Tag Archives: Ravens

5th 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.

Despite finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs last season, the Titans made a change at head coach, replacing Mike Mularkey with former Patriots LB Mike Vrabel. As far as player movement, the Titans signed RB Dion Lewis to fill the void left on the depth chart following the release of RB DeMarco Murray. They also signed G Xavier Su’a-Filo and backup QB Blaine Gabbert. They focused on helping their defense in this year’s draft, selecting LBs Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry with their first two picks. They lost WR Eric Decker in free agency.

The offense ranked in the bottom half of the league last season with 5,024 yards and 334 points. QB Marcus Mariota led the way with 3,232 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 15 games, with another five rushing touchdowns on his ledger. TE Delanie Walker led the team with 74 receptions, going for 807 yards and three touchdowns. WR Rishard Matthews added 53 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games  — 11 starts — and rookie WR Corey Davis caught 34 balls for 375 yards in 11 games, including nine starts. RB Derrick Henry ran the ball 176 times for 744 yards and five touchdowns. With the Patriots, Lewis had 180 rushes for 896 yards and six touchdowns, adding 32 receptions for 214 receiving yards and three scores. The defense was around the middle of the league in both yards and points allowed.

The Titans open the season on the road against the Dolphins, then face the Texans in their home opener in Week 2. Another divisional game follows in Week 3 when the Titans visit the Jaguars. The Titans host the defending champion Eagles in Week 4. They continue to alternate home and road games by visiting the Bills in Week 5, hosting the Ravens in Week 6 and heading to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers in Week 7. The Titans’ bye follows that game, with a visit to the Cowboys on deck in Week 9. The Titans host the Patriots in Week 10 and then have two straight divisional games on the road when they take on the Colts and Texans in Weeks 11 and 12, respectively, Their second game against the Jaguars comes in Week 14, and that’s followed with a Week 15 game at the Giants. The Titans conclude the regular season with consecutive home games against the Redskins and Colts.

The Titans find themselves in a potentially tough position in 2018 with a quarterback who threw half as many touchdowns last year as he did in 2016 and a rookie head coach in Vrabel.They’re in a tough division with a Jaguars team that almost played in the Super Bowl last season and teams in the Texans and Colts that should be better this season as they get back stars who were injured for much — or all — of last season. On paper, the Titans appear to be the worst team in the AFC South and with tougher competition expected in the division, they’ll probably finish with a worse record than last year, unless Mariota has a breakout season. The Titans are probably looking at about a 7-9 mark, with a best-case scenario of 8-8.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Pittsburgh Steelers

Our continuing previews of the 32 NFL teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season resume as we conclude with the AFC North. Here, we preview the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming off a first-place finish in the division last season.

The Steelers have won at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons, and they have won the division three times during that span. They’re looking to continue that momentum in 2018 and tried to build up their defense this offseason to achieve that goal. They signed LB Jonathan Bostic and longtime Packers S Morgan Burnett in free agency and picked S Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the draft. They also drafted QB Mason Rudolph, potentially looking to the future under center. It’s not all good for the Steelers, though. They were unable to reach an agreement with RB Le’Veon Bell on a new long-term contract and he is currently holding out during training camp.

The Steelers offense racked up the third most yards in the NFL last season and ranked eighth in points scored with 6,047 and 406, respectively. QB Ben Roethlisberger was a big part of that success, of course. He threw for 4,251 and 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 15 games. WR Antonio Brown had 101 receptions for a league-best 1,533 yards with nine touchdowns while playing in just 14 games. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster had 917 yards and seven touchdowns on 58 catches in 14 games, including seven starts, while TE Jesse James caught 43 balls for 372 yards and three scores. Bell played in 15 games last season, carrying the ball an NFL-leading and career-high 321 times for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. He was also one of the league’s most productive running backs in the passing game, totaling 85 receptions for 655 yards and two touchdowns. Backup RB James Conner had 32 rushing attempts for 144 yards  but didn’t have any receptions, with just a single target, in his 14 games. The defense allowed the fifth-fewest yards and was in the top 10 in points allowed last season.

The Steelers open their campaign on the road against the Browns, then come home to take on the Chiefs in Week 2. After a visit to Tampa to take on the Buccaneers, the Steelers host the Ravens and Falcons in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Their bye comes in Week 7, and it’s bookended by a road game at the Bengals in Week 6 and a Week 8 contest against the Browns in Pittsburgh. After hosting the Panthers in Week 10, the Steelers have back-to-back road games against the Jaguars and Broncos. They face a potentially tough stretch late in the season, visiting the Raiders in Week 14, hosting the Patriots in Week 15 and heading to New Orleans to take on the Saints in Week 16. They finish their regular season schedule with a Week 17 home game against the Bengals.

The Steelers are still the class of the division, and it’s not close. Even if Bell’s holdout lasts into the regular season, which is unlikely, the Steelers will be fine. They have a top-tier quarterback and perhaps the best receiver in the league in Brown. In a division without much competition for them, the Steelers should easily get to double-digit wins again this season, possibly finishing as good as 12-4. For the Steelers, it’s not about getting to the playoffs as much as it’s about how deep into the playoffs they’ll go. Expect another division title for the Steelers.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Cleveland Browns

Up next in our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of the next 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2018 season is the Cleveland Browns, coming off a last-place finish in the AFC North last season.

The Browns haven’t had a winning record since going 10-6 in 2007 and they finally hit rock bottom last season, becoming the second team in NFL to go 0-16, giving them an overall record of 1-31 over the last two seasons. When the situation gets that bad, it means there’s nowhere to go but up. They had two of the first four picks in the draft, and they used those to select QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward. They took RB NIck Chubb with their second-round pick, which was just part of their offensive overall. They acquired QB Tyrod Taylor in a trade with the Bills and signed free-agent RB Carlos Hyde. They also traded for WR Jarvis Landry. In terms of losses, the Browns traded QB DeShone Kizer, who started 15 of their games last season, in exchange for DB Damarious Randall at the beginning of what was a busy offseason for player transactions for the team, giving their fans hope that they may actually win a few games in 2018. And just this week they made another trade with the Bills, this time sending WR Corey Coleman to Buffalo for a draft pick.

The Browns ranked in the bottom third of the league in offensive yards last season and were last in points scored, but that was before the overhauled offense. Taylor, who is expected to begin the season as the starting quarterback, threw for 2,799 with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in 15 games with the Bills last season, which was a better performance than Kizer had for Cleveland. Hyde had 240 carries last season with the 49ers, running for 938 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had 59 receptions for an additional 350 yards. RB Duke Johnson, who is third on the depth chart entering the season, had 348 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 82 carries last season, and was productive through the air with 74 catches for 693 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers made Johnson the Browns’ leading receiver in 2017. Landry had a career-high 112 receptions for Miami last season, totaling 987 yards and nine touchdowns. WR Josh Gordon played in five games after coming back from his suspension, recording 18 catches for 335 yards and a touchdown. The defense was around the middle of the league in yards allowed but was next-to-last with 410 points allowed.

The Browns have a couple of tough matchups to begin the season, hosting the Steelers in Week 1 and then visiting the Saints in Week 2. Things should get easier when the Jets come to Cleveland in Week 3. The Browns play at the Raiders in Week 4. The divisional games pick back up in Week 5 when the Browns host the Ravens. The Browns finish their season series against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 8. The Browns then have two straight home games — against the Chiefs and Falcons — leading into their Week 11 bye. Coming out of the break, they visit the Bengals and Texans. The Browns host the Panthers in Week 14 and host the Bengals in Week 16 before heading to Baltimore to finish the season against the Ravens.

The Browns certainly improved their team this offseason so they shouldn’t have another one-win or winless season, but how many wins they’ll get in 2018 is the question. They have a pretty tough schedule overall, so I think they’ll probably max out at three or four victories. A big key to that will be Gordon, who missed the start of training camp as he continues to work on his substance abuse issues. If he can stay on the field for the whole season, he could be a big weapon in the passing game. It’ll also be interesting to see if Mayfield takes over as the starting quarterback at any point during the season. The Browns have a promising future with some of the young players they have on the team, but they’re still probably at least a couple of years away from contending and have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.

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

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5th 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 2018 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.

The Ravens’ finished last season at 9-7, their first winning season since 2014, which is also when they made their last playoff appearance. This offseason, the team focused on adding wide receivers to help QB Joe Flacco, signing free agent WRs Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown. They also added some depth at the quarterback position, selecting QB Lamar Jackson in the first round of the draft and signing QB Robert Griffin III as a free agent. Their running back core includes RBs Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon.

Overall, the offense ranked 27th in the league with 4,886 yards and ninth with 395 yards.Flacco only threw for 3,141 yards last season — about 1,200 yards fewer than the year before — and 18 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Collins led the running game with 973 yards and six touchdowns on 212 attempts. Allen ran the ball 153 times for 591 yards and four touchdowns, adding 250 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 46 receptions. The receiving core has been completely overhaul so none of last year’s top receivers are on the team in 2018. Snead played in 11 games, including seven starts, with the Saints and had just eight receptions. Crabtree recorded 58 catches for 618 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games with the Raiders, and Brown had 21 receptions for 299 yards and three touchdowns 10 games — 5 starts — in an injury-shortened season with the Cardinals. On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens allowed the 12th-fewest yards in the league and ranked sixth with 303 points allowed. The defense led the league with 22 interceptions in 2017.

Looking at the schedule, they begin things with a winnable game at home against the Bills, then visit the Bengals in Week 2. They have a stretch of three straight road games in Weeks 4-6, visiting the Steelers, Browns and Titans in that period. They then face tough games the next three games when they host the Saints, visit the Panthers and have their second game with the Steelers. The Ravens get a late bye in Week 10,  then face the Bengals and Raiders at home. They face tough opponents in the road in Weeks 13 and 14, visiting the Falcons and Chiefs. They get a home game with the Browns in Week 17, which could be beneficial if they need to win that game t secure a playoff spot.

This could be a make-or-break season for Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh. They won a Super Bowl in the 2012 season but have made the playoffs just once since then. If the Ravens aren’t playing in January this season, it could be the end of the Flacco-Harbaugh era in Baltimore. Jackson is likely the heir apparent under center for the team and could see some playing time if Flacco disappoints. They have a pretty tough schedule and I think the best they can hope for is to finish 8-8, or possibly match last year’s 9-7 mark.

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

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My NFL Picks Week 17: Playoff spots up for grabs, Browns look to avoid 0-16 (Updated)

It’s the final week of the 2017 NFL regular season, which means some teams are still battling for the final playoff spots, others are just playing out meaningless games, and the Browns are trying to avoid becoming just the second team in league history to go 0-16. Seven of the eight division titles have been wrapped up — only the NFC South remains in contention, along with both AFC wild cards and one wild card in the NFC. The teams that have not clinched a spot in the postseason but remain in the hunt are the Titans, Ravens, Chargers and Bills in the AFC and the Falcons and Seahawks vying for the final NFC berth.

As usual in Week 17, some teams with nothing to play for will either not play their key players or only play them for part of the game. The Chiefs have already announced QB Alex Smith will sit out and rookie QB Patrick Mahomes will make his first career start, and the Rams have said a number of starters, including QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley, will not play in their season finale. That makes picking games more difficult than usual this week, especially with teams like the Jaguars who are looked into their playoff seed but claim they’re still going to play to win this week. I went 6-10 last week, giving me an overall record of 123-117 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 (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Sunday 1PM games

Bears at Vikings (-12.5) – The Vikings, who are coming off a shutout of the Packers, are currently the NFC’s No. 2 seed, but could fall out of that spot — and the accompanying first-round bye — this week, so they’ll likely play their starters this week. But I think the spread could be a bit much because the Bears have a pretty good defense. I’ll take the points.

Browns at Steelers (-14.5) The 0-15 Browns need to beat the Steelers to avoid joining the 2008 Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history. I don’t think that’s going to happen, it’s just a question of how much the Steelers win by. The Steelers are locked into the No. 2 seed but could still move up to No. 1 and get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a Patriots loss. If the Patriots get a big lead on the Jets and look like they’re on pace to win by halftime, the Steelers could pull their starters in the second half, which would limit their scoring potential so I’m going to take the points.
(Update: There are reports that OL Marcus Gilbert has said that QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell will not play in the game. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t change my pick of taking the points with Cleveland.)

Cowboys at Eagles (+2.5) – The Eagles locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC when they beat the Raiders Monday night, which means they’ll probably put their backups in at some point during the game — if the likes of QB Nick Foles and RB Jay Ajayi play at all. The offense didn’t even look good on Monday with them playing, so I think the Cowboys have a pretty good chance to win the game. I’ll give the points.

Packers at Lions (-7.5)The Packers couldn’t score last week against the Vikings. The Lions defense isn’t as good but Packers QB Brett Hundley isn’t good. The Lions lost to the Bengals last week, but they should be able to beat the Packers and I’ll give the points.

Texans at Colts (-3.5) – Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons but the Texans have the best offensive player in the game with WR DeAndre Hopkins, so I’ll take the points. (Update: There are reports that Hopkins is not expected to play, but even if he sits I still think the Texans will be able to stay within a field goal, if not win outright, so I’ll keep my original pick.)

Jets at Patriots (-15.5) The Patriots need to win this game so clinch the top seed in the AFC, which they should do. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sit some of their starters late in the game, so I’ll take the points.

Redskins at Giants (+3.5) The Redskins and Giants have both been plagued by injuries this season but the Redskins seem to be handling it better. The Giants were shut out by the Cardinals last week and I don’t see them keeping this game very close. The most notable aspect of the game for the Giants is the possibility that it will be Eli Manning’s last start with the team. I’ll go with the Redskins.

Sunday 4PM games

Panthers at Falcons (-3.5) – The Panthers have already punched their ticket to the postseason and have a chance at winning the NFC South with a win and a Saints loss. They also have a shot at the No. 2 seed with a win and help. The Falcons are currently the No. 6 seed with a wild card but need to win to hold off the Seahawks, who would overtake them with a win if the Falcons lose. That means both teams are playing for something, but it’s more critical for the Falcons to get a victory. They’re at home, but I think the Panthers are the better team. I’ll take the points.

Bills at Dolphins (+2.5) – The Bills are on the outside looking in for their first playoff berth since 1999. They need a win and a Ravens loss, or other help, to get into the postseason. They’re facing a relatively easy game against the Dolphins and I think they should be able to win by about a touchdown, so I’ll give the points on the road.

Bengals at Ravens (-9.5) – The Ravens are currently the fifth seed and just need to win to clinch a spot in the playoffs. If they lose, losses by Bills or Titans would also get them in. They shouldn’t need that help, though, as I think they beat the Bengals, but I don’t think they’ll win by double digits so I’m giving the points.

Chiefs at Broncos (-3.5)- With the news that the Chiefs, who are the AFC West champions and locked in as the No. 4 seed, starting Mahomes at quarterback, you have to wonder how much their other stars — such as RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce — will play in the last game of the regular season. That gives the Broncos a better chance to win the game, but I’m still not sure they’ll be able to do it. If they do win, it probably won’t be a big margin of victory so I’ll take the points with the playoff-bound squad.

Jaguars at Titans (-5.5) – The Jaguars continue to say they’ll play to win on Sunday despite  being locked into the third seed, but given the line the oddsmakers aren’t believing them. I believe the jags will play their starters for at least the first half, which I think would be enough to win the game. Give me the points.

Raiders at Chargers (-7.5)The Chargers need a win (or tie) and help to sneak into the playoffs, and they’re playing a Raiders team with nothing to play for that didn’t have much offense on Monday night. One concern for the Chargers is the availability of RB Melvin Gordon, who suffered an ankle injury on Sunday but says he’s ready to go this week. I think the Chargers win and it probably won’t be that close.

49ers at Rams (-3.5) – The Rams can’t improve their playoff positioning beyond their current No. 3 seed and have already said that Goff, Gurley and DT Aaron Donald are among their starters who will sit for the finale, so they are clearly treating it as a preseason-type game. With the way the 49ers have played since installing Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback, and with QB Sean Mannion getting the start for the Rams, I expect the 49ers to give the Rams outright so I’m taking the points.

Saints at Buccaneers (+7.5) – The Saints simply need  a win (or Panthers loss) to clinch the division title, and I expect them to get it easily. I’ll give the points.

Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) The Seahawks need a win (or tie), combined with a Falcons loss, to earn a playoff spot. I think both of these will happen, and I don’t expect the Cardinals-Seahawks game to be that close so I’ll give the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 16: Zeke returns, Falcons-Saints battle in the NFC South

The penultimate week of the regular season in the NFL has an underwhelming slate of games after last week’s schedule had a number of featured matchups. The best game of the week looks to be the NFC South battle between the Falcons and Saints, as the visiting team is a game out of first place in the division. The Cowboys are among the teams looking to win to stay alive with their slim playoff hopes, and they get RB Ezekiel Elliott back after he has finished serving his six-game suspension. There’s an unusual schedule this week with the Christmas holiday. There’s no Thursday game and there are doubleheaders on both Saturday and Monday, with no Sunday night game due to Christmas Eve. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 117-107 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 (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Saturday games

Colts at Ravens (-13.5) – This is a surprisingly large spread for a Ravens team that doesn’t have a great offense. They did win by more than I thought last week against the Browns, but the Colts aren’t the Browns. I have a hard time picking a Joe Flacco-led offense to win by two touchdowns, so I’ll take the Colts and the points, but I expect the Ravens to win the game to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Vikings at Packers (+6.5) The Falcons’ win on Monday Night Football eliminated the Packers from playoff contention, and with that the team decided to shut QB Aaron Rodgers down for the season and placed him on IR. That means QB Brett Hundley is back as the starter for the last two games of the season. With that in mind, the Packers probably won’t score many points against a good Vikings defense. At 11-3, the Vikings are battling for the top seed in the NFC, and they should beat their division rivals to stay alive in that race. I’ll give the points on the road.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Saints (-5.5) – The Falcons need to win this game to try to stay alive in the race for the NFC South as they currently sit a game behind both the Saints and Panthers, who are tied for the division lead. I don’t think the Falcons will be able to keep up with the Saints’ offense, led by QB Drew Brees and RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, enough to win the game. I do think they’ll keep it close, though, so I’ll take the points but the Saints win the game.

Bills at Patriots (-12.5)The Patriots hold the top seed in the AFC after the thrilling win against the Steelers on Sunday. Now they hit the road for a divisional game against the Bills, who are desperate for a win as they try to hold on to the No. 6 seed in the conference. I don’t think the game will be a blowout, but the it’s hard to go against the Tom BradyRob Gronkowski combo on the Pats. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor isn’t good enough, so it’ll have to be RB LeSean McCoy to lead the way, and I don’t think that’ll be enough to pull off the upset. Patriots win, but I’m taking the points again.

Browns at Bears (-6.5)The Browns have just two more chances to avoid becoming the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. With the Steelers looming in Week 17, this could be the Browns’ last realistic chance to get a win. I don’t like their chances, though. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer doesn’t look like he’s getting better as the season progresses. I think the Bears will win and cover, though I’m not confident about that part.

Lions at Bengals (+4.5) It seems like the Bengals have given up on the season, coming off of back-to-back losses of 33-7 and 34-7. I’m expecting another blowout here and am surprised the spread is as low as it is. I think the Lions win by double digits.

Broncos at Redskins (-3.5) Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons, but the Broncos have been the worse of the two. Their defense has not been good lately and they don’t seem to know yet who will start at quarterback this week, Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch. I’ll go with Kirk Cousins and the Redskins.

Rams at Titans (+6.5) – The Rams are coming off of a blowout win against the Seahawks, and I don’t think the Titans are much better than the Seahawks so I don’t know why this game would be much different. Titans QB Marcus Mariota may be the most disappointing player in the league this season. I expect Rams RB Todd Gurley to have another big game like he did last week. Rams win big.

Dolphins at Chiefs (-10.5) – The Chiefs seem to be back to playing the way they were early in the season when they were 5-0, as opposed to how they played during their midseason swoon. Facing a Dolphins team led by QB Jay Cutler, I don’t think this game will be that close, and WR Tyreek Hill and RB Kareem Hunt will lead the way for the Chiefs as they look to potentially wrap up the AFC West this week.

Chargers at Jets (+6.5) – The Chargers are on the fringe of playoff contention but need significant help to get over the edge. Bryce Petty is the Jets’ starting quarterback, which is why I’m taking PHilip Rivers and the Chargers to do their part and win the game — and cover — but I don’t think they’ll still be alive for the postseason by the end of the weekend.

Buccaneers at Panthers (-9.5)- Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston had his best game in a while on Monday, dropping a close one to the Falcons. I think Winston and WR Mike Evans can keep it close again this week when they take on the Panthers, but I think the Panthers win. TE Greg Olsen looked like himself in Week 15 as he continues to work his way back from injury, which gives QB Cam Newton another offensive weapon. Panthers win, but the Bucs cover.

Sunday 4PM games

Jaguars at 49ers (+4.5) – QB Jimmy Garoppolo has played well in the games he’s played for the 49ers this season, but he faces perhaps his biggest test yet against the Jaguars, who have one of the best defenses in the league. Last week, the Jaguars clinched their first playoff berth in a decade, but they still have something to play for because they can earn a first-round bye if things go in their favor. RB Leonard Fournette looks like he will play after missing last week’s game. I’m going with the Jags.

Seahawks at Cowboys (-4.5)The Seahawks are coming off a bad loss to the Rams, while the Cowboys held on to beat the Raiders last week and now get Elliott back from his suspension as they try to keep their playoff hopes alive. With Elliott, who could get a heavy workload, back I think the Cowboys will win this one fairly easily. I’ll give the points.

Giants at Cardinals (-4.5) – The Giants offense came alive last week, with QB Eli Manning throwing for more than 400 yards, while Blaine Gabbert had a forgettable game for the Cardinals and is being replaced by Drew Stanton this week. Overall, neither team has been good this season so I’ll go with their most recent performances and take the points, though I think the Cardinals could eke out the win at home.

Christmas games

Steelers at Texans (+9.5)The Steelers will be without WR Antonio Brown this week after he injured his calf in the team’s nailbiter against the Patriots on Sunday. That could be a blow to the offense if WRs Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t make up for Brown’s lost production. It could also lead the team to lean more on RB Le’Veon Bell than if Brown was healthy. I expect the Steelers to win the game, but I think the spread may be too high since the Steelers tend to play down to their competition when they’re facing an inferior team. Give me the points. 

Raiders at Eagles (-8.5) – Eagles QB Nick Foles played well in his first game starting in place of Carson Wentz on Sunday, but I need to see him do it again before I truly buy into him being able to play like that again. I’m going to go with the Raiders to cover, but the Eagles should win the game.

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My NFL Picks Week 15: Rodgers returns, Patriots battle Steelers for AFC supremacy

The game of the week looks to be the Patriots visiting the Steelers in the late afternoon slot on Sunday. They are probably the two best teams in the AFC, and the Patriots are going to be looking to bounce back from the loss they suffered against the Dolphins on Monday night.  Other games of note on the Week 15 slate include the Rams heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in a game for first in the NFC West and the Cowboys visiting the Raiders on Sunday night as those teams look to hold on to their slim playoff hopes. We also get our first Saturday games of the season, with a doubleheader. I went 6-10 last week, giving me an overall record of 110-98 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 (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Thursday Night Football

Broncos at Colts (+2.5) – The week begins with the Peyton Bowl, as Peyton Manning‘s former teams play each other. Neither quarterback in the game — Trevor Siemian for the Broncos and the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett — is in the same class as Manning. I trust the Broncos’ offense more than the Colts’, so I’ll give the points to start the week.

Saturday games

Bears at Lions (-5.5) – The Bears are coming off what was probably their best game of the season last week, a 33-7 victory against the Bengals, but you can’t expect that kind of offense out of QB Mitch Trubisky every week. Obviously the Lions have the better pass-thrower in Matthew Stafford, but they’ve had some issues in the run game, with RB Ameer Abdullah having missed the last two games. The Bears have a decent defense, which I think will be able to keep it a close game. I think the Lions win,but I’m taking the points with the Bears.

Chargers at Chiefs (+1.5) – First place in the AFC West is on the line as these 7-6 teams meet. The Chiefs finally won a game last week after an extended losing streak while the Chargers are on a four-game winning streak. Part of the reason for the Chiefs’ win last week was rookie RB Kareem Hunt having his best game in several weeks, and he’ll likely need a repeat performance this week because QB Alex Smith can’t be trusted right now. I think Chargers QB Philip Rivers will do well enough to get his team the win.

Sunday 1PM games

Dolphins at Bills (-2.5) – There is a question about who will draw the start at quarterback for the Bills this week, with it looking like it could be Joe Webb. If that’s the case, it would hurt the BIlls’ chances of beating a Dolphins team coming off a win over the Patriots. I think Dolphins QB Jay Cutler is better than whoever is going to start for the Bills, and RB Kenyan Drake is looking like a viable starter for Miami, so I’ll take the points with the visitors.

Bengals at Vikings (-10.5)The Bengals were on the short end of a blowout loss against the Bears last week and face a tougher test this week against the Vikings, who lost to the Panthers on Sunday. I don’t like giving more than 10 points, but the Bengals look like they may have given up on the rest of the season, so I’ll give the points.

Ravens at Browns (+7.5)The Browns had their best chance yet last week to pick up their first win of the season. They were leading the Packers most of the way but ultimately lost in overtime. I don’t think they’ll have such a lengthy lead in this game, but I think they’ll keep it close because I don’t like the Ravens’ offense that much. The Browns likely drop to 0-14 this week, but I’ll take the points.

Packers at Panthers (+0.5) This could be an interesting game for the Packers as QB Aaron Rodgers is expected to action after missing the last several games with a collarbone injury. If he plays, I think the Packers win. If it’s Brett Hundley under center for some reason, I would expect the Panthers to win.

Jets at Saints (-15.5) – After QB Josh McCown suffered a season-ending wrist injury on Sunday, the Jets are expected to start Bryce Petty, which is likely one reason why there’s such a big spread on this game. The Saints should win easily, but I’m taking the points. I think the Jets can stay within two touchdowns.

Eagles at Giants (+7.5)The Eagles also suffered a season-ending injury at quarterback on Sunday when MVP candidate Carson Wentz tore his ACL. That leaves QB Nick Foles as the starter heading into hostile territory on the road against the Giants. QB Eli Manning started again last week, but he didn’t look good. But who knows how Foles will perform in his first start of the season. I still think the Eagles win the game, but I’ll take the points.

Cardinals at Redskins (-4.5) Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons and neither offense has been great this week, but Redskins QB Kirk Cousins is better than Cardinals QB Blaine Gabbert, which I think will be the difference in the game. I’ll go with the Redskins.

Texans at Jaguars (-11.5)QB T.J. Yates will start for the Texans after Tom Savage suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. When these teams met in Week 1, the Jaguars won in a blowout — and that was with Deshaun Watson playing in the second half. With Yates under center for the Texans, I don’t think this game will be close. I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Rams at Seahawks (-2.5) – First place in the division is on the line in this match, with QB Jared Goff and the Rams facing a Seahawks defense depleted by injuries. I expect this to be a close game, but I think the Rams can pull out the win.

Titans at 49ers (-1.5) – 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo has done well in his first two starts with the team, but the team around him still isn’t great. While Titans QB Marcus Mariota has been struggling of late, I think he’ll be able to lead the team to a victory so I’ll take the points.

Patriots at Steelers (+2.5) This seems like the game of the year in the AFC, with the winning squad getting the inside track on the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Patriots are coming off a Monday night loss to the Dolphins, but they’ll have TE Rob Gronkowski back after he was suspended for that game. The Steelers have one of the best offenses in the league, though, with QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell. I’m expecting a pretty high-scoring game, with the home team winning.

Sunday Night Football

Cowboys at Raiders (+2.5) – Both teams are hanging on to playoff contention to a thread and a loss could kill either team’s chances of making it to the postseason. I think the Cowboys, who are slated to get RB Ezekiel Elliott back in Week 16, are the better team of late and should win the game.

Monday Night Football

Falcons at Buccaneers (+6.5) – The Falcons are trying to hold on to the No. 6 seed in the NFC, and a win over the Buccaneers would help them fend off the likes of the Cowboys and Packers. I think Atlanta can beat the disappointing Tampa Bay team so it becomes a question of whether they’ll win by a touchdown or better. I think it’ll be close, but I’m giving the points.

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