Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Divisional Round)

(http://thebiglead.com/2017/01/07/video-paul-richardson-made-an-insane-one-handed-td-grab/)

Talk about a major dud! The wildcard round of the playoffs was a major snoozefest. There were some great highlights, such as the Paul Richardson touchdown catch, or the amazing performances by Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. By and large, though it was blowout city. The closest game was decided by 13 points. All home teams won and the average margin of victory was by 19 points. Now there are only eight teams remaining in the playoffs. Every game in the divisional round is a rematch from the regular season. This round should be more exciting than the last and the games should be closer as well. Here are this week’s Hagan’s Haus NFL picks.

Last Week: 3-1

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 3-1

Overall: 151-104-2

AFC

Saturday

(https://uk.pinterest.com/explore/tom-brady-records/)

Houston 10 @ New England 27: This game is most likely to be the least entertaining of the four games. The Patriots beat the Texans 27-0 in September. Brock Osweiler played well last week, but Jadeveon Clowney was the one to spark the team and lead the Texans in the wild-card round. New England has a great offense led by the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Their defense is playing great as well. In the month of December, the Patriots defense only gave up 10.6 points per game. The Texans must hope their defense shuts down Brady, but that won’t happen. The Patriots will be heading to another AFC Championship game.

Sunday

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh 20 @ Kansas City 19: This was one of the most difficult games to pick. Pittsburgh is on fire right now. Le’Veon Bell is having a career season. Big Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are also playing great football. This offense is a juggernaut. These two teams met early in the season and it was a blowout. The Steelers won that game at home 43-14. This game will be much more competitive at Arrowhead as the Chiefs have improved since that early season matchup. It won’t be enough though and the Steelers will edge by the Chiefs to meet Tom Brady in the AFC Championship.

NFC

Saturday

(http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/news/seahawks-falcons-picks-predictions-spread-odds-vegas-divisional-playoffs-2017/1tm3kxvdhv0781xfllb4b2nmtd)

Seattle 27 @ Atlanta 24: There is talk that Matt Ryan will end up winning the MVP, but the quarterback has much to prove in the postseason. Seattle has heard so much talk about how great and prolific this offense is. One of the interesting storylines in this game is that Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn was the former defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. He knows this defense and it may help Matt Ryan prepare for it. Atlanta is at home, but they aren’t used to this stage in the same way the Seahawks are. Russell Wilson is going to have a huge game and the Seahawks will find themselves back in the NFC Championship.

Sunday

(https://www.google.com/search?q=cowboys+vs+packers&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwip69vmkLvRAhUF_4MKHaf1Ag0Q_AUICigD&biw=1308&bih=611#imgrc=VzPSCzWZBFm1-M%3A)

Green Bay 27 @ Dallas 28: Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are the hottest team in all of football right now. They completely dismantled the Giants last week and have won seven straight games. They look unbeatable and picking against them might be considered crazy. They were originally the team who I thought would win this game, but there is a reason to hesitate. The Cowboys have been the best team in football all season. Why would they stop now? Jordy Nelson may not play in this game, making the Packers less dangerous on offense. Dallas is going to have a lot of pressure, but if they run the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field they will win this game. That is precisely what the Cowboys will do and they will be heading to the NFC Championship.

 

 

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Keys to the NFL Divisional Playoffs

NFL fans and media rarely agree on much. However, I think we can all agree that Wild Card weekend did not produce much excitement or competitive football. While it is a little early in the week to pick the divisional playoff matchups, here is a key to each.

 

Seahawks at Falcons- Are the Falcons ready for the big time?

Seattle should have zero concerns about being ready for a game like this. They have played in dozens of them over the last handful of years. Like always, the defense will limit scoring opportunities and the Seahawks will ask Russell Wilson to make a few key throws to get the win.

Atlanta is a different story. Despite Matt Ryan having an MVP worthy season, the Falcons have flown mostly under the radar and have not been placed in the glamorous national TV windows very often. A scenario where Atlanta’s offense simply scores too much for Seattle to keep up is conceivable. However, a scenario where Atlanta folds under newfound spotlight is just as conceivable. With Earl Thomas out, Seattle’s defense is a tad more vulnerable. Given what the Falcons are capable of on offense and their much improved defense, it is now or never for Atlanta.

Texans at Patriots – Houston needs some kind of early break

The Texans are 15.5 point underdogs for a reason. New England shut them out early in the year with a third-string quarterback. Fast forward a few months and now Tom Brady is back in the fold for New England. As ominous as that may sound for Houston, anything is possible. If that was not the case, games like this would never be played.

There are a few things that work in Houston’s favor. First, the coaching staff has numerous ties to New England. There isn’t much the Patriots can do that would surprise the AFC South champs. Also, much-maligned quarterback Brock Osweiler had the best game of his young career last year in Denver against the Patriots defense.

The Texans are here because of its defense. As atrocious as the quarterback play has been, the top-ranked defense has been that good. It will be up to that unit to force a turnover that leads to easy points early in the game and give the massive underdogs some belief. A big play on special teams would also serve the same purpose. Houston cannot fall in a big hole early if they want any chance at all.

Steelers at Chiefs – Steelers pass protection

No matter how good he is at sandbagging his injuries, there is no way Ben Roethlisberger goes from a walking boot to fully healthy in a week. Thus, those trademark Roethlisberger scrambles under pressure to extend plays are likely off the table. It is up to Pittsburgh’s offensive line to keep Kansas City’s pass rushers away from their franchise quarterback.

Photo Courtesy of steelersdepot.com

This will not be an easy task. The Chiefs have three or four guys that are capable of chasing down any quarterback in this league. Their defense is led by a healthy Justin Houston. Le’Veon Bell will not run wild against the Chiefs like he did against Miami last week, but he will need to run well enough to take some heat off of the offensive line as well. Looking back on it, Pittsburgh’s 43-14 early-season blowout of Kansas City is one of the true oddities of the NFL season. This game will be a lot closer one way or the other.

 

 

Packers at Cowboys – Green Bay’s third-down defense

This may be the toughest game of the weekend to call, but it is the easiest to size up. The only way anyone is going to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers right now is by keeping their offense on the sideline. Dallas has been near the top of the league in time of possession and third-down conversions all year long.

Photo Courtesy of thelandryhat.com

The Packers defense has struggled to get off the field on third down, raking just 22nd in that category. Dallas will dance with what brought them here. They need to stay in manageable down and distance scenarios with a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott. It is up to Clay Matthews and company to ensure that Rodgers gets enough opportunities to work his magic. Here is to hoping at least one of these games is half as good as Monday’s national championship game I fell asleep during.

 

 

 

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It’s on the Haus: January 8

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports and esports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program, or come to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports and esports happenings, all in one place. You may feel guilty for reading this concise article that gives you everything you need to know, but don’t worry, It’s on the Haus.

 

Get Dumped Then, Oakland and Detroit

The Houston Texans took down the depleted Oakland Raiders 27-14 in the first game of the 2017 NFL Playoffs. I was rooting for the Raiders to pull this one out, hoping Connor Cook would avenge Derek Carr’s broken leg. Of course, whichever team I root for loses in the first round (#WhoDey), so I guess I should’ve rooted for the Fighting Brockweilers, so as to not curse the beautiful and classy Raider fans. Whatever Houston. Have fun getting whipped by whomever you play in the divisional round.

In the second wild-card game of the day, the Seattle Seahawks euthanized the Detroit Lions, 26-6. I don’t recall watching a team die as slowly and miserably as the Lions did. I feel for Lions fans because as much as you want your team to win, sometimes it’s not meant to be.

However, Twitter dot com has shown me how annoying Lions fans are by calling for Matthew Stafford to be named MVP, elite, and savoir of all things good. I retract my previous statement. Just sit there and sulk, Lions fans. Blaming the refs for 20 years of terrible football really fills the void, doesn’t it?

High Schoolers Play Football on National Televisions

January 8 sports news

Jeffrey Okudah could make an immediate impact next year for Ohio State. (Photo: Eleven Warriors)

The 17th edition of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl was played yesterday afternoon. The East defeated the West, 27-17 and the majority of people who watched the game are older than those that played in it.

Seven All-Americans announced where they intend to attend school this fall, including the number two ranked player in the nation. You can find where each of the seven teenagers decided to attend school and which schools were closest to landing the coveted prospects in this neat table below.

OT Foster Sarell, No. 2 overall, No. 1 T Stanford University, over Washington and others
CB Jeffrey Okudah, No. 7 overall, No. 1 CB Ohio State, over others
CB Darnay Holmes, No. 12 overall, No. 2 CB UCLA, over Ohio State and others
S Bubba Bolden, No. 55 overall, No. 6 S USC, over Ohio State, Arizona State, and others
OT Chuck Filiaga, No. 98 overall, No. 14 OT Michigan, over USC, Oklahoma, and others
RB Eno Benjamin, No. 143 overall, No. 8 RB Arizona State, over Texas, Iowa, Michigan, and others
WR Jamire Calvin, No. 254 overall, No. 36 WR Oregon State, over Nebraska and others

East quarterback Hunter Johnson was named the game’s MVP. He threw for 91 yards and one touchdown. Johnson will take his talents to Clemson next season, and sources tell me there’s a job opening at quarterback next season for Clemson.

It is Finished

After two days of speculation, Kyle Korver is officially a Cleveland Cavalier. Cleveland shipped a protected first-round pick to Atlanta and gave away Mo Williams and Mike Dunleavy in the deal. The Cavs also gave away this year’s first-round pick to Portland for their 2018 first round pick in order to make the deal work.

This seems like a good deal for Cleveland, but LeBron James is still not impressed. King James demands a backup point guard, so it looks like Cavs general manager David Griffin still has some work to do. Either way, with all the weapons already in Cleveland, “Kyle Korver” and “splashes a wide open three” should be paired together a lot as Korver becomes accustomed to his new offense.

I’m supremely convinced that this move was made to replace the GOAT of all GOATS, Joe Harris. Harris averaged a modest yet respectable 2.7 points per game last season for the Cavs, before suffering a broken foot that ended his season. Harris is now averaging 8.9 points per game with the Nets, showing he’s clearly a spectacular player.

I could easily drop 40 points with a 66 overall Joe Harris on any scumbag who tries to front me on NBA 2K, so don’t test me. His range is legit, and his heart just won’t quit.

He Indefinitely Tripped Him

Grayson Allen (maybe) tripped another player in his first game back from his one-game suspension, which came about for tripping players. Take a look at this footage (ha, get it?), and decide for yourself.

Grayson Allen is doing a great job of reinforcing Duke basketball stereotypes. Rather than slapping the floor on defense and diving for loose balls like any white basketball player should, Allen cries like a preppy white-collar teen. I’m convinced Grayson Allen will not rest until he kills a man via tripping, so yeah, he tripped the poor soul.

Hey, Grayson Allen, just stop that.

 

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks Against the Spread

The playoffs are here. 12 teams still have dreams of a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI. Now the phrase “win or go home” becomes real. I will continue picking games against the spread throughout the playoffs. I simply find it more fun and challenging than picking games straight up. As usual, my picks are bolded with an asterisk denoting an outright upset. I finished the regular season with a less than stellar 124-135-7 record. However, my record starts all over again at 0-0 for the playoffs as well. Here it goes.

Saturday:

Raiders at Texans (-3.5) – Somehow, the record will show that Brock Osweiler started a playoff game in Houston this year, while the Broncos did not qualify. While I have great respect for Connor Cook’s college track record and his ability to win a lot of games at Michigan State, this is not college. Houston’s defense is one of the best in the playoffs and Oakland is also banged up on the offensive line. What a tall task for Cook in his first career start. It is truly a shame that we will never know what this year’s Raiders could have achieved with a healthy Derek Carr. Houston has its own issues on offense, but will do enough to win an eyesore of a football game. Hou 17 Oak 6

Lions at Seahawks (-8) – The Lions have played in really close games almost every week this season. That is all this pick is based on. Many of Matthew Stafford’s passes have been sailing high on him since he injured his finger. He had been playing at an MVP level. Without Earl Thomas, the Seahawks defense is not the buzzsaw we are used to seeing. The offense continues to be consistently inconsistent. Despite all this, the Seahawks have been here before and know how to win games like this. Expect them to find a way to win. There is still time for Seattle to put it all together as well. Sea 27 Det 21

Sunday:

Dolphins at Steelers (-10) – Swallowing ten points in a playoff game is foolish, but I am going to do it. The Steelers finally have their entire “big three” healthy for a playoff game. Meanwhile, Miami is on the road, in the cold, and starting a backup quarterback with a beat up offensive line. Also, the Steelers defense has really stepped it up since Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins ran wild on them in October. Adam Gase gets my surprise vote for Coach of the Year for getting a Miami team with middle of the road talent this far. However, this is the wrong matchup at the wrong time. Pit 34 Mia 17

Photo courtesy of upi.com

*Giants at Packers (-4.5)- This Sunday afternoon tilt is no doubt the crown jewel of the weekend on paper. I have gone back and forth about four times this week. The Packers have played as well as anyone since most folks (including me) buried them. It has been a long time since any quarterback has been as hot as Aaron Rodgers is right now. However, I generally believe the better defense wins cold weather playoff games. That belongs to New York by a long ways. Combine that with Eli Manning’s tendency to get hot on the road in the playoffs and the Giants will do just enough for the upset. NYG 24 GB 21

Photo courtesy of newsday.com

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NBA Player Comparisons for NFL Playoff Teams

As the NFL regular season draws to a close and the NBA season starts to hit its stride, here are some NBA player comparisons for all of the NFL playoff teams.

AFC

1. New England Patriots- Lebron James: This one is obvious. Year after year Tom Brady and the Patriots are contending for the Super Bowl. Likewise, year after year, Lebron James is contending for the NBA Championship. For the past decade, they both have been consistent powerhouses in their leagues. For the two most dominant forces in their sports, look no further than Lebron and the Pats.

2. Kansas City Chiefs- Kawhi Leonard: The Chiefs and Kawhi Leonard are an unlikely pair, as the two silent killers of their leagues. They both fly under the radar. They don’t always receive the respect and recognition they might deserve. Make no mistake, they are deadly. Are you someone that loves high powered offenses? You may be in the wrong place. Like it or not, these guys are going to get the job done. Don’t sleep on the Chiefs and Kawhi.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers- Russell Westbrook: Russell Westbrook is an offensive force. He is one of the best scorers in the league and he’s seemingly afraid of nothing when he’s got the ball in his hands. This Steelers’ offense, is similarly one of the best in the league. When Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown have the ball, opposing teams had better watch out. Defense, however, is a different story. On their best days, Westbrook and the Steelers can play great defense. On their worst days, they are a liability to their team.

4. Houston Texans- Rajon Rondo: During the offseason, the Houston Texans PAID Brock Osweiler. Over the summer, the Chicago Bulls PAID Rajon Rondo. Expectations were high for the Texans and Rondo heading into the season. The results were a disaster. The Texans are the worst team in the playoffs this year, and perhaps even a historically bad playoff team. Rajon Rondo has been benched, and probably will be traded in the coming weeks. Sure, they’ve dealt with some injuries over the course of the season, but they both will surely be ending their seasons with disappointment.

5. Oakland Raiders- Anthony Davis: Injuries, injuries injuries. The Raiders and Anthony Davis are young and have a lot of firepower, but injuries have derailed them both. Anthony Davis and the Raiders have bright futures, but this season will almost certainly be a disappointment. Either way, it’s not bad to be a fan of the Raiders or Davis right now.

6. Miami Dolphins- Dwight Howard: The Miami Dolphins shouldn’t be good. They’ve been average for the past few years. They don’t have an amazing quarterback. They rank in the bottom half of the league in points and yards. This year they’re somehow getting it done. Thus, the wacky Dwight Howard comparison is born. Dwight Howard is having a throwback year for the Hawks, who look to be playoff bound. For the guys who defy expectations, Dwight and the Dolphins are a perfect match.

NFC

1. Dallas Cowboys- Kevin Durant: Outside of Dallas, nobody likes the Cowboys. Fittingly, newly anointed NBA super villain Kevin Durant is the perfect comparison for the soaring ‘Boys. Both have amazing offenses, questionable defenses, and are at the top of their respective leagues this year. The Warriors seem almost unbeatable with their group of NBA superstars, and the Cowboys seem unbeatable with their offensive superstars. Undoubtedly, it is a match made in sports villain heaven.

2. Atlanta Falcons- James Harden: The Falcons and Harden both have great offenses. That might be underselling it a bit. It’s more like, the Falcons and Harden both have historic offenses. They’re both breaking records left and right as they climb to the top of their leagues. Harden is a MVP favorite. The Falcons are one of the Super Bowl favorites. But both have a glaring weakness and it happens to be the same thing: defense. Will their offensive firepower make up for their lack of defensive prowess? Only time will tell.

3. Seattle Seahawks- DeMarcus Cousins: On his best day, DeMarcus Cousins is one of the best players in basketball. On their best day, the Seahawks are one of the best teams in football. The problem is the “Jekyll and Hyde” act that they both seem to embrace during any given game. Will we see Boogie put up 30 points and 15 rebounds or will we see him get ejected in the first quarter? Will we see the Seahawks manhandle an opponent like the Patriots or get manhandled by the Buccaneers? It’s anybody’s guess. That unpredictability makes the Seahawks the Boogie Cousins of the NFL.

4. Green Bay Packers- Steph Curry: Everyone knows that Steph Curry and the Packers are in the elite when it comes to their sports. After a rough start to their seasons, they’ve started to get their mojo back. The Packers ripped off six straight wins to end their season and make the playoffs. Curry is starting to heat up and find his role in the new offense. When it comes down to it, nobody can dispute that they are one of the best in the business. They can hang with anyone.

5. New York Giants- Avery Bradley: The Giants are the 3-and-D player of the NFL. Defensively, they are maybe the best in the league. However, offensively they are far from perfect. They are capable of making a big splash at any time thanks to the presence of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Making big plays on offense and a strong defense are the keys to the Giants success this season, making them a threat to compete with any team in the league.

6. Detroit Lions- Damian Lillard: Clutch in the fourth quarter. King of the comebacks. End of story.

 

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Hagan Haus NFL Picks (Wildcard Weekend)

The regular season has come to an end and the 12 playoff teams are officially set and seeded. Playoff football is the most exciting time of the year. If you’re a fan of one of the teams in the playoffs, good luck because everyone has a shot. If your favorite team did not get in, I am sorry. I share in your misery.

Picking in the regular season can sometimes be challenging due to injuries and major upsets. Now that the playoffs are here, it is time to up my picks as well. It is time for Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks, Wildcard edition.

Last Week: 9-6

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 0-0

 

AFC

Saturday

(http://www.westword.com/news/top-20-tweets-dropping-f-bombs-and-more-on-brock-osweiler-for-houston-move-7688345)

Oakland 14 @ Houston 20: Raider fans have some bad luck. They have waited a long time for their team to make the playoffs. Just as the Raiders become a legitimate Super Bowl threat, their franchise quarterback breaks his leg. In the final week of the regular season, the Raiders lost to the Broncos. They also lost the top spot in the AFC West and dropped to a wild card team. The Raiders have yet to announce a starter for the game, but against the Texans defense, who finished the season first in total defense, their chances look unfavorable.

Houston has decided to start their 72 million dollar man, Brock Osweiler, at quarterback for their playoff matchup. Osweiler finished the season with more interceptions than touchdowns (16 interceptions, 15 touchdowns). If it wasn’t for Derek Carr getting hurt, this would be an easy win for the Raiders. It is unfortunate injuries will effect this outcome, but Houston’s defense will lead them to a playoff victory.

Sunday

(Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) celebrates a first down against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports)

Miami 28 @ Pittsburgh 34: Not many people are giving the Dolphins a chance to win this game. The odds makers say that the Steelers are 10 point favorites. It should be much closer than that, but the Steelers should win. Le’Veon Bell is having an MVP-caliber season while only appearing in 12 games this season. Big Ben Roethlisberger is still as dangerous as ever under center and Antonio Brown is a handful.

The only way the Dolphins can win this game is by running the ball and controlling time of possession. Miami had the ninth-best rushing attack in all of football with 114 yards per game. Ryan Tannehill may make his return in this game. If he can’t go, Matt Moore is a veteran back-up capable of leading this team to a win. Usually, the difference in winning and losing is quarterback play and Ben Roethlisberger has been in these moments and performed at a high level. The Dolphins quarterbacks just haven’t and that will be the difference in this ball game.

NFC

Saturday

(Seattle Seahawks St. Louis Rams in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Detroit 20 @ Seattle 24: All year the Detroit Lions have been a fantastic story. Nobody gave them a chance to make the playoffs and they snuck in as a wildcard team. This team also has the most fourth quarter comebacks in a single season in NFL history. However, this Cinderella story is about to come to an end.

Playoff football and the Seattle Seahawks have become synonymous over the past couple of years. The Dallas Cowboys have had two amazing rookies and the Green Bay Packers have run the table since starting 4-6 to take away all the headlines from the Seahawks. This is exactly where Seattle wants to be: an afterthought. Seattle has a great shot at making their third Super Bowl appearance in four years and nobody is talking about them. Pete Carroll is unbeatable at home in the playoffs. Since Carroll was hired as the head coach in 2010, the Seahawks are 5-0 at home in the playoffs. The Seahawks will not lose at home and the rest of the NFC better look out because they are coming for another Lombardi Trophy.

 Sunday

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

New York (G) 37 @ Green Bay 31: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers may be the hottest team in the league right now, but history favors the Giants. When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007, they went into Lambeau and won the NFC Championship game 23-20. When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2011, they went into Lambeau again for the divisional round of the NFC playoffs and won 37-20.

The Giants are extremely talented on offense, but they win their games behind their defense. Both offenses have the capability to put up points in bunches, but which defense can make the big stop in the fourth quarter? The Packers ranked 31st in pass defense, which is what will end up being the difference in this one. The Giants have been the Packers kryptonite in the past, and history will repeat itself once more.

 

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Week 16 NFL Picks Against the Spread

My run of alternating good weeks and bad continued last week as I slipped back to 5-10-1 against the spread. Throw in another loss Thursday night and I now sit at 110-117-7 on the year. The bulk of the action takes place on Saturday this week. Happy Holidays everyone!

Falcons (-3) at Panthers- The Panthers are absolutely maddening. While their inconsistency will in all likelihood cost them a playoff spot, they can still show up any given week and play like the team that reached the Super Bowl last year. Last week against a Redskins team that had everything to play for is a perfect example. The Falcons are trying to hold off the upstart Buccaneers to lock down the division title. The Panthers are very dangerous, but have not been able to put together two good games in a row all year. Luckily for MVP candidate Matt Ryan and the rest of the playoff hungry Falcons, Carolina played its best game of the year last week. Atl 31 Car 24

Photo courtesy of mcall.com

Photo courtesy of mcall.com

Dolphins at Bills (-4.5) – The playoff hopes of many teams in the AFC ride on Miami losing one or both of its final two games. Given the matchups, Miami’s history of struggling in bad weather, and the fact that they are playing with a backup quarterback, it is a virtual certainty. It is no accident that they are the underdog here. Buffalo is trying to protect slim playoff hopes of its own. The Bills offense can run on just about anybody. Also, offensive line injuries have lessened the effect of the Dolphins rushing attack, which was their strength. LeSean McCoy runs wild as the AFC playoff picture goes haywire. Buf 24 Mia 17

Vikings at Packers (-7) – The Packers and Aaron Rodgers continue to feverishly dig themselves out of the early-season hole they created. The playoffs are by no means a certainty, but are realistic again. They play a perfect opponent here. The Vikings showed us all last week just how dead in the water they are. GB 34 Min 17

Jets at Patriots (-16.5) – Much like I said a few weeks ago when these two teams locked horns, the Jets always keep this game competitive. That week, the Jets controlled the game for 58 minutes. That will not happen here. New England has gotten much better since then and the Jets have gotten much worse. 16.5 points is still way too many. NE 31 NYJ 20

Chargers (-5.5) at Browns- Cleveland is running out of chances to avoid going winless. Unless your team is playing the Browns or you are just plain mean, you have to be pulling for them. San Diego is coming east, eliminated from playoff contention, and it is fair to assume the conditions in Cleveland will not be ideal. However, Cleveland’s last best chance to win a game will go by the boards. The Browns played okay last week and still lost by 20 to the streaky Bills. That is how far away they are from competing with the mediocre teams in this league so forget about the good ones. Thus, it is impossible to pick them this or any other week. SD 30 Cle 17

Titans (-5) at Jaguars- This is probably my bravest pick of the week. I stopped just short of picking the outright upset. Despite its record, Jacksonville does have some talent on both sides of the ball. Also, an in season coaching change usually results in at least a brief spark for a team. Meanwhile, the Titans are coming off two straight massive wins over fellow playoff contenders. Moreover, it looks like next week’s game against Houston will be for all the marbles. This just screams trap game. The Titans have more firepower and will get it done, but be very careful with this game. Ten 24 Jac 21

Redskins (-3) at Bears- The Redskins were the biggest disappointment of last week. With a chance to take control of their playoff fate, they laid an egg at home. Thus, there season is on the line this week. The scrappy Bears have been giving contending teams all they can handle, but do not have many wins to show for it. Vegas has clearly been paying attention to Chicago. A three-point spread against a playoff contender like Washington is a sign of respect. The number is too small for me not to swallow. Was 28 Chi 24

*Colts at Raiders (-3.5) – The Raiders are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but they still drive me nuts. Last week they overcame yet another slow start to knock off San Diego. Just think about how good this team could be if it actually played well on a consistent basis. Granted finding ways to win while leading the world in penalties, giving up over six yards per play, and falling behind every single week is much more fun to watch. However, it is very difficult to pick a team like that to win.

Additionally, Derek Carr’s finger is still a big concern. He just has not thrown the ball nearly as well since the injury. The Raiders are going to the playoffs, but they will not be there long. Indy still has a faint playoff pulse of its own and has played really well on the road lately. That is good enough for me. Ind 27 Oak 21

Cardinals at Seahawks (-7.5) – Arizona really started to look like a team that was ready for the offseason last week. It is hard to put up 34 points and still get dominated. If the Cardinals just go through the motions this week, the Seahawks will bring the pain. A date with the Rams last week was just what they needed. Look for them to keep rolling towards the playoffs. Sea 24 Ari 13

49ers at Rams (-4) – Yikes! This may be the worst NFL game of the year, but it is a fairly simple one to pick. The Rams pass rush is as good as any in the league. I cannot come up with a single thing San Francisco does well. This game may send offensive football back to the 1800s. LA 17 SF 9

Bucs at Saints (-3) – This is one of those lines where the assumption has to be that Vegas knows something that us mere mortals do not. It is a fairly even match-up. The Bucs are still in the thick of the playoff race, the Saints are not. However, that offense makes them a threat every single week. That being said, it still surprises me that a team with nothing to play for is favored against a team with everything to play for. Again, it is so surprising that I have to think the bookies are on to something. NO 38 TB 31

Bengals at Texans (-2.5) – Tom Savage has become an overnight sensation in Houston. The largely unknown quarterback may well have saved the season last week. He gave them a spark that had been missing all year with Brock Osweiler running the offense. The Bengals are still playing hard and will get A.J. Green back, but momentum can be a powerful thing. It should be enough to get the Texans over the line here. Hou 27 Cin 16

Sunday: *Ravens at Steelers (-5.5) – Kudos to the NFL for putting two competitive and important games on Christmas day. If I am getting anything more than field goal, I will always take the underdog in this match-up. The Steelers still worry me. Getting pushed around for a half in Cincinnati last week did not help that. As good as their offense is, the Ravens are a more complete team when taking into account all three phases. Bal 23 Pit 20

Broncos at Chiefs (-3.5) – While Denver’s defense is too good for the team to get blown out, Kansas City is not a defense that Denver can get right up against with their patchwork offensive line. While the reigning world champions may still have playoff hopes even with a loss here, they are not in a position to take advantage. They can expect no slack from Kansas City, who still has the division title to play for. KC 19 Den 12

MNF: *Lions at Cowboys (-6.5) – What a fun matchup to close out the Monday Night Football slate. Dak Prescott returned to form last week after two rough games, but Dallas still had its hands full with Tampa Bay. The defense is starting to leak some oil. Everybody on that unit has played above their heads all year long. It was just a matter of time. The secondary has given up a few big plays in the last couple weeks. Prescott is a concern too. Despite just four incompletions against the Bucs, it still felt like Ezekiel Elliott was doing most of the heavy lifting. Translation: I think the Cowboys as a whole peeked about a month too early. Also, with the Eagles upset win on Thursday, Dallas has nothing to play for here.

 

Detroit is desperately trying to hold off Green Bay in the NFC North. Differing from the usual, the Lions have played their best football in the biggest spots all year long. It does not get much bigger than this. With three MVP candidates in the same game, I expect Matthew Stafford to separate himself and solidify the Lions playoff position. Det 34 Dal 31.

Happy Holidays to all and to all a good week of picking football games.

Photo courtesy of sidelion.com

Photo courtesy of sidelion.com

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O’Brien Benches Osweiler and Earns My Respect

People have spent the entire football season talking about a certain quarterback controversy in the state of Texas. The severity of that quarterback controversy depends on who you ask. However, with the events of last week, Dallas is no longer the most interesting city in Texas when it comes to quarterbacks.

The Texans season was at a crossroads on Sunday. Desperately trying to protect a slim division lead, head coach Bill O’Brien pulled starting quarterback Brock Osweiler. Osweiler, who was the Texans hyped free agent signing, scuffled his way to a stat line of six completions on 11 attempts for just 48 yards and two interceptions in just under a half of play. The former Arizona State Sun Devil was making the Jaguars look like the ’85 Bears. If you have watched Jacksonville at all this year, you know how hard that is to do.

Photo courtesy of dssportsnews.com

Photo courtesy of dssportsnews.com

Trailing by 13, O’Brien turned to little-known signal caller Tom Savage. The third-year quarterback had never seen game action anywhere close to as meaningful as what he was thrown into. Unfortunately, Savage is not related to late wrestling legend “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Despite that, he still received a roaring ovation from the home fans and was able to lead Houston to a comeback victory that allowed them to stay in the playoff race. Savage was not spectacular, but was certainly clean. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 260 yards. Most importantly, he threw no interceptions.

It is all the little subplots that make this story so interesting. The Texans are no stranger to having a great roster that is held down by poor quarterback play. Osweiler was brought in to correct that. The near seven footer signed a $72 million deal with $37 million guaranteed in the off-season. Osweiler made a name for himself last year when he stabilized the Broncos while Peyton Manning was injured. It is fair to say that the Broncos do not win Super Bowl 50 without Osweiler posting a 5-2 record as a starter and helping them nail down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Osweiler eventually gave way to a rejuvenated Manning. We all know how that story ended.

Photo courtesy of dsportsnews.com

Photo courtesy of dsportsnews.com

Osweiler got the job done in 2015, but did not set the world on fire. In eight games he threw 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. His quarterback rating was a shade over 86. It does not get much more average than that.

Given those numbers, it is easy to see why so many around the league (including the Broncos) balked at paying the kind of money the Texans did for Osweiler. In Denver, Osweiler was asked to manage a franchise for a little while. He is more than capable of doing that. In Houston, he was asked to carry a franchise to glory. It takes a special quarterback to do that. To say it has not worked out for Osweiler in Houston would be an understatement. Struggling to complete half his passes, he sits in the bottom five among qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage. He has also thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.

Give credit to the rest of the Texans roster for staying in the playoff race with their starting quarterback playing so poorly. Something had to be done on Sunday. O’Brien could see his team’s season slipping away. He deserves a ton of credit for having the stones to turn to his backup quarterback knowing the media firestorm it would create.

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

 

O’Brien continued to earn my respect after the comeback victory saying “we don’t make decisions based on how much a guy gets paid.” I wanted to stand up and applaud from my couch. While every NFL organization should operate based solely on what gives the team the best chance to win, it is no secret that not all of them do. The Texans announced Monday that Savage will start Saturday night against the Bengals. It was about this time last year that Osweiler was benched for a legend in Denver. That decision was a key one on Denver’s road to a title. While Savage is by no means a legend, sending Osweiler to the bench again was and is the only chance Houston has to achieve the same result as last year’s Broncos.

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Week 15 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week was a good one. A 10-6 mark is nothing to sneeze at. An above .500 record is so close I can taste it. Being on the wrong side of a 16 point spread Thursday night leaves me sitting at 105-107-6 for the year. My picks are bolded, straight up upsets have an asterisk, and spreads are from rtsports.com. It looks like the vast majority of the games will be played in bitter cold. This week should be fun.

Dolphins (-2.5) at *Jets- The first Saturday night NFL game of the year will not be pretty, but is interesting. Matt Moore is now tasked with getting the Dolphins to the playoffs. He is a fine quarterback, but this is a lot to ask. The Jets defense is capable of eating mediocre quarterbacks alive. That is exactly what Moore is. This is not a defense I would want to deal with if I have not played in a relevant game in a few years. Also, the spark rookie quarterback Bryce Petty gave the Jets last week in their comeback win was very impressive, even though it was only the 49ers. The chance to put a division rival in a dire situation in regards to the playoffs is plenty of incentive for New York to come out and play well. NYJ 14 Mia 10

Browns at Bills (-10) – Rex Ryan cannot save his job with a win here, but a loss almost certainly seals his fate. Despite a mountain of fair criticism over the years, players have always loved playing for Ryan. Buffalo wins here. It will not be a walkover though. Buf 28 Cle 20

Lions at Giants (-4) – Do not bet this game. If anyone tells you they have a clue, they are lying. Going home and laying an egg after a huge win would be such a Giants thing to do. The Lions are a good team. However, the Giants defense combined with questions about Matthew Stafford’s health nudge me ever so slightly towards the home team. NYG 20 Det 13

Packers (-5.5) at Bears- You know it is a cold week when the Chicago Bears may play their coldest game ever. The way Green Bay manhandled Seattle last week was stunning. Thus, there is nothing that says the Bears will keep this close. I cannot see the outright upset. However, as a general rule, if 80% or more of the money is coming in on one side, go the other way. GB 24 Chi 21.

*Colts at Vikings (-4) – Indy’s playoff hopes probably ended last week, but they remain dangerous with a top flight quarterback. The Vikings are still hunting for a playoff spot and will get Adrian Peterson back. It has been very difficult for me to pick them all year. I have had mixed results. The fact is at least one of two conditions must be present for me to make them a solid pick, non-offensive touchdowns or playing Jacksonville. One is nearly impossible to predict and the other happened last week. So… Ind 21 Min 17

photo from duenorthsports.com

photo from duenorthsports.com

Jaguars at Texans (-5) – Jacksonville will have a major impact on the outcome of the AFC South race, just not in the way they hoped. Starting here, they play both teams vying for the division title. With the way Brock Osweiler has played, the Texans being where they are is astounding. Jacksonville is not much of a threat to them. It is looking more and more like their New Year’s Day game with the Titans will be for all the marbles. Hou 19 Jac 10

Eagles at Ravens (-6) – Despite last week’s loss in New England, Baltimore is still playing pretty well. At his very best, Joe Flacco is as good as any quarterback in the league. Meanwhile, the Eagles continue crashing back to reality after a hot start. Carson Wentz is in for a long afternoon against a Ravens defense that gives any team it faces a tough time. They even drove New England nuts at times. Bal 24 Phi 13

Steelers (-3) at Bengals- The Bengals are suddenly playing pretty well, even though they only played the Browns and Eagles. My view on the Steelers remains unchanged. The offense is really good, the defense petrifies me. Vontaze Burfict and company would love nothing more than to put their bitter rivals squarely on the playoff bubble. Vegas has wisely taken into account the rivalry game factor. The talent gap is too big, and the number too small for me not to swallow it. Pit 24 Cin 20

photo from steelersdepot.com

photo from steelersdepot.com

Titans at Chiefs (-5) – With no dominant team this year, a team like Kansas City may be lined up for something special. They do everything really well and just beat people up. Tennessee conducts business in a similar manor, but Marcus Mariota completed just six passes last week. Performances like that have not been terribly uncommon this year. The Titans lack of a consistent air attack will keep them from winning here, and ultimately reaching the playoffs. KC 16 Ten 9

Saints at Cardinals (-2.5) – Drew Brees has really struggled the last few weeks. I am not ready to write his career eulogy, but Arizona’s defense is not one quarterbacks can get right against. Also, if you have not seen Cardinals running back David Johnson yet, make a point out of watching him work before the season ends. Ari 31 NO 21

49ers at Falcons (-13) – Taking this big a number is not a good idea most of the time, but San Francisco is just awful. They are on a 12 game losing streak for a reason. Since they are in the playoff hunt, the Falcons should send a very nice holiday card to whoever decided they would play the Rams and 49ers back to back in December. Atl 34 SF 17

Patriots (-3) at Broncos- Much like the Bengals/Steelers game, I am trying to find a reason to take the underdog, but there is not one. Denver is putting up a ton of yardage and not enough points in recent weeks. This plays right in to New England’s hands. Recent history points towards Denver, but the world champs will need to play 60 solid and complete minutes here. Although Trevor Siemian will continue to impress, I don’t think the team as a whole is capable. The path to the playoffs narrows slightly for the rushing starved Broncos. NE 24 Den 19

Raiders (-3) at *Chargers – The Raiders were finally somewhat exposed last week in Kansas City. If the offense is off one iota, they are helpless. Given the way Derek Carr threw the ball, it is reasonable to speculate that his pinky finger is a bigger issue than the coaching staff would like to admit. A dinged up quarterback and minimal margin for error is enough for me to lean towards San Diego, who can play with anyone. They just do not win often enough. They will here. SD 34 Oak 28

Bucs at Cowboys (-7) – Great job by the league flexing this game into prime time. I am officially in on the Bucs, but that does not mean I like their chances here. Prior to last week, Dallas had shown that they are capable of winning even when Dak Prescott struggles. The dirty little secret in the entire NFL right now is how poorly Prescott has played for the last month. He has not broken 200 yards in a game since early last month. The Cowboys are no longer winning games because of him, but rather in spite of him. Fortunately for Dallas, it has the better roster to begin with. Also, this is the biggest game for Tampa Bay in almost a decade. I expect mistakes to doom them, but they remain right in the middle of the playoff race, even with a loss here. Oh, and if Prescott continues to struggle, going back to Tony Romo should be a no-brainer. With a real shot at winning it all, Dallas cannot afford to leave its $100 million bullet in the gun. Dal 28 TB 17

MNF: Panthers at Redskins (-6.5) – The Josh Norman Bowl takes center stage here. The world is still paralyzed by last season’s version of the Panthers. For whatever reason, this year’s version is simply a bad football team. The same cannot be said for the Redskins, who still have everything to play for. Their balanced offense should be enough to keep them in the playoff hunt with a win. Was 30 Car 17

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Week 14 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Well, my hot streak only lasted a week. I fell back to a very mediocre 7-8 against the spread last week. The Lions made me look smart, the Jets not so much. With the Chiefs win Thursday night, I am a game to the good for this week as we head in to Sunday. My season record now sits at 95-100-6. It is nice to still have so many meaningful games this late in the season. Outright upsets have an asterisk. Spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Let’s roll.

Cardinals (-2) at*Dolphins- Miami got whitewashed last week, but that happens. They are the better team here. The Dolphins big weakness is stopping the run. David Johnson of Arizona is a true workhorse back, a rarity in today’s NFL. Miami’s Jay Ajayi is no slouch though. He, along with the rest of Miami’s offense should be able to keep Johnson on the sidelines just enough. Arizona’s lack of consistency and depth on offense has hurt them all year and will continue to do so here. Mia 21 Ari 20

Bears at Lions (-7) – Matthew Stafford is a legit MVP candidate and the Lions are going to make the playoffs. However, there is something about this matchup. Despite being atrocious, the Bears play well in their division, notching two of their three wins on the season in such games. This includes knocking off the Lions. That will not happen again. The Lions have too much to play for, but I refuse to believe they can blowout consecutive opponents. Also, Chicago is playing its best football of the season (relatively speaking) behind third string quarterback Matt Barkley. Det 30 Chi 27

Bengals (-5) at Browns- This is one of a precious few games that have absolutely no playoff implications this week, but it is not lacking a story. Robert Griffin III is now healthy. He will get a chance to resurrect his career down the stretch and save the Browns from going winless beginning with this game. Cincinnati’s season has been a total bust when you consider preseason expectations. Strangely, the Browns have much more to play for here. Thus, an upset would not shock me. However, the gap in roster talent is just too large for me to call it. Cin 24 Cle 16

photo from ooyuz.com

photo from ooyuz.com

*Broncos at Titans (-1) – This could wind up being an elimination game in terms of the playoffs. As presently constructed, these teams are pretty much even. Tennessee has an edge just about everywhere on offense, but the same can be said for Denver on defense. When it is this close in terms of personnel, track record comes into play. Denver has spent the last half decade playing games like this, and usually winning. This is uncharted territory for the Titans. Denver finds a way to get it done and stay very relevant in the hotly contested AFC West race. Den 17 Ten 13

Texans at Colts (-6.5) – Credit Houston for being in the race in December despite horrendous quarterback play, but it has finally caught up with them. The better quarterbacks win games and divisions more often than not. Andrew Luck > Brock Osweiler. Ind 31 Hou 17

Vikings (-3) at Jaguars- Here you have two offenses that have not been able to do much all year. The Vikings remain alive in the playoff race thanks to their defense and special teams. Jacksonville is not so fortunate. Minnesota seemed to find something in a losing effort last week against Dallas. They are a little bit better than Jacksonville across the board. Quite frankly, the pregame legends of wrestling event may be more entertaining than the actual game. I wish I lived in Jacksonville so I could see some of my childhood heroes like Ric Flair in action. Oh well, the Vikings are a strong bet here. Min 20 Jac 12

Steelers (-2) at *Bills – The Steelers secondary is prone to giving up the big play. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor can extend plays with is legs. Both teams are scraping to reach the playoffs. As a whole, the Steelers are probably a tick better. However, the big play potential is enough for me to take a flyer on the upset. Buf 27 Pit 21

Chargers at Panthers (-1.5) – These are possibly the two most talented teams with bad records I have ever seen. Everything that could go wrong for these teams has. To me there is nothing that says Carolina will win, especially with all the drama that has gone on this week. However, I have been burned enough by that thought process this year. I will go the other way. Car 24 SD 21

Redskins (-2) at Eagles- It took a while, but the Eagles are finally starting to look as bad as we all thought they would before the season started. Meanwhile, the Redskins are desperate to keep their hopes for a wild-card playoff spot alive. With that offense, they are still very dangerous. If they do somehow sneak in to the playoffs, they will not be a comfortable matchup for anyone. Was 31 Phi 20

*Jets at 49ers (-2.5) – No doubt this is a terrible game between two awful teams, but I will add some spice to it. This is my favorite NFL pick of the year. I do not care that the Jets decided not to show up last week and are now starting Bryce Petty at quarterback. The 49ers should not be a favorite over anybody. NYJ 14 SF 10

Rams at Falcons (-6.5) – Watching the Rams play offense is just painful. They are averaging 12 points a game and have not reached the playoffs since their glory days in St. Louis. Yet, everyone in leadership positions just got new contracts. By no means am I crazy about the Falcons, but they will probably win their division by default and I have zero faith in the Rams. Atl 21 LA 9

*Saints at Bucs (-2.5) – The young Bucs continue to impress, but I continue to expect a letdown at some point. The Saints remain dangerous as long as Drew Brees is taking snaps. The Bucs hot streak has really come from nowhere. This is a whole new ballgame for most of their key guys. It is reasonable to speculate that they will eventually be overwhelmed by the occasion of big-time December football. NO 28 TB 27

Seahawks (-3) at Packers- Depending on other results, the Seahawks could lock up a division title here. Last week, they did what they always do, follow up the occasional clunker that they are somewhat known for with a dominant performance. If running back Thomas Rawls can finally stay healthy and give them the ground game they thought he would at the start of the year, this team becomes all the more dangerous, if that is possible. Even with Aaron Rodgers suddenly doing a much better job of carrying the Packers franchise again, a great football team always beats a great quarterback surrounded by 52 other random dudes. Sea 27 GB 17

photo from profootballfocus.com

photo from profootballfocus.com

Cowboys (-3.5) at Giants – The half-point makes me nervous here. This game is always close. The Giants remain the lone blemish on the season for the Cowboys. I am nowhere near as down on Eli Manning as the rest of the world after his shaky performance last week in Pittsburgh, but there is not a single thing the Giants do better than Dallas on a consistent basis. The only chance they have is Manning playing at his very best. This is always possible, but not likely. Dal 27 NYG 23

MNF: *Ravens at Patriots (-7) – The Ravens have had more success than anybody in New England over the years. Additionally, I would suggest Baltimore is at least equal to the Patriots at every position apart from quarterback right now. The gap at that position is not wide enough to prevent me from calling for the upset. Bal 28 NE 27

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