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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Saturday, 9 December 2017

NFL Week 14 Picks 2017 (December 7-11)

There must have been something in the water that the NFL players were drinking last week with some nasty big hits being delivered throughout the League. However it was the incidents which clearly crossed the line that most stood out with the Week 13 games ending with an ugly one between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.

One game suspensions were simply not enough from the NFL to lay down if they take player safety as clearly as they claim to do, especially not the one game for Rob Gronkowski who hit a defenceless player laying on the ground long after the play had been blown dead.

That was ridiculous to be honest and even Bill Belichick was heard telling Sean McDermott that it was 'bullshit' after the game at the shake hands on the middle of the field.

Last week I began predicting the rest of the NFL season to determine the twelve Play Off teams but admitted things can change so quickly in a League where every win is crucial at this stage of the season.

The results last week did create a change in both the AFC and NFC Conferences with one team replacing one that was in in Week 13.

The Kansas City Chiefs continue slipping down the standings and have been replaced by the Baltimore Ravens, while the Carolina Panthers have been knocked out by the Seattle Seahawks with the way the tie-breakers have worked out.

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

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

The big games keep coming in the NFL and so onto the Week 14 Picks.

Green Bay Packers @ Cleveland Browns Pick: Everything is pointing to Aaron Rodgers returning to the field in Week 15, but the Green Bay Packers will be hoping they can coax one more win out of the inexperienced Quarter Back. They have managed that in Chicago and last week over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and turning over a team who are 7-6 to the All-Pro Aaron Rodgers may just be enough time to help the Packers surprisingly make the Play Offs.

If they were in the AFC, Green Bay might even have been the favourite to earn a Wild Card spot at 7-6 and with Rodgers back in the line up. It is much tougher in the AFC and dropping this game would not only be embarrassing for the Packers, but even winning out to finish at 9-7 would not likely be good enough to make the Play Offs.

That means there is some real pressure on Hundley as well as the fact that Green Bay are facing the winless Cleveland Browns who are breaking records for their ineptitude in each passing week. Hue Jackson has to be a Coach just playing out the string after the General Manager was fired this week and Cleveland have found ways to make mistakes to ensure their poor 0-12 record has stood up.

Some games have been closer than others and the Browns have to feel this is as good a chance to end their winless run as they have on their remaining schedule. The other remaining opportunity where they will feel good about their chances is in Week 16 and going to the Bears, but Cleveland have to give their home fans something to get excited about going into the 2018 season.

The franchise Quarter Back issue has remained a glaring hole on the roster and DeShone Kizer has to be wondering if he is going to have many more chances to prove he has shown enough to be given that chance. It would be a real surprise if Cleveland don't pick a Quarter Back in the First Round in the 2018 Draft so it is up to Kizer to show he has something that may make them take a step back and think about that.

With Josh Gordon back in the line up this might be a really good chance for Kizer to prove he is learning and improving. The Green Bay Secondary is banged up to say the least and Gordon is a huge target who can make some flashy catches to help out his Quarter Back having already shown how important he could be to this Receiving corps last week against the Chargers.

Kizer has to be a little more aware when he has the ball in his hands though as he can hold onto it for too long, while the Green Bay strength is up front and the Defensive Line could find their way to the Quarter Back. That could be a problem in this game and was evident at the end of the loss to the Chargers when Kizer ended up throwing an Interception under pressure and also was guilty of a Sack Fumble while driving down the field.

If he can just maintain his cool, Kizer should be able to have a big game against the Packers and also has the ability to scramble away from pressure and make plays with his legs downfield. The Browns should have some success running the ball and I think they can score a fair few points as long as Kizer isn't making the mistakes which have blighted his game.

On the other side I do think this is a big test for Brett Hundley to show how much he has learned while spotting for Aaron Rodgers. In recent games the Packers have really leaned on the running game to help their Offense move the ball, but the Cleveland Browns are strong up front and will feel they have the Defensive Line to prevent that happening against them.

Hundley himself may move the ball with his legs so the Browns will have to be aware of that, but they can put the young Quarter Back in some third and long spots and see whether he is able to convert those. The Quarter Back is another guilty of perhaps holding the ball a little too long and Hundley had issues throwing the ball at UCLA and I expect that to be a problem for him to deal with on Sunday.

The Browns are capable of getting some real pressure on Hundley against this Green Bay Offensive Line, while the Secondary haven't played badly when not being left in poor field positions. Interceptions haven't been too frequent, but Cleveland have to feel they will have chances against Hundley who has made mistakes and I do think the home team have a chance for the upset.

Green Bay did cover as the favourite last week, but getting more than a Field Goal start looks a big lead for the Cleveland Browns who should be able to score their points and force Hundley to beat them through the air. The Browns have found a way to lose and fail to cover with some late mistakes costing them, but I think they can keep this one closer and I will have faith that Kizer can make enough plays to do that.

Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: The AFC West has suddenly become a really open Division in which three teams can work their way into the Play Offs. Much of that is down to the Kansas City Chiefs losing six of their last seven games to drop to 6-6 and open the door for the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers who are both at 6-6 themselves.

It looks almost impossible for more than one team to make it into the Play Offs from this Division as the three leading teams meet one another one more time in the final four weeks of the season. The Chiefs at least host both the Raiders and Chargers, but the latter two teams have momentum and these AFC West games should be a lot of fun.

The 1pm kick off time is another advantage for Kansas City as well as playing at home, but they have lost Marcus Peters who has been suspended by Andy Reid and that added to the poor momentum makes it tough to understand why the Chiefs are the favourites by as many points as they are.

Of course the Oakland Raiders are having an underachieving year of their own with many expecting them to be a Super Bowl contender instead of struggling at 6-6 with four weeks remaining. Three wins in the last four has given the Raiders a real chance to make the Play Offs again though and perhaps there have been signs the Raiders are turning a corner.

Michael Crabtree is back from a suspension for Derek Carr this week, although Amari Cooper may have to miss out again as he remains in concussion protocol. The return of Crabtree is big for Carr though as he had become a favourite target of the Quarter Back and this Kansas City Defensive unit have been one that has been struggling to stop anyone as they showed when letting Josh McCown have his way against them last week.

Carr had his best game of the season against the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football a few weeks ago and he should be given enough time to make plenty of big plays in this one too. I would expect Carr to have a big day throwing the ball, especially with the Offensive Line looking a little better with Marshawn Lynch running the ball than they have for much of the season.

The Defensive problems have to be a real concern for the Chiefs especially with Peters sitting this week and that means it will be on Alex Smith to try and help lead them to what would be a huge win for Kansas City. Smith had a big game last week but it wasn't enough in the loss to the Jets and the whole Chiefs Offensive unit look to be on different pages at the moment.

Kareem Hunt hitting the rookie wall has been devastating for Kansas City but they are still capable of enough trickery to establish a run game. However that will be tested by a Defensive Line in the Raiders who look to be playing at a high level and this Chiefs team is simply not built to play from third and long situations.

Smith will be able to make some quick throws to try and keep Kansas City in third and manageable spots throughout this one, but anything else could see Oakland unleash their pass rush. The Raiders have been strong up front and managed to get to the Quarter Back and all of Smith's scrambling ability may not be enough to stop the Raiders when the third and long spots come out.

Oakland are 8-3 against the spread in their last eleven visits to Arrowhead Stadium, while the road team is 21-8 against the spread in the last twenty-nine in the series. I have to respect how well Kansas City have played against their fellow AFC West Divisional rivals with their 7-1 record against the spread from the last eight Divisional games, but that may not be enough here.

Getting more than a Field Goal with the road team looks a lot of points on the face of things and I like Oakland's current momentum compared with the Chiefs who have been in free-fall. I'll take the points and look for Derek Carr to find a backdoor cover at worst.

Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants Pick: The NFC East Division looks to have been decided with the Philadelphia Eagles on the brink of clinching, but the Dallas Cowboys will still believe they can make the Play Offs. An important win on Thursday Night Football in Week 13 has moved the Cowboys back up to 6-6 and they will be looking to win out to give themselves a chance of a Wild Card spot in a loaded Conference.

A three game losing run prior to the win over the Redskins had looked to put the Cowboys out of contention, but a 10-6 record could be good enough as long as some of the teams ahead of them can start separating out. Lots of big games are to come, but the Cowboys will feel they are in a much better position than their rivals the New York Giants.

After some huge criticisms in the wake of benching Eli Manning, Ben McAdoo was fired along with Jerry Reese, the General Manager, earlier this week. Manning's ironman streak of starts came to an end, but he is back behind Center this week and I am not sure how the Giants are going to respond to the entire upheaval which is likely going to produce some big changes in the off-season.

Playing Dallas will help as the fans and players will recognise this as perhaps the last big game they are going to play in 2017. The Giants still have the Eagles coming to town, but spoiling the Cowboys chances of making the Play Offs can't be underestimated especially as Manning will want to prove there was no business in benching him.

It has been an ugly season for the Giants all around and the problems have begun with injuries to the Receiving corps. That has only underlined the issues New York had in running the ball and that has continued and is expected to be a major concern for them in this game too.

Without being able to run the ball, it has been tough for Manning, or Geno Smith, to throw to inexperienced Receivers who have not been able to replicate the plays that Odell Beckham Jr could make. There have been a couple of stand out performers, but nothing consistent enough and Manning might not have a lot of success against the Cowboys either despite the concerns on the Defensive side of the ball.

Dallas can get to the Quarter Back though and I think Manning will find himself in some tough spots on the field in his return to starting duties.

Keeping Dak Prescott out of those tough positions has been a little easier for the Dallas Cowboys when the Offensive Line has looked healthy and they certainly look like they are coming into Week 14 healthy. The Cowboys dominated the Redskins up front and I do think they can open some big lanes for the likes of Alfred Morris who continues to start in place of Ezekiel Elliot.

Prescott has an injury to his throwing hand, but he has shown no concern it is going to limit his play and the Quarter Back should be good to go. He is a much different prospect when having a strong running game to support him so I do think Prescott can have a solid outing against the Giants with his throws likely to come from third and manageable situations.

He is also a threat to run the ball himself but the key will be to limit the turnovers that have hurt Prescott during the Dallas three game losing run. The Giants are still playing hard on the Defensive side of the ball which will make this a close game, but I do like Dallas' mindset about taking every game like a Play Off game and I do think they will win here.

The Cowboys are only 1-5 against the spread in the last six in this series but that cover came in the first meeting between these teams earlier this season. I also think Dallas look a little healthier than the Giants and they should be in a better place emotionally with a win behind them and a few extra days to prepare while New York have been dealing with some off field problems.

Sean Lee could also be back for the Dallas Cowboys to provide another lift for a team that will believe they can run the table and I will look for them to run the ball well enough to win this one by around a Touchdown on the road.

New York Jets @ Denver Broncos Pick: The Denver Broncos are basically out of contention when it comes to the Play Offs and a bad season can't end quickly enough if you consider the way they played against the Miami Dolphins in Week 13. However there were a couple of factors at play that didn't help their cause with the main one being the illness that had spread through the team, while Aqib Talib had his one game suspension for the fight with Michael Crabtree in Week 12.

You have to think a week between games has given the Broncos the time to at least get a little healthier and I am surprised to see them as a home underdog against the overachieving New York Jets. Winning out may give the Jets an outside chance of reaching the Play Offs which would be a huge surprise considering some were tipping them up to fail to win a game, but I think the bigger factor is the team are certainly behind Todd Bowles as Head Coach.

Bowles may get the chance to bring in the franchise Quarter Back in the next Draft, but the veteran presence of Josh McCown has helped the Jets overachieve. Even with that in mind, McCown has a different level of test this week going up against the Broncos Defensive unit that is still amongst the best in the NFL even if they have not been up to their usual high standards of yesteryear for Vance Joseph.

While I expect Bowles to get another chance to Head Coach with the Jets, Joseph may be part of a huge move by the Broncos to try and turn things around. Joseph has still overseen a strong Defensive Line that can stop the run and they will feel the return of Talib also will make it difficult for the Jets to throw the ball against them.

The Broncos should be able to get plenty of pressure on McCown when he does drop back to throw the ball and I think the Defense is going to want to prove themselves after a letdown last week when illness hurt them. They also were hurt by the short fields the Offensive unit left them in and I do think Denver can produce a big performance on the Defensive side of the ball to give them a chance to win this game.

Trevor Siemian was to blame, but he was playing through an illness too and that has to have contributed to his performance although it is beginning to look clear that the Broncos will be adding a Quarter Back to the mix for the 2018 season. It may help Siemian if the Broncos can offer any kind of run game and they may have a chance to establish the run in this one against the Jets despite the strength of the latter being on the Defensive Line.

Even with that in mind, the Jets have given up big yards on the ground which can keep Denver in third and manageable spots from where Siemian should be able to find his big time Receivers. Mistakes can be costly though and have blighted every Quarter Back for the Denver Broncos, while the Jets get plenty of pressure up front themselves against an Offensive Line which has struggled in pass protection all season.

From third and manageable Siemian should have more success and Denver are a different prospect at Mile High than they are on the road where they have lost their last couple of games.

New York are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five against Denver and I am not at all convinced they should be favourites here. Denver are a hard team to trust as they look like they may have given up on their Head Coach, but they are more talented than the Jets and I expect that shows up home, while I don't think New York have any business being favourites on the road.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams Pick: These two teams did not make the Play Offs in the 2016 season but both are destined to be there this time around. That doesn't mean this game is not an important one for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams who are playing for potential Seeding as well as having the chance to strike a mental blow which could be crucial if they were to meet again in the Play Offs.

The Head Coaches at both the Eagles and Rams deserve a lot of credit for the way the teams have performed this season, but I have to give the edge to Sean McVay who has taken a predictable Offense and turned them into one of the more explosive ones in the NFL. His job with Jared Goff cannot be underestimated considering how poor Goff looked in his rookie season and the Rams have to feel very happy with the direction their team is taking.

Goff faces Carson Wentz for the first time in the pros and it was Goff who won the Draft battle by going Number 1 compared with Wentz who was Number 2. I don't think either franchise will be too disappointed with the Quarter Back they Drafted and both could be playing for years at the toughest position in Football.

The Eagles are in a tough spot having lost in Week 13 in Seattle and playing in back to back road games on the West Coast. They at least had the foresight to stay on that side of the United States and I think the Eagles have to feel they gave away the loss to the Seahawks considering they won the yardage battle by 115 yards.

It will be interesting to see how the Eagles respond to a first loss since Week 2 at the Kansas City Chiefs. They certainly won't want to lose the inside track to the Number 1 Seed in the NFC and I expect a much cleaner game from the Offensive unit than we saw last week in the loss in Seattle.

The Los Angeles Rams do have an impressive looking Defensive unit, but it isn't one that should make the Eagles doubt what has carried them to this position. I fully expect the Eagles to lean on the running game with plenty of options to carry the ball and they should have success moving the chains against a Rams Defensive Line that has given up 122 yards per game on the ground at 4.7 yards per carry this season with those numbers actually looking worse in recent weeks.

Establishing the run opens up the rest of the playbook for the Offense and Carson Wentz has shown plenty of poise at Quarter Back and I expect he bounces back from a disappointing Week 13 outing. Running the ball has just eased the pass rush that Wentz faces and I think the Philadelphia Offensive Line has protected him well enough even after Jason Peters was lost at Left Tackle.

That should see the Eagles moving the chains throughout the game and I think the only potential letdown will be making the mistakes which cost them in Seattle.

Los Angeles have been very much all about the improvement on the Offensive side of the ball and they will feel they can have success in this one too. It is vital they can get Todd Gurley going on the ground, although recent games suggest the Rams are going to struggle with the pure running game against this Eagles Defensive Line and instead they may look to make quick passes to Gurley to try and get the ball into the hands of one of their playmakers.

However struggling to run the ball the conventional way will mean the Eagles can get their Defensive Line to pin their ears back and get after Jared Goff who is still likely going to be missing Robert Woods in the passing game. The Rams protection has broken down at times and the Eagles can get to Goff and force him to hurry throws into a Secondary who have been strong playing the pass and able to create turnovers.

Home field is an advantage for the Rams but not a critical one and I can't have the Eagles going from a strong favourite in Seattle to an underdog in Los Angeles. The sharps look to be agreeing with the spread shrinking since the opening line and I like the Eagles with the points in this one too.

I think the Eagles are the superior team on both sides of the ball and they won't make the mistakes that cost them in Seattle. Staying out on the West Coast will have helped Philadelphia and I think they bounce back against a good Rams team, but one that hasn't had the stand out wins on the record to really give me full confidence in them.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: I have stated before how you don't want to be backing the Pittsburgh Steelers as the favourite in a primetime game as there tends to be some strange goings on in those games. That is especially the case when the Steelers are being backed by the public, but this week the Baltimore Ravens look like a public underdog and the sharp money looks to have come in on the Steelers.

Before I go any further, I just have to say I am thinking about Ryan Shazier who suffered a terrible injury in the win over Cincinnati on Monday Night Football. Shazier is going to be out for the long-term at the very least, but he may not play Football again and that's just terrible for the young man.

Hopefully Shazier makes a full recovery and becomes the dominant Linebacker he was developing into.

It is hard to know how the Pittsburgh Steelers players will respond to seeing one of their brothers go down in the way Shazier did, and I just hope this game doesn't go the same way as the one with the Bengals which was punctuated by some ugly hits. Juju-Smith Schuster has been suspended one game for a hit he delivered followed by taunting, and it was a game that was hard to watch.

The Steelers have a lot on the line this week as they look to win the AFC North and keep themselves in a position to earn the Number 1 Seed in the AFC. It is no less an important game for the Baltimore Ravens who are in the mix for a Wild Card spot in the AFC and likely need an upset somewhere down the line to make sure of that.

Baltimore would love to get that here, but they are likely going to need their best Offensive outing of the season to do that. Alex Collins is banged up at Running Back and may not take part and the Ravens are going to find it difficult to run the ball against this Pittsburgh Defensive Line who have been strong up front for much of the season.

It is important for Pittsburgh to keep Joe Flacco in third and long spots because the Quarter Back and the Baltimore passing game have struggled all season. They have had a lot of difficulties connecting with the deep ball and converting third and long would be a big test for them, even if Mike Wallace would love to remind the Steelers fans of his talents.

Running the ball won't be any easier for the Pittsburgh Steelers despite having Le'Veon Bell at Running Back and that is down to the impact Brandon Williams has up front for the Ravens. Since his return to the Defensive Line, Baltimore have been stout against the run and Bell's biggest impact may be as a Receiver coming out of the backfield.

Williams' return has also meant the Ravens have been able to get after the Quarter Back with a lot of success while keeping teams in third and long and trying to convert those opportunities. The Ravens know it can be tough to bring down Ben Roethlisberger, but I expect them get around him and Baltimore would have seen some of the errant throws the Quarter Back has made when faced with pressure.

Unfortunately for Baltimore Jimmy Smith has been lost for the season at Corner Back and so there should be more holes in the Secondary for Big Ben to try and exploit. The Ravens have been able to turn the ball over, but they have allowed 240 yards per game over their last three games when facing Brett Hundley, Tom Savage and Matt Stafford and Roethlisberger is arguably better than all three.

Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell should be able to make the plays to keep the chains moving and I like the Steelers while the public money is on the underdog.

Games between Pittsburgh and Baltimore have historically been close, but the Steelers won by 17 on the road earlier this season. I simply don't know if Flacco can keep up with Roethlisberger with this game potentially developing into a shoot out, while the Steelers have covered in their last four games against a team with a winning record.

Baltimore have been playing well, but I don't think they are as good as the record may indicate and I will look for Pittsburgh to win this and cover the spread.

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins Pick: If Vegas has had a bad weekend it might not be the best idea to be on the big road favourite on Monday Night Football especially when the public are backing the New England Patriots like they are printing money. In recent years the Patriots travelling to the Miami Dolphins would have been a real test for them as they deal with the heat of South Florida, but this is an evening game and I can only see the Patriots dominating proceedings.

I am fully aware of Rob Gronkowski being out with a suspension for a ridiculous hit he put on a rookie Buffalo Corner Back, Tre'Davious White, in Week 13. The NFL should have had a much tougher punishment, but they are already out of favour with those in New England and wouldn't dare suspend Gronk for the big AFC clash with Pittsburgh coming in Week 15.

Even without Gronkowski the Patriots should be able to move the chains with effectiveness for much of the evening. This is a team who has won a Super Bowl without their top Tight End after all and as long as Tom Brady is behind Center you would favour the Patriots to find the right plays in the majority of games they play.

Tom Brady will lean on Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead at Running Back in this one and both players along with James White are more than capable of lining up in the slot and catching passes. The Miami Dolphins do have a strong Defensive Line, but there have been games when they have given up big yards on the ground and the New England Offensive Line has been bullying teams up front.

The Dolphins have to get to Tom Brady and at least make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket, but this is a team who have been inconsistent with their effort at times and if they can't stop the run it is going to be a long day for them. Brady still has enough weapons to stretch the field and I don't think New England will be using the Punter too many times in this Monday Night Football game.

Miami at least come in with some confidence having blown out the Denver Broncos in Week 13, but that might have been a game that Head Coach Adam Gase and Quarter Back Jay Cutler wanted a lot. With the Play Offs likely gone, the Dolphins would like to spoil the New England chances of finishing with the Number 1 Seed, but asking Cutler to play two solid games in a row is a big ask.

The best chance looks to be to lean on an improved running game which has seen Miami make some solid plays on the ground since trading away Jay Ajayi who did not do what the Coaches wanted. Kenyan Drake had a huge game in Week 13 and Miami have faith in the Running Back who could replicate that considering some of the issues New England have had in stopping the run through the season.

Miami have to run the ball to have any success in this one because the Patriots have really improved in other aspects of their Defensive game. The Secondary have been playing at a high level as the Corner Backs have gotten up to speed and New England have also found an effective pass rush who should be able to get the better of this Miami Offensive Line when Jay Cutler steps back to throw.

Cutler will be fine in third and short, but anything other than that and the Patriots will feel they can win the battles and perhaps force the Quarter Back into a couple of terrible throws which seem to be the norm for Cutler. Turnovers have been a key for the improving New England Defensive unit and I can see them creating a couple which helps them win this game once Miami have to throw the ball to keep up.

The Patriots won by 21 points here last season and have beaten Miami by 18 at home a couple of weeks ago. Miami are 0-8 against the spread in their last eight on Monday Night Football and they have been beaten by 40 and 21 points in their last couple of primetime games this season.

I mentioned last week how well New England have begun to play against the spread and they have a very high covering rate over the last few seasons. Even when given big numbers the Patriots have been dominant including covering 16.5 points in the home win over Miami two weeks ago and they are 10-1 against the spread in their last eleven against a team with a losing record.

It might be close, but I will look for the New England Patriots to win this one by a couple of Touchdowns as Jay Cutler perhaps throws a couple of INTs to end the Miami comeback attempts.

MY PICKS: Cleveland Browns + 3.5 Points @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Oakland Raiders + 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Dallas Cowboys - 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Denver Broncos + 1 Point @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Philadelphia Eagles + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Pittsburgh Steelers - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 10.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

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