The Men's Final we all were hoping to see at the French Open will be taking place on Sunday, but before that we get to see the unexpecte...
Sunday, 18 October 2020
I am looking to have a fuller thread in Week 7 of the NFL, but it has been a busy time over the last week.
After some very strong results to open the season, I have something to build upon going forward.
Detroit Lions @ Jacksonville Jaguars Pick: Matt Patricia has to be feeling the heat underneath his seat as Head Coach of the Detroit Lions and he can't be encouraged by the improvements in the NFC North which has seen both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears make fast starts to the season. Even in an expanded NFL PlayOffs, the Detroit Lions being 1-3 through their Bye Week is a massive concern with losses to both of those Divisional rivals already in the books.
The Head Coach can't afford too many more and with changes begun to be made in other NFL Head Coaching spots, the pressure is on Patricia to get things turned around this week. The Lions are on the road, which is never an easy place to play, but they have had time to prepare and they are facing a Jacksonville Jaguars team who are 1-4 on the season and coming off a loss to a previously winless Houston Texans team.
To make matters all the tougher for the Jaguars they are severely banged up on both sides of the ball which is going to make it very difficult to win games. You can lose a skill player, maybe two, but you can't lost multiple of your best players and expect to be competitive in the NFL.
Scheduling changes can occur at any time and it is something teams have to be prepared for on short notice in 2020, but assuming all goes well the Jaguars have a Bye Week coming up in which they will be hoping to get some key players back. Unfortunately it may mean in Week 6 that they are not willing to risk anyone who is a little banged up and it may leave the Jaguars short.
In usual circumstances you might actually like what Gardner Minshew would have been able to do against the Detroit Secondary which has struggled with injury and massive holes all season. However it looks like the Jaguars are going to be down their top Receivers on Sunday and that will make it difficult for Minshew to move the chains with any consistency with his arm alone.
He should be well supported by the run game though and that could be the key to the entire game as Jacksonville look to control the clock and wear down the Lions. The Detroit Defensive Line has struggled to stop the run all season and James Robinson could have a big game as long as the Jaguars have not fallen behind multiple scores and need their Quarter Back to rip off some big yards through the air to get them back into the game.
As long as it is close Robinson should be a big factor, but at some point you would expect the Lions to dare Minshew to beat them though the air with his third, fourth and fifth string Receivers. Even a porous Secondary like the one Detroit have should feel they can make some big plays against the Receivers they are facing in Week 6 and that should mean they are willing to take more chances to keep Robinson in check.
Offensively Detroit should be healthy and feeling really good about their chances of doing whatever they feel like in this one. The Jaguars are missing key players right across their Defensive unit and they have been seen to be vulnerable to both the run and the pass so you would hope the Lions have been well prepared to take advantage of that.
Injuries on the Defensive Line have made it very difficult for the Jaguars to stop the run and especially as they are also without Myles Jack at Linebacker. We have yet to see Detroit find consistency with their own ground game, but you would think the Bye Week has given them a chance to at least right things with that part of their Offense, while Jacksonville have to respect the Quarter Back who is opposing them which means they can't sell out to stop the run.
Matthew Stafford might be coming down towards the end of his career and there may even be rumours that he might call it a day sooner rather than later, but he is still very effective from behind Center. His Offensive Line has not always been offering the best protection, but Stafford will have time in the pocket if Detroit are able to establish the run and there are holes in the Jacksonville Secondary which have been exposed by teams in recent weeks.
He should have his full complement of Receivers ready to go in this one and if CJ Henderson is missing for Jacksonville the Secondary just doesn't have the talent to be expected to slow down Stafford. I expect Detroit to move the chains at will and effectively take the game away from their hosts while doubling their overall wins and road wins for the 2020 season.
I hate backing the Lions as a road favourite because they have simply not performed in this spot, but I think this is the best chance for them to do so. I just don't believe Jacksonville can keep up in what is likely to be something of a shoot out and so will back the road team to come away with the victory and the cover.
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: At the start of the season I really felt the AFC North could provide three PlayOff teams over the coming months and none of the top three have really disappointed. The Cleveland Browns have bounced back from a Week 1 defeat to win four in a row, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of four teams in the NFL that have yet to taste defeat in 2020.
These Divisional rivals meet in a big Week 6 game and it is arguably more important for Cleveland who are 1-1 within the AFC North while the Steelers have yet to play a Divisional Game. With that in mind it is perhaps a disappointment for the Browns that they look to be hurting at just the wrong time with a number of players on the Offensive side of the ball banged up ahead of this game.
Baker Mayfield has made it clear that he is going to play regardless of having to deal with the pain after taking a big hit last week. The Browns never looked doubtful about being without their Quarter Back, but Mayfield can't be at 100% and that makes the potential absences of the likes of Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry that much more difficult to deal with.
Even if the Receivers are good to go, you can't imagine either being completely healthy and now they have to face a very strong Pittsburgh Secondary which is physical at the line of scrimmage and capable of running with their opposite numbers.
It may be down to the passing game to get the chains moving because the Browns are continuing without Nick Chubb and their rebuilt Offensive Line will be challenged to try and get the better of the Pittsburgh Steel Curtain. Last week we did see the Philadelphia Eagles find some big gaps on the ground, so Cleveland may feel they can have some success, but there was not consistent running room on the ground. Kareem Hunt is a quality Running Back and more than a backup to Chubb, but his biggest impact may come in the short passing game rather than being able to rip off huge runs throughout this game.
The ability to stop the run has allowed Pittsburgh to pin back their ears and unleash a fierce pass rush, but in usual circumstances I would believe this new look Cleveland Offensive Line would be able to keep the pocket clean. However I do think Baker Mayfield may not be able to fully scramble when the pressure comes his way and so the best bet for the Browns may be to throw the ball into screens and quick slants to ease any pass rush the Steelers throw at them.
Baker Mayfield has been effective enough as the starting Quarter Back, but his numbers have not been spectacular as Cleveland have been able to have a lot of success on the ground. At less than 100% I do think he will have a tough time, especially as Mayfield is likely going to be asked to do more than usual, and the Steelers have shown they have one of the best Defenses in the NFL despite the points given up to non-Conference opponents Philadelphia in Week 5.
Last season it was the Defensive unit which sparked the Steelers, but they have opened 4-0 for the first time since the late 1970's thanks to the return of Ben Roethlisberger. There was a considerable drop off to the second and third string Quarter Back twelve months ago, but Big Ben has returned and he looks to be enjoying his Football as he appreciates he has reached the back end of his career.
Like Cleveland, Pittsburgh have enjoyed the success they have had on the ground to push the team forward, although Roethlisberger has shown he is capable of carrying the team Offensively if so required. James Connor might not be able to have the biggest game running the ball traditionally, but Pittsburgh showed last week they are able to just find a crease or two on the ground to make some big plays and I think they will have success even against a much-vaunted Cleveland Defensive Line.
Also like his opposite number, Ben Roethlisberger is going to able to exploit screens and quick passes in place of a running game to keep the Cleveland Defensive unit off-balance. There are some quality Receivers in the Pittsburgh camp that will feel they can take those short passes to the house and last week it was the turn of Chase Claypool and he may be a key weapon again if the Steelers are not able to get some of their other Receivers back on the field.
Injuries are an issue for Pittsburgh too, but I do think Roethlisberger is playing well enough to find a way to get the ball into the hands of some of the quick players he has on the outside.
I do like the Steelers even if they can sometimes be hard to trust as a favourite.
They have a strong home record against Cleveland and the potential banged up nature of Baker Mayfield may be tough to overcome for the Browns. Cleveland have not been as strong on the road as they have at home and they have not covered in their last four games against AFC North Divisional rivals.
At the same time Pittsburgh are 7-3 against the spread when playing Divisional rivals and I do think this is a team that can make the plays on the Defensive side of the ball which helps them overcome this mark.
Atlanta Falcons @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: There have already been two Head Coaching changes in the NFL and it is perhaps no surprise that one of those came in Atlanta where the Falcons have started poorly again. Dan Quinn was surprisingly given a little more time to try and turn things around after a strong end to 2019 and the players are clearly going to be disappointed they could not help their former Head Coach, but ultimately Quinn had to part ways with the Falcons who are 0-5 for the season.
In a very tough NFC South, the Falcons already look like they are too far away to really have a chance to earn a Wild Card spot. Atlanta are also going to be feeling the pressure of the players playing for their jobs now the Head Coach and General Manager have been let go and no one can feel safe when owner Arthur Blank won't be even get behind long-time Quarter Back Matt Ryan.
Injuries have been a real problem for the Falcons who are going to take on another underwhelming team in 2020 when they visit the Minnesota Vikings. Mike Zimmer has to be another Head Coach who may be fearing what the future holds for him and you have to imagine the seat underneath him will be heating up through the Bye Week if the Vikings were to lose this one.
Minnesota are 1-4 for the season and that leaves them some way behind the Bears and the Packers within the Division. However, Mike Zimmer has to be most upset by the fact that his team have lost by a single point to both the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks who are a combined 9-0 for the season and things would have looked markedly different if the Vikings had won those games with the opportunities they missed.
This week there will be no excuses for Minnesota even with Dalvin Cook set to miss out and that is largely because they are facing a Falcons team that have been decimated Defensively. Alexander Mattison should ensure that Minnesota are not missing Cook as much as they perhaps should and he can have a big outing against the Falcons Defensive Line which has allowed 4.4 yards per carry in recent losses.
The Vikings will be a team who will want to establish the run first and foremost, but Kirk Cousins is also throwing the ball well enough to believe he can become the latest Quarter Back to take advantage of all of the injuries in the Atlanta Secondary. Being placed in third and manageable spots will just mean things open up for the passing game and Cousins will be chomping at the bit to go at a Secondary allowing over 300 passing yards on average over their last three games.
Kirk Cousins should also be under little to no pressure when he does drop back to throw considering how little pass rush Atlanta have generated and it feels like the home team will be able to do pretty much all they would like to in this one.
However, Atlanta may feel there is a chance for them to have a strong Offensive day especially if they can get some key players back, most notably Julio Jones on this side of the ball. Matt Ryan is still more than a capable Quarter Back and this Vikings team have dropped off from the kind of Defensive levels they have shown in recent seasons under Mike Zimmer.
Todd Gurley has shown some signs of having something left in the tank after moving to the Falcons in the off-season and he has helped the Falcons pick up some solid yards on the ground. He should be able to have success against the banged up Minnesota Defensive Line which has not been able to slow teams down as much as they would have liked on the ground and it will be important for the Falcons to at least give Matt Ryan manageable Down and distance to work with.
That is especially the case if down a Receiver or two and especially behind an Offensive Line which has not been at its best in pass protection. If Matt Ryan is left in third and long spots, you would have to think the Vikings pass rush is going to put the veteran under pressure and get to him while forcing mistakes or Sacks.
Despite being behind, Matt Ryan's recent numbers have not been that impressive but there is an opportunity for him in this game. The Vikings Secondary has not played up to the level of recent years, but much depends on how Ryan is feeling after seeing Dan Quinn removed as Head Coach and whether the Receivers are healthy enough to make plays for him.
You do have to wonder if the Falcons are feeling sorry for costing their likeable Head Coach his job after the start made and if that is the case they could find it hard to motivate themselves. All of the suggestions are that the locker room were behind Dan Quinn and the 0-5 start could just see Atlanta struggle against a Minnesota team that could easily be 3-2 rather than 1-4.
Minnesota are 4-0-1 in their last five against the spread against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons have been very good as a road underdog in recent games in that spot, but the Vikings have a very good record under Mike Zimmer when coming off a loss. It feels like this is going to be a close game, but one where the Vikings might just have the greater balance on the Offensive side of the ball as they find a way to get their second win of the season and stay in touch with those teams who are looking to earn a PlayOff spot later this year.
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins Pick: I will be the first to admit that I never saw a situation in which the Miami Dolphins would be such big favourites to win any NFL game in 2020 barring facing an opponent who had the majority of their players on the Covid-19 exemption list. However, a strong start to the season, relatively, coupled with the fact that the New York Jets are the visitors to South Florida makes the Dolphins the team to beat in Week 6.
They are 2-3 on the season having taken the San Francisco 49ers to the cleaners in Week 5 and the Miami Dolphins can put it all on the line in Week 6. Usually I would consider this a letdown spot after beating the NFC representatives in the Super Bowl a few months ago, but the changing schedule means the Dolphins are actually going into a Bye Week and that should keep the players focused on the momentum they have built up.
Things have been much tougher for the New York Jets who are 0-5 and surely going to part ways with Head Coach Adam Gase sooner rather than later. It is quite staggering that Gase has been allowed to stick around as long as he has and the Jets look a mess with injuries on both sides of the ball meaning they are not really being very competitive.
Facing a Divisional rival should always pump up a team, but Sam Darnold will be missing again in Week 6 which means former Super Bowl winning Quarter Back Joe Flacco gets the call again. Joe Flacco is someway away from the form that helped take the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl title and he is very much a backup these days and he showed very little in the blowout home defeat to the Arizona Cardinals last time out.
To make matters more difficult for the Jets in general, Le'Veon Bell was released this week and quickly signed up by the Kansas City Chiefs. While it has to be said that Bell has been a disappointment in New York after signing a big contract, it has also got to be noted that he was never on the same page as Adam Gase who admitted he would not have signed him days after walking into the Head Coaching role here.
If Bell was around you might feel the Jets could establish the run in this one but instead it will be a heavy dose of the veteran Frank Gore. He may still have some success, but the Dolphins have to be keen on stuffing the run and forcing Joe Flacco to try and beat them through the air.
The New York Offensive Line has struggled when it comes to pass protection and the Miami Dolphins will feel they can get after a largely immobile Joe Flacco in this one as long as they can keep the Jets in obvious passing positions on the field. The Miami Secondary has played well, and they are definitely going to feel they can get the better of the Jets who have little of note outside of Jamison Crowder.
Moving the ball could be an issue for the Jets, but that should not be the same problem for the Miami Dolphins who have Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the way. The veteran Quarter Back is no fool and will understand he is a placeholder at the position for the Dolphins, but that means Fitzpatrick is going out to have fun and it has led to some strong performances already in the 2020 season that is keeping him in as the starter.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has needed to lead the Dolphins because the new look backfield that was signed in the off-season have simply not performed at the level Miami would have wanted. They have not been consistent running the ball whether they give it to Matt Breida, Jordan Howard or Myles Gaskin and I don't think they will get a lot of change from the Jets Defensive Line.
However, Fitzpatrick is someone capable of making plays with his legs when things break down in front of him and he has also been well protected by the Dolphins Offensive Line when it comes to the pass. A strong Offensive Line will also feel they can get the better of the Jets pass rush which has not really shown up this season and that should mean Fitzpatrick has time to hit some decent Receivers down the field that are going up against a porous New York Secondary.
I expect Ryan Fitzpatrick to have another strong showing and he can lead the Dolphins to a big win and a cover of a number they have simply not been used to dealing with in the last four years.
Miami will be looking for revenge for losing the last Divisional game against the Jets, but they did beat them by 8 points here last season. The Dolphins have won their last four home games against this AFC East rival, while the Jets have a pretty horrible 8-20-1 record against the spread in their last twenty-nine when coming off a straight up loss of at least 14 points.
They are 1-4 against the spread in their last five road games and face a Miami team who are 3-1-1 against the spread the last five times they have been set as the home favourite. I like Miami to get the better of the Jets in this one too.
Green Bay Packers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pick: This is not just a potential NFC Championship Game at the end of the season, but any chance you have to see the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers duelling one another can't be missed.
Of course the Quarter Backs don't actually play one another, but it will still be fascinating to see how two guaranteed Hall of Famers will approach this game.
Aaron Rodgers is coming in off a Bye Week so should be suitably prepared as he leads the 4-0 Green Bay Packers into battle in Florida. On the other side Tom Brady played on Thursday Night Football in Week 5 which means the Buccaneers have had some additional time to get ready for this one and his team will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat to the Chicago Bears which has dropped Tampa Bay to 3-2 for the season.
Both teams will know how important this one is to give them a mental edge if they are to resume battle in January, while the Seeding at that time could also be affected by this one result between Conference rivals.
Tampa Bay have to be feeling better about their chances with their big name Receivers back having played Chicago without Chris Godwin and with both Mike Evans and Scotty Miller limited. Having the extra time to get ready for Week 6 should mean all three are in a much better place physically and Tom Brady has to have seen some of the holes the Green Bay Packers have in the Secondary with injuries affecting them.
It is also possible that the Buccaneers can establish the run to just ease the pass rush pressure Green Bay do generate. While Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette have not exactly pulled up trees this season, the Packers are still a team who have not played the run that efficiently and it should mean Brady is allowed to operate from good Down and distance for much of the game. The Buccaneers won't be too concerned if they are keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines for long drives either, although Bruce Arians will be demanding his team punch those drives with Touchdowns and not Field Goals.
That it what the Buccaneers will need if they are going to beat the Green Bay Packers who have been operating at a high level Offensively all season. Aaron Rodgers is clearly playing with a point to prove and hasn't missed a beat even with the likes of Allan Lazard and Davante Adams missing time.
At least this week Rodgers will get Adams back who was close to a return before the Bye Week- even a poor choice to criticise the doctors decision prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4 won't have affected Adams' place in the starting line up. With the protection Rodgers has been given all season, he will feel he has the time to find the likes of Adams and Robert Tonyan down the field and the Quarter Back could have a big game.
The Buccaneers have been able to generate strong pass rush pressure which is going to have to be respected, but I am not sure they are going to be able to rattle Rodgers in his current state of mind. Instead I expect the Quarter Back to have a good day throwing the ball to keep the Green Bay Packers in with a chance of the road win.
It will be down to Rodgers because the Buccaneers have a Defensive Line which is capable of limiting the damage teams do on the ground. You can't ignore how well Green Bay have run the ball all season so they might crack open some lanes for Aaron Jones, but his biggest impact may be as a pass catcher coming out of the backfield.
At this time it is hard to oppose Green Bay who look to be playing with confidence and should be well rested ahead of this big Week 6 game, but Tom Brady rarely fails as a home underdog. The former Patriots star has his full complement of Receivers back which should be a big boost for Tampa Bay and the balance on the Offensive side of the ball could be key in determining the outcome of this one.
Tom Brady is also coming in off a loss and I saw an incredible number which says his teams are 14-1 against the spread when off a defeat and set as the underdog as they are here.
Green Bay have looked really good through the first four weeks, but I think they may come up a little short against a Tampa Bay team who might control the clock and make the big plays to win this one as the underdog.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills Pick: Teams around these two have had Covid-19 issues which has meant the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills have had to move their own games. The scheduling has meant that this game between two of the top AFC teams has had to be moved from Thursday Night Football into an early Monday Night Football slot, but the players might be happy enough with a little extra preparation time to get through.
Both teams saw their unbeaten records disappear in Week 5 as the Kansas City Chiefs were upset as huge home favourites against Divisional rivals the Las Vegas Raiders. That dropped the Chiefs to 4-1 for the season, although they remain top of the AFC West, while the Buffalo Bills were embarrassed by the Tennessee Titans in a rare Tuesday Night Football slot to also fall to 4-1, although they look like they are playing in a much weaker AFC East.
None of that will matter to two teams who will believe this is a chance to give themselves a potential tie-breaker when it comes to Seeding later in the season when the PlayOffs come around. Three teams have already won five games in the AFC so the losing team will definitely feel they have lost a step and may also then be forced into a tougher than expected Divisional battle so there is plenty on the line for the Bills and the Chiefs who are looking to bounce back from those losses mentioned in Week 5.
Buffalo can't be any worse than they were in the defeat to the unbeaten Tennessee Titans and Sean McDermott will feel his team have something to prove. The wins over the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Rams can't be dismissed, but the Bills will also know many saw them blown out in a primetime spot and now they have another one against the Super Bowl Champions.
Josh Allen has largely been a huge success in the early weeks of 2020 and I don't think anyone should get off the Quarter Back's bandwagon based solely on the performance against the Titans, which was comfortably his worst one of the season. This season Allen has been much better with his arm and has not used his legs as much as he has in previous years with the Buffalo Bills and that has given his team a different look.
He will be challenged against the Super Bowl Champions who have actually played the pass pretty well, although the Defensive Line has work to do to improve their run Defense. The Chiefs might not feel the likes of Zach Moss and Devin Singletary are going to fully expose their issues on the ground though and it feels like the Buffalo strength is going against the Kansas City strength on the Defensive side of the ball.
There might be some pressure on Josh Allen if he is in obvious passing situations, but largely he has been well protected. That should mean the big Quarter Back is able to hook up with a returning John Brown as well as big off-season signing Stefon Diggs, although Allen will have to be careful with the ball against this Chiefs Secondary which has been able to create Interceptions.
I do think Josh Allen and the Bills will have success in this one when they drop back to throw, but they are going to need some Defensive help back if they are going to find a way to shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. This Offense has to be upset with some of their own levels in the defeat to the Raiders in Week 5 and I do think Mahomes is someone that is very difficult to slow two weeks in a row.
There have been a couple of games where he has not looked completely comfortable, but the slightly longer time to prepare than they would have expected for this game has to be a big edge for Andy Reid and his Quarter Back. Patrick Mahomes has also been given a shiny new weapon in Le'Veon Bel which should aid the Kansas City rushing attack that has largely struggled for consistency in 2020.
Bell and Clyde Helaire-Edwards should be able to have some success in this one on the ground against a Bills Defensive Line which has given up an average of 130 rushing yards per game in their last three games. That will especially be the case if the Bills decide they are going to stop Patrick Mahomes beating them through the air, although the Defensive unit have not played up to the levels advertised so far this season.
A lack of a pass rush and a Secondary which has allowed some very big yards through the air is not a good combination for the Buffalo Bills ahead of taking on Mahomes. They could have a key player back in Tre'Davious White to try and help against a Chiefs team that will be missing Sammy Watkins, but White can't be at 100% and I do think there are enough weapons for Patrick Mahomes to exploit which gives them a slight edge in the game.
It is a big number for a road team to cover here, but I do think the Chiefs are more likely to do that than the Buffalo Bills. Both teams are well coached and bounce back from losses, but Kansas City are a solid road favourite in recent times, while the Bills are 3-7 against the spread in their last ten as the home underdog.
This is a 'prove it' game for the Bills which will increase their motivation, but the Kansas City Chiefs won't be overlooking a potential PlayOff rival. I can see both Quarter Backs having strong showings, but ultimately I will be looking for Mahomes to out-duel Allen in a high-scoring game and that should be one where the Chiefs show why they are the Super Bowl Champions.
Arizona Cardinals @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: A devastating injury suffered by Dak Prescott means the Dallas Cowboys will be without their starting Quarter Back for the remainder of the 2020 season. They don't have a terrible backup option in Andy Dalton, but there is no doubt that Prescott can do things that the former Cincinnati Bengal will not and the Cowboys are a team who have needed to score a lot of points to even get to 2-3 for the season.
They remain the team to beat in the NFC East where no other team has won more than one game through the first six weeks of the season. A win on Monday Night Football will move Dallas back up to 0.500 for the season and they will then be able to go into back to back Divisional games with some confidence.
However the Cowboys are going to be the home underdog in this big game against the Arizona Cardinals who have been difficult to get a read on in 2020. The Cardinals are 3-2 for the season which means they are trailing the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, but this is a team who have beaten the likes of San Francisco, Washington and the New York Jets while losing to the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions.
None of those five teams can really be considered amongst the best in the NFL with injuries meaning none have a winning record through to this point of the season. Only the Panthers are even at 0.500 and that makes it tough to judge the Arizona Cardinals and really know what to expect of them in the weeks and months ahead.
Arizona have to be feeling pretty good about what they can do Offensively in this game- while they have not had the most consistent output from Kenyan Drake at Running Back, Kyler Murray is able to scramble from the Quarter Back position and that has helped the Cardinals put up some strong numbers on the ground. They should have success moving the ball on the ground against the Dallas Cowboys, although the return of Leighton Vander Esch is massive for the Cowboys.
The Linebacker may help strengthen the Dallas Defensive Line when it comes to defending the run and at least forcing the Cardinals to beat them through the air. Ultimately the Cardinals should be able to at least stay in front of the chains in this game and that will mean Kyler Murray is able to make some big plays through the air against a Cowboys Secondary which has been awful to say the least.
In recent games Dallas have looked a little better at defending the pass, but that is partly down to teams protecting leads and using the run to keep the clock ticking. The other factor is some of the short fields Dallas have been giving up, and I do think Murray will have a strong showing as he hooks up with DeAndre Hopkins.
In saying that I am not expecting Dallas to have a massive drop off without Dak Prescott in this game, although it will be a factor later in the season against better teams. Andy Dalton may not have the same movement, but he is capable of handing the ball off to Ezekiel Elliot who should be able to break off some big runs for the Cowboys unless Arizona are selling out to force the backup Quarter Back to beat them.
That might be a problem for the Cardinals because they look like they are going to have trouble putting a pass rush together to at least give Dalton something to think about. The Cowboys have some quality Receivers that Dalton will be able to hit like he used to do with AJ Green in Cincinnati.
Andy Dalton will recognise that the Cardinals have a decent Secondary led by Patrick Peterson, but he will also believe his Receivers are able to win their one on one battles on the outside. The chemistry may not be the same as the one that Dak Prescott had, but I do think Andy Dalton can make enough plays to have the Dallas Cowboys in an appealing position as the home underdog.
Having key names back Defensively and playing without their starting Quarter Back for the first time should be a real motivational tool for the Cowboys. They could also catch the Arizona Cardinals looking ahead to a really big game with the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7 and a third road game in a row is not ideal in the current circumstances.
Dallas are 4-0 against the spread in their last four games as the home underdog and Arizona are not used to being favoured and dealing with that expectation to win games. I am going to look for the entire Dallas roster to rally together and 'want' this one more than the Cardinals who may feel it is going to be a comfortable day in the office now Dak Prescott is missing.
MY PICKS: Detroit Lions - 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Pittsburgh Steelers - 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Minnesota Vikings - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tennessee Titans - 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
New York Giants - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Miami Dolphins - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kansas City Chiefs - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Dallas Cowboys + 1.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Saturday, 17 October 2020
The current situation is far from normal for anyone and that does mean we are working our way through multiple factors we may not have usually considered when it comes down to the Picks being made from any of the sports taking place.
The same can be said of College Football as outbreaks of Covid-19 are causing postponements and changes in the schedule with more games called off this week. Even then we get into Week 7 and the games that are set to go and some selections from them which can be seen below.
Pittsburgh Panthers @ Miami Hurricanes Pick: There are going to be a lot of teams that run into the Clemson Tigers in 2020 who find the favourites to win the National Championship too hot to handle. That was the case for the Miami Hurricanes in Week 6 of the 2020 College Football season, but they can't allow themselves to take too long to get over things and return their focus to upcoming games.
Those are situations they can control and an unbeaten run between now and mid-December may offer Miami the chance for redemption in the ACC Championship Game. A lot can happen between now and then so the key for the Hurricanes is to focus on themselves and make sure they return to winning ways in Week 7.
The Hurricanes have played one fewer game than the Pittsburgh Panthers this season, but they are strong favourites to beat a team who are just 2-2 in ACC Conference play. In back to back weeks the Panthers have been beaten by a single point by the NC State Wolfpack and the Boston College Eagles and that will have some wondering why they are such a big underdog in this game.
The reason is fairly simple and that is veteran signal caller Kenny Pickett is trending towards sitting out for Pittsburgh. There is still hope for Pickett who made his first College start for the Panthers against the Miami Hurricanes three years ago and actually beat a then unbeaten opponent, although he has not led the Panthers to wins over this rivals since then.
Kenny Pickett is hurt and he is going to be limited at best in this game which is going to be causing problems for the Pittsburgh Panthers no matter what. They have been decent at throwing the ball down the field, and Miami's Secondary can be exposed, but the problem for the Panthers will be if Pickett is not very mobile behind his Offensive Line and can't escape from the Miami pass rush.
What will make things difficult for Pittsburgh if their Quarter Back is limited or if they have to call on someone much more inexperienced than Kenny Pickett is that they have been struggling to run the ball with any consistency. That does mean any signal caller is operating from third and long spots when facing the Hurricanes pass rush and it could make it very difficult for Pittsburgh to move the ball with some consistency through this meeting.
Running the ball is not going to be easy for the Hurricanes either as they face a Pittsburgh Defensive Line which has restricted teams to 1.7 yards per carry for the season and even to 2.1 yards per carry in their last three games despite the improved level of opponent. Miami have been able to establish the run with their dual-threat Quarter Back D'Eriq King able to rip off yards on the ground himself, but it might be more on him to show his arm can make the plays to loosen things out for the running game.
King will have to be aware of the threat the Panthers have when it comes to the pass rush, but there are holes in the Secondary which can be exposed. He will have to scramble away from pressure before targeting his options down the field, but the transfer has shown he is capable of doing that while an improved Miami Offensive Line can at least give D'Eriq King the time he may need to hit his Receivers.
Miami have blown out Pittsburgh the last two times they have hosted them and this time may be facing an inexperienced Quarter Back.
The Hurricanes have also bounced back effectively from straight up losses of more than 20 points like they had in Week 6. While the Panthers have also been a solid team to back when they have suffered a defeat, I think the Miami Hurricanes will have a bit too much experience for them in this one, especially without Kenny Pickett at 100% in the Quarter Back spot.
Kansas Jayhawks @ West Virginia Mountaineers Pick: Most are expecting the Oklahoma State Cowboys to be the team to beat in the Big 12 Conference and both of these teams meeting each other in Week 7 have already been beaten by the favourites. The West Virginia Mountaineers will believe they have enough to at least fight back and potentially earn a Championship Game, but the Kansas Jayhawks are having another difficult season.
The Jayhawks have lost all three games played in 2020 and they are 0-2 within the Conference, while things have been hard this week with Les Miles not being able to help the team as he quarantines after Covid-19 concerns. There is still a chance that Miles will be on the sideline in Week 7, but not having the Head Coach around all week is not ideal for the players.
Two blowout losses to Conference rivals is arguably more acceptable than losing to Coastal Carolina, but that is where the Jayhawks are. They have been struggling on both sides of the ball and I do think it is going to be a big challenge for Kansas to keep this one competitive.
Miles Kendrick will get the call at Quarter Back for the Jayhawks, but he is going up against a West Virginia Defensive unit that have played well and deserve respect. The young, inexperienced signal caller won't be able to call on much of a running game to put himself in a strong position to at least try and make plays as Kansas have struggled to establish the ground game.
The Jayhawks have only averaged 149 yards per game on the ground at 3.7 yards per carry, but now they have to try and knock the West Virginia Defensive Line around which has given up less than 3 yards per carry. Teams have not been deterred in trying to run against the Mountaineers, but they are holding teams to barely 102 yards per game on the ground and I do think Miles Kendrick is going to be the one under pressure to try and keep the chains moving.
That itself will be a huge difficulty for Kansas considering the West Virginia Secondary have only allowed 166 passing yards per game so far in 2020. They have not been completely happy with their performances, but the Mountaineers can't really expect to play much better than they have up to this point, although this does feel like another game against an overmatched Conference rival.
Holding teams in check on the ground has also given the Mountaineers a chance to rush the passer and I expect them to get after Kendrick in this one. The Kansas Offensive Line has been just as poor in pass protection as they have in opening holes for the ground attack and I think that means we are going to see the Mountaineers control the tempo of this game.
West Virginia might have remained unbeaten if they had more consistency Offensively, but they should have enough to keep the chains moving throughout this one. The key will be getting a little more out of the Offensive Line when it comes to running the ball and I think the Mountaineers should be aided by the season long struggles Kansas have had on the Defensive Line.
This is a team that has given up over 225 yards per game on the ground and I do think it will be difficult for them to contain West Virginia who have Leddie Brown rolling from the Running Back position.
The inability to stop the run means Kansas have simply not been able to get much of a pass rush going while the Secondary might have stronger looking numbers because teams have not needed to make multiple big plays against them down the field. Jarret Doege might be comfortable handing the ball off in this one and see his team drive the ball up and down the field, but I also think the Quarter Back will be asked to take some chances throwing the ball to build confidence for bigger tests in the remaining weeks of the 2020 season.
I like West Virginia here and I do think they are capable of covering a big number.
The Mountaineers have usually been well prepared off a Bye Week and the same cannot be said for the Kansas Jayhawks. Add in an inexperienced Quarter Back and the fact the Head Coach has not been able to be around during the week and the home team might end up with a comfortable win when all is said and done.
Louisville Cardinals @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick: No one can honestly say they have enjoyed 2020 in the way they would have wanted and for sporting institutions there is always the worry that games will have to be postponed when Covid-19 outbreaks occur. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish know all about that having had back to back games postponed, but it has not stopped their momentum as they comfortably dismissed the Florida State Seminoles in Week 6.
Even then Brian Kelly has admitted he feels much happier with what has been a 'normal' week in preparing for the latest ACC Conference game. The Fighting Irish are 3-0 for the season and 2-0 within the Conference after results last week and they look like being the biggest threat to the Clemson Tigers in the ACC.
They go in Week 7 as a big favourite to beat the Louisville Cardinals who have a 1-3 record overall, but who have lost all three ACC games played so far. The Cardinals have lost three in a row, but they have had slightly longer preparing for this test having played during the week in Week 6 while Notre Dame were in the traditional Saturday scheduling plan.
Any team who can turn to Malik Cunningham has to be respected, but the Cardinals have still not been able to really get on track Offensively as they would have liked. The big concern for this team is the struggle to establish the run game and now they have to face a Fighting Irish Defensive Line which has simply not been giving up a lot of big plays.
Last week Notre Dame were not happy with their own Defensive performance, but they should be a lot better playing in back to back weeks rather than having three weeks between games. The Defensive Line will believe they can win on the line of scrimmage which would then put all the pressure on Cunningham at Quarter Back to make the plays needed to keep the chains moving.
You can't dismiss Cunningham's chances of doing that, but this is not an easy team to throw the ball against. Any time he is in third and long spots, keeping the Fighting Irish pass rush at bay will be a huge challenge, while the Cardinals have simply not thrown the ball as efficiently as they would have liked in their three Conference games. Malik Cunningham is a very good Quarter Back, but he doesn't really have the talent around him to compete with this Notre Dame Defense for sixty minutes and it could be a difficult day for Louisville to bounce back.
A lot was expected of Cunningham and a lot was expected of Ian Book at Quarter Back for Notre Dame, although the support the latter is getting means he doesn't have to do as much as he potentially can. At the moment the Fighting Irish Offensive Line have been dominating teams on the ground and that means Book is in a position to make quick throws to keep the chains moving and keep his team in a position to score points on every drive.
The Fighting Irish have put up 6.3 yards per carry so far this season and Louisville's Defensive Line have been giving up 4.9 yards per carry in Conference play which is a major concern for them. It should mean Notre Dame are simply keeping the ball on the ground and picking up some huge chunks of yardage which will put them in a position to do whatever they like with Quarter Back Ian Book.
Louisville can't sell out to stop the run because the Secondary have largely struggled in Conference play too and Book is capable of exposing any one-on-one schemes the Cardinals cook up. Like many teams who are not able to stop the run, the Cardinals have not been able to get anything like a pass rush going and that should mean Ian Book has all the time in the world to make his plays if the Fighting Irish wish him to showcase some of his arm talent.
Last week the Fighting Irish let me down, but I do think they can cover this time around. There isn't a long break between games this week so I expect the Defensive unit to be better all around, while the Notre Dame Offense should keep rolling against this Cardinals Defense.
The Fighting Irish won by 18 on the road last season and I do think they can match that margin here. They are 8-3 against the spread in their last eleven as the home favourite, while Louisville are 1-8-1 against the spread in their last ten as the road underdog. It is a big spread, but I think Notre Dame can cover this week.
MY PICKS: Miami Hurricanes - 12.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)
West Virginia Mountaineers - 21.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish - 16.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
East Carolina Pirates + 3 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Mississippi State Bulldogs + 5.5 Points @ 1.83 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
UCF Knights - 2.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet365 (1 Unit)
North Carolina Tar Heels - 13.5 Points @ 1.90 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Week 6: 3-3, - 0.44 Units (6 Units Staked, - 7.33% Yield)
The international break is over and that means the return of the Premier League and Fantasy Football.
I will have a few words about GW5 once I put down a few thoughts about the fixtures to be played this weekend.
Everton v Liverpool Pick: Both clubs from Merseyside had made a very strong start to the Premier League season before the final set of games ahead of the October international break.
While Everton have kept their winning run going, Liverpool were being thumped 7-2 at Aston Villa in one of the more staggering results you will see for some time.
The lack of crowds have not helped some of the fixtures and that was the argument made to excuse the Liverpool performance, but it is not the first time since the resumption of play that the defensive levels have not been good enough. They earned a clean sheet at Chelsea, but that came against ten men for the entirety of the second half and even then Liverpool needed their hosts to miss a penalty.
They are giving up some big chances and I think the pressure only increases tenfold knowing Alisson is not between the sticks behind them.
Everton have not beaten Liverpool at Goodison Park since October 17th 2010, but ten years to the day later they look to have as good a chance as ever. They are playing with confidence and Carlo Ancelotti will have some key players back from injury, while Everton have been creating chances for fun in their games this season.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a striker in form and Everton will feel they can get at this Liverpool backline which has been surprisingly nervous at times throughout this season.
They might not have beaten them here, but Everton don't lose many games to Liverpool at Goodison Park which is underlined by the fact that 7 of the last 8 here have ended in draws. When they met here in June it was only some poor home finishing which prevented Everton taking the full three points and I think this current squad are playing considerably better than they were back then.
Everton look stronger all around and I would be surprised if they are beaten by Liverpool, despite the fact that the latter should be fuming and desperate to put things right after their embarrassing capitulation at Villa Park.
We should see a really strong Liverpool performance, but defensively they have more questions than answers at the moment and I think Everton are able to avoid defeat at the least.
Chelsea v Southampton Pick: This is the first ever PPV Football game being played in the Premier League and I am looking forward to seeing what kind of numbers the television companies pick up for these fixtures.
Personally I not only find it embarrassing that the Premier League has decided this is the best way to deal with the fact that fans are not allowed inside the Stadiums, but the actual cost is beyond a joke.
Neither the Chelsea or Southampton players will be worrying about that as they look to keep some momentum behind them following positive home wins in the final set of games before the international break.
Both clubs have been playing some strong attacking football, but Frank Lampard and Ralph Hasenhuttl will be more pleased with the clean sheets earned. Southampton in particular have looked much more solid at the back following the 2-5 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, although those games have been against Burnley and West Brom and this Chelsea team have a lot more attacking threat than those two clubs.
Frank Lampard has perhaps not been allowing his Chelsea team play as freely as they were at the end of last season, although I do think injuries have been partly to blame. There shouldn't be any excuses this weekend with the likes of Christian Pulisic back and possibly starting and I do think Chelsea will find spaces against this Southampton team who do like to get on the front foot themselves.
In recent seasons Chelsea have not had it easy against Southampton and I do think this will be a difficult test days before the Champions League begins. However, I also think Chelsea have been playing well at Stamford Bridge for some time and they have the pace and quality in the final third to eventually break down Southampton.
The visitors will cause problems, but I think their attacking intent will eventually be their downfall in this one.
Manchester City v Arsenal Pick: This is a big game in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon and Mikel Arteta is going to be confident he can find the right system to get the better of Pep Guardiola for the second time in the space of a few months.
Arsenal have not really enjoyed playing Manchester City in recent years, but they did enough to beat them in the FA Cup Semi Final in July and there will be a confidence about the team. They have made a strong start to the 2020/21 season and Arsenal will believe their pace in the final third is going to give them every chance to expose a Manchester City defence which has not been watertight at all.
I do expect Manchester City to be better the longer Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte have to play with each other, but in the early part of the season there might be some teething problems. We saw some of those when Leeds United got forward against them, but Manchester City have also shown an attacking cutting edge that will give them a chance in this and any match they play.
Being without Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero has been difficult and both are edging closer to a return, but unlikely to be involved this weekend. It is important that both Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are fit to play a part because this is going to be a difficult enough game and without them I don't think I would fancy Manchester City's chances at all.
However, if both Sterling and De Bruyne are available there is enough of an attacking push from Manchester City to be able to cause this Arsenal team some problems. The Gunners are far from the walkover they have been in recent seasons and they will challenge Manchester City, but I do think the home team will have the better of the opportunities over the ninety minutes.
Even in the games played so far this season, Arteta seems to be capable of getting results from fixtures where his team have not been at their best. Both West Ham United and Liverpool created some big chances against Arsenal and you have to feel if they are going to allow Manchester City to do the same that the home team will have a little too much in the locker for them.
Arsenal do find a way to hang around in matches which will make them dangerous, but Manchester City should be able to finish off the chances they are likely to create in this one. Even without their top two strikers, Manchester City have been scoring goals and I think they will find a way to edge past Arsenal with perhaps a late goal sealing the deal like Liverpool did when they met The Gunners last month.
Newcastle United v Manchester United Pick: Rumours have been flying over the last couple of weeks after Manchester United's hammering at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur- the majority of those are about the manager and whether he will be given much more time, but most fans are also furious about the poor recruitment strategy at Old Trafford which continues to blight the club.
More panicky decisions were made as the transfer deadline hit and Manchester United are now heading into a big month.
It doesn't help that some have been suggesting that Bruno Fernandes had a major falling out with team-mates and with the manager at half time of the defeat to Spurs.
All in all Manchester United will have plenty of eyes on them to see how they react to the devastating defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. The players have to show they have more pride playing for the shirt than they did two weeks ago, but the challenge is finding the right system to deal without Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani.
Manchester United will also be travelling to St James' Park this weekend where they have a poor recent record having won 1 of their last 4 visits. Last season they were beaten 1-0 here and Newcastle United have made a positive start to the season which will make them feel pretty good about their chances of earning an upset.
Steve Bruce will be looking to set his team up to be hard to beat and he could have a number of first team defenders back for this fixture having entered the international break with a lot of injuries to deal with. Restricting space and trying to hit Manchester United on the counter attack will be the game plan for the home team and it is a plan that Brighton almost executed perfectly in the last away Premier League game played by the visitors.
Manchester United have won 7 away games in all competitions in succession and they have been scoring goals for fun in those fixtures. However being without Martial is a blow to their chances here and I do think there is something not right at the club at the moment which makes them vulnerable.
The manager could find himself under huge pressure on Saturday evening if Manchester United were to lose again, but either way it does feel like a very difficult game for the visitors to win easily. Big games will come thick and fast for Manchester United after this one, but that puts pressure on them to earn a result in this fixtures to build some momentum towards bigger tests.
It just feels like a tough ask at a ground on which Manchester United have experienced some hardship in recent times. Add in the dent in confidence the players suffered, the missing strikers and Newcastle United's own decent start to the season and this feels like a very short price for Manchester United to get back to winning ways.
Sheffield United v Fulham Pick: Two teams who could not have asked for more disappointing opening month of the Premier League season meet on Sunday in what is a very important game for both Sheffield United and Fulham.
Second season syndrome has been a problem for many clubs in the top flight over the last thirty years, but Chris Wilder will be most concerned that his Sheffield United team have lost 7 Premier League games in a row. That includes 3 losses from the end of last season which suggests the Sheffield United slump is more prolonged than merely the players being worked out in their second season at this level.
A lack of goals is an issue, but Sheffield United have been creating chances. At some point I do think they will be better in front of goal, but the bigger issue may be the fact that The Blades have lost some of their toughness defensively which means they will need a lot more goals to get anywhere near the kind of level produced last season.
Injuries have hurt Sheffield United as has the decision of Dean Henderson to return to Manchester United, but Wilder will know this fixture represents a good chance to get the first points on the board.
Scott Parker did really well in helping Fulham return to the top flight, but his team have struggled on their return to the Premier League. Defensively they have been a mess and new signings have been made to try and improve on that side of their game, while Fulham are also a team who have struggled to score enough goals with none being managed in their last 3 games in all competitions.
The feeling is that Sheffield United have been more productive going forward which could be the key to the outcome of this one. It won't be easy considering the recent form which will have dented the confidence of the players, but Fulham are not exactly firing on all cylinders themselves and I do think The Blades have the cutting edge to eventually begin to take the chances created.
I am not anticipating the highest scoring game of the weekend, but Sheffield United can be the one to earn their first victory of the 2020/21 season.
Crystal Palace v Brighton Pick: Most derby games in England are between clubs that don't have the same kind of distance between them that Crystal Palace and Brighton do, but that has not lessened the intensity between these clubs.
Both teams are likely going to be battling to avoid relegation this season and these games could have extra meaning when it comes to May and the final breakdown of the League table. That won't be lost on the managers and I do think Roy Hodgson and Graham Potter will believe they can still motivate the players who will miss the presence of the fans in fixtures like this one.
On the face of things you would think this is the kind of fixture that would produce a low-scoring, tight, competitive affair. However goals have not been a massive problem when these teams have faced each other and the early form of both Crystal Palace and Brighton suggests we should see chances in this one too.
Crystal Palace have scored in both home games played this season and they have been creating decent chances in some of the fixtures played. They will be aided by the fact they are facing a Brighton team who have conceded 10 goals in their last 3 games in all competitions, albeit against clubs in the 'Big Six' part of the Division.
On the other side, Brighton have actually looked threatening going forward and have scored in every League game played this season and scored at least twice in their last 3 in the Premier League. Before the defeat at Everton they had been unbeaten in 9 away games in all competitions and Brighton have scored at least twice in 4 away games in succession.
Before Crystal Palace's 0-1 win at the Amex Stadium, both teams had hit the net against the other in 5 successive games in all competitions. The injuries in the home team have yet to clear up which could make them vulnerable to an attack minded Brighton team, but Crystal Palace do have some talented forwards that will believe they can expose the soft underbelly of The Seagulls.
Chances are being created in the games these teams have played so far this season and the last 3 at Selhurst Park since Brighton have returned to the top flight have ended with both teams scoring. I think the chances we saw in their two Premier League fixtures last season will be replicated in this one and both teams should find a way to hit the back of the net.
Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United Pick: This London derby could be a really good one if the early season form of Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United is anything to go by.
Both are coming off very impressive away Premier League wins against teams who finished in the top five last season and I think both Jose Mourinho and David Moyes would have preferred to have avoided a two week break between games.
Tottenham Hotspur have had a tough September with the amount of games they had to negotiate, but Mourinho has helped the squad manage that and the 1-6 win at Manchester United will have given the players a huge boost in confidence. They have earned passage to the Europa League Group Stage and progressed to the League Cup Quarter Final, while Tottenham Hotspur could be boosted by the return of Gareth Bale who is in line for his second debut.
The home form will need improving if Tottenham Hotspur are to return to the Champions League at the end of the campaign, but they were very unfortunate not to have earned more points from their games against Everton and Newcastle United. The latter in particular was a day in which Spurs missed a host of chances before a controversial Penalty cost them three points at the very end of the game.
Now they have to make sure they don't underestimate a West Ham United team who battered Wolves and Leicester City in back to back Premier League games. Those were not undeserved results or The Hammers being more clinical than their opponents, but West Ham United created huge opportunities and have confident players who have taken those chances when they have come up.
Even in the 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, West Ham United dominated large portions of the second half and only slightly better finishing would have perhaps earned them the full three points let alone the just the one from a draw.
David Moyes can sometimes be a little cautious, but the style West Ham United have used in their last 3 Premier League games against top eight opponents suggests he will keep faith in what he has his players doing. The squad is as fit as they have been in months and everyone seems to know their role which means West Ham United can more than just contribute to this fixture.
Both teams scoring would not be a huge surprise, and it would be disappointing if this was not one of the better games to watch this weekend. I anticipate a game where both Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United will go on the attack and look to score goals and it should be one of the higher-scoring games of the weekend.
Leicester City v Aston Villa Pick: There have been some staggering results in the Premier League through the first month of the 2020/21 season and these two clubs have been involved in a number of them.
Leicester City stunned Manchester City 2-5 at the Etihad Stadium before being battered 0-3 at home by West Ham United before the international break. On the other side Aston Villa hammered Liverpool 7-2 at Villa Park two weeks ago and are one of two teams that have won every Premier League game they have played this season.
That start comes weeks after Aston Villa needed to escape the drop on the last day of the 2019/20 season, while Leicester City's defeat to West Ham United came after they had won their opening 3 Premier League games.
With that in mind it can be difficult to know what to expect from teams on a week to week basis, but I do think Leicester City will bounce back and perform much better this Sunday.
They will need to be a lot better because Aston Villa are playing with confidence and have been a much stronger team this side of the resumption of English Football in June. Defensively there have been improvements, but Aston Villa have also looked better in the final third and I do think that makes them dangerous here.
Leicester City did hammer Aston Villa twice in the League last season, but Aston Villa did earn a 1-1 draw here in the League Cup. As I have said, Aston Villa are much improved since these teams last met in March and Leicester City have certainly not been playing like a top eight club over the last five months.
The Foxes have been better at home which deserves some respect, but they have lost 3 of their last 4 here. Leicester City have conceded at least twice in 4 home games in a row and Aston Villa's attacking revival should mean they are able to keep this one competitive.
West Brom v Burnley Pick: I could really pick a number of different ways this fixture could be played out, but that makes it a tough one for Fantasy purposes.
Neither team has looked great at the back, but both have struggled in the final third too.
With that in mind I think it is likely we could see a clean sheet in this fixture for at least one of the teams, but I am not sure which is going to earn it. The upcoming games for both teams suggests their Fantasy assets are not worth much at the moment either and this one fixture I won't be tuning in to this weekend, especially not at the PPV prices they are selling it at.
Leeds United v Wolves Pick: The final game of the Premier League weekend comes on Monday Night Football when Leeds United and Wolves meet in what looks like a potentially good looking game on paper.
Both teams have some strong attacking talents and the football they are able to play means those players are allowed to express themselves.
At the same time there have been one or two vulnerabilities at the back which have been exposed by opponents and that should mean these teams combine for an entertaining game at Elland Road.
Neither manager is one that is going to be happy to settle for a result, although it might be a better point for Wolves than Leeds United on current form.
It is hard to really get a good read on how the teams are playing because of some of the inconsistencies that have been on display. There are times when Leeds United and Wolves have looked really good, but there have also been stretches within games when they have looked vulnerable and perhaps been pushed to the brink.
Out of the two teams it is the losses that Wolves have suffered and the manner of them which is a concern, but I would be surprised if they are not able to play their part here. The Marcelo Bielsa system means they are going to be exposed to the Wolves counter attack, but should also mean Leeds United are able to test a team that have conceded 7 times to Manchester City and West Ham United combined.
The layers don't really seem to agree with me in that there is a real chance of seeing some goals in this one, but I do think both teams will find a way to hit the back of the net. Neither manager is one to really take the foot off the accelerator and that should keep the fixture open and produce at least three goals on the night.
MY PICKS: Everton + 0.5 Asian Handicap
Chelsea - 1 Asian Handicap
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap
Newcastle United + 1 Asian Handicap
Sheffield United - 0.25 Asian Handicap
Crystal Palace-Brighton Both Teams to Score
Tottenham Hotspur-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals
Aston Villa + 0.75 Asian Handicap
West Brom-Burnley Both Teams to Score- NO
Leeds United-Wolves Over 2.5 Goals
Fantasy Football GameWeek 5
It is simple...
I've had a miserable time in the first four GameWeeks and the final straw was watching my squad lose considerable value all over the place. The XG numbers have been decent enough, but I have not gotten enough positive returns from the Picks I made and I have to accept that I was wrong and now is the time to make changes.
I did mention that I would be looking to activate the Wildcard after the transfer deadline closed and that is where I am at.
Some players won't be moved, others will be restored in the weeks ahead, but I am going to make a number of changes to the squad to give it a better all around feel. Hopefully it will be the right decisions this time and I will reveal the full team when the deadline hits.
You can check that out on my Twitter page on Saturday morning.
Saturday, 10 October 2020
So usually I have been playing the College Football Picks on a weekly basis, but let's be honest this has been a strange year all around.
After looking like any College Football season would be pushed back to the Spring, the individual Conferences slowly came together to produce a new, smaller schedule and the teams were set to go. Players have had to make choices as to whether they would like to play or not, while Covid-19 cases in some Colleges have meant teams have had to play with second, third or fourth string players.
My personal feeling was that I would not attempt to make Picks with as much uncertainty around as there had been, but also believing that by the opening couple of weeks of October we would have a much better idea as to whether the season could be completed in the current climate. When the SEC decided they were returning to the field, my interest picked up and even though this pandemic is far from over, it is good to have Saturday evening Football back on the screens and with a lot more competitive games on a weekly basis than the usual schedules provide.
It seems the Bowl Season and the College Football PlayOff will all be good to go assuming the season finishes as expected, while the Championship Games have been pushed back to mid-December.
I am looking forward to seeing how things develop and of course I just hope there are not the huge outbreaks which will make everyone wonder if it was the right decision to play in the first place.
Florida Gators @ Texas A&M Aggies Pick: The SEC is still the top Conference in College Football and the winner of it will be heading into the College Football PlayOff as the team to beat after the LSU Tigers were crowned National Champions in 2019. The Florida Gators have opened the season with consecutive wins and they are a legit contender in this Conference as they are one of three teams in the SEC East who have won both games played.
By the end of the weekend there may only be a maximum of two unbeaten teams in the Conference, but that is mainly down to the Gators as the other two unbeaten teams, Georgia and Tennessee, are also playing each other in Week 6. On the other hand the Florida Gators head out on the road to take on an old rival in Jimbo Fisher who is now the Head Coach of the 1-1 Texas A&M Aggies.
The Aggies dropped the second game of the season against the powerhouse of the Alabama Crimson Tide and they are going to find it tough to bounce back in this one. However, while they have Kellen Mond throwing the ball to some talented Receivers, the Aggies will always feel they have enough points to challenge any team they face in this Conference.
Kellen Mond has plenty of College experience behind him and he didn't have a bad outing against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 5 having thrown three Touchdown passes and a single Interception, although that was taken back to the house. The Quarter Back is helping the Aggies average over 250 passing yards per game in the early part of the season and this Florida team, despite being a strong one, are vulnerable through the air as Head Coach Dan Mullen has admitted when talking about the problems the Aggies Offensive unit will give his team.
The Gators have allowed almost 330 passing yards on average this season, although a part of that is down to the fact that teams have needed to throw to keep up with them. Even then it is no excuse to have those kind of numbers and Florida will be more disappointed by the lack of Interceptions this Secondary have had in those games.
Where Florida have excelled is with their pass rush, although Kellen Mond has been well protected to this point, and the strength on the Defensive Line which makes it difficult for teams to produce on the ground. The Gators Defensive Line have only allowed 3.5 yards per carry and they will believe they can make the Aggies one-dimensional at worst although they have to show they can slow down Kellen Mond and prevent him having another big game.
Ultimately the Gators will believe they have enough big plays in the locker to be able to do that on the Defensive side of the ball, while they will also believe they can increase the pressure with their own Offensive output. Kyle Trask is a potential Heisman winner and he is helping the Gators average over 350 passing yards per game in the early weeks of the SEC season which has helped Florida remain unbeaten behind two strong wins.
There is very little faith that the Aggies Secondary can consistently stop Trask and his Receiving talent having given up almost 300 passing yards per game and with a very limited pass rush trying to rattle the Quarter Back. Florida's Offensive Line have protected Trask, while also paving the way for some big running lanes, although like Texas A&M it may be more about the Quarter Back's throwing talent than expecting huge chunks to be gained on the ground.
The Aggies have been able to pick up some turnovers and that could be key in this game where both Offensive units will believe they can move the ball up and down the field at will. It will come down to superior talent and that is where I give the Florida Gators a narrow edge over the Aggies and ultimately think it will lead to a win by a Touchdown at least.
Florida are 31-12 against the spread in their last forty-three as the road favourite and they are 4-1 against the spread in their last five road games overall.
On the other hand, Texas A&M are just 2-5 against the spread in their last seven as the underdog and they are 8-21 against the spread in their last twenty-nine following a straight up loss. This is a team that has sometimes struggled when the level picks up in Conference play and I do think that is the case here with the Florida Gators looking like a team that could be a potential National Champion.
Virginia Tech Hokies @ North Carolina Tar Heels Pick: In usual circumstances the ACC Conference is split into two Divisions and we would have a Championship Game at the end of the season. In 2020 nothing is usual and this year the entire Conference is placed in one standings and the top two teams will end up competing for the Championship in mid-December.
Only five of the teams have an unbeaten record going into Week 6 of the weird 2020 season and two of those are meeting here when the Virginia Tech Hokies visit the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday.
The Hokies are unbeaten despite the fact that they have had a Covid-19 outbreak in the dressing room and were forced to play some of the second string players. They have missed twenty players in the last couple of games played and that has seen opponents have a chance to attack the Secondary and I have to believe the North Carolina Tar Heels are going to take the same approach.
It may not be easy to throw the ball in the conditions though and that is going to be the challenge for the Tar Heels here despite some decent numbers in the early part of the season. The pandemic will have broken some of the rhythm that the North Carolina Offensive unit may have had otherwise seeing as they have played a single competitive game in a month and with rain and wind forecasted it may be tough to throw the ball forty times in this one.
That will mean leaning on a strong rushing attack, although the Virginia Tech Hokies have remained strong on the Defensive Line even when the Secondary have been struggling. The Hokies have only given up 3.5 yards per carry so it may be difficult for Michael Carter to pick up from where he left off against the Boston College Eagles in Week 5 when piling up over 100 yards on the ground.
North Carolina will have more trust in their Quarter Back, although it won't be easy for Sam Howell if his team are not able to stay in front of the down and distance in this game. Howell has not impressed as the Tar Heels would have liked, but he has been decent enough behind an Offensive Line which has not always been at their best in pass protection. That has to be a major concern for the Quarter Back considering how effectively the Virginia Tech Defensive Line have been at getting Sacks on the board and it may be the best way for the Hokies to at least keep North Carolina in check and have a chance to upset the odds here.
Quarter Back play has been a real issue for the Hokies already this season, but there could be some better news coming for them and possibly as early as Week 6. The expected starter was supposed to be Hendon Hooker, but College Football protocols have meant he has not been able to play as he has been in quarantine, although that may be coming to an end now.
Even if Hooker is able to go, it won't be down to the Quarter Back whether the Virginia Tech Hokies are able to win this game. Instead the focus in their first two games has been pounding the rock and they have been very effective at doing that with the Offensive Line mowing down opponents and opening holes for 7 yards per carry.
Those numbers have been compiled against the NC State Wolfpack and the Duke Blue Devils, but this week the Hokies are going up against the Tar Heels Defensive Line which has held opponents to 2 yards per carry. Without any doubt it is the team that controls the line of scrimmage best which is going to be in a position to win this game and I do think it will be tough to stop the Hokies even though everyone knows what they want to do.
The Tar Heels have not exactly managed to stop two of the elite running teams in the nation, but the Defensive Line does deserve respect.
Even then I think the Hokies will be able to do enough to be in front of the chains in this one and that should allow their Quarter Back, whoever it is, to make some plays to keep things moving. Staying in front of the chains is important to slow down what is a fierce North Carolina pass rush, although the Defensive Line might not be pinning back their ears while the game is competitive knowing the first port of call is stopping the run.
The Hokies have gotten the better of this rivalry in recent seasons with four straight wins over the North Carolina Tar Heels.
They are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven visits to North Carolina and Virginia Tech are 4-1 against the spread in their last five as the road underdog. Getting more than a Field Goal worth of points looks good enough to back the road team here to keep this one competitive against a good looking North Carolina team.
Florida State Seminoles @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick: We would usually be watching the Notre Dame Fighting Irish try and run through a very difficult schedule as an Independent College Football team and that also meant that they would be in a very tough spot when it came to trying to earn a College Football PlayOff spot.
2020 has given the Fighting Irish an unexpected chance to play within a Conference setting as they were allowed to join the ACC and they are 1-0 within the Conference going into Week 6. Other teams have had issues trying to get through the weeks without being impacted by the pandemic the world is living with, but the Fighting Irish were not able to avoid the same and that has meant the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are taking to the field for the first time in almost a month.
Some feel that may have seen the Fighting Irish lose some rhythm, but they remain big favourites to remain unbeaten having beaten the Duke Blue Devils and South Florida Bulls in their first two games. Only one of those was a Conference game, but the Fighting Irish are one of five unbeaten teams within the ACC and they will be looking to make it two out two when they host the Florida State Seminoles.
The Seminoles might have had a miserable start to the 2020 season, but they at least managed to snap their losing start in Week 5 even if it came against an overmatched opponent. Being able to take to the field will at least mean Florida State are game-ready for this big test in Week 6, although the Seminoles have to show more heart and grit than they did in losing to Georgia Tech and then being embarrassed by their State rivals the Miami Hurricanes.
Beating Jacksonville State is one thing, but facing one of the teams that could be a National Title contender is a whole different ball game for the Seminoles this week. They have had Quarter Back issues all season with a third player going behind Center in their win over Jacksonville State after early struggles for James Blackman and Tate Rodemaker.
Jordan Travis rallied Florida State for the win over Jacksonville State in Week 5 and he has been given the starting spot for the team at Quarter Back this week. It is a big test for Travis who is going to be facing a Notre Dame team that have simply not been giving up much Defensively.
The Fighting Irish have given up less than 200 passing yards per game and restricted teams to 2.9 yards per carry and that has helped them dominate their first two opponents. Of course the Seminoles are expected to be better than the Blue Devils or Bulls that Notre Dame have played, but this is a team that has struggled to throw the ball consistently and the feeling is that Travis is more comfortable running the ball than throwing it.
It will be important for Travis to use his wheels to try and open up the passing game and also to ease the pressure on the Offensive Line which has struggled in pass protection all season. The Fighting Irish have the pass rush pressure to get to Jordan Travis and it may be an evening where the Florida State Seminoles struggle Offensively as they did in their two games against FBS opponents.
Head Coach Brian Kelly has admitted it was a difficult time for Notre Dame with all of the Covid-19 positive tests they had to deal with, but they have had almost three weeks to make sure players are healthy and feeling better. It should mean a strong team is able to take to the field and the Fighting Irish will be confident that Ian Book will be able to pick up from where he left off in mid-September.
It may not all be down to Book to throw the ball because the Seminoles Defensive Line have struggled to stop the run and Kyren Williams has been able to establish the run effectively for the Fighting Irish. If Williams is able to run the ball behind his Offensive Line as he has in the first two games, Ian Book will be in third and manageable spots where he can expose the Secondary that has struggled to stop the pass.
Florida State have not really been able to pressure the Quarter Back so Book should have plenty of time to pick his targets against a Secondary which has allowed almost 280 passing yards per game this season which includes facing one FCS team. That has to be a real concern for the Seminoles and I think the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be too strong across the board as long as they are fully healthy.
I do expect that to be the case with the way the schedule has worked out and two years ago the Fighting Irish blew out the Florida State Seminoles at home. The Seminoles are now 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven games as the road underdog and Notre Dame are 8-3 against the spread in their last eleven as the home favourite.
It may begin close as Notre Dame just work off the cobwebs, but eventually I think they will be able to create some big Defensive plays which sparks them Offensively and allows them to roll through the Florida State Seminoles.
Miami Hurricanes @ Clemson Tigers Pick: In recent years we have seen the top College Football programs refuse to allow a bad ending to one season seep into the next and that is where the Clemson Tigers find themselves. Losing the National Championship Game would have hurt and the manner of the defeat would have stung all the more, but the Tigers might be the team to beat in the College Football ranks this season.
They are the current Number 1 Ranked team in the country, but nothing matters aside from winning the ACC Conference and looking to do so as an unbeaten Champion to confirm their spot in any College Football PlayOff which is going to be played. They are 3-0 for the season and the Tigers are 2-0 in Conference play, but this is a big game in front of them as they are set to take on the Miami Hurricanes.
Like the Clemson Tigers, the Hurricanes are 3-0 in 2020 and 2-0 within the Conference and so it feels like the winner of this one will be well on the way to earning a spot in the Championship Game in mid-December.
D'Eriq King transferred across from the Houston Cougars to give the Miami Hurricanes a new starting Quarter Back to lean on and his start has been very impressive as his team have seen off UAB, Louisville and Florida State. You can't ignore how well King has played, but facing the Clemson Defensive unit is a completely different level of challenge for him and the chance to prove himself.
The Quarter Back will be trying to make plays against the Clemson Secondary which has held their first three opponents to an average of 213 yards per game through the air. That number is aided by the fact that the Defensive Line have been incredibly strong at shutting down teams on the ground and forcing them to become one-dimensional by having to throw the ball to stay competitive.
Cam'Ron Davis might be able to help King in this one with his ability to break tackles and rip off chunks on the ground, but the Tigers will feel they can control the line of scrimmage despite the strong numbers Miami's Offensive Line have produced. D'Eriq King is capable of scrambling for yards on the ground too, but the Hurricanes are going to be tested by this pass rush too and I do think the Tigers are looking to show they are ready to beat any team put in front of them.
It helps the Defensive unit to take chances knowing Trevor Lawrence is leading the team from the Quarter Back position and scoring points is rarely going to be a problem for them. Lawrence is a leading Heisman candidate and the player most expect to go Number 1 Overall in the NFL Draft whenever he declares for the next level.
The Tigers have not exactly faced a tough schedule, but Lawrence is a National Champion and has shown he can beat any team he faces when at his best. He is helping the team average over 300 passing yards per game and the Miami Secondary have simply not played as well as their Clemson counterparts, although they are stout enough.
Where Clemson might have a real edge is that they should be able to get more out of Travis Etienne when it comes to running the ball than Miami are able to get from Cam'Ron Davis. The Tigers Defensive Line have been tough to run on, but the Hurricanes Defensive Line has proven to not be as strong even though they are far from easy to run on themselves.
If Etienne can make some big plays, it should ease the Miami pass rush and give Trevor Lawrence the chance to put some big plays on the field even in what could be tough conditions with remnants of Tropical Storm Delta likely to be felt.
Rain and wind may make throwing the ball a little more difficult than normal, but that is where the Clemson rushing Offense may have the edge over Miami and make sure the Tigers are not only ready to win, but ready to cover a big mark.
The Tigers are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven at home and they are 18-8 against the spread in their last twenty-six as the favourite. I think this is a season in which they are trying to redeem themselves for the way the 2019 season ended and I like the Tigers here.
MY PICKS: Florida Gators - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Virginia Tech Hokies + 4.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish - 20.5 Points @ 1.85 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Clemson Tigers - 13.5 Points @ 1.85 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
NC State Wolfpack + 7.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Kentucky Wildcats - 1.5 Points @ 1.85 Bet Victor (1 Unit)