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Thursday, 20 November 2014

NFL Week 12 Picks 2014 (November 20-24)

Week 11 Thoughts
The AFC North continues to beat on the NFC South: These two Divisions have been paired up in the inter-Conference games this season and the fact that the every team in the AFC North has a winning record and every team in the NFC South has a losing one only highlights the fact that those teams in the AFC have dominated these games so far.

Last week the Cincinnati Bengals walked into the SuperDome and knocked off the New Orleans Saints meaning teams from the AFC North are now 8-1-1 against teams from the NFC South. The likes of the Baltimore Ravens actually have a losing record against AFC teams but are powering their push for the Play Offs by beating on the NFC South, while the Atlanta Falcons are only leading the South Division because they are unbeaten in Divisional play but lost every game other game.

I would never have expected this kind of record in the pre-season and it is a real surprise to see the New Orleans Saints losing to teams like Cleveland and Cincinnati, but I also think it has said a lot more about the NFC South and how poor it is than how good the AFC North may be.


Team with a losing record making the Play Offs: It has only been four seasons since the first ever team with a losing record made the NFL Play Offs, but talk about the NFC South leads me to the situation where that could be matched. It is ironic that the New Orleans Saints were beaten by the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in the Play Offs in January 2011 as they are still the favourites to come out of the NFC South and may have a chance to avenge that loss this season, except as the team with the losing record.

With the 4-6 Atlanta Falcons leading the way, the chance of the NFC South having a Division winner with a sub 8-8 record has grown ever more likely- the team with the best schedule left is the Saints, but they haven't shown enough to think they will go 4-2 down the stretch and I would rule that out if they lose on Monday Night Football to the Baltimore Ravens.

It will see many writers re-visit the suggestion that the Play Offs should be re-seeded once they have been decided and that a Division winner should not have the right to host a Play Off game, although I still disagree with that sentiment. Winning the Division has to bring with it some benefit, even if it is the terrible NFC South this season and home advantage can be critical as the Seattle Seahawks showed in January 2011 despite finishing the season with a 7-9 record.

New Orleans have a very strong home field advantage (well they did before this season anyway) and they would feel they can beat anyone in the SuperDome which could make them a very dangerous opponent for a Wild Card team. But it doesn't take away from how bad things have been for teams in the NFC South this season that their Division winner is likely to have a losing record for the season.


Mark Sanchez is not good enough to start in the NFL: Those were essentially the headlines around the NFL following Philadelphia's crushing loss to the Green Bay Packers, but I don't buy them just yet.

There were a couple of terrible throws from Sanchez, particularly the Interception to Julius Peppers, but his Receivers also dropped a couple of passes they should have and he was perhaps a little flustered with a couple of overthrows after a fumble led to another Green Bay Touchdown.

It was always going to be a difficult test for Sanchez when Aaron Rodgers is playing as well as he is and I think a lot of teams would struggle to keep up- plus the point has been made that Sanchez doesn't play Defense or Special Teams which is where the Eagles were killed through the day.

I still think Sanchez is a decent fit for the Chip Kelly Offense and I think he will have a bounce back week against the Tennessee Titans who put in an awful lot before coming up short on Monday Night Football. Of course the doubters won't be silenced unless Sanchez can lead the Eagles into Dallas on Thanksgiving Day next week and leave with the victory.


Green Bay Packers best team in the NFL right now: Right now is the key- right now really doesn't matter all that much and the Super Bowl has really been won by teams who can get hot around December and ride that momentum to the title.

We have seen the Giants (twice) and the Baltimore Ravens do that in recent years so Green Bay fans shouldn't be getting carried away and must hope Aaron Rodgers isn't using his best form of the season in November and unable to sustain that through December and January.

Rodgers is my favourite Quarter Back and I love how he is playing, but Green Bay are not running away with the NFC North just yet and there are lots of big tests ahead if the Packers are to get back to the Super Bowl this season.

The New England Patriots will certainly feel they deserve this title too (and they are still the Number 1 team for me) and I think that has every chance of being the Super Bowl we see in Arizona this season. However, both have some significant hurdles to overcome which can be eased if both can wrap up the Number 1 Seed in their respective Conferences.


Top Ten
1) New England Patriots (8-2): Been Number 1 in my list since beating the Denver Broncos and have followed that with a road win at the Indianapolis Colts which makes the Patriots the team to beat in the AFC.

2) Green Bay Packers (7-3): Done enough to overtake Arizona by putting up another 50 plus points and look the best team in the NFC.

3) Arizona Cardinals (9-1): A three game lead in the NFC West and a two game lead in the NFC means all roads to the Super Bowl in Arizona will have to go through Arizona in this Conference.

4) Dallas Cowboys (7-3): A bye week to get healthier and seeing their nearest rivals Philadelphia blown out at Lambeau Field made Week 11 a good one for the Cowboys.

5) Denver Broncos (7-3): Injuries hurt Denver in their loss at St Louis, but that's two bad performances in three games for the pre-season Super Bowl favourites.

6) Kansas City Chiefs (7-3): They keep winning, but Kansas City will have a chance to prove they are for real in next two weeks after this one when they face Denver and Arizona.

7) Philadelphia Eagles (7-3): Losing in Lambeau Field is no disgrace, but the manner of the loss would have bothered Chip Kelly.

8) Indianapolis Colts (6-4): Might be more of a battle to win the AFC South than they would have though, but the Colts should still win out with Andrew Luck leading the charge.

9) Detroit Lions (7-3): Disappointing loss in Arizona because the Offense couldn't move the ball and use what the Defense had given them by holding the Cardinals to 14 points.

10) Cincinnati Bengals (6-3-1): As long as they don't play on national television, Cincinnati may be alright and can win the AFC North.


Bottom Five
32) Oakland Raiders (0-10): Closing in on matching the St Louis Rams for third longest losing run in NFL history.

31) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9): Had a bye week but now prepare for a big game against an Indianapolis team coming off a big home loss.

30) Tennessee Titans (2-8): Showed heart in a close loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it is another loss.

29) New York Giants (3-7): The Giants continue to find creative ways to lose games.

28) Carolina Panthers (3-7-1): They needed this bye week desperately after losing 5 games in a row, although the Panthers are still very much in contention in the awful NFC South.


Week 12 Picks
It was another week with a positive trend for the picks, but I was still able to be mad with myself for changing units from two games- which two games? The Seattle and Denver ones! Some might say that is easy to say in hindsight, but I have never hidden my results or my picks so you will have to take me at face value when I say both games I had as one unit picks, but upgraded them at the last minute and I am not entirely sure why.

I was a bit annoyed with the Seattle pick considering they were stuffed on Fourth and One on two separate occasions, once underneath the Kansas City goalposts when a Field Goal would have given them the cover and every chance of getting the ball back with the chance to win the game with another Field Goal.

Denver had no chance when Julius Thomas and then Emmanuel Sanders were knocked from the game, but I won't complain too much about a winning week. Hopefully the management is better in Week 12 and I can continue the positives since an awful Week 8 with a slate of games that is only missing two teams completing the end of the 'bye' process for the season.


Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders Pick: Thursday Night Football has produced a number of lopsided wins during this season and there is every chance the Kansas City Chiefs can continue that trend against Divisional rivals the Oakland Raiders.

Some have mentioned the poor scheduling spot for Kansas City, but they have plenty of time to prepare for the next game against the Denver Broncos and won't want to lose momentum heading into that vital game that could determine the winner of the AFC West. The short week also should give them an advantage as the better team has generally prevailed in these Thursday Night games and Oakland did spend a lot of energy in coming up short against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

The problem I see for Oakland is I am not sure how they are going to be able to move the chains on Offense with consistency and also how they are going to slow down Jamaal Charles who has been flying on late. The Raiders have struggled to run the ball, which is the weakness of the Kansas City Defense, and Derek Carr is likely to be under immense pressure from the Chiefs pass rush which has given them one of the top pass Defenses in the NFL.

Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles should make enough plays to keep the Chiefs moving and this looks a big task for Oakland to stay with Kansas City. The Raiders Defense has actually played pretty decently considering, but the Chiefs are a methodical bunch that should make the right plays to keep the team moving forward.

Kansas City beat Oakland easily in both games last season and I do like them to win this one going away.


Tennessee Titans @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: There was a loud thud as many people jumped off the Mark Sanchez and Philadelphia Eagles bandwagon following their blow out loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 11, but I think they can bounce back in this home game.

One concern is that the Eagles are going into Dallas to play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in just four days time, but they can't afford to drop any games at the moment and Chip Kelly is a Head Coach that preaches taking things one game at a time.

LeSean McCoy may finally have a really big game for Philadelphia if he can pick up where Le'Veon Bell left off on Monday Night Football and that would aid Sanchez if the Eagles can establish the run. However, the Secondary is a bit of problem for the Titans and I would still think Sanchez can have enough success downfield in this Offense that loves to take big shots.

I would also expect the Philadelphia Defense to come out and try and prove the loss to Green Bay and having 50 points hung on them was something of an anomaly and I think the pressure the Eagles get up front will be a problem for Zach Mettenberger to deal with. Tennessee also put in a huge effort on Monday Night Football and they are 1-3 against the spread as a double digit underdog over the last three seasons so may not have the required energy levels to keep this competitive.

While the game with Dallas is looming, Philadelphia can't afford to overlook Tennessee and I think they win this one big.


Detroit Lions @ New England Patriots Pick: This really isn't that important a game for the New England Patriots all things considering, but I don't think Bill Belichick is going to risk seeing the Miami Dolphins get a little closer to them in the AFC East considering the Dolphins have beaten them already this season.

They are also facing a Detroit Lions team that lost a big game agains NFC rivals Arizona in Week 11 and who have to host the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day and so it can be argued that this game is perhaps one that the Lions would rather not play.

It is a tough game for the Lions who have struggled to run the ball and Matt Stafford may see Calvin Johnson blanketed by Darrelle Revis for much of the day. Stafford has shown some stubbornness to force the ball to Megatron which could be an issue against New England who are always well prepared for games and Detroit may have a few issues moving the chains consistently.

One thing going in their favour though is the fact that the Lions can get a lot of pressure up front on Tom Brady without taking more players out of coverage. With Detroit's ability to stop the run, that pressure could make it much more difficult for New England to have a strong Offensive showing too which does make this amount of points to lay look a lot.

However, the Detroit Secondary will have a tough job slowing down Rob Gronkowski who is healthy and making some outstanding plays, while Brady will also look to get the ball out of his hands quickly and could challenge the Lions.

Detroit haven't been a great road underdog in recent seasons and New England are also 7-1 against the spread when favoured by between 3.5 and 7 points over the last three seasons. I'm liking the Patriots to ride their momentum to a double digit win in this one.


Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: The Green Bay Packers have put up 50 points in back to back games and they have become the third team to do that in the NFL- the last two teams have gone 1-1 against the spread and I look for Green Bay to make that 2-1 this week.

The Packers have been playing so well and it is hard to see how Minnesota are going to slow them down in this one with the balance shown on Offense. Green Bay should have success throwing and running the ball in this one and while they won't get to 50 points, they should reach at least 30 with the way they have been playing.

So the question shifts to whether Minnesota can find enough points to keep up with the Packers and it would be a surprise if they can do that with Teddy Bridgewater not really being asked to take too many risks. This Packers Defense isn't really one you want to throw against all too often either with the added pressure they have gotten up front in recent games which has seen the Secondary turn the ball over.

Extra possessions for Aaron Rodgers won't be a good thing for the Vikings and they might not be able to rely on the run either if Minnesota find themselves in a big hole in this one.

Green Bay are 12-5 against the spread against NFC North rivals over the last three seasons and they have enjoyed being a favourite over between 3.5 and 9.5 points, going 12-6 against the spread in that same time frame. I like the Packers to find a double digit win in this one.


Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts Pick: The Indianapolis Colts are coming off a loss and Andrew Luck has generally bounced back in the best way as he has helped the Colts go 11-1 against the spread in that spot and I think there is every chance they can cover this big number.

Andrew Luck will need to be leading the Colts in this one as he will have to make do without Ahmad Bradshaw for the rest of the season and I am not sure Trent Richardson will ever prove he was worth a First Round pick. However, Luck should be fine throwing against this Secondary and I do think the Colts can score plenty of points.

It'll be tough for Blake Bortles to keep up, while there is every chance that he will offer up some extra possessions with turnovers being a problem for him. Bortles hasn't been helped by a porous Offensive Line which has seen him throwing under pressure, but he could rely on Denard Robinson to run the ball as long as this game doesn't get out of hand.

It is a big number as I have mentioned but the Colts have dominated Divisional rivals though and they are 12-2 against the spread in those games over the last three seasons. The Jaguars are also just 2-3 against the spread as the road underdog being given between 10.5 and 14 points and Indianapolis have won the last 4 games by an average of 24.5 points per game and I will look for the Colts to have a big win in this one too.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Chicago Bears Pick: I have little doubt that both of these Offenses will be heavily reliant on the big Receivers that will take the field as Vincent Jackson/Mike Evans of Tampa Bay take on Alshon Jeffrey/Brandon Marshall of Chicago.

The added intrigue comes from the fact that Lovie Smith returns to Chicago, where he did have a lot of success as the Head Coach, along with Josh McCown who played so well in relief of Jay Cutler last season.

That additional motivation along with the importance of the game for Tampa Bay who still challenge in the NFC South could give the Buccaneers the edge in this game and I do like the amount of points they are being given.

I backed Chicago to beat Minnesota in Week 11, but the Bears were a small favourite in that instance and they haven't been as good when asked to lay bigger numbers. In fact the Bears are just 2-5 against the spread when set as the home favourite of between 3.5 and 7 points over the last three seasons and they are also just 5-14 against the spread at home in that same period.

Tampa Bay have also been an effective road team this season, including both straight up wins, and they are 4-1 against the spread on their travels. All the money in Vegas seems to be pouring on the home team after their dominating win over Minnesota in Week 11, but I think this Buccaneers team is capable of making this a very competitive game and have a real shot at winning it too.


Miami Dolphins @ Denver Broncos Pick: When the spread was initially released at the start of the week, I wasn't going to have anything to do with this game because I thought giving up more than a Touchdown was perhaps too much for Denver to cover. Some will obviously be interested in backing the Dolphins in the current form of both of these teams, but I also didn't want to go against Peyton Manning looking to bounce back from a loss.

Since then, the sharp money has seen the spread come down below a Touchdown and I think now is the time to back the Broncos who may have Emmanuel Sanders and possibly Julius Thomas in the activated numbers.

I am super impressed with the way the Miami Defense has played, but Ryan Tannehill trying to keep up with Peyton Manning on the road in these conditions looks a big ask. This is a Denver team that has gone 5-0 against the spread in the last three seasons when favoured by more than a Field Goal up to a Touchdown at home and I think Manning is going to have something to prove.

Some have pointed to Miami's record as an underdog in recent seasons, but they are just 2-3 against the spread in that spot this season, while the Dolphins have struggled coming off a Divisional game. In fact, they are 4-8 against the spread in their next game over the last three seasons, going just 1-4 in that time when winning a Divisional game.

Oh and about Peyton Manning off a loss? Denver have covered their next game 5 times in a row since the beginning of last season when losing the previous game straight up.


New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills Pick: Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week or so, you will know the extreme weather that has gripped Buffalo has meant this game had to be moved to a neutral site. The big question has to be how the Buffalo players have been able to prepare and focus on the New York Jets with the problems that have been affecting their homes and families?

Both teams wouldn't normally be expected to run the ball that effectively against the Defenses they are facing, but the faster track on the indoor turf in Detroit may actually assist in ripping off some yards on the ground.

Neither team will want to leave Michael Vick or Kyle Orton in third and long situations considering the pass rush the Bills and Jets have gotten and the poor Offensive Lines that both are playing behind. Of the two teams, the Bills have the better Secondary, but the Jets have had the better preparation coming into the game and I think they have a real chance of upsetting the Buffalo Bills.

Buffalo are just 1-4 against the spread as the favourite this season and I can't help but feel all of the distractions of the last week are going to be too much for players to overcome. Before all of the events during the week, I loved the Jets with a 4.5 point head start, but I still like them getting the points albeit for a small interest.


Baltimore Ravens @ New Orleans Saints Pick: It hasn't been that long since backing the New Orleans Saints in the SuperDome was an automatic good choice from a slate of games, but this season has proven to be much different.

In fact, the Saints are looking to avoid a third straight home loss although they should have a real opportunity to get back to winning ways against the Baltimore Ravens. Losing Brandin Cooks is a disappointment, as is Drew Brees' play, but the Baltimore Secondary has been struggling with injuries and the Saints are capable of hitting the deep ball.

The Ravens can get pressure up front and Brees has made some stunning mistakes at Quarter Back, but New Orleans should be able to pass the ball on Baltimore. On the other hand, Joe Flacco and the Ravens Offense is likely to have plenty of success themselves with New Orleans Secondary being in disarray for much of the season.

Flacco should find the likes of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith downfield, while Baltimore should be able to establish Justin Forsett which is more than what will be expected of Mark Ingram.

The AFC North has dominated the NFC South too including Cleveland beating Atlanta on Sunday and that is another reason I am a little wary of backing New Orleans.

However, I think this is a Saints team that can generally play better at home and who are 4-0 against the spread when favoured by three or fewer points in the SuperDome over the last three seasons. The Ravens are just 2-4 against the spread when set as the road underdog of three points or less over the same period and a think a small interest in New Orleans is warranted to take the sole lead in the NFC South.

0 Unit Picks: Cleveland Browns + 3 Points, Cincinnati Bengals + 1.5 Points, Arizona Cardinals + 7 Points, San Diego Chargers - 5 Points, San Francisco 49ers - 8.5 Points, New York Giants + 3.5 Points

MY PICKS: Kansas City Chiefs - 7 Points @ 1.85 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Philadelphia Eagles - 11 Points @ 1.95 Coral (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 7 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Indianapolis Colts - 13.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Denver Broncos - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
New York Jets + 2.5 Points @ 2.05 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
New Orleans Saints - 3 Points @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

Week 11: 5-4, + 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 201447-40-2, + 11.26 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

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