Tag Archives: NFC North

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Carolina Panthers

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we move on to the next team in the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers, who finished in last place in the division last season.

A year after going 15-1, the Panthers finished 2016 with a disappointing 6-10 record behind a subpar season from QB Cam Newton, who failed to throw for 20 touchdowns a season after earning NFL MVP honors. They tried to improve their offense in the early part of the draft, taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey as the No. 8 overall pick and making Ohio St. WR Curtis Samuel their second-round pick. McCaffrey is expected to see a lot of action right away as the backup to veteran RB Jonathan Stewart and as an action in the passing game, catching passes out of the backfield. The team is also welcoming back a familiar face with the signing of free-agent DE Julius Peppers, who began his career with the Panthers, playing with them from 2002-2009.

In 15 games last season — 14 starts — Newton completed just 52.9% of his passes for 3,509 yards and 19 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. Newton also rushed for 359 yards and 5 touchdowns. TE Greg Olsen’s 80 receptions was a team high. He totaled 1,073 receiving yards with 3 touchdowns. WR Kelvin Benjamin faded a bit after a good start to the season, finishing with 63 catches for 941 yards and 7 touchdowns. Stewart led the rushing attack with 218 carries for 824 yards and 9 touchdowns. The offense was middle-of-the-pack, scoring the 15-most points in the league. The defense allowed the seventh-most points but was tied for the fourth-most interceptions with 17.

With his track record of success in the league, I don’t expect Newton to have another season with numbers similar to last year.He may not return to the level of his 2015 MVP campaign, but 20-25 passing touchdowns should be attainable for the quarterback. Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the league, but the Panthers don’t have much depth in the receiving game behind him and Benjamin. That is where McCaffrey could be a help, He had 99 receptions in three seasons at Stanford, giving Newton someone to throw to in the backfield when McCaffrey is not running the ball to give Stewart a breather. At 37, Peppers obviously isn’t as good as he was in his prime, but he still had 7.5 sacks last year with the Packers. He could provide some help for a defense that didn’t do great last year.

The 2017 Panthers schedule begins with what looks to be a relatively easy road game against the 49ers. The Panthers then go home to play the Bills in Week 2 and the Saints in Week 3. They hit the road again in Week 4, heading to Foxboro to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. After a Week 5 game at the Lions, the Panthers return home for a Thursday night game against the Eagles. The Panthers face the Falcons at home in Week 9 before a Monday night game against the Dolphins in Week 10. Week 11 is when the Panthers finally get their bye, which is followed by consecutive road games against the Jets and Saints. A couple NFC North opponents follow, with the Vikings in Week 14 and Packers in Week 15 — both at home. The Panthers host the Buccaneers in Week 16 before hitting the road to finish the season against the Falcons in Week 17. I think the Panthers will win eight or nine games this season, better than last year but not likely to get them in the playoffs.

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Minnesota Vikings

Our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days leading up to the start of the season, continues as the NFC North comes to an end with the Minnesota Vikings, who had a third-place finish the division last season.

The Vikings were dealt a major blow in training camp last season when QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a torn ACL that caused him to miss the season. That caused the Vikings to trade for QB Sam Bradford, who led the team to an 8-8 record a season after an 11-5 record and division title. Bridgewater is still on the PUP list, so he’ll be out until at least Week 6 if he doesn’t come off the list before the end of the preseason, which means Bradford will remain the team’s starter heading into the season, with QB Case Keenum backing him up after signing a deal with the team in the offseason. For the first time since the 2006 season, RB Adrian Peterson won’t be on the Vikings’ roster after the team declined to pick up the option on his contract. They selected FSU RB Dalvin Cook with their first pick in the draft, likely expecting him to be Peterson’s long-term replacement. The team also lost RB Matt Asiata and WR Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency, leaving some holes on the offense that the team is trying to fill by signing RBs Bishop Sankey — who suffered a torn ACL in the team’s preseason opener and will miss the season — and Latavius Murray and WR Michael Floyd.

Bradford stayed healthy, which has been difficult for him in the past, and played 15 games. He completed a league-high 71.6% of his passes, setting a new career high of 3,877 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. WR Adam Thielen surprisingly led the team with 967 yards on 69 receptions; he had 5 receiving touchdowns. WR Stefon Diggs recorded a team-high 84 catches for 903 yards and 3 touchdowns, and TE Kyle Rudolph was right behind him with 83 catches for 840 yards and 7 touchdowns. With Peterson out for most of the season, RB Jerick McKinnon split starting running back duties with Asiata, going carrying the ball 159 times for 539 yards and 2 touchdowns. He added 43 receptions for 255 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns out of the backfield. In 14 games with the Raiders last season, Murray ran for 788 yards and 4 touchdowns on 195 carries. All told, the Vikings’ offense ranked 23rd in the NFL in points scored for the season, while the defense allowed the sixth-fewest points in the league.

If Thielen can have a similar season to what he did last year and Rudolph can follow up his career year with another strong season, to go along with a potential 1,000-yard season from Diggs, the passing game should do fine for the Vikings. It can be even better if Floyd can contribute better numbers than the 488 yards he had between the Cardinals and Patriots last season. For the second year in a row, the running game is where the biggest question marks exist. Murray should help the unit, but Cook is looking like I could be in store to get a large portion of the carries; he was listed as the No. 1 running back on the team’s initial depth chart during camp.

The Vikings won’t have to wait long to see Peterson again as they host the Saints, his new team, in Week 1’s Monday night game. Their schedule then takes them to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in Week 2. The Vikings face their divisional foes in three straight weeks, when they host the Lions in Week 4, visit the Bears on Monday night in Week 5 and play the Packers at home in Week 6. They have a Week 9 bye, which is sandwiched between road games — at the Browns in Week 8 and visiting the Redskins in Week 10. They visit the Lions in Week 12 for the first game of the Thanksgiving tripleheader, then get extra rest before heading to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in Week 13. They host the Bengals in Week 15, head to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in primetime in Week 16 and finish the season at home against the Bears. I think the Vikings are looking at another .500 season in 2017.

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Green Bay Packers

The next NFC North team in our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Green Bay Packers, who are coming off a first-place finish in the division.

The Packers came within a game of making Super Bowl LI last season, falling to the Falcons in the NFC Championship. In the Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers have consistently had one of the top offenses in the NFL, and they added to it in the offseason by signing free-agent TEs Lance Kendricks and Martellus Bennett in an attempt to beef up a weak point of their offense. They’ll join a receiving core led by WRs Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. There could be some questions with their running game, with WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery expected to be the No. 1 back heading into the season.

Rodgers had one of the best seasons of his career last year — a high bar to cross — throwing for 4,428 yards and a league-leading 40 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions. He threw 14 of those touchdown passes to Nelson, who had 97 receptions for 1,257 yards. Adams had 75 receptions for 997 yards and 12 scores. WR Randall Cobb had decent production in the 10 games he played, grabbing 60 balls for 610 yards and 4 touchdowns. Montgomery had 44 catches for 348 yards. After being converted to a running back in the latter part of the season due to injuries, he became the team’s lead running back. Overall for the season, he had a team-high 77 attempts for 457 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. Rodgers had the second-most rushing yards on the team, with RBs Eddie Lacy — who is now with the Seahawks — and James Starks limited in playing time by injuries. With the Patriots last season, Bennett had 55 receptions for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Kendricks totaled 499 yards and 2 touchdowns on 50 catches for the Rams. The offense scored the fourth-most points in the league last season, and the defense was ranked in the bottom third of the league in points allowed.

If the Packers can get good production out of the running game, they should have one of the league’s best offenses again in 2017. The Rodgers-Nelson combo has been one of the best over the last several years when both are healthy. Adams is a strong No. 2 receiver, and the tight ends the team signed should be a vast improvement over what they got out of TEs Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers a season ago. With the defense not doing well last season and no major players signed on that side of the ball, the Packers are likely going to have to put a lot of points on the board to win games. They went with defensive players with their first four picks of the draft, including Washington CB Kevin King in the second round, but you never know how much success a player will have in his rookie year in the league.

The Packers’ schedule kicks off with a home game in Week 1 against the Seahawks, who should be among the better teams in the NFC this season. It doesn’t get easier in Week 2 when the Packers do battle with the Falcons as they open up their new stadium in the Sunday night game. They have a primetime rivalry game, taking on the Bears at Lambeau Field in Week 4’s Thursday nighter. The Packers then face the Cowboys on the road in Week 5, then travel to Minneapolis to take on the Vikings — likely their biggest competition in the division — in Week 6. They host the Saints in Week 7, then get their bye and come back to host the Lions in Week 9. The Packers face the Steelers in Pittsburgh in a primetime contest in Week 12. They end the season with back-to-back divisional contests, hosting the Vikings in a Saturday night special in Week 16 and visiting the Lions in Week 17. I think the Packers should at least match last year’s 10-win total, and they could improve upon that by a game or two, depending on how well the defense plays.

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Detroit Lions

We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2017 season in the  NFC North with the Detroit Lions, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division last season.

The Lions barely missed winning the division last season, falling a game shy of upending the Packers for first place. They did make the playoffs but lost in the wild card round. Their notable free-agent signings this offseason include CB D.J. Hayden and RB Matt Asiata, who will look to help shore up a running game that was among the league’s worst in 2016. Among the team’s losses on offense is the departure of veteran WR Anquan Boldin

QB Matthew Stafford had a good season last year, completing more than 65 percent of his passes for 4,327 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. His leading receiver was WR Golden Tate, who recorded 91 receptions for 1,077 yards but just 4 touchdowns. Despite only catching 55 passes, WR Marvin Jones had similar numbers, totaling 930 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE Eric Ebron had 61 catches for 711 yards and 1 touchdown in 13 games. RB Theo Riddick was the team’s leading rusher, but that included carrying the ball just 92 times for 357 yards and 1 touchdown in 10 games, eight starts. He added 371 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns on 53 receptions. RB Zach Zenner played in 14 games and scored 4 touchdowns on 88 carries. With the Vikings, Asiata had 121 rushes for 402 yards and 6 scores. Overall, the Lions were 20th in the league in points scored while the defense was near the middle of the pack in points allowed.

Offense looks to be a challenge again for the Lions, entering the season without a running back who has proven to be a top-of-the-line starter at the position. Asiata could be the best of an underwhelming bunch, but he’s never started more than nine games in the first five seasons of his career. Stafford will have to increase his touchdown output to allow the Lions to score more points to keep the team in games. While Jones and Tate aren’t necessarily big-name receivers, they are able to put up decent numbers, with 1,000-yard seasons possible for both if they can stay healthy. Ebron has never been able to play all 16 games in a season, if he can do it this year he also has a chance to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.

The Cardinals come to Detroit to open the Lions’ schedule, which then takes the Lions to New Jersey to battle the Giants in Week 2. The Super Bowl runners-up are up in Week 3 with the Falcons visiting the Lions. Week 6 has the Lions visiting the Saints, followed by a bye and a home game with the Steelers in Week 8. The first game against the Packers is next on the slate, with a Week 9 visit to Lambeau Field. The Lions visit the Buccaneers in Week 14, with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in Week 16. The team ends the season hosting the Packers for the second straight year. The Lions won nine games last season, and it’s looking like they’ll be right around there again in 2017. That was good enough to make the playoffs last year, but 10 wins may be needed to make it this time around.

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Chicago Bears

We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season with the NFC North. Up first in the division is the Chicago Bears, who are coming off a last-place finish last season.

The Bears are coming off a three-win season, their first since 1982, and the team didn’t have a great offseason  The team was highly criticized for trading up to the No. 2 spot in the draft to select North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky after signing QB Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract with nearly $20 million guaranteed. Neither of those quarterbacks is likely to be among the top 10 in the league at the position. Other free-agent signings this offseason include DB Prince Amukamara and WRs Markus Wheaton and Victor Cruz, who provide high-upside options if they can stay on the field throughout the season, which has been difficult for Cruz in recent seasons. They’ll have to make up for production that will be lost with the loss of WR Alshon Jeffery, who signed with the Eagles in the offseason.

None of last year’s quarterbacks is on the roster entering this season, and none of the guys on the team — which includes QBs Connor Shaw and Mark Sanchez in addition to Trubisky and Glennon — had a starting role last season to provide analysis of their performances, which isn’t a good indicator of what to expect from them in 2017. On the ground, RB Jordan Howard led the team with 252 carries for 1,313 yards and 6 touchdowns, with 29 receptions for an additional 298 yards and a receiving touchdown. RB Jeremy Langford carried the ball 62 times for 200 yards and 4 touchdowns. WR Cameron Meredith was the team’s leading pass-catcher in 2016, grabbing 66 receptions for 888 yards and 4 touchdowns, while TE Zach Miller caught 47 passes for 486 yards and 4 touchdowns. In 15 games — 12 starts — with the Giants last year, Cruz had 39 receptions for 586 yards and 1 touchdown. The offense was tied for 28th in the league last season with 279 yards, and the defense gave up the ninth-most points at 399.

The offense wasn’t great last season and it looks to only get worse this year with the quarterbacks they have on the roster. Barring a strong performance from Trubisky in training camp, I expect Glennon to be named the starter heading into Week 1, but he hasn’t started more than five games since his rookie year in 2013, when he put up decent numbers in 13 starts with the Buccaneers. That was a few years ago, though, and there’s no telling how he’ll do if given a shot at starting this season. If Glennon does begin the year as the starter, I expect Trubisky to get the job during the season but don’t expect much out of him. The Bears have some decent options in the receiving game, including WR Kevin White, who only made four starts in 2016 after missing his entire rookie season in 2016. If he stays healthy and performs to the expectations the Bears had when they drafted him, he can help if the offense if the quarterback play is better than expected, which isn’t likely. The running game is likely going to be the best part of the offense with Howard and Langford leading the way, but without a viable quarterback it won’t be enough for the team to have much success.

The Bears get a tough game to start the season, with the defending NFC champion Falcons coming to Soldier Field in Week 1. The Bears then hit the road to take on another NFC South in Week 2 when they play the Bucs. The Bears host the Steelers in Week 3, then visit the Packers in Week 4’s Thursday night game as the rough early stretch of the schedule continues. The Bears play at the Saints in Week 8, then get their bye before hosting the Packers in Week 10. The Lions then come to Chicago in Week 11, and the Bears head to Detroit for the rematch in Week 15. They end the season at the Vikings in Week 17. The Bears won three games last season and I’m not expecting them to do much better than that — I’m looking at three or four wins for them — with the combination of a bad team and a tough schedule leading to another mediocre season in Chicago.

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine