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Thursday, 1 December 2016

NFL Week 13 Picks 2016 (December 1-5)

As soon as the NFL hits Thanksgiving weekend I begin to feel like the Play Offs are just around the corner and I have little doubt that there are plenty of Head Coaches and players feeling the same as December clocks around.

Some teams already know that their focus is on the 2017 season, while others are in a very strong position and will have to have some collapse down the stretch to miss out on the post-season. With five weeks left in the regular season, every game matters even more for teams chasing their spots in the Play Offs and that makes it an interesting time for the fans.

Off the field there has been some interesting developments too with the NFL increasing their presence to four games in London next season, although confirmation will likely come out this weekend or when the games to be played here have been set. We know the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins is one game to come to London in 2017 and it has been heavily rumoured that the Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Baltimore Ravens in what has been their annual game in the English capital in recent years.

The other two games are surrounded by rumours at the moment which will likely be cleared up in the coming days.

One aspect of the London games that has been revealed is the removal of the 1:30pm local start times which have been a feature of those games over the last coupe of years. That window hasn't worked for the NFL in the United States and the oversaturation of football has become a problem for many over there.

It has led to suggestions that Thursday Night Football will not be a regular scheduled game but instead could either be scrapped altogether or only used following Thanksgiving Day and those Thursday games. The television ratings are down this year, which is a surprise, and the NFL is looking to make their Football a little more premium rather than upping the amount of windows in which one game is broadcast as they have this year.

People do seem a little tired of the NFL over in the States and that has to be addressed in the off-season.

The Week 12 Picks were at the crossroads going into the Monday Night game and it was all down to the Green Bay Packers to make it a successful week or not. Thankfully they didn't just stay within the points but won outright to make up for some bad breaks in the earlier games.

I had no right losing the Minnesota Vikings pick as they self-destructed at the end of their loss to the Detroit Lions, while Washington scored a backdoor cover over the Dallas Cowboys. I did have a couple of terrible picks most notably the Seattle Seahawks to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game they ended up losing, so overall a winning week is a positive to take away from Week 12.

Hopefully there is some momentum to take into Week 13 which I am opening up with a pick from Thursday Night Football. The rest of the picks will follow in the coming days on this thread.

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: I was really hoping the Minnesota Vikings would have beaten the Detroit Lions last week because they might then have been a small underdog in this week's Thursday Night Football when they host the Dallas Cowboys. The public have been convinced by the Cowboys and it is no surprise that they are heavily behind the only team with double digit wins in the regular season after eleven games.

However the sharps have been backing the Minnesota Vikings and that has actually seen the hook removed on this spread and the number back at the key number three. I really don't like being on the same side as the public in these standalone games, but I was looking to back the Cowboys before Week 12 and nothing that happened on Thanksgiving Day has made me change my mind.

 Dallas have won ten games in a row compared with the Minnesota Vikings who have lost five of their last six games and are under pressure in the NFC North. The two losses to the Detroit Lions means the tiebreaker is gone and the Vikings are already a game behind the NFC North leaders so are in a desperate position to win this one.

That will help them focus, and Stefon Diggs is back in the line up for the Vikings who has proved to have had an effective connection with Sam Bradford at Quarter Back. It is very important for Bradford to be able to find his Receivers he trusts because the Vikings have struggled to run the ball all season without Adrian Peterson and there is not likely to be a lot of room to get that aspect of their game going.

However Bradford should still have success as the Cowboys have struggled to get to the Quarter Back and the Secondary has been susceptible to some big plays. We have seen Bradford make some solid plays with Diggs to throw to, but the pressure is going to be on his shoulders to find some consistency as I am not convinced the Minnesota Defensive unit can shut down the Cowboys.

There has been some wear and tear on the Defensive Line which is a big concern for the Vikings. They have been giving up some big plays to Running Backs and I have no idea how they are going to be able to slow down Ezekiel Elliot and this Offensive Line which has proved they can wear down opponents over sixty minutes and Elliot will break off some big runs.

The problems stopping the run is an issue for the Minnesota Vikings because they have to respect what Dak Prescott has been able to do from the Quarter Back position. He is a more elusive runner than some may think, but Prescott has also shown considerable intelligence in deciphering what the Defenses have tried to do in front of him and being able to throw to the open Receiver.

Prescott has also made some big time throws when the Cowboys have needed him to, but the Minnesota Secondary is pretty good and could cause some issues for the rookie Quarter Back. On the other hand, Minnesota are going to have a difficult time keeping this Cowboys Offensive unit moving up and down the field if they can't slow the run because Prescott is good enough to make the necessary throws to get his team moving in the right direction.

Minnesota are also going to be without Mike Zimmer today as the Head Coach is out with an injury to his eye which has meant he hasn't been able to get on the sidelines. They are a home underdog which has to irritate them, but I am not sure the Vikings are going to be able to keep up with Dallas even if I do think the Minnesota will have more Offensive success than they have had in a long time.

Ultimately I can see the Dallas Defensive unit forcing Bradford into a critical mistake which allows them to earn the extra possession to move clear of this number. They look the stronger team Offensively and I just can't see Minnesota being able to stop the run which allows Dallas to score enough points to pull clear.

Both teams have had a week to prepare for this game but it Dallas who might prove why they are likely to finish with the Number 1 Seed in the NFC with another win this week.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: For the second season in a row, a fast start for the Atlanta Falcons has not meant they have been in a prime position to make the Play Offs. Just like last season they have begun to struggle in the second half of the season and the Falcons have the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers breathing down the back of their necks in the NFC South.

This is a big game for Atlanta but also a big game for the Kansas City Chiefs who are still trying to chase down AFC West leaders Oakland Raiders. There is still time for them to do that, but the Chiefs have got to keep finding their way to improbable wins like they showed against in Week 12 by coming back from eight points down to beat the Denver Broncos on the road.

The Chiefs have not exactly been a free flowing Offensive unit and it is no surprise that they have been outgained in yards in 8 of their last 10 games, but have still gone 8-3 through the first twelve weeks of the season. It is a big reason no one really believes the Chiefs are a Super Bowl winner in the making especially with a Defense that has not been as strong as last year.

It is a Defensive unit that has been able to make plays and Justin Houston's return gives them a big time pass rusher which is critical at this time of the season. Going up against Atlanta's struggling and banged up Offensive Line should give Houston a chance to produce another big game after showing off his talent last week in the win over Denver.

However the Chiefs are facing a very positive Quarter Back in Matt Ryan who has shown he can be very good at the NFL level through his career. Whether he can help Atlanta take the next step and win the Super Bowl is arguable, but Ryan has a very strong Receiving corps at his disposal and should be able to make plays against a Secondary that is not so strong outside of Marcus Peters. I expect Julio Jones can win his fair share of battles with Peters, but Ryan has other playmakers at his disposal who can help move the chains.

It is unlikely that DeVonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman have a lot of success running the ball, but both Running Backs can be effective safety blankets out of the backfield and Atlanta should have a chance to make plays in this one. Ryan has to be careful with turnovers as that is an area Kansas City have thrived in recent weeks to win games they should perhaps have been losing.

That ability has been huge for Alex Smith and a fairly vanilla Offense that is pretty predictable when it comes to what they want to do. The Chiefs will hope Spencer Ware can establish the run and that will keep Smith in third and manageable to make his short passes to keep the Offense plodding up the field. Ware has a good match up against the Falcons, so the Chiefs should be able to have some success in this one too, but they have to avoid mistakes.

Getting behind the down and distance will be an issue for Smith whose Offensive Line is also susceptible to the pass rush, an area Atlanta have improved significantly in recent games. That will force Smith to get rid of the ball even quicker than usual although the Quarter Back does have the ability to make some plays with his legs which will give Kansas City another chance to keep hitting the First Down markers.

I do think the Chiefs can have some success in this one, but this looks a bad spot for them between an emotional win over the Denver Broncos and facing AFC West leaders Oakland Raiders in just four days time on Thursday Night Football. Being on the road against a non-Conference opponent might not get the juices flowing and Kansas City have been fortunate to have won a number of games recently.

I feel the Atlanta Falcons can make enough plays on both sides of the ball to ensure a win by around a Touchdown mark in this one and I will back the home team to maintain their hold of the NFC South lead for another week at least.

Miami Dolphins @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: The Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens are not Divisional rivals but this is the fourth season in a row that they have played one another. However the Miami Dolphins have hosted the last three games and now head to Baltimore for the first time since 2010, while the Dolphins snapped a five game losing run to the Ravens with a win last season.

This is a huge game for both the Ravens and the Dolphins with big Play Off implications involved. The winner will feel they have the inside track to one of the AFC Wild Card spots at the very least, while the losing team will be needing some help. For Miami it is arguably a bigger game knowing they can only really rely on a Wild Card to move into the Play Offs with the New England Patriots some way clear, while the Baltimore Ravens currently lead the AFC North in a tight race with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Dolphins have won six games in a row which is a huge surprise after they looked like having another dead season at 1-4. That has moved them into the top six in the AFC, but the success has come behind a healthy Offensive Line and that is not the case at the moment. Establishing Jay Ajayi and keeping the pressure off Ryan Tannehill has been the game plan, but running the ball with a healthy Offensive Line is difficult against the Baltimore Ravens let alone with a banged up Line.

That might mean asking Tannehill to make a few more plays with his arm in this one which is going to be a real test of the Quarter Back who has divided the fanbase and some of his teammates. Tannehill might find himself under pressure in obvious passing situations and it won't be easy to find the likes of Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker against this Ravens Defensive unit which has been one of the best in the NFL.

It should give Baltimore enough of an edge to come away with a victory, but they have to hope Joe Flacco can keep away from the Interceptions that have hurt him all through the season. There are decent Receivers here like Mike Wallace, Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith that should be good enough for Flacco, but he has made some poor decisions at times which hasn't helped things.

Flacco should be helped by the fact that Kenneth Dixon is close to winning the starting Running Back spot over Terrance West and is a considerable upgrade for him. Despite the power in the Miami Defensive Line, they have struggled to stop the run at times and Dixon/West should be able to establish the team on the ground to make life easier for the Quarter Back. Dixon could also be a safety blanket for Flacco and could be dangerous out in space and I do think the Ravens are going to come out on top in this one.

I would love to be wrong as a Dolphins fan, but the Baltimore Defensive unit can make enough plays to give their Offense a chance to win this one by around a Touchdown and I will back them to do so. Both teams need this game so it should be a good one, but the Ravens have home advantage and look like they match up well with Miami and they look good to cover.

LA Rams @ New England Patriots Pick: Jeff Fisher has to be given a lot of credit for seemingly fooling the Los Angeles Rams owners that mediocrity is something acceptable for a Head Coach. This looks like another wasted season for the Rams who have beaten both the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks but who have a 4-7 record and close to being out of contention in the Play Off race.

They were on the wrong end of a blow out loss to the New Orleans Saints last week and now the Rams head to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots who have the joint best record in the AFC. It hasn't been all good news for the Patriots with news that Rob Gronkowski is going to be ruled out for the season which is a big blow for this Offense.

This will be a test for the New England Patriots to show they are going to be able to battle through the absence of Gronkowski for the remainder of the season. The Rams Defensive Line was embarrassed by the Saints last week with Mark Ingram having some huge runs so they have to step up and show they can shut down LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis in this one although not many teams can do that.

Over the course of the season the Rams have shown they can be strong up front led by Aaron Donald and that same Offensive Line can put some pressure on Tom Brady at Quarter Back. Brady has a tough Secondary to dissect in front of him too and I do think the Rams have to show some character after the way the Saints scored at will against them.

The bigger problem for the Rams has always come on the Offensive side of the ball and rookie Jared Goff is the kind of Quarter Back that Bill Belichick lives to confuse. While Goff had some strong moments against New Orleans and the Miami Dolphins, he still looks a little uncertain behind Center and is also facing a Patriots pass rush that can get to him during this game.

Goff can't rely on Todd Gurley to run the ball effectively either having seen the Offensive Line struggle to open holes for him all season. There won't be a lot of room at the line of scrimmage for Gurley, but the Rams will know the longer they can extend drives the better it will be as they keep Brady and the Patriots Offensive unit on the sidelines.

I can't deny that this feels like a lot of points for the Rams to be given despite the way they played last week in New Orleans. They haven't been blown out too often this season and the New England Patriots have shown they are not a team as good as some would have you believe with some close wins even after Tom Brady returned from suspension and now Rob Gronkowski out of the line up.

Los Angeles have to have their Defensive unit show up because Bill Belichick is likely going to bamboozle Jared Goff with some exotic looks and taking away his biggest playmakers. However I do think this is a game that New England just want to win and get out without more injuries and so the almost two converted Touchdown start is huge for me. Goff can make mistakes which allows New England to pull away, but I will take the points with the Rams and hope the rookie Quarter Back can be smart enough with the ball to allow the Defensive unit space to keep the Rams in this one.

Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints Pick: The Detroit Lions could have a two game lead in the NFC North at the end of Week 13 if they can earn the upset win over the New Orleans Saints on the road on Sunday. That won't be easy against the Saints who are chasing Wild Card spots as well as Divisional leaders the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South and New Orleans are fresh off a big win over the LA Rams.

This is a much easier game to break down than some of the others because most should know what you are going to get out of the New Orleans Saints. That is especially the case on the Offensive side of the ball as Drew Brees has found a couple of new targets in the passing game and Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower have shown they can be a very effective duo when it comes to running the ball.

Ingram and Hightower were strong against the Rams last week, but they are facing a Detroit Defensive Line that has been stout up front. That is going to give the Saints a real challenge with the Lions knuckling down at the line of scrimmage and forcing teams to throw the ball against them into a Secondary which is perhaps underrated.

Over the course of the season the Lions haven't been that strong, but they have had some key players return to the Secondary which has seen some improvement from them over the last three games. However they won't have faced a Quarter Back like Brees too often in that time and I do think he finds his Receivers in this one to help the Saints move the ball although it might not be as easy to punch them into the End Zone instead of having to accept Field Goals.

There will still be pressure on the Detroit Lions to make sure they don't fall into too big a hole against the Saints which is never easy to recover in the Superdome. The problem for the Lions, if you can have many at 7-4, is running the ball effectively and they have not been able to do that all season, but have found some special ways to win games. It is unlikely that Matt Stafford will be given too much support on the ground in this one either and he is facing a New Orleans Secondary that have shown they can be effective over their last three games.

New Orleans have faced Cam Newton in that stretch of games, but they have also played Trevor Siemian and Jared Goff which has perhaps helped the improved numbers rather than the actual play. Stafford is a very strong Quarter Back and he has some solid Receivers which can help the Lions move the chains in this one even if they can't run the ball and I do think the Lions can be involved in something of a shoot out here.

The Saints' pass rush could be a deciding factor in this game though as they should be able to get to Stafford who has had to be in obvious passing situations far too often this season. That pressure has seen the Secondary pick off mistakes from Quarter Backs in recent games, but Stafford has looked after the ball well enough to think the Lions are perhaps being given too many points in this one.

I do believe the Lions Defensive unit is not given the respect they perhaps deserve and Stafford is more than capable of throwing the ball well enough to keep the Lions in this game. Backing against New Orleans at home has been productive in recent seasons and I want to back the Lions to keep this one close in Week 13.

Washington Redskins @ Arizona Cardinals Pick: The Arizona Cardinals are just about in the last chance saloon when it comes to getting back into the NFC Play Off picture. A defeat to the Washington Redskins might just end the chances for the Cardinals when you consider the tiebreaker would be against them in the Wild Card hunt and it looks like the layers don't have a lot of belief in the home team.

Heading out west to face the Cardinals is a tough task though even for a Washington team that have been better than most would have expected. They have battled through injuries and have a chance to make the Play Offs through the Wild Card spots after dropping a second game to Dallas last week which has ended their interest in winning the NFC East. That defeat came on Thanksgiving Day so Washington should be well rested and ready to compete in Week 13.

Much is going to depend on Kirk Cousins at Quarter Back for the Redskins if they are going to bounce back from their loss in Week 13. He has had some huge games statistically through the season, but Cousins would love to be backed up by a strong running day from Rob Kelley in this one which is going to be difficult considering how well the Arizona Defensive Line have contained the run.

Kelley has shown he can get a few yards after the contact so I do think he can have some success, but the majority of the pressure will be on Cousins to throw the ball effectively and keep the chains moving. Cousins has to be aware that this Arizona Secondary is better than they showed against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 and Patrick Peterson is a top Corner Back even though he is banged up. With Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson both a little banged up, Washington might need Cousins to find other targets to get the ball moving up and down the field.

The pressure will also be put on by the fact that the Washington Defensive unit has been hurt by injuries all season and have struggled to stop teams moving the ball against them. This looks a big chance for David Johnson to help the Cardinals by running the ball and keeping them from needing Carson Palmer to throw the ball constantly to get into the game. Johnson should be ready to play and could have some success running the ball this week to ease the pass rush the Redskins generate.

Johnson will need to do that because the Arizona Offensive Line has really had a hard time protecting Carson Palmer and a player like Ryan Kerrigan is going to be able to get after the Quarter Back. If the team has established the run, Palmer gets that little more time to throw against a Secondary that has given up some big numbers even though they have a big time Corner Back too in Josh Norman.

Interceptions have killed Palmer this season and the veteran might be on his last ride as a starter for the Cardinals with those mistakes becoming a real problem for a team that wants to throw under Bruce Arians. Avoiding those mistakes can give Arizona a real chance to win this game and I think they can take advantage of a Washington Secondary that has been hurt while the Cardinals own Defensive unit is better than it looked in Week 12.

It wouldn't be a big surprise to me if both Arizona and Washington had a big game statistically, but I think the Cardinals can show they have not given up on 2016 and come through with a narrow win in this one.

New York Giants @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: The Pittsburgh Steelers were considered a real Super Bowl contender at the start of this season but they need to pick up some momentum to make sure they can earn their place in the Play Offs. The Steelers could be considered one of the more dangerous teams in the post-season if they can get there and that makes games like this one very important for them.

The New York Giants are up to 8-3 and are on course to make the Play Offs, but they still need more consistency from their play. That might be strange to hear for an 8-3 team, but the Giants have perhaps been fortunate with their scheduling and I think they are far from a sure thing to make the Play Offs despite the record they hold right now.

Offensively they have some playmakers, but the Giants have been one-dimensional to say the least as they have struggled to run the ball effectively all season. It will be a surprise if that changes too much this weekend as the Steelers Defensive Line have shown some toughness up front even if they are not to the standard of their old Lines.

The likes of Rashad Jennings might not be able to earn too much on the ground and at least not consistently throughout the sixty minutes and that has put the pressure on Eli Manning behind a porous Offensive Line. That Line is going to be tested by the pass rush Pittsburgh have generated and Manning might not take too many Sacks, but that is because he is willing to throw the ball into the dirt as soon as the rush gets close.

The Manning to Odell Beckham play has worked well though and it is hard to stop OBJ earning his yards and perhaps finding the End Zone. Pittsburgh might feel they can force Manning to throw the ball quickly, but Beckham can win his battles immediately and then there is no catching him. However it is very difficult to do that over and over again before the Defense keys into what is coming and turns the ball over, something the Steelers have begun to do in recent games.

I said the Giants might not have a big day running the ball and the same can be said for the Steelers despite the presence of Le'Veon Bell at Running Back. The Giants Defensive Line has been very strong against the run all season and will feel they can limit what Bell can do, although Ben Roethlisberger is intelligent enough to set up screens and short passes in lieu of a running game to make those gains he wants.

Like Pittsburgh, the Giants have suddenly got a real pass rush going, but they might not be able to get as close to Big Ben as the other way around. Roethlisberger should find enough time to take his shots down the field and Antonio Brown is a difficult match up in the Secondary which the Steelers should take advantage of.

This does feel like it will be a close game which can be decided by a turnover but I do like the Steelers a little more than the Giants in this spot. They've had longer to prepare for this game having played on Thanksgiving Day and home advantage has proved to be very big for the Steelers in recent seasons. Add in the fact that they should be very motivated to win the game and keep up in the AFC North compared with the Giants who might be thinking about the big game with Dallas next week and I think the Steelers catch them at the right time.

I am not that convinced that the Giants are an 8-3 team despite the record and I am going to back the Steelers to win and cover especially as the public have a slight lean towards the road underdog. It is a big spread on paper, but I like Pittsburgh to win and cover.

MY PICKS: Dallas Cowboys - 3 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Atlanta Falcons - 5.5 Points @ 2.00 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Baltimore Ravens - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
LA Rams + 13.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Detroit Lions + 6 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Arizona Cardinals - 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Pittsburgh Steelers - 6 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

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