Dak Prescott

NFL quarterbacks under the most pressure in 2017

In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that quarterback is the most important position in NFL football. While the goal of leading the team to wins is the same for all 32 starters in the league, the circumstances and context under which they play are all very different. Here are some NFL quarterbacks under pressure to produce heading into the 2017 season.

Andy Dalton– Dalton’s impact on the Bengals franchise has been largely positive. Last year, he and the Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in Dalton’s still relatively young career. He has thrown almost twice as many touchdowns as interceptions.

However, the reality is until he delivers this franchise a long-awaited playoff win, he will show up on any list like this. There is one additional detail that complicates Dalton’s situation for the upcoming season. Backup quarterback A.J. McCarron’s contract situation is murky, but he may be available via free agency after the 2017 season.

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: cincyjungle.com

The former Alabama signal caller has proven to be very capable when filling in for Dalton. He got closer than Dalton ever did to a playoff win two years ago against the Steelers. Several quarterback-needy teams would be interested should he become available.

As a native Cincinnatian, I can tell you that the Bengals’ resistance to making coach and player changes is the subject of a lot of comedy around town.

Even so, should Dalton and the team struggle again like they did last year, the threat of McCarron leaving may force Cincinnati into choosing one of the two quarterbacks. If Cincinnati gets off to a rough start, the coaching staff taking an extended look at McCarron as the starter is not unrealistic.

Jared Goff- You can pick whatever metric you want. The fact is Goff was flat-out atrocious when finally given the chance to start during his rookie season. While it is very true he did not have much talent around him, a completion percentage of under 55 and more interceptions than touchdowns speaks for itself.

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: turfshowtimes.com

In some cases, those numbers for a rookie quarterback on a bad team might not be too worrisome. However, virtually the entire front office and coaching regime that traded up to pick Goff first overall has been fired.

The new management has no attachment to Goff and is well aware that the Rams must show significant improvement in their second year back in Los Angeles. The franchise is struggling to become relevant again in the crowded Los Angeles sports scene.

With Wade Phillips now coordinating what was already a playoff-caliber defense, Goff must step up to the plate and at least be a serviceable quarterback this year.

Life is not always fair in the NFL. If Goff does not improve dramatically this year, he is likely headed down the path of guys like David Carr and JaMarcus Russell.

Goff still does not have much to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Todd Gurley was neutralized last year because the Rams had no passing offense to speak of. The addition of young offensive guru Sean McVay as head coach is a wildcard. It will be up to him to turn this offense into something that looks like it belongs on an NFL field. It all starts and ends with Goff, one way or the other.

Cam Newton– Is he the MVP that ran rough shot over the league until running into the 2015 Broncos in Super Bowl 50? Or is he the inaccurate turnover machine that became a bit of a problem child late last season? 2017 is a big swing year for Cam Newton.

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: charlottestories.com

It should be noted that Newton had surgery to repair a partial rotator cuff tear following last season. Only he knows how much that affected him, but it certainly could not have helped matters.

The versatility of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey should be a big help to the charismatic signal caller. Improvement in the secondary will also be key to the Panthers ability to bounce back from last year’s hugely disappointing six-win campaign.

Much like every other quarterback on this list though, Newton will get all the credit or all blame. That is just the way it works in the NFL today.

Dak Prescott– Prescott was the inspiration for this article. The pressure on him for 2017 almost cannot be put into words. He is now the unquestioned starter for one of the most recognizable franchises in sports. His spectacular rookie season is perhaps the single biggest reason why borderline Hall of Famer Tony Romo is now a broadcaster.

We know the Ezekiel Elliott led running game and offensive line are fantastic, but Prescott in year two is a massive question mark. From Robert Griffin III to the option and wildcat offenses, we have seen so many things set the league on fire one year only to fade away the next. The defensive coaches in this league usually adapt over time.

Only time will tell if Prescott is different. For me, it is the most fascinating story of the upcoming season. There are two other factors to keep in mind for Prescott and the Cowboys. First, because of winning the division they will play a much tougher schedule than last year. Also, even in a year where he could seemingly do no wrong, Prescott was unable to get the Cowboys any closer to a Super Bowl than Romo ever did.

 

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Quarterback rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season: 20-11

This wasn’t an easy list to come up with and this was probably the hardest part of writing it. The quarterback rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season numbers 20-11 mainly consist of the veterans and up and comers who aren’t quite ready to crack the top ten yet. These are the ideal quarterbacks that you would want to take if you like to wait to pick a QB, but the consistency does vary from player to player. This is arguably the most important group of quarterbacks for fantasy so read closely.

(Aug 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

20. Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens)- Flacco is just frustrating. He’s got all the athletic ability to be great in this league but he plays a sloppy game and doesn’t have the greatest targets in the world. Danny Woodhead is a great pickup and will definitely help him out this year but unless you’re desperate, avoid Flacco.

19. Sam Bradford (Minnesota Vikings)- Don’t sleep on Sam Bradford, he’s a former number one overall pick and he is stacked with weapons this year and a brand new offensive line. He’ll get some help from players like Stefon Diggs, Adam Theilan, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Dalvin Cook, and Latavius Murray. Need I say more? This Vikings offense could be scary this year.

18. Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles)- Carson Wentz is the next great quarterback in the NFL, with weapons like Alshon Jeffery and Legarette Blount, Wentz is goning to be great, just not this year. He’s learning and that takes time so pass on Wentz in drafts this year but keep him on your radar.

17. Phillip Rivers (Los Angeles Chargers)- Rivers is the model of consistency in the NFL. He’s a good player and he has succeeded in the past but I think this is the turning point for Rivers. He’s 35 and his body can’t withstand the hits anymore. If he’s there for the right price, take him but don’t jump the gun on Phillip Rivers this year.

16. Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins)- Tannehill had the best year of his career and I only expect him to get better. Adding new weapons like TE Julius Thomas will make him a better player. If you like him, I know I do, then take him late in your drafts, but just expect some hiccups along the way.

15. Eli Manning (New York Giants)- Let me just say that I am scared of the New York Giants. They have one of the best defenses in the league, and a 2x Super Bowl champion at QB…. who’s in for a big year. Bring him more targets like Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram and he will succeed, mark my words and take Eli when the time is right.

(http://muzul.com/style/eli-manning/)

14. Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)- I’ll stay in the NFC East with this pick. Dak Prescott is a great NFL player, but I don’t think he deserves to be above other proven vets. You need constant reliable production out of your quarterback and I don’t believe that Dak Prescott will give that to you. If you’re the type of player to wait to pick a QB, Prescott may be your guy. Just don’t take him before the eighth round.

13. Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins)- Kirk Cousins and Tyrelle Pryor? Yes please. Team him up with Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson and Jordan Reed, this Redskins offense looks dangerous. I’d like to put him higher on this list but if the injury prone receivers he works with go down, so does Cousins.

12. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)- If Big Ben stays healthy, he’s a top 10, maybe top five quarterback. But that’s a big if. He’s too risky for his ADP (Average draft position). The weapons pull me in but the injuries keep me away. Obviously if you’re at the point where you’re desperate for a quarterback, take Big Ben but don’t jump too early.

11. Marcus Mariota (Tennesse Titans)- I love Marcus Mariota. He’s one of the best redzone QB’s and is starting to develop some good chemistry with his targets like Delanie Walker, Demarco Murray, and Derrick Henry. Give him 2 more years and he’ll probably be in my top 5, just not yet. I’d fully advise taking Mariota this year.

 

Quarterbacks 32-21

Come back to see the top ten quarterbacks.

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NFL Field

Fun With Projected NFL Win Totals

I am a football nerd and proud of it. With the NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, another favorite offseason event of mine took place earlier this week. Las Vegas released their projected regular season win totals for all 32 NFL teams. Here are my three favorite over/under bets for 2017.

Cowboys (Under 9.5 wins)

Unless you are an all-time great, this league has a way of humbling players whose careers get off to a hot start. Dak Prescott could be the latest example of that.

If he takes just a half step back from his 2016 season that saw him toss 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions, the effect will be dramatic.

In addition to their own division where all three opponents are at least reasonably capable, Dallas squares off with the western divisions in each conference, along with the Falcons and Packers. That is a really tough schedule for any team.

Dallas will still be very competitive, but that defense is not scaring anyone. The addition of Brandon Marshall makes the Giants the most complete team in the NFC East, and they already beat Dallas twice last year.

Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will have to be superhuman again for this team to be close to where they were last year. That is a tough thing to bank on.

Browns (Over 4 wins)

This one is a bit dicey given the quarterback situation. None of Cleveland’s options are particularly appealing in the short term.

Even so, accumulating talent is the name of the game in the NFL. They’ve added linebacker Jamie Collins and three freakishly talented first-round draft picks that actually made sense. Add that to franchise mainstay Joe Thomas and this roster is already much better than last year’s 1-15 squad.

Cleveland Browns

Photo: dawgpounddaily,com

Several of Cleveland’s losses last year were relatively close. They’ve improved via the draft and free agency. They also have a schedule that includes the likes of Jacksonville, Minnesota, the Jets and division rival Cincinnati twice. Four wins does not seem like much to ask.

Bucs (Over 8 Wins)

In each of the last two seasons, an NFC South team has risen from relative obscurity to reach the Super Bowl. If you are a fan of odd trends, here are a few reasons why Tampa Bay could follow their division rivals.

The thought of Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans along with new additions O.J. Howard and DeSean Jackson is enough to make any defender lose sleep. Winston gets better with every snap. The organization surrounding him with this kind of talent will only expedite that process.

Jameis Winston

Photo: cbssports.com

Most of the same faces are on the young defense that is far from perfect. They did have a few shining moments last year, including holding Seattle and the Saints to under 15 points.

The Super Bowl might be a reach in the minds of some, but eight wins feels like stealing.

 

Featured Image by flannerysdublin.com

 

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Tony Romo: Making the Right Call

Tony Romo has decided to hang up his cleats in favor of a headset. The 36-year-old former quarterback will reportedly be joining CBS as their top analyst, replacing Phil Simms. The Cowboys will release Romo on Tuesday, making him a free agent, but he will elect to not sign with any teams at the moment and get ready for his first NFL season as a color commentator.

With his injury history, Romo is making the right decision.

Romo’s Recent Productivity

There is no doubt that Romo can still be a productive starting quarterback in the NFL. He has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL history at 97.1 and teams in desperate need of a quarterback would have loved to have him as their starter.

Photo courtesy: bloggingtheboys.com

His last fully healthy season was one of, if not his best, seasons of his career. In 2014 he led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record, but ended up losing in the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The game would bring a lot of fans to question what a catch actually is, as Dez Bryant’s catch on a crucial fourth and two was ruled incomplete as he didn’t keep possession of the football through hitting the ground.

Romo still had a very successful season, throwing for 34 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He set his career-high for completion percentage in a season with 69.9 percent of his passes completed.

Since that season Romo has had to deal with injuries and rookie Dak Prescott taking over as starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

Possible Landing Spots and Health Concerns

With all of the recent success and the chance to join teams that are a quarterback away from being true contenders, Romo is giving up a lot to go into broadcasting. If he were able to go to a new team and win a Super Bowl, he could even get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Romo is giving up a lot, but is also saving his health. He has been injured so many times in his NFL career, with a lot of them being serious injuries. While he has to be respected for his ability to suck it up and play through injuries, including a punctured lung, there comes a time when enough is enough.

He has three back and two shoulder injuries that will be wearing him down. The back injuries will be something he will have to deal with his whole life. It’s better to quit playing now than to chase down a Super Bowl on a new team. A lot of NFL players have to deal with injuries long after their playing days are over, but Romo has chosen to prevent any further damage.

Photo courtesy athletespeakers.com

The teams he was rumored to go to the most, the Texans and the Broncos, both have offensive line struggles at the moment. There is a good chance that he could get hit a lot more than behind the Dallas offensive line and re-injure himself. Denver allowed 40 sacks, while Houston allowed 32. Dallas on the other hand gave up just 28, all while Romo sat on the bench. While he could be the answer that each of these teams is looking for in their quest for a Super Bowl, the risk of injury behind their offensive lines is not worth it.

There is a chance Romo could come back to football, but for now he is going to get paid a lot of money to broadcast games. If Romo truly has played his last down in the NFL, he should be remembered as a Dallas Cowboy legend, who often didn’t have the team around him to support a Super Bowl run. His gutty performances playing injured and leading big comebacks will not be something forgotten by Cowboys fans any time soon.

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2017 NFL Players Set to Breakout Under the Age of 25

The rookie class last season had some great players explode onto the NFL scene. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Jack Conklin, Keanu Neal, and Michael Thomas are some of the rookies who had great first seasons. There were also a few second-year players who are emerging as stars as well.

There is a lot of great young talent in the NFL. It is always interesting to see who the next cream of the crop is going to be. The league is only as good as its top players and brightest stars. Listed here are 10 players, under the age of 25, poised to become stars or superstars next season who haven’t been in the spotlight and do not have more than one Pro Bowl appearance.

Players that are not listed are already considered stars such as the rookies already mentioned above. These players listed will all become Pro Bowlers or have a chance to be a top-five player at their position in the next few years.

Jordan Hicks: Philadelphia Eagles-LB

(http://insidetheiggles.com/2017/01/04/philadelphia-eagles-rising-young-star/)

Jordan Hicks is one of the best young linebackers in the NFL. Hicks was a third-round pick out of Texas in the 2015 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, he played in eight games and had 50 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, and a touchdown. He followed up his rookie season starting 16 games for the Eagles and recorded 85 tackles, one sack, and a stunning five interceptions.

Hicks’ teammate, Nigel Bradham, had this to say of Hicks.

“The things he can do on the field,” Bradham said. “His instincts. His power. His speed. He’s everything you want in a linebacker. I know him and I feel like honestly, he can work himself into getting into a gold jacket.”

That is high praise from a fellow linebacker. The ceiling for Hicks is high and if he can continue to make strides forward, he will be one of the best players in the NFL.

 

Cameron Meredith: Chicago Bears- Wr

(http://www.sportingnews.com/fantasy/football/news/fantasy-football-waiver-wire-pickups-week-6-cameron-meredith-jacquizz-rodgers-injury-update-doug-martin/15dzf3a2t2ld11mebkbpnnknqy)

Cameron Meredith was a huge surprise in the Windy City this season. The Bears already had a Pro Bowl receiver in Alshon Jeffery but they were expecting Kevin White to emerge as a solid second option alongside Jeffery. That has been unable to happen due to injuries. Instead, Meredith stepped up and played big for the Bears in his second NFL season.

Meredith went undrafted in 2015 out of Illinois State. He caught only 11 passes in his rookie season. This season he played in 14 games and started 10 of them. He had 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns. He also had four games with over 100 yards receiving. If the Bears can figure out their quarterback situation, Meredith has a chance to become a star in Chicago.

 

Christian Kirksey: Cleveland Browns-LB

(credit: ESPN)

Browns fans will sure be happy to see a young player on this list that can help change the culture in Cleveland. Like Jordan Hicks, Kirksey was also a third-round draft pick. In his first two seasons in the NFL, he started a total of 13 games.

This past season he started all 16 games for the Browns and was the team’s leading tackler with 148, which was also third best in the NFL. He also added 2.5 sacks. Kirksey should continue to build off the improvement in his third season and the Browns may have a defensive quarterback for the future.

 

 

Jordan Howard: Chicago Bears-RB

(http://chicago.suntimes.com/sports/film-study-jordan-howard-fits-identity-that-bears-offense-wants/)

One of the quietest, yet most successful rookie campaigns came from Jordan Howard. Few would call Jordan Howard a star, but he made the Pro Bowl and finished second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,313 yards. What was probably the most impressive is that he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Howard has a chance to become a receiving threat in due time as well as had 29 catches this season and that number will go up in the next couple of years.

Howard is in a big market in Chicago and his star will continue to grow. As the franchise looks for a quarterback, Howard can be that piece that keeps the Bears competitive while they look for that quarterback.

 

 

Melvin Gordon: Los Angeles Chargers-RB

(http://cleatgeeks.com/blog/2016/02/25/on-the-clock-san-diego-chargers-2016-offseason-preview/)

Melvin Gordon had a forgettable rookie year to say the least. Gordon was going into his second season with much to prove. Doubts about how Gordon would fair in the NFL arose because of how well Todd Gurley performed in his rookie season.

Gordon shattered all doubt this season by rushing for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 11 starts. He also became a threat in the passing game, catching 41 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns. Now that the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, Gordon will challenge Gurley as the best back in L.A.

 

 

 

 

Hunter Henry: Los Angeles Chargers-TE

(Credit: AP Photo)

Hunter Henry is listed at 6′ 5″ and 250 pounds. He looks like a stud waiting to explode on the football field. Henry was drafted in the second round out of Arkansas. In his rookie season, he had to share time at tight end with Antonio Gates, which kept him out of the lineup consistently.

What was impressive about his rookie season was that every 4.5 catches he made were for a touchdown. He finished the season with 36 receptions, 478 yards, and eight touchdowns. It is just a matter of time before Henry becomes a top five tight end in the NFL.

 

 

Marcus Mariota: Tennessee Titans-QB

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Marcus Mariota is on the verge of stardom. Not many people talk about him and he took a step back when he broke his leg. Mariota was quietly leading the Titans to a possible playoff berth.

In his rookie season, Mariota started 12 games and had 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Before breaking his leg, Mariota had started 15 games and had 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. With three more games, he had seven more touchdowns and one less interception. The most important stat was wins though. The Titans were in a position to win the division. As Mariota continues to grow, the Titans will become a legit contender and Mariota will become one of the faces of the league.

 

 

Danielle Hunter: Minnesota Vikings-DE

(USA Today Sports)

Danielle Hunter has a chance to become a Hall of Famer one day. Hunter was drafted in the third round out of LSU in 2015. He was the youngest player in the NFL in his rookie season. In very limited action he had six sacks. He showed quickness and athleticism that had Vikings coaches raving.

This season he played just 58 percent of the Vikings defensive snaps and ended up tied for third in the NFL in sacks with 12.5. This kind of production in such a limited amount of reps is unheard of. Once Hunter is inserted into the starting lineup, he will become a sack king and eventually have a 20-sack season.

 

 

Landon Collins: New York Giants- S

(http://nyg.247sports.com/Bolt/Giants-Landon-Collins-excited-about-new-role-46797532)

Some would say Landon Collins already had a breakout year this season. It is hard to argue against that as he made the Pro Bowl and was named first team all-pro. Collins had a great season with 125 tackles, four sacks, and five interceptions, and he put offenses on notice. He will be in the running for defensive player of the year and offenses around the NFL will fear him for the next decade.

 

 

 

Vic Beasley: Atlanta Falcons-DE

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/2512400/vic-beasley-jr)

Vic Beasley is in the same boat as Landon Collins, as some would say he has already had a breakout season. Similar to Collins, Beasley was selected to the Pro Bowl and named first team all-pro. He was the NFL sack king this season with 15.5 sacks, which was way up from the four sacks he had last season.

Beasley has been a big reason the Flacons defense has improved over the second half of the year. Beasley’s production has helped Atlanta reach the Super Bowl. If Beasley has a monster game, he will become a superstar, but no matter how he performs in the Super Bowl, he is on his way to stardom.

 

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NFL Divisional Playoff Picks Against the Spread

Wild Card Weekend rung in the NFL playoffs with a whimper rather than a bang. However, the divisional round has arrived and the general consensus is at least three of the four games should be highly contested. I was 2-2 against the spread last week and 3-1 straight up. My system remains the same with my picks being in bold and outright upsets having an asterisk. Hut hut, hike!

*Seahawks at Falcons (-5) – This is your classic defense versus offense matchup. Games like this are a yearly occurrence for the Seahawks. The same cannot be said for the Falcons. Thus, I just trust Seattle more here. Playing Detroit last week was a good way to prepare for Atlanta. The Seahawks defense finally seemed to figure out how to play without Earl Thomas. If Thomas Rawls can run the ball anywhere close to the way he did last week, Seattle becomes even more difficult to deal with.

The Falcons have had a fantastic season. However, I am just not sure how they will handle this occasion. They are about as anonymous a playoff team as you will ever come across. Their only primetime appearances this year were a Thursday night game and a Monday night game that went opposite a presidential debate. Even though the Falcons defense has vastly improved from a year ago, Matt Ryan and company are still having to put up 28-30 points to feel comfortable. Seattle will not allow that to happen. Sea 24 Atl 20

Texans at Patriots (-15) – 15 points in a playoff game? No one disputes that New England is a much better team, but I will take 15 points every day of the week and twice on Sundays. It becomes all the more enticing when one considers that the Texans have the NFL’s top defense. The Patriots could very easily go out and win this game by a ridiculous margin. However, Houston’s defense and coaching staff are good enough to make anyone sweat. Jadeveon Clowney is finally staying healthy and being the game wrecker everyone knew he was capable of being. Brady and Belichick will find a way like they always seem to do this time of year, but it will not be the bloodbath that most people are anticipating. NE 27 Hou 17

Photo courtesy of espn.com

Steelers at Chiefs (-1.5) – I genuinely believe Kansas City is the more balanced and complete football team. The early-season 43-14 Steelers blowout in this matchup is hard to ignore though. Teams do change a lot throughout the season. The emergence of Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s now healthy pass rushers, and a dinged up Ben Roethlisberger are enough to nudge me toward the home team in my least favorite pick of the week. KC 23 Pit 20

*Packers at Cowboys (-4.5) – I would have picked the Giants had they reached this spot as well. Dallas has not played a truly meaningful game in roughly a month. That worries me. As good as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been, this is still uncharted territory for them as well as most of the Cowboys roster.

Photo courtesy of sportdfw.com

On the other side, the universe is running out of words to describe how hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense are. I am not sure if the health of Jordy Nelson even matters in terms of who wins this game. Rodgers is playing well enough to carry whoever is out there with him to win right now. Also, the Packers have been in “do or die” situations since about week 11. Let another offseason full of drama begin in Dallas. GB 34 Dal 30

 

 

 

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Week 17 NFL Picks Against the Spread

How in the world is week 17 already upon us? It is always a tough week to pick games. No one really knows how motivated many teams are. While I understand that, winning is a hell of a lot better than losing. Thus, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a “meaningless” game. After posting a .500 mark against the spread last week, I now sit at 118-125-7 on the year. Not great, but not terrible. All spreads are from rtsports.com, my picks are bolded, and outright upsets have an asterisk. Here is to finishing the regular season strong.

*Ravens at Bengals (-2.5) – The Ravens (my preseason Super Bowl pick) tumbled out of the playoff picture last week. The Bengals were eliminated long ago. Despite calls for sweeping changes, I expect Cincinnati to resist the temptation, and rightly so. However, I struggle to see them doing much on offense. It is not sexy, but Baltimore’s edge in the kicking game will be the difference. Bal 16 Cin 13

Bills (-3.5) at Jets- Both teams are a dysfunctional mess. For reasons that depend on who you ask, EJ Manuel will get the start for Buffalo in the first game of the post Rex Ryan era. Nothing would surprise me in this game, but Buffalo’s ground game should be enough. Buf 21 NYJ 17

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

*Panthers at Bucs (-4) – Last week, the young Bucs fought for their playoff lives against a losing team loaded with talent and it didn’t go so well. This week, the situation is very similar. There is no reason to think it will go any differently. Another year of seasoning and Tampa Bay could be really special. Last week showed they are not quite ready. Car 27 TB 24

*Bears at Vikings (-6) – Many times season finales simply come down to who is playing harder. This matchup could be a classic case of that. The Vikings have more talent, but the Bears have been playing much harder for the last month or so. Chi 19 Min 16

Browns at Steelers (-5.5) – The Browns will not go winless, and they deserve credit for that as well as playing hard all year long. With Pittsburgh locked into playoff position and playing it coy about resting starters, the line is not as big as one might expect. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Steelers backups are better than the Browns starters. After this game, the Browns will officially be on the clock. Pit 30 Cle 21

*Cowboys at Eagles (-4.5) – This line is a stunner. Dallas is making no secret of its plans to limit reps of starters, particularly quarterback Dak Prescott. Even so a 13-2 team getting points against a 6-9 team is eye popping and too good to pass up. Dallas has a surplus of solid running backs and Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo are not nearly as bad as the mainstream media would like you to believe. Dal 24 Phi 20

*Texans at Titans (-3)- Just like we all thought a few weeks ago, this game will feature a Tom Savage vs Matt Cassel quarterback duel and Houston, not Tennessee is locked into the playoffs. No telling what could happen here. When in doubt, go with the best unit. That would be the Texans defense. Hou 20 Ten 13

Jaguars at Colts (-4.5) – Jacksonville did a nice job of playing spoiler last week, but that does not change the fact that both of these teams had high expectations that ended in disaster this year. Something tells me Andrew Luck is too much of a pros pro not to finish the season really strong. Ind 28 Jac 17

Patriots (-9.5) at Dolphins – The Patriots need this game to lock down home field advantage in the playoffs. If last year taught them anything, it should be the importance of having home field. Miami has always been a tough place to play for Brady’s Bunch. The Dolphins will look to get backup quarterback Matt Moore as sharp as possible for the playoffs while Ryan Tannehill races to get healthy. This will not be a blowout. NE 27 Mia 21

Cardinals (-6.5) at Rams- The Rams are plain awful and the Cardinals are merely average. David Johnson is the only reason to watch this game. The coaching search in LA will be fascinating. Ari 27 LA 13

Chiefs (-4.5) at Chargers- Sadly, what is likely the Chargers final game in San Diego will end with a division rival celebrating a straightforward win. It quite possibly could be a division title along with a first round bye. KC 27 SD 13

Saints at Falcons (-7) – These two teams always play wacky games. Atlanta locks up a first round bye with a win. Even with Matt Ryan playing at an MVP level, the team as a whole should not scare anyone. There is something to be said for finding ways to win. Atlanta should continue that trend here, but do not expect Drew Brees and company to roll over and play dead. Atl 31 NO 28

Giants at Redskins (-7.5) – Playoff scenarios make my head hurt. According to everything I have read, the only way Washington wins this game and misses the playoffs is if the night game ends in a tie. Much like the Steelers, no one seems to know how the playoff bound Giants will approach this one. As dangerous as the Redskins could be in the playoffs, it is hard to see the Giants letting them coast. Was 30 NYG 24

Raiders at Broncos (-1.5) – The reigning champs have really struggled down the stretch and will not be going back to the playoffs. However, keeping a fierce rival like Oakland from the division title and the chance to finish with a winning record is plenty of incentive. Denver will take one last good look at both of its young quarterbacks. The Raiders fairytale season took a sad turn last week with the injury to MVP candidate Derek Carr. The Broncos defense is not an ideal one for backup Matt McGloin to face as he tries to rally the troops for a playoff run. Den 24 Oak 19

Seahawks (-9.5) at 49ers- The state of the Seahawks is worrisome. Getting pushed around for the majority of the game by Arizona just should not happen to this team. Thankfully for them, a first round bye could still happen and the 49ers are not much of a threat. Sea 30 SF 13

Packers (-3) at *Lions– The importance of this game may shift a bit depending on earlier results. Regardless, the winner of this Sunday Night showdown will take the division title and the loser may be headed home to watch the playoffs. Both offenses are rolling behind two very hot quarterbacks. There will not be many defensive stops on either side. It is more of a gut feeling than anything else, but Detroit’s defense uses the home crowd to get one more stop in the closing moments. Det 38 GB 34

Photo courtesy of zambio.com

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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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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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Can We Give Jerry Jones Some Credit?

Jerry Jones is mocked by a lot of people for not knowing how to run his franchise and being “senile” ever since Jimmy Johnson was head coach in the 1990s. In many cases the Cowboys have been laughable since the 1990s, with a few bright spots (including a 12-4 record two seasons ago that led everyone to wonder what a catch was). A lot of the heat from the down times fell on Jerry Jones because he was the owner and general manager of America’s Team. He deserved some criticism, although to what point is up for debate. The fact of the matter is that Jerry’s Cowboys have failed, but this season Jones has done something that has helped his team. His dealings with the media this season have been perfectly executed and has enabled a rookie quarterback to overtake the starting job from an injured fan favorite.

(Photo courtesy: si.com)

Phase One: “This is Tony’s Team”

Tony Romo was injured in the preseason, leaving Dallas and the Cowboys’ fans to worry. They had not played well without the injured quarterback the year before and they had a fourth round NFL Draft pick backing him up. This fourth round pick was a player that the Cowboys took as a last resort. They really wanted Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook in the draft, but were beaten to the punch by teams trading to pick ahead of them. When the pick number 135 came around the Cowboys took Dak Prescott, a guy they likely never thought they would have to take.

Jones had to reiterate time and time again that his team was Tony’s team, but that he had confidence in Prescott to do well while Romo was out.

Prescott took his opportunity and ran with it. He had already impressed in the preseason, but showed he was capable of holding the prestigious position of Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback through the first seven games of the season. He lost his first start and struggled against the Eagles in week eight, but overall exceeded any expectations anyone could have for a rookie quarterback. His performance at the end of the game against the Eagles, where he led them to a win in overtime, the tides turn for fans who loved Tony Romo as the starting quarterback of the Cowboys. Prescott effectively showed he could take a punch to the jaw, like a slow start, and bounce back to help his team win a game. Through the Philadelphia game, Prescott had nine touchdown passes, two interceptions and a 6-1 record.

How did Jones help the cause here? He took the pressure off of Prescott by saying that it was Tony’s team. This was a simple step, but remember this was the man who reportedly had Johnny Manziel’s draft card in his hand, before his son Stephen had to pry it from him. Prescott could go into the first weeks of his career as a Cowboy and let loose, because deep down he knew he had nothing to lose. Romo was going to be the quarterback when he came back, so Prescott could play with a clear mind.

Phase Two: “We’ve got a great luxury, a wonderful problem to have.”

(Photo couresy: Bleacherreport.com)

(Photo courtesy: Bleacherreport.com)

After beating the browns to go 8-1 on the season, Jones used this quote to answer the question of who would be the quarterback when Romo returned from injury.

Prescott played well for the Cowboys, and many people felt he should be the starter, but nothing was official yet. He had just beaten the Browns, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, but the perception of Romo-lovers had changed over the past couple of weeks. He now put Dallas in a great position to make the playoffs and at the very least, finish the season above .500, something that wasn’t a reality the last time Romo was hurt. He had won most of the team over and looked to be a great leader with composure.

This quote on the situation showed how much Prescott had done for the Cowboys, while at the same time should have been a confidence booster (if he even needed one). He had successfully made it a quarterback controversy in the eyes of Jones, one of the most loyal Romo supporters of them all. This was no small feat, as Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Phase 3- “You’d have to be outstanding to have Tony on the bench and backing up, but he has been.”

(Photo courtesy: Sacrementobee.com)

(Photo courtesy: Sacrementobee.com)

Prescott finally won over Jerry Jones. Jones had more love for Romo than most Americans have for turkey on Thanksgiving, making what Prescott did, a huge feat.

The genius of how Jerry Jones handled the media is shown by his ability to start off by taking the pressure off of Prescott and then boosting his confidence as the season has gone on. This created the perfect environment for Prescott to grow and lead his team to a stellar start.

So most of the time Jones is mocked for how he has handled the franchise since the 1990s, but giving credit where credit is due needs to happen here. Prescott is the one thriving on the field, but Jones created the environment for him to succeed. 

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