NFL: Week 8 Picks

Bye Week: Titans, Jaguars, Giants, Packers, Rams and Cardinals.

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Ravens: Don’t look now, but the Miami Dolphins are 4-2 on the season after a huge 4th quarter comeback against the Jets. Matt Moore came in after Jay Cutler was hurt and helped lead the charge. Baltimore has now lost 4 of their last 5 games. The Ravens offense hasn’t been able to sustain drives without a viable run game.  Neither team is very consistent on either side of the ball, but at home, I’ll take the Birds. BALTIMORE WINS

London Game

  • Vikings @ Browns: Minnesota is doing almost everything right at the moment, and have taken advantage of the Packers loss of Aaron Rodgers to move into first place in the NFC North. The Vikings have two pretty good options at running back, and while Case Keenum isn’t particularly impressive under center, the offense is at least giving themselves a chance, with six drives ending in made field-goals last week. Cleveland on the other hand doesn’t do much right, and are the lone win-less team in the AFC. 4 of their losses have been by 3 points, so maybe a glimmer of hope there, but the QB carousel continues as the Browns try to find a way into the win column. They might, but not this week, and not in London. MINNESOTA WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Falcons @ Jets: The good news for Atlanta is they didn’t blow a big lead against the Pats in their Super Bowl rematch. The bad news for Atlanta is that they could only muster a garbage time touchdown. On the other hand, the Jets did blow a big lead on Sunday, allowing a 17-0 fourth quarter in favor of Miami. The offense was okay through 3 for New York, but nothing went right for them late. Both teams find themselves bottom half of their respective divisions, but the Falcons are on a 3-game slide after starting off hot and putting Super Bowl hangover questions to rest. I’ve been surprised by the Jets so far this season, but I like the Falcons to bounce back in this one. ATLANTA WINS
  • Panthers @ Buccaneers: Both of these NFC South teams are in the midst of losing skids.  Carolina is coming off an embarrassing performance against the Bears that saw them unable to find the end-zone once. The defense did it’s job, shutting down Chicago all game, but two of Cam Newton’s three turnovers were turned into scores. Tampa Bay lost in a back-and-forth game at Buffalo, despite a good day in the passing game by Jameis Winston. While the Bucs offense looked pretty good against the Bills last week, I think Cam Newton can, and will, bounce back from two bad games in a row. CAROLINA WINS
  • 49ers @ Eagles: The Niners streak of losing games by less than 3 points came to an end last week, but their losing streak did not. The only NFC team that is still win-less heads into action against the team with the best record through 7 weeks.  San Francisco was run up and down on by Dallas at home, while turning the ball over 3 times. Philadelphia easily handled Washington to end week 7. Carson Wentz continues to grow for the Eagles, and is making the Philly passing attack one with multiple big play options. A week ago I thought the Niners were moving in the direction of a win, but they took a serious step back and I don’t see any way they take down the Eagles this week. PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Bears @ Saints: Winners of four straight, the Saints find themselves on top of the NFC South. Drew Brees struggled a bit against the Packers last week, but Mark Ingram continues to put up big numbers on the ground. Not to mention much better performances from the New Orleans defense after they started off the season very poorly.  Chicago easily picked up their 2nd-straight win, thanks to a big defensive day by rookie safety Eddie Jackson, who had a fumble recovery for a touchdown AND a pick-six, both for over 75 yards. The Bears have won their last two, but they will need more from rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky this week, as the Saints offensive is just more potent. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Chargers @ Patriots: This AFC match-up features two teams trending up. Los Angeles is on a 3-game winning streak since starting 0-4. The offense and defense are both looking better, and the change at kicker helped turn things around. New England is back atop the AFC East and are on a 3-game winning streak of their own. The Patriots got a good game from Stephen Gostkowski and a mistake free performance from Tom Brady. The reigning champs have already lost two games at home this season, and I don’t see them picking up a third this week. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Raiders @ Bills: Oakland snapped their 4-game losing skid with a game-winning drive that saw penalties take away, then give them new chances to walk off with the 1-point win over KC. Broken back and all, Derek Carr threw for over 400 yards, and over half of those were to Amari Cooper. The Raiders survived with little production on the ground, and two misses by their kicker.  The Bills are also coming off a week 7 win over Tampa. Buffalo got a solid day in the air from Tyrod Taylor, coupled with two scores from LeSean McCoy on the ground. The pass defense for the Bills wasn’t great, so that’s where Oakland can take advantage, though I think Buffalo will control clock and hold off the Raiders. BUFFALO WINS
  • Colts @ Bengals: Indianapolis continues to struggle, and couldn’t find a way to put up any points in week 7.  The Jaguars defense put pressure on Jacoby Brissett all day, to the tune of 10 sacks and two forced fumbles. The good news for the Colts is that neither of those fumbles were lost, and there weren’t any turnovers. That can be carried over to this game against Cincinnati. As for the Bengals, they struggled on the road against Pittsburgh, and got shut out in the second-half. They were able to hold the Steelers to field goals for their final 5 scores, but that’s about all they can hang their hats on from last week. The Colts won’t be shutout again, but they won’t win either. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday 4/4:25pm Games

  • Texans @ Seahawks: DeShaun Watson and company are coming off their bye looking to continue putting up big offensive numbers. They’ll have their hands full as the Seahawks defense has shown an ability to look like the Legion of Doom off the past. They did however allow the struggling Titans to score 33 a few weeks ago, so not all hope is lost. The Seattle offense has been the inconsistency for them so far, though they looked better in the second half last week against New York. I think this could be a pretty good defensive battle, but even if it gets to be a high scoring affair, I’m still siding with the home team in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Cowboys @ Redskins: The running game continues to improve for Dallas, who saw Ezekiel Elliot find the endzone twice on Sunday. Dak Prescott also three for three other scores and the defense made easy work of the 49ers. Washington kept things close with Philly last week, thanks to another good day from kicker Jake Elliot and a nice day in the passing game for Kirk Cousins. But the run game continues to struggle fo the Redskins, and the ability to win the time of possession is ultimately why the Cowboys will picks up the road victory. DALLAS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Lions: Pittsburgh has had some issues off the field, but on the field, they are starting to click in every phase. Le’Veon Bell has run for over 300 yards combined in their last two games (both wins) and after a 0 TD, 5 INT performance in week 5, Big Ben has been less error prone as well. Detroit is coming off their bye week, and enters on a 2 game slide. Their offense is putting up points, for both teams of late. In their week 6 loss to New Orleans, they allowed the Saints to force 5 turnovers and score 3 times. This game is going to be all about who hits harder, and who controls the clock. I like the Steelers in both cases. PITTSBURGH WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Broncos @ Chiefs: A big AFC West showdown caps off the week 8 action. After a 5-0 start, Kansas City has dropped two straight, including a heart-breaker last week in Oakland. The game came down to a final Raiders drive that saw them get an extra shot to score a game winning TD as time expired due to a defensive penalty. In week 5, Chiefs rookie back Kareem Hunt rushed for 107 yards; the last two weeks combined we ran for 108. Denver is struggling offensively as well, having scored just 10 points the last two weeks to teams with a combined 4 wins on the season. The Broncos were shutout, turned the ball over 3 times and were unable to turn any themselves. So who gets back on track? Give me Kansas City at home. KANSAS CITY WINS

NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS

NFL: Week 3 Picks

We’ve reached week 3 of the season, and still have 8 undefeated and 8 winless teams. There have also been a lot of big injuries early that will have a big impact on week 3 and beyond.  As for my picks, I’m 18-14 through 2 weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking going into week 3.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo left with a shoulder injury for New England, who still managed to move to 2-0.  This was thanks in large part to Garoppolo’s 3 touchdown passes before his injury as well as a big performance from LeGarrett Blount in the run game. The Texans took down the Chiefs on the strength of their defense to move to 1-1, a stark difference from their 33-0 loss to Kansas City in the playoffs.  Without Garoppolo, I think the Texans will do enough to get another win to start off the week 3 action. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Ravens @ Jaguars: Baltimore got very lucky in week 2, as they overcame a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to improve to 2-0.  Cleveland never scored again, while Joe Flacco brought his team back with a 25-45, 302 yard performance.  Their opponents have been disappointing to me so far.  While I didn’t think the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs this season, I thought they’d be better than they’ve shown, starting 0-2 again after They crossed midfield only six times and committed three turnovers. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Both teams enter 1-1 after losing in week 2, and are looking to keep pace with the 2-0 Vikings.  The Packers lost their game in the 4th quarter, turning the ball over twice, while allowing Rodgers to be sacked 5 times. Detroit also lost their game in the 4th quarter when they were outscored 13-0 by the Titans, including a 93-yard game winning drive.  The Lions didn’t have a go to back in week 2, losing Ameer Abdullah to an injury.   So who gets back in the win column this week? I’ll take the Packers at home with a much-needed big day from Eddie Lacy. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington won the NFC East a year ago, but have opened up this season 0-2.  Struggles in the red zone and an inability to force turnovers meant a loss in a back-and-forth affair with Dallas last week. New York’s offense moved up and down the field pretty easily on Sunday, but also struggled in the redzone, and had too many turnovers in the 1st half.  But the defense and special teams stepped up and they moved to 2-0. So who takes this division matchup?  Give me the home team to get over their redzone struggles and take advantage of Eli Manning’s league leading completion percentage, which should be even better as the Giants receiving core dropped at least 5 balls in week 2. NEW YORK WINS
  • Browns @ Dolphins: For the 5th week in a row (dating back to last season), Cleveland will be starting a different QB.  Someone should tell them this isn’t baseball, there’s no starting rotation in football.  Even with the QB carousel, the Browns almost, and should have, pulled out their first win in week 2.  They were up 20-2 on the Ravens, thanks in big part to their ground attack, but fell late.  Miami isn’t in any better a position than their week 3 opponents, as they enter action at 0-2 as well.  The Dolphins were down big early to the Pats, but made a comeback after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury.  Cleveland will be in this game until the end because Miami has had issues stopping the run early.  But even of Isaiah Crowell goes big on the ground, I still think they pull out the win at home. MIAMI WINS
  • Vikings @ Panthers: Minnesota will now be without their starting QB and running back for the rest of the season after Adrian Peterson went down in their game on Sunday night. The Vikings defense looked stong against Aaron Rogers in week 2. As for Carolina, they rebounded offensively in week 2, but they still struggled a bit on defense, allowing the Niners to score 27.  They’ll be without their running back Jonathan Stewart, but were picked up by Fozzy Whittaker on the ground.  Despite the 27 points allowed, I like the Panthers chances of stopping Sam Bradford and the new Vikings weapon and league receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. CAROLINA WINS
  • Broncos @ Bengals: Andy Dalton has gotten off to a nice start this season, leading the league with 732 passing yards, so here’s a good test for the Broncos league leading defense.  CJ Anderson is having a good start to the season, and we’ve seen the Bengals give up the most rushing yards per game to start the season, so he should be able to help eat a lot of clock for Denver. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bills: Arizona rebounded from a tough week 1 loss by handily beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Cardinals led the league in total offense, while the Bills dropped to 0-2 despite putting up 31 points of their own in week 2. Buffalo has let their offensive coordinator go, so they really need this game.  Too bad I don’t think they’ll get it.  Look for a big game from running back Daniel Johnson. ARIZONA WINS
  • Raiders @ Titans: Oakland has not been able to stop anyone through two weeks, something I wasn’t expecting, allowing 70 points so far.  Tennessee has actually done a very nice job on defense.  Both teams are 1-1 heading into this game, but I still like the Raiders better.  The Titans offense hasn’t shown the big play ability the Raiders have, so Oakland should be able to hold them down better than they did with New Orleans and Atlanta. OAKLAND WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Rams @ Buccaneers: LA’s defense showed up in week 2, Tampa’s did not.  The difference between these two teams is the offense.  While the Bucs went from scoring 4 TDs to 1, I feel more confident about their offense than the Rams, who have scored just 9 points in two games.  The best chance the Rams have is if their defense can do what it did a week ago, and good game out of Todd Gurley. That being said, I’ll take the home team in this one. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: This is a big (albeit early) NFC West battle between two 1-1 teams.  San Francisco followed up a surprise week 1 win with a defensive breakdown against Carolina.  Seattle had one of their worst offensive games in this recent stretch of Superbowl quality teams, scoring just a field goal against the L.A. Rams. I can’t see the Seahawks being held down again, especially by the Niners.  Russell Wilson should be able to dominate in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Steelers @ Eagles:  I never thought this would be a game where both teams have a chance to move to 3-0, but here we are.  DeAngelo Williams has been huge for Pittsbrgh in the abscense of Le’Veon Bell, who is out one more week due to suspension. Philadelphia has gotten about as good as you can ever hope to from a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who hasn’t turned the ball over yet. It should be a good game, but I will go with the experience in this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jets @ Chiefs: Two teams I picked to make the playoffs in the AFC face off in Kansas City this weekend.  New York picked up their first win last week, thanks to the offense.  Off-season acquisition Matt Forte finished with 100 yards rushing, and three rushing touchdowns. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both finished with 100 receiving yards as well.  The Jets defense wasn’t as impressive as it was week 1.  The Chiefs hope that’s the case again this week, as they couldn’t get much of anything started against Houston. A lot went right for New York last week, and I can’t see them doing quite that well against Kansas City’s defense as they did against Buffalo.  If this were a home game for the Jets I might choose differently, but it’s a home game for the Chiefs, so I’ll go with them this week.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Colts: San Diego is 2-0, Indianapolis is 0-2.  I really thought that the Colts would be able to do better than they have on defense, but they haven’t. San Diego has looked very good on offense to start this season, Indy has been very up and down. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Cowboys: Chicago is 0-2 despite holding early leads in both week 1 and week 2.  And now they’ll be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler due to a thumb injury.   Their best hope to beat the Cowboys is to continue limiting the passing game, as the Bears rank 4th in the NFL allowing 224 yards a game.   As for Dallas, they picked up their first win thanks to another clean day from Dak Prescott and a big night on the ground. The Boys were already a better team than the Bears before the Cutler injury, so give me Dallas at home to move to 2-1. DALLAS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints: Atlanta picked up their first win against an impressive Raiders team in week 2, while New Orleans dropped to 0-2 after a game winning field goal by the Giants.  Atlanta hasn’t had any problems scoring this season, but their defense has struggled at times.  New Orleans’ defense was much better in week 2, forcing 3 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.  I picked the Saints to make the playoffs, so this is a huge game for them.  If they want to get their first win, they have to figure out how to run the ball.  The Falcons tend to be very inconsistent, so give me New Orleans at home in a shootout. NEW ORLEANS WINS

NFL: Week 2 Picks

Week 1 sure didn’t disappoint.  We had a ton of close games, a few massive comebacks and plenty of big performances.

The Broncos showed why they are the defending champs, the Patriots showed they are all about the next man up and the Raiders offense made us all pay attention.  Over in the NFC, we learned that Jordy Nelson doesn’t take long to get back into the flow after an injury, Victor Cruz can still get past defenders and into the end-zone, and that Jameis Winston can score with the best of them.

I went 8-8 for my week 1 picks. Here’s to hoping week 2 goes better.

Thursday Night Football

  • Jets @ Bills: In both teams first division game, it’s a battle to avoid an 0-2 start.  Both teams had impressive defensive showings in week 1.  The Jets were able to get to Andy Dalton for a record 7 sacks thanks to a big day from their defensive line.  Darrelle Revis was exploited by A.J. Green like few others have been able to in the corner’s 10-year career.  Buffalo held Baltimore to one touchdown, and not much on the ground.  New York was hurt by missed PAT and FG from the usually on-point Nick Folk and a late Ryan Fitzpatrick interception. So which team should feel better about their chances in week 2?  I like the Jets to fix their little mistakes on offense this week. NEW YORK WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Saints @ Giants: If there’s one thing we learned in week 1, it’s that the Saints defense isn’t much better than last season, while the Giants defense finally learned to limit damage.  New York shouldn’t be happy about allowing the Cowboys to dominate time of possession, but Big Blue should be very excited about how their wide receiving core looked.  Victor Cruz scored his first touchdown since 2014, rookie wideout Sterling Shepard got his first and Odell Beckham Jr. took pressure off both.  The game-winning drive for New York featured solid offensive line play they’ve desperately lacked the past couple of seasons.  New Orleans had no issues on offense in week 1, with Drew Brees throwing 4 touchdowns.  Oakland took that game with a late drive and two-point conversion on the road, leaving a hungry Saints team looking to avoid an 0-2 start.  Last year’s match-up between these two meant 101 combined points. While I don’t think it will get that bad this time around, it could still be a shootout.  Obviously, I liked what the Giants did a lot more in week 1 than the Saints, but I can’t see an 0-2 start for this Saints team. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Titans @ Lions: Detroit’s offense looked very good in week 1. The defense struggled in the second half, blowing a 21 point lead only to hold on in the end for a 1-0 start.  Tennessean saw signs of life from DeMarco Murray on offense, but allowed Minnesota to score not one, but two defensive touchdowns.  The Lions definitely hold the edge in offense heading into week 2, but I don’t think Detroit can replicate that again.  Look for Marcus Mariota to have a big day.  TENNESSEE WINS
  • Cowboys @ Redskins: One team lost by a point at home in week 1, the other got beat down.  Dallas had a shot to get rookie QB Dak Prescott a win in his debut, but time management cost them a shot at a game-winning field goal.  Washington looked pretty good defensively early against Pittsburgh on Monday night, then Antonio Brown showed up.  The Cowboys were able to eat up a lot of clock Sunday, and the way the Skins played the run against Pittsburgh, Dallas can absolutely do that again.  Washington’s run game gained less than 60 yards. That’ll be the difference. DALLAS WINS
  • Chiefs @ Texans:  Both teams come into this match-up at 1-0, but with work to do. Slow starts could’ve doomed both in their first games, but things got going late. Brock Osweiler led the Texans on a 23-0 run after spotting the Bears 14 early.  KC had to come back from down 21-0 and get the win in overtime.  At least both teams know they can comeback from an early deficit? If Houston wants to win this game, they need another big day from Lamar Miller.  While I absolutely think they can get that big day, I think the Chiefs are simply the better team. Alex Smith had one of his best games, without needing to run the ball like he is known to do.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Dolphins @ Patriots: No Tom Brady? No Rob Gronkowski? No problem.  Jimmy Garoppolo showed his game management skills in their week 1 win over the Cards. The Pats won the battle of special teams, as Stephen Gostkowski went 3-f0r-3 on field goals, including a 53-yard footer, while the Cards missed a potential game winner with 41 seconds to go. Miami was able to stand pat against the Seahawks in week 1, putting together a masterful 86-yard touchdown drive to take a lead in the fourth quarter. But they fell anyway.  NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Ravens @ Browns: Baltimore’s defense was at a peak level it hasn’t  been at in years in week 1. That being said, the Ravens offense wasn’t very impressive, though give credit to Tennessee there. Joe Flacco was sharp throwing the ball, and got his team into the red zone four times.  Cleveland is already on quarterback number 2 after Robert Griffin went down in his Browns debut. As if that wasn’t bad enough in week 1, the Browns couldn’t stop Carson Wentz, who they passed on in the draft.  Whoever said the curse was broken in Cleveland after the Cavs win wasn’t looking broadly enough. Cleveland needs to establish the run in week 2 if they have any shot of winning, and even then I don’t think it’ll be enough. BALTIMORE WINS 
  • Niners @ Panthers: The team entering this match-up 1-0 isn’t the team I thought would be doing so.  San Francisco laid the goose egg on the Rams in week 1, while the Panthers lost a heart-breaker to the defending champs.  As good as the Niners looked Sunday night, they still aren’t in the same league as this Carolina team, and there is no way the team I tabbed for a Superbowl this season starts 0-2, especially with this game taking place at home.  Blaine Gabbert won’t have it so easy in week 2.  CAROLINA WINS
  • Bengals @ Steelers: Cincinnati escaped week 1 with a road win in New York in a back-and-forth affair. Then, the Steelers rebounded from a slow start to take an easy one from the Skins. Both teams got huge performances from their number 1 wide receivers, meaning the game comes down to the ground and pound.  DeAngelo Williams made up for the lack of Le’Veon Bell and then some. So who gets this first AFC North win?  Give me the black and yellow in week 2.  PITTSBRUGH WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Buccaneers @ Cardinals: Jameis Winston had his best game as a pro. And Tampa’s defense did a great job stopping the run against Atlanta, but need to figure out how to stop the big plays.  As for the Cardinals, they fell late to the Patriots on a field-goal.  What gives in week 2?  I love this Arizona squad. Larry Fitzgerald looks amazing.  It took them some time to get going in week 1, but I think they can get going earlier at home against this Bucs defense and get their 1st win of the season. ARIZONA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Rams: Seattle escaped week 1 with a win on the strength of their defense.  L.A. on the other hand, looked like the worst team in the league by far.  They couldn’t stop a Niners offense that wasn’t expected to do much this season, while their own offense looked lost. Last year, the Rams seemed to play up to their competition or down to them, so they could look a bit better this week. But I also don’t expect the Seahawks to look so bad on offense again this week. SEATTLE WINS
  • Falcons @ Raiders:  Atlanta has missed the playoffs the last two seasons, and their defense did little to reassure their fans that this wouldn’t be a third straight.  Scoring has never been the Falcons’ problem, but if they can’t get the run game going this week, they’re in trouble.  The Raiders showed why a lot of people (myself included) have tabbed them to make the postseason this year.  They can score with anyone, and no one believes that more than head coach Jack del Rio who went for two late to give the team a 1-point win on the road.  The Falcons have to control the clock or the Raiders will put them in an 0-2 hole.  OAKLAND WINS
  • Jaguars @ Chargers: I was impressed with both of these teams in week 1.  Both teams lost, but they held their own against two of the league’s best teams (Green Bay and Kansas City). The big play ability of the Jags defense will keep them in most games offensively.  San Diego got a big game on the ground, but the defense let up big time in the 2nd half.  This could be a high scoring game, but I like Jags on the road. JACKSONVILLE WINS
  • Colts @ Broncos: Andrew Luck woke up big time in the 2nd half last season, but the defense left a lot to be desired.  Denver looked strong coming off their Superbowl win, doing big things on the ground with C.J. Anderson.  Indianapolis isn’t facing quite the QB that Matthew Stafford is, and while I liked this Colts team coming into the season, give me another win for the Broncos this week. DENVER WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Packers @ Vikings: The Packers looked good last week, getting Jordy Nelson back into the flow of the offense right away.  Minneosta pulled out a week 1 win thanks to their defense scoring two touchdowns against the Titans.  Adrian Peterson was stuffed by a lesser front than the Packers.  Sure it’s a division game, which is always tougher no matter if there is a talent gap.  But with Green Bay getting Nelson going so quickly is bad news for the Vikings.  I like the Pack to get to 2-0. GREEN BAY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Eagles @ Bears: Carson Wentz didn’t look like a rookie in week one, while veteran Jay Cutler got shut out in the 2nd half to drop his first of the season.  I don’t particularly like either one of these teams, and while Jay Cutler can put up big numbers, I feel like the Bears don’t have many big play makers right now.   It won’t be as easy for the Eagles this week as it was last week, but I still think they’ll pull this one out. PHILADELPHIA WINS

NFL: Preseason Predictions and Week 1 Picks

Another year is upon us! The Denver Broncos are the reigning World Champions, and look to repeat with a brand new man under center with the retirement of Peyton Manning. Nope, not Brock Osweiler. And no it’s not Mark Sanchez either.  Another AFC powerhouse in the New England Patriots will also be without their future hall-of-fame quarterback as Tom Brady serves a four game suspension.  Absences and shakeups at the top means a lot can change from last season’s playoff picture.  My team to watch this season will be the Oakland Raiders.

For me, the NFC is where the powerhouses will be in the in the 2016-2017 season.  Carolina is fresh off a Superbowl loss, but were able to keep together their core.  Arizona and Seattle will be there once again in an absolutely loaded NFC West.  Green Bay gets back one of their biggest weapons in Jordy Nelson to go along with what the Packers hope is a reinvigorated Eddie Lacy at running back.  And not to be forgotten are Superbowl vets like Drew Brees and Eli Manning who are looking to regain control of their respective divisions.

NFC Playoff Teams              AFC Playoff Teams

Cardinals                                  Chiefs

Panthers                                   Bengals

Packers                                      Broncos

Giants                                        Colts

Seahawks                                  Jets

Saints                                         Raiders

NFC Championship

  • Cardinals @ Panthers: CAROLINA WINS

AFC Championship 

  • Bengals @ Chiefs: KANSAS CITY WINS

Superbowl XLI

  • Panthers vs Chiefs: CAROLINA WINS

Now that I’ve gotten ahead of myself, here are my week 1 predictions.

Thursday Night Football

  • Panthers @ Broncos: The season kicks off with a rematch of Superbowl XL. Denver will raise their banner, and get their first look at Trevor Siemian at QB.  Cam Newton and company will begin their quest to get back to the Superbowl. The Panthers have put the big loss behind them, and with their core still in tact, they are better prepared for a run than Denver is for their title defense.  The Broncos will still be good, especially if CJ Anderson can continue to grow in the run game.  But I like the Panthers to get the win this time around. CAROLINA WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Buccaneers @ Falcons: The battle for the South gets going quickly with a Bucs team with ambitions of not finishing last in their division, and a Falcons team looking to get back to the playoffs. This is going to be a shoot out with two great offenses going head-to-head.  I simply have more trust in Atlanta during the regular season right now, so I’ll take their defense to make the big stop down the stretch over Tampa Bay. ATLANTA WINS
  • Bills @ Ravens: I see both of these teams being better than they were last season, but not by much.  Buffalo has a higher ceiling right now, especially if Tyrod Taylor can figure out his fumbling problem.  He makes pretty good decisions in the passing game, should get more out of LeSean McCoy this season and has a defense capable for being near the top of the league.  Joe Flacco won’t be without back Justin Forsett, who led the team in rushing the past two season, as previously thought since he has re-signed after being cut days ago. Beyond that, I’m not a fan of the Ravens offense past Mike Wallace and Steve Smith Sr.  I’m going with the AFC in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Bears @ Texans: Chicago finished last season in the cellar of the NFC North, while Houston won the AFC South.  I see little evidence to suggest the Bears can get back into relevancy this season, while I think the Texans will lose the division to the Colts once again.  The Bears let Matt Forte walk, as well as the franchise leader in scoring, kicker Robbie Gould. Houston is expected to have their defensive weapon in JJ Watt ready to go, so expect Jay Cutler to feel the pressure all day.  HOUSTON WINS
  • Browns @ Eagles: Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks this season.  Former rookie of the year Robert Griffin III gets a fresh start with Cleveland, while actual rookie Carson Wentz will become the first rookie to start week 1 in Eagles history (ELIAS). The Browns were bottom 10 in total defense and offense last season, resulting in a 3-13 record. Philly hopes their new QB and another year with DeMarco Murray will help get them over the .500 mark and challenge in the East.  Opening at home with these pieces means a week 1 win for the birds.  PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Raiders @ Saints: Week 1 features a matchup of two teams I think will make the playoffs this season. The Saints defense wasn’t anything to write home about a season ago, allowing at least 20 points in every game but two (17 allowed in each of those).  But Drew Brees had another stellar year, leading the league in passing yards.  New Orleans parted ways with the team’s all-time leader in TD receptions, Marques Colston, but expect big things from Mark Ingram.  Oakland gets another year of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper doing big things in the pass attack.  A lot of moves on defense in the offseason has the Raiders poised for a big season.  That being said, I like the Saints in a tight one at home.  But I will not be surprised at all if Oakland steals one at the Superdome either. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Chargers @ Chiefs: Kansas City’s offense never really looks pretty on paper after Jamaal Charles, but they continue to make it work.  Their defense is one of the league’s best and that will carry them again this season.  The opposite can be said for San Diego.  Philip Rivers has a very good group of pass catchers that should give the Chargers a chance in every game.  Their consistency is always questionable on defense, and in a tough AFC West, they’ll need to figure that out.  I really like the Chiefs this season, they return a lot of key pieces off a second round playoff appearance last year. KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Bengals @ Jets: Here’s another game with two teams I think will see the postseason.  New York hopes their run game will be revitalized with the acquisition of Matt Forte, while getting even more out of Ryan Fitzpatrick than they did a year ago.  I’ve said it before, but it’s time for the Bengals to take the next step. There’s some concern that Cincinnati is lacking depth at defensive end, but they’ve been able to dominate defensively in the past, and I think they can figure it out. It won’t be easy, but I like the Bengals to get a road win off the jump. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Packers @ Jaguars: Aaron Rodgers has his favorite target in Jordy Nelson back.  If he can get 2013-14 Eddie Lacy back, look out for the Packers once again.  Jacksonville’s offense took a step in the right direction last year, and they were much better at home.  But while the Jaguars are still a few pieces away, the Packers are primed to make a deep run through the NFC once again. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Vikings @ Titans: Coming into the season, I thought this was going to be a very good game against two teams looking to prove themselves.  Minnesota is coming off a playoff year where they lost to Seattle in the Wildcard round… by one point at home.  Tennessee on the other hand are coming off a 3-13 season in which they won their first two games. Offense wasnt exactly their issue, with the 2nd ranked running game.  But losing Marcus Mariota didn’t help. I really like the Vikings, but losing Teddy Bridgewater before the start of the season is tough, and now they look to Sam Bradford to keep them afloat in an always competitve NFC North.  Give me the Titans on the ground with a healthy Mariota in week 1. TENNESSEE WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Dolphins @ Seawhawks: Miami was one of the more disappointing teams a season ago.  They spent a lot of money on defense in the off-season leading up to last year, and it didn’t do much.  The Dolphins allowed the second most yards a game in the AFC.  Add a bottom 10 offense, and you can see why they finished below .500 and last in the East. Miami is a case of just hoping their talent will come together all at once (sound familiar with Miami teams?). Seattle had another good season in 2015, though they didn’t look great in the playoffs after two straight Superbowl appearances.  They lost Marshawn Lynch, but return most of their stars on offense and always have the Legion of Boom to fall back on.  This should be one of the easier wins of week 1 for the Hawks. SEATTLE WINS
  • Giants @ Cowboys: If ever there was a year for the New York Giants to run through the NFC East, it’s this one.  Even in their Superbowl seasons they couldn’t win the division.  But with Tony Romo out, and two rookies starting in Dallas and Philadelphia, the Skins are the only other team returning their starter from a year ago. Yes, Kirk Cousins got his team to the playoffs last season, but Eli Manning was the best QB in that division last season, and if his defense can at least be middle of the pack, and not dead last, this should be an easy return to the playoffs.  Dak Prescott was impressive for Dallas in the preseason, but Big Blue has never had problems playing in the lone star state, and I don’t see it being a problem this season either. NEW YORK WINS
  • Lions @ Colts:The worst defense in the AFC last season belonged to the Colts.  Not having a run game again meant they couldn’t sustain drives the way you’d want to mask that. The hope is veteran back Frank Gore can regain some of his old magic along with keeping Andrew Luck healthy.  As for Detroit, they are another case of talent never panning out for an entire season.  And with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, the Lions lose their most consistent and explosive weapon.  It could be another ugly season in Detroit, while I expect a bounce back from Indy. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Patriots @ Cardinals: New England starts the season without Tom Brady and defensive end Rob Ninkovich due to suspensions.  In an improved AFC East, those 4 games without them could be trouble, especially since im not a fan of their rushing attack. Add a hungry and dangerous Cardinals team, and you’ve got a recipe for a week 1 loss.  Arizona’s depth on offense is pretty impressive, and their defense should be really good again.  A home win to kick off the season is in the cards for the birds. ARIZONA WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Redskins: Washington got some help on defense in the off-season acquisition of Josh Norman, but I still don’t think it’s going to be enough.  The skins do get a break on defense since Pitt will be without top flight running back Le’Veon Bell who is suspended to start the season.  But the Steelers have more than enough big play threats and I don’t know if Kurt Cousins can replicate what he did last season. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Rams @ 49ers: Blaine Gabbert gets the starting job in San Francisco as that organization looks to distance itself from off-the-field stories.  They open up against a Rams team ready to take the next step.  The newly name Los Angeles Rams biggest issue was inconsistency last season, beating the Cardinals and Seahawks, but losing to the Bears at home.  They’ve got a top flight running back and a better than average defense.  It’s going to be another long season for the Niners. LOS ANGELES WINS

Well that’s it.  Time to sit back, relax and wait for kickoff! Enjoy week 1 everyone.

NFL: Week 17 Picks

The final week of the regular season is upon us, the Panthers are undefeated no longer and there is still a lot to decide for the postseason.  There are two spots left up for grabs, both in the AFC, but seeding isn’t even close to set yet.  We still don’t know who wins the NFC North and we don’t know who wins the AFC South.  Three different teams can finish with the number 1 seed in the AFC, while two teams have a shot in the NFC.  So sit back and enjoy what is essentially the first week of the playoffs!

I went just 7-9 in my picks last week, making my season total heading into the final slate of games 134-106.

Sunday 1PM games

  • Jets @ Bills: It’s simple for the Jets. Win and you’re in. New York has won five straight and are back to doing what got them out to a quick start to the season.  Buffalo has been up and down all season, and the money they put into the defense didn’t pay off. There are other ways for the Jets to get into the playoffs if they lose, but with a shot to get in against their former coach, I’ll take Gang Green on the road. NEW YORK WINS
  • Patriots @ Dolphins:  New England’s loss to New York in week 16 means they still have something to play for this week, and that’s the number 1 seed in the AFC.  They need to win and they get it.  If they lose, and the Broncos win, Denver gets it.  Miami is playing for pride and to play spoiler.  But they won’t.  The Patriots injuries are concerning, but Tom Brady in a most win situation and a chance to have the AFC go through Foxborough? I like those odds.  NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Saints @ Falcons: This wasn’t the season I thought we’d see from New Orleans.  I thought they’d bounce back from a down 2014-15 season, but an 1-4 start was too much to come back from, though they tried, getting themselves to .500 at 4-4, before the wheels fell off.  The defense was never there for the Saints.  It’s been an even stranger year for the Falcons, who got off to a fast 6-1 start, then went on to lose six straight.  Now they’ve won two straight, including ending the Panthers undefeated season.  They were eliminated from playoff contention thanks to the Vikings win on Sunday night, but they can salvage the season and finish at 9-7, which i think they do in front of their fans. ATLANTA WINS
  • Ravens @ Bengals: A win secures a first round bye for the Bengals, which is always big, but for a team that has been bounced in the first round four straight years, would be huge. Baltimore was plagued with injuries all season, and are just looking to end the season on a high note.  Cincy is coming off a tough OT loss to Denver, but AJ McCaron showed he can succeed while Andy Dalton gets better.  At home, with that defense, I am taking the Bengals to give themselves a shot at the bye. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Steelers @ Browns: Pittsburgh can still make it to the playoffs, but they need to win and they need help.  Good thing for them is they are playing the Browns, who can still finish with the worst record in the league.  And continuing issues at QB leaves Cleveland with another off-season of questions ahead.  Give me the road team to end on a high note, even if they don’t make the playoffs. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jaguars @ Texans: Houston doesn’t have to win to take the AFC South crown, but you always want to take the division, not back into it.  They get a tough match-up in Jacksonville, who has shown the ability to score in the second half.  But the Texans defense at home with a chance to punch their own ticket will be too much for the Jags to handle. HOUSTON WINS
  • Titans @ Colts: Indianapolis needs to win this game and get a whole lot of help if they’re to win the South.  But as I have already picked the Texans, I don’t think they get there.  However, they will win this final game of the year.  Tennessee benefits more from losing, plain and simple. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Redskins @ Cowboys: The Redskins already have the division and can’t finish anywhere but fourth in the NFC.  But capping off the season on a four-game win streak and a 9-7 record will further validate their being in the playoffs. Dallas will want to finish on a high note, but they’ve put so many key people on IR that even if the Skins take it easy and rest most of their players,  I can’t see the Boys winning their season finale. WASHINGTON WINS
  • Eagles @ Giants: The loser finishes the season in third place in the NFC East, despite both leading the division at different parts of the season. New York had a clear path to the division, had they played better in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter this season.  Good teams finish, and they weren’t able to consistently enough. 7 of the Giants 9 losses were by one score. As for the Eagles, they never got their running game going, and Sam Bradford was a turnover machine.  The Eagles destroyed their NFC East rivals at home in their first meeting of the season, so I’ll take the Giants to finish with some pride and return the favor to end both their seasons. NEW YORK WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The loser gets the NFC North cellar all to themselves, a far fall for the 11-5 Lions of a season ago.  Both teams have played better here in the second half of the season, just good enough to fall closer to the middle of the pack record wise in the league. So who avoids the basement? I like the Lions on the road to finish strong and take a three-game win streak into the off-season. DETROIT WINS

Sunday 425 PM Games

  • Buccaneers @ Panthers: Tampa Bay showed flashes in 2015 under 1st year QB Jameis Winston, staying the playoff race most of the season.  But finishing up the season against the no longer undefeated Panthers is a tough way to go out.  Carolina still has something to play for as they haven’t locked up the number 1 seed, and with the Cards playing at the same time, they can’t go into this one knowing if they can rest players or not.  Either way, I like the Panthers to finish up at 15-1 and force the NFC to come through Carolina en route to Super Bowl 50. CAROLINA WINS
  • Raiders @ Chiefs: Oakland could linger on what could’ve been this season after a decent 4-3 start, but they should be excited for the future, after winning just 3 games a year ago, they stayed in the playoff hunt for most of the season with a young team.  As for Kansas City, they’re the hottest team in the AFC, and are getting the best of Alex Smith.  It’s amazing how the Chiefs got off to such a slow start BEFORE losing Jamaal Charles.  Oakland will make this tough, but I think the Chiefs make it 10 straight heading into the playoffs. KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Broncos: San Diego is going to finish with one of the worst records in the league, while Denver can finish anywhere but 4th in the AFC. A win and a Patriots loss would give them the 1 seed.  I think they get the win, but as I think New England wins,  I see the Broncos finishing as the two seedDENVER WINS
  • Seahawks @ Cardinals: Two of the NFC’s best take flight in week 17.  Both teams are playoff bound once again.  Seattle has been on fire in the second half, looking more like the two-time defending NFC Champs they are as each week passes. That was before they looked bad at home against the Rams last week.  As for Arizona, why are we not giving Carson Palmer more praise for what he’s done with the Cardinals? The team is 29-8 with him under center, 19-2 the past two seasons.  They still have a shot at the number 1 seed if the Panthers lose again. This division match-up will have a playoff feel, but I think the home team gets the W. ARIZONA WINS
  • Rams @ 49ers: San Francisco’s season was shaped in the off-season when they moved too many pieces. The defense played better as the season when on, and they got a couple more wins after changing QBs, but they’ve got a lot of work to do if they want to get back to their winning ways.  As for the Rams, they showed their age, defeating some of the league’s best, including a season sweep of the Rams and handing the Cardinals their first loss. This is also a chance for the Rams to finish 8-8 for the first time since 2006, and I think they finish the job. ST LOUIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Vikings @ Packers:  The battle of the NFC North title caps off the regular season slate.  Minnesota has been carried by their defense and rushing attack all season, while Green Bay has been extremely up and down since starting the season 6-0.  The Packers rushing attack has been severely underwhelming, and Aaron Rodgers offensive line hasn’t been doing him any favors. The Vikings will be able to hold time of possession, but as the calendar turns to January and the playoffs, I think we will get the best version of Aaron Rodgers, and the Pack will clinch the division on the seasons final day, as they did two years ago against the Bears. GREEN BAY WINS

NFL: Power Rankings Heading Down the Home Stretch

And then there was one.  Carolina stands alone as the league’s lone remaining undefeated team after starting the week with a Thanksgiving Day win.  Now that the calendar has flipped to December, the race for the postseason heats up.  Here is my look at the 10 best teams, and who the three worst teams are, as we march towards Superbowl 50.

Top 10 Teams Through Week 12

  1. Carolina Panthers (11-0): I would put them at the top even if New England had remained undefeated. Why? Because Carolina has gotten better every week dating back to late last season.  Early in the season they struggled on offense, but their defense has been on point all year, currently ranked second overall just behind the Broncos. Add a top five run game, an extremely confident QB and a balanced passing attack, and you’ve got the clear favorite to come out of the NFC right now.  There are more experienced teams vying to bring them down, but it’ll be hard to do it before the second round, as they will end the season with one of the two byes.
  2. New England Patriots (10-1):  They’ve been close to a loss for a few weeks, and it took overtime for them to finally get one.  But to write them off as some have after their loss to Denver on Sunday night is ridiculous.  They have suffered a lot of injuries on offense, which is why they have been on a bit of a “slide” of late.  But they still have their most important offense weapon in Tom Brady healthy, and Rob Gronkowski’s injury wasn’t as bad as previously thought.  They could lose a bye with the recent issues, but I wouldn’t put it past them to rally and hold on even with the injuries.  And with a huge lead in the AFC East, something catastrophic would have to happen for them not to make the playoffs. They were knocked down in week 12, but they are still the best team in the AFC until they get knocked out.
  3. Denver Broncos (9-2): It remains to be seen if Peyton Manning has been “Wally Pipped” by Brock Osweiler, but what I do know, is the Broncos offense is finally on par with the defense this season.  Sure the run game has picked up, but it doesn’t hurt when the QB isn’t turning the ball over as much as Manning was before he got hurt.  Not only was taking down the undefeated Patriots great for this team’s morale, it also means they still have a shot at the number 1 seed in the AFC.  They found a way to go 8-0 with a less than spectacular QB performance in the first half.  With a younger, hungry QB, this team could go very, very far this season.  
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-2): A week 12 loss helped turn the tide after a two-game skid ended their run at perfection.  Other than on loss which was due to poor offense, the other poor defense, Cincinnati has been consistently great on both sides of the ball.  They’ve shown the ability to absolutely dominate, and win the close games.  They have a shot a bye, with a game against their biggest competition, Denver, ahead of them.  Andy Dalton  is having the best season of his young career, something he and the organization need to continue through the playoffs after so many first round exits.  Despite being ranked ninth, the run game has been up and down, and they need it to be more consistent.  But they’ve shown they can play with anyone, and look primed to get the second round monkey off their back if they continue doing what they’ve been doing, and stay healthy and hungry.
  5. Arizona Cardinals (9-2): It’s amazing what this team has been the past two seasons with a healthy Carson Palmer.  15-2 as the Cardinals starter, with a TD-INT ratio of 38-12, the 13-year veteran is doing a great job leading this team. Larry Fitzgerald is having a renaissance.  Their two losses were the only two games where they really let down their guard and played down to their opponents, showing when on point, they can be and have beaten everybody.  Arizona boasts the top ranked total offense and fifth defense in the league, proving they are a legit title contender if they can stay healthy.
  6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3): It’s amazing the difference Adrian Peterson has made on this team.  A rejuvenated rushing attack has lessened the pressure on second year QB Teddy Bridgewater, who really hasn’t been impressive at all this season.  This team truly lives by the ground and pound mentality, relying heavily on it’s top ranked rushing offense, and it’s top 10 defense.  They’re better stopping the pass, which is key in the North with the likes of Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers.  They’re a game up in the division while currently holding a better division record than Green Bay.  Their last four games are tough, with two against the best of the NFC West, and a week 17 match-up that could determine the division against the Packers.  But if the run game can continue eating up clock, and Bridgewater can find a way to be even a bit better than mediocre, they are in the drivers seat in the North.
  7. Green Bay Packers (7-4): Despite their poor play of late, this team is still a force to be reckoned with.  A bright spot in their Thanksgiving Day loss was the return of Eddie Lacy, who had been a disappointment this season.  Aaron Rodgers found success early on without his favorite target in Jordy Nelson, throwing to the likes of James Jones.  But for some reason, things haven’t clicked on offense for late.  The Packers QB isn’t turning the ball over, but his completion percentage is down and with the absence of a consistent run game, the offense has become one dimensional.  They know how to win, but one big worry for this team right now is Rodgers health.  He said he lost feeling in his fingers against Chicago, so you have to wonder how that will manifest itself going forward.
  8. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5): They’ve won five straight, and are doing exactly what I said they needed to do when I looked ahead to the second half:

    Five of their final eight are against below .500 teams, and the three that aren’t, are the teams ahead of them in the West.  They can move up quickly if Alex Smith can continue to spread the wealth in the pass game and avoid the late turnovers that have plagued him.

    Smith hasn’t been reckless with the football and the team is scoring points in a major way.  When they started 1-5, the most points they’d managed to score were 28 against Green Bay, but they then allowed 38.  During their five-game winning streak, Kansas City has score no fewer than 23 points, while allowing a total of 61 points.  And with the schedule still in their favor down the stretch, and a struggling AFC, this team is primed for a wildcard spot.

  9. Seattle Seahawks (6-5): They’re finally starting to look like the back-to-back NFC Champs that they are.  Russell Wilson had one of his best performances in week 11, throwing for five touchdowns. The defense still wasn’t what it’s been, but if the offense can look even close to what it did last week for the stretch run, they’ll make it to the playoffs in this season’s NFC.  At this point, they’re only competing with two teams for the wild card (Atlanta and Green Bay).
  10. Houston Texans (6-5):  After making the Dolphins look like an offensive juggernaut in week seven, the defense has gotten back on track in a big way.  This team was built around their defense and run game, but the loss of Arian Foster meant the passing game needed to step up.  And after many changes at quarterback, Brian Hoyer has done enough to lock up the job for now.  Four straight wins have put them in a position not only to make the playoffs, but to win the AFC South.  And we’ve seen what JJ Watt can do in the playoffs, so the AFC should be nervous.

Three Fighting for Number 1

30. Tennessee Titans (2-9)

31. San Francisco 49ers (3-8)

32. Cleveland Browns (2-8)

 

NFL: Week 1 Recap… Week 2 Picks

So many things went down in week 1 that I need to break it all down before I can look ahead to week 2.

Top 3 Teams From Week 1

New England Patriots (1-0) – Tom Brady to preseasons – “Who needs them?” The veteran QB looked great despite not knowing he’d play in week 1 until just days before the season began. The Superbowl champs made easy work of the Steelers behind a great performance from Rob Gronkowski, who caught three of Brady’s four passing TDs. The rush defense was one of the only concerns, allowing DeAngelo Williams to rise from the ashes in the wake of the Le’Veon Bell suspension. If week 1 is any indication of how the rest of the season will go, the rest of the East is not going to have as easy of a time as they thought overtaking the Pats as they thought before the suspension was overturned.

Buffalo Bills (1-0) – Can we talk about that defense?  The Rex Ryan affect was swift and immediate. To shutdown an offensive juggernaut like Andrew Luck the way they did was impressive.  And what about the showing by Tyrod Taylor?

Tennessee Titans (1-0) – Marcus Mariota (your AFC Offensive Player of the week) looked like a veteran in his first career start.  He put up numbers impressive for any QB, let alone a rookie.  But he didn’t do it alone.  The team played well in all phases of the game.

3 Worst Teams From Week 1

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) – Their defense was not ready for rookie QB Marcus Mariota.  Jamie’s Winston was outplayed by the guy picked behind him in this years draft.  A nice surprise was the 100+ yard receiving game by Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the offensive end, but little help from the run game and no help from the defense spelled disaster from the start.

2. Oakland Raiders (0-1) – There was no pressure on Andy Dalton and it allowed his receiving core to walk all over them all day.  The offense wasn’t pretty, barely scrapping 50 yards rushing, while losing their starting QB to injury.  You can’t go down 33-0. Ever.

3. New Orleans Saints (0-1) – After a disappointing season a year ago, I thought the Saints would come out swinging in week 1.  Arizona has a formidable defense, but a Drew Brees led offense should never have to settle for four field goals.  They need a whole heck of a lot more from their run game, and obviously need to convert in the green/red zone.

3 Most Disappointing Teams From Week 1

  1. New York Giants (0-1) – They threw on 3rd and goal but kicked it on 4th and goal. I don’t get it either. IF you run on 3rd down, you run the clock down to a minute. Dallas has no time-outs left. If you go for it then on 4th and goal, and score, then dagger. If you go for it and you don’t score, they’re inside their five with what, 20 seconds? It’s a loss that will sting all season.

2. Detroit Lions (0-1) – They got off to such a great start that you thought       they’d finally figured out their road struggles. Wrong. After being up 21-3     in the 2nd, they allowed Philip Rivers and company to score 30 straight points.

3. Seattle Seahawks (0-1) – I know it was a road game, and I never thought the Rams would be an easy out this season. But to give up 34 points the way they did, it was discouraging for the Legion of BoomThe offense figured it out in the fourth to force overtime, but the offensive line needs to protect Russell Wilson better.

Now that that’s done, I can look ahead to week 2 with my picks. I finished last week 10-6.  I’d say that’s not bad considering there were so many strange outcomes. Here’s my outlook for week 2.

Thursday Night Football

  • Broncos @ Chiefs: Peyton Manning didn’t throw an opening week TD for the first time in 12 years. Alex Smith had a big week one despite no touchdowns to wide-receivers. Both teams defenses looked good in week 1. Peyton Manning’s decline has definitely begun, but I can’t see home having a second straight poor outing in a row. Give me the road win for the future hall-of-gamerDENVER WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Texans @ Panthers: Carolina won their first game of the season, but they didn’t do much offensively to impress me.  Houston is already making a change at quarterback and didn’t do much defensively.  But get JJ Watt back home and Ryan Mallet starting, I think the Panthers will be shut down enough to even up both teams records. HOUSTON WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Saints: Both teams enter in at 0-1.  Neither team looked good on defense, both has their moments on offense.  Division match-ups are never easy, but I cannot see the Saints going down 0-2 a second year in a row, so give me the home team in an easy one.  NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • 49ers @ Steelers: When I looked at the schedule before the season, I thought week 1 would be one of the few opportunities San Francisco would have at a win. I still picked Minnesota, but I was right about the Niners in that respect. The biggest mistake the Steelers made in their week one loss was not covering Gronk.  Roethlisberger looked good, the running game without Le’Veon Bell looked very good. The 49ers tight-ends are nowhere close to the talent of Gronk combined, so if the Steelers play their game, they should pick up their first win of the year. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Lions @ Vikings: I was excited to see the Vikings offense get to work in week 1, with Adrian Peterson returning and the addition of Mike Wallace to help out reigning ROY Teddy Bridgewater.  Well, I was left underwhelmed. As for the Lions, as I said before, they were one of the more disappointing teams in week 1.  I can’t see their defense being as bad as they were last week, so while Minnesota should score more than three points, I see a rare road win for Detroit this week. DETROIT WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bears: The Bears found a way to keep their week 1 match-up versus the Packers close despite an underwhelming performance by Jay Cutler.  It was the run game that kept them in it, but now they face a defense fresh off a great performance against the Saints… on the road to boot. Carson Palmer looked great fresh off his ACL injury, and QB stability late is what doomed the Cards a season ago. ARIZONA WINS
  • Patriots @ Bills: The winner moves to 2-0 and takes an early AFC East lead.  This game will come down to the Bills ability to stop Rob Gronkowski, who showed the Steelers defense no mercy.  I loved everything Buffalo did against Indy a week ago.  I thought Tom Brady looked as sharp as ever, but I think a lot of what happened on Thursday night was adrenaline.  I hated their run defense against Pittsburgh, so I expect LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams to combine for a big day.  Give me the home team to hand the champs their first loss since week 17, also against the Bills. BUFFALO WINS
  • Chargers @ Bengals: Both teams got great offensive performances from their quarterbacks to start the season.  Philip Rivers threw for over 400 yards, despite two early picks, while Andy Dalton was even cleaner with no picks and two TDs.  Cincinnati also had a better showing on defense, though San Diego did recover from a rough start.  I like both of these teams to have good seasons, but only one can start the season 2-0.  And based on consistency and where the game is taking place, give me the Bengals in a race to 30. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Titans @ Browns: So the Browns lost their starter on an ill-advised scoring attempt, saw Johnny Manziel throw a bomb into the Jets secondary and lose by 21. And now they get a red-hot Titans team and their own young QB fresh off of a road win to open the season.  And don’t think that win was all Mariota, Tennessee played well in all phases of the game.  So give me the road team to drop the home team to 0-2. TENNESSEE WINS
  • Falcons @ Giants: Atlanta nearly blew a double-digit lead at home to the Eagles, while New York did drop a double-digit lead on the road to the Cowboys.  Roddy White is healthy and it makes the pairing of him and Julio Jones look nearly unstoppable.  The Giants played well until they decided to forget how to run out a clock properly.  Their defense forced a number of errors, and actually take advantage, something they didn’t do last season.  Eli Manning saw a lot of dropped passes and only got help on the ground in the fourth quarter.  They did enough to win, but shot themselves in the foot, and you know they will be extra hungry for their home opener.  The Falcons defense struggled late, so there are holes to expose. Give me an embarrassed Giants squad to come out strong early. NEW YORK WINS
  • Rams @ Redskins: The Rams are coming off an impressive OT victory over the NFC Champs.  Putting up 34 on the Legion of Boom is reason enough to pick the Rams this week.  Add the ever standing issues in Washington and it makes the decision easier. They say anyone can beat anyone on Any Given Sunday, but I’ll take the road team in this one. ST LOUIS WINS

Sunday 4/4:25 PM Games

  • Dolphins @ Jaguars: I was a bit disappointed with the Dolphins offense against the Redskins a week ago.  But the defense was great and they get what should be another easy one this week.  Jacksonville’s offense can be a lot better than it was against Carolina, but I don’t see it being enough this week. MIAMI WINS
  • Ravens @ Raiders: Baltimore lost more than just a game last week.  They lost the heart of their defense when Terrell Suggs went down.  Joe Flacco looked awful, and the run game didn’t look any better. I’ll chalk some of it up to a good showing by the Broncos defens. They stayed in it because of their own defense and that’s what they should have an easy time against Oakland this weekend. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Cowboys @ Eagles: Both of these NFC East does did a lot of good things late I. Their games last weekend, but a lot  of bad early.  I think the Cowboys are the better team, but there’s something abuts these NFC East contests where the team that on paper should win, usually doesn’t. I should also mention DeMarco Murray will want to show why he should’ve been kept over the now injured Dez Bryant. PHILADELPHIA WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Seahawks @ Packers: It’s close, but above Pats/Bills, and Broncos/Chiefs, this is the game of the week. You’ve got the defending champs coming off a road loss to their division foes that saw them give up 34 points.  Then you’ve got Aaron Rodgers who just doesn’t lose at home, coming off a nice road win that saw a magical reconnection with wideout James Jones. Oh and add the revenge Green Bay wants after losing in the NFC Champuonhip game last year. These two teams always play entertaining games and this should be no different. With no Kam Chancellor in the secondary again this weekend (should he continue his holdout), something is missing for the defending NFC champs. I don’t like it, but give me the Pack to drop the Hawks to a shocking 0-2. GREEN BAY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Jets @ Colts: Last week was one of the worst showings by Andrew Luck in his young career. The Bills defense was everywhere.  And while the Jets defense is very good, their secondary was still torched by Manziel, who is no Luck.  Not to mention that the Jets banged up on defense.  The offense for New York was impressive behind Chris Ivory, so the Colts will have to figure out how to shut him down. But I like Andrew Luck too much to think they open 0-2. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

NFL Preview: 2015-16 Playoff Picks and Week 1 Predictions

As the calendar turns to September, NFL fans everywhere rejoice! Hey everyone, and welcome to another year of Santiago’s Scoreboard.

I know, I know.  It feels like forever go that the New England Patriots outlasted the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl XLIV. What with all the drama surrounding the World Champions, another big draft and all the craziness that surrounds free agency, we’ve had plenty to keep us occupied.

My 2014-15 season predictions had the Denver Broncos over the Green Bay Packers. Obviously I was very wrong there, but I had a very good season overall picking games so time to improve.

Here’s how I see the 2015-16 season going down:

NFC East                                                          AFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys                                       1. New England Patriots
  2. New York Giants                                      2. New York Jets
  3. Philadelphia Eagles                                  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. Washington Redskins                               4. Buffalo Bills

NFC West                                                           AFC West

  1. Seattle Seahawks                                     1. Denver Broncos
  2. Arizona Cardinals                                      2. San Diego Chargers
  3. Louis Rams                                               3. Kansas City Chiefs
  4. San Francisco 49ers                                 4. Oakland Raiders

NFC South                                                          AFC South

  1. New Orleans Saints                                    1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. Carolina Panthers                                       2. Houston Texans
  3. Atlanta Falcons                                            3. Tennessee Titans
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers                              4. Jacksonville Jaguars

NFC North                                                           AFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers                                       1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Detroit Lions                                                  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Chicago Bears                                               3. Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Minnesota Vikings                                         4. Cleveland Browns

NFC Playoff Teams

  • Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Cardinals

AFC Playoff Teams

  • Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Steelers, Jets, Patriots

NFC Championship Game

  • Packers over Saints

AFC Championship Game

  • Colts over Steelers

Superbowl

  • Packers over Colts

So with all that said, here are my week 1 picks.

Thursday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Patriots: I had Pittsburgh winning this game before Tom Brady’s suspension was lifted.  Ben Roethlisberger shows up in big games, and I think he makes a statement to open up the 2015 season with a little help from the NFL’s leading rusher in 2014, Le’veon Bell. But in the end, the raising of the banner plus the desire to put the off-season in the past will lift the Pats to an opening night victory. NEW ENGLAND WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Packers @ Bears: Aaron Rodgers is without his favorite target, Jordy Nelson for the season. But he still has a lot of weapons, including being reunited with James Jones, and of course, one of the best up-and-coming backs in Eddie Lacy.  Chicago is coming off a disappointing season, and I don’t think they did enough in the off-season to fix all the problems they had last season.  It’s never easy to win on the road, but I think the reigning NFC North champs take their opener. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Chiefs @ Texans: Both teams ended last season 9-7 and second in their respective divisions. Alex Smith has Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Macklin to help open up the offense and a defense capable of shutting anyone down. Houston has a new starting QB in Brandon Hoyer, JJ Watt and a big question mark at running back with the questionable health of Arian Foster. I like Kansas City better as a team, but I think the Texans find a way at home in a close game.  HOUSTON WINS
  • Browns @ Jets: Cleveland had a pretty good 2014-15 season as compared to what they’d dealt with years prior. But they are a new team on offense, and they have to contend with a very good Jets defense to open the season.  New York had their own changes in the off-season, adding Ryan Fitzpatrick to the QB depth chart; a good move as they’re without their starter Geno Smith for a while after a locker-room scuffle that left him with a broken jaw. But it could be a blessing in disguise, as Fitzpatrick has been a solid quarterback in this league, and can spread the offense a bit more than Smith can at this point in his career. Add a solid starting running back in Chris Ivory and that defense, New York should at the very least be in the running for a wild card this season. NEW YORK WINS
  • Colts @ Bills: Buffalo’s defense was a highlight last season, and they’re going to need it to be every bit as good as last season if they want to defeat Andrew Luck and the Colts in week 1. I think this could be a close one, but even with the Bills defense and Rex Ryan at the helm, Andrew Luck has Andre Johnson and T.Y. Hilton to go deep to, and I think he will take that next step as he enters his fourth year in the league, and lead his team to the first of many wins this season.  INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Dolphins @ Redskins: Washington is a mess. Or should I say still a mess. Remember when RGIII was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012? Yeah, me neither.  And neither do the Redskins apparently.  The struggling franchise has given the reigns over to Kirk Cousins.  DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon always have the possibility of breaking the big play, but Miami is just a better team.  They have a QB in Ryan Tannehill who has gotten better every year in the league, a solid defense that only got better with the addition of Ndamukong Suh. MIAMI WINS
  • Panthers @ Jaguars: Two very good defenses look to get their teams off to a good start. Carolina enters the season with virtually no one for Cam Newton to throw to, while the Jags are going with rookie running back TJ Yeldon to help ease Blake Bortles and the passing game that now includes Julius Thomas who left Denver via free agency.  There’s probably more potential CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Rams: These two teams play in arguably the toughest, most evenly competitive division in football.  Seattle has been to back-to-back Superbowls while the Rams have been getting better every year, particularly on defense. Now that the Seahawks have locked their QB up for the next four years, they look to figure out how to keep Kam Chancellor as a key part of their vaunted defense. This is going to be a real battle, but give me the defending NFC Champs in this early West matchup. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Saints @ Cardinals: Arizona’s great season was derailed by injuries at quarterback a season ago. But with Carson Palmer healthy again, the Cardinals look to get to their winning ways.  New Orleans on the other hand just played down to their normal standards a season ago.  The Saints lost a big offensive weapon in Jimmy Graham, but their running back core is stronger than ever with the addition of CJ Spiller.  Their defense cannot be much worse than it was last season, a season where at 7-9 they almost won their division.  So give me Drew Brees and his winning pedigree to start a bounce back season off right for New Orleans on the road. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Titans @ Buccaneers: It’s a battle between the first and second picks of the 2015 NFL draft in week 1, as Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston both look to prove themselves and earn their first professional wins.  TENNESSEE WINS
  • Bengals @ Raiders: Cincinnati continued its great regular season, disappointing playoff performance run a year ago, while Oakland was just bad. Neither team should be proud of what they did defensively last season.  I think the Raiders will be a bit better this season than the three-win team of a year ago, but the Bengals need to get wins wherever they can with the teams they are competing with in the AFC North. Not to mention having one of the toughest schedules in the league this season.  CINCINNATI WINS
  • Lions @ Chargers: Detroit is the NFC equivalent of San Diego in that they both shows flashes of pure greatness one minute, and flashes of pure mediocrity the next. Matt Stafford has one of the most dangerous weapons at his exposal in Calvin Johnson, but injuries and road woes last year saw a 7-1 start slowdown in the second half. And it’s those road struggles that led me to choose the home team to take this game SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Ravens @ Broncos: Both teams lost in the Wild Card round a year ago, so both have some unfinished business to attend to. Peyton Manning is back and like the Spurs every year, we wonder when the decline will come. The Broncos lost a big piece in Julius Thomas, while the Ravens lost Torrey Smith and continue to move on without Ray Rice. I still like the team that Denver has, and the regular season has never been the problem for Manning, so give me the home team. DENVER WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Giants @ Cowboys: This is a tough one. Dallas usually starts the season as the best team on paper in the NFC East.  I’m not sure the loss of DeMarco Murray is as big as most think, but it’s no small thing either as the Cowboys did a good job adding depth at the running back position.  New York’s defense remains a question thanks to Jason Pierre-Paul’s uncertain status and a trouble spot at safety. But I can’t help but be intrigued by the Giants offense.  After a rough start to a new scheme last year, the Giants became very efficient in the second half of the season.  They get back Rashad Jennings and added a versatile Shane Vereen to the back mix.  Their biggest offensive question mark will be Victor Cruz, but if he can get on the field at even 80% of what he was before the injury, you can make the argument they have the deepest receiving core in the league with Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr. and Ruben Randle. NEW YORK WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Eagles @ Falcons: Philly had another good season last season but missed the playoffs, while Atlanta struggled in nearly every facet of the game a year ago. The Eagles have a new quarterback in Sam Bradford who hasn’t played a game in nearly two years and a new running back in DeMarco Murray after LeSean McCoy left for Buffalo.  The Falcons have their top wideouts healthy and a revamped running game. So which bird flies higher in this week 1 contest? I like home team in this one because experience in this league is important, and if nothing else, this Falcons team knows each other better at this point, not to mention they have something to prove.   ATLANTA WINS
  • Vikings @ 49ers: San Francisco had one of the worst off-seasons in recent memory, losing important guys in seemingly every key position except quarterback. Minnesota got their all-pro running back in Adrian Peterson back, and have Rookie of the Year Teddy Bridgewater back under center. Peterson has something to prove after missing most of last season, and giving Bridgewater a number 1 receiver like Mike Wallace will only make his job easier. MINNESOTA WINS

Well, that’s it.  We’re just hours from kick-off.  Enjoy the action.

NFL: Halfway to the Finish Line… Who are the pretenders, and who are the contenders?

I cannot believe we are here already. 9 weeks down. The playoff picture is starting to take shape.

So who has themselves in prime position, who has work to do and who is on the clock?  Here is a breakdown by division of how all 32 teams look midway through the season.

AFC EAST (Remember when we all thought Tom Brady was done?)

  1. New England Patriots (7-2): Since being blown out in week 4, the Pats have won 5 straight, 4 of those by double digits.  They made easy work of the of 3 teams that could be in the playoffs, including a 22-point victory over the Broncos last week.  Tom Brady is top 5 in passing yards in a season where Rob Gronkowski came in off injury and Julian Edelman was leading the team in receiving yards early.   It took a couple weeks for them to figure things out, and now here they are, atop the AFC once again.  It’s almost like in the NBA when everyone calls out the Spurs for being too old, and they go and win the championship.  Maybe we should stop underestimating Brady and Belichick?
  2. Buffalo Bills (5-3): They’ve lost their top running back, their 2nd back is banged up and yet here they are, fighting for a wild card spot.  A big reason why is their defense.  They’re 6th in points per game in the league and are a +7 in turnover differential.  Add to that a steady progression from rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a big play threat, the ability to close out games and decent production from QBs EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton (yes that Kyle Orton).  If this team wants to stay in the conversation, they have to continue their strong defensive presence and get Fred Jackson back.
  3. Miami Dolphins (5-3): Ryan Tannehill has taken a step.  It’s in the right direction, but I’m not ready to say it’s a step that puts him in the next tier of quarterbacks step yet.  His decision making has gotten much better, as has his accuracy, all things you want to see as your franchise starter gets older.  Losing Knowshon Moreno was big, but Lamar Miller has done a good job picking up the slack.  They find ways to win, and just demolished the once high flying Chargers to the tune of 37-0.  Like the Bills, their defense is where they make money, and of the two teams, I think they have a better shot at a wild card spot coming off an 8-8 record a year ago.  They’re no worse than a season ago.
  4. New York Jets (1-8): 8 straight losses with no hope on the horizon.  Geno Smith is on the bench. Eric Decker hasn’t been the addition they hoped for.  Their defense has been awful and the run game has been abandoned.  Things are so bad for the Jets that fan put their money together to buy a “Fire Idzik” billboard (their GM).  Could Rex Ryan be out at the end of the season?  Time will tell, but they’re fighting hard for a very high draft pick, and not the playoffs like I thought they would be this season.

AFC NORTH (Who would’ve thought all these teams would be above .500?)

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1): They’ve been inconsistent since coming out of their week 4 by with a record of 3-0.  Inconsistency is bad in any sport, but it’s very bad for Cincy this year, as they can’t afford a slip in the only top-to-bottom over .500 division in football.  Andy Dalton has shown flashes of deserving the big 6-year $115 million contract he got in the off-season.  But again, inconsistency is an issue.  Hopefully AJ Green is over his injury issues, because everyone knows how lethal he is in the passing game, and putting a confident Mohammad Sanu, who stepped up for Green in his absence, next to him is huge.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3): 12 TDs in two games. Historic numbers.  That’s what Ben Roethlisberger and company have put up of late to get back into the division champion conversation.  Pittsburgh is still very inconsistent.  They started out 3-3, and despite their 3 game win streak, the Steelers defense is nowhere near the “steal curtain” of old. It’s more like a bead curtain.  It’s easy to outscore your opponents, until it’s not.  Can they keep it up?  Yes.  Will they?  Who knows.
  3. Cleveland Browns (5-3): So… we all saw this coming right?  The Browns are 2 games over .500 despite not getting much from Ben Tate on the ground, an oft injured Jordan Cameron and a QB controversy heading into the season.  They’ve been impressive, finding ways to win games late that they would’ve lost in years past.  Brian Hoyer has gotten better at late game decision making and has his team looking at winning it’s most games in a while.
  4. Baltimore Ravens (5-4): After looking like they’d turned a corner, Baltimore has lost two straight in the division, finding themselves momentarily in the basement.  The positive for this team?  They have games left in the division and it’s close, so it won’t take long to jump back into the top.  But they can’t be so inconsistent on defense.  The offense without Ray Rice hasn’t really skipped a beat, so if they can get some more stops, they will be in it til the end.

AFC SOUTH (Indianapolis is starting to pull away)

  1. Indianapolis Colts (6-3): After an 0-2 start, the Colts have righted the ship in a huge way.  Andrew Luck leads the league in passing yards, with a healthy 3,000 plus already! So you wouldn’t be surprised to know they have the best total offense because of it,which has helped cover up their middle of the pack total team defense.  Those numbers are a bit skewed at 18 after allowing over 600 total yards to Pittsburgh in week 8, but it is what it is.  They already beat Houston once, so in affect have a 3 game lead, and with how they’re playing, I think they’re easily on their way to another division crown.
  2. Houston Texans (4-5):  The good news?  JJ Watt is a beast and they’ve already doubled their win total from a year ago.  The bad news. they are in the same division as the Colts, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the greatest replacement for Matt Schaub, which has led to him being benched in favor of Ryan Mallett.  But they are still in the conversation without any real production out of number 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, so there is room for improvement.  Add better days from offensive weapons Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, and I see them hovering around .500 the rest of the way.
  3. Tennessee Titans (2-6): They’re in the bottom third of the league on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. So frankly, I don’t know how they have two wins (one of which came against Jacksonville).  Two of their losses were by a combined 3 points, which shows a lack of late game execution, which reeks of bad coaching and bad personnel.  Delanie Walker might be the lone guy that’s having a representative season for Tennessee.  And after a 7-9 season a year ago, there was a place for improvement, and they haven’t and look like they won’t even get back to a similar record this year.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8): They’re not good, but I have to give the Jags some credit.  They aren’t rolling over on a weekly basis.  They took down the Browns for their first win in wee 7. Things weren’t made easy for the Bengals and Dolphins following that win.  Denard Robinson has proven to be a very good starting running back and Blake Bortles has shown some glimpses as the 4th pick in the 2014 draft.  So while the record will again put them in the running for a top pick, there are at least signs of talent at skill positions in Jacksonville.

AFC WEST (Denver might start to run away with this one)

  1. Denver Broncos (6-2): Peyton Manning is still really good, but even he couldn’t lead his team past the red hot Patriots.  But at 6-2, they’re still in prime position to make a deep playoff run despite a very difficult schedule.  The difference between last year’s Broncos and this year’s… the defense.  A bad showing against New England not withstanding, off-season acquisitions are doing big things for this team on both sides of the football.  This offense is so good, Wes Welker is now the 4th option. Think about that.  I’m not worried about this team, and even though they haven’t run away with the division, the Chargers have dropped and they can do no worse than tying the season series with both them and the Chiefs.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3): The defense hasn’t allowed more than 26 points in a game, and that came week 1.  Jamal Charles continues to have the ability to break out on any day.  Alex Smith isn’t lighting up the stat sheet, but he’s done enough to keep them in the conversation in the division.  This team was never going to repeat the 9-0 start from a year ago, but they’ve responded from a slow start, and can still make a play at a wild card spot, if not the division.
  3. San Diego Chargers (5-4): This team was 5-1 and looked like a top 2, top 3 team in the league.  Now they’re on a 3-game slid that’s seen them score 3 TDs in the past 8 quarters of football.  The defense can’t live up to that, but it’s hard to outscore 35-plus point efforts as well.  So if this team wants to get back in the conversation, both sides of the football need to improve and fast.
  4. Oakland Raiders (0-8): They may never win again.  This team has yet to show me any reason to ever pick them.  Charles Woodson called it early, and it never sparked a fire.  They’re the worst team in the league, but could always fall into a win, and could lose that title to a Jets or Jaguars team.  But I doubt that happens.

NFC EAST (Is this division really as “strong” as the records suggest?)

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (6-2): They’re well on their way to a possible 2nd straight division crown.  But a couple of big injuries in week 9 could derail their Superbowl aspirations.  Nick Foles is set to be out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone, while DeMeco Ryans is out for the season with a torn Achilles.  The latter could prove more costly, as Philly at least has a backup QB in Mark Sanchez who has proven he can help lead a team deep into the playoffs.  But if they want to survive the injuries, the run game has to pick up the slack.  So this team will only go as far as LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles can run, in conjunction with Sanchez limiting the mistakes.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (6-3):  Just when you thought this might be their season, Tony Romo goes down.  DeMarco Murray is on a record pace on the round, but with his injury history, how much more can you ask from him?  Brandon Weedon wasn’t horrible with Cleveland, but you’re not going far with him either.  You’ve got to hope you can get Romo back after the bye week in week 12, while hoping teams like the Packers, Panthers, Seahawks or 49ers don’t get hot and steal a wildcard spot.
  3. New York Giants (3-5): The G-men were feeling good about themselves after a 3-game win streak that saw them score 30-plus to get them above the .500 mark at 3-2.  But it’s been downhill from there.  Eli Manning hasn’t thrown an interception since week 4, and has just 5 all season. But the injuries are piling up and Manning has no real deep threat.  They’ve put themselves behind the 8-ball, but with games left with both the Eagles and Cowboys at home, to go with some softer games in the 2nd half, it’ll be tough, but they don’t have any wiggle room if they want to make a real run for the playoffs.
  4. Washington Redskins (3-6): RGIII came back, for better or worse and it didn’t make them better.  The former Rookie of the Year looked slow and out of it in his return, and I didn’t understand bringing him back when they did.  Colt McCoy (yes he still exists) looked pretty good and got them a win against Dallas. I would’ve run him out there again.  They’re the worst team in the division, even with how banged up the Giants are.

NFC NORTH (This was always going to be a fight between Detroit and Green Bay)

  1. Detroit Lions (6-2): They boast the best team defense in football.  You’ve been looking for this team to put all their talent together for a while now, and this seems to be the year, led by the D.  But that being said, their offense has been off lately. Calvin Johnson has missed time, the run game isn’t what you want and they’ve played games using their 4th string tight-end.  But when your defense is top 5 in rushing and passing defense, it tends to hide offensive question marks.  If they can get Megatron healthy, this team is going to be very dangerous in the playoffs.
  2. Green Bay Packers (5-3): They might be in 2nd place, but they’re the best team in this division.  Green Bay got off to a slow start, but while defense has carried the current leader, the Pack is a much more balanced team.  Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate again.  And if Eddie Lacy could ever be the consistent threat they need on the ground, I don’t know how you beat this team.
  3. Chicago Bears (3-5): You boast probably the best wide-receiver combination in football to go with a top 5 running back, and yet they find themselves under .500.  The defense, aside from allowing a 51 spot to New England in their last game has been pretty good.  The issue is on offense, where there is questions of a lack of trust between Jay Cutler and his targets of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.  And when there is questioning of each other in the media, it’s hard to recover from.
  4. Minnesota Vikings (3-5): considering they lost their starting QB and their All-pro running back early on, Mike Zimmer has his team competing.  Even with Matt Cassell and Adrian Peterson, I don’t think this team would be much better than 3-5, but they’ve learned that Teddy Bridgewater is a capable starter.  In a tough division like the North, at least they’ve shown they can play with teams outside.  Now they just have to figure out how to make games in the division close.  And with how bad Chicago looks, finishing 3rd is in the realm of possibility, especially with two left against the Bears.

NFC SOUTH (The most disappointing division in football?)

  1. New Orleans Saints (4-4): It’s been a long trek back to .500 for the Saints after an 1-3 start.  Drew Brees’ low is 17 points scored… that on the road against the Cowboys.  So the offense has been pretty good.  But this team is only going to go as far as the defense.  They are very lucky to be in a division having a down year top-to-bottom.  Having a game up on Carolina already for me gives them a clear path to the division crown.
  2. Carolina Panthers (3-5-1): So I think their defense forgot how to play… well defense.  Carolina finds itself top 3 in points allowed and the bottom 3rd of the league in total yards allowed.  Add to that, a banged up Cam Newton, and an offense that finds themselves in similar spots in offense as defense.  All ingredients for a below .500 record.  And nothing I’ve seen of late has me thinking they can rebound in the second half of the season here.
  3. Atlanta Falcons (2-6): Remember when this was a good team?  Yeah, neither do I. A 2-0 start, the Falcons look like the 2013-14 Texans that finished the season on a 14-game skid. You know, minus the loss of a quarterback.  Matt Ryan has been healthy, and has had enough weapons to get some wins here.  The issue is on defense.  Their secondary is basically swiss cheese, and the front 7 isn’t any better.  I do think they’ll find a way to win again this season, but it might not be more than once or twice.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7): Ugliness. I thought they’d be a playoff team.  Nope.  A rotating door at quarterback has shifted back to Josh McCown.  Doug Martin looks like he’s never ran a football.  The defense is atrocious.  Vincent Jackson seems to forget that he’s a load and can out muscle any secondary player.  It’s just bad for the Bucs.

NFC WEST (Arizona far atop the hill, just like we all thought… right?)

  1. Arizona Cardinals (7-1): I give you the best team in the NFC, and it’s not really even close.  They swept the NFC East that currently holds 2 of the 4 best records in the conference.  They survived a couple weeks without their starting quarterback.  Not to mention they’re getting healthy and are consistent on both sides of the ball.  Arizona’s only real issue is that they still have two match-ups with the defending champs, but with how they’ve played, there’s no reason they shouldn’t at least split with them and maintain their led in the division.
  2. Seattle Seahawks (5-3): For a team that entered the year as defending champs, they look nothing like a team capable of a repeat.  Russell Wilson is leading one of the worst passing offenses in football.  Marshawn Lynch is a shell of himself. Percy Harvin, a dynamic offensive weapon, was so distracting they traded him for nothing to the Jets.  And the Legion of Boom has been disappointing to say the least.
  3. San Francisco 49ers (4-5): This team is a mess.  Between off-the-field issues and a lack of a run game to help take pressure of Colin Kaepernick who has his team in the bottom half in passing offense, they find themselves on the outside looking in.  Rumors that Jim Harbaugh is leaving don’t help.  Their only bright spot is their team defense, ranked 2nd in total yards allowed.  What they need is to take advantage of 3 games left with the teams ahead of them, and for Kaepernick to figure some things out offensively, particularly in the red zone.
  4. St. Louis Rams (3-5): I have to give them credit, they don’t quit.  They’ve shown glimpses with getting big leads early over the Cowboys and Seahawks, but then they regress to a 3-5 team by losing both of those leads.  Now they look to play spoiler (as they did against San Fran this week).  Losing your starter just before the season starts is tough.  If they could’ve executed better down the stretch of games, they could be in the conversation for 2nd in this division with a down year from the champs and niners.

So if things continue on the track they are, here are my 12 playoff teams as of now:

NFC

– Arizona, Green Bay, Saints, Philadelphia, Dallas (if Romo comes back quickly) and Detroit

AFC

– New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Miami and Baltimore