AJ McCarron

Teams should be very wary about AJ McCarron

Earlier this week, A.J. McCarron won his grievance case against the Bengals. The former Alabama standout is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The supply and demand for decent quarterback play in the NFL is as out of whack as it has ever been. Thus, McCarron and several other quarterbacks are about to be grossly overpaid by quarterback needy teams.

In today’s NFL, if you do not have a quarterback, you don’t have anything. So, teams must overpay at that position on occasion. However, here is why turning to McCarron in particular is going to be a grave mistake for some franchise.

He is even less of a proven commodity than other quarterbacks who may be on the move:

Drew Brees has given every indication that he will be back in New Orleans. Assuming that is the case, it would be a stretch to call any of the free agent quarterbacks elite. The same goes for trade candidates. Still, guys like Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles and Case Keenum have all had stretches where they looked like guys who could carry a franchise for a decade.

While any team should think twice about giving big money to a quarterback who has been pedestrian for his entire career and then suddenly catches lighting in a bottle, McCaron has never had a hot stretch like the three names in the last paragraph

The only season where he had relevant playing time was 2015. He played in 7 regular season games including three starts for an injured Dalton. He put up 854 yards, six touchdown passes and two interceptions. Those numbers are okay, but there certainly are not the kind you build your franchise around.

McCarron’s only playoff start was also unremarkable. He barely completed half of his throws while tallying just 212 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception. He did put his team in positon to win, but they didn’t. Now, some might argue that McCarron has not been given an opportunity to be “the guy” and that is why he has never been anything more than average. That fact is actually very telling as to why teams should avoid him like the plague.

McCarron never really pressured Dalton:

With a career passer rating in the 80s, a completion percentage in the low 60s, and a winless playoff record, Andy Dalton is the posterchild for average quarterbacks everywhere.

Andy Dalton

Photo: Getty Images

Yet, there was never a true quarterback controversy in Cincinnati. As a Cincinnati native, I can tell you that the only talk that ever really existed was in the fan base. Whatever a fan base talks about is pretty meaningless, as fun as it may be. Many fans in NFL cities want to change the quarterback and head coach after every loss. Thankfully, the league does not work that way.

The Bengals organization is far from being run well. However, the people who run any NFL franchise are smarter than the vast majority of fans. If that were not true, the fans would be running the team.

In the last two years, the Bengals have posted losing records. If McCarron was anything special, Cincinnati would have thrown him in there to try and turn the last two years around, but that never happened. If he cannot beat out Andy Dalton, the only place he can take a franchise as a starting quarterback is off a cliff.

McCarron has already had the best supporting cast he is going to get:

Scroll up and read McCarron’s numbers from 2015 again. That Bengals roster had seven pro bowlers on it. Those numbers are all McCarron could manage. Wherever he goes, he won’t be surrounded by seven pro bowlers. Instead, he will perhaps be asked to turn guys like the Jets receivers into pro bowlers. The numbers do not lie. He is not capable of that.

McCarron is about to make a whole lot of money for doing very little in the NFL. He is by no means the first nor will he be the last player this will happen for. Good for him. However excluding rookie deals, these situations rarely turn out well for the player or team involved. Brock Osweiler in Houston, Mike Glennon in Chicago, and the list goes on.  McCarron will no doubt continue that trend.

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Davante Adams

Week 17 NFL picks against the spread

My run of solid late season weeks continued with an 8-8 mark against the spread. Headed into the final week of the regular season, my record sits at 104-124-11. With several teams resting starters, lines are strange this week. All games will be played on Sunday afternoon. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Bears at Vikings (-12) – A win is all Minnesota needs to ensure that first-round bye in the playoffs. They will get it, but the Bears have been tough out all year long. This includes playing the Vikings to the gun during Mitchell Trubisky’s starting debut on Monday Night Football.

Chicago has since figured out that Jordan Howard as well as the defense are the best things this team has going for it. While that revelation likely came a little too late to save the employment of John Fox, it has given some good teams like Carolina and Baltimore fits along with the Vikings. Despite this, Minnesota being the team that has something to play for will get him over the line in this one. Min 21 Chi 17

Browns at Steelers (-6) – Both teams have something to play for here. The Browns are trying to avoid joining the 2008 Lions in the 0-16 club. Should New England stumbled against the Jets, Pittsburgh can earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, Reports of Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell resting for the playoffs tell you how little faith the Steelers have in that possibility.

Cleveland played a full strength Steelers team to the wire during opening week. With Pittsburgh nowhere near full strength for this one, something similar should be expected here. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, the only fitting end to their team’s season would be losing yet another close game to make dubious history. Pit 24 Cle 20

Cowboys (-3) at Eagles- Philadelphia has secured home field throughout the NFC playoffs, but they are banged up. After a shaky showing against the Raiders last week, Nick Foles and the offense clearly need work, but what if he gets hurt? How the Eagles approach this one is anyone’s guess. Dallas is playing for pride here, but Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are a safer bet than anything the Eagles offense has to offer right now. Dal 27 Phi 20

Texans at Colts (-5.5) – This is possibly the worst game of Week 17. Jacoby Brissett has proven to be serviceable at quarterback for the Colts this year despite being thrown in to a bad situation. Chuck Pagano has ran his course in Indy, but the players have pretty much always played hard for him. Expect no different in what is likely his swan song.

The only Houston’s offense had going for it was DeAndre Hopkins who is set to miss his first career game with a calf injury. If the Texans had stayed healthy, what might have been? We will never know. Both defenses are bad here, but the offenses are worse. Brissett has shown flashes of being able to lead an NFL offense. Meanwhile, the Texans have scored 13 points in their last two games combined. They have been forced to go too deep on their quarterback depth chart to truly compete. Ind 20 Hou 10

Jets at Patriots (-15.5)- Do not be fooled by New York’s record, Todd Bowles has gotten more out of this team make anyone expected this year and is very deserving of the contract extension he signed earlier this week.

New England still has to take care of business here to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. So, the Jets have no chance at winning this game. However, they always play New England very tough and the first meeting this year was no exception. To be a good bet here, New York does not even have to keep it all that close. NE 30 Nyj 17

Redskins (-3) at Giants- Both of these team are bad and ready for the offseason. However, at least the Redskins are not calling their teammates “a cancer” and are still playing hard. Expect Kirk Cousins to play well in what could be his last go around as a Redskin. Was 23 Nyg 13

Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) – Seattle is the exact opposite of Atlanta. The Seahawks may be loud and dysfunctional at times, but you can always count on Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll to come through when the chips are down. Look no further than last week.

Ever since the Super Bowl collapse, the same leadership is not in Atlanta. Seattle has a much easier opponent this week, but leadership is why Seattle wins here to force Atlanta to have to do the same to reach the playoffs. Sea 31 Ari 14

Bills (-2) at *Dolphins– Buffalo needs a win and some help to end the longest playoff drought in major American pro sports, but there is no reason to trust them here. Miami has been a disappointment this year, but a home game with a chance to bury a division rival should motivate them.

Slumping offense are worrisome this time of year. Buffalo is not the only desperate AFC team with a sagging offense, but the Bills have scored 20+ points just once since late November. That has to catch up with them eventually, this is the last chance for it to do so. Mia 20 Buf 17

*Panthers at Falcons (-4) – The Falcons get in the playoffs with a win here and may still get in with a loss. This line was made as if Carolina has nothing to play for and that is not the case. The Panthers can still get a first round bye and division title depending on other results. Most important, they need to win this one.

The Falcons have struggled all year to find consistency and beat good teams. They lost to Carolina a handful of weeks ago. The Panthers are the better football team and have been really solid for the last month. Meanwhile, the Falcons were manhandled by the Saints last week and had to squeeze by the lowly Bucs the week before. The cream rises to the top. Car 31 Atl 28

Bengals at Ravens (-9.5)- Of the four teams battling for the final two playoff spots in the AFC, Baltimore is the only team you should feel good about. They are not flashy, but they have a quarterback and coach who have been there and done that when it comes to December and January football. They also run the ball well and play defense. Those two things always translate well this time of year.

Joe Flacco

Photo: thebiglead.com

We saw the Bengals last best showing for the apparently soon to be departing head coach Marvin Lewis last week. The Ravens take full advantage of a favorable schedule down the stretch to emphatically punch their ticket to postseason. This is the one team New England should be nervous about in the AFC. Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh have gone in to New England and won twice before in the playoffs. Bal 30 Cin 13

*Packers at Lions (-7)- Neither team is playing for anything here, but the Lions folded against a bad Cincinnati team last week when they still had playoff hopes, it is hard not to expect a carryover even though the Lions have more talent. Combine that with the strange statistical reality that Brett Hundley has been better on the road, and that is good enough for me. GB 21 Det 20      

*Jaguars at Titans (-2.5) – Tennessee is playing for its playoff life and Jacksonville’s playoff position is secure. Even so, the Jaguars have given every indication that they are playing this game at full tilt.

This means the best defense in football will get a crack at Marcus Mariota and the slumping Titans offense. Mariota has averaged just 224 passing yards for last month and has more interceptions than touchdowns on the year. Nothing we have seen from this offense recently is good enough to make the playoffs. Jac 20 Ten 14

Chiefs at Broncos (-3) – Paxton Lynch will get one last chance to effect Denver’s offseason quarterback plans. The playoff bound Chiefs are resting several starters and giving rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes a look see. The Denver defense is a pretty tough first assignment. Despite the team having an awful year, the defense leads the league in yards allowed.

Patrick Mahomes

Photo: Denver Post

Given the quarterback matchup, nobody knows what to expect here, Vegas included. Having the home team favorite by a field goal is the catch all line for NFL games. Denver’s offense is woeful, but it is hard to imagine that throwing a rookie quarterback out there surrounded by several backups against Von Miller and company is going to end well. Den 16 KC 10

Saints (-5) at Bucs- For some reason, the Bucs have reportedly decided to retain Dirk Koetter. Despite a ton of young offensive talent, the losses continue to mount. There no reason to think they can stop the tough, physical, and playoff bound Saints from locking down a division title. NO 31 TB 20

Raiders at Chargers (-7) – The Chargers need a win and help, but a playoff spot is realistic. The Raiders will be pesky as they were last week, so, take the points. In the end, the fiery will of Philip Rivers will be enough. Lac 30 Oak 27  

49ers (-4) at Rams- The Rams are guaranteed to host a playoff game next week no matter what happens here. Thus, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and several others will sit this one out. With Jimmy Garoppolo still white hot for the 49ers, backups should not be able to slow him down in the season finale. SF 27 Lar 17  

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Marvin Lewis bengals legacy

The complicated legacy of Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati

It has been a week since the first reports that longtime Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis would step down at the end of the season became public. While we have not gotten confirmation from the relevant parties involved, we also have not gotten anything that approaches a denial.

With no playoff wins in 15 years and consecutive seasons of at least nine losses, the opinion of most fans on the potential departure of Lewis is either “good riddance” or “it’s about time.”

If the end is near for Lewis in Cincinnati, the sentiment in the above paragraph is not unwarranted, but it is also not entirely fair. Here is a closer look at the legacy Lewis may be leaving behind in the very near future.

What he walked into

Simply put, Lewis took over the worst franchise in professional sports when he was hired after the 2002 season. The team had not posted a winning record since 1990 and all but two seasons since then had featured double-digit losses. Naturally, the fan base simply did not care. The Bengals were irrelevant in their own city and home games were like funerals.

As bad as that sounds, words on a page alone do not do this period in Bengals history justice. Check out the 12 Days of Christmas parody below from John Bunyan on YouTube. It was done by a Cincinnati radio and television station towards the end of a 2-14 season in 2002. Many coaches would not have even considered this job, and who could blame them?

What he did

However, from the second Lewis was hired, Cincinnati was a different franchise. Perhaps his biggest impact was felt in the draft. Owner Mike Brown has long been known for total control of that aspect of the Bengals organization. In 1999, New Orleans offered its entire draft to Cincinnati in an effort to draft Ricky Williams. Williams did eventually wind up with the Saints, but Brown and the Bengals stayed put and took Oregon quarterback Akili Smith. Smith played four seasons in Cincinnati and never had a passer rating higher than 73.4.

Things were very different under Lewis. It was not so much drafting high profile names like Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. It was getting guys like Marvin Jones, Geno Atkins, George Iloka, Mohamed Sanu and Domata Peko in the middle rounds. All those players became key contributors on playoff teams for the Bengals. Make no mistake, the owner’s eye for talent did not magically improve. The difference was Lewis.

A.J. Green

Photo from whodeyfans.com

Unfortunately, his 0-7 playoff mark is what Lewis will be remembered for most in Cincinnati. However, this franchise has been in the playoffs seven times with Lewis as its coach. That is the same number of postseason trips made by all other coaches in franchise history combined.

When Lewis was hired in 2003, every Bengals fan on the planet would have signed on the dotted line for seven playoff trips in 15 years. If any fan says different, they are lying. Of course, any fan would have liked to have seen a playoff win or two. Even so, prior to the Lewis era, the playoffs were a figment of Cincinnati’s imagination. Lewis turned them into a realistic expectation.

His time in Cincinnati has probably gone on a few seasons too long, but that is not his fault. If Lewis does indeed leave after this season, the organization will be in infinitely better shape than when he arrived. That should be the ultimate goal of any NFL head coach.

Looking ahead

Should the Bengals job become available this offseason, it will be one of the more attractive openings on the market. Whether it is Dalton or AJ McCarron, whoever takes over will inherit a serviceable NFL quarterback, one of the best wide receivers in the game, at least one solid running back and a defense with a few playmakers. That is more than 99 percent of head coaches get when taking a new job.

A good portion of that can and should be attributed to Lewis. Whenever his time in Cincinnati ends, Lewis will have done an incredible job.

 

Featured image from upi.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Week 16 NFL picks against the spread

The folks in Vegas were on their game last week as I posted a 6-7-3 mark against the spread. 96-116-11 is my record for the season.  My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Happy Holidays everyone!

Saturday: 

Colts at Ravens (-13.5) – All Baltimore has to do for a return to the playoffs is beat the Colts and Bengals and have Buffalo lose one of its final two games.

This is a huge amount of points to swallow, but the Colts are just plain bad. Baltimore’s only loss in the span of more than a month was in Pittsburgh as time expired. Other than that, they have ran the ball and played defense to beat teams into submission. Indianapolis certainly isn’t in a position to stop that trend. Despite being pesky all year long, it seemed their last bit of fight went out the window in the second half of last week’s loss. Bal 31 Ind 13

Vikings (-9) at Packers– Now eliminated from playoff contention, the Packers made the wise decision to shut down Aaron Rodgers for the rest of the year. Even so, Brett Hundley had some good moments while Rodgers was out injured.

Minnesota is not a flashy football team, but they are very complete. The Vikings still have everything to play for as they try to secure home field advantage in the NFC playoffs, but the Packers would love to make life difficult by hanging a late-season loss on their division rival. That will not happen, but the Packers as 9.5 point underdogs at Lambeau Field is one of the stronger best of the week. Min 27 GB 24

Sunday:

Falcons at Saints (-5.5) – The three horse NFC South race will likely be down to two after this one. Atlanta’s inconsistency is still concerning. They ran Tampa Bay out of the building for most of the game last Monday night and still had to rely on a missed field goal to escape with a win. This team is good, but not as good as New Orleans or Carolina.

The Saints got a little too cute at the end of the game in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Do not expect Sean Payton and Drew Brees to make the same mistake twice. Mark Ingram and Alvin Karmara will both be healthy for this matchup. This is a key difference from a few weeks ago. The Saints approach to winning football games is safer and more consistent. NO 28 Atl 21

Bills at Patriots (11.5) – The fact that a team like Buffalo is holding down a playoff spot speaks to what a dismal year the entire AFC is having. Buffalo will need to win at least one of its final two games to end the longest ongoing playoff drought in major American pro sports. Ever since Nathan Peterman briefly became the starter, this team has not played well.

To their credit, they have still managed to find ways to win, which is more than most of their counterparts can say. Even so, they do not have the firepower to go on the road to New England and trouble the reigning Super Bowl champions who got a huge but controversial win to take control of the entire conference last week. NE 31 Buf 17

*Browns at Bears (-6.5) – Unless Pittsburgh is in a situation where they can rest starters next week, this is Cleveland’s last best chance to avoid going winless. This pick has nothing to do with scheme or matchups.

It has everything to do with the fact that Chicago is not a good team and that the Cleveland defense is on pace to give up over 100 points less than the 2008 Lions who became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The Browns have played too hard and been so close to win so many times this year to go winless. Somehow, they will find a way. Cle 17 Chi 14

*Broncos at Redskins (-3.5) – As the season winds down, the game of quarterback musical chairs continues in Denver. It will be Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch this week.

Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Broncos, their defense has given up just four touchdowns this month at two of them were off short fields created by turnovers. Combine that with the fact that Washington’s offensive line has been held together with duct tape all year long, and the Broncos are well-equipped for a minor upset here. Den 20 Was 17

Lions (-4.5) at Bengals- It has all but been confirmed that this is the last home game for Marvin Lewis as Bengals head coach. Lewis never could get the franchise over the hump, but he made football relevant in Cincinnati again. For that reason, it would be nice to see his players play hard, send him out a winner, and muck up the playoff picture in the process. However, Cincinnati has been outscored 67-14 in their last two weeks. Thus, there is no reason to think that will happen. Det 28 Cin 17

Chargers (-6.5) at Jets– The Chargers laid an egg in a big game last week. A pattern that has become all-too-familiar to that fan base over the last 15 or so years. They still have miniscule playoff hopes and having Philip Rivers under center ensures that this team will continue playing hard.

Bryce Petty and the Jets surprisingly gave New Orleans a fistfight last week. New York has been a good bet as an underdog this year. They have managed to beat Kansas City and Jacksonville while covering against teams like New England and Atlanta. The Los Angeles pass rush will be too much for the Jets to overcome. They will not win, but their season-long trend of playing talented teams tough will continue. Lac 24 Nyj 21

Rams (-6.5) at Titans- Tennessee is still very much a part of the AFC playoff conversation. Thus, this is the worst possible time for them to be playing their worst football of the year.

Ever since about October, Mike Mullarkey has struggled to get his team to play well on both sides of the ball at the same time. Two weeks ago they gave up just 12 points and lost. Last week, they scored 23 points and still came up short. If you are not playing well, the Rams may be the last team you want to face at the moment.

Even if the Titans manage to contain Sean McVay’s high powered offense, there is no indication that the offense can score enough points to win. This means that Tennessee is also in trouble if this game turns into a shootout. Either way, the Rams coast here. Lar 30 Ten 20           

Dolphins at Chiefs (-10)-  After teasing the entire Miami fan base by leading an upset of the mighty Patriots, the grumpy and inconsistent version of Jay Cutler made a return last week in Buffalo. With Miami now needing nothing short of a miracle to reach the playoffs, he is probably wishing he would have kept his broadcasting gig.

Jay Cutler

Photo: abcnews.go.com

Miami’s cause is not helped by the fact that Kansas City is finding some of its early-season form after routing division rivals to reestablish control of the AFC West. The Raiders and Chargers offenses have been held under 20 points in recent weeks by the Chiefs. Miami’s offense is not as good as those offenses. Add in the fact that Kareem Hunt has put up consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing, and this game could get ugly. KC 34 Mia 17

Bucs at Panthers (-10) – Carolina has scored over 30 points in four of the last five games, but the defense has allowed teams to make things interesting late in the games. The Bucs are still fighting hard despite a season that started with such high hopes turning out to be a disaster. The pattern continues and Tampa Bay gets a garbage time touchdown to cover the spread, but the Panthers clinch a playoff spot. Car 30 TB 23

Jaguars (-4) at *49ers– Jacksonville is a legitimate contender that will cause problems for any opponent in the AFC playoffs. This pick has more to do with San Francisco and Jimmy Garoppolo. The former Tom Brady understudy is still undefeated as a starting quarterback in his career. In his three starts with San Francisco, he has limited turnovers while shredding three solid defenses. This is just a case of a team running into a hot quarterback. As good as it is, the Jacksonville defense has not ran into many of those this year. SF 24 Jac 17

Giants at Cardinals (-3.5) – Two bad teams are doing battle for nothing but pride in this one. For the NFL to have so few meaningless games this late in the season is a great thing. The Giants have looked a little more presentable since Eli Manning got his job back, but not much. They are ready for the offseason.

Meanwhile, Arizona is still plugged in despite not finding the end zone in a little more than two games. They managed to beat Tennessee and nearly knocked off Washington on field goals alone. They will break the touchdown drought and smother the Giants. Ari 21 Nyg 13

*Seahawks at Cowboys (-5)This is the sucker bet of the week. Both teams need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The public is down on Seattle. It is understandable after last week’s surprising blowout. Meanwhile, the public is high on Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott returning to the fold this week.

Ezekiel Elliott

Photo: si.com

With Dallas being at home and a relatively small favorite, Vegas is begging you to take Dallas. So, the only logical thing to do is go the other way. If Seattle was not so experienced in situations like this and did not have Russell Wilson at quarterback, I would bail on the Seahawks too, but that is not the case. Sea 24 Dal 20

Monday:

Steelers (-9.5) at Texans- The only thing to worry about here is Pittsburgh’s strange struggles with bad teams on the road this year. They lost outright to Chicago and failed to cover against Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. Also, Antonio Brown is a massive loss in the short term and possibly long term as well. Despite all that, it is difficult to get around the fact that Houston is a four win football team that is likely going to have to start T.J. Yates at quarterback again this week. Pit 34 Hou 17

Raiders at Eagles (-9) – If the Eagles defense plays like they did last week, Nick Foles will be the least of their worries come playoff time. Foles showed last week that he is very capable of keeping the train on the tracks.

The Raiders found another very creative way to lose a football game last week. With their playoff hopes now all but gone, it is hard to imagine Oakland providing much resistance here, even though they have the talent to do so. If Oakland was playing like they did last year, this would be a fun one, but they aren’t. Phi 38 Oak 24

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Jarvis Landry

Week 14 NFL picks against the spread

Finally, a good week. I went 10-6 against the spread for week 13. This included correctly predicting outright upsets by the Packers, Seahawks, and Cowboys. 82-101-8 is where I stand as the stretch run rolls on. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Thursday Night:

Saints (-1.5) at Falcons- A loss to their division rival here would likely end the relevant part of Atlanta’s season. Even during last year’s Super Bowl run, their defense was average to slightly above average. The difference this year has been the offense being too inconsistent to make up for the defensive shortcomings.

If Atlanta managed to hold an opponent to 14 points last year, that was a certain blowout victory. Last week against Minnesota when that happened, the Falcons lost. Meanwhile, New Orleans is the exact opposite. Run the ball with two great backs, play defense, and ask Drew Brees to go win the game if necessary. The approach is consistent and has worked very well. Taking consistency over inconsistency is always the safe bet. NO 28 Atl 21

Sunday:

Bears at Bengals (-6)- We are getting to the point in the season where there are a few matchups each week featuring teams that don’t have much to play for. This certainly qualifies as one of those. The Bears have stayed scrappy all year long. Firing John Fox would be a mistake, but is likely inevitable at this point.

You could feel the wind come out of Cincinnati’s sails after the close loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night. Chicago has struggled to finish games all year long and Cincinnati definitely has more offensive firepower. The Bengals will win, but six points is too many. Cin 20 Chi 17

Cowboys (-4) at Giants- Dallas is still breathing in the loaded NFC playoff race. They ran the ball down Washington’s throat last week. No matter who is in the backfield, that is what they do best. To call the Giants a dysfunctional franchise right now would be an insult to dysfunctional franchises everywhere.

Eli Manning gets his job back for the Giants a week after his bizarre benching. The regime that made that move as well as all the other moves that have led to New York’s disastrous season has been fired. Who knows what the long-term future of the Giants looks like? In the short term, it is tough to imagine this team being competitive with anyone at the moment. A desperate Dallas team is no exception. Dal 24 Nyg 14

*Lions at Bucs (Pick ‘em) – Here is a game shrouded in quarterback mystery. A pick ‘em line is the only way to go until Matthew Stafford’s playing status becomes clearer. Detroit still has an outside shot at the playoffs. Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Lions, Tampa Bay appears to have closed up shop for the remainder of the season. Their only two wins since the first month of the season came when the guy they drafted to be their franchise quarterback just a few years ago was hurt. This franchise needs to take a long look in the mirror. Detroit is tough to trust, but Tampa Bay is impossible to trust this season. Det 24 TB 20

Packers (-3) at *Browns– The Packers are the better team, but Brett Hundley has been wildly inconsistent since taking over for Aaron Rodgers. He only had 84 passing yards last week in a win against Tampa Bay. The Cleveland defense has been in the top half of most categories all year long. They are one of the more underrated units in the league.

Deshone Kizer

Photo: nydailynews.com

Also, Josh Gordon clearly added a layer to the stagnant Browns offense in his return last week. DeShone Kizer is still responsible for far too many turnovers, but the rookie quarterback has shown real improvement in the last month. Going winless for an entire season in the NFL is hard to do and the Browns could easily have three or four wins by now. This is one of their last realistic chances to avoid legendary embarrassment and they know it. Somehow, they will find a way. Cle 17 GB 14

            *Colts at Bills (Pick ‘em) – A 3-9 record is bad, but if games ended at halftime, Indianapolis’s record would be flipped. They have played hard all year long and can play with anybody, even with a backup quarterback. Even though Buffalo is the team that is still alive in the playoff hunt, that same type of fight just is not there. With Tyrod Taylor injured, the line for this game will remain fuzzy right up until kickoff. Things seem to be trending towards backup Nathan Peterman who threw five interceptions in the first half of his NFL debut earlier this year. That is a great reason to pick the road team.

Vikings (-2.5) at *Panthers– The Vikings continue to defy expectations. Defense is their identity, but Case Keenum and the offense are doing enough to win games. Minnesota has won eight in a row.

I might be the last person on earth that is still skeptical of Keenum, but it is tough to pick this team when they go up against top-flight quarterbacks like Cam Newton. The Panthers run a ton of formations and are difficult to prepare for. The Vikings offense did struggle a little bit last week. The defense had to stand on its head to secure the 14-9 victory. This game will come down to which offense will be able to better move the ball against a really good defense. These teams are right next to each other in a lot of statistics. The only definitive advantage is Carolina being at home. Car 14 Min 13

 

 

Raiders at Chiefs (-4) – With three teams in the AFC West tied at 6-6, this is a huge game. Oakland won the first meeting with a touchdown at the gun. Both teams were thought to have explosive offenses that have pretty much disappeared ever since that shootout. Anything could happen here, but Kansas City still has one of the toughest home-field advantages in all ofsports. Also, even though Andy Reid is taking a lot of heat for Kansas City’s dramatic drop-off, the Chiefs have a significant coaching edge here. KC 27 Oak 20

Jimmy Garoppolo

Photo: espn.com

*49ers at Texans (-3)-  While Texans fans are no doubt wondering what might have been had Deshaun Watson stayed healthy, Tom Savage has settled in and at least played okay the last few weeks. However, Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start had to give the entire 49ers organization a lift last week. The offense struggled in the red zone, but they found a way to win. Like last week, they will not need to score a lot of points to get the job done here. SF 17 Hou 16

Jets (-1) at Broncos- If you had said the Jets would be road favorites in Denver this year before the season, you would have been laughed out of the room. New York has played solid fundamental football all year long to notch five more wins than most people predicted. They do not have a ton of talent, but their ground game is effective and Josh McCown has 10 more touchdown passes than interceptions.

This pick has more to do with Denver. The Broncos defense is still really good, but the offense is constantly shooting itself in the foot. This is a winnable game for both teams, but Denver made the Dolphins look like the 85 Bears last week. It is tough to pick them after that. Nyj 19 Den 13

Titans (-3) at Cardinals- Thanks to the lack of depth in the AFC, Tennessee appears headed for a rare playoff appearance. Tennessee is not flashy, but there is a lot to be said for winning five one possession games this year.

Arizona has been all over the map this year. Despite flashes of looking like the playoff team many thought they would be, sitting at 5-7 means that they are probably closer to the team that got demolished by the Rams last week. A bunch of key people in the organization are old. It could look a lot different in 2018. Tennessee is not really capable of blowing anyone out, but they should get the job done as they have for most of the season. Ten 20 Ari 14

Redskins at Chargers (-6)- The Chargers are suddenly the trendy pick to make noise in the AFC playoffs after getting back to .500 following an 0-4 start. Their remaining game with Kansas City will likely decide that. For now though, with injuries, losses, and questions about the future piling up, the Redskins are in no position to cool off a red-hot quarterback and pass rush at the moment. Lac 30 Was 20

Eagles at Rams (-2.5) – One of the best matchups of the week is a simple one to analyze. Last week, the Eagles faced a team that was playing well on the road for the second time this year. They were manhandled for the second time. The same scenario applies this week. Both these teams have benefited from the fact that there are just a lot of average to below average teams in the NFL right now. They both are probably too young to win a Super Bowl this year, the Rams are coming in with more confidence and playing at home. Lar 24 Phi 16

*Seahawks at Jaguars (-2.5) – Here, you have two likely playoff teams with really good defenses. Jacksonville’s unit is a little better, but rely a lot on sacks. Good luck trying to run down Russell Wilson. This matchup is as simple as one team being quarterbacked by Wilson and the other by Blake Bortles.  Sea 21 Jac 13

Ravens at Steelers (-5) – The best rivalry in football takes center stage for Sunday Night Football. Everyone has been panicking about Pittsburgh’s slow starts and locker room drama all year long. They just keep finding ways to win.

This is a completely different Ravens team than the one that Pittsburgh manhandled in early October. The defense remains stout, but the emergence of Alex Collins at running back has given the offense a much-needed identity. They have scored over 20 points in their last four games.

Most weeks, that is going to be more than enough for Baltimore’s defense. John Harbaugh’s team has started to separate itself in the mediocre AFC wildcard race. The Steelers might be the toughest offense in football to contain. Their stars will do just enough to pull out a win. Even so, an underdog getting anything more than a field goal in this matchup feels like stealing. Pit 24 Bal 21

 Monday Night:

Patriots (-11) at Dolphins- Miami’s convincing win over Denver last week is hardly a sign that this team is making progress. They still committed three turnovers. New England is rolling and never beats themselves the way Denver did. Even with Rob Gronkowski sidelined, there is nothing to suggest that the Patriots will not dominate this matchup much like the way they did less than a month ago. NE 31 Mia 14

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2017 NFL power rankings week 14

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

December football is upon us, and as the weather gets colder, the NFL playoff races are heating up. Four teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention; Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago and the New York Giants. There is also a few playoff-clinching scenarios in play during week 14. New England can clinch the AFC East with a win over Miami or a Buffalo loss. Philadelphia can clinch the NFC East title with a win over the Los Angeles Rams, or with a New York Giants win over Dallas. Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a win over Carolina or losses by both Detroit and Green Bay. With all that being said, here are the current 2017 NFL power rankings for Week 14.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-12)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports)

Last week: 32 (no change)

Next game: home vs. Green Bay

There is little to say about Cleveland that hasn’t already been said. They are four games away from an infamous 0-16 season. All Cleveland can focus on is the draft. This year they must find the quarterback that can change the franchise. They have gone too long without a true leader to play under center. In the last two seasons, they have missed out on Carson Wentz, DeShaun Watson, Dak Prescott and other. In 2018, they need to find a way to take Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield.

31. New York Giants (2-10)

Last week: 30 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Dallas

Giant fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Mustache man, Ben McAdoo is gone and can no longer hurt your team. New York is having a disastrous season but at 2-10, they have a lot of talent still. The defense is a couple of players away from being elite. The offense has Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram to build around. Their focus needs to be solidifying their offensive line and finding a workhorse running back. If they do that they can still win with Eli Manning at quarterback. He does not have to be replaced yet.

30. Denver Broncos (3-9)

Last week: 29 (-1)

Next game: home vs. New York Jets

Getting blown out by Miami has shown just how far the Broncos have fallen this season.  Nothing is going right and they need to hit the reset button. The Jets will be coming to town to put a beatdown on the Broncos. This once feared defense is now 31st in scoring defense giving up 26.2 points per game. Going forward they will need to fix this defense or find a new identity.

29. Chicago Bears (3-9)

Last week: 28 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Cincinnati

The Bears might not be a playoff contender but man does their future look exciting with players like Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky. Their defensive play has gone under the radar because they are eliminated from the playoffs. The only thing the Bears can do for the remainder of this season is build momentum for the future.

28. San Francisco 49ers (2-10)

Last week: 31 (+3)

Next game: away vs. Houston

Jimmy Garoppolo has generated a buzz in San Francisco. It appears that he will be the franchise quarterback moving forward. This is good news for the 49ers who will have another top-five pick to build their team. As they continue to build their defense Garoppolo can provide the consistency needed from a signal caller. If the defense steps up next season and the front office gets Jimmy G some weapons on the outside, then the 49ers will be one of the surprise playoff teams as early as next year.

27. Indianapolis Colts (3-9)

Last week: 27 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Buffalo

The Colts defense has kept them in most of their games but it usually breaks in the second half. One thing to keep an eye on for the remainder of the Colts’ season is Frank Gore. Gore is only 368 yards from another 1,000 yard and at age 34 which is remarkable. He is also just 404 yards away from passing Curtis Martin for fourth on the all-time rushing list. If he can reach that mark in the final four games it would be the highlight of the Colts’ season.

26. Miami Dolphins (5-7)

Last week: 26 (no change)

Next game: home vs. New England

Miami blew out the Broncos to end their five-game losing streak. Jay Cutler threw for 235 yards and Kenyan Drake ran for 120 yards on just 23 carries. Drake is proving he could be the feature back moving forward. This week the Dolphins will host the Patriots and Miami have lost three straight to New England and four of the last five.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)

Last week: 24 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Detroit

Fixing the defense should be the number one priority this offseason. Jameis Winston is a really good young quarterback but the Bucs could end up wasting his talents. The offense around Winston is very solid as well with O.J. Howard, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Doug Martin could be replaced with a more reliable back but overall the offense is solid. The defense must step it up but they can’t salvage this season.

24. New York Jets (5-7)

Last week: 25 (+1)

Next game: away vs. Denver

Somehow, someway the Jets have won five games and continue to be the most unpredictable team in the NFL. They are mathematically alive in the playoff hunt but don’t get it twisted, they are not a playoff caliber team. They should find themselves in the win column again with a road trip to Denver on the schedule. But then again, if anybody could lose to Denver at this point in the season, don’t be surprised if it is the Jets.

23. Arizona Cardinals (5-7)

Last week: 22 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Tennessee

Bruce Arians is a damn good coach who has kept the Cardinals very competitive despite losing David Johnson and Carson Palmer this season. Arizona is struggling to score points but if they had Johnson and Palmer they would be fairing much better. After dropping a game to the Rams the Cardinals get to host the playoff-bound Titans and it will be a tough test.

22. Houston Texans (4-8)

Last week: 23 (+1)

Next game: home vs. San Francisco

For some reason, the Texans threw the ball 49 times with Tom Savage. Anybody who knows anything about football knows that a team can not win with Savage throwing that ball that often. Houston needs to run the ball more and 22 attempts are not enough. It is no surprise they lost to the Titans because of this formula. If they have a similar gameplan against the 49ers they will lose to them as well.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)

Last week: 19 (-2)

Next game: home vs. Chicago

Cincinnati had a 17 point lead at home against their rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Blowing that game may have cost them a shot at the playoffs. Looking back at that game, it summarizes Marvin Lewis’ time in Cincinnati. In the beginning, it looked great and there have been multiple displays of greatness. At the end though, they always come up short. Cincinnati needs a change of culture and Marvin Lewis needs to be fired.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (6-6)

Last week: 14 (-6)

Next game: home vs. Oakland

Losing to the Jets is the last straw. This team will miss the playoffs and be a footnote in history of the teams that got off to a hot start but eventually folded. Andy Reid finally got back to airing it out and opening the offense for Alex Smith but then the defense decided to go missing. Kansas City has a virtual playoff game this week but the way their season has gone recently they will probably lose again for the seventh time in eight games.

19. Buffalo Bills (6-6)

Last week: 13 (-6)

Next game: home vs. Indianapolis Colts

Buffalo only managed to score three points against the Patriots. LeSean McCoy was held to just 93 yards and as a team, they only threw for 115 yards. The Bills are still in the hunt in the AFC wildcard picture but their schedule doesn’t look favorable. Buffalo should beat Indy this week but then they have to face Miami twice and New England one more time. The benching of Tyrod Taylor against the Chargers might end up being the difference when it is all said and done.

18. Oakland Raiders (6-6)

Last week: 18 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Kansas City

The Raiders control their own destiny in the AFC West as the Chiefs and Chargers are both 6-6 as well. If they win their next four games they will win the division title but they have Kansas City this week followed by Dallas, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers. It will not be easy to accomplish but if they run the table it would be well earned.

17. Washington Redskins (5-7)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: AP Photo)

Last week: 16 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Washington got completely manhandled by the Cowboys and that is a disturbing outcome. The Redskins will not make the playoffs and still have to worry about Kirk Cousins walking away from them this offseason. If that happens Washington will no longer have an identity and will have to start yet another rebuild. They must travel to Los Angeles to face the scorching hot Chargers.

16. Green Bay Packers (6-6)

Last week: 20 (+4)

Next game: away vs. Cleveland

Green Bay got a much needed, momentum building, win against the Buccaneers. All they have to do is beat Cleveland and then they get Aaron Rodgers back for the final three games. 10 wins are typically the benchmark to make the playoffs and with Aaron Rodgers returning it is very possible they reach that benchmark. Cleveland should present an easy opportunity for a win. The rest of the NFC should be on the lookout for the Packers.

15. Detroit Lions (6-6)

Last week: 15 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Tampa Bay

The Lions have lost back to back important games and must finish the season on a four-game win streak to have a shot at making the playoffs. Detroit’s final four games include the Buccaneers, Bears, Bengals and Packers. All their remaining games are winnable. One thing the Lions must do is play better defense as they are giving up 25.7 points per game which is sixth worst in the NFL. Matthew Stafford can’t do it all himself and if the defense doesn’t lend a hand then Detroit will miss the playoffs.

14. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

Last week: 17 (+3)

Next game: away vs. New York Giants

The Cowboys season may have changed for the better after a huge win against their biggest rival, the Redskins, 38-14. Dallas got back to running the ball. Alfred Morris had 27 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown. Dallas sits at 6-6 and is on the outside looking in of the playoffs. if they can win four straight, like many other teams, they will find themselves in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they still have games against the Raiders, Seahawks and Eagles so the playoffs do not look likely.

13. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)

Last week: 21 (+8)

Next game: away vs. Pittsburgh

For a while now I have not given the Ravens the credit that they have earned. Their defense has been recognized but their inept offense gave a cause for pause. After thrashing the Lions, it is clear that the Ravens will likely be a playoff team. Now, they probably won’t go too deep into the playoffs but this a good team. If they get an upset win on the road this week, they are all but a lock for a playoff berth and could even have a shot at winning the division.

12. Tennessee Titans (8-4)

Last week: 12 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Arizona

Tennessee is an old-school football team that pounds the rock behind two really good running backs. Derek Henry is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and a total of 629 yards while DeMarco Murray has racked up 518 yards. As a team, Tennessee is averaging 122 yards per game on the ground. Marcus Mariota has the ability to get hot at any moment and if he does then the Titans become a darkhorse in the AFC.

11. Atlanta Falcons (7-5)

Last week: 8 (-3)

Next game: home vs. New Orleans

How many times have these Atlanta Falcons been held to under 10 points and no touchdowns at home? Not very often. The loss at home to the Vikings dampers their chance of returning to the playoffs. However, if they can find some of that old offensive magic this week against the Saints, then they still have a shot at winning the division.

10. Carolina Panthers (8-4)

Last week: 7 (-3)

Next game: home vs. Minnesota

Carolina does not match up well with the Saints. New Orleans swept Carolina and holds all the tiebreakers against them. The Panthers don’t get much of a chance to catch their breath either because the first seeded Vikings are coming to town to finish their road trip. The Panthers are going to have to control the clock. If they can win the time of possession they will tire out Minnesota’s stellar defense and have a shot at winning.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)

Last week: 9 (no change)

Next game: home vs. Washington

Los Angeles is one of the hottest teams in the league, winning six of their last eight. That is why they are ranked in the top ten of these rankings. The Chargers have caught up to the Chiefs. Nobody wants to play the Chargers because they can get after the quarterback and create havoc for opposing offense. On the other side of the ball, they have an experienced quarterback and a young running back to rely on. Los Angeles will continue to win games and just like the Titans, be a darkhorse to challenge in the AFC.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4)

Last week: 10 (-2)

Next game: home vs. Seattle

Jacksonville’s defense is Super Bowl caliber and can lead them deep into the playoffs as long as Blake Bortles doesn’t mess it up. The Jaguars rank first in total defense (282.5 yards allowed per game), passing defense (167.1 passing yards allowed per game), sacks (45) and second in takeaways (27). Seattle will be a difficult challenge but Jacksonville has the luxury of playing this one at home.

7. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: JONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Last week: 11 (+4)

Next game: away vs. Jacksonville

Just how good is Russell Wilson?  He has the Seahawks winning games with a horrible offensive line and half of the Legion of Boom missing. Wilson should be the favorite to win the MVP award because without him the Seahawks would be lucky to have three wins. Wilson has thrown for 3,256, 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Beating the Eagles was a statement to the rest of the NFC that the Seahawks are not to be overlooked.

6. New Orleans Saints (9-3)

Last week: 6 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Atlanta

There is no better running back duo in the NFL than Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. This duo is doing so well they need a nickname. Ingram likes Boom and Zoom but I am sure they can find a better one. New Orleans has swept Carolina because of these awesome backs that have led the way. If they can repeat that success against Atlanta this week they will put a nice hold on the division.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)

Last week: 2 (-3)

Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Rams

Philly had their long win streak snapped and it wasn’t a huge surprise. Winning in Seattle is tough and the Eagles had not been in many close games against good teams. The defense was a bit exposed and may struggle to shut down the Rams explosive offense. Carson Wentz will need to play great to keep the Eagles soaring.

4. Los Angeles Rams (9-3)

Last week: 5 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Philadelphia

Los Angeles has been on a scheduling gauntlet lately. The recently played the Vikings and Saints and now they have to face the Eagles. This is a big game for both teams as they are fighting for a possible first-round bye and possibly home-field advantage. Their recent win against the Cardinals was a tune-up for this showdown. There should be fireworks as the teams are tied for first in scoring offense averaging 30.1 points per game.

3. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)

Last week: 4 (+1)

Next game: away vs. Carolina

The Vikings are a win away from clinching the division title. All they have to do is win one game against the Panthers, Bengals, Packers and Bears. That should be easy enough for a team with a defense as strong as theirs. Case Keenum continues his MVP-level play completing 25 of 30 pass attempts against the Falcons. He didn’t throw a single incompletion in the second half. Minnesota has a third straight road game this week against the Panthers. It will be impressive if they can pull off another win.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2)

Last week: 3 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Baltimore

The Steelers keep catching flack for winning close games against inferior teams but wins are hard to come by in the NFL. A win is good no matter if it is by one or 100 and Pittsburgh just keeps winning. They are earning a lot of experience for close battles they will encounter in the playoffs. When the playoffs start the Steelers will find themselves prepared for anything and everything.

1. New England Patriots (10-2)

Last week: 1 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Miami

New England continues to win games and look like champions while doing it. The Patriots are the best team in the NFL because they have the greatest coach and quarterback of all-time. Their defense is coming off a great performance against the Bills allowing just three points. New England has nothing to worry about and are gearing up for their favorite time of the year.

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Stack your money Sunday’s: Week 13

Week 12 Review (3-0) OVERALL: 24-10-2

Tennessee Titans (-3.5) @ Indianapolis Colts

Tennessee Titans 20 Indianapolis Colts 16

Late in the third quarter, it looked as if the Colts were going to continue their dominance against the Titans at home. Down 16-6, Marcus Mariota found Delanie Walker for a 2-yard touchdown to cut the lead to three. A Demarco Murray touchdown with under six minutes to play made it a four-point game. Luckily, Tennessee’s defense stepped up and prevented Indianapolis from getting anything going on offense.

It was an ugly win, but nonetheless, a cover is a cover. Mariota threw two interceptions and continued to look shaky, as his interception total is up to 12 on the year. They ran for 92 yards, including 79 from Derrick Henry, who looks like he deserves to be the lead back. Tennessee played solid red-zone defense, but that is expected against the Colts.

The Titans sit at 7-4, yet are getting outscored by 27 points for the season, including two blowout losses by 23+ points. Most of their wins are one possession games, and inconsistent play from Mariota makes it hard to buy into this team.

Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles (-13)

Philadelphia Eagles 31 Chicago Bears 3

Blount rushed for 97 yards in the win against Chicago. (SBNation)

At first, I was a tad skeptical of a spread this large, but then again, the Eagles are the most complete football team in the NFL. This game was over from the jump, as Carson Wentz threw three touchdowns in the first half. Philadelphia continued to excel in the run game, as they rushed for 176 yards on 33 carries, including 97 yards from LeGarrette Blount.

Speaking of the run, the Bears ran for a grand total of six yards on 14 carries. Mitch Trubisky continued to look like a rookie, throwing two interceptions and completed only 51.5 percent of his passes. His 38.3 quarterback rating was his worst of the season.

The Bears had the ball for less than 23 total minutes, and were 3-13 on third down conversion attempts. The Eagles had three times more first downs than Chicago. Simply put, Chicago was overmatched and looked the part.

Seattle Seahawks (-5.5) @ San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks 24 San Francisco 49ers 13

As banged up as they are, Seattle still has Russell Wilson, which means they will always have a shot. Wilson had a solid game, throwing for two touchdowns, while also picking up his third rushing touchdown of the season. He is carrying this team, and arguably the most valuable player in the sport. Without him, the Seahawks would be a disaster.

Although it is unfortunate C.J. Beathard was injured in the game, the 49ers fan got a glimpse of what the future could look like. Jimmy Garappolo went in late in the fourth quarter and threw 10-yard touchdown to Louis Murphy. Garappolo will start this week against Chicago, in hopes of picking up his first win as a Niner, and giving the fan base something to cheer about.

WEEK 13 PICKS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Green Bay Packers (-2.5)

PICK: PACKERS TO COVER

Brett Hundley had a career game last week against the Steelers. The 24-year-old from UCLA threw three touchdowns, no interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 134.3. While it hasn’t been all that pretty for Hundley and the Packers, who are 1-4 in their last five, this week should be a breeze.

Jameis Winston has returned to practice and will be playing on Sunday. Last year, Winston’s average kickoff temperature was right around 75 degrees. On Sunday, the temperature will be in the 40s, which is new to Jameis. Counting both his collegiate and professional careers, Winston has never played in anything under 45 degrees. The Bucs are also without starting center Ali Marpet, and right tackle Demar Dotson. Running back Doug Martin is still in the concussion protocol.

The Bucs are 23rd in both points and third down conversion percentage. Their run game has been a disaster all year, and they also have had incontinent kicking. Look for Hundley to have a solid game against a Tampa Bay defense that gives up 395.5 yards per game, and 6.1 yards per play, which both rank dead last in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (-4.5)

PICK: SAINTS TO COVER

Although they lost last week to the Rams, the Saints remain one of the best football teams in the NFL. Both teams sit at 8-3, so this will be a battle for first place in the NFC South. It will be interesting to see if the stellar Panthers defense will have an answer for Alvin Kamara. Kamara, who looks to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year, is averaging 7.1 yards per carry, which is first in the NFL. He also has 55 receptions including at least five in six of the last eight games.

Front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara (SI.com)

Following a loss, Drew Brees is 52-32-2 ATS. Brees is having another impressive season, with 16 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and currently leads the league with a completion percentage of 71.3. The Saints have just one loss at home this year, which came all the way back in Week Two against New England. New Orleans has been excellent in the red zone, sitting fifth in the league in percentage of red zone opportunities ending with a touchdown.

Cam Newton continues to be one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the league. When the Panthers beat New England and Detroit, Newton threw for three touchdowns and over 300 yards in both contests. Last week against the New York Jets, Newton completed 39.3 percent of his passes, with no touchdowns and just 168 passing yards. Carolina’s offense currently ranks 20th in yards per play.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals

PICK: STEELERS TO COVER

The Steelers looked bad on National TV last week against the Packers, which means a big performance is looming in the air. According to SportsInsights.com, “Pittsburgh’s offense and defense both rank second in Adjusted Sack Rate. Cincy’s offense and defense both rank 26th in Adjusted Sack Rate.”

Le’Veon Bell should carve up this Bengals defense, who allow 126.6 rushing yards per game. In the last 16 games in which Pittsburgh has rushed for at least 100 yards, the Steelers are 15-1. During their Week Six matchup, Bell rushed for 134 yards. In the six games he has played against Cincinnati, the Steelers are 5-1. Over the course of Ben Roethlisberger’s career against the Bengals, he is 20-7.

Andy Dalton looks really bad this year, and has his Bengals sitting at 32nd in yards per game. Cincinnati only scores about 18 points per game, and are 29th in third down conversion percentage. Although last week they had a solid running game against the Browns, Cincinnati is still 31st in yards per rush. They can’t pass, or run, and their rush defense is among the worst in the league. Look for Pittsburgh to continue to dominate this inner-division rivalry.

 

Featured image by Bleacher Report

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Hagan's Haus 2017 NFL pick week 13

Hagan’s Haus 2017 NFL picks Week 13

Welcome to Hagan’s Haus, where football is the only thing that matters. You won’t find me in a church on Sunday because football is my religion and the No. 1 priority in my life. I am so excited that the NFL season is finally back in action! I pride myself on studying the game of football. We can’t get all our picks or predictions right, but I am going to leave it here in the open every week for everyone to see. In Hagan’s Haus, it’s all about bragging rights. 

Who is the best? Because winning is the only thing that matters. We don’t get points for second place. I challenge you to post comments on your weekly picks and compare them to mine. This isn’t about point spreads. I will give a score prediction, but winning is winning. Doesn’t matter if it is by an inch or a mile. So try and beat me in picking NFL games. I promise you it won’t be easy, but it will be fun. Here are Hagan’s Haus 2017 Week 13 NFL picks.

Last week: 12-2 (85.7 percent)

Overall: 107-66 (61.8 percent)

Thursday Night

Sunday Morning

2017 NFL picks week 13

(Photo from http://www.sportingnews.com)

New England Patriots (9-2) 27 @ Buffalo Bills (6-5) 18: The Bills are 3-9 in their last 12 games against the Patriots. This one means a little more than it usually does with the Bills fighting for a possible playoff spot.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, that doesn’t really mean much against Tom Brady. There is a very small chance they win this game even though they are at home, but anything is possible. The Bills could pull off the upset, but New England’s defense will be too good.

San Francisco 49ers (1-10) 24 @ Chicago Bears (3-8) 20: Jimmy Garoppolo will finally make his first start in a 49er uniform. Garoppolo saw some action last week towards the end of the game, completing both of his passes for 18 yards and one touchdown.

There is no better game for him to make his first start with San Francisco than against the Bears. Chicago has made strides of improvement, but it hasn’t resulted in many wins. The 49ers will win this game just because Jimmy G will be the difference.

Minnesota Vikings (9-2) 27 @ Atlanta Falcons (7-4) 21: Minnesota is playing at a high level on both sides of the ball. Case Keenum is having an MVP-caliber season, but people still question the quarterback situation. Atlanta is playing well too, and a win at home puts them right back into all NFC races. Minnesota will get too much pressure and it will result in another win.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) 21 @ Green Bay Packers (5-6) 24: Green Bay is beginning to hear whispers that Aaron Rodgers is close to returning. That is scary for the rest of the league because if the Packers get hot at the right time, they could find themselves in the Super Bowl despite not having a Super Bowl caliber roster because Rodgers is that good.

Tampa is not going to make a run, and their only role now is to play spoiler. They will not spoil anything in Lambeau, and the Packers will get to .500 this week.

Houston Texans (4-7) 13 @ Tennessee Titans (7-4) 31: Tennessee would love to continue their good season with a win against the Texans. The Titans have to keep pace with the Jaguars, who are playing the Colts.

Marcus Mariota has yet to get on a hot streak this season, which probably means it is coming soon. With all the injuries the Texans are dealing with, it would make sense for the hot streak to get started this week. Mariota will have four total touchdowns in a blowout win over the Texans.

Denver Broncos (3-8) 17 @ Miami Dolphins (4-7) 19: There might be one television in the country tuned into this snooze fest. The Broncos are having a horrible season, and the Dolphins aren’t doing much better. Miami has lost five straight games, and the Broncos have lost seven straight. Miami will end their losing streak based on home field advantage.

Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) 31 @ New York Jets (4-7) 24: The free-falling Chiefs are desperate as the Chargers have climbed up the standings and only trail by a game for the AFC West division lead. Kansas City must find their offensive magic they had early in the season during their 5-0 start. Kareem Hunt has to be the workhorse, and the offensive play-calling must allow Alex Smith to air out the ball. They will recapture the magic this week in New York to end the losing streak.

Indianapolis Colts (3-8) 10 @ Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4) 34: The only way the Colts win this game is if Blake Bortles throws three or more interceptions. Jacksonville’s defense is going to wreak havoc on Jacoby Brissett and the rest of the offense. A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey will both get an interception, and defensive player of the year candidate, Calais Campbell, will have three sacks.

Detroit Lions (6-5) 30 @ Baltimore Ravens (6-5) 20: Baltimore does not look like a six-win team when you watch them play. The offense looks confused at times and is only scoring 21.5 points per game.

Their defense, on the other hand, ranks second in points allowed per game. Matthew Stafford is going to change that by lighting them up for 30 this week.

Sunday Afternoon

2017 NFL picks week 13

(Photo by Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Cleveland Browns (0-11) 12 @ Los Angeles Chargers (5-6) 24: Los Angeles has gotten hot and is only one game out of first place in their division. Cleveland comes in winless and will not put up a fight against the Chargers’ stout defense.

Melvin Gordon has also been fantastic this season and is getting little shine. Gordon will have 150 all-purpose yards to lead the Chargers to another win.

New York Giants (2-9) 7 @ Oakland Raiders (5-6) 34: The amount of disrespect the Giants have shown Eli Manning is absolutely ridiculous. Ben McAdoo is benching Manning for Geno Smith. Smith has had many opportunities to prove he is capable of being a starting quarterback and has disappointed every time. Oakland is going to look like a defensive powerhouse against Smith. Raiders win easily and in blowout fashion.

Carolina Panthers (8-3) 27 @ New Orleans Saints (8-3) 24: This is the game of the week, and first place is on the line. In their first meeting, the Saints smacked Carolina in Charlotte 34-13.

This game will be much different, and the Panthers defense will step up. Cam Newton will also have a big game, and Carolina will find their way into first place in the NFC South.

Los Angeles Rams (8-3) 32 @ Arizona Cardinals (5-6) 23: Arizona is rolling with Blaine Gabbert under center, and this Rams defense is going to bother him big time. Arizona’s defense will not be able to slow down the No. 2 scoring offense in the league.

Jared Goff has been great, but Todd Gurley is the real reason the Rams are dangerous. He will lead them to their ninth win of the season against the Cardinals.

Sunday Night

Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) 21 @ Seattle Seahawks (7-4) 22: Philly is without question the better team, but my gut is telling me to pick the Seahawks. Playing in Seattle is a tough task. Russell Wilson is quietly having a great season, throwing for 3,029 yards, 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Wilson will outplay Carson Wentz to get his team a much-needed win.

Monday Night

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2) 23  @ Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) 24: Pittsburgh has not dominated this season and has actually pulled out a lot of close games, and the Bengals are desperate. A desperate home team in a rivalry game is dangerous. The Bengals will play great defense and slow down the Killer B’s. Andy Dalton will have a big day to squeeze by the Steelers to pull back into the thick of the playoff race.

 

Featured image by AP Photo/Bob Leverone

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Josh Gordon fantasy

Is Josh Gordon worth starting in fantasy football Week 13?

The big news that has surfaced in the NFL is the return of star wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon, who hasn’t played since 2014, was one of the NFL’s best receivers and has all the talent that still makes him a threat in the league today. The question that fantasy owners have is whether or not Josh Gordon is worth starting in fantasy football Week 13.

The case for starting gordon

The Browns have been waiting for a star offensive weapon in their lineup to spark this team to contend for a win this year. The last time Gordon played a full season was in 2013 and had a great year. Four seasons ago, Gordon caught 87 balls for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. There is hope that he can replicate those statistics this year.

The Browns go up against a Chargers defense that has been great against the pass this year. They are ranked 12th in the NFL in terms of opposing fantasy points per game, averaging only 17.4 fantasy points to wide receivers they’ve gone up against.

Because Gordon’s first taste of gameplay comes against a defense as good as Los Angeles’, it causes some concern. However, the raw talent that he possesses and the ability to play with any quarterback gives fantasy owners a reason to rejoice.

Gordon put up great numbers in 2014 with the likes of Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw. Those quarterbacks combined for a 7-9 record while throwing for less than 4,000 yards, 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Now Gordon has the rookie DeShone Kizer throwing to him, who has looked good in some parts of the season, especially last week against Cincinnati. Kizer didn’t commit a turnover and threw for 268 yards and rushed for 39 more yards and a touchdown.

Kizer now gets his top target back and is going to look to continue this trend of playing well against the Chargers in Week 13. Gordon has also looked very sharp in practice, has stayed in shape over his time off, is expected to play a key role on Sunday and won’t have a reduced snap count.

The case against starting gordon

Now let’s not move too fast. Gordon hasn’t played a snap in the NFL since 2014. Three years without going up against an opponent at game speed. That is going to be very difficult to come back from in one game, especially going up against the Chargers’ secondary. Gordon still has the ability to play in the NFL and succeed, but this week will not be the amazing week that some people may be expecting.

Casey Hayward and the Chargers’ secondary will prepare to shut down Josh gordon in Week 13 as he is the Browns’ top playmaker on offense, even after sitting out the time he has. The Chargers’ secondary is coming off of a great week, holding the Dallas Cowboy receivers to only 115 yards on ten receptions. Now going up against a much worse offensive line, run game and quarterback, it seems this trend may continue.

The lack of gameplay is the most concerning thing about Gordon’s return. It is very rare for a player to come off of a long break and succeed immediately. Marshawn Lynch took only one year off and hasn’t looked nearly the same since he retired in 2016.

It will take time for Josh Gordon to reintroduce himself to the competition of elite cornerbacks and safeties. Keep Gordon out of your lineup in Week 13, but look to play him late in the season when the Browns face the Packers and Bears.

 

Featured image from AP Photo/David Richard

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Week 13 NFL picks

Week 13 NFL picks against the spread

After posting a 4-11-1 mark against the spread last week, my streak of awful weeks is now at three. A 72-95-8 record for the year makes my eyes hurt, but the beat goes on.

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

Thursday Night 

Redskins (-1.5) at *Cowboys – Even though the winner of this game is far from a lock to reach the playoffs, this basically amounts to an elimination game. Dallas is on a string of blowout losses, and Washington has been wildly inconsistent all year long.

There was no doubt losing Ezekiel Elliott has hurt the Cowboys, but three consecutive single-digit offensive outputs is a bit extreme. So extreme that it must change sooner rather than later.

Washington is still the most injury-riddled team in the league. Also, it is often smart to take home underdogs in rivalry games. Dal 20 Was 17

Sunday

Broncos (-1.5) at Dolphins – Yikes, what an awful game. Trevor Siemian and Jay Cutler get their respective starting quarterback gigs back for this one. That may not be a good thing for either team.

These teams are in very similar spots, but Denver’s defense is a little better and still playing hard. That unit is still a top 10 defense in almost every major statistical category. Combine that with the mini spark Siemian gave the Denver offense late in last week’s game, and the Broncos are slightly better equipped to be the ones to break their long losing streak. Den 16 Mia 13

Lions at Ravens (-3) – With more interceptions than touchdowns on the year, Joe Flacco is struggling. Despite that, Baltimore continues to win behind a decent ground game, solid defense and great special teams. This team is reminiscent of the ones that carried Flacco deep into the playoffs early in his career.

Detroit is also a factor in the playoff race in their conference, but they are the exact opposite of Baltimore. Quarterback Matthew Stafford continues to carry this franchise, but the ground game remains nonexistent. The defense has also given up over 24 points in each of the last three games. Stafford has led enough scoring drives for Detroit to win two of those games, but this defense will not allow that. Bal 24 Det 17

Texans at Titans (-6.5) – Tennessee took control of the AFC South with last week’s comeback win. The offense is still nothing special, but dealing with Tom Savage should allow the Titans defense to dominate this one. Ten 23 Hou 14

Colts at Jaguars (-9.5) – Jacksonville embarrassed Indianapolis in their matchup earlier this year. However, relatively speaking, Indianapolis is playing much better since then. They have held the lead heading into the fourth quarter of their last three games.

Jacksonville is trending ever so slightly the other way. They have struggled to put away Cleveland and lost to Arizona in recent weeks. Unless the defense goes off, they have a hard time winning without having to sweat it out. Fortunately for Jags fans, that has happened often enough to keep them in the playoff race, but 9.5 is too many points here. Jac 17 Ind 13

Chiefs (-3) at *Jets – Kansas City is a shell of the team that started 5-0. Scoring 19 total points in their last two games is not a great way to head in to a matchup with a gutty Jets team that runs the ball and plays defense well enough to cause any opponent problems. Nyj 19 KC 16 

Vikings at Falcons (-3) – With back to back 30+ point outings and a three game winning streak, Atlanta is starting to look like the team most people thought they would be before the season. This offense is perfectly suited to the turf they play on in their new home. Minnesota continues to roll behind the shockingly stellar play of Case Keenum. In a game that could very well turn into a shootout, it is foolish not to pick a Matt Ryan led offense at home. Atl 35 Min 28

Patriots (-8.5) at Bills – The Patriots are rolling along as usual after a somewhat slow start. Buffalo got up off the mat in Kansas City last week and is still very much in the playoff mix.

However, this team just is not the same since the bizarre flirtation with backup quarterback Nathan Peterman. Tyrod Taylor has his job back, but the organization clearly wants nothing to do with him beyond this year. It is hard to trust a team like that, especially when they are playing the reigning Super Bowl champions. NE 34 Buf 20

49ers at Bears (-3) – Both teams are having tough years, but the San Francisco starting debut of Jimmy Garoppolo provides some intrigue here. There is no shame in getting shredded by Carson Wentz the way the Bears were last week. The Chicago defense is by far the best thing either team has to offer in this one. Chi 20 SF 14

Buccaneers (-2) at *Packers – Brett Hundley is coming off his best game, the Packers are at home and Tampa Bay is starting a quarterback who is returning from injury. Jameis Winston has not won a game as the starter since Week 3. How is Green Bay an underdog here? GB 24 TB 17

Browns at Chargers (-13.5) – The Chargers are suddenly a trendy pick to reach the playoffs. Given the talent on the roster and the way the rest of the AFC West is playing, it is perfectly reasonable.

Week 13 NFL picks

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The winless and undermanned Browns pose no threat to denting those hopes, but this is a big number, and Cleveland has taken better care of the ball in recent weeks. Add in the long-awaited return of Josh Gordon and they should be able to keep this one close enough. LAC 27 Cle 17      

Panthers at Saints (-4) – Carolina is quietly doing some really good things in the running game and on defense during its current four-game winning streak. As strange as it sounds, Cam Newton has been the closest thing to a weak link. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes last week. That is not a great sign when heading on the road to face an equally talented division rival that has already whipped you once this year. NO 28 Car 20

Rams (-7) at Cardinals – The Rams did a nice job of taking advantage of some key injuries on the New Orleans defense last week. A healthy Arizona secondary will provide a much stiffer test this week. The Cardinals are pesky, and Blaine Gabbert has made the most of his current opportunity.

However, there is a reason the former first-round pick started the year as the third stringer. Gabbert is not playing the organization that drafted him this week. He should come back down to Earth a little bit and struggle to keep up with one of the best offenses in football. LAR 35 Ari 24

Giants at Raiders (-8.5) – Until this week, I thought there was no such thing as tanking in the NFL. Then the Giants benched two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning for Geno Smith. Smith has been in the league since 2013 and has a record of 12-18 as a starter.

Week 13 NFL picks

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Smith has no shot at being the Giants’ future quarterback. This season has been a disaster for the Giants, and Manning certainly has not played well. Even so, no sane human being can rationally argue that Smith gives the Giants a better chance to win.

The only thing Smith is there to do is put New York in a better position to draft one of the highly coveted quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. The Raiders are a long way from being a great team, but at least they are trying to win. Oak 30 NYG 13

Eagles (-6) at *Seahawks – There is no denying that the Eagles are really good, but they have not had many road tests against teams playing well at the time of the game. This certainly qualifies, as did the Kansas City game early in the year that accounts for their only loss. This is still a really young football team. It will be interesting to see how they handle the situation.

Seattle has plenty of holes. However, Carson Wentz is not the only MVP candidate in this game. Win or lose, Russell Wilson will throw himself into that conversation after this game. The Seahawks have been in countless games like this one for the better part of seven years. Their defense is no longer dominant, but is still more than good enough. Experience is the difference in a minor upset here. Sea 24 Phi 21

Monday Night

Steelers (-5.5) at Bengals – The Steelers are the better team, but their tendency to play down to their competition should make betters a little nervous. However, Pittsburgh has won 13 of 16 meetings between these two rivals this decade. With their star power, the Steelers offense is going to score a decent amount of points against just about everybody.

Cincinnati has scored over 30 points just twice this year. Both occasions were against Cleveland. There is nothing to suggest that the Bengals have the horses to keep up in this matchup. Pit 31 Cin 20

 

Featured image from Buffalo News

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