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NFL: Denver Broncos at New England Patriots

My NFL Picks Week 15: Patriots try to get revenge on the Broncos

The end of the regular season is quickly approaching as we enter Week 15, which begins with the Rams — who fired head coach Jeff Fisher earlier this week — heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. The NFC North-leading Lions visit the Giants in an early Sunday game, and the Patriots head to Denver to take on the Broncos in a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game in the doubleheader game. Sunday night features the Buccaneers, who are in the hunt for a playoff spot, taking on the Cowboys, who are coming off their second loss of the season last week. I went 10-6 last week, bringing my record to 100-106 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

Rams at Seahawks (-14.5) – The Rams have been the laughingstock of the league this week, firing Fisher after giving him an extension earlier in the season, and they’re not very good but 14.5 is a big spread. On a short week, there’s usually not a lot of offense in Thursday night games so the Seahawks will win the game but they won’t cover.

Saturday Night Football

Dolphins at Jets (+2.5) – With QB Ryan Tannehill suffering a sprained knee last week, the Dolphins are down to backup QB Matt Moore, who isn’t great but better than some of the backups in the league. The Jets are using QB Bryce Petty and will be without starting RB Matt Forte, who suffered a potentially season-ending injury on Sunday. The Forte injury gives RB Bilal Powell a chance to get the start. I don’t think the Jets will have enough offense to win. Dolphins win and cover.

Sunday 1PM games

Browns at Bills (-9.5) – The Browns continue to look for their first win to avoid going 0-16. With three games left, this could be their best remaining chance to get a win, but QB Robert Griffin III didn’t look good in his return to the field last week. WR Terrelle Pryor is the only Browns player on offense who’s been productive this season. I don’t see them getting the win in Buffalo, but I also don’t think they’ll lose by double digits so I”ll take the Browns with the points, though they’ll be 0-14 when the game is over.
Packers at Bears (+6.5) – The Packers need to win this game to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Bears are just playing out the season. The Bears will get WR Alshon Jeffery back from his four-game suspension and RB Jordan Howard has been having a good season, but I don’t think the Bears have enough playmakers on offense to beat the Packers, who have started to play well in recent weeks behind QB Aaron Rodgers. Packers cover.
Steelers at Bengals (+3.5) – The Bengals have won two in a row — last week’s win came against the Browns — but they’re having a disappointing season at 5-7-1. The Steelers are on a four-game winning streak, and I continue that to continue behind the offense of QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. I’m taking the Steelers.
Lions at Giants (-4.5) – This battle of playoff contenders sees Lions QB Matthew Stafford going into the game with an injured finger, which won’t help him find success against a Giants defense that has looked good in recent games. I think the Giants win the game and cover to stay in the Wild Card chase.
Titans at Chiefs (-5.5) – The Titans need to keep winning if they want to win the AFC South, but that won’t be easy this week against a tough Chiefs defense. The Chiefs beat the Raiders by eight last Thursday and now have extra rest before taking on the Titans at home. I expect the Chiefs to win the game and cover.
Colts at Vikings (-4.5) – The Colts are coming off a loss to the Texans that put their playoff hopes on life support. I think they’ll bounce back to keep this game close, but I think the Vikings defense will ultimately be enough to win the game to stay in the playoff race. I’ll take the Colts with the points, though.
Eagles at Ravens (-6.5) The Ravens had a disappointing game against the Patriots on Monday night, but the Eagles aren’t the Patriots. The Eagles have lost four in a row and I don’t expect them to be able to score much against a Ravens defense that is among the best in the league. I’ll give the points.
Jaguars at Texans (-6.5) – The Jaguars are looking for their third win of the season, but that might be a tough task on the road against a Texans team with a good defense led by DE Jadeveon Clowney. Texans QB Brock Osweiler isn’t very good so I’m not confident about giving so many points with the Texans, but I’m going to do it because the Jaguars aren’t good.

Sunday 4PM games

49ers at Falcons (-13.5)The Falcons put up 42 points on the Rams last week — without WR Julio Jones — and now they get the 49ers, who will have to travel across the country for the game. I normally don’t like taking the favorite with such a big spread, but the Falcons offense can put up points and the 49ers aren’t a good team so I’ll give the 13.5 points.
Saints at Cardinals (-2.5) – Two of the more disappointing teams in the league meet in this contest. I believe QB Drew Brees and the Saints offense can do what they need to win this game against a Cardinals team that has a decent defense. Since I think the Saints can win outright, I’ll take the points.
Patriots at Broncos (+3.5) – This is a battle between one of the league’s best offenses in the Patriots against the Broncos’ strong defense. We saw a similar matchup on Monday night when the Patriots took on the Ravens and won that game convincingly. Despite having to travel to Denver on a short week,I expect QB Tom Brady and the Patriots to win this game and cover the 3.5 points.
Raiders at Chargers (+2.5) – Two teams that could be moving to new cities in the coming years meet in what could be one of the Chargers’ final home games in San Diego. The Raiders are definitely the better team and I expect QB David Carr to bounce back from a subpar performance against the Chiefs last week to lead the Raiders to their 11th win of the season.

Sunday Night Football

Buccaneers at Cowboys (-7.5) – The Bucs are looking for their first six-game winning streak in franchise history, but it’ll be a tough task for QB Jameis Winston and the rest of the team to do that against the Cowboys, who still have the league’s best record after losing to the Giants on Sunday night. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott performance hasn’t been as prolific in his most recent games as it has been for much of the season, but I still think the Cowboys will be able to win the game. I don’t, however, think they’ll cover so I’ll take the Bucs with the points.

Monday Night Football

Panthers at Redskins (-4.5) – The Redskins are looking to stay in the NFC Wild Card race by picking up a win at home on Monday night. I think the Redskins have just enough to cover the spread so I’ll take them to win.

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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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My NFL Picks Week 13: Cowboys-Vikings opens the week as December begins

Having Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror is a sign that we are entering the homestretch of the NFL’s regular season. Week 13 begins with the Cowboys, the NFC’s best team, taking on the Vikings, who are hanging on to their fading playoff hopes in the conference. Other notable games this week include the Chiefs visiting the Falcons in an interconference matchup of potential playoff teams and the Bills heading to he West Coast to take on the Raiders. The Sunday night game features two teams coming off tough Week 12 losses with the Panthers at the Seahawks. The Monday nighter ends the week with two teams having disappointing seasons as the Jets host the Colts. This week features the last byes of the season, as the Titans and the Browns — who have still not won a game — get the week off. I went 10-6 last week, bringing my record to 84-91 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: Browns, Titans

Thursday Night Football

Cowboys at Vikings (+3.5) – Cowboys QB Dak Prescott faces one of the tougher challenges of his rookie season when he goes against a Vikings defense that is one of the better squads in the league. I think the Cowboys offense will still easily be able to outscore the Vikings offense and likely win the game by at least a touchdown.

Sunday 1PM games

Chiefs at Falcons (-4.5) – The Chiefs defense will have to be able to stop QB Matt Ryan and the Falcons offensive attack to have a chance to win this game because their offense isn’t nearly as explosive as Atlanta’s. Like the Cowboys-Vikings game, I expect the Falcons offense to overcome the Chiefs defense to win the game and cover.
49ers at Bears (-2.5) – The 49ers offense has picked up in recent weeks since QB Colin Kaepernick took over the starting job from QB Blaine Gabbert, and I expect that to continue against a Bears defense that hasn’t been overly impressive this season. With QB Matt Barkley expected to start again for the Bears, I’m not sure how they’re the favorites in this one. I expect the 49ers to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Eagles at Bengals (+1.5) – With Bengals WR A.J. Green expected to miss another game this week, the Bengals will likely struggle to put points on the scoreboard as they did last week. Despite a disappoint performance against the Packers on Monday night, the Eagles still likely have a better offense than Cincinnati, with QB Carson Wentz leading the way. Eagles win the game on the road.
Broncos at Jaguars (+5.5) – The stout Broncos defense shouldn’t have much of a problem keeping the mediocre Jaguars offense from scoring many points, so even though Denver’s offense itself isn’t very impressive, the defending Super Bowl champions should be able to score enough points to cover the spread in this one.
Lions at Saints (-5.5) – This game looks to be a shootout at the Superdome with two strong offenses doing battle. I expect the Saints to win at home, but with both teams likely putting up a lot of points, I have a hard time seeing them covering the spread so I’ll take the Lions and the points.
Texans at Packers (-5.5) Texans QB Brock Osweiler looks to redeem himself following a three-interception game last week as he faces a Packers defense that hasn’t looked good for much of the season, Week 12 notwithstanding. On the Green Bay side, the entire offense is on the shoulders of QB Aaron Rodgers as the team hasn’t had much of a running game this year. I think the Packers win the game, but I think the Texans can keep it to within a few points so I’ll take the points.
Rams at Patriots (-13.5) – This is a big spread for a Patriots team that could be without its best pass-catcher, as TE Rob Gronkowski is nursing the back injury he suffered in last week’s game that forced him to leave early. The Patriots should win the game at home, but I expect the Rams to keep it within two touchdowns.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Ravens (-3.5) – The Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, having won six straight games. They go into Baltimore for a game against a Ravens team that, despite being 6-5, doesn’t have a great offense. I think the Dolphins can’t extend their winning streak so I’ll take the points.
Bills at Raiders (-3.5) – The health of Raiders QB Derek Carr could be a key to this game. He temporarily left last week’s game with a thumb injury but did return, which bodes well for him to be able to play this week. If that is the case, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor won’t be able to keep up with him and the rest of the Raiders offense. Bills RB LeSean McCoy has to have a big game for his team to win, and I don’t see him doing enough for that to happen. Raiders win and cover. 
Giants at Steelers (-5.5) – Like the Dolphins, the Giants are riding a six-game winning streak into Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. Unlike the Dolphins, I don’t think the Giants make it seven in a row. The Steelers offense, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell is too much for a Giants offense that didn’t look great for much of last week’s game against the winless Browns. Steelers cover.
Redskins at Cardinals (-2.5) – The Cardinals haven’t looked great in their last couple of games, both losses, while QB Kirk Cousins and the Redskins have been putting up a good number of points in their games. I’m surprised the Cardinals are favored so I’m taking the points as I think the Redskins win the game straight up.
Buccaneers at Chargers (-3.5) This is another game in which I’m surprised the home team is favored. The Bucs have been playing well in recent weeks, including holding the Seahawks to five points in Week 12, and I think they’re a better team than the Cardinals so I think they win the game outright. Give me the points.

Sunday Night Football

Panthers at Seahawks (-6.5) – I expect the Seahawks to bounce back from last week’s mediocre five-point effort against the Bucs and QB Russell Wilson put up some points this week. Seahawks win and cover, as the Panthers’ disappointing season continues.

Monday Night Football

Colts at Jets (+2.5) – The Jets put up a good fight against the Patriots last week despite losing the game at home. I think the Jets have more success against the Colts, who aren’t nearly as good as the Patriots, this week. The Jets are underdogs, but I think they have a shot to win the game so I’ll take them with the points.

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

The annual Thanksgiving tripleheader kicks off the Week 12 schedule, with Thursday’s two afternoon games featuring divisional battles that feature teams near the top of their divisions. In the first game, the Vikings head to Detroit to take on the Lions in a game that will determine which team takes over sole possession of the first place in the NFC North; both teams are currently 6-4. Then, the Cowboys host the Redskins, who are looking to overtake the Giants for second place in the NFC East behind the Cowboys, who are an NFL-best 9-1 on the year. The AFC West takes center stage on Sunday night, with the Broncos hosting the Chiefs. The Monday night contest features two teams that could be fighting for their playoff lives with the Packers visiting the Eagles. I went 9-5 last week, bringing my record to 74-85 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: none

Thanksgiving games

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

Sunday 1PM games

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

Sunday 4PM games

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

Sunday Night Football

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

Monday Night Football

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

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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 6: The Cowboys travel to Lambeau Field

Week 6 is upon us, highlighted by a late Sunday afternoon matchup pitting rookie QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys against QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at historic Lambeau Field. The week begins on Thursday night with the Broncos looking to bounce back from last week’s surprising loss to the Falcons when they head to San Diego to take on the Chargers. The Browns have a chance to get in the win column when they head to Tennessee to take on the Titans, while the Vikings, the only remaining undefeated team, are on their bye. I went just 5-9 last week to bring my record for the season to 37-40. 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: Vikings, Buccaneers

Thursday Night Football
Broncos at Chargers (+3.5) – I expect the Broncos to get back on track after the loss to the Falcons in Week 5. QB Trevor Siemian, who sat out last week’s game, is expected to be ready to start this one, and the defense should have an easier time of defending a Chargers offense that isn’t as good as the Falcons.

Sunday 1PM games
49ers at Bills (-7.5) – QB Colin Kaepernick will get his first start of the season for the 49ers after head coach Chip Kelly announced the benching of QB Blaine Gabbert. It’ll be Kaepernick’s first start since Nov. 1, 2015, and it’s unsure how he will perform. The Bills have looked good the last couple of weeks and I think they’ll win the game outright, I think the spread is too high and I’ll go with the 49ers to stay within 7.5 points.
Jaguars at Bears (-2.5) – The Jaguars are coming off their bye, as the Bears look to make it two in a row after picking up their first win of the season last week against the Colts. Both of these teams are evenly matched, but QB Brian Hoyer has been good when starting for the Bears the last couple weeks. I think he’ll outplay Jaguars QB Blake Bortles and win the game for the Bears.
Bengals at Patriots (-9.5) – QB Tom Brady didn’t miss a beat in his first game of the season last week coming off his four-game Deflategate suspension. But that was against the Browns, this week he has to face the Bengals, who — while not great — are better than last week’s opponent. I think the Bengals defense will be able to keep the Patriots offense in check better than Cleveland was able to. Patriots win the game but don’t cover.
Browns at Titans (-6.5) – Titans QB Marcus Mariota had his best game of the season last week, while the Browns lost another quarterback to injury. At this point we don’t know which quarterback will be able to make the start for Cleveland — it could be converted WR Terrelle Pryor. That uncertainty at the quarterback position makes me think the Titans can cover, particularly if RB DeMarco Murray can continue the production he has been putting up so far this season.
Rams at Lions (-3.5) – The Lions are coming off an upset of the previously undefeated Eagles, and now have the Rams coming to town. The Lions have the better offense of the two teams, led by QB Matthew Stafford, but the Rams have the better defense. The Lions can put up points, and I think they win and cover this one.
Steelers at Dolphins (+7.5) – This is one of the bigger mismatches of the week, with the high-powered Steelers offense taking on a Dolphins team that could be the worst in the league. QB Ben Roethlisberger should be able to continue his stellar season that he has been having to this point.
Panthers at Saints (+2.5) – At 1-4, the Panthers are probably the most disappointing team in the NFL this season. They are coming off a loss to the Buccaneers on Monday night, but QB Cam Newton didn’t play in the game. He has now returned to practice and is expected to play this week. RB Jonathan Stewart, who has missed the last couple of games also may be on track to take the field this week. The Panthers know they’re desperate and have to win this game if they want to have any hope of staying in the playoff hunt so I expect them to win this game against a Saints defense that isn’t very good.
Ravens at Giants (-2.5) – This game is a tough one to call. The Ravens have come back to Earth a little after their fast start, and the Giants offense hasn’t lived up to expectations at this point. QB Eli Manning is going to have to do better than he has been for the Giants to win this game. I view this as a toss-up so I’ll take the Ravens getting the points.
Eagles at Redskins (+1.5) – The Eagles suffered their first loss of the season last week, while the Redskins beat the Ravens. Both teams have three wins, one fewer than the NFC East-leading Cowboys, so this is an important game for the divisional race. I think the Eagles have a better team on both sides of the ball, so with just a 1.5-point spread, I expect them to win and cover on the road.

Sunday 4PM games

Chiefs at Raiders (-1.5)The Raiders look to improve upon their 4-1 record at home in this divisional game. The Raiders offense, led by QB David Carr, has looked good to this point of the season but their defense can give up points. I’m not sure, however, that Chiefs QB Alex Smith will be able to take advantage of that so I’ll go with the Raiders.
Falcons at Seahawks (-6.5) – Coming off the bye, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has had an extra week to try to recover from the minor injuries he’s been dealing with. He played well in his last game before the bye so he should be able to continue that trend. With the way the Falcons are playing, though, I think a 6.5-point spread is too high. The Seahawks defense is one of the better ones that the Falcons have faced so far this season, but I still think QB Matt Ryan will be able to do his thing. Regardless of who wins this game, I don’t expect the differential to be within a touchdown so I’ll take the Falcons and the points.
Cowboys at Packers (-4.5) – This game should be a shootout as both teams rely on their offenses to win games. Packers RB Eddie Lacy injured his ankle in last week’s game and his status for Week 6 is uncertain. That could be a big deal in this game because Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has been one of the top running backs in the league in his rookie season. At quarterback, the Packers clearly have the advantage with Rodgers. If Lacy can’t go, though, that would hurt the Packers. Even if he does play, he might not be at full strength, so I’ll go with the Cowboys  and the points.

Sunday Night Football
Colts at Texans (-3.5)The Texans offense didn’t look good against the Vikings last week, but the Colts defense isn’t nearly in the same class as the Vikings. I expect the Texans to right the ship at home. Even without DE J.J. Watt, the Texans defense is significantly better than the Colts’ so they should be able to cover the spread.

Monday Night Football
Jets at Cardinals (-7.5) – QB Carson Palmer should return for the Cardinals after missing last week’s game while going through the league’s concussion protocol. The Cardinals have the best offense player in this game with RB David Johnson and also have the better defense, but a 7.5-point spread is a lot for a 2-3 team. I think the Cardinals win the game but don’t cover.

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My NFL Picks Week 5: Brady returns to the Patriots

It’s Week 5, which means Patriots QB Tom Brady has finished serving his four-game Deflategate suspension and he’ll be under center on Sunday when the Patriots head to Cleveland to take on the 0-4 Browns. Other games of note this week include the Texans traveling to Minnesota to try to hand the Vikings their first loss, the Redskins visiting the Ravens in the Battle of the Beltway, and the Packers hosting the Giants in the Sunday night game. I went 8-7 last week to improve my record to 32-31. 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: Jaguars, Chiefs, Saints, Seahawks

Thursday Night Football
Cardinals at 49ers (+2.5) – Before the season began, I would have thought the Cardinals could easily cover a field goal spread against the 49ers, but the Cardinals have greatly underperformed thus far this season, going 1-3 through their first four games. Add to that the fact that QB Carson Palmer is currently in the concussion protocol and will not play, leaving QB Drew Stanton to get the start. Give me the 49ers and the points.

Sunday 1PM games
Bears at Colts (-4.5) – The Colts are coming off a loss to the Jaguars in London last week, now they have to play another game without the benefit of the usual bye week following a London game. At 1-3, both teams need to win this game to stay keep their hopes alive in their respective playoff races. Bears QB Brian Hoyer has played well so far filling in for Jay Cutler and the Colts have a poor defense so I think the Bears will be able to put up points. I don’t think Colts QB Andrew Luck is fully healthy, coming off a long trip back from Europe I think the Bears could win the game outright so I’m taking Chicago and the points.
Patriots at Browns (+10.5) – Brady is back. Since he hasn’t played in a meaningful game since January, he could be a little rusty. TE Rob Gronkowski hasn’t been a big part of the offense so far and he may not be entirely healthy. I think the Patriots win the game, but that’s a big spread given the circumstances so I’ll take the Browns with the 10.5 points.
Eagles at Lions (+2.5) – Coming off their bye, the Eagles look to remain undefeated under rookie QB Carson Wentz. TE Zach Ertz is expected to play for the first time since Week 1, when he suffered a rib injury, which should help an already-impressive Eagles offense. The Eagles defense is also pretty good so I’ll take them to win the game and cover.
Titans  at Dolphins (-3.5) – Neither of these teams is good. I think the Dolphins may be slightly better, but I’m not convinced they can cover the 3.5-point spread so I’ll take the Titans.
Texans at Vikings (-6.5) – Both teams have a good defense, although the Texans’ isn’t as good without DE J.J. Watt, but I think the Texans have a slight edge offensively, with standouts WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. I’m not convinced the Texans can win the game, but I think they’ll at least stay within a touchdown so I’ll take them and the points.
Jets at Steelers (-7.5)The Steelers dominated the Chiefs on Sunday night and the Jets aren’t as good as Kansas City, so I think the Steelers will have a relatively easy time of things in this game as well. With RB Le’Veon Bell returning from his suspension last week, their offense is getting better and the Jets’ defense didn’t look good against the Seahawks with a hobbled Russell Wilson last week.
Redskins at Ravens (-3.5) – These two teams are fairly evenly matched on offense, I think. The Ravens may finally have a running game after RB Terrance West put up good numbers last week, and rookie RB Kenneth Dixon is expected to make his debut this week, which could give the team a boost. I think the Ravens have a better defense than the Redskins so I’ll take them to cover at home.

Sunday 4PM games
Falcons at Broncos (-6.5) – This is a battle of a tough Broncos defense against a Falcons offense that has been flying high this season, having scored 93 points in the last two games. The Falcons probably won’t get out of the 20s on the scoreboard this week. It’s unknown if QB Trevor Siemian will be able to start for the Broncos; it’s looking like he’ll be able to play, but if he can’t QB Paxton Lynch will get his first career start. With that uncertainty, I’ll take the Falcons to stay within a touchdown of the Broncos.
Bills at Rams (-2.5) – The Rams may be 3-1 but I don’t think they’re that good — remember, they got shut out by the 1-3 49ers in Week 1. Defense is the best aspect of both teams’ games so I’m not expecting a high-scoring game. I think the Bills are the better team so I’ll pick them to win outright.
Bengals at Cowboys (+0.5) – The Cowboys have a better offense and the Bengals have a bette defense, in my opinion. The teams are fairly evenly matched, but I think the Bengals’ defense can win out and keep the Cowboys from scoring too many points, so I’ll go with the Bengals in this toss-up.
Chargers at Raiders (-4.5)The Chargers aren’t very good. Between injuries on offense and a defense that can’t hold a lead late in the game, they’re not having a good season. I’m still not sold on the Raiders being as good as they’ve looked to this point, but I think they’re better than the Chargers so I’ll go with the home team here.

Sunday Night Football
Giants at Packers (-7.5)The Packers are coming off of their bye and, before that, their best offensive performance of their first three games. They have a better team than the Giants, but 7.5 is a big spread. The Packers win the game but I think the Giants will keep it close so I’ll take them with the points.

Monday Night Football
Buccaneers at Panthers (-3.5)Playing the Buccaneers and their bad defense could be what the Panthers need to get their offense going in the right direction. The big concern for the defending NFC champions is the possible absence of QB Cam Newton, who is in the concussion protocol. If he can’t play, veteran QB Derek Anderson will get the start. He can be a decent fill-in so even if Anderson starts, I think he can lead the Panthers to a win of at least four points so I’ll take them to cover.

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