cooks also had a good game, securing six receptions for 114 yards and a score. The Rams had WR Cooper Kupp in that game, but they’ll be without him in the conference title game as he has been out since the middle of the season with a season-ending injury. 

The Superdome is a tough place for opponents to play; the Saints are 6-3 at home this season, including last week’s win over the Eagles. And this should be another shootout, as it was when these teams met during the regular season. They combined for 80 points in that contest, and they probably won’t reach that total again, but both teams certainly have the ability to score in the 30s. The Saints were middle-of-the-pack in points allowed during the regular season, and the Rams were 20th in the category. When it comes down to it, I think the Saints have the overall advantage in the passing attack. I’ll take Brees and his experience over Goff — even though Brees didn’t play as well in the second half of the season — and Thomas was one of the best receivers in the league this year. I’ll take him over Cooks or Robert Woods. The Rams may have a slight advantage at the running back position, though. Kamara is good, but Rams RB Todd Gurley — when healthy — is probably better than him. That “when healthy” qualifier is key because Gurley has been dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of the Rams’ last two regular season games, but he played through it last week against the Cowboys to carry the ball 16 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. Backup RB C.J. Anderson has played surprisingly well in his three games with the Rams, totaling at least 20 rushes, 123 yards and a touchdown in all of those contests. That is a good insurance policy to have in case Gurley can’t carry the full workload in the running game. Although neither team has a great defense, the Rams have the best defenders in the game with DTs Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, although CB Eli Apple has played well for the Saints since they acquired him from the Giants before the trade deadline.

These teams are pretty evenly matched, and I would normally pick the Saints at home, but the Rams were my preseason Super Bowl pick and I’m going to stick with them. I’m going to count on the Gurley-Anderson combo to lead the offense. Plus, I expect the Rams to focus on stopping the run to try to make Brees beat them because he hasn’t played that well recently. I’m expecting a close game, but not as high-scoring as their first meeting. I’ll go with the Rams 35-30.

Rams (+3), over 56.5

No. 2 seed New England Patriots at No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs (-3, over/under 56)

Getting home-field advantage could be big for the Chiefs because the Patriots were 9-0 at home this season — including last week’s victory over the Chargers — but just 3-5 away from Gillette Stadium. One of the Patriots’ home games was a Week 6 tilt in which they edged the Chiefs 43-40. Mahomes threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns in the loss, with Brady going for 340 yards with just one touchdown. Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt had nearly 200 all-purpose yards for the team, but he is no longer with the Chiefs after being released late in the regular season. WR Tyreek Hill had a big game, catching seven balls for 142 yards and three scores. TE Travis Kelce had 61 receiving yards on five catches. For the Patriots, RB Sony Michel carried the ball 24 times for 106T yards and two touchdowns. The Pats’ leading receiver was TE Rob Gronkowski, who had three receptions for 97 yards. WR Julian Edelman had the home team’s only touchdown through the air as one of his four catches that totaled 54 yards. WR Chris Hogan caught all four of his targets for 78 yards.

Earlier in the week, it looked like there could be bitter cold and/or snowy conditions for the game on Sunday evening, but more recent forecasts have bumped the temperatures up into the 20s and done away with the calls for snow. So it doesn’t look like the weather will play as much of a factor in the game as it appeared earlier, but Brady and the Patriots are used to playing in cold and snow anyway, so it probably wouldn’t have negatively affected them much. The Patriots theoretically have the defensive advantage in this game, having given up nearly 100 fewer points during the season than the Chiefs did, but it’s hard for defenses to keep the Chiefs from scoring a lot and they scored more points against the Patriots than any other team this season.  So I’m not sure how much of an advantage that will be. The Chiefs’ offensive weakness is in the running game, but RB Damien Williams did run for 129 yards and a touchdown last week against the Colts. That was one of four rushing touchdowns in the game as the Colts held Mahomes without a passing touchdown. But Kelce had a big receiving game with 108 yards on seven receptions. The running backs were also a big part of the Patriots’ win over the Chargers last week. Michel had 129 rushing yards with three touchdowns, and RB James White caught 15 of his 17 targets for 97 yards. But Edelman had an even better receiving game, with 151 yards on nine receptions.

 I expect the Patriots to go with a similar game plan as last week, relying on Michel to run the ball and short passes to White to move downfield. The Chiefs, meanwhile, should rely on Mahomes’ arm to get the job done, mixing in Williams’ work on the ground. I think the Chiefs get the win at home, 35-27, to advance to Atlanta.

Chiefs (-3), over 56

By the end of the night Sunday, we’ll know which teams will be playing in Super Bowl LIII. If my picks end up being correct, it’ll be the two young guns in Goff and Mahomes each playing in their first title game.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks Week 17: Steelers, Ravens, Colts among teams vying for final playoff spots

This is it. It’s Week 17, the final week of the 2018 NFL regular season, giving teams one more chance to make it to the postseason or improve their playoff seeding. All four divisions have been clinched in the NFC, but only the AFC East champ has been decided in the AFC with the Patriots winning that division for a record 10th straight season. The Ravens and Steelers are vying for the AFC North, the AFC West is down to the Chiefs and Chargers, and it’s a three-way race for the AFC South with the Texans, Colts and Titans all still in contention. In all there is one playoff spot still up for grabs in the NFC, with two teams yet to punch their tickets into the postseason on the AFC side of the docket. As is traditionally the case, all 16 games this week are divisional games being played on Sunday, with the Colts visiting the Titans in a winner-take-all game as Game 256 on Sunday night. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 115-135 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Buccaneers (-1.5) – The Falcons are hosting the Super Bowl this year and since they are not in the postseason, the streak of a team never playing in the Super Bowl in its home stadium continues. Neither of these teams is very good, but I trust Falcons QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones more than the QB Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers offense. I think the Falcons win the game, so I’ll take the points on the road.

Dolphins at Bills (-3.5) – The Dolphins lost to the Jaguars at home last week, and now they have to head to Buffalo to take on the Bills in the cold weather. The Bills have been playing better since QB Josh Allen returned from his injury. Based on that and the Bills being more used to playing in cold weather in upstate New York, I’ll go with the home team to cover.

Cowboys at Giants (-6.5) – This spread is likely based on the assumption that the Cowboys, who are locked into the NFC’s four seed, will rest their starters for at least part of the game. That means QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott will probably play, at most, a quarter or two. That would mean backup QB Cooper Rush and RB Rod Smith would get in some work. But the Giants, who could be without WR Odell Beckham for a fourth straight game, aren’t that good either. Even if the Cowboys’ offense struggles without Dak and Ezekiel, they still have a pretty good defense. Even though the Cowboys may not win the game, I think they’ll stay within a touchdown so I’ll take the points.

Lions at Packers (-7.5) – This seems like a big spread for a Packers team that needed overtime to beat the Jets on Sunday. I don’t think the Packers are that much better than the Lions this season. I think QB Aaron Rodgers will find a way to get the Packers the victory at Lambeau Field in their season finale, but I don’t know if they’ll win by more than a touchdown. I’ll go with the Lions.

Jets at Patriots  (-13.5) – The Patriots ended their two-game losing streak last week by beating the Bills. They need to win this game to ensure they end up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and the first-round bye that comes with it, so they will be playing their starters. But the Patriots’ offense isn’t the same as it once was, with age seeming to finally be catching up with QB Tom Brady and injuries hampering the performance of TE Rob Gronkowski. With that in mind, I’m hard pressed to imagine the Patriots being able to beat the Jets — who scored 38 last week against the Packers — by two touchdowns. Knowing what’s on the line for them, I expect the Patriots to win at home but the Jets cover.

Panthers at Saints (-10.5) – When the Rams lost to the Eagles last week, it clinched the top seed in the NFC for the Saints, who know they have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. With that in mind, QB Drew Brees is unlikely to play all 60 minutes in this game since the Saints have nothing to play for. The Panthers will have their third different starting quarterback in as many games after QB Taylor Heinicke, who got the start on Sunday, injured his elbow in the game. The team has placed him on IR and announced that QB Kyle Allen will get the start as the team continues sitting QB Cam Newton rather than risk further injury in a meaningless game. That, combined with the Superdome being a tough place for opponents to play, would seem to indicate that the Saints should win the game easily. But if Brees doesn’t play the whole game, that may not be the case. I’m counting on Brees only playing a quarter or so, so I’m going to go with the Panthers to cover.

Jaguars at Texans (-7.5) – After making it to the AFC Championship last year, the Jaguars are just 5-10 entering Week 17 and won’t make a return trip to the postseason. The Texans, on the other hand, clinched a playoff spot when the Steelers lost the Saints last week and they control their own destiny for the AFC South title. If the Texans win this game, they win the division. They would also get a first-round bye with a win and a Patriots loss, or a win and other results going their way. After starting QB Cody Kessler for the last four games, the Jaguars have announced that they’re going back to QB Blake Bortles as the starter for Sunday’s game. Regardless of who’s starting for the Jags, their offense isn’t very good and the Texans should easily win behind the offense led by QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans will, however, be without WR Demaryius Thomas, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles against the Eagles on Sunday. I’m giving the points. 

Sunday 4PM games

Bears at Vikings (-5.5) – This game is meaningful for both teams, but especially the Vikings, who control their own destiny for the final playoff spot in the NFC. If the Vikings beat the Bears — or if the Eagles lose to the Redskins — they get the remaining wild card in the conference. For the Bears, they have a chance to earn a first-round bye. They’ll get that bye if they win and the Rams lose to the 49ers. Given the fact that the bears can earn that bye with a win, I’m surprised the Vikings are such big favorites. I think the Bears win the game outright, so I’ll take the points.

Bengals at Steelers (-14.5) – Last week’s loss to the Saints proved costly for the Steelers, who now need help to make it to the postseason. Simply beating the Bengals won’t be enough to secure a playoff spot. The Steelers would also need the Ravens to lose to the Browns to earn the AFC North crown. The Steelers also have an outside chance at a wild card, but in order for them to get that they would need to win and have the Colts-Titans primetime game end in a tie.The Steelers should definitely win the game because the Bengals’ offense isn’t nearly at the same level as the Steelers with QB Ben Roethlisberger and WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Steelers win the game, but I think the Bengals cover the spread.

Browns at Ravens (-6.5) – Unlike the Steelers, the Ravens control their own destiny. If they beat the Browns, they win the AFC North. They also have an outside chance at earning a first-round bye if a lot goes their way, or getting a wild card if they tie and the Colts-Titans game ends in a tie. Since the double-tie scenario is unlikely to happen, the only realistic scenario for the Ravens is getting the division by winning their game. That will be easier said than done, though, because the Browns aren’t the pushovers they have been in the past thanks to the emergence of rookie QB Baker Mayfield. With QB Lamar Jackson continuing to start for the Ravens, I think they win the game and earn the division title, but I think the Browns keep it close so I’ll take the points on the road.

Chargers at Broncos (+6.5) – The Broncos seem to have given up on the season, having lost their last three games without scoring more than 16 points in any of those contests. The Chargers have already clinched a playoff spot, but they can still win the AFC West and earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a Chiefs loss. So they definitely have something to play for, which means they won’t be resting QB Philip Rivers or RB Melvin Gordon in this one. Given the talent discrepancy between these teams, I think the Chargers cover the spread, and could win by double digits.

Raiders at Chiefs (-13.5) – The Chiefs simply need to win this game to ensure they win the AFC West and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference. That shouldn’t be hard to do with QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Tyreek HIll and TE Travis Kelce leading the offense against a subpar Raiders defense. I don’t typically like picking the favorite with a double-digit spread, but I think the Chiefs have enough firepower on offense to win by a couple touchdowns. I’ll give the points.

49ers at Rams (-9.5) – The Rams need a win or a Bears loss to get the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. Despite this game meaning something, the Rams may hold out RB Todd Gurley for a second straight game to rest him for the postseason as he continues to deal with inflammation in his left knee. RB C.J. Anderson performed well in Gurley’s absence last week, running for 167 yards and a touchdown in his first game with the team after being released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season. Regardless of who starts at running back, QB Jared Goff and WR Brandin Cooks will be out there for the Rams, which should be enough to beat the 49ers, who are relying on TE George Kittle and WR Dante Pettis to make up the bulk of their offense. While the margin of victory could be close to the 9.5-point spread, I think the Rams barely cover it.

Eagles at Redskins (+6.5) – The Eagles need to win this game and have the Vikings lose to earn the final playoff spot in the conference. If QB Nick Foles plays like he did last week — throwing for 471 yards and four touchdowns — winning the game shouldn’t be much of a challenge. I don’t expect another game like that for Foles, but I do think the Eagles beat the Redskins team that doesn’t have much of an offense apart from RB Adrian Peterson, who had his first 100-yard performance since Week 8 on Sunday. Eagles cover.

Cardinals at Seahawks (-12.5) – Both The Cardinals have clinched a wild card and are locked into their seed. With nothing to play for, QB Russell Wilson may not play the whole game, so backup QB Brett Hundley may see some action under center. Given that, I’m hesitant to go with the Seahawks to cover, even though the Cardinals are a bad team. I’ll give the points.

Sunday Night Football – Game 256

Colts at Titans (+1.5) – The final game of the regular season is a winner-take-all contest. If the Texans lose in the afternoon, the winner of this game is the AFC South champion. If the Texans win, the team that wins this game gets a wild card. The Titans got a scare last week when QB Marcus Mariota had to leave their game against the Redskins with a stinger. He is, however, saying he’s optimistic he will be able to play on Sunday. And with the importance of this game, he will do whatever he can to take the field. If he can’t go, backup QB Blaine Gabbert would get the start. Even if Mariota plays, I don’t think the Titans have much of a chance to win the game. Their offense isn’t very good, unless RB Derrick Henry has a big game. The Colts have QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton, although TE Eric Ebron — who has a career-high 12 touchdowns in his first season with the team — left last week’s game against the Giants with a concussion, and his status for Sunday night is unknown at this time. Even with the players who are questionable with injuries, I think the Colts are the better team and I think they can cover the minimal 1.5-point spread on the road to officially clinch their first postseason berth since the 2014 season.

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My NFL Picks Week 16: Teams making a final push for the playoffs

It’s the penultimate week of the regular season in the NFL, which means teams have just two games left in which to secure playoff spots or improve seeding. After losing two in a row, the Patriots return home to host the Bills as they hope to get back into one of the AFC’s top two seeds to earn a first-round bye. The second seed is currently held by the Texans, who are coming off a Saturday win against the Jets, and this week they head to Philadelphia to take on an Eagles team that is still in the postseason hunt in the NFC. Other games with playoff implications include Steelers at Saints and the Sunday night contest, featuring the Chiefs visiting the Seahawks. Thursday night games are done for the season, but we have another Saturday doubleheader this week. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 108-126 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Saturday games

Redskins at Titans (-10.5) – The Redskins beat the Jaguars last week — with QB Josh Johnson picking up his first career win as a starter in the process — to keep alive their slim hopes of winning the NFC East. This week, they face a tougher opponent, although the Titans have been inconsistent this season. Titans RB Derrick Henry will likely be able to run on the Redskins, and lead Tennessee to a win, but i think 10.5 is a lot of points to give, so I’ll take the Redskins to cover.

Ravens at Chargers (-4.5) – The Chargers upset the Chiefs last Thursday and will have had nine days to prepare for a Ravens team that is still in the playoff hunt. The Chargers should get RB Melvin Gordon back this week, after he has missed the last few games with a sprained MCL. While that will be a boon to the 11-3 Chargers, who are looking to win the AFC West and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, they may be without WR Keenan Allen, who bruised his ribs in last Thursday’s win over the Chiefs. I don’t think Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is a good enough passer yet to have much success through the air, so I expect the Chargers to win and cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Panthers (-3.5) – The Panthers have lost six straight and now they face Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons in a battle of teams that have disappointed this season. RB Christian McCaffrey has been by far the Panthers’ best player of late, and he will likely have to carry the team in the final two games as the Panthers have shut down QB Cam Newton for the season, which means QB Taylor Heinicke will make his first career start this week. I think the Falcons win the game, so I’ll take the points,

Bills at Patriots (-12.5) – These Patriots are not the Patriots of old, in the midst of a rare two-game losing streak in December. Age my finally be starting to get the best of QB Tom Brady, and TE Rob Gronkowski isn’t himself and likely isn’t fully healthy. WR Julian Edelman is probably Brady’s best pass-catcher right now. For the Bills, rookie QB Josh Allen can get things done on the ground. The Patriots need to win this game if they want to stay alive for the No. 2 seed and a potential first-round bye. I expect them to win the game, but I think the Bills keep it close and could even pull off the upset. Give me the points.

Bengals at Browns  (-6.5) – The Browns have won two straight and are surprisingly still in the hunt for a playoff spot entering Week 16, though they need to win and get quite a bit of help from other teams to get the chance to play in January. But Browns QB Baker Mayfield seems to be the real deal, and RB Nick Chubb has been performing well since the team traded RB Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars earlier in the season. The Bengals basically have RB Joe Mixon and not much else. The Browns should win the game, but I think the Bengals can keep it within a field goal or so, so I’ll take the points on the road in the divisional battle.

Buccaneers at Cowboys (-7.5) – The Cowboys were shut out on Sunday for the first time since 2003, leaving the NFC East up for grabs. Now they look to bounce-back from that bad loss against the Buccaneers. I think QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Amari Cooper will play better than they did last week and should pick up an important win, but I’m hard pressed to give more than a touchdown with a team that couldn’t score a week ago, so I’ll take the points.

Vikings at Lions (+5.5) – This looks like it should be a low-scoring game between two teams that have been struggling offensively in recent weeks, save for the Vikings’ 41-point output last week against the Dolphins. Still, I don’t trust QB Kirk Cousins right now, so I don’t think the Vikings will score more than about 21-24 points. Given that expectation, I think the Lions cover the spread although Minnesota likely wins the game.

Packers at Jets (-0.5) – At the beginning of the season, I don’t think many people expected the Jets to be favored over the Packers in this game, even if it is just by half-a-point. Part of that could be uncertainty over the status of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Now that the Packers have officially been eliminated from playoff contention, there has been speculation that they could sit Rodgers for the final two games and go with backup QB DeShone Kizer. If KIzer does get the start, I think the Jets win the game, and even if Rodgers does start, there’s no guarantee he’ll play the whole game and the Jets may still win. Jets QB Sam Darnold is playing well, as is RB Elijah McGuire so I’m going to go with the home team.

Giants at Colts (-9.5) – A week ago, the Giants were shut out by the Titans, while the Colts handed the Cowboys their first shutout loss in 15 years, so it would appear that the Colts have the advantage in this game. The Colts definitely have the advantage under center, with Andrew Luck vs. Eli Manning, and the Giants may be without top WR Odell Beckham Jr., who has sat out the last two games with a quad injury. The Giants say they are “hopeful” for his return on Sunday, but it is not yet official. If Beckham doesn’t play, I think the Colts could cover the 9.5. But I expect Beckham to take the field, so I think the Giants may barely cover.

Jaguars at Dolphins (-4.5) – The  Jaguars are not playing well with QB Cody Kessler starting in place of Blake Bortles, and it seems like they may be playing to get a better draft pick rather than playing to win games. Even RB Leonard Fournette didn’t have a great game in Sunday’s loss to the Redskins. The Dolphins aren’t a great team, but I think they can win by a touchdown or so, so I’ll give the points. 

Texans at Eagles (-0.5) – Both teams need to win this game. For the Texans it would clinch the AFC South and keep them in the No. 2 seed in the conference. For the Eagles, it could keep them alive in the NFC East race. The Eagles have already announced QB Nick Foles will start again this week, but he has a tough challenge against the Texans defense led by DE J.J. Watt. Texans RB Lamar Miller injured his right ankle in Saturday’s win over the Jets and may not be able to play. But the Texans still have a strong passing game led by QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins. I think the Texans win the game.

Sunday 4PM games

Bears at 49ers (+3.5) – The 49ers pulled off the upset of a potential playoff team in the Seahawks last week, and now they’ll look to do the same against the NFC North champion Bears. I don’t think this is going to be a close game, so I’m surprised it’s just a 3.5-point spread. Bears win easily.

Rams at Cardinals (+14.5) – The Cardinals may be the worst team in the league at this point, and now they have to go up against an 11-3 Rams team looking to stay alive for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Rams’ offense hasn’t been as explosive in the last couple of games as it had been earlier in the season, and it may take a hit with RB Todd Gurley not at 100% after tweaking his knee in last week’s game. He should play on Sunday, but he may be limited with backup RB John Kelly getting some of Gurley’s workload. Regardless, the Rams should win the game but I don’t know if they’ll do it by two touchdowns, so I’ll take the points.

Steelers at Saints (-6.5) – The Steelers are coming off a big win at home against the Patriots, but now they have to hit the road to go to the Superdome to take on QB Drew Brees and the Saints. New Orleans’ offense has struggled recently, scoring 12 or fewer points in two of the team’s last three games. With Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas, the Saints are always capable of hanging a big number on the scoreboard, but they haven’t been doing it lately. The Steelers, meanwhile. may see the return of RB James Conner this week, which would likely give the offense a boost and take some of the pressure off of QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown. although RB Jaylen Samuels had a good game in Conner’s absence last week., I think the Saints will win the game, but I think the Steelers keep it close so I’ll take the points here.

Sunday Night Football

Chiefs at Seahawks (+2.5) – Both teams lost last week and are looking to bounce back, with the Seahawks looking to retain their hold on one of the NFC’s wild card slots and the Chiefs hoping to solidify their standing as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes had one of his worst statistical games of the season last week, but he still threw for two touchdowns in the defeat. I expect a bit of a bounce-back game for the Chiefs, and Seattle is a tough place to play for the opposing team, but I think the Chiefs can win and cover the spread.

Monday Night Football

Broncos at Raiders (+2.5) – The week ends on an anticlimactic note with two teams that won’t be playing in January. The Broncos’ offense isn’t great, but neither is the Raiders’. I think the Broncos have the best offensive player on the field with RB Phillip LIndsay, so I think they’ll win the game. I’ll give the points on the road.

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My NFL Picks Week 15: Steelers look to get back to winning ways against Patriots

With the college football season over, other than bowl games, we get the first week of Saturday NFL games in Week 15. But before that, the schedule starts with an AFC West matchup with the Chargers visiting the division-leading Chiefs. The Saturday doubleheader features TexansJets and BrownsBroncos, followed by a Sunday lineup highlighted by Tom Brady and the Patriots visiting Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The Monday night contest sees the Panthers try to keep their playoff hopes alive when they host the SaintsI went 9-7 last week, giving me an overall record of 101-117 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Chargers at Chiefs (-3.5) – Both teams are dealing with injuries, as RB Melvin Gordon is a game-time decision for the Chargers after missing last week’s game, and his backup RB Austin Ekeler is in the concussion protocol and has been ruled out with the Chargers facing the short week. If they’re both out, it would open the door for rookie RB Justin Jackson to make his first starts; he has yet to record more than nine touches in a game this season. For the Chiefs, WR Tyreek Hill played through a foot injury in the team’s win last week, but he is looking like he should be able to take the field for the game in which a win would clinch the division and a first-round bye for Kansas City. I don’t think Gordon or Ekeler play, which would hurt the Chargers’ offense, so I’m going to give the points and go with the home team.

Saturday games

Texans at Jets (+6.5) – The Texans’ nine-game win streak came to an end when they lost to the Colts on Sunday, but they’re still in first place in the AFC South. The Jets, on the other hand, are coming off a win against the Bills but not face a tougher test against a Texans offense with QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins leading the passing attack. Jets QB Sam Darnold briefly left last week’s game with an injury, but he returned and he should be able to make the start Saturday afternoon. It won’t be easy, though, against DE J.J. Watt and a strong Houston defense. I’ll give the points on the road.

Browns at Broncos (-3.5) – The Broncos need this game to stay on the periphery of the AFC wild card chase, and they’re facing a Browns team coming off an upset of the Panthers. But that game was in Cleveland, and this one is at elevation in Denver.The Browns have been winning games since their coaching change a few weeks ago, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to pull off the victory against the Broncos because I think Broncos RB Phillip LIndsay will have a good game. But I expect a close game, so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Cardinals at Falcons (-8.5) – The Cardinals only managed to get a field goal against the LIons this week and now face a Falcons team with a good offense behind QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones. The Falcons don’t have a great defense, but the Cardinals probably won’t be able to take advantage of it with their subpar offense. The Falcons have been a disappointment this season, but I think they win this one easily.

Lions at Bills (-3.5) – Rookie QB Josh Allen has had some good games for the Bills since his recent return from injury as he has shown an ability to run the ball, making him a dual threat at the position. But RB LeSean McCoy suffered a hamstring injury last week that could keep him out of this contest. If he can’t play, I don’t like the BIlls’ chances to win. Even if he does play, I think the teams are pretty evenly matched, so I’ll take the points with Detroit.

Packers at Bears  (-5.5) – At The Bears’ defense was impressive in Sunday night’s victory over the Rams, holding them to a season-low six points. Now they go up against QB Aaron Rodgers and a struggling Packers offense. QB Mitchell Trubisky returned for the Bears last week and should help them put points on the board this week. Bears cover at home.

Raiders at Bengals (-2.5) – The Raiders upset the Steelers at home in Week 14 and now head to Cincinnati to take on a Bengals team without starting QB Andy Dalton or star WR A.J. Green. Having QB Jeff Driskel under center isn’t an ideal scenario for the Bengals, but they likely have the best offensive player in this game with RB Joe Mixon, who should help lead to the team to a win to end their five-game losing streak..

Cowboys at Colts (-2.5) – The Colts looked good in their win against the Texans last week, but I’m kind of surprised they’re favored against the Cowboys, even with the game being in Indianapolis. The Cowboys’ offense has improved since they traded for WR Amari Cooper in October, as he has become the top target for QB Dak Prescott, giving the Cowboys a good passing game to complement RB Ezekiel Elliott‘s work on the ground. Colts QB Andrew Luck is probably the front-runner to earn Comeback Player of the Year honors, but his receiving corps leaves something to be desired outside of WR T.Y. HIlton. I think the Cowboys’ defense, which has been good this season, ends up being the difference in this game. I think the Cowboys win outright, so I’ll take the points. 

Titans at Giants (-2.5) – The Giants are on a late-season surge, going 4-1 in their last five games to bring their record up to 5-8 and give them a chance to finish with a .500 mark. They’re coming off a demonstrative victory against an injury-riddled Redskins team, and now Giants QB Eli Manning faces off against Titans QB Marcus Mariota. WR Odell Beckham was a surprise inactive for the Giants last week with a bruised quad, but the team has said he’s feeling better so it looks like he could be on track to play this week. The Giants defense has been playing well of late, so I think the defensive unit will be able to limit the number of points the Titans score, so I’ll give the points.

Dolphins at Vikings (-6.5) – The Dolphins’ miracle lateral play at the end of last week’s game led them to a victory at home against the Patriots, while the Vikings scored just seven points in Monday night’s loss to the Seahawks. Now the Vikings have a short week to prepare for Miami. Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has had some disappointing performances lately, and I don’t trust the Vikings offense right now. Both teams are fighting for a wild card in their respective conferences, and I think the Dolphins have a good chance to win the game so I’ll take the points.

Buccaneers at Ravens (-7.5) – Like with Allen and the Bills, QB Lamar Jackson has provided a spark for the Ravens’ offense since he took over as the starter with the injury to QB Joe Flacco. The Ravens sit just half-a-game behind the Steelers in the AFC North and still have a chance to win the division, so they need a win to keep pace in the division race.I think they win the game. I think that’s a big spread, but I think they’ll barely cover it.

Redskins at Jaguars (-6.5) – Like Injuries have really hampered the Redskins in recent weeks. QB Josh Johnson entered last week’s loss to the Giants in relief of QB Mark Sanchez — due to ineffectiveness, not an injury — and has been named the starter this week, which means he’ll be making his first start since Week 13 of the 2011 season, when he was with the Bucs. And that start comes against a good Jaguars defense, which will likely cause trouble for the Redskins. Washington lost 40-16 last week, and I expect another blowout loss this week. Jaguars win big.

Sunday 4PM games

Seahawks at 49ers (+5.5) – The Seahawks had an impressive showing against the Vikings on Monday night, but now they have a short week and have to travel down the coast to Santa Clara to face former Seattle DB Richard Sherman and the 49ers, who upset the Broncos on Sunday. The Seahawks defense has been playing well in the second half of the season, and that should continue against the San Francisco offense this week. I also expect another good game from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Seahawks cover.

Patriots at Steelers (+1.5) – Both of these teams suffered losses last week that could hurt their playoff positioning. I expect the Patriots to have a better bounce-back game because the Steelers have lost three straight and likely to be without RB James Conner again, and it’s been a tumultuous week for the team with some people calling for head coach MIke Tomlin to be let go after the season if the Steelers miss the playoffs. I expect Brady to lead the Patriots to a victory on the road.

Sunday Night Football

Eagles at Rams (-9.5) – This matchup pits the defending Super Bowl champion against my pick to win Super Bowl LIII. Given that scenario, a 9.5-point spread seems like a lot, but the Eagles are 6-7 this season and it was announced on Wednesday that QB Carson Wentz will not play this week as he is dealing with back spasms, and if the team falls out of the playoff race Wentz may not play again this season. That means QB Nick Foles, who led the team through the playoffs and was Super Bowl LII MVP last season, will take over as the starter for at least this week. With only about half a week to practice after the news of the Wentz injury, that will probably hurt the Eagles offense. QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, and the rest of the Rams offense struggled against the Bears last Sunday night on the road, and now they’ll get to redeem themselves at home in another Sunday nighter. The Rams should easily win the game, and given the Wentz injury I think they win by at least 10 to cover the spread.

Monday Night Football

Saints at Panthers (+6.5) – QB Cam Newton and the Panthers are coming off a loss to the Browns, and now they have to face off with QB Drew Brees and the NFC South-leading Saints. The Panthers are currently on the outside looking in in the NFC wild card race, while the Saints need a win here to maintain the No. 1 seed in the conference.The Panthers are at home, but aside from RB Christian McCaffrey they haven’t played great of late, so I’ll give the points on the road. 

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My NFL Picks Week 14: Eagles battle the Cowboys in key NFC East battle

The Week 14 schedule is pretty underwhelming, due in part to teams like the Falcons and Packers — who are playing each other — disappointing and not living up to preseason expectations. The games to watch for this week include the Eagles visiting the Cowboys in an important contest in the NFC East race. Also of note are the prolific Rams offense going up against the strong Bears defense on Sunday night and the Vikings visiting the Seahawks on Monday night as both teams try to keep pace in the NFC Wild Card picture. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 92-110 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Jaguars at Titans (-3.5) – The Jaguars ended a seven-game losing streak on Sunday when they beat the Colts, but they only scored six points in the process. They’ll need more offense than that if they want to make it two in a row. They’ll have RB Leonard Fournette back this week after he missed that game while serving a one-game suspension. The 6-6 Titans hope QB Marcus Mariota can lead them to victory so they can stay alive in the AFC playoff race. I think the Titans win at home on the short week, and I’ll say they cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Packers (-5.5) – The Packers fell to the Cardinals in an upset last week, which led to the ousting of long-time head coach Mike McCarthy, with Joe Philbin taking over on an interim basis. I don’t know how the Packers are favored in this game. The Falcons don’t have a good defense, but the Packers’ offense hasn’t been very good this season save for QB Aaron Rodgers, who doesn’t have much to work with with the players around him. On the other side of the field, the Falcons still have a strong QB-WR combo with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. I think that duo could play well enough to lead the Falcons to victory, so I’m going to take the points.

Jets at Bills (-3.5) – The Bills’ offense has improved since getting rookie QB Josh Allen back from injury, and they have a good defense which should be able to hold down the struggling Jets offense led by fellow rookie QB Sam Darnold. I think the Bills win and cover the spread behind the strength of their defense.

Panthers at Browns  (+1.5) – At the beginning of the season, it would’ve been hard to imagine the Panthers being favored by less than a safety against the Browns, but the Panthers are just .500 heading into this week and fighting to stay alive for the postseason. Having said that, I think they win without much of a problem. The Browns struggled against the Texans last week, and the Panthers still have a good offense with QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey. I don’t think Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield can keep them close in this one. Panthers easily cover.

Colts at Texans (-4.5) – The Colts were shut out by the Jaguars last week, and now QB Andrew Luck and his offense have to face a tough Texans defense led by DE J.J. Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney. While they won’t get shut out again, it won’t be easy for the Colts to put a big number on the scoreboard against the Texans defense, as Houston looks to win its 10th straight game. I expect the Texans to win the game, and they should cover.

Ravens at Chiefs (-6.5) – The Chiefs faced some adversity late last week when they released RB Kareem Hunt after video surfaced of him attacking a woman. RB Spencer Ware took over for him as the team’s starting running back, and the Chiefs have since signed RB Charcandrick West for some depth at the position. This week, they face a Ravens team that faces a dilemma at the quarterback position over whether to continue starting rookie QB Lamar Jackson or go back to veteran QB Joe Flacco. With his scrambling ability, I think Jackson gives the Ravens a better chance to win, but either quarterback will have a tough time keeping up with the Chiefs’ prolific passing attack with QB Patrick Mahomes and WR Tyreek Hill. I’ll go with the home team.

Patriots at Dolphins (+8.5) – The Patriots are nearly nine-point favorites on the road in Miami. They got TE Rob Gronkowski and RB ReX Burkhead back from their respective injuries last week, but the offense still isn’t what it used to be, so I think that spread could be a bit high. I expect the Patriots to win the game, but I think the Dolphins could keep it to within a touchdown or so, so I am going to take the points.

Saints at Buccaneers (+8.5) – The Saints only managed to put up 10 points against the Cowboys last Thursday, but that isn’t likely to happen again with the good offense that the Saints have with QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara. Plus, the Buccaneers’ defense isn’t as good as the Cowboys’, so I expect a bounceback game for Brees and the rest of the New Orleans offense. It’s kind of a big spread, but I think the Saints will cove on the road.

Giants at Redskins (-0.5) – The Redskins lost QB Alex Smith to a season-ending leg injury a few weeks ago, then the same thing happened to backup-turned-starting QB Colt McCoy in Monday night’s loss to the Eagles. That leaves QB Mark Sanchez — who only signed with the team following Smith’s injury — in line to make his first start since 2015 this weekend after having only been in the system for a few weeks. That, combined with injuries to the offensive line, will make it hard for the Washington offense to find much success the rest of the season. The Giants have been playing better in recent weeks and are probably a better team than the Sanchez-led Redskins. I think they win the game outright, so I’m taking the Giants here.

Sunday 4PM games

Bengals at Chargers (-14.5) – The Bengals are starting QB Jeff Driskel with Andy Dalton out for the year and WR A.J. Green suffered a season-ending foot injury last week, leaving the Bengals with a compromised offense. The Chargers were without starting RB Melvin Gordon last week and his status for Sunday is up in the air. If his MCL sprain keeps him out another week, RBs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will split the workload in the running game once again. With the Bengals’ injuries the Chargers should easily win the game, but I have a hard time giving more than two touchdowns so I’ll take the Bengals to cover.

Broncos at 49ers (+5.5) – The Broncos lost WR Emmanuel Sanders to a season-ending Achilles tear during practice this week, limiting their receiving corps after trading WR Demaryius Thomas to the Texans earlier in the season. That leaves WR Courtland Sutton as the main pass-catcher for QB Case Keenum, which means rookie RB Phillip Lindsay is likely to be a bigger part of the offense and will have to continue the success he has had in recent weeks. The 49ers are dealing with their own injury as RB Matt Breida will miss this game after injuring his ankle last week. I expect the Broncos to win a close game, but I’ll take the points.

Eagles at Cowboys (-4.5) – The Cowboys’ defense limited Brees and the Saints to 10 points last Thursday and have 10 days to prepare for this game with the Eagles, who are on a short week after beating the Redskins on Monday night. WR Golden Tate is coming off his best game since being traded to the Eagles, while WR Amari Cooper has been the Cowboys’ best receiver since they acquired him in a trade with the Raiders. Cowboys win and cover.

Lions at Cardinals (+2.5) – The Cardinals are coming off an upset victory over the Packers, but I’m not sure if they can make it two in a row against NFC North foes when the Lions come to Arizona. Neither team has a great offense, but the LIons have a better squad on that side of the ball behind QB Matthew Stafford, so I’m going to give the points on the road.

Steelers at Raiders (+11.5) – The Steelers have relied on RB James Conner as their workhouse back all season with RB Le’Veon Bell not playing this year, but they will not have Conner on the field Sunday after he suffered a high ankle sprain last week against the Chargers. So RB Jaylen Samuels is expected to get his first career start alongside QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown. The Steelers should be able to bounce back from last week’s loss to beat the Raiders, but I’ll take the points.

Sunday Night Football

Rams at Bears (+3.5) – Bears QB MItchell Trubisky has missed the team’s last two games with a shoulder injury, but he appears to be back on track to start this week. It won’t be easy to lead his team to the win, though, against a strong Rams team with QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley leading the way. The Bears will likely have to rely on their defense to win the game, and I’m not sure the defense will be able to stop the Los Angeles offense. I’ll give the points.

Monday Night Football

Vikings at Seahawks (-3.5) – The Vikings head to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in the final game of the weekend. The Seahawks are riding a three-game win streak into this one behind strong play from QB Russell Wilson, and I think they continue their winning ways to maintain their hold on the first Wild Card in the NFC. I’m going with the home team.

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My NFL Picks Week 13: Teams continue jockeying for playoff seeding

The byes are done as we enter the last month of the NFL regular season and teams make a final push to make the playoffs or improve their seeding. A battle of NFC division leaders gets the week underway when the Cowboys host the Saints on Thursday night. The Sunday schedule is highlighted by an interconference game pitting the Vikings against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, and the Sunday night contest sees two potential playoff teams in the AFC meeting with the Chargers — minus RB Melvin Gordon — visiting the Steelers. The last game of the week is a divisional battle in the NFC East with the 6-5 Redskins taking on the disappointing 5-6 Eagles in Philadelphia. I went 6-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 85-101 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Saints at Cowboys (+7.5) – The Saints are continuing to roll over their opponents, and the Cowboys are the next team in their path. The Cowboys have won three in a row to take over first place in the NFC East, but I’m not sure they can stop the offensive juggernaut that is QB Drew Brees and the Saints. I expect the Saints to win the game, and think they barely cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Ravens at Falcons (+1.5) – The Ravens are expected to give rookie QB Lamar Jackson another start under center, which gives them a more explosive offense than they have with QB Joe Flacco. I think Jackson will be able to move the ball down the field against a subpar Falcons defense, but it won’t be easy for him to keep up with veteran QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones on the other end of the field. I think the Falcons win the game, so I’ll take the points.

Bills at Dolphins (-5.5) – Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill returned last week in the team’s loss to the Colts. This week, he faces a better defense but a worse offense with the Bills. Neither team has a great offense, so I don’t think either team can win by a sizable margin, so I’ll take the points on the road in the divisional matchup. 

Bears at Giants (+4.5) – Backup QB Chase Daniel led the Bears to a win on Thanksgiving and it’s unknown if he’ll start again this week or if QB MItchell Trubisky will return from his injury in time for the weekend. Either way, I think QB Eli Manning will have a hard time finding much success in the passing game against the tough Bears defense. If the Giants are going to be successful this week, it’ll be because RB Saquon Barkley has another big game. I don’t think he’ll play well enough to keep the Giants close to the Bears, so I’m giving the points.

Broncos at Bengals (+3.5) – The Bengals suffered a big loss last week when QB Andy Dalton suffered a broken thumb that ended his season. QB Jeff Driskel took over for the rest of the game and will continue to draw starts, and the team signed QB Tom Savage to serve as Driskel’s backup. Driskel performed decently last week against the Browns, but he’s still a step down from Dalton and should have a negative impact on the whole Cincinnati offense. You should expect to see a bigger workload on the ground for RB Joe Mixon, but the passing game will suffer — especially if WR A.J. Green remains unable to play, and with Dalton out for the year the team may hold Green out for the remaining games as well. The Bengals are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, while the Broncos have won two in a row, thanks in part to the play of RB Phillip Lindsay. I think the Broncos extend their winning streak and cover the 3.5 points.

Browns at Texans (-6.5) – With their win over the Titans on Monday night, the Texans became the first team in NFL history to win eight straight games after starting the season 0-3. Now at 8-3 and in control of the AFC South, the Texans are looking to keep their winning ways alive against a Browns team that has won two straight. Texans RB Lamar Miller is performing well of late, including with a 97-yard touchdown run last week, which gives the team another strong offensive weapon to go along with QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins, with DE J.J. Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney leading the defense. The Browns have a pretty good defense, though, so they may be able to keep the game relatively close. Texans win but Browns cover.

Rams at Lions (+9.5) – This seems to be a bit of a mismatch between the offenses, as the Lions aren’t nearly as good as the Rams. I think the Rams, coming off their bye, should win easily with QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley leading the way. LIons WR Marvin Jones is out for the season after being placed on IR, which should open up more opportunities in the passing game for WR Kenny Golladay. I just don’t think the Lions’ offense is in the same class as the Rams, so I’m giving the points on the road.

Cardinals at Packers (-14.5) – The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league, but I don’t know how the Packers can be favored by more than two touchdowns against any team right now. QB Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have many reliable options in the passing game, other than WR Davante Adams. And that is even truer if WR Randall Cobb isn’t ready to go this week. RB Aaron Jones is stepping up in the ground game. RB David Johnson is really the best part of the Cardinals’ offense, as QB Josh Rosen hasn’t been putting up impressive numbers so far in his rookie year. The Packers should win the game as they hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, but I’m taking the points.

Colts at Jaguars (+3.5) – The Jaguars  are in a tailspin right now. They’ve lost their last seven games, and this week announced they’re benching QB Blake Bortles and fired their offensive coordinator. And they will be without RB Leonard Fournette this week as he serves a one-game suspension for his role in a fight in last week’s game against the Bills. With Bortles losing his starting job, head coach Doug Marrone and the Jags are turning to QB Cody Kessler to try to reinvigorate the offense. With Fournette out, RBs Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon will split the running back duties. The Colts have won their last five contests, but TE Jack Doyle suffered a kidney injury in their game last week, and that has ended his season. That means TE Eric Ebron, who already has 11 touchdowns this season, is in line for a bigger role in the offense. With the state of the Jaguars right now, I expect the Colts to win the game, and I think they cover the spread, as they hope to keep pace in the AFC playoff picture.

Panthers at Buccaneers (+3.5) – The Panthers are looking to end their current three-game skid and stay in the Wild Card picture in the NFC. The Buccaneers could be a good opponent for them to try to get back on a winning track. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey is coming off a terrific game in which he had more than 100 yards rushing and receiving, and WR D.J. Moore is becoming a reliable pass-catcher for QB Cam Newton, as he has had at least 90 receiving yards in each of his last two games. The Bucs’ only big playmaker is WR Mike Evans, and I don’t think they’ll be able to put enough points on the board to beat the Panthers. I’m giving the points. 

Sunday 4PM games

Jets at Titans (-9.5) – The Titans are coming off a Monday night loss that hurt their chances of making the playoffs. They’re a better team than the Jets, but I don’t know that they’re almost 10 points better. Titans win the game, but I’ll take the points.

Chiefs at Raiders (-14.5) – Here’s another game with a two-touchdown spread. The Chiefs are coming off their bye and looking to avenge their 54-51 loss from two weeks ago, but I find it had to pick any team to win by at least 15 points. The Raiders could be the worst team in the league at this point, but because the spread is so high I’m taking the points.

Vikings at Patriots (-6.5) – The Vikings have a good defense and have some good playmakers in the passing game with WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, so I think they’ll be able to keep up with QB Tom Brady and the Patriots enough to keep the score within a touchdown, though the Patriots likely win the game outright.

49ers at Seahawks (-10.5) – The Seahawks are looking to win their third straight game as they try to keep pace in the NFC Wild Card race, and I think they get the win over the 49ers but I don’t think they win by double digits, so I’ll take the points on the road.

Sunday Night Football

Chargers at Steelers (-3.5) – The Chargers are expected to be without Gordon for several weeks, leaving RBs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson to bulk of the workload in the running game. The Steelers, meanwhile, have the main cogs of their offense with QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB James Conner and WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers should have enough offensive firepower to hold off the Chargers and cover the 3.5 points. I’ll go with the Steelers in what could be the best game of the week.

Monday Night Football

Redskins at Eagles (-6.5) – One game separates these teams in the division, and the Eagles are looking to pick up the win to improve to .500 at 6-6. With QB Colt McCoy starting for the Redskins, the Eagles are probably the better team, but the teams are pretty evenly matched so I’m not sure that they’re a touchdown better than Washington. Eagles get win, but I’ll take the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 12: Key NFC East matchup highlights Thanksgiving tripleheader

Week 12 features an underwhelming slate of games on Sunday, with the Chiefs and Rams both on bye and three games on Thursday, with Redskins-Cowboys a key game in the NFC East. The Seahawks visit the Panthers in what could be Sunday’s most intriguing game with both teams looking to stay alive in the NFC Wild Card race with their respective divisions all but out of reach for them. And the Monday nighter features the AFC South-leading Texans looking to increase their two-game lead over the third-place Titans. I went 4-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 79-92 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Chiefs, Rams


Bears at Lions (+4.5) – The Bears picked up a key victory over the Vikings on Sunday night, but it may not have been all good news for the NFC North leaders QB Mitch Trubisky suffered a right shoulder injury, leaving his availability for Thursday’s game in question given the team’s short week. If he can’t go, backup QB Chase Daniel will get the start. Trubisky is day-to-day, but I don’t think he’ll play, so I’m going to take the points although I think the Bears could still win a close game with Daniel under center.

Redskins at Cowboys (-7.5) – The Redskins’ lead in the NFC East shrunk to one game on Sunday with their loss to the Texans and the Cowboys’ winning at the Falcons. The Redskins suffered an even bigger loss, though, when QB Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibula that ended his season. That leaves QB Colt McCoy as their starter, and they signed QB Mark Sanchez — who hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2016 — to back him up. With McCoy getting the start, and injuries to the offensive line, I don’t think the Redskins will be able to score many points this week. While I’m not confident in this pick, I’m going to give the points with the Cowboys at home.

Falcons at Saints (-13.5) – The Falcons are coming off back-to-back losses to the Browns and Cowboys, and now have to head to New Orleans to take on the hottest — and perhaps best — team in the NFL, as the Falcons look to get back on a winning track to remain in the playoff hunt in the NFC. All signs point to this being a blowout, but with a division rivalry and a desperate Falcons team, I can see them putting up a respectable point total, especially since QB Matt Ryan can be good. Saints win, but I expect it to be closer than people think.

Sunday 1PM games

Jaguars at Bills (+3.5) – Both of these teams made the playoffs last year but sit at 3-7 so far in 2018, with the Jaguars a big disappointment this season sitting in last place in the AFC South. The Jaguars obviously aren’t as good as anticipated this year, but they’re still better than the Bills. I’ll go with the road team here.

Browns at Bengals(-3.5) – The battle of Ohio sees the Bengals needing a win to stay alive in the AFC playoff hunt. The Browns are coming off their bye, while the Bengals lost to the Ravens last week. The Browns surprisingly beat the Falcons in their last game, but that was an aberration as they haven’t played well lately other than that game. I’ll give the points. 

Raiders at Ravens (-10.5) – The Ravens picked up a win as rookie QB Lamar Jackson made his first start on Sunday with QB Joe Flacco out with a hip injury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jackson get the start again this week. Regardless of which quarterback takes the first snap, the Ravens should be able to beat the disappointing Raiders. But I don’t think Baltimore’ s offense is good enough to pick up them giving 10.5 points, so I’ll go with the Raiders and take the points.

Patriots at Jets (+9.5) – This is another big spread, but I’m more confident in the Patriots to be able to cover it than I am for the Ravens in the previous game. It is unknown if the Patriots will have TE Rob Gronkowski this week, but they may see the return of RB Rex Burkhead, who has begun practicing this week as he looks to come back from his stint on IR. Even without Gronk, the Patriots have enough weapons in WRs Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon, RB Sony Michel, and of course QB Tom Brady to be able to beat the Jets. The only question is what the margin of victory will be. I think the Patriots can win by 10, so I’ll give the points — though it’ll likely be close.

Giants at Eagles (-6.5) – The Eagles got torched by the Saints last week and their hopes of making the playoffs are slipping away, while the Giants have won two in a row after starting the season 1-7. If the Giants win this game, the two teams will have identical 4-7 records — which nobody could have expected before the season began. The scuffling Eagles team knows that it that needs to win this game to have any chance at making the playoffs. So I expect QB Carson Wentz to lead them to victory, but I’m not confident that they’ll win by a touchdown so I will take the points with the Giants.

49ers at Buccaneers (-3.5) – The Buccaneers have been switching between QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston as their starter, and it appears that Winston is back to the top of the depth chart after he performed well on Sunday when he came into the game in relief of Fitzpatrick. Winston has, however, been prone to turn the ball over this season but I don’t see the Raiders being able to take advantage of that. I’ll go with the Bucs in Tampa.

Seahawks at Panthers (-3.5) – These teams are in similar situations in which they know they can’t win their respective divisions but still have a chance to make the playoffs as a wild card and thus need to win this game. The teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Panthers have more playmakers on offense, so I’ll go with them at home.

Sunday 4PM games

Cardinals at Chargers (-12.5) – The Cardinals aren’t a good team and probably don’t have much of a chance to win this game, but I’m not sure that the Chargers will win by 13 points so I’m going to take the Cardinals and the points.

Steelers at Broncos (+3.5) – Both teams are coming off of come-from-behind victories last week, but I don’t think the Broncos are in the same class as QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB James Conner, WR Antonio Brown and the rest of the Steelers. I think this spread is kind of low, so I’ll go with the Steelers.

Dolphins at Colts (-9.5) – The Colts are on a four-game winning streak and in the thick of the playoff chase in the AFC, including in second place and just two games behind the Texans in the AFC South. They have an identical 5-5 record as the Dolphins, but the teams are going in opposite directions of late. Even so, I don’t think the Colts are good enough to win the game by double digits against a Dolphins team that is trying to stay in the AFC playoff picture. Colts win the game, but the Dolphins cover.

Sunday Night Football

Packers at Vikings (-3.5) – The Packers find themselves in third place in the NFC North and, at 4-5-1, on the fringe of the wild card race. The Vikings are looking to bounce back from a Sunday night loss to the Bears to maintain their hold on the NFC’s second wild card. It’s hard for me to go against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers when he knows he needs to win a game for his team. Even though they’re road dogs, I think the Packers will win the game outright so I’ll take the points.

Monday Night Football

Titans at Texans (-6.5) – The Texans are on a seven-game winning streak, which ties the franchise record, and could put some more distance between themselves and the Titans in the division with a win on Monday night. The Titans had a disappointing loss against the Colts on Sunday after convincingly beating the Patriots in their previous game. Titans QB Marcus Mariota left Sunday’s game with an elbow injury, and it is uncertain if he will be able to make the start this week. With it being the Monday night game, he has an extra day to rest and rehab, so i think he’ll be able to play. But if he’s not at 100%, he may not be able to do much against a good Texans defense that saw rookie S Justin Reid score on a 101-yard pick-six last week. I’ll give the points.