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

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Thursday, 12 December 2019

NFL Week 15 Picks 2019 (December 12-16)

Unsurprisingly with three weeks left of the regular season we are beginning to see some separation at the top of the NFL standings.

Week 14 is in the books and you have to think that all roads in the AFC are going to go through Baltimore after the Ravens won and the New England Patriots were beaten again. That gives them a 1.5 game lead for the top Seed in the AFC with three games left to play and the Ravens are huge favourites to win on Thursday Night Football and virtually wrap up the Number 1 Seed in the Conference.

Despite the win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, the San Francisco 49ers can't feel so secure with their current hold of the Number 1 Seed in the NFC. They may hold the tie-breaker over the Saints and the Green Bay Packers, the two teams immediately below them, but the 49ers are far from a sure thing to even win the NFC West with a game lead over the Seattle Seahawks but having lost the first game to them at home and needing to win in Seattle later in the season.

The Los Angeles Rams are also surging in the NFC West and there is still a chance for the Division to have three representatives in the PlayOffs, although Los Angeles have little room for error now.

The Chicago Bears are also alive as they look to recover from a miserable middle of the 2019 season, but it is a shame that it looks like being a situation where a team with a winning record is potentially left out for a Division winner without one. That is down to the NFC East where the two leading teams are both at 6-7 with three games to play and no one will be rushing out to bet against there being an 8-8 team playing in the post-season while one with a winning record sits out.

The picture in the AFC looks much clearer as the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens are all looking like they are set to play January Football. However the AFC South is effectively dealing with a couple of play in games down the stretch with the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans tied up at 8-5 and facing each other both in Week 15 and Week 17.

Some haven't liked Divisional games being played so close together, especially those involving the same teams, but the broadcasters will be over the moon and that second game is almost certainly going to be the Sunday Night Football offering in Week 17. Both could still potentially edge out the Pittsburgh Steelers for the final Wild Card spot, although I think it is unlikely considering the way the schedule has panned out for those three teams.

The NFC L(East)- does anyone want to make the PlayOffs from the NFC Least? The Dallas Cowboys have lost three in a row to open the door for the teams chasing them and then the Philadelphia Eagles have done their best to not take advantage.

After losing to the lowly Miami Dolphins in Week 13, the Eagles needed to recover from a 17-3 deficit and also score a game winning Touchdown in Overtime to see off the New York Giants and tie up with the Cowboys at 6-7 in the Division.

Every game is very important for the Eagles who must win out to see off the Cowboys thanks to the Divisional records off the two teams. On the other hand Dallas know a win in Week 16 when they visit Philadelphia will be enough, but neither team is playing with a lot of belief at the moment and I really am finding it tough to figure out who is going to be hosting a PlayOff Game on the opening weekend of January 2020.

A once really competitive Division that was providing Super Bowl Champions has fallen off the standards of yesteryear, but I would not want to rule out the Division Champion when it comes to the Wild Card. They are going to face either San Francisco or Seattle and I can the road team being a big favourite, but teams who have struggled for winning records and made the post-season have been competitive to say the least.

Seattle were famously the first team to make the PlayOffs with a losing record and went on to upset the New Orleans Saints thanks to Marshawn Lynch in the Wild Card. Since then an 8-8 Denver Broncos team used a bit of Tim Tebow magic to make the PlayOffs and upset the Pittsburgh Steelers, while a 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers made the PlayOffs in 2014 and ALSO won a Wild Card Game.

It is something to keep in mind for January, and we could get a very good number to get behind regardless of whether the Cowboys or Eagles are hosting that game.

Is the Tom Brady time over?- I don't want to be the guy who draws a line through Tom Brady at any time considering the successes he has had with New England throughout his time in the NFL, but it does feel different this time.

To answer my question, even with that in mind, I would still say 'no'.

However I can't ignore the gathering momentum behind the feeling that Tom Brady will not be playing with the New England Patriots beyond this season and I do think we will see the six time Super Bowl winning Quarter Back in a different uniform next season. So if the question was whether the Brady era in New England is over I would be leaning towards 'yes'.

I don't think he has played badly, but the New England Offensive unit is missing a lot of talent and it is hard to see them going very deep in the PlayOffs. Losing home advantage throughout is one thing, but New England have lost to the other three current Divisional leaders and it is hard to ignore that kind of issue.

We have seen them bounce back many times from situations similar to this, but it feels different for the Patriots and they are not my favourite to win the AFC anymore. Unless a young group of Receivers or one of the veterans outside of Julian Edelman get hot, the New England defence of their Super Bowl crown could easily end before the Championship Round this time around.

That might not sound like a big statement to make, but consider New England have reached the last eight AFC Championship Games and it takes on another meaning.

Will the NFC side of the PlayOffs live up to the hype?- I'll be honest, the NFL PlayOffs are brilliant no matter who is taking part, but this year it really feels like the NFC have produced four or five top quality teams that will all believe they can win the Super Bowl.

I can't wait for the NFC games throughout January and I think all five will be very good to watch and especially if the New Orleans-San Francisco game from Week 14 is anything to go by.

If the PlayOffs were to begin today, the Wild Card Round would be Seattle @ Dallas and Minnesota @ New Orleans.

We could then have New Orleans @ Green Bay and Seattle @ San Francisco in the Divisional Round with the winners facing off for the NFC crown.

There isn't a bad game amongst those and I can't think these will let down the fans who have to be really looking forward to the Football in the New Year.

It is not to say the AFC side of the bracket is going to be poor, but it does look weaker in comparison and I would not be surprised if the winner of the NFC is able to use the momentum gained to go on and win the Super Bowl.

Predicting the Twelve PlayOff Teams: Every week I am using the PlayOff machine to see how things have been affected when the official results for the previous week are in the books.

Last week I still had the Oakland Raiders making the final twelve teams, but their loss to the Tennessee Titans coupled with Pittsburgh's win in Arizona looks to have put pay to that.

My updated prediction for the PlayOff teams in the AFC is: Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers.

For the NFC: New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings.

My Top Five
For the first time this season I had to drop the New England Patriots down my Rankings as they have not been able to recover from their setbacks like previous years.

Something doesn't feel right in Foxboro right now and I didn't have them as my favourites to win the AFC last week, but a further drop out of my top five is necessary for now.

The NFC is looks to have the greater depth, but while one AFC keep winning they are the team to beat in the NFL this season.

1) Baltimore Ravens- they were my Number 1 last week and the Ravens keep beating whoever is put in front of them. Lamar Jackson's PlayOff experience from last season should help him when dealing with the new expectation and pressure that will be on his shoulders if the Ravens wrap up the top Seed in the AFC.

2) San Francisco 49ers- there is no guarantee the 49ers finish with the top Seed in the NFC, but I had to move them from Number 3 to Number 2 in my Rankings. Injuries to a couple of key players on the Defensive unit could be a problem and it is a much tougher road if you have to win three road games to make the Super Bowl compared with hosting two.

3) New Orleans Saints- I only 'punished' New Orleans by one place for losing at home last week because they pushed the 49ers all the way and could easily have won.

They can still finish with the best record in the NFC is Seattle can win the NFC West and they can win out. Hosting the PlayOffs might make the Saints favourites if they can fix one or two Defensive issues that have cropped up.

4) Kansas City Chiefs- another team I had to move up one place after the win in Foxboro. Patrick Mahomes is a bit banged up as is the depth at Running Back, but Kansas City have shown some real improvement Defensively which eases pressure on Mahomes and company.

Keep that up and they will be the nearest challengers to the Ravens.

5) Green Bay Packers- any team who have Aaron Rodgers will be dangerous in the PlayOffs even if the Packers have yet to really convince. I have them only very slightly above the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots for this spot, but things could change with my immediate feeling going into Week 15 that the Chicago Bears will give them a lot to think in their upcoming game.

My Bottom Five
32) Cincinnati Bengals- a refresh is going to begin at Cincinnati in the off-season and it will likely be led by selecting Joe Burrow as the Number 1 Pick in the NFL Draft.

31) New York Giants- the big effort on Monday Night Football might have been the last chance to play spoiler for the Giants who blew a 17-3 lead with Eli Manning back under Center.

30) Detroit Lions- there are a number of teams who I believe will be looking for Head Coaches at the end of the season... This is one of them.

29) Washington Redskins- they are playing with some spirit, but there is a lot of work for the Redskins to do.

28) Miami Dolphins- another team playing with a lot of spirit. The team is willing but the talent is simply not there, although I love what Brian Flores has brought into the team as the Head Coach and the culture he is putting together.

Week 15 Picks
After four winning weeks in a row, the run came to an end in the worst way in Week 14 and it is going to be difficult to be in a winning position by the time the PlayOffs begin.

The last season was a very good one for the Picks, but I need to be a little better this time around. I did get into a good roll over the previous four weeks and I think that is something to build upon.

Making sure I put enough stock in all of the factors in Week 15 is the key, although I won't be getting involved in the Thursday Night Football game which features the Baltimore Ravens as a very big favourite.

Hopefully those I do select in Week 15 can be stronger than those teams I had picked in Week 14.

Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers Pick: The loss to the Los Angeles Rams not only has kept that team alive as far as the Wild Card Race is concerned in the NFC, but it was a defeat that knocked the Seattle Seahawks from holding the Number 1 Seed in the NFC. While in most seasons that would not be a major concern with three games left to play, the Seattle Seahawks are in the unfortunate position of having a 10-3 record but still not topping their Division which would mean having to likely win three road games to make the Super Bowl.

A team with a 6-1 record on the road might not be daunted by that, but Seattle will know winning out will give them a very good chance of earning a Bye through to the Divisional Round of the PlayOffs. That has to be the main goal for the team who are looking to bounce back from the poor performance in the defeat to the Rams on Sunday Night Football.

A trip to the Eastern Time Zone is never easy for West Coast teams, but the Seahawks have actually played pretty well in the situation even when set to go in the 1pm Eastern Time slot. That will be encouraging for the fans who will want to see the Seahawks keep the pressure on the San Francisco 49ers at the top of the NFC West, while the other factor in play has to be the lack of real effort we have seen from their hosts.

The Carolina Panthers have lost five games in a row to drop to 5-8 and out of the PlayOff picture for another season. It is all change in Carolina with Ron Rivera fired as Head Coach following an unforgivable loss to the Washington Redskins, but it didn't change much in Week 14 as the Panthers were blown out by the Atlanta Falcons.

Cam Newton's injury has proven to be too difficult to overcome with Kyle Allen showing more and more that he may not be the answer at Quarter Back. It has been suggested that Newton will be moved on in the off-season, but Carolina are not going to have a look at Will Grier at Quarter Back and instead will keep Allen under Center in this one.

It isn't all down to Allen who has not been protected very well by the Offensive Line and has been left in too many third and long situations as teams have come down to stop Christian McCaffrey beating them on the ground. The Running Back was amongst the leading contenders for MVP in the regular season, but the last few games have seen the Panthers produce just 4.0 yards per carry and I think the Seahawks can look to stop Carolina pounding the ball and then get after Allen when he drops back to throw.

I do think there is a chance McCaffrey has one of his better games in a while, and that may give Kyle Allen some opportunities to attack a Secondary which has allowed some big yards through the air. However you do have to wonder if the motivation is high enough here to challenge Seattle over all four Quarters and especially as the visitors are coming off a loss.

Moving the ball should not be too big a problem for Seattle when they have the ball and Chris Carson could be the star of the game. Everyone knows Seattle want to run the ball and the Seahawks Offensive Line have opened some big holes for whoever is running the ball, but they are also facing a Carolina Defensive Line which has given up 6.6 yards per carry in their last three games.

Those struggles to clamp down on the run means the Seahawks Offense should have the chance to do whatever they want in this one. Russell Wilson is one of the best Quarter Backs in the NFL, but he is also very efficient with the ball and makes very few mistakes. That should all be evident in this game as Seattle keep him in third and manageable spots and slow down the Carolina pass rush and I do think Seattle can win well.

The Seahawks are a team who are 10-3 against the spread in their last thirteen on the road, while they generally do bounce back from heavy defeats having gone 4-1 against the spread in their last five off a defeat by fourteen or more points.

I am just not sure how much fight we will get out of Carolina who might already be thinking about the off-season and what all the changes are going to mean for the team. I would not be surprised if Kyle Allen is forced into a couple of turnovers to help the Seahawks pull clear for the win in this one.

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers Pick: A win over the Dallas Cowboys moved the Chicago Bears back above 0.500 and their 7-6 record would actually be good enough to lead the NFC East. Unfortunately the Bears are in the NFC North and the performances of the likes of the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks means even the Wild Card Race looks like a very difficult one for the Bears.

Winning out is about all the Chicago Bears can do and hope a 10-6 record is good enough to get them back into the PlayOffs having done that at the end of the 2018 season. The schedule is far from easy for the Bears, but they have to take things one game at a time and there is some momentum behind Chicago who have won three in a row.

First up is a trip to the Green Bay Packers who at 10-3 are a game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. For most teams with that kind of record you would assume the fans and the players and Coaches would all be very happy, but that is far from the case as the Packers have struggled Offensively and only managed 20 points in a win over Washington in Week 14.

Things are not going to be any easier for Aaron Rodgers and company in this game against the Chicago Bears, although the veteran Quarter Back has always played well against this Divisional rival. Even the basic hope of using Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams to run the ball against the Bears might not be as effective as it has been for teams in recent games as it looks like Akiem Hicks will be back on the Defensive Line for the Bears.

Hicks is a huge run stopper for the Bears and his presence could just see Chicago clamp down on anyone trying to run the ball against them and that will force a bit more pressure on Rodgers at Quarter Back. A lack of Receiving consistency outside of Davante Adams has not helped Rodgers, and Chicago look like they could be healthier in the Secondary and it is hard to imagine Green Bay having a huge day throwing the ball.

If the Packers are not running the ball, Aaron Rodgers will not have an easy day trying to convert from third and long and that gives Chicago a chance of the upset.

To have more than a chance, Chicago need Mitchell Trubisky to bring in some of the recent magic he has found at Quarter Back having had so many question whether the Bears should move on from him. This is going to be a tough test for Trubisky, but he has been using his legs a little more when the pocket does collapse and that threat to run as well as throw the ball makes him a difficult Quarter Back to really get a hold of.

Consistency has let him down throughout the last couple of seasons which have made him a lightning rod for criticism, but Trubisky can show he is the player to take the Bears forward by winning here. The Green Bay Packers Defensive unit have played well all season and they look like they are picking up their level as we approach the PlayOffs, but Chicago can use Trubisky to help them establish the run and that will give them a chance to move the chains.

I am not anticipating a high scoring game and that makes the points appealing in favour of the road underdog. The sharps pounded the early line so it is a couple of points shorter than when it opened, but Chicago still look the right side here with the feeling that anything between 17-20 points will be difficult for the Packers to cover.

In three of their last five games Green Bay have failed to top 20 points and all of the last four games between these old rivals have been decided by 7 or fewer points. The Packers also have a very big game at Minnesota next week and will know a win in that one will secure the Division title no matter how things go this week and I do believe that is a potential distraction for the home team and will allow Chicago to stick around.

Where Chicago have been thriving playing their Divisional rivals (9-2 against the spread), the Green Bay Packers are not (3-8 against the spread) and I like the points in this one.

Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans Pick: The AFC South is the most tightly contested Divisional race in this Conference and the schedule makers might be congratulating themselves for the way things have worked out.

Both the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans are at 8-5 in the Division and they are facing each other twice in the last three weeks of the 2019 season. These games are not just important to win the Division and earn a home game in the PlayOffs, but neither team can afford to lose both games if they are going to be involved in the Wild Card picture at the very least and that puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved.

The Titans are the team on a roll and they are going to host the first of the two games against this Divisional rival. Six wins in their last seven games have pulled Tennessee back into contention for a PlayOff spot and Ryan Tannehill has been the key as the former Miami Dolphin Quarter Back has taken over from Marcus Mariota for the Titans.

Tannehill is actually playing for a contract this season and he is doing himself all of the power in the world by putting up the numbers he has been to guide the Titans to a lot of wins. It would be a massive surprise if Tannehill is not able to replicate some of the strong showings he had in recent weeks as he throws against the Houston Texans Secondary which was embarrassed by Drew Lock and the Denver Broncos in Week 14.

The Offensive Line can have one or two issues in pass protection if Tennessee are behind the chains, but even that is unlikely as Houston don't have the best pass rush since JJ Watt has gone down with an injury. Even then the bigger problem may be wanting to sell out to stop the run with Derrick Henry and the Titans Offensive Line paving the way for some huge gains and I do think the Titans will find the balance to have consistency with the ball in their hands.

Consistency was the buzzword for the Houston Texans over the last week after they were beaten by the Denver Broncos off the back of a win over the New England Patriots. A flat start cost Houston in that one, but I would be surprised if they are not plenty motivated for this game even if it looks a difficult one for them.

Deshaun Watson is a Quarter Back you want to get behind when his team is set as the underdog and in general they have thrived in that spot. Much is going to depend on Watson in this game because the Titans have been very good at clamping down on the run and have managed to hold teams to 3.9 yards per carry in their last three games.

Add in the fact that Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson have not been so productive in the last few games and I do think much is going to depend on the arm of Watson and any time he can scramble away from pressure. He might not be Lamar Jackson, but Watson is capable of getting to the First Down marker with his legs if the pocket collapses around him, but the Quarter Back could find himself under consistent duress which can produce mistakes.

I do think Watson will be able to make some big plays whenever he gets a bit of time to make his throws though and the Tennessee Secondary have been something of a 'bend, don't break' kind of unit. That should give Watson a chance to move the chains and Houston have some big playmakers which can give them a chance, although I do like Tennessee to earn the home win and move into sole control of the Division.

The Titans are the team with momentum and I do think their Offensive balance is going to be a key to the success in this Week 15 game. They have also won their last three home games against Houston and I do think they will have enough to beat out the spread where it is.

There are some fine trends which I have to respect for the Houston Texans who have been very good as the underdog since Deshaun Watson has arrived to lead them. However I will look for the Titans to control the clock and make one or two bigger plays through Derrick Henry or Ryan Tannehill which helps them take control of the Division.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins Pick: The NFC East, or Least, is going to come down to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, but it is Philadelphia who have the tighter window. Those two Division 'leaders' are both at 6-7 for the season, but Dallas have the superior Divisional record and it is up to the Eagles to win out if they are going to be able to control their own pathway through to the PlayOffs.

They almost blew it completely on Monday Night Football when trailing the lowly New York Giants 17-3, but Philadelphia were able to fight back and win the game in Overtime. The Eagles finish the season with a run of four games in a row against Divisional rivals so they have to understand those teams are going to find an extra motivation to face them.

It should be no different for the Washington Redskins despite the 3-10 record and this is a team who have shown some competitiveness in the last few games. They have come up short in those games for the most part, but two weeks ago Washington beat Carolina and last week they earned a backdoor cover against the Green Bay Packers.

Injuries have lessened some of the enthusiasm in picking Washington here and their rookie Quarter Back Dwayne Haskins has had some teething problems. Haskins is a little banged up, but is expected to start on Sunday along with Adrian Peterson and it is the veteran who could be very important for the Redskins.

As good as the Eagles Defensive Line has been, there have been one or two holes when it comes to running the ball in the last three games and Peterson wil be looking to exploit those. It will be important to keep Haskins in third and manageable spots when he does drop back to pass and also ease the Eagles pass rush which has been very strong throughout the year.

I would think Haskins can make one or two big throws against the Philadelphia Secondary and this is the game where Washington would love to play spoiler so I expect a full effort all around.

Even then it is perhaps asking too much for the Redskins to win outright against a team that will have been boosted by the character shown to come from behind and beat the Giants on Monday Night Football. Playing on the short week won't be easy and Carson Wentz looks to have lost some key Receivers, although a banged up Washington Defensive unit does not look as intimidating as it can be.

Wentz should be well supported by Miles Sanders and Jay Ajayi running the ball and that should at least make up for the inexperienced Receivers he is going to throw to outside of Zach Ertz. With the team likely to be set in third and short spots, Philadelphia should be able to move the ball with some consistency although even without Ryan Kerrigan Washington should be able to harass the Quarter Back when he drops back to throw.

I would have really liked Washington with the start if they had a fully healthy team, but I can see the players taking to the field stepping up and producing a huge effort this week. The game in Week 16 might be against another Divisional rival, but it is this one and the one in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys that will have the fans and players most interested as the Redskins look to play spoiler.

It has to be respected that Philadelphia have won their last two here very easily, but Washington played them close earlier in the season on the road. The Eagles are just 2-5 against the spread in their last seven as the favourite, while the Redskins are 5-1 against the spread in their last six as an underdog.

A healthier Washington team would have been much better, but I still think they are getting enough points to be worthy of backing against an Eagles team that might be a little distracted by the upcoming Week 16 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Cleveland Browns @ Arizona Cardinals Pick: There is very small margin for error for the Cleveland Browns and even a perfect end to the season is unlikely to be enough for them to make the PlayOffs. It was all supposed to be much different in 2019, but Freddie Kitchens has not been able to gel the team together as hoped and I would not be surprised if changes were made in the off-season.

One of those may come in the Head Coach office, but the trade for Odell Beckham Jr has not really panned out as expected either. Beckham Jr has been making a lot of noise of late about the lack of support for dealing with his injury and some are suggesting he could force a second move in twelve months once the 2019 season is in the books.

These are the kind of questions that will come up for a 6-7 team which is two games behind in the Wild Card Race with three games left to play. It means Cleveland have to hope a lot of things break their way in the last three weeks of the season and first up is making sure they don't overlook this opponent and concentrate on the big home game against the Baltimore Ravens coming up in Week 16.

Only playing spoiler will be on the line if Cleveland were to lose to the Arizona Cardinals who have lost six in a row to drop to 3-9-1 for the season. The end is not far away and it can't come soon enough for a team who have struggled with a rookie Head Coach and Quarter Back.

Kyler Murray has just hit a rookie wall, which had to be expected, and it might not be an easy game for him to get back on track. There is some hope that Kenyan Drake and David Johnson can get the run established for the Cardinals and at least give Murray some support, although it will mean an improvement in the performance of the Offensive Line which has been struggling.

In saying that the Cardinals could not have hoped for a much better opponent to face when facing the Cleveland Defensive Line that has allowed 4.8 yards per carry in their last three games. Joe Mixon had a huge game against Cleveland last week and both Drake and Johnson will believe they can pick up from where Mixon left off, although Andy Dalton might have been given more respect thatn Kyler Murray when it comes to throwing the ball.

We all know Murray is the better mover though and he may just earn some First Downs with his legs to keep the chains moving. However at some point Murray is going to have to step back and throw behind this porous Offensive Line and even a Myles Garrett-less Cleveland pass rush should be able to have some success, while a healthier Secondary will believe they can contain Receivers for the short time Murray will get to make his throws.

If Arizona are able to establish the run they should be able to have some successes, but running the ball looks like it could be more difficult for Cleveland. The improved Cardinals Defensive Line have been able to clamp down and hold teams to 3.8 yards per carry in their last three games, although keeping tabs on Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb completely looks beyond them.

Both could actually become bigger threats sneaking out of the backfield and catching short passes from Baker Mayfield. That will be important to help keep their Quarter Back upright and also potentially open up play-action passes where Mayfield can really attack a banged up Secondary.

This may not have been the season Cleveland expected, but Mayfield will be throwing against a Secondary which has allowed 320 passing yards per game in their last three games. He still has talented Receivers in Jarvis Landry and Beckham Jr, even if the latter is a bit banged up, and those players can be key for the Browns in this one.

I like Cleveland to follow Pittsburgh and win and cover here in Week 15- I would have loved the pick even more if Mayfield was still upset with Arizona Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury as he plays his best when feeling a grudge, but those two seemed to have buried the hatchet in recent times after their falling out at Texas Tech in College.

Even then I do think the Browns have been playing much harder than Arizona of late and even though this is the last home game of the season, I would not be surprised if the players want to keep something in the tank when finishing up with two Divisional rivals chasing PlayOff spots.

There was a time when Arizona were a great team to back at home whether the favourite or underdog, but they are 3-7 against the spread in their last ten home games. Playing on the road is a situation where you would usually want to look past Cleveland, but they are 3-1-1 against the spread in their last five as the favourite and I think they can get things done here in Week 15.

Minnesota Vikings @ Los Angeles Chargers Pick: A non-Conference game might not be a big deal in the middle of the NFL season, but there is plenty on the line when you get to Week 15. That is the case for the Minnesota Vikings who remain a game behind the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, but also have to be a little wary about the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears who are both chasing them in the Wild Card Race too.

Even though every game matters, you can't ignore the potentially awkward spot this game lands in for the Vikings as they are coming off a Divisional win and face the Packers and the Bears in the final two games.

Focusing on a game against the 5-8 Los Angeles Chargers who snapped a three game losing run when blowing out the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14 might not be easy, although the Vikings should have plenty of support here to make this feel like a home game.

It might not be enough though if there is even a slight distraction from the upcoming games affecting the Minnesota performance. The Chargers might be out of contention, but they have been playing hard and Los Angeles have been competitive which does bode well for them.

A healthier team is an important factor for Los Angeles and that has seen them improve Offensively in recent games. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler have been huge for the Chargers and the Offensive Line has opened things up for them as they have kept the team moving forward, while both are also capable Receivers for veteran Philip Rivers as they sneak out of the backfield.

Running the ball against the Vikings won't be easy, but I do think the Chargers can at least keep themselves in front of the down and distance which is important for them. Doing that will give Rivers the chance to get the ball out of his hands very quickly when it comes to throwing the ball and that negates the fierce pass rush the Vikings can bring to the table.

It should also open up the play-action and this Chargers team have continued to be a big play threat. I think it is clear that Rivers is not the player he once was, but he can still hurt a Minnesota Secondary which has not played up to the level we might expect from a Mike Zimmer Defense, although the Vikings have still been capable of turning the ball over which will be a concern for Rivers.

Philip Rivers should take risks though and that will give Los Angeles a chance, while an improving Defensive unit might be a touch under-rated having gotten healthier too. They are certainly going to provide a challenge for the Minnesota Vikings despite the obvious threats the Vikings bring with their skill players about as good as any in the League.

The main threat is Dalvin Cook, but he has been a little banged up and Minnesota have not been able to run the ball as well as they would have liked in recent games. Both Denver and Seattle found a way to put the clamps on the rushing Offense and Los Angeles come into this game having held their last three opponents to an average of just 4 yards per carry.

Shutting down Cook entirely is not easy as he can also be a decent check down option in the passing game, but the Chargers will feel if they can take away the run they can give Kirk Cousins a few problems.

I have to say Kirk Cousins has impressed me with the way he has bounced back from a poor opening to the season and that has seen him avoid making the back breaking mistakes we have come to expect from him. He could be benefiting from the return of Adam Thielen this week to partner Stefon Diggs, but the Chargers Secondary is about as healthy as it has been this season and that has seen them shut down passing attacks.

Again it is hard to see how the Chargers completely shut down Minnesota's Offensive unit, but I do think they can have enough success to give themselves every chance of earning the win as the home underdog.

Los Angeles do have a chance to play two Divisional rivals to close out the season and so this game might not mean a lot to them, but Minnesota are also potentially distracted. The Chargers are playing about as well as at any point this season and they might be an under-rated team considering the sharps seem to be firmly behind them too in Week 15.

Philip Rivers has been looser with his throws than Kirk Cousins which is a concern for the hosts as turnovers have blighted their season, but the Chargers look to have the team that can win this game outright if they avoid those mistakes.

Minnesota are a well coached team and that always makes me wary of opposing them, particularly as the importance of games increases. However Los Angeles are 7-2-1 against the spread in their last ten games as the underdog and they did beat the Green Bay Packers in that position earlier in the 2019 season.

This won't feel like a home game for the Chargers, but it never does and I think they can take advantage if the Vikings are even semi thinking ahead to the home games to finish the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Oakland Raiders Pick: A three game losing run has likely ended the chances of the Oakland Raiders of making the PlayOffs, but that won't take away from an emotional Week 15 game. This is the final game Oakland are playing at the Coliseum before they move to Las Vegas for the 2020 NFL season and the fans are likely going to be out in force to see their team.

Players and staff will also be emotional as Oakland finish the regular season with back to back road games and it is going to be a test for the Raiders to focus on the game itself.

At least they have been given the chance to sign off with a win as they get to host the Jacksonville Jaguars who have lost five in a row to be eliminated from the post-season and who are set to make some big changes in the off-season. Even now we don't really know what they are going to do about the troublesome Quarter Back position after Nick Foles has struggled and benched with the team floundering, while it would be a huge surprise if there is not a new Head Coach in place by the time we get into the new season.

Any team can go on a five game losing run in the NFL, but the uncompetitiveness of the Jaguars has been really disappointing and says a lot about the kind of Coaching respect at the team. All five of those losses have come by 17 points or more and Jacksonville have not topped 20 points in any of those games either.

Gardner Minshew has been restored to the Quarter Back position but I would have serious reservations about handing him the keys to the Offense in 2020. He has not really sparked the Jaguars and has not been helped by the struggles Leonard Fournette has had in attempting to run the ball.

Fournette has been busy getting into a spat with Antonio Brown, but his lack of an impact running the ball in the last couple of games have left Jacksonville in third and long far too often. I don't think he can expect to have a lot of joy against the Oakland Defensive Line, but there may be one or two more spaces for Minshew to exploit through the air.

A limited pass rush has hurt the Oakland Secondary which has not been able to stand up to the time Quarter Backs have had in the pocket. Gardner Minshew has a couple of Receivers he loves getting the ball to and I think the Jaguars can have some success in this one even if Fournette is not able to establish the run like they would hope.

Offensive struggles have also blighted the Oakland Raiders during their three game losing run and the blow out defeat to the Tennessee Titans makes it very hard to see how the Raiders can make the PlayOffs. They can only win all three games, and Oakland were successful earlier this season when they were able to protect the ball on this side of the ball better than they have been.

Like Minshew, Derek Carr should have better success in this one with the struggles Jacksonville's Secondary have had without Jalen Ramsey who was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Derek Carr has been able to get the ball out of his hands quick enough to find a way to slow down the Jacksonville pass rush and the Quarter Back needs to show Jon Gruden that he is the player that can be relied upon in the move to Las Vegas.

One difference between the two players is that Carr should be supported by his running game more than his counterpart for the Jaguars. Josh Jacobs has been playing through a fracture in the shoulder, but he missed out in Week 14 although has stated he is ready to return.

While Jacobs is a game-time decision, Oakland should still be able to establish the run against a broken down Jacksonville Defensive Line. Last week DeAndre Washington played well in place of Jacobs and either Running Back should be able to exploit a Defensive Line which has given up 5.2 yards per carry in their last three games.

Running the ball will open things up for Derek Carr and he can control the tempo of this game which is important. I can't deny this is a big spread, but I am wondering if Jacksonville are playing hard for their lame duck Head Coach, while the emotion of finishing up in Oakland should inspire the players and fans to gel as one and overwhelm this opponent.

Oakland are 7-3 against the spread in their last ten at home and they are 8-3 against the spread in their last eleven off a loss.

With Jacksonville not covering during their five game losing run I am looking for the home team to get the better of this number here.

Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: I would not blame the Super Bowl defeat for the reason that the Los Angeles Rams are desperately trying to get back into the PlayOff race, but at 8-5 they are chasing the Wild Card spots with three games left to play. The Rams have turned their form at just the right time and Sean McVay is hoping his team have not left things too late, while also recognising they need to win out to have any hope of a Wild Card berth.

Despite having a two game better record than their hosts in Week 15, the Rams know the Dallas Cowboys are in a much better position of making the post-season. The Cowboys might be at 6-7, but a win over the Philadelphia Eagles next week will give them the advantage in the NFC East and so I do wonder how much stock Dallas can really put into this game.

There is some pressure on Dallas to perform as they have lost three in a row and won't want to go into a vital Divisional game with another loss behind them. Jason Garrett also has to know that his time as Head Coach with the Cowboys is almost certainly coming to an end without a strong PlayOff run and he will want to ease some of the increasing pressure by winning this game.

I have a lot to like with this Dallas team in terms of the talent available, but they are seriously not Coached very well at all. The game plan in recent weeks has been baffling to say the least as they have quickly decided to ignore the run and instead rely on Dak Prescott to get things done with his arm.

Statistically there is no problem with the Prescott numbers, but the eye test has been revealing and it is no surprise Dallas have been losing games where Ezekiel Elliot has largely been an afterthought. This is another game in which Elliot should be a key figure running behind a strong Offensive Line against a team which has not been that strong in clamping down on the run, but that was the case against Buffalo and Chicago in the last couple of games and both times Elliot had very strong First Quarters before inexplicably being unused as much as expected.

Dallas should be familiar with some of the Coaching that Wade Phillips is going to have his Rams run on the Defensive side of the ball, but I am not sure this staff will take advantage of that. In recent games Los Angeles have been much improved when it comes to defending the pass as Jalen Ramsey has settled into his role as one of the Corner Backs, but I would not be surprised if Dallas look for Prescott to target Randall Cobb, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper regularly.

I do think the Cowboys will have some success, but Prescott has not looked accurate and this is a Rams Defense that have stepped up their level as they try and gatecrash the PlayOffs.

While the Defense has picked up their play, Los Angeles have found some Offensive groove too which was missing amidst questions about McVay and his 'genius' play-calling. Jared Goff has bounced back from a poor showing against the Baltimore Ravens and helped the Rams score 34 and 28 points in the last two games which have both been comfortable wins.

Jared Goff has found some decent protection from his Offensive Line and that could be key to give him a chance to find some talented playmakers in the Receiving corps. Additionally has been the reemergence of Todd Gurley when it comes to running the ball and I do think the Rams have the Offense to move the chains with some consistency while controlling the clock.

The Cowboys have been pretty good against the run, but Dalvin Cook showed special Running Backs can get things going and Todd Gurley can do that too. I was also interested to hear Troy Aikman criticising the largely vanilla Defensive plays being called by Dallas and the lack of disguise on them, something I am sure Sean McVay has noted and will likely have Goff get up to the Line of Scrimmage quickly to offer advice as to what the Quarter Back is seeing.

There is motivation for Dallas who were beaten in Los Angeles by the Rams in the PlayOffs last season, but the momentum with the Rams is hard to ignore and I like them to win on the road.

Dallas have to be respected as the underdog having gone 7-2 against the spread in their last nine in that spot. However they are 1-7 against the spread in their last eight against a team with a winning record, and just 3-12 against the spread when facing a team with a winning record on the road.

The Rams have a 5-1 record against the spread in their last six games as the road favourite and I can't ignore Dallas' struggles against teams with winning records all season. Backing a road favourite can be a tough decision to make, but I like the Rams to get the better of the Cowboys in this big Week 15 game.

Buffalo Bills @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: This game was flexed into the Sunday Night Football slot and it could be the chance to see one of the AFC Wild Card spots decided if the Buffalo Bills can pull off the minor upset on the road. That won't be easy against the Pittsburgh Steelers who are also in a position to earn a Wild Card spot into the PlayOffs which would be a huge testament to Mike Tomlin and his Coaching staff.

Take nothing away from Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills Coaches too, and he did end the long PlayOff drought the Bills had been through until 2017. Getting into the post-season for the second time in three seasons will really impress the fans, but Mike Tomlin have been keeping Pittsburgh competitive despite being down to their third string Quarter Back in a season in which Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell had also been moved on.

It would be a remarkable achievement, but Tomlin won't want his players to think too far ahead with only a slight advantage over teams chasing a top six spot. The Steelers have won three in a row to maintain their spot in the AFC PlayOff picture, but this is going to be a huge challenge for Devlin Hodges even if he is going to have James Connor back in the line up.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has been ruled out, but the Steelers have managed the game plan for the third string Quarter Back and much is about keeping things as clean as possible. Avoiding mistakes and punting the ball are not seen as disasters and that is what Hodges is going to have to do in this one as the very strong Buffalo Defense will be going 'Duck Hunting'.

The passing game is not going to be easy for Hodges and the Steelers and they won't want to leave their Quarter Back in third and long spots where the Bills pass rush will surely win the day. The Buffalo Secondary has shut down much better passing Offenses than the one they will be facing in Week 15 and they will be confident they can get things done even if they decide to sell out to stop the run.

You do have to believe the Bills Linebackers and Safeties are going to play slightly closer to the Line of Scrimmage especially with James Connor back for the Steelers. One of the weaknesses of the Buffalo Defensive unit is stopping the run and so Connor will be a key for the Steelers if they are going to win this game and move up to the Number 5 Seed in the AFC with two games to play.

James Connor should have successes, but he is only just back from an injury and so it might not be a dominant performance for him. Without the star Running Back, Pittsburgh have not run the ball as well as they would have liked and so Buffalo have to believe they can underline their status as one of the best Defensive units in the NFL.

The same can be said on the other side of the ball with the Pittsburgh Steelers very thankful to their own Defensive unit in laying the foundation for their 8-5 record. They have continued to play very hard and this Buffalo team have shown that the Offense is perhaps not quite up to the level needed for the team to take the next step and have a deep PlayOff run.

Josh Allen is clearly improving and has had some very good games, but you could see in the narrow loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14 that there is still some way to go before the Bills can rival the best teams. Running the ball is the key for Buffalo who have Devin Singletary playing well, while Allen himself is someone happy to pull the ball in and make some big gains on the ground, but doing that against this version of the Steel Curtain has proved tough for teams throughout 2019.

I do think the dual threat of Josh Allen is going to be important for Buffalo though and it may be what gives them the narrow edge in this very close game to call. Like Duck Hodges, Allen will need to keep the Offense in front of the chains if the Bills are going to have success moving the ball because the Pittsburgh pass rush is going to cause havoc whenever Buffalo are in third and long.

Josh Allen has not played badly, but he will have a tough time throwing against this Pittsburgh Secondary and this game has all the makings of a low-scoring one that will be decided by a turnover or two.

With that in mind it may be difficult to think about picking a winner, but I do think Josh Allen will out-duel Duck Hodges. I can see Allen making one or two fewer mistakes and Buffalo to have the better of the field position battle which helps them win this game and secure the Number 5 Seed in the AFC at the least.

Both teams have strong trends behind them and some might point out the Baltimore-New England sandwich between which this Pittsburgh game is scheduled for Buffalo. However I like how the Bills are Coached and they are 4-0 against the spread off a loss, while the Buffalo Defensive unit are going up against the weaker Quarter Back which can make the difference in this close game.

Buffalo have played well as the underdog and I will take the points being given to them here.

MY PICKS: Carolina Panthers - 6 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chicago Bears + 4.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tennessee Titans - 3 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Washington Redskins + 6 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Cleveland Browns - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Los Angeles Chargers + 1.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Oakland Raiders - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Los Angeles Rams - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Buffalo Bills + 1 Point @ 1.86 William Hill (2 Units)

Week 14: 2-5, - 6.36 Units (14 Units Staked, - 45.43% Yield)
Week 135-3, + 3.26 Units (16 Units Staked, + 20.38% Yield)
Week 124-2, + 3.20 Units (12 Units Staked, + 26.67% Yield)
Week 114-3-1, + 1.48 Units (16 Units Staked, + 9.25% Yield)
Week 104-3, + 1.10 Units (14 Units Staked, + 7.86% Yield)
Week 94-4, - 0.64 Units (16 Units Staked, - 4% Yield)
Week 82-4, - 4.20 Units (12 Units Staked, - 35% Yield)
Week 72-4, - 4.10 Units (12 Units Staked, - 34.17% Yield)
Week 66-3, + 4.84 Units (18 Units Staked, + 26.89% Yield)
Week 54-5, - 2.72 Units (18 Units Staked, - 15.11% Yield)
Week 43-6, - 6.54 Units (18 Units Staked, - 36.33% Yield)
Week 35-2, + 3.28 Units (12 Units Staked, + 27.33% Yield)
Week 23-4, - 2.70 Units (14 Units Staked, - 19.29% Yield)
Week 14-4, + 0.16 Units (15 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Season 201952-52-1, - 9.94 Units (207 Units Staked, - 4.80% Yield)

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