NFL: Week 5 Recap and Week 6 Picks

Most Impressive Teams of Week 5

  1. Arizona Cardinals (4-1): What a bounce back from their first loss.  It’s hard to win by 25 when your QBs only attempt 18 passes.  Carson Palmer was and efficient 11-14 for three scores.  The run game was huge, racking up nearly 200 yards and three scores of their own.  Add a defense that registered six takeaways and you have your reason why they’re up two games in the NFC West.
  2. Cincinnati Bengals (5-0): Down 17 in the fourth to the Legion of Boom is an extremely tall task for any team, home or not.  But Andy Dalton led the team on three scoring drives, running in a TD, throwing another and giving his kicker Mike Nugent time to kick a field-goal to send the game to OT.  The defense started out slowly, especially against the run game, but they pitched a shutout from midway through the 3rd through overtime.
  3. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3):It took a month, but DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews remembered how to run, a good step in the right direction.  That being said, Sam Bradford is lucky the Saints aren’t very good, overcoming two red zone interceptions in the first quarter.   A number of field goals helped break the game open, as well as break a three-game home losing skid for the Eagles. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt when your defense forces five turnovers.

Most Disappointing Teams of Week 5

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (1-4): Another bad week for Kansas City, who not only lost their fourth straight, they lost their biggest offensive weapon in Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL.  Up 17-3 at the half, they couldn’t do anything in the second half, getting shut out by a Bears team that has been pretty darn awful early.  The Chiefs issue wasn’t turnovers, but an inability to stay on the field offensively, a problem they had even before Charles went down.
  2. New Orleans Saints (1-4):This team continues to struggle on both sides of the ball. They’re a bottom half offensive team, while allowing the third most points-per-game in the league.  Turnovers haven’t been a problem, but a lack of a running game has been.
  3. Baltimore Ravens (1-4): They’ve been in every game this season, which means they can’t close.  Not good.  IN the latest collapse, Baltimore held a 12-point lead, at home, against a Browns team they’d defeated 13 of the last 14 times they’d played.  Joe Flacco ran for two scores to go with Justin Forsett’s two on the ground, and somehow it wasn’t enough.  The defense allowed Luke McCown to throw for a franchise record 457 yards, the run game to add a score and four field goals, including the game winner in OT.  The Ravens are fairly healthy and yet they find themselves in the cellar after five weeks.

Most Surprising Performances of Week 5

  1. New York Giants (3-2): I picked them to beat the Niners, and they did, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.  The best rush defense in the league allowed San Francisco to stay on the field too often.  And to let the worst scoring team in the league hang 27 on them, thanks to a nice passing game by run-first QB Colin Kaepernick.  Eli Manning made a few mistakes, but he was on point most of the night including another 4th quarter comeback for a huge passing night.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2): Mike Vick wasn’t great until the fourth quarter.  The defense wasn’t great but it made the stops when necessary to allow Le’Veon Bell, who was great the whole game, to get it over the goal line with the walk-off touchdown to upset the Chargers.  Pittsburgh is doing what it needs to do without Roethlisberger, and stay afloat in the wild card picture.
  3. Denver Broncos (5-0):They own the Raiders on the road, but they were less than impressive on offense yet again.  Peyton Manning was picked off twice, and their own touchdown came on defense.  It’s that defense that continues to win them games, but they’re going to need help if they want to stay undefeated.

Byes: Cowboys, Raiders, Rams and Buccaneers

I went 8-6 in week 5, bringing my season total up to 45-37.  Now here are my week 6 picks.

Thursday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints:Atlanta is now 5-0, and completed their sweep of the NFC East this past week, but it was their worst game to date.  Another huge effort from Devonta Freeman saved the Falcons perfect start.  As for their division foes, the Saints were a no-show against the Eagles a week after picking up their first win of the season.  New Orleans can win this game; I just don’t think they will. ATLANTA WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Redskins @ Jets:Washington did a pretty good job of containing the Falcons early in week 5, but then Freeman broke free and broke often.  Look for Chris Ivory to take advantage coming off a career high performance in week 4 against the Dolphins. NEW YORK WINS
  • Cardinals @ Steelers: Both teams are feeling good about themselves after week 5, particularly on defense.  The Steelers offense did enough this past week, but Arizona has been far more consistent in both the running and passing game than Pittsburgh.  I like that balance in this game, even if it is a Cardinals road game.ARIZONA WINS
  • Chiefs @ Vikings:Kansas City is a team in decline, while the Vikings are on the rise.  Minnesota is only 2-2, and are pretty even when it comes to points scored vs points allowed, but they’ve shown they can rise to the occasion and that Adrian Peterson can get back to where he was before the suspension.  Without Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith needs to find a way in the passing game to overcome a less than stellar defense. Give me the home team in a close one. MINNESOTA WINS
  • Bengals @ Bills:Cincinnati is doing almost everything right, while Buffalo has been one of the league’s most inconsistent teams.  The Bengals found a way against one of the league’s best defenses, and they face another tough task this week. But they’ve limited mistakes and are excelling on both sides of the ball.  Buffalo’s offense at this point is basically Tyrod Taylor as they’ve been ravaged by injury at the running back position.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills defense wins this one for them, but I am taking the Bengals to stay undefeated another week. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Bears @ Lions:DETROIT WINS
  • Broncos @ Browns: Peyton Manning is having an awful start to the 2015 season, and yet his team is 5-0 for the seventh time in his career.  This is in large part thanks to one of the best defenses he’s ever had CLEVELAND WINS
  • Texans @ Jaguars: The winner will still have a lot of work to do, while the loser will have the AFC South cellar all to themselves.  Jacksonville showed signs, particularly on defense to end last season, but they’ve been pretty bad all-around to start this year.  The Texans QB carousel continues, with Brian Hoyer doing good things to end last week when he came in for Ryan Mallet.  Look for Arian Foster to show up in his second game back from injury, mixed in with some help from JJ Watt, and I think the Texans will get their second win of the season. HOUSTON WINS
  • Dolphins @ Titans:Both teams enter with 1-3 records, though Tennessee sits in second in their division while the Dolphins are two games out in the AFC East.  The Titans point differential is actually positive, though most of that stems from their 52 point shellacking of Tampa in week 1.  As for Miami, they are one of the worst offensive teams in the league through 5 weeks, and their defense isn’t doing them any favors.  This is a good game for Miami to get going on offense since the Titans haven’t been good defensively, but with their own defensive struggles, I expect a shootout.  I liked Miami to challenge for a wildcard spot before the season, and if they want to turn their season around, they have to start now.  So give me the fins on the road in an ugly, high scoring affair. MIAMI WINS

Sunday 4/4:25 PM Games

  • Panthers @ Seahawks:It’s a battle of a defense on the rise, and a defense in flux. The two time defending NFC Champs have struggled to stay consistent on either side of the ball.  Thomas Rawls has done a nice job on the ground for the Seahawks in the absence of Marshawn Lynch, but the offense as a whole has been disappointing.  The defense has been better since Kam Chancellor came back in week 3, but they’ve shown weaknesses, particularly in the secondary, that we’re not used to seeing.  As for Carolina, they’re 4-0 and coming off a bye. They’ve been great on both sides of the ball, though the defense is doing most of the heavy lifting.  The Panthers are a top 10 scoring offense, despite only 729 yards of offense in their first four games. The Hawks tend to respond after bad losses, and for that reason, I think they take advantage of the Panthers one dimensional offense and pick up a win at home. SEATTLE WINS
  • Chargers @ Packers:Green Bay is still undefeated, but they haven’t looked great on offense the last two weeks.  Aaron Rodgers threw his first interception at home since 2012 last week, and then threw another while losing a fumble.  As for the Chargers, they looked like they’d get a much needed road win, then coughed it up.  While Philip Rivers has been pretty good this season, Aaron Rogers has been better, and has a far better defense.  GREEN BAY WINS
  • Ravens @ 49ers:Both teams need a win in the worst way.  The Ravens are coming off a bad overtime loss to the Browns, while the Niners had their best showing offensively since week 1, but lost on a last second touchdown in week 5. I really don’t like anything about either of these two teams this season, and while the 49ers defense has shown flashes, I still like Baltimore simply because they put up points more consistently than San Francisco. BALTIMORE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Patriots @ Colts: Indianapolis has gotten lucky of late, without actually having Luck, something you do need in this league. New England hasn’t needed luck yet this season.  They’re easily taking out opponents with a good combo of offense and defense.  With Andrew Luck back at practice, the Pats could have him to combat with, though he wasn’t great before the injury.  I’m tired of picking undefeated teams, especially on the road, but I have to again this week. NEW ENGLAND WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Eagles:Who would’ve thought this match-up would be an early battle lead in the NFC East after both teams started out the season a combined 0-5?  New York has played one clean game, and that was against Buffalo, yet they’re alone atop the division heading into this game.  They probably played their worst game defensively this past week, but Eli Manning helped pick up his team.  Philly got its run game going, and could look to exploit an ailing Giants defense.  But I don’t think they will do enough to get to .500.  I’ll take the road team to win their fourth straight. NEW YORK WINS

NFL: Week 5 Picks

Four more teams have their bye week: the Dolphins, Jets, Vikings and Panthers.

Last week I went 9-6, bringing my season picks total to 37-26.  Check out my week 5 picks below.

Thursday Night Football

  • Colts @ Texans: Matt Hasselbeck did just enough to get his win an OT victory in week 4, but it still wasn’t an impressive showing from the Colts. It’s still early but expect Andrew Luck back and I expect a big game.  Houston has it’s own issues at QB thought they’re sticking with Ryan Mallet.  This is a hard one to pick because neither team’s defense has been impressive, so give me Luck to come back and win it, or Hasselbeck if necessary in a close one.  INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bears @ Chiefs: Chicago got the goose egg off their ledger while the Chiefs lost a third straight. I haven’t liked much about either of these teams, with the run games for each respective squad the only real bright spots.  But Kansas City has at least been in every one of their games (for the most part) and should really be 2-2.  So give me the home team to take this one.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Seahawks @ Bengals:  This is a hard one for me this week.  On the one hand, the Seahawks defense looks like the Legion of Boom again now that Kam Chancellor is back. But on the other hand the offense hasn’t been anything to write home about. If this game were in Seattle I might go differently, and while the Bengals are probably due for a loss, I’m taking the home team to stay perfect and stay comfortably atop their division another week.  CINCINNATI WINS
  • Redskins @ Falcons: The Redskins are coming off a big win against the Eagles, while the Falcons are undefeated and playing well in every phase of the game.  This is a huge trap game for Atlanta at home, as their biggest flaw right now is stopping the pass.  But Washington is pretty one dimensional so I don’t see a 5-0 start for the Falcons being too hard to achieve. ATLANTA WINS
  • Jaguars @ Buccaneers: It’s probably the worst game of the week simply based on the fact that both teams enter at 1-3.  Not to mention a second year QB versus a rookie, and based on what both have done this year, this could be a lack luster 9-6 game, or a shoot out.  I’m leaning towards the latter, and if that’s the case, I think the Jags defense will make the play late that is the difference.  JACKSONVILLE WINS
  • Saints @ Eagles: The Saints walked off win week 4, while the Eagles were basically walked off against.  Both teams need a win desperately, though New Orleans more so as they’re division is led by a 4-0 Panthers team while the Eagles are only a game down in the East. Most had high expectations for Philly this season, while I thought the Saints would get themselves back to the playoffs.  Simply based on the fact that the run game hasn’t been what Philly thought it would be and that I would take  Drew Brees over Sam Bradford in anything any day of the week, I am going to go road team by a comfortable margin.  NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Browns @ Ravens: Cleveland has lost each of he last two by one score.  Baltimore broke their 0-3 start with a Thursday Night win, but it wasn’t a clean game, and if not for poor kicking by Pittsburgh.  Justin Forsett and Justin Tucker were the reasons why they survived in OT, and they’re why they will pick up a second win this weekend.  BALTIMORE WINS
  • Rams @ Packers: St Louis has had two very good wins, and two very bad losses.  They’ve seem to get up for the big games, and lose focus against lesser opponents.  And now for the second week in a row, they’re on the road against an undefeated team who don’t lose at home.  Aaron Rogers and company probably played their worst game a week ago, but it was once again mistake free.  Rogers will eventually slip up at home again, but I don’t think the Rams offense can do enough against the Packers defense to help out their own defense. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Bills @ Titans: Buffalo has been shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, while the Titans have been up and down on offense and defense through their first three games. The Bills run defense is good, their pass defense isn’t great and with the strength of the Titans being their passing attack, I’m taking the home team.  TENNESSEE WINS

Sunday 4/4:25 PM Games

  • Cardinals @ Lions: Arizona is coming off a disappointing home loss to St. Louis, while the Lions are coming off a disappointing road loss of their own.  Detroit’s defense finally showed up last week against the Seahawks, while the Cardinals turned over the ball too many times in their first loss.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions figure it out and avoid the 0-5 start, but I love the Cardinals and I expect a big bounce back performance. ARIZONA WINS
  • Patriots @ Cowboys: Players are dropping like flies in Dallas while the 3-0 Pats are coming off their bye week.  Despite the loss of so many key players, the Boys still sit atop the division at 2-2 and have been in every game.  But their defense fell apart the last two weeks late against QBs not named Tom Brady, so I don’t like their chances in four quarters against the reigning Superbowl Champions. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Broncos @ Raiders: The Broncos still haven’t played a great game start to finish.  Oakland has been impressive at times this season and are a surprising 2-2.  AFC West games are always tough, but Denver always plays well against the Raiders.  Give me the road team led by Peyton Manning’s best game of the season so far. DENVER WINS

Sunday Night Football 

  • 49ers @ Giants: San Francisco is in disarray while the Giants are starting to put it together.  New York’s run defense has been great all season, and that’s the Niners only chance in this game if the defense can’t put another good game together. I like the home team to win their 3rd straight.  NEW YORK WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Chargers: Pittsburgh has a new kicker but they’re going to need more than that to pick up their second win of the season.  Le’Veon Bell will need to carry them against the Chargers who are just as hungry for another win.  Their two so far haven’t been easy, but if they can keep the passing game going, I think they take this one rather easily. SAN DIEGO WINS

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 Playoffs: Wildcard Round Picks

The second season is here. We have the match-ups, we have the times. The NFL Playoffs are here.  It was an interesting regular season, that saw one division finish under .500, while another sent 3 teams to the playoffs. The rookie wide-receiving class was one of the best we’ve ever seen.  Two of the teams with the longest playoff droughts (Buffalo and Cleveland) both had chances for much of the season to snap said postseason ruts, but neither could. Tom Brady proved he wasn’t done, Aaron Rodgers continues to climb up the ladder and JJ Watt can do no wrong.  How about the defending champs with a chance to repeat? Not to mention all the off-the-field issues. The regular season was full of intrigue, and the playoffs promise to be just as entertaining.

As for my regular season picks record, I ended at 165-90 after a 10-6 week 17, which is pretty good if I do say so myself.

Before we get to my first round playoff picks, let’s see how my preseason predictions for playoff teams went.

NFC Playoff Teams

  • Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Panthers, 49ers

(I got the NFC North and West winners right, but I had Carolina in as a wildcard. Not bad, not great.)

AFC Playoff Teams

  • Broncos, Patriots, Colts, Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs

(I was a lot better here, missing on the Steelers and where the Bengals would end up).

Saturday Games

  • Cardinals @ Panthers: It’s the NFC 4-5 match-up that pits an 11-5 West team versus the 7-8-1 South Champions, and the first meeting between the two teams since October 2013. Arizona was the class of the NFC for much of the season following a 9-1 start, but the loss of starting QB Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton saw them close the regular season losers of 4 of their last 6.  They lost possible home-field, a bye and the division they were running away with and now they have to open up on the road, where they were .500 in the regular season.  Carolina is hot and holds the momentum of a 4-game win streak into the playoffs.  Cam Newton seems revitalized after early season injuries and escaping a car accident. The Panthers run game is better than the Cardinals.  Arizona’s defense has been huge all season, while the Panthers has come on of late.  The biggest difference is at QB with Ryan Lindley, the Cardinals 4th stringer, vs Newton.  Midway through the season there was a chance of seeing the Superbowl host city’s team playing the big game, now I see a 1st round knock out. CAROLINA WINS
  • Ravens @ Steelers: AFC North foes meet for the 3rd time this season in a 3-6 match-up.  These two teams split the season series, each winning in blowout fashion.  Pittsburgh reeled off 4-straight wins en-route to the division title, whereas the Ravens needed everything to fall right in week 17 for them to make it in.  The Steelers boast the 2nd ranked offense in the league, who will be up against the Ravens 8th ranked defense.  With rain in the forecast, the ground game becomes even more important.  Pittsburgh could be without their great back Le’Veon Bell, who finished the season 2nd only to DeMarco Murray in rush yards with 1,361.  Baltimore has the 5th leading rusher in Justin Forsett, so this one is going to be fun to watch in the trenches.  If the rain isn’t too bad, Ben Roethlisberger holds the advantage in the air over Joe Flacco. Both teams have won a Superbowl in the past 6 years, so neither will be scared off by the bright lights. I think this will be a close one, but give me the home team to take this one.  PITTSBURGH WINS

Sunday Games

  • Bengals @ Colts: The AFC 4-5 game starts things off early on Sunday with two teams that were in the playoffs a year ago.  Cincinnati lost their chance to host a game in week 17, and now look to snap their 3-straight one-and-done playoff streak on the road.  Indianapolis had been struggling despite locking up back-to-back South titles, but got back on track last week with a big game against Tennessee.  Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton both have something to prove in this game, as both had way too many turnovers in the regular season. That being said, I like Luck better than Dalton in every facet of the game.  Cincinnati’s only real the edge is on the ground with the emergence of Jeremy Hill.  I picked the Bengals to finally advance to the 2nd round, and if they control time of possession they very well could get the road victory.  But I think Andrew Luck is poised to make a run, and because I had them losing to Denver in the AFC Championship game before the season, I’ll stick to that now. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Lions @ Cowboys: The game of the weekend in the NFL pits an 11-5 Detroit team against a 12-4 Dallas team most didn’t see coming.  The Lions finally put all their talent together, but offensive struggles in the 2nd half allowed the Packers to sneak in and steal the division, forcing them to open up on the road.  Most thought the Cowboys defense would be historically bad once again, and while it was still bottom half in the league, they made the stops they needed to.  What really carried Dallas was the three headed monster on offense of Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo, who all broke Cowboy records for yards at their respective positions. Good thing Detroit has the 2nd ranked defense to try and combat Dallas’ 7th ranked offense. Both teams have been regarded as two of the most talented teams over the past 6 years or so, but neither have done much to earn too much praise. So who moves on? Both QBs have been known to commit turnovers in key situations, but Romo hasn’t in a while now. I think the Lions defense finally forces a mistake, while slowing down Murray in the process. It’s going to be close, but I think Detroit finds a way, with Calvin Johnson looking like his old self, to win on the road.  DETROIT WINS

NFL: Week 17 Picks

The regular season comes down to this, one playoff spot in each conference remains up for grabs, with plenty of seeding to be set.  Three divisions are still unclaimed, including the NFC South, the final spot left unclaimed and all three of those battles are winner-take-all on top of it.  We couldn’t have asked for a better end to the regular season.

In Week 16, I went 10-6 to bring my season total to 155-84.  Here’s my final regular season set of picks. Comment with your thoughts!

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: A win doesn’t help either team, as the Pats have already clinched home-field throughout the AFC playoffs, while the Bills are out of the playoff picture.  But as Tom Brady said in his press conference this week, with a bye in the 1st round, they need to make this game count so they stay fresh and ready. I don’t expect the starters to play the whole game, maybe just the 1st half, but I think New England gets the win, their 13th of the season. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Ravens: Baltimore needs a win to keep themselves in the conversation, but if the Chargers win, that’s it.  Cleveland is on their 3rd quarterback after Johnny Manziel’s injury and the ineffectiveness of Brian Hoyer.  THey had a good run, but I don’t think the Browns finish with their first non-losing record since 2007, completing a 2nd half collapse.  I’ll take the Ravens to at least give themselves a chance at the final spot in the AFC. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Bears @ Vikings: Jay Cutler is back under center and looking to finish a down year on a high note.  Minnesota has had an okay season for a team that lost it;s starting QB and all-pro running back early.  If the Vikings get the win, the Bears will finish all alone in the NFC North cellar.  And that’s exactly what I think happens.  MINNESOTA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Redskins: The Cowboys are back in the playoffs after 3-straight seasons of finishing at 8-8, and they have a shot at a first round bye.  With a hand injury to DeMarco Murray, and Tony Romo’s back, they could use it.  A lot has to go right, but they have home-field locked up at the very least by virtue of winning the NFC East. DALLAS WINS
  • Colts @ Titans: Andrew Luck is having the worst season of his young career, and yet his Colts are division champs once again. But the turnovers can’t continue, and if you’re Indy, you want to see a crisp game heading into the playoffs. Seeding is still a factor, but they have home field in the first round, so I don’t think a full game will be played by the starters. That being said, I still think the Colts get a much-needed win to make them feel better before the postseason kicks off. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Jaguars @ Texans: Jacksonville has a lot of pieces, especially on defenses, to make the future look bright. Add to that another top 3 pick, and they could make some noise fairly soon.  A loss would help things along, so while I don;t think they’ll go out and throw the season finale, I also don’t think they win. JJ Watt will look to finish the year strong and add to his MVP caliber campaign. HOUSTON WINS
  • Chargers @ Chiefs: When I looked at this match-up earlier in the week, I had the Chargers winning.  Now that Alex Smith is out for the Chiefs with a lacerated spleen, I’m even more sure that San Diego will lock up the final AFC playoff spot. Philip Rivers and company have had an odd season, but they can wipe it all away with a win and playoff berth, and I think that’s exactly what I think they do. SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Jets @ Dolphins: New York has been a disappointment all season, while the Dolphins have been disappointing to close out the season.  We know Joe Philbin will be back for 2015 in Miami, but we don’t know the true fate of Rex Ryan for the Jets. Ryan has had more success than Philbin as a head coach, but they coach in competely different markets so who knows.  All I know is I like Ryan Tannehill better than both Geno Smith and Mike Vick combined, and I saw a better defense all season long for Miami than New York.  So for that, I understand another year for Philbin.  That is also why I think the Dolphins end the season with a win. MIAMI WINS
  • Saints @ Buccaneers: This game means nothing to New Orleans but looking to end the season with a little pride. In a bad NFC South, a playoff perennial squad led by Drew Brees couldn’t even make it to week 17 in contention for the playoffs. As for Tampa, it’s been a lost season from the jump, and here they sit with a chance at the number 1 pick, with only Tennessee in the way, entering action with identical 2-13 records. Give me the Saints to finish the season with a win. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Eagles @ Giants: After being in the lead in the NFC East for most of the season, week 17 finds the Eagles out of the playoff picture and just looking to be a 10 win team that doesn’t make it.  The Giants have turned things around in the 2nd half of the season, and are a different team than when the two played the first time around.  Give me the Giants to finish out the season at 7-9 with another good day from Odell Beckham Jr, the probable Offensive Rookie of the Year. NEW YORK WINS

Sunday 4:25PM Games

  • Panthers @ Falcons: The winner is playoff bound. The loser goes home.  Neither team finishes above .500, but will host a tough 10+ win team in the wildcard round. Cam Newton’s health/ability is questionable after his car accident, while Matt Ryan’s offense is scary good.  Neither team’s defense has been impressive this season, so I’m going to go with the home team in this one. ATLANTA WINS
  • Raiders @ Broncos: The Broncos don’t have to win to ensure a first round bye, but you know they want to go into the playoffs strong and not leave things up to chance.  Peyton Manning is coming off one of his worst games ever in week 16, so you know he’s looking to bounce back.  Oakland has all but knocked themselves out of the top draft spot with 3 wins, but they’re still going to be in prime position.  Derek Carr has shown growth, so all is not lost in Raider Nation.  That being said, this is a home game with a week off at stake, give me the Broncos to get the job done. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ 49ers: San Francisco has been a strange team all season, and they’ll be missing the playoffs after a nice streak of success th past few years under Jim Harbaugh.  With signs pointing to Harbaugh parting ways with the Niners sooner rather than later, I think the team plays hard for him one more time.  I just don’t think it results in a win.  The QB situation for Arizona is less-than ideal heading into the playoffs, but their defense can carry them for a while.  Ryan Lindley gets the start over rookie Logan Thomas, with news that Drew Stanton could be back for the playoffs.  They have a playoff spot no matter what, but they more than anyone else in the NFC, really needed that bye week, but their tailspin has coincided with the Seahawks resurgence.  ARIZONA WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Winner gets the NFC North crown and home-field in the first round. The loser gets a wildcard spot. A first round bye is also in play for the winner of this one, so it’s the biggest game of the weekend. Detroit has been carried all season by their defense, but their potent offense has started to pick it up of late. The Packers are nearly unbeatable at home, looking to go 8-0 at Lambeau, so you know Green Bay wants to avoid going on the road as long as possible in the playoffs as they can.  Aaron Rodgers has more experience in high pressure games than Matt Stafford, and I think that’s the difference this week. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Rams @ Seahawks: The reigning champs started the season off slowly, but they are peaking at the right time, and a win guarantees a first round bye, and they have a shot at home-field throughout, and in 12-man territory that would be huge.  St. Louis has had a respectable season, their defense is formidable and their wins have come against some of the league’s best.  They will make the tough NFC West tougher next season with a stable QB. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bengals @ Steelers: It’s the battle for the AFC North and home-field advantage in the 1st round. Both teams are already in the playoffs, and both could still, with a lot of help, get a bye.  Cincinnati hasn’t been super impressive for most of the season, but in clinching a playoff spot last week, they sure were.  Andy Dalton outplayed Peyton Manning, and the defense stepped up big time.  Not to mention how great Jeremy Hill was out of the backfield.  But Pittsburgh has been coming on strong of late, and their run game is even more dangerous with Le’veon Bell in the backfield.  Ben Rothelisberger looks like his old self, and with this game in front of the black-and-yellow, I’m taking the Steelers to win the most competitive division in football.  Though as I said last week when I picked against the Bengals, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cincy pulls the upset.  I had them finally breaking their 1-and-done playoff streak this season prior to the start of the year, so a huge road in against their division foe wouldn’t shock me at all. PITTSBURGH WINS

NFL: Week 16 picks

After entering week 15 with no playoff spots claimed, we now have 4 locked up.  The Cardinals are the first in the NFC to punch a spot, they can do no worse than a wild card berth.  In the AFC, the Patriots, Broncos and Colts all locked up their divisions last week.  Now with just two weeks left in the regular season, the fight for the 8 remaining spots heats up.  There are 6 teams still in the hunt in the AFC, 3 in the NFC.

Another great week picking for me last week, with my only wrong choices coming in Green Bay and Philadelphia.  The 14-2 record moved me to 145-78.

Thursday Night Football

  • Titans @ Jaguars: Snooze. Can we just get to Friday and assume this game took place? It’s one of the few games this week that has no impact on the playoff push. JACKSONVILLE WINS

Saturday Football

  • Eagles @ Redskins: With their loss to the Cowboys on Sunday Night, the Eagles are now in a fight for a wildcard spot and currently sit out of playoff position behind the Packers and Seahawks. As for the Redskins, their QB carousel is back on RGIII after Colt McCoy went down early against New York.  I the Eagles are simply the better team, so I think they keep themselves in the conversation and get their 10th win. PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Chargers @ 49ers: There were so many off-the-field distractions for the 49ers this season that we can’t really be too surprised that they’re missing the playoffs for the first time in 4 years.  The Chargers need a lot of things to go right in the final two weeks to get into the playoffs, and it starts with a win this week.  Their offense is better than San Fran’s and this is why I think they get the road victory. SAN DIEGO WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Vikings @ Dolphins: Minnesota is just playing out the season at this point, in that realm of do you get to .500 and enjoy it or hope to finish closer to 6-10 for better draft position.  Miami’s two-game slide has all but knocked them out of postseason contention, for they’d have to win out and hope for a lot of losing above the.  If nothing else, the Dolphins a more balanced team, and I think they ensure themselves of finishing no less than .500. MIAMI WINS
  • Ravens @ Texans:  The Ravens control their own destiny for a wildcard spot, currently holding the 6th seed behind the Bengals and Steelers.  Houston is another 7-7 AFC squad that has their playoff hopes hinged on winning out and a whole lot of losing needed.  But they’ve had a successful season ever since winning their 3rd game, after a 14-game losing streak to end last season.  Losing Ryan Fitzpatrick hurts the Texans slim chances, though if we could see the do everything JJ Watt take a few snaps under center, don’t we all in?  Baltimore has been here before, and Joe Flacco knows how to close things out.  BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: Remember how going into last week we all had the Packers if not 1 in the league, they were one of the best in teh NFL?  Well they are still a top team and a serious threat, but it’s the Lions who sit atop the NFC North and would get a bye in the 1st round if things hold serve. Of course, might know anything til the conclusion of the regular season as far as the division is concerned as the two play in week 17.  But a Detroit win this week, gives them a sure playoff berth, coupled with a Packers loss would make them the champs in the North.  As for their division opponent this week, the Bears are awful and have been all season.  Oh, and did I meantion the not-surprising surprising move of benching Jay Cutler? So give me a road win (and a Packers win) to set up a week 17, winner take all division (and possibly a 1st round bye) in Lambeau. DETROIT WINS
  • Browns @ Panthers: Johnny Manziel take 2. I mean it can’t be worse than last week so there’s that. The two teams are fairly even in their stats, with the Panthers holding the time of possession edge, but the Browns have 2 more wins.  The Browns were shocking everyone early, but have no lost 3 straight and dropped out of the AFC North race.  Carolina, despite their guaranteed under .500 record, still have a shot winning the NFC South and hosting a playoff game.  They know how to win, see last season, so I think that experience lifts them this week.   CAROLINA WINS
  • Falcons @ Saints: The Saints have the edge in the division entering action, but Atlanta holds a 1-0 series lead.  Let’s be honest, there will be no deserving winner of this division and the home game they’d get.  That being said, someone has to win this game and the division.  I like (as I have too many times this season) the Saints at home, simply because Drew Brees and company have been far less disappointing in big games than Matt Ryan and the Falcons. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Packers @ Buccaneers: Another road loss, to another very good defense, has the Packers looking on the outside of the NFC North despite looking like the team to beat in the NFC for a good stretch of the 2nd half of the season. Other than rookie wide-out Mike Evans, everyone in Tampa Bay forgot the season started a long time ago.  Green Bay has been a different team on the road, but the Buccs defense is nowhere near the caliber of the Bills, so give me the Pack with a chance to take the division in the regular season finale. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Chiefs @ Steelers: Kansas City would be the first team out of the playoffs if everything works out as it stands now.  But a win against Pittsburgh would move them into a wild card spot heading into week 17. Both teams have respectable defenses and above average running backs that can change the game with one play.  So where does the advantage lie?  It’s under center with Ben Roethlisberger versus Alex Smith.  I take the former in this huge match-up, in Big Ben’s stadium. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Patriots @ Jets: Raise your hand if you’re shocked that the Pats have a shot to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs or at least a 1st round bye should Denver win, against the lowly Jets?  To New York’s credit, they did an admiral job slowing Tom Brady down int their first meeting, losing just by 2 in Gillette.  But this is bigger, and it;s not like the Jets got better following that meeting. Give me the AFC East Champs to pick up win number 12. NEW ENGLAND WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Giants @ Rams: It’s another game that has no effect on the playoff race.  St. Louis is playing to finish at .500 for the first time since 2006, while New York just looks to finish strong after a mid-season 7-game losing streak.  The Rams defense has been formidable all year, so look our for them next year when they get another QB in place.  I like how the Giants offense has looked of late, so against my better judgement, give me the road team to pick up win number 6. NEW YORK WINS
  • Bills @ Raiders: The Bills played spoiler for the Packers a week ago, but I don’t see enough help in their future.  But they are playing the Raiders, so I think they get win number 9 to keep themselves in the conversation til the end. BUFFALO WINS
  • Colts @ Cowboys: DeMarco Murray will probably make the start on Sunday despite having surgery on his hand.  But concerns of ball security have to be there. Both teams have been known to lose games in big situations.  Both teams are very good.  Tony Romo is having probably his best stretch run of his career, but in one of the most evenly matched week 16 games, I’m going to take Andrew Luck on the road, even as they have their playoff spot locked up already. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Seahawks @ Cardinals: Arizona’s struggles/injuries at QB the past month have allowed a resurgence from Seattle to get back in the division conversation. A Cardinals win clinches the division and home-field advantage.  But lucky for them, they’ve got the playoff spot locked up, so they have some leeway to figure out the QB situation that other teams wouldn’t.   The Seahawks defense may need a quarter to get to know the Cardinals new starter Ryan Lindley, but I don’t think it’ll be an issue.  Arizona’s own defense has been very good all year, and the only way the Cardinals win, is if they can get to Russell Wilson often. That being said, the legion of boom is alive and well, and that will be the difference. SEATTLE WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Broncos @ Bengals: Would I be surprised if the Bengals stepped up and kept their hold on the division? No.  But I just love how the Broncos are playing right now.  They aren’t as flashy as they were on offense a season ago, but they have a run game and a better defense than the team that lost in the Superbowl.  So I’m going to go on a close game that comes down to either Andy Dalton or Peyton Manning making a play late, and I take the former MVP. DENVER 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: Week 10 Picks

Week 10. I cannot believe we are here already.  The playoff picture is starting to form, putting importance on many of the games this week.

I went 7-6 a week ago to bring my season picks record to 82-51 (which puts me 72nd on my Yahoo picks page, so not too shabby!).  Another 6 teams are on their bye this week: the Texans, Vikings, Patriots, Colts, Chargers and Redskins.

Thursday Night Football

  • Browns @ Bengals: This isn’t the easy Bengals win you probably thought it would be when the schedules were released before the season.  Both teams enter action looking for their 6th wins.  That being said, I think Cincy gets this one at home to maintain their lead in the AFC North. AJ Green is back, giving Andy Dalton a nice 1-2 punch with the emergence of Mohammad Sanu. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Chiefs @ Bills: It’s a match-up of two teams on the outside looking in in their respective divisions.  The winner could hold the edge for an AFC Wildcard, making this one of the biggest games of the week.  I love Buffalo at home despite all the injuries at running back.  Their defense has done a good job holding teams scoring down, especially at home. BUFFALO WINS
  • Dolphins @ Lions: Another game of two possible playoff teams taking place in Detroit.  Miami is coming off a very dominant win over a once hot Chargers team, while the Lions had their bye after a win in London two weeks ago. Detroit’s defense has been up to the task of stopping any and all offenses so far, and I while I see this being a close game, I think the Lions find a way at home. DETROIT WINS
  • Cowboys @ Jaguars: Possibly no Tony Romo for Dallas hurts, but they’re facing one of the worst teams in the league. So who gets the win in London?  I think the boys continue to ride DeMarco Murray, limiting the chances for Brandon Weedon to mess things up to badly in Romo’s place. DALLAS WINS
  • 49ers @ Saints: Both teams need this one if they want to make the playoffs.  New Orleans is back atop the division and have been playing better of late.  The Niners have been inconsistent, particularly on offense.  And for that reason, I think the 49ers can’t outscore New Orleans on the road. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Titans @ Ravens: Tennessee is just coasting through the season.  Baltimore has been up and down, but there’s way more upside to this team despite losing their starting running back in Ray Rice early.  Give me Joe Flacco to have a big game at home and keep the pressure on everyone in the North. BALTIMORE WINS 
  • Steelers @ Jets: If the Steelers were playing almost anyone else this week, I would say their hot streak would come to an end.  But the Jets defense is atrocious, and their offense would never be able to pick them up in a shoot out with Pitt.  So let’s make it 9 straight losses for New York.  PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Falcons @ Buccaneers: Nothing like a bottom half of the NFC South battle… Neither team is good, but Atlanta holds the advantage offensively, so I see them snapping their 6-game slide.  ATLANTA WINS

4/4:25 PM Sunday Games

  • Broncos @ Raiders: Peyton Manning was embarrassed a week ago.  And now they play the worst team in baseball? Yeah this one is an easy one to pick. DENVER WINS
  • Giants @ Seahawks: New York can’t do anything right these days. Eli Manning hasn’t thrown an interception since their win over the Redskins, and has only thrown 5 all season, and yet here they sit at 3-5.  Now they head to Seattle to take on a 5-3 Seahawks squad that may not be clicking like it did last year, but has always been a tough play for the Giants.  Do I think the Giants have a shot, yes. But not a good one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: Could this be an upset alert? Absolutely.  St. Louis has shown they aren’t scared of anyone.  But Arizona is getting healthy, Patrick Peterson is finally looking like the top flight cornerback he is and they’re home.  Oh and that defense is just better than you.  So I don’t think they’ll necessarily run away with this one, I also think Arizona gets another win on Sunday.  ARIZONA WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Packers: Capping off the Sunday of action is an NFC North match-up between what I think is the 2nd best team in the conference in the Packers and one of the biggest disappointments in the league in the Bears. Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate once again, Jordy Nelson is back and the frozen tundra is a hard place to play.  All of that added to Chicago’s struggles on and off the gridiron all add up to a Packers victory. GREEN BAY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Panthers @ Eagles: Carolina really needs this one.  And if they were ever going to get a win over Philly, this is the time to do so with injuries for the Eagles on defense and at the QB position.  But Philly is home, and Mark Sanchez knows how to manage things when he has an actual offensive line.  So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Panthers can stop their skid on the road, but I don’t think it will.  PHILADELPHIA 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