Tag Archives: Super Bowl LII

My NFL Picks: Divisional Playoffs — Rivers battles Brady for spot in AFC Championship

With the Wild Card round in the rear-view mirror, there are four games left to determine which teams make it to the conference championship games. QB Nick Foles led the Eagles to an upset over the Bears last week to keep alive the Eagles’ hopes for repeating as Super Bowl champs, but they’ll have to beat QB Drew Brees and the Saints in the weekend’s final game to advance to the conference final. In the earlier game on Sunday, Chargers QB Philip Rivers looks to slay his postseason demons when he heads to Massachusetts to take on QB Tom Brady and a Patriots team that seems like it could be easier to beat than it has been during much of the Brady-Belichick dynasty. The weekend begins with resurgent QB Andrew Luck leading the Colts into Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, with likely MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. In the late Saturday game, the Cowboys look to get back to the NFC title game for the first time since the 1994 season with QB Dak Prescott battling QB Jared Goff and the Rams.

I didn’t get off to a good start with my picks last week, going 1-3 both against the spread and straight-up, but I was 2-2 on over/unders. Let’s see if I can do better with the four divisional games.

Saturday

No. 6 seed Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs (12-4, AFC West champions) (-5.5, over/under 57)

In his first full season as a starting quarterback, Mahomes exceeded all expectations by throwing 50 touchdown passes, and in his first career playoff game he faces another surprising quarterback in Luck, who many people weren’t sure if he could return from his shoulder injury and play at a high level. Mahomes’ top targets on the season were WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, who combined for 190 catches and 22 touchdowns. For the Colts, WR T.Y. Hilton is coming off a Wild Card game in which he had five receptions for 85 yards, while TE Eric Ebron continued to find the end zone, securing one of his three receptions against the Texans for a touchdown.

Counting last week’s win over the Texans, the Colts have won 10 of their last 11 games, but I think the success ends this week. While the Chiefs’ defense isn’t good, I think Mahomes and the rest of the offense will be able to put enough points on the board to win the game. I do, however, think the Colts keep it close enough to cover. And both of these teams have good offenses, so I’m going over the 57.

Colts (+5.5), over 57

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No. 4 seed Dallas Cowboys at No. 2 seed Los Angeles Rams (13-3, NFC West champions) (-7, over/under 49.5)

The Rams begin their playoff run at home against a Cowboys team that beat the Seahawks by two points last week. Goff threw for nearly 4700 yards and 32 touchdowns during the regular season, despite losing one of his top receivers WR Cooper Kupp about midway through the season. He still has WRs Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, who each surpassed 1200 yards on 80-plus receptions during the year. RB Todd Gurley sat out the team’s last two games with a knee injury, but he is expected to start on Saturday. For the Cowboys, RB Ezekiel Elliott is coming off a 137-yard game on 26 carries with a touchdown, and WR Amari Cooper had seven catches for 106 yards, nearly half of Prescott’s 226 passing yards.

I think the keys to victory for the Cowboys will be another good game from Elliott and a strong defensive performance. I think the Cowboys will keep it close, but I expect the Rams to win the game, and I think both teams can reach the mid 20s, so I’ll go over 49.5.

Cowboys (+7), over 49.5

Sunday

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No. 5 seed Los Angeles Chargers at No. 2 seed New England Patriots (11-5, AFC East champions) (-4, over/under 47.5)

The Chargers beat the Ravens on the road a week ago, now they have to head back east again, this time to try to topple Brady and the Patriots. Brady threw just 29 touchdown passes, his fewest in a full season since 2013. Part of the reason for that is because TE Rob Gronkowski only played in 13 games and WR Josh Gordon played in 11 before leaving the team to deal with personal issues. Brady’s leading receiver was RB James White, with 87 catches, followed by WR Julian Edelman, who caught 74 balls in 12 games. Those two players accounted for 13 of Brady’s 29 touchdowns. Rookie RB Sony Michel led the team with 209 rushes for 931 yards and six scores. Last week, the Chargers only had 243 total yards of offense, but the defense held the Ravens to 229 yards and caused the Ravens to turn the ball over three times.

Despite the Patriots’ struggles this season, the Chargers’ defense will probably have a harder time than it did last week against rookie QB Lamar Jackson. On offense, the Chargers are expected to get back TE Hunter Henry, who missed the entire regular season and last week’s Wild Card game with a torn ACL. His return should give the Chargers’ passing attack a boost. On the other side of the field, Gronkowski hasn’t had more than two receptions in a game since Week 14. Even though the Patriots traditionally do well in home playoff games, this isn’t the same Patriot team as in the past and I think they are vulnerable. I think Rivers leads the Chargers to another win on the road to advance to the conference championship game for the second time in his career. Chargers cover and win outright, and I’ll take the over. 

 Chargers (+4), under 47.5

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No. 6 seed Philadelphia Eagles at No. 1 seed New Orleans Saints (1-3, NFC South champions) (-8, over/under 51)

When these teams met during the regular season, the Saints won 48-7 in Week 11. Like that game, this one is at the Superdome, where the Saints traditionally play better than they do on the road. Saints WR Michael Thomas had 125 receptions for 1405 yards and nine touchdowns during the season. RB Alvin Kamara added another 81 catches for 709 yards, despite the fact that Brees didn’t put up the kinds of numbers we have come to expect from the future Hall of Famer. In the Eagles’ upset of the Bears last week, Foles continued his impressive play, throwing for 266 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The running game was virtually nonexistent, though, with just 42 yards on 23 carries. That is where the Eagles’ biggest weakness lies with a committee made up of RBs Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams.

Counting last week, the Eagles are on a four-game winning streak, but I think that ends in New Orleans. The game won’t be as much of a blowout as it was last time, but I still think the Saints can win by a double-digit margin, so I’ll pick them to cover, and I’ll go slightly under the 51. 

 Saints (-8), under 51

So this outcomes would set up a NFC Championship between the Rams and Saints, the top two seeds in the conference, in New Orleans, while the AFC title game would feature the fifth-seeded Chargers heading to Kansas City to take on the top-seed Chiefs on the road to Super Bowl LIII and an NFL championship for one of the remaining teams.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks: Wild Card and Playoff Predictions — The Eagles look to repeat in a stacked NFC

The 2018 NFL regular season is now in the books, and it’s time for the playoffs to get under way. Only five of this year’s 12 playoff teams were in the postseason last year, meaning seven teams are returning to the tournament after at least one season out of the playoffs. The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles needed some help in Week 17, but they ultimately snuck into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed to look to successfully defend their title. The other holdovers from last year are the Rams and Saints in the NFC and the Patriots and Chiefs in the AFC. The teams returning to the postseason after an absence are the Colts, Texans, Chargers and Ravens in the AFC, and the Bears, Seahawks and Cowboys in the NFC. The Eagles are the only team returning from last year’s postseason that did not earn a first-round bye. The Chiefs hold the No. 1 seed in the AFC, with the Patriots behind them at No. 2, and the top two spots in the NFC went to the Saints and Rams, respectively. The 12 teams entering the postseason are all hoping to make it all the way to Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

I didn’t have a good year picking games against the spread during the regular season, going 129-127 — although I went 14-2 in Week 17 — but I was better picking straight up, with a 156-98-2 record.

Now we’ll get to my detailed Wild Card picks, followed by how I think the whole postseason will go.

Saturday

No. 6 seed Indianapolis Colts (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Houston Texans (11-5, AFC South champions) (-1.5, over/under 48.5)

This is one of the most unlikely playoff matchups we could have expected to see early in the season after the Texans began the season 0-3 and the Colts were 1-5 in their first six games. Both teams also had nice bounce-back seasons after finishing with identical 4-12 records a year ago to get to double-digit wins this year. A big piece of the improvement for both teams was the return to health for their quarterbacks, with Colts QB Andrew Luck returning to the field after missing all of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury and Texans QB Deshaun Watson playing his first full season after missing more than half of his rookie campaign with a knee injury.

Neither team should be worried about the performance they’ll get out of the quarterback position. Luck is the likely Comeback Player of the Year award winner after throwing for 4,539 yards and 39 touchdowns in a season in which people weren’t sure how he’d do after missing more than a year since he last played. Watson also had a good season, throwing for 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns, with just nine interceptions. He is also a threat on the ground, with 551 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

The running game is where the Colts have their biggest question mark on offense, with their 1,718 rushing yards good for just 20th in the league, with their 13 rushing touchdowns ranking middle-of-the-pack. RB Marlon Mack did have two of his best games late in the season, running for a season-high 139 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15, and putting up a 119-yard performance in Week 17. Backup RB Nyheim Hines started four games, but never ran for more than 78 yards in a contest. The Texans were eighth in the league with 2,021 yards, but they only had 12 touchdowns on the ground. Their workhorse was veteran RB Lamar Miller, who had four games in which he ran for more than 100 yards in his 14 starts, including a season-best 162 yards in Week 12. Backup RB Alfred Blue started two games but didn’t have much success, with a total of 499 rushing yards on the season.

The Colts’ receiving corps was top-heavy this season, led by WR T.Y. Hilton, who had 76 catches for 1,270 yards and six touchdowns. TE Eric Ebron was the other significant part of the passing game, totaling 66 receptions for 750 yards and an impressive 13 touchdowns, which were not only a career-high but more than his total number of scores in his four seasons with the Lions combined. The Texans have been hit hard by injuries in the receiving game. WR DeAndre Hopkins, who is the team’s top receiver, is pretty much the last  man standing. He had 115 receptions this season for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns. WR Keke Coutee, who has missed the past five games with a hamstring injury, has 28 catches for 287 yards and a touchdown in six games, including two starts. Miller and TE Ryan Griffin added 26 and 25 receptions, respectively. WRs Will Fuller and Demaryius Thomas are both out after suffering season-ending injuries. 

The Texans have the advantage defensively. They allowed 316 points, the fourth-fewest in the league, and were 12th in yards allowed. The Colts were just ahead of the Texans in the latter category, ranking 11th, but they were 10th with 344 points given up to opponents. Texans DE J.J. Watt played in his first full season since 2015, and put up good numbers coming off injuries in recent years. He forced seven fumbles and recorded 16 sacks. DE Jadeveon Clowney added nine sacks — .5 off his career high — in 15 games. DE Denico Autry led Colts defenders with nine sacks in 12 games. Both teams accounted for 15 interceptions, which was tied for ninth-most in the league.

Both teams have a good offense, but the Colts are healthier — especially among their receivers. The Texans will be relying on rookies like WRs DeAndre Carter and Vyncint Smith and TEs Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins to catch passes from Watson. Watt also suffered a hand injury in Week 17’s win over the Jaguars. The severity is unknown, but it would be surprising if it is bad enough to keep him out of a playoff game. If he isn’t able to play at his full potential, the Texans’ defense may have to rely more on CB Tyrann Mathieu and S Justin Reid, who had a good rookie season. The teams split their season series, with the Texans winning an overtime thriller, 37-34, in Indianapolis in Week 4, and the Colts won the return contest in Week 14 by a 24-21 margin. The offensive line is a concern for the Texans, as Watson was sacked more than any other quarterback in the league this season, but I think they’ll be able to overcome it against the Colts. These teams are pretty evenly matched, and I’d expect another close game. I think the Texans’ defense may end up being the difference, stopping the Colts late in the game to solidify the victory. I’ll go with the Texans to win, 27-24, to barely cover the spread and make the over. 

Texans (-1.5), over 48.5

No. 5 seed Seattle Seahawks (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed Dallas Cowboys (10-6, NFC East champions) (-1.5, over/under 43)

Both teams are returning to the postseason after a one-year absence, with each improving from 9-7 last season to 10-6 this year. Like the Colts and Texans, the Seahawks got off to a slow start in 2018, losing their first two games and being just 3-3 going into their Week 7 bye. But a late push — going 6-1 in their last seven games — earned them a Wild Card and the fifth seed in the NFC. The Cowboys were 3-4 going into their bye in Week 8, but they went 7-2 after the bye to ultimately win the NFC East, helped in large part by the acquisition of WR Amari Cooper, who the Cowboys traded for from the Raiders before the trade deadline.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw for 3,448 yards and 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions — both career highs. He also ran for 376 yards on 67 carries. For the Cowboys, QB Dak Prescott threw for a career high with 3,885 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also ran the ball 75 times, going for 305 yards and six scores. Like with the AFC game earlier in the day, there should be a good quarterback matchup in this one.

The Seahawks led the league in rushing with 2,560 yards, and their 15 touchdowns were tied for the 11th most in the league. The Cowboys ranked 10th in the category with 1,963 yards, and their 13 touchdowns on the ground ranked them in the middle of the league. RB Chris Carson led the Seahawks’ ground game, running for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games. RB Mike Davis started the two games Carson didn’t and played in 15 total contests, gaining 514 rushing yards and four touchdowns. RB Rashaad Penny added another 419 yards and two scores. On the other side of the field, Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball 304 times in 15 games, gaining 1,434 yards and running for six touchdowns. Prescott was the next most productive rusher, and the only other Cowboy to get double-digit carries was RB Rod Smith, who started in Week 17, and had 127 rushing yards and a touchdown on 44 runs during the season.

The Cowboys didn’t have a true No. 1 receiver in the first half of the season, but then they traded for Cooper. In nine games with the Cowboys, he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns — leading the team in the latter two categories. Elliott led the team with 77 catches, going for 567 yards and three touchdowns. WR Cole Beasley had 65 catches for 672 yards and three scores. Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett led the team with 57 receptions, for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 13 games, WR Doug Baldwin added 50 catches for 618 yards and five scores. Davis also had 34 receptions, in addition to his workload in the running game.

The Cowboys had a surprisingly strong defense this season, ranking sixth with 324 points allowed and seventh in yards allowed. The Seahawks weren’t far behind, placing 11th with 347 points and 16th in yardage. The Seahawks had two players with at least 10 sacks, DE Frank Clark led the team with 14 and DT Jarran Reed totaled 10.5 sacks. DE Demarcus Lawrence racked up 10.5 sacks to lead the team, with DE Randy Gregory next on the list with six sacks in 14 games. Both teams were in the bottom half of the league in interceptions; the Seahawks had 12 — which tied them for 18th in the league — and the Cowboys were tied for 26th with just nine interceptions on the season.

These teams both have pretty balanced offenses, though the Cowboys may rely too much on Cooper in the passing game, and good defenses so this should be a close game. The teams met in Seattle in Week 3 with the Seahawks winning 24-14, but the Dallas offense is different now than it was then. The Cowboys also have the benefit of home-field advantage this weekend. I think the Cowboys get the victory 27-24, to cover and hit the over/under number.

Cowboys (-1.5), over 43

Sunday

No. 5 seed Los Angeles Chargers (12-4, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens (10-6, AFC North champions) (-2.5, over/under 41.5)

The Chargers have made it to the postseason for the time since the 2013 season as veteran QB Philip Rivers continues to vie for his first Super Bowl appearance. The Ravens last played in the postseason in the 2014 season. Perhaps the best thing to happen for the Ravens this year was veteran QB Joe Flacco — the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII — getting injured, giving them a chance to give rookie QB Lamar Jackson a chance at the starting job, which he has not relinquished despite Flacco’s health improving. That sets up a quarterback matchup of old school vs. new school, with Rivers facing off with Jackson.

The two quarterbacks in this game have wildly different styles. Rivers had a typically strong season for him, throwing for 4,308 yards and 32 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. But he had just 18 rushes on the season for seven yards. Jackson, on the other hand, is known for his running ability and actually led the Ravens with 147 attempts in which he totaled 695 yards and five touchdowns in his seven starts and sporadic snaps taken in the other nine games. In terms of passing, Jackson was 99-for-170 for 1,201 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Chargers’ 1,873 rushing yards placed them 15th in the league, while the Ravens were second — helped by Jackson’s numbers — with 2,441 ground yards. Chargers RB Melvin Gordon was limited to 12 games this season, running for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns. Backup RBs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson started the four games Gordon missed; Ekeler made three of the starts, and played in 14 games overall, rushing or 554 yards and three touchdowns. In 13 games — one start — Jackson totaled 206 yards and two scores. Ravens RB Gus Jackson had 137 rushes for a team-high 718 yards with two touchdowns in 11 games, including six starts. RB Alex Collins made 10 starts, compiling 411 yards on 114 carries and found the end zone seven times.

WR Keenan Allen led the Chargers in the receiving game, with 97 catches for 1,196 yards and six touchdowns. Gordon added 50 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns. WRs Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams put up similar numbers; MIke had 43 catches for 664 yards and 10 scores, while Tyrell caught 41 balls for 653 yards but just five touchdowns. Veteran TE Antonio Gates, who contemplated retirement before TE Hunter Henry suffered a season-ending injury before the season, had 28 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns. WR Willie Snead was the Ravens’ top pass-catcher, recording 62 receptions for 651 yards and a touchdown. WR Michael Crabtree had 54 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns, with WR John Brown adding 42 catches for 715 yards and five scores. Rookie TE Mark Andrews had 34 receptions for for 552 yards and three touchdowns despite getting the start in just three of his 16 games.

The Ravens have the clear advantage on defense. They allowed the second-fewest points in the league at 287 and they led the NFL in yards allowed with 4,687. The Chargers ranked eighth with 329 points, and they were ninth in opponents’ yardage, so they were good but still at a level below the Ravens. DE Melvin Ingram was Los Angeles’ sack leader with seven. Ravens DE Za’Darius Smith led his team with 8.5 sacks. Both teams were tied for 15th in the league with 13 interceptions.

The Chargers will be able to move the ball against a tough Ravens defense if they want to win the game. They had a top 10 scoring offense during the season, so they’re able to put points on the board, but they were able to put up just 10 points in a Week 16 loss to the Ravens at home. The Chargers may get Henry back from his torn ACL, but if he plays he probably won’t be very effective in his first game action of the season. The Chargers have to head across the country and play an early game, which is being played at 1pm Eastern, which will be 10am on their body clocks coming from the West Coast. I think that plays a factor in the end result. I expect the Ravens to win a low-scoring affair, 24-17, to just miss the over/under number.

 Ravens (-2.5), under 41.5

No. 6 seed Philadelphia Eagles (9-7, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Chicago Bears (12-4, NFC North champions) (-6, over/under 41)

This game has the biggest spread of the four games this weekend, which isn’t surprising because I think this is the biggest mismatch as an Eagles team with a quarterback who is potentially not 100% faces the best scoring defense in the NFL. Eagles QB Nick Foles left last week’s game early with bruised ribs, but he is expected to be ready to play this week. Among the Bears defenders he’ll be opposing is LB Khalil Mack, who they traded for prior to the start of the season. The Eagles are in the postseason for the second straight year, and looking to defend their Super Bowl LII title, while the Bears are playing into January for the first time since the 2010 season, when they made it to the conference championship. They’re looking for their first Super Bowl title since 1985.

For the second straight year, Foles stepped in as the Eagles’ starting quarterback for injured QB Carson Wentz. Foles made five starts this season — in Weeks 1 and 2, then again in Weeks 15-17 — and threw for 1,413 yards and seven touchdowns, with four interceptions. With Wentz not expected back for the postseason, QB Nate Sudfeld will be Foles’ backup if his ribs get worse or he suffers a new injury. The Eagles went 4-1 in his starts. Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky started 14 games and took a step forward from his rookie season. He threw for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. 

The Eagles were 28th in the league this season with 1,570 rushing yards, while the Bears’ 1,938 yards on the ground put them in 11th place. The Eagles’ rushing woes were caused in part by injuries to RBs Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. RB Josh Adams, who only started five games, was the Eagles’ leading rusher with 511 yards and three touchdowns on 120 rushes. RB Wendell Smallwood, who started six games, ran the ball 87 times for 364 yards and three touchdowns. RB Jordan Howard was the Bears’ leading rusher, with 250 carries for 935 yards and nine touchdowns. RB Tarik Cohen had 99 rushes for 444 yards and three scores. Trubisky ran for 421 yards and three touchdowns on 68 carries.

Eagles TE Zach Ertz had a career year en route to being the team’s top pass-catcher, recording 116 receptions for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. Next up was WR Alshon Jeffery, who had 65 catches for 843 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games. WR Nelson Agholor added 736 yards and four scores on 64 catches. Rookie TE Dallas Goedert caught 33 balls for 334 yards and four touchdowns. In eight games with the Eagles after being traded by the Lions, WR Golden Tate had 30 catches for 278 yards and a touchdown. Cohen was the Bears’ leading pass-catcher with 71 receptions for 725 yards and five touchdowns. WR Taylor Gabriel wasn’t far behind him, with 67 catches for 688 yards and two touchdowns. WR Allen Robinson had 55 receptions for 754 yards and four scores in 13 games, while TE Trey Burton added 54 catches for 569 yards and six touchdowns. WR Anthony Miller had 33 catches for 423 games and seven touchdowns in 15 games, but just four starts.

The Bears had the NFL’s best scoring defense, allowing opponents to score just 283 points, and they ranked third in yards allowed. The Eagles were 12th with 348 points allowed and 23rd in opponents’ yardage. In addition to having the allowing the fewest points, the Bears had the most takeaways, becoming just the fourth team in the Super Bowl era to lead outright in both categories. Acquiring Mack had a big impact on the team’s strong defensive performance; he forced six fumbles and recorded 12.5 sacks in his first season with the team. DT Fletcher Cox led the Eagles with 10.5 sacks, and DE Michael Bennett wasn’t far behind him with nine. DE Chris Long added another 6.5 sacks.

Foles is 9-2 as a starter over the last two seasons, including last year’s postseason, but this will be one of his biggest challenges in that stretch as he faces the dominant Bears defense. The lack of a bonafide No. 1 running back could hurt the Eagles because the Bears will be able to focus on defending against the passing game. I think the Bears win easily, 28-17, to cover both the spread and the over/under.

 Bears (-6), over 41

Based on the above picks, here is how I see the rest of the postseason playing out:

Divisional Round

Chiefs beat the Ravens
Texans beat the Patriots
Rams beat the Bears
Saints beat the Cowboys

Conference Championships

Chiefs beat the Texans
Rams beat the Saints

Super Bowl LIII

Rams beat the Chiefs

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks Week 1: Can we expect any surprising results?

Thursday night saw the first of the 256 games that will be played this season in the NFL, with the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles — without QB Carson Wentz — beating the Falcons in a sloppily played, weather-delayed 18-12 contest. I thought the Falcons would be able to beat the champs without Wentz, so I’m 0-1, both straight-up and against the spread, to begin the season. But I have 15 more chances to get back on track with the rest of this weekend’s slate. Some of the highlights include the Texans — who are getting several key players, including QB Deshaun Watson and DE J.J. Watt, back from injury — visiting Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots, a Sunday nighter featuring Aaron Rodgers and the Packers hosting Khalil Mack and the Bears in one of the NFL’s longest-running rivalries, and Jon Gruden returning to coaching in the second half of the Monday night doubleheader when the Rams meet the Raiders in Oakland. As has been the case in years past, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight-up, non-ATS) is in red.

Sunday 1PM games
Bills at Ravens (-5.5)

Bengals at Colts (-3.5)

Steelers at Browns (+6.5) – I think the Steelers win the game but the Browns cover

Titans at Dolphins (+1.5)

49ers at Vikings (-5.5)

Texans at Patriots (-6.5) I think the Patriots win the game but the Texans cover

Buccaneers at Saints (-9.5) I think the Saints win the game but the Bucs cover

Jaguars at Giants (+2.5)

Sunday 4PM games
Chiefs at Chargers (-3.5)

Cowboys at Panthers (-2.5)

Seahawks at Broncos (-2.5)

Redskins at Cardinals (-0.5)

Sunday Night Football
Bears at Packers (-8.5) I think the Packers win the game but the Bears cover

Monday Night Football
Jets at Lions (-6.5)

Rams at Raiders (+2.5)

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Previewing NFL Kickoff 2018: Falcons at Eagles

This year’s season opener in the NFL pits the last two teams to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl against each other, with the Falcons visiting the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles. The champs won’t be at full strength, though, with QB Carson Wentz — who has been out of action since late last season — still not ready to return to the field. WR Alshon Jeffery has also been ruled out for the Eagles’ opener.

With Wentz ruled out, QB Nick Foles will get the start. He led the Eagles through the postseason to the Super Bowl title, but the numbers he has put up throughout his career aren’t overly impressive. Compare him to Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who was named the league MVP for the 2016 season, and the visitors have the advantage at the quarterback position, although Ryan threw for just 20 touchdowns last season.

The Falcons appear to have the advantage at the other offensive positions, as well, with WR Julio Jones one of the best in the game and WR Mohamed Sanu a strong No. 2 and rookie WR Calvin Ridley looking to make a name for himself early in his career. With Jeffery out, WR Nelson Agholor is the Eagles’ top receiver, but he has been dealing with injuries of his own. Expect a heavy dose of TE Zach Ertz in the Eagles’ passing game. On the ground, the Falcons’ running-back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman also have the advantage over the champs’ RB squad, led by Jay Ajayi and veteran Darren Sproles, with second-year RB Corey Clement also in the mix.

Both teams had top-10 defenses last season, with a slight advantage to the Eagles, but it’ll be tough for them to stop the Ryan-led Falcons offense.

If Wentz was playing, I’d give the Eagles a better chance to get a win to begin their title defense, but I think the Falcons’ offense is too good for Foles to be able to keep up with it. The Falcons are getting 3.5 points, per ESPN’s Pigskin PIck’em. I expect the Falcons to win the game outright, so if they’re getting points I’m taking the points. Give me the Falcons to win, sending the Eagles to an 0-1 record as they look to successfully defend their Super Bowl title. The over/under on Vegas Insider is 44.5, and I’ll take the over on that.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Los Angeles Rams

Up next in our previews of all 32 NFL teams is the Los Angeles Rams, who won the NFC West last season.

After going 4-12 in 2016, the Rams went 11-5 in 2017 — their first season under head coach Sean McVay — en route to winning the franchise’s first NFC West title since 2003 and their first playoff appearance since 2004. The near-tripling of the team’s win total was due to breakout seasons for third-year RB Todd Gurley, who was named the AP Offensive Player of the Year, and second-year QB Jared Goff. Even though the Rams had one of the league’s best offenses last season, that didn’t stop them from adding to it this year. They traded a couple of 2018 draft picks, including their first-rounder, to the Patriots in exchange for WR Brandin Cooks, who they later locked up with a five-year contract extension. Acquiring Cooks makes an already-good offense even better and deeper.

The offense was 10th in the NFL with 5,784 yards, but it led the league with 478 points, which was 20 points better than the second-place Patriots. Goff threw for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions in 15 games. Gurley had 279 rushes for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns, to go along with a team-high 64 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. Rookie WR Cooper Kupp also played in 15 games — six starts — and caught 62 balls for 869 yards and five touchdowns. WR Robert Woods added 56 catches for 781 yards and five scores in 12 games. Cooks recorded 65 receptions for the Patriots, going for 1,082 yards and seven scores. The defense was in the middle third of the league in both yards and points allowed.

The Rams’ start their season in the final game of Week 1, visiting the Raiders in the second half of the Monday NIght Football doubleheader. They’re at home for their next three games, starting with the Cardinals coming to Los Angeles in Week 2. That’s followed by visits from the Chargers and Vikings. The Rams then have three straight on the road, starting with a Week 5 contest at the Seahawks. They visit the Broncos in Week 6 and the 49ers in Week 7, then return home to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Rams play at the Saints in Week 9, and that is followed by a home game against the Seahawks in Week 10. The Rams are the designated home team in Week 11 when they play the Chiefs in a Monday night contest in Mexico City. That is followed by a Week 12 bye, then consecutive road games against the Lions and Bears. The Rams host the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles in Week 15’s Sunday nighter and visit the Cardinals in Week 16. They end the regular season at home against the 49ers in Week 17.

The Rams scored more points than any team in the league last season and they added to their offensive attack by trading for Cooks this offseason. After last season, it appears to be obvious that Goff and Gurley are both the real deal. It may be hard for Gurley to duplicate the numbers he put up last season, but he should be able to surpass 1,000 rushing yards while putting up numbers in the passing game as well. The defense, led by DT Aaron Donald, could be better but if the offense can continue putting points on the board like it did in 2017, the defense shouldn’t be too much of a drag on the team. The Rams have some tough teams on the schedule this season, including two games against an improved 49ers team, but with the talent they have they should be able to get to double-digit wins again, which will likely be good enough to reach the playoffs for a second straight season.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Philadelphia Eagles

The next team up in our NFC East previews, part of our previews of all 32 NFL teams, is the Philadelphia Eagles, who won the division last season, going on to win Super Bowl LII.

Despite losing starting QB Carson Wentz late in the regular season last year, the Eagles managed to make it through the playoffs with QB Nick Foles and win the first Super Bowl title in franchise history, beating the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. They’ll look to defend their title with much of their championship team intact, along with the addition of WR Mike Wallace and TE Dallas Goedert, who the Eagles selected with their first-round pick in this year’s draft to essentially replace TE Brent Celek, who the Eagles released this offseason. They have also lost last year’s leading rusher, RB LeGarrette Blount.

The offense ranked seventh in the NFL with 5,852 yards and third with 457 points scored. Wentz started the team’s first 13 games in his second season in the league. He threw for 3,296 yards with 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions before suffering ACL and LCL tears that ended his season early. Foles took over the starting job that point, appearing in seven games total in the regular season — including the three starts — and throwing for 537 yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions. TE Zach Ertz hauled in 74 receptions in 14 games — 13 starts — to lead the team; those catches went for 824 yards and eight touchdowns. WR Nelson Agholor recording 62 catches for 768 yards and eight touchdowns, while WR Alshon Jeffery caught 57 passes for 789 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. Wallace had 52 receptions for 748 yards and four scores in 15 games, including 14 starts, with the Ravens. After Blount, RB Corey Clement was the team’s second-leading rusher with 74 carries for 321 yards and four touchdowns. RB Jay Ajayi played in seven games for the Eagles after being traded there by the Dolphins. In those games, he totaled 70 rushes for 408 yards and a touchdown. The defense was fourth in the league in both yards and points allowed.

The Eagles’ title defense begins with the traditional Thursday night opener, with the Falcons coming to Philadelphia. After that, the Eagles visit the Buccaneers in Week 2 and return home to play the Colts in Week 3. A visit to the Titans follows in Week 4, and then the Eagles host the Vikings in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship. The Eagles play their first divisional game in Week 6 when they go to New Jersey to face the Giants. They play the Panthers in Week 7, then head overseas to take on the Jaguars in London. After a Week 9 bye, the Eagles return stateside to host the Cowboys. In Week 11, they play at the Saints and then host the Giants in Week 12. Two more divisional games follow that, with the Redskins coming to Philadelphia in Week 13 and the Eagles visiting the Cowboys in Week 14. The Eagles head to Los Angeles to play the Rams in Week 15 before flying back across the country to host the Texans in Week 16. Their regular-season finale has them on the road to take on the Redskins in Week 17.

With less than two weeks to go before the Eagles play their first game of the regular season, there is still some question about whether Wentz will be ready to take the field in Week 1. If he’s not, Foles will continue to start until Wentz is able to come back and take over the starting job. But that’s not the only injury concern for the Eagles. Jeffery continues to recover from offseason rotator cuff surgery, which could cause him to miss the beginning of the season. It is possible he could start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would cause him to miss the first six weeks of the season. With those injury concerns and division rivals like the Giants and Cowboys expected to be better this season, I don’t think the Eagles will go 13-3 again this season. They’re still the best team in the division and should make the playoffs with 10 or 11 wins, but the Eagles will likely take a step backward from what they did during the regular season in 2017.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New York Giants

Continuing with the NFC East in our previews of all 32 NFL teams, it’s time for the New York Giants, who finished in last place in the division last season.

After going 11-5 in 2016, the Giants had a disappointing season in 2017 and won just three games, giving them their worst record since going 3-12-1 in 1983. One good thing about having that poor of a record was getting the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. The Giants used that pick to get Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, who was considered by many to be the best running back in the draft. The Giants have struggled at that position in recent years, so getting Barkley should help the offense. They also signed veteran RB Jonathan Stewart to serve as the backup to Barkley. Other players they added this offseason include OT Nate Solder, WR Cody Latimer and CB William Gay. They did lose a couple of veterans, though, when they traded DE Jason Pierre-Paul to the Buccaneers and cut WR Brandon Marshall.

The offense ranked 21st in the NFL with 5,028 yards and their 246 points put them ahead of just the winless Browns among the league’s 32 teams. QB Eli Manning had one of the worst seasons of his career, throwing for 3,468 yards and 19 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions, in 15 games. Rookie TE Evan Engram led the team with 64 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. WR Sterling Shepard played in 11 games, catching 59 balls for 731 yards and two touchdowns. WR Odell Beckham missed most of the season with an ankle injury; he played in just four games, recording 25 catches for 302 yards and three touchdowns in his limited playing time. Latimer had 19 catches in 11 games with the Broncos, going for 287 yards and a touchdown. RB Wayne Gallman — who is now behind Barkley and Stewart on the depth chart — was the team’s second-leading rusher last year, carrying the ball 111 times for 476 yards in 13 games, but just one start; he also had 34 receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown. With the Panthers, Stewart carried the ball 198 times in 15 games, running for 680 yards and six touchdowns. The defense ranked near the bottom of the league in both yards and points allowed.

The Giants’ schedule begins at home against the Jaguars, then they hit the road to take on the Cowboys in Week 2’s Sunday night game. They play another game in Texas in Week 3, this time it’s at the Texans. The Giants host the Saints in Week 4, then play at the Panthers in Week 5, allowing Stewart to face his old team for the first time. They have their first of two games against the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles at home in Week 6 before visiting the Falcons in Week 7. A Week 8 home game against the Redskins is followed by the Giants’ bye in Week 9. After that, they head west to take on the 49ers in Week 10. They host the Buccaneers — and Pierre-Paul — in Week 11, then visit the Eagles in Week 12. The Giants host the Bears in Week 13, then have a Week 14 road game against the Redskins. The Giants face AFC South opponents after that, a home game with the Titans in Week 15, followed by a road game against the Colts in Week 16. The Giants wrap up their season at home against the Cowboys in Week 17.

The Giants only won three games last year, but they won’t be that bad this year. They’ll get Beckham back after he missed most of last season, and if Barkley can leave up to the hype that will give the team a star at a position where they have struggled to find a productive player in the last several players. There is still a question about how Manning will do this season as the 37-year-old quarterback is on the backside of his career. Manning and the subpar defense are why I think the Giants will have another losing record. They may win six or seven games, but I don’t think they’ll do much better than that in 2018.

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

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