Saturday, 20 December 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (December 20-22)

This is the start of a run of four games in less than two weeks for the teams in the English top flight, while the rest of Europe is getting ready to enjoy a 'Winter break'. I know some managers in England have spoken of syncing up with the rest of Europe, but I love this time of year where teams can build a lot of momentum.

When the fixture list is released in June, my first instinct is check the opening six and final six games of the season before finding out when Manchester United are playing Liverpool. The Christmas run of games is the next point of call and I love this time of the season.

Six straight wins would have given most fans more confidence that Manchester United can really kick on going into the 2015 calendar year, but Louis Van Gaal is spot on in suggesting that the performances have to improve markedly. Games against Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City are not as straight-forward as people could perhaps think, although I would expect Manchester United to earn at least 8 points from that run of games.

Anything more would be a very strong achievement and definitely put Manchester United into the 'title challengers' box going into the New Year, while anything less would mean a top four berth would be the maximum of what they can put together.

I have to say one more thing about Louis Van Gaal- I love the way he is seemingly getting shorter and shorter with the media and some of the ridiculously poor questions that are being sent his way. The Dutchman has always had the reputation of being someone who doesn't tolerate fools gladly and it is becoming more and more clear from his press conferences that he has little to no time for those that insist on creating stories for the media.

The latest issue was surrounding the signing of Victor Valdes, but much like Sir Alex Ferguson, a lot of transfer talk gets given short shrift, while Van Gaal's insistence that Manchester United still have plenty of room for improvement sits very well with me.

I don't think there have been many times that United have been dominant in games, especially not away from home, and that search for 'perfection' certainly appeals to me.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace Pick: Losing Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero means half of the Manchester City spine is going to be missing in this game, although Manuel Pellegrini has found the right answers to help the side to 7 straight wins.

I think most people will expect that to be extended to 8 straight wins on Saturday afternoon and I have little doubt that to be the case. However, I think Manchester City have to be aware of the pace that Crystal Palace have in the forward positions and will need to play better than they did in the 0-1 win at Leicester City.

That performance could have been down to the tiredness from their Champions League win in Rome and I think the week preparation works in their favour for this game. Manchester City haven't dominated opponents at home in recent games and I think this is a chance for them to do that against a Crystal Palace team that will likely sit deep and invite City onto them.

Players like Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Frank Lampard are improving their form which makes Manchester City a more dangerous team, while David Silva's return means they have the creativity to unlock teams defending deep.

Manchester City have certainly looked a little vulnerable at the back during the course of the season, but they do have clean sheets in 4 of their last 5 games in all competitions including in their last 3. I do think the home team will wear down Crystal Palace and eventually produce a win in this one by a couple of goals.

Aston Villa v Manchester United Pick: Louis Van Gaal is still not totally satisfied with the performances being produced by Manchester United, but he has to be very happy that the side keep picking up wins even if they don't perhaps deserve to do that.

David De Gea made some big saves against Liverpool when the game was still very much in the balance last weekend and those preserved the three points, while both Arsenal and Southampton will feel very disappointed in losing home games against Manchester United.

The defence still doesn't look completely comfortable and even a team like Aston Villa with the lowest scoring home attack in the Premier League will definitely feel they can create some chances against Manchester United. There is pace in the forward positions that can exploit some of the problems United have been having at the back and I do think Aston Villa will have their opportunities to score goals in this one as long as they show more composure than Arsenal and Southampton did when they got into those positions.

Even though Aston Villa have scored just 6 goals in the Premier League at Villa Park, 5 of those have come in their last three games and Manchester United have only kept 1 clean sheet away from home in the League.

On the other hand, Manchester United have definitely been clinical with the chances that have come their way and managed to score goals despite not having a host of shots on target. With the likes of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Robin Van Persie and a returning Radamel Falcao available to Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United will be able to create chances against an Aston Villa team that has kept no clean sheets in their last 7 at Villa Park in all competitions.

Manchester United do look short in the market considering their unconvincing performances in recent weeks, but Aston Villa have found the best teams a step too far which is shown by their home losses to Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Instead, I think the total goal market has more potential at the prices.

7 of the last 8 games between Aston Villa and Manchester United have seen at least three goals shared by the teams, including 3 of the last 4 at Villa Park. With both defences looking vulnerable through their performances and injuries, I think this game has every chance of continuing that trend at odds against.

Queens Park Rangers v West Brom Pick: With the continuing struggles to get results away from home, Queens Park Rangers will have circled games like this as being critical in their bid to avoid relegation back to the Championship and all the financial problems that will bring this club.

So far, they have performed well enough at Loftus Road to make sure they haven't lost touch with the teams looking to avoid relegation this season and that form at home could lead them to another important three points in this game.

For all of Alan Irvine's naysayers, West Brom have actually been a tough proposition for teams to play when they have come to visit and they defend well enough to pose problems. West Brom have the joint best away defensive record in the Premier League, but they have to be a little more positive in this trip and that may be a problem for them.

West Brom have kept a clean sheet in 4 of their 8 away games played in all competitions this season, but it also has to be noted that they have conceded at least twice in the other half of those games. I have to respect the fact they have won at Leicester City and avoided defeat at Hull City, teams more comparable to what they will face at Queens Park Rangers, but I do also have to respect how comfortable Rangers have been in front of their own fans.

They have now scored at least twice in their last 6 home games which includes visits from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City and Charlie Austin's return gives QPR their star striker again. Queens Park Rangers are in good form at home and seem to bounce back from their poor away performances and I think I am going to stick with a market that has been productive in recent weeks.

Backing Queens Park Rangers to score at least twice is the same price as backing them to win and I do think they need to score two goals to have a shot at the three points. However, Stoke City, Liverpool, Manchester City and almost Leicester City have allowed QPR to hit that target and still escape with a result and West Brom have played well enough away from home to think they can do that.

Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley Pick: Wednesday night saw Tottenham Hotspur put together an impressive performance to beat Newcastle United, but the away team did have some chances to make it a much more competitive game.

Tottenham have found it more difficult to impose themselves on games at White Hart Lane as they have struggled to break down teams who may be willing to sit much further back. Only West Brom and Crystal Palace have lost the same amount of home games as Spurs so far this season in the Premier League, but there has been signs that they have turned things around recently with 3 wins from their last 4 home games, albeit half of those taking place in the Cup competitions.

Much respect has to be given to Sean Dyche in the way he has got his Burnley team to be competitive in recent weeks and 3 wins from 6 League games is an impressive run of form. However, they have still not found the consistency away from home and that has led to some comfortable losses at West Brom, Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers.

The margin of defeat has come down in each of those games, but they might find it tough to contain Tottenham Hotspur if the home team brings in the confidence that the last week should have given them. Harry Kane is providing a spark up front with some decent performances and I am not convinced Burnley have the personnel to trouble this vulnerable Spurs back four.

Danny Ings has played well, but Burnley have struggled for goals and they have failed to find the net in 5 of their 7 away games in the League. Spurs should be too strong and I think they can cover the Asian Handicap by winning this game by a couple of goals at least.

Newcastle United v Sunderland Pick: The Tyne-Wear Derby comes at a time when both Newcastle United and Sunderland have been having a tough set of results, although the home team are off the back of two heavy defeats and Sunderland haven't won a game since early November.

However, Sunderland have been increasingly difficult to beat this season thanks to a solid enough defensive shape, the 8-0 at Southampton a clear exception, and a lack of goals also means they are settling for a share of the spoils.

The Black Cats have 10 draws from their first 16 Premier League games, including 4 of their 7 away games in the League. Sunderland might not have won since early November, but they have only lost 1 of their last 7 games even if 5 of their last 6 have ended in draws.

It has to be respected that Newcastle United have won 4 straight games at St James' Park in the Premier League, but they have lost the last 2 times they have hosted Sunderland by the same 0-3 scoreline. It is hard to expect Sunderland to do the same again, but a Newcastle United team that have conceded 8 goals in their 2 games played over the last eight days has to be a little short of confidence.

This is going to be a game full of passion and hard work, but these sides may end up cancelling one another out and I think a small interest on the points being shared, a common feature of Sunderland games, could be the right call.

Liverpool v Arsenal Pick: There were definitely some signs that Liverpool were turning a corner in their loss at Manchester United last weekend and they showed better composure in front of goal against Bournemouth during the week. It has been a really tough season for Brendan Rodgers, but beating Arsenal on Sunday will mean Liverpool are very much back in the hunt for the top four places in the Premier League.

However, the other side of the coin suggests a loss would already mean Liverpool have a huge mountain to overcome to get back into the Champions League, through the Premier League at least, and so this is a huge game for them at Anfield.

Raheem Sterling scored twice at Bournemouth in the League Cup, but I don't think he is completely comfortable leading the line and has to show more composure in this big game if Liverpool are to win. Sterling was guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances against Manchester United last week and I do think he will get chances in this game as Arsenal continue to fight through their defensive problems.

And Liverpool will need to take their chances because Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud pose an attacking threat against a defence that has panicked when put under pressure all season. Dejan Lovren might have to sit out with a knock suffered at Bournemouth and Arsenal will definitely feel they can challenge Brad Jones in goal who doesn't look an effective replacement for Simon Mignolet.

Both teams are likely to be more comfortable with the ball in possession and moving forward as neither defence has looked capable of securing too many clean sheets. Liverpool have conceded just one goal in their last 3 at Anfield, but Stoke City, Sunderland and Basel don't have the same attacking threat as Arsenal.

On the other hand, Arsenal have kept just 2 clean sheets in their last 7 away games in all competitions and will be missing Laurent Koscielny in this one. It would be a surprise if both Liverpool and Arsenal don't score in this one and the chances that likely will be created at both ends should lead to at least three goals scored in this one.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Aston Villa- Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers Over 1.5 Team Goals @ 2.50 Coral (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.14 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Sunderland Draw @ 3.50 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Liverpool-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.78 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Update15-11-1, + 12.28 Units (47 Units Staked, + 26.13% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

College Football Bowl Game Picks 2014 (December 20-January 12)

The Alabama Crimson Tide, the Oregon Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles were three teams that many would have picked to be involved in the first ever College Football Play Off at the start of the season, although the Florida State team did their best to back their way into the final four.

However, an unbeaten Seminoles were unlikely to be passed by four teams as they are the defending Champions, while the winners of the SEC and the Pac-12, considered the two toughest Conferences in College Football, were going to be involved as long as they didn't have a two-loss Champion.

So the big question going into the Championship Games was whether the Ohio State Buckeyes were going to have enough to pass the TCU Horned Frogs and the Baylor Bears. Ohio State went into the Big Ten Championship Game as an underdog, but a 59-0 whipping of the Wisconsin Badgers with a third string Quarter Back was very impressive.

And, as most predicted, the Big 12 lack of a Championship Game, as well as the failure of the Conference to determine a single winner came back to haunt them as the Buckeyes were promoted to the Number 4 spot in the country.

That means the Semi Final line up will see Oregon take on Florida State first before Alabama meet Ohio State and it is the Ducks and the Crimson Tide who are both big favourites. I do expect both to play for the National Championship on Monday 12th January, but I am very much looking forward to seeing how the Semi Finals and Final work out for the new College Football post-season.

It'll also be interesting to see if the Big 12 change their rules to determine a Conference winner in the off-season to give their teams a better chance of cracking the top four next season.

I also think the NCAA might be contemplating how long it will be before they expand the Play Offs to the Quarter Final stage too as College Football continues to be big business.

Bowl games begin on Saturday 20th December 2014 and they can be a little harder to find legitimate angles to make plays. For example, motivation is very different at this stage of the season than it is in the regular season, while some of the Bowls are played in great locations and may have enough distractions for the players who it has to be remembered are very young and enjoying this time of their life.

Coaching changes and academic suspensions are also rife at this time of the season, while other players may be looking to protect their future by perhaps not over-exerting before the NFL combines and eventually Draft comes along.

It is something to keep in mind if you are making some plays over the next month with games coming throughout the period.

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns v Nevada Wolf Pack Pick: If you like seeing teams pound the ball on the ground, the New Orleans Bowl looks a very good place to start as both the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and Nevada Wolf Pack look to establish the run to get their Offenses going.

Cody Fajardo and Terrance Broadway are dual-threat Quarter Backs that are very happy to run the ball and are joined by a couple of tough Running Backs to run option Offenses.

Establishing the run to help Louisiana and Nevada open the passing lanes against Secondaries that have both allowed at least 270 passing yards per game so there could be a fair bit of scoring in this one.

One aspect that could be edged by Nevada is the turnover margin as they have been very good at forcing Interceptions and Fumbles through the season. The Wolf Pack are tied for 11th in turnover margin this season and earning extra possessions could be key to their chances.

Broadway has thrown 12 Touchdown passes for Louisiana, but also has 9 Interceptions and the Quarter Back must look after the ball if the Ragin' Cajuns are to secure the upset.

I say upset, but they are only dogged by 1 point in this one, although the game takes place in the Superdome of New Orleans and so is essentially a home game for Louisiana. They will know what to expect considering they have been invited into the New Orleans Bowl for the fourth season in success and Louisiana have taken advantage by winning the last three Bowls here.

An upset is never too far away from this Bowl with 4 of the last 6 won by the underdog and 2 of the 3 Louisiana wins have come when they have been dogged. The Nevada Wolf Pack will be excited about returning to a Bowl, but they have lost 4 of their last 5 Bowl games and they are travelling to an exciting place like New Orleans so I wonder if they will be caught out here.

Louisiana are 14-6 against the spread in their last 20 games as the underdog and they are 3-0 against the spread in the last three years in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Ragin' Cajuns Defense may have a little more success stopping the run in this game and, if they can do that, I expect Louisiana to pound the ball successfully and win this game. I will take the point being offered on the spread because you just never know how important that might be to at least offer a push in a game where both Offenses move the ball effectively for much of the afternoon.

UTEP Miners v Utah State Aggies Pick: There isn't much to say about the New Mexico Bowl except this game is going to be decided by which of the teams has the most success running the ball. Both the Utah State Aggies and the UTEP Miners have been very good at doing that this season, but the key difference may be how the Defenses have played against the run.

While the UTEP Miners have given up 170 rushing yards at 5.1 yards per clip, the Utah State Aggies have a very strong Defensive Line and Linebacker corps that have restricted teams to 129 rushing yards per game at 3.3 yards per carry.

If Utah State can dominate the trenches, the Aggies should be able to make school history by winning their third Bowl game in a row. Jameill Showers has played effectively for UTEP this season, but asking him to win this game with his arm is not going to be the way the Miners want to play the game and Utah State could create turnovers to pull away.

Kent Myers has played well for Utah State as the Freshman Quarter Back taking over from three injured players and I don't believe he will be asked to do too much in this one. The Aggies should be able to run the ball effectively which will set Myers up in short yardage situations and the Quarter Back can make the plays to keep Utah State in front of the chains.

Utah State are 3-1 against the spread in their last 4 games as the favourite and UTEP have failed to cover in 5 straight Bowl games. The New Mexico Bowl had been won by the favourite in three straight seasons before last season, covering in each of those wins, and I like Utah State to restore that trend in this year's edition.

Colorado State Rams v Utah Utes Pick: One of the biggest questions surrounding the Las Vegas Bowl is how have the Colorado State Rams players responded to Jim McElwain deciding to leave as Head Coach and take over the Florida Gators programme. There is still some consistency with Dave Baldwin taking over as Interim Head Coach, but it will still be a blow to the Rams players that McElwain has moved on considering the success he has enjoyed over the last two seasons here.

Dee Hart has played well for Colorado State, but the Utah Utes have a very strong Defense that will likely be able to slow him down to keep the team in third and long situations. Garrett Grayson has also had a very special season at Quarter Back, but he will now be faced with a pass rush that has produced the most sacks in the nation and have two Defensive Ends that should be able to feast on this Offensive Line.

The Utah Utes also have a healthier Travis Wilson starting at Quarter Back and he has been efficient with the ball as he has thrown just 4 Interceptions this season. With Devontae Booker running the ball so well and likely finding gaps in this Colorado State Defense, Wilson should have the time to make his plays from Quarter Back which should give Utah the edge in this game.

There should also be some excitement in the Utah camp that they have returned to the Bowl game series and I do think the loss of McElwain as Head Coach could have a negative effect on the Colorado State players.

Utah go off as the favourite and will know the favourite has won the last four games at the Las Vegas Bowl and covered 3 times. The Utah Defensive Line could make enough plays to slow down this Colorado State Offense and eventually see them win this game and cover the three points.

Memphis Tigers v BYU Cougars Pick: The Miami Beach Bowl is a great setting for the kids at Memphis and BYU to be facing one another as they have the whole attention of College Football in the sole game to be played on Monday evening.

Both teams have been successful thanks to their strong Defensive play and there is every chance that this is going to be a low-scoring battle.

The Cougars may have expected to be playing in a bigger Bowl game than this one, but the injury to Taysom Hill ended those chances, even if Christian Stewart played well down the stretch. This is going to be a big game for Stewart as he might not have much run support against the Tigers Defense giving up just 3.6 yards per carry and that may lead to pressure on the Quarter Back in third and long situations.

On the other hand, Paxton Lynch is capable of running the ball from the Quarter Back position for Memphis and might give the Tigers a chance to establish an element of a running game. However, like Memphis, the BYU Cougars have one of the stronger Defensive Lines that is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and they might also need to rely on Lynch's arm.

I would expect him to have a little more success as he won't be targeting any one Receiver and is happy spreading the ball around. Lynch has been very efficient with the ball as he didn't throw an Interception during the Memphis six game winning run to end the season, and BYU haven't had the same pressure up front as the Tigers have generated.

With the time that Lynch may find, he should have success throwing against a Secondary that has allowed 266 passing yards per game and that could prove to be the difference in this game. Memphis can also set a school record for 10 wins and that has to be a real motivation factor for a team returning to a Bowl game for the first time in six years, while the Cougars have finished with 8 wins in the last two years.

The Cougars are just 2-7 against the spread in their last 9 games and they are 2-4 against the spread in their last 6 games as the underdog. Memphis are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last 7 games against a team with a winning record and I like the Tigers to win their first Bowl game since 2005.

MY PICKS: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns + 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Utah State Aggies - 10 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 2.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Memphis Tigers - 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)

Bowl Update:

Week 15: 6-2, + 3.69 Units (8 Units Staked, + 46.13% Yield)
Week 148-7, + 0.47 Units (15 Units Staked, + 3.13% Yield)
Week 137-6, + 0.37 Units (13 Units Staked, + 2.85% Yield)
Week 127-5, + 1.40 Units (12 Units Staked, + 11.67% Yield)
Week 119-4, + 4.34 Units (13 Units Staked, + 33.38% Yield)
Week 106-7, - 1.51 Units (13 Units Staked, - 11.62% Yield)
Week 94-9-1, - 5.31 Units (14 Units Staked, - 37.93% Yield)
Week 85-7, - 2.26 Units (12 Units Staked, - 18.83% Yield)
Week 73-8, - 5.31 Units (11 Units Staked, - 48.27% Yield)
Week 62-7, - 5.13 Units (9 Units Staked, - 57% Yield)
Week 54-5, - 1.13 Units (9 Units Staked, - 12.56% Yield)
Week 46-5, + 0.58 Units (11 Units Staked, + 5.27% Yield)
Week 33-7-1, - 4.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 38% Yield)
Week 25-6, - 1.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 10.72% Yield)
Week 16-4, + 1.77 Units (10 Units Staked, + 11.7% Yield)

Season 201475-82-2, - 13.39 Units (172 Units Staked, - 7.78% Yield)
Season 201365-49-2, + 8.49 Units (124 Units Staked, + 6.85% Yield)
Season 201254-59-1 - 7.11 Units (114 Units Staked, - 6.24% Yield)
Season 201163-36, + 23.25 Units (99 Units Staked, + 23.5% Yield)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

NFL Week 16 Picks 2014 (December 18-22)

Week 15 Thoughts
A clear picture of Head Coaches about to be out of a job has developed: Some changes that are likely to be made are perhaps unfortunate, for example the horrible situation that is way beyond Rex Ryan's control at the New York Jets, but so many other Head Coaches are just about done with their current teams in the NFL.

Jim Harbaugh has overseen a poor season, relative to recent years at least, for the San Francisco 49ers and it now seems a given that he will be leaving this team.

Mike Smith will likely only be retained by the Atlanta Falcons if that team wins the NFC South and they can do that by winning out.

Marc Trestman is reportedly out of Chicago, but the Bears have so many issues which start with what they can do about Jay Cutler at Quarter Back and the huge contract they gave him before this season.

Joe Philbin is unlikely to be kept as the Miami Dolphins Head Coach thanks to a second successive season when the team has missed their chance to get to the Play Offs in December.

Should Denver be concerned with Terrance Knighton's comments regarding a Super Bowl win? Knighton himself has said that every player on a Play Off team should be thinking the same way and Tom Brady made it clear that none of the New England players will be looking ahead nor talking about things, but will let their play on the field dictate matters.

So should Denver be concerned they have offered the Patriots, as well as other potential Play Off opponents, some bulletin board material after 'Pot Roast's' comments? Personally I don't think so.

Most outside of the Broncos locker room saw this team as a potential Super Bowl Champion and it doesn't surprise me that the players believe they are capable of doing that too.

What would be a concern is some of the issues around Peyton Manning in recent weeks as this team is not going anywhere without their star Quarter Back behind Center. Manning has not been throwing the ball well and some are suggesting fatigue has gotten to him considering Denver had a very early 'Bye' week, while even some of the throws being completed have looked ugly coming out of his hands.

Getting a First Round bye in the Play Offs could be a huge benefit for Manning, but he just hasn't looked himself over the last month and I do have some concern for the Broncos that Manning has perhaps hit the wall this season.

So how does Johnny Football time feel for fans of the Cleveland Browns? There were a few Play Off places decided in Week 15, but seemingly most people were interested in seeing how Johnny Manziel would do in his first NFL start.

It was about as horrific a performance as anyone could have imagined!

I have not been sold about Manziel's potential as a long-term starter in the NFL and I thought the Cleveland Browns made a big mistake not taking Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr ahead of him in the Draft, a mistake that could set the franchise back a few more years.

The Browns are desperate for success and were right to give Manziel a chance to see what he has in the final three games of the season with the Play Offs already a reach. They will be desperate for much improved performances in the next two weeks to show the fans that there is some potential in what Manziel will do for this team, but another couple of performances like the one he produced against Cincinnati will really put the team in a tough spot.

Wasting a First Round pick on Manziel is going to be tough to overcome immediately and Cleveland may want to give the Quarter Back another full off-season before making any long-term rash judgements. But I am not going to be surprised at all if there isn't a couple of veteran Quarter Backs brought in to challenge Manziel for the starting spot in the 2015 season barring two huge performances for him over the last two weeks of the season.

The NFC South has been terrible, but the next two weeks are full of drama: The winner of the NFC South is not going to have a winning record, although the New Orleans Saints are still in a position to finish the season 8-8, and it has been a poor year for teams in the Division.

However, the last two weeks should produce some fascinating viewing with New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina all in a position to win the Division and the schedule makers have made sure that these teams are facing one another.

The Saints host the Atlanta Falcons this week and then the Carolina Panthers will visit Atlanta in Week 17 and it could be all to play for for any of those teams by next week. Even if the Saints beat Atlanta this week, Carolina can still win out and take the Division as long as New Orleans lose in Tampa Bay next week.

Nothing has been easy for teams in the NFC South this season so it would be something of a surprise if New Orleans clinch this week without the drama the Division has provided all season, but it will be up to Carolina to make sure the South title goes one more week by beating Cleveland at home.

Aaron Rodgers is still the MVP and Green Bay Packers will make the Play Offs: Aaron Rodgers was bamboozled by the Buffalo Bills in Week 15 and admitted he played a 'stinker', but it shouldn't take away from what has been an MVP season for the Quarter Back.

With games against Tampa Bay and Detroit left, I still expect the Green Bay Packers to make the Play Offs, although the biggest issue for them may be the fact that they have likely lost home field advantage through the Play Offs.

Seattle are closing in on the Number 1 Seed in the NFC which will make them the favourites to win that Conference and it is going to be a big ask for the Green Bay Packers to go back to Seattle and win after their Week 1 loss there.

At Lambeau Field, the Packers have been dominant so losing out on the Number 1 Seed would be a real disappointment, although Green Bay won't give up fighting for it. If the Packers win out, they need Arizona and Seattle to drop a game each and that looks has a chance with those teams facing one another this week.

Play Off Prediction: AFC- New England, Denver, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Cincinnati

NFC- Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas, New Orleans, Arizona, Detroit

Top Ten
1) Seattle Seahawks (10-4): Defense is playing to the level of last season and they are in pole position to finish with the Number 1 Seed in the NFC.

2) Green Bay Packers (10-4): The loss in Seattle means Green Bay are likely to finish with the Number 2 Seed in the NFC after failing to win out.

3) New England Patriots (11-3): The Patriots can clinch the Number 1 Seed in the AFC by beating the New York Jets and hoping the Cincinnati Bengals beat Denver on Monday Night Football.

4) Denver Broncos (11-3): I was tempted to drop Denver at least one place more because I just don't think Peyton Manning is all there.

5) Detroit Lions (10-4): The Detroit Lions can really prove how much of a Super Bowl contender they are if they win at Lambeau Field in Week 17, but for now that Defense is legitimate enough to pose a threat to win it all.

6) Dallas Cowboys (10-4): Huge win in Philadelphia, but Dallas have to win out to take the NFC East title.

7) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5): The game in Atlanta is one that Pittsburgh could have blown in recent years, but they remain in control of their own destiny in the AFC North.

8) Indianapolis Colts (10-4): Clinched the AFC South, but unlikely to finish better than the Number 3 Seed in the AFC and may already be looking ahead to the Play Offs.

9) Baltimore Ravens (9-5): They did lose to Cincinnati twice in the regular season, but I think the Ravens are the better team and remain the race for the AFC North Division title.

10) Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1): Cincinnati are leading the AFC North, but face Denver and Pittsburgh over the last two weeks and might need help to win the Division.

Bottom Five
32) Tennessee Titans (2-12): Lost a vital game against the New York Jets that keeps them in pole position to 'win' the Number 1 pick in the Draft... However, another 'big' game against Jacksonville on Thursday Night Football may determine if Tennessee can secure that.

31) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12): Lovie Smith has a big job to turn this Tampa Bay franchise around, but getting one of the top two Quarter Backs likely coming out of College Football could be a start.

30) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12): Jacksonville used a number of trick plays, got some help from Baltimore's Field Goal kicker missing twice and a bad call resulting in a turnover for them... Yet they still lost by 8 and Blake Bortles may be done for the season.

29) Oakland Raiders (2-12): Derek Carr looks like a potential franchise Quarter Back, but Reggie McKenzie still has some work to do to make Oakland relevant again.

28) Washington Redskins (3-10): Dysfunctional times in Washington show no sign of ending and now the Quarter Back carousel has come back around for Robert Griffin to start.

Week 16 Picks
Week 15 produced a slight winning record, which makes a change after three terrible weeks in a row, and I hope I can at least finish the regular season with two more winning weeks.

Games in Week 16 take place on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday with the festive period meaning the television cameras will be going to a few more games for national coverage than in a normal week.

More Play Off situations will be resolved in the coming days, while other teams will be looking to improve Seeding in what should be another fascinating week in the National Football League.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins Pick: I've been waiting and waiting to see if the line for the Philadelphia Eagles trip to the Washington Redskins would change, but Vegas have held their nerve and the Eagles remain a little more than a Touchdown favourite.

I actually still like the Eagles in this spot against a Washington team that has been dysfunctional to say the least- Jay Gruden looks to be on the hot seat as Head Coach because he continues to defy the owners and his criticism of Robert Griffin III shows little sign of ending.

This week Gruden admitted the Redskins need to play with a lead, clearly not having the faith in RG3 to be put in obvious passing situations. Unfortunately for Washington, the Philadelphia Eagles have played the run pretty effectively all season and even did a fairly good job against Russell Wilson so they may force RG3 to play from third and long situations more than Gruden would want to see.

The Eagles also get a lot of pressure up front and they should be swarming the Quarter Back in that position. On the other hand, the Washington Defense might have some success up front against the Eagles Offensive Line, particularly if Philadelphia struggle to establish the run of their own.

Mark Sanchez has been a little iffy in the pocket, missing some of his targets by wide margins despite his Receivers finding space downfield, but Washington's Secondary is banged up and I expect the Quarter Back has a chance to make some big plays in this one. Turnovers and inaccuracy has been the problem for Sanchez and he has to play a cleaner game than he has produced in the last two weeks if the Eagles are going to come through.

Games between teams in the NFC East are usually very competitive and Washington have spoken about playing spoiler for both Philadelphia and Dallas in their last two games. However, the Redskins have not been consistent enough for me, even if DeSean Jackson has a big game against his former team.

The Redskins are 0-2 against the spread as the home underdog this season, while their four home losses have all come by at least 10 points. In fact, 3 of those 4 losses have been by 20 points or more and the Eagles have a quick strike Offense that can put up big points very quickly. If Philadelphia get into a double digit lead, it may be too much for Washington to drag back and I like the Eagles to cover.

San Diego Chargers @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: It seems the San Diego Chargers are a public underdog in the second of the Saturday games in the NFL and I do believe they are the pick in this game, although only for a small interest.

The pick is mainly because I want to fade the San Francisco 49ers who have been eliminated from the Play Offs with their second loss to the Seattle Seahawks in a three week period. Jim Harbaugh looks to be moving on at the end of the season, Ray McDonald has caused more issues and has been released, there are injuries on both sides of the ball and Colin Kaepernick has had a really tough season where he has regressed from where the 49ers believed he was last season.

If the San Diego Chargers weren't so banged up themselves and on the brink of Play Off elimination, I would perhaps be a little more keen on this game. Unfortunately, Philip Rivers is hurt, although expected to play, while Keenan Allen has been lost for the season.

The 49ers Defense is giving up a few more yards on the ground than usual and the Secondary has been hit by some big plays, plus this unit gave their all to keep the game in Seattle as competitive as it was. San Francisco as a whole put so much into that game that I can't see where they get the motivation to play San Diego, an inter-Conference game, with nothing on the line.

San Diego's Defense has played pretty well in recent games, but they will need more from the banged up Rivers. However, San Francisco are just 1-2 against the spread as the home favourite of less than three points and the team playing against Seattle are 0-8 over the last eight weeks.

That is enough to think the underdog could take advantage of a team whose focus could be gone with the future direction of the franchise up in the air.

0 Unit Pick: Tennessee Titans + 3.5 Points

MY PICKS: Philadelphia Eagles - 7.5 Points @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
San Diego Chargers + 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

Week 15: 5-4, + 1.56 Units
Week 142-10, - 14 Units
Week 134-7, - 6.36 Units
Week 123-6, - 4.36 Units
Week 115-4, + 1.20 Units
Week 104-2, + 3.90 Units
Week 94-3, + 1.42 Units
Week 81-8, - 13 Units
Week 78-1, + 11.20 Units
Week 62-3-1, - 2.46 Units
Week 53-4-1, + 0.84 Units
Week 44-4, + 0.02 Units
Week 38-2, + 9.82 Units
Week 25-3, + 1.50 Units
Week 13-6, - 3.18 Units

Season 201460-67-2, - 11.90 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

NBA Picks December 2014

I took a few weeks off from the NBA Picks because I was busy with work and haven't been able to devote the time to look through the picks, although continued to watch as a fan of the sport. Unfortunately, being a New York Knicks has not been much fun of late to the point of thinking it isn't fair to those going to the O2 Arena in London to watch them play next month at big prices.

But people will pay to watch a one off regular season NBA game in London and the tourists keep flocking to Madison Square Garden to see probably the second worst team in the League in front of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Carmelo Anthony looks hurt and people are already questioning whether he should be shut down and sent for surgery on his knee and the Knicks should begin putting themselves in a strong position for the NBA lottery. To be absolutely honest, they are trying to win games at the moment and look set to have one of the worst records in the NBA so I don't even think they need to start 'tanking' to get a decent Draft pick.

That is a shame for Knicks fans everywhere, but I always felt things were going to get worse before they got better as Phil Jackson will need time to turn the roster around. Mismanagement over the years has left the Knicks in this position and the trade for Carmelo Anthony, as much as I love the player, saw New York give up too much.

Gotham still has a chance to send the Brooklyn Nets to the Play Offs in the weak Eastern Conference, although the rumours suggest the likes of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are all available for trade. If they are to move on, the Nets look to be a team that could rebuild for the rest of the season and might be another team that underachieves.

The Western Conference again looks to be the stronger of the two and many of the teams look to have made very good starts to the season. However, all of this is so early in the season and many players don't believe the NBA really starts going until after the All-Star Game and definitely not before the Super Bowl. That is also the time when fans will really turn their eyes to the NBA once football season is over, but this is a key time for teams to get the kinks out of their system.

Tuesday 16 December
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Sacramento Kings Pick: The Oklahoma City Thunder are back to full health and that has seen them get back into the Western Conference Play Off mix, although none of the players are getting ahead of themselves. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back, the Thunder have won 8 of their last 9 games and 6 in a row heading into Sacramento to take on the disillusioned Kings.

DeMarcus Cousins has gone down with a viral infection which has kept him out of the team as Sacramento have dropped 3 in a row ahead of this game. The bigger news was the firing of Mike Malone which seemingly came out of left field amidst rumours that the owners want a 'unique' brand of basketball including using just 4 players on Defensive plays.

The Thunder are confident at the moment and should have too much scoring for Sacramento and 5 of their last 6 wins have come by 9 points or more. Oklahoma City are 3-1 against the spread in their last 4 road games here and I like them to cover the spread in this one.

Wednesday 17 December
I might be a New York Knicks fan, but the game in London is becoming less and less appealing as the weeks go on- that game is scheduled for next month, but the Knicks look worse than advertised and the Milwaukee Bucks were expected to be another lottery team.

I have been keeping an eye on Carmelo Anthony's status with suggestions he may need to go in for surgery, while the unfortunate injury to Jabari Parker means one of the more exciting prospects in the game will be missing for the Bucks. If Anthony also misses out, this game really won't be one that would appeal to me, especially not since I've seen the Knicks at Madison Square Garden back in April.

Atlanta Hawks @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers have been playing much better at home than on the road and I think they can have a statement win over an in-form Atlanta Hawks team.

There is no doubt that the Hawks are not as good on the road and LeBron James has dominated them for the most part in his career. Atlanta have a strong recent run based on beating teams with losing records and Cleveland are definitely a step up in terms of competition.

The Cavaliers have won their last 6 home games by an average of over 14 points per game and I will back them to cover this spread.

Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets Pick: Going to play the Denver Nuggets on the road is a tough test for any team as shown by their 5-2 record against the spread versus teams with winning records at home.

However, the Nuggets are going to be short-handed again against the Houston Rockets and the Rockets won't have a better chance to snap their recent poor run here. Houston beat the Nuggets at home on Saturday and have Dwight Howard in the line up again and I expect them to have too much Offense for the Nuggets to deal with.

The Rockets are 8-2 on the road this season and they have won 6 of their last 7- I would expect the shorthanded Nuggets to challenge them for a while, but tiredness in the altitude may help Houston overcome them.

Thursday 18 December
New York Knicks @ Chicago Bulls Pick: Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are both doubts for this game, which means the Knicks are likely to be very short-handed at the Chicago Bulls.

On the other hand Joakim Noah should return for the Bulls and they have more of an Offensive output thanks to Derrick Rose being joined by Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol. I expect the Bulls to stifle New York with their Defensive capabilities, especially if Camelo and Stat are out, and Chicago can cover a big number.

11 points is a lot, but Chicago can make the Defensive stops and then move clear as the game goes on as long as they are not looking ahead to their Friday tilt in Memphis against a very good Grizzlies team.

Friday 19 December
The big news in the NBA on Thursday was the conclusion of the Dallas Mavericks trade with the Boston Celtics which has seen Rajon Rondo join one of the Western Conference leading contenders. The Mavericks have gone 'all in' with this trade as they look to return to the NBA Finals and win the Championship they last took in 2010.

I am not sure what this does for Dallas to be honest- they have lost a key contributor off the bench in Brendan Wright and some Draft picks, but Mark Cuban clearly wants to win now and they might be one of the three favourites to win the Western Conference. In saying that, this is a loaded Conference from top to bottom and looks to be a boom or bust play.

Washington Wizards @ Miami Heat Pick: The Miami Heat have been banged up and that has seen them fall under 0.500 and could be in a tough position to match the hot Washington Wizards.

The Heat have been blown out their last two home games and the Wizards have every chance of covering the six point spread.

LA Clippers @ Denver Nuggets Pick: The Denver Nuggets are getting healthier, but the LA Clippers are playing at a good level to see them off here on the road. I like the Clippers to go into Denver and follow Houston's lead by winning this game by at least four points.

MY PICKS: 16/12 Oklahoma City Thunder - 7 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
17/12 Cleveland Cavaliers - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/12 Houston Rockets - 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
18/12 Chicago Bulls - 11 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
19/12 Washington Wizards - 6 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
19/12 LA Clippers - 3.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

December Update: 2-2, - 0.16 Units

November Final14-11, + 1.70 Units
October Final2-4, - 2 Units
Season 201516-15, - 0.30 Units

Season 201458-72-1, - 16.86 Units
Final Season 2013105-93-3, + 10.49 Units
Final Season 201279-53-1, + 27.48 Units

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (December 16-17)

The League Cup, otherwise known as the Capital One Cup, takes centre stage this week as we have reached the Quarter Final stage of that competition, but it was the Champions League and Europa League draws that will be making the headlines after those were completed on Monday morning.

All three ties involving the English clubs in the Champions League are intriguing, although the one between Arsenal and Monaco is more to do with the links that Arsene Wenger has with both clubs. On paper, Arsenal should finally return to the Quarter Final of the Champions League having exited at the Last 16 stage four years in a row.

The ties between Chelsea/Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City/Barcelona are rematches from last season, a factor of the Champions League draw thanks to the rules forbidding clubs from the same association meeting before the Quarter Finals. Will we see the same winners as last season from those ties? I would guess 'yes' at the moment, but injuries and form will have to be factored in when the tournament returns in February.

With the Europa League winner now getting a place in the Champions League, the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton may all feel their best chance of getting into that competition is by winning the Europa League.

Everton have been given a decent Last 32 draw against Young Boys of Switzerland, but both Liverpool and Spurs have a couple of tough teams to overcome in Besiktas and Fiorentina respectively. The other factor is that the winner of the Europa League has to still play 9 games to win that event and the English teams might not be ready to throw all their eggs in that basket until their Premier League top four credentials have completely extinguished.

In saying that, both Liverpool and Everton may be in that position by February/March, although Tottenham Hotspur could be challenging for a top four place as long as they can improve their form at White Hart Lane.

Another game that might be getting a few more interested people tuning in is the FA Cup Second Round Replay between Yeovil Town and Accrington Stanley which takes place on Tuesday. With the winner of that having a huge financial boost by hosting Manchester United in the FA Cup Third Round early next month, expect a lot of interest from the fans of both clubs as well as the media, although it was a surprise to me that the game wasn't picked as one of the two for live viewing.

The World Club Championship also gets going with both Real Madrid and San Lorenzo entering at the Semi Final stage of that tournament and the expectation is that Real Madrid will add a title that they have yet to win to an ever-growing trophy cabinet.

Cruz Azul v Real Madrid Pick: At this moment in time, Real Madrid don't have too many peers in European football and it does seem a big ask for Cruz Azul to be the team to upset them in this World Club Championship Semi Final. It has been made clear all season that Real Madrid see this as a vital tournament to win and so desire can't be questioned, while they also have a proud 20 game winning run to protect so any hopes that Cruz Azul have might be fleeting at best.

Cruz Azul were struggling to see off the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Quarter Final and the CONCACAF representative has seen this tournament a tough one to deal with. Some of that will have to do with the travelling as Dubai and Morocco have hosted recent editions of the World Club Championship, but I also think the best players from those nations tend to ply their trade in either South America or Europe.

The European representative has been comfortable in the Semi Final of the competition and they have won the last 9 of those by a 29-5 scoreline. Real Madrid obviously have a lot of power in forward positions and have been scoring so many goals in recent games that it might end with another big win for the UEFA team in the Semi Final.

I don't think Cruz Azul will give up, but these players will know all about the big names that Real Madrid have and that can be tough to deal with with some more interested in whose shirt they will be able to swap at the end of the game. Real Madrid won't want to embarrass any team, but they have scored so many goals and have so many attacking options that it is hard to see how Cruz Azul will contain them.

Real Madrid have won 14 of their 20 games in their winning run by at least three goals and I will back them to do that again in this Semi Final and continue the UEFA dominance at this stage of the competition.

Derby County v Chelsea Pick: This is the kind of game that Steve McClaren and the Derby County players want to bring to the fans on a weekly basis by earning promotion to the Premier League and some may be calling for a surprise result if Chelsea make too many changes to their starting eleven.

However, Derby County have not been in the best form in recent weeks with 2 losses from their last 3 games and they were also outplayed by Chelsea in their home loss in the FA Cup last season.

Jose Mourinho also holds the League Cup in pretty high regards and he is likely to put out a Chelsea team that doesn't have a host of changes considering they have six days before the next Premier League game. Chelsea haven't been playing as well away from home in their most recent games, but they are a solid team and should be far too good for lower League opposition.

It should be an entertaining game as Derby County are the kind of team that will come forward and try and make things happen, which should also make it easier for Chelsea to play their football. Even with some of the changes that are likely to be made, I would still think Chelsea prove too good and they might end up with a similar result to the FA Cup win here last season.

Bournemouth v Liverpool Pick: There won't be too many better opportunities for Bournemouth to beat a team of the size of Liverpool as in this League Cup Quarter Final and the confident leaders of the Championship have to be fully motivated to do that. A chance to get into the League Cup Semi Final is one benefit, but the confidence a win over Liverpool could give Bournemouth to take into the rest of the League season could be critical in helping them earn promotion to the top flight for the first time.

Bournemouth have scored at least twice in their last 6 home games in all competitions and that includes a 2-1 win over West Brom in the last Round of the League Cup, while they have won 4 of those games.

However, Liverpool finally showed some creative life in their loss at Manchester United with the 3-0 scoreline flattering to the home team. David De Gea made some top saves, but it was poor finishing from the Liverpool forwards that prevented them scoring at least once, although Brendan Rodgers is happier with the chances that were created.

How much of that is down to the poor defensive performances that Manchester United have put in is hard to say, but I do think Liverpool are more suited to playing away from Anfield at the moment. They are given extra space in these away games as the home team has an onus on them to attack and I don't think Eddie Howe's Bournemouth are going to take a backward step.

One concern for Bournemouth has to be the fact they have conceded at least twice in their last 4 home games and I do think Liverpool have their chances in this one too. Seeing at least three goals looks a pretty big price, but I think there is something in taking there being at least four goals shared in this one.

The last 4 Bournemouth home games have seen that number hit, while Liverpool's 3 away games before the one at Old Trafford also saw that number reached. Add the chances up in the game at Manchester United and that game could easily have seen at least four goals shared by the teams and I think the 3.20 offered for that happening in this game is too big to ignore.

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United Pick: Newcastle United may have had a poor result in North London on Saturday, but they will point to their 1-2 success at Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season as a confidence inspiring result that could see them come through this League Cup Quarter Final.

Both sets of fans will be dreaming that they are capable of reaching the Final if they come through this tie and likely avoid Chelsea in the Semi Final draw. That should inspire a big game from both sets of players and I think this has the elements that could make it a very entertaining game.

Neither manager will want his team pushed into extra time with the games coming thick and fast over the next month and I can see both looking to win this game from the off. Tottenham Hotspur created enough chances in the first game between these teams to have had the game won by half time, but Newcastle United will feel the pace in their forward lines will make them a dangerous proposition throughout the game on the counter-attack.

Neither defence is the most reliable either so I am expecting this Cup Quarter Final to produce goals with both Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United expected to score.

These teams have produced the goods when facing each other in recent seasons and 6 of the last 7 have seen at least three goals shared. At White Hart Lane, 3 of the last 4 have seen at least three goals shared and gaps would certainly open up in this game if one team is chasing the game with the pace and counter-attacking ability of the other.

Both games on Wednesday night in the League Cup look like they could be action filled, although I will take this one to end with at least three goals.

MY PICKS: Real Madrid - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.11 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Liverpool Over 3.5 Goals @ 3.20 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

December Update11-11-1, + 4.76 Units (40 Units Staked, + 11.90% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (December 13-15)

Another round of domestic football takes place over the next three days including what remains the biggest fixture in the Premier League when Manchester United and Liverpool go head to head. This is the time of the season when managers have to be looking over their shoulders and owners perhaps get a little nervous and decide to make the change, especially with the January transfer window coming up.

One such name that looks very much in the firing line is Nigel Pearson who has seen his Leicester City team go on a long run without winning a game and has been asked to explain some of the altercations he has been having of late. The one with the fan during the home game against Liverpool has put Pearson under more pressure and another defeat this weekend will make Leicester favourites to be bottom of the Premier League come Christmas morning, a death knell for teams hoping to avoid the drop for many of the last 22 years since this League was formed.

With a manager like Tony Pulis very available at the moment, perhaps there is an argument to be made that Leicester will be better off appointing him, especially with a very strong CV in recent seasons of keeping unfancied teams in the Premier League.

Burnley v Southampton Pick: Both Burnley and Southampton will be looking for a morale boosting performance this week as they have suffered some setbacks over the last few weeks. Burnley's loss at Queens Park Rangers would be a real disappointment and they won't want to go into a quick run of games with losses building up.

On the other hand, Southampton need to snap their losing run of three games as quickly as possible and they haven't won since early November which is going to be playing on the players minds. Another week without a victory could see the players second guessing their own ability, no matter how good the performances may have been, and really make it difficult for the Saints to turn things around.

The layers seem to really believe in Southampton who look very short at odds on to win at Turf Moor, especially considering that Burnley have been proving to be more difficult to beat in recent games here. However, a lack of goals in the home team has to be a concern especially as only 2/15 games in the Premier League have seen Burnley score more than once.

Then again, Burnley have scored in 5 straight home games and Southampton have only kept 1 clean sheet from their last 4 games on their travels. That should at least give Burnley some belief they can get something from this game, but the defence can't always be trusted to keep the clean sheets that Burnley would likely need and leads me to my actual pick from the game.

Without Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld, Southampton have looked a little vulnerable and the back and both are doubts for this game. If they can't play, Burnley will have chances to score in this one, but I also think Southampton have the pace and power to create chances of their own. As long as Graziano Pelle and Shane Long are not as wasteful as they have been in the last couple of games, Southampton should find the net in this one.

Both teams scoring is odds against and I do think that is too tempting to ignore considering recent results. The last 6 games between them at Turf Moor has seen both teams score and they also had a 4-3 FA Cup game last season so that will be my pick in another tight game to call.

Leicester City v Manchester City Pick: This is a really tough time for Nigel Pearson who was charged by the FA for telling a Leicester City fan to 'kill themselves' during an altercation in the 1-3 loss to Liverpool. With losses building up behind Leicester and Tony Pulis looking an appealing option, Pearson could easily find himself out of a job before Christmas, especially if they don't show enough fight in this one.

And to be honest, even showing fight might not be enough for Leicester as they face a Manchester City team with 6 wins on the bounce behind them. Sergio Aguero is a big loss for Manuel Pellegrini, but Edin Dzeko returned and David Silva is another big player to restore to the starting line up.

If Vincent Kompany is back too, Manchester City should prove to be far too good for Leicester and I can see the away side running away with a win in this one. Yaya Toure is another influential player to return to the first team and Manchester City have scored 20 goals in their last 8 away games in all competitions which may be too much for Leicester City to really deal with.

The feeling I have is that Leicester will find it tough to contain Manchester City going forward and the pressure under Nigel Pearson is not producing much positive reaction from the crowd. After the last home game and the way the fans seemed to turn on their manager, the atmosphere at the KP Stadium could quickly affect the home players if they were to fall behind in this one.

That will only play into the hands of Manchester City and I like Manuel Pellegrini's men to record a seventh win on the bounce and by more than a single goal.

Arsenal v Newcastle United Pick: This could be a really big game for both Arsenal and Newcastle United to show what they are going to be capable of for the rest of the season as both sets of fans will be expecting a challenge for a top four berth after the way the campaign as begun.

That has been the minimum expectation of Arsenal over the last few years and looks to be about the maximum they can achieve this season which is a source of frustration for the home fans. Many thought they would be challenging for the Premier League title, but that already looks beyond Arsenal, although recent games has seen the team begin to put together a decent run of wins.

The loss at Stoke City was a disappointment, especially as Arsenal were 3-0 down by half time, but the side responded in Galatasaray and I think Arsenal can ride that success to a win here.

Newcastle United are not the same side on their travels, even after a decent run of results prior to the loss at West Ham United and I do think the injuries are going to be tough to overcome with a limited squad depth. The win over Chelsea was a very good result, but Newcastle rode their luck at times and being without that might see them struggle to contain the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla who will pull the strings for Arsenal.

Arsenal have a strong home record against Newcastle United and usually win these games with an element of comfort. The attacking side of the Arsenal game could help them do that again as Newcastle could perhaps see their thoughts turned to the League Cup Quarter Final in a few days time and I think Arsenal cover the Asian Handicap offered.

Manchester United v Liverpool Pick: Nine months is a long time in football and the way both Manchester United and Liverpool feel going into the biggest game in the Premier League has changed so much since both entered Old Trafford back in March.

On that day, I was feeling very wary as a Manchester United fan of the threat that Liverpool were going to pose with their pace and momentum going into that game, but those wary feelings are now much more confident going into this weekend. Without Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool just haven't posed the same threat going forward and Manchester United have a lot more confidence coming in.

Neither defence has played very well and some of the performances of both sides have been disappointing to say the least. Gary Neville described it as potentially watching two pub teams playing one another, but I think that underestimates the improved performances that Manchester United have produced at home.

While they have still given teams chances to score goals at Old Trafford, Manchester United have also played well enough to score plenty of goals and even in the draw with Chelsea they were the better team in the first half. A similar level to that performance will give Manchester United the edge in this one, although I can't say I fully trust the defence to not make the mistakes they have in the last few weeks.

New players have to slot in with Chris Smalling now on the sidelines and Liverpool have scored more easily on their travels than at home as they do have more space to try and exploit. This is the kind of game that should inspire Liverpool to put in one of their better performances of the season, but they don't seem to be on the same level as Manchester United right now.

Clean sheets have been a problem for both teams so seeing both score in this one wouldn't be a surprise, but I also believe Manchester United win this game and I will back them to do so in a high-scoring game.

Swansea v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Tottenham Hotspur have not been great coming out of the Europa League and having to play a Premier League game on a Sunday, and they have won 3 games and lost 4 following Europa League games this season.

They travel to Wales on Sunday to face a very tough Swansea team that have proven to be very effective at the Liberty Stadium and this could be an entertaining game with both teams willing to go forward. Swansea have goals in their team and they have the pace in the forward positions to cause Tottenham some real problems, while Spurs themselves have played better away from home and have the ability to test Gerhard Tremmel who deputises in goal.

The last couple of games at the Liberty Stadium between these teams has produced goals and Swansea have scored at least twice in 5 of their last 6 at home. Before the 1-0 loss at Besiktas on Thursday, Tottenham have had 5 straight away games where they have shared at least three goals, but Spurs rested players for the game in Turkey.

Goals should not be in short supply on Sunday afternoon in the second live game of the day and I do think the chance of that happening is perhaps a little under-rated.

MY PICKS: Burnley-Southampton Both Teams to Score @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Manchester United to Win @ 3.70 Coral (1 Unit)
Swansea-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.92 William Hill (2 Units)

December Update9-9, + 3.72 Units (31 Units Staked, + 12% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Thursday, 11 December 2014

NFL Week 15 Picks 2014 (December 11-15)

Week 14 Thoughts
Has Mike Pettine left it too late to make the move from Brian Hoyer to Johnny Manziel? On Wednesday, it was officially confirmed that Mike Pettine would make the switch at Quarter Back that many expected at least one week prior.

The Cleveland Browns were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts which leaves them behind their three Divisional rivals in the AFC North and also on the outside of a loaded Wild Card chase in that Conference and I can't help but feel the Head Coach may regret making the move so late.

Brian Hoyer played well early in the season, I won't dispute that, but he has shown himself to be nothing more than a back up in the NFL and the Browns have won a couple of games not because of Hoyer, but because of mistakes made by other teams over the last few weeks.

Overthrown balls, one which even had Manziel being caught on the sidelines saying 'I would have fu**ing hit that' and mistakes from Hoyer kept Indianapolis in the game last week and eventually led to the one point win for the Colts. That loss may haunt Pettine and Cleveland, a team that has been desperate for some consistent success ever since returning to the NFL, but it does feel it may be too late now.

However, the Browns host Cincinnati this week and win that game and they could very much be back in contention- they do need the likes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore to also falter if they are to get into the Play Offs, but Pettine may regret he didn't make the move at Quarter Back sooner if they don't make it.

Jeff Fisher trolls the Washington Redskins: What a great idea from Jeff Fisher to send out the six players that the St Louis Rams picked from the Draft Picks traded to them by the Washington Redskins in the RG3 trade!

It was one of the big talking points of Week 14 and was definitely a very sly dig at Washington that went unnoticed by the Redskins until blowing up on social media and the NFL Network through the rest of the day.

The fact that Fisher is very good friends with Mike Shanahan, the former Washington Head Coach who was fired at the end of last season for falling out with RG3, just adds to the 'trolling level' and makes this more than just a mere point being made by St Louis.

The Jim Harbaugh era at San Francisco is fast coming to a close: All season we have heard that the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh were going to part ways at the end of this year after the team came close to trading their Head Coach to Cleveland during the off-season before this year.

While the 49ers were winning, this issue remained on the back-burner, but consecutive defeats have left the team on the brink of elimination from the Play Offs, which would be a real disappointment for this franchise.

The 49ers have reached three consecutive Conference Championship Games, although winning just one of those games, but Colin Kaepernick hasn't progressed at the speed expected and San Francisco seem to have moved from the power running Offense that has been such a success for them.

Too many mistakes from Kaepernick has prevented San Francisco moving forwards and it seems the discontent is too much to overcome in the locker room. Who knows where Harbaugh ends up next, but I would be absolutely stunned if he is still in San Francisco for the start of next season.

Give Aaron Rodgers the MVP award, but Defense needs to step up if Green Bay are to win the Super Bowl: It was another imperious display from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers Offense on Monday Night Football, but he has to be concerned with how the Defense played in the second half if the Packers are going to win the Super Bowl.

Rodgers is undoubtedly going to win the MVP award this season, especially if he finishes the season by guiding Green Bay to the Number 1 Seed in the NFC. The Packers have played very well at Lambeau Field and will be tough to beat there, but it all boils down to how well Rodgers has played ever since he told Packer nation to 'R-E-L-A-X'.

However, that Defensive effort was not good enough in allowing the Atlanta Falcons to produce a stirring comeback that was only a few points short of actually turning into a win. There wasn't enough pressure on Matt Ryan in the second half, while the Secondary couldn't get close to Julio Jones and I think it does raise some questions about the Green Bay chances to win it all.

They did play a lot better against New England so perhaps it was more complacency than a general trend, but the Packers won't get away with that against the Detroit Lions in Week 17 and certainly won't get away with it in the Play Offs unless they bring a better effort.

Play Off Predictions: AFC- New England, Denver, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Kansas City.

NFC- Green Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Detroit and Dallas.

Top Ten
1) Green Bay Packers (10-3): Still deserve to be Number 1, but Defensive effort has to be better going forward than what they showed on Monday Night Football.

2) New England Patriots (10-3): Impressive road win at San Diego and all roads to the Super Bowl go through New England in the AFC.

3) Denver Broncos (10-3): Denver can clinch a Play Off place by winning in San Diego this week and keeping the pressure on New England for the Number 1 Seed in the Conference.

4) Seattle Seahawks (9-4): Impressive win on the road at Philadelphia and the Defense is playing to the level that won Seattle the Super Bowl last season.

5) Detroit Lions (9-4): Defense is legit, and Detroit are not shooting themselves in the foot as they would normally do.

6) Philadelphia Eagles (9-4): Not quite good enough against the best teams, but can virtually clinch the NFC East Division title by beating the Cowboys again this week.

7) Dallas Cowboys (9-4): Dallas allowed Chicago to rally on Thursday Night Football, but they held them off for a vital win in the race for a Play Off spot.

8) Indianapolis Colts (9-4): Indianapolis can win the AFC South this weekend, but they don't have all the tools for a deep Play Off run in my opinion.

9) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5): Have control of their own destiny to win the AFC North, but can't afford to have a let down at the Atlanta Falcons this week.

10) Baltimore Ravens (8-5): A vital win at the Miami Dolphins gives Baltimore an inside track for one of the Wild Card spots in the AFC.

Bottom Five
32) Tennessee Titans (2-11): They were blown out by the New York Giants at home and this is a team that looks bad on both sides of the ball.

31) New York Jets (2-11): Something of a reverse Super Bowl this week as the Jets will travel to Tennessee to determine the 'worst team in the NFL' spot for next week.

30) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11): Lovie Smith must be looking to the Draft as this season has lurched from worse to worse for Tampa Bay.

29) Washington Redskins (3-10): Awful team, awful franchise and Jay Gruden might be the next ex Head Coach.

28) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11): There are some pieces set for the future of Jacksonville, but Oakland deserved to come out of the bottom five with an improved Derek Carr and two wins from their last three games.

Week 15 Picks
So where to begin with Week 14? I have never seen a day go down the pan so quickly and rapidly with seemingly every bit of bad luck that could happen show itself.

There were some bad picks in there that never looked like winning, I will accept that, but some of the others just hurt because of the manner in which they went down.

Indianapolis didn't deserve to cover, but they did have the chance for a two point conversion which would have at least earned a push.

Tampa Bay got down to the Detroit 15 and had four clear shots to get into the endzone which would have at least seen them cover, but Josh McCown can't hit any of his big Receivers to do that.

Oh, but Buffalo can convert a 4th and 16 inside their own redzone to then march up the field and secure a Touchdown, with another 4th down converted, which allows them to finish within 7 of Denver.

San Diego played a close game with New England and were down 9 points with the ball at midfield and 4th down and 4 to go... So what do they do? Of course, they punt the ball away and get it back with almost no time remaining and deep in their own territory.

And just in case my week could not have been any worse, Green Bay blow a 31-7 half time lead and then were up big in the second half but allow Matt Ryan to pull the game to within 6 points... Yet James Starks produces a huge run and is only just pulled down on the Atlanta 10 yard line which would have been another push at the least!

If those five games go the other way, it is actually a winning week, but instead big losses thanks to some ridiculous plays that can't be justified.

Arizona Cardinals @ St Louis Rams Pick: I have made a point of saying that I don't believe the Arizona Cardinals will make the Play Offs this season since Carson Palmer went down with an injury, but they can effectively prove me wrong by winning this game. A few weeks ago, Arizona would likely have come into St Louis and been favoured to beat the Rams, but recent performances from the latter have made them a pretty strong favourite in this one.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the public money is going on the 10-3 Cardinals as the underdog, but I think the St Louis Rams are the better team at this moment and might have enough to cover a pretty large spread.

Since reinserting Shaun Hill into the line up, St Louis have played better Offensively and giving Tre Mason more carries and not wasting time with Zak Stacy is another good example of good coaching. Hill is more than a game manager, but it is avoiding mistakes that is his biggest complement and the Quarter Back could have a decent game with Antonio Cromartie likely out of the Arizona Secondary.

Of course, Mason may just get a chunk of yardage on the ground as Arizona have begun to struggle a little in that regards and that should just make life easier for Hill.

The Quarter Back also has felt a little less pressure in the last four games considering how well the St Louis Rams Defense has begun to perform. The Defensive Line was considered one of the best in the NFL before the season began and they have really shown up of late and could give Drew Stanton more problems after his struggles in relief of Carson Palmer.

Stanton might not have the benefit of Kerwynn Williams picking up large amounts of yards on the ground either as this is where St Louis have begun to excel. If they can keep Arizona in third and long, St Louis should be able to tee off on Drew Stanton and pick up sacks and force incompletions and possible turnovers to take control of the game.

Arizona haven't been good playing on Thursday Night Football over the last three seasons, failing to cover twice in their two opportunities in that time. The Cardinals have been out-gained in three straight games since Stanton took over as the full time starter and St Louis are a decent favourite to back. It all points to St Louis covering a big number and putting more doubt on Arizona's Play Off credentials.

Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots Pick: This is the game that New England would love to secure another AFC East Division title and continue on the road to picking up the Number 1 Seed in the Conference as they look for revenge against the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins have won the last 2 games in the series, but those were in the warmth of home and it is a big ask for them to pick themselves up from a demoralising loss last week and win in Foxboro in the cold. Baltimore's win in Miami means the Dolphins already look out of the Play Off picture, but another defeat this week will ensure that and likely mean big changes in the Coaching staff in the off-season.

It is hard to see how Miami win this game as their Offensive game plan is unlikely to have the same success as when they met New England earlier this season. The read-option is a huge play for the Dolphins, but Lamar Miller is unlikely to establish the run to the same extent Knowshon Moreno did as New England have clamped down on that with their run Defense over the last three games.

That will mean forcing Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball and he has only been comfortable doing that in short to intermediate routes. Against this New England Secondary, that is unlikely to be a productive method of Offense and Miami might be playing catch up if New England can produce a strong Offensive game.

LaGarrette Blount has given New England a new punch in the running game and Miami have allowed 5.7 yards per carry over their last three games which could be exposed here. Bill Belichick showed he is willing to pound the ball against susceptible Defenses in the win over the Indianapolis Colts and that will only open the passing lanes for Tom Brady to connect with Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

The Miami Defense has looked a little tired in the last few games and both Denver and Baltimore scored comfortably against them as the game wore on. Even the New York Jets were moving the ball with ease through the game, but lost it through missed Field Goals and New England are unlikely to make those mistakes.

New England have covered in 3 of their last 4 home games against Miami and they should be fully focused with revenge in mind. The cold weather likely won't help and I think the Patriots beat the big spread.

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts Pick: The Houston Texans have given themselves a small chance of making the Play Offs with consecutive victories, but now they take on Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts who have dominated this Divisional series. The Colts have the added motivation of securing a place in the Play Offs with a win on Sunday and Luck has been very good in Division games since taking over from Peyton Manning as the Indianapolis Quarter Back.

It was another strong drive led by Luck that helped the Colts win their third game in a row last week and this game is likely to be driven by what he can do. Luck has enough scrambling ability to avoid the pass rush that Houston send for the most part, but he also has to eliminate some of the strip sacks and Interceptions he has had.

I would expect Houston to have some success throwing the ball themselves, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is due a couple of back breaking turnovers that have blighted him through his career. If Andre Johnson is out, there aren't a lot of options for Fitzpatrick in the passing game and that could lead to him forcing balls into tight windows that sees the Colts pick up short fields, much as they did in the first game.

Indianapolis have won 12 in a row at home against Houston in this series and 4 in a row overall. Andrew Luck has led the Colts to a 13-2 record against the spread against Divisional rivals since coming into Indianapolis, while they are 18-6 against the spread in home games.

As well as Houston have played on the road, they are just 2-4 against the spread as the underdog this season and I will look for Indianapolis to cover for the fifth time in a row at home against them.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: This is a huge line for the Baltimore Ravens to cover, but it might be a good enough spot to back them to do so considering the Jacksonville Jaguars are playing out the string and perhaps are looking ahead to being in the spotlight on Thursday Night Football in an AFC South game against the Tennessee Titans.

The problem for the Jaguars is that their Offense is going to have a really hard time moving the chains against a Baltimore Defense that is giving up just 14.5 points per game at home this season. Granted they allowed 34 points in their last home game against the San Diego Chargers, but the Ravens had given up just 24 points in their three prior home games and have a pass rush that could have Blake Bortles consistently under pressure.

That pressure could lead to turnovers and short fields for the Baltimore Ravens to work with. As well as the Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive Line has played, Justin Forsett should still be able to earn his hard fought yards on the ground and Joe Flacco could use that to make plays against a Secondary that has given up plenty of yards through the air.

Baltimore have to be looking to make a fast start in this game and they can use a couple of turnovers to make sure they pull away from the Jaguars in the game. They are facing a Jacksonville team that have failed to cover in their two games as a double digit underdog this season and one that doesn't have a lot on the line.

The Ravens have dominated when playing teams with losing records and have the momentum from the win over Miami to cover this big number by beating the Jaguars while going away. The strong pass rush could just lead to the mistakes that help Baltimore do that, even in the absence of Torrey Smith.

Green Bay Packers @ Buffalo Bills Pick: The only concern you would have for the Green Bay Packers is to whether they have peaked too early in their quest to get back to the Super Bowl having won 5 in a row and being fairly dominant in those games. Most of those games were played at Lambeau Field where Aaron Rodgers has been particularly dominant over the last couple of seasons, but going on the road has proved to be a much tougher task for the Green Bay Packers all season.

The Offense is averaging nearly 20 points fewer on the road as they are at home and that has to be a concern if they don't secure the Number 1 Seed in the NFC. Green Bay also come up against a Buffalo Defense that has gotten a lot of pressure up front and has a Secondary that has held up well thanks to that pressure, including picking off Peyton Manning twice last week and snapping his long run of games with a Touchdown pass.

One key to the whole game in this one is how well the improved Offensive Line Green Bay can hold up against the pass rush- if they continue giving Rodgers the time he has had in recent games, the Buffalo Secondary can only hold up so long against speedy and elusive Receivers like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Neither team is likely to run the ball all that effectively and the question becomes whether Kyle Orton can do enough with the ball in his hands to keep Buffalo in the game. Orton would have been boosted by seeing the Green Bay Secondary torched on Monday Night Football, but he isn't as elusive as Matt Ryan and the Packers pass rush could certainly bring him down a few times.

Turnovers could also be key and Orton is more likely to make those mistakes compared with Rodgers, although the Bills pass rush may force more errant throws from Rodgers than we have come to expect. In saying that, I still expect Green Bay to perhaps come close to matching what New England did here and score 28 plus points and that will be tough for Buffalo to keep up with in my opinion.

Green Bay are just 2-2 against the spread as the road favourite this season and Buffalo have been a strong underdog, but I still believe this spread is too low. Unless Kyle Orton converts another 4th and 16 and then drives Buffalo to a backdoor cover like in Week 14, I like the Packers to win and cover here with too much Offense.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns Pick: Sweeping a Divisional rival is a difficult task, but failure of the Cleveland Browns to do that against the Cincinnati Bengals likely ends Cleveland's Play Off push for another season. On the other hand, another loss for the Cincinnati Bengals puts them in a very difficult spot with the tie against Carolina then working against them rather than for them as it has in recent weeks.

Of course all of the news is about Johnny Manziel making his first start at Quarter Back for Cleveland, the right move that should have perhaps been made a couple of weeks ago. I can't help but feel that Marvin Lewis' comments about not worrying about a 'midget' is going to haunt him in this one, especially with the ability that Manziel has to scramble and make plays.

That scrambling is going to make life tough for a Bengals Defense that has struggled for much of the season and missing some important pieces on that side of the ball. I also think Manziel will prove to be a better passer than Brian Hoyer and Josh Gordon could become a real player in this one having been missed by the previous Quarter Back on some open plays.

While Manziel gives the whole Offense a boost, the Browns Defense has played well and may slow down AJ Green enough to give Cleveland a chance to sweep their in-State rivals. The Browns got a lot of pressure on Andrew Luck last week and could make Andy Dalton very nervous considering his near epic low performance against Cleveland earlier this season.

Cincinnati have not been a great team to back to revenge a loss and I think Manziel can lead Cleveland to the win and keep them in the Play Off hunt.

Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers Pick: This is a vital game for both of these AFC West rivals as the Denver Broncos look to wrap up the Division, as well as staying in contention for the Number 1 Seed in the AFC, and San Diego Chargers look to hold on to a Wild Card place.

The winner will be well on the way to achieving their goals for the season, but the loser, especially if that is the San Diego Chargers, could be in big trouble going forward. Philip Rivers and the Offense should have an easier time moving the chains than they found against the New England Patriots in Week 14 as Denver don't have the same strength in the Secondary, although the Broncos should get a tonne of pressure on Rivers.

San Diego's Offensive Line has struggled with injuries and the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller could have another big day for Denver. Ryan Matthews might not have a lot of success running the ball which will only allow the Broncos pass rush to pin back their ears and get after Rivers and San Diego may have another tough day moving the chains.

The same could be said for Denver who haven't looked right in recent weeks, particularly Peyton Manning. However, I think Manning will enjoy the conditions in San Diego and will especially enjoy the fact that Julius Thomas looks set to return to the Offense.

That is a big body to use in the Red Zone where Denver have begun to struggle to throw the ball and I expect Thomas resolves those issues. The San Diego Defense played so well against New England in Week 14, but the Offense couldn't help them out, and there has to be some tired minds and bodies from that game. It may be a week to recover, but now they face another powerful Offense and I think Denver continues dominance of these Divisional games since Peyton Manning arrived.

Denver are 11-4 against the spread against AFC West rivals since Manning started playing for the Broncos and they have won both visits to San Diego by 8 points or more. The Chargers have failed to cover against a Divisional rival this season and they were outplayed by Denver in the first meeting- this will be closer but I still like the Broncos to win by a Touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks Pick: There has been a lot of sharp money going down on the San Francisco 49ers this week which has seen this spread come down by a point in their favour, but that now has me liking the Seattle Seahawks to cover.

Jim Harbaugh looks about done in San Francisco and the team has begun to collapse with injuries on the Defense coupled with Colin Kaepernick's obvious regression as he has been asked to throw instead of leaning on the power running game.

Now the Seattle Defense has begun to play to the level of 2013, it is hard to imagine how San Francisco can improve on their showing on Thanksgiving Day against them, particularly as this one is on the road. The Seattle home crowd are going to be going crazy and that noise could see Kaepernick self-combust and give the Seahawks the edge in the game.

Both Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch could help the Seahawks dominate on the ground again and I think San Francisco are going to have to go some to keep this close. However, I do have respect for this being the last chance saloon for Harbaugh and the 49ers so could see their absolute best effort.

This is enough points for the 49ers to earn a late backdoor cover, but Seattle have been so good at home and have blown out San Francisco in their last 2 regular season games here. If the Seahawks get ahead, maybe the San Francisco players lose their motivation a little with the season almost certainly over and that could see the Seahawks cover.

Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: In recent seasons I would have been absolutely convinced that this would the kind of game that the Dallas Cowboys would lose and subsequently find themselves failing to reach the Play Offs.

The loser of this game will certainly be in a difficult spot to get into the post-season considering they will be dropped to 9-5, but the real meaning of the game might only be highlighted by kick off. If Seattle, Green Bay and Detroit win, the losing team would be at least one game back in the Wild Card race with only one place left to battle for.

It would be especially daunting for the Dallas Cowboys as they would have likely lost the NFC East by being swept by Philadelphia and I expect a much better effort than the one they produced on Thanksgiving Day when destroyed at home by the Eagles. The Defense is still a problem and I expect Mark Sanchez to have a bounce back game from the one against Seattle last week.

However, I also think Tony Romo and the Dallas Offense will have a better game- I think the Offensive Line makes enough adjustments to protect him a little more and I expect Romo to have a better passing day thank he did on Thanksgiving. The Philadelphia Secondary isn't as good if Romo can get time to throw against them and I like the Cowboys to make this a much closer game.

The Cowboys are 13-6 against the spread as the underdog in the last three seasons and they have also played well in revenge spots. After the brutal way they were put away on Thanksgiving Day, I think Dallas are more effective in this one and I like getting more than a field goal head start in this one.

0 Unit Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers - 2.5 Points, New York Giants - 6.5 Points, Oakland Raiders + 10 Points, Carolina Panthers - 3 Points, New York Jets - 2.5 Points, Detroit Lions - 7.5 Points

MY PICKS: St Louis Cardinals - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Indianapolis Colts - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Baltimore Ravens - 13.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 4 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Cleveland Browns - 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Denver Broncos - 4.5 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks - 9.5 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)

Week 14: 2-10, - 14 Units
Week 134-7, - 6.36 Units
Week 123-6, - 4.36 Units
Week 115-4, + 1.20 Units
Week 104-2, + 3.90 Units
Week 94-3, + 1.42 Units
Week 81-8, - 13 Units
Week 78-1, + 11.20 Units
Week 62-3-1, - 2.46 Units
Week 53-4-1, + 0.84 Units
Week 44-4, + 0.02 Units
Week 38-2, + 9.82 Units
Week 25-3, + 1.50 Units
Week 13-6, - 3.18 Units

Season 201456-63-2, - 13.46 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units