Tag Archives: Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl LI Preview: Brady, Belichick go for record 5th rings as Patriots battle Falcons

For the first time in four years, the Super Bowl does not consist of the two No. 1 seeds going against each other. It’s the AFC’s top-seeded Patriots — going for the franchise’s fifth title, which would tie the team for second-most all-time behind the Steelers — taking on the Falcons, the No. 2 seed from the NFC, who are playing in just their second Super Bowl and looking for their first title. The Patriots, on the other hand, are playing in their NFL-record ninth championship game. Patriots QB Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have each been part of the Patriots’ four prior championships and are making their seventh overall Super Bowl appearances, the most in league history for a player or coach.

Neither team struggled to win its conference championship game, both more than doubling their opponent’s score. The Falcons defense stifled QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense and Green Bay’s defense couldn’t stop QB Matt Ryan and the rest of the Atlanta offense as the Falcons won 44-21. Brady and the Patriots put up 36 points on the Steelers defense and limited Pittsburgh’s offense, which played without RB Le’Veon Bell for most of the game when he exited early with a groin injury. New England won the game by a final score of 36-17.

With two of the league’s best offenses playing in Super Bowl LI, it looks to be a high-scoring game, which is reflected in the 59 over/under in Vegas, which is up from the already-high 56.5 where it opened. The Patriots are three-point favorites in the game, which opened as a pick ’em. Heading into the final game of the postseason, I am 9-2 picking games straight up, 6-4 against the spread and 5-5 on over/unders.

The Falcons had the league’s top scoring offense during the regular season and have kept up the offensive attack through their first two playoff games, scoring 36 and 44, respectively. The Patriots can put points on the board, as well, scoring 34 and 36, respectively, in their first two games of this postseason. Both quarterbacks are MVP candidates after putting up big numbers during the season but I’ll give the advantage of the Brady and the Patriots. It’s hard to go against the clutch performances he has put up throughout his career and the four Super Bowls he has one. I say the Falcons have the advantage at the receiver position with WR Julio Jones, who is one of the best in the game, gaining more than 1,400 receiving yards with 6 touchdowns during the season and adding another 4 touchdowns in his two playoff games so far this season. The question is how healthy he is, as he has been limited in practice this week. WR Julian Edelman should have a good game for the Patriots, but a key for them could be WR Chris Hogan repeating the performance he had in the AFC Championship, when he had 9 receptions for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Steelers. Falcons RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 19 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, but Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount ran the ball into the end zone 18 times himself while rushing for more than 1,100 yards. The Patriots rushing attack hasn’t been able to get much going yet in the postseason, which could hurt them against the Falcons if they can’t keep up with the Freeman-Coleman combo. I think the running games are pretty even between the two teams.

The Patriots had the top scoring defense during the regular season and the Falcons defense has improved in recent weeks, having allowed 21 points or fewer in five of their last six games. Other than the Packers last week, though, they didn’t face a team with as strong of an offense as the Patriots have so New England will present a big challenge for the Atlanta defense. For the Patriots defense, CB Malcolm Butler — who made the game-winning interception in Super Bowl XLIX — led the team with 4 interceptions during the regular season. Patriots have the advantage at defense.

There’s no doubt that the Patriots have the advantage at head coach, with Belichick coaching in his record-setting seventh Super Bowl. Although Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is in his first Super Bowl as a head coach, he was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator when they made it to Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX so he knows what it’s like to be on the sidelines for a Super Bowl. But it’s Belichick who is considered by many to be the best coach in NFL history. He knows how to come up with a game plan that helps to limit the opponent’s best weapon. If he can do that on Sunday, it’ll likely mean Jones has a subpar performance.

This should be a close game, but I think Brady and Belichick will lead the Patriots to the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title. I’m predicting a final score of 31-27 Patriots so I’ll take them to cover and that’ll be under the 59. Blount is named MVP.

(Spread and over/under from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks Week 16: Giants, Steelers, Chiefs among teams looking to clinch playoff berths

With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, this week’s NFL schedule is different than it usually is; in addition to the typical Thursday and Monday games — the final ones of the season, as all Week 17 games are played on Sunday — the majority of the games will be played on Saturday, with just a doubleheader late Sunday afternoon and evening. A number of teams have the chance to clinch a playoff spot this week, including the Giants, Steelers and Chiefs — all of whom just need to win to guarantee themselves postseason action. Other teams that need some help to get into the playoffs this week are the Lions, Falcons, Packers, Texans and Dolphins.  I went 9-7 last week, bringing my record to 109-113 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Thursday Night Football

Giants at Eagles (+2.5) – Visiting teams typically don’t do well on Thursday nights, but it’s a quick trip from MetLife Stadium to Philadelphia so the travel shouldn’t affect the Giants too much on their short week. With the way the Giants defense has been playing over the last several weeks, I don’t expect QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles to have much success on offense. Giants win — and cover — to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

Saturday 1PM games

Falcons at Panthers (+2.5) – The Panthers looked good against the Redskins on Monday night, but I expect the Falcons to provide a tougher test for the defending NFC champions, who are barely hanging on to playoff contention. I expect QB Matt Ryan to continue leading the Falcons to another strong offensive showing and the Panthers won’t be able to keep up. Falcons cover.
Dolphins at Bills (-3.5) – I’m surprised the Bills are favored in this game. I realize QB Matt Moore will be starting for the Dolphins, but he played decently last week and it’s not like the BIlls offense has been lighting defenses up of late. I think the Dolphins win the game outright so I’m taking the points on the road.
Redskins at Bears (+2.5) – Their loss to the Panthers on Monday night knocked the Redskins out of the second Wild Card slot in the NFC, so they know there’s no room for error. I think QB Kirk Cousins and the rest of the Redskins offense will play better this week, despite a short week on the road, so I think they can do what they need to get the win over the Bears. I’ll take the visitors again.
Chargers at Browns (+6.5) – Two games is all that stands between the Browns and becoming just the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. They play the Steelers in Week 17, which means this is their last realistic chance to avoid that fate. I don’t think they’re going to do it. Especially with WR Terrelle Pryor having an injured finger, I think the Browns fall to 0-15. I do think, however, they can keep the game somewhat competitive so I’ll take them with the points.
Vikings at Packers (-6.5) – The Packers need this win to stay alive in the NFC North race. The Colts easily beat the Vikings on Sunday so even a hobbled QB Aaron Rodgers should be able to lead the Packers to victory against a Vikings team that has lost three of its last four games. I don’t expect this game to be close so I’ll take the Packers and give the points.
Titans at Jaguars (+4.5) – It’s been more than two months since the Jaguars — who fired head coach Gus Bradley after Sunday’s game — last won a game. QB Blake Bortles has been among the worst players in the league at the position this season, while Titans QB Marcus Mariota has been playing well. I expect the Titans to easily beat the Jaguars so I’ll take them to cover.
Jets at Patriots (-16.5) The Jets looked bad last week, but 16.5 points is a lot to give any team. I expect the Patriots to win this game easily, but there’s no way I can take them to cover that spread, which is among the biggest in any game this season. Patriots win, but I’ll take the points.

Saturday 4PM games

Colts at Raiders (-3.5) – The Colts are looking to stay alive in the AFC South, while the Raiders are hoping to win the AFC West and get a first-round bye in the playoffs. Despite how well the Colts played against the Vikings last week, I don’t think they’ll be able to put up the points they’ll need to beat QB Derek Carr and the Raiders. Oakland covers.
49ers at Rams (-3.5) – The 49ers haven’t won since Week 1, but the Rams seem to be getting worse as the season has progressed. This should be a tough game to watch without a lot of points being scored by the offenses. For that reason, I’ll take the 49ers with the points although I think the Rams are the better team and will win the game.
Buccaneers at Saints (-2.5) – QB Drew Brees plays well at home at the Superdome, and after putting up 48 on the road against the Cardinals last week, I think the Saints will be able to beat the Bucs this week. It’ll be a higher-scoring game than their meeting two weeks ago when the Bucs won 16-11. Go with the Saints.
Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) – The Seahawks have already wrapped up the NFC West title but are still vying for a first-round bye. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson bounced back last week from a poor showing against the Packers the week before and I think he’ll have a good game this week — after all, the Cardinals gave up 48 points last week. The Seahawks should win the game, but I don’t think they’ll cover the spread so I’ll go with the Cardinals on the road.

Saturday Night Football

Bengals at Texans (-2.5) – The Texans made a big change during last week’s game, benching offseason free-agent signee QB Brock Osweiler in favor of QB Tom Savage, who showed some promising signs, helping to lead the Texans to a comeback victory against the Jaguars. That earned him the start this week against the Bengals, who may get WR A.J. Green back from his injury. The Texans control their own destiny in the AFC South — if they win their last two games, they’re the division champs. The offense should be improved with Savage at the helm, as opposed to Osweiler. With the defense the Texans have, I think they can win this game.

Sunday Doubleheader

Ravens at Steelers (-5.5) – The first Christmas Day game could determine the AFC North champion. The Steelers, who have won their last five games, sit a game ahead of the second-place Ravens in the division and will clinch the division if they win the game. It won’t be easy against a good Ravens defense, but the Steelers have one of the better offenses in the league, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. Ravens QB Joe Flacco will have to be at the top of his game in order to lead the Ravens to a win that would keep them alive in the division race. I think the Steelers win the game but I think it’ll be close so I’ll take the points with the Ravens.

Broncos at Chiefs (-4.5) – The Chiefs suffered a tough loss against the Titans last week that could have cost them the AFC West title. They’ll get a chance at redemption against the Broncos, who have slim hopes to return to the playoffs a season after winning Super Bowl 50. I don’t think the Broncos offense will have much success against the Chiefs defense. Give me the Chiefs in this game.

Monday Night Football

Lions at Cowboys (-7.5) – The penultimate week of the regular season concludes with a battle of division leaders when the NFC North-leading Lions visit the Cowboys, who sit atop the NFC East. If the Packers lose on Saturday, a win would guarantee the division for the Lions, while the Cowboys are looking to clinch their division and earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory. Both teams rely on their offenses to win games and the Cowboys are better overall, with QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott leading the way. Because both teams have good offenses, I think it’ll be a close game so the Cowboys win but don’t cover. I’ll take the points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 7: Osweiler returns to Denver and the Steelers battle the Patriots without Roethlisberger

An injury in Week 6 put a damper on one of Week 7’s biggest games, with QB Ben Roethlisberger out when the Steelers host the Patriots on Sunday afternoon. The week begins with a NFC North rivalry game as the Bears visit QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. In the week’s final game, QB Brock Osweiler returns to Denver on Monday night, leading the Texans into action against the Broncos, with whom he won the Super Bowl last season. The reeling Panthers, who are just 1-5 this season, have a bye this week, as do the 5-1 Cowboys. I went just 3-12 last week (but 7-8 straight up, without the spread) to bring my record to 40-52 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: Panthers, Cowboys

Thursday Night Football
Bears at Packers (-9.5) – The Packers offense has been disappointing so far this season, while the Bears offense has picked up since QB Jay Cutler went down and QB Brian Hoyer has stepped into take his spot in the starting lineup. Due to that, I expect this game to be closer than some people might expect it to be. Packers win the game, but I think the Bears keep it to a single-digit differential.

Sunday morning London game
Giants at Rams (+2.5) – In the second of three London games this season, QB Eli Manning leads the Giants into action against the Rams. Both teams are 3-3 on the season, but the Giants are in last place in the NFC East and the Rams are in second in the NFC West. The Rams have a long flight to make from Los Angeles to get to this game, which won’t make it easy for a team that is that good to begin with. I think the Giants cover the 2.5 points.

Sunday 1PM games
Bills at Dolphins (+2.5) – The Bills have looked good during their current four-game winning streak, with RB LeSean McCoy running all over the competition, although McCoy’s availability is in question after leaving Wednesday’s practice early with a hamstring injury. Despite pulling off the upset of the Steelers on Sunday, the Dolphins aren’t a good team. RB Jay Ajayi seems like he may have found his groove, but QB Ryan Tannehill isn’t putting up good numbers. The Bills should easily win this divisional game on the road.
Browns at Bengals (-9.5) – Giving up 9.5 points is a lot, and the Bengals aren’t a team that I would normally pick when favored by that much, but I think they can cover it. The Browns best player, WR Terrelle Pryor, is nursing a hamstring injury and may not be able to play. If he can’t go, I think the Bengals cover. If Pryor is able to play, then I have a little more doubt about it. Regardless, I expect the Bengals to win the game outright, forcing the Browns to wait another week for their first win.
Redskins at Lions (-1.5) – Expect a blowout in this one, with Redskins QB Kirk Cousins and Lions QB Matthew Stafford heaving the ball throughout the game. The Lions’ running game is diminished due to ongoing injuries, and the Redskins’ run game picked things up last week, which bodes well for a Washington win on the road.
Colts at Titans (-2.5) – The Colts blew a big lead against the Texans on Sunday night, ultimately losing in overtime, while the Titans beat the Browns. At the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t have expected to be saying this, but I think the Titans are better than the Colts right now, especially with the way Marcus Mariota has been playing in the last couple games. If he can keep it up, I think the Titans win this game and put the last-place Colts even further behind in the AFC South race.
Saints at Chiefs (-6.5) – QB Drew Brees doesn’t play as well on the road as he does at home at the Superdome, but I don’t trust the Chiefs to get out to a big lead in this one. Home or road, I think Brees is a better quarterback than the Chiefs’ Alex Smith so I think the Saints keep this game closer than 6.5 points. The Chiefs may win the game, but I don’t think they cover the spread.
Raiders at Jaguars (-0.5) – I’m surprised the Jaguars are favored, even if it’s just by half a point. I realize the Raiders are traveling to the East Coast to play a 1:00 game, which often results in a loss for a West Coast team, But the Jags aren’t a good team and, barring last week’s loss to the Chiefs, the Raiders have the best team they’ve had in several years. QB Derek Carr should lead the Raiders to the win.
Vikings at Eagles (+2.5) – Coming off their bye, the undefeated Vikings head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles as Vikings QB Sam Bradford takes on the team that traded him during training camp. Rookie QB Carson Wentz, who has cooled off a bit since his hot start, leads the Eagles at home. The Vikings have the best defense in the NFL, and it’ll likely be hard for the Eagles to put up a lot of points. Vikings should easily cover the 2.5-point spread.
Ravens at Jets (-0.5) – The Jets are 1-5 and just got blown out by the Cardinals, 28-3, on Monday night. The Ravens aren’t as good as the Cardinals, but I don’t see how they lose to the Jets, who are somehow favored by half a point. The Jets defense isn’t good so QB Joe Flacco and RB Terrance West should be able to move the ball down the field for Baltimore. On the other side of the ball, QB Geno Smith came into Monday’s game in relief of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has played poorly the last several weeks. The Jets are expected to give Smith his first start of the season, which likely won’t work out well for the home team. Ravens win.

Sunday 4PM games

Chargers at Falcons (-6.5)The Falcons high-powered offense gets to go against a subpar Chargers defense in this game. The combo of QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones has helped lead the Falcons to their 4-2 record. QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers can also put points on the scoreboard, but I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up with Ryan and his teammates.
Buccaneers at 49ers (+1.5) – Installing QB Colin Kaepernick as the starter didn’t do much to help the 49ers offense in last week’s loss to the Bills. The Bucs don’t have nearly as good of a defense as the Bills, but I still don’t see the 49ers putting up a lot of points, especially with RB Carlos Hyde potentially having to sit out the game. I expect the Bucs to get the road win, and it shouldn’t be hard to cover that small spread.
Steelers at Patriots (-6.5) – With QB Landry Jones getting the start in place of Roethlisberger, I don’t see the Steelers being competitive in this game. Patriots QB Tom Brady should continue his streak of fine performances he has put up in his first two starts of the season, especially with TE Rob Gronkowski appearing to be at full health, or close to it, after sitting out the Patriots’ first couple games of 2016.

Sunday Night Football
Seahawks at Cardinals (-1.5) The Seahawks look to expand their lead in the NFC West in this divisional battle. QB Russell Wilson still may not be 100 percent as he continues to deal with some minor injuries, but RB Christine Michael has looked good starting in place of injured RB Thomas Rawls. For the Cardinals, RB David Johnson has been one of the best at the position this season, but QB Carson Palmer hasn’t been living up to the numbers that people have come to expect from him. The Cardinals are slight favorites in this prime-time game, but I think the Seahawks win it outright.

Monday Night Football
Texans at Broncos (-7.5) – Osweiler returns to Denver, leading the Texans against his former team, the Broncos. The Broncos, coming off a two-game losing streak, have one of the better defenses in the league but their offense hasn’t been clicking recently. Texans RB Lamar Miller, meanwhile, had his best game of the season on Sunday night as Osweiler led the team on impressive drives late in the game to eventually pull off the overtime win against the Colts. I think the spread is a little too big and the Texans should stay within a touchdown, even though I think the Broncos may win the game.

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Previewing NFL Kickoff 2016: Panthers at Broncos

For the first time since the NFL started the Thursday night Kickoff game to begin the season, the season opener features a rematch of the previous season’s Super Bowl matchup. That means the Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos host the Carolina Panthers in Denver on Thursday night. Although they’re the defending champs, the Broncos will have a new look at a key position, with inexperienced QB Trevor Siemian under center. The Broncos were able to re-sign LB Von Miller to continue leading their defense for the foreseeable future.

QB Cam Newton leads the Panthers into Denver hoping to get revenge against the Broncos. He’ll be leading an offense that looks familiar to what the team had last season, with the addition of WR Kelvin Benjamin, who missed the entire 2015 season after tearing his ACL in training camp. On defense, the team will be without CB Josh Norman, who signed with the Redskins as a free agent.

Having Siemian at quarterback rather than QBs Peyton Manning — even with his diminished ability — or Brock Osweiler is a big blow to the team. Siemian will have to rely on WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to help bail him out if his throws aren’t the best, and RB C.J. Anderson will have a bigger role than last season to take some of the pressure off of the young passer.

Both teams have a good defense so it’ll likely be a low-scoring game, which is what the Broncos will need if they want to win. The higher the score, the bigger advantage the Panthers have with Newton, the reigning league MVP, leading the team on offense. Losing Norman hurts the Panthers’ D, but the rest of the crew, including LB Luke Kuechly, should still have enough to make life difficult for Siemian, who took one snap last season — a kneel-down. I’m expecting a heavy dose of the run game from Denver on Thursday, The Panthers defense allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the league last season, so Anderson and backup RB Devontae Booker will have to work hard to gain yards. On the other side of the ball, Newton will be facing the best passing defense from 2015 and that limited him to just 265 yards and 0 touchdowns with 1 interception in the Super Bowl. He’ll need to do better than that to keep the offense on the field. Overall, the Panthers are the more complete team on both sides of the ball.

The over/under on the game is 42. I think it’ll be a low-scoring game, and I’m going to go under that total. I’m picking the Panthers to win the game, 21-13 (covering the 2.5-point spread on ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’em, to avenge the Super Bowl loss from February.

Stay tuned later in the week for my season preview and playoff predictions, along with the rest of my Week 1 picks.

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3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Seattle Seahawks

We finish our previews of all 32 NFL teams with the Seattle Seahawks, who finished in second place in the NFC West last season.

The Seahawks took a step back in 2015 but still finished with a 10-6 record as QB Russell Wilson led the way for the team. The Seahawks’ biggest loss in the offseason was the somewhat-surprising retirement of RB Marshawn Lynch, leaving RBs Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael to take on the majority of the work in the backfield.

Last season, Wilson threw for 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns, with 8 interceptions. WR Doug Baldwin was his favorite target, hauling in 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns, while WR Tyler Lockett had 51 receptions for 664 yards and 6 touchdowns. WR Jermaine Kearse added another 49 catches for 685 yards and 5 touchdowns. In the running game, Rawls started seven games and had 147 carries for 830 yards and 4 touchdowns. In limited playing time, Michael carried the ball 39 times for 192 yards. TE Jimmy Graham had a disappointing season after between traded by the Saints, with 48 receptions for 605 yards and 2 touchdowns. The defense led the league, allowing just 277 points,  while their 14 interceptions were right around the league average.

Wilson is still without a big-time receiver, which the team thought Graham would be last year before injuries limited his offensive output, with his season ending a month early with a torn patellar tendon. There are still some questions about his injury status heading into the 2016 season, with some reports leading to speculation that he will not be able to play in Week 1. With the questions surrounding Graham, Baldwin will likely have to lead the receiving corps as he comes off a career year. Although another 1,000-yard season could be on tap for Baldwin, he likely won’t be able to find the end zone 14 times like he did last season. There is uncertainty in the running game with Lynch having gone off into the sunset and Rawls and Michael both unproven in their ability to carry the load for an entire season. The team selected RB C.J. Prosise in the third round of the draft, but as a rookie he likely won’t see much of a workload barring injuries to the other running backs.

The Seahawks begin their schedule hosting the Dolphins in Week 1, then head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in their long-awaited return to the City of Angels in Week 2. After a Week 4 visit to the Jets, the Seahawks have a Week 5 bye before hosting the Falcons in Week 6. The Seahawks then visit the Cardinals in Week 7. They head to Foxboro to take on the Patriots in a Week 10 contest that could be a Super Bowl preview. The Seahawks host the Panthers in Week 13 before heading to Green Bay to take on the Packers in Week 14. The Seahawks finish off their season hosting the Cardinals in Week 16 and visiting the 49ers in Week 17. I’m expecting the Seahawks to bounce back from last season and win more than 10 games this season.

And that wraps up our previews of all 32 NFL teams. Coming up tomorrow is a preview of the Panthers-Broncos season opener in a Super Bowl 50 rematch, then this weekend it’ll be our season preview and playoff predictions.

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

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