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Sunday, 22 October 2017

NFL Week 7 Picks 2017 (October 19-23)

Injuries have been the big news in the NFL this season, or so it feels, with Aaron Rodgers joining superstars like Odell Beckham Jr and JJ Watt in likely being done for the season.

The loss of Rodgers is a huge blow for the Green Bay Packers who I thought could get healthier and peak later in the season, but now I struggle to see them being much better than a Wild Card team. Even that might be a long shot despite liking Brett Hundley at UCLA, although Mike McCarthy and the rest of the Packers seem to believe in the back up Quarter Back.

There were some questions about Anthony Barr's hit on Rodgers with McCarthy suggesting it was 'unnecessary', but I thought it was a fair play and it is just a shame that Rodgers broke his collarbone and is likely out for the season.

One player who is still battling to stay on the field is Ezekiel Elliot and once again his on again/off again suspension has been switched to the off side. The Dallas Cowboys will have Elliot available for at least the next two weeks but this is an issue that will run and run.

Picking the top five in the NFL is a tough position to be in with some many teams looking like they have holes that need to be filled. Injuries are playing their part too and at this stage teams are probably keeping their fingers crossed that they are simply healthy when we get to the back end of December and moving through to the Play Offs.

My current top five has had some big changes after Week 6:

1) Philadelphia Eagles (5-1): They beat my Number 3 team going into Week 6 and the Eagles should have won at Arrowhead which makes them the current team to beat.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2): They showed Defensive class to shut down Kansas City and the Offense can only get better the more they play with each other.

3) Kansas City Chiefs (5-1): Maybe the Steelers are just Kansas City's kryptonite?

4) Minnesota Vikings (4-2): Favourites to win the NFC North after Aaron Rodgers went down and this Defensive unit is legit. Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford are getting healthier which could spark the Offensive side of the ball.

5) New England Patriots (4-2): I didn't want to pick a team that lost in one of these positions so ruled out the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers. New England still don't look right though and they could be knocked off when I write up the Week 8 post.

It sounds like it was a bloodbath for people picking NFL games in Week 6 with so many of the big favourites underperforming and some of those losing outright. My picks didn't go much better at 2-4, but I know it could have been a lot worse and I am looking to bounce back in Week 7.

This week's picks come below.

New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers Pick: The injury suffered by Aaron Rodgers looks like one that will rule the Green Bay Quarter Back out of the rest of the season, although any confirmation of that is yet to be forthcoming from the Packers. It was perhaps no surprise that the Packers struggled as much as they did once Rodgers left the game against the Minnesota Vikings last week, but rumours about their demise may have been greatly exaggerated.

It was always going to have been a jolt to the system to see Rodgers go down and the limited work that Brett Hundley would have done during the week would not have been enough to take on an elite Defensive unit like the one the Vikings have. Hundley struggled in the game, but this time he has a whole week to prepare for the New Orleans Saints and that may give the Packers a much better feel for their new Quarter Back.

The game is an important one for Hundley on a personal level too as another outing where he struggles would mean the Packers will likely look for veteran help at Quarter Back in the two weeks before they play again. The bye week would give the Packers time to give someone new a chance to learn their system so it is up to Hundley to show that he is going to be the capable fill in for Rodgers that Mike McCarthy has been grooming behind Rodgers.

Having the Offensive Line back at full strength, if not full health, would be a big bonus for the Packers and you can't ignore the fact that Hundley has some solid Receivers to throw to. If the New Orleans Saints don't respect the Quarter Back and instead look to clamp down on the run, Hundley can find his way to Jordy Nelson, Devante Adams and Randall Cobb and make the plays through the air against a shaky Saints Secondary that have perhaps overachieved of late.

New Orleans are able to get some pressure up front which makes the return of the Offensive Line to peak strength very important, while Hundley was a capable runner from Quarter Back at UCLA and is likely to have a few read-option plays thrown into the mix.

I do think the Packers will be able to move the ball in Week 7, but of course the expectation has to be that New Orleans are able to do the same. Drew Brees remains one of the better Quarter Backs in the NFL and the Green Bay Secondary has had their problems which should mean Brees is able to carve them up through the air.

The Saints have found more balance in their Offensive play this year with a real ability to run the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, while the latter is also a real threat coming out of the backfield. However this may be a big challenge for both Running Backs as the Green Bay Packers Defense is strongest up at the line of scrimmage and they have been able to slow the run down.

It won't shut down an Offense that has Brees throwing the ball, but it may just knock the Saints out of the rhythm they have been in as they have won three games in a row.

Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers are clearly not the same team, but I do like their chances with the points this week. I think Brett Hundley will be much better this week than he was coming in against the Vikings in Week 6 and I also think this is a match up he can exploit.

The Saints might have won three in a row, but they are generally not as good when they are playing outside and they are just 6-13 against the spread when favoured by more than a Field Goal on the road in recent seasons. I expect the Green Bay Packers will rally around their young Quarter Back and I will look for the Packers to cover as the home underdog, a spot in which they have performed very well in recent years.

Backing Brett Hundley over Drew Brees is not an easy decision, but I like the spot for the Green Bay Packers.

Tennessee Titans @ Cleveland Browns Pick: The Tennessee Titans may still be the favourites in the AFC South despite the open nature of the Division and the key for them may be keeping Marcus Mariota free from injury. Mariota was back in Week 6 and while he is not looking like he is completely back to full health, there is no doubt as to how much of an upgrade he is on Matt Cassel and gives the Titans the best chance of making the Play Offs.

Coming of a Monday Night Football appearance and being favoured on the road against a struggling opponent like the Cleveland Browns does not look a great spot for the Titans. However Cleveland might be distracted by the continued upheaval at the Quarter Back position, while they will be travelling to London for a Week 8 game against the Minnesota Vikings which is another potential distraction for Hue Jackson's men.

DeShone Kizer is back at Quarter Back for the Browns this week after Kevin Hogan struggled as the starter in Week 7, but there looks to be so many more questions than answers for the Cleveland Browns. It is the most important position in the NFL yet Cleveland have no real plan for how they can improve their Quarter Back situation having traded out of spots that could have seen them take either Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson.

Kizer isn't helped by a limited supporting cast at the skill positions which has been underlined by an underperforming running game which has been a surprise. The Titans Defensive Line has been strong when it comes to clamping down on the run and they will likely look for Kizer to beat them through the air, while Dick LeBeau will have some funky looks for the rookie Quarter Back to decipher.

Tennessee have also shown some improvement in the Secondary which makes it difficult to see how the Browns can move the chains with consistency this week. Kizer is also never too far away from throwing an Interception and turnovers could be another killer for Cleveland who have found a way to lose games or stall drives through mistakes of their own.

Where Cleveland could have some success is on the other side of the ball where the Defensive unit have played really well as some of their talented Draft Picks have started to blossom in the NFL. Mariota may be back for the Titans, but DeMarco Murray looks like he will miss out at Running Back, although that may not have made much of a difference if he could play with the the way the Cleveland Browns have been so stout against the run.

Mariota has not looked like he was able to run the ball as he could when fully healthy and that might mean Cleveland are able to stay with the Titans in this one. The Quarter Back is likely to be put under pressure from a significant pass rush the Browns are able to generate, and that has protected the Secondary who have some decent pieces in place to be a very good team.

However I do think turnovers could be the key difference in this one and I like the Titans to do enough on the ground to get into a position to win this one by around a Touchdown. The Browns head to London next and teams have struggled against the spread in their games a week before making that trip and I do think Tennessee are the stronger team and can show that on the day.

Both teams have some awful trends going against them, but I do think this game will mean enough to the Titans to make sure they don't overlook Cleveland. They are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven visits to Cleveland and I will look for the Titans to cover here.

Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: The Dallas Cowboys come out of their bye week with the news that Ezekiel Elliot is going to be able to travel with the team after his suspension that was handed out by the NFL was itself suspended. That story is likely to come up again in a couple of weeks when yet another hearing is going through the courts, but for now the Running Back will be available for Dallas.

This is a big game for the Dallas Cowboys who find themselves in a challenging NFC East and already at 2-3. The Cowboys do travel to the Washington Redskins in Week 8 which is a huge game, but that will lose some meaning if Dallas were to drop to 2-4 at the end of Week 7 when facing the winless San Francisco 49ers.

Any time you play on the road it is difficult, but the Cowboys look healthier coming out of their bye week and I do think they are going to make enough plays on both sides of the ball to help them through this one. Navarro Bowman has gone from the 49ers at Linebacker and they have other key Defensive injuries which is going to make it difficult for San Francisco to stall enough Dallas drives to stay with the Cowboys behind their rookie Quarter Back.

The Dallas running game did not make the best start to the season, but they look to be improving as the health of the Offensive Line has also improved. It will be a challenge for them against the San Francisco Defensive Line which has played the run effectively, but I do think Dallas can establish the run with Elliot as well as Dak Prescott making a few runs from the Quarter Back position to open things up.

Prescott should also have a very big day against a Secondary which has begun to give up plenty of passing yards and I do think the Cowboys will be able to move the ball effectively for much of the afternoon. The Offensive Line has given Prescott the time to find his Receivers downfield and I think the Quarter Back has a very strong day as he puts the Cowboys in a position to win the game.

There will always be a question about the Dallas Defensive unit and whether they are able to make enough plays to ease the pressure on the Offense to keep scoring lots of points to win games. It all starts up front for the Cowboys who have not had much success stopping the run and that should mean Carlos Hyde can get back on track this week despite rumours that he is being offered up for a trade.

Hyde can at least take some of the pressure off of CJ Beathard who came in for Brian Hoyer at Quarter Back for the 49ers last week and is making his first start of his career. While Beathard is going to be able to throw into a Secondary which has given up some plays through the air, he will need the running game to be established to slow down the Cowboys pass rush which is likely going to overwhelm the San Francisco Offensive Line.

Rookie Quarter Backs also go through some serious learning curves, especially on bad teams, and I think the Dallas Cowboys are going to be motivated enough to get back to 0.500 to get the better of the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys won here by a Touchdown last season and I think they can match that number coming out of the bye.

The 49ers are just 2-7 against the spread in their last nine home games and I will look for the Cowboys to cover in Week 7.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: The Cincinnati Bengals are coming out of a bye week and will be looking to have used that time to good effect as they face a AFC North rival when they travel to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are fresh off a big win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6 as they ended the last unbeaten record in the NFL, but there are still some questions that need to be answered by Pittsburgh who were one of the pre-season picks to win the Super Bowl that many experts put forward.

There is much to like about the Steelers on paper, especially on the Offensive side of the ball where they have some of the top players in the NFL at the skill position. Both Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were key to their success over the Chiefs in Week 6, but Ben Roethlisberger still does not look like his old self which has to be a concern.

It is a big test for the Steelers Offensively in Week 7 as the Cincinnati Bengals have performed well on the Defensive side of the ball. The big test is going to be at the line of scrimmage as Pittsburgh try to get Bell established running the ball as they did against Kansas City, although this week they are facing a Defensive Line that has been able to clamp down on the run and are well rested.

Pittsburgh have some health issues on their own Offensive Line which might make it difficult for Bell to rip off the kind of runs he was last week. He is one of the best Running Backs in the NFL so you know he will find some holes, but the Bengals have been very good against the run and Bell's biggest impact might be as a Receiver out of the backfield as Roethlisberger's security blanket.

Moving the ball through the air is also going to be a big test for the Pittsburgh Steelers especially when you think of Roethlisberger's performances so far this season. He might find himself under more pressure than he has faced this season, but Big Ben has also been guilty of missing the throws that made him one of the best Quarter Backs in the NFL, while the Cincinnati Secondary have really been very strong thanks to the pressure they are getting up front.

It looks like this could be a game where the Steelers struggle to move the ball consistently, but the same can be said of the Cincinnati Bengals who have changed Offensive Co-Ordinator. Bill Lazor has at least sparked something from them, but the Bengals have to be considered one of the poorer Offenses in the NFL simply because of the poor Offensive Line play.

Joe Mixon might be the Running Back with the majority of carries going forward, but he is trying to find holes behind an Offensive Line which has not been able to create too many positive run blocks. Even though the Pittsburgh Defensive Line has not been as strong as previous editions, it won't be easy for Mixon considering how poorly the Bengals have been able to run the ball and so Cincinnati may have to rely on Andy Dalton and the passing game to keep the chains moving.

There are some injuries on the Pittsburgh Defensive Line which may help the Cincinnati run blockers, as well as protecting Dalton from the pass rush, but the Secondary remains one of the better ones in the NFL. AJ Green is a match up problem for any team, but Dalton is not going to be able to find his Receivers all day.

Everything is pointing to a low-scoring game as both Offenses could have their difficulties moving the ball in this one. With that in mind it is appealing getting more than a Field Goal start with the road underdog this week and the road team is 3-1-1 against the spread in the last five in the series.

The Steelers can be a poor home favourite to back as shown when they were beaten by the Jacksonville Jaguars a couple of weeks ago and coming off a big win might just see them underperform here. Taking the Bengals with the points looks the right side in this one.

Denver Broncos @ Los Angeles Chargers Pick: When I put together my shortlist for the picks in Week 7, the Denver Broncos as an underdog at the Los Angeles Chargers leaped off the page. It has been the same for the sharps and the public to the extent that the line has shifted a couple of points and now the Broncos come in as the favourite.

That does change the mindset of the players and you have to be a little ignorant to not know that the players will be well aware of who is favoured and dogged on a weekly basis. Some players have alluded to the spread before games so I am convinced the Broncos and Chargers would have seen the situation this week.

Going in as the underdog would have been a huge spot for the Denver Broncos who were embarrassed by the winless New York Giants at home in Week 6. That game was on national television too which means the Broncos would have been hugely motivated as the underdog especially against a Divisional rival who have won two games in a row.

While being favoured has taken away a little of my enthusiasm for this pick, I still want to back the Denver Broncos to win and cover in Week 7 even though they have a big game against the Kansas City Chiefs on deck. If they had won last week, I would not have been interested in backing the Broncos, but they need to bounce back this week and that should be motivation enough for a full performance.

CJ Anderson had a terrible game for the Broncos last week, but he has a nice chance for a bounce back effort in Week 7. The Broncos have been able to pave the way for some big runs this season and I expect they can establish that side of their Offense against a Chargers team who have given up 158 yards per game over their last three games and those have come at 5.3 yards per carry.

Running the ball makes life much easier for Trevor Siemian who came through an injury in Week 6. The Quarter Back will need the run to at least slow down the Los Angeles pass rush, while he has some wheels which can at least see Siemian take off and scramble for First Downs. The Denver Receiving corps has had some injury problems which might affect the ability to throw the ball against this solid San Diego Secondary, but I think getting the run established will open things up for Siemian and the Broncos.

The other benefit of running the ball is keeping the Denver Defensive unit well rested and able to produce their best. Like the season they won the Super Bowl, the Broncos know the Defensive unit can take them very far in the Play Offs as long as the Offense gives them just enough and I think they play better than they did in Week 6.

Denver struggled to stop the New York Giants ripping off some big gains on the ground in Week 6, but this is one of the strongest Defensive Lines in the NFL and I don't think Melvin Gordon will have as much success. Los Angeles have not been able to run the ball as effectively as they like anyway, but now face this Broncos Line who are looking to show they are a lot better than last week when they were upset by the Giants.

Keeping Los Angeles in third and long will take away some of the effectiveness of Philip Rivers and give this strong Denver Secondary the chance to make some big plays. It will also mean Denver can unleash their pass rush and at least try and put some pressure on Rivers, who while being well protected will also need more time from third and long than he will perhaps get.

Rivers has produced some big numbers through the air in recent games and he has steered clear from the Interceptions which have blighted some of his performance. However it will be a much different challenge facing the Denver Broncos than some of the Secondaries Rivers has been battling and scoring points has continued to be a problem for the Los Angeles Chargers.

I like the Denver Broncos who are 5-1 against the spread in their last six road games against this Divisional rival and who should have more fans in the stands. The road team is 10-3-2 against the spread in the last fifteen in the series while I also like the fact that Denver are 5-2 against the spread coming in off a loss.

Los Angeles have been a poor road team dating back to their time at San Diego and I will look for the Denver Broncos to bounce back from their Week 6 loss with a win and cover in Week 7.

Atlanta Falcons @ New England Patriots Pick: Everyone will be talking about the Super Bowl and the manner in which the Atlanta Falcons blew a lead that really did not look possible. No one is talking about 'revenge' in the Atlanta locker room, especially not when the Falcons have lost back to back games and simply need to get back to winning ways as soon as possible.

In usual years you would think the New England Patriots as a small favourite at home is an easy play, but the Patriots have not looked right this season and the sharp money is actually with the Atlanta Falcons despite the two game losing run. You can understand why when you see how these two teams have performed this season too.

The Patriots have looked really bad Defensively which was highlighted in the way they made Josh McCown and the New York Jets look more than a competent Offensive unit last week. Now they face an Atlanta team that may have underperformed Offensively in their loss to the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, but who have the firepower to at least give the Patriots all they can handle.

Matt Ryan has not performed to the level that he and many of the fans would have expected, but this looks a nice chance to bounce back. Ryan has been guilty of one or two mistakes that he didn't make during the run to the Super Bowl last season, but they should be able to get back on track here against a Secondary who have given away too much through the air.

I would expect Ryan to find the likes of Julio Jones downfield, while the Patriots have had a limited pass rush to affect the Quarter Back which should not be a problem for Ryan who is well protected behind this Offensive Line. The whole Offensive unit should be boosted by Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman being able to rip off some chunks of yards on the ground too and I think the Falcons should have plenty of success with the ball in their hands.

That makes it another challenging week for Tom Brady who has not looked like missing a step so far this season. Brady has been under pressure to keep up with Offenses who have been scoring so many points against the Patriots, but he has been able to lead New England into a position to win games even if they have fallen short twice at home already this season.

It may be down to Brady if the Falcons continue to play the run as hard as they have and that does make it tough for the veteran Quarter Back as Atlanta send the pass rush to get to him. The Falcons should be able to get to Brady and at least force some throws under pressure.

While Brady has shown he can deal with that and still make big plays, it can be difficult to keep doing it while knowing the Defensive unit are not making enough plays to stop teams from scoring their points. I do think New England will have their successes because that is what Brady does, but the Falcons with the points should be able to get close to the upset that Kansas City and Carolina have already produced here.

Atlanta are 0-5 against the spread in the last five games against New England, but the road team is 4-1 against the spread in the last five too. The Falcons are 9-2 against the spread in their last eleven road games with both losses they have suffered coming in their new Stadium, and I am going to take the points with the Falcons in this one.

MY PICKS: Green Bay Packers + 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tennessee Titans - 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Dallas Cowboys - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Cincinnati Bengals + 5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Denver Broncos - 1 Point @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Atlanta Falcons + 3 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)

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