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Thursday, 30 November 2017

NFL Week 13 Picks 2017 (November 30-December 4)

With the bye weeks over and only five weeks of the regular season remaining this is the time of the season when teams are looking to get on a positive roll as the Play Offs fast approach.

You are beginning to see the better teams separate from the others, although the chase for the Wild Card spot in the both the AFC and NFC are going to go down to the wire.

One team that was officially eliminated last week were the New York Giants and it was later decided that Eli Manning would no longer be the starting Quarter Back for the rest of the season. The two time Super Bowl Champion has not had much help with his top Receivers all banged up, a porous Offensive Line and a rushing Offense that has not been able to produce consistently, so it was something of a surprise to hear Manning had been demoted behind Geno Smith and Davis Webb.

Most former New York Giants players have reacted negatively to the decision which is likely going to spark the beginning of the end of Manning's time here in New York, while the Quarter Back himself was clearly emotional.

You have to say it was not a great look for the Giants who have been a mess this season and I think the treatment of Manning is in poor taste. I get you want to see what you have at Quarter Back with Smith and Webb behind Manning, while the chances of a higher Draft Pick are increased with either of those two behind Center, but this felt like something more and I would be stunned if Manning is the starting Quarter Back for the Giants in Week 1 of the 2018 season.

For other teams the focus will remain on the field as many look to move into a position to challenge for a Wild Card spot in the Play Offs. The top five have not changed too much for me in recent weeks and I think these teams have begun to separate from the rest and at this stage I would be stunned if any of them were to miss the Play Offs.

1) Philadelphia Eagles (10-1): This looks the most likely Super Bowl candidate from the NFC and the franchise have history when they have gotten to this kind of position before to make it to the big game.

2) New England Patriots (9-2): The defending Super Bowl Champions will be tough to stop getting back to the big game if they can secure home field advantage through the Play Offs.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2): The Offense is getting close to top speed just in time for the Play Offs, while the Defensive young core will feel they can make the plays to take their team to the Super Bowl.

4) Minnesota Vikings (9-2): A win in Detroit on Thanksgiving has given the Minnesota Vikings complete control of the NFC North and they have shown they can win big games.

5) Los Angeles Rams (8-3): There are a few NFC teams with an 8-3 record, but the Los Angeles Rams look the most balanced on both sides of the ball. They have every chance of winning the NFC West, although that will likely mean hosting a Wild Card Game in January. However that is still a huge improvement for this floundering franchise.

There are a few teams dangerously making their move up the standings with the stand out team perhaps being the Los Angeles Chargers who are closing in on the free falling Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.

Now who would have predicted not one, but both Los Angeles teams making the Play Offs? That has become a real thing.

In fact I made a few predictions for the way the Play Offs will shake out by predicting each of the remaining games on the schedule. Now that can obviously change week by week when the upsets occur, which will happen in the NFL, but right now the twelve teams I have making the Play Offs are as follows:

AFC: New England, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville and Kansas City.

NFC: Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta and Carolina.

Two representatives from both the AFC South and AFC West as well as three teams from the NFC South means there will be little room for error for those teams. I also had the Rams and Chargers both winning their Divisions, which would have been a huge price if you had predicted that back in September (or even after the Chargers really poor start).

The way it broke down also suggested a 10-6 Baltimore and 10-6 Seattle would both miss out in the AFC and NFC respectively, but there is a lot of football and injuries to negotiate before you get down to the Play Offs.

I also note how much the NFC South teams still have to play one another and that could quickly change the Play Off picture if one team begins to dominate against the others.

So has everyone noticed how much the favourites have been dominating in the NFL since Week 7? It hasn't even mattered when teams have been asked to cover big numbers, and the favourites are covering at almost 70% since Week 7.

That's plain ridiculous when it comes to handicapping games because the points can be so appealing at times, but it seems the luck has just come down on the side of the favourites. I've been on the right side of a couple of those with the Jaguars covering two weeks ago on a fumble returned for a Touchdown and Carolina hitting a Field Goal last week to beat the New York Jets. However the Carolina win was balanced out by the Giants loss who only saw Washington cover with a late kick in that one too.

But overall I have been taking plenty of dogs and not getting much barking going on.

Now you have to be careful in seeing whether numbers are being inflated by the oddsmakers who are trying to bounce back from what has been a terrible time for them. I am trying to do the same with some positive steps made in Week 12, although I did hate myself for picking the Steelers after seeing how the favourites performed earlier in the day.

Pittsburgh unsurprisingly kept things close with the Green Bay Packers and never looked like covering a huge spread to save the Vegas strip from having to knock down a couple of casinos. Fortunately I was on the right side of the Buffalo pick which was a rare underdog showing some life in Week 12, but again I would urge some caution because there is going to be a weekend sooner or later where the favourites get absolutely smashed to bits.

Now onto the Week 13 Picks.

Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: At the start of the week I was surprised to see the Dallas Cowboys as the slight favourites in this Thursday Night Football game, but that number has switched a couple of points to make the Washington Redskins favourites the closer we get to kick off.

That could be down to a couple of reasons.

The first is that the Washington Offensive Line looks like it could be close to full health this week and that is so important to how the Redskins can perform. The second is that Sean Lee is almost certainly to be missing for yet another game for the Dallas Cowboys and this is a Defensive unit who have struggled without their influential leader.

Kirk Cousins has to be feeling good if his Offensive Line is anything close to full health as that may give him a little more time to make his plays. It is a shame for Washington that their Receivers have also been banged up with both Terrelle Pryor and Jordan Reed absent, but there are still some talented players here and Cousins has found a way to make the big throws.

Interceptions can sometimes blight the Cousins performance, but in general he has been able to look after the ball, while the Cowboys Secondary have not been able to turn the ball over as frequently as they would have liked. The Redskins can also use Samaje Perine as a ball catching Running Back out of the backfield and I do think they will be able to move the chains in this one with Dallas still trying to work things out without Lee in the line up.

A healthier Offensive Line could also be in play for the Dallas Cowboys which is going to be absolutely huge for them considering how well the Washington Redskins have been able to get to the Quarter Back. In the last few weeks it has felt like Dak Prescott is playing behind the opponent's Defensive Line with how frequently he has had pressure in his face and the mobile Quarter Back has taken a number of big hits and Sacks.

The injuries up front are a big reason Dallas have not been able to score more than 9 points in any of their last three games and there are murmurings of discontent around Head Coach Jason Garrett too. However, having a healthier Offensive Line should give Prescott enough time to try and make his plays downfield, although he has to be careful throwing against a Washington Secondary that have played well.

It is hard to think the pocket will be completely clean either with the likes of Ryan Kerrigan capable of beating out a Lineman who may not be at 100%. That is where Prescott has to lean on the running game that has still churned out the yards even without Ezekiel Elliot in the line up, and I expect the Cowboys will have success doing that as long as this game is close.

Prescott has to look after the ball though and Interceptions have really been a problem for him in recent games. That has something to do with the pressure and hits he has taken, but the Redskins Secondary have thrived in taking the ball away and they could have a couple of turnovers on their way to a big road win.

The Cowboys did beat the Washington Redskins on the road earlier in the season, but they have not played them as well at home. In fact Dallas are 1-9 against the spread in their last 10 home games against the Redskins, while the road team has covered in the last seven in this series.

Washington have been good on the road under Jay Gruden and they are 12-4 against the spread in their last sixteen road games. They haven't always produced their best against the NFC East, but I like Washington in this Divisional game and I think they can get the better of the Dallas Cowboys in a game in which the loser is almost certainly out of the Play Off running.

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills Pick: It has been a long wait for the Buffalo Bills to earn their way into Play Off Football and recent results had been going against them in their bid to snap a long run without reaching the Play Offs. However the big win at the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12 has reignited the push, although they can't afford to drop too many games going forward with just five games left to go this season.

Even with that in mind, it is a big ask for the Buffalo Bills to beat the New England Patriots who look to be rounding into the form that took them all the way to the Super Bowl last season. They have a 3 game led in the AFC East over the Buffalo Bills with five games left to play and the bigger picture for the Patriots is trying to get into a position where they can earn their place as the Number 1 Seed in the AFC.

That may come down to the game with the Pittsburgh Steelers which is still to come, but Bill Belichick won't be looking ahead as that is not his style. His teams have dominated the Buffalo Bills in his time with the New England Patriots and this is another game where the Patriots should be able to get the better of their Divisional rivals.

Belichick does have a few injuries in his Defensive unit that will bother him, but he is also one of the smartest Head Coaches out there that will look to make Buffalo uncomfortable when they have the ball in their hands. Taking away what the Bills perceive to be their biggest weapon will be what Belichick will have focused on and that means New England playing the run effectively and making sure LeSean McCoy is not allowed to dominate.

At the start of the season it would have seemed like Buffalo would have had some success running the ball, but New England have been improving on the Defensive Line. At the same time Buffalo have had some difficulty in their run blocking and the Patriots should have success slowing them down with a spy on Tyrod Taylor at Quarter Back.

Taylor doesn't make a lot of mistakes at Quarter Back but he isn't blessed with a lot of weapons in the passing game so the key for Buffalo is making sure they can run the ball effectively. Injuries in the New England Linebacker corps won't help the Patriots, but I still expect them to game plan effectively and I would imagine New England are able to do well enough Defensively to give Tom Brady and the Offensive unit the chance to win this one.

Tom Brady has loved facing the Bills throughout his career and he should have enough help in this one from his rushing attack to not have to do it all himself. The Bills traded away Marcel Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars and their run Defense has suffered since then which is an area New England can take advantage of to keep Brady in third and manageable down and distance.

It wasn't that long ago when New Orleans used Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to devastating effect against the Buffalo Bills and I can see New England doing the same with the likes of Dion Lewis and James White likely to have big games along with Rex Burkhead.

Being able to run the ball effectively against the Bills means teams have not needed to throw the ball against them which may have contributed to the Secondary's numbers. The Bills do have some talent in the Secondary, but Tom Brady is playing at a high level and I expect him to find the holes in this one and I can see New England covering a big number.

Tom Brady has owned the Bills and the New England Patriots are 11-2 against the spread in the last thirteen games in Buffalo. The last three wins have come by 15, 8 and 16 point margins for the New England Patriots and they are also 12-2 against the spread in the last fourteen road games.

Add in the fact that Buffalo are 12-27-2 against the spread in the last forty-one home games against a team with a winning record on the road and I will look for the Patriots to cover this big number.

Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans Pick: The Houston Texans looked very happy about their future when watching Deshaun Watson lead them to an embarrassingly one-sided win over the Tennessee Titans earlier this season. Since then Watson has been lost to an ACL injury and that means the Quarter Back position has been manned by Tom Savage in his stead.

Savage has already shown he is little more than a back up level Quarter Back and another back breaking Interception saw the Houston Texans lose at the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. That has all but ended any lingering Play Off hopes, but they have been playing hard which will give Bill O'Brien some belief in the future prospects of the team once Watson is back in time for the 2018 season.

For now they look in a tough situation when travelling for the second time in the space of a few days and facing a Titans team who will be backed by the fans baying for blood. The players will also be well aware of how they felt when being battered in Houston and the revenge angle can't be underplayed despite Tennessee's lofty position in the Division compared with Houston.

The Titans have won five of their last six games too, although they haven't always convinced in that run. Winning those games does breed confidence though and I think the Titans will be able to beat a team who are playing back to back road games which can be tough in the NFL especially when one of those was on Monday Night Football.

It won't necessarily be an easy game for Tennessee by any stretch of the imagination as there are some kinks to work out for them. DeMarco Murray is banged up and the rushing Offense has been affected by that, while the Houston Defensive Line have continued to play very well.

There will be pressure on Marcus Mariota when he does drop back to throw too, while the Quarter Back has been guilty of some poor throws which have led to Interceptions and that could keep the Texans around in this one. However I also think the Texans Secondary is one where there are a few more holes and I would think Mariota can make enough plays through the air to put the Titans in a strong position.

You would have to say Houston would have every chance of the upset if Watson was at Quarter Back, but teams have not been respecting Savage the same way and I think the Titans Defensive unit can make some big plays. Like Houston, it has been tough to run the ball against Tennessee and I don't think the Texans are going to be able to have a lot of success on the ground with the Titans wanting to make sure they force Tom Savage to beat them.

Tennessee have also been able to get plenty of pressure up front so Savage won't have a lot of time to throw from third and long spots. He has shown that pressure can lead to mistakes and I can see the Titans being able to force a couple of errant throws which may lead to a couple of turnovers that helps Tennessee pull away.

The Titans have not been a great team to back at home with some poor numbers, but the favourite is 6-1 against the spread in the last seven in this series. I expect a fully focused Tennessee team to take to the field after what happened in Houston and they can win this one and cover the spread.

Had a busy Week so the rest of the Sunday NFL Picks are in the 'MY PICKS' section below.

MY PICKS: Washington Redskins - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Tennessee Titans - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Indianapolis Colts + 9.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints - 5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Los Angeles Chargers - 13 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)

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