Our year of football: 2017-2018 season

NFL Predicated  Standings

2017-2018 Season

1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Atlanta Falcons
5. Green Bay Packers
6. New York Giants
7. Dallas Cowboys
8. Kansas City Chiefs
9. Arizona Cardinals
10. Oakland Raiders
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12. Miami Dolphins
13. Tennessee Titans
14. New Orleans Saints
15. Carolina Panthers
16. Houston Texans
17. Cincinnati Bengals
18. Washington Redskins
19. Detroit Lions
20. Baltimore Ravens
21. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Denver Broncos
23. Minnesota Vikings
24. Los Angeles Chargers
25. Los Angeles Rams
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
27. Indianapolis Colts
28. Buffalo Bills
29. San Francisco 49ers
30. Chicago Bears
31. Cleveland Browns
32. New York Jets

The Season

The 2017-2018 NFL season was anything but ordinary. It shifted from stories permeating of the last season. With those stories that molded political arguments and orchestrated the foundation to likes of humanity. This season touched hearts of survivors of this years unprecedented natural disasters and also filled the Twitter mentions of our beloved president. This year was a year to talk about not only for the sport of football but also the moral fiber of our society.

Politics…?

Simply, sports are not just sports. An argument appeared this year during the season. This year like the last, was highlighted by the many protests started by Colin Kaepernick. During a rally in Alabama, President Trump made some indecent remarks pertaining to the protest of players kneeling during the national anthem and flag. These comments created a dissolution among players and the leagues fans.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Some backed up the president believing that the protest were disrespectful to our armed forces. Others felt that the players were standing up against injustices in this country that the anthem contradicts and are not true for every citizen. And even others took no position on either side but agreed that the protest were well within the rights of the players. In an attempt to preserve the notion of free speech, across the NFL, teams united in a protest by kneeling  or locking arms in unification before games or not attending the national anthem and flag bearing at all.

The Problem

While some saw the protest as an act of defiance, not only to the president of the United States but to our country as a whole, some even saw the protest as illegitimate and did not stand for what Kaepernick originally kneeled for. While Kaepernick was kneeling to bring awareness to police brutality and racial divisions, the players were kneeling for their right to protest and protection of their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the craze did lose its originality as the notion of Kaepernick’s arguments have yet to be discussed.

Many were critical of the NFL’s involvement in political fashions and wanted players to just play citing “football is just a sport”. The problem with that is football is not just a sport. Sports are never just seen as a collection of over sized men and women competing in gladiator like feats for a trophy. Sports have been able to bring people together. Football was never just a sport, not in America. Football itself has embodied the very grit and passion of what it is to be an American.

What football means

In the digital age, football has spread to consumers across the globe and in almost every house in our nation. Players now have platforms and are looked as icons, heroes, and even moral leaders. If you don’t believe it, ask JJ Watt. Ask Benjamin Watson. Or ask Greg Olsen about philanthropy.

Sports are part of the platform to give back, uplift individuals and inspire future generations. You want proof?  Remember when New Orleans natives watched their football time emerge from the ruins of their torn city and bring a title to avenge their will after Katrina. Or how an NBA championship can uplift a city after from a fifty year championship drought to embodied the strength of Cleveland. Or even this year, when Hurricane Harvey ravaged, displaced and destroyed lives in Texas, Houston natives were able to see their beloved baseball team bring home a championship and use the achievement as a beacon of hope.

Sports have been politicized since its very birth. The policies and rights bestowed upon each and everyone of us has given us the ability to watch, appreciate, and participate in sports and should never be questioned.

The Winner

There is no discussion that should over shadow the celebration of champions. The Philadelphia Eagles have now joined the list of 52 teams to have been able to label themselves as world champions. For a long time coming, this achievement gave the franchise its first world title and the city of Philadelphia its first championship since the 2008 World Series where the Phillies were crowned victorious.

The ups and downs in this season did not falter the Super Bowl champions even when starting quarterback Carson Wentz went out with an injury. Orchestrated by a swagger unlike any other team in the NFL, the squad welcomed Nick Foles in the starting lineup as he led them to a historic run in the playoffs. During the Super Bowl, with no surprise, the Eagles were seen as underdogs as they faced the defending Super Bowl champions. The New England Patriots, like many others, saw this matchup as a dynasty solidifying opportunity.

The Crowning

Thirteen years ago, the Patriots took the hearts of many Eagles fans as they beat them 24-21. A win that many saw to be spectacular, taking down a squad lead by Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. However, this team was not the 2004-2005 Eagles. This team was heralded by a forgotten star in Torrey Smith, a mid season pick up in Jay Ajayi, and a backup quarterback in Nick Foles. Pitted against a team that mirrored the leagues greatest teams assembled of all time, the Eagles never cowered from its opposition. After beating the the Patriots by a score of 41-33, the Eagles brought home their first championship in franchise history.

A team that no one predicted to even compete for a title this year, hoisted the Lombardi trophy on February 4. To spice up the pot even more, at center stage, a player that had been sidelined under the play of an MVP candidate, Nick Foles, held the Lombardi trophy in one hand and the game’s MVP in the other. Of course the Eagles are winners and truly earned it after an incredible season.

NFL Honors

AP Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

Coach of the Year: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

Comeback Player of the Year: Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints

Assistant Coach of the Year: Pat Shurmur, OC, Minnesota Vikings

Bridgestone Elite Performance Play of the Year: Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs “Minneapolis Miracle,” divisional round, Minnesota Vikings

FedEx Air & Ground Players of the Year: Carson Wentz, QB,

Philadelphia Eagles and Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Deacon Jones Award: Chandler Jones, LB, Arizona Cardinals

Courtyard’s Greatness on the Road Award: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Year: Philadelphia Eagles

Salute To Service Award: Andre Roberts, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers

The Losers

There is no hiding this. For the second year running, to no surprise, the Cleveland Browns are the biggest losers of the year. To be frank, 0-16 is down right deplorable. After a year prior that the team went 1-15, the make up of this season didn’t seem any better. Mid-season reports around the organization had suggested that the franchise was looking forward to upcoming draft and ending the season despite only being five games into the schedule. The Browns have a chance to change a few names and numbers on the jerseys this off season but don’t count on it holding any weight. There is no player that will magically turn the tide for the team. The culture is now stuck in conundrum that leaves their fan base with more questions of doubt than accolades to take pride in.

How the Browns are going down the road in the future, the next generation of Browns fans will be Bengals fans, not like that is any better. Changes have to be made from the top if players are going to rally and motivate themselves. Something is going to have to change in Cleveland if change for the good is to come. For a franchise that has lost so much it has to believe in something first to fight for.

NFL Final Standings

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New England
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. Los Angeles Rams
9. Carolina Panthers
10. Green Bay Packers
11. Los Angeles Chargers
12. Houston Texans
13. Seattle Seahawks
14. San Francisco 49ers
15. Tennessee Titans
16. Kansas City Chiefs
17. Baltimore Ravens
18. Detroit Lions
19. Buffalo Bills
20. Dallas Cowboys
21. Oakland Raiders
22. Washington Redskins
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
24. Chicago Bears
25. Cincinnati Bengals
26. Miami Dolphins
27. New York Giants
28. Arizona Cardinals
29. Denver Broncos
30. New York Jets
31. Indianapolis Colts
32. Cleveland Browns

Class of 2018 Hall of Fame Inductees

Brian Urlacher

NFL

Ray Lewis

Terrell Owens

Randy Moss

Brian Dawkins

Robert Brazile

 

 

This year of football is in the history books. The off-season will guide us to a new year as questions mount for the future. What will come the NFL Draft? Will Colin Kaepernick play on a team next year? Will the NFL and NFLPA come to a solution to keep the league open? Fortunately, 2017 was all the glitz and glamour and also the grit and grime of our world. Despite records showing a drop in viewership for the league, those problems don’t come from the sport specifically. The NFL is a dynamic league that grows each and every year. A few policy changes and rule adjustments should get the NFL back in shape. Above all, for longtime dedicated fans, 2017 was a year to remember but also a foundation for what 2018 has to come.

 

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NFL divisional playoffs picks

NFL divisional playoffs preview and picks

We were fortunate enough to get four reasonably competitive games to kick off the NFL playoffs last week. You can check out last week’s picks here.

For this week’s divisional playoffs, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Postseason record- 3-1

Postseason record against the spread- 2-2

Saturday

Falcons at Eagles – For the first time since the NFL adopted its current playoff format, a sixth seed is favorite over a home standing top seed. This is not without merit though. Without Carson Wentz, the Eagles are just another average to below-average football team. In the final two games of the regular season, Philadelphia’s offense accounted for a grand total of 13 points, and the team as a whole was pushed around for long stretches by the non-playoff bound Cowboys and Raiders.

The above paragraph is not a good recipe for taking on the Falcons at the moment. Atlanta needed to win as much as humanly possible late in the regular season to keep its playoff hopes alive. The sudden death nature of the NFL playoffs changed nothing for them last week. They have been in that situation for almost 2 months.

Reigning MVP Matt Ryan and the offense are not quite the juggernaut they were last year, but they are still very good. What has sparked Atlanta’s late-season run as much as anything is defense. The Falcons have not surrendered more than 24 points in a game since Week 11. This includes holding the top-ranked scoring offense to just 13 points last week. If all the offense has to do is score in the high 20s, this team is tough to beat.

Apart from winning a shootout with the lowly Giants, the Eagles offense has not gotten anywhere close to the high 20s with backup quarterbacks since the injury to Wentz. Philadelphia’s defense is pretty good and has stood on its head in recent weeks to keep the Eagles in games. Thus, this will not be a blowout.

However, one of these teams is quarterbacked by Matt Ryan and the other by Nick Foles. Sometimes, it is just that simple.

Winner: Atlanta

Good bet: Falcons (-3) Atl 21 Phi 13

Titans at Patriots – Tennessee did a great job of making a few plays to pull off the big upset in Kansas City last week. However, that result had more to do with Kansas City’s collapse. If New England has a double-digit lead, whoever is playing running back will get the ball a lot more than 11 or 12 times.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from USA Today

You can’t help but be impressed with the resilience and toughness of Tennessee. That roster is not good enough to get to this point on talent alone. Different guys have stepped up for them all year long. Last week, it was Marcus Mariota playing with his head on a swivel to complete a touchdown pass to himself and Derrick Henry rushing for 156 yards in the absence of backfield mate DeMarco Murray that made the difference.

However, the Titans lack the firepower to really make the Patriots nervous in a playoff game. At this point, nothing more can be said about the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They are 25-9 in playoff games. Moreover, only three of those nine losses have been at home. Tennessee will keep this close for a while with solid fundamental football, but New England will pull away late.

Winner: New England

Good bet: Patriots (-13) NE 34 Ten 20

Sunday

Jaguars at Steelers – Vegas is showing great restraint by making the Steelers only a seven-point favorite here. With the way the Jacksonville passing offense has looked for the last month, a double-digit spread would have been perfectly reasonable.

However, the Jacksonville defense has shut down some very good offenses this year. The Jaguars went in to Pittsburgh early in the year and intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a route.

Also, there is more than one way to look at the performance of Blake Bortles last week. It is easy to say he threw for just 87 yards and therefore was completely awful, or you can commend him for his 88 rushing yards and ability to make enough plays for his team to win, even though he did not play very well.

Not very many people have subscribed to the second school of thought leading up to this game, but I am one of them. With a great supporting cast around him, Bortles is fine. Other than one or two games, Jacksonville has had no problem scoring points this year. Almost every offense is going to get shut down at least once or twice a year, no matter who the quarterback is.

Jacksonville is too good to get blown out. Any team that leads the league in rushing offense, as well as several defensive categories, is capable of going anywhere and beating anyone. However, Roethlisberger getting Antonio Brown back will be the difference in this one. Even if Brown is not fully healthy, his presence alone gives the vaunted Jacksonville defense another thing to worry about on a loaded Steelers offense.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Good Bet: Jaguars (+7) Pit 27 Jac 24

Saints at Vikings – No team was more impressive than New Orleans last week. All year, the Saints had done most of their damage by running the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Carolina held that duo to under 50 combined rushing yards. The Saints still managed to win. Drew Brees showed us all why he is going to the Hall of Fame someday.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from si.com

Unless there is a truly dominant team, whoever wins the Super Bowl has to find a way to win a game or two where its best stuff is not working. There is no dominant NFL team this year, and that is exactly what the Saints did last week.

This week, the task is a little bit tougher as New Orleans goes on the road to face another very stout defensive unit in Minnesota. The vast majority of Minnesota’s success this year has come from backups, castoffs and other spare parts. Mike Zimmer and his staff have done an incredible job of getting the most out of Case Keenum. Keenum has nearly doubled his career touchdown passes this season. However, much like the other NFC matchup this weekend, it is foolish not to take the established star quarterback over the journeyman in playoff football.

Winner: New Orleans

Good Bet: *Saints (+ 5.5) NO 27 Min 20

 

Featured image from chiefs.com

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NFL Wild Card Weekend

NFL Wild Card weekend preview and picks

The NFL playoffs are here, and the road to Super Bowl LII kicks into overdrive this weekend. For the 12 teams who still have championship dreams, the slate is wiped clean and everyone is 0-0 again. The same goes for people like me who picked games throughout the regular season.

Throughout the playoffs, games will be picked against the spread as well as straight up. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Saturday

Titans at Chiefs – Even though these are both playoff teams, they are trending in opposite directions. After a bizarre midseason slump, Kansas City finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak to claim their second straight division title. Andy Reid’s team put up at least 26 points in all of those games.

The Chiefs finished the regular season looking like the team that dominated the league in the first month of the season. Alex Smith may have limitations as a quarterback, but this is an offense that has done a great job taking care the football all year long and knows that getting the ball to playmakers like rushing champion Kareem Hunt is the winning formula.

NFL Wild Card Weekend

(Photo from faketeams.com)

The Titans did just enough to squeak into the playoffs despite losing three of their last four games with the offense accounting for 15 points or less in two of those games. Defense does tend to win football games this time of year, and Tennessee has a good one.

But the offense has to be at least average. The Titans offense hasn’t been anywhere near average since November. For that reason, there are reports that head coach Mike Mularkey may still be on the hot seat despite the playoff berth.

Arrowhead Stadium is a very tough place to play. However, Kansas City’s home playoff track record is worrisome. They have not won a home playoff game since the early 90s. In order to continue that trend, the Titans defense will have to play a nearly perfect game. Given the quality of opponent, that is a tall order.

Winner: Kansas City

Good bet: Chiefs (-8.5) KC 28 Ten 17

Falcons at Rams – The scene of a late afternoon/early evening playoff game in Los Angeles will be a beautiful backdrop as two high-powered offenses battle it out. The Rams have been the more consistent team all year long, but this is uncharted territory for this mostly young football team, including coaching sensation Sean McVay.

This team has been in such a good rhythm all year long. Thus, the decision to rest most starters last week is a risky one. A rusty first half this week likely means the end of a magical season for Los Angeles.

Additionally, the kicking unit has struggled a bit since the injury to kicker Greg Zuerlein. Things like that often have a way of rearing their head when it really matters.

Atlanta is one of few teams that can keep up with the Rams top ranked scoring offense. Additionally, the Falcons have been in must win situations for weeks. So, playoff pressure should not change much for them. Most of the Falcons’ main pieces were a part of last year’s playoff run, which was very good, other than the ending. The playoffs are a different animal and experience is invaluable.

Winner: Atlanta

Good bet: *Falcons (+6.5) Atl 34 LAR 31

Sunday

Bills at Jaguars – It has not always been pretty for these two teams, but they both deserve a ton of credit for getting here and breaking long playoff droughts. This is the simplest game of the week to size up.

As much heat as Blake Bortles gets, the Jacksonville offense ranks fifth in scoring. The scoreboard is all that matters. That is one of few offensive stats worth paying attention to. Make no mistake, Jacksonville’s identity is running the ball with Leonard Fournette and playing defense, but the quarterback is not a major liability.

As for Buffalo, they needed a huge assist from the lowly Bengals to reach the playoffs. Their best offensive weapon is running back LeSean McCoy. Even if the six-time Pro Bowler can somehow go from being carted off to playing in a playoff game in the span of a week, it is impossible for him to be 100 percent.

The Buffalo offense ranks 22nd in scoring with a healthy McCoy. How in the world can this team go on the road and compete against a defense that has been the best in football in several categories all year long? The short answer is that they probably can’t.

NFL Wild Card Weekend

(Photo from zambio.com)

Winner: Jacksonville

Good Bet: Jaguars (-8.5) Jac 24 Buf 10

Panthers at Saints – On a rare occasion, division rivals meet for the third time in one season in the playoffs. It is tough to predict a winner. These teams know each other so well, and there is nothing one team can do to surprise the other.

If quarterback play is as important as it is often made out to be, the Saints will reach the Super Bowl. Drew Brees is the best quarterback in the NFC playoffs by far. Brees is the future Hall of Famer. The fact that New Orleans found a legal two-headed monster at running back and a solid defense to pair up with him this year is almost unfair.

Carolina is similar to New Orleans. Cam Newton has been nowhere near his MVP form of two years ago, but he has played good complementary football to go with a versatile group of running backs and a good defense all year long.

It is very hard to beat the same NFL team three times in the same season. The opportunity does not present itself all that often. New Orleans has won both matchups with Carolina this year fairly convincingly. Even so, Carolina is here for a reason and this meeting will be much closer.

There is not much that separates these two teams. The defenses are both easily in the top half of the league in most categories. Also, although they accomplish it differently, both teams rely heavily on the ground game. The one thing that jumps out is that Brees has half the number of interceptions Newton does. Turnovers decide the vast majority of football games from preseason to the playoffs. Moreover, New Orleans has the most basic advantage of all, which is playing at home.

Winner: New Orleans

Good bet: Panthers (+6.5) NO 27 Car 24

 

Featured image from nflodysseyonline.com

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NFL Wild Card Weekend

What are the odds of a Wild Card winning the Super Bowl?

NFL postseason action kicks off Saturday with Wild Card weekend. The Tennessee Titans will be taking on the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Atlanta Falcons will face off against the Los Angeles Rams.

On Sunday, fans will get to see two more matchups between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.

There are plenty of storylines for each game. Will Alex Smith be focused after being benched for Patrick Mahomes last week? Will the Rams’ high-powered offense continue to do damage? How will the Bills perform in their first postseason appearance since 1999? Will the Panthers finally get a win against the Saints this season?

It is definitely going to be an exciting weekend. Maybe the Wild Card teams will pull out a win or two.

A bigger question to ask is what are the odds of one of the Wild Card teams winning the Super Bowl? Or even making it?

The history

Not to disappoint fans of the Wild Cards, but the odds of one of them getting in or even winning it all aren’t great.

Overall, 10 Wild Card teams have played in a Super Bowl since the Wild Card was born in 1970. The first Wild Card team to make a Super Bowl was the Dallas Cowboys in 1975. They ended up losing 21-17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X.

 

[su_table]

Wild Cards in the Super Bowl

[/su_table]​

TEAM YEAR/SUPER BOWL RESULT
Dallas Cowboys 1975 (Super Bowl X) Lost to Pittsburgh Steelers 21-17
Oakland Raiders 1980 (Super Bowl XV) Defeated Philadelphia Eagles 27-10
New England Patriots 1985 (Super Bowl XX) Lost to Chicago Bears 46-10)
Buffalo Bills 1992 (Super Bowl XXVII) Lost to Dallas Cowboys 52-17
Denver Broncos 1997 (Super Bowl XXXII) Defeated Green Bay Packers 31-24
Tennessee Titans 1999 (Super Bowl XXXIV) Lost to St. Louis Rams 23-16
Baltimore Ravens 2000 (Super Bowl XXXV) Defeated New York Giants 34-7
Pittsburgh Steelers 2005 (Super Bowl XL) Defeated Seattle Seahawks 21-10
New York Giants 2007 (Super Bowl XLII) Defeated New England Patriots 17-14
Green Bay Packers 2010 (Super Bowl XLV) Defeated Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25

It is also noteworthy to include the Kansas City Chiefs in this talk. In 1969, they won the AFL as a Wild Card and then defeated the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

It is not impossible for a Wild Card to make the Super Bowl, or even win it. However, the chances are slim. There has been a Wild Card in 20.8 percent of Super Bowls since the Wild Card entered the postseason. They have also won just 12.5 percent of Super Bowls. When a Wild Card makes it, they have won 60 percent of the time, including the last four times.

What it takes to win

Is there much correlation between all the Wild Card Super Bowl winners? It is tough to find much.

NFL Wild Card Weekend

Can Cam Newton bring the Panthers back to the Super Bowl? (Photo by Winslow Townson/Associated Press)

One thing all Wild Card Super Bowl teams have in common is that they all won at least 10 games during the regular season. Four of them won 11 games, two of them won 12 games, and one of them even won 13.

Based on that, most of the Wild Cards that make the Super Bowl are pretty dominant teams. There are division winners that win 10 games. Teams are rarely going to be a Wild Card if they have 12 wins.

If fans are confident enough to bet on a Wild Card winning it all, they should look to the NFC. Only the Panthers and Falcons have double-digit wins. Sorry Bills and Titans fans, history is just not on your side.

Defense is something else that almost all the Wild Cards had in common. Seven out of the 10 ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per game. Seven out of the 10 also ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per game.

Once again, the Panthers and Falcons are the only two Wild Cards that rank in the top 10 in yards allowed per game, and the Falcons are the only one that ranks in the top 10 in points allowed per game.

Will we see a Wild Card this year?

Let’s look at some history again. There was one Wild Card in the Super Bowl in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, three in the 1990s, three in the 2000s and one so far in the 2010s. Does that mean a Wild Card is due to appear soon since there has only been one so far this decade?

NFL Wild Card Weekend

The Falcons are looking for redemption from last year’s epic Super Bowl collapse. (Photo by Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

Actually, any team with a road playoff game is due to win soon. Since 2012, no team that has played a road playoff game has made it to the Super Bowl. The last time it happened was when the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens faced each other, with both winning games on the road.

It is very tough to say. The NFL is always unpredictable. Nobody picked the Jaguars or Rams would make the playoffs this year.

Going on history, it appears the Falcons have the best chance out of all the Wild Cards to make it. However, they just played in the big game last year and making back-to-back Super Bowls is very difficult. Also, each matchup and season is different. Comparing to the past is not always the best way to predict winners, but it does give us an idea of how difficult it is for a Wild Card to win on the big stage.

Either way, get ready. The postseason should be just as exciting as always.

 

Featured image by Getty Images

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Davante Adams

Week 17 NFL picks against the spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Flacco

Photo: thebiglead.com

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Mahomes

Photo: Denver Post

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

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

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

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

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NFL Week 16

Stack your money Sundays: Week 16

Week 15 Review (2-1) OVERALL: 29-14-2

Green Bay Packers (+2.5) @ Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers 31 Green Bay Packers 24

Unfortunately for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, this season did not go as planned. Rodgers’ three interceptions were costly, but had Geronimo Allison not coughed up the football late in the game, Green Bay would have had a real shot to send the game into overtime.

NFL Week 16

Four Touchdowns for the former MVP (Photo from Rolling Stone)

In last week’s article, we talked about how Cam Newton had thrown for less than 200 yards in five of his last six games. We also mentioned that, from last season to now, when a quarterback throws for less than 220 yards against Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are 7-0.

Fortunately for Newton, he played a flawless game. The former No. 1 overall pick threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns with a passer rating of 128. The Panthers also managed to run for 151 yards. Christian McCaffrey had a stellar game, rushing for 63 yards and catching six balls for 73 yards and a score.

Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills (-3.5)

Buffalo Bills 24 Miami Dolphins 16

After three quarters, this game was a blowout. The Bills were up 24-6 and showed no signs of weakness against Jay Cutler and the Dolphins. However, a Kenyan Drake touchdown and a late Cody Parkey field goal made the game a bit more interesting. At the end of the day, it’s really tough to win if your quarterback throws zero touchdowns and three interceptions. I’m going to miss Jay Cutler next year.

It was a typical game for Tyrod Taylor. The former Virginia Tech standout threw one touchdown, rushed for another and did not turn the ball over. LeSean McCoy had a pair of touchdowns as well. The Bills have a legitimate shot to make the postseason, but that Nathan Peterman game against the Chargers could come back to haunt them if they end up with the same record as Los Angeles.

New England Patriots (-2.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers

New England Patriots 27 Pittsburgh Steelers 24

Arguably the game of the year, New England just barely came out of this one with a win, as well as a cover. By rule, Jesse James did not catch that ball.

In all honesty, Pittsburgh outplayed the Patriots. They had almost double the rushing yards, and went 10-of-16 on third-down conversions. If the Steelers knew how to defend Rob Gronkowski, this game would have ended a bit differently.

Prayers up to Antonio Brown as he exited the game early on, but will hopefully be back for the playoffs. Had he not gotten injured, Brown would have a serious shot at winning MVP.

This probably will not matter, but keep an eye on Tom Brady, as he does not look like the same quarterback from a few weeks ago. He has now thrown five interceptions in his last four games.

WEEK 16 PICKS

Jacksonville Jaguars (-4) @ San Francisco 49ers

PICK: JAGUARS TO COVER

Although Jimmy Garoppolo looks likes the real deal, let’s pump the brakes a bit. He is stacked up against a Jaguars defense that is first in the league in points allowed, opposing yards per play and opposing red zone scoring in regards to touchdowns. They also rank third in both opposing third-down conversion percentage and opposing yards per game. Yes, as odd as it seems, the Jaguars defense is the real deal.

San Francisco’s defense ranks 28th in interceptions, and when Blake Bortles does not throw a pick, the Jaguars are a perfect 8-0. In his last three games, Bortles has been as good as anyone in the league. He has seven touchdowns, zero interceptions and passer ratings of 119.8, 123.7 and 143.7. Jacksonville currently ranks fifth in points per game, sixth in yards per game and fifth in percentage of red zone trips ending in a touchdown.

Leonard Fournette is good to go, which is huge news for the Jacksonville offense, which ranks first in rushing yards per game with 149.1. They are up against a 49ers defense that allows 119.1 yards per game on the ground. The entire NFL has been running all over San Francisco’s defense, so look for Fournette to have a monster game.

Seattle Seahawks (+4.5) @ Dallas Cowboys

PICK: SEAHAWKS TO COVER

NFL Week 16

Look for Russell Wilson to keep the Seahawks alive (Photo from Sports on Earth)

Seattle is coming off two straight losses, including a brutal 42-7 loss to the Rams a week ago. With that said, I don’t see Russell Wilson losing three in a row.

 

In his three games against the Cowboys, he is 2-1 and completing over 60 percent of his passes. Both teams are playing for their lives, so expect a thriller.

Luckily for Dallas, Ezekiel Elliott is back from his suspension and appears to be in even better shape than before. Seattle allows 112.9 rushing yards per game, which is subpar. But if they can hold Dallas to that much, they should be fine. This season, when the Cowboys rush for less than 120 yards, they are 1-4.

In an important matchup like this, pay most attention to the quarterbacks. Wilson is the far superior player to Dak Prescott. Prescott has Dallas ranked 24th in passing yards per game and has thrown seven interceptions in the last five games.

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints (-6)

PICK: SAINTS TO COVER

After their Week 2 loss to the Patriots, New Orleans is a perfect 6-0 at home, outscoring opponents by about 11 points per game. Drew Brees is also playing elite football, as the Saints rank first in yards per game, second in touchdowns per game and third in points per game.

Their lethal backfield is averaging 135.1 rushing yards per game and rank first in rushing touchdowns per game. In the three games in which Atlanta has allowed over 136 rushing yards per game, they are 0-3.

The Falcons have done a nice job of turning their season around, but at this point, you have to give the edge to the home team, especially when they have the better quarterback. In Brees’ career against Atlanta, he is 15-9 with a completion percentage of 67.8 and 45 touchdowns. Look for him to have a very efficient game as Atlanta ranks 28th in opposing completion percentage.

 

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Week 16 NFL picks against the spread

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

Saturday: 

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

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

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

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

Sunday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay Cutler

Photo: abcnews.go.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ezekiel Elliott

Photo: si.com

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

Monday:

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

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

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

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Fantasy football awards

2017 fantasy football awards

With the fantasy football playoffs underway, it’s time to recognize some of the best players in fantasy this season. Here are the awards for the players who thrived and to some who were disappointments.

Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Alvin Kamara

The first award for Rookie of the Year is New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

Fantasy football awards

Alvin Kamara (Photo from usatoday.com)

It looked as if it could’ve been down to Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. But since Week 6, Kamara has been the No. 1 running back as well as the highest scoring back. In 13 weeks of football, Kamara has over 1,200 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns. The overall stats for Kamara are 606 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, as well as 614 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

He currently ranks second in fantasy points at the position and 15th among overall players.

Biggest busts: Amari Cooper & Terrelle Pryor

In fantasy, there are always players who should do well, but just struggle. These players just don’t meet expectations. This year we have two recipients, and they go to wide receivers Amari Cooper and Terrelle Pryor.

For Cooper, he was a consistent second-round pick, and through 13 weeks, he is currently ranked the 37th wide receiver with 80.3 fantasy points. He only has 42 receptions, 499 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. He only has four games where he scored 10 points or more. In 2016, he finished as the 12th best receiver.

As for Pryor, he was picked right around where Cooper was and went from fantasy potential to fantasy disappointment. In nine games, he only has a total of 30 fantasy points and averaged just 3.3 points per game. This comes after a year when Pryor logged a 1,000-yard campaign with the Browns and finished in the top 20 at the position in fantasy. He is now out for the season and finished WR90 after a bust 2017 season.

Fantasy Comeback Player of the Year: Todd Gurley

Not every player has a great season, but great players can rebound after a disappointing year. In 2017, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley bounced back in one of the leagues’ top scoring offenses.

Fantasy football awards

Todd Gurley (Photo from latimes.com)

Gurley finished the regular fantasy season as the No. 1 running back and seventh overall player. He has averaged 20 points per game this season with 939 rushing yards, 563 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns.

Last year, he finished as the 20th running back with 885 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Gurley clearly improved with the new offense under Sean McVay.

Sympathy Award: Aaron Rodgers

In fantasy, there’s that one good player that is the soul of your team. For most, it was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings. For the fantasy owners of Rodgers, we give you this award to ease the pain.

Through five weeks, Rodgers had 1,367 passing yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions. He was on pace for another solid fantasy season where he was the No. 1 overall player in fantasy points. At the time before Week 6, he was the sixth overall player in fantasy and fifth among quarterbacks.

There have been reports he was off the injured reserve and could come back in Week 15. But for some, it’s too late. If you survived without him after his injury, then kudos to you. For most, it was heartbreaking, and we hope next year Rodgers can bounce back again.

Best Kicker: Greg Zuerlein

For some thinking why I included this award, it’s because kickers are players too. Every once in a while, a kicker wins for you when your down by five or less and need that one kick. This year, there was no one as dominant as Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein.

Fantasy football awards

Greg Zuerlein (Photo from turfshowtimes.com)

Zuerlein has accumulated 167 fantasy points. That’s 32 more points than the next kicker Stephen Gotskowski. As an overall player, he is the 25th best player. That’s better than players like Julio Jones, LeSean McCoy, A.J. Green and Rob Gronkowski. He’s even currently outscoring players like DeAndre Hopkins, who is averaging 13.5 points per game to Zuerlein’s 13.9. Thats unheard of. He’s even outscoring running backs ranked fourth and lower, and that includes Mark Ingram, Melvin Gordon and Kareem Hunt. That’s incredible coming from a kicker.

It should be noted he is part of a top scoring offense, but he is capitalizing no matter where he has to kick from. He truly should be recognized as a fantasy beast in 2017.

Fantasy MVP: Russell Wilson

Finally, the fantasy MVP award goes to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Through the 13 weeks of football, Wilson has scored 279.4 fantasy points. This season, he has thrown for 3,256 yards, rushed for 432 yards and has 29 total touchdowns. He has contributed 29 of the 30 touchdowns on offense for the Seahawks this season. If that doesn’t convince you, another big component to his success is consistency, averaging 23.3 points per game.

Wilson has finished in the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks in eight of 11 games played. Not only is he a prototype player, he is basically the Seattle offense. It’s not just throwing touchdowns that makes him MVP, it’s his ability outside the pocket to create plays.

Other awards

Some other considerations this season include the following.

The best wavier wire player award goes to Robby Anderson of the New York Jets. He went from undrafted in most of leagues to now a top 10 receiver in fantasy. Since Week 6, he has been the third best receiver, averaging 13.8 fantasy points per game.

The next award for a good start to downhill is Kareem Hunt. Hunt exploded for 45.6 points in the Chiefs’ season opener. He followed that up with 25.9, 25.3, 16.1, 14.6, 16.0, and 15.7-point performances in PPR leagues in the following six weeks, making him the No. 2 back through Week 7. Since then, he’s dropped to 38th and hasn’t cracked 11 points in a game since mid-October.

The most memorable week in fantasy this year goes to Julio Jones. He has been a disappointment all year, but in Week 12 against the Buccaneers, he went on a tear with 50 points in PPR. That matchup accounted for more than a quarter of his total points this season.

Finally, the most improved player this year is Adam Thielen. The Minnesota Vikings receiver went from the 29th wide receiver in 2016 to top 10 in 2017. He is on pace to surpass his total points from last year and become the first Viking since Sidney Rice back in 2009 to have 1,000 yards receiving. He doesn’t have a lot of touchdowns, but he’s averaging 88 yards a game, which is fourth among receivers as well as the fourth best receiving yards.

 

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Jarvis Landry

Week 14 NFL picks against the spread

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

Thursday Night:

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

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

Sunday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deshone Kizer

Photo: nydailynews.com

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Jimmy Garoppolo

Photo: espn.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Monday Night:

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

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2017 NFL power rankings week 14

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

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

32. Cleveland Browns (0-12)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

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

Last week: 32 (no change)

Next game: home vs. Green Bay

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

31. New York Giants (2-10)

Last week: 30 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Dallas

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

30. Denver Broncos (3-9)

Last week: 29 (-1)

Next game: home vs. New York Jets

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

29. Chicago Bears (3-9)

Last week: 28 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Cincinnati

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

28. San Francisco 49ers (2-10)

Last week: 31 (+3)

Next game: away vs. Houston

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

27. Indianapolis Colts (3-9)

Last week: 27 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Buffalo

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

26. Miami Dolphins (5-7)

Last week: 26 (no change)

Next game: home vs. New England

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

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)

Last week: 24 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Detroit

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

24. New York Jets (5-7)

Last week: 25 (+1)

Next game: away vs. Denver

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

23. Arizona Cardinals (5-7)

Last week: 22 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Tennessee

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

22. Houston Texans (4-8)

Last week: 23 (+1)

Next game: home vs. San Francisco

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

21. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)

Last week: 19 (-2)

Next game: home vs. Chicago

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

20. Kansas City Chiefs (6-6)

Last week: 14 (-6)

Next game: home vs. Oakland

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

19. Buffalo Bills (6-6)

Last week: 13 (-6)

Next game: home vs. Indianapolis Colts

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

18. Oakland Raiders (6-6)

Last week: 18 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Kansas City

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

17. Washington Redskins (5-7)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: AP Photo)

Last week: 16 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Chargers

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

16. Green Bay Packers (6-6)

Last week: 20 (+4)

Next game: away vs. Cleveland

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

15. Detroit Lions (6-6)

Last week: 15 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Tampa Bay

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

14. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

Last week: 17 (+3)

Next game: away vs. New York Giants

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

13. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)

Last week: 21 (+8)

Next game: away vs. Pittsburgh

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

12. Tennessee Titans (8-4)

Last week: 12 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Arizona

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

11. Atlanta Falcons (7-5)

Last week: 8 (-3)

Next game: home vs. New Orleans

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

10. Carolina Panthers (8-4)

Last week: 7 (-3)

Next game: home vs. Minnesota

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

9. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)

Last week: 9 (no change)

Next game: home vs. Washington

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

8. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4)

Last week: 10 (-2)

Next game: home vs. Seattle

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

7. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: JONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Last week: 11 (+4)

Next game: away vs. Jacksonville

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

6. New Orleans Saints (9-3)

Last week: 6 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Atlanta

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

5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)

Last week: 2 (-3)

Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Rams

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

4. Los Angeles Rams (9-3)

Last week: 5 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Philadelphia

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

3. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)

Last week: 4 (+1)

Next game: away vs. Carolina

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

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2)

Last week: 3 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Baltimore

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

1. New England Patriots (10-2)

Last week: 1 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Miami

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

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