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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...

Sunday, 17 December 2017

NFL Week 15 Picks 2017 (December 14-18)

This is the time of the year when families are getting ready to celebrate Christmas with each other, but also means a time of the year when the NFL begins to separate out their games to cover a few more holiday games for national consumption.

Week 15 means there is little room for error for teams and this is also the time when you can start looking around to teams who have gotten hot and potentially have a run to the Super Bowl within them.

Unfortunately 2017 is likely to be remembered as one where injuries and suspensions hurt some of the top names in the NFL. The latest to go down is Carson Wentz who had led the Philadelphia Eagles to the best record in the NFC before suffering an ACL injury which is likely going to keep him out until deep into the pre-season in 2018.

It was also a bitter blow for the Eagles who likely have seen their Super Bowl hopes end barring Nick Foles playing the best Football of his career. That has also blown open the NFC and it could all be working out for one team.

The Green Bay Packers.

Aaron Rodgers is back this week after two critical Overtime wins for the Packers, although they have three tough games to win to have any chance to make the Play Offs. If the Packers can do that, I honestly think they could have the momentum to go all the way to the Super Bowl, although there is plenty of football to be played before everything is separated and the two Super Bowl contenders are set.

Like every week, the results can quickly change the way the Play Off picture looks. This week the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers may well decide which of those teams wins the AFC West, while the Los Angeles Rams go to the Seattle Seahawks with the potentially decisive game in the NFC West on the line.

Add in the New England Patriots trip to the Pittsburgh Steelers which could determine the Number 1 Seed in the AFC and Week 15 looks another fantastic week to enjoy.

My current Play Off twelve looks like this:

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

NFC- Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans, Seattle, Atlanta and Green Bay.

Last week was a disappointing one for the NFL Picks after the last two picks went down, but hopefully this will be a better week all around. Onto the Week 15 Picks.

Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns Pick: There was some real disappointment in the Baltimore Ravens locker room last week after blowing a big Fourth Quarter lead in the topsy turvy game at the Pittsburgh Steelers. The loss has put them in a difficult position, but the AFC is not a loaded Conference when it comes to the Wild Card places and the Ravens will feel they still have enough to make sure they finish in those spots.

They are a big favourite to bounce back and beat Divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns who look set to be the second team to finish with a 0-16 record alongside the Detroit Lions. The Browns are also trying to recover from what has to be a crushing defeat when they blew a 14 point lead in the Fourth Quarter against the Green Bay Packers in a game they should have snapped their poor losing run.

That loss looks like one that will have confirmed the end of the Hue Jackson era as the Head Coach in Cleveland and there are already some big changes being made by the franchise. While the Browns do have some good pieces to build upon, in today's NFL there is only so far you can go without having full faith in the Quarter Back you trot out onto the field.

DeShone Kizer has shown some promise since his big time Receiving weapons have returned to the starting line up, but some of the mistakes are really hard to ignore. It is hard to see Kizer returning as the starter for too much longer in 2018 with the Browns likely to pick a new Quarter Back, but the last three games gives him a chance to show he should be given a chance to compete for the starting job.

It will be very much on Kizer's shoulders on Sunday as the Cleveland Browns can't really rely on a consistent running game despite how well they have been playing of late. This time they are taking on a Baltimore Defensive Line which knows it is the strength for the Ravens and they have been incredibly strong up front which should limit what Isaiah Crowell is able to do on the ground.

The pass rush is going to be another issue for Kizer to deal with, but the Quarter Back is one that can get out of the pocket and try and make some plays with his legs. That could at least buy a little more time and Kizer is going to be throwing into a banged up Secondary where his big Receivers should be able win their battles and at least give Cleveland the chance to move the ball.

Cleveland will need to do that because the Baltimore Offense looks to be showing a bit more life in recent games compared with the rest of the season. Joe Flacco is beginning to hook up with the long pass, while the Offensive Line have enjoyed opening holes for Alex Collins who has been running very effectively.

It has to be said the Browns Defensive unit has played well enough to give their team a chance to win though and they have a Defensive Line which can be tough to run the ball against. There are playmakers up front who will want to get to Flacco and prevent him having the time to make the big throws as well as disrupting the quick throws which have been a part of the Ravens Offense.

Ultimately I do think Baltimore will have success Offensively to make sure they avoid the upset loss. However it may be a tougher day in the office than the layers think and the Browns in receipt of a Touchdown worth of points has to be considered after seeing how disappointed the Ravens will have been in losing to the Steelers in Week 14.

Games in Cleveland tend to be a little closer with the Browns fanbase always ready for the hated Ravens and the number of points at least protects against another late collapse from the Browns. The Ravens may be 7-1-1 against the spread in their last nine games in Cleveland, but the last three wins have come by 5, 6 and 2 point margins.

You can't ignore how bad Cleveland have been even against the spread, but I think they can play this one closer against a Baltimore team who are off that emotional loss to the Steelers. The Ravens just want to win by any means necessary and I think that could mean a close game and I will take the points here.

Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers Pick: The Green Bay Packers have got their Christmas wish.

Aaron Rodgers is back to Quarter Back the team the rest of the season.

However it will still need something of a Christmas miracle for the Green Bay Packers to make the Play Offs who have to beat the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions in consecutive weeks. All of those teams have winning records, but the return of Rodgers certainly feels like the lift that the Packers have wanted.

Rodgers himself has been speaking about 'lifting' his team mates rather than saving the Green Bay season and I think there will be a little better effort from all of the players with their star player back. To be fair to Green Bay, they have come up big in back to back Overtime wins which has kept the Play Off hopes alive although this is a big game for Rodgers to make his return.

Earlier in the season it may have looked a really difficult game for the Green Bay Packers when the Carolina Panthers were playing some stifling Defense. That has not been the case in more recent games and so Green Bay will feel Rodgers is able to spark something significant for them in this one.

The Packers have been able to run the ball effectively in recent games and I expect they will look to keep things going on the ground with the space that is likely to exist now teams can't focus on stopping the run. With some struggles up front that Carolina are dealing with, Green Bay should be able to find some significant yards on the ground and that should at least make things a little more comfortable for Rodgers.

It will be interesting to see how Rodgers takes the first big hit, which will surely come from this tough Panthers team, but I do think he can come in with some confidence. Rodgers has apparently been lights out in practice for two weeks already and the Packers running the ball effectively means the pass rush is just slowed a little.

Some holes have just begun to show in the Carolina Secondary with the issues stopping the run and I expect the Green Bay Packers will be able to move the chains through the air. This all means there is some pressure on the Panthers to respond Offensively as they look to keep their own Play Off hopes going.

The battle at the line of scrimmage is going to be key when Cam Newton has the ball as the Panthers have been able to establish the run very effectively. They should be able to rip off big gains against the Green Bay Packers too who have begun to have a few injuries wear them down up front, although perhaps the Offensive boost can see the Defensive Line go back to the level they have performed at for much of the season.

It is hard to think Carolina are not able to run the ball though and it will be a key to keeping Rodgers and the powerful Packers Offense on the sidelines. Staying in front of the downs and distances is important for the Panthers who have lost some big Receivers even if Newton is capable of having a big game against a banged up Secondary.

Newton has been plagued by Receivers dropping his passes though which have affected the numbers and he will also have to be aware of the pass rush Green Bay have generated. Suffice to say Newton's ability on the ground means he can get away from the pressure and even run the ball himself, and that is something Green Bay have to be wary of with their issues to stop the run of late.

The Packers were crushed here by the Panthers two years ago, but I do like the visitors with the points this week. The Panthers have not been as strong as a favourite against the spread as they have been when given points this season and the underdog is 6-2 against the spread in the last eight in this series.

Even though Rodgers is coming back from an injury, getting the points with this star Quarter Back is tough to ignore and I think Green Bay could pick up their play in all three phases of the game with the boost in confidence received. It won't be easy against this Carolina team who look capable of making the Play Offs themselves, but I will take the Field Goal start for the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers here.

New York Jets @ New Orleans Saints Pick: There won't be any panic from the New Orleans Saints having dropped two of their last three games, especially with their destiny still in their own hands. The fact they played on Thursday Night Football in Week 14 means they have also had a little more time to get ready for this game against the New York Jets who have been eliminated from the Play Off picture despite overachieving this season.

The extra days off have been very good news for Alvin Kamara who is set to return having been knocked out of the game against the Falcons and put into the concussion protocol. All signs are pointing to Kamara being back and it was seen how important the Running Back is to what the New Orleans Saints have been doing Offensively this season.

Kamara provides a one-two punch with Mark Ingram at Running Back, while he is also someone that is a huge factor in the passing game and the absence really highlighted that in Week 14.

New Orleans have found a really strong balance on the Offensive side of the ball this season and I do think this is a team that could be very dangerous in the open looking NFC Play Offs that are coming up. The Saints will certainly use all of that balance to keep the Jets guessing as to what is coming and I think the Saints will be able to move the chains and score a fair few points in this one.

There have been signs of wear and tear on the Jets Defensive Line and it would be a surprise if New Orleans are not picking up some big gains on the ground. That only opens the door for Drew Brees to continue making his own big plays from the Quarter Back position and the Jets Secondary is not as strong as it once was.

Brees should be able to see a few short passes to the likes of Kamara go some distance and the Saints are more than capable of putting up a big number against the Jets here.

It's made all the tougher for the Jets when seeing Josh McCown go down with an injury last week which has ended his season. The veteran Quarter Back has played well for New York and now the keys are turned over to Bryce Petty against a New Orleans Defensive unit which have been one of the surprises of the season.

Petty has experience at Quarter Back, but the problems will begin with the Jets unlikely to be able to run the ball with any consistency and that means Petty being left in obvious passing situations. Against this improved Secondary it looks difficult for Petty to have a really strong outing, while he will also have to be aware of the pass rush that New Orleans can generate led by Cameron Jordan.

It looks a tough day for Petty who has to avoid the Interceptions which could see this game really get away from the Jets and I am struggling to see anything other than a big New Orleans win. The spread is a huge one for the Saints to cover, but I think the Jets may have lost some motivation in the blow out defeat at the Denver Broncos last week and that may carry over in a non-Conference game.

The worry for this spread is clearly that it only takes a couple of mistakes for a team to fail to cover, but I like the Saints in the spot. They will be looking to recover from a loss in Week 14 and I think they are well placed to win this one by a wide, wide margin.

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants Pick: The injury to Carson Wentz in Week 14 was not only a blow for the Philadelphia Eagles fans, but also for all NFL fans with the Play Offs just a few weeks away. Before the injury Philadelphia looked like one of the best teams in the NFL, but losing Wentz means they have taken a significant step backwards even if Nick Foles has played his best professional Football during his time with the Eagles.

Foles can step into a familiar situation and there is plenty of talent on the Eagles roster which can help the Quarter Back keep the train on the tracks. A tough road Divisional game will help us see where Foles and the Eagles stand, but at least the Quarter Back doesn't have to put all the pressure on his own shoulders.

The expectation is that Foles is going to lean heavily on the Philadelphia running game which has been effective and that will then mean the Quarter Back is able to come through with some play-action passes. Being in third and manageable spots also helps Foles who should be able to make enough plays from that position.

Running the ball should slow down the New York pass rush, although Foles has to be aware of where the pressure is coming from. He will have to scramble away from that before firing downfield and I think that is going to be the biggest problem for Foles as he works that into real game time.

Avoiding mistakes is probably the key for Foles as he can lean on the running game and also an under-rated Defensive unit. The New York Giants have struggled Offensively all season with the injuries they have faced and I think the Eagles are going to have a significant edge on that side of the ball which can help them finish with another victory on the board.

Eli Manning may be back behind Center, but the Giants Offensive Line has struggled both in pass protection and running the ball and that is not good news against this Philadelphia Eagles team. The Eagles Defensive Line has really been a huge part of how well they have played this season and they should be able to control the Giants on the ground and leave Manning in third and long situations.

At that point Manning is going to have find a way to avoid the pressure the Eagles can get up front while also being careful in throwing the ball against a Secondary who have been playing at a very high level. The whole day looks like being a tough one for the Giants who don't look to match up well with Philadelphia and they are going to need Foles to have a bad day in the office to really keep this one close.

It isn't easy for the Eagles to play a third consecutive road game, especially as the last two were on the West Coast and now they are back on the East coast. However I think the Eagles players will want to show they can still win even though they have lost a key part of their team in Carson Wentz and that motivation can see the rest of the team step up.

The Giants are also playing out the season and players have to be wondering what the future holds for them with the changes being made throughout the franchise. That may have been part of the reason they imploded in a home loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14 and I think that game would have been more important than this one against the Eagles so I don't anticipate motivation to be much higher.

Philadelphia are 8-2 against the spread in their last ten games at the Giants. I think they come out with something to prove on Sunday and they can cover a big number on the road with a couple of key turnovers helping them pull away from the Giants in the second half.

I've added a couple of late plays from the Sunday games to the 'MY PICKS' section below.

MY PICKS: Cleveland Browns + 7 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers + 3 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints - 16.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Philadelphia Eagles - 7.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Miami Dolphins + 3.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet365 (2 Units)
Los Angeles Rams + 1 Point @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
New England Patriots - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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