Friday Picks: Week 12 (2014-15)

At 9-1, Arizona's biggest win could come in Seattle.

At 9-1, Arizona’s biggest win could come in Seattle.

The playoff race is officially underway. I’ll tell you where to look for the games that matter most. Cleveland will try to go on the road and rebound in Atlanta. They need a win in the tightest division in football. Detroit also needs a rebound on the road in New England after dropping one to Arizona last week. Houston hosts Cincinnati where both teams are potentially fighting for the same wildcard spot. Miami is part of that same hunt and face a huge test in Denver. But the Game of the Week is in Seattle, where the 9-1 Cardinals try to keep it going against the defending champions. With a win, Arizona can really think about taking that division. Pittsburgh and Carolina are on byes. My winners below (home team in CAPS):

Last week: 6-8   Overall: 105-55

Cold Hard Lock: 6-4  Upset Pick: 8-3

Kansas City over OAKLAND (TNF)

ATLANTA over Cleveland

PHILADELPHIA over Tennessee

NEW ENGLAND over Detroit

Green Bay over MINNESOTA

INDIANAPOLIS over Jacksonville

Cincinnati over HOUSTON

CHICAGO over Tampa Bay

SEATTLE over Arizona

SAN DIEGO over St. Louis

DENVER over Miami

SAN FRANCISCO over Washington

NY GIANTS over Dallas (SNF)

Buffalo over NY Jets (MNF in Detroit; on CBS)

NEW ORLEANS over Baltimore (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: DENVER over Miami; Last time I picked Miami to lose in my “Lock,” I got burned hard. This is another game a lot of people are keeping their eye on, especially after seeing Denver drop two of their past three. I’m not gonna freak out over that. Denver is still one of the best teams in the league and unbeatable thus far at home. Miami will give them a tough test, but I have to take Denver at home over almost any team in the NFL.

Upset Pick: Cincinnati over HOUSTON; Not much of an upset here (Houston -1.5) but there weren’t a whole lot of underdogs I was confident in this week. Cincinnati has been all over the place lately, but I think they can steal a road game here. I’m not crazy about Houston this year, even coming off an impressive win over Cleveland. They haven’t been particularly great at home so when it comes right down to it, I’m gonna take the better team in the middle of a division battle over an average Texans team, especially when Cincy is the “underdog.”

Game of the week: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks; Whether or not you believe in the Cardinals, this is a game we’ve been waiting for for a while. This is Arizona’s biggest test yet. Throughout their great run we’ve heard “Well, they still have to play Seattle twice.” Well here we are for meeting #1 and it takes place in the stadium where Seattle is known for punishing opponents. Keep in mind, the Cardinals were able to stun Seattle at home last year. If Arizona could win there again, would more people start to believe in them? It would certainly mean a lot. But this is as big a game for the Hawks as well. They trail Arizona by three games in the NFC West and a win would be a huge step in taking that division. A loss would of course mean the opposite, falling four games behind the rolling Cardinals. Even with the implications aside, these are two fantastic NFL teams with hard-hitting defenses. Expect a physical battle in Seattle.

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Friday Picks: Week 10 (2014-15)

Can Miami keep up their success in Detroit?

Can Miami continue their success in Detroit?

If you have work to do this weekend, Sunday will be a great time to do it. There just aren’t that many great games in Week 10. I see a bunch of mismatches and potential blowouts on the board: Baltimore-Tennessee, Pittsburgh-New York, Denver-Oakland, etc. The games that warrant watching will be in the early group. Buffalo hosts Kansas City in a game with huge AFC wildcard implications. Both are 5-3 and are desperate to gain ground on the other. A couple of the hottest teams in the NFL, Detroit and Miami, play in my Game of the Week. Overseas in London, Romo looks like he’ll play injured against Jacksonville. Indianapolis, Minnesota, New England, San Diego, Washington, and Houston are on byes. My winners below (home team in CAPS):

Last week: 8-5   Overall: 90-43

Cold Hard Lock: 5-3  Upset Pick: 7-2

CINCINNATI over Cleveland (TNF)

Kansas City over BUFFALO

DETROIT over Miami

Dallas over JACKSONVILLE (London)

NEW ORLEANS over San Francisco

BALTIMORE over Tennessee

Pittsburgh over NY JETS

TAMPA BAY over Atlanta

Denver over OAKLAND

ARIZONA over St. Louis

SEATTLE over NY Giants

GREEN BAY over Chicago (SNF)

PHILADELPHIA over Carolina (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: GREEN BAY over Chicago; I know the NFL and TV guys probably slated this game for Sunday night thinking it would be a good division rivalry game, but I’m afraid this one will be a dud. I’m done with Chicago. They have the pieces, especially on offense, to put together a decent team, but it’s just not working. I keep thinking every week will be different but every time they let me down. Now they have to go into Lambeau and try to steal a win. Green Bay knows this team too well to lose to them at home. I’ll take the Packers on Sunday night.

Upset Pick: TAMPA BAY over Atlanta; In a week of mismatches, I couldn’t pull the trigger on a lot of underdogs this week. I still like this pick though. Everyone remembers Atlanta thrashing Tampa Bay 56-14, making this an easy pick for many. Not so fast. That blowout was their last win and it came all the way back in September. Since then? Five straight losses. Atlanta just isn’t that good. Neither is Tampa Bay, but at least they are at home this time and have played decent football since their bye week. I’ll take Tampa in a game a lot of people will overlook.

Game of the week: Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions; I can’t say I ever thought these two teams would be the Game of the Week, but here we are. Two teams I’m not sure I can trust, but just keep winning. Miami has won three straight, their biggest win coming last week in a 37-0 pummeling of San Diego. They’ve caught the attention of many with their impressive play. Can they keep it up against the NFC’s second-best team? Yes, I am talking about the Lions. They currently sit at 6-2 and would get a bye week in the playoffs if the season ended today. The most impressive part? They’ve won three straight without Calvin Johnson. Now he’s back for a big game against Miami. Huge playoff implications for both teams in their respective conferences. We’ll see who comes to play in a matchup between two overachievers.

Pumping the brakes on the Dolphins

Should we buy what Miami is selling?

Should we buy what Miami is selling?

Last week I broke down the AFC playoff picture and didn’t give Miami much of a chance to make the playoffs. They didn’t have quality wins (save for New England in week 1) and faced a tough second-half schedule (and still do). But last week they ripped the San Diego Chargers 37-0 for their third straight win, catching the attention of many. Miami = playoff bound? Those are the murmurs I’m hearing this week.

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Where were those headlines before the Chargers game? There’s a reason we didn’t see them and one big win won’t convince me so easily.

Before I say anything else, I have to give the Dolphins credit. In a game I picked as my lock, Miami made me look like a fool for going with the Chargers. I did not see such domination coming. Perhaps they’ll prove me wrong again. But for now, let’s look at things realistically for Miami.

I have to believe at least two teams from the AFC North will make the playoffs, leaving one wildcard spot for seven teams. Even after a big win over one of those teams, they aren’t leading the race. They share the same record as Kansas City, Cleveland, and Buffalo, but are trailing each team due to tiebreaker rules. And you better believe tiebreakers will come into play in such a tight AFC. They’ve already fallen to KC and Buffalo earlier this season.

What is encouraging from the Dolphins is their conference record (4-2) and the fact that they haven’t had any bad losses. A loss is loss of course, but when Miami has had to take care of business–against Jacksonville and Oakland–they have. This makes me pretty confident they can pick up three wins against the Jets (twice) and Vikings.

Miami's remaining schedule.

Miami’s remaining schedule.

The rest of their schedule is full of good teams and brutal road games. They have to go to Detroit this Sunday, Denver in week 12, and New England in week 15. I seriously cannot see them beating the Pats or Broncos on their home turf. Detroit gets Calvin Johnson back, who should only add to the surprising success the Lions are having thus far. If Miami can keep it going and win in Detroit, they could be poised for a run. I don’t see it happening. Luckily for Miami, they don’t necessarily need this game.

They host Buffalo on Thursday night in week 11, an absolute must-win game. They already lost to Buffalo badly in week 2 and cannot afford to drop a home win against a potential wildcard team, not to mention a division rival. Another toss-up comes at home in week 14 against Baltimore, yet another wildcard team they are competing with. If they can pick up these two wins, along with those three “take care of business” games, they’ll find themselves at 10-6, certainly a record good enough to make the playoffs. However, which 10-6 record will be rewarded? The Bills, Chiefs, Chargers, Ravens, Browns, Steelers, or Bengals could all realistically go 10-6 (or Bengals 10-5-1). They all have tough schedules too, but I have to believe we’ll see at least a couple of those teams reach the double-digit mark. If it happens to be the wrong teams, Miami could find itself on the wrong end of the playoff bubble.

Ryan Tannehill has played some of his best football in the past month. Can he keep it up against a fantastic Detroit defense this Sunday?

Ryan Tannehill has played some of his best football in the past month. Can he keep it up against a fantastic Detroit defense this Sunday?

It’s certainly doable. Miami showed us they are fully capable of competing with any team in the NFL with their rout of San Diego. But where was that when they got shellacked by Kansas City (29-10) and Buffalo (34-15)? Are they just now starting to find their groove? We’ll get a good indication against Detroit this weekend.

And what about Ryan Tannehill? After week 3, we were hearing rumors about him getting benched. Now after a few good games against bad defenses, he’s suddenly our new favorite rising star? In Miami’s last four wins, Tannehill has faced the pass defenses of Oakland, Chicago, Jacksonville, and San Diego. All four rank in the bottom third of the NFL in opponent passer rating. Detroit ranks third in that category. Let’s see how he does then.

All I’m saying is, let’s slow down with the Dolphins. Don’t get tricked by one big win. They will not win the AFC East and still face a tough road to a wildcard spot. They still have had troubles playing to their potential, including last season. I’m not buying into Miami just yet, but they have plenty of opportunities ahead to prove me wrong.

Friday Picks: Week 9 (2014-15)

Tom Brady had one of the best months of his life. With November upon us, can he continue his tear against a stacked Denver defense?

Tom Brady had one of the best months of his life. With November upon us, can he continue his tear against a stacked Denver defense?

Brady vs. Manning XVI will steal most of the headlines this week, but there are plenty of other games that will shape the NFL as we pass the halfway point of the season. After squeezing out a heart-stopping win over Philly, Arizona faces its next test against 6-2 Dallas. Tony Romo is a gametime decision. San Diego and Miami face off in a game with huge AFC wildcard implications. With a huge pack fighting for two wildcard spots, wins are invaluable and losses are devastating. Baltimore and Pittsburgh will keep that in mind and more, as they fight for positioning in the tight AFC North on Sunday night. Quiet teams like St. Louis and Tampa Bay have the potential to be major spoilers this week. Always keep an eye out for that unexpected upset. Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Tennessee are on byes. My winners below (home team in CAPS):

Last week: 10-5   Overall: 82-38

Cold Hard Lock: 5-2  Upset Pick: 6-2

New Orleans over CAROLINA (TNF)

CLEVELAND over Tampa Bay

Arizona over DALLAS

Philadelphia over HOUSTON

KANSAS CITY over NY Jets

CINCINNATI over Jacksonville

San Diego over MIAMI

Washington over MINNESOTA

SAN FRANCISCO over St. Louis

Denver over NEW ENGLAND

SEATTLE over Oakland

PITTSBURGH over Baltimore (SNF)

NY GIANTS over Indianapolis (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: San Diego over MIAMI; The Chargers were rolling for the first six weeks of the season. Now they’ve dropped two straight to quality teams and they are the underdogs at Miami? I was going to make this my upset pick but this line (Miami -1) is so absurd that I’m locking it down. San Diego is still one of the best teams in this league and Miami is still average. On top of that, Miami is not a good home team at all. San Diego may have had to travel a little far this week, but they’ll make it worth it when they leave Miami with their sixth win of the season.

Upset Pick: PITTSBURGH over Baltimore; This line (Baltimore -1.5) was shocking. Big Ben coming off one of the best games of his career along with Baltimore losing to Cincy and Pittsburgh is the underdog? At home?? I had to jump on this one. Gotta love a home underdog with a good QB. Pittsburgh, as inconsistent as they have been, are a solid 5-3 team that can take control of this division with a win. This should be one of the best games of the week with huge division implications on the line.

Game of the week: New England Patriots over Denver Broncos; You know the story. You know what’s at stake. Brady vs. Manning, two of the best QBs ever to play the game. It was the same last year in week 12. That game fully lived up to the hype as the Pats rallied from down 24-0 and even took the lead, only to see Peyton force the game into OT. From there, New England edged out the win. Now here we are in week 9 with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning facing off in Gillette Stadium once again. Denver looks like the all-around best team in the league. They have a seemingly unstoppable offense with an improved and star-studded defense. New England could say the same, but that would be a complete lie. Already with a severe lack of stars, the Pats are suffering from key injuries in the defense and running game. What they do have is Tom Brady. Since New England’s embarrassing 41-14 loss to Kansas City, Tom Brady has thrown nearly 70% completion, over 300 yards a game, 14 TDs, and no picks. All wins. That is insanity. In a quarterback-driven league, this is the NFL at its best. Don’t miss this potential AFC Championship preview.