Tag Archives: NFC North

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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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My NFL Picks Week 12: Key divisional matchups on Thanksgiving highlight the week’s slate

The annual Thanksgiving tripleheader kicks off the Week 12 schedule, with Thursday’s two afternoon games featuring divisional battles that feature teams near the top of their divisions. In the first game, the Vikings head to Detroit to take on the Lions in a game that will determine which team takes over sole possession of the first place in the NFC North; both teams are currently 6-4. Then, the Cowboys host the Redskins, who are looking to overtake the Giants for second place in the NFC East behind the Cowboys, who are an NFL-best 9-1 on the year. The AFC West takes center stage on Sunday night, with the Broncos hosting the Chiefs. The Monday night contest features two teams that could be fighting for their playoff lives with the Packers visiting the Eagles. I went 9-5 last week, bringing my record to 74-85 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: none

Thanksgiving games

Vikings at Lions (-2.5) – The Vikings finally ended their four-game losing streak last season and their defense looked better after a month of mediocrity, but I’m not convinced they’re back just yet. I’ll take QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions in this one to remain in first place in the NFC North.
Redskins at Cowboys (-7.5) – QB Kirk Cousins and the Redskins will look to end the Cowboys’ nine-game win streak. The visitors are coming off a Sunday night game and have to travel to Arlington for the game, which puts them at a disadvantage. I think the Cowboys win the game, but the Redskins keep it close and stay within the spread.
Steelers at Colts (+7.5) – Colts QB Andrew Luck was put in the concussion protocol following Sunday’s game, which puts his status for Thanksgiving night into question with the short week. I’m assuming he will miss the game and backup QB Scott Tolzien will fill in under center, which should help the Steelers easily cover the spread behind QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell.

Sunday 1PM games

Cardinals at Falcons (-4.5) – The Cardinals didn’t look good against the Vikings last week and now must face one of the league’s best offenses coming off their bye. Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be able to continue the strong season he’s been having and lead the Falcons to an easy win at home.
Jaguars at Bills (-6.5) – While the Jaguars aren’t good, the Bills don’t have a strong offense themselves. RB LeSean McCoy, who had surgery on his thumb after Sunday’s game, may not be able to take the field on Sunday, which would hurt the Bills offense. I expect the Bills to win the game but I think it’ll be relatively close, especially if McCoy misses the game, so I’ll take the points with the Jaguars.
Titans at Bears (+3.5) – Bears QB Jay Cutler suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday’s game that could be a season-ender, which means there’s no chance of him playing this week. That puts backup QB Matt Barkley in the starting lineup for the first time in his NFL career. That’s not going to be good for the Bears. Titans win easily.
Bengals at Ravens (-4.5) – The Bengals lost more than the game on Sunday, with WR A.J. Green and RB Giovani Bernard both suffering injuries that could be season-ending. Bernard’s torn ACL has ended his season, but Green’s hamstring injury may not keep him out for the year, but it will cause him to miss Week 12. With that in mind, the Ravens should not only win the game but cover the spread with the Bengals missing two key pieces of their offense.
Giants at Browns (+7.5) – Browns QB Cody Kessler suffered a concussion in Week 11, which means the revolving door of starting quarterbacks in Cleveland has revolved back to QB Josh McCown as the Browns hope this is the week they get their first win before getting their bye in Week 13. I don’t expect it to happen, though. The Giants offense has been doing well in recent weeks and I don’t think the Browns will be able to keep up with them. It’s kind of a big spread, but I think the Giants cover against the winless Browns.
Rams at Saints (-6.5) Rams QB Jared Goff wasn’t particularly good or bad in his debut last week, throwing neither a touchdown nor an interception, but he’ll likely have to throw multiple touchdowns if he wants to keep up with the Saints offense, which is typically at its best at the Superdome. Despite playing a Saints defense that isn’t great, I don’t expect Goff to be able to keep up with Saints QB Drew Brees, who should lead the Saints to an easy victory at home.
49ers at Dolphins (-7.5) – The 1-9 49ers have a tough task ahead of them to play an early game after traveling across the country to Miami. The offense has been better since QB Colin Kaepernick took over the starting job, but West Coast teams often don’t do well in 1pm Eastern games on the East Coast, so I’ll go with the Dolphins to cover, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes the other way.
Chargers at Texans (-1.5) – The Texans are coming off a tough Monday night loss to the Raiders in Mexico City and now return home to take on QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers. The Texans looked better in Week 11 than they have just about all season. Combine that with their strong defense, and I think the Texans get back to their winning ways at home, where they are 5-0 this season.

Sunday 4PM games

Seahawks at Buccaneers (+5.5) – The Seahawks are playing the best they’ve played all season in recent weeks, but the loss of RB C.J. Prosise means RB Thomas Rawls, who has been injured for most of the season, will take on featured-back duties. Despite that, the defense should be able to contain the Bucs enough to give the Seahawks the win as they continue their march toward the postseason
Panthers at Raiders (-3.5) – The Panthers defense will have to hold down QB Derek Carr and the Raiders offense, like the Texans defense did for the first three quarters on Monday night, if they want to have a chance to beat the AFC West leaders. I think QB Cam Newton and the Panthers should be able to put points up on the Raiders defense, so it’ll come down to how much the Raiders can score. I think the Panthers keep it close, and could win outright, so I’m taking the points.
Patriots at Jets (+7.5) – The Jets’ dismal season continues, with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick getting the start off of the team;s bye week. This game has blowout written all over it, with QB Tom Brady leading the Patriots, who haven’t scored fewer than 24 points in any game since Brady returned from his four-game Deflategate suspension in Week 5. Expect the Patriots to win big.

Sunday Night Football

Chiefs at Broncos (-3.5) – The Broncos offense hasn’t been impressive this season, but their defense is still among the best in the league and should be able to do well against a Chiefs team that lost to the Bucs last week. I expect a relatively low-scoring game with the Broncos ultimately winning and covering the spread.

Monday Night Football

Packers at Eagles (-3.5) – The Packers defense has looked really bad throughout the team’s current four-game losing streak, giving up at least 32 points in each game — including back-to-back games giving up 47 and 42 points, respectively. While QB Aaron Rodgers is still playing well, until the defense can show they have improved I’m going to have a hard time picking them. I’ll take the Eagles to win their second straight game.

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

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

Byes: Falcons, Broncos, Jets, Chargers

Thursday Night Football

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

Sunday 1PM games

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

Sunday 4PM games

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

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

Monday Night Football (Mexico City)

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

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My NFL Picks Week 10: Big-name teams collide with Cowboys-Steelers and Seahawks-Patriots

Week 10 is upon us, with a couple of big games on the slate for late Thursday afternoon and evening. QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys head to Pittsburgh to take on a Steelers team reeling from last week’s loss. Then in the primetime game, the Seahawks head to Foxboro to take on QB Tom Brady and the Patriots. The week begins with a less-than-appealing game, with the Browns — still looking for their first win, traveling to Baltimore to take on the AFC North-leading Ravens Thursday night. The Monday night game isn’t bad as the Bengals visit the Giants, who are on a three-game win streak. I went 7-6 last week, bringing my record to 61-70 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: Bills, Lions, Colts, Raiders

Thursday Night Football
Browns at Ravens (-10.5) – I realize the Browns are 0-9, but 10.5 points is a lot for a team like the Ravens, which relies on its defense more than its offense to win games, to be giving up. I expect a low-scoring game and while the Ravens should pick up the win, I don’t think they cover the points. The Browns have been competitive and kept things relatively close in most of their games this season, and that should continue this week.

Sunday 1PM games
Falcons at Eagles (-0.5) – The Falcons have had one of the best offenses in the league this season, with QB Matt Ryan frequently getting the ball to WR  Julio Jones. The Eagles, on the other hand, haven’t looked good in recent weeks with QB Carson Wentz significantly regressing from his performance early in the season. With that in mind, I am surprised that the Eagles are favored. I expect the Falcons to easily win the game outright, so I’m taking them with the points.
Bears at Buccaneers (+0.5) – This game is pretty much a toss-up for me. Neither team has had a great offense this season and Bears QB Jay Cutler is prone to throwing interceptions. The Bucs have several injuries to running backs, though, limiting their running game. I think it could come down to the defenses, and I think the Bears have the advantage there so I’ll take them to win the game by a slight margin.
Broncos at Saints (-1.5) – The Broncos haven’t had much offense lately with QB Trevor Siemian not putting up big numbers. They have been dependent on their defense to pick up wins this season, but the Broncos defense wasn’t able to stop the Raiders and QB Derek Carr on Sunday night. Now having to take on Saints QB Drew Brees in New Orleans will be another tough task. The Saints typically do well at home, and I think they’ll be able to put up just enough offense to pick up the win and cover the 1.5 points.
Packers at Titans (+2.5) – The Packers offense hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, but I still find it hard to doubt QB Aaron Rodgers and his ability to put points on the scoreboard against a Titans team that has given up 226 points in nine games. Titans QB Marcus Mariota will have to have a terrific game to lead his team to victory. I don’t think he’ll be able to do it. Rodgers should be able to outplay Mariota and get the Packers back in the win column after losing to the Colts in Week 9.
Chiefs at Panthers (-2.5) – The 3-5 Panthers are on the upswing, having one two in a row largely because of their defense. Against a ‘Chiefs team that will likely be without No. 1 WR Jeremy Maclin and QB Alex Smith, who isn’t known for his offensive prowess, the Panthers’ defensive success should continue this week. RB Spencer Ware is expected to return from his concussion for Kansas City this week, but I don’t think he’ll be able to do enough to help his team win. Panthers win and cover.
Rams at Jets (-1.5)It looks like QB Bryce Petty might be getting the start for the Jets. If that’s the case, the team will have to rely on RB Matt Forte to carry the load on offense for the Jets to have a chance. With the Rams insisting on continuing to start QB Case Keenum over top draft pick Jared Goff, I think the Jets will be able to score just enough to sneak a win and cover at home in a low-scoring game.
Vikings at Redskins (-2.5) – With the Vikings on the downturn, I think the Redskins are the better team. The Vikings defense, which they were riding to success for much of the season, has gotten worse in recent weeks. With a lack of offense over the last several games, especially at the running back position, the defense will need to step up and be able to stop QB Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense if the Vikings want to stop their losing skid. I don’t think they’ll be able to do it. Redskins win.
Texans at Jaguars (+1.5) – The Jaguars are the worst team in the mediocre AFC South and don’t have much of an offense. The Texans offense hasn’t shown much consistency this season, but I think their defense will be able to stop the Jaguars enough to get the win on the road.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Chargers (-3.5)After a slow start to the season, the Chargers have won three of their last five games. The running backs are likely to lead their respective offenses in this games; Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi has had three straight games of more than 100 rushing yards (including two 200-yard games) while Chargers RB Melvin Gordon has eclipsed the century mark in his last two contests. Despite beating the Jets last week, I don’t think the Dolphins are very good. I’m going with the Chargers at home.
Cowboys at Steelers (-2.5) – Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott lead the Cowboys into one of the marquee games of the week, on the road against the Steelers. QB Ben Roethlisberger looked rusty last week when he returned from his leg injury. If he plays like that again this week, the Cowboys should easily get the win. Even if Big Ben does play better than he did last week, I think the Cowboys have a decent shot at winning with their strong offense. I’m going to take the Cowboys and the points.
49ers at Cardinals (-13.5) – The 49ers aren’t a very good team, as evidenced by their 1-7 record, but 13.5 points is a lot of points for any team to get, especially in a divisional game. Outside of RB David Johnson, the Cardinals offense hasn’t been great this season, with QB Carson Palmer not putting up his typical stats. Cardinals win the game, but give me the points. The 49ers aren’t losing by two touchdowns.

Sunday Night Football
Seahawks at Patriots (-7.5) – The week’s other marquee game sees QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks ahead across the country to take on Brady and the Patriots. It’s a battle of the Seahawks’ strong defense against one of the league’s best offensive attacks, led by Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski. I don’t like to go against the Seahawks when they’re getting more than a touchdown, but the Patriots are probably the only team I would give 7.5 points with against Seattle. I’ll take the Patriots to cover the spread.

Monday Night Football
Bengals at Giants (-2.5) – The Giants host the Bengals in the week’s final game. The Giants have played themselves into the midst of the playoff picture in the NFC with their current three-game win streak. The Bengals, on the other hand, are on the verge of dropping out of the AFC race if they don’t start getting some wins. The Giants offense is on the upswing. I’ll take them to cover.

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NFL Quarterly Report: Romo-less Cowboys lead the NFC, Patriots continue to roll

With Week 9 in the books, we’re halfway through the 2016 NFL season and have a good idea of how good — or bad — teams are. We also have a better idea of which of the teams that got off to surprisingly good starts were for real and have kept it up — such as the Raiders — and which have come back to reality, perhaps most notably the Rams.

The Patriots made it through the first quarter of the season and QB Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension with a 3-1 record. Since Brady returned to the team in Week 5, not only are the Patriots undefeated but Brady is playing on a pace that would make him a lead MVP candidate if he can keep it up through the second half. In four games, Brady has more than 1,300 yards, 12 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. At 7-1, the Patriots are running away with the AFC East; the Dolphins are behind them at 4-4, while the Bills — who handed the Patriots their only loss so far — and Jets are both under .500 and quickly falling out of the playoff race.

Over in the NFC East, when Cowboys QB Tony Romo injured his back in the preseason and expected to miss the first half of the season, things weren’t looking good for the team as rookie QB Dak Prescott would have to lead the team in Romo’s absence. In the team’s first eight games, all Prescott has done is lead the Cowboys to a 7-1 record and two-game lead in the division. Romo has returned to practice, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to the starting lineup anytime soon. As long as the Cowboys keep winning and Prescott performs to the level he has been — he has 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in eight games — the team will likely stick with the rookie under center. Fellow rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is also exceeding expectations, having run for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns through the first half of his first professional season. After starting the season 3-0, the Eagles have lost four of their last five to put their record at 4-4, last place in the division. Rookie QB Carson Wentz, who had 7 touchdowns in his first four games, has not thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since Week 5. The Giants are on the upswing, having won three in a row to go to 5-3, good for second place in the division. The Redskins are in third place at 4-3-1.

A Week 9 win over the Steelers put the Ravens in a tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North, each at 4-4. The loss to Baltimore gave the Steelers a three-game losing streak as QB Ben Roethlisberger returned after missing a few weeks with a leg injury. The Steelers — who have RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, who are among the best in the league at their positions — are underperforming. As Roethlisberger recovers from his injury, the offense should return to form. With the Ravens defense playing well, the Steelers don’t have much room for error or a lot of time to wait, however. The Bengals’ streak of five straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy. At 3-4-1, they can’t fall too far behind the Ravens and Steelers if they want to have a chance at winning the division, which could be their best chance of a sixth straight postseason berth. And then there’s the Browns. At 0-9, they’re still looking for their first win. With the Ravens and Steelers on their schedule the next two weeks, it doesn’t look good for them to get the zero out of their win column anytime soon. They may not get their first win until Week 14 or 15, when they play the Bengals and Bills, respectively. A 0-16 finish isn’t out of the question for Cleveland, though they’ll likely win a game before the season ends.

When the Vikings lost QB Teddy Bridgewater for the season and traded for QB Sam Bradford just before the season started, people weren’t expecting much from the team this season. Which is why their 5-0 start surprised people. They have since lost three in a row to drop to 5-3 on the year, which is still good for first place in the NFC North. The Lions are right behind them, though, at 5-4 having beating Minnesota in overtime in Week 9. Lions QB Matthew Stafford is having one of the best seasons of his career, on pace for 32 touchdowns, which would tie the second-best touchdown total of his career. The Packers find themselves in unfamiliar territory, in third place in the division at 4-4. Green Bay’s offense has been inconsistent this season. QB Aaron Rodgers does have 20 touchdowns through eight games, but he has as many one-touchdown games as he does four-touchdown games, two each. The Bears are in last place at 2-6, but their two wins have come against the top two teams in the division, the Vikings and Lions.

At 5-3, the Texans lead the mediocre AFC South — no other team in the division is above .500 — but their offense has been inconsistent this season as QB Brock Osweiler hasn’t played well in his first full season as a starter. With DE J.J. Watt out for the season, the team has been all right but not what people were expecting coming into the season. The Jaguars were a trendy pick to possibly win the division this season, but at 2-6 it doesn’t look like they’ll factor into the playoff race. The 4-4 Titans look like they could present the biggest threat to the Texans repeating as division champs, but the Colts could still sneak in there at 4-5. If the Texans can just go .500 in the second half to finish 9-7, that should be a good-enough record to win the division for the second straight year.

After going 15-1 and making it to Super Bowl 50 last year, the Panthers were the favorites to win the NFC South, but they have not had a good first half of the season. They started the year 1-5 but have won two in a row to get to 3-5, which ties them with the Buccaneers for third place in the division. Panthers QB Cam Newton has been able to continue the success he had in his MVP run of a year ago; in six starts, he has 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Falcons QB Matt Ryan, meanwhile, has led his team to a 6-3 record and the division lead. He is in the MVP discussion at the midway point, having thrown for 2,980 yards, 23 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions in nine games, putting him on pace for a career year if he can keep it up. The Saints got off to a 0-3 start but have had a bit of a resurgence to get to 4-4 and secure second place in the division.

The Raiders are living up to their preseason hype, now in first place in the AFC West by themselves after Sunday night’s win against the Broncos. QB Derek Carr is having a breakout season, with 17 touchdowns and 3 interceptions through nine games, putting him in the MVP discussion. The Chiefs are in second place at 6-2 despite not getting any production out of RB Jamaal Charles, who is on IR and out for the season, and not having a top-tier quarterback in Alex Smith. The Broncos, coming off their Super Bowl title are in third place with a 6-3 record. They have one of the top defenses in the league, but their offense is lacking, with QB Trevor Siemian throwing just 10 touchdowns with 5 interceptions in his eight starts this season. The Chargers, who had trouble holding fourth-quarter leads early in the season, are at the bottom of the division with a 4-5 record. With the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos playing as well as they are, don’t be surprised to see three playoff teams come out of this division, including both of the AFC’s wild cards.

The Seahawks offense hasn’t been as prolific as we’ve come to expect in recent years, largely due to injuries that have been hampering QB Russell Wilson’s play, but they still sit atop the NFC West as the only team in the division with a winning record. The defense has played a significant role in the success the Seahawks have had so far this season. The Cardinals are in second place with a 3-4-1 record, followed by the Rams, who have dropped four straight after starting the season 3-1. The 49ers, who have gone back to QB Colin Kaepernick as their starter after QB Blaine Gabbert couldn’t get the job done, are 1-7. If the Seahawks offense doesn’t pick things up, they could be in danger of the Cardinals passing them for the division lead in the coming weeks.

Halfway through the season, some teams — including the Patriots and Cowboys — look like they’re virtually locks to make the playoffs. Others that many people picked to be playoff teams before the season started, like the Panthers, have some work to do if they want to live up to those expectations and play beyond Week 17.

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My NFL Picks Week 9: Broncos and Raiders battle to stay atop the AFC West

The featured game of Week 9 is the Sunday night contest, which sees the Broncos head to Oakland to take on the Raiders for first place in the AFC West; both teams are currently 6-2 on the season. Other notable games include the Eagles visiting the Giants for second place in the NFC East and the Panthers hoping to prove last week’s impressive win over the Cardinals wasn’t a fluke when they go to Los Angeles to take on the Rams, who are coming off of their bye. I had my best week of the season last week, going 9-4 to bring my record to 56-64 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: Cardinals, Bears, Bengals, Texans, Patriots, Redskins

Thursday Night Football
Falcons at Buccaneers (+3.5) – The Falcons have been one of the better offenses in the NFL this season. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston has been doing better lately, but I don’t think he can keep up with with Falcons QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones. Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers injured his foot in Sunday’s game and it isn’t looking good for him to play on the short week, which will also limit the Bucs’ chances of challenging the Falcons. I’m surprised the spread isn’t bigger. I think the Falcons easily cover.

Sunday 1PM games
Cowboys at Browns (+7.5) – The Browns are still looking for their win, but they were able to stay competitive against the Jets last week with QB Josh McCown returning from his injury. He’s the best quarterback they have on their roster so he gives the team the best chance to win. But the Cowboys aren’t the Jets and QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott should be able to continue the success they’ve had all season. Cowboys win the game, and I think they barely cover the spread.
Lions at Vikings (-6.5) – The Vikings didn’t play well in any part of the game in Monday’s loss to the Bears. Even the defense, which has been the unit on the team this season, played poorly. QB Sam Bradford‘s hot start is cooling off. Meanwhile, QB Matthew Stafford leads one of the league’s better defenses in Detroit. I think the Lions have a shot to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Jaguars at Chiefs (-8.5) – The Jaguars didn’t put up much of a fight against the Titans on Thursday night until garbage time when the game was already out of reach late. The Chiefs could be without a couple of key players on offense, though, as QB Alex Smith and RB Spencer Ware both left Sunday’s game and are going through the concussion protocol. Smith has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, which means QB Nick Foles will make his first start since Week 13 of the 2015 season. The Chiefs don’t have an explosive offense normally so I don’t expect a blowout, particularly if Ware joins Smith in missing the game. If Ware can’t go, RB Charcandrick West is expected to be the team’s lead back. Chiefs win but I don’t think they cover.
Jets at Dolphins (-3.5) – This battle of three-win AFC East teams could go either way. The Dolphins will be rested coming off their bye. Neither quarterback has been particularly good this year — the Jets even benched QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at one point for Geno Smith — but the Dolphins could have the best offensive player on either team right now, with RB Jay Ajayi, who ran for more than 200 yards in each of his last two games. The Jets offensive woes include WR Brandon Marshall, who has been disappointing of late. I think this could be a sloppy game. I’ll go with the home team.
Eagles at Giants (-2.5) – The Eagles are 1-3 on the road this season and coming off a loss to the Cowboys. Both teams are 4-3 and the winner of this game will hold sole possession of second place in the NFC East. Giants QB Eli Manning has not been good this season. Even though Eagles QB Carson Wentz has regressed since the first couple weeks of the season, he’s still been better than Manning so far and I expect that to continue this week. I’m surprised the Eagles are the underdog and I think they’ll win the game outright.
Steelers at Ravens (-.5) – QB Ben Roethlisberger is a big question mark for the Steelers, which is likely why the Ravens are favored. Roethlisberger returned to practice on Monday after missing the team’s last game, but it’s not clear if he’ll be able to play this week. If he can’t go, QB Landry Jones will get a second straight start. Even if Jones is under center, I think they can beat the Ravens outright with RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, who are among the best players at their positions. i’ll take the Steelers and the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Panthers at Rams (+3.5) – The Panthers are coming off perhaps their best game of the season, particularly with a nice defensive performance against the Cardinals. QB Cam Newton should be able to put up enough points to outscore the Rams. The Panthers are 0-3 on the road this season, but I expect them to get their first win this week and cover the spread in the process.  
Saints at 49ers (+3.5) – QB Drew Brees and the Saints don’t do nearly as well on the road as they do at home at the Superdome, but the 49ers aren’t a good team. The Saints beat the Seahawks last week and even a less-than-100% Russell Wilson is better than 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick so I think the Saints win this one relatively easily.
Colts at Packers (-6.5) – The Packers offense looked like it was back to what we’re used to seeing from it last week, with QB Aaron Rodgers throwing four touchdowns, and their offensive success should continue this week against a subpar Colts defense. The lack of a running game with RB Eddie Lacy on I shouldn’t have much of a negative effect. Packers roll the Colts at home.
Titans at Chargers (-5.5) – Despite a 19-point performance against a tough Broncos defense last week, the Chargers shouldn’t have much trouble with the Titans this week. Titans QB Marcus Mariota has done better in recent weeks, but he’s not as good as Chargers QB Philip Rivers. Titans RB DeMarco Murray got banged up in last Thursday’s game with the Jaguars so his availability for the game is up in the air. Chargers win the game but don’t cover.

Sunday Night Football
Broncos at Raiders (+.5) – This is a matchup of one of the league’s top offenses in the Raiders against one of the NFL’s best defenses in the Broncos. Both teams are 6-2, and whichever squad wins this game will be in first place in the AFC West by themselves. Even though the game is in Oakland, I think defense is going to win out in this one, with the Broncos getting the road victory over a young Raiders team that may not be ready for such a big game on national TV.

Monday Night Football
Bills at Seahawks (-7.5) – The Seahawks offense hasn’t looked good for much of this season and couldn’t even do much against a poor Saints defense on Sunday. The Seahawks will likely have to rely on their defense if they are to win this game. It’s  a long trip to the West Coast for the Bills. I think the Seahawks will find a way to win the game, but I expect it to be close so I’ll take the Bills with the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 8: The Patriots try to avenge their loss to the Bills and the Eagles and Cowboys battle for NFC East supremacy

There aren’t many compelling matchups in Week 8 with six teams on bye, but there are some games that stand out. One such contest pits the top two teams in the AFC East, when the Patriots visit the Bills, looking to get revenge for the Bills’ victory at Gillette Stadium earlier in the season, when QB Tom Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension. The Packers head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in a battle of two of the best teams in the NFC. The same can be said for the Sunday night game, which features the Eagles visiting the Cowboys, in a battle for first place in the NFC East. I went 7-8 last week to bring my record to 47-60 for the season. 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: Ravens, Rams, Dolphins, Giants, Steelers, 49ers

Thursday Night Football
Jaguars at Titans (-3.5) – It’s the seemingly annual Thursday night game between the Jaguars and Titans, the two worst teams in the mediocre AFC South. The Titans suffered a tough loss against the Colts last week, losing a chance to get a piece of the division lead. The Jaguars offense, led by QB Blake Bortles, has been underwhelming this year, while Titans QB Marcus Mariota has been showing signs of improvement in recent weeks. Neither team’s defense is great so I’ll go with the team with the better offense, the Titans.

Sunday morning London game
Redskins at Bengals (-2.5) – The Redskins could only put up 17 points against a below-average Lions defense last week. The Bengals’ offense is looking strong of late. The running game is going well, with RBs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill both running well, and WR A.J. Green is coming off a 8-catch, 169-yard performance. I give the Bengals the advantage in this one.

Sunday 1PM games
Patriots at Bills (+6.5) – The Bills’ injury situation is not looking good. RB LeSean McCoy may have to sit out with his hamstring injury, while WR Marquise Goodwin is in the concussion protocol, leaving his status for Sunday up in the air. The receiving core is already depleted so if Goodwin can’t go, that doesn’t leave many players for QB Tyrod Taylor to pass to. The Patriots are going to continue putting up big numbers like they have since Brady returned from his suspension, and they should easily win the game.
Jets at Browns (+3.5) – The Browns are still looking for their first win of the season, and a home game against a 2-5 Jets team look like it would provide a good opportunity to get it, but I’m not sure it’ll happen. With QB Cody Kessler leaving Sunday’s game early with a possible concussion, rookie QB Kevin Hogan had to come into the game in relief. If Kessler can’t go this week, Hogan would likely get his first career start and I don’t think he’ll be able to do much against a Jets defense that looked decent last week. Even if Kessler plays, I don’t think they have enough weapons to beat the Jets. I think the Browns go 0-8, halfway to a winless season.
Lions at Texans (-2.5) – The Texans didn’t look good against the Broncos on Monday night, with QB Brock Osweiler unable to complete passes farther than 10 yards. The Lions’ defense isn’t nearly as good as Denver’s, but the Lions have a better offense than the Broncos. If the Texans want to win the game, they’ll likely have to be involved in a shootout and I don’t see that happening. I think the Lions win outright so I’ll take them and the points.
Chiefs at Colts (+2.5) – The Chiefs seem to be playing their best ball in recent weeks, while the Colts haven’t been impressive yet this season. Chiefs RB Spencer Ware is the best player on either offense and I think he’ll be able to run on the Colts. If WR Donte Moncrief is able to return from his shoulder injury and play this week, as it looks like he might, that would give the Colts a boost on offense, but I still don’t think it would be enough against a decent Chiefs offense. I pick the Chiefs on the road.
Raiders at Buccaneers (-0.5) – For the second straight week, the Raiders play a 1pm ET game in Florida and are 0.5-point underdogs. This time it’s against the Bucs and, like last week, I think the Raiders are clearly the better team and should be able to win the game outright despite the early start on the East Coast.
Seahawks at Saints (+3.5) – The Seahawks are coming off of a 6-6 tie against the Cardinals in a game that they couldn’t do much offensively. QB Russell Wilson doesn’t appear to be completely healthy. It’s a home game for the Saints, which is usually when they do better, so QB Drew Brees and the rest of the offens should be able to put points on the board. I think the Seahawks are the better team but I think the Saints can outscore them. Since I give the Saints a better-than-average chance to win the game, I’ll take New Orleans and the points.
Cardinals at Panthers (-2.5) – Two of the more disappointing teams in the NFC this season. The Cardinals are the other team in that tie game that didn’t get much done on offense. QB Carson Palmer hasn’t looked good this season and their receiving core is hurt. WR Jaron Brown suffered a season-ending ACL tear last week while WR John Brown sat out Sunday night’s game and his availability for this week is unknown. Given that, I think the Panthers have the offensive advantage behind QB Cam Newton. I expect a relatively low-scoring game but I think the Panthers will get their second win of the season, covering the 2.5-point spread in the process.

Sunday 4PM games

Chargers at Broncos (-5.5)QB Philip Rivers leads the Chargers into Denver to take on the defending Super Bowl champions looking for the season sweep after being them at home in Week 6. Broncos RB C.J. Anderson is out of at least a few weeks, and possibly for the season, with a knee injury, leaving rookie RB Devontae Booker to get his first career start. Booker has looked good with his limited workload thus far, and has been getting more carries in recent weeks. I think the Broncos defense will be able to keep the Chargers from getting a high score, and I expect the Broncos to score more than they did last time. Broncos win and cover.
Packers at Falcons (-2.5) – The Packers may not be doing as good as they usually do, but I still find it hard to bet against QB Aaron Rodgers when he’s getting points. The Falcons have been playing well — particularly WR Julio Jones — and the Packers are dealing with injuries, but I’m going to take the points with Rodgers.

Sunday Night Football
Eagles at Cowboys (-4.5) – It’s a battle of rookie quarterbacks with QB Carson Wentz leading the Eagles into AT&T Stadium against QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. The Cowboys are expected to get WR Dez Bryant back from his injury, which would be big for them as it gives Prescott and additional weapon to throw to. With QB Tony Romo beginning to throw, Prescott likely needs to continue to play the way he has been if he wants to keep the starting job. On the other side, Wentz has started to come back to Earth a bit after getting off to his strong start. This is a key game in the NFC East, and I give it to the Cowboys at home.

Monday Night Football
Vikings at Bears (+6.5) – The Vikings head to Chicago to take on the 1-6 Bears in the final game of Week 8. QB Jay Cutler returns to the field for the Bears after QB Brian Hoyer went down with an injury in last week’s game. He will likely be rusty after not playing for a few weeks, and that won’t be good when facing a defense the caliber of the Vikings. Minnesota might be without RB Jerick McKinnon, who hurt his ankle in Week 7, but it’s looking like he’ll be able to play. I don’t think the Bears will score many points in this game, so the Vikings win and cover.

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