Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

The quarterback position is the most iconic position in all of sports. Football fans watch and discuss the position as if it was a soap opera on ABC. If your team has a franchise quarterback then you know you have a shot at the playoffs. If your team doesn’t then you are constantly searching for that guy. Not finding a franchise quarterback will put a team in a situation similar to that of the Browns or Jaguars.

Why does this matter? Just the other day a father and son were simply talking football like many do. One topic that came up was could the Jaguars sign Johnny Manziel as a backup plan to Blake Bortles. Bortles struggled mightily last season and if he regresses again, Jacksonville will more than likely look for a new candidate as the franchise quarterback. The topic of conversation then evolved to who and where could either Manziel or Kaepernick end up this season. Here are some possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick, the two controversial quarterbacks.

Johnny Manziel

The quarterback known as Johnny Football has had an infamous journey thus far. Recently Jon Machota of Dallas News tweeted a quote from Manziel that said, “I know the situation I put myself in. I know the year I took off and obviously the mistakes that I made. Right now, I’m hopeful. I think that I made some progress in that regard. But we’ll see. Whenever I get a call, I’ll do what I can to make the most of it.”

Reports have come out that Manziel is fighting hard to make a return to the NFL. He is still only 24 years old and if he is given the chance, can prove that he can still lead a franchise, so what teams are even a possibility?

Jacksonville

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

(Photo Credit: https://www.bigcatcountry.com)

This whole idea started because of the question if the Jags could or should sign Johnny Manziel. Blake Bortles has gone 11-34 in his first three seasons in the NFL. He also struggles with protecting the football and hasn’t had a season with less than 16 interceptions yet. This season is truly a make or break season for Bortles who will have a workhorse at running back, Leonard Fournette. The Jags also have a very talented defense that can succeed if the offense isn’t putting them in bad situations routinely.

This opportunity would allow Manziel to serve as the backup, which is the first step he will have to take in order to get back into the NFL. Depending on how things play out in Jacksonville, he may get a shot to take over a struggling Bortles. With the pieces in place, Manziel would have little to no pressure thus improving his chances of becoming the franchise quarterback they are looking for.

New Orleans

Back in March, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton met with Johnny Manziel for breakfast. Payton was rather coy on why they met but did say he was a fan of the talent Manziel possessed. The Saints are only a possibility because of Drew Brees age. He hasn’t shown signs of regression but quarterbacks don’t get better at 38. Even if he plays for two years, he could be an amazing mentor to Johnny Football.

Another reason this could work is that they are practically the same size. The knock on both Brees and Manziel coming out of college was their height. Both are six foot tall and around 208 pounds. Brees has proven, at his size, that even short quarterbacks can throw for 5,000 yards and win a Super Bowl.

Considering how respected of a quarterback and a person Brees is, he could really be the perfect role model for Manziel as Brees’ career comes to an end. Sean Payton would have his quarterback in waiting and the Saints could be set for the next ten years.

New York Giants

The big apple could be dangerous, yet the perfect destination for Johnny Football. Eli Manning is 36 and although hasn’t hinted at retirement, he could be done with football soon. Similar to the situation in New Orleans, Manziel could come in and sit behind Manning for two to three years. The Giants have a good defense and great receiving weapons on offense. Sitting behind Manning could allow Manziel to come in at the right time to be the man in the city so nice they named it twice. This isn’t insider information, just speculation but could you imagine the media frenzy if Manziel went to the Giants?

Colin Kaepernick

Pittsburgh

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

(Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Ben Roethlisberger has already struggled with the idea of retirement but decided to come back this season. If the season is long and tough on Big Ben then it is very likely this is his last season. Pittsburgh will need a new man under center. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell could carry the offense and let Colin Kaepernick manage the game. Kap has experience going deep in the playoffs and can jump straight into the fire with the Steelers. Mike Tomlin could be the coach to take that shot on Kaepernick.

Baltimore

This won’t make much sense at first glance because Joe Flacco doesn’t seem likely to be going anywhere soon. But every team needs a backup and what better place for Kaepernick than to join the team whose head coach is the brother of the coach you had the most success with? Colin Kaepernick may not want to be a backup but at this point, he must take what he can get. John Harbaugh faced Kaepernick in the Super Bowl and knows what he is capable of. It may not be what Kap wants but needs instead.

Jacksonville

Every reason on why Johnny Manziel could play for the Jaguars is why Colin Kaepernick could as well. Last season Bortles threw a touchdown on 3.7 percent and interceptions on 2.6 percent of his throws. That was horrible compared to Kaepernick who threw touchdowns on 4.8 percent and interceptions on 1.2 percent of his throws. Kaepernick would be an improvement over Bortles. If Bortles continues to struggle not only will Manziel be an option but Kaepernick would be the best option.

Other

Both teams in Los Angeles are a possibility. Jared Goff could prove to be a bust for the Rams and if they don’t want to keep trying to find a franchise quarterback through the draft then Manziel or Kaepernick could be worth a shot. The Chargers are a young team with lots of talent aside from Philip Rivers. Rivers is 35 years of age and is coming off of one of his worst seasons as a pro. If he duplicates last years performance, the Chargers may decide to move on.

The Cardinals are another team with an aging quarterback. Arizona also has an offensive minded genius at head coach. Manziel or Kaepernick could be the replacement for Carson Palmer.

Three other teams, the New York Jets, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins may also be looking for a quarterback after this season ends and it is possible one of these teams throw either of these guys an opportunity.

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Top 5 2017 fantasy quarterbacks

When it comes to fantasy football, quarterbacks are a premium. There are many different types of quarterbacks in the NFL. There’s those who are elite passers and ones that are mobile quarterbacks. Some can do both. But these five quarterbacks are the top tier who you should eye for your team in 2017.

No. 5 Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Luck bounced back last season from an injury-shortened 2015 to surpass 4,000 yards passing for the third time in his career and 30 touchdowns for the second time.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Quarterbacks

Andrew Luck (Photo by: profootballtalk.nbcsports.com)

When healthy, Luck is one of the best passers in the game. In 38 games since 2014, Luck has posted 20-plus fantasy points 76.3 percent of the time. Only Tom Brady is close to that mark at 70.4 percent.

He has finished as a top-four fantasy quarterback in three of the past four seasons. Last season, he ranked eighth in passing yards, fifth in passing touchdowns and seventh in rushing yards among quarterbacks. He averaged 7.8 yards per attempt, which was fifth in the league.

Luck hasn’t had luck on his side with injuries. In 2015, he only played seven games with multiple injuries that included an injured shoulder, lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle.

Last season, he missed one game with a concussion. In the past two seasons he has missed 10 games. The Colts are hopeful that Luck will be ready for training camp after offseason shoulder surgery. If not, then there will be concerns about his availability come week 1.

Luck should be the fourth or fifth quarterback taken around the fourth to fifth round if he’s healthy. Luck himself should come out firing, partially because the Colts’ defense isn’t expected to be great and partially because the Colts run game isn’t expected to be great.

No. 4 Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

A career year that led to an MVP award at age 32, Matt Ryan ranks fourth on my list.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan (Photo: twitter.com)

Ryan enjoyed a career-best season in 2016, ranking second in passing yards, passing touchdowns and fantasy points. He averaged an absurd 9.26 yards per attempt, which is the best we’ve seen in the NFL since Kurt Warner’s 9.88 in 2000.

Ryan benefited from the league’s most yards after the catch (6.2 RAC) and second-lowest drop rate (2.8 percent). His offensive line protected him well, as he had a ton of help in the passing game from a number of role players, not to mention some excellent work from stud receiver Julio Jones.

Most of that success was because of Kyle Shanahan. But Shanahan has moved on as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons hired former USC coach Steve Sarkisian, a first-year NFL playcaller.

Sarkisian did coach in Oakland in 2004 as the quarterbacks coach. In that season, he helped Oakland compile more than 4,000 passing yards, ranking eighth out of 32 NFL teams.

Ryan won’t post his monster 2016 stats in 2017 but if the offense holds up and his star receiver stays healthy, Ryan should have another strong season. Ryan is in the mix as a top 5 fantasy passer worth a pick in round 4 or 5.

No. 3 Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Consistency is the best word to describe number three quarterback Drew Brees. At age 38 this season, he is still one of the best passers in the game.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Quarterbacks

Drew Brees (Photo by:denverpost.com)

He’s finished as a top 6 quarterback in fantasy for 11 straight seasons, landing at the No. 3 spot in 2016.

When it comes to passing the ball, Brees has a cannon. He’s ranked top-two in the NFL in attempts, completions, yardage and completion percentage during six of the past seven seasons.

He’s thrown for at least 4,850 yards in each of his last six campaigns, topping 5,000 yards in four of them. As for touchdowns, Brees has thrown at least 32 in nine straight seasons. Most quarterbacks at his age start to lose some production, but Brees isn’t slowing down.

Some concern with Brees is his age but the big question comes with who his new number one target will be. The loss of Brandin Cooks hurts, but the Saints brought in Ted Ginn Jr. to replace Cooks’ deep speed. Brees’ success has been built on spreading the ball around so the loss of Cooks should be minimal.

Expect Brees to have another top-five fantasy campaign and he should be the second or third quarterback taken.

No. 2 Tom Brady, New England Patriots

A four-game suspension for Brady last season, yet he still had one of the most dominant seasons of his career. The ageless Tom Brady ranks second on this list.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Quarterbacks

Tom Brady (Photo by:nj.com)

Like Brees, Brady is still at the top of his game as he turns 40 on Aug. 3. Brady was absolutely dominant upon his return, ranking fifth in completion percentage (67 percent) and second in yards per attempt (8.2), while throwing only two interceptions.

He still managed to toss 28 touchdowns. Even though he finished as the No. 15 quarterback in 2016, as he averaged just under 26 fantasy points a game in the 12 games he was active.

This year fantasy owners don’t have to debate where to draft Brady with deflategate behind him. He should be even better with the healthy return of Rob Gronkowski, as well as the addition of Cooks from the Saints and Dwayne Allen from the Colts to replace Martellus Bennett.

Brady also has other targets such as Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and running backs in Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White. Brady’s success, like Brees, is spreading the ball around and he has a ton of weapons to throw to.

Brady will be one of the first three quarterbacks taken along with Brees and Rodgers. He will likely be taken after Rodgers but target him about round 3.

No. 1 Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

When it comes to fantasy football, there wasn’t a better quarterback better last season than Aaron Rodgers. The fantasy’s reigning top-scoring quarterback is coming off a season in which he threw for 4,428 yards, ran for a career-high 369 yards and had a hand in 44 touchdowns.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers (Photo by:ftw.usatoday.com)

Rodgers finished in the top five of the league in pass attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns. He averaged 27.8 fantasy points per game. That is in thanks to a career-high in pass attempts (610), a five-year high in passing yards and and a league-best 40 passing touchdowns.

Part of this success is simply because the Packers couldn’t run the ball effectively at times. Ty Montgomery became a huge threat in the running game last year, but he’s still a natural wide receiver and it’s tough to sat how he’ll fare this season.

The Packers tried to address their run game in the draft, but there’s actually no guarantee they’ll be any better on the ground than they were last year, when they finished 20th in run offense and 29th in rush attempts.

Rodgers got an upgrade at the tight end position with Martellus Bennett and still has his favorite number one target Jordy Nelson along with Randall Cobb and Devante Adams. Rodgers has finished as a top-two fantasy quarterback during seven of the past nine seasons.

There’s no question Rodgers will be the first quarterback off the board. You should expect Rodgers to go in round two in standard leagues and round three in PPR leagues.

 

Featured image from espn.com.

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Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the fifth edition, Super Bowl series: NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

(Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons are going to have to bounce back from one of the worst Super Bowl collapses of all time. After finishing the season 11-5, the Falcons marched through the playoffs with ease. They beat the Seahawks by 16 and the Packers by 23 to earn the crown of NFC Champions.

Atlanta then blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. In order to win Super Bowl LII, the Falcons must avoid one of the worst hangovers ever.

The key to the Falcons’ success last season was their offense. Getting back to the Super Bowl will require their offense to repeat last year’s performance. The Falcons ranked first in all of the following categories: points per game (34.1), points per play (0.55), points per second quarter (11.1), points per third quarter (8.5) and points per first half (18.9).

The reason their offense was so great was due to balance in yardage. Atlanta ranked second in yards per game with 416.4. The Falcons were second in passing yards per game (298.9) and fifth in rushing yards per game (117.5). Atlanta only ran the ball 42 percent of the time and in order to return to the big game, the Falcons should get their play selection closer to 50-50.

Their two-headed monster in the backfield, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman, will continue to take pressure off of Matt Ryan. Julio Jones will also continue to dominate defensive backs. Offensively, the Falcons shouldn’t be too concerned and their defense is where this team will really need to pick it up to make a return to the Super Bowl.

Atlanta’s defense got off to a slow start last season and finished 27th in points allowed per game with 25.3. That improved to just 20.3 points allowed per game in their final three games which ranked 10th during that time. If the Falcons can duplicate that final stretch over the course of the entire season, then the Falcons could easily become the best team in the NFL.

Bringing down that 25.3 points per game total begins with being better in the fourth quarter. In the final period of games, the Falcons gave up an average of 9.9 points, which was 31st in the NFL.

It isn’t difficult to see why the Falcons were so bad defensively in the fourth quarter. They played an average of 66.8 snaps per game. That was fourth-most in the league. The biggest reason they were on the field for so many plays was that the Falcons struggled to get off the field on third down as they allowed teams to convert 42.2 percent of the time.

The Falcons defense must improve against the pass in order to fix all of these problems. Giving up 272.9 yards passing per game is not a formula for success.

In order to make it back to the Super Bowl, the Falcons defense must improve and become a middle of the pack defense. Signing Dontari Poe should provide some help up front. Their offense is so good that the defense doesn’t have to be anything more than average.

If the Falcons are able to duplicate last season’s offensive numbers and become an average defense, they will easily get back to the Super Bowl.

Getting back is one story, winning it is another. If the Falcons do make it back, they need better play calling. Being up 28-3 in a Super Bowl should guarantee a victory. Atlanta must learn from their previous mistakes and run the ball more. If they avoid the hangover and do this, the Falcons will redeem one of the worst choke jobs ever and win the franchise’s first-ever Lombardi Trophy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

(Photo Credit: http://www.tampabay.com)

Tampa Bay was very close to making the playoffs last season, finishing 9-7. The Bucs were a middle of the pack team both offensively and defensively and if they want to take the next step to make the playoffs, they must improve on both sides.

Defensively, Tampa Bay struggled in both pass and run defense. They ranked 22nd in both categories giving up 117.2 rushing yards per game and 250.8 yards per game through the air. Tampa Bay acquired defensive tackle Chris Baker to help them up front alongside Gerald McCoy. Defensive end Noah Spence tallied 5.5 sacks as a rookie and with an expanded role, should provide more pressure off the edge this season.

To help the struggling secondary, the Bucs acquired safety, J.J. Wilcox. Vernon Hargraves will need to have a big second season in order for the Buccaneers to improve defensively as well.

The defense has made changes but they won’t likely make a huge improvement. They gave up 25.3 points per game last season with 12 points per game coming in the first half. The offense is going to need to be on the field often to help this defense bring down a number of points they gave up.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bucs have lots of room for growth. Tampa Bay averaged 22.1 points per game last season.

The strength of their offense was in the passing game. Tampa averaged 245.4 yards per game and Winston improved in a lot of areas. He improved his completion percentage by 2.5 percent, had 48 more yards and six more passing touchdowns. The addition of DeSean Jackson and drafting tight end O.J. Howard could allow Winston to make a bigger leap in his third season.

The running game must also improve on its 101 yards per game. In five seasons, Doug Martin has only played a full 16 game season twice. In both years, he ran for over 1,400 yards. With the growth of Winston and Martin staying healthy, the Buccaneers could become a top 10 offense in the NFL.

In order to make the playoffs and win Super Bowl LII, the offense needs to carry this team. They also need to start defending their home field. Since 2009, the Buccaneers are 21-42 at home and went 4-4 last season. Tampa has to win at least six games at home this season. If the Bucs defense can be average and the offense moves into the top 10, then the Buccaneers can win Super Bowl LII.

New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

(Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org

The Saints went marching into free agency and got the best running back of this generation. New Orleans’ offense was one of the best in the NFL last season and they added Adrian Peterson. The Saints needed a lot of help on defense and did well to address that in free agency and the draft as well. They’ve set themselves up nicely for a run to the Super Bowl.

New Orleans has been held back by its defense over the past couple of seasons. Last year they were awful, giving up the second-most points at 28.4 per game. They struggled closing out halves giving up 11.3 points in the second quarter and 7.2 points in the fourth quarter per game.

What makes the Saints defense even worse is that despite only playing the 11th least amount of plays per game (63) they ranked 14th in rushing yards (101.6) and 31st in passing yards (273.8). New Orleans didn’t spend much time on the field defensively but got torched during that time.

Their biggest area of concern was getting off the field on third down. Opposing offenses converted 43 percent of their third downs against the Saints.

In order to get back to the Super Bowl, the Saints must improve in all areas defensively. New Orleans added linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o to provide this help. They also drafted cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams to deepen the secondary. These additions should go a long way in restoring the defense in New Orleans and get them back to the playoffs.

As mentioned earlier, the Saints had an unbelievable offense last season. They scored the second-most points in the NFL with 29.3 per game. The bulk of that scoring came in the second half. New Orleans averaged 15.2 points in the second half last season, ranking first in the NFL. The Saints were first in yards per game (426), first downs per game (24.7) and passing yards per game (317.1).

Trading Brandin Cooks was OK because of the stellar rookie season Michael Thomas had. The rookie had 92 receptions, 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns emerging as Drew Brees’ favorite weapon. The addition of Ted Ginn will help replace Cooks but Brees has made a career of turning receivers into stars. The passing game will not suffer from the loss of Cooks.

The offense just needs to continue doing what they have been doing. They already help keep the defense off the field by holding the ball for an average of 31 minutes per game. The Saints offense also averaged 108.9 yards rushing last season. They can’t do much more to help the team win.

All of New Orleans’ hopes and dreams rest on the defense. Drew Brees and the rest of this offense have carried the team on their shoulders for far too long. If the defense can improve just a little bit, then the Saints can become Super Bowl contenders.

Carolina Panthers

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

(Photo Credit: http://www.espn.com)

Cam Newton and the Panthers had a major Super Bowl hangover last season. They went from 15-1 to 6-10 and looked like a completely different team. With Cam Newton on your team, you always have a shot to make it to the Super Bowl again. It won’t take much for the Panthers to capture the magic they had in 2015.

The Panthers averaged 343.7 yards per game which were a 24-yard dropoff from 2015. They also went from rushing for 141.9 yards per game to 113.4 yards per game. In order for the Panthers to get to the Super Bowl, they must get back to the numbers they put up in 2015.

Carolina averaged 23.1 points per game and they were pretty consistent putting up points throughout the course of the game. The Panthers scored an average of 12 points in the first half and 11.1 points in the second half. They could improve on their scoring if they improve their third down conversion rate of 37 percent.

The Panthers must begin to run more like they did in 2015 in order to get back to the big game. They called a running play only 43 percent of the time. Along with this, the Panthers must cash out in the red zone. Carolina only scored on 59 percent of their red zone trips. Improving in these areas can turn the Panthers back into an elite team.

On the defensive side of the ball, it starts with the secondary. The Panthers ranked 28th in passing, giving up 268.2 yards per game. The defense also went from giving up 19.5 points per game in 2015 to 25.1 points per game last season. Part of the problem was the amount of time the Panthers spent of the field. Carolina ranked 22nd in plays with 64.7 per game. This caused them to give up the most fourth quarter points in the NFL last season at 10.7.

Stopping the pass and giving up fewer points will go a long way in making the Panthers Super Bowl contenders again. Offensively, the addition of Matt Kalil, Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel will help Cam Newton become an MVP candidate once again. If the Panthers mirror the team they were in 2015, then not only will they get back to the Super Bowl, but this time they will win it.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl Series: NFC South. Stay tuned the remaining editions of Super Bowl series and check out the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

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Adrian Peterson

NFL veteran running backs: What do they have left?

Three of the more intriguing signings of the NFL offseason involve veteran running backs out to prove they still have something left in the tank. Here is a deeper look at each situation.

NFL veteran running backs in new places

Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints 

Even though it has been a few years, any guy who rushes for over 2,000 yards the season after blowing out his knee is worth taking a flyer on. Drew Brees is amazing and he is going to retire with a bunch of records to prove it.

However, the 38-year-old is not getting any younger and is in the final year of his contract. New Orleans has struggled in a big way to find the right scheme and personnel on defense for the last several years. The Saints lost three games in which they scored 30+ points during last year’s seven win campaign. That should never happen.

There is no reason to think that the defense will be anything other than slightly improved at best. Assuming that is the case, pairing a highly motivated Peterson with Mark Ingram is as good a way as any to try and ensure that Brees will not have to throw for 5000 yards in 2017 for the Saints to be even remotely competitive.

Jamaal Charles, Denver Broncos: One of the single biggest reasons Denver’s season started to go sideways last year was the season-ending injury to running back C.J. Anderson in late October.

NFL veteran running backs

Photo: milehighreport.com

The Broncos were a top-ten rushing team prior to the injury. Following the injury, running back became a revolving door for Denver. By the final quarter of the season, Trevor Siemian attempting 40+ passes a game became commonplace. Regardless of offensive line play or who the quarterback is in 2017, that is not a formula for success in Denver.

Adding Charles to a crowded Broncos backfield that features a now healthy Anderson and second year man Devontae Booker among others, means a 30-year-old who has played in just eight games in two years is not even a lock to make the roster.

However, Charles is among the all-time leaders in yards per carry. Two or three runs of ten yards or more in each game would make a world of difference for this team.

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders: Even with Al Davis gone for several years now, the Raiders continue to operate unconventionally. Bringing this 31-year-old out of retirement who has not played a full season since 2014  is the latest example of this.

While Lynch returning to play for his hometown team is a nice story, this has never made much sense to me. Like the other two signings, the contract is very low risk-high reward. Even so, with Latavius Murray now in Minnesota, the running back situation is quite murky for the Raiders. Lynch is the only proven NFL ball carrier on the roster.

Unless someone separates themselves in training camp and the preseason, Lynch will likely be asked to preform feature back duties. For the reasons above, it is hard to see that turning out well.

NFL veteran running backs

Photo: arrowheadone.com

There is no substitute for live game action. That is something Lynch has not seen in a long time. Murray is a guy who dealt with a lot of nagging injuries, but still managed to be fairly productive. He rushed for a total of over 1,800 yards in his final two seasons in Oakland. It is baffling to me that the Raiders made virtually no effort to keep him while rolling out the red carpet for Lynch.

In theory, the running game is supposed to take pressure off of the quarterback. Even with a solid running game spearheaded by Murray last year, it often felt like Derek Carr was carrying this team. Look no further than what happened to this team in the final two games of last year after Carr’s late-season injury.

They were outscored 51-20 and sent home in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. While the Raiders stood very little chance with Connor Cook starting in his first career game, the Raiders barely broke 50 yards rushing in their defeat to Houston.

The running game did not step up then. With nothing more than a rusty Lynch and a bunch of talented but unproven commodities on the roster now, it is hard to imagine the upcoming season being much different in that regard. The Raiders had simply better hope and pray that Carr can stay healthy.

 

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Quarterback rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season: 10-1

Here’s the list you’ve all been waiting for… Quarterback Rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season: 10-1. This is the group of quarterbacks that most of you will have on your teams, especially if you’re in a 10-team league or an 8-team league. Many people have their own opinions concerning the top 3 quarterbacks that are on this list, but believe me if you can snag one of hose guys, don’t hesitate.
10. Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- Jameis is only going to get better. New targets such as OJ Howard, and Desean Jackson will team up with Mike Evans for the new look Tampa Bay offense this year. You might have to take him early, but Jameis is worth it.

(Photo: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

9. Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)- Russell Wilson may be the most talented quarterback in the NFL. He just doesn’t have the wide receivers or offensive line to crack the top 5. Looking to run the ball more this season, the Seahawks brought in Eddie Lacy but didn’t do too much to address the problem at wideout. Other than Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin, Wilson is lacking targets. He’s never a risky pick so if you want to go safe go with Wilson.

8. Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions)- Did Matt Stafford hit his peak last year? I sure think so. He’s a great player don’t get me wrong, and having Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick at full health will help, but I don’t see Stafford doing much better than last year. If you want to grab a elite level QB for the price of a second tier guy, Stafford is your man.

7. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)- I know what everyone is thinking, “Drew Brees deserves to be in the top 5!” Not this year. I can’t say anything bad about Brees except that he might hurt from the loss of Brandin Cooks. Michael Thomas will be great once again but it won’t be enough. I love Brees this year, I just believe that the other 6 quarterbacks will outplay him.

(http://sacrificefly.blogspot.com)

6. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)- Matt Ryan is an elite QB in the NFL. Mark my words because he will not be as good as he was last year. The dreaded super bowl hangover will haunt him and it will be hard to regain MVP status without Kyle Shanahan as his play caller. There’s nothing wrong with taking Matt Ryan this year, just don’t expect him to be a carbon copy of last year.

5. Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)- Here is a prime example of a Super Bowl hangover. The combination of the big loss and the fact that he had to deal with a torn rotator cuff for the majority of the season, caused Cam to have the worst season of his career. Expect a bounce back year however. With new additions of Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel, the Panthers have the ability to have the most explosive offense in the NFL. The most important thing is if his offensive line can hold up.

4. Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders)- My way too early pick for MVP this year is Derek Carr. He’s young and hungry and looking for revenge from his early exit last year. Pair that with the receiving corps of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and the addition of Marshawn Lynch, Carr is in for a huge year.

3. Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)- Another player who could easily be number one on this list if he could stay healthy. Andrew Luck has the size, arm strength, and arm accuracy to be successful in the NFL. He just needs more targets. Get him those targets and he is my number one quarterback.

(Foxboro, MA, 01/18/15) New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws in the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 18, 2015. Staff Photo by Matt Stone

2. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)- This was by far the toughest decision I had to make. If you told me that Aaron Rodgers is the number one fantasy quarterback I’d have no problem with that, I just believe Brady is better. Rodgers has all the targets and a consistent offensive line, give him a legitimate running back and he’s my number one quarterback.

1. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)- Isn’t life just great for Tom Brady? Coming off his fifth super bowl win, he gets Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen and Rex Burkhead, all of whom will help out Brady immensely. Give the already best quarterback in the league a great offensive line and an influx of great receivers and running backs, he’s only going to get better.

 

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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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