Tag Archives: Raiders

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Tennessee Titans

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we conclude our look at the AFC South with the Tennessee Titans, who finished in second place in the division last season.

The Titans are coming off their first season above .500 since 2011, but a late-season injury to QB Marcus Mariota derailed their hopes for a playoff appearance. Mariota is recovered and ready for the season, and he’ll have new weapons to throw to with the offseason addition of WRs Corey Davis — the No. 5 overall draft pick out of Western Michigan — and Eric Decker, who the Titans signed after he was released by the Jets. They’ll join returning WR Rishard Matthews, who is coming off a career year.

In the 15 games he played last season, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 9 interceptions. Matthews had 65 receptions for 945 yards and 9 touchdowns. TE Delanie Walker wasn’t far behind Matthews; in 10 games, he also caught 65 passes for 800 yards and 7 touchdowns. Decker played in just three games with the Jets last year but averaged a respectable 21.6 yards per reception in the limited sample size. RB DeMarco Murray carried the ball 293 times for 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns, adding 53 catches for an additional 377 yards and 3 touchdowns. RB Derrick Henry, No. 2 on the depth chart, had 110 carries for 490 yards and 5 touchdowns. In total, the offense ranked in the top half of the league in points scored, and the defense also ranked in the top half of the NFL in points allowed.

Adding the likes of Decker and Davis to an offense that already includes Matthews and Walker gives the Titans with an offense that has a chance to compete with just about any other team in the league. The defense was middle-of-the-pack or so last year so even a slight improvement on that side of the ball should give the team an even better chance to win games. In a division like the AFC South that doesn’t have a Patriots-esque team that’s expected to be significantly better than the others, the Titans have a legitimate shot at winning their first division title since 2008.

The Titans open the season at home to take on the Raiders. Their schedule then brings them to Jacksonville to do battle with the Jaguars in Week 2. The Seahawks come to Nashville in Week 3, and road games against the Texans and Dolphins follow in the next two weeks. The Titans’ first primetime game comes in Week 6, when they host the Colts on Monday night. A visit to the Browns is next, followed by a Week 8 bye. After the bye, the Titans have three straight games against AFC North foes, starting with a home game against the Ravens in Week 9. That’s followed with another home tilt against the Bengals, then a Thursday nighter at the Steelers in Week 11. The Titans stay on the road for Week 12, taking on the Colts, before hosting the Texans in Week 13. After another stretch of three games against teams from one division — this time the NFC West — the Titans finish the season at home against the Jaguars in Week 17. I’m thinking they’ll win nine or 10 games and again be in contention for a playoff spot in late December.

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

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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

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Baltimore Ravens

It’s August, which means the NFL season is approaching and it’s time for our annual preview of all 32 NFL teams over the next 32 days (or so), followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2017 season. We begin this year’s previews with the AFC North and the first team in the division, the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division last season.

After a disappointing 5-10 campaign in 2015, the Ravens improvee to .500 last season, which wasn’t good enough to make it to the playoffs. Recognizing they didn’t have much success running the ball last season, the Ravens’ biggest free-agent signing this offseason was RB Danny Woodhead, who is one of the top pass-catching running backs in the league. They also signed WR Jeremy Maclin to give QB Joe Flacco another weapon in the passing game. They also signed veteran CB Brandon Carr to help out a defense that already ranked in the top 10 a year ago. They focused on defensive players in the draft, including their first-round pick, Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey.

Flacco threw for a career-high 4,317 yards last season with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Although he had a low touchdown total, it was a nice comeback season after an ACL tear ended his season early in 2015. As mentioned, the running game wasn’t good last season with a total of 10 touchdowns scored on the ground. RB Terrance West was the club’s leading rusher with 774 yards and 5 touchdowns in 193 attempts. Rookie RB Kenneth Dixon, who had high expectations that he couldn’t live up to, ran for 382 yards and 2 touchdowns in 88 attempts despite not starting any games. RB Justin Forsett did start three games, but he totaled just 98 yards on 31 rushes. An injury limited Woodhead to just two games, one start, last season with the Chargers, but he totaled more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in 2015 with 9 touchdowns and 80 receptions in his last full season in the league. Flacco’s favorite target last season is no longer with the team, as injury-prone TE Dennis Pitta was released this summer. WR Mike Wallace had the second-most targets and receptions on the team, with 72 catches for a team-high 1,017 yards and 4 touchdowns. With the Chiefs last season, Maclin played in 12 games, catching 44 balls for 536 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last two full seasons in 2014 and 2015. The defense was ninth in the NFL with 321 points allowed and seventh in yards allowed at 5,154 yards.

Signing Woodhead and Maclin should improve the Ravens’ offense, especially if Woodhead can come back from his torn ACL to play well heading into his first year in Baltimore. He can not only improve one of the worst ground games in the league but also provide a strong target out of the backfield for Flacco, as evidenced by his 80 receptions two years ago. The running game has already been dealt a blow early in training camp, with Dixon suffering a season-ending knee injury; they signed RB Bobby Rainey to replace him. Also on the injury front, Flacco has been dealing with a back injury in camp, but he shouldn’t miss extended time during the regular season. Maclin and Wallace should form a strong 1-2 punch in the receiving game, with Maclin likely being able to make up for the lost production following the release of Pitta, who accounted for more than a quarter of Flacco’s passing attempts last season.

The Ravens open the season with back-to-back divisional games, at the Bengals in Week 1 and hosting the Browns in Week 2. Their first of two against the Steelers comes Week 4 in Baltimore, followed by a cross-country trip to head to Oakland to take on the dangerous Raiders in Week 5. They get their bye in Week 10 before visiting the Packers the following week. Week 12 sees them host the Texans on Monday night. They visit the Steelers in another primetime game in Week 14, and then end the season with two home games, against the Colts in Week 16 and the Bengals in Week 17. It looks like the Ravens have a fairly tough schedule, and I think they are looking at an eight- or nine-win season, so right around where they were last season, possibly a little better, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to play in the postseason.

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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Will the Chargers start 2017 by ending their tenure in San Diego?

The Chargers have called San Diego home since 1961, when they were in the AFL before eventually moving to the NFL when the leagues merged, after playing in Los Angeles in their inaugural season of 1960. When they take the field against the Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, it could be their final home game in San Diego. There is rampant speculation that they will be moving back to Los Angeles for the 2017 season, eventually playing in the Rams’ new stadium when that is finished, which is expected to be in time for the 2019 season.

When the NFL owners approved the Rams’ move to Los Angeles last January they also approved a move of the Chargers to the City of Angels, giving them an option that, if exercised, would allow them to move about 125 miles up the Southern California coast to Inglewood. The Chargers were given a year to exercise the option, which means they have just a few weeks left to pull the trigger if they choose to do so. With that in mind, when they host the Chiefs on Sunday in the final game of a sub-.500 season for the Chargers, their players, coaches and fans won’t know if it’ll be the last time they take the field in the city that the team has called home for more than five decades. It will be an emotional game, as it was last season when the possibility of it being the team’s final game in San Diego was already on people’s minds.

The issue leading to the possible relocation to Los Angeles is a new stadium. The team feels Qualcomm Stadium isn’t good enough anymore but the city isn’t willing to put up the money to pay for a new facility for the team. Talk of leaving San Diego picked up steam in November when a ballot measure that would have raised hotel taxes to help fund a new downtown stadium failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed for approval. Had that passed, the team and the league would have contributed $650 million toward the project. In a seemingly last-ditch effort to save the team, city officials including Mayor Kevin Faulconer reportedly met with team owner Dean Spanos last week to try to reach an agreement. Earlier in the month, the city council offered to lease the land where Qualcomm Stadium sits to the Chargers for $1 a year over 99 years, allowing them to remain there while discussions about a new stadium continue into the future.

If this is it in San Diego for the Chargers, their run in the city will end with Week 16’s loss against a Browns team that was 0-14 entering the game and could be looking at another loss with a tough game against the division-rival Chiefs, who will be going all-out as they need a win — coupled with a Raiders loss — to have a chance at winning the division and earning a first-round bye in the playoffs.

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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