NFL: Week 3 Recap and Week 4 Picks

Seven teams remain undefeated while four remain winless.  We’ve come to the first of the bye weeks, with the Patriots and Titans both off this week.

Most Impressive Teams From Week 3

  1. Arizona Cardinals (3-0): I still think the Patriots are the best team in football right now simply because they’re the defending champs, but it’s close.  The offense is flourishing as Larry Fitzgerald continued his resurgence with another two TD night. Carson Palmer continues to not skip a beat after missing the second half/playoffs last season.  But the real story was the defense this week. The secondary took advantage of every 49er mistake and helped put the game out of reach before most people were comfortable in their seats.
  2. New England Patriots (3-0): I mean what is left to say about this team that hasn’t been said this season? Tom Brady looks about as good as he ever has, thanks in part to a number of offensive weapons flourishing in big ways.  But to get the running game going in week 3 takes this team to another level.  New England’s offense under Belichick and Brady has always been pass first, run later.  But if LeGarrett Blount can build off his week 3 performance, it adds another level of doubt against opposing defenses, making this team even more formidable.
  3. Seattle Seahawks (1-2): I know, I know, it was just their 1st win and I could’ve chosen any of the 5 other 3-0 teams.  But coming off a Superbowl appearance, we all expected this team to start off better than 0-2.  So when they bounce back and take care of business in such a dominating fashion for win number 1, I had to take notice and give credit. The return of Kam Chancellor sparked the Legion of Boom to the first shutout of the NFL season.  Even more impressive than forcing the Bears to lay a goose egg, is that Chicago never even got close to field goal range. The offense wasn’t as sharp early as this team would want, but another boost on special teams from Tyler Lockett, as well as a big day on the ground for Thomas Rawls helped give them cushion in the 2nd half.

Most Disappointing Teams From Week 3

  1. New York Jets (2-1): After having a lights out defense in their first two games, the Jets at home allowed a desperate Eagles team to run all over them… literally.  Without DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews went off for 108 rushing yards, while Darren Sproles made the Jets special teams look silly with an 89-yard punt return TD.  Ryan Fitzpatrick had an up-and-down performance, throwing for three scores, but also throwing three interceptions.  And don’t get me started on the attempted lateral that became a turnover by Brandon Marshall.  It was an ugly loss for a team that has the potential to make the playoffs in the AFC this season.
  2. Detroit Lions (0-3): It’s hard enough to win in this league when you do everything well.  But through three weeks, Detroit isn’t really doing anything to make them feel better about themselves going forward.  Their running game managed just 28 yards while Matthew Stafford turned the ball over three times, including two in the fourth quarter to help Denver pull away.  And with the Seahawks up next, things don’t get any easier from here.
  3. San Francisco 49ers (1-2): Colin Kaepernick is a run first type QB and that’s fine, if you use that to your advantage.  But when you forget that, and he throws four interceptions, including two pick sixes, that’s a problem. Kapernick was just 9-19 for 67 yards, though he did make his line a bit better with a rushing TD, San Fran’s only score of the day. Sure, they ran into a far superior Cardinals team, but this was one of the ugliest, most lopsided games you’ll see, especially between division rivals.

Most Surprising Performances from Week 3

  1. Indianapolis Colts (1-2): The Colts got their first win of the season, but it wasn’t pretty.  It took vintage Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter to overcome a 27-14 deficit to win by two.  Both of his TD passes came in the final frame, after two more turnovers helped put them in the hole early.  The running game showed up in the form of two rushing scores from off-season acquisition Frank Gore. Indy’s defense had its moments, but almost bent enough to allow Marcus Mariota to get his second career win.  The Colts got a win, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
  2. St Louis Rams (1-2): Their week 1 win over the Seahawks is starting to look more like a fluke than a jumping off point.  34 points scored in their one win, 16 in their two losses. The defense did its job holding a combination of Ben Rothelisberger and Mike Vick to just 12 points, but the offense couldn’t sustain anything.
  3. Miami Dolphins (1-2): For a team that made a conscious effort to improve their defense in the off-season, they looked awful allowing the Bills to rack up 429 yards after a down week 2.  But the most concerning part of the Dolphins so far this season is the offense. Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions and the running game hasn’t been utilized/effective enough.

Now it’s time for my picks. I rebounded from a bad week 2 to go 13-3 last week, bringing my season total to 28-20.

Thursday Night Football

  • Ravens @ Steelers: One team needs this more than the other.  One team is in a better position to win this game than the other.  And I think they’re the same team.  Baltimore enters at 0-3 but they have gotten better every week.  And with Pittsburgh needing to rely heavily on the running game without Ben Rothelisberger, the Ravens know who they have to stop.  Of course that doesn’t mean it will work, as most have had trouble stopping Le’Veon Bell.  Joe Flacco over Mike Vick will be the difference in this one. BALTIMORE WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Jets @ Dolphins: Both teams are coming off home losses.  A win keeps the Jets very much in playoff contention and with a chance to catch the Patriots.  A loss means another week in the cellar for the Dolphins.  Ryan Tannehill was abused by one AFC East defense last week, and coming off a bad week of their own, look for the Jets to come out firing on D.  Also, I expect to see more from the run game for New York, with Chris Ivory another week removed from injury. NEW YORK WINS
  • Jaguars @ Colts: Both of these teams enter action at 1-2, but with very different ideas on how this season was supposed to start.  Jacksonville is a young team that showed signs late last season, but we all knew they’d be a work in progress all year. As for the Colts, many, myself included, had them going far into the playoffs.  Instead Andrew Luck continues to be a turnover machine, while Jacksonville continues to be very, very inconsistent.  So who moves to .500 on the young season?  Give me the Colts to look more like the 4th quarter of week 3 than the first 11 quarters of football.  INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Giants @ Bills:New York picked up their first win of the season last week, finally putting everything together, without shooting themselves in the foot.  Buffalo took out their week 2 frustrations out on the Dolphins.  The Giants need to generate some pass rush against the Bills this week, but if they build off a great day in the secondary they will overcome the lack of one again.  Meanwhile the Bills need to figure out how to slow down Odell Beckham Jr.  The Giants might get Victor Cruz back, which would only help the offense.  So can the Giants move to .500, or will Buffalo move to 3-1? While I think Eli Manning’s first interception of the season could come in this game, give me the G-Men to get their first road win of the season. NEW YORK WINS
  • Panthers @ Buccaneers: The Panthers have been great to start the season. Tampa has been very up and down, but their defense wasn’t the problem in week 3.  I still don’t know how I feel about the Panthers long term, but I never thought they’d be in a position to open the season 4-0.  I’m taking a leap here, but I think the offense for the Bucs picks up this week and they find a way to eek one out at home. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • Eagles @ Redskins: The Eagles woke up in week 3 while the Redskins looked outmatched.  Division games are always interesting and in the NFC East, they’re usually competitive.  But give me the road team to even up their recordon the stretch of their ground game.  PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Raiders @ Bears: Oakland has been pretty impressive through three weeks, having nearly equaled their win total from 2014. Derek Carr has shown great improvement, as has the defense.  As for Chicago, tough times continue.  Jay Cutler is out, and they’ve already started trading off pieces at 0-3.  And I don’t see things getting better for the Bears this week. OAKLAND WINS
  • Texans @ Falcons: After a rough 2014, the Falcons have come out of the gate with their offense running on all cylinders.  They’re 3-0, dominating the NFC East with a combination of a healthy Julio Jones, some luck and a revamped running game.  Houston has struggled early, but got the defensive help they needed to get their first win a week ago.  Give me the home team to continue their hot start. ATLANTA WINS
  • Chiefs @ Bengals: Kansas City had its worst game of the season on Monday Night, and should be 2-1, but sit at 1-2.  Cincinnati has been on point in all three of their games to start the season.  If both teams play up to their abilities this will come down to the wire.  Even if that does happen, I still like the Bengals at home to stay undefeated.CINCINNATI WINS 

Sunday 4/425 PM Games

  • Browns @ Chargers: On paper, San Diego is confusing, because they’re in the top 5 of total offense and top 10 in total defense, but sit at 1-2.  But turnovers and a middle of the pack running game have doomed that.  Cleveland has looked ok, but it baffles me the best they’ve looked was with Johnny Manziel at the helm, yet he is not starting.  That being said, I like the Browns to get the road victory. CLEVELAND WINS
  • Packers @ Niners: This is probably the most lopsided game of the week.  Aaron Rodgers can do no wrong.  The Packers defense has looked championship caliber at times.  And with Eddie Lacy despite injury concerns was able to play, the run game did its job in week 3. As for the 49ers, their week 1 win looks like it will be more of an anomaly than anything to build on as they turn the ball over too much and can’t stop any phase of the opponent’s game.GREEN BAY WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I had higher hopes for the Rams defense.  I questioned bringing Nick Foles over as their offensive line isn’t as strong as the Eagles was last season.  And now they face the red hot Cardinals.  It’s another possible trap game for Arizona, and while I don’t think they’ll dominate quite the same way they did San Fran a week ago, I don’t see this being much of a game either. ARIZONA WINS
  • Vikings @ Broncos:Minnesota has  their star running back and just as good as ever. Teddy Bridgewater isn’t having a stellar start to his sophomore season, throwing for under 200 yards a game, with just one TD. But he is at least limiting turnovers and giving Adrian Peterson a chance.  The defense has been great at limiting damage and that’s why they sit at 2-0.  Denver has gotten better in every game, but still don’t look like your normal Peyton Manning led team. So what gives?  I’m going to go with the road team because eventually, that mistake the Broncos have been getting away with will cost them, and this will be the week it does. MINNESOTA WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Cowboys @ Saints: I almost made Dallas one of my surprising teams from week 3 as Brandon Weedon got off to a crazy good start in his first start for Dallas.  But the team broke down in the second half against the Falcons and dropped their first game of the year.  New Orleans continues to struggle in every phase, but they at least gave themselves a chance against Carolina a week ago. Luke McCown turned the ball over late to seal the 0-3 start, but played well before hand.  Dallas showed an inability to stop the run last week, so if the Saints can get the ground game going, they can pick up their first win.  And I think they do just that. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Lions @ Seahawks: If the Packers-Niners match-up is the most lopsided this week, this is probably the second.  With no running game to speak of, they can’t overcome turnovers and a defense that is having trouble stopping anyone.  Seattle feels good coming off a shutout and they looked good in every phase last week.  Not to mention Stafford’s struggles on the road coupled with the 12th man. SEATTLE WINS
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NFL: Week 2 Recap and Week 3 Picks

It’s pretty amazing how many teams most thought would be good this season are 0-2.

Most Impressive Teams From Week 2

  1. New England Patriots (2-0)– The Tom Brady revenge tour raged through Buffalo this weekend and put up three touchdowns and 466 yards passing on the Buffalo defense.  Rob Gronkowski went over 100 yards, Julian Edelman caught two TDs and nine different Patriots caught passes.  The defense let up late, allowing 19 points in the fourth to the Bills to make the final score close, but it really wasn’t.
  2. Arizona Cardinals (2-0) –Carson Palmer is healthy and it means this team is a force to be reckoned with in a division that has the NFC Champs bringing up the rear at 0-2. Palmer was efficient throwing 4 touchdowns on just 185 yards passing.  The Cards got help from their defense, and special teams with a team record 108-yard kickoff return.  Not to mention that Larry Fitzgerald had one of the best games of his career, catching 3 scores after going nine straight (including the playoffs) without a single one.
  3. Green Bay Packers (2-0) –Make it nine straight regular season home wins for the Packers who got revenge for their NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks. Both defenses played well, but the big play came by Green Bay in the fourth, an interception of Russell Wilson as the Pack went to score 11 to take the lead and the game.  The fact that Green Bay could come out on top after losing both Eddie Lacy and Devonte Adams early to injury shows how deep this team is.

Most Disappointing Teams From Week 2

  1. New York Giants (0-2)– The New York Giants are now 0-2… against the New York Giants. They got Odell Beckham Jr and Shane Vereen going, Eli Manning hasn’t thrown a pick and the defense shutdown Matt Ryan for most of the game.  But it hasn’t mattered. In both games, they played the 55 minutes of football that should have them 2-0 and atop the NFC East. Instead, they’ve shot themselves in the foot to end two games with poor time management and poor play calling.
  2. Indianapolis Colts (0-2) –For just the second time in his young career, Andrew Luck has lost two straight games.  The fourth year QB threw 3 interceptions for the first time in nearly two years, and added a fumble to his bad night.  The defense hasn’t been terrible, but they haven’t been able to make up for the bad offense.
  3. Detroit Lions (0-2) – The defense hasn’t been a strengthlike it’s been in the past. Matthew Stafford has been erratic.  But the most distressing part has the running game. They managed just 38 yards on the ground against the Vikings a week after surrendering 230 yards in week 1.  When Matt Stafford leads you in rushing, that’s a problem. When he has most yards than four other guys combined, that’s a serious problem.

Most Surprising Performances from Week 2

  1. Carolina Panthers (2-0) – I honestly don’t know how they’re doing it.  Sure the defense is good, but offensively they haven’t done anything spectacular.  Cam Newton looks better than last season, and has gotten it done on the ground, but their actual backs haven’t done much. Their big play threat in Kelvin Benjamin is down for the season, leaving Newton under 200 yards passing.  But they’re doing enough and sit tied atop the division.
  2. Oakland Raiders (1-1) – One week after a blowout loss to Cincinnati, they went toe-to-toe offensively with the Ravens and came out on top. David Carr threw for a career high 351 yards, and put a late turnover behind him quickly to throw the game winner with 26 seconds to go.  He’s got two big weapons in rookie Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw to, something Oakland has been missing for years.
  3. New York Jets (2-0) –I knew they’d be good this season.  But I don’t even think they’ve played their best football and here they are at 2-0 coming off a nice win in Indianapolis.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has looked great and forged a quick connection with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall.  Chris Ivory got banged up in practice but has looked good so far.  And the defense after being torched at times in week 1, specifically in the secondary, generated a great pass rush in week 2, and has an incredible 10 takeaways already.

Now we can get to my picks for week 3.  I went just 5-11 to bring my season total to 15-17, so clearly I need a rebound.

Thursday Night Football

  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington’s defense has been one of the biggest surprises this season.  New York’s defense is stopping the run, but allowing QBs to have a field day.  The Giants offense looked a lot better in week 2, but they beat themselves late again. I should probably stop picking New York, but they handle the Skins well and without their late-game mistakes, I still think they’ve looked like the best team in the division.  NEW YORK WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Falcons @ Cowboys: Both teams enter 2-0 but with varying levels of health concerns.  Dallas has been hit at QB with Tony Romo’s fractured clavicle, wide receiver with Dez Bryant’s broken foot and Jason Witten’s knee.  Atlanta will be without rookie running back Tevin Coleman who injured his rib in their week 2 win.  The Cowboys traded for guys to replace their injured stars, including a pick for Matt Cassel, who is a very capable starter.  But Matt Ryan has a very healthy and electric Julio Jones paired with Roddy White and I think he’ll be able to out-pass anything the Boys throw out there. ATLANTA WINS
  • Colts @ Titans: Tennessee went from great to average in a weeks’ time, something to expect with a rookie QB.  I’ve already gone over Indy’s problems so I won’t here.  But the Jets showed you can do damage to the Colts secondary, so expect Marcus Mariota to throw early and often this week.  However, I don’t think it will be enough.  Andrew Luck will figure out how to play past his turnovers and explode in week 3 and get win number 1. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Raiders @ Browns: Johnny Manziel was supposed to get another start after picking up his first win a week ago. Not so fast. Josh McCowan will be back after missing week 2 with injury. I don’t like the move, but I guess Cleveland is operating under the “you don’t lose your job because of injury idea.”  As for Oakland, no one thought they’d be good this year, and yet they’ve done some good things early on.  So who moves to a surprising 2-1? Give me the Raiders in a close one on the road.  OAKLAND WINS
  • Bengals @ Ravens: Andy Dalton is off to one of the best starts of his career, the run game is producing and the defense is doing what it needs to do, holding opponents to 16 points a game. Now they face a hungry 0-2 Ravens team in an AFC North showdown.  Baltimore’s defense has allowed that has allowed the seventh most points per game in the first two weeks.  I thought Baltimore would be in contention for a playoff spot against this season, and while I know they can win this game and avoid an 0-3 start, I like the Bengals too much right nowCINCINNATI WINS
  • Jaguars @ Patriots: The Jacksonville Defense has been solid through two weeks of play, but they’re going to need to get to Tom Brady early and often if they want to unseat the champs.  Blake Bortles looked better in week 2 than week 1, but he’s still got a lot of work to do.  New England is just on another level and at home.  They’ll get to 3-0 rather easily. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Saints @ Panthers: Already at 0-2, the Saints are now without Drew Brees.  Carolina is seeing a better Cam Newton through two weeks than they saw all of last season.  New Orleans defense has been atrocious, the Panthers pretty good.  If all holds true, we’ve got another easy win for a soon-to-be 3-0 squadCAROLINA WINS
  • Eagles @ Jets: DeMarco Murray has been very, very bad.  Sam Bradford has been very bad. The Eagles special teams hasn’t been what it was, nor has the defense.  New York has been good in every phase of the game, but it’s been their defense that has stood out above all. NEW YORK WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Texans: Bryan Hoyer did a better job than Ryan Mallett, but it wasn’t enough.  Houston’s running game has been non-existent without Arian Foster.  The defense isn’t what they can and have been in the past.  Jameis Winston bounced back from a rough NFL debut to show flashes. If the Texans get some help on the ground, I like the Texans at home to pick up their first win. HOUSTON WINS
  • Chargers @ Vikings: Philip Rivers has been on point this season, completing 81 percent of his passes through two games.  But turnovers hurt the Chargers chances at a 2-0 start a week ago.  As for the Vikings, Adrian Peterson got back to his old self, racking up nearly 200 total yards to help get his team to 1-1. MINNESOTA WINS
  • Steelers @ Rams: The Steelers have looked good on offense through two weeks, and that was without Le’Veon Bell. Now with the AFC’s leading rusher from a year ago back, look out.  St. Louis’s defense hasn’t been as good as I thought it would be, and the offense has had one great game, and one they’d like to forget about.  So give me the more experienced Pittsburgh team on the road. PITTSBURGH WINS 

Sunday 4/425 PM Games

  • 49ers @ Cardinals: After a big first week, the Niners looked overwhelmed by the Steelers in week 2, particularly on defense, which is normally a strong suit.  And now they have to contend with a hot Cardinals team on the road.  Arizona is clicking on all cylinders, picking up where they left off last season with Carson Palmer.  They might not give up 48 again, but San Francisco is going to have a tough time stopping the Cardinals. ARIZONA WINS
  • Bills @ Dolphins: Both of these teams looked great in week 1, and not so great in week 2. Buffalo is waiting for LeSean McCoy to look more like the guy Philadelphia ran out of the backfield last season.  The Dolphins shot themselves in the foot with 13 flags for 113 penalty yards including a personal foul that set up the Jags game winning field-goal.  The inconsistent showings of the Bills defense through two weeks makes it hard to gauge them.  For that I’m taking the home team to improve to 2-1. MIAMI WINS
  • Bears @ Seahawks: One of these teams will be 0-3 (barring a tie) when the clock hits zero.  And it’s easily going to be Chicago. While the Hawks haven’t been as good as they’ve been the past two years, they have been in both games and have played well enough to win.  The Bears have looked awful and are now without Jay Cutler, though many are probably okay with that. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Broncos @ Lions:  Peyton Manning woke up in week 2 but it was the Chiefs mistakes and Broncos defense that won the game in the end.  Detroit is a surprising 0-2, but Matt Stafford always plays better at home than on the road.  Denver is lucky to be 2-0, and I think that luck runs out this week.  Look for the run game to get going for Detroit. DETROIT WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Packers: Kansas City made some poor choices to end week 2.  But they have to be happy with what they’ve seen from their skill position guys, now they just have to hope Jamaal Charles holds onto the football. Green Bay overcame injuries to key players in week 2 to get revenge on the Seahawks, thanks in large part to their defense.  Both teams have impressed, but give me another home win for Aaron Rodgers and company this week.  GREEN BAY WINS

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 Playoffs: Championship Weekend Recap

The Superbowl is set.  The Seattle Seahawks look to be the first repeat champions since their opponents, the New England Patriots, did so in 2004-05.

These two team took 2 different paths to winning their conferences.

NFC Championship Recap

  • Early on this one was looking like a Turnover bowl rather than a title game.  Green Bay had a chance to score two quick touchdowns but settled for field-goals.  I had no problem with them settling for the first one.  I understand this was a game to get you into the Superbowl, but the Packers were on the road, in the best home-field advantage in football and had a chance to put points on the board first against the best defense in the NFL.  But when they got the ball right back on a turnover, Green Bay once again couldn’t force it in in the red-zone, so they hit another field-goal to go up 6-0.  That’s the point when I would’ve taken a shot.  You’ve given yourself proof you can score against them, and now you have a shot to put them down double digits in the 1st quarter.  The Pack would score a touchdown in the first half and add another field-goal to hold a 16-0 lead at the halftime break.  But that’s just a 2 score lead, which isn’t as daunting as a game that could’ve been at 24-0.  The turnovers for both teams continued, but the Seahawks defense continued to shut down Green Bay, giving their offense a chance.  Add to that a huge game from back Marshawn Lynch to help balance out field position and get the offense on track.  But even so, Seattle found themselves down 19-7 with under 6 to play.  And then the fun started.  After 4 interceptions, his first such game, Russell Wilson woke up, ran in a score to bring Seattle to within 6.  Then a misplay by Green Bay on an on-side kick gave the champs the ball back.  Lynch made it look easy on a 24-yard TD run then Wilson showed his escape ability to prolong a 2-point conversion attempt, to put them up 3.  Aaron Rodgers had under 90 seconds, and 3 time outs, and managed to get into field goal range for kicker Mason Crosby, who nailed his 4th of the game.  To OT we went, Seattle won the toss then marched down the field like it was nothing, capped off by a perfect 35-yard pass to tight-end Jermaine Kearse to win the game.  It was redemption for Wilson, who’s 4 interceptions were all on passes towards Kearse.  Poor execution doomed Green Bay, who outplayed Seattle for most of the game.

AFC Championship Recap

  • This game was never in doubt.  New England has owned Andrew Luck and the Colts the past 3 years, and last night was the biggest win of them all.  It was 14-0 Patriots before anyone was over the first game of the day.  That being said, it was still a game at the start of the 3rd quarter, with Indianapolis down just 10.  But Luck continued to struggle in the playoffs, throwing 12 interceptions in 6 career games.  The Patriots defense wasn’t having any of the Colts offense.  But the story of the game?  Legarrette Blount’s 3 rushing touchdowns and nearly 150-yards on the ground.  Tom Brady spread the wealth in the air, and only turned the ball over once.  3 touchdowns from New England in the 3rd turned this one into a laugher, making it the 2nd biggest blowout in AFC Championship history.

I’ve gone 7-3 with my playoff picks, but neither of the teams (Packers/Broncos) I thought in the preseason would be playing in the final game are here.

NFL Playoffs: AFC & NFC Championship Picks

And then there were four.  After the divisional round, the top 2 seeds in the NFC, the Seahawks and Packers will do battle for the right to play in the Superbowl.  On the AFC side, the Patriots will take on the Colts after a clear passing of the torch.

How did we get here?

The Packers were the first to secure a final four spot when Aaron Rodgers played through an injury to lift his team over the the Dallas Cowboys.  Both teams went over 100 yards on the ground, but Eddie Lacy ran for 22 more than the NFL league leader in DeMarco Murray.  Tony Romo was out-passed by nearly 130 yards and a TD.  The turning point was a 1st and goal catch by Dez Bryant that was overturned with 4 minutes to go in the game on 4th down.  They were down 5, and who’s to say the Packers don’t stop the TD on the goal line?  But the Cowboys weren’t given a chance when it was ruled Bryant didn’t complete the process of the catch to the ground.

Then we saw the Carolina Panthers run end when they went into 12th man territory. The big play was was when Kam Chancellor returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory in the 4th in a game that saw Seattle never trail. The Seahawks became the first reigning Superbowl Champ to win a playoff game since the Pats did so in 2006.

NFC Championship

  • Packers @ Seahawks: This is the game I thought we would see before the season.  And honestly, I think this match-up could be better than whatever turns into the final Superbowl.  Why?  Because you get the reigning champs playing the possible MVP.  You get the best home QB in the league playing on the road in the best home field advantage in football.  It’s a rematch of the season opener, a Seattle blowout at home and the reason why Green Bay didn’t get home-field as both teams finished with identical 12-4 records.  That will not happen again this time around. Aaron Rodgers calf injury is a concern, as is Eddie Lacy’s, but I still think this is the team that can go into Seattle and upset the reigning champs. Rodgers showed he could put this team on his back time and again.  This is going to be fun, and probably the better game of the day, but this is my reach pick, and I’m sticking with the my preseason pick of Packers over Seahawks for the right to play in the superbowl. GREEN BAY WINS

AFC Championship

  • Colts @ Patriots: New England is one win away from the Superbowl… again.  Remember when everyone thought they were done early in the season? They’ll play host to the Colts in a rematch of the 2006 AFC Championship game, except for one very big difference.  His counterpart at QB isn’t Peyton Manning, but the heir apparent in Indy, Andrew Luck. Indianapolis’ defense stepped up on the road, limiting the passing game of the Broncos.  The Patriots need to look to exploit their run defense however, which was the best part of Denver’s offense a week ago. Joe Flacco had his way with the Pats secondary as well, so look for Luck to have more success with deep passes in addition to his stellar short game.  Tom Brady has been here many times before, which is why I would say he has more to lose than the Colts in this game.  The Pats have been eliminated in this round the past two seasons and haven’t won on in a decade.  Indy continues to trend upward under Luck, so while they of course want to advance, but this was a great season no matter what happens Sunday.  Don’t forget that the Pats have blew out the Colts the past 3 meetings, including a 22-point victory in November. I want to pick Indianapolis, but I think it’s time for New England to make a reappearance in the big one.  It’ll be close.  NEW ENGLAND WINS

NFL: Divisional Round Picks

Round 2 is upon us… and the Cardinals, Steelers, Bengals and Lions are no long in playoff contention.  The first round was nothing short of boring, with flags being picked up, a road win for the Ravens and big games from the game winning QBs.

I went in the 2-2 in first round.

Saturday Games

  • Baltimore @ New England: The Ravens showed us once again they aren’t afraid to go on the road in the playoffs.  This is the first postseason match-up between these two since Baltimore defeated New England in the 2012 AFC Championship game during their run to winning the Superbowl.  The Patriots are well-rested coming off their bye week, and look to make it back to a 4th straight Conference championship.  Tom Brady and company finished with the best record in the AFC, but numbers wise these two teams are very similar.  The Pats finished 12th in total offense, the Ravens at 13th.  New England’s defense isn’t top 10 like Baltimore, while Brady out passed Flacco in the regular season.  This is going to be a tough game, and I don’t see it being very high scoring.  Baltimore has a huge advantage on the ground and have to exploit that.  But many doubted Brady early on when they got off to a slow start (for them) and I won’t do that here.  He knows this defense well, and will want revenge for that 2012 knockout.  Give me the top seed to advance in this one. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Panthers @ Seahawks: Two top 10 defenses clash in this NFC battle. Carolina is hot, winners of 5 straight games, playing like the team that made the playoffs a season ago.  Seattle is rested, and look to continue their top rated defense and get a lot out their 9th ranked offense. This won’t be as easy for the Seahawks to win as Carolina’s round 1 win, but I do think the defending champs will get the win.  Proof of that came in their week 8 game, a 13-9 defensive struggle that went the way of the Hawks.  I don’t think this one will be as low scoring as both offenses are in better shape, but the 12th man will be out in force, and this Seattle team is playing like a Superbowl champion looking to repeat.  SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Games

  • Cowboys @ Packers: Two 12 win regular season teams meet up in cold Lambeau this weekend.  Dallas played well in their win over Detroit, but they also benefited from some missed calls including a flag that was picked up on PI that would’ve put the Lions close to the red zone. Aaron Rodgers and company had a week to rest, and now they look to take advantage of their home-field advantage and their 8-0 home record. Dallas did play well on the road, going 8-0 away from home.  So what gives?  There are MVP candidates on both sides, both QBs are hot, and both have capable run games. This is going to be fun, but I think this is comes down to which team I like in big spots, and Aaron Rodgers knows how to come up big in big games, and he has been unbelievable at home.  I think that continues.  GREEN BAY WINS
  • Colts @ Broncos: Before the season, I had this game as a possible AFC Championship game. I love what I saw from the Colts on offense in their win over the Bengals, especially getting Dan Herron and the ground game involved early. Denver is getting used to being here, so a week off did them and their aging QB good.  This could be a shoot out with both high powered offenses, but the biggest change to the Broncos from last season to this is their improvement on defense.  So give me a big stop late at home by Denver, not to mention I think we’re destined for another Brady-Manning match-up. DENVER WINS