Week 4 2016 NFL Predictions: Is it Parity or Bad Football?

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With the close of this weekend, we will have reached the end of the first quarter of the 2016 National Football League schedule. The number of well-known pros that have been injured in just the first few weeks of the year, including Adrian Peterson, Robert Griffin III, J. J. Watt and Jamaal Charles (who is supposed to make his season debut this week), has been unprecedented, but it is also (along with the preseason injuries and suspensions) making many ask an important question – is it parity between the teams in the NFL or is it just bad football?

Back when he was the commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle didn’t like the fact that a handful of teams – like the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers – dominated the pro football landscape. His thought was to see all teams finish as closely together as possible – hell, Rozelle thought that, in a perfect season, all the teams would finish 8-8 – something that Rozelle called “competitive balance” or parity. Over the years, there’s been situations where it has come close to that – recall the 2011 Seattle Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. There’s also some occasions, though, when it is just bad football and the 2016 season may be one of those deals.

A look at the standings is an opening salvo for this discussion. At this time, only five teams – the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and two surprises, the Teddy Bridgewater-less Minnesota Vikings and the Carson Wentz rookie-led Philadelphia Eagles – are undefeated. On the other side of the spectrum, there are four teams – the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns – that haven’t won a game as of yet. Of particular interest, however, are the 11 teams that have only one win after three games this year (and a twelfth team, the Miami Dolphins, went to 1-3 with a loss on Thursday night). Of course, this does leave the 11 teams that are 2-1, but none of them have been particularly powerful in reaching that record.

While you mull those numbers, take a look at the NFC West, where the Los Angeles Rams and the Seahawks are tied atop the division with a 2-1 record, despite the fact that neither team is averaging more than 20 points a game (Rams are averaging 15.3 points, Seahawks 17.3) or the fact that the Seahawks pounded the Rams to start the season by the score of 28-0 and have done little since. This type of situation can also be seen in the AFC South (the Houston Texans atop the division despite averaging 14 points per game) and in the AFC North (the Ravens are averaging 19 points per game).

In an era when the offenses have carte blanche to do whatever they please with opposing defenses, quarterbacks are flinging the ball like it’s an Arena Football League game and the running backs have become an afterthought in the offense (the leading rusher in the league is the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount, who is averaging just under 100 yards a game; even the Atlanta FalconsDevonta Freeman, currently the fifth ranked running back in the NFL, is averaging less than 90 per contest (88.3), there should be some signs of dominance by teams (and maybe we’re seeing that with the Patriots). Instead, right now perhaps we’re watching the fruition of Rozelle’s “any given Sunday” dream, where parity is the rule and boring football becomes the norm.

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After this week, maybe some of these trends will be changed. But it will be a tough weekend for the prognosticators to find good value or good bets to take.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold.)

Seattle Seahawks vs. NEW YORK JETS (+2)

This is a game that could be greatly affected by two things. One, the weather conditions expected at game time – rain and wind on the Meadowlands plains – are going to favor the running game, admittedly a rarity for the 2016 NFL. In that parameter, the Jets have the player to keep an eye on. RB Matt Forte, no longer wanted by the Bears (and you know they wish they had kept him now), is the sixth ranked back in the NFL and, along with his pass catching abilities out of the backfield, provide headaches to an aggressive defense such as the ‘Hawks. Two, Seattle comes east for a 1PM game, traditionally believed (and statistically true) to be a detriment to the West Coast team.

The Seahawks aren’t aided by a gimpy QB Russell Wilson being under center, but that is offset by Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is having confidence issues and isn’t playing well. This could be like the Seahawks’ season opener – when they won 12-10 over Miami – at which point it’s a push. I can see, however, the Jets perhaps taking this one outright.

Carolina Panthers vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (+3)

This is a juxtaposition game, one where you would expect the two teams to be switched. The defending NFC champion Panthers have been in some doldrums to start the season, surprisingly getting manhandled at home by the Vikings last week. Teams seem to be focusing much of their attention on league MVP QB Cam Newton in particular, forcing him to make decisions that take the ball out of his hands and force someone else to beat them. The Falcons are flying high right now, scoring almost 35 points per game and sitting atop the division.

Most telling in this game will be whether the Panthers defense can come to life on the road. They’ve been a bit silent early in the season and, with the ‘Birds making the scoreboard look like a pinball machine, they are going to have to staunch QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and Freeman early and often. They’ll also have to hope that Newton will figure out what’s going on or they’ll be going two games back of Atlanta way too early in the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. HOUSTON TEXANS (-4); UNDER 40

You might wonder why I’m taking the Texans, who haven’t exactly stunned anyone to this point in the season and especially after losing their defensive superstar Watt for the season. While I do like QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray for the Titans, they still don’t have enough to overcome a Texans defense that will be looking to show that they are more than Watt. Don’t expect this to be an offensive juggernaut, though. Both teams are averaging 14 points per game, so a 17-10 win out of the Texans wouldn’t be abnormal.

New York Giants (+4.5) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings should be one of those teams that is beginning to change minds, especially after losing so many key players so early in the season. They’ve been able to overcome those issues, though, even to the point of beating the defending NFC champions last week on their home turf.

Win this week and I’ll believe you.

The Giants have quietly put together a 2-1 record, QB Eli Manning is doing a quietly excellent job and the triumvirate of WRs Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and the rejuvenated Victor Cruz are quietly rambling all over the field making plays. The Giants ARE on the road this weekend so I don’t expect an outright win, but I do expect them to keep this game closer than the spread is saying.

Last Week:  1-4
2016 Season Overall: 8-9-1

Another week that was abysmal and saved only by the Eagles thrashing of the Steelers…perhaps I should just bet them for the rest of the year? A two-week losing streak is bad enough. It is time to turn it around and get back on the positive side of the ledger.

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Week 2 2016 NFL Predictions: Don’t Fall for the Overreactions

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The first week of the National Football League season is in the books and what do we know? That’s the question that all the sports channels, whether they are on television, internet or radio, are trying to tell you. The problematic thing is that NO ONE knows anything about the NFL season at this point; to say that you KNOW anything after one week of playing either means you’ve got great insight into one team and/or you are out there breaking the legs of the players so that their season is over!

Consider this tidbit of information. Last week, the Jimmy Garoppolo-led New England Patriots went into the desert in Arizona and everyone thought they were going to be thrashed, especially after it was learned that TE Rob Gronkowski was also going to miss the game. The line was +6 and the Pats went out and blew it away, winning outright over the Cardinals.

Fast forward to this week. One of the Patriots’ arch rivals, the Miami Dolphins, are coming to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday. The Dolphins have just come off a tough road trip to Seattle, where they put their own hurt on the Legion of Boom before falling at the end 12-10. Do you think that the ‘Fins get any love for that effort? No, they are currently a -6.5 dog to the Pats.

This is what I mean when I say you shouldn’t fall for the overreactions. It is typical that it will happen in the early part of the season (personally have always believed that they shouldn’t do a college football ranking until at least the third week of the season – then you actually know who is a contender or a pretender…are you listening Florida State?) because…well, that’s what the talking heads are paid to do…talk. Look at the Bills on Thursday night, who started off as a -3 favorite against the Jets. By the time the game started, the line had swung over to the Jets being the favorite and giving a point.

Injuries can also explain some of the swings, but it shouldn’t be that much especially if there is a quality backup. Cleveland Browns QB Robert Griffin III went down in Week 1 with a shoulder injury that has put him on the IR. Enter Josh McCown, who has been a serviceable backup/starter with NINE NFL franchises, tossed 73 TDs in his career and generally will have earned his NFL pension by the time he hangs it up. To put it bluntly, McCown isn’t a dewy-eyed rookie and there’s no reason that their opponent this week, the Baltimore Ravens, should have moved from a -4 favorite to a -6 favorite, especially with the game being played in Cleveland.

The best thing to remember is don’t fall for the overreactions. Go through your usual research and impartially analyze the information at hand. That will keep you from making ill-advised bets on the whims of the overreactions.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Cardinals did not look like the same team that made the Final Four in the NFL last year. Perhaps it is another year of age on QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald, perhaps it was a defense that wasn’t ready for the Patriots. They certainly are going to have to improve on all aspects of the game (their second straight at home) if they are going to have an impact on the Bucs.

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Tampa Bay is much like the Cardinals except younger. QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin and WR Mike Evans are coming together nicely and the defense, long the stalwart of the team, now doesn’t feel like it has to win every game. If the Buccaneers O-line can do the same job it did in Week 1, it could be another long afternoon for the Redbirds.

Atlanta Falcons vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (-4.5)

Again, we have a team that didn’t look very good playing at home last week (ironically against the Buccaneers) that is going to the West Coast. The Falcons are solid with QB Matt Ryan and RB Devonta Freeman, it is the defense that needs the work. Giving up four touchdown passes to Winston – who isn’t known as the second coming of Dan Fouts – is something that should have embarrassed the Dirty Birds.

It’s not going to get any easier for the Falcon defensive backs as they get another young stud of a quarterback in Derek Carr. With an arsenal that includes WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and RB Latavius Murray, Carr can basically pick apart nearly any defense. The Raider D is once again a formidable force, which should give the not-very-mobile Ryan some issues. The bookies aren’t giving any respect to the Silver and Black and they may regret it.

Green Bay Packers (-2) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS; OVER 43.5

The Packers impress me this year that they will do just enough to get the job done and little more. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, they didn’t cover the spread but did pull out a four-point win. This is a very similar game in that the Pack doesn’t have to wow anyone, they just have to go in and pull out the victory. With veteran QB Aaron Rodgers, that shouldn’t be a problem with the array of talent behind him.

The Vikings…ah, what could have been. Although they went south last week and beat the Tennessee Titans, the team didn’t look like the powerhouse it would have been with QB Teddy Bridgewater (out for the season – knee injury) under center. The Vikings might be a surprise and get into the playoffs with a wild card, but they’re not going to beat the Pack in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles (+3) vs. CHICAGO BEARS

The Eagles were a bit of a surprise in Week 1 with their rookie QB Carson Wentz, but it was a win over the Browns (predicted to win four games this year). The test will come when they go on the road, many said…but they didn’t expect the Bears to be this dismal, never seriously in the game against the Houston Texans on the road last week. These aren’t the old “Monsters of the Midway” and the offense is QB Jay Cutler and whomever they can find to put around him. The Eagles should come out of this game with a 2-0 record, but I’ll settle for covering the three-point spread.

Last Week:  3-1-1
2016 Season Overall:  6-1-1

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The Titans failing to cover the spread against the Vikings (Tennessee +2.5, lost 25-16) and the push by the New York Giants over the Dallas Cowboys (Giants -1, won 20-19) were the only blemishes on what was otherwise a pretty good week (and good for you if you found the Giants in a “pick ‘em” as some odds makers had it). If you can go 3 for 5 (with one push) over the course of a season, you’re going to do pretty well. Let’s see if this week holds up to the scrutiny.

Week 1 2016 NFL Predictions: Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends…

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Although it has gotten to the point where it really doesn’t ever go out of season, the National Football League will kick off its 2016 season on Thursday night. That Thursday night game, which has become somewhat of a tradition in the last decade, is a special one as it features the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos taking on the team they beat in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers, in the Mile High City. With hope, it can wash away what has been another ugly offseason for the preeminent sporting organization in the intergalactic realm (we have to go there since the WWE now has a Universal Champion).

As soon as the confetti stopped falling from the sky at the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, the news for the NFL has been pretty bad. The reigning Most Valuable Player in the league, the Panthers’ Cam Newton, basically started the poo-poo platter of embarrassment in his sullen demeanor following the loss (you want to feel bad about something, Cam? Feel bad about the way you shafted your teammates and didn’t go all-out on that fumble when the game was on the line). He then doubled down on those actions by saying in his season-ending interview with the Charlotte media “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

That was at least as a result of the actions on the field. It became apparent that the NFL still doesn’t have a grasp on the domestic violence situation. Former Dallas Cowboys’ defensive lineman Greg Hardy – who was paid quite handsomely last year after having his 10-game suspension reduced to four games, then laying the proverbial turd in a punchbowl with his play – lamented to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (who has become a joke as a reporter) that he was being punished and that he never hit a woman (this despite photos to the contrary). It seems fitting that, as of this moment, he is still looking for a team.

One player who isn’t, however, is New York Giants kicker Josh Brown. After receiving a slap on the wrist one-game suspension from the NFL from a domestic violence issue with his (now) ex-wife in 2015 that was later dropped, Brown was not only embraced by the Giants but re-signed to a new contract by the Giants management. Add in the substance abuse suspensions (including Johnny Manziel, now out of the NFL and looking to make a comeback; the Cleveland BrownsJosh Gordon and the Pittsburgh SteelersMartavis Bryant) and penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct (we’re looking at you, Cincinnati Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict), and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be glad the season is starting.

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But Goodell at least got that criminal Tom Brady! After initially suspending Brady last year – and having that suspension overturned by the courts – the NFL and Goodell went up the appeals ladder and found a court that reinstated the four-game suspension against the New England Patriots quarterback for his part in the “Deflategate” scandal. Brady, after pausing to think about a push to the U. S. Supreme Court for a decision, decided to drop his case and take the four-game suspension, ensuring that the Pats won’t have him for the start of the year (after that, however, look out…Brady will play with a vengeance).

Thank God the season’s starting…

Like last year, I’m going to make some picks. I didn’t do badly over the course of the 2015-16 NFL season, going 56-39-5 overall. Super Bowl 50 helped to drag that down a bit as I only went 1-2 (picked the Broncos and took the points, only to see them win outright), but missed on the “straight up” pick of the Panthers and missed terribly on the “over/under” of 44 (the final score was Broncos 24, Panthers 10). Despite the problems with the actual results from the game, I nailed six prop bets on the Super Bowl, pretty good by anyone’s standards.

As we get ready to head into the new season, remember, these are for entertainment only. If you’re locale allows for, you know, sports betting, then you can do what you want. By no means should you bet on sports outside of those areas! (OK, someone has to come up with a sarcasm font!) Without further ado, here we go into the season (and we already have some results for this season, thanks to college football).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (+2.5)

The Vikings were a trendy pick this year to actually make some noise in the NFC, but that was before QB Teddy Bridgewater’s knee exploded like the Space X rocket last week. The Vikings front office has shored up the quarterback position by making a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for QB Sam Bradford, but he hasn’t exactly had repetitions under his belt in the Vikings offense, let alone getting used to meeting his new teammates. One teammate he should get acquainted with really quick is RB Adrian Peterson, who might be in his last year of productivity and would like to see something to hang his career on.

The Titans could be one of the surprises in the AFC this year. After an up-and-down rookie year, QB Marcus Mariota is beginning to grasp the concepts of playing quarterback in the NFL and the team has actually put some firepower around him. One of the big pickups in the off-season was the Titans getting RB DeMarco Murray, back after a year wandering in the wilderness of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. A reenergized Murray – and an even more overlooked pickup in WR Andre Johnson – and the current Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry could present problems for many teams.

A road team…without their starting quarterback…and the oddsmakers are favoring them? Seems as though the sharps may need a preseason of their own to get things right.

Green Bay Packers vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (+5.5)

It would be easy to pick the Pack on this one – QB Aaron Rodgers has probably got his offense at its healthiest to start a season in years – but they’re stepping up in this game against a sneaky Jags team that has quietly built up a decent offensive effort. By catching up to what has been an underrated defense, the Jags should be much more competitive this year. I don’t expect the Jaguars to win this game, but I do expect them to keep it within the spread.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys; UNDER 46.5
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (+6) vs. Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a great example of how much the line can swing when just one player is in the mix. Prior to Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo being injured, the Pokes were a 3.5 favorite over the Gotham Giants in their home opener. Now, with rookie Dak Prescott at the helm and Mark Sanchez (now with his fourth team in four years) backing him up, the line swung 4.5 points to the Giants. Regardless of who is playing for either team, they aren’t going to ring up points on the scoreboard, so take the UNDER.

In the second game, the game was a “Pick ‘Em” even after the suspension of Brady was announced. Then came down the four-game suspension of Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich (the quarterback of the defense, essentially), which probably shouldn’t swing the line by a touchdown but did. Any team that has Bill “Dark Hoodie” Belichick as head coach, however, isn’t going to go down by more than a touchdown, thus I’m taking the Pats.

Last week:  3-0
2016 season overall:  3-0

Amid the furor of the start of college football last week, made three picks that came home strong for me. Took Western Kentucky (-16.5) against Rice and won, then made a dual pick of Tulane (+16) and that the Tulane/Wake Forest game would be under the 43 O/U (WAY under as it turned out…the two teams only scored 10 points). While we will concentrate on the NFL the rest of the season, decided to lop these three picks in to get off to a good start!

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NFL Week 17 Predictions: Final Playoff Spots Yet to Be Determined

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After four long months of football, the National Football League has not yet determined the 12 teams that will vie for the right to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl 50 a little more than a month from now. In one conference, the six teams have been determined but not their actual positions. In the other, there are still a couple of spots up for grabs, with one team guaranteed not to be too pleased when the season ends on Sunday night.

In the NFC, the six teams are set. Winning the NFC East is the Washington Redskins, while the Carolina Panthers (NFC South) and Arizona Cardinals (NFC West) will vie for home field advantage through the playoffs (they already have seized the first round byes). If Carolina wins, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Charlotte; if Carolina loses and Arizona wins, then the Cards will bring teams to the desert with home field advantage. Where it gets interesting is in the NFC North.

The Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings will meet on Sunday night on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Wisconsin with the NFC North title on the line for the winner. That victor has the dubious task of hosting the Seattle Seahawks, the #6 seed in the NFC, while the loser would have to hit the road as the #5 seed to take on #4 Washington in the Wild Card Round (there are some permutations that see Seattle moving up, but let’s stick with this for right now). It is that classic question…do you tank a bit to get the easier game against a perceived weaker opponent in Washington or do you go all out to win the division, with the reward the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks?

The picture in the AFC isn’t quite as clear as the NFC has become. The only thing that is set in stone is that the New England Patriots (AFC East champion) and the Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North champion) have solidified spots in the playoffs. The Denver Broncos, who currently lead the Kansas City Chiefs by a game in the AFC West, have to win on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers to lock up the division and a first round bye (the Patriots would take the other). If they lose, there is a chance that they will fall all the way to the #5 or #6 seed in the AFC.

The other division titlist is still up for grabs, too. Right now the Houston Texans have a one game edge over the Indianapolis Colts, but a loss by the Texans to the Jacksonville Jaguars opens the door slightly for the Colts to take the AFC South (if they are able to beat the Tennessee Titans). There are also two teams contending for one Wild Card, with the situation taken care of if the New York Jets simply defeat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday (the Pittsburgh Steelers, the other team vying for the Wild Card, needs the Jets to lose and to beat the Cleveland Browns if they are to be the final Wild Card team).

There are plenty of lines waiting to be written about the 2015-2016 NFL season, even on Week 17. As it is the final week of the season, putting a few bets out there (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing) is a bit more difficult, but it does give you a bit more excitement while watching the games.

(Home teams in CAPS, pick in bold)

New York Jets (-3) vs. BUFFALO BILLS; UNDER 41

With a win in this game, the Jets can clinch the #5 seed in the AFC. If you had said that to the Jets hierarchy prior to the start of the season that the final game of the year they would be playing to get in the playoffs, they would have been jumping for joy. Alas, a loss by the Jets to their former Head Coach Rex Ryan (and a win by the Steelers) would bump them from the playoffs.

There’s just too many injuries on the Bills side of the ball for that to happen, however. RB LeSean McCoy is out for the game, further reducing the tools that QB Tyrod Taylor has to go to on offense. The weather isn’t going to help either team (snow is predicted with the winds around 16 MPH), so we’re also taking the UNDER on this game.

Seattle Seahawks vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-6.5); OVER 47

As one of the most prolific offenses in the NFC, the Cardinals still have a chance to take down the NFC home field advantage with a win here and a loss by the Panthers. Both teams will be playing at the same time, so there will be some “scoreboard watching” done, but the Cards have the most to play for out of the two teams.

Seattle is scraping into the playoffs this year, with injuries to TE Jimmy Graham, RB Marshawn Lynch and others (Graham and Lynch are out Sunday), but QB Russell Wilson has stepped up and is playing his best football of the season. It won’t be enough here as Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has an array of weapons at his disposal (and will use them frequently) and one of the toughest defenses in the game. The Seahawks, who aren’t going to move out of the Wild Card win or lose, might just let this one go to rest up for next week’s first playoff game.

Minnesota Vikings vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (-3); UNDER 44

To be honest, neither team really impresses me, even this late in the season. Sure, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has come back with a Renaissance season, but QB Teddy Bridgewater has been rather inconsistent behind him. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has had to deal with a rash of injuries on his offense, which brought about an inconsistent running game and a midseason swoon that nearly jeopardized their trek to the playoffs.

On what is going to be a cold night in Green Bay (temperature expected to be 23 degrees at game time tonight), the defenses are going to be what dictate the game. I personally like the Packer defense at home, even though the statistics say that the Vikings are the better defense (ranked 14th in the league against the Pack’s 19th). It could be another fluke game that’s decided by a “Hail Mary” …like the Packers have already used earlier this year.

Last Week:  3-2-1
Overall:  42-29-5

A case where just a couple of points prevented a good weekend from being a great one. The Jets and Pats eked the OVER at 26-20 (we took the UNDER at 45.5) and got a push out of the Broncos/Bengals game while missing the O/U there (picked OVER 39.5, actual 37). Hope the last week of the season is kind as we get ready to enter into the postseason.

NFL Week 13 Predictions: IF The Playoffs Started Today…

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We’re reaching crunch time of the National Football League season. Technically no one has been eliminated from the playoff race as of yet – even the Tennessee Titans at 2-9 still have a mathematical shot at a Wild Card spot, one that could come through if everyone else passed out in front of them and couldn’t complete the season – but the top of the standings are beginning to get a bit clearer. If the playoffs started today, it is clear that the paths to the conference championships will go through Foxboro and Charlotte.

American Football Conference

Even though they were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten in a stunning game against Denver last week, the New England Patriots have a comfortable schedule coming up. A home game against Philadelphia, a road trek against an improving Houston Texans squad, a home game against Tennessee and a roadie with the New York Jets will take them through the remainder of the month, with one win guaranteeing them the AFC East title. If they are able to sweep those four games (which will be tough with the team roster looking like a MASH unit), they should lock up home field for the playoffs.

After the Pats, the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals are fighting it out for the two slot. The key game here will be on December 28 when the two teams meet in the Rocky Mountains. Both teams have similar schedules down the stretch, so the winner of this game is probably going to be your second seed and the loser the third seed. The final division winner will come down between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston, who play on December 20; your winner in that game wins the division.

As far as the Wild Cards I’d love to take the Jets, but they have a brutal stretch of games (New York Giants, Tennessee, at Dallas and New England over the next four weeks) so I have to count them out. Likewise for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have back to back games at Cincy and at home against Denver. I see the Kansas City Chiefs and the loser of the Indianapolis/Houston game on December 20 getting the Wild Card bids.

National Football Conference

Basically running away and hiding from the division, the Carolina Panthers are the lone undefeated team left in the NFL, one year removed from winning the NFC South with a losing record (7-8-1). They have a two game edge over the Arizona Cardinals for the top slot in the NFC, but there is some concern that the Panthers may not drive to the end of the season. With their next win, the Panthers will win the division crown to lock up their playoff slot (which could occur today) and some rest might be in order.

The Cardinals have their own concerns for the second slot on the ladder. The Minnesota Vikings are lurking one game back at 8-3 and will probably decide the second slot when they play this Thursday night in the Desert. Whoever comes out the winner in that game will take the second seed in the conference. The final slot will come out of the NFC East, which is a cesspool. Right now, the Washington Redskins (yes, that team) has somehow worked its way into the lead. Although they are tied with the Giants right now and only a game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, the ‘Skins have the easiest trek the remainder of the way; let’s give the East to Washington because whomever it is coming out with that title will lose to the Wild Card team they play.

One of the Wild Card slots is firmly determined. The Green Bay Packers might be a sneaky and dangerous team if they can get in through the Wild Card (and, at 8-4, still have a shot at the division crown). Whoever doesn’t win the NFC North will be one of the Wild Cards. The second slot will come down between two dangerous teams, the Atlanta Falcons and the defending two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. Of those two teams, Seattle has the easiest schedule (the Falcons still have the Panthers twice on their board), so put in the dangerous ‘Hawks as the sixth seed.

We’ve still got a month of the season remaining, so this situation will be in flux. Right now, let’s take a look at this week’s games and some of the options you might have on the board (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally bet the games!).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Kansas City Chiefs vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (+3); OVER 45

These two teams will play each other twice over the next five weeks and it could determine the playoff fortunes for one of the squads. The Raiders are building a young, strong offense behind QB Derek Carr, RB Latavius Murray and WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The Chiefs may have a way to shut down the Silver and Black, however, with the 10th ranked defense in the NFL.

You have to be able to score, however. Chiefs QB Alex Smith has watched as his weapons have dropped away during the season, first RB Jamaal Charles and then RB Charcandrick West. Add in the factor that TE Travis Kelce is nursing some injuries and I don’t see how the Chiefs can mount any offensive attack against the Raiders, who definitely aren’t being shown any respect with their home game.

New York Jets vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (+2.5); UNDER 46.5

Both teams in this game need the win to keep the embers of a chance at the playoffs alive. The Giants also still have the potential of winning the NFC East in their sights and winning this game would keep them in that mix. The odd thing about this game is that it started out as a “pick ‘em” and has swung those 2.5 points in just a few days; I don’t see why that has come about.

To be fair, QB Eli Manning has been doing it with smoke and mirrors for the last couple of years in reality, but it is something that he’s become used to. The Giant defense has been stout but will face some challenges from the Jets passing game and especially WR Brandon Marshall. It will definitely be a slugfest and, with the Giant fans holding the “home team” edge for this game, I see them willing the Gotham City Giants to a slim win over their housemates in the Meadowlands.

Dallas Cowboys (+3.5) vs. WASHINGTON REDSKINS; UNDER 41.5

Sure, I know that QB Tony Romo was absolutely crushed by the Panthers defense on Thanksgiving Day and is done for the year. I also know that the ‘Pokes will have had 11 days to prepare QB Matt Cassel for this game, which might be the closest the Cowboys will get to anything with a playoff feel in 2015. Add in the fact that the ‘Skins now have the burden of playing as the favorite – instead of the underdog role that they relish – and I see Dallas pulling off a major upset here, just to make the NFC East a bit more convoluted.

Week 11:  1-4-1
Overall:  32-24-3

Not going to lie to you, after the performance in Week 11, it was best that I took a week off on Week 12. When your analysis of the action isn’t exactly working, it is best to step away from the fray for a spell until you’ve righted the chakras. This week, the chakras seem to be aligned and things should get back on track.

NFL Week 9 Predictions: Teams Already Blowing Up To Rebuild For Next Season

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Although technically there are no teams eliminated from playoff contention yet, there are a couple National Football League franchises that have begun to blow everything up in looking towards next season. This may sound weird only nine weeks into the season but, by using the last half of the 2015 season as a way to look over their current personnel, many teams will have a head start on knowing what they need to look for come the 2016 NFL Draft or free agency. Sure, these teams may miss not being around for the playoffs, but they’ll be able to rebuild quicker and be more competitive in the future through blowing apart any semblance of a team that will contend this season (at least that’s the theory).

The latest team to go about waving the white flag for 2015 is the San Francisco 49ers. Mired at 2-6 and in the basement of the NFC West, the ‘Niners traded away arguably one of their best assets, TE Vernon Davis, to the Denver Broncos this week for basically a bag of Ramen noodles. After trading Davis, Head Coach Jim Tomsula, despite feverishly backing him all season, benched starting QB Colin Kaepernick in favor of QB Blaine Gabbert, who last started a game in 2013 with the powerful perennial contenders the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the defections from their defense during the offseason, the players on the offense who left (Frank Gore, wherefore art thou?) and these moves by the front office, the surrender banner is up in the City by the Bay.

That banner is also flying on the shores of Lake Huron. The Detroit Lions (1-7, last in the NFC North) fired several offensive coaches prior to their trip to London to play the Kansas City Chiefs and, upon their return, cleared the front office last week by getting rid of General Manager Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand. Following the bloodletting, Owner Martha Firestone Ford ironically said the team wasn’t “giving up” the season, a statement that ranks up there in truthfulness right alongside “I have complete confidence in my Head Coach.” The only thing they’ve got left to cut is players and more coaches, with Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s seat perhaps the hottest of them all.

The reason we bring these situations up? If you’re betting on the games (you know, if you live in an area where that kind of thing is legal), you always like to know when teams are just trying to get through the year, pick up that paycheck each week and look to either getting ready for next season or getting away from the team they are on. There’s are several other teams that might fall into this list in the next couple of weeks (Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers…we’re looking at you, guys), but always try to keep a pulse on what the mental state of a team is like when looking over the lines.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Green Bay Packers vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (+2.5); OVER 46.5

It was amazing to watch that game last week between the Packers and the Broncos and watch as the Broncos defense completely stifled Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Here was a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player being completely stuffed by the Broncos, throwing for only 77 yards FOR THE ENTIRE GAME. While the Panthers don’t have (we think) the same defense as the Broncos, they are going to be scouring that Bronco/Packer game film to find some tricks to use against the Pack again.

I really don’t see how the Packers, on the road for the second week in a row and coming off a devastating loss, are favored heading into this game. Sure, the Panthers allowed a sputtering Indianapolis Colts squad back into their contest on Monday night before eking out a win to go 7-0, but the ‘Cats ruled the game for the most part on both sides of the ball. With QB Cam Newton getting more comfortable with his receiving corps, TE Greg Olsen doing a Southern impersonation of Rob Gronkowski and RB Jonathan Stewart continually and consistently pounding the ball on the ground, this should be a game that the Panthers win outright.

Oakland Raiders vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-4.5); UNDER 48.5

The Raiders have been gaining respectability over the past few weeks and, if you can believe it, are currently battling with the New York Jets and the Steelers for the two playoff spots in the AFC (if the playoffs started today). This would be a good time for them to pull out a victory, on the road at Heinz Field against the men from Steel City, and improve their chances for making the playoff for the first time since 2002.

Something is going to have to give in this game. Will Raiders QB Derek Carr and rookie WR Amari Cooper be able to run roughshod over a Steeler D that resembles more of an “Aluminum Foil” Curtain than Steel, or will a rested QB Ben Roethlisberger (back from his injury and working off the rust last week) and WR Antonio Brown bring the firepower back to the Steeler passing game while RB DeAngelo Williams picks up the slack after the season-ending injury to Le’veon Bell? My pick goes to the Steelers, who battled the AFC Central leading Cincinnati Bengals all the way to the end in a 16-10 loss and showed they might not be a team you want to sleep on for the remainder of the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-7.5); OVER 48

What the hell happened to Saints QB Drew Brees last week? His historic performance (505 yards, 7 TDs) against the New York Giants (in the third highest scoring output in regular-season NFL history, 52-49) might signify that the Bayou Boys may have started to wake up from their early season slumbers. That has probably come at a good time as Carolina (undefeated) and the Atlanta Falcons (6-2, two games ahead but lost the first meeting with the Saints) were threatening to run off with the NFC South.

The Titans aren’t exactly going to throw any fear into the face of Brees or the Saints. Although their defense is holding teams to 22.7 points per game (expect the Saints to have that in the first half on Sunday), Titans QB Marcus Mariota has cooled off after his quick start and the offense is only mustering up slightly more than 18 points a game. Firing former Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt during the week also isn’t going to make for a well-rehearsed game plan, so expect the Saints to administer another drubbing.

Last Week:  3-3
Overall:  25-14-2

Another grotesque weekend in breaking even. Despite being Nostradamus on the Seattle/Dallas game (nailing Dallas plus points and the under), I crapped the bed the rest of the way. Only the low scoring 49ers/Rams game eked me out a .500 weekend as everything else went wrong. The record looks good for the overall year, the past couple of weeks needed some work; we’re going to get that started this week.

NFL Week 4 Picks: Advent of Bye Weeks Effect Betting Lines

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After a tumultuous first three weeks to the National Football League season, one of the things that continually makes wagering on the games (you know, if you live in an area where you can legally do that) a more difficult endeavor is the “bye week.” The “bye week,” which came about in 1999 because of the odd number of teams in the NFL and stuck around to give teams a week off after the league went to 32 teams in 2002, is something that has an affect on every NFL team, depending when it falls in the season. If that “bye” falls in the early part of the season, you might lose out on a key late season break; if it falls too late, you may no longer be in the running and the “bye” is simply a waste of time instead of a welcome respite. Add in the fact for the game following the bye week and smart bettors know to look for some strange happenings.

With Week 4, two teams – the New England Patriots, who have roared out to a 3-0 start, and the Tennessee Titans – will take a seat. While these two teams will be ones to watch next week (and we’ll talk more about it then), the remainder of the NFL will have to wait patiently for their “bye week” – and the well-deserved rest – and hit the field this weekend. In some of these games, the East Coast weather conditions are also going to have a significant impact on the outcomes.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold.)

New York Giants (+5.5) vs. BUFFALO BILLS; UNDER 44

What should be a huge rivalry game, the Giants/Bills never has seemed to be able to capture the attention of New Yorkers (hell, the Giants/Jets and the Jets/Bills aren’t even strong rivalries, to be honest). Perhaps it is because the teams aren’t at their bests at the same time (the Giants are good when the Bills suck and vice versa), but the rivalry never seems to have been born. This week’s game between the two will continue that streak of a “yawn” instead of a rivalry.

The Giants got off the schneid after defeating the Washington Indigenous Persons at home last week and are attempting to get back into the race in the NFC East. Only a game behind the Dallas Cowboys (who the Giants have already lost to), a win for the Giants would keep them in the hunt. Another loss, putting them two games back of the ‘Boys, would pretty much doom the season.

The Bills have been one of the perplexing teams in the NFL this season. Under the guidance of head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Bills are 2-1 and coming off a crushing win over the Miami Dolphins. In that game, however, the Bills lost one of their big playmakers in RB LeSean McCoy, who has already been ruled out for Sunday’s tilt.

Adding in the weather conditions that could affect the game on Sunday, this is going to be a much closer affair than many people are expecting. I’m grabbing the Giants and the points this week as the weather makes sure that the two teams don’t go over 44 total points for the game.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. CINCINNATI BENGALS (-3.5)

In looking at the statistics of this game, you have to wonder why the Bengals aren’t a bigger favorite. The Bengals are ranked second overall in total offense and are going against the 24th ranked Chiefs defense. The flip side is true in examining the other matchup, with the 22nd ranked Chiefs offense going up against a sneaky strong 12th ranked defense for the Bengals. As home teams are normally given -3 points to begin with, you’re going to tell me that the 3-0 Bengals are only .5 points better than the 1-2 Chiefs? I don’t think so, especially after watching QB Andy Dalton and WR A. J. Green rip apart the Baltimore Ravens secondary last weekend. If there’s a lock on this week’s schedule, this would be the one.

St. Louis Rams vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-7); OVER 44

As to the O/U, two of the last three games – both at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona – have come close to the 44 combined points (45 in the 2014 contest, 40 in 2013). With this track record, the fifth ranked offense of the Cardinals at home that is averaging 42.0 points per game and the fact that the Rams scored all of six points at home in a loss last weekend to the Pittsburgh Steelers (don’t expect that to happen again), to take anything other than OVER on the points would be a little silly.

The Cardinals are clicking along early this season and, with the difficulties of the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, are looking to keep the boot firmly on the neck of the division. To do that, you have to win the divisional games such as this one against the Rams. The Cardinals also remember last year when QB Carson Palmer built a nice lead up for the team before getting hurt and watching as the Seahawks passed them by.

Palmer has been stellar so far this season, throwing for nine TDs to this point in the year with only two picks, but the true story on the Cardinals is the rebirth of RB Chris Johnson. After disappearing during his 2014 season with the New York Jets, Johnson has rushed for 219 yards so far this season and is an integral part of the Cardinals offense. With the 1-2 punch of Johnson and Palmer, the Cardinals could well be on their way to dethroning the Seahawks in the NFC West (should they stay healthy, that is).

Last Week:  2-4 Overall:  10-7-1

A completely disgusting Week 3 result. Despite correctly picking Atlanta over Dallas, the shootout completely destroyed our O/U pick. From there, it only got worse…the Seahawks covering the two-touchdown spread against the Chicago Bears was the only other pick we got right for the entire weekend. Time to turn that around!