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Thursday, 12 October 2017

NFL Week 6 Picks 2017 (October 12-16)

Every time I have felt that people are beginning to understand why the players in the NFL are protesting, something comes up which takes the discussion right back to square one.

This week it was the news that Roger Goodell is going to write to the owners and 'force' the players to stand during the anthem, while Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys said players who didn't stand during the anthem would be benched. He even claimed there were no exceptions and that players have to understand where he is coming from with some sources saying Jones wants to take the focus off the team.

Instead he has shined a bright light on the Cowboys and I am not sure it will EVER be a good look for rich, white owners forcing ethnic minority players to do their bidding.

Honestly, I just don't see that ending well at all. And to be perfectly frank the players should not be put in that position.

I think there is going to be a response from the Players Association in the coming days and this is a story that will continue to run and run.

Week 6 gets underway with a big game between two NFC teams who are both at 4-1 and looking like they could be potential Super Bowl teams. There are a number of huge favourites this week with mismatches around the League, but anyone who has watched the NFL for any length of time will remind you that upsets are never far away on any given Sunday.

Before I get to my NFL Picks from Week 6, I have my current top five below which is now dominated by the NFC:

1) Kansas City Chiefs (5-0): I remain unconvinced about the Chiefs, but have to respect the 5-0 record. Week 6 sees them host the Pittsburgh Steelers and another big test for the Chiefs.

2) Philadelphia Eagles (4-1): The Eagles look the most under-rated team in the NFC, but the loss of Lane Johnson for any length of time would be a huge blow for them.

3) Carolina Panthers (4-1): Cam Newton did not look himself earlier in the season, but the Quarter Back has been playing at a high level over the last couple of weeks and the Panthers are only eighteen months away from when they played in the Super Bowl.

4) Green Bay Packers (4-1): The Green Bay Packers are trying to get healthier on both sides of the ball, but Aaron Rodgers is helping them overcome those. They have another big test when visiting the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5.

5) Atlanta Falcons (3-1): The Falcons have had a chance to rest up after some big injuries prior to the Week 5 bye. They look to be the biggest threat to Carolina with the two Divisional rivals set to meet twice before the end of the regular season.

Onto the Week 6 Picks from the 2017 NFL season.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Carolina Panthers Pick: Two NFC teams meet in the Thursday Night Football game and the television networks have to be pleased that they have two 4-1 teams in that game this week. The winner of this game will move into the sole lead in the NFC, at least for a few days, and there is plenty to like about the way both the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles have been playing.

It has been a remarkable turnaround from Cam Newton after an awful showing in Week 3 in a home loss to the New Orleans Saints. Since then he has travelled to the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions and Newton has been playing at what feels his very best level as he has helped guide the Panthers to back to back upsets.

The situation is different for Newton this week as he is playing back at home and this time the Panthers are favoured to win. That dynamic shift is one that can see players and teams perhaps fail to produce what they have when there has been no expectation on them and that has to be a concern for the Carolina Panthers and something to deal with.

Newton has actually been allowed to run a little more than I thought he might this season coming off an injury, but it has been difficult for the Panthers to get much going on the ground. They have shown some improvement on that front in recent games, but the Philadelphia Defensive Line have continued to perform at a high level so much is going to come down to the Cam Newton arm.

That arm has been in fine form in the last couple of games and there is every chance that Newton is going to have a third big game in a row for Carolina. Kelvin Benjamin, Ed Dickerson and Devin Funchess have given Newton some key weapons in the passing game to cover for the loss of Greg Olsen and the Quarter Back is throwing into a Secondary which has struggled as injuries have taken away key players from the Secondary.

One area where Philadelphia should have success against the pass is through the pass rush they can generate as they face a Carolina Offensive Line which has not been able to keep players out of the backfield. Newton can scramble away from some of the pressure, but there will be times when the Eagles are able to get to him and that could at least stall some drives, although Newton has shown the deep ball is back within his weaponry in the last couple of weeks.

A reason for the Panthers slipping in 2016 compared to the 2015 Super Bowl team was the decision to let Josh Norman go and that saw their Defensive unit step back. So far in 2017 that Defense has looked back to the level it was in 2015 and they could give Carson Wentz some problems even if the second year Quarter Back has been showing off a marked improvement of his own from his rookie campaign.

The Eagles could give the ball to LaGarrette Blount to make some big plays up front with the run being a weakness for the Panthers Defensive Line so far this season. Blount will be looking to keep Wentz in third and manageable situations which is going to be important as the Eagles are likely to be missing Lane Johnson on the Offensive Line.

Johnson's likely absence can't be downplayed as Philadelphia have shown they struggle without him since the beginning of the 2016 season. It will mean Wentz is perhaps under more pressure than he has been feeling throughout 2017, especially against a fierce Carolina pass rush which has been successful so far, and that could slow down what has looked a potent Offensive unit so far.

I expect the Panthers will be able to make more plays in the backfield than the Eagles in what could still be something of a shoot out and that will make the difference between the teams. Cam Newton may just be able to make a few more scrambles than Carson Wentz and I am looking for the Panthers to expose the big hole that is likely left by Lane Johnson and that should see them make it three wins in a row.

Being able to run the ball a little better than the Panthers should mean the Eagles stick around for some time, but I can see Philadelphia needing a Touchdown to tie this one and Carolina forcing a couple of pressurised throws which leads to a pick or a Sack which stalls the Eagles.

The favourite is 4-0 against the spread in the last four in this series including the Panthers covering as home favourites two seasons ago. The Eagles were 1-5 against the spread as the road underdog last season and I think the absence of Johnson sees them fail to cover here.

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: This is a big NFC North game between two teams who will be hoping they have enough to make the Play Offs at the end of the season. The Green Bay Packers (4-1) have overcome some big injuries on both sides of the ball, but they won't have much sympathy from the hosts Minnesota Vikings (3-2) who are down to their third string Quarter Back and have also lost starting Running Back Dalvin Cook to a season ending injury.

The Packers can place a lot of their gratitude at the feet of Aaron Rodgers who has been playing at a high level to cover the issues his team have had on both sides of the ball. The positives for the Green Bay Packers is that they are edging closer to having a few of those faces return and they would love to go into their bye week at the end of Week 7 at what could be potentially 6-1.

Winning on the road in Minnesota is not going to be easy as the Packers will be hoping this is the first of two visits to this Stadium in the 2017 season. However, with Aaron Rodgers at Quarter Back the Packers will feel they can earn what could be a huge Divisional win for them.

Rodgers has been hoping his two big Offensive Tackles will soon be making a return to help his protection and Week 6 may be the time both are back in the line up. It is very important for Rodgers to have David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga against this Minnesota pass rush, especially as Rodgers is throwing in a Secondary who love picking off the ball.

There are some solid Receiving weapons for Rodgers to go to, but the Minnesota Defensive unit have to be respected as to how well they can play the pass. Rodgers has had his issues finding consistency against the Vikings in recent meetings, but it does feel like the Packers will be relying on him with the Minnesota Defensive Line likely to shut down the run for much of the afternoon.

In saying that, you would have to say that the Packers are going to get their points as Rodgers always tends to find those. That means there will be some pressure on Case Keenum, who should start in place of Sam Bradford, to try and help the Vikings find some consistency which has been lacking in their Offensive play.

Keenum and the Vikings know that Cook is out at Running Back, but they may also be missing Stefon Diggs at Wide Receiver which would be a huge blow for the home team. The Packers Defensive Line has Mike Daniels back at the heart of it which means it should be tough for Latavius Murray to have a big day running the ball and that will at least force Minnesota to throw from third and long and give the Packers the chance to put some pressure on Keenum.

A pass rush has been effective for Green Bay and at least given the banged up Secondary the chance to make some plays. Without Diggs it will be more difficult for Minnesota to make the big plays even against the holes Green Bay have, especially as Keenum is likely to feel some pressure around him.

The Packers might be a team against whom you can have success throwing the ball, but it is tough for Keenum if his best Receiver is out of action. With the running game likely to be stifled, it looks like a day for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to really take control of the NFC North even at this relatively early stage of the 2017 season.

The recent trend in this series between the two Divisional rivals has been to back the underdog who are 4-1 against the spread. However the Minnesota Vikings are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven Divisional games and I think their Defense may end up being a little worn down with the time they may have to spend on the field which can see Rodgers make a few big plays down the stretch to help the Packers win and cover.

Miami Dolphins @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: The Atlanta Falcons (3-1) will have had some thinking to do after being beaten up by the Buffalo Bills in Week 4 before heading into their bye week. The bye was important for the Falcons who had a number of key players banged up prior to the week off and they do look to have seen those names recover in time to return in Week 6.

They are the biggest favourite going into the Week 6 slate of games and much of that says all you need to know about how the Miami Dolphins (2-2) have played so far this season. One of the biggest problems for the Dolphins is finding a consistent performance from the Offensive unit and it won't get much easier for Miami here in Week 6.

Jay Cutler was enticed back out of what looked to be retirement, but the veteran Quarter Back has always been someone with the kind of body language that frustrates the fans. Cutler has arguably looked even worse in 2017 with little going the way the Dolphins anticipated and the fans beginning to be more and more vocal for a move to Matt Moore instead of the former Chicago and Denver Quarter Back.

The Dolphins have yet to score 20 points in any game this season and they have not exactly been faced with the top teams in the NFL. This week is a different story as they face the Super Bowl Runners Up from the end of the 2016 season and a team whose Defensive unit have perhaps been playing better than they were during that run to the Super Bowl.

Miami's Offensive Line has been a real problem and that has been a big reason for the Offensive struggles. Jay Ajayi came into the season with big expectations, but he has not been able to establish the run with the Offensive Line struggling to open holes for the Running Back and there isn't going to be a lot of room up front against the Atlanta Defensive Line which has allowed just 4.2 yards per carry.

There will be a persistence with Ajayi as long as this game is close, but his struggles have meant Cutler is having to make plays from third and long and that is simply not what this Offense is built to convert. Cutler has not been helped by a poor pass protection which is going to be challenged by the Atlanta Falcons even with Vic Beasley likely to be on the sidelines.

Putting pressure on Cutler is either going to lead to Sacks and the Offensive drives stalling, or the 'gunslinger' is going to try and force passes under pressure which will lead to Interceptions which makes it tough to believe in what the Miami Dolphins can do when they have the ball.

The reason Miami have won two games is down to the Defensive unit playing at a decent level to restrict what opponents have been able to do against them. It has helped that the games played have come against Philip Rivers, Josh McCown, Drew Brees and Matt Cassel with only Brees seen as a top Quarter Back.

In Week 6 they are facing one of the most potent Offensive units in the NFL and one that should be well rested with the likes of Julio Jones likely to be ready to go having had some time to heal up. The Falcons Offensive Line should be back to full health too and that should mean Matt Ryan is going to have a much better game than he did against the Buffalo Bills in the loss in Week 4.

There are some things to like about the Miami Defense which will give them a chance to at least stop some Atlanta drives, or at least force Ryan to make some big plays to keep the chains moving. The Miami Defensive Line have been strong against the run so it may be difficult for the dynamic duo Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to have huge games on the ground, even if both are threats coming out of the backfield to catch short passes from Ryan that they can turn into big gains.

Stopping the run is a key for a lot of games, but Ryan should still be able to make some big plays with the time he is likely to get in the pocket. The Dolphins can get some pressure with their Defensive Line, but any time Ryan is able to move around and throw downfield he will feel he can keep the Falcons moving up and down the field.

The Miami Secondary is not as strong as they are up front and Brees showed in London that you can exploit some holes when given time. He doesn't have the same weapons as Ryan does in Atlanta and I do think the Falcons will be too good for Miami, especially if Cutler is handing over short fields with turnovers.

It is a big spread but the Falcons are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games coming out of their bye week and I don't think the Dolphins score enough points to stay with their hosts. A couple of turnovers will likely help Atlanta on their way and I will back them to cover the biggest number of the weekend.

Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans Pick: The Cleveland Browns (0-5) made the decision to pass on DeShaun Watson and pick DeShone Kizer as the next franchise Quarter Back of a team who have been searching for their long-term Quarter Back for years. It hasn't been a good start for Kizer and it will be Kevin Hogan who starts at Quarter Back in Week 6 as Hue Jackson takes his young Quarter Back out of the firing line.

Deciding to pass on Watson is not something the Cleveland Browns will be appreciating at the moment with the former Clemson Quarter Back looking like he may be the answer at Quarter Back for the Houston Texans (2-3). Watson has been in fine form since coming in and taking over at Quarter Back and he looks like he has given the Texans the kind of spark they have been missing on that side of the ball for a number of years.

Now the Texans are more concerned with the Defensive side of the ball where their strength has been in recent years. Devastating injuries to the likes of Whitney Mercilus and JJ Watt means Houston look short-handed for this game and that may give Hogan a chance for a successful outing.

However it may be down to Hogan alone if Cleveland continue to struggle to run the ball as much as they have. It has been a surprise that the Browns have not been establish the ground game as much as they have in 2017 and that has been a big reason that the Browns have not been able to win games.

It has meant the Quarter Back, whoever that is, has been made to work to keep the chains moving. There are some young, talented Receivers in the Cleveland Offensive unit, but the inconsistent play from the Quarter Back has meant teams have been able to stall drives that the Browns have produced, although Hogan may have a little more success in this one with Houston needing to fill some big holes that have been left by injuries.

The Browns will also be looking to make Houston a little one-dimensional as they have been able to shut down the run, but the Texans may feel they have a Quarter Back who has shown he can make big plays through the air. Watson will be put under pressure by the Offensive Line play, while he is still a rookie that can sometimes hold onto the ball a little longer than Bill O'Brien would like.

However Watson has shown he is able to scramble away from any pressure on him and move the chains with his legs, while also helping to elevate the play from the Receivers he has. DeAndre Hopkins is a fine Wide Receiver, but Will Fuller has found a connection with Watson and they are facing a Secondary who still have some vulnerabilities which should give Watson the chance for a fine game.

I expect he can produce that with the added motivation of wanting to show a team who passed up on him in the Draft what they are missing. Watson could have a major game which helps the Texans cover what is a big spread, especially when you consider how poorly Cleveland have been against the spread in recent years.

Houston are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games off a loss and I think Watson has another big day on the field to help the Texans win this one by double digits.

New England Patriots @ New York Jets Pick: How many people would have predicted the New England Patriots (3-2) and New York Jets (3-2) would have the same record going into their Week 6 clash? The two teams are amongst the leaders in the AFC East, but it is a surprise on one side and what was expected on the other.

The New England Patriots came into the 2017 season as the favourites to win the Super Bowl yet again, but most predicted the New York Jets could be the worst team in the history of the NFL and would struggle to win a game. The surprises have come with the Patriots losing twice at home already, while the Jets have won three in a row heading into this weekend and playing with as much confidence as you could expect.

Even with that in mind, the New York Jets are a big underdog at home in Week 6 as they face a New England team who have had additional preparation time after playing on Thursday Night Football in Week 5. Any time Bill Belichick and Tom Brady earn extra time to prepare for an opponent you have to think they will produce a perfect game plan and that has to be the case this weekend.

Tom Brady is banged up with his non-throwing shoulder hurt in the win over Tampa Bay, but he should be good to go and I am not anticipating a significant drop off from his play. While the Offensive Line has struggled in protection at times, Brady is facing a Jets team who have not been able to generate the pass rush they would have hoped and he has the weapons to make plays against a Secondary which is not as good as they once were.

In general Brady has avoided making the big mistakes when throwing the ball and I think he will be able to move the ball through the air in this one. Running the ball has been more of an issue for the Patriots, but they should have success doing that in this one too considering the Jets will likely be focused on stopping them through the air and perhaps leaving more space up front.

It will be up to the Jets to try and keep up with a New England Offense who have scored plenty of points and that is some pressure on Josh McCown to do that. The Jets were fortunate to beat Cleveland last week and this is a significant step up for them considering they were outgained by over 200 yards by the Browns in Week 5.

While the game is close the Jets may feel they can run the ball against the Patriots and at least keep Brady on the sidelines. Usually I would think that is a possibility for New York, but they may be down to a third string Running Back in this one and I do think Belichick will be looking to ground the Jets running game and force the veteran Quarter Back to beat them.

McCown may have some success considering how the New England Secondary have played, but he is not blessed with a lot of consistent weapons which means it will be hard to move the chains regularly. The Patriots should have more of a chance to get after McCown considering how the Jets Offensive Line has played and the fact that McCown is unlikely to scramble away from any pressure he faces.

That will help the Secondary, who have struggled, although I simply don't think this Jets team can score enough points to stay with New England in this one. The Jets are 4-0 against the spread in their last four at home against New England, but they are a much weaker team now and the Patriots are capable of reaching 30 points in this one which will give them every chance to cover the spread.

New England are now 10-1 against the spread in their last eleven road games and they are 10-3 against the spread in their last thirteen in Conference games. This is a big number for a team to cover on the road, but I like the fact that the Patriots are not being backed heavily by the public. I will look for Tom Brady to score enough points to force the Jets to start having to throw the ball which can lead to a couple of big turnovers which helps the Patriots cover this number.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: There have been a lot of questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) this week in the wake of their blow out home defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ben Roethlisberger didn't help by suggesting he might be done as a Quarter Back immediately after the defeat to the Jaguars only to then state he doesn't care what journalists are writing about him.

It seems strange that Big Ben would be upset by a story he started, but you can't help but wonder if the Steelers are going to be permanently out of sync this season. Antonio Brown has shown his frustrations, Le'Veon Bell held out until just a few days until the season was due to begin, and Roethlisberger is seemingly contemplating whether he will continue playing football going forward.

All of this adds up to not being the best time to head to Arrowhead where the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) look to continue what has been a strong start to the season. The Chiefs have already beaten the New England Patriots and knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers would mean they hold wins over the top two teams in the AFC which can only be good for the confidence of the players.

Kansas City have to like the match up on the Offensive side of the ball as one of the best rushing teams in the NFL go up against the Steelers Defensive Line which has not been able to stop the run. Last week the Steelers allowed rookie Running Back Leonard Fournette to have a huge game, and this week they take on rookie Kareem Hunt who has been a revelation for the Chiefs in the NFL this season.

Hunt and the Kansas City Offensive Line have found way to run the ball at 5.7 yards per carry and the Steelers Defensive Line have given up over 5 yards per carry themselves which suggests he should be fed the ball plenty of times in this one. The only downside may be Andy Reid's playbook which seems to get away from the run for no reason, and that would be a mistake against a Steelers Defensive unit that have played the pass much better.

Pittsburgh can get pressure up front and the Kansas City Offensive Line are night and day when it comes to running the ball or settling into pass protection. Alex Smith is a capable Quarter Back with an ability to scramble for gains, but he will be forced to find his check downs and could be without Travis Kelce which will just limit the passing game with the pressure Pittsburgh will get up front.

I would still think Kansas City are able to move the chains if Pittsburgh can't clamp down on the run and force Smith to make plays through the air. It will be up to Roethlisberger and the Steelers Offense to avoid the mistakes which cost them against the Jaguars in Week 5 if they are going to have a chance for an upset here because the Kansas City Chiefs are not going to offer up too many turnovers.

While the expectation is that Kansas City will be able to run the ball, Bell should have a decent game for the Pittsburgh Steeler at Running Back. There looks to be an improvement coming from the Steelers Offensive Line when blocking for runs and Bell is looking stronger in each passing week as he settles back into the system, while the Back is also a threat coming out of the backfield.

It has been possible to run against the Chiefs and that is a key for Pittsburgh as keeping this powerful Offense in third and short and being able to employ play action is huge for the passing game. There are also some holes in the Secondary which can be attacked by the Steelers, although Roethlisberger has to be better than he was in Week 5 when his mistakes killed Pittsburgh in the second half in a game they had been leading.

The Chiefs can get some pressure up front, but if Bell is running the ball effectively it should mean that pass rush is a touch slower which can get what is a big strike Offense back on track.

I do like the Steelers in this spot with the points and I am going to back them to cover. They are off a blow out home loss so should be focused to prove they are better than they have shown in Week 5, while Kansas City have to also consider a big AFC West rivalry game against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football which may take away some of the focus after a 5-0 start.

Kansas City do have revenge on the mind having been beaten by the Steelers in the Play Offs at home back in January, but this is a lot of points. However Pittsburgh are 13-6 against the spread in their last nineteen games following a loss and they are 5-2 against the spread when coming off a double digit loss at home.

This just looks like enough points for an Offensive team like the Steelers to make use of and I am looking for a bounce back effort from Big Ben as I take the points with the road underdog.

MY PICKS: Carolina Panthers - 3 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 3 Points @ 1.95 Coral (2 Units)
Atlanta Falcons - 13 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Houston Texans - 9.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 8.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Pittsburgh Steelers + 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

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