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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (January 1-4)

Happy New Year and I hope this is a prosperous 2018 for everyone.

With Premier League games played on New Year's Day and through the next few days, all the picks will be on this one thread.

Brighton v Bournemouth Pick: The first live Premier League game from the 2018 calendar year comes from the south coast as both Brighton and Bournemouth look to give their chances of extending their stay in the top flight a real boost. Both clubs have had some positive results of late which will give them a real belief in their chances to do that and I do expect a positive intent from both clubs.

Goals can be a problem for the two clubs and the layers are offering a big price for at least three goals to be shared out.

However I think that may be worth taking on with the way both Brighton and Bournemouth have approached recent games. Brighton have created a fair few chances in front of goal and now face a Bournemouth defence that has really made too many mistakes.

On the other hand Bournemouth will know that Brighton can get a little nervy at the back and may feel they can at least expose some of the vulnerabilities that exist. The injuries to Jermain Defoe and Josh King don't help the Bournemouth cause, but The Cherries have scored 5 goals in their last couple of games in the Premier League and they can certainly score here.

The 1-1 draw is perhaps the result I am most concerned about, but I think Brighton and Bournemouth won't settle in this one. Both Chris Hughton and Eddie Howe are likely going to have circled this game to win and the positive attitude may result in at least three goals at what looks a very big price.

Burnley v Liverpool Pick: Goals have been in short supply in the most part when Burnley have played this season, but games against the top six have generally had a different feel. That could be the case again on New Year's Day when Burnley host Liverpool, even if Mo Salah is perhaps missing for the away side.

They might not be the most attacking team in the Premier League, but Burnley have been efficient in front of goal and they will feel they can cause problems for Liverpool from set pieces. The defensive issues for Liverpool won't all be resolved by the signing of Virgil Van Dijk and away from home that remains a real vulnerable spot for Liverpool.

Burnley could have some chances, but the fear for them has to be what Tottenham Hotspur did to them at Turf Moor ten days ago. Granted Burnley have the likes of James Tarkowski back in defence, but Liverpool have scored at least three times in their last 6 away games in all competitions and clearly carry a threat.

Even without Salah you would expect Liverpool will create some chances in this one and they have shown the form to think they can take the opportunities that come their way.

With both teams likely to have some opportunities in front of goal, I do think they can combine for at least three goals shared out. Liverpool themselves have shown they can reach this number on their own in recent weeks, but Burnley could also play a part and I will look for three goals to be produced at Turf Moor on the first day of 2018.

Stoke City v Newcastle United Pick: Two teams who are out of form meet in what could be termed as a 'relegation six pointer' and the three points on offer are huge for both managers. Rafa Benitez may not be under the same pressure as Mark Hughes, but relegation would be a huge blow for both Stoke City and Newcastle United.

Stoke City have kept their faith in Hughes and the team have responded when it seems like the manager is a game away from losing his job. The Welshman has to hope the same happens on New Year's Day after Stoke City were hammered at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but this is a much more manageable game for them.

They will have to show Newcastle United respect after seeing The Magpies come from a goal behind to beat West Ham United 2-3 in their last away game. However Newcastle United have been struggling massively for the most part and they have a poor recent record at Stoke City.

It is hard to have a really strong belief in either of these teams, but Stoke City have won 2 of their last 3 at the Bet365 Stadium. They are likely to have a few players returning to the starting eleven and I think the team is still behind Mark Hughes and can have a strong response to the loss at Chelsea on Saturday.

Newcastle United can be a little hit and miss at times, but there is something missing at the moment. I think that means a small interest in Stoke City winning this game has to be taken on.

Everton v Manchester United Pick: It has been a difficult festive period for Manchester United as they have dropped six points over the last ten days which has seen them dragged back into a top four battle in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho has not been happy and is asking for more investment in the playing squad, while the players have not looked as confident as earlier in the season.

A bit of bad luck has not helped Manchester United as they should have won at Leicester City recently and some poor lapses from set pieces have cost them sloppy goals in other games.

The game on Saturday against Southampton was one of the poorer performances in recent weeks as Manchester United struggled to create too many clear cut chances. Now they are missing Romelu Lukaku for a few days at least and this is a much tougher test than it was a few weeks ago.

Sam Allardyce has made Everton a lot more solid and they have some decent talent in the final third which can help them cause problems for Manchester United. However I do think Everton will let Manchester United have the ball and allow the away side to dictate play and Allardyce himself is looking for more investment in the playing squad during this January transfer window.

The short turnaround between games makes it tough to read how the two teams will respond, but I think Manchester United have a couple more options with the changes they can make.

Wayne Rooney would love to get one over his former club, but I think Manchester United can bounce back from recent setbacks with a bigger performance on the first day of the new calendar year. Manchester United have played some decent stuff away from home in the last month when they perhaps have more space to operate in and I think they can win here.

Everton won't be a pushover as Chelsea found out a few days ago, but Manchester United can find something a little extra in the final third. Results may not have been the best in recent days, but this is a good chance for Manchester United to bounce back and I will back them to do that.

Southampton v Crystal Palace Pick: Both Crystal Palace and Southampton would have been pleased with goalless draws earned against the two clubs from Manchester on the final weekend of the 2017 calendar year. The points the two teams earned are important in keeping them out of the bottom three, but the significance of this fixture will not have been lost on the two managers.

There is a slightly tougher scheduling spot for Crystal Palace who played on Sunday and arguably had to get through a lot more work to earn the result with Manchester City than Southampton had to do at Old Trafford the evening before. However Crystal Palace are playing with plenty of confidence and they will believe recent away performances have improved significantly and to an extent that earning a result here is not out of the realms of possibility.

The layers seem to price Southampton up as a team who win a lot more games than they do and the lack of goals in the squad has to be a big concern for Mauricio Pellegrino. Now they have to face a Crystal Palace team who have looked strong defensively under Hodgson and I think the away team have enough in the locker to at least limit what Southampton can do.

On the other hand Crystal Palace also have some real quality in the final third that can cause problems and a single goal may be enough to earn a result and make it 5 straight unbeaten away from home for Roy Hodgson's men.

Crystal Palace don't have the best recent record here, but I do think they can earn a point and that looks a tempting price. The Saints look short at odds on to win this fixture and I will back The Eagles with the start on the Asian Handicap.

Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Ultimately it will be results that matter most to Swansea City, but they can't afford to play as poorly as they did for so much of the game at Watford. Better sides will not sit back and allow them to play their way back into the games to steal three points as Watford did and Swansea City will have to be a lot better when coming up against a hot Tottenham Hotspur.

Mauricio Pochettino's men might not have played this weekend, and that has given them a chance to have a few more days to rest. This week is a tougher one on the squad, but the extra days will also have been very important for Harry Kane to overcome an illness which likely would have kept him out if the game against West Ham United was played this weekend.

Back to back wins by three goal margins over Burnley and Southampton would have given Tottenham Hotspur a real belief that they can earn their place back in the top four. That confidence also should mean they have much of the play at the Liberty Stadium where Swansea City have struggled for consistency.

Even though they have lost 1 of their last 4 League games here, Swansea City are still very much the underdog here and I think Tottenham Hotspur will be too good.

Having a little more rest at this time of the season could be crucial for Spurs and I think they will be able to create enough chances to win this game by a comfortable margin. I am expecting Harry Kane to be ready to come in and play with the extra time to have overcome his illness and I think Tottenham Hotspur continue a strong run of results in this part of Wales.

Manchester United have won here twice and Manchester City have also won on this ground and both teams managed to do that by at least two goal margins. I will look for Tottenham Hotspur to do the same as they continue the fine momentum they are building up.

Manchester City v Watford Pick: It will be interesting to hear the injury news coming out of Manchester City after both Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus were forced off on Sunday in the goalless draw at Crystal Palace. With David Silva also potentially missing, Manchester City have lost some key creative pieces of their attack and perhaps this offers a Watford a way into this match.

However the away side are short of confidence in recent weeks with defeats coming thick and fast and Manchester City are still likely to have the majority of the ball.

Watford have just struggled for goals in recent away games too as they have failed to score in 2 of their last 3 on their travels in the Premier League. That is a concern when you think Manchester City are likely to be a little more solid knowing they might not have the options available to create the usual amount of chances they would.

I did consider backing Manchester City to win a game that features less than four goals at a big price, but after a goalless game they might be more desperate to get things right. However the absence of De Bruyne and Silva would be a huge blow for Manchester City who may have to settle for a narrow win and that looks the most likely outcome of the fixture.

It feels like a game where Pep Guardiola will be a little pragmatic and look to secure a win by any means necessary as he prepares his squad for another big month. Without the two key midfield players, Manchester City may just struggle to create the same kind of chances as usual and it is those absences which lead me to back Manchester City to win with a clean sheet..

I am wary Watford could collapse, which could see Manchester City exploit them, but I am expecting a solid performance at the back from the home team. At odds against that is a decent enough price too and I think Manchester City will secure a narrow win here.

West Ham United v West Brom Pick: There has been a complaint made by West Brom that they have to play twice in three days, but those have fallen on deaf ears and Alan Pardew has to find a way to get a performance out of his players.

The request comes in the light of West Ham United having the weekend off, but The Hammers will now be playing twice in the next three days although I am sure David Moyes is much happier with his fixture list. For this game I would expect all the big names to be out there and perhaps more changes made for when West Ham United travel to Wembley to take on Tottenham Hotspur.

Anything else would be a surprise considering two of the bottom three clubs are meeting on Tuesday. It is a much tougher position for Pardew who admits he needs to make changes against one of his former clubs after seeing his team expend a lot of energy in earning a 1-1 result against Arsenal on Sunday.

Pardew has gotten West Brom playing some tough football of late though and that makes them a tough out for West Ham United despite the game being hosted in East London. However I do think the home team can bounce back from a couple of poor results having lost to Newcastle United and conceded late in a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth last week.

In saying that, I don't think there will be a lot between these teams and so keeping the stakes to a minimum would be wise. For all the effort West Ham United have produced, they won't find it easy to break down The Baggies and I am convinced Pardew would be happy to take a point right now.

A small interest in the home team is warranted because of the scheduling spot.

Arsenal v Chelsea PickThe television cameras are at the Emirates Stadium for this big London derby as both Arsenal and Chelsea chase the points in their top four bids.

It feels like a bigger game for Arsenal whose only two failures to win at home in the Premier League have come against Manchester United and Liverpool, two teams currently inside the top four in the Premier League. Both Manchester United and Liverpool had 0-2 leads at the Emirates Stadium, although Arsenal were able to fight back for a 3-3 draw with The Reds.

Another start like that would be tough to overcome against a Chelsea team who have been in solid recent form. Eden Hazard was given a rest in the comfortable win over Stoke City on Saturday and Chelsea look in better all around shape for this fixture on Wednesday.

While they have a virtually full squad to choose from, Arsenal could be missing three of their regular back five, while Mesut Ozil looks like he is going to be absent for another fixture.

One concern for Chelsea has to be their recent run of results against Arsenal which has seen them win 1 of their last 5 against The Gunners. That includes a 2-1 loss in the FA Cup Final, while the two games between the clubs have both ended in draws in the 2017/18 season and that is a mental block that Chelsea have to overcome.

Chelsea did win at Tottenham Hotspur and earned a draw at Liverpool in the Premier League. They do look like they are in the form to perhaps snap their run against Arsenal and earn a rare recent victory over them although this won't be an easy game at the home of The Gunners.

However the absence of the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil could swing things towards Chelsea and make it worth backing them on the Asian Handicap which would return the stake in the event of a draw.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United PickPep Guardiola has become the latest manager to arrive in England and make some big complaints about the fixture list, but I can't imagine either Tottenham Hotspur or West Ham United are happy about the scheduling of this fixture.

The game will be played less than 48 hours after their last Premier League fixtures were completed and I do think the negative impact may fall on West Ham United's shoulders a little more.

Tottenham Hotspur had a relatively comfortable night at the Liberty Stadium, albeit in some awful conditions, and Harry Kane has a little more time to get ready to start this one. On the other hand West Ham United had to scratch and claw for the whole 90 minutes to come from behind and score a goal deep into injury time to beat West Brom on Tuesday.

The three points earned may make David Moyes believe he is in a better position to make changes for this one and I can see the manager setting up West Ham United to be difficult to beat and hope to take advantage of any frustrations Tottenham Hotspur begin to feel.

That won't be easy with Tottenham Hotspur in some fine form in recent weeks and I think Mauricio Pochettino will keep that going. A win would put Spurs right behind Liverpool in the tough battle for a top four finish and I think Kane is going to be chomping at the bit from the off in this one.

Kane has scored seven goals in his last six appearances against West Ham United and I think he will help Tottenham Hotspur record a win by a couple of goals on the night. I think at some point West Ham United will just tire off from the defending they are likely going to have to do just a couple of days after an emotional win and that will play a part as Spurs record another decent win at Wembley Stadium.

MY PICKS: Brighton-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.62 William Hill (2 Units)
Burnley-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.37 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Manchester United - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 2.05 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
West Ham United @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Chelsea 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)

NFL Week 17 Picks 2017 (December 31st)

It might be the conclusion of the regular season in the NFL, but this time of the year is difficult to produce longer posts with family time the key.

However I will have picks from the final week of the season which is still very important for some teams as they try and secure their Play Off Seeding, while you have to try and work out the motivation of those who are out of contention.

Onto the Week 17 NFL Picks.

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: There are some signs that the Minnesota Vikings Offensive unit are not playing as well as they were earlier in the season and that has to be a worry for them. Going into the Play Offs, Defensive Football does win games, but the Vikings will still want more from Case Keenum and company who could not take advantage of the injuries the Green Bay Packers were suffering in Week 16.

This is a much better Defensive unit they are facing and the Chicago Bears have to be motivated to want to put a Divisional rival in a difficult spot. The Vikings may be going for the Number 1 Seed in the NFC, but the Bears won't want their rivals to earn home field not only through the Play Offs, but also potentially having that advantage in the Super Bowl if they can get there.

However it is Week 17 and the Bears also know that John Fox is looking like a lame duck Head Coach despite Fox himself saying he is not worried about what the future will bring. Lame duck Head Coaches may struggle to get the best out of their team and I do have some concern about what kind of effort Chicago will bring.

They should still be able to get some pressure on Keenum up front with the amount of pass rush pressure they can generate and the Minnesota Offensive Line does have a few issues. Preventing Keenum having the time to make his plays downfield would be huge for Chicago, although the Vikings could aid their Quarter Back with the team likely able to establish the run.

Chicago will feel they can do the same with their own Offensive Line having success opening holes for either Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen running the ball. That is going to be the go to play for the Bears, although Minnesota may decide to sell out and force Mitchell Trubisky to throw the ball downfield.

The Vikings will feel they can trouble the rookie Quarter Back enough to believe stopping the run, like they tried to do against Green Bay in Week 16, and then knowing the Secondary can make the big plays when Trubisky does go to the air.

With the pressure Minnesota can get up front, Trubisky will be throwing into a ball-hawking Secondary under pressure and that can help the Vikings pull away for a win by a big margin. Extra possessions and Minnesota trying to get their Offensive unit back on track should be enough for the Vikings to cover a big spread.

They have been very good when hosting Chicago in recent years and they have blown them out in back to back games at home. While it might not be a huge margin over the spread, I think the Vikings can win here and cover the number.

New York Jets @ New England Patriots Pick: The good news for the New York Jets is that they have extended the contract of Todd Bowles as Head Coach after a season of overachievement under Bowles. The bad news is they are finishing the regular season at a motivated New England Patriots side and without their starting Quarter Back Josh McCown.

There is a chance that Bryce Petty, who I am assuming will be ready to start on Sunday, will have a decent game against the Patriots, but it is a big ask for the Quarter Back. He may get some support from the run being established, but ultimately Petty has to show the courage to throw into a Secondary which has given up some big numbers.

He could be under pressure from the New England pass rush, but Petty can still make some big throws which can help the Jets get into a position to score points. However Petty is also someone who can be guilty of looking at where he is going to throw the ball for too long and New England may have better success turning over the ball than they have been in recent weeks.

Another issue for the Jets is they could be facing an angry Tom Brady who has been receiving more criticism than you would expect. Brady has thrown more Interceptions than we are used to seeing from the guaranteed Hall of Famer Quarter Back, but this is the kind of time of the season when we begin to see the best out of Brady and I would not be surprised if he shows some of that off on Sunday.

The New York Jets have struggled to really get some pressure up front and we all know what Brady can do when he feels he has all the time in the world. The Running Backs are likely to be a bigger factor in the passing game rather than the running game, but they should help the New England Patriots take short passes some distance down the field.

There are holes in the Jets Secondary which Brady should also be able to exploit and I do think the Patriots can record a big win against a team who can be a thorn in the side. However the Patriots are much more motivated and look to have the better of the Jets on both side of the ball and that might result in a big win for the team looking to secure the Number 1 Seed in the AFC.

Petty could cause some problems, but he may also throw a couple of poor passes which can give the Patriots the extra possessions to win this game and cover a huge number.

Rest of the Week 17 Picks are below.

MY PICKS: Minnesota Vikings - 11.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 14.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kansas City Chiefs + 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Jacksonville Jaguars + 3 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
New Orleans Saints - 5.5 Points @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Los Angeles Chargers - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (December 30-31)

At this time of the year it is all about family and that means I am simply getting the picks out for the weekend games.

With the quick turnaround in the Premier League, games are coming very quickly so expect a short post for the New Year's Day games which I will hopefully have posted by around Sunday afternoon.

Chelsea v Stoke City PickA difficult first half was quickly replaced by a serene second half for Chelsea as they brushed aside Brighton at Stamford Bridge and they are big favourites to produce another three points on Saturday.

It is hard to go against Chelsea, who have won 8 of their last 9 at Stamford Bridge in all competitions, while they are also facing a Stoke City team who have not played as well on their travels as they have at home.

Mark Hughes is not being helped by the defensive problems Stoke City are dealing with including Kurt Zouma being unable to play against his parent club. The last couple of performances have been better, but Stoke City are facing one of the better teams in the Premier League and have generally found themselves really short against those.

They have been hammered at Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, while Liverpool and Chelsea have won by three or more goals at the Bet365 Stadium.

Chelsea have not been as fluent as they would have liked, but they are still producing the wins and they are creating chances. I expect them to be the dominant team in this one and I think Chelsea will be able to score a few goals, although Stoke City may play a part having scored at the Etihad Stadium and Wembley Stadium.

The best way to back Chelsea looks to be to back them to win a game which features at least three goals as they look to keep the momentum going before the visit to the Emirates Stadium to take on Arsenal early in the New Year.

Liverpool v Leicester City Pick: It is going to be difficult for Leicester City to contain Liverpool on current form, especially considering the chances that they are allowing opponents to create in recent games. Manchester United could have punished The Foxes, while Watford were able to beat them last time out and Liverpool are a team in very good form at the moment.

I am not always convinced by Liverpool because they can lay a dud as they have against the likes of Everton and West Brom recently, while their overall home record in the Premier League features too many draws.

However, when Liverpool win they tend to win well and they have already won at the King Power Stadium this season. They also hammered Leicester City 4-1 at Anfield last season and I think the home team are going to be too good on the day.

With the attacking options available, I think Liverpool are going to win this game by a couple of goals and will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Watford v Swansea City Pick: A new manager coming in has worked wonders for the likes of Crystal Palace and West Ham United already this season, but even those appointments took a little time to make a mark. The same has to be in play for Carlos Carvalhal at Swansea City after taking over as manager earlier in the week.

Carvalhal's appointment has not exactly put a fire in the belly of the Swansea City supporters considering it has only been a few days since Sheffield Wednesday sacked the manager for failing to achieve what was expected. That makes it more of a surprise to think Swansea City have seen enough to give them confidence that Carvalhal can help turn things around for them.

This is a tough opening game for Swansea City under the manager after being blown away by Liverpool a few days ago. The players looked really short of confidence that day and now face a Watford team who have to be feeling better after coming from behind to beat Leicester City on Boxing Day.

Watford's injuries are a concern as is the recent poor form, but that win will have given the players a shot in the arm at a crucial time. The goalscoring threat is still there from Marco Silva's team and that can be a difference maker too and I do think Watford can beat Swansea City for a third straight time at Vicarage Road.

I will look for the home team to cover the Asian Handicap in a home win.

Manchester United v Southampton Pick: The 2-2 draw with Burnley was a really disappointing result for Manchester United, but the top four has to be the ambition for the club and they can bounce back on Saturday. The second half fightback will have encouraged Jose Mourinho who believes more investment is needed in his squad, but Manchester United have to get back to winning ways with what they have.

Failing to finish in the top four would be a devastating blow to the club and the 4 points dropped over the last seven days have been more Manchester United's own doing than what Leicester City and Burnley have brought to the table.

That has frustrated Mourinho as much as anything, but this looks a good time to face a Southampton team who are having bigger problems than United. Defensively Southampton have looked very messy, while their lack of goals is always going to be a problem.

Charlie Austin is out for this game, which doesn't help Southampton, and the 5-2 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur would have really dented the confidence. In recent years Southampton have been a tough test for Manchester United but it is the latter who have won 3 of the last 4 between these teams.

Manchester United have to make a better start than they did in the 2-2 draw with Burnley, but they can do that and that should help them win this fixture. There has been some bad luck going against Manchester United in the last couple of games which has resulted in some disappointing results, but that has to change sooner rather than later and I will back the home team to win and cover the Asian Handicap.

Crystal Palace v Manchester City Pick: The first of the two live television games from the Premier League on the final day of 2017 comes from Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace host Manchester City.

Unsurprisingly the layers are taking no chances with Manchester City considering the run of wins they have put together and they are a short price to win here too. It is the most likely of results, but I am expecting Crystal Palace to show a little more desire and belief than Newcastle United did during the week and that can at least see them play a part in this fixture.

Goals have not been a problem for Crystal Palace at home and I don't think the layers are giving them enough respect to score here. They have scored twice in each of their last 7 home games in the Premier League and Manchester City are a side that will offer up chances if teams are willing to attack them.

The pace Crystal Palace have on the counter attack as well as the threat from set pieces makes them a dangerous opponent for any team and I do think they will have chances in this one.

On current form it is hard to see a team fail to stop Manchester City in scoring and Crystal Palace have not looked watertight in recent weeks so keeping a clean sheet would be a big surprise. However I do think Crystal Palace can score in this one too and backing both teams to score looks an underrated price in my opinion.

West Brom v Arsenal Pick: The final Premier League game to be played in the 2017 calendar year comes from The Hawthorns as Arsenal visit West Brom and it is a game which has a big impact at both ends of the League table.

The three points on offer will mean a lot for both teams and it could be an entertaining fixture to end this round of fixtures.

West Brom have struggled for goals and really had problems dealing with teams currently in the top six, especially at home. Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United have all won in the League here, but all of those games were also on the high-scoring side with at least three goals shared out in each.

The Baggies played a part in 2 out of 3 of those games, and Arsenal have shown they are far from watertight at the back when winning 2-3 at Crystal Palace on Thursday. The lack of time to recover compared with West Brom has to be a concern for The Gunners as is their poor record over the last couple of years when visiting The Hawthorns.

However Arsenal do have some real attacking talent at their disposal and I do think they can pose problems for West Brom who have conceded at least twice in all of their home games against the top six clubs in the Premier League. Goals have been a feature of the last couple of games between these teams in the West Midlands and I will back at least three to be shared out in this one.

MY PICKS: Chelsea to Win & Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.30 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet365 (2 Units)
Watford - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Manchester City Both Teams to Score @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
West Brom-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Monday, 25 December 2017

Boxing Day Football Picks 2017 (December 26-28)

There are a host of football matches to be played on Boxing Day in the traditionally busy time of the season in England.

While the players and managers might not be so happy at this time of the year, for football fans it would be strange to have a Winter Break and not have the football to enjoy while also spending some time with families over the Christmas period.

It is another busy round of games and I have the picks from the Premier League below.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and an enjoyable last few days in 2017 as another calendar year is about to be in the books.

Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton Pick: The opening game in the Premier League on Boxing Day comes from Wembley Stadium as Tottenham Hotspur look to back up a solid 0-3 win at Burnley with another three points. They have the chance to put some pressure on the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool by putting up the points before both rivals play and that could see Tottenham Hotspur also move back into the top four.

The win over Burnley will have given the Tottenham Hotspur players a real shot in the arm and they now face a Southampton team who can be tough to break down, but who are not playing with a lot of confidence of their own.

Goals continue to be a problem for Southampton who had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Huddersfield Town on Saturday and the problems in front of goal have been really evidenced away from home.

They do have pace in the forward areas that could pose a threat with Tottenham Hotspur likely to be vulnerable to the counter attack. That pace was seen in the narrow loss at Manchester City, but the concern for Southampton has to be the manner of the losses at Liverpool and Chelsea.

It was a comfortable afternoon for Liverpool and should have been a comfortable win for Chelsea too, except the latter did not show the composure in front of goal to secure a win by more than a single goal margin. After Harry Kane banged in a hat-trick against Burnley I do think Tottenham Hotspur will have a little more clinical finishing than Chelsea did and I fancy the home team to win this one by a couple of goals at least.

Tottenham Hotspur have played well at Wembley Stadium in recent games and they can put together a solid win on the day.

Chelsea v Brighton Pick: It is hard to put a real mark on Chelsea and know where they stand- sometimes I watch a team who look capable of beating anyone on their day, but other times they seem to struggle and look like they are missing something. The draw at Everton was a disappointing result, but Chelsea didn't play badly and I think a return to Stamford Bridge against Brighton gives them every chance to put three points on the board.

The return of Alvaro Morata is important as the Spaniard does offer Chelsea a real focal point to their play and he has fitted in well with his new club. Morata is perhaps not as clinical in front of goal as Chelsea would like, but he pulls the team together and has worked very well with Eden Hazard.

That combination should be too hot for a Brighton team who are off a huge win over Watford, but who have not been as strong away from home. They aren't a team that are likely to be blown away as they have shown toughness in losses at Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, but a lack of goals is an issue.

The layers understand that with Chelsea a short price to win with a clean sheet, but I do think that is the most likely outcome of this one. The Brighton toughness may mean Chelsea have to settle for a pretty narrow win themselves, but I do think Chelsea will have enough to do that.

Backing them to win a game which features three or fewer goals is a tempting price here even if Chelsea might feel someone they face are going to get a hiding sooner rather than later. It might have to wait a few days for that though and I will back a Chelsea win coupled with under 3.5 goals to be scored in the match at a decent looking price.

Manchester United v Burnley Pick: 'Childish mistakes' was the way Jose Mourinho described the Manchester United performance in front of goal and in defence as they missed some glorious chances before the Leicester City equaliser deep into injury time. The manager was not impressed at dropping two points considering how much Manchester United dominated the ninety minutes, but now he has to pick up the players for consecutive games at Old Trafford.

Manchester United have been strong at the Theatre of Dreams in the 2017/18 season and I think they can bounce back from a poor result. They certainly look to be getting to Burnley at a good time with their visitors missing key defensive performers in what has been the foundation for their successes so far this season.

Stephen Ward and James Tarkowski missed the game on Saturday against Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley really did not look right defensively. The 0-3 loss could have come by a wider margin, although Burnley may be able to set up even more defensively away from home than they perhaps would like to at Turf Moor.

That could see Burnley make life difficult for a Manchester United team that potentially are feeling sorry for themselves, but I do think the home side will create chances in this one. Playing at Old Trafford has been a pleasant experience for the players this season and Manchester United will feel a similar level to the one they produced at the King Power Stadium will be enough to win this game.

I respect the fact that Burnley could make this difficult as they have for other top six clubs away from home this season.

But this might be a good time for Manchester United to face them and I will back Mourinho to find the right formula to see United win this one and cover the Asian Handicap.

Watford v Leicester City Pick: You have to think that Marco Silva will help Watford turn around their form sooner rather than later, but the fans may have to be patient. With injuries and suspensions decimating the squad, Watford are struggling and I think they are going to have a difficult time dealing with Leicester City.

The run of 4 straight losses has to come to an end soon, but Leicester City have found a formula for playing away from home and I think that shows up here.

Leicester City have scored at least three goals in wins at Newcastle United and Southampton and they have a little more confidence than Watford which could make the difference in this fixture.

It certainly doesn't look right to have Leicester City as the underdog in this fixture and backing them with a start on the Asian Handicap returns a winner as long as they don't lose this game. On current form I would expect Leicester City to at least earn a draw against a Watford team who conceded four times in a 1-4 loss to Huddersfield Town last time out at Vicarage Road.

Defensively it has been a struggle for Watford for much of the season and I expect Leicester City to expose those vulnerabilities as they force a result.

West Brom v Everton Pick: This is a set of prices that jumped off the screen when I was looking through the Premier League games for the Boxing Day fixtures. I am not sure what West Brom have done to be given the tag of favourites in this one against an improving Everton team and that makes the underdog worth backing on the Asian Handicap.

Sam Allardyce has made Everton much tougher to beat and defensively they have improved considerably already. With the problems West Brom are having in front of goal, it is hard to see how The Baggies can cause Everton enough problems to win the game, especially as there have been one or two issues defensively in recent games.

That should give Everton a chance to at least score one goal which should be enough to avoid defeat and potentially enough to win the game. Everton have a very good recent record at The Hawthorns which makes them a more appealing prospect to back on Boxing Day, and getting a start seems generous.

It will need an Everton win for a full pay out, but returns a winner as long as Everton earn any kind of result here. They certainly look good enough to do that considering the recent form of the two teams and this is the kind of game where Allardyce will look to make sure his Everton team don't lose and keep pulling away from the bottom three.

Wayne Rooney should be back to give Everton a bit more of a threat going forward and I like them here.

Liverpool v Swansea City Pick: Jurgen Klopp has cut something of a frustrated figure in recent games as Liverpool have perhaps not finished games as well as he would have liked. This is a team who have dropped a number of points from winning positions against Everton and Arsenal which has irritated the manager who has then been testy with the media.

Klopp's Liverpool are still in the top four though and they have a couple of important games at Anfield to come in the days ahead. They certainly look good enough to get back to winning ways in the League at home having drawn 3 in a row at Anfield, but Liverpool have to stop giving away as many goals as they have been.

Mistakes have been hard to erase, but Liverpool have been better defensively when they have played at home. That should show up against a Swansea City team who needed something special to unlock Crystal Palace last time out and who have been goal-shy all season.

It is a big reason Swansea City are at the bottom of the Premier League table and they do look like they are missing something in the final third. The upcoming transfer window will be important for Swansea City to resolve that, but I expect that to be an issue for them on Boxing Day.

With the attacking talent Liverpool have, I think it is hard to see them failing to score in this one and ultimately that should be enough to secure the three points. The Handicaps look wide enough to ignore when you do think of the recent Liverpool failures to win games, but I do believe they get back to winning ways on Boxing Day.

Backing Liverpool to win with a clean sheet looks the way to go here and can be found at decent enough prices.

Newcastle United v Manchester City Pick: You have to think that Manchester City are going to eventually hit a poor run of form, but at the moment they look some way away from that happening. Perhaps the late wins over Huddersfield Town and Southampton a few weeks ago are as bad as it will get for Manchester City in the Premier League as they have continued to wear down opponents with their passing and movement too much for teams to handle.

This is a tougher test than the layers may think though as Newcastle United earned a confidence boosting win over West Ham United on Saturday. In saying that, Newcastle United have lost 4 straight games at home and so the layers are not giving anything away on the Manchester City price to win here.

I do anticipate Manchester City will find a way to put another three points on the board with the way they are performing. With the way the schedule has worked out, Pep Guardiola doesn't have to make wide rotation changes and Manchester City look to have the talent to prove to be the difference makers in this one.

However Manchester City haven't had it all their own way in recent away games and that is the angle I am going to play in this one. While they have been winning games, I think Manchester City are facing a Newcastle United team who will be happy to defend in numbers and so it could be a difficult time breaking them down.

I like Manchester City to win a game where there are fewer than four goals scored and that would have been a winner in 3 consecutive Manchester City away Premier League games before their 0-4 win at Swansea City. Newcastle United have conceded three times in 2 of their last 4 at home which is a concern, but they have failed to score in 3 of their last 4 at St James' Park.

Manchester City look a short price to win with a clean sheet, but the bigger price of them winning a game in which less than four goals are scored is more appealing. There is every chance Manchester City blow away Newcastle United as they have done so many, but they've not been completely dominant in recent away games and they could settle for another narrow win to keep the points churning out.

Only 1 Newcastle United home game has seen more than three goals shared out this season and so backing Manchester City to win a 'low scoring' game is the call at odds against.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal Pick: This is another live offering from the Premier League this week in a busy festive period and I have to say that I am surprised Arsenal are as short a price to win as they are. As much quality as Arsenal clearly have in the squad, this is a team who have not played as well away from home as they have at the Emirates Stadium and that does not seem to be factored into the price.

In recent weeks Arsenal have needed a controversial penalty to win at Burnley, another late goal to earn a draw at Southampton and also drawn at West Ham United. That is not a great set of results and now they have to face a Crystal Palace team who have been playing very well of late.

You do have to put that into perspective though as Crystal Palace have not faced the best teams in the Premier League in recent weeks. They have beaten Chelsea at home though and Crystal Palace are a side who create chances and score goals at Selhurst Park with at least two goals scored in each of their last 6 home Premier League games.

Defensively you can get at Crystal Palace here though and the layers aren't offering great prices on there being at least three goals in this one.

However my lean was already towards backing Crystal Palace with the start on the Asian Handicap considering their recent form at home. The win over Chelsea shows they are capable of beating a top team here, while Arsenal have not played as well away from home and needed some luck to earn positive results.

A lack of goals on their travels has to be a concern for Arsenal and I think it is tough to expect them to win this game if Crystal Palace score twice at home again.

And with the start being given to Crystal Palace, only a defeat by two or more goals will mean a full loss, while a defeat by one goal will at least return half the stake. I actually think Crystal Palace can get a result in this one and they are a big price with the start on the Asian Handicap as far as I am concerned.

Arsenal on their day can be near unplayable, but the prices here look short considering they have won just 2 of 9 away Premier League games. The Gunners have lost at Stoke City and drawn at both Southampton and West Ham United and I think Crystal Palace are playing better than those sides to think they can at least do the same.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool Win to Nil @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester City to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.30 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Crystal Palace + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Friday, 22 December 2017

NFL Week 16 Picks 2017 (December 23-25)

The final two weeks of the NFL regular season has plenty on the line for teams who are getting ready to take their place in the Play Offs which will kick off in two weeks time.

Nothing is guaranteed for many teams just yet and we saw in Week 15 how quickly the landscape can change for any team if they are not able to keep producing the wins that are required.

It cost the Green Bay Packers in Week 15 and the decision has since been made to keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines the rest of the way with their Play Off berth gone. The NFC South could be next in line to see some of their leading contenders go down with big games coming up between all four teams which will determine who can make it through to the Play Offs with at least one Wild Card spot likely going to a team from the NFC South.

Other teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers suffered some major losses in Week 15 which may cost them a place in the Play Offs.

Expect more of the same on Week 16 which is played from Saturday through to Christmas Day.

Onto the NFL Week 16 Picks.

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: The Baltimore Ravens know exactly what they need to do if they are going to make the Play Offs and that is to win out and reach 10-6 having failed to do that a season ago from the exact same position. The schedule certainly seems favourable and I do think the Ravens are going to be playing post-season Football next month.

First up for the Ravens is the home game with the Indianapolis Colts who are going to miss out on the Play Offs again. The injury to Andrew Luck has to be a real concern for the organisation having missed as much playing time as he has and the Colts look like a team with a lot of holes to fill in the off-season to recover their once dominant place in the AFC South.

It isn't often that Indianapolis have been out of contention by Week 16 and this looks like being a really tough day for them.

Jacoby Brissett has played as well as could be expected after coming in from the New England Patriots at the start of the regular season especially with very little help around him. That hasn't changed in time for this game and the pressure on Brissett is increased when thinking of how well the Baltimore Defensive unit have been able to play even through the injuries they have sustained in the Secondary.

It can't be expected that Indianapolis will have a lot of success in this one as the team have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last five games. Despite the numbers that the Baltimore Secondary have allowed since Jimmy Smith went down for the season, Brissett has not been given the time to find Receivers downfield and is unlikely to have a lot of time in this one either.

Brissett is playing behind an Offensive Line that has struggled to protect him and give the Quarter Back time to make plays and that may be the case again this week. With little likelihood of Frank Gore helping the Colts by getting the run established, it will be down to Brissett to make the big throws and it feels like a long shot against this Baltimore Defense who are still able to make big plays.

The Colts also seem to be coming up against an improving Baltimore Offense which has finally shown some life after a struggle for much of the season. Joe Flacco is beginning to connect with some of the deep throws that propels this Ravens team and he has been well backed up by Alex Collins giving the run game a burst.

Baltimore should be able to move the chains with a little more consistency than the Indianapolis Colts with the team able to play out of third and manageable spots a little more often than their visitors. With Flacco in decent form and the Colts perhaps losing some of their motivation as they play out the season, I do think the Baltimore Ravens can record what would be a big cover on Saturday.

Indianapolis are just 2-6 against the spread in their last eight on the road and I like Baltimore to make the big plays on both sides of the ball which allows them to pull clear behind a strong Defensive effort.

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers Pick: The air has been taken out of this game in Week 15 when the Green Bay Packers lost to the Carolina Panthers and saw their Play Off hopes go up in smoke. The fans will still want to see their team perform in the final home game of the season and try and spoil the Minnesota Vikings season, but it is a big ask for the Packers who are down some key performers.

Aaron Rodgers being moved to the IR was no surprise once the Packers were eliminated from the Play Offs and that means Green Bay go back to Brett Hundley at Quarter Back. Hundley had a tough time in his first appearance of the season when filling in for Rodgers who broke his collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings, and his challenges won't have lessened with the Vikings still performing as one of the best Defensive units in the NFL.

The problem for Hundley is that Green Bay are also going to be without Davante Adams who has proven to be his favourite Receiving target in his time at Quarter Back for the Packers. It only increases the challenges for Hundley to try and move the chains through the air against a tough Minnesota Secondary who can get a lot of pressure up front and are likely to be chasing the Quarter Back whenever the Green Bay Packers get into third and long situations.

Green Bay could have success if Hundley tucks the ball in and tries to run for First Downs or by handing the ball off to whoever starts at Running Back. The Vikings have not been as stout against the run as they would have liked in recent games, although I do think that number is skewed by their game with the Carolina Panthers and I would expect Minnesota's Defensive unit to make the big plays to set the team up in a strong position.

I am expecting the Vikings to win this game behind that Defense, but the cover of a big number is a little more awkward. However I do think Minnesota have done enough Offensively to think they can get the better of a Green Bay team who are going to find it tough to pick themselves up from the disappointment of knowing their season ended in Week 15.

This is also a Green Bay team who are suffering some real problems in the Defensive unit with injuries and lack of form from players in the entire back seven. They can still be tough up front, but Minnesota have a couple of capable Running Backs and the ability to have those players leak out and catch balls to take a number of yards down the field which should keep the Offense in third and manageable spots.

Case Keenum is having a career year at Quarter Back and has talented Receivers to expose the problems Green Bay are having in the Secondary too so I do think the Vikings move the chains with some consistency. Recently the Offensive Line has had some troubles so perhaps the Packers can get to Keenum and maybe force a couple of errant throws, but I expect the Vikings to win the field position battle for the most part and I like their chance to not only win, but win big.

I feel better knowing Brett Hundley won one out of four home games that he has started for the Packers and the three losses have come by 9, 13, and 23 points with some Offensive issues. While some players would want to play spoiler for the Vikings, who are still chasing the Number 1 Seed in the NFC, the majority will be feeling what this could have been if Rodgers had not been injured and I think that may be the overwhelming emotion in the whole Stadium.

A steady performance from the Vikings should then be enough to win this game by double digits and see Minnesota build the momentum for the Play Offs.

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints Pick: The NFC South is a very competitive Division going down to the final two weeks of the regular season and in Week 16 the 10-4 New Orleans Saints host the 9-5 Atlanta Falcons. It has only been a couple of weeks since these teams met in Atlanta in a game that was won by the Falcons, but the New Orleans Saints have to believe they can earn a measure of revenge this time around.

One of the key moments of the first meeting between these teams was the early hit that knocked out Alvin Kamara. It just underlined how important Kamara has already become for the New Orleans Saints with his ability to run the ball but also the featured player Drew Brees looks to when it comes to a safety blanket for the Saints.

Kamara didn't miss a single game after being knocked out of the game at Atlanta and was looking sharp in the win over the New York Jets in Week 15. The Saints will still want to clean up some of their play with stupid turnovers and dropped passes taking a few points off the board in that victory, especially as the Falcons are one of the better teams out there.

Atlanta have shown some power at the Defensive Line as they have been able to slow down the run in recent games including a big effort in the first game with the Saints. Once again I would suggest a healthy Kamara would have made a big difference along with Mark Ingram in that game and I do think the Saints will have more success in this one.

They can also use short passes to Kamara and get the Running Back out into space from where he can make plenty of yards after the catch. That will ease any pass rush and also open things up for Drew Brees against an Atlanta Secondary that have some playmakers, but also showed their vulnerabilities in the Monday Night game with Tampa Bay in Week 15.

With the Saints moving the ball more successfully than they did in the first game with Atlanta, the pressure will be on Matt Ryan and company to try and fight fire with fire. They do have an explosive running game which should at least give the Falcons a chance to move the chains and it is important for the Falcons to do that against one of the more under-rated Defensive units in the NFL.

Kenny Vaccaro being moved onto the IR is a big blow for the Saints, but this is a Secondary who have been the most improved Secondaries in the NFL this season. They should be able to find a way to clamp down on the Receiving threats Atlanta bring to the field, while I also think Ryan is not playing as well at Quarter Back as he would have liked.

It has meant settling for Field Goal attempts rather than Touchdowns and I think that is going to be a problem for the Falcons in Week 16. The other issue that almost cost the Falcons the win in the first game with the New Orleans Saints were the Interceptions thrown by Ryan and he is going to have to be a lot better with a healthier looking Secondary even with the absence of Vaccaro.

I do like the Saints for some revenge over the Falcons and the win would put them pretty much into the Play Offs. They would likely have won in Atlanta if not for the Alvin Kamara injury and I think the Running Back has a big game in revenge for the hit that knocked him out of that game two weeks ago.

New Orleans are also playing the better Football on both sides of the ball and I don't think they make the same mistakes that almost certainly made things a lot tighter than they needed to be in Week 15 against the New York Jets. On the other hand Matt Ryan has not played to the level he produced in 2016 and I think Drew Brees outplays him and helps the Saints win this by around a Touchdown.

The Saints also have an incredible 22-4 record against the spread when hosting a team with a winning record on the road and they are 5-1 against the spread in their last six Divisional games. I will back the Saints to win in Week 16 to move one step closer to securing the NFC South.

Miami Dolphins @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: Sometimes you have to admit when you are wrong and I have to say I jumped off the Kansas City Chiefs bandwagon a little early. I saw a team who had no momentum and a poor run and I could not see how they could turn things around, but the Chiefs have won back to back games in impressive fashion which means the Chiefs may be the favourites to win the AFC West.

The win over the Los Angeles Chargers last week was a big one for the Chiefs who dominated on both sides of the ball and that means winning out will be enough for Kansas City to take the Division. In fact one more win will be enough for the Chiefs who are destined to finish with the Number 4 Seed in the AFC which means hosting a Wild Card game in a couple of weeks time.

Hosting the Miami Dolphins, who are out of Play Off contention after another non-show in a loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 15, looks to be the chance for the Chiefs to keep the wins coming.

With Kareem Hunt looking like he has broken through the rookie wall, the Chiefs have been running the ball very effectively again, although that will be tested by a stout Miami Defensive Line. That Line is still playing hard, but there is a reason to think they could be waiting for the revenge game against the Bills next week where Miami can spoil a Divisional rivals season.

Even if the Defensive Line does show up to play tough, Kansas City know they can use Hunt as a Receiver coming out of the backfield where he can make players miss in the open field. Alex Smith will likely use Hunt as a check down option and perhaps even employ a few screens just to open up the running game by getting Hunt out into space.

Smith has to be given a lot of credit for the way the Kansas City Chiefs have been playing as he has been producing some big time throws at Quarter Back. The deep ball has returned to the Offense, while Smith continues to look after the ball with the kind of success that will see teams looking to bring him in if he does leave Kansas City in the off-season as most are expecting.

Battling a tough Miami Defensive unit will see some drives stall, but I think Smith can have a solid outing against them by mixing in the short passes with a few deep balls to open things up. I certainly think the Chiefs have every chance of moving the ball with some consistency and they will also feel they can win the field position battle on the other side of the ball.

It won't go all Kansas City's way, especially when the game is close as I do think Kenyan Drake has offered Miami the kind of running game that Jay Ajayi failed to do before being traded to Philadelphia. Drake has hit the holes where they are and his hard running has sparked the Dolphins, although the challenge will come against the Chiefs Defensive Line who have picked up their play significantly in recent games.

The main issue is always going to be which Jay Cutler decides to come and play in Week 16- he is making all the right noises about wanting to play in 2018, but Cutler could easily go back to the broadcast booth after Week 17 and so it is hard to see how his motivation levels are gong to be for this game.

Cutler had a great game against the New England Patriots two weeks ago, but last week he was pretty terrible against the Buffalo Bills to end the Miami lingering Play Off hopes. He will be under pressure from the Kansas City pass rush if the Dolphins are not able to move the chains on the ground, while Cutler has to be aware of the way the Chiefs have been able to turn the ball over of late.

That could be the reason Kansas City are able to cover a big spread as they earn the extra possessions to get this done. The number does offer Cutler the chance for a backdoor cover which is a concern, but the Chiefs have blown out their last couple of opponents who are both superior to Miami and I think they are able to do the same here.

Kansas City are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven at home and Miami have struggled against the better teams they have played outside of that win over New England. I will look for the Chiefs to force a couple of turnovers which helps them move clear of the Dolphins in a big home win which sees Kansas City book their Play Off spot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers Pick: The Carolina Panthers ended the Green Bay Packers hopes of making the Play Offs, but they have to be careful that their own are not left in a precarious position. Their destiny is clearly in their own hands as the Panthers will make the Play Offs by winning out, and could also potentially win the NFC South by doing that, but losing their remaining two games would likely leave Carolina on the outside looking in.

Two Divisional games are a tough way to conclude the season, although they are facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who have underachieved significantly in 2017. Some had the Buccaneers down as the favourites to win the NFC South Division so their 4-10 record is likely going to lead to some significant changes in the off-season.

The Buccaneers at least played hard in a narrow loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football and they still have a big part to play in who gets to the Play Offs with games against Carolina and New Orleans to finish the season. Tampa Bay may feel they should have knocked off the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15, but I don't think they will spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves knowing they have nothing to lose.

Injuries have really hurt Tampa Bay all season, but at least Jameis Winston will get a chance to finish the season at Quarter Back. There is still plenty of believers who think the Buccaneers can win with Winston at Quarter Back, but the whole team will need better luck with health and also perhaps some better Coaching to fulfil the potential they have.

Doug Martin could be missing for a second week in a row having been suspended by the team ahead of the Week 15 game with the Falcons. Peyton Barber took his chance at Running Back with a good performance and I think he has every chance of some strong gains on the ground against the Panthers Defensive Line which has had a few issues stopping the run.

That would be huge for the Buccaneers and Winston who had a good showing last week and was only let down by a couple of key mistakes. One was a fumble inside the red zone while the Buccaneers would have tied the game with a Field Goal at the end which was missed. Winston will be glad of the run support from Barber to ease the pressure the Panthers will bring up front against this poor Offensive Line, while the absence of Thomas Davis does mean there should be more passing lanes for the Quarter Back to exploit.

It does feel like a game in which Tampa Bay can move the chains and have success in scoring points against the Panthers, but I also think Cam Newton is playing at an extremely high level and is likely going to lead his team to a win. Newton might not have many Receiving weapons these days, but Greg Olsen is back and last week he showed how well he is playing by out-battling Aaron Rodgers.

Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey should all have success running the ball against the Buccaneers who have struggled up front all season. That should help the Panthers control the clock and keep the Offensive unit in third and manageable spots, while also meaning Newton is able to find some big passing lanes to move the chains through the air too.

I do think the Panthers win this game and likely do it fairly comfortably, but Tampa Bay have every chance to earn a backdoor cover in this one with the way they have been playing. The way Carolina will control the clock on the ground might mean the number in the spread is a little too big to cover and the game with the Falcons might also be distracting if the Panthers move into a two score lead which allows the Buccaneers a way back in to cover.

Tampa Bay have enough Offensively to score enough points to keep this close and I will take the points on offer here.

Los Angeles Chargers @ New York Jets Pick: The Week 15 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers felt like a Division decider between those two teams. It was the Chiefs who came out on top, and that has left the Chargers in a desperate position to try and make it two teams from Los Angeles playing Play Off Football in January.

The only way it works for the Chargers is by winning out and hoping the likes of the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills collapse. They will likely need two of those teams to lose both games they have remaining, but that is a possibility and the Chargers have to take care of business of their own.

Playing back to back road games is tough for any team especially when you think the Chargers have to play on the East Coast in an early kick off. That has to be the biggest factor going against the Chargers in this game at the New York Jets who have overachieved this season but who are now dealing with the injury bug.

Josh McCown's injury at Quarter Back really hurts the Jets and that means Bryce Petty is back behind Center for a second game in a row. One of the problems for Petty is the inconsistent performances from the Running Backs and they may not be able to take as much advantage of Los Angeles' struggles up front with that in mind.

It wouldn't be a surprise if the Chargers also make more of an effort to stop the Jets running the ball and making sure they force Petty to beat them through the air. If they can put the Jets in third and long spots, the Chargers pass rush and strong Secondary play could give Petty plenty of problems and lead to drives stalling or, in a worse case scenario, turnovers and a loss of field position.

The key to this game as far as I am concerned is how quickly the Chargers can bounce back from what was a really poor performance in the loss at Kansas City. Philip Rivers had been playing at a high level prior to that loss and he does have the chance to get the Chargers back on track and at least have a shot to make the Play Offs in Week 17.

Rivers should be supported by Melvin Gordon who will be running against a Jets Defensive Line dealing with injuries and expected to be shorthanded. The Defensive Line has been the strength of the Jets, but you can see the impact injuries have had up front and the Chargers should be able to move into third and manageable spots from where Rivers can take over through the air.

The Quarter Back has produced some nice numbers in recent weeks and is throwing into a Secondary who do give up some big yards. Rivers has to make sure he looks after the ball after seeing the Jets give Drew Brees some issues last week, but his Receivers can help by securing the football and I do think Los Angeles can move the chains with success throughout the afternoon.

Rivers should be throwing from a clean pocket and he has some big Receiving weapons here even though Hunter Henry is out for the rest of the season. I do like the Chargers to cover here and improve their 14-6-1 record against the spread in their last twenty-one road games.

All respect to the Jets who have played well as the home team against the spread, but I think the Chargers will prove a little too good on both sides of the ball and win this one by double digits.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: So the Jacksonville Jaguars are almost certainly going to be playing Play Off Football this season and still have an outside shot at winning a First Round bye. They need to win out and hope the Pittsburgh Steelers drop both remaining games, but ultimately this has been a season of success with the Jaguars almost certainly going to finish with the Number 3 Seed in the AFC.

That will be wrapped up this week if they can win at the suddenly live San Francisco 49ers who knocked off the Jaguars Divisional rivals Tennessee at home in Week 15. Jimmy Garoppolo has come in as the starting Quarter Back for the 49ers and I really do think they have found their franchise passer who has helped San Francisco win all three starts since he took over from CJ Beathard.

Wins over Chicago, Houston and Tennessee are decent enough, but this is the biggest test Garoppolo and the 49ers have faced since he took over as starting Quarter Back. The Jacksonville Defensive unit is right up there with the very best in the NFL and Garoppolo can't afford any errant throws in this one.

To be fair to Goroppolo, the problems are that there isn't a lot of Receiving talent for him at San Francisco and he is making the best use of what he has got. There is a hope he can hand the ball off to Carlos Hyde to make some plays on the ground, but the San Francisco Offensive Line has had problems both in run blocking and pass protection and so I think the majority of work will have to be done by Garoppolo.

He will be under pressure at times and that is where he has to think like his mentor Tom Brady and make sure he is not pushing the ball into difficult positions. The Jaguars will be a tough Secondary to deal with considering the turnovers they are able to create, while Garoppolo has to make sure he looks after the ball if he is being taken to the ground by the Defensive Line.

I do think Garoppolo has shown the talent to think he can have some success in this one, but he is facing a Quarter Back in Blake Bortles who is doing his best to ram his critics words back down their throats. Many believe the Jaguars are 10-4 despite Bortles rather than him being a key piece of the team, and that won't have changed despite three top games from the Quarter Back.

Bortles is going to be at his very best in this one too because he is facing a San Francisco Defensive unit that are far greater than the sum of their parts. The key for the Jaguars is to not turn the ball over and Bortles has been looking after the ball, but the pressure will be on the Quarter Back with the San Francisco Defensive Line finding a way to shut down the run.

That has also helped the Secondary who have made some good plays in recent games, although facing Mitchell Trubisky, Tom Savage and a hurt Marcus Mariota has helped. Bortles has been playing better than those three Quarter Backs and could have Allen Hurns back in one of the Receiving positions, but I am also not convinced that Bortles can continue playing at the level he has been.

It all adds up to the points looking very favourable here for the home underdog. I love how San Francisco have played with a competent Quarter Back at the helm and they are doing enough Defensively to keep this close. The key will be how much Jimmy Garoppolo can look after the ball against a team who have turned over the ball on a regular basis, but I think he is playing well enough to do that and I like the 49ers with the points.

The Jaguars will be focused with a chance still there for home field advantage, but they could be looking ahead to the Tennessee game and earning revenge over a Divisional rival who beat Jacksonville earlier this season. With the improved performances from the 49ers, the home underdog can bark in this one.

Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: Two 8-6 teams meet in Week 16 with their futures very clear- both the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks need to win out and hope for the dominoes to fall their way if they are going to make it back to the Play Offs.

It makes the big game in Arlington that much more important with everything on the line and the Dallas Cowboys have the benefit of getting a fresh Ezekiel Elliot back in the line up. They have not played badly without him, but Elliot is a special runner and he opens everything up on the Offensive side of the ball.

A few months ago that may not have mattered against a tough Seattle Defensive unit, but the 'Legion of Boom' has been decimated by injury. Only Earl Thomas can really say he is playing with any health and we saw how Bobby Wagner struggled with his injury last week as Todd Gurley trampled all over the Seahawks in a stunning loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

It might be difficult for Elliot to pick up from where Gurley left off simply because of the lack of Football he has played, but the Running Back looks in fantastic shape. The Dallas Offensive Line is playing as well as they have at any point this season, although I am concerned about the Tyron Smith injury which may keep him out, and I do think they can pave the way for some big runs from Elliot and his back ups.

Things are helped by the injuries to the Linebackers of the Seahawks and that has seen the Defensive Line worn down and giving up some big plays. With Elliot likely making some big gains on the ground, things should open up for Dak Prescott who is going to employ bootleg and play-action to attack a Secondary that has missed their top talent for a few weeks now.

Writing off Russell Wilson is tough though with the Quarter Back showing he is capable of just 'winning' when you don't think it is possible. Wilson is due a bounce back after a tough outing against the Rams, but it might be a tough ask for the competitor when the Defensive unit are not helping out.

It means Seattle have to score almost every time they have the ball and that is difficult when the Offensive Line doesn't offer much protection and the running game just hasn't been there. This Dallas Defensive Line have played at a high level of late and they will feel they can get the better of the Seattle Offensive Line and at least force Wilson to scramble and make the plays in adverse situations.

Wilson has shown he can do that, but the Cowboys Secondary have stood up with a pair of young Corner Backs showing signs they could be a quality duo for years to come. The concentration will be tested as Wilson extends plays, but the Cowboys have shown they can turn the ball over too and I do like their chances to keep their Play Off hopes alive through to Week 17.

The Seahawks have shown they are a team that does bounce back from a loss in the right manner, but the injuries on the Defensive side of the ball are hard to ignore. You have to think they play hard after the embarrassing way they were blown away by Los Angeles Rams last week, but I think Elliot takes the headlines on his return and he can help the Cowboys win and cover in this Week 16 game.

MY PICKS: Baltimore Ravens - 13.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Minnesota Vikings - 8.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints - 6 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Kansas City Chiefs - 10.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers + 10 Points @ 2.05 Coral (2 Units)
Los Angeles Chargers - 6.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (2 Units)
San Francisco 49ers + 4 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Dallas Cowboys - 5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)