John Fox

NFL preseason coaching heat check

NFL coaches on the hot seat is a topic that fans and media alike never seem to stop talking about. NFL preseason is a good time to take an inventory of coaches that could be in trouble if the upcoming season goes poorly.

The NFL never stops surprising us. Thus, the coaches mentioned here are by no means the only ones that might be relocating in 2018. These are just the situations that jump off the page immediately.

Dead men walking

John Fox

John Fox is a hugely underrated coach who has engineered massive turnarounds and deep playoffs runs everywhere he has been. Everywhere except Chicago, that is, as he is just 9-23 in two seasons with the Bears. These days, coaches rarely get more than three seasons to be awful in the same spot.

Unfortunately for Fox, the front office has given him his worst Bears roster yet. The already murky quarterback situation was only made messier by the surprise drafting of rookie Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick. Outside of running back Jordan Howard, there just is not much talent on this roster.

There are a lot of projects. Fox does not have time for projects. Despite going 3-13 last year, Chicago did not make much of an impact in free agency and only ended up with five draft picks.

NFL preseason coaching heat check

Photo: nydailynews

It is not entirely his fault, but this is not the recipe for the kind of turnaround Fox needs to keep his job. Right or wrong, the head coach is always the first to go.

Todd Bowles

Minus the established track record, Fox and Todd Bowles are in very similar spots. Bowles is 15-17 in two seasons with the Jets.

With a quarterback race that features Bryce Petty, Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg and a receiving group in which no one has caught 60 career passes, a winless season is very realistic for the Jets. No coach survives that. Bowles will likely land on his feet as defensive coordinator somewhere in 2018.

Not likely, but not impossible

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer is one of the most respected coaches in the game. He had the back story of assistant coach who paid his dues in the NFL for almost two decades before getting a shot to be a head coach.

However, the reality is that Zimmer is slowly becoming Rex Ryan without the brash and bold guarantees. The defense has always been elite during Zimmer’s time in Minnesota. It even carried them to a 6-0 start last year.

Much like Rex Ryan’s teams though, the offensive side of the ball just is not very good. They have never ranked inside the top 20 in total offense under Zimmer. Even in 2015 when Zimmer’s Vikings reached the playoffs, they were 31st in passing offense.

Rex Ryan has a 61-66 record with four playoff wins as an NFL head coach. He’s now a commentator for ESPN. Zimmer is 26-22 without a playoff win. If Zimmer does not figure out the offensive side of the ball this year, his record will creep closer to .500 and he could join Ryan at ESPN.

Adam Gase

Two weeks ago, Gase would not have been in any article like this. He did an outstanding job in leading the Dolphins to the playoffs last year in his first season.

NFL preseason coaching heat check

Photo: espn.com

However, bringing his favorite pupil Jay Cutler out of retirement to save the day after the injury to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is pretty bold. Yes, Cutler had his best statistical season when Gase was his offensive coordinator with the Bears in 2015, but that team still managed only six wins. Last year, Cutler only started five games due to injury and poor performance.

Cutler’s lack of passion for the game of football has always been painfully apparent. Despite a wealth of natural talent, he is only led a team the playoffs once and has losing record as a starter.

He will no doubt fill the stat sheet with touchdowns and interceptions in Miami. Even so, there is nothing to suggest that he will fare any better than original backup quarterback Matt Moore in terms of winning games.

Gaze really stuck his neck out for Cutler. It is only a one-year deal. Even so, if the experiment blows up in his face and muddies the future of the quarterback position in Miami, ownership having a quick hook would not be all that surprising.

Unique Situations:

In addition to the four coaches mentioned above, 2017 is also a big year for several coaches that have been with their current teams for many years. Marvin Lewis, Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, Bruce Arians and Chuck Pagano have all experienced significant success in their current coaching stops. However, they all missed the playoffs last year.

Some of them are on a streak of unsuccessful seasons. They have all done great things for their respective franchises over the years and have immense respect of ownership. Thus, I cannot see any of them getting fired. If the upcoming season goes poorly though, a mutual parting of ways is certainly possible.

 

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Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

It’s been a rough training camp for the Miami Dolphins. Jay Ajayi has a concussion and now Ryan Tannehill has gone down and might be done for the season with a knee injury. The worst part of his injury is that it was the same knee he injured in week 14 and he wasn’t touched on the play where he was rolling out. There was no structural damage, however, reports Thursday night indicated Tannehill could need season-ending knee surgery.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Matt Moore (Photo by: heavy.com)

On Friday, Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Matt Moore “is our quarterback” for the time being in a press conference. The Dolphins just signed former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler yesterday, meaning he’s likely the best bet to be Miami’s starter in week one.

Cutler worked with Gase in Chicago in 2015 and had his best career year with Gase in that season.

Now everyone is going to start to panic not just because of Tannehill but about the weapons in Miami as well. The Dolphins have three prominent receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills along with tight end Julius Thomas.

Now the big reason for this is to not panic. Landry and Parker shouldn’t lose any value with Tannehill gone. And Stills might benefit even without a familiar quarterback to catch passes from.

Jarvis Landry

Start with Landry, whose average draft position (ADP) on Fantasy Pros is currently in Round 4 in all leagues. He has been ranked around 18-25 as a wide receiver and our own Cameron Palikuca ranked him as the 23rd receiver in his rankings.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Jarvis Landry (Photo by: dailydolphin.blog.palmbeachpost.com)

In four games with Moore last year including the playoff game against the Steelers, Landry had 26 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns on 33 targets. If you project his final four games over 16 games he would’ve had Landry would have finished with 104 catches for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns on 132 targets. The touchdowns and yards would be a career highs. And catches and targets would be the second best of his career. For 2017, I don’t see Landry matching these stats.

The final three games of the season he had two double digit outings. In the season finale, Landry caught nine passes on 12 targets for 76 yards and a touchdown from Moore. Then in the playoffs, he had 14 targets into 11 receptions for 102 yards. Things seemed to click after those two games.

I don’t expect Landry to suffer with Moore under center. I also expect with Landry in a contract year to play at a high level.

Devante Parker

Many believe that Parker could have a breakout season. His ADP is Round 8 in PPR as the No. 37 receiver, and he’s going as the No. 42 receiver in Round 9 in standard leagues. He is the 37th receiver by Palikuca but many believe he will play better then where he will be drafted.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Ryan Tannehill and DeVante Parker (Photo by: thedeependmiami.com)

Parker was a receiver that struggled with Moore. In their four games together last season, Parker only had 14 catches for 202 yards and one touchdown on 22 targets. Going back to the projections, he would’ve had 56 catches, 808 yards and four touchdowns on 88 targets over a full season, which is basically what he did in 2016 (56 catches, 744 yards and four touchdowns on 87 targets).

I think Parker can do better then his 2016 numbers. He has potential and could be Moore’s favorite weapon and I especially see him as a presence in the red zone at 6-3. Two of his touchdowns came within the 10-yard line. He will also be a valuable deep-threat in favorable matchups as he had two touchdowns of 40-yards plus.

Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas

First with Kenny Stills, he thrived with Moore. Stills had 13 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 23 targets. He scored at least eight fantasy points in a standard league in every game.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Kenny Stills (Photo by: sun-sentinel.com)

The projections over 16 games would’ve been 52 catches for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns on 92 targets. That would be an improvement on his actual stats from 2016 when he had 42 catches for 726 yards and nine touchdowns on 81 targets.

The problem that comes with Stills is that he’s likely the third or fourth target especially if Parker improves and Thomas makes an impact. But the chemistry can’t be ignored between him and Moore. Stills is definitely worth a late-round flier given his ADP, which is Round 15 in PPR and Round 18 in standard leagues.

As for Thomas, I predicted he would be a sleeper to watch before the Tannehill injury. There’s nothing to go on for Thomas as this his first season in Miami but he has played with Gase before in Denver. With Gase as the offensive coordinator in Denver, Thomas had 24 touchdowns combined in 2013-14 and was a top 10 Fantasy tight end both years. He’s worth a late-round flier in all leagues now that he’s back with Gase.

Final verdict

From a non-fantasy view, the Dolphins should be okay. From a fantasy perspective, no one should panic picking Dolphins players. One player that could thrive is Ajayi. His role will increase some especially with the Tannehill situation. He could sneak into the first round in some leagues due to concerns with the quarterback.

But the Dolphins should be ok with Moore and the good thing for him is that he has familiar faces he played with last season as well as the same system. He will keep Landry, Parker and Stills playing at a high level for fantasy owners this year.

As of Sunday August 6, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network has reported that Cutler has come out of retirement and agreed to a contract with the Miami Dolphins.

 

Featured image from nflspinzone.com.

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Colin Kaepernick

The Miami Dolphins’ quarterback quandary

With head coach Adam Gase acknowledging that knee surgery is an a option for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a playoff team from last year is left with major question marks as far as who will be taking snaps this year.

Several solutions are being rumored. The Dolphins are a pretty solid football team. Thus, they cannot afford to knock on the wrong door here. If they do, their season could be over before it really starts.

That said, let’s dissect Miami’s quarterback situation and dive into the team’s options.

The safe bet: Matt Moore

Matt Moore is the perfect backup quarterback. That is exactly what he has been for most of his career. He has started 28 out of 46 career games played and posted a 15-13 record as a starter. This includes leading the Dolphins to a pair of wins that locked down last year’s playoff spot in relief of an injured Tannehill. Not many quarterbacks last a decade in the NFL, backup or otherwise.

Miami Dolphins quarterback quandary

Photo miami.cbsloacal.com

The Dolphins are in a tricky spot though. Unless they figure out time travel and bring back Dan Marino, they are not taking the AFC East from New England. However, they are suited to finish ahead of fellow division rivals Buffalo and the Jets, even with Moore. The 32-year-old can take care of the football well enough to keep Miami competitive.

It is difficult for me to get past Miami’s 30-12 playoff loss to Pittsburgh last year. More looked overwhelmed, as did the rest of the team. Sticking with Moore in Tannehill’s absence could get this franchise back to where it was last year, but certainly no further.

The bad idea: Jay Cutler

It makes perfect sense for Jay Cutler’s name to be thrown around when it comes to Miami’s quarterback situation. However, that does not mean it is a good idea.

The recently retired gunslinger had his best season as a pro in 2015. That year, current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was his offensive coordinator in Chicago. Even so, Cutler’s career best 92.3 passer rating was not good enough for the Bears to post a winning record.

To put it mildly, there have always been questions about Cutler’s passion for football. Now that he has shifted his focus to broadcasting, it is debatable as to whether or not he would be able to flip the switch back into competitive athlete mode. Worse yet, I am not even sure he truly wants to. The Dolphins have reportedly had casual conversations with Cutler and his representatives. That is as far as this flirtation should go.

High risk, high reward: Colin Kaepernick

Miami Dolphins quarterback quandary

Photo: boston.cbslocal.com

With all the controversy surrounding him, the fact that Colin Kaepernick still has it in him to be a very dynamic dual threat NFL quarterback is getting lost in the shuffle.

In 11 starts for an atrocious 49ers team last year, Kaepernick tossed 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Imagine what he is still capable of with real talent around him. Real talent is something the Dolphins definitely have.

We all know that his political activism is why Kaepernick remains unsigned. However, if dogfighting and domestic violence do not disqualify you from being on an NFL roster, voicing your opinion should not either.

Could signing Kaepernick alienate parts of the locker room and fan base? Of course. However, there is a very simple remedy to that: Be a productive player and deliver this franchise its first playoff win since the 2000 season.

Of the options on the table for Miami, Kaepernick is the only one who has shown that he may be capable of doing that. That is good enough for me. The Dolphins need to suck it up and sign him.

 

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Joe Flacco

NFL training camp injuries: The walking wounded

With last night’s Hall of Fame game, NFL football is officially back in our lives. While that is a beautiful thing, the injury bug is running wild through NFL training camps as it does every year. It is impossible to cover them all, but here is a summary of some early NFL training camp injuries.

Quarterbacks

While Shane Ray and a few other notable defenders will miss some time, most of the early injuries have been on the offensive side of the ball. The league’s most important position is no exception.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has a herniated disc in his back. That is really all anyone knows for sure. Reports have Flacco missing anywhere from a single week to six weeks.  The front office in Baltimore has said a lot while doing very little in regards to controversial former 49ers signal caller Colin Kaepernick.

Miami Dolphins

Photo: cbssports.com

The training camp reports on current backup Ryan Mallett have been far from glowing. Combine that with the fact the Kaepernick chatter has not exactly been squashed, and the whole situation becomes worth monitoring.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a non-contact injury to the same knee that was hurt at the end of last year. The results of his MRI showed no structural damage in the knee, however there’s no timetable for his return. Any sort of long term injury to Tannehill would be very difficult to overcome and a possible momentum killer for a franchise that surprised many by making the playoffs last year.

As far as backup quarterbacks go, Matt Moore is one of the best around. Even so, he is the backup for a reason.

Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are also not doing much early in training camp due to lingering effects from offseason surgeries.

Offensive lines

You cannot put offensive lineman on your fantasy football team. Thus, many people do not pay much attention to them. However, the offensive line is a key element to any great football team.

Quarterback is just the beginning of the issues in Baltimore. The group that will protect whoever is throwing the ball for the Ravens this year is already shuffling. Marshal Yanda has been one of the best offensive lineman in the game for the last handful of years, but he is also not fully healthy from offseason surgery.

Forrest Lamp

Photo: San Diego Union Tribune

Additionally, center/guard John Urschel suddenly retired a few days ago to further pursue his academic career. Also, rookie guard Nico Siragusa is already out for the year with a knee injury. John Harbaugh’s team may very well have to mix and match on the offensive line well into the regular season. That never turns out well.

Keeping Philip Rivers upright and away from the freakishly talented pass rushers of the AFC West has been a challenge for the Chargers in recent years. Rookie guard Forrest Lamp was supposed to help change that. However, the second-round pick is out for the year with a torn ACL.

The Ravens and Chargers already faced uphill battles in highly competitive divisions this year. Offensive line issues at the very beginning of training camp are a nightmare for any coaching staff to deal with.

Wide Receivers

The injuries are piling up elsewhere. Speedy Texans wideout Will Fuller is sidelined indefinitely with a broken collarbone. Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams may also miss extended time. The former favorite target of Deshaun Watson is dealing with a bad back.

The only thing coaches and fans should really hope for this time of year is for every player that goes down to get back up. We all know that it does not always happen that way. Training camp is our first yearly reminder of what a war of attrition the NFL can be.

 

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It’s on the Haus: Steelers Sting Dolphins, Odell Beckham Punches Inanimate Object, Manny Ramirez Wants To Be Relevant

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

You missed yesterday’s edition? You need one article that contains the NFL Playoffs, Army All-American Bowl, Kyle Korver, and Grayson Allen? You’re in luck. Find it by clicking on any of these words.

Killer B’s Do Their Thing

The Pittsburgh Steelers throttled the Miami Dolphins in the third NFL Wild Card game, 30-12, on Sunday afternoon. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown were on the field together in a playoff game for the first time.

Roethlisberger was 13/18 for 197 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went into the hands of Antonio Brown. Le’Veon Bell(cow) carried the ball 29 times for 167 yards and two scores, and added two catches for seven yards. Antonio Brown had five catches for 124 yards.

The game was a blowout, just as many expected it to be. The Dolphins had no business being in the playoffs with Matt Moore starting at quarterback, but there’s a lot of optimism for the ‘Phins for next season. I’m not sure why though, as the only way Miami makes it back to the playoffs is as a wild card, as long as Bill Belichick continues to work his straight-faced sorcery in Foxborough.

Player Gets Angry, Punches Wall

In the final game of Wild Card Weekend, the Green Bay Packers toppled the New York Giants, 38-13. The game was close for a bit, but Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers’d, and the Packers pulled away in the third quarter.

Steelers Dolphins Odell Beckham Manny Ramirez

Odell Beckham Jr. had just four catches for 28 yards in the Giant’s first round loss to the Packers. (Photo: Getty Images)

The real story came after the ball game finished. Odell Beckham Jr. is accused of punching a wall in the locker room after the loss, and I’m not surprised. Odell already got KO’d by a kicking net earlier this year, and it appears it’s better to be a human than an inanimate object when OBJ rages.

I’ve never been a fan of Beckham Jr., as I don’t trust him due to his on-field rage fits and his hair. It looks like OBJ cooked some ramen noodles and glued them to his head. Sure, he’s a good receiver, but he needs help in what kids call the “swag” department. Just watch this cringeworthy video of him dancing, and you’ll catch my drift.

Manny Ramirez is a Fighting Dog

Snazzy subheading, eh? You read that right, former MLB slugger and possible future Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez is now a Fighting Dog. The DH/OF has signed a contract to play for the Kochi Fighting Dogs of the Shikoku Island League Plus, giving the age 44 year-old his first job playing baseball since 2014.

I’m not here to cast judgement, but this move is down right stupid, all due respect. Look, Manny, I doubt you know Japanese, and you’re not Jamie Moyer, so I don’t know what the point of this is.

If he misses competition, Manny can go be Manny in his Sunday beer league whiffleball association. I know nothing about Japanese culture, but I hear it’s weird over there. I’m not sure how well-received his antics will be, and I don’t think he’ll be able to club 30 dingers with the filth those pitchers throw.

 

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Hagan Haus NFL Picks (Wildcard Weekend)

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

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

Last Week: 9-6

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 0-0

 

AFC

Saturday

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

NFC

Saturday

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

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

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

 Sunday

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

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

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

 

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Week 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 15 NFL Picks Against the Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo from duenorthsports.com

photo from duenorthsports.com

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

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

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

photo from steelersdepot.com

photo from steelersdepot.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tracking the Transactions: Rating NL Deadline Trades for Contenders

Earlier this week, I evaluated how all of the trade deadline moves made by contending American League teams panned out. Now, I’ll give my take on how National League trades fared.

Chicago Cubs – Aroldis Chapman/Mike Montgomery: 5/3

The Cubs came in to the deadline with plenty of offensive firepower, so they made some deals to acquire some lefty relievers to diversify a right-hander flooded bullpen. Chapman has looked fantastic in Chicago, to nobody’s surprise, he’s 13 for 14 in save conversion in 18 appearances. He’s surrendered just three runs in 17 innings, and hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances this September. With the Cubs having clinched the NL Central on Thursday, I doubt Chapman will see as much play as he did in August, in an attempt to preserve him for the playoffs. They’re still looking to solidify home-field advantage, however, so he certainly won’t be shut down entirely.

Montgomery was originally brought in as another southpaw in the pen. He now sits apart of the Cubs rotation, and frankly, he’s looked better there than he did starting off in the pen for the Cubs. He allowed runs in three consecutive outings, two of them lasting just one-third of an inning, while in the pen. Since his relocation to the rotation, he’s looked better on the mound, even if his starts don’t last particularly long. He averages just under five innings per start, and has only thrown over 90 pitches on one occasion. Recently his starts have improved, and he even notched his first quality start in their division-clinching victory vs. the Brewers. Since becoming a starter, Montgomery has posted a 3.33 ERA. We’ll see what Joe Maddon has planned for him over these next two weeks heading into playoffs.

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LA hopes Rich Hill can stay healthy for the playoffs. Photo courtesy of todaysknuckleball.com

LA Dodgers – Josh Reddick/Rich Hill: 2/4

The Reddick plus Hill deal was seen as the Dodgers’ power play to take control of the NL West. Reddick has certainly struggled since the deal, however, batting just .225 since heading to LA. He’s only hit one homer, driven in three RBIs, and stolen one base. His August numbers (.161 BA, .172 slugging) are certainly not what a team wants to see from their deadline acquisition. Things are beginning to look up for Reddick at the plate this month, he’s hitting .394 and slugging .576. He’s still not producing runs, though, with just a lone homer and two RBIs to show. We’ll see if he can get back on the up-and-up in time for playoffs, however, let’s not forget he had a spectacular May following a sub-par August. Maybe the Dodgers just need him to have a good month at the right time.

The only reason Rich Hill doesn’t get a five here is because he’s only made four starts since the Dodgers acquired him at the beginning of August. With that said, three of those four starts have been spectacular, including a flirt with perfection against the Marlins. The Dodgers are playing it smart, not allowing him to hit triple-digit pitch counts while still working off his injury. Thursday’s start against the D-Backs was a return to Earth for Hill, who was riding a 24 inning scoreless streak, spanning back to July, coming into the game. With a four game lead over the Giants in the heart of the home stretch, we’ll see if Hill and Kenta Maeda can continue to make life miserable for batters and secure the division for the Dodgers.

Image result for andrew cashner marlins

Photo courtesy of miamiherald.com

Miami Marlins – Andrew Cashner: 1 

Oh Miami, when are you going to catch a break? I guess losing the other half of the deal, Colin Rea, to injury after his first start should have been a sign of things to come. Cashner only recently picked up his first win with the Marlins against the Phillies, making him 1-4 in eight starts with the team. His stat line as a starter since the move isn’t much prettier, a 6.18 ERA through 39.1 innings of work, a 32/22 K/BB ratio and opponents batting .303 off of him. Cashner was supposed to provide a solid arm, replacing injured Wei-Yin Chen, in a rotation that has been cluttered with inconsistency for Miami from the get-go. Needless to say he hasn’t lived up to the expectations set for him. Combine that with Marcell Ozuna’s massive second-half slump and the loss of Giancarlo Stanton and you can see why Miami currently sits four games out of the Wildcard.

 

 

Image result for jay bruce mets

Photo courtesy of nypost.com

New York Mets – Jay Bruce: 2

If it’s true that, prior to the deadline, Bruce explicitly said that he didn’t want to go to the Mets, then maybe we can attribute his stats since coming to New York to spite instead of an actual drop in his caliber of play.  Regardless of why the numbers have dropped, they certainly aren’t what the Mets wanted from their deadline acquisition. He was supposed to provide a shot in the arm for a Mets offense that had sputtered all year, and only really saw (limited) success via the long ball at various points throughout the season. Bruce, who had 25 homers on the year with Cincinnati, seemed like the perfect candidate for the offense’s playstyle. He’s hitting just .192 since coming to New York, with four homers and 11 RBIs in 36 games. He looked like he might be heating up at the end of August, piecing together a five-game hit streak from August 30 to September 4, but he’s now hit just .120 and notched a lone RBI in his past seven games. The Mets have, against my predictions, remained in the hunt for the Wildcard and even hold the last spot in, currently, but Bruce’s contributions have been below average at best.

Image result for ivan nova pirates

Ivan Nova has been hot since coming to Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of rumbunter.com

Pittsburgh Pirates – Ivan Nova/Antonio Bastardo: 5/4

Why the Pirates made acquisitions at the deadline after selling closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals boggled my mind at the time. But the Pirates have at least remained in contention for a Wildcard spot, currently 5.5 games behind the Mets, in no small part due to the efforts of Ivan Nova. He’s looked spectacular since coming to Pittsburgh, posting a 5-0 record alongside a 2.41 ERA in eight starts for the Pirates with a stellar 43/3 K/BB ratio. Nova came in from New York with a 7-6 record, a 4.90 ERA, and a 75/25 K/BB ratio in his seventh season with the Yankees. I don’t know what pitching coach Ray Searage does to these guys in Pittsburgh, but you can’t argue with his results. At this rate, Nova will be one of the more interesting pitchers to hit the free-agency after the season.

Antonio Bastardo is also showing marked improvement from his performance in New York. Bastardo was acquired in a deal that brought him back to Pittsburgh, after half a season with the Mets, and returned Jonathon Niese to New York. Bastardo posted a 4.74 ERA in 43.2 innings with the Mets; since returning to Pittsburgh, his ERA sits at 2.41 and he’s got a 2-0 record to show for it. Stats-wise, I’d definitely say Pittsburgh came out ahead of their awkward pitcher exchange program with the Mets.

San Francisco Giants – Matt Moore/Eduardo Nunez: 3/4

The Giants stayed true to their pitcher-first, small ball mentality with the acquisition of Matt Moore. It should be noted that Moore wasn’t brought in to provide the same level of performance as guys like Johnny Cueto or Madison Bumgarner at the front of the rotation. Moore’s job is to be a guy who holds things down and keeps things close at the back of the rotation. I would say been hit-or-miss in that department. His production with the Giants sits almost exactly where it did in Tampa, a record around .500 (3-4), and an ERA in the low 4s (4.08). He’s had a mix of really good starts with really bad starts almost at random; I think if he’s able to begin to build momentum with a string of good starts heading into the postseason, then he could be in good shape.

Eduardo Nunez fits the typical depiction of a Giants position player. He’ll help the team manufacture runs via small ball, work his way on base, and make productive at-bats. Nunez is sitting with a .329 OBP, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored, and nine stolen bases. None of these numbers are going to blow people away, but then again I think that can be said for anybody on this Giants offense. He seems to be getting more and more consistent at the plate, as well. He’s currently on a nine-game hitting streak, spanning back to September 3.

Image result for zach duke cardinals

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

St. Louis Cardinals – Zach Duke: 4

Duke has been quietly performing since the Cardinals nabbed him to help out their bullpen. While his record is 0-1, he’s allowed just three runs in 18.1 innings over 20 appearances with St. Louis. His biggest concern comes in the control department. Since coming to St. Louis, he’s walked 11 men and fanned 20. 11 walks in 18.1 innings isn’t the most optimal way to operate as a reliever, but he’s been able to play damage control thus far.

 

Washington Nationals – Mark Melancon: 4

The Nationals bullpen has been the bane of their existence in September/October for seemingly years now. As of right now, Melancon appears to have aided those bullpen woes in Washington. He hasn’t blown a save opportunity yet, although September has looked rockier than August. Last month he allowed just one run over 13.2 innings, posting a 0.66 ERA. This month, his ERA sits at 4.50 with four runs surrendered in eight innings. Luckily for Washington, the Nats sit ten games ahead of the Mets with 16 games to play, so if there was a time for Melancon to get the bad mojo out, it would be now.