New Orleans Saints 2017 NFL Draft Profile

The 11th day of Draftmas brings us to the New Orleans Saints.

Summary

New Orleans finished the season at 7-9, missing the playoffs for the third straight season. The offense will always be good with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, but the defense has to improve to help this team get back to the playoffs.

The Saints scored 29.3 points per game which ranked second in the league, but led the league in total yardage and passing yards. The running game was average with 108.9 yards per game, but that isn’t a huge concern with the passing offense doing so well.

Drew Brees will be without one of his top targets, Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the New England Patriots with a fourth round pick for a first and third round pick in this year’s draft. Tedd Ginn was signed leading up to the trade to help fill in on the receiving corps. Larry Warford was also signed by the Saints to play guard and protect Brees. They won’t need to spend too many of their draft picks on offense, but may want to take a running back or wide receiver after addressing the defense.

The defense gave up 28.4 points per game, which ranked 31st in the NFL. A lot of positions will need upgrades, but safety and defensive tackle will most likely not be addressed, unless it is specifically to add depth. Vonn Bell and Kenny Vaccaro are two good young safeties and Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins will man the defensive tackle positions. Rankins didn’t have a great rookie year, but will likely be given time to get things on track. With so many needs on defense, outside of these positions, the Saints will likely use a lot of picks on defense in this draft.

 

Picks and Needs

New Orleans has seven picks in this year’s draft, with five of them coming in the first three rounds. They will need to get some impact players on the defensive side of the ball with these picks to make a playoff push.

First round: (2) No. 11, No. 32

Second round: (1) No. 42

Third round: (2) No. 76, No. 103

Fourth round: (0)

Fifth round: (0)

Sixth round: (1) No. 196

Seventh round: (1) No. 229

 

Offensive Needs:

Long-Term Quarterback

Wide Receiver

Defensive Needs:

Linebacker

Cornerback

Defensive End

Targets and Thoughts

The picks here are who the Saints could realistically get where they are drafting. There will be no trades and I will be looking at just the first three rounds.

First Round:

Pick #11: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

Cameron Jordan can’t be the only pass rusher that the Saints have. Charlton is one of the most disputed prospects in this draft, as some predict him going in the top ten, while others say he will fall to late in the first round. He has great size at 6’6″ and 273 pounds, with ten sacks last year. If New Orleans doesn’t think that he is the pick, they could go after one of the many good corners or Reuben Foster if he is still available.

Pick #32: Kevin King, CB, Washington

Kevin King (Photo courtesy: thebiglead.com)

New Orleans needs more corners to shut down some of the receivers in their division. King has the size at 6’3″ to match up with the likes of Mike Evans, but also has some good speed. He or another corner will need to be taken early on in this draft.

Second Round:

Pick #42: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

With already addressing some of the defensive needs, the Saints can get a weapon for Drew Brees to utilize out of the backfield. Kamara is a good running back, but an even better receiver out of the backfield. Brees can use a guy like Kamara to create big plays when the receivers downfield are covered.

Third Round:

Pick #76: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The Saints get another defensive player to help slow down opposing offenses. McMillan is good against the run, but needs to improve his coverage skills.

Pick #103: Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

Dupre comes in from nearby LSU and can be a long term target to go alongside Michael Thomas. With a good size and speed combination, Brees will be able to find him often through the air.

Conclusion

A long term quarterback solution will still be needed if the Saints make these selections, but with their current roster and these picks they can make a run at the playoffs. The defense will be improved and the offense will have some new weapons after losing Cooks. Look for the Saints to be competitive and fighting for a playoff spot in the upcoming season with a successful draft.

Thank you for joining us on our eleventh day of TGH Draftmas! Check back tomorrow where we will be bringing you the Draft Profile of the Arizona Cardinals!

You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas below!

Draftmas Day 10: Buffalo Bills

Draftmas Day 9: Cincinnati Bengals

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NFL Free Agency

Early NFL Free Agency: Sneaky Good Moves

The game of quarterback musical chairs is snagging the headlines early in NFL free agency like every year. If you do not have a quarterback who is at least competent, you have no chance in this league. However, every position matters. Here is a look at some sneaky good moves in the beginnings of the free agent frenzy.

Phil Dawson: Arizona Cardinals

Phil Dawson

Photo: sportsoutwest.com

Yes folks, a kicker. Arizona lost five games by one possession and tied another during last year’s seven-win campaign. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed 11 combined field goals and extra points. These things are not entirely unrelated.

Meanwhile, 42-year-old Phil Dawson missed just four total kicks for the 49ers. As crazy as it sounds, this may be a pivotal move in Arizona’s quest to return to the postseason in 2017.

 

 

 

Ronald Leary: Denver Broncos

Ronald Leary

Photo: hngn.com

Whoever winds up taking snaps for the Broncos next year will have much more protection. This is a heck of a start. Leary did not allow a sack while starting 13 games in Dallas last year. He has been a stalwart on the best offensive line in football since 2014.

Denver’s ability to sack the opposing quarterback in recent years is well documented. In 2016, the Broncos had just two more total sacks than their opponents. That is crazy considering the Broncos have both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Poor offensive line play is also one of the reasons Denver struggled to break 50 rushing yards in a game for parts of 2016. Do not be surprised if center Matt Paradis is the only starting offensive lineman that returns in 2017. Last year’s free agent offensive line signings of Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung proved to be disastrous for Denver.

To become legitimate Super Bowl contenders again, the Leary signing needs to be the first step in another massive offensive line overhaul in Denver. The Broncos have also added former Raiders offensive tackle Menelik Watson to the fold.

A.J. Klein: New Orleans Saints

A.J .Klein

Photo: zambio.com

As long as Drew Brees is in town, the Saints will always be able to score. However, they have finished outside the top 25 in total defense for three straight years. While a single player will not change that, Klein is a step in the right direction.

Playing behind Luke Kuechly limited Klein’s snaps in Carolina. When he did see the field, he was reasonably productive. Klein took part in 137 tackles in Carolina despite starting just 23 games in four seasons. Additionally, three years and $15 million is a fairly cheap price to pay a 25-year-old contributor from a division rival.

           

 

Kevin Zietler: Cleveland Browns

Kevin Zeitler

Photo: stripehype.com

It is no secret that the Browns need work everywhere, and the offensive line is no exception. Zietler was one of three early moves the Browns made up front. The former Bengal is now the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

While the contract numbers are eye-popping and the Browns have an alarming tendency to screw things up, signing a guard from a division rival who has given up just 11 total sacks in five seasons is never a bad move.

March is all about basketball. However, the NFL’s version of March Madness is certainly worth continuing to keep an eye on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Franchise Analysis – New Orleans Saints

For almost half the teams in the NFL, they are approaching 2017 with one question: do we have a championship caliber quarterback? Thankfully, the New Orleans Saints don’t have to answer that question. But how does a team with Drew Brees and Sean Payton go three years without making the playoffs?

As both are nearing the end of their tenure in New Orleans, what needs to happen in 2017 to have Saints fans celebrating next February?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

There’s not much to say. When Sean Payton calls the plays and Drew Brees is the field general, this offense will always be prolific. This offense finished second in points and first in yards in 2016. Brees and company finished first in passing yards and second in passing attempts. This team also took an important step for its rushing attack this season.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees and Sean Payton are a historically great duo, but will it translate into a playoff birth in 2017? (Courtesy of: Sporting News)

Since 2013, the Saints have made a concerted effort to run the ball on first down. Since 2013, while they only attempted 87 rushes on first down, they have run the ball on first down at least 98 times. Sean Payton is trying to put this offense in the best position possible and is not falling in love with throwing the football.

The Saints routinely finish as one of the most efficient third down offenses and have gotten better when they run the ball more on first down. Since 2013, the Saints third down conversion rate is above 48 percent.

What the Saints are doing is incredibly effective and should be continued, especially as Drew Brees continues to age. However, this unit is not without flaws.

You’ll find play makers all over this offense except at one position: tight end. No matter who was playing, the production was still poor. Using Pro Football Focus player ratings, every Saints tight end was more effective as a pass blocker than they were a receiver.

While these ratings don’t tell the whole truth, it’s clear that Coby Fleener struggled this season. To be fair, it was his first season in Payton’s offense. This position could absolutely use in upgrade via the 2017 NFL Draft if Fleener continues to be incompetent.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

You could answer my initial question with one word, defense. Perennially weak defense is why this team continues to miss the playoffs and 2016 was no different.

New Orleans Saints

Delvin Breaux will look to bounce back in 2017 after missing 8 games this year. (Courtesy of: Alchetron)

The Saints defense finished 31st in points and 27th in yards. Specifically, this unit was horrible against the pass. What’s really troubling was the fact that this defense gave up the most passing yards on the 19th most attempts. This means that offenses, even if they were marginal, were incredibly efficient against this defense through the air.

What makes a team operate more efficiently? In the passing game, it happens when quarterbacks have more time than usual to make decisions and throw. The Saints lacked a consistent pass rush all season as they finished 27th in the NFL with 30 sacks. Cameron Jordan is a great player, but he alone is not enough.

They could also look to upgrade the linebacker position given how much they blitz. However, if you’re blitzing more than 40 percent of the time and still can’t apply pressure, a scheme change may be necessary. While either option could be effective, the best decision is likely a combination of the two.

Of course, there is also the option to upgrade players in the secondary. I don’t think this is as pressing as establishing a pass rush. Delvin Breaux, apart from having a great last name, is a talented player who struggled. He missed half the season, so it’s reasonable to think missing that many snaps would impact his performance. Breaux, along with Sterling Moore and potentially a talented free agent or rookie, could take this defense out of incompetency.

Divisional Analysis

I still maintain that this is the best division in football in terms of quarterback play. To combat these great quarterbacks, you have to keep them off the field and apply pressure. Offensively, the Saints are phenomenal. Aside from adding depth at a few positions and upgrading others, they don’t have pressing needs.

On defense, the Saints will have plenty of opportunities to accumulate talent. Secondary players like Marshon Lattimore, Adoree Jackson and Malik Hooker could absolutely improve this pass defense. There are also great free agents like A.J. Bouye and Trumaine Johnson available at the corner position that the Saints could target.

On the other hand, they could go a different route and address their weak pass rush. Derek Barnett seems like the right decision at the number eleven slot if he’s available. There are other defensive options like Reuben Foster, Solomon Thomas and Taco Charlton, but they may not be right in their scheme or warrant selection at the Saints position.

I know I claimed the offense doesn’t need to be a focus of the offseason, but, there’s always the idea of finding an eventual successor to Brees. I’m not saying spend a first-round pick on Deshaun Watson or Mitch Trubisky, if they are even available. I am saying that the sooner the Saints plan for the future, the smoother the transition will be.

Postseason Prospects

While there are seemingly endless amounts of stats to comb through, some are more important than others. Here is where the Saints stack up in the following offensive and defensive categories.

New Orleans Saints

As we’ve outlined, the Saints offense is incredibly productive. It’s almost unprecedented to have an offense finish in the top six in every category and not make the playoffs. If the defense is able to improve in 2017, it is likely that their yards per attempt will decrease because they won’t be playing in as many shootouts.

New Orleans Saints

Conversely, the Saints defense needs to improve in every category. Thankfully, they don’t need to be top five or even top ten in every category to make the postseason. They just have to stop being totally inept. If the Saints are able to apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks in 2017, look for improvements in sacks, third down percentage and turnovers.

2017 Prediction

While they have major defensive flaws, the Saints are prime to break their playoff drought. In 2016, the Saints lost four games by three points or less and another game by five points. If they won two of those five games against the right teams, they could have made the playoffs. I believe the Saints will find a way to win those close games in 2017 and make the playoffs as a Wild Card team at 10-6.

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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 14 NFL Picks Against the Spread

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

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

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

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

photo from ooyuz.com

photo from ooyuz.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo from profootballfocus.com

photo from profootballfocus.com

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

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

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Week 13 NFL Picks Against the Spread

I am coming off my best week in a long while. I was 10-6 against the spread last week. After taking a narrow defeat Thursday night, 87-92-6 is where I sit for the year. The black is ever so close as December football begins in earnest. This football season is moving way too fast for me. There are several tough games to call this week.

Broncos (-3.5) at Jaguars- For the first time in about two years, Denver’s defense could not close out a game last week. That loss could really hurt, but the defense is still easily the best part of this football team. Jacksonville just is not very good. Denver needs this win and will get it behind rookie backup quarterback Paxton Lynch, but it will not be pretty. Jacksonville does not have the pass rush to rattle a young quarterback that will be playing behind a shaky offensive line. Den 20 Jac 14

photo from Denver.cbslocal.com

photo from Denver.cbslocal.com

*Lions at Saints (-6) – The Lions keep finding ways to win. New Orleans has found ways to lose its share of big games this year. This will be fun to watch. Two of the hottest quarterbacks on the planet facing off. Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees know that they will have to lead their offenses to a ton of points. The Lions have a little defense, the Saints have none. I am not sure this would be considered that much of an upset. Det 35 NO 31

Texans at Packers (-6.5) – Are the Packers finally back after their season saving win last week? Honestly, we will not find out much here. Despite still controlling their division, Houston has a negative point differential and more turnovers than touchdowns on offense this year. It is hard picking a team like that to win any week. It is impossible to do so when they are traveling to Lambeau Field to play Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. GB 34 HOU 21

Chiefs at Falcons (-5.5)- The Chiefs are riding high after a big win in Denver last week, but Atlanta is a nightmare matchup for them. As solid as Kansas City is on defense, Atlanta has proven it can score on anybody this year. Kansas City has played one similar opponent this year in terms of offensive firepower. They traveled to Pittsburgh on a Sunday night and the game was over after the first quarter. Atlanta has not given anyone any reason to think their offense will not be hot again on Sunday. If it is, there is nothing Kansas City and their methodical offense can do to keep up with them. ATL 31 KC 20

Rams at Patriots (-13) – In a week where I do not feel strongly about much, this game is an exception. The Rams are not all that dissimilar to the Jets, the offense is a tick worse, the defense a tick better. The Jets gave the Patriots fits last week, the Rams will do the same, but Bill Belichick toys with young quarterbacks. Jared Goff does not have much help around him. The Rams are a good team for New England to play while they find their way without Rob Gronkowski on offense. NE 21 LA 12

Dolphins at Ravens (-3.5) – This is the toughest call of the week for me. I have been high on the Ravens all year, and have fallen in love with the Dolphins over the last month. The Ravens are at home and their defense is the best unit in this game. Ryan Tannehill could be in for a long afternoon. This is possibly the best defense he will see all year. No one runs the ball on Baltimore either. That has been Tannehill’s security blanket as of late, but the Dolphins defense is pretty good too. Miami keeps it close, but not close enough. Bal 23 Mia 17

Eagles at Bengals (-1.5) – Here, we have two teams that are absolutely sinking. Both teams had playoff aspirations at one point. That feels like a distant memory. It really is a coin flip, but the Bengals are a little more experienced. In a game where there is not much to play for, I think the young Eagles may come out flat. Cin 23 Phi 14

49ers at Bears (-3) – They both stink in a big way. Chicago stinks a little less… I think. Chi 21 SF 17

*Giants at Steelers (-6) – This is a very similar matchup to Detroit and New Orleans. The two crowned jewels of the 2004 quarterback draft class take center stage here. The Giants have gutted out some really tough wins to get to their 8-3 mark. It has not always been pretty. So, I understand the spread here. However, I struggle to trust that Steelers defense against any upper echelon quarterback. Eli Manning certainly falls into that group. NYG 30 Pit 24

photo from associated press

photo from associated press

Bucs at Chargers (-4) – This is a classic letdown game for a young team like the Bucs. After consecutive big wins against really good opponents to put themselves in the playoff race, they travel west to take on the most talented last-place team in league history. The other notable member of that 2004 quarterback draft class is Philip Rivers. Despite never having the coaching or supporting casts that Manning and Ben Roethlisberger were blessed with, he continues to play great football. The Chargers will lose sleep over all those close losses early in the year, but no one wants to play them right now. SD 28 TB 21

* Redskins at Cardinals (-2.5) – This is the strangest line I have seen in a long time. Washington might have the best offense in football at the moment. They have the fewest three and outs in the league, and Arizona is a big disappointment this year. They just are not as good as they look on paper. The Redskins feel like easy money. It is too good to pass up. A word of warning though, Vegas is always smarter than average folks like me. Was 27 Ari 19

Bills at Raiders (-3) – Finally, I am reluctantly buying into the Raiders. They still commit too many penalties for my liking and the defense is still atrocious. However, they are winning games, despite being dead to rights almost every week before miraculously pulling out a victory. Buffalo is the top rushing team in the NFL. They will have some success with that in this matchup, but the biggest weakness on this Raiders defense is the secondary. The banged up Buffalo receivers will struggle to exploit that. Another Raiders nail biter, another win. Oak 31 Buf 27

Panthers at Seahawks (-7) – Seattle’s offense throws in about three clunkers a year. Last week in Tampa certainly qualifies, but they always end up playing in January and February, they will be fine. Meanwhile, Carolina is desperate for wins to keep their fading playoff hopes afloat. Seattle is the wrong place to go to get that done. However, the Panthers are one of few teams that have the talent to go into Seattle and compete, even though they are underachieving this year. Expect a tight one. Sea 23 Car 20

MNF: *Jets at Colts (-1.5) – As awful as this matchup is, it is still very relevant for the Colts who are hanging around in the below par AFC South. However, the Jets defense is really good, despite the team’s 3-8 record. Rushing the quarterback is their strong suit. Whether it is a dinged up Andrew Luck or backup Scott Tolzien at quarterback, they will be playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. This is just a bad matchup for Indianapolis. NYJ 17 Ind 13

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Reviewing The Roller Coaster 2001 NFL Season

15 years ago, the NFL was a very different kind of league than it is today. Instant replay was low quality. You could hit with your head and not get flagged. You could touch the quarterback in the head and not be penalized for a personal foul. But, on top of all the rule changes, there were some very interesting, dramatic stories that took place in 2001.

The 2001 season started off in somber fashion with the death of Vikings tackle, Korey Stringer. A former 1st round draft pick, Stringer passed away from complications to a heat stroke he suffered in practice on August 1st, 2001. It was a 91 degree day in Minnesota and Stringer’s temperature was over 108 degrees. On this day, Stringer just collapsed on the practice field. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Related image

Korey Stringer during his final practice on August 1st, 2001.

Korey Stringer’s death brought a lot of attention to the vital importance of hydration.  Practices were required to have more frequent water breaks so that nothing so tragic (and preventable) would ever happen again. Water at practices should have always been a top priority. If the players are pushed too hard and don’t take several water breaks, Korey Stringer’s story might have very well repeated. But, as history will show us, sometimes it takes a travesty to improve the status quo. Indoor practice facilities are much more common today too, which avoid the sun completely.

Stringer was 27 years old with a wife and a three-year old son at the time of his passing.

The season went from bad to worse when the September 11th terrorist attacks shocked the nation.  NFL players appeared just as distraught as everyone else, expressing their desire to be with family and loved ones. Players and fans alike came together in a way that the league has never seen. It didn’t matter where you were from or what team you cheered for, if you were an American citizen, you stood in silence with those around you to honor those lost on 9/11.  The league rescheduled the week two games to be played after week 17.

Then, there’s the Tom Brady story that we’re all at least a little familiar with.  Drew Bledsoe just signed a monster ten-year deal with the New England Patriots. Unfortunately for him, he also suffered a monster injury against the Jets in week two.  You know the rest, but I’ll summarize it anyway. Tom Brady came in after the Patriots 0-2 start and lead his team to an 11-5 record, including a 6-0 finish. And of course, they were Super Bowl champions, defeating the Rams 20-17 with a clutch field goal from Adam Vinatieri on the final play of the game.

Image result for tom brady drew bledsoe 2001

Photo from boston.com.

Bledsoe did the right thing opting out of the Patriots franchise. He was too talented to be a backup.

The 2001 season was the catalyst for the Patriots 2000s dynasty lead by Belichick and Brady.

Speaking of the Rams, however, how can we overlook the Greatest Show on Turf?  Don’t some of us miss the days when the NFL was more lenient on celebrations and teams coming up with their own nicknames? The Rams went 14-2 in 2001, riding the arm of a young Kurt Warner, the legs of the versatile Marshall Faulk and the hands of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Ricky Proehl and Az-Zahir Hakim.

Perhaps the most overlooked statistic is the fact that the Redskins became the first team to start a season 0-5 then go 5-0.  The Redskins had the worst start of any team in over 50 years, being outscored in their first five games, 32-144. The team would finish 8-8 in Marty Schottenheimer’s only season coaching in Washington.

Let’s not forget that 2001 was also the last year where each conference had only three divisions, each one composed of five teams. There was just an East, Central, and West divison.  No North and South yet. The Houston Texans would arrive on the scene a year later, splitting the conferences into the four divisions that they are today.

Lastly, remember Doug Flutie?  He was starting for the Chargers in 2001. He was taking over for the disastrous Ryan Leaf and actually on the roster with rookie Drew Brees.

Image result for doug flutie drew brees

Photo from gettyimages.

Was there anything Flutie couldn’t do? At just 5’9”, Flutie played for the Bears and Patriots in the 1980s, then returned in 1998 to play pretty well for the Bills.  But it’s so frequently forgotten that Flutie started all 16 games in 2001, his only season to do so, under coach Norv Turner and with rookie LaDainian Tomlinson.

There’s a lot to acknowledge and learn from the 2001 season.  That year featured so many stark news stories, both for the NFL and for our country.

Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Week 13)

Hopefully everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week! Picking games didn’t go so smoothly, but eating Thanksgiving Dinner sure did. As cold weather starts to cool down the country, the NFL playoff races are heating up. Week 12 shook up some of the standings. There are a lot of top headlines from the week as well. The Cowboys are the best team in the NFL and show no signs of slowing down. The Titans have a legitimate shot at winning their division. Atlanta has developed a pass rush and might have finally figured out how to finish a game and a season. Cleveland is still winless, and the AFC West is the best division in football.

unknownPlenty happened last week and this week could be just as fun. This will finally be the last week with teams on a bye and those two teams are Cleveland and Tennessee. Starting next week everyone will have played the same amount of games and the playoff picture will become more clear. The regular season is nearing its end so it is time to get this win total up. Here are Hagan’s Haus NFL picks for week 13.

Last Week: 8-8

Season: 100-72-2

Thursday Night

(http://wallpapersdsc.net/sports/dez-bryant-776.html)

(http://wallpapersdsc.net/sports/dez-bryant-776.html)

Dallas (10-1) 23 @ Minnesota (6-5) 21: Dallas is clearly the best team in the NFL, which is why this is a trap game. The Vikings defense is not going to let the Cowboys run down their throat. Many times teams are upset on these Thursday night games, especially when going on the road. Minnesota is a desperate team and desperate teams are dangerous. Although this is a trap game, the Cowboys will just barely pull off the road win.

Sunday Morning

Kansas City (8-3) 26 @ Atlanta (7-4) 24: The Falcons better hope the Bucs lose because the Falcons are heading towards a loss with the Chiefs coming to town. The Chiefs are a good team with a great defense. The offense just needs to put up some points and take care of the football. Atlanta is a good team and they have finally found a pass rush, but the Chiefs are just better.

(US Presswire)

(US Presswire)

Detroit (7-4) 38 @ New Orleans (5-6) 41: The Saints defense has trouble stopping a nosebleed let alone a defense. Their offense can score on anyone. Last season the Lions went into New Orleans and won 35-27. The Saints can’t let the Lions win another one in the Superdome, especially when the Saints need to win out to make the playoffs. Drew Brees outplays Matthew Stafford in a shootout.

Los Angeles (4-7) 21 @ New England (9-2) 37: Since the Browns have the week off, NFL fans need someone to feel bad for this week. Everyone needs to feel bad for Jared Goff because Bill Belichick always gets the best of rookie quarterbacks. The Rams defense gets pressure, but Tom Brady will get the ball out too fast for the Rams defense. Tom Brady and the Patriots will continue to roll towards the playoffs.

Denver (7-4) 31 @ Jacksonville (2-9) 17: Denver is coming off a heartbreaking loss. They blew an eight-point lead and lost on a field goal in overtime that bounced off the post and somehow went in. The Jaguars are looking to solidify yet another top-five pick. This game will be competitive for a while, but eventually the Broncos pull away.

(Credit: Rick Wood)

(Credit: Rick Wood)

Houston (6-5) 14 @ Green Bay (5-6) 27: All season I’ve been saying the Packers would eventually find their mojo. Last week I conceded that this may be the year in which they don’t find that mojo. Then what do the Packers go out and do? Play one of their best games of the year and get right back into the thick of the playoff race. Houston is pathetic on the road and the Packers are about to get hot. Green Bay wins this one easily.

Philadelphia (5-6) 24 @ Cincinnati (3-7-1) 17: Cincinnati is bad and it is time for the Bengals to fire Marvin Lewis. A new voice is needed. Philly is still a decent football team that is young and still learning. The Eagles defense ranks fifth in points given up and the Bengals offense ranks 27th in points scored. The Bengals won’t score enough to win this game.

Miami (7-4) 24 @ Baltimore (6-5) 21: The Dolphins are the hottest team in the AFC and have a six-game win streak. Ryan Tannehill is getting no credit for how well he has played. He has seven touchdowns to just one interception during the win streak. All year I have been saying the Ravens are a .500 team and they won’t make the playoffs. They will lose this week to get to .500 and they will slowly fall behind the Steelers in the division. Miami needs a big win to stay in the wild card race and they will get it to win their seventh straight game.

San Fransisco (1-10) 32 @ Chicago (2-9) 31: There may be about 20 total people watching this game, but it is an important game. The loser of this game will be in prime position for the second overall pick in the draft. This is a game that neither team should want to win to solidify that draft pick. It is hard to pick a game in which two horrible teams are playing. Because of a flip of a coin, the 49ers end their 10-game losing streak and get a win in the Windy City.

Sunday Afternoon

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/12514/lesean-mccoy)

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/12514/lesean-mccoy)

Buffalo (6-5) 34 @ Oakland (9-2) 31: The Raiders look poised for a run at the Lombardi Trophy, but the injury to Derek Carr’s finger on his throwing hand will halt their progress a bit. The Bills are hard to figure out, but their offense is exciting. LeSean McCoy had a huge game last week. The Raiders have the seventh worst rush defense in the NFL and that will be their demise this week.

New York (G) (8-3) 34 @ Pittsburgh (6-5) 36: This is the best game of the week. Eli Manning and the Giants are playing great football at this point of the season and have a six game winning streak. Pittsburgh is fighting to win their division. This game could be an aerial display as the Steelers rank eighth in passing yards (263.9 yards per game) and the Giants rank 12th (256.5 yards per game). This game will be a dogfight and Big Ben will make one more big play to Antonio Brown than Eli will make to Odell Beckham.

Washington (6-4-1) 21 @ Arizona (4-6-1) 24: The Redskins have an impressive offense. Washington is second in passing yards (314.8), 11th in rushing yards (111.5), and ninth in points (25.5). The Cardinals are giving up the least amount of yards in the NFL (294). The Cardinals need Carson Palmer to take care of the football. This will be an upset and the Cardinals will get one game away from .500.

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay (6-5) 27 @ San Diego (5-6) 24: The Bucs still have a chance to win the division, but they seem to lose games they are expected to win and win games they are expected to lose. If the Bucs are serious about winning the division and making the playoffs, they have to beat the Chargers. The Bucs are going to do what they need to and put pressure on the Falcons.

 

Sunday Night

(http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nfl/carolina-panthers/article40474167.html)

(http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nfl/carolina-panthers/article40474167.html)

Carolina (4-7) 20 @ Seattle (7-3-1) 24: The Panthers are struggling this year and it is hard to figure out why.  Seattle took a shocking loss on the road to the Buccaneers. The Seahawks have a good record, but they will not get to the Super Bowl if they continue to struggle along the offensive line. The Seahawks are still playing the best defense in the NFL by leading the league in points given up per game(17 points per game). Their defense will get to Cam and hit him hard to send Carolina to a surprising 4-8.

 

Monday Night

Indianapolis (5-6) 24 @ New York (J) (3-8) 27: The Colts versus the Jets may be the worst Monday night game of the year. The Jets have nothing to play for but pride. Indianapolis is still fighting for a chance to win the division. The Colts have the fifth-worst scoring defense in the NFL and have trouble stopping anybody. It is hard to pick a team to win this game, but the Jets are at home which is why they will win.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Week Twelve NFL Picks Against the Spread

It was another middle-of-the-road effort by me last week. I went just 6-8 against the spread. I am now 77-85-6 on the year. A hot stretch is absolutely necessary for me to finish the year in the black. Hopefully, this weekend is the start of that. My picks are bolded. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. With not one, but three games on Thursday for Thanksgiving, I am at it early. Here we go.

Vikings at Lions (-2.5) – First place in the NFC North is at stake here. Both teams have taken strange paths to their 6-4 records. The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of every game this season. Minnesota is relying almost exclusively on their defense and special teams to win games. It is hard to sustain the kind of winning both these teams are doing. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford continues his rise to becoming an elite quarterback every week. The gap between the two offenses is just too great to not swallow the points. Det 31 Min 20

Redskins at Cowboys (-7) – This game sells itself. Two of the hottest teams in football facing off in a holiday rivalry game. I have been wrong on Dallas all year. Amazingly, so has Vegas. Dallas is 9-0-1 against the spread this year. However, I am foolishly going to take the Redskins here. Rivalry games are always closer than they should be anyway. Washington’s offense is a problem for any opponent, especially if undrafted rookie Robert Kelley continues to spark the run game. Dallas and their freakishly talented rookies will get the job done, but will be made to work. Dal 28 Was 24.

photo from nfl.com

photo from nfl.com

Colts at Steelers (-7.5) – With Andrew Luck likely out due to a concussion, this number will probably continue to grow until game time, and rightfully so. Pittsburgh can score on anybody, and while their defense is still bad, Colts backup quarterback Scott Tolzien is the backup for a reason. He will not be able to exploit their defensive deficiencies. Pit 38 Ind 17

Sunday:

Cardinals at Falcons (-4) – This could go either way. Atlanta got off to a white-hot start, particularly on offense, but has struggled since. Arizona has struggled from the start, but we have seen flashes of why they reached the NFC championship game last year. Due to their division, Atlanta is in much stronger playoff position and they are at home. That is good enough for me. Atl 31 Ari 24

Bengals at Ravens (-4) – I have been high on the Ravens all year with mixed results. This week, they are catching the Bengals at a perfect time. Cincinnati’s relevant season may have ended with last week’s loss to Buffalo. Additionally, they will be without two of their main offensive weapons, wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovanni Bernard. The Ravens appear to be one of the strongest bets of the week. Bal 31 Cin 17

Jaguars at Bills (-7.5) – A streaky team like Buffalo as this big of a favorite makes me nervous, but the Jags played the Lions to the wire last week and still could not manage to cover. So… Buf 28 Jac 17

Rams at Saints (-7.5) – The Rams offense was cute last week in Jared Goff’s debut. He made no mistakes, but was not asked to do much. You can count on one hand the number of times he threw the ball more than 10 yards downfield. The “training wheels” approach won’t lead to enough points to keep up with Drew Brees and the Saints. NO 34 LA 17

Giants (-7) at Browns – As I noted last week, the Giants always keep it close. Despite rarely looking impressive, a 7-3 record is a 7-3 record. Also, this is the Browns we are talking about here. Between the injuries and general lack of talent on the roster, they may be unable to keep it close with anyone right now. NYG 30 Cle 17

Chargers (-1.5) at Texans – Here you have a last-place team favored over first place team. You just do not see that very often. The fact is San Diego is better by just about every statistical measure, except the important one. The Texans do have a slight edge on defense, but the difference between quarterbacks is too vast for me to pass up. SD 30 Hou 23

49ers at Dolphins (-7.5) – Miami keeps winning. Last week was closer than it should have been, but this isn’t college football. Style points are irrelevant. When everything around him is functioning well, Ryan Tannehill is just fine as an NFL quarterback. That is the case right now and San Francisco is not good enough on defense to expose his limitations. Mia 23 SF 13

photo from dolphinswire.usatoday.com

photo from dolphinswire.usatoday.com

Titans (-5.5) at Bears – It has probably been a few years since the Titans have been this significant of a road favorite. They showed their immaturity last week against the Colts after roughing up Green Bay. If the Titans stay the course, they will be really good in about two years. However, this is another spot where their youth and inexperience could hurt them. Also, the Bears have played people tough all year. It is hard for me to imagine them winning this game with third stringer Matt Barkley at quarterback, but I will take the points. Ten 24 Chi 21

Seahawks (-5.5) at Bucs – Seattle continued their recent great form by pushing around the Eagles last week. I would take them to cover against anyone right now. Even though I am impressed with the way Jameis Winston and the young Bucs have put themselves right in the middle of the playoff race, they are no exception. Sea 27 TB 17

*Panthers at Raiders (-3) – I am still not a believer in the Raiders. Yes, the defense has gotten better lately. However, the inevitable will happen at some point. Derek Carr will struggle and the hole the offense finds itself in will be too deep. As for Carolina, they are still very dangerous. The struggles of their division rivals leaves them with plenty to still play for. The Panthers are due to catch a break, and all the mistakes and penalties are due to catch up to Oakland. Car 27 Oak 20

Patriots (-7.5) at Jets – Again, rivalry games are always close. The Patriots will likely be without Rob Gronkowski for another week. They struggled for three quarters with the 49ers last week. The Jets beat the Patriots last year. The main parts of each roster are basically the same. Lastly, the Jets pass rush is a problem for any opponent, even if they are quarterbacked by Tom Brady. An outright upset with shock everyone but me here. NE 24 NYJ 20

 

 

Chiefs at Broncos (-3.5) – This is a huge game for both teams. It becomes even bigger if Carolina does indeed knock off Oakland. Despite current records, I would still argue that these two teams will eventually finish ahead of the error prone and one-dimensional Raiders. Given, that Denver is finally healthy off a bye week, I would have thought they would be a bigger favorite here. Kansas City found a very creative way to lose to Tampa Bay at home last week. I have too much respect for Kansas City to call for a blowout, but with Denver rested, healthy and at home 3.5 points feels like a steal. Den 24 KC 17

NNF: Packers at Eagles (-4) – I am officially out on the Packers, but I will tell you one thing. The problem is not Aaron Rodgers. Anyone who tosses 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions through 10 games is not the problem. The problem is that it looks like the defense is playing with about six guys on the field, the last two weeks have been particularly brutal. Any team with the kind of quarterback play the Packers are getting can turn around at any moment, but you will not see me predicting it. The Eagles are really solid along the offensive and defensive lines and should be able to manhandle the lifeless Packers here. Phi 34 GB 23. Have a fantastic Thanksgiving everyone!

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Week 10 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Week 10 is off and running in the NFL. I was on the wrong side of a ten point spread Thursday night, picking the Browns is rarely a good idea. Last week, I was a pedestrian 6-5-2 and am now 64-69-6 on the year. All spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. My picks are bolded and outright upsets have an asterisk. Here goes nothing.

*Falcons at Eagles (PK) – For any site to have three pick ‘em games in one week is quite rare. The first of those match ups features two pleasant surprises. I struggle to see either team making a real playoff run, but Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is playing at an MVP level for now and the Falcons offense is by far the best unit in this game. That is good enough for me. Atl 30 Phi 24

*Bears at Bucs (PK) – I like the Bucs on paper, but something is missing. I am not sure what. Their young offensive talent is still too inconsistent. Meanwhile, I had the bears in the playoffs this year. I am never afraid to own up to a horrible prediction. Right now, Tampa Bay has a home-field disadvantage. They are 3-17 in their last 20 home games. On the other end, Chicago seemed reenergized on both sides of the ball in support of returning quarterback Jay Cutler last time out. I expect both trends to continue. Chi 21 TB 17

*Broncos at Saints (-2.5) – This is the kind of game I would feel much more comfortable betting five minutes in, but that is frowned upon. Last week was a humbling experience for the Broncos and their fans, myself included. However, the much-maligned Saints defense could be just the thing Denver needs to get the running game going. If that happens, everything else follows suit for the Broncos, including the play of first-year starter Trevor Siemian. However, Drew Brees and the Saints are always going to score points and the Broncos defense is banged up at every position level. Yet, it is still better than anything the Saints have on defense. Either the Saints roll here or Denver’s superiority in two of the three phases is just enough to get the job done. I will go with the latter. Den 31 NO 28

Packers (-2.5) at Titans- Yes, the Packers are struggling on offense, but the lack of respect here is stunning. On their worst day they are significantly better than anything Tennessee has to offer. The Titans are hanging around in a bad division, but continue to turn the football over at an alarming rate. A pair of defensive scores led to their demise last week in San Diego. It should surprise no one if that happens again here. Like the rest of the AFC South, Tennessee has really struggled outside the division the last couple years. They are improving, but not ready for a team that is capable of playing like Green Bay can, even if they are struggling. GB 31 Ten 20

Texans at Jaguars (PK) – With the way Brock Osweiler has played, I am not sure how the Texans are 5-3 and in first place, but they are. That same bad division referenced above certainly helps. They stay inside the division and notch another win this week. Hou 24 Jac 13

Chiefs at Panthers (-3) – Carolina is starting to wake up. They are nowhere close to where they were last year and it may be too little too late for the playoffs, but I certainly would not want to play them. This is just a bad matchup for Kansas City. Alex Smith, who is returning from injury relies on taking what the defense gives him. Based on the last two weeks, the Panthers defense will give him nothing. Kansas City is not built to play against flashy teams with offensive firepower. Make no mistake, the Panthers have that even though they have struggled this year. Car 27 KC 19

Rams at Jets (-2) – Good God what an awful game. In terms of quarterback play, these might be the two worst teams in football right now. Yet, both are resistant to playing the young quarterbacks they have on the bench. No one seems to understand why. The only reasonable explanation I can offer is holding on to miniscule playoff hopes. The Jets have a little more talent at the skill positions. Veteran running back Matt Forte is still a big time playmaker. He will be the difference in an ugly game. NYJ 16 LA 10

Vikings at Redskins (-3) – Remember when the Vikings were undefeated and Mike Zimmer was the second coming of Vince Lombardi? Yeah, me neither. Due to a mix of injuries and players simply coming back down to earth, Minnesota’s season is slowly falling apart. The defense is still very good, but the patchwork offensive line is dragging the entire other side of the ball down the drain. The Redskins should have just enough offensive juice behind Kirk Cousins to pull out a tight game. Was 20 Min 14

Dolphins at Chargers (-3.5) – Here is your sneaky good game of the week. What Jay Ajayi has done for the Dolphins is incredible. His 500+ yards rushing combined in the last three games has taken the Dolphins from dead in the water to a team that could fight for a playoff spot. Unfortunately for them, San Diego is the best last-place team anyone has ever seen. They are just in the wrong division in the wrong year. If games were 58 minutes rather than 60 they would have just a single defeat, but they have closed games much better in the last month. Philip Rivers is white-hot and running back Melvin Gordon has finally found his NFL sea legs. Should be a fun one, I will take San Diego pulling away late. SD 32 Mia 21

Cowboys at Steelers (-2.5) – While last week’s loss may really hurt the Steelers down the road, in the short term, it means nothing. Ben Roethlisberger had no business being out there last week. The coaching staff should have saved him from himself. Of course he said he was okay to play. He is a competitor. In theory, he will only get healthier going forward. As good as Dak Prescott has been, he really has not been forced to keep up with an elite quarterback in a shootout. That is exactly what this game will turn in to. Until I see it, I will have my doubts. Pit 35 Dal 28.

photo from timesunion.com

photo from timesunion.com

49ers at Cardinals (-13.5) – This pick has nothing to do with Xs and Os and everything to do with value. The 49ers are dreadful in every way you can imagine, particularly on defense. Chip Kelly is a college coach, and there is nothing wrong with that. Apparently, he is the only one who does not realize it. Despite all that, the Cardinals are not 13.5 points better than anyone in this league. AZ 33 SF 24

*Seahawks at Patriots (-7.5) – Russell Wilson is finally starting to look like himself and Seattle’s defense will always travel well, even to New England. Believe it or not, the Patriots are made up of humans just like every other team. The only style that occasionally disrupts Tom Brady and the offense are fast, physical defenses who can rush the passer. See Seattle. So, why not go out on a limb? Sea 24 NE 20

photo from espn.com

photo from espn.com

MNF: *Bengals at Giants (-2.5) – Two teams with very high ceilings and very low floors in terms of their level of play. The Giants as a home favorite scare me. The Bengals in primetime scare me. I wouldn’t advise putting a nickel on this game, but the Bengals are a little more balanced on offense. Cin 27 NYG 23

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