Tag Archives: NFC East

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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My NFL Picks Week 17: The Packers and Lions play for the NFC North crown in Game 256

As we enter Week 17, most of the playoff spots have been clinched, with just some seeding up for grabs. The only playoff berths that are still to be decided are in the NFC, with the NFC North champion set to be determined in Game 256 Sunday night and the No. 6 seed also unknown to this point. The winner of the PackersLions game will win the division and the loser has a chance at the NFC’s second wild card. The Redskins have the inside edge on the final playoff spot in the conference; if they win, they’re in. All six playoff teams have been determined in the AFC, but Sunday’s results will determine whether the Raiders or Chiefs win the AFC West, with the runner-up in the division landing a wild card. With QB Matt McGloin in for injured Raiders QB Derek Carr, it appears that the Chiefs could have the inside track to winning the division and the home playoff game that comes with that. I went 10-6 last week, bringing my record to 121-119 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

Sunday 1PM games

Bills at Jets (+3.5) – The Bills are coming into this game having fired head coach Rex Ryan this week, while the Jets are back to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter after QB Bryce Petty suffered an injury in last week’s blowout loss to the Patriots. The Bills have announced they’re benching QB Tyrod Taylor, for financial reasons, and starting QB EJ Manuel. I trust Fitzpatrick to have a better game than Manuel in the battle of backup quarterbacks, so I’ll take the Jets and the points.
Bears at Vikings (-5.5) – The Vikings’ season has taken a sharp turn since the team’s 5-0 start and they will miss the postseason in what began as a promising campaign. The Bears, meanwhile, have struggled all year. The way the Vikings have been playing, I”m not confident is giving this many points with them, but I’ll do it because the Bears aren’t good.
Ravens at Bengals (-2.5) – I’m surprised the Bengals, who scored 10 points last week, are favored over the Ravens, who barely missed the playoffs. I think the Ravens are demonstrably better than the Bengals so give me the points with the road team.
Browns at Steelers (-6.5) – With their win last week, the Browns avoided a winless season, but they have a tougher task this week against the Steelers. The Steelers are locked into the three seed in the playoffs and have made indications that their starters may not play — at least for the entire game. Even the Steelers’ backups should be able to beat the Browns, though, so I’ll take them.
Cowboys at Eagles (-2.5) – The Eagles being favored over the NFC’s top seed in the playoffs likely reflects the fact that the Cowboys probably won’t play their starters all game. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said QB Dak Prescott will get the start and QB Tony Romo won’t play, which means third-string QB Mark Sanchez will likely see action if/when Prescott is pulled. Regardless, if the Cowboys are getting points, I’m taking them. Give me the Cowboys.
Texans at Titans (-2.5) – The Texans are another team that is locked into their playoff seed with nothing to play for this week, which means RB Lamar Miller will in all likelihood sit out his second straight game. The Titans are going to have QB Matt Cassel under center, though, after QB Marcus Mariota suffered a fractured fibula last week. With Cassel at quarterback, the Texans defense should have a strong game and help the Texans to victory. Give me the Texans and the points.
Jaguars at Colts (-4.5) – The Jaguars are coming off of a win but they’re still not a good team and win the quarterback matchup is Blake Bortles against Andrew Luck, I find it hard to pick the team led by Bortles. I’m going to go with the Colts in this one.
Patriots at Dolphins (+9.5) Two playoff teams meet in this game pitting division rivals against each other. The Patriots are coming off a 38-point victory against the Jets last week, but they likely won’t be able to put up those types of numbers against a better Dolphins team. While the Patriots likely haven’t locked in the top seed in the AFC playoffs yet, they currently hold that spot and may not play the likes of QB Tom Brady for all four quarters. I expect the Patriots to win the game, but I’ll take the points with the Dolphins at home.
Panthers at Buccaneers (-6.5) – The Buccaneers are technically still alive for the six seed in the AFC, but they need a win and a lot of help in other games to get it. I expect this to be a close game so I’m going to go with the Panthers and the points, but I think the Bucs can win the game.

Sunday 4PM games

Saints at Falcons (-6.5)The Falcons are playing for the NFC’s No. 2 seed, which would give them a bye in the first round of the playoffs so I expect them to go all out to win the game. The Saints, on the other hand, have nothing to play for and are just finishing out the season. Falcons win the game and I’ll take them to cover the spread.
Raiders at Broncos (-1.5) – The Raiders need a win to clinch the AFC West title and the two seed in the playoffs, but that will be tough to do with McGloin replacing the injured Carr. Even though the Broncos don’t have a good offense and their defense hasn’t looked as good in recent weeks as it had earlier in the season, I’m going to go with the Broncos because I think the Raiders offense takes a significant hit with McGloin under center. 
Chiefs at Chargers (+5.5) – The Chiefs need a win, coupled with a Raiders loss, to win the division and earn a first-round bye. What stands in their way is a Chargers team that handed the Browns their first win of the season a week ago. I expect the Chiefs defense to be able to hold down a Chargers offense that is riddled with injuries so I’ll take the Chiefs and give the points in what can be the Chargers’ final home game in San Diego if the rumors of the team moving to Los Angeles are true.
Cardinals at Rams (+6.5) – The Rams’ return to Los Angeles hasn’t gone well, with the team sitting on a 4-11 record heading into the final week of the season. The Cardinals’ record isn’t much better, but I think they’re a significantly better team than the Rams. I’ll take veteran QB Carson Palmer over rookie QB Jared Goff. I’ll pick the Cardinals to cover.
Giants at Redskins (-7.5) – Giants head coach Ben McAdoo has said their starters will play even though they have nothing to play for as far as playoff positioning. The Redskins, however, are in a win-and-in situation. If they can beat their division rivals, they will earn the second wild card in the NFC. A Washington loss would open the door for the loser of the Sunday night game to grab that final playoff spot. While the Giants are saying their starters will play, who knows if they’ll do so for the whole game? I expect the Redskins to win the game — solidifying their entry in the postseason — but I think the Giants will keep it close so give me the points.
Seahawks at 49ers (+9.5) – A win would allow the Seahawks to land the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye if the Falcons lose to the Saints. It shouldn’t be hard for the Seahawks to hold up their part of that scenario facing a bad 49ers team. The question is will they win by double digits to cover the spread? I think they can as I expect a blowout in this one. I’ll take the road team.

Sunday Night Football

Packers at Lions (+3.5) – The final game of the regular season will determine who wins the NFC North and is guaranteed a playoff spot. If the Redskins lose earlier in the day, both the Packers and Lions will make it to the postseason, with the winner clinching the division and the loser getting a wild card. With both teams potentially playing for their playoff lives, you don’t have to worry about them not playing their best players as is the case with other teams. The Lions haven’t played well recently while the Packers are among the best teams in the league over the past month or so. I expect that trend to continue with QB Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers to the division title and a home playoff game. That would leave the Lions on the outside looking in at the playoffs if my prediction of the Redskins beating the Giants comes true.

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

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

Thursday Night Football

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

Saturday Night Football

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

Sunday 1PM games

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

Sunday 4PM games

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

Sunday Night Football

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

Monday Night Football

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

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

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

Thursday Night Football

Raiders at Chiefs (-3.5)

Sunday 1PM games

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

Sunday 4PM games

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

Sunday Night Football

Cowboys at Giants (+2.5)

Monday Night Football

Ravens at Patriots (-8.5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byes: Browns, Titans

Thursday Night Football

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

Sunday 1PM games

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

Sunday 4PM games

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

Sunday Night Football

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

Monday Night Football

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

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