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Monday, 30 November 2015

Weekend Football Thoughts 2015 (November 28-29)

The last month has been very busy with some big changes coming up in my personal life which had taken away some of my focus and time to put up the posts I have wanted to.

Things are settling down somewhat at the moment and that should present more opportunities for me especially with the College Football season winding down and the tennis Tour on a break until the new calendar year.


Another round of Premier League fixtures are in the books in November and now the teams will be looking 'forward' to the big December and January schedule which means a lot of games are going to be played over the next six weeks. There are final European matches for the 2015 year to be completed as well as League Cup Quarter Finals, a number of quick rounds in the League before the FA Cup Third Round in the first week of the New Year.

Busy times ahead, but here is a quick look back at the action that took place this weekend.


Have Aston Villa Already Left Themselves With Too Much to Do to Avoid Relegation?
After going down to a 2-3 home loss to Watford, the Premier League table doesn't make for good reading for Aston Villa fans. The side have managed to earn just five points all season and that leaves them seven points behind Sunderland in 17th place and some of the fans must be looking at The Black Cats with some envious eyes.

I was not convinced of the Remi Garde appointment as manager simply because he has had no Coaching experiences in England. Yes he is a former Arsenal player, but that doesn't mean he understands the inner workings of the Premier League and I think most Aston Villa fans would have preferred someone like Sam Allardyce who has experience and the resume to back up his ability to keep teams in the top flight.

Allardyce might not be to everyone's liking, but his performance at Sunderland would just have underlined what he can do with limited squads who look completely out of the required quality to stay in this League. Most thought Sunderland were doomed when Allardyce took over but the manager has guided them out of the bottom three while Aston Villa have remained as terrible as they were before Garde took over.

A 4-0 loss at Everton followed by a 2-3 defeat at home against Watford has left Aston Villa in a very difficult spot in the League table and there are little signs their new manager is going to help them turn things around.

The next few weeks are crucial for Aston Villa and perhaps already for their manager- they play at Southampton, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Sunderland in that time with home games against Arsenal and West Ham United. Anything less than 8 points from those games might not be good enough and see teams moving too far in front of Aston Villa.

A lack of experience in the squad, which was pointed out by Micah Richards this week too, doesn't suggest Aston Villa have the characters to get out of their current predicament and this could be a club that becomes one of a host of 'sleeping giants' struggling to get out of the Championship.


Is Steve McClaren's Position as Manager of Newcastle United Untenable?
Last week we heard reports that Steve McClaren had got into the faces of a number of the Newcastle United squad after the 0-3 home loss to Leicester City. Most notable of the names was the Captain Fabricio Coloccini and McClaren didn't dispute the reports later in the week.

The former England manager would have been hoping for a big reaction and must have been pleased to see his side take a 0-1 lead at Crystal Palace this weekend.

That was as good as it got for McClaren though as Newcastle United slumped to a 5-1 defeat, the second time they had led an away game only to lose by at least four goals this season.

The former much maligned manager of Newcastle United sat in the opposition dugout and must have felt a huge amount of sympathy for McClaren after hearing the fans turn on him during this loss. It was the same fans that effectively made it easy for Alan Pardew to return to Selhurst Park, this time as manager of Crystal Palace, and I am not sure how long McClaren is going to get.

I do believe he is a capable manager, but the last few months have been difficult for him first at Derby County and now at Newcastle United. Falling out with the players might mean they have given up playing for McClaren and the fans have certainly turned against him now with a number of heavy losses behind him.

You have to feel another home defeat this weekend to Liverpool might see Mike Ashley make the move at manager having seen Sunderland respond impressively to their new manager, but I have no idea who would want to take this job. There is no investment being made to further the club on the pitch and it is all about the bottom line off it which is resulting in another relegation scrap.

It isn't good enough for the fans and relegation would be a huge blow from a financial standpoint for Ashley which may result in McClaren being the fall guy.


Wayne Rooney's Position in the Manchester United Team Finally Under Threat
There has been a clear downward trend in the Wayne Rooney performances over the last couple of years to the point that David Moyes' biggest mistake as manager of Manchester United might have been to ignore Sir Alex Ferguson and offer England's leading goalscorer a new contract.

Perhaps Sir Alex saw this downward spiral coming and he recognised that Rooney's best days were behind him, or perhaps he was settling an old score, but it has reached this point where Rooney's position in the team has been openly questioned by many.

Anyone who has watched Manchester United play will recognise that there have ben problems.

Forget all the media who make excuses that he is not a Number 8, 9, 10, 11, and forget others who want to blame Louis Van Gaal for all of Rooney's problems and just look at the basic attributes of the player.

The first touch has never been great, but it looks a lot worse when the pace has disintegrated to the point that he can't recover those mistakes. The passing in the final third to create chances have been wayward on too many occasions and Rooney is struggling to find the space in the box to try and fashion any chances.

That has resulted on him getting deeper and deeper, but so many attacks have come to an end with the ball at his feet- either a misplaced pass to no one or losing the ball to the opponent has become a far too common feature of his play and he is clearly not a top class footballer any more.

When the best argument people have for Rooney is 'how effective he was five years ago', you know those same people are recognising a spent force but are unable to separate their emotions from the performances they see.


So the result at Leicester City wasn't the best, but for the first time Louis Van Gaal yanked an ineffective Wayne Rooney from the field of play at a point in the game where Manchester United didn't have the game won.

It has been a long time coming to put it bluntly.


Too often it has felt his Captain privileges meant his poor performances were being overlooked while the likes of Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera were being forced to play in unfamiliar positions or left on the substitute bench.

Van Gaal spoke of a small injury being carried by Rooney, but I am hoping he has seen the problems being caused by a player who has been far below average for far too long. Maybe having some time spent out of the first eleven would help Rooney rediscover some of the energy that has been sorely lacking in his play even if I personally think he is finished at this level and needs to be moved on in the summer if that is possible.

Maybe Rooney goes on a big run over Christmas and silences some of his doubters? Personally I think it is more likely he will continue struggling to influence the play while being a chief culprit in the poor Manchester United performances in the final third, but hopefully Saturday has proved to be the point when Van Gaal has said enough is enough and EVERYONE should be responsible for their performances, Captain or not.


Has the Diego Costa-Jose Mourinho Relationship Broken Down Irretrievably?
I am using words you may find more common when you read of reasons for a divorce, but that might be where Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho are effectively heading too.

After being left off the bench through the entirety of a goalless draw at White Hart Lane, Diego Costa was caught on camera at what looked like an attempt to throw his bib at Jose Mourinho.

That comes just days after Mourinho admitted they had a half time 'kiss and cuddle' following an argument coming off against Norwich City.

It is clear that Mourinho has tried his best to get his players to rally in what has been a poor campaign for them to date and one that leaves them looking unlikely to get back into the Champions League through their League position. Diego Costa has been a figure that has taken a lot of criticism because he is no longer scoring the goals that had people forget his tendency to wind up opponents and get into the greyer areas of what you can do on a football pitch.

Without the goals Costa is nothing more than a wind up merchant and that isn't going to be enough for Chelsea.

Perhaps now that attitude is beginning to rub Mourinho up the wrong way and what looks like a falling out between two stubborn characters is unlikely to be resolved quickly. Diego Costa showed last year he can be a very good player, but he has been set back by a niggling injury which never seems to be fully healed and I am not surprised Chelsea are being linked with bring in replacements.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Costa heading back to Spain at the end of the season too as he has become a player that is more of a problem for his own team than he has been to opponents.


Who is the Premier League Title Favourite Heading into December?
Some people might think it is disrespectful I have an image that doesn't include Leicester City but does include Chelsea.

To be fair Chelsea would only be in as the current Champions, but it would take something special for them to win the title from the position they are in.

In terms of Leicester City, if they are still within touching distance going into the New Year, I will change my mind about a team who have overachieved but have big challenges ahead.

Both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur would perhaps take a top four berth ahead of a title challenge this season but there is only 6 points between Liverpool in 6th and Manchester City leading the Division as teams fail to put a consistent run together.

Despite my questions about Wayne Rooney, Manchester United have a set of fixtures prior to Christmas that can see them lead the way as long as they take the points expected. If there is a genuine title challenge brewing at Old Trafford, Manchester United have to win home games against West Ham United and Norwich City and also win at Bournemouth before tougher tests on Boxing Day and December 28th.

However, I am not sensing United will have enough goals and I truly can't look beyond Manchester City to reclaim the title at this point of time.

Manchester City have the deepest squad and they might be getting healthier now at a time when the whole squad is going to need to be utilised. I place them above the rest of the League in terms of quality at their disposal, while they seemingly have more character than Arsenal who are fighting through injuries and dropping points they shouldn't be.

There are only 2 points between Manchester City and Arsenal and they do have a big game days before Christmas at The Emirates Stadium, but the latter have just slipped up of late.

I have had a look at what the League table may look like when the FA Cup Third Round weekend is played and I think there is a chance that things are as tight as they are the moment in terms of points differential. I have Leicester City slipping down the table from their current heady heights of 2nd and have the side down in 7th place, and have the top of the table in the same positions other than Leicester moving out.

With the quick turnaround of fixtures during December and the turn of the year, it is easy for things to change through injuries, suspensions or simply tiredness, but it does set the Premier League up to be an exciting five months to decide the title.

It is just still hard to look past Manchester City as being the team to beat.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (November 28-29)

It was another mixed week for the English teams involved in European competition or should I say that it was a decent week for all the clubs that don't play in Manchester.

Manchester City might be through to the Second Round in the Champions League, but their defeat to Juventus means they are likely to go through as a Second Seed meaning potentially a big game against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in the Last 16.

At least they are through though.

Manchester United's home draw with PSV Eindhoven has left them in a remarkably vulnerable position in what looked to be a weak Group. In a couple of weeks Manchester United visit Wolfsburg knowing a defeat would see them out if PSV are able to avoid defeat at home to CSKA Moscow, while a draw is only good enough if PSV fail to win.

In saying that, a Manchester United in in Germany would mean they go through as a First Seed, but Louis Van Gaal has taken a lot of criticism in recent weeks which are unlikely to be quietened down by yet another goalless draw.

For the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, their destiny in qualifying for the Last 16 will come down to the final day and both teams winning will give them a great chance of doing that. Of course Arsenal have the more difficult task needing to beat Olympiacos away from home by at least two goals or by scoring at least three goals, while Chelsea will win their Group if they can beat Porto at home.


Both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur won games on Thursday in the Europa League which has put them through to the Last 32 in that competition. Those two teams will win their Groups if they can avoid defeat in their final games and they will be favoured to do that in a couple of weeks time.


Aston Villa v Watford PickThings are looking in a big mess at Villa Park and I am struggling to see how Aston Villa get out of trouble with a novice Premier League manager like Remi Garde at the helm. Defensively they are conceding far too many goals and there is still a lack of a consistent threat in the final third.

After flirting with relegation over the last few seasons it does look like Aston Villa are going to have a big problem escaping the bottom three this time around. With the way the financials of the club are working, Aston Villa are going to miss out on the big television deal in the top flight next season and might just struggle to make a quick return to the top flight like teams like Leeds United and Nottingham Forest.

The lack of goals is a real issue and missing both Jack Grealish and Gabby Agbonlahor is a problem for them this week.

Watford have also been performing effectively away from home and were unlucky not to get more out of their game at Leicester City in their last one on their travels, while even last week it was a late goal that helped Manchester United win at Vicarage Road.

The away side have scored two goals in half of their six away games in the Premier League and getting to that mark is going to give Watford a great chance to earn the three points here and move half-way to safety. I don't get Watford being an underdog here despite a historically poor record at Villa Park because those games have happened far enough in the past to be changed this season.

Just out of principle a small interest on the away team has to be warranted to win at Villa Park and give Remi Garde no doubt as to the size of the task in front of him.


Bournemouth v Everton PickYou can't doubt there has been an improving set of results and performances from Everton over the last few weeks, but they have to find a way to take their form from Goodison Park onto their travels. Everton have lost at Arsenal and drawn at West Ham United in their last couple of away games, which are not embarrassing results, but they need to start earning some wins to really make a consistent move up the League table.

This is the kind of game a team that wants to finish in the top four or top six should be looking to win, especially as Bournemouth have struggled at both ends of the field thanks to injuries. Bournemouth show plenty of quality in the middle third of the pitch, but they showed a lack of composure when the chances came their way against Newcastle United in their last game here and that has to be a concern.

I would think that Bournemouth will start scoring goals if they keep creating the chances because their luck has to change in front of goal, but it's hard to be confident in them at the moment.

I do think Bournemouth will cause Everton a few problems in this game, but I think the away side are beginning to take their chances and they might have a little too much for them in front of goal. Everton are not always the most trustworthy team to back on their travels, but a small interest at big odds is warranted.


Manchester City v Southampton Pick: Manchester City have a chance to reclaim top spot in the Premier League at least for a few hours when they play on Saturday afternoon. After back to back disappointing defeats this week, it is important for Manchester City to try and get some momentum behind them ahead of the busiest month in the English football calendar.

Injuries have been an issue for Manchester City and Joe Hart is the latest to suffer having had to come off against Juventus and he is a doubt for this game. David Silva is a potential returnee though and Manchester City might look to outscore a Southampton team that has plenty of pace up front to expose a team missing the likes of Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany at the back.

Graziano Pelle is suspended though and that might prevent Southampton from really finding their way to the upset.

The Saints were also beaten last week against Stoke City at home but they are unbeaten in 5 away games which includes a win at Chelsea and a draw with Liverpool. They won't be intimidated about coming here and I expect this to be a close game with both teams having their chances to score goals.

I still think Manchester City will have a response to their consecutive losses this week and might just end up on the right side of a exciting game where both teams score at least once.


Sunderland v Stoke City Pick: Sunderland battled very hard on Monday Night Football and they then got a bit of luck to help themselves to a 0-1 win at Crystal Palace. That win would have given Sam Allardyce some confidence that his team can remain in touch with those outside of the bottom three and he can bring in key players in January to ensure Sunderland can avoid relegation again.

This week is going to be a test for Sunderland who have to find the right balance between attack and defence at The Stadium of Light. Away from home it is much easier to sit back deep and wait for the counter attack, but fans at home won't be so easily accepting of such tactics even in such a difficult position.

Sunderland also face a Stoke City team that has performed very well away from home and have kept five clean sheets in a row on their travels. Stoke City have had four wins in that run, all by the same 0-1 scoreline, including at Southampton last weekend and The Potters won't be worried about having to travel for a second week in a row.

This hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Stoke City in the last few years although they did win a League Cup game here last season. At the odds though, I can't ignore the way Stoke City have performed away from home and I like them to win here.


Leicester City v Manchester United PickNot many would have picked Leicester City versus Manchester United as being a match between the top two teams in the Premier League at the end of November, but that is the case this weekend. By kick off it could have changed with Manchester City able to overtake both teams by winning their 3pm game against Southampton, but that doesn't change the fact that Leicester City and Manchester United lead the rest of the League coming into the weekend.

This is a big game for Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal who won't have missed the poor reaction from the Old Trafford crowd after yet another laboured display that resulted in a goalless draw.

The manager might be surprised by some of the reactions considering where his side are in the Premier League table, but there isn't a strong feeling that Manchester United can win the title. This is a very difficult test for the side against a Leicester City team that is blessed with pace up front and seemingly are not anxious about any football game they play.

Claudio Ranieri has refused to put the handbrake on his team which does mean Leicester City offer up chances to other teams and he won't mind if Manchester United dominate the ball as they can. That will allow Leicester City to slip out on the counter with room for the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to exploit space with their pace and I really do think the home team have the capability of their first statement win of the season.

However, Arsenal showed that the top teams should find spaces to exploit against Leicester City too and so goals looks the best way to get onto this game. That's not been a very good way to get into Manchester United games, but at least their away games have been a little more exciting than those at Old Trafford and Leicester City can make this a real contest.

I wouldn't put off anyone who thinks Leicester City can win this game because I certainly believe they can, but I do see both teams scoring and so backing goals looks a more positive way of getting involved in the game.


Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea PickThe early kick off can play havoc on some of these Premier League games and the midday kick off hasn't impressed Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino who is rightly aggrieved.

His team won't be returning from Azerbaijan until Friday morning and he makes a point as to why this game wasn't allowed to be played on a Sunday afternoon or Monday evening, but television companies have overrode those concerns.

Pochettino is not making excuses and has to be confident with his Tottenham Hotspur side quietly moving up the Premier League table and earning some crushing wins at White Hart Lane in recent games. Tottenham Hotspur hammered West Ham United here last Sunday and they have also put Manchester City to the sword at White Hart Lane so they will be very confident of beating Chelsea.

That is a Chelsea side that has struggled away from home in the Premier League although they have also been a little unfortunate at times. Losing John Terry is a big blow considering they have had back to back clean sheets this week and keeping another here will be a difficult test, although Chelsea have shown they are creating chances at the other end too.

All in all it looks the making of an exciting London derby, one that Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have produced many times in recent years. I am concerned the players make 'sleep walk' through the first half with the early start, but I think both teams are looking effective when they get forward and perhaps not totally convincing at the back.

With that in mind, I think backing at least three goals to be shared out looks like a good chance of hitting. I am leaning towards Tottenham Hotspur using their home advantage to find the victory which looks an appealing price, but Chelsea have looked decent this past week so I'd rather stick with the goals from this match.


Norwich City v Arsenal PickIf you truly have ambitions of wanting to win the Premier League, visits to Norwich City have to be the kind of games you win especially off the back of a disappointing Premier League defeat. This is going to be a real test of Arsenal's title winning credentials having lost at West Brom and fighting through a host of injuries, but it is one that I would expect them to pass.

For all of the hard work that Norwich City will put into the game I don't think they have the necessary quality in the final third against the very best teams. At home they will offer a challenge, but Arsenal have managed their games here at Carrow Road with three wins in four visits and they have players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez that can unlock tight defensive formations.

At home Norwich City will need to offer more in the final third themselves and that space that Arsenal should have can be exploited by The Gunners.

The defeat at West Brom was a disappointment, but Arsenal had won 3 in a row away from home in the Premier League before that and all three wins have come by wide margins. I think Arsenal have enough quality in the final third to be able to come through by at least a couple of goals here too and I will back them to do that by asking them to cover the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Watford @ 2.90 William Hill (1 Unit)
Everton @ 2.50 Coral (1 Unit)
Manchester City to Win and Both Teams to Score @ 3.10 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Stoke City @ 2.50 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Leicester City-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)

November Update9-14-1, - 8.94 Units (41 Units Staked, - 21.80% Yield)

October Final16-25, - 13.51 Units (79.50 Units Staked, - 16.99% Yield)
September Final29-30-3, + 4.18 Units (117.5 Units Staked, + 3.58% Yield)
August Final16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2015/1661-86-4, - 33.67 Units (291 Units Staked, - 11.57% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% 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, 26 November 2015

College Football Week 13 Picks 2015 (November 26-28)

This is the final week of the regular season for many teams and it is all about becoming Bowl eligible and working into Championship Games that are going to have a big impact on which teams play in the final four National Championship Play Offs.

It is the time of the season when one defeat could be fatal to teams and that is how the Ohio State Buckeyes have to feel after losing at home to the Michigan State Spartans which is almost certainly ending their chances of defending their National Championship.

The Big 12 has a couple of big weeks too with their top teams in danger of cannibalising themselves, although they would have received a big boost when the Oklahoma Sooners were placed in the top four by the committee last week. However, they have a big game against rivals Oklahoma State this week and a defeat in that might see the Big 12 overlooked for a Play Off place for the second season in a row.

One team that might be upset are the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who were knocked out of the top four, but they can put together an impressive resume by beating Stanford this week. That would mean wins over Stanford, USC, and Navy this season with the sole loss to Clemson, by a mere two points, not looking at all bad if the Tigers were to win the ACC without losing a game.


So what are my current Play Off Rankings, meaning which four teams do I think will make up the National Championship Play Off:

1) Clemson Tigers- an unbeaten ACC Champion won't be overlooked.

2) Alabama Crimson Tide- one loss SEC Champion who have won some big games since the surprise defeat to the Mississippi Rebels.

3) Oklahoma Sooners- the defeat to the Texas Longhorns seems to be forgotten and this team is flying especially if they can beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys on the road this week.

4) Notre Dame Fighting Irish- if they win at Stanford, the one loss Notre Dame team is going to be tough to ignore... Especially when you think the one loss came against the only unbeaten team in the nation.

Looking In- Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, North Carolina Tar Heels, Stanford Cardinal.



Week 13 Picks
I wasn't impressed with how my Week 12 Picks went in College Football after seeing the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets basically hand a win to the Miami Hurricanes with turnover after turnover, and both the Oklahoma Sooners and Notre Dame Fighting Irish blowing big leads to win by narrow margins.

Those three teams should have seen at least two cover without mistakes and sloppy play (the Fighting Irish also had a number of turnovers in the red zone which almost cost them the game) and would have ensured another decent week.

Instead it was the worst week of the College Football season and frustrating times for me personally. The season total is still in good shape, but I don't like terrible weeks like this and am looking for an immediate response in Week 13.

Texas Tech Red Raiders @ Texas Longhorns Pick: It has been a disappointing season for the Texas Longhorns and one that is coming to an end with a losing record regardless of how this game goes down. They come off the bye week looking to at least give Charlie Strong some breathing room in the off-season, but the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders looks a tough one on paper.

This is a series that the Longhorns have dominated in recent years, but the spread has moved from Texas being a small favourite into a small underdog. I would have loved to have taken Texas Tech as the underdog, but I still like them in this spot.

Texas Tech should have enough balance on Offense to give Texas plenty to think about, while the latter are going to be using back ups at Running Back which might give the former a chance to slow them down.

Both Defenses will have their problems, but I think the balance on the Offensive side of the ball gives Texas Tech the edge and I think they can end a six year losing run in the series by winning this game on Thanksgiving Day.


Troy Trojans @ Georgia State Panthers Pick: This is the last home game of the season for the Georgia State Panthers and they have surpassed expectations already this season. However the Panthers could easily be looking ahead to a big game with Georgia Southern next week although the public don't care and are heavily behind a small home favourite.

I am being contrary though and I think the Troy Trojans can come off their bye and win here having been competitive in recent games prior to that break.

Troy have won beaten Georgia State the last couple of years and the Trojans look like they match up with their opponents pretty effectively on both sides of the ball. The balance on the Offensive side of the ball should mean Troy are able to move the chains more effectively than the high-octane passing Offense of Georgia State who are facing a pretty good Secondary.

The Trojans are 4-1 against the spread on the road this season and Georgia State are 0-2 against the spread as the home favourite over the last couple of years.


Oregon State Beavers @ Oregon Ducks Pick: Gary Andersen has a proven record as a Head Coach but it was a surprise he decided to leave Wisconsin to take over at Oregon State. To say it has been a tough season for the Beavers is an under-statement and now they take on rivals Oregon who have won five in a row.

Even with that in mind, the Ducks look like they are being asked to cover a very big spread even if this game is being played in Eugene. UCLA, Washington and Arizona have all blown out Oregon State to such an extent that they would have covered this huge spread, but you have to think the Beavers are motivated to perform against Oregon.

Oregon State have managed to do that and make things somewhat difficult for Oregon and they haven't been beaten by a bigger number than this spread since 2005. Andersen's style means the Beavers will look to run the clock with their running game and they can keep Oregon's Offense on the sidelines although the quick-strike Ducks Offense can score very quickly to give them a chance to cover in this one.

Of course the Ducks will win, but this still looks too many points and I look for Oregon State to make their rivals at least work for the win.


Baylor Bears @ TCU Horned Frogs Pick: At the start of the season, this looked to be the game that was going to decide the Big 12. However injuries have played their part for both teams to drop at least one game and both Baylor and TCU look to be on the outside of the National Championship Play Off this season.

Neither team is using their starting Quarter Back with Baylor down to third choice Chris Johnson who had been playing as a Wide Receiver while TCU will go with Bram Kohlhausen.

Both players showed they are more than a little capable with big performances in Week 12 and this is going to be a close game. The spread shows that too, but I do like the Horned Frogs to put in one huge effort in their final home game of the season and earn some revenge for their defeat at Baylor last season which cost them a National Championship Play Off berth.

TCU haven't lost here since the end of the 2013 season when Baylor won here, so I do like them in the home underdog spot where they are 2-0 against the spread since 2013. Both teams will score plenty of points, but the Horned Frogs Defense showed they might be able to make enough stops to help the team come through.


Iowa State Cyclones @ West Virginia Mountaineers Pick: I made a point of mentioning that the West Virginia Mountaineers are not the best home favourite to back a couple of weeks ago when I picked them to cover against the Texas Longhorns. In fact I have backed West Virginia two weeks in a row and they have come through so you might think I will look to back them yet another time.

Actually no... This week I like the underdog Iowa State Cyclones to cover as they look to give Paul Rhoads the perfect send off having found out the Head Coach will be let go after this game. Rhoads is adamant he is leaving some tremendous talent for the Cyclones, although Iowa State have disappointed the last three years under his watch.

However the Cyclones have been largely competitive in their games and games between these teams have been tight the last three seasons. Both teams should move the chains effectively through the game and a turnover or two might make all the difference, but that effectiveness also means it looks like the Cyclones are getting too many points in this one.

If you look at the way they have performed against the schools they have both already faced in the Big 12, you can see the Cyclones are capable of surprising the Mountaineers. With the motivation to give Head Coach Rhoads a good send off, I like them to cover with the two Touchdown start.


Ohio State Buckeyes @ Michigan Wolverines Pick: The defence of the National Championship won last season was ended in disappointing fashion for the Ohio State Buckeyes who had at least two players declare for the NFL Draft. Ezekiel Elliot was not very complimentary on his way out of the door, but he can make amends in a huge rivalry game as the Ohio State Buckeyes head to 'The Big House' to take on the Michigan Wolverines.

Both teams will be thinking what might have been having lost in difficult circumstances to the Michigan State Spartans. This game could still have tremendous meaning if the Spartans were to lose to the Penn State Nittany Lions on the same day, but otherwise it is down to bragging rights which is still huge for both Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh.

The Defensive units are the key for both teams and that is an area where I feel the Buckeyes are playing better of the two taking to the field. Of course Michigan can raise their game having gotten over their loss to the Spartans with that defeat very fresh for Ohio State, but I think the Buckeyes are the better team and they have dominated this rivalry in recent years.


There looks to be a little more on both sides of the ball for the Buckeyes and they are 4-1 against the spread in their last five visits to Michigan. The public are completely split on the game, but I am going with the additional talent level on the side of the Ohio State Buckeyes to make the difference and win the game.


Maryland Terrapins @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights Pick: The season can't end quick enough for the Maryland Terrapins who have lost eight in a row and will be employing a new Head Coach between seasons. Even then, Maryland have outgained three of their last five opponents and have had a couple of hard luck losses which makes it a big surprise they are the underdog getting almost a Field Goal worth of points.

They certainly shouldn't be dogged against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who are banged up and who would be in a long losing run if not for having the Army Black Knights on the schedule last week.

Even that victory couldn't snap a run of seven straight games where Rutgers have been outgained and you simply can't keep getting away with that. Maryland do look a team that matches up well with them on both sides of the ball and that could be key here as I expect them to be able to move the chains and stall drives effectively.

Maryland will also play with revenge having been beaten at home by Rutgers last season and I will take the points on offer in this one.


Georgia Bulldogs @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Pick: This is a big rivalry game but both Georgia and Georgia Tech would have hoped there would be more on the line than bragging rights. Neither team will look back at the 2015 season with too many positives, but the players should still want to end the season in the right way and not have to hear from the other over the next twelve months.

For Georgia it is perhaps more important having been beaten in overtime at home last season. The Bulldogs haven't had much luck in terms of injuries and Mark Richt is perhaps going to be out of the door as Head Coach after the season is completed, but they have played well to put together three wins in a row.

They also faced Georgia Southern last week so would have had good practice for the triple option run by Georgia Tech, especially one that might be run by the back up Quarter Back. Justin Thomas is banged up at least and the Yellow Jackets have had a miserable season with just one win in their last nine.

Georgia have to be careful as that one win came against a quality team like Florida State, but Georgia Tech have found too many ways to lose and I like the Bulldogs to win and cover. The road team is 10-1-1 against the spread in the series while Georgia are 7-0 against the spread in their last seven here so I like the Bulldogs to extend both trends.


Duke Blue Devils @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons Pick: The public are very much in love with the Duke Blue Devils winning and covering on the road this week, but the sharps have backed Wake Forest which has seen the spread shrink. I am little surprised the money is on the home team considering they have lost five in a row and rarely been competitive.

The Demon Deacons would have put in a huge effort to try and compete with the Clemson Tigers last week so it is hard to imagine them picking themselves up to play the Blue Devils outside of the State rivalry. However Wake Forest have been struggling Offensively and might not get a lot of joy from the Duke Defensive unit which does give a considerable edge to the road team.

The balance on the Duke Offense also gives them an edge I feel and I do think they are the better team even if they have lost four games in a row. That run was sparked by a controversial defeat suffered against the Miami Hurricanes when the officials cost Duke the victory having missed at least two penalties in the winning Touchdown.

Yes, Duke haven't played as well as they would have liked since then, but they have been too good for Wake Forest in their last three games too. I think the Blue Devils are too good on both sides of the ball which makes it difficult to see how Wake Forest can compete with them and I like Duke here.


Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ Stanford Cardinal Pick: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were knocked out of the top four of the Play Offs last week in the latest released Rankings following a sloppy win over Boston College. They do have a chance to pick up some more votes this week if they can go to the Stanford Cardinal and beat them on the road, but Notre Dame are banged up some more having lost their starting Running Back and Corner Back last week.

It has been a season of injuries for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly might be left wondering what could have been if they are left out of the Play Offs. Their one loss to the Clemson Tigers remains a strong one with that team unbeaten, but the Fighting Irish are unlikely to overcome two losses which makes this game a big one.

Next man up has been the policy for Notre Dame this season and DeShone Kizar has to pick up his play if his school are going to win this game. Kizar was pretty terrible against Boston College last week but the Eagles have perhaps one of the best Defenses in the nation and I would expect a better performance from the Quarter Back this week.

Of course Stanford have their Pac-12 Championship Game next week having already lost twice this season which should keep them out of the National Championship Play Off. Winning this game might inspire some votes if other results go their way over the next two weeks, but it looks unlikely that Stanford would be invited in and I wonder if the focus is on the Championship Game instead.

The Cardinal do match up with the Notre Dame Defense and I can see Christian McCaffrey perhaps show why he is considered the best Running Back in the nation by his Head Coach David Shaw. McCaffrey should have a big game but this looks like one that is going to be decided by three points either way and that makes the points being offered to Notre Dame look attractive to me.

Notre Dame have covered in two in a row as the underdog and I am looking for them to make it three in a row this week and perhaps steal a win that could propel them back into the top four of the Play Offs.


Oklahoma Sooners @ Oklahoma State Cowboys Pick: After losing to the Baylor Bears last week, you might think the Oklahoma State Cowboys are going to be feeling sorry for themselves this week. That loss is likely going to keep Oklahoma State out of the Play Offs this season, but they won't have missed the fact that rivals Oklahoma are in the top four and knocking them off would be a huge achievement for the Cowboys.

Revenge will also be on the mind for the Oklahoma Sooners who were beaten in Norman last season and know the importance of not dropping this game. However that created some nerves in their home win over the banged up TCU Horned Frogs last week and I think the Sooners are going to have a very difficult time this week.

The Sooners Defensive unit is the best in the Big 12 and that gives them an edge, but getting a Touchdown start for the home team is still hard to ignore. The underdog has covered three in a row in the series and Baker Mayfield might not be at 100% even though he has passed the concussion protocol.

Looking at the bare facts suggests the Sooners are the better team, but Oklahoma State will be highly motivated and at home and that is hard to ignore. The Cowboys don't have anything to lose at this moment but everything to gain and the Sooners did look nervous in their win last week when TCU began to make the comeback.

With the Touchdown start, the Cowboys should be able to keep this competitive and perhaps end Oklahoma's season by beating them and knocking them out of the National Championship Play Offs.

MY PICKS: Texas Tech Red Raiders - 1 Point @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Troy Trojans + 1 Point @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Oregon State Beavers + 35.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
TCU Horned Frogs + 1.5 Points @ 2.00 William Hill (1 Unit)
Iowa State Cyclones + 14 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Ohio State Buckeyes - 1 Point @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Maryland Terrapins + 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Georgia Bulldogs - 4 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Duke Blue Devils - 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish + 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Oklahoma State Cowboys + 7 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)


Week 12: 3-7, - 4.10 Units (10 Units Staked, - 41% Yield)
Week 117-4, + 2.33 Units (11 Units Staked, + 21.18% Yield)
Week 10: 4-5, - 1.36 Units (9 Units Staked, - 15.11% Yield)
Week 9: 3-6, - 3.29 Units (9 Units Staked, - 36.56% Yield)
Week 85-6, - 1.33 Units (11 Units Staked, - 12.09% Yield)
Week 711-3, + 7.10 Units (14 Units Staked, + 50.71% Yield
Week 68-5, + 2.49 Units (13 Units Staked, + 19.15% Yield)
Week 56-7, - 1.50 Units (13 Units Staked, - 11.54% Yield)
Week 48-4-1, + 3.26 Units (13 Units Staked, + 25.08% Yield)
Week 36-4, + 1.57 Units (10 Units Staked, + 15.70% Yield)
Week 25-4-1, + 0.68 Units (10 Units Staked, + 6.80% Yield)
Week 17-6, + 0.48 Units (13 Units Staked, + 3.69% Yield

Season 201573-61-2, + 6.33 Units (136 Units Staked, + 4.65% 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)

NFL Week 12 Picks 2015 (November 26-30)

On Thursday we have Thanksgiving Day in the United States which means there is a slate of Football and Turkey for fans on that side of the pond.

I'll be visiting a friend, which has become something of a tradition, and catching the first two games with him while enjoying the food that he will have been preparing for much of the day. It's usually good fun catching up with friends and watching some NFL which is on at a very reasonable time, but it is especially fun with the host a Dallas Cowboys fan.

The three games this year look decent too and obviously the big news out of the final game is that Brett Favre will have his number retired at Lambeau Field at half time of the Chicago Bears game at the Green Bay Packers.


Week 12 Picks
The Week 11 Picks looked to have hit the buffers with some bad luck not helping as the Atlanta Falcons blew a 14-0 and 21-7 lead thanks to Matt Ryan's inept decision making which cost the team a seven point lead.

It was followed by the Arizona Cardinals also blowing a fourteen point lead in the second half of their win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the week was completed with a push from the Buffalo Bills at New England thanks to some huge open Touchdown passes missed by the Bills.

So instead of what should have been a winning week, Week 11 produced a slight loss although the season remains in the positive. However, I do need some luck to fall my way to make sure the positives for the season are not erased over the last six weeks of the regular season and ahead of the Play Offs.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Detroit Pistons Pick: The rumours continue to swirl that Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles are heading for an acrimonious split in the off-season. Kelly was given full control of the roster in the last off-season but the Eagles have looked a mess far too often this season although they are still in contention in the NFC East and have a legitimate shot at making the Play Offs for the second time in three seasons under Kelly's guidance.

A couple of weeks ago Philadelphia won a big road game at the Dallas Cowboys to move back to 4-4, but consecutive home losses to teams like the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dampened enthusiasm. In fact the Eagles crowd are never far from showing their disgust and there was a real tension in the blow out loss to the Buccaneers.

However, the Eagles are only a game behind the NFC East Division leaders and the loss to the Buccaneers might just have been a game in a bad spot for Philadelphia. Mark Sanchez is likely to start this game at Quarter Back for the second time in a row as Sam Bradford is still being troubled by a shoulder injury and the concern with Sanchez is that he is something of a turnover machine.

It was a ill-advised throw that cost Philadelphia the game against the Miami Dolphins and Sanchez has to be better if the Eagles are to win here. He is facing a Detroit Lions Defensive unit that has looked good since coming out of their bye week in slowing down the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders, while Sanchez might not be given much help from DeMarco Murray who has been accused of 'lacking effort' at Running Back.

Ryan Matthews isn't likely to return this week, but Sanchez could have some success throwing against this Secondary that might just have raised their level the last couple of weeks. Detroit do get pressure up front so Sanchez has to be careful of rushing his throws or the 'strip-Sack' but I can see the Quarter Back having a better outing than last week.

Matthew Stafford is another Quarter Back who might have a big day on Thanksgiving Day after seeing what Jameis Winston did to this Defense in Week 11. That is an easy suggestion to put together though and I don't think this Eagles team is going to allow such a slack effort to come about for a second game in a row.

There are a couple of differences with this Detroit Offense compared with Tampa Bay- the first is that they haven't been able to put together a consistent running game so are unlikely to rip off huge gains as Doug Martin did in Week 11; the second is the Offensive Line has struggled to protect Stafford effectively and one of the strengths of the Eagles Defense is in the Defensive Line and getting pressure on the Quarter Back.

Stafford will have success throwing against this Secondary when he does have time, but the Eagles can stall drives much like Green Bay and Oakland have been able to. The Packers Defensive unit is better than Philadelphia's but Oakland's isn't and I think some big plays on this side of the ball will give Philadelphia the edge in the first game on Thanksgiving Day.

The spread has made a big move from last week's results and Detroit have gone from the underdog to being favoured to win. However, I think the Eagles will bring it together in this one and this is a big move in favour of the Lions who had been awful prior to their last couple of tough wins.

Detroit haven't been a great team to back on Thanksgiving Day over the last few years and backing the road underdog to keep it close and perhaps win outright is my pick. The public are very much behind a small home favourite in this Thanksgiving Day opener, but I want to go against them here.


Carolina Panthers @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: This spread has been jumping all over the place as two unbeaten teams meet up in the second of the three Thanksgiving Day games on Thursday.

What? New England aren't involved in this game, but the Dallas Cowboys are actually 3-0 when Tony Romo has played this season after winning in Week 11 and they are looking to knock off the Carolina Panthers who are at 10-0. The Cowboys failed to win a game without Romo but they remain just two games outside of the Division lead in the pretty terrible NFC East and will be looking to build momentum with Romo back at Quarter Back that could potentially lead to the Play Offs.

Dallas will have to be at their best to beat the Carolina Panthers who have the inside track to the Number 1 Seed in the NFC and have Cam Newton playing at such a high level that many are tipping him for the MVP award.

Newton threw five Touchdown passes last week, but he will have to watch out for ex-Carolina Panther Greg Hardy who has to be motivated to show he is more than a distraction for the Cowboys. The Quarter Back is no longer looking to rely on his legs to make plays but he is capable of doing that and might need to in order to help the Panthers establish the run.

Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert have been the predominant Running Backs for the Carolina Panthers and they might have some success running the ball. However the Dallas Cowboys are back to full strength at Linebacker and can certainly slow down the Panthers on the ground and try and force Newton to beat them with his arm, although he has shown he has the capabilities to do that.

The Cowboys will believe they are getting sufficient pressure up front to at least stall drives from Newton although they have to keep an eye on the Quarter Back when he gets out of the pocket and looks to move the chains on the ground. That pressure from the likes of Hardy, Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence can help the Cowboys limit what Carolina do Offensively and give their team a chance to win this game.

Carolina will also have a strong pass rush on display as Charles Johnson is back this week to join Mario Addison and Kony Ealy in getting pressure on the newly returned Tony Romo against one of the best Offensive Lines in the NFL. It might be down to Romo as Carolina have been able to limit the damage done on the ground and so the Cowboys could be reliant on their Quarter Back making big plays through this game.

Dez Bryant might not have a huge day being covered by Josh Norman, but Dallas are a better passing Offense with Romo at Quarter Back as he is able to scramble around and make some big plays. The likes of Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, Gavin Escobar and Cole Beasley might not have had much success without Romo, but the starting Quarter Back makes them all better and Dallas could have success moving the chains.

The public seem to be very much behind Carolina, but the sharps have moved this spread in favour of the Dallas Cowboys and I like the latter too. Dallas are in a more desperate spot and the Cowboys are 8-5 against the spread on Thanksgiving Day in recent years.

I would expect the Cowboys Defensive unit to step up and make a couple of big plays too. It would have been much nicer to take the Cowboys as the underdog, but I am fading the public here again as Dallas get back into the NFC East with a vital win over the current Number 1 Seed in the NFC.


Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers Pick: The Green Bay Packers didn't need Aaron Rodgers to tell their fans to 'R-E-L-A-X' as he did after a couple of losses in consecutive weeks like he did last season, but they did come out with a huge win at the Minnesota Vikings last week. That has put the Packers back in control of the NFC North and they will like to cement that position by beating the Chicago Bears in the final Thanksgiving Day game.

It is going to be an emotional night at Lambeau Field as Brett Favre will return to have his number retired as he is finally brought back into the Green Bay Packers family. I expect that will inspire Aaron Rodgers to want to show the Packers that their present Quarter Back can proudly sit alongside Favre in the history books and I am expecting a big showing from him.

This season hasn't produced the Offensive numbers that Rodgers has done in recent seasons, although he has still protected the ball very well. The loss of Jordy Nelson in the off-season was always going to be a big blow, while some lament the lack of a consistent threat at Tight End in the passing game even if Richard Rodgers is improving all the time.

Rodgers has been under more pressure of late behind his Offensive Line as his Receivers have sometimes struggled to break free of the coverage and Davante Adams is a little banged up again. However the Bears pass rush hasn't been the most consistent so I expect the Quarter Back to have time to make his throws and will certainly make some big ones down the field.

He will be aided by the rejuvenation of the running game which came alive in the win over Minnesota thanks to Eddie Lacy's best game of the season. Lacy and James Starks provide a decent one-two out of the backfield and if both are performing to a high level it will make life easier for Rodgers and his Receivers to find their connections. Green Bay should be able to establish the run as Chicago perhaps focus their attention on the passing game and the question for the Bears is whether Jay Cutler and the Offense can keep up.

Cutler's Offense will be boosted by the return of Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery who are both expected to come through the injuries that have kept them out. While Jeremy Langford has played well in relief of Forte, Jeffery is a huge target for Cutler in the passing game and he will need all the help he can get after watching how Green Bay's Defensive unit have played the last two weeks.

It would be tough for a healthy Forte to really establish a running game, but both Forte and Langford provide a safety blanket for Cutler in the passing game too. That will be important for the Quarter Back who has limited taking Sacks this season by getting the ball out of his hands quickly, but the Packers Defense has been flooding the backfield in their last couple of games which is going to be a concern for Cutler.

However, I expect Cutler will make some big plays to a returning Jeffery although the big concern is whether he can steer clear of the turnovers that have blighted him in games against Green Bay. It was a pick that cost Chicago the first game between these rivals and I can see that being the reason the Bears fail to cover against them again.

Green Bay have covered in four in a row against Chicago and I do like their chances to do that on Thanksgiving Day too with Aaron Rodgers helping win the turnover battle by limiting mistakes compared with Jay Cutler. The balance on the Offense and the high level of play from the Defense should give Green Bay the edge and the Packers remain a very strong home favourite to back.

The backdoor cover is a concern with the way the Bears have been playing in recent weeks, but the disappointing home loss to Denver is a setback in confidence. I'd expect Green Bay to win this by at least ten points and I am looking for them to cover.


New Orleans Saints @ Houston Texans Pick: The Houston Texans are very much in the mix to get into the Play Offs after a victory over the New York Jets at home last weekend and they come into this weekend as the favourites to knock off the New Orleans Saints.

The latter dropped to 4-6 before heading into their bye week and that resulted in Rob Ryan finally being dismissed as Defensive Co-Ordinator even if Ryan himself feels he was overly blamed for all of the New Orleans problems. He even dropped a clanger by claiming he is being blamed for Katrina on the NFL Network days after his firing which won't have had too many missing his presence in New Orleans.

It will be interesting to see how the Defensive unit reacts to Dennis Allen who has taken over play-calling. The Saints don't have the best Defense in the NFL by any stretch, but a lot of their problems are not getting off the field in third down situations while a young team is still trying to find consistency on that side of the ball.

Brian Hoyer is back for the Houston Texans this week to try and expose any vulnerabilities that Allen hasn't been able to plug in his two weeks with the team. In fact it was only one week as Sean Payton had given his team a week off but Hoyer should still be able to have a decent game coming off his concussion which forced him out of the game last week.

The Saints will get a little bit of pressure on Hoyer up front, but the Quarter Back will also be benefited with a running game being established, something Houston have struggled with all season. While Alfred Blue has had problems, the Saints have been horrific stopping the run so you have to expect the Texans to have some joy there while I don't think they have much of an answer for DeAndre Hopkins who has grown in each passing week.

I am expecting the Texans to have some Offensive output this week, but the key to their three game winning run since being blown out by the Miami Dolphins has been a Defensive unit giving up just 29 points in those wins. That unit should be tested by the New Orleans Saints Offense which is still amongst the best in the NFL on their day, although a lot more inconsistent at the moment.

Houston have just started getting things going up front which as begun to pressure the Quarter Back and New Orleans haven't protected Drew Brees to the extent they are used to. Brees hasn't been helped by a lack of support in the run game nor from his Receivers who don't win their battles in the Secondary as much as when they had Jimmy Graham.

Mark Ingram might not be able to churn out too many yards on the ground so the pressure is on Brees to lead the Saints in this one and he hasn't been at his best on the road. The Houston Secondary has played well too, but you have to think New Orleans have got a few things ironed out in the bye week and I do think the Saints move the ball in the Dome conditions they will be used to.

Both teams have big games next week that could be taking away some of the focus, but I think the Saints coming off a bye are perhaps being given too many points here. The Saints have covered off a bye in their last couple of seasons and I think Houston are not really as good as their last three games suggest.

The public are very much behind the small home favourite, but I like the underdog to perhaps shine a little off the firing of Rob Ryan and produce a big performance. I'll take the points in this one.


St Louis Rams @ Cincinnati Bengals Pick: This is a big week for the Cincinnati Bengals who have followed up their 8-0 start by losing back to back games. That has reinvigorated Pittsburgh's interest in the Division and the Bengals have two Division games to come after this one as they look to knock off the St Louis Rams at home.

It has been a terrible week for the Rams who are being accused of deliberately hurting players after seeing Justin Forsett's arm in the loss at Baltimore which followed a recent head shot on Teddy Bridgewater when the Quarter Back was clearly sliding.

Jeff Fisher has attacked his critics this week, but Case Keenum looked clearly out on his feet yet was not pulled from the game as he would have been expected. That is on the Head Coach and I would not be surprised if Fisher is removed at the end of the season.

St Louis do host Arizona next week which is a huge Division game, but that won't mean much if the Rams are dropped to 4-7 this week. There is some hope for an Offensively challenged team though as Cincinnati have struggled against the run and that could mean Todd Gurley having a very big game for St Louis.

If Gurley can run the ball effectively, St Louis might not be asking too much from Nick Foles/Case Keenum at Quarter Back to make a few plays to keep the chains moving and I do think the Rams can have some success this week.

I just don't trust St Louis who have their best games when I am seemingly against them and who rely on a lot of gimmick plays Offensively. However that moving off the chains Offensively will mean a very good Defensive unit is given enough of a rest to be effective through this game and I like the way the Rams match up with Cincinnati.

The Bengals have struggled to run the ball with their one-two punch out of the backfield and they don't figure to get a lot of joy against this Defensive Line. That will mean Andy Dalton having to drop back in third and long situations where the St Louis team can get a very strong pass rush at his face even if the Bengals Offensive Line has been solid enough for much of the season.

St Louis' Secondary have actually played better than I expected too and they will have their chances if they are forcing Dalton to throw from long distances on third down. AJ Green and Tyler Eifert are big targets in the passing game, but Cincinnati have not quite been at the races their last couple of games.

Cincinnati are usually a very strong favourite to back at home, especially in these 1pm Eastern Time games. However, I think they just will want to escape with the win in this one and the Rams match up well on both sides of the ball to think they can keep this competitive throughout. It does look a lot of points, but my lack of belief in the Rams means I will keep the interest to a minimum.


Minnesota Vikings @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: When the Play Offs are decided in the NFC, games like this one could be all important in deciding which teams have earned the Wild Cards and which teams are booking their holidays while waiting for the 2016 season.

The Atlanta Falcons have been awful since their 4-0 start as they have gone 2-4 in their last six games and were beaten at home by the Indianapolis Colts last week despite leading 14-0 and 21-7 at times. Matt Ryan has not played well enough at Quarter Back in the last few games and he will be without Devonte Freeman at Running Back who is still in concussion protocol.

It might have been a game where Freeman could have been a big factor after seeing Eddie Lacy trample over Minnesota last week. Tevin Coleman isn't a bad replacement, but he has had some fumbling issues with a critical one last week in his own territory so it might be down to Ryan to find his Receivers like Julio Jones who has slowed considerably since the opening weeks.

I like the Falcons again this week despite them letting me down in Week 11 and that is because the Defensive unit might have some success in at least limiting Adrian Peterson. Forcing Teddy Bridgewater to beat them is the way to success even if Atlanta have not got the pressure up front that they would have hoped and one to perhaps expose the Minnesota Offensive Line issues.

The Vikings are off that really disappointing home loss to the Green Bay Packers last week and I am not sure they pick themselves up that quickly. As I have said though, I don't really think the Atlanta Falcons are that good either and been in a poor run, but I think they know they need this win and can put together enough scoring drives to see off the Vikings.


New York Giants @ Washington Redskins Pick: The New York Giants would have enjoyed their Thanksgiving Day dinner while seeing both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys going down to defeats. A win on Sunday at the Washington Redskins would mean the Giants have opened up a two game lead in the Division with just five games left to play and would make the New York Giants big favourites to reach the Play Offs.

This is a game they have enjoyed in recent meetings and the Giants have won five in a row in the series including two wins in a row at Washington.

One area the Giants would have looked to improve over their bye week is their ability to the run the ball and it might be an opportunity for them to do that this week. It didn't work so well when they first played the Redskins earlier this season, but the Giants know Washington have struggled to stop teams being able to run the ball against them and that should be music to Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen's ears.

However it might not matter so much to New York if they can't get the running game going as much as they would like because Eli Manning and Odell Beckham have been carving teams up together. Manning will have time in the pocket to make plays and Beckham is fully healthy and is unlikely to be stopped in this one.

Players like Vereen and Dwayne Harris have been big too for Manning in the passing game and I think the Giants will be very effective with the ball in their Offense's hands, but they can't take the win for granted.

That is because the Washington Redskins have played very well at home where Kirk Cousins seems to be at his most comfortable. Cousins hasn't been very productive against the New York Giants though so he has to overcome some mental hurdles in this one and this is likely to be down to the Quarter Back if Washington are going to surprise and join New York at the top of the NFC East.

Washington are reliant on Matt Jones and Alfred Morris to get the Offense going, but neither is likely to have a huge game against the New York Giants. Jones has fumbling issues and Morris has been banged up so this could be on Cousins arm to get things going here although that hasn't been comfortable for him against these Giants.

There is space in the Secondary to exploit though and Cousins has some big weapons in the Receiving game with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed all reliable targets. Cousins has been well protected so I am expecting him to make some plays, although the fear of the big turnover is never far away from the Quarter Back even if he has been a lot better at home than on the road.

I just can't ignore how well New York have matched up against Washington and they are coming in off a bye week although the Giants have failed to cover the past two years off their bye. The Giants are 8-6 against the spread in road Divisional games in recent seasons and they have had the better of the games with the Washington Redskins.

Washington are 3-0 against the spread when set as the home underdog of three points or fewer this season and they have to be respected. However, I like the Giants to win and take a firm grip on the NFC East and continue their run of success against the Redskins.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Indianapolis Colts Pick: How many people would have expected this to be a game between two teams battling for a Play Off spot in late November? The Indianapolis Colts were the favourites to perhaps win the entire AFC this season but have underachieved while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten behind their rookie Quarter Back to perhaps look to sneak out a Wild Card spot in the NFC.

That would make the Buccaneers ahead of the schedule as they have improved on both sides of the ball while Jameis Winston has taken over as a leader who is avoiding the big mistakes that he made earlier in the season.

The Buccaneers have won four of their last six games to get back into the Play Off mix in the NFC and this is a big game for them as they will be facing the Atlanta Falcons next week. Maybe that takes away some focus, but I would be surprised as a loss here might mean they have slipped too far behind Atlanta.

Doug Martin has been a big help for Winston with the way he has been running the ball and the Tampa Bay team have perhaps been overlooked on that front after the Quarter Back threw five Touchdown passes in Week 11. However Martin might not have the big running lanes this week against a Colts Defense that has actually played that element well for most of the season.

That might mean it is up to Winston to open the running lanes by throwing the ball effectively and he is certainly capable of doing that. He has been given decent protection and the likes of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans can win their battles against a porous Secondary as long as they can steer clear of the drops that have plagued this Receiving corps.

Winston is a rookie, but Indianapolis won't have their own Number 1 Overall Pick in action this week as Matt Hasselbeck will start at Quarter Back instead of the injured Andrew Luck. Hasselbeck has taken the Colts to a 3-0 record under his watch at Quarter Back, but he was very fortunate to get away with the win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11 and has to play better.

That won't be easy for him against an under-rated Tampa Bay Defensive unit that has been sparked by Head Coach Lovie Smith. Smith needs credit for that and his team have been very strong against the run which means Indianapolis will be throwing from third and long with veterans Ahmad Bradshaw and Frank Gore unlikely to have a lot of success.

Hasselbeck is likely to feel some heat when he drops back to pass in third and long and he hasn't avoided some big turnovers which could be key in this game. Tampa Bay have actually been very good Defensively when Winston has looked after the ball and played the field battle and I do like the underdog in this one with a small number of points.

Tampa Bay are 4-1 against the spread as the road underdog this season and they look to match up with the Colts on both sides of the ball. The public are very much with the road underdog which is a concern, but I still think Tampa Bay are the right side.


San Diego Chargers @ Jacksonville Jaguars Pick: I have to say that I am finding the line movement on this San Diego Chargers game very hard to understand because I quite liked the road team in the underdog spot earlier in the week. It seems like the majority of the bets in Vegas are on the San Diego Chargers, yet the sharp action has moved this a couple more points in their direction because those people like the Jacksonville Jaguars.

So the Jaguars have the better record, are still in the Play Off hunt and are facing a West coast team in the early Eastern Time Zone, but the Chargers have won here in 2011 and 2013.

San Diego are trying to bounce back from an embarrassing home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs out of their bye week, but that was a rare game when they haven't been competitive. The players might have given on Mike McCoy which is a concern, but I can't imagine a competitor like Philip Rivers allowing his team to produce another decrepit performance like the one they did at home.

It is also strange to see the Jaguars not just in a position of being a favourite, but a considerable favourite and they were fortunate to cover in their last game against the Tennessee Titans as a three point favourite. Jacksonville have won three of their last four games to build some momentum and become a threat in the AFC South, but prior to Tennessee, they haven't won a game by more than three points since the end of last season, again against the Titans.

Blake Bortles and TJ Yeldon should both have strong performances in this one to give the Jaguars good balance Offensively. Bortles has been aided by Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns while Julius Thomas is becoming more of a feature in the passing game, while Yeldon should have more running room than he has seen in recent weeks against this Chargers Defense.

That is where it has been more difficult for Philip Rivers and the Chargers as they have not been able to generate an effective running game all season. Melvin Gordon has struggled in his rookie season and that has left the team on Rivers' arm and he didn't have a good game last week.

Rivers will be put under some pressure by the Jacksonville Defensive Line, but the Secondary is not great and I think Rivers can have success moving the chains. Antonio Gates is a week healthier and Malcolm Floyd could be back to give Rivers another effective target and I am fully expecting San Diego to be far more competitive than last week.

It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me that the Jaguars are not just favoured, but favoured by a fairly big number in this one. This is a team that has two Divisional games to come and the focus might not be great having seen San Diego blown out last week.

Jacksonville don't blow out too many teams that aren't called the Tennessee Titans and San Diego know how to travel here and win. The Chargers do host Denver next week which might be the biggest game they have left this season, but I expect them to want to prove last week's loss to Kansas City was an exception to their usual competitiveness and I like them to cover. The Chargers are 11-6 against the spread as the road underdog since 2013 and I like them to improve that.


Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets Pick: The Miami Dolphins were embarrassed in London by the New York Jets earlier this season and another loss to their Divisional rival will likely end any lingering Play Off hopes. It is also a big game for the New York Jets who were beaten at the Houston Texans last week and have lost four of their last five games.

Both teams are looking to get into the Wild Card mix in the AFC but the losing team might find it difficult to pick themselves up over the last five weeks of the regular season.

It looks like the Jets have begun to taste the injury bug at the wrong time and Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled at Quarter Back since a thumb injury and the required surgery. There is clearly not enough belief in Geno Smith to come in and win games so Todd Bowles has admitted that Fitzpatrick will remain the starting Quarter Back at this moment in time.

The injury to Nick Mangold hasn't helped Fitzpatrick as the New York Jets running game has not been able to function without him on the Offensive Line. Chris Ivory has had some big moments, but he might not have a lot of success against an improving Miami Defensive Line when it comes to protecting against the run.

By keeping the Jets from establishing the run, Miami will force Fitzpatrick to throw into the Secondary where a healthier Brent Grimes has played well the last couple of games. Fitzpatrick has players like Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker capable of making big plays, but the Miami pass rush has been more effective under Dan Campbell, who replaced Joe Philbin as Head Coach following the loss to the Jets, and it might be difficult for the Jets to move the chains effectively through the game.

The bigger question for the Miami Dolphins is whether they can get enough from a limited Offense to give themselves a chance of the upset. Lamar Miller has played well along with Jay Ajayi, but neither player is expected to have a lot of room running the ball against a vaunted Jets Defensive Line.

That same line has gotten a lot of pressure up front which is going to rush Ryan Tannehill, but the absence of Darrelle Revis might open the door for some big plays from the Dolphins passing game. I expect Tannehill to take a few hits in this one and be under pressure in third and long situations, but he won't have Jarvis Landry blanketed by Revis and I think there are some solid gains to be made through the air.

Miami have won their last three visits to the New York Jets and they do tend to play better on the road in this series. In fact the road team is 6-1 against the spread in recent games between these teams while the Jets are 4-13-1 against the spread as the home favourite in Divisional games.

It hasn't been the best plan to back the Dolphins as the road underdog in Divisional games in recent seasons, but this is a team that has played well in that spot over the years. I just don't think the Jets have done anything in recent weeks to think they should be getting more than a Field Goal against anyone and I will take the points yet again.


Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: The Arizona Cardinals look to be in a commanding position to win the NFC West and earn a First Round bye in the Play Offs at the very least. A chance to pummel a rival from the Division won't be ignored if their 47-7 home win over the San Francisco 49ers is anything to go by and now they visit a Stadium where they hope to return in February.

It is hard to see a situation where the San Francisco 49ers make this more competitive than they did in losses to the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks here earlier in the season. Since then they have made the move from Colin Kaepernick to Blaine Gabbert at Quarter Back, but it is tough to see the former Jacksonville Jaguar First Round Draft Pick make enough plays to keep the 49ers in this one.

Both Carlos Hyde and Anquan Boldin are questionable to play in this game which makes it that much more difficult for the home team against one of the best teams in the Conference. The Arizona Defensive Line has only allowed 4 yards per carry on the season and they won't be worried about having to shut down that part of the San Francisco game and force Gabbert to beat them with his arm.

Gabbert is playing behind a porous Offensive Line so could still face some pressure from an Arizona pass rush which hasn't always been able to generate a lot of pressure on the opposing Quarter Back. However I expect the Cardinals to be around Gabbert and force him to hit Receivers against a very strong Secondary.

It does look like Patrick Peterson will sit in the game which will Gabbert a few more chances, but I think San Francisco will continue their struggles to move the chains.

That is less likely to be a problem for the Arizona Cardinals and Carson Palmer who is having arguably his best season of his professional career. Palmer has been well protected and now faces a team that hasn't gotten consistent pressure up front which has exposed a Secondary that has been depleted over the last year through injury and retirements.

Palmer is likely to have a huge game again after a big one against Cincinnati last week and he is likely to be ably supported by the likes of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington who should establish the run. Glenn Dorsey is out on the San Francisco Defensive Line and both Johnson and Ellington should open up the play-action for Palmer who is limiting the mistakes he is making.

The concern I have in picking Arizona is that they have a revenge game at St Louis next week which could take some of the focus. This is also the last big game San Francisco will really feel they have in a miserable season and will put in a huge effort, but the quality of the two teams is a big gap to bridge.

However, San Francisco had a huge game at Seattle last week and might struggle to match that emotion two weeks in a row, especially after losing handily enough. Thomas Rawls trampled them last week, but this week it could be the passing of Carson Palmer and I like the Cardinals to win impressively.


New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos Pick: The Carolina Panthers have maintained their unbeaten run through eleven games and the New England Patriots will be looking to do the same thing in the late Sunday Night Football game. It looks a big test for the Patriots as they visit the Denver Broncos although it won't be one more big game between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Instead of Manning, Brock Osweiler will be making the start for the Denver Broncos at Quarter Back and the feeling remains that he is better suited to what Gary Kubiak wants to run from an Offensive standpoint. Add in the fact that Manning just hasn't looked himself all season and Osweiler is the right man to take the Broncos forward, especially as they feel the Defensive unit is one that can take them to the Super Bowl.

Seeing Osweiler under Center rather than in the shotgun that Manning likes has perhaps given Denver a better chance of running the ball and also employing the play-action and bootleg passes that Kubiak is known for. Osweiler played a very strong game against the Chicago Bears which was highlighted by zero turnovers and the Defense stepped up to help put that game to bed.

We might see more of Osweiler this week as the New England Patriots have been able to limit what teams have done to them on the ground. Both CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman may have some success, but the key gains might need to be made through Osweiler's arm and the big question is whether he will be bamboozled by Bill Belichick's impressive Defensive plans.

Those have been used in the past to surprise rookie Quarter Backs and Osweiler won't be any different although he has been supported by Peyton Manning this week. A big part of the plan for Denver is not to give the ball away and Osweiler might be able to make the big throws to at least keep the Broncos from giving away the game.

Denver will certainly feel they have a chance to win the game if they can win the turnover battle and allow their Defense to get after Tom Brady. As good as Brady is and as well as he has played this season, it can't be ignored that New England are banged up Offensively and missing so many pieces that might make it difficult for them.

LeGarrette Blount will get the majority of carries out of the backfield, but there won't be a lot of running room against this Defensive Line while the pass rush can rattle Brady even without DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos Defense has been able to shut down many passers this season, most notably Aaron Rodgers, and facing Brady without the likes of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson should give them the edge.

The public do seem to like Brady over an inexperienced Quarter Back, but the sharps are behind the Denver Broncos and I like them as the home underdog. It might be a tough day for Brady to move the chains effectively as it was against Buffalo last week and I think Denver win this game if Osweiler protects the ball as he did against Chicago.

Of course it is a much bigger test against New England's Defense than it was against the Chicago Bears, and Bill Belichick's Defensive mind can't be underestimated. However, the injuries on the other side of the ball for New England are hard to ignore and I think Denver can improve to 3-0 against the spread as the underdog this season. They were the same number of points as an underdog at home to Green Bay too and covered and the New England Patriots might be a little over-rated here.

MY PICKS: Philadelphia Eagles + 2 Points @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Dallas Cowboys - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 8 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints + 3 Points @ 2.05 Paddy Power (2 Units)
St Louis Rams + 9 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Atlanta Falcons - 1 Point @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
New York Giants - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers + 3 Points @ 1.95 Betway (2 Units)
San Diego Chargers + 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Miami Dolphins + 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Arizona Cardinals - 10 Points @ 1.95 Betway (2 Units)
Denver Broncos + 2.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Week 11: 3-4-1, - 1.38 Units
Week 103-6, - 5.54 Units
Week 96-2, + 8.08 Units
Week 80-1, - 1 Unit
Week 72-4, - 4.23 Units
Week 63-5-1, - 3.33 Units
Week 53-5-1, - 3.48 Units
Week 44-3-1, + 2.24 Units
Week 38-2, + 9.03 Units
Week 24-5, - 1.71 Units
Week 15-2-1, + 6.46 Units

Season 2015: 41-39-5, + 6.14 Units
Season 201477-80-2, - 8.47 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units
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