NFL: Week 2 Picks

One week down. Many to go. I went 9-6 in week 1 pick wise, thanks to a lot of road wins that went my way.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Bengals: Both teams enter Thursday night 0-1, thanks in large part to poor performances from their starting quarterbacks. It took Houston just a half to make a switch from Tom Savage to rookie Deshaun Watson, but it the deficit was too much to overcome for the Texans. 4 turnovers by the Texans and a smothering Jaguars defense didn’t help the cause.  As for the Bengals, they also faltered at home to start the season, not scoring a single point against Baltimore. Andy Dalton had his first 4 interception game since December 2013, also against the Ravens. The defense wasn’t bad for Cincy, who managed to hold their opponent to a touchdown and 3 field-goals. So which team can avoid an 0-2 start? As much as I like the Texans, the uncertainty at quarterback and another home game for the Bengals has me going with the veteran. CINCINNATI WINS
Sunday 1PM Games
  • Bills @ Panthers: Buffalo and Carolina both enter action at 1-0.  Neither team had much trouble in week 1, though the Bills game was close in the end.  The Panthers didn’t play the best game ever, but it was more than enough against the Niners. Both defense did a very good job stopping the run in week 1, while the Bills did a better job on the ground themselves than the Panthers. LeSean McCoy is going to be key for Buffalo, and while I think he can get his yards against anyone, I don’t think it will be enough against Cam Newton at home. CAROLINA WINS
  • Bears @ Buccaneers: Tampa finally gets to play their first game of the season after their week 1 match-up with Miami was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma. Chicago is back at it after a representative showing against the reigning NFC Champion Falcons. The Bears did an especially good job stopping the ever dangerous running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to a combined 53 yards. The issue will be stopping the Bucs passing game with Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. Tampa will be rested and hungry. Give me the home team. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • Browns @ Ravens: Cleveland didn’t look terrible in their first game of the season with rookie QB DeShone Kizer at the helm, but they still fell to the Steelers. They allowed one of the best receivers in the league to beat them. It happens. Baltimore completed the only shutout of the week, and it was largely because of the defense. Joe Flacco didn’t do much in the passing game other than a long TD pass to off-season acquisition Jeremy Maclin. The running game was sufficient against the Bengals as well.  Their ability to control clock, unlike what the Browns showed in week 1 is a big reason why I believe the Ravens will move to 2-0 this season. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Titans @ Jaguars: Jacksonville’s week 1 win was maybe the most surprising to me because of how dominant they were against the Texans on the road. I knew their defense would be good this season, but to rack up 10 sacks, cause four turnovers and score in week 1 is impressive for anyone. And their running game was great, with a big first game from rookie Leonard Fournette. As for Tennessee, they held their own against the Raiders, but would ultimately fall short. They were able to hold Oakland’s offense down enough to give them a chance, and were able to get some things going offensively themselves against a good defense. So while the Jags were so impressive in week 1, I’m going to take the chance and say Mariota finds a way to stay on his feet and get the road victory. TENNESSEE WINS
  • Cardinals @ Colts: Arizona took two bad losses in week 1. They allowed the Lions to walk all over them in the second half, and lost their best offensive weapon in running back David Johnson for at least half the season.  The Cardinals offense struggled even before Johnson went down and they committed four turnovers. The good news from them is they travel to play a Colts team without Andrew Luck for at least another week. Credit to the Rams defense, but Scott Tolzien and the Colts as a team had about as bad a performance to start a season as I can remember. They managed to score until the Bengals, but that’s little solace. Tolzien threw two pick sixes and the Rams scored a week 1 high 46 points. So if there is a team to play to get your first win, it’s Indianapolis, even without your best offensive weapon. ARIZONA WINS
  • Eagles @ Chiefs: Kansas City put the Jaamal Charles era behind them real quick, thanks to a record-breaking debut by Toledo’s Kareem Hunt. Alex Smith also did whatever he wanted in the pass game against the Patriots to open up the season. The defense had a problem holding the run game in check in the redzone, but other than that, they looked pretty good as well. The bad news for the Chiefs is they lost their best defensive player Eric Berry for the season.  Philadelphia allowed the Redskins to stay close for 3 quarters, than went 11-0 in the fourth to pick up the road win. Carson Wentz spread the wealth in the passing game, and the defense was able to get a good amount of pressure on Kurt Cousins.  So which team gets to 2-0? I’m rolling with the Chiefs in this one. KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Vikings @ Steelers: Sam Bradford was probably the most surprsing perofmrance of week 1, for a good rrason. The former first round pick came to Minnesota last sason and had his momemnts, but was mostly carreid by a very good Vikings defense. But against New Orleans, he shined. Temper expectations as it looked like anyone could throw against the Saints defense, he didn’t make any mistakes and Stefon Diggs looks like a legitmate weapon in the passing game. Pittsburgh alsmost lost to the Browns in week 1, despite having Le’Veon Bell to start the season, unlike last year. But Antonio Brown had a huge game and it all worked out.  They’ll need more from their skill positions in week 2 if they hope to move to 2-0. And while the Steelers defense is no slouch, I give the edge to the Vikings in this one. MINNESTOA WINS
  • Patriots @ Saints: The Patriots aren’t used to losing week one, while the Saints lost their season opener for the fourth straight season. Both teams struggled on defense, with the Pats allowing the aforementioned rookie back Kareem Hunt to run for 148 yards and the Saints allowing Sam Bradford to throw down field all night. Tom Brady looked shaky, while Drew Brees got better as the game went on. New England had the better run game in week 1, while the Saints tried to work Adrian Peterson into the mix, and failed. I liked the Saints to make a turnaround this season, but they left their defense in the preseason, and even though Brady wasn’t at his best, now you get a mad and hungry championship squad with the ability to score with anyone. I’ll go road team to take the victory in the Super Dome. NEW ENGLAND WINS
Sunday 4/4:25PM Games
  • Jets @ Raiders: New York almost found a way to get a week 1 victory against Buffalo, but fell short. Their opponents were able to get a win, quite easily on the road against Houston.  The Raiders looked solid in week 1, picking up the road win at Tennesee. They got a pretty good first game out of newly acquired Marshawn Lynch, and David Carr looked good under center. New York needs more from their own running game this week if they want to steal one in Oakland, but against this defense, that will be a big task. OAKLAND WINS
  • Dolphins @ Chargers: LA had a problem closing out games last season, and it continued in week 1. They had a chance on the road against Denver, but lost when they couldn’t kick a game tying field-goal as time expired. Miami, like Tampa, gets their first crack at things after Irma, with Jay Cutler now under center for the injured Ryan Tannehill. I don’t know what to expect from Cutler, who at the very least got another week of work in after taking a job in the booth in the off-season. But I don’t expect much with how he played in Chicago last season. I liked what the Chargers were able to do in the second half to make it a game with the Broncos, and I expect that to carry over this week. LOS ANGELES WINS
  • Cowboys @ Broncos: Dallas made easy work of their division rivals in week 1, but it wasn’t the sharpest game offensively for them. Part of that was the Giants defense doing a good job on Ezekiel Elliot.  But their own defense got good pressure, a good sign moving forward. Denver had to hold off a 2nd \-half comeback by the Chargers, thanks in big part to them leaving points on the board with a couple of big drops, and a missed field-goal by the usually on target Brian McManus. But overall it was a good showing by both teams, and this should be a fun game. It’ll be about who can control the clock, and while Dallas can do that with the best of them, palying in Denver presents it’s own challenges. That’s why I give the edge to teh Broncos in this match-up of 1-0 teams. DENVER WINS
  • Redskins @ Rams: Washington turned the ball over way too much against the Eagles in week 1, and couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Not a recipe for success, especially since they now face a tougher defense in week 2 on the road.  The Rams did what they were supposed to do and more in week 1, scoring at will on both sides of the football against a subpar Colts team. And with the big plays allowed by the Redskins in week 1, LA shouldnt have a problem doing so again this weekend. LOS ANGELES WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: Neither team had a good showing offensively in week 1.  But Seattle has one of the better defenses in the league and you saw that in the way they held Aaron Rodgers at home at bay for so long Sunday. San Francisco did a good job of holding down a very good mobile qurterback in Cam Newton in week 1, so that’s where they’ll have to hang their hopes this week, in holding Russell Wilson down, who doint do much in week 1 himself. That being said, it’s hard to go into Seattle and win, and I don’t see the Seahawks going 0-2. SEATTLE WINS
Sunday Night Football: 
  • Packers @ Falcons: Neither Green Bay nor Atlanta had an easy time of it in week one, though the Packers faced a far tougher opponent than the Falcons.  It took Aaron Rodgers some time to get going against a very good Seattle defense, but he made the plays late to get his team another home win. Matt Ryan’s passing game didn’t look scared, finding another weapon in tightend Austin Hooper, but the run game seemed to have a Superbowl hangover. The Falcons have one of the best backfields in football, and they’ll need them to figure things out in week 2, so they can keep the ball out of Rodgers’ hands as much as possible. I expect this to be more of a shootout than either played in week 1, and give me the Falcons at home in this one. ATLANTA WINS
Monday Night Football
  • Detroit @ Giants: Color me impressed with how the Lions played in week 1. I thought for sure the Cardinals defense would have their way with them, but it wasn’t so. They took advantage of a big injury, and scored off turnovers. The Fiants on the other hand, were a mess on offense. They either gave Eli Manning no time to throw, or when they did, there were either drops or overthrows. The defense was ok, but not as good as you would have haoped. The siliver linging is when Manning did connect with his young playmakers, they were for big gains. With Odell Beckham Jr. expected back, it gives Manning another option.  But they’ll need more , much more form their running game if they expect to win many games this season. I think the New York crowd will get them going. NEW YORK 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: 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 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 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: Week 15 Picks

One week closer to the playoffs, and we still don’t have any spots clinched! Which means it’s unofficially the start of the playoffs, and is a testament to parody in the game today, with how even teams are.  Of course there are standouts, with two teams in the NFC (Packers, Cardinals) and two teams in the AFC (Patriots, Broncos) who all have 10 wins apiece.  Add to that 5 other squads with 9 and 3 others with 8, and we have the makings of a very entertaining final 3 weeks of the regular season.

One of my best weeks picking in week 14, going 13-3 to bring my season total up to 131-76. Take a look at my week 15 predictions, and tell me where I am wrong and why I am right!

But first, answer the polls on who you think finish with the top seed in each conference!

Thursday Night Football

  • Cardinals @ Rams: St. Louis has a chance to play spoiler, and with the ins they have on their resume this season, they are very capable of doing so.  Not only that, with the inconsistency of the 49ers, the Rams have a chance to not finish last in the powerhouse West, which would be huge for a young team.  As for Arizona, this is a must win game.  A loss and Seahawks win would mean a tie atop the division with a week 16 matchup in Seattle awaiting the.  The Cardinals have already lost to the champs, so a loss here and a loss next week could mean no playoffs at all, despite an early season head start that had them looking like a shoo in for a top 2 seed.  After a couple rocky games after losing Carson Palmer, the Cardinals got back on track last week, and I think they do secure the win to keep a hold of the West before heading into 12th man territory. ARIZONA WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Steelers @ Falcons: It’s a game of teams in very different divisions.  Pittsburgh is in the most competitive division in the league, while Atlanta is in the only division where no team will finish above .500.   The Falcon’s offense isn’t the problem, which we saw in the 2nd half on Monday night against the Packers, it’s defense is.  The Steelers have shown flashes of dominance on offense, but are pretty balanced and can run you out of the stadium with Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. I think the consistency on both side of the football, and ability to control the time of possession will get the Steelers the crucial road win to keep the AFC North that much more up for grabs in the final 2 weeks of the season. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington is terrible, while New York is less so.  The Giants snapped their 7-game slide with a dominating performance against Tennessee on the road.  The Redskins losing skid grew to 5, despite benching RGIII.  While both teams would benefit from losing out at this point, barring a tie, someone has to win, and I think the Giants at home can have another week 14 type performance to pick up their 5th win of the season. NEW YORK WINS
  • Dolphins @ Patriots: Without a win in New England, the Dolphins are out of the playoff picture.  Too many teams already have 8 wins to put the math in their favor.  Miami saw a lot of good things from their QB Ryan Tannehill to make them think next year is the year to make a run, but I think they’ve run out of steam.  The Patriots at home are always tough, but it’s December and it’s Tom Brady.  So give me the home team to get win number 11 and stay in the conversation for a 1st round bye and home-field throughout. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Raiders @ Chiefs: Oakland has two wins… I know I’m shocked too.  They upset the 49ers a week ago for that 2nd win, but I don’t see them getting their 3rd win this week. Maybe the Chiefs will finally throw a TD to a wide-receiver this week.  I won’t hold my breath. But I do think they will get  the win, and I expect another nice day for Jamaal Charles. KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Texans @ Colts: The AFC South was a two team race from week 1, and it comes down to this game in Indianapolis.  A Colts win gives them their 2nd straight division crown.  A Texans win keeps the crack in the door open for another week.  Andrew Luck wasn’t  great in their win over the Browns last week, and face another tough defensive test in the one and only JJ Watt.  I love Luck and the Colts as a whole, so give me the home team to lock up their playoff spot this week. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Bengals @ Browns: It’s officially time for Johnny Football in Cleveland.  Brian Hoyer has been benched for this pivotal game for the Browns, who must beat the Bengals to have a shot at the playoffs.  It’s been a great season for Cleveland no matter what, but a loss would almost guarantee no postseason.  As for the Bengals, they laid an egg a week ago, giving everyone else a shot at overtaking them in the AFC North.  But they hold the edge, and seem to follow up bad losses with wins, so I think they overcome the QB controversy on the road. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Jaguars @ Ravens: Jacksonville has quite the defense to grow with next season.  But they are still a young and growing team.  Baltimore has been in this position before, in a playoff push.  They’ve had some good stretches, that have been halted by bad losses.  I think they continue to keep their postseason hopes alive at home.  Look for a big game from Joe Flacco. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Packers @ Bills: Let’s be honest, the Packers are the best team in the NFL right now.  Sure they aren’t as dominant on the road as they are at home, but they’re still pretty darn good away from Lambeau.  And playing in cold weather of Buffalo will be almost like being home, so I expect good things for Green Bay this week.  As I’ve said all season, the Bills have been very impressive, and have kept themselves in the playoff conversation all season.  But I think that comes to an end here.  Aaron Rodgers is just too good. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Panthers: Cam Newton is OUT after suffering back fractures (similar to Tony Romo) in his car accident earlier in the week. So Derek Anderson gets the start.  So that means an easier time for the Bucs, but the Panthers are still better than Tampa, even in a down year for them.  They broke out a week ago thanks to a big performance from the usually quiet Jonathan Stewart.  So look for the running game to be big and the defense to be brought to life at home. CAROLINA WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Jets @ Titans: Neither of these teams want to win this week, let’s be honest.  They’re two of the teams in the running for the number 1 draft pick.  But someone is going to win, and I think it’s going to be the Jets.  The run game has a chance to do damage, and the Titans have no real threats on offense to contest with time of possession battle New York should win. NEW YORK WINS
  • Broncos @ Chargers: This is a better game than I thought it would be while the Chargers were losing 3 straight including 2 in the division.  One of those losses came the Broncos, who were unable to runaway with the AFC West, though it’s just a formality at this point.  CJ Anderson is taking the Broncos to another level and it’s made Denver that much more dangerous.  A win locks up the division, and you know Peyton Manning and company want that as soon as possible. DENVER WINS
  • Vikings @ Lions: Calvin Johnson is heating up at the right time, and boy did the Lions need it. They’d been struggling offensively, letting the Packers take control of the division.  Minnesota has been up and down all year, but must be commended for playing .500 football without their starting QB and starting running back all season.  That being said, I think Detroit keeps their wild card hopes alive with a home victory over their NFC North foes.  DETROIT WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: The loser of this match-up is out of the running for the NFC West crown.  If the Niners lose, they’d also be in jeopardy of missing out on the playoffs all together. The Legion of Boom is back in full force and after San Francisco was shutdown by the lowly Raiders a week ago, there’s little faith that they can go into Seattle and outscore the defending Superbowl champions. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Cowboys @ Eagles: How big is this game?  Well, both teams enter action with identical 9-4 records, with Philly just ahead of Dallas in the NFC East by virtue of their Thanksgiving day beat down of the Cowboys.  Philly all but ensures a second straight division crown with a victory, while big D would be in a tough battle for a wild card spot.  We know a good team is going to be left out of the NFC playoffs because of the NFC South winner getting a spot with a .500 or lower record.  The loser of this game could be that team that is left out if push comes to shove.  If Philly can limit the turnovers, I think they take this game at home.   PHILADELPHIA WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Saints @ Bears: I liked both of these teams heading into the season, but both have been huge disappointments.  Drew Brees just doesn’t look like the guy of the past few, Jimmy Graham has been shut down, and with no run game, they’ve been very one dimensional.  Jay Cutler’s big off-season deal looks like a bigger mistake than I thought it was when it happened.  He’s got two of the best receivers in the game, but hasn’t used them efficiently all season.  And neither team’s defense is anything to write home about. So who wins?  New Orleans still has a shot at the playoffs, which is is just disgusting.  The bears haven’t been great at home.  So despite the strange showing by the Saints this season, I think they see a chance with Carolina losing Cam Newton, and knowing that the Falcons tend to shoot themselves in the foot, that this division is still very much up for grabs.  Expect Brees to play like that this week.  NEW ORLEANS WINS

NFL: Week 12 picks

The playoff push heats up as action enters week 12, and we’ve got a lot more great games this week.

98-63 after 11 weeks. Here are my next batch of picks.  It’s the Panthers and Steelers on their bye this week.

Thursday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Raiders: It’s not a good game, but we have an AFC West match-up to start week 12.  The Chiefs are feeling pretty good about themselves as they are tied for the division lead with the Broncos.  The Raiders are… well… the Raiders.  Their march to history continues. KANSAS CITY WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Browns @ Falcons: Atlanta is somehow leading the NFC South despite a 6-game losing streak this season.  Cleveland is still in the playoff conversatgion, but hurt themselves with a loss against Houston a week ago.  I like what Cleveland does better than Atlanta.  THey are more consistent on both sides of the ball.  So despite this being a home game for the Falcons, give me the Browns on the road.  CLEVELAND WINS
  • Titans @ Eagles: Philly is coming off an ugly road loss to the Packers, while the Titans are coming off a home loss to the Steelers.  Mark Sanchez has been okay filling in for Nick Foles, but needs more from the run game. I think Tennessee is a good remedy for their ills, so give me the home team in this one. PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Lions @ Patriots: What a great early match-up.  The Pats have rebounded from a slow start to being one of the two, three best teams in the league.  The Lions have cooled off a bit after a slow start, specifically on offense.  Detroit will need their top rated defense on the road to slow down the Pats, and they very may well do so.  But I still like the Pats in a close one at home. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Packers @ Vikings: The Packers are hot… at home.  They’ve got a lot of games left on the road and have been a different team away from the Frozen Tundra where they look unbeatable.  Minnesota has a good season without Adrian Peterson in the back field, and starting a rookie QB in Teddy Bridgewater for the majority of the season.  They’re home so Minnesota won’t go quietly, but I can’t pick against MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers here. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Jaguars @ Colts: The Jaguars are just looking to the draft and the off-season at this point, while the Colts look to rebound off a blowout loss to the Pats in week 11.  Andrew Luck is having a fantastic season, but needs more out of the run game, which was hurt this week when Ahmad Bradshaw was placed on IR.  But with seeding to play for, I expect Indianapolis to have a fairly easy time with Jacksonville at home. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Bengals @ Texans: Cincinnati is lucky to still hold a lead, however slim, in the AFC North.  But they can’t have any more let downs, even against a pretty good team like they play this week. JJ Watt is keeping Houston in the conversation and with this game being in Texans territory, the Bengals have their work cut out for them, though I do like them to get a big road win. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Jets @ Bills: It’s a big game for the Bills, but this isn’t even happening when it’s supposed to!  Crazy snowfall in Buffalo has forced the game to be moved to Monday… in Detroit! I like the possible playoff team even after the Jets finally picked up a win before their bye.  The run game for the Bills finds ways to get the job done even with injuries, and Sammy Watkins has been one of the most impressive rookies in the league.   BUFFALO WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Bears: This is maybe the worst game of the week.  Both teams are bad despite many thinking both would challenge for the playoffs.  The Bucs don’t do anything well except when they decide to throw the ball in the direction of rookie standout Mike Evans.  As for Chicago, they finally snapped a long losing streak last week against the Vikings, but even that one wasn’t super impressive.  Alshon Jeffery is questionable for the Bears, but they have better offensive weapons even without him than Tampa Bay, so I think they pick up a 2nd straight victory. CHICAGO WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Cardinals @ Seahawks: How big is this game? An Arizona win goes a long way to locking up the NFC West, and makes the Cardinal the first team in the NFL to get to 10 wins.  A Seahawks win keeps the door in the division open, and keeps pressure on teams like the 49ers, Cowboys and Packers for a Wild Card spot. Going straight off those reasons, you’d say Seattle needs this game way more than Arizona.  But the Seahawks are the defending champs and know what it takes to put a run together.  The Cardinals have been around the playoff picture of a few years now, but with a young QB at the helm, this win would do huge things for their confidence.  Arizona has been consistently good and don’t have any off-the-field issues clouding things. So I’m taking a chance with the red birds in 12 man territory.   ARIZONA WINS
  • Rams @ Chargers: St Louis has made it tough on most opponents this season, despite having a tough schedule and losing Sam Bradford in the preseason.  I mean look at the Rams wins over Seahawks, 49ers and the Broncos last week.  As for the Chargers, they finally got a win after a rough stretch.  I think they build off that and keep pressure on the top heavy AFC West. SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Dolphins @ Broncos: This is a huge game with playoff implications.  Miami took a big step a week ago with a win over the Bills to break a tie with them, while Denver took a big step back against the Rams.  I like what the Dolphins have done all year, but I can’t see Peyton Manning having a second straight bad game, and the Broncos are so much better at home.  DENVER WINS
  • Redskins @ Niners: Like many slow starters, the 49ers have rebounded and fought their way back into the playoff hunt.  Washington continues to struggle and have questions about RGIII.  So give me the home team to stay on pace in the West. SAN FRANCISCO WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Cowboys @ Giants: Every-time questions have surfaced abut Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, the Giants have rebounded and went on long runs.  They’d have to win out and hope for a lot of help for that to happen this year, but with many of their remaining games at home, and a softer schedule added to games with the Eagles and this week’s opponent, never say never.  But they have to start with a win over the Boys.  The defense has to find a way to stop DeMarco Murray, who’s rested after their bye.  And Manning needs to look like the guy from the 49ers game that drove down the field like no one was trying to stop them in their opening drive, and not the guy who ended up with 5 interceptions.  Something that could help is getting Rashad Jennings going in his second game back.  I keep going on faith and I’m taking another big leap taking the G-men here in week 12. NEW YORK WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Ravens @ Saints: Both teams need this game big-time. Baltimore is playing in the most competitive division in football, with all teams with at least 6 wins through 11 weeks.  New Orleans is surprisingly in the worst division, with no teams over .500.  and they find themselves behind the Falcons, a team that lost 6 straight at one point this season.  So while I think the Ravens are a better overall team, I think Drew Brees and company find a way at home to turn things around. NEW ORLEANS WINS

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