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
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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: Preseason Predictions and Week 1 Picks

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

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

NFC Playoff Teams              AFC Playoff Teams

Cardinals                                  Chiefs

Panthers                                   Bengals

Packers                                      Broncos

Giants                                        Colts

Seahawks                                  Jets

Saints                                         Raiders

NFC Championship

  • Cardinals @ Panthers: CAROLINA WINS

AFC Championship 

  • Bengals @ Chiefs: KANSAS CITY WINS

Superbowl XLI

  • Panthers vs Chiefs: CAROLINA WINS

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

Thursday Night Football

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

Sunday 1PM Games

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

Sunday 4/425PM Games

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

Sunday Night Football

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

Monday Night Football

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

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

NFL: Week 3 Recap and Week 4 Picks

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

Most Impressive Teams From Week 3

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

Most Disappointing Teams From Week 3

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

Most Surprising Performances from Week 3

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

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

Thursday Night Football

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

Sunday 1PM Games

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

Sunday 4/425 PM Games

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

Sunday Night Football

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

Monday Night Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFC East                                                          AFC East

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

NFC West                                                           AFC West

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

NFC South                                                          AFC South

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

NFC North                                                           AFC North

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

NFC Playoff Teams

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

AFC Playoff Teams

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

NFC Championship Game

  • Packers over Saints

AFC Championship Game

  • Colts over Steelers

Superbowl

  • Packers over Colts

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

Thursday Night Football

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

Sunday 1PM Games

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

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

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

Sunday Night Football

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

Monday Night Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFC SOUTH (Indianapolis is starting to pull away)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFC SOUTH (The most disappointing division in football?)

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

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

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

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

NFC

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

AFC

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

NFL: Week 4 Picks

Week 4 and that means we get the first round of teams on their bye.  So we won’t see Cleveland, Cincinnati, Denver, Seattle, St. Louis or the Cardinals, or 4 teams that have gotten off to great starts and two that haven’t.  I hate that byes start so early.  I can’t imagine how these teams feel, knowing they won’t get a break for the rest of the season.

I went 10-6 last week, moving me to 27-21 to start the season. I’ll take it, especially after going 7-9 in week 2.

Thursday Night Football

  • Giants @ Redskins: It’s an NFC East showdown to kick off week 4 of the NFL season.  Both teams enter action at 1-2, but are coming off very different games.  New York played the perfect game against a good defensive team in Houston to pick up their first win, while the Redskins lost in a shootout to the vision leading Philadelphia Eagles.  Sure Washington’s offense looked great, but their defense looked anything but.  The Giants could be 2-1 despite needing some time to adapt to their new offense.  So with that, I’m taking the road team to even up their record. NEW YORK WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Packers @ Bears: I’ve been disappointed with the Packers thus far, while Chicago has been impressive, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  But as someone who picked Green Bay to go far this season, I think they can turn it around, and though playing at Soldier Field is no picnic, I think they find a way and Aaron Rodgers gets back to looking like an MVP. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Bills @ Texans: Buffalo has been better than expected, while Houston looks to rebound off their first loss of the season.  This is going to be a defensive struggle.  Ryan Fitzpatrick looked off a week ago in New York, while EJ Manuel continues to grow.  So who makes the plays in the end?  Give me the home team. HOUSTON WINS
  • Titans @ Colts: Tennessee has been down right awful.  Indy took their early frustrations out on the Jaguars to avoid an 0-3 start.  To me, this one is simple.  Indianapolis is a better team, and they’re at home.  I like the Colts to even up their record at 2-2. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Panthers @ Ravens: The winner of this one moves to 3-1.  With the fire-power in the NFC South, Carolina needs this one more than Baltimore.  The Ravens haven’t had too many issues succeeding without running back Ray Rice. I know Baltimore is the home team in this one, but I like Carolina in this one.  CAROLINA WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Steelers: Remember when everyone though Tampa was going to challenge for a playoff spot this year?  Yeah about that… Steelers get the victory at home. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Dolphins @ Raiders: Charles Woodson said they were bad, and he wasn’t wrong. Oakland has scored the fewest points in the league through the first 3 weeks.  I’d say that doesn’t bode well for them, but the Dolphins have allowed the fourth most points in the league. Despite any possible QB controversy in Miami, they’re still a better team than Oakland.  MIAMI WINS
  • Lions @ Jets: Detroit is clicking on both sides of the football.  New York continues to be inconsistent.  I give the Jets a shot if Geno Smith can limit the mistakes, but against a hungry Lions defense, and possibly being without Eric Decker once more, I can’t see New York getting the win. I didn’t think the Jets would start 1-3, but that’s what I see happening.  DETROIT WINS

Sunday 4:05/4:25PM Games

  • Jaguars @ Chargers: The Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville has begun.  So that’s where Jacksonville is.  As for the Chargers, they look every bit as good as the second half team that forced its way into the playoffs a year ago. SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Eagles @ 49ers: Philly is one of 3-0 teams standing, while the 49ers are a disappointing 1-2.  But the Eagles defense was shown up by Washington a week ago, and they will be without their starting center, which won’t help LeSean McCoy get back on track. Many people felt going into the season that San Fran was poised to make another deep playoff run, and for that to happen, it has to start now.  And I think it does. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Falcons @ Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater gets his first career start.  Atlanta looks to get back to the team they were in week 1 when they beat the Saints.  Matt Ryan has been quite good all season, and I think that gives them the edge. ATLANTA WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Saints @ Cowboys: If you asked me before the season which of these two teams would enter action at 1-2 and which at 2-1, I’d say the road team would be looking for an impressive 3-1 start.  But I’d have been wrong.  Dallas’ defense hasn’t looked as horrible as we all predicted, and both sides of New Orleans game hasn’t been what anyone thought through 3 weeks.  That being said, I just cannot see Drew Brees and company starting out 1-3. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Patriots @ Chiefs: Tom Brady has said the offense needs to step up.  Sure, it hasn’t looked like the high octane offense of the last few seasons, but even so, this team is still 2-1.  Kansas City on the other hand looks nothing like the team that started out 9-0 last season.  The fact that their defense isn’t what it was, coupled with New England being “due,” I’m going with the road team in this one. NEW ENGLAND WINS

There you have it scoreboard watchers.  Here’s to seeing who stays unbeaten, healthy and starts the road to recovery.  Enjoy the games!