2019 NFL Draft Report Cards: NFC North Edition

Welcome to the second part of my NFL Draft Grades.  Today, I’ll be reviewing the draft classes from the NFC North.  None of the teams in this division dominated in this year’s draft, but all four teams ended up with draft classes that were at least respectable.  What prevented each of these teams from draft dominance?  Keep reading to see my Draft Report Card for each team, including a grade for each pick as well as my final grades.  As I post more articles, I will also include links to the rest of my draft grades.

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NFL Draft Report Cards 2019

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

Image result for detroit lions logo Detroit Lions

Overall Grade: B-

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

The #8 pick was a bit early for the Lions to draft a tight end, but it’s hard to pass up on Hockenson, so hopefully it pays off and Hock is an instant starter over Jesse James for Detroit.  Nauta was a steal in Round 7, but at that point the team had enough tight ends on the depth chart.

The Tavai pick, on the other hand, should help fill the team’s need for linebackers, but it was a bit of a reach.  I didn’t like the Harris pick either: the team was set at safety between Miles Killebrew and Tavon Wilson.

But after this, the team turned it around, getting great value and filling their gaping hole at DE by drafting Austin Bryant.  Bryant will fill the role Ezekiel Ansah formerly played, playing across from free agent signing Trey Flowers.

The Oruwariye pick was also a steal and added some good DB depth.  But for the most part, the later rounds of the draft were a disappointment for Detroit.  They reached for several players they didn’t even need while leaving holes at OLB and G wide open.  They did add G Beau Benzschawel as an undrafted free agent, but I would’ve expected the team to fill more needs during the draft with the amount of picks they had.

chicago-bears-logo Chicago Bears

Overall Grade: B-

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, because the Bears didn’t pick until Round 3.  But this draft was extremely top heavy.  The Bears started strong by finding Jordan Howard’s replacement in David Montgomery.  They added additional WR depth by drafting Riley Ridley, and I thought that was a good pick too.

But the rest of the draft was confusing.  They didn’t add depth where they needed it, and they took a couple players that shouldn’t have even been drafted at all.  They didn’t need another RB after drafting Montgomery.  An o-lineman or d-lineman would’ve contributed much more to the team.

Despite the struggles on Day 3, this was at least a decent draft as the Bears started off strong when it mattered most.

gbpackers2 Green Bay Packers

Overall Grade: C+

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

The Packers drafted some quality athletes in the early rounds.  But despite a desperate need for WR help, they didn’t draft a single receiver.  Who’s going to start across from Davante Adams at WR?  I don’t think anyone on their current roster is a viable option.  Expect to see a lot of two TE schemes, especially after the addition of Jace Sternberger.  Jenkins does help add some o-line depth, but he’s not a good fit.  He entered this draft as a center.  Now he’ll have to be pushed over to guard where Green Bay needs him most.

I am a big fan of the Darnell Savage Jr. pick though.  Expect to see him making an impact right away next to veteran Adrian Amos.  The Dexter Williams pick was smart as well.  The Packers needed the RB depth, as they have yet to find a consistent RB1.  Aaron Jones has a ton of upside, but he is far from consistent.

The rest of this draft was no more than mediocre, as they continued to ignore their need for WR depth despite drafting at least 3 other players they didn’t need.  But they deserve some credit for the few picks they did fill needs with.

min-vikings-logo2 Minnesota Vikings

Overall Grade: C+

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

This is a huge draft class, and some of these picks were very smart, but others were big mistakes.   The Marcus Epps selection was not necessary.  The Vikings have one of the league’s best secondaries, so adding a safety that never should’ve been drafted was not the smartest move.  I didn’t mind the Kris Boyd selection though, because the 7th round was actually a reasonable time to draft him.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Bradbury pick either.  The o-line depth is helpful, but Bradbury’s not a great fit, and they had better options: Jawaan Taylor and Cody Ford were both still on the board at #18.  The Vikings needed guards and tackles much more, and drafting Bradbury either will force center Pat Elflein to shift to guard or force Bradbury to return there.

Unless Minnesota still wants to trade TE Kyle Rudolph, there was no need to draft Irv Smith Jr. when they could’ve drafted a defensive tackle.  They ended up with a DT steal in Round 6, Armon Watts.  But in my opinion, DT was their biggest draft need after Sheldon Richardson’s departure and the need should’ve been filled much, much earlier.  In the end, the Vikes did fill the rest of their needs, and Dillon Mitchell was a bargain in Round 7.  But they made a lot of unnecessary reaches and could’ve filled most of their positional needs a lot earlier.

That’s all for this portion of my NFL Draft Grades.  Next time, I’ll take a look at the NFC South, where two teams thrived in the draft and the other two struggled mightily.

Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

Welcome to my 1st of several Super Bowl LIII Preview articles.  The match-up is set, the teams are in Atlanta for Opening Night, and today I will be looking at how the Patriots and Rams got here and taking a first look at the match-up.  What can we expect from this year’s big game?  Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 27 or 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 28 or 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 29 or 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30 or 31: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

January 31 or February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 1 or 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 2 or 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

How They Got Here

Patriots

The Patriots were off to a rough start this season, going 1-2 in their first three games without WR Julian Edelman.  However, they brought in WR Josh Gordon to add back WR depth they’d lost in the off-season.  Gordon thrived in his first game with the Pats, and when Edelman returned, they made for a dynamic duo that led the offense to dominate.

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Though they started 7-2, they lost their third game in Tennessee before the bye as TE Rob Gronkowski sat out an extra game after an injury.  After the bye, they did win a couple games, playing the Jets and Vikings.  But after that their road struggles continued as they lost in Miami and in Pittsburgh.  After 14 games, the Pats were 9-5, and they were at risk of missing out on a first round bye.  They had the tiebreaker over the Texans, but the Texans were 10-4 at this point.  The Pats needed to win one more game than Houston.

It wasn’t a good sign when WR Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely once again for marijuana, but the Pats took care of the Bills and Jets easily in New England.  They nearly shut out the Jets in Week 17!  They did grab hold of the first round bye, but the question was, were these blowouts against the league’s worst a fluke, or were the Pats legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

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The fans’ doubts were silenced when the Patriots dominated their Divisional Round match-up, hosting the Chargers.  They would head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in the AFC title game.  This was bound to be a close one, especially because the Patriots lost the last time they had played on the road.  They were off to a strong start, but they began to fall behind late in the game.

With two minutes to go, it was 28-24 Chiefs.  The Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  They marched down the field and Burkhead scored the TD, but they scored a little too fast.  They left enough time for the Chiefs to add a field goal to tie it up  at 31-31 and force overtime.

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After that the Patriots won the toss, and though it was a nail biter with many close calls and 3rd downs, the Pats made their way down the field for the TD, winning the game 37-31!  This was Brady’s third OT victory in a postseason game, making him the first player to do so.  This was also the first time two playoff games had gone into overtime in one day.

You can read more about the AFC Championship at the link below:

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

The Patriots are now headed to their 4th Super Bowl in 5 years, as Brady looks to ‘Blitz for Six’ and Gronk looks to potentially end his career with a bang.  The best part is, as intriguing as a Brady vs. Drew Brees match-up would be, they’re playing the Los Angeles Rams, taking the Brady-Belichick dynasty back to their roots.  Back in 2001, Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory over the QB Kurt Warner-led St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams.  You could also compare that victory to this year’s AFC Championship when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

Rams

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The last time the Rams won the NFC was back in 2001, when QB Kurt Warner led an offense known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to their second Super Bowl in three years.  They would face QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  Though they had won in 1999, they could not get past Brady and Belichick, who won their first championship together and started a legendary dynasty.  17 years later, the Rams will seek revenge.

After Warner left St. Louis, things were ugly for the Rams for much of the 2000s.  But in 2015, they began rebuilding, drafting star RB Todd Gurley in 2015, trading up in 2016 to draft the QB of their future: Jared Goff, firing head coach Jeff Fisher, and hiring the young Sean McVay to replace Fisher.  To top off their rebuild, they moved back to Los Angeles as they seeked a culture change heading in to the second half of the 2010s.

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In 2017, Goff, Gurley, and McVay led the team back to the playoffs with help from a star-studded defense led by DT Aaron Donald.  However, as the #3 seed, they lost on Wild Card Weekend.  The 2017-18 off-season was a busy one for the Rams.  The Rams made it clear they wanted to win now, exchanging WR Sammy Watkins, TE Lance Kendricks, DE Robert Quinn, OLB Alec Ogletree, and CB Trumaine Johnson for WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, and CB Sam Shields.  Later in the season, they added RB C.J. Anderson and pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. as well.  They now had one of the best secondaries in the league, Gurley and Anderson made for a dominant RB duo, and WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods broke out, giving Goff a WR trio for most of the season.  Kupp has since torn his ACL and ended his season, but the Rams dominated in all aspects for most of the season.

After starting 8-0, the Rams headed to New Orleans, where they lost their first game in a shootout.  The Rams lost WR Cooper Kupp the next game despite a win.  Without Kupp, they weren’t as dominant, going 4-2.  But they took care of business against the Cowboys, winning 30-22.  They would travel to New Orleans once again for the NFC Championship.

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They were trailing for most of the game as expected, but they came back to tie it up at 20.  The Saints were going for one last drive.  When QB Drew Brees threw it to WR Tommylee Lewis, he was hoping for a first down.  However, the pass was broken up on a hard hit by CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.  I am not alone in my belief that the play by Robey-Coleman was blatant pass interference.  But the refs didn’t call it.  The Saints made the field goal.  But the Rams had time to respond with a field goal of their own.

The game went to overtime, and New Orleans won the toss.  But after S John Johnson picked off QB Drew Brees, the Rams drove down the field, kicked another field goal, and won the game, 26-23.  Saints fans were heartbroken.  But the Rams were ecstatic – they had won the NFC for the first time in 17 years.  This was only their third Super Bowl appearance, the other two coming during the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ era.

Championship weekend and the weeks leading up to it were very exciting.  But moving on to the Super Bowl, the Rams will take on the Patriots in just 6 days.  Who will come out on top?  Keep reading to hear my initial take on the match-up.

First Look: Patriots vs. Rams

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This is definitely going to be close.  The Pats aren’t coming off a great season by Brady-Belichick standards.  They went 11-5 for the first time since 2009, and the first time since their run of seven straight AFC Championships (now eight) began.  But the Pats have dominated offensively in each of their last 4 games, and they have motivation going on as QB Tom Brady looks to win his sixth ring and TE Rob Gronkowski looks to potentially end his career with one more.  Until this year, Gronk had been spoiled year after year with records of 12-4 or higher.  Despite a rough regular season, the Pats will look to make up for it with another Super Bowl victory (which would be Gronk’s third).  To get past a difficult Rams defense, they’ll have to use a large variety of plays to try and fake them out.  If they are as strong offensively as they have been in the last 4 games, they should be capable of winning this.  But the Rams’ D might be the toughest New England has faced since their latest win streak.

Coming off a first round playoff exit and a busy off-season that got fans excited, the Rams went 13-3 and earned the #2 seed in the NFC behind only the New Orleans Saints (who they lost to).  After being ‘overthrown’ by Brady-Belichick dynasty in 2001, they will look to dethrone the Pats in their return to the Super Bowl.  In order to do so, not only will they need QB Jared Goff and the RB duo of Gurley and Anderson to step it up, they’ll need the entire offense around Goff and Gurley to thrive against a mediocre New England defense.

Who will win Super Bowl LIII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.

 

2018 NFL Week 16 Picks & Previews: No(t Many) Surprises Here

Welcome to my Week 16 NFL picks and previews.  Last week, I went 11-5, putting my overall record at 126-97-2 (127-98-2 including Week 16 Saturday games).  For the most part, there are very few upsets in the final few weeks of the season. I don’t think there will be many upsets this week, either.  But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any surprises. There’s bound to be a couple surprise victories. But who will be the team to surprise us this week?  Keep reading to find out what I think, and feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

Expect Detroit’s offensive struggles to continue against the strong Vikings defense.  The Vikings won’t be at their best offensively either in this game, but they should still score multiple TDs.  The combination of these two factors will help the Vikings win with ease in Detroit.

Upset of the Week (SNF)

I think QB Patrick Mahomes II could have a dominant game against the inexperienced Seahawks defense, tossing 3+ TDs.  But I expect Seattle’s versatile, consistent offense to put together more quality drives and find a way to win at home, especially against one of the worst defenses in the league.  The Chiefs will be without not only RB Kareem Hunt, but also WR Sammy Watkins. I see them just barely coming up short at CenturyLink Field.

The Other Games

Saturday, 4:30 PM EST (Posted to Twitter on Saturday; Actual Score: 25-16 Titans)

Look for QB Marcus Mariota and the young Titans offense to get it done against an unmotivated Redskins defense.  QB Josh Johnson and his offense will not help matters for the Redskins as they fail to score a TD. This will partially be due to Washington’s QB struggles without Alex Smith, but also partially due to a dominant defensive game by Tennessee that secures them a victory.
Saturday, 8:20 PM EST (Posted to Twitter on Saturday; Actual Score: 22-10 Ravens)

Despite an ugly game, expect QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers to prevail here.  RB Melvin Gordon and WR Keenan Allen will boost the Chargers in their return, but the entire offense including Gordon and Allen will be limited by the overwhelming Baltimore defense.  QB Lamar Jackson and his offense will make this close, but they even after the strong defensive performance, the Ravens will fail to keep up with Rivers, Gordon, and Co.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for the Pats to rebound from two straight losses in their return to Gillette.  Even without WR Josh Gordon (who was suspended earlier this week), I think QB Tom Brady will turn it around for 3+ TDs.  Even the Pats defense will improve here as they hold Buffalo to just 1 TD.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect the Dolphins to win here, but it will not be easy.  First of all, I’m expecting a low scoring, ugly game. In addition, I see the Jags forcing overtime as their defense gets back on track here.  However, Jacksonville will fall short as their offense struggles to produce without a quality starting QB.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Green Bay to get by due to a consistent offense led by QB Aaron Rodgers.  Expect New York’s offense to look good at times as the Packers struggle at times to contain the Jets’ receivers.  But the Packers defense will still prevent them from getting into a real rhythm.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Cleveland has struggled in overtime throughout the season.  For all we know, they could be leading the division if it weren’t for their OT struggles.  But in this game, I see the Browns winning in overtime thanks to a clutch performance by QB Baker Mayfield and his young offense.  Cincy will make it close thanks to the emergence of WRs Tyler Boyd and John Ross agains the inexperienced Browns D. But I still expect them to fall just short.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Philly to pull the upset after a strong offensive game supported by QB Nick Foles.  Their case will be helped by Houston’s offensive struggles without RB Lamar Miller. The Texans D will limit Foles and the Eagles, but it will not be enough.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Andrew Luck and his offense to find a way against a weakened Giants D.  The Giants should be alright without WR Odell Beckham Jr. against an inexperienced Colts defense.  But Luck and the Colts will be able to lead Indy to victory regardless.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

Expect QB Dak Prescott to lead the Cowboys to victory in a relatively high scoring game.  QB Jameis Winston will toss 2-3 TDs of his own against a young Dallas defense, but the Bucs D will struggle regressively as usual, allowing the Cowboys to outplay Tampa’s offense and win easily.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Taylor Heinicke will not be able to compete with QB Matt Ryan like QB Cam Newton would.  Look for Ryan and the Falcons offense to dominate against a weak Carolina secondary as Atlanta wins in a blowout.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for the Bears to get by in a defense-first game.  Chicago’s D will hold QB Nick Mullens and the Niners to just 10 points.  Don’t expect a field day for the Chicago offense, but they should put up enough points for a road victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for the Rams strong D to shut down the Cardinals’ young offense.  The Rams won’t be great offensively, but they’ll put up enough to get by despite an ugly overall game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The Saints won’t be up to full speed offensively, as WR Michael Thomas is the only trustworthy receiver QB Drew Brees has right now.  But the Steelers’ offense won’t be at full capacity either with RB James Conner out. QB Ben Roethlisberger will toss multiple TD, but it won’t be enough as the run game is practically non-existent.  This will allow the Saints to get by at home.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

Look for the Broncos’ to win in primetime thanks to a strong game by not only RB Phillip Lindsay but the entire Denver run game.  The Raiders’ offense will struggle to produce against a strong Denver defense, even in Oakland.

That’s all for today’s picks.  Stay tuned for more NFL coverage soon.

2018 NFL Week 12 Picks & Previews: Contenders Arise

Welcome to my Week 12 NFL Picks and Previews.  On Thanksgiving Day, I went 3-0, putting my overall record at 88-74-2.  However, I am still only ahead of 1 expert from CBS Sports, and none from ESPN.  This week, I think we will see the biggest contenders besides the Rams and Chiefs (who both take a bye after last week’s shootout) will rise to the top with victories this week.  Meanwhile, teams that had snuck into the playoff picture despite an underwhelming season will fall. With the playoffs approaching, this week it will begin to become clear who’s really here to stay.

Lock of the Week

Look for the Panthers to shut down Seattle’s run game here.  This will put a lot on QB Russell Wilson and his receivers, and I don’t think they’ll put up enough for Seattle to make this close in Carolina.  They will fail to step it up in the place of the run game. Meanwhile, QB Cam Newton and his receivers will be all over the Seahawks’ young secondary as Carolina dominates in a blowout victory.

Upset of the Week

The return of QB Ryan Tannehill will give the Dolphins offense a big boost.  Expect Tannehill to throw multiple TDs and shock the Colts in Indy.  The Colts will make it close thanks to dominance by the combo of QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton.  But the Colts will fall short against Miami’s revamped offense, and the weak defensive game will not help matters.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect the Jets young, but underrated defense to limit the abilities of QB Tom Brady and his offense.  But the Patriots should find a way to score in New York. Meanwhile, Jets QB Josh McCown will struggle regressively against an improved New England defense.  This will lead to a Patriots blowout victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Jaguars D will get back on task in Buffalo, holding QB Josh Allen and the Bills to just 1 TD.  Meanwhile, QB Blake Bortles will improve against a mediocre Bills defense, throwing 2+ TD. This will lead to a Jaguars road win in a surprisingly easy game.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Lamar Jackson will thrive again here, utilizing Baltimore’s strong run game and tossing multiple TD.  The Ravens will struggle to win the turnover battle against an Oakland D that has forced a surprising number of turnovers.  But the Ravens will come out on top after a very strong offensive game and another clutch defensive performance.  Expect the Ravens to hold the new-look Raiders offense under 20 in the victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Andy Dalton and his receivers to find a way here without WR A.J. Green.  The Browns offense will look alright, but I don’t see it being enough against the stingy Bengals D.  This will allow Cincy to prevail despite an underwhelming offensive game.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect a big game from QB Carson Wentz as he throws 3 TD against a washed-up Giants D.  Giants QB Eli Manning should continue his multi-TD game streak here and look better than usual.  But it won’t be enough against the high-powered Philly offense. The Eagles’ hopes of winning the division will be restored in this divisional victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for the Bucs to catch a break at home against the Jimmy Garoppolo-less Niners.  The Tampa Bay run game could look surprisingly strong against San Francisco’s young defense.  If not, QB Jameis Winston will perform better than QB Ryan Fitzpatrick did. It won’t be perfection, but it would be enough for the Bucs victory.  QB Nick Mullens and his receivers will make this close against a struggling Bucs D, but it won’t be enough against the strong Buccaneers offense.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for a surprisingly low scoring game here despite a battle of two strong offenses.  Both defenses will thrive in the red zone, as only 4 total TDs are scored in 10+ opportunities.  QB Josh Rosen and RB David Johnson will lead a strong Arizona offense, but expect them to fall short against QB Philip Rivers and the high-powered Chargers offense.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The Denver offense may struggle after the Demaryius Thomas trade.  But the Broncos defense will make up for it, silencing Pittsburgh’s typically dominant offense by holding them TD-less in Denver.  The Steelers will continue to miss RB Le’Veon Bell after a tough loss in Denver.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

Against a strong Vikes secondary, QB Aaron Rodgers will struggle to find his receivers, especially with TE Jimmy Graham injured.  Expect a Vikings victory thanks to the strong defense as well as a strong, multi-TD game by QB Kirk Cousins. This will cause the Packers to begin worrying that their wrath in the NFC North is over.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

Expect QB Deshaun Watson to utilize his newfound WR duo in a home victory.  The young Tennessee defense will do a good job imitating Houston’s shut down D, but they won’t quite get up to Houston’s level.  The Texans will come out victorious in primetime as they play complimentary football.

That’s all for my picks this week.  Stay tuned for more posts soon, including Part 2 of my MLB free agency predictions.

2018 NFL Week 9 Picks & Previews: Contenders Keep Going with Close Wins

Welcome to my Week 9 NFL Picks & Previews.  Last week I went 7-7, putting my overall record at 68-51-2 (69-51-2 including Week 9 TNF).  I am ahead of 3 ESPN experts and 1 CBS Sports expert.  Look for a lot of the borderline contenders to prove themselves this week with important wins.  I think the Ravens will shut down the Steelers for the 2nd time this year, the Vikings will silence the Lions, and the Chargers will dominate the 4-3 Seahawks coming off the bye week.  The Chargers had put a 4-game win streak together prior to the bye.  Although some of these contenders will win, some will be upset. Who will fall in a shocking upset?  Who will remain elite?  Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

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Expect LA’s explosive offense to embarrass the young Seattle D in a blowout.  With WR Brandon Marshall a free agent, QB Russell Wilson will also struggle to find reliable open men.  Meanwhile, QB Philip Rivers will lead the Chargers to a blowout victory with 4+ TD.  

Upset of the Week

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I don’t think WR Amari Cooper will make much of a difference for QB Dak Prescott and the troubled Dallas pass offense.  Their big week against Jacksonville is a sign of big things to come, but it won’t happen this week as Tennessee’s secondary steps it up.  The Titans will bounce back from a rough October with a triumphant Monday Night victory coming off the bye as they shock the Cowboys in their first home loss of the season.  

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter on Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-3 49ers)

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Even with their third-string QB starting, I think this young 49ers offense can put together a big game considering how bad the Oakland D has been without DE Khalil Mack.  Oakland’s season will begin to fall apart despite looking okay on offense.  I don’t think they will win many more games with RB Marshawn Lynch out and WR Amari Cooper gone.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Brock Osweiler somehow led for the Dolphins to victory in Week 7.  But I don’t see him winning against the Jets elite secondary.  Expect multiple interceptions here, even on Osweiler’s home turf.  QB Sam Darnold will step it up to secure a Jets victory on the road.  QB Ryan Tannehill spoiled New York’s home opener.  Darnold will look for revenge with Tannehill injured for the third straight game.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for Chicago’s defense to lead them to victory against another banged-up AFC East team in the Bills.  Buffalo will have to settle for Nathan Peterman at QB, although they did add another weapon in Terrelle Pryor Jr. for him.  I think Peterman will look better than usual and make this close, but there’s no way he leads the Bills to victory against this Bears defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Pittsburgh was starting to look alright without RB Le’Veon Bell.  But there’s no way they get past this versatile Ravens run defense without their star running back.  This will make it hard for Pittsburgh to outscore Baltimore.  I don’t see the Steelers defense performing any better than usual against this deep Ravens receiving corps.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Against a rebuilding Browns defense, QB Patrick Mahomes II should be dominant as usual.  I could even see him throwing 4 TD in this game. The Chiefs defense will slip a little against QB Baker Mayfield and an improved Cleveland offense, but Mahomes’ field day will be enough for them here.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for the Redskins to play complimentary football here in an all-around strong game.  They will utilize their versatile roster as they win at home. Atlanta’s washed-up defense will also struggle to contain QB Alex Smith’s deep receiving corps.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for serious regression from Detroit’s offense as they face one of the league’s best defenses without WR Golden Tate.  I have the Vikes holding them under 10 here. QB Kirk Cousins and his receivers won’t look much better, but they should manage to get by.  Don’t expect many more losses by the Vikes either. With RB Dalvin Cook healthy, things should be smooth sailing.  They’ve really only had one concerning loss this whole season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Cam Newton and the Panthers offense should ride the momentum they gathered in Week 8 to beat the Bucs in Carolina.  They should not be concerned about facing a Buccaneers D that has struggled all season. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be enough to lead Tampa to victory here as Carolina shuts down Tampa’s run game.  That puts a lot of pressure on Fitzpatrick, which could cause him to struggle.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

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Houston will struggle offensively, as WR Demaryius Thomas doesn’t provide much of an upgrade over WR Will Fuller.  Plus, Denver’s secondary knows Thomas very well and will be able to shut him down. The Broncos will edge out a victory in a low scoring game as WR Courtland Sutton steps it up with Thomas flipping sides.  Don’t expect much scoring though. This is a battle of two of the AFC’s best defenses.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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The Rams will stay undefeated with a road win over New Orleans.  Their elite defense will come ready to shut down QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and the Saints offense.  Even with WR Cooper Kupp back, the Rams won’t be at full speed on offense. But they should get past the Saints thanks to elite defense and a last minute, victory-securing TD.  
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

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If RB Sony Michel and TE Rob Gronkowski are healthy, this will be a blowout.  Otherwise, it could be close.  QB Aaron Rodgers will struggle to find open men here, as the Patriots secondary will keep Rodgers’ small number of dependable receivers well covered.  The Pats offense will be back to dominance if they have Gronk and Michel.  But after New England’s hiccup without them last week, I don’t think the offense would be the same without them.  I think they will be able to play, but I’m not an injury expert. Either way, New England should win and remain undefeated at home.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for more NFL posts soon, including my mid-season report (I usually post it after Week 8, but have delayed it until after Week 9 to the chaotic playoff picture we have right now).  Hopefully, Week 9 will settle some things.

2018 NFL Week 8 Picks & Previews: Could be Exciting Sunday with Many Close Games

Welcome to my NFL Week 8 Picks and Previews.  Last week I went 8-6, putting my overall record at 61-44-2 (62-44-2 including Week 8 TNF).  I’m hoping for at least 9 or 10 wins this week to get ahead of the ESPN and CBS Sports experts I am trying to compete with.  I am ahead of just 1 expert from each website.  This week, expect a lot of close, exciting games.  Even Vegas is predicting this, as many of their NFL point spreads this week are under 4.  But with lots of close games comes lots of surprises.  Who will pull a shocking upset?  Who will stand strong and win as expected?  Read below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week (MNF)

Stay tuned for a potential video preview closer to the game!

There are not many locks this week, but the Patriots should be able to take down the QB Josh Allen-less Bills with ease.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in Buffalo, and it doesn’t matter that it’s Monday Night Football.  Expect QB Tom Brady and the Pats to dominate here, taking an early lead and running with it.  The Patriots defense isn’t going to go from shaky to shut down in a week, but it should hold a struggling, banged-up Bills offense to 20 or less points. One thing this offense does have on the New England is a strong run game.  New England has continued to struggle against strong run games this year.  But I don’t expect much else from the Bills offense, and the Pats should end up winning by 10 or more.

Upset of the Week

This would be a shocker given Kansas City’s performance in Denver and Denver’s tendency to perform far better at home.  But it’s hard to beat the same team twice, especially when they are riding the momentum of a 45-10 victory including a spectacular defensive game.  I understand that it was the Cardinals, but momentum is momentum. Thanks to this momentum, I think Denver’s D will do surprisingly well in stopping Kansas City’s dominant offense.  This all-offense Chiefs team will struggle against a Broncos offense that has improved from 2017. TE Travis Kelce will catch Kansas City’s lone TD as the rest of the offense is overwhelmed by the Denver D in an upsetting loss.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night)

Expect a low scoring game as the Texans shut down defense overwhelms QB Brock Osweiler and the young Miami pass offense.  Expect the Dolphins backfield to struggle as well, with Houston’s defense holding them under 50 yards combined. I don’t see the Texans dominating on offense, but it will be enough thanks to a strong game by WR DeAndre Hopkins and the front seven’s performance.
Sunday, 9:30 AM EST (Posted to Twitter before the game)

I don’t think Jacksonville’s defense will look as sharp as usual in London, especially after 4 Jaguars defenders were arrested last night.  But they will improve from the surprising struggles of the last couple weeks.  Look for QB Blake Bortles to regroup and rebound after being replaced last week, leading the Jags to a surprising London victory.  But Philly should keep it close with strong run defense against the troubled Jags run game.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

In this battle of two of the league’s rising defenses, don’t expect much from either young QB.  QB Mitch Trubisky and his receivers will put up a dud against New York’s amazing secondary. But the Jets offense won’t be looking any better with RB Bilal Powell and most of their best receivers hurt.  Chicago’s defense should come up clutch, holding the Jets under 10 and saving Chicago the game.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Browns tied the Steelers in Cleveland, but don’t expect as close a game in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers will make up for RB Le’Veon Bell’s continued absence with a dominant day by WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.  Pittsburgh’s D should also appear surprisingly better, holding the Browns young offense under 20.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Jameis Winston and his TE duo to lead Tampa to victory against a Bengals defense left with holes after losses in free agency.  QB Andy Dalton and his receivers should make this close, but the defensive problems will begin to stab them in the back. The Bucs will win on the road thanks to another big day on offense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect a strong game out of QB Cam Newton and the Panthers offense.  But the Ravens versatile defense should slow them down significantly.  However, Baltimore’s receivers will still struggle to keep up as Newton’s multi-TD game is enough to lead Carolina to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

I know most people would call me crazy for expecting 34 points out of the Giants.  But this is a team that beat the 5-3 Houston Texans.  I don’t think the G-Men are really as bad as they seem.  Even the GM has given up.  But I think the Giants will turn it around and win a few games before the season ends.  They have a talented, star-studded offense.  All they need is a QB who can manage that.  If QB Eli Manning cannot, maybe another QB on the roster is the answer.  WR Odell Beckham Jr. will be kept busy against CB Josh Norman, but you can expect strong games out of RB Saquon Barkley and New York’s other offensive weapons. The Redskins will make this close with a clutch offensive performance, but I have them falling just short.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Matt Patricia’s Lions to win another one on home turf as they begin to look like legitimate contenders.  The Seahawks should be able to overwhelm the Lions D, one of Detroit’s biggest flaws this year.  But QB Matthew Stafford’s 3 TD game should be enough for a Lions home victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

The Colts should make this close with a surprisingly strong offensive performance led by QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton.  They will take advantage of a weak, rebuilding Raiders D.  But expect Oakland to shine on offense against Indy, who has one of the worst defenses in the league.  It doesn’t matter if WR Amari Cooper is here or not. The Raiders will miss Cooper and injured RB Marshawn Lynch, but should still manage to win. If they can beat the Browns in Oakland, they can do the same to Indy.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST
I was tempted to pick the Packers in an upset as the Rams offense struggles without injured WR Cooper Kupp.  But this versatile Rams defense is just too good to allow 20+ points to a Packers offense that lacks WR depth despite an amazing QB in Aaron Rodgers.  Defense will win the Rams this game as they remain undefeated.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Arizona’s only win so far this year was in San Francisco.  I think they can beat the QB Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers again in Arizona.  They will be led by strong games out of young QB Josh Rosen and RB David Johnson.  The Niners should look decent on offense and make this close.  But I think the Cardinals will hold on on home turf.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

 

I think Minnesota’s offense will be slowed by a young Saints D that just added CB Eli Apple.  But the Vikings defense should look even better, holding the Saints under 20 points and to just 1 TD.  This shut down defensive performance should lead the Vikes to victory.

That’s all for my picks and previews this week.  Stay tuned for more NFL posts soon, including my midseason report next week.

2018 NFL Week 5 Pick’Em & Previews: Upsets Await in Week Full of Intriguing Match-Ups

Welcome to my Week 5 NFL picks and previews.  Last week I went 10-5, placing my overall record at 37-24-2 (38-24-2 including Week 5 TNF).  I’m ahead of 9 of ESPN’s 10 experts and 3 of CBS Sports’ 8 experts.

There are a lot of intriguing match-ups this week.  The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, two of the league’s biggest surprises thus far take each other on.  The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles meet in an NFC Championship rematch. The Kansas City Chiefs’ powerful offense may have met their match in the Jags defense.  Who will win in these close match-ups?  Whoever wins, I would expect a lot of surprises.  Keep reading to find out who I have winning this week.

Lock of the Week (TNF: Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 38-24 Patriots)

The Colts will be without RB Marlon Mack, TE Jack Doyle, and most importantly, star WR T.Y. Hilton.  With the offense banged-up, expect QB Andrew Luck to struggle in finding open receivers.  Don’t expect a big game from the Colts running backs either.  Meanwhile, I think the Colts defense (which is also banged-up) will fail to contain QB Tom Brady and his receivers.  I could see the Pats blowing out and possibly even shutting out the injury-riddled Colts.

Upset of the Week

Coming out of the bye, the Panthers will still be without their top receiving target in TE Greg Olsen.  I think they will start to miss him this week as the Giants secondary keeps Carolina’s remaining receivers well covered.  Meanwhile, I don’t expect a huge game out of RB Christian McCaffrey against an above average Giants defensive front. The Giants will pull the upset thanks to a strong passing game and improved defense.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

These teams might be the two biggest pleasant surprises of the season so far. This week, we’ll likely see which is here to contend, and which is pretending.  I think the Bengals will look like legitimate contenders in this game.  The defense will see improvement with LB Vontaze Burfict back from his suspension.  Meanwhile, QB Andy Dalton will find plenty of open men, even without TE Tyler Eifert.  However, Miami will make it close as WR Kenny Stills and rookie TE Mike Gesicki step it up.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Josh Allen to lead Buffalo’s offense to a close game against an inconsistent Titans D.  Allen has done well in these last couple games.  However, I think the Titans will run away with the victory as the offense finds a way, led by the duo of QB Marcus Mariota and WR Corey Davis.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Broncos defense has been among the NFL’s best for a long time, and the Jets young defense is emerging as well.  Look for both defenses to thrive in a low scoring game.  The Denver secondary will do an especially good job at containing QB Sam Darnold and his receivers.  I don’t expect the Broncos to look amazing on offense, but they should edge out a victory in New York.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think Pittsburgh will look alright on offense despite missing RB Le’Veon Bell.  But the Falcons WR trio will be too much for the Steelers secondary.  The Steelers have never been more than mediocre on defense, and it will cost them here.  Expect Atlanta’s RB duo to thrive with RB Devonta Freeman back and QB Matt Ryan to find open receivers for TDs.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Cleveland’s defense to step it up, leading Cleveland to a home victory.  QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense shouldn’t do especially well against a strong Ravens secondary.  But, look for the Browns’ underrated, young defense to cause QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens receivers to struggle.  That will be enough for the Browns to pull out a win.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I understand the Chiefs are undefeated and their offense looks unstoppable.  But they haven’t seen a defense like Jacksonville’s.  I also think the Jaguars will take advantage of the all offense, no defense Chiefs and put together a strong offensive game of their own.  The Chiefs have a very tough schedule ahead, and this could be the start of a stretch that bring the Chiefs from unbeatable to a borderline playoff contender. The Jags seem like the team to finally put an end to Kansas City’s offensive dominance and undefeated season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

A lot of people see this as a lock in Green Bay’s favor, but this will not be easy.  We’ve seen what Detroit’s offense is capable of at its best, and Green Bay will be without WRs Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.  QB Aaron Rodgers is not at full health either.  Look for the Lions offense to get out to an early lead. But I think QB Aaron Rodgers will have another clutch game, and Rodgers alonMelg with the rising young talent surrounding him will lead the team to a comeback victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for RBs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to make an impact against the Mack-less Raiders run defense.  I also expect QB Philip Rivers and his receivers to have a successful game.  I think this Chargers offense can be all-around dominant against Oakland’s subpar defense.  QB Derek Carr will make this close when he tosses 3 TD of his own, but it won’t be enough in this offensive shootout.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

These teams have two of the best defenses in the NFC, so don’t expect too much scoring.  The Vikings passing game will be somewhat successful in Philly, but you can’t count on the run game with RB Dalvin Cook battling a hamstring injury.  I think QB Carson Wentz will manage to find a way at home, even going up against the lights out Vikes defense.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

QB Josh Rosen led the Cardinals to their closest game thus far last week, and I truly think they can win this one over the Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers.  But I’m not calling a blowout for an 0-4 team.  I think the 49ers versatile offense will find a way to keep this close.  However, led by RB David Johnson, look for Arizona to edge out a victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect QB Jared Goff and his offense to dominate in Seattle.  I think they can easily handle this rebuilding Seahawks defense.  Meanwhile, Seattle’s offense will struggle against a Rams D that has emerged as one of the NFC’s best.  I think QB Russell WIlson and the Seahawks run game will be especially overwhelmed by the Rams powerful front seven, and the shut down defense will secure an LA victory.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

I think QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense will continue to struggle here, especially since they are facing one of the league’s top defenses.  Even star RB Ezekiel Elliott could struggle going up against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and the dominant Texans defensive front. Houston will secure the victory after a decent offensive performance.  
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

I think the Saints will get it done in primetime, boosted by the return of RB Mark Ingram from his four game suspension.  Look for the Redskins to make it close against a mediocre Saints D, but I don’t think Washington will be able to finish the job in New Orleans.

That’s all for today’s picks and previews.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of the games.