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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, 29 December 2019

NFL Week 17 Picks 2019 (December 29th)

This is very much the time of the year that we all want to enjoy with families so this is a shorter NFL Picks thread than I have had for much of the season.

Any additional Picks will be placed in this thread on Sunday.

New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers Pick: The six places in the NFC bracket of the NFL PlayOffs have been decided, but the final Seedings are still up for grabs. That includes the Number 1 Seed in the Conference which will give a team the opportunity to reach the Super Bowl without leaving home and that has to be the target for the New Orleans Saints who look in a good position at 12-3.

A win on Sunday coupled with losses for the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers would guarantee the Saints the Number 1 Seed, but they have to make sure they focus on this one game and see how they land. Anything less than a win and the Saints could find themselves having to play on Wild Card Weekend next week and that has to be motivation enough for them.

I would expect the Carolina Panthers to want to try and play spoiler for their Divisional rival, but they dropped to 5-10 last week and have lost seven times in a row. In Week 16 they were beaten heavily at the Indianapolis Colts who destroyed Carolina in the Special Teams area, while the uncertainty surrounding the future of some members of the team and who will be the Head Coach is certainly not going to be helping things.

Last week the Panthers gave the ball to Will Grier to see what the young Quarter Back could offer a team that might be moving on from Cam Newton and who have not been convinced by Kyle Allen at that position. It was a very difficult debut for Grier who was not helped by anyone other than Christian McCaffrey, but relying on one special player makes it difficult for any team to produce a big performance.

The Panthers are going to lean on McCaffrey in this one and they will be encouraged by some of the big yards given up by the Saints Defensive Line throughout the season. Injuries on the Defensive Line have hurt New Orleans, but I am not sure there will be a big respect for what Will Grier will be able to do in the passing game and that means the Saints can concentrate on trying to shut down McCaffrey.

Janoris Jenkins has arrived in New Orleans to give them some additional support in the Secondary and I do think the Saints can limit what Grier is able to do through the air. The young Quarter Back won't have much success if the New Orleans Saints are able to force Carolina to fall behind the chains and get the pass rush ramped up against what has been a questionable Offensive Line for the Panthers to say the least.

Inexperience is not the word you would use with the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees looks to be peaking for another run at the Super Bowl. His last two performances have seen him snap Peyton Manning's record for Touchdown passes thrown in the regular season and he dominated a Tennessee Secondary last week to keep the momentum going.

There is no doubt that he is facing a pretty weak Defensive unit on Sunday in Week 17 and you have to wonder how the Panthers are going to slow down this New Orleans Offense. The Saints have not been particularly strong at running the ball in recent games, but Alvin Kamara had a big performance in Week 16 and he should be able to get something going against a porous Carolina Defensive Line.

I do think Kamara will have success and that is only going to open things up for the Saints when it comes to passing through the air. Michael Thomas is next to unstoppable and the balance that New Orleans should be able to find from an Offensive standpoint is likely going to put them in a position to win and cover this number, even if it is a very big one for a road team.

After covering last week, New Orleans have maintained their very good road record against the spread and I think they push ahead and earn another one here. They should be highly motivated to win and Carolina have a young Quarter Back who will make mistakes, while New Orleans are also 4-1 against the spread in their last five visits to this NFC South Divisional rival.

No doubt this is a very big spread, but New Orleans should find a way to score enough points to cover.

Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals Pick: They are already on the clock as far as the NFL Draft is concerned and that should mean the Cincinnati Bengals can look to pull out all of the tricks to try and end this miserable season on a high. Andy Dalton is likely playing his last game at Quarter Back for the Bengals with the team expected to choose Joe Burrow with the Number 1 Overall selection in the Draft, while other players are going to be trying to prove to the team that they are capable of helping in the rebuild.

They should be motivated to get one over on their Divisional rivals Cleveland Browns in this Week 17 game and the Bengals have every chance of doing that against a team who look to be imploding from within.

Freddie Kitchens doesn't have the kind of respect you would think for a Head Coach at any level, while the top skill players don't particularly want to play for the Browns. Baker Mayfield has also been banged up and it makes it very hard to see them as the road favourite and see all of the public money that is coming down on them.

If Kitchens was a better Coach you may expect a game-plan that is going to feature a lot of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt whether running the ball or taking short passes from Mayfield and finding room to run. The Bengals Defensive Line have really been struggling to clamp down on the run and I do think Cleveland have been happiest when the Offensive Line is asked to block downfield and get Chubb or Hunt going.

That will also be important in keeping Mayfield in a position to try and make some plays through the air in what has been a difficult 2019 for the Quarter Back. He does have two very good Receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr, but neither has been particularly happy and both believe their Quarter Back and the play-calling have not been getting the ball in their hands as much as they should do.

It is possible for both to have a very good game, but I think the health of Mayfield has to be questioned and the way they fell apart in the home loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16 has to be a concern. That would have meant a lot to Cleveland but they came up short and I am not sure whether they will care as much about beating the team with the worst record in the NFL.

The Browns won the first meeting between these teams, but it was a competitive game and I think this one can go the same way. Andy Dalton being back at the Quarter Back position has given the Bengals some fire and they will believe they match up well with the Browns Defensive unit which has been struggling massively.

Losing Myles Garrett would have hurt, but I also think a team who have lacked belief in their Coaching staff has not had the required effort needed on the field. Teams have been able to run all over Cleveland in their last three games and Joe Mixon has been ending the season with some momentum which can be summed up with a big performance from the Running Back in Week 17.

With Dalton back at Quarter Back, Cleveland can't just look to try and slow Mixon and hope they can shut down Cincinnati, especially as the Secondary have given up some big yards through the air. Again you have to wonder what the motivation for the Browns will be after a disappointing season and the way they have been performing down the stretch and I do believe Dalton can help lead the Bengals to a potential upset here.

Neither team has many trends they can write home about, but Cincinnati are 8-2 against the spread in their last ten against the Browns and I will take the points on offer with the home team.

Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions Pick: After the upset of Divisional rivals Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers improved to 12-3 and will be looking for another victory which should be enough to earn at least a Bye into the Divisional Round of the NFL PlayOffs. There are still one or two questions surrounding the Packers which has many not really believing this is a Super Bowl team in the making, but the Packers keep winning games and will be difficult to knock off if Aaron Rodgers rounds into form.

They go into Week 17 as big road favourites to knock off the Detroit Lions who have had a disappointing 2019 season which has them going into the final game of the regular season with a 3-11-1 record. The Lions have lost eight in a row this season and they have lost starting Quarter Back Matthew Stafford to injury, although the lost season is not one that has worried the ownership enough to want to make Coaching changes.

We could yet see a change of opinion on that front, but for now the Lions are looking to try and stay the course with a system being put in place that will supposedly lead to successes in the years ahead.

It is hard to imagine seeing too many successes for them in this one game though as the regular season comes to an end for a team who have not performed to the level that was expected coming into the season. There had been some early hints that 2019 was going to be a big year for the Detroit Lions, but injuries have hurt the team and none more than losing Quarter Back Matthew Stafford.

In his place David Blough has been looking to impress with his ability as a starter, but it hasn't been the case for much of the time the Quarter Back has played. While there have been some good moments for Blough, the Lions have not scored more than 20 points in any of the four games he has started and now they have to face a Green Bay Defensive unit which has been one of the big strengths of a team at 12-3 for the season.

You can't just look at the Quarter Back and blame him for some of the Offensive issues, but the Lions have not been able to run the ball as they would have liked. Surprisingly Kerryon Johnson was back for the Lions at Running Back in Week 16 after missing multiple weeks through injury, but even with him back on the depth chart it won't be easy for the Lions to establish the run against a Green Bay Defensive Line which has held teams to under 4 yards per carry in their last three games.

David Blough has been somewhat inconsistent throwing the ball and won't be helped by the injuries which have shorn him of some of his big threats in the passing game. The Detroit Offensive Line has not really been able to help him with much pass protection so it looks unlikely that the two Smiths at Defensive End are likely to be causing havoc in the backfield for Green Bay. That pressure could lead to mistakes throwing against an improved Packers Secondary and the feeling is that the visitors will be able to limit the threat Detroit can pose Offensively.

There has to still be one or two questions about whether Green Bay could cover this kind of number with the lack of Offensive production we have seen for much of the season. The Green Bay Offense looks like it doesn't match up as well with the Detroit Defense as you may have thought with the team capable of running the ball better than they have been when it comes to throwing even with Aaron Rodgers at Quarter Back.

Both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams have been powerful runners behind this Offensive Line, but the Lions have been pretty stout up front down the stretch. At the same time they are giving up almost 300 passing yards per game in their last three games, although Aaron Rodgers has yet to have a really big performance in 2019 and has admitted he doesn't need to throw a bunch of Touchdowns for the Packers to be successful.

I do think Jones and Williams will have some joy on the ground, while both could be effective as Receivers coming out of the backfield. Aaron Rodgers may also find more time to throw down the field considering the lack of pass rush Detroit have been able to generate and I think that gives the Packers a chance of keeping the ball moving.

You have to believe the Lions are going to be highly motivated to try and play spoiler in their final home game of the season, but they do look short of what the Green Bay Packers bring to the table. The win on Monday Night Football in Minnesota has improved the very good trend of backing Green Bay in road games and I think they are going to have too much for Detroit with enough big plays on both side of the ball to pull away for a healthy win.

Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: There is no doubt that the Dallas Cowboys roster is better than the 7-8 record they hold in the 2019 season, but at least they still have one last shot to make the PlayOffs as NFC East Champions. After losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16, Dallas have lost control of their own fate, although the Cowboys can win and then hope for an Eagles loss to finish as the Division winner.

The loss to the Eagles did feel like the end of the world for some Cowboys fans and not many will expect them to have a reprieve here which means big questions for Jerry Jones to answer as soon as the season is concluded. Jason Garrett's role as Head Coach has to be something that is going to be challenged, but he has to focus on things that he can control and that means winning in Week 17 and see how the chips fall.

Last week the Cowboys did not look like they were comfortable with either the game-plan or some of the pain that their top players are dealing with. One of those was Dak Prescott who has been struggling with accuracy ever since he banged his shoulder and hand and I do think the Cowboys need to give him a better chance to keep the chains moving.

Dallas can do that if they keep things simple and we have been hearing all week that the team need to lean on the Offensive Line and get Ezekiel Elliot running the ball. It has baffled me for some time that the Cowboys have not been able to use Elliot more than they have in recent weeks, and it would be negligent on their part if they are not able to establish the run behind the Running Back.

In recent games the Washington Defensive Line has struggled to stop the run and Elliot should be able to make some big gains on the ground. That will make sure the limited Washington pass rush is just eased off, while keeping Dak Prescott in third and manageable will at least make it easier to target what is a very good Receiving corps.

Injuries in the Washington Secondary and on the Defensive Line has just left them susceptible to the pass and I think Prescott will be able to have a decent outing. Even then it can't be ignored that he has not been at his best as he plays through an injury and I think it has to be factored in that the Cowboys could pull the Quarter Back if the Eagles are up big in their game and Prescott is not at 100%.

The Cowboys are big favourites to win this game and I do think they are going to be able to move the ball well in this one, although covering this number won't be easy. They are facing a Washington Redskins team who have lost three in a row and who will be targeting the Number 2 Pick in the next Draft which could mean bringing in someone like Chase Young.

However Washington are going to want to give a Divisional rival something to think about in a game which means more to them than it does for the Redskins. Dwayne Haskins is out for the season, but Case Keenum will start for the Redskins at Quarter Back and he will want to remind teams looking for a stopgap at that position that he could be someone they want to think about bringing in.

Keenum is going to be able to hand the ball to Adrian Peterson to keep the Cowboys honest, but the holes in the Dallas Secondary won't be lost on him. I do think there is a lack of talent to support Keenum as Washington are already thinking about the 2020 season, but even then you would think the Redskins can have some success as long as their Quarter Back does not make the back-breaking mistakes which have blighted him throughout his career.

While they have not faced too many top teams, Washington have been very competitive in their last five games. They pushed the Eagles all the way in a 10 point loss a couple of weeks ago and the Redskins were very close to winning that game outright, while the experience of Keenum should keep them competitive in this one too against a Dallas team who have a losing record in case they are over-rated by some.

The last three games between these teams have been decided by ten points or less, and the Redskins are 8-3 against the spread in their last eleven in Dallas.

Dallas have dominated the NFC East in recent games with a 14-3 record against the spread in their last seventeen against Divisional rivals. The Cowboys are 1-4 against the spread in their last five as a favourite though, while Washington are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight as the road underdog.

This looks a very big number considering the atmosphere that Dallas could be playing in and I do think Washington will do enough to keep this close enough to cover.

Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams Pick: There was still a glimmer of hope for the Los Angeles Rams to make the PlayOffs going into Week 16, but the narrow loss to the San Francisco 49ers have ended their chances. They have had an additional day to prepare for the Week 17 game against another Divisional rival, although you will have to question how much motivation is still going to keep the locker room going after missing out on the post-season.

However the Rams could benefit from facing a struggling Arizona Cardinals team who have won two in a row, but who could be without a number of key players that have been limited in practice during the week. The Cardinals stunned the Seattle Seahawks on the road last week and they beat the Cleveland Browns as a home underdog in Week 15, but Arizona have a poor recent record against the Rams which is going to need changing.

That might not happen at the end of the 2019 season with Kyler Murray limited at Quarter Back after picking up an injury in Week 16. I have little reason to believe the Cardinals will risk their young Quarter Back in what is a meaningless game for them and that could mean Brett Hundley is starting for them in that position.

Hundley played well enough in relief of Murray last week, but this time he is going to be facing a strong Los Angeles Defensive unit. That may give the Rams a chance to try and crack down on Kenyan Drake and David Johnson when it comes to running the ball, although the Los Angeles Defensive Line has struggled to clamp down on the run all season.

We know the backup Quarter Back is not as strong as Murray when it comes to running the ball, but Brett Hundley is someone who can move the chains with his legs. It does make it feel like a game in which the Cardinals will be able to establish the run and at least give themselves an opportunity even with the injuries, plus it would be important to at least slow down the Rams pass rush.

If they are behind the chains Arizona will find it very difficult to convert drives into points. You do have to wonder about the Rams mindset off the back of a loss which has knocked them out of the PlayOffs, but this is a Secondary which has improved against the pass since Jalen Ramsey arrived. Unfortunately Ramsey is not playing for the Rams in Week 17, but that will be balanced off if Kyler Murray is limited or if Brett Hundley is starting for him.

It won't just been the Cardinals who will be using backups, but the same could be said for the Los Angeles Rams whose Head Coach Sean McVay admitted he will be resting anyone who is dealing with an injury. The Rams have nothing to play for, which means key players could be left out and that makes it hard to get a really good read on the game.

What can be seen is that the Arizona Cardinals Defensive unit have played well down the stretch, although they could be missing Chandler Jones for this game. If Jones can suit up, the Cardinals should find a way to get a pass rush going, while the Defensive Line have been pretty stout against the run in recent games. Todd Gurley could be missing for the Rams too which could make things easier for Arizona to clamp down on the run and that could give the Cardinals a strong foundation to build their success upon.

There have been some nice performances from the Rams when it comes to passing the ball, but if Jared Goff is given some reps off it may make it more difficult for them to move the ball in this one. The Cardinals have had issues stopping the pass for much of this season, but again there have been signs of improvement in the last three weeks and I think the motivation of the home team has to be questioned in this one.

It certainly makes it hard to believe they are going to cover this spread and I think the underdog could be worth backing even though Arizona have a poor recent record against the Rams.

The Rams have a good set of recent trends, but Arizona are 6-1-1 against the spread in their last eight as the road underdog. Both teams are potentially going with backups in key areas, but I think the Cardinals may want this a bit more than the Rams and it will be tough for the home team to cover this number with the improvements made by Arizona down the stretch.

After the huge effort Los Angeles put in to the Week 16 defeat at San Francisco I think the Rams might be mentally not ready to do the same here so taking the points look the play.

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants Pick: Things have become very clear for the Philadelphia Eagles after beating the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 and they will be playing in the post-season if they win or the Cowboys lose in Week 17. If the Eagles are able to claim the NFC East Division, they are going to be hosting either the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round of the PlayOffs, but they can't focus on anything but this game having been in PlayOff mode for the entire month.

Any loss in that time would have likely meant the Eagles were out of contention to make the PlayOffs so the players have rallied together at just the right time to produce a three game winning run. Injuries have been piling up, but Carson Wentz has shown a real desire to carry this team and is justifying why the Eagles were happy enough to let Nick Foles go and get fully behind Wentz at Quarter Back.

Earlier this month the Eagles needed to recover from a big deficit to the beat the New York Giants, but you have to think the latter do have one big effort left for them. The Giants have won two in a row, although the one change from the first meeting between these Divisional rivals is the return of Daniel Jones at Quarter Back.

In Week 14 it was Eli Manning leading the New York Giants, but Jones can have similar success as the veteran. He will be backed up by Saquon Barkley who was restricted to 66 yards in the first game, but the Giants Offensive Line have opened more holes of late and the Eagles Defensive Line has just had one or two issues slowing the run.

I expect Barkley to have a bit more success than in their Week 14 meeting, but the Giants will lean on Daniel Jones against what has been a vulnerable Philadelphia Secondary. The Quarter Back should have his full complement of Wide Receivers and the Philadelphia pass rush may not be able to impact the game like they would want and that gives the Giants every chance of pushing their NFC East rivals all the way.

The Eagles should also have a very successful passing day against this Giants Secondary, but there are one or two things that may favour the home team which can see them involved in a very competitive game. The first is the fact that New York have been playing the run pretty well in recent games and the Defensive Line may find a way to stop Miles Sanders, although I do think the Running Back could be a major factor coming out of the backfield as a safety blanket for Carson Wentz.

If the Giants can push Philadelphia behind the chains they have the pass rush which can harass Carson Wentz and force him to get the ball out of his hands quicker than he may like.

It could lead to drives being stalled and the second reason you have to believe the Giants could potentially cause an upset is all of the injuries Philadelphia are dealing with in the Receiving units. It may mean some inconsistent drives for the Eagles and I do like the points being given to the underdog even if Carson Wentz is throwing into a Secondary which has struggled to stop anyone down the stretch.

The Giants have not been a good home underdog to back, but I think we get an A plus effort from them as they look to play spoiler for a rival. The Eagles have done enough to win games, but they have not blown anyone away and the underdog is 4-1 against the spread in the last five in this series.

MY PICKS: New Orleans Saints - 13.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Cincinnati Bengals + 2.5 Points @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 12.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Washington Redskins + 12.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arizona Cardinals + 6.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
New York Giants + 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)

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