Week 12 NFL picks

Week 12 NFL picks against the spread

The last two weeks have made finishing the year with a winning record seem like a pipe dream. I was just 4-9-1 against the spread last week and now sit at 68-84-7 on the year, but there is still lots of football left to be played.

My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Thursday

Vikings (-3) at Lions – These teams are tough to wrap your arms around, but this Thanksgiving Day tilt is dripping with playoff implications. The Lions continue to get away with slow starts more often than they should. Matthew Stafford is the only reason for that. They have no balance whatsoever and have not had a 100-yard rusher in four years.

Case Keenum is playing way above his head. He has given the Vikings enough cushion so that they are almost certainly a playoff team. Even so, it is hard to think that he will not eventually come back to earth. For now though, the Vikings play better defense and run the ball better than this week’s opponent. Holding the Rams to seven points was the most impressive outing from a defense all year. Min 24 Det 17

Chargers (-1) at *Cowboys – The Cowboys’ season is on the line here. They have been physically dominated the last two weeks. With the AFC growing more mediocre by the week, the Chargers are also very much in the playoff mix, but they have to travel a fairly long way on a short week. Dallas tends to play well in their traditional Thanksgiving time slot, so they will find a way to win here. Dal 24 LAC 23

*Giants at Redskins (-7) – Washington has been the better team this year, but they lost their best running back last week in addition to their late-game collapse. Whatever playoff hopes they had probably went by the boards too. Given all that, they may check out on the season.

New York’s upset of Kansas City last week should provide incentive for them to keep playing hard. Timing is everything in this matchup and the timing is right for an upset. NYG 23 Was 20

Sunday

Bills at Chiefs (-10) – This is the first of many large spreads this week. Both of these teams are struggling in a big way. They each look miles away from the teams that got off to two of the best starts in the league.

Kansas City is still in firm control of the AFC West despite losing four out of five games. Andy Reid has earned the benefit of the doubt and will likely get his team back on track before long. Alex Smith has regressed from being an MVP candidate in the first part of the season back to being the average Alex Smith that everyone should be used to. The Chiefs still have playmakers all over the field though.

It is hard to have that same confidence in Buffalo right now. Mercifully, the Nathan Peterman experiment ended after one disastrous half against the Chargers last week. The Bills are still very much in the AFC Wild Card mix. However, even with Tyrod Taylor back under center, Sean McDermott may have already lost this team.

Buffalo has given up 135 combined points during its current losing streak. Yet, they tinkered with the quarterback rather than the defense? It is absolutely mystifying, and it must feel that way for some of the players too. The walls are closing in on Buffalo. A trip to Kansas City will not make it any better. KC 24 Buf 13

Panthers (-4.5) at Jets – After being picked to go winless by many before the season, the Jets have fought the good fight all year long. But at 4-6, reality is starting to set in. Carolina has won three in a row and are finally figuring out how to use the young talent they drafted to help Cam Newton, who is also finding consistency. These two teams are headed in opposite directions. The Panthers keep rolling. The Jets keep fading. Car 28 NYJ 20

Bears at Eagles (-13.5) – The Eagles are showing no signs of slowing down. Carson Wentz is really good, and it seems like he gets help from different offensive weapons every week.

Meanwhile, Chicago has not been winning games consistently since rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky took over. They have been playing teams like Detroit, New Orleans and Minnesota right to the wire though. The Bears run the ball and play defense well enough to hang around with anybody in this league. Additionally, they do not even have to keep this one all that close to be a winning bet here. Phi 28 Chi 17

Browns at Bengals (-8) – Believe it or not, the Bengals are just a single game out of an AFC playoff spot. The winless Browns are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot as well. Take your pick as to which of those two facts is more unbelievable.

Week 12 NFL picks

Photo from USA Today

The Browns keep losing, but have played well in patches over the last handful of weeks. Moreover, the Bengals never blow anyone out, especially when they are supposed to. Look no further than the Indianapolis game from about a month ago. A.J. Green will make a big play late to help Cincinnati avoid disaster. Cin 16 Cle 13

Dolphins at Patriots (-16.5) – As usual, New England is the class of the AFC and Miami is far from it. Even so, 16.5 points in any NFL game is too many to give up. In a game between division rivals, it feels like stealing. NE 31 Mia 17

Buccaneers at Falcons (-10) – The Falcons are getting a little too much credit here. The win in Seattle was massive and impressive. Even so, Atlanta has been chasing consistency all year. After dismantling the Aaron Rodgers led Packers, they lost home games to Buffalo and Miami. Thus, it is hard to see them blowing out a Tampa Bay team that is suddenly playing much better with veteran backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the controls. Falcon fans will have to bite their nails late in this game. Atl 27 TB 24

Titans (-3) at *Colts – Indianapolis is not very good, but Jacoby Brissett has had them in almost every game since taking over the starting quarterback job. This includes a meeting earlier this year with Tennessee where the Colts led heading into the fourth quarter before collapsing.

The Titans offense has just become stagnant in recent weeks. They are either in a low-scoring battle or getting blown out every week. It is fair to wonder whether or not Mike Mullarkey is the right coach to get Marcus Mariota to the next level. Brissett makes a play late, Mariota does not. Ind 28 Ten 24

Seahawks (-7) at 49ers – It is foolish to sell your Seahawks stock. Yes, the defense is injured and aging. However, in their last two losses, they have missed four combined field goals and had a bizarre attempt at a fake. If even one of those plays is different, no one is panicking about the Seahawks right now.

As long as Russell Wilson stays healthy, this team will be in every game and win most of them. San Francisco is scrappy, but undermanned here. They are the perfect team for Seattle to play right now. Sea 27 SF 13

Broncos at Raiders (-5) – These bitter AFC West rivals had legitimate playoff aspirations at the start of the year and are now a mess. They almost seem to be trying to match each other’s dysfunction. Denver fired its offensive coordinator this week. The Raiders sent their defensive coordinator packing.

Week 12 NFL picks

Photo from clutchpoints.com

Paxton Lynch will finally get a legitimate crack at being the long-term quarterback answer in Denver starting with this game. With everything going on, this had to be a tough game for Vegas to put a line on. Anything could happen here. Even though Denver already shut him down once this year, Derek Carr is still better than anything the Broncos have on offense at the moment. Oak 21 Den 14

Jaguars (-4.5) at Cardinals – Jacksonville is a lot like Minnesota. They have a really good defense and some nice skill players, but their limitations at quarterback will eventually doom them in or before the playoffs. They are fortunate to be playing against quarterback Blaine Gabbert this week. Despite playing well in defeat last week, the former Jaguars first-round pick is just the kind of quarterback that Jacksonville’s sack and turnover happy defense has feasted on all year long. Jac 24 Ari 14

*Saints at Rams (-2.5) – The Rams are still very much a factor in the NFC, but they were humbled by a very good Vikings defense last week. This week is just a bad matchup. No one has ran the ball better than New Orleans over the last month. The Rams are in the bottom third of the league in rush defense. The new style of the Saints does not revolve solely around Drew Brees, and it travels very well. NO 24 LAR 21

Packers at Steelers (-14) – Swallowing this many points in an NFL game is normally foolish, but there is no reason not to do it here. The Pittsburgh offense is almost always going to produce regardless of the opponent.

It is the defense that has been a fairly well kept secret on their current five-game winning streak. They have not allowed more than 17 points in any game during the streak. The Packers have scored more than 20 points just once since Brett Hundley stepped in for injured Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay was shutout last week. It is hard to see a much different scenario in this one. Pit 35 GB 17

Monday Night

Texans at Ravens (-7) – The Texans were finally able to scrape together a win with Tom Savage at quarterback last week. It was more than likely too little too late though. Sometimes all you have to do is say it out loud. Savage is going on the road to face Baltimore defense that has shutout two of its last three opponents. This is going to get ugly. Bal 24 Hou 10

 

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NFL Week 11 picks

Week 11 NFL picks against the spread

After going 5-8-1 against the spread last week, my record for the year now sits at 64-76-6. The climb back towards a respectable record starts this week. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Thursday Night

Titans at Steelers (-7) – Tennessee is on a four-game winning streak, but three of those wins were Indianapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati. The Steelers are a significant step up. The emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster has made the offense all the more dangerous, and being at home seems to shield them from slow starts like last week.

NFL Week 11 picks

Photo: from cincyjungle.com

The Titans may need to put up over 30 points in this one, something they haven’t done since the start of their winning streak. Pittsburgh is just a little more consistent on both sides of the ball at the moment. They will pull away late. Pit 31 Ten 21

Sunday

Cardinals (-1.5) at Texans – This game will feature a quarterback duel between Tom Savage and Blaine Gabbert. How can you not be pumped up for that?

Sarcasm aside, Arizona has at least shown an occasional ability to let Adrian Peterson carry them to victory in recent weeks. With Deshaun Watson hurt, Houston has not managed to come close to finding a similar winning formula. Ari 16 Hou 9

Ravens (-2) at Packers – This is a coin flip. The Packers finally figured out how to look like an NFL offense without Aaron Rodgers last week, but the injuries are piling up. The offensive line and backfield are now affected. It is easy to say “next man up,” but a team can only overcome so much.

Baltimore’s offense was not playoff worthy early in the year, but all the teams in the AFC Wild Card race have the same issue. The spark provided by Alex Collins in recent weeks has at least made them a realistic part of that conversation. In a game of struggling offenses, Baltimore’s defense is better. Bal 23 GB 20

Lions (-3) at *Bears – The Bears are undermanned and have serious limitations on offense, but they continue to manage it pretty well. Even though it is not showing up in the form of wins, John Fox may need to save his job. Chicago can run the ball and play defense against anyone.

The one thing Chicago cannot do is fall behind early. The good news this week is Detroit waits until the fourth quarter to start playing almost every week. The Lions are in the playoff hunt and every game is big. They tend to struggle in that situation. Chicago is just a bad matchup for them this week. Chi 19 Det 16

Jaguars (-7.5) at Browns – For the first time in a long time, Jacksonville is in the thick of the playoff hunt. Doug Marrone and his players deserve a ton of credit. However, the offense is still a one-man show centered around Leonard Fournette. Surprisingly, Cleveland’s run defense is top five in the league. With the offense coming off its best game of the year, the Browns should keep this close, and getting their first win is not out of the question. Jac 19 Cle 14

Chiefs (-10) at Giants – Kansas City has lost three of its last four after a 5-0 start. However, the Giants just lost to the hapless 49ers and are growing more dysfunctional by the hour. Additionally, Andy Reid is 16-2 in games following a bye week during his coaching career. There is absolutely nothing to suggest this game will be anything other than a bloodbath, which should make anyone who bets it nervous. KC 30 NYG 13

*Rams at Vikings (-2.5) – Two of this year’s most pleasant surprises face off here. The Vikings defense is very good, but the Rams have gashed every defense they have faced this year. So, it may not matter.

Teddy Bridgewater is a fantastic story. However, the fact that there was even a discussion about him replacing Case Keenum this week makes you wonder if Mike Zimmer is looking to fix something that isn’t broke. It is the kind of delicate situation that can ruin a team if it isn’t handled properly.

In the short term, the Rams offense is in touch more explosive. That gives them the edge here. In the long-term, Minnesota had better be very careful in regards to its quarterback situation. LAR 28 Min 27

Buccaneers at Dolphins (-1) – This game is taking place 10 weeks later than originally scheduled due to Hurricane Irma. Both of these teams have been disappointments this year. Last week aside, Miami has been better at winning ugly.

The Dolphins defense got absolutely leveled in Carolina last week, but the Bucs offense has not shown the capability to put up 45 points on anyone this year. The Dolphins defensive unit is actually pretty good and will be eager to bounce back from last week’s embarrassment. Mia 20 TB 17

Redskins at Saints (-7.5) – This season, the Saints have totally reinvented themselves on the fly. Their bread is now buttered via the running game and defense. Drew Brees may not be what he once was, but the 38-year-old quarterback is still plenty good enough to get the job done.

New Orleans has destroyed some really solid teams over the last seven weeks. Washington is not a terrible football team, but they don’t have the horsepower to keep up here. NO 30 Was 20

Bills at Chargers (-4) – Buffalo is panicking. After two straight blowout losses, they are turning to rookie mid-round draft pick Nathan Peterman at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor has not been the problem for the last two weeks. The problem has been giving up 81 combined points.

NFL Week 11 picks

Photo from si.com

For a team that still has a realistic shot at ending a 16-year playoff drought, the move is stranger than strange. The Chargers found yet another way to lose a close game last week. With Philip Rivers in concussion protocol, Kellen Clemens may get the call here. Even if that is the case, the Los Angeles pass rush should be enough to overwhelm the rookie signal caller on the other side. LAC 27 Buf 19

Bengals at Broncos (-2.5) – The seasons for both these teams have gone off the rails in a big way. Denver is at home and some of their struggles have come against three of the best teams in football. Moreover, Brock Osweiler and the offense made some strides last week. It is hard to come up with any positives like the ones above for the Bengals. Denver should benefit from a much needed step down in opposition. Den 28 Cin 21

Patriots (-6.5) at Raiders (Mexico) – New England has become the well-oiled machine we are used to after a slow start. They are doing everything well right now. The Raiders high-powered offense has disappeared. They have scored fewer than 20 points in five of their last seven games.  Especially since this is not a true road game, the Patriots should keep rolling here. NE 34 Oak 20

Eagles (-3) at *Cowboys – It is rare for a home team to be an underdog in a rivalry game. When it applies, taking the points is always wise.

Too much is being made of what happened to Dallas in Atlanta last week. The Falcons are built to play in their building. They make a lot of teams look bad there. The same thing happened to Green Bay earlier this year. The Packers turned out fine until their Hall of Fame quarterback got hurt.

The Cowboys have had another week to adjust to life without Ezekiel Elliott. The loss of Sean Lee on defense may be tough to overcome, but they match up well with all of their division rivals.

As good as the Eagles are, they are still a pretty young football team. Going on the road to face the defending division champions is their toughest test yet. It is hard not to have serious doubts about whether any young team is ready for something like this. Dal 24 Phi 20

Monday Night

Falcons at Seahawks (-3) – Both of these teams are very talented, but this is a pretty simple matchup. Seattle is the better team and has lost just two home games in two years. Atlanta has struggled on the road as of late and has had a hard time scoring on a consistent basis this year. Seattle is not the place to go to fix those issues. Sea 22 Atl 14

 

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first-year NFL head coaches

Checking in on the first-year NFL head coaches

We are far enough into the NFL season that it is now fair to evaluate how all the head coaches are doing. While there are 32, the coaches who took new jobs prior to this season are always of particular interest. So, let’s see who is making the grade.

Sean McVay

What the former Redskins offensive coordinator has done defies logic and description. At the time of his hiring, he was the youngest head coach in league history. Also, he took over a mess.

The Rams were the worst scoring offense in the league in 2016 and limped to a 4-12 mark in their first year back in Los Angeles. Much of the offensive personnel has remained the same under McVay, including second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who was totally overwhelmed as a rookie.

The Rams are now the top scoring offense in the NFL and sit atop the NFC West. It is impossible to be sure whether McVay is brilliant or his predecessor Jeff Fisher was grossly incompetent. The answer is likely a little bit of both. The Rams defense was pretty good all along.

There is a lot of football left to be played, and it is hard to imagine any team averaging 32.9 points per game for an entire season. That puts you in the conversation with some of the greatest offenses ever.

For now though, McVay is the runaway winner for coach of the year. Turnarounds like this simply do not happen this quickly in pro football.

Grade: A+

Vance Joseph

When Gary Kubiak stepped down due to health concerns after the 2016 season, the former Dolphins defensive coordinator took over an organization that won a Super Bowl less than two years ago.

first-year NFL head coaches

(Photo from Denver Post)

However, the Broncos have regressed under Joseph. Trevor Siemian was at least serviceable last year. That cannot be said of Siemian or any other Broncos quarterback this year. Despite the team being very good for most of his tenure, John Elway has had to hire three head coaches during his relatively short time in the Denver front office.

With a workable schedule down the stretch, Joseph could still salvage the season if he can lead an upset over the Patriots Sunday night, but that is unlikely at best.

No individual is responsible for anything in the NFL. Even so, with the Broncos among the league leaders in penalties and turnovers and on a four-game losing streak, it is starting to look like Elway will be finding another head coach sooner than he would like.

Grade: D+

Anthony Lynn

The former Bills offensive coordinator took over a franchise that was relocating to a city where it has virtually no fan base. That is an unenviable position for any coach to be in.

However, Lynn did inherit Philip Rivers as his quarterback. This is something even some established coaches in this league would kill for. Early in the season, the seemingly never-ending trend of the Chargers finding ways to lose close games continued.

Lynn’s team showed some impressive toughness by winning three in a row after an 0-4 start. The defense is also much improved thanks mostly to the hiring of former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator.

3-5 is not where any coach wants to be through eight games. All things considered though, Lynn has done an okay job. Remember, this is also a team that is essentially playing 16 road games this year and potentially beyond.

Grade: C+

Sean McDermott

This is the toughest one for me. The former Panthers defensive coordinator has the Bills in the mix to end a 17-year playoff drought. The best thing this team has going for it is a defense that is allowing less than 19 points per game.

Getting blown out by the Jets on Thursday night in Week 9 was a big blow. They still have to play division rival New England twice, as well as New Orleans and Kansas City. They will be underdogs in every one of those games.

McDermott would not be the first Bills coach as of late to lead Buffalo to a hot start only to fade late in the season. He has done well to this point, but his job is about to get a lot tougher.

Grade: B-

Kyle Shanahan

The mastermind behind last year’s electric Falcons offense is still searching for his first win as a head coach in San Francisco. Shanahan is well aware that he is bringing the less talented roster into almost every game this season.

Despite that, the 49ers are playing hard and have been in almost every game. The best thing the young head coach has done is oversee or possibly facilitate the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo from New England before the trade deadline.

Shanahan is certainly taking his lumps as a first-time head coach this year, but if Garoppolo turns out to be the star that many people believe he will be, the wins are not far behind.

Grade: C+

 

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Week 10 NFL picks

Week 10 NFL picks against the spread

I continued to tread water last week with a mark of 6-6-1 against the spread. Upon the arrival of Week 10, 59-68-5 is where I stand for the year. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Thursday Night

Seahawks (-6) at Cardinals – Even after a last-second loss last week, Seattle is fine. Sometimes the opposing quarterback makes a couple great throws and you get beat. Three missed field goals also did not help matters, but that happens sometimes too.

Arizona may be able to rely exclusively on Adrian Peterson against winless San Francisco, but not an angry Seattle team. Drew Stanton will have to play the game of his life for his team to have a chance here. It is nearly impossible to expect that from a career backup. Sea 27 Ari 13

Sunday

Bengals at Titans (-4.5) – The Titans offense is still very pedestrian. Fortunately for them, they are battling Jacksonville for the division title and teams like Baltimore for a possible Wild Card spot. All those teams have similar issues.

This pick has more to do with the opponent. I am officially out on the Bengals after the way they were dominated in Jacksonville last week. It is one thing when a guy like Vontaze Burfict loses his cool. However, when a model citizen like A.J. Green loses his cool, it is time to clean house. Ten 21 Cin 13

Browns at Lions (-12.5) – The Lions proved me wrong and did exactly what they should have done against a shorthanded opponent last week. They find themselves in a similar spot here. It would be insane to pick the winless Browns, but they are still playing hard. One week does not change a recent history of struggling in strange spots for Detroit.  Det 31 Cle 20

Packers at Bears (-5.5) – My goodness, the Brett Hundley led Packers looked awful last week. I really thought they would be okay at home coming off a bye, but they were dominated by Detroit. The advantages Green Bay had before the game last week are gone, and Chicago has improved in all phases of the game in recent weeks. Aaron Rodgers is not saving the day anytime soon. Chi 20 GB 13

*Chargers at Jaguars (-4) – Blake Bortles has actually been a key part of Jacksonville’s last two wins. This team might actually be around for the long haul. However, the Chargers pass rush is one of the best kept secrets in football, and the Jags defense will have a much tougher time controlling a borderline future Hall of Famer like Philip Rivers as opposed to the other quarterbacks they have dealt with in recent weeks. LAC 27 Jac 24

Vikings (-1) at *Redskins – This is the toughest pick of the week for me. Minnesota’s quarterback situation continues to evolve, and they continue to win. That speaks to how good the rest of the roster is.

Week 10 NFL picks

Photo from NBC Sports

However, what Kirk Cousins pulled off in Seattle last week with a third of the roster battling injuries was nothing short of remarkable. It felt like a turning point for Washington’s season as well as his career. Everyone who has bought in to Cousins has eventually been burned.

I have never bought in until now. The Redskins’ playoff run starts with him leading his team to a mini upset here. Jay Gruden also deserves a ton of credit for the way he has worked around all the injuries. Was 21 Min 20

Saints (-3) at Bills – I am also out on Buffalo after last week. They had a golden opportunity to tighten their grip on their first playoff spot in 18 years and got run over by the Jets. Sean McDermott is the right guy in the long-term. However, with their remaining schedule, they needed to win last week. It looks like we are headed for at least one more year of the “same old Bills.”

Meanwhile, the Saints have given up losing after dropping their first two games. Drew Brees finally has a running game and a defense to help him out. New Orleans looks unstoppable because of it. NO 30 Buf 20

Jets (-2.5) at Buccaneers – The Bucs are the third and final member of my “officially out” club after last week. Jameis Winston clearly has the talent to be the building block of an NFL franchise, but not the maturity. His lack of maturity seems to have spread to the entire roster.

Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will fill in for an injured Winston for the next few weeks. With the team sitting at 2-6, it hardly matters. The good news is Tampa Bay does have some good players, and the maturity issue is fixable, but not with this coaching staff.

Conversely, you will not find a coach who has done a better job this year than Todd Bowles. He has a team that many people predicted to go winless on the brink of being .500 in mid-November. Whatever he is selling, his guys are clearly buying in. NYJ 17 TB 10

Week 10 NFL picks

Photos from nocoastbias.com

Steelers (-10) at Colts – Indianapolis is awful, but not as awful as everyone thinks. With Jacoby Brissett at the helm, the Colts have won three games and lost two others by three points or less. They are a few bounces of the ball away from being a .500 football team.

The Steelers are one of a handful of AFC teams with six wins. As long as Le’Veon Bell is the centerpiece of the offense, they will remain tough to deal with.

Pittsburgh has more firepower and will win. However, they have a tendency to play down to their competition. This will be closer than it should be. Pit 28 Ind 24

Texans at Rams (-11.5) – Normally, swallowing this many points in an NFL game is foolish, but the Rams are rolling right now, and we saw what the Texans are without Deshaun Watson last week. 11.5 points does not feel like enough here. LAR 35 Hou 13

Cowboys at Falcons (-3) – Most people have bailed on the Falcons. They have lost three out of four, but they are a different team on their home turf. In recent home games, they have jumped out to early leads only to fade late.

With or without Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas is not built to play from behind. They may well prove to be the better team over the long haul, but this is simply a bad matchup. Atl 31 Dal 24

Giants (-2) at 49ers – These two teams have one win between them. It will be a tough game to watch and is also tough to predict. The 49ers just do not have much talent. Jimmy Garoppolo changes nothing in the short term. The Giants have plenty of talent, but most of it is injured or disgruntled. They win the coin flip here because Eli Manning will play well after all the talk about replacing him this week. NYG 17 SF 13

Patriots (-7.5) at Broncos – Last week, I joked about the Broncos defense going on strike. Unfortunately for Denver fans, that is basically what ended up happening. Even though they were up against the hottest quarterback on the planet, it was still shocking. Even more shocking is the fact that Denver still ranked in the top five in passing and total defense after giving up over 50 points last week. That is how good they had been.

This is a proud defense that has given Tom Brady fits over the years, especially in Denver. They did not take kindly to being humiliated in Philadelphia.

I expect them to bounce back strong and keep the home team in the game. However, Denver’s current offense facing the reigning Super Bowl champions is like bringing a plastic knife to a gunfight. NE 24 Den 20

Monday Night

Dolphins at Panthers (-9.5) – This is way too many points to swallow. Relatively speaking, the Dolphins offense has been a bit better in recent weeks. They have scored over 20 points in two of their last three games.

Defense has not been an issue for the Dolphins this year, and Carolina has struggled on offense at times. Despite winning two of their last three games, they have only scored 40 total points in that span. Jay Cutler was really good in the first half against Oakland last week. He finally seems to be finding a bit of rhythm.

Carolina is the better team here and will find a way to get the job done. However, they never seem to blow anyone out, especially when they are supposed to. Car 24 Mia 21

 

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Chicago Bears

The one NFL team no playoff contender wants to play

With the ninth week of regular season play already started, separation is starting to take place  in the NFL when it comes to who will be fighting for a playoff spot late in the season and who will just be playing for pride. There is one team out there that no playoff contender should want to deal with.

While stranger things have certainly happened, the playoffs are probably out of reach for the Chicago Bears who sit at 3-5 as they enjoy their bye week. However, this team is among the most improved since the start of the season. Here is why they are poised to at the very least play spoiler as we roll towards this season’s stretch run.

They finally have an identity on offense:

Are the Bears limited on offense with rookie Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback? Of course. The second overall pick has not completed more than 14 passes in any of his four starts. Despite that, knowing your limitations and playing to your strengths can count for a lot in this league. Bears head coach John Fox knows this better than most coaches. He won a playoff game with Tim Tebow at quarterback.

The best thing about the Bears offense was always the Jordan Howard led ground game. Turning to a rookie quarterback, forced Chicago to become more reliant on that. For some reason, the Bears were intent on throwing the ball all over the place with Mike Glennon under center to start the season. Granted, the Bears were trailing a lot, but averaging 35 pass attempts per game with a quarterback like Glennon is not a formula for consistent winning. A quarterback change caused a light bulb to come on for the entire organization,

Howard has had fewer than 20 carries just once in Trubisky’s four starts. Rookie Tarik Cohen has come from nowhere to give the Bears one of the best backfield combos in football. Chicago now has the fourth ranked rushing offense in the NFL.

It is also important to remember that the modern NFL is a pass happy league where even average quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins throw for 4,000 yards. Thus, when a run based team like the Bears comes along, it is a difficult style for defenses to adapt to. Jacksonville is having some success this year with a similar formula. This style is not flashy, some may even call it boring, but it has given opponents fits for the last month.

Another thing a run heavy offense has allowed the Bears to do is limit turnovers. Looking at just the quarterback position, Glennon was responsible for six turnovers in the first four games of the year. In the last four, Trubisky has accounted for just two.

Turnovers are not the only negative plays Trubisky is helping to avoid, he is far more mobile than the much older and taller Glennon. He has been able to create something out of nothing and scamper to avoid sacks. Sometimes, an incomplete pass is not so bad. Apart from a terrible throw at the end of the game in his first start, the added element of Trubisky’s mobility has served him and the team well.

Having played only a handful of games in college, Trubisky is still prone to rookie mistakes, but there are things like bootlegs in the clip below from the NFL YouTube channel. Those were not in the playbook with Glennon.

 

The defense is playing well:

When healthy, the Bears defense has played well the last three years under Fox, but that has been rare. So far so good for the Bears defense in 2017. They rank 12th in rush defense. Over the last two games, Drew Brees and Cam Newton led offenses have been held to 23 combined points. In fact, Chicago defeated the Panthers on the strength of two defensive touchdowns by rookie Eddie Jackson.

Eddie Jackson

Photo: Chicago Tribune

There are very few things that are always true when it comes to NFL football. However, if you run the football, stop the run on defense, and limit turnovers, you will always have a chance to win. The Bears have a .500 record in Trubisky’s four starts. The two losses are by one possession. All but two of Chicago’s remaining games feature opponents that are realistically in the playoff hunt. As long as the Bears keep doing the three things mentioned in this paragraph well, contending teams should be very worried about playing them.

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Drew Brees

Week 9 NFL picks against the spread

My outright upset picks were not great last week, but I still managed to post a 7-6 mark against the spread. 53-62-4 is where I stand as the second half of the season begins. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Thursday Night:       

Bills (-3) at *Jets– After last week, I am done picking the road team on Thursday night unless it is obvious. Apart from a blowout win last week, Buffalo has found ways to win some close games lately, the Jets have found a way to lose.

Given the lack of depth in the AFC, Buffalo is in great position to end the longest playoff drought in the NFL. However, New York’s offense is putting together two or three scoring drives per game pretty routinely at this point. Missed field goals, not running the ball enough with the lead, and questionable officiating are what has cost them in recent weeks. All of those things are very correctable, even during a short week.

Buffalo has been in situations like this fairly often in the last 15 years or so. Every time the playoffs are in sight, they seem to lose a game like this. If they can pull this out, they are not the same old Bills, until then… NYJ 23 Buf 20

Sunday:

Falcons at Panthers (-2) – This year’s Falcons are last year’s Panthers. A team from the south that caught lightning in a bottle on offense one year and couldn’t back it up the next. Carolina has bounced back this year on the strength of their ground game and defense. For this reason, trading away Kelvin Benjamin won’t change this team’s fortunes all that much. Maybe next year, the Falcons can bounce back the way the Panthers have. Car 30 Atl 21

*Ravens at Titans (Pick ‘em) – The Ravens seemed to finally click on all levels last week against the Dolphins. Alex Collins has given the offense a short term spark it desperately needed. Conversely, the Titans were flat in a narrow escape against the Browns. This is one of a couple games this week where the teams may be headed in opposite directions. Bal 19 Ten 13  

Alex Collins

Photo: sbnation.com

*Bengals at Jaguars (-4.5) – Even with a winning record, the Jags are a tough team for me to wrap my arms around. The defense and Leonard Fournette are amazing, but their ceiling is limited with Blake Bortles at quarterback. For the Bengals, Carlos Dunlap’s pick six last week may have saved the season and A.J. Green is the best player on either team here. That is good enough for me. Cin 21 Jac 17

Broncos at Eagles (-7.5) – Somehow, the Broncos have ended up with Brock Osweiler getting another crack at being their starting quarterback. We are living in strange times. The Denver defense should go on strike. Holding Kansas City to under 300 yards of offense is incredible. Turnovers undid Denver Monday night. Turning to Osweiler, doesn’t exactly scream stability.

Brock Osweiler

Photo: Yahoo Sports

The same thing will probably happen here. However, Carson Wentz has been pretty ordinary in recent weeks despite the Eagles continuing to win. That will not change here. The Broncos need a lot more than moral victories, but the defense will keep this close. Phi 24 Den 20   

Colts at Texans (-13) – Deshaun Watson continued to amaze in a losing effort last week, but Houston’s defense has regressed this year. The Texans have lost two games this year when scoring 30+ points. Partly due to injuries, the defense is suddenly the weak link in Houston.

Indianapolis is far from an offensive juggernaut, but they did some good things last week in a near upset of Cincinnati. Some of that should carry over. Swallowing more than 10 points in an NFL game is rarely a good idea. Hou 27 Ind 16

Rams (-3.5) at Giants- Even with just a single win, the Giants are still very dangerous. There are not many one win teams with a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback and an above-average defense. Moreover, the Rams are a young team that is still getting used to being good and their traveling a long ways.

What Sean McVay has done with the Rams is incredible. It is one of the more dramatic and fast transformations in recent memory. This young team has not really stubbed its toe with a bad loss yet. The Giants seem to get more dysfunctional by the hour. Thus, I will nervously put my faith in the Rams to avoid that bad loss, but nothing would surprise me here. Lar 28 Nyg 23

Bucs at Saints (-7) – The Saints finally have a defense and running game. Drew Brees has been somewhat underwhelming during their five-game winning streak, but it has not mattered. In fact, he did not throw for 300 yards or have a touchdown pass last week. New Orleans is now trending towards being built on a two headed monster at running back and the defense.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay continues to lose games despite having a fair amount of young talent, particularly on offense. Other than the lack of a pass rush on defense, it is hard to pinpoint what exactly is missing from this team, but something clearly is. These two teams are headed in very different directions. This could get ugly. NO 31 TB 17

Cardinals (-2) at *49ers- The 49ers made a splash at the trade deadline. Jimmy Garoppolo won’t make an impact here, but the future in San Francisco just got a lot more interesting.

As for the present, the winless 49ers played Arizona to the wire earlier this year. If they cannot beat the Drew Stanton led Cardinals at home, they have a real shot at going 0-16 and joining the 2008 Lions in that infamous club. That is a powerful motivator and the talent gap between rosters is not much here. SF 20 Ari 17

Chiefs at Cowboys (-1) – Kansas City is nowhere close to the team that raced out to a 5-0 start. They needed every one of Denver’s five turnovers to win last week and had lost their previous two games. The Cowboys defensive line is harassing quarterbacks week in and week out. Their front four will create problems for every opponent for the rest of the year.

Also, with or without Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas will not turn the football over anywhere close to  the way Denver did. They have two good veteran running backs behind Elliott and Dak Prescott’s football IQ has always been the most impressive thing about him. Dal 27 KC 23

 

 

Raiders (-3) at Dolphins- Here, we have two teams that are surprisingly struggling after starting the season with reasonably high expectations. Oakland has issues, but they also have Derek Carr. Miami has Jay Cutler back this week. Even with the way Matt Moore played last week, I am not sure that having Cutler back is a good thing. Throw in the fact that the Dolphins just traded one of the more consistent weapons on their last ranked offense, and Oakland starts to look like a real strong bet here. Oak 24 Mia 17

Monday Night:

Lions (-2.5) at *Packers – Detroit had a chance to prove they were a legit contender last week and blew it. They do deserve some credit though. Who knew it was even mathematically possible to put up almost 500 yards of total offense and not score a touchdown?

Detroit is just so hard to trust in a big game. You can count on one hand the number of wins they have at Green Bay over the last 20+ years. Brett Hundley isn’t terrible and Mike McCarthy is smart. The Packers will find a way to move the ball without Aaron Rodgers. GB 27 Det 20

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Adam Gase

To fix the Dolphins, Adam Gase needs to look in the mirror

Following Thursday night’s embarrassing 40-0 loss to the Ravens, Dolphins head coach Adam Gase criticized his team’s effort and called the offense “a joke.”

While it is refreshing to hear an NFL coach speak with that kind of honesty, calling out the players may or may not prove to be effective. Gase himself is a large part of the problem in Miami.

What Gase is doing isn’t working

Gase was brought to Miami for his first head coaching job with the “offensive guru” label after being a key mind behind the Peyton Manning led Broncos offense, as well as guiding Jay Cutler to his best statistical season in 2015 with Chicago.

Adam Gase

Photo from espn.com

However, that offensive success has not followed him to Miami. The Dolphins ranked 24th in total offense last year and are dead last so far in 2017. Moreover, it was Gase who brought Jay Cutler out of retirement to save the day when Ryan Tannehill went down prior to this season.

 

To say that has not worked out well is an understatement. The Dolphins woeful offensive numbers are due in large part to the fact that Cutler is averaging just 165 passing yards per game this year. Cutler missed Thursday night’s debacle due to injury.

That means we have now seen Gase’s passing offense be ineffective with Cutler, Tannehill and Matt Moore. None of those guys are elite quarterbacks, but they are not terrible either. The players are no doubt partly at fault, but at some point Gase needs to swallow his pride and change his system.

The good news

Despite the lack of a passing offense, Miami has managed to stay more than competitive under Gase. Last year, Jay Ajayi came out of nowhere to rush for over 1,200 yards and carry the Dolphins to the playoffs.

Adam Gase

Photo from palmbeachpost.com

This year, Ajayi’s production has dipped a bit, but he is still the best thing the offense has going for it. The defense has stepped up and is ranked inside the top 10. Miami has scored more than 20 points in a game just once. Yet, the Dolphins still have a winning record and are very much alive in the playoff race. If this team can ever find a way to have just an average offense, they would become a force to be reckoned with.

The future

Jay Cutler will be back next week when Miami takes on Oakland. Only time will tell if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The NFL is even more wide open than usual this year. Every team in the AFC has at least two losses.

Miami’s ability to be a factor as the season wears on hinges on the offense not being awful. That responsibility falls on Gase just as much as the players.

John Fox won four division titles in four years with the Broncos and was fired. Gase wishes his track record was half that good. If the offense does not improve, and the losses start piling up, it is naïve to think Gase’s time in Miami will last much longer.

 

Featured image from si.com

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NFL week 8 picks

Week 8 NFL picks against the spread

My run of decent weeks continued last week. I posted an 8-6-1 mark against the spread and now sit at 46-56-4 on the season. With a little more than half the season left, there is plenty of time to finish the year in the black. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Thursday Night

*Dolphins at Ravens (-3) – No one ever wants to see an injury. However, the fact is Matt Moore gives the Dolphins a better chance to win than Jay Cutler. Nothing we saw from Cutler indicates that he could have pulled off the comeback Moore was a part of last week.

Baltimore’s garbage time touchdown last week helped them avoid a double-digit loss. We are only seven games in, and it is just hard to watch the offense at the moment. It is also hard to see how that unit will get better.

Miami is not a juggernaut by any means, but at least they have some good mojo headed into this one. Mia 17 Bal 13 

Sunday

Vikings (-9.5) vs. Browns (London) – Strange things can happen in these London games. The Vikings need to be on guard for the winless Browns. Minnesota’s murky quarterback situation will eventually doom them. However, at least all of their options are capable NFL quarterbacks.

The same cannot be said for the Browns. DeShone Kizer is the winner of Hue Jackson’s wheel spinning this week. Forget winning this game, sticking with the same quarterback for an entire game would be progress for Cleveland.  Min 24 Cle 9

Falcons (-4) at *Jets – Even though Atlanta has loads more talent on paper, everything that I said about Baltimore’s offense is true of the Falcons. The Jets have lost consecutive heartbreakers, but are still far from the tanking laughingstock everyone anticipated.

The defenses are about even here, and New York’s running game has been the most consistent thing on either offense for the last month. Who would have thought that would be the case prior to the season? NYJ 24 Atl 23

*Panthers at Bucs (-2) – Carolina looked awful last week, but the Bears are better than people think. I am surprised to see them as an underdog here. Their good performances have been really good this year.

With every close loss, it looks increasingly likely the Bucs are just too young to sit at the NFL’s big kid table. Carolina isn’t exactly a model of consistency, but I trust them more here. Car 24 TB 21    

*Bears at Saints (-9) – The Saints are one of the hottest teams around. Their defense has gone from awful to pretty good in the span of about a month. However, the Bears are a kind of test New Orleans has not seen since their defensive uptick.

The Bears are going to line up and run Jordan Howard right at the Saints over and over again. Sometimes the simple stuff is the hardest to stop.

Chicago knows its limitations with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. The rookie will have to throw a bit more than he did last week against Carolina. The Bears mini win streak has been built on the ground game and a solid defense that has forced some timely turnovers.

New Orleans has committed five total turnovers in the last two games. Conversely, the way Chicago is playing at the moment makes it very difficult for their opponents to create turnovers. Chi 24 NO 20

NFL week 8 picks

Photo by espn.com

Colts at Bengals (-10.5) – This is a classic value pick. The Colts are awful and may have quit on the coaching staff. It certainly looked that way last week.

Even so, is Cincinnati 10.5 points better than any team in this league? I don’t think so. Cin 27 Ind 19

Chargers at Patriots (-7.5) – The Chargers deserve a ton of credit for getting off the mat after an 0-4 start. Their pass rush is quietly one of the best in the league. However, New England is getting better and better as always.

Run defense is the Chargers’ big weakness. That isn’t exactly the Patriots’ forte, but you know Bill Belichick will find a way to exploit it and that Tom Brady will get his through the air, no matter how good the pass defense is. NE 31 LAC 20

49ers at Eagles (-13) – What a fool I was to pick the 49ers to upset Dallas last week. San Francisco is one of the worst teams in the league.

The Eagles are one of the best. Even so, when teams are embarrassed one week, they often come back strong the next. This is just too many points to swallow in an NFL game. Phi 27 SF 17

Raiders at Bills (-2.5) – Derek Carr kept his team in the race with last week’s comeback win. However, it is becoming more and more obvious that he is all Oakland has.

The Raiders are 24th in rushing yards per game even with the suspended Marshawn Lynch. Buffalo leads the league in turnover margin. Enough said. Buf 28 Oak 21

Texans at Seahawks (-5.5) – Now we finally find out how good Deshaun Watson is. A Seattle defense that is clicking on all cylinders is easily his toughest test yet. There is no reason to think he won’t play well.

The problem for Houston is that the Seahawks offense is producing. They have been held under 20 points just once since the first two weeks of the season. With that defense, that makes them almost unbeatable. Sea 30 Hou 20

Cowboys (-2.5) at *Redskins – These teams have the same record. Yet, the home team is the underdog in this rivalry game.

It is always dangerous to play a game of strength of wins in pro football. Teams can change so much throughout a season.

It really stands out here though. The teams Dallas has beaten have a grand total of four wins this year. The teams Washington has beaten have double the number of total wins. Washington might just be the better team here. Was 26 Dal 23

Steelers (-3) at Lions – Drama continues to surround the Steelers. It seems they thrive when that is the case. As long as Le’Veon Bell is the focus, they will be fine. However, this game is even simpler than that.

NFL week 8 picks

Photo by sportsinsiderpro.com

Both teams are in the thick of the playoff races in their respective conferences and need every win they can get. In that type of situation, the Steelers always seem to win. The Lions always seem to lose. Pit 27 Det 20

Monday Night

Broncos at Chiefs (-7.0) – No team has looked worse than Denver over the last two weeks. The foreteller of their success remains the ground game. They were averaging 100 rushing yards per game during their 3-1 start. They have struggled to run for half that total the last two weeks and have gotten leveled.

Going on the road to face Kansas City is not exactly a “get right game.” However, the Chiefs are not playing all that well right now either. Whoever loses this game, it will be big.

Games in this rivalry are always close. Denver’s defense will have to win this one on its own. They are too good to be blown out for a third straight week, but the offense is not capable of doing enough to win here. The future at quarterback in Denver is getting murkier by the week, but they have got what they’ve got for now. KC 21 Den 17

 

Featured image by Alex Brandon/Associated Press

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2017 WTA Awards

2017 WTA awards

The eight best female tennis players of 2017 are in Singapore preparing to battle for the season-ending WTA Finals starting this weekend. Earlier this week, the yearly awards were handed out. I have my own award winners picked out and have added a few categories of my own in order to better summarize everything we saw in 2017.

Player of the year: Garbiñe Muguruza 

In a year where Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka all once again missed huge chunks of time, the top ranking changed hands eight times and may still change one more time.

Thus, a case can be made for many players to win this award. It went to Muguruza as it should have.

Unlike most of the other contenders, Muguruza won at least three matches at every major this year, including winning Wimbledon. She also added another trophy in Cincinnati.

Had Venus Williams won more matches in non-major events, or won one of the two major finals she contested, it would have been hard to deny her. All the other contenders had at least one rough patch this year.

Breakthrough player of the year: Jeļena Ostapenko

2017 WTA Awards

Photo by mirror.co.uk

The small but mighty Latvian took home the “Most Improved Player” award from the WTA. That terminology has always bothered me. To me, breakthrough signifies the more permanent arrival of a player to the big time. Ostapenko’s first career title was a major.

She lifted the trophy at the French Open despite being unseeded. She backed that up with a run to the last eight of Wimbledon and a solid stretch in Asia this fall. The former Wimbledon junior champ had been a youngster to watch for the last few years. This year, she lived up to that hype and then some.

Most disappointing player of the year: Angelique Kerber

The next two categories are my own. Kerber is a counterpuncher in a sport dominated by big hitters. She overachieved by winning two majors and finishing atop the rankings last year.

Thus, taking a step back in 2017 was predictable. However, not winning a single tournament and finishing the year barely ranked inside the top 20 is pretty dramatic. Moreover, Kerber is not even the top ranked German as the year comes to a close. She simply never looked comfortable on the court this year. She had no answers for the power players this year despite staying reasonably healthy. It will be a long road back for Kerber in 2018.

Match of the year: Maria Sharapova vs. Simona Halep (US Open)  

2017 WTA Awards

Photo by tennis.com

Even now several weeks removed, it is still hard to believe that this was a first-round match. With a five-time major winner like Sharapova playing as a wild card, something like this was possible.

Even so, to have two players who have had so many big matches against each other face off so early was surreal. It felt like a semifinal or final, mostly because of the quality of the match.

Sharapova’s offense and Halep’s defense made for nearly three hours of beauty. The Russian prevailed over the then World No. 2 in three sets for a landmark victory on her comeback from a drug suspension. Halep got her first career victory over Sharapova in Beijing a few weeks later, but this night belonged to Sharapova. Check out some snippets from the emotional night below from the US Open YouTube channel.

Comeback player of the year: Sloane Stephens

What happened to the 24-year-old American this year is just not supposed to happen. Stephens returned at Wimbledon after almost a year away because of a foot injury.

2017 WTA Awards

Photo by tmz.com

She was ranked outside the top 100. However, back to back semifinals in Canada and Cincinnati brought the former World No. 11 back into the top 100. Still, she was viewed as little more than a dangerous floater at the US Open. Despite that, she caused a string of upsets to take the title, including Venus Williams in the semis.

To go from working as a broadcaster in March to holding your first Grand Slam trophy in September is truly remarkable.

 

 

 

Featured Image by Sporting News

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NFL Week 7 picks

Week 7 NFL picks against the spread

When taking point spreads into account, last week featured two of the biggest upsets in recent NFL history. Two double-digit underdogs won outright. My 6-8 record was okay, but not great. My season record now sits at 38-50-3.

The good news is the season is still fairly young. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Thursday Night

Chiefs (-3) at Raiders – Do not read too much into Kansas City’s first loss last week. Pittsburgh is just a bad matchup for them. The Chiefs won both meetings with Oakland pretty convincingly last year. The Chiefs are better than last year and the Raiders are worse. Why would this meeting be any different? KC 24 Oak 13

Sunday

Cardinals at Rams (-3.5) (London) – Adrian Peterson’s Cardinals debut wildly exceeded expectations. It appears he will make this team much more dangerous going forward. However, the NFC is now wide open, and it can be argued that the Rams are the most complete team in the conference. They can hurt you on the ground and through the air. Additionally, their defensive front seven is as good as you will find anywhere. LAR 28 Ari 21

Ravens at Vikings (-5.5) – Both these defenses are really good. Both offenses make my head hurt at times. Despite quarterback chaos, Minnesota has been finding ways to win lately.

For Baltimore, Joe Flacco has four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Everything is dink and dunk. They have no vertical passing game to speak of. It is hard to win that way. Min 20 Bal 13   

Panthers (-3) at *Bears – With Mitch Trubisky now at quarterback, Chicago seems to have simplified the offense. They ran Jordan Howard until his legs just about fell off last week, but did so effectively. If that continues, Trubisky is capable of making a few big throws to win some games. The Bears may become the most underrated team in the league before long.

Carolina is weird. Just when it looks like they are back to the 2015 version, they lay an egg like they did last week against Philadelphia. I have no clue what to expect from them here. However, I suddenly really like what Chicago is doing. Chi 24 Car 20

NFL Week 7 picks

(Photo by NBC Sports)

Jaguars (-3) at *Colts – Leonard Fournette is unbelievable, and the Jacksonville defense is playing its guts out. Even so, until the Jags show they can win a game because of Blake Bortles rather than in spite of him, putting any faith in them makes me nervous. Ind 24 Jac 21

*Jets at Dolphins (-3) – The Dolphins offense is still sputtering. To their credit, they have managed to win in spite of that the last two weeks.  The problems persist though. Jay Cutler has not even thrown for 300 combined yards in those games. Miami is also facing the same defense that dismantled them just a few weeks ago. Also, the Jets are a pretty good football team. Playing New England to the wire last week should erase any lingering doubts about that. NYJ 20 Mia 17

Buccaneers at Bills (Pick em) – Jameis Winston is a question mark with a shoulder injury. So a pick ‘em line is all you are going to find until that gets clearer. As a whole though, the Bucs just do not seem ready for the big time. The roster may just be too young or lack leadership.

Either way, something is missing. In two road games this year, they have been dominated by Minnesota and Arizona. The Bills are on par with those teams and a decent home team in September and October. Buf 28 TB 21

Titans (-5.5) at Browns – Marcus Mariota may still not be fully healthy, but the Browns are just awful. It felt like the organization had made strides this offseason. Sadly for Cleveland fans, it is more of the same. Ten 21 Cle 10

Saints (-5.5) at Packers – This line has moved ten points since the Aaron Rodgers injury. If it turns out that Brett Hundley can play, the NFC North is still there for the taking. Despite that, having to score enough to keep up with Drew Brees and deal with a Saints defense that is suddenly getting sacks and turnovers is a tall order for your first full game as the starter. NO 34 GB 20.

Cowboys (-6) at *49ers – The Cowboys defense has been torched for over 30 points in each of its last two games. The 49ers string of close losses continued last week. Dallas just isn’t playing that well right now. The spark of rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard gets the 49ers over the hump and in the win column. SF 27 Dal 21

Bengals at Steelers (-5.5) – After winning in Kansas City last week, it appears reports of the Steelers demise were greatly exaggerated.  Force-feeding Le’Veon Bell is the formula for this team. They finally got back to that.

The Bengals have played much better since changing offensive coordinators. However, the Steelers are 27-9 against Cincinnati since 2000. It is foolish to ignore that. Pit 27 Cin 20  

NFL Week 7 picks

(Photo by behindthesteelcurtain.com)

*Broncos at Chargers (-1.5) – This line is shocking to me. Denver was humbled last week, and the Chargers are on a two-game winning streak.

Even so, outside of quarterback, the Broncos can at least match Los Angeles at every position. Denver is an easy team to figure out. If they run the ball effectively they win. If they do not, they lose. The Chargers rank dead last in rush defense.

Also, it was not a coincidence that the Chargers got their first wins on the road. Bronco fans always travel well. Thus, playing in a 27,000 seat soccer stadium in a market where the fans have yet to embrace the home team is once again a disadvantage for the Chargers. The Broncos have issues, but Vegas was too quick to bail on them here. Den 24 LAR 17

Seahawks (-5.5) at Giants – The Giants scored a big upset last week, but they are still a banged up mess. Coming off a big divisional win and a bye, Seattle appears to be finding its groove. The Giants defense is good enough to keep this relatively close. Big Blue managed to move the ball on a great defense last week, but lightning will not strike twice. Sea 20 NYG 13

Falcons at Patriots (-3.5) – The Patriots are still not clicking on all cylinders. They were fortunate to escape the Jets last week. Meanwhile, the Falcons are coming off consecutive home losses to Miami and Buffalo. Given that, it is hard to imagine them keeping it close on the road in New England. This is just not the same team as last year, particularly on offense. The Pats continue to win while being a work in progress. NE 31 Atl 20

Monday Night:

*Redskins at Eagles (-4.5) – The Eagles are very good and will remain a factor all year long. However, they are still a relatively young football team. Once the public starts singing a team’s praises, they become vulnerable to getting tripped up.

Also, the Redskins offense will trouble any defense it faces. They have taken much better care of the football after Philadelphia held them to 17 points in the season opener. Washington’s ground game has been better this year, but the passing game is their strength. That is Philadelphia’s defensive weakness. Was 23 Phi 17

 

Featured image by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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