Super Bowl 52 Predictions

super-bowl-LII-patriots-eaglesAll the countless hours we’ve spent towards watching football these past few months has led up to this final game: Super Bowl 52. While the Patriots were huge favorites entering the season, the Eagles flew to new heights in 2017 and with the players/coaching staff in place, could be perennial contenders for the long haul. This game like every recent Super Bowl involving the Patriots, should be pretty even. If you want any chance to beat Tom Brady in these games, you’ll need to be able to get pressure on him using only four rushers. The Eagles have talent and plenty of depth along their line which could make things intriguing.With that, here is my x-factor for each team followed by my game prediction.

Eagles x-factor: Dannell Ellerbe, Linebacker: In Jordan Hicks, the Eagles had one of the premier inside linebackers in terms of pass coverage. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles earlier this season. Then when his backup Joe Walker was placed on injured reserve, Ellerbe got the call. Ellerbe traditionally only plays in the base defense, but this is where the Patriots take advantage of matchups.

When playing against no huddle offenses, the Eagles are allowing almost three yards per pass attempt more than opposed to when teams huddle against their defense. The Patriots playing fast would make it harder for Ellerbe to get off the field which could create mismatches for the numerous pass catchers out of the backfield. There’s no doubt players like James White or Dion Lewis will be involved as receivers, but it will be interesting to see how much of that production comes with Ellerbe in the game.

Patriots x-factor: Defending the run pass option: When you think of the run pass option (RPO), the first thing that may come to mind are quarterbacks with rushing ability. Despite that, Nick Foles is a quarterback who has excelled when they’re incorporated into his offenses. They were used heavily in his magical 2013 season under Chip Kelly, and were used in the most recent NFC title game. Per Pro Football Focus, no team ran more RPOs in the regular season than the Eagles this year, while nobody faced it less than the Patriots. The RPO was also a heavy component of the Chiefs offense when they went in to beat the Patriots in week one.

Now here is where coaching plays a role. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have had two weeks to prepare the defense for these situations if called upon. The longer Super Bowl halftime could also play a role in the event the Eagles have success with it early. If any coaching staff is capable of making necessary adjustments, it’s the Patriots, so their performance against RPOs in the second half could very well determine this game.

Prediction: While the Eagles’ strong play on both the defensive and offensive line gives them the ability to beat the Patriots, I’m having a hard time picking against Brady and Belichick. What also worries me about the Eagles is their secondary has had some shaky moments, and Brady over the years has not only performed well against Jim Schwartz defenses, but has limited turnovers in the process. Assuming the Patriots do go with the up-tempo attack, I just think their arsenal of pass catchers could be too much to overcome. Eagles 21 Patriots (-5.5) 26

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Championship Sunday Predictions

usa_today_8829369.0Arguably the best day of the football season is here as we get to watch two games that showcase the two remaining teams each conference has to offer. Last year, the common trend was all of the teams who made it this far had top tier quarterback play. The starting quarterbacks were Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. This year, only Brady returns while the three other teams boast some of the  league’s premier defenses.

With the cost of high-end quarterback play, it will be interesting to see if more teams try the defense-oriented approach in what’s a copycat league. Even if attempted, I feel this season is more of an outlier in that department rather than the norm. Strong play at quarterback can at least consistently get you in the playoffs and as we’ve seen the past few weeks, anything can happen from that point.

Straight up: 3-1, Postseason: 5-3

Against the spread: 2-2, Postseason: 4-4

Jaguars 21 Patriots (-9.5) 26: When the Patriots shared a few days of practice time with the Jaguars in August before their preseason meeting, I’m pretty sure Bill Belichick and company didn’t see them as a potential playoff threat. A little over four months later, and the Jaguars are now the last obstacle the Patriots face to appear in yet another Super Bowl. As we all know, the Jaguars have an extremely talented defense that has the ability to pressure quarterbacks with just four pass rushers; a common trend of teams that have beaten Tom Brady in the postseason.

Brady apparently banged his right hand on a helmet while throwing in practice this week, but as of now that’s all a mystery. I’m expecting Brady when passing to spread the field with four or five receivers, see where his best matchup lies and take advantage. Plays that take only a few seconds to develop wouldn’t be surprising either as Brady and company through the air have shown they can neutralize top pass rushes with gains of six to eight yards consistently.

How the Jaguars decide to cover Rob Gronkowski will be a very interesting development. My guess is initially the Jaguars will start with Myles Jack who is a fantastic athlete at linebacker, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Jalen Ramsey is covering Gronkowski in a few instances. With the Jaguars slightly more vulnerable against the run, Dion Lewis and James White remain x-factors as players who could make a difference between the tackles or after the catch.

The Jaguar offense will likely come down to the health of Leonard Fournette and the ball security of Blake Bortles. To this point, Bortles in the postseason has been asked to be a hybrid of early year Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. Essentially a quarterback who doesn’t make things harder on his defense by committing turnovers and keeping defenses honest with his running ability.  The longer Bortles can extend drives, the less time it gives Brady and the Patriots offensively which is where Fournette comes into play.

Fournette has had higher rushing totals in his rookie year, but last week prior to his injury was the best I felt he has looked as a pro. The offensive line also came up big in terms of opening lanes, but Fournette showed how quickly he can accelerate and was consistently picking up big yards on first down. T.J. Yeldon also came up big when called upon, so if Fournette’s ankle is clearly bothering him, Yeldon could see an expanded role. While I think this game has all the makings of an upset, I’m worried about if the Jaguars face an early deficit like the Titans did last week which leads me to taking the Pats.

Vikings 20 Eagles (+3.5) 16: Even though Sam Bradford isn’t starting at quarterback for the Vikings in this one, there’s a chance he’s to thank for this matchup being possible. If the Eagles hadn’t traded Bradford, 2017 would have likely been the first full year of the Carson Wentz era, rather than one where he emerged into an MVP candidate. Both of these teams have extremely talented defenses and this game has all the makings of a potential slugfest.

Case Keenum’s storybook season continued last week as his touchdown as time expired to Stefon Diggs made for one of the greatest moments in franchise history. The good news for Keenum is that the Eagles defensive backs have been inconsistent in coverage. With arguably the league’s premier receiver duo in Adam Thielen and Diggs, Keenum and the offense should be able to move the ball through the air if given time in the pocket. That’s a big if given the amount of talent along the Eagles’ defensive line, but even on shorter patterns both receivers can create after the catch.

Nick Foles did enough to win in Wentz’s absence last week, but it wasn’t necessarily pretty. Foles at least tried a few deeper attempts, but to no avail and against this Vikings defense, will have to hope they can connect on one of them. Even with Xavier Rhodes in coverage, Alshon Jeffery is a player who has had success against members of the Viking secondary dating back to his tenure with the Bears. A big game from Jeffery and a player such as Zach Ertz or Nelson Agholor would be a huge boost.

In what I predict to be a low scoring game, whoever establishes the run game in this one could be at a major advantage. Both of these defenses during the regular season allowed less than four yards an attempt on the ground, so it could come down to manufacturing touches for backs as well. The Vikings mainly use Latavius Murray in the ground game, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Jerick McKinnon was more involved if Murray failed to get anything going. McKinnon offers more as a receiver, so even short passes could be used to an extent. The Eagles could rely on Jay Ajayi or Corey Clement in similar ways to McKinnon as LeGarrette Blount is more of a two down player. This one should be close, but I’m siding with the Vikings on the road as even though the Eagles are a very well rounded team, I have more faith in Keenum than Foles.

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Divisional Round Predictions

mark-ingram-short-run-gain-saints-vs-vikings-101f2351d1e05f24.jpgThe Wildcard weekend ended up being a very interesting one with two of the lower seeds advancing, and all four of the underdogs covering with the spread. This divisional round features two matchups that occurred in the regular season which were both rather one sided. Both of those games happened early in the regular season, so all four of those teams have changed drastically since that time. With two games a piece on Saturday and Sunday, this should be another action packed weekend of playoff football.

Wild card weekend results:

Straight up: 2-2

Against the spread: 2-2

Falcons 20 Eagles (+3.5) 17: Before getting started, I wanted to make it clear this Eagles team is much better than they’ve been given credit for since Carson Wentz went down. Yes, Wentz really took the next step in his second season but this team still has fantastic offensive and defensive lines along with a supporting cast that Nick Foles will be able to work with.

One player in particular I think Foles will be targeting often in this one is Nelson Agholor. The third year wideout saw an increase in usage when Foles came under center and has a matchup against Brian Poole who per Pro Football Focus has allowing a passer rating of 111.4 when targeted in the slot.

In my opinion, the outcome of this game will be determined by what version of the Eagle secondary shows up. The group has been rather inconsistent at times this year, and a poor start against a Matt Ryan led offense while facing off with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu can make for a long day. This game features two of the more talented rosters in the league, but in what should be a close game, I’m going with what quarterback I trust more.

Titans 23 Patriots (-13.5) 34: A team that has been overlooked the majority of the season, the Titans saw last week that if you let Marcus Mariota operate out of the shotgun and give Derrick Henry the ball good things happen. Who knew? Now the Titans have the toughest task of them all and beating the Patriots on Saturday night might go down as one of the bigger playoff upsets in recent memory.

Good news for the Titans entering this one is that the Patriots have allowed 4.4 yards a carry on the ground in their past five games. One reason for the Chiefs collapse in the second half is that their defense simply couldn’t get off the field. 20 plus touches of Henry would help in establishing that. Mariota has been contributing in the running game, but if they’re in comeback mode again he’ll need to win with his arm. Odds are Delanie Walker and Eric Decker could both be in for big days in this one. Walker is Mariota’s safety valve, and should see plenty of volume. Decker who caught the game winning touchdown last week, will be in the slot against a secondary that has had trouble defending slot receivers of late.

While Tom Brady looks to get everyone involved, Rob Gronkowski could be in for a monster game. Prior to a concussion ending his day late in the first half, Travis Kelce was having his way with the Titan defense who will clearly have their hands full again. Assuming the Patriots take a pass first approach in this one, the return of Chris Hogan to go along with the likes of Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and three running backs who can all contribute as pass catchers could be too much to handle. Unless the Titans are able to firmly control the time of possession, I don’t believe they have the firepower to win in a shootout.

Jaguars 16 Steelers (-7.5) 23: Earlier this year, the Jaguars had a statement win in Pittsburgh which they controlled from the start. Part of that was due to the game plan the Steelers had coming in. At the time of the game, the Jaguar run defense was struggling, but Le’Veon Bell only saw 15 carries while Ben Roethlisberger ended up attempting 50 plus passes. Roethlisberger ended up throwing five interceptions (which is unlikely to happen again) and the Steelers were in a hole right away.

This game simply comes down to which Blake Bortles shows up. While the criticism of Bortles has been excessive the past year or so, another passing performance like he had last week is simply not going to cut it. In an ideal world for the Jaguars, Bortles will complete 60 plus percent of his passes for 200 or so yards without turnovers. That’s really all they need. This figures to be another high volume game for Leonard Fournette which could be favorable as the Steelers run defense has regressed since Ryan Shazier’s season ending injury. The bad news is that Fournette has averaged barely three yards a carry in his last eight games. Despite his size, Fournette so far has been best when in space, and it will be interesting to see if the Jaguars get him on the edge rather than sticking to between the tackles.

Aside from their matchup with the Jaguars earlier this year, the Steelers offense once again hit another level at home. This week, Bell could have a big day as a pass catcher against a Jaguar defense who has allowed backs to beat them through the air of late. Fortunately for the Steelers, Antonio Brown returns and his matchup against Jalen Ramsey will be a whole lot of fun to watch.

While Brown should be targeted frequently, how he feels in his first game back from injury could play a role in his snap count. JuJu Smith-Schuster played primarily in the slot when these teams last played, and it will be interesting how he fares against Aaron Colvin. Colvin surprisingly hasn’t been targeted much despite Ramsey and A.J. Bouye on the outside, but that could change this week. The Jaguars have the formula to win on the road multiple times in the playoffs, but after his past few performances it’s tough to trust Bortles in the event the Jaguars need to make their way back into the game.

Saints 20 Vikings (-4.5) 24: When these two teams met in week one, the Vikings won in a route and it appeared it would be another Saints season of high octane offense, but not much on the defensive side of the ball. A lot has changed the past few months as the defense is much improved, and the Saints duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara on the ground has been so good teams are now daring Drew Brees to beat them. For most teams, neither formula bodes well but they don’t have the defensive personnel of the Vikings.

The Viking defense is not only stout against the run, but they limit opposing backs from contributing as receivers which is a huge factor in this one. Michael Thomas also has a much more difficult matchup this week against Xavier Rhodes but should still see a half dozen targets thrown his way.  One player to watch in this one is Ted Ginn in matchup against Trae Waynes who despite improvements is a more vulnerable corner than Rhodes. Ginn’s deep speed could once again be a difference maker.

Case Keenum comes into this game on a role and the Vikings hope his feel good season continues. Of late, the Saints have shown some vulnerability to receivers on the perimeter which bodes well for both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen also lines up a decent amount in the slot which could create even more favorable matchups for him. If the Vikings get out to an early lead, the Saints could be in for a heavy dose of Latavius Murray, while Jerick McKinnon figures to see the majority of snaps if the Vikings needed another passing threat.  This game has the makings to be the best of the weekend, and in the end I can’t help but go with the home team whose defense is arguably the best in the league.

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Wildcard Weekend Predictions

379551_web1_copy_BillsBortlesRun1240After a regular season that for better or worse featured a little bit of everything, the NFL postseason is finally here. Unlike the other major sports, this is the only one with a “win or go home” playoff format so every game can be very compelling. In past years however, we’ve seen that doesn’t always mean the better team wins. Due to the nature of a seven game series in basketball, baring injuries or bad matchups the more talented team is likely going to win a seven game series. In football, all it takes is getting hot at the right time or a play here and there that could be the difference between a quick playoff exit or a Super Bowl title.

Last week: 10-6, Season: 167-89

Last week against the spread: 10-6, Season: 126-130

Titans 16 Chiefs (-9.5) 26: The Titans aren’t a team generating a ton of buzz right now, but they have some of the old playoff cliches working in their favor. They’ll likely try and establish the run game with Derrick Henry who will once again see increased volume with DeMarco Murray already ruled out. The Chiefs defense has been gashed of late, and  Henry should see 20 plus touches as long as the Titans are keeping it close.

Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense has been better at home this year and going into Arrowhead is no easy task for your first career playoff game. Despite that, the Titans do have some favorable matchups when they look to throw. Eric Decker and Delanie Walker have both proven they can do damage lined up in the slot, and the Chiefs slot corner Steven Nelson has had his share of struggles this season. Look for Mariota to target Decker and Walker early and often.

With Dick LeBeau, the Titans have a defensive coordinator with decades of postseason experience. While the Chiefs will look to continue having Kareem Hunt involved, it may not come through the ground. Since week 12 Titan opponents have averaged less than 3.5 yards a carry. Backs have been able to produce against the Titans in the passing game, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Hunt was more involved there than usual.

This has the makings of a nice matchup for Alex Smith as quarterbacks have fared well against the Titans defense this season. The likes of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill provide a difficult challenge for a young but talented secondary. While the Titans have  prevented big pass plays this year,  stopping Hill vertically is easier said than done and Kelce might be the best tight end in the league at the moment. The ability of the Titans to get pressure on Smith will be the determining factor in this one as the Titan offense isn’t built to win shootouts.

Falcons 20 Rams (-6.5) 24: The defending NFC champion going up against this year’s feel good story has the makings to be a lot of fun. We all know about the offensive talent the Falcons have, but for whatever reason that hasn’t translated to points. Matt Ryan is still playing at a high level, but has a tough matchup against a tough Rams defense. Not surprisingly, Julio Jones should be called upon often in this one. Jones should be seeing a lot of Trumaine Johnson who is a bigger corner, but it’s a matchup Jones still should have the upper hand in.

The Rams have been vulnerable to wideouts who line up on the inside, so Mohamed Sanu is a player who could have a big impact if the Falcons decide to target that matchup. Against the run, the Rams have also had some struggles so it will be interesting to see how often Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are used even if it’s to keep the Ram offense off the field.

Some bad news for the Falcons is that Todd Gurley comes into this one with fresh legs. While the Falcons the past few months have been stout in run defense, opposing backs have racked up almost 800 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions against them. We’ve seen how dangerous Gurley can be in the passing game, and it’s certain he will be involved there again.

Gurley’s producing will also open things up for Jared Goff in his first playoff start. Don’t be surprised if Goff looks for Cooper Kupp early and often. Kupp will be running the majority of his routes against Brian Poole in the slot who per Pro Football Focus is allowing 1.49 yards per coverage snap. Kupp and Robert Woods are the likely bets to lead the Rams in receiving this game. This game has the makings of a potential shootout, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this one came down to the very end.

Bills 14 Jaguars (-9.5) 24: You wan’t a playoff atmosphere? Then you’ll want to watch what’s going on in Jacksonville this weekend as two teams with playoff droughts of a decade plus entering the game face off. The biggest question for the Bills will certainly be the status of LeSean McCoy. Dealing with an ankle injury, if McCoy is unable to play like himself it would hurt the Bills’ chances against a team who can be beat via the run.

The other question for the Bills is if any of their receivers will be able to create separation against the Jaguar secondary. Tyrod Taylor isn’t a quarterback who will throw a ton of balls into heavy traffic, so it will be interesting how much he looks for a player like Kelvin Benjamin who is at his best in jump ball situations.

For the Jaguars, it basically all comes down to Blake Bortles. We all know the defense is phenomenal and Leonard Fournette will get plenty of touches. But the ceiling for the team this year will be determined by Bortles’ mistakes or lack thereof. If Bortles is able to reestablish the rhythm he had in weeks 13-15, this game could get ugly quickly.

Panthers 21 Saints (-6.5) 26: Sweeping a team as talented the Panthers is a tough task, but now the Saints are needing to beat them a third time. The good news is unlike previous seasons, the Saints aren’t only reliant on Drew Brees and can get it done with the run game and the defensive side of the ball.

For the Panthers, it will be crucial to see which Cam Newton shows up for this one. He has thrown for less than 200 yards in seven of his last nine games, and his yards per pass attempt decreased for a third straight season. Fortunately, Christian McCaffrey has a nice matchup in this one as the Saints have allowed over 700 yards and five touchdowns through the air to opposing backs.

Except for their two games against the Saints, the Panthers were strong against the run so it will be interesting to see what run defense shows up. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are almost matchup proof at this point and should see their usual workloads. For whatever reason after their bye, the Panther pass defense has taken a turn for the worst allowing over 300 yards passing a game. The Saints ideally won’t have Brees throwing 50 times, but this could bode well in the event the Saints are in a two minute situation needing to score.


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2017 Fantasy Disappointments

59b728e9f1be1.imageWith most fantasy leagues finishing last week, we’ve seen some nice stories about fantasy players donating money to charities players who helped them win their title are involved with. Those are the picks or free agent pickups that can help swing a league. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the disappointing picks. They seemed like a good at the time, but you might have stuck with them for too long which dug your team in a hole. Players such as David Johnson who went down for the year before it began won’t be counted here.

Remember, at the end of the day the players are more disappointed in their performance than fantasy owners are and while there is skill involved in fantasy football, a lot of it comes down to luck as well. Due to so many of the top tight ends going down with injuries, I’ll also be adding a “flex” spot rather than picking a player who was sidelined the majority of the season. All preseason rankings and scoring totals mentioned are from ESPN in PPR format.

QB: Derek Carr, Raiders: Coming off a 2016 season that led to some MVP buzz before a season ending injury, Carr was a popular pick with the Raiders expected to light up scoreboards. Rated as the ninth fantasy quarterback entering the year, Carr with a game left sits 19th at the position. Carr’s stats are down around the board this year, and he suddenly will have a lot of questions to answer in 2018.

Oddly enough, this might of been the year to rely on streaming quarterbacks in fantasy. There are four quarterbacks who weren’t listed in ESPN’s preseason top 20 who are on pace to finish inside the top 15 at the position: Alex Smith, Jared Goff, Blake Bortles and Case Keenum.

RB: Jay Ajayi, Dolphins/Eagles: The “Jay Train” was full steam ahead after a 2016 that gave him lead back duties in Miami where he became a top fantasy performer piling on big yardage and touchdowns. Expected to see major volume over a full year in a potent offense, Ajayi was a popular pick for many in the first round and ESPN had Ajayi rated as the ninth highest running back entering the year.

Things got off to a rocky start in Miami which led to a trade to the Eagles. While that helped Ajayi’s chances of reaching the postseason, he was now a member of a crowded backfield. With a game remaining Ajayi is 31st among running backs in fantasy points scored. While he has been efficient with his touches, a large part of his scoring downfall has been the two touchdowns scored to this point. Considering Ajayi will have all offseason to get settled in the Eagle offense, he could be a nice bounce back candidate in 2018.

RB: Isaiah Crowell, Browns: Crowell entered 2017 as a potential breakout fantasy star. He had a career year in 2016, playing for his next contract and the Browns invested a nice chunk of money in their offensive line. Some also thought the Browns could be in position to chew up clock when holding onto the lead this year. Well, a lot of that ended up being wrong.

With a game remaining, Crowell is 28th in fantasy points scored and has yet to see more than 20 carries in a game. Then again, when the team is averaging five yards a pop on the ground and can have DeShone Kizer let it rip for 15 play stretches you have to do it. Lack of touchdowns was a theme for Crowell as well with just two for the season. Where he ends up in 2018 could have major fantasy implications.

WR: Jordy Nelson, Packers: While Nelson has had a very nice career, it was pretty eye opening that ESPN had rated him as their fourth wideout ahead of players such as A.J. Green. Nelson always has had big numbers when Aaron Rodgers is at the helm, but saw a dip in production when that wasn’t the case.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened this year. Before Rodgers broke his collarbone, Nelson accumulated six touchdowns in his first four games played but his fantasy production came to a screeching halt after week six. Since then, Nelson has yet to top 40 yards in a game and for the year is now averaging less than ten yards a catch. Currently 43rd at the position in points scored, Nelson would be best served as a touchdown dependent WR2 or 3 next season.

WR: Terrelle Pryor, Redskins: After an impressive 2016 with the Browns, Pryor signed a prove-it deal with the Redskins to potentially be their number one receiver in the absence of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon leaving. Featured in a prolific passing attack with the ability to do plenty of damage in the redzone, Pryor was a popular fantasy pick and was rated as ESPN’s number 14 receiver entering the year.

Things didn’t go as planned. Pryor tried playing through a foot injury, and eventually was placed on IR and his presence or lack of impacted plenty of fantasy teams. In nine games, he hauled in 20 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. That total currently has him sitting 101st at the position in points scored. The receiver ranked directly behind Pryor in those preseason rankings was DeAndre Hopkins.

Flex: Mike Evans, Buccaneers: This was a two man race between Evans and Amari Cooper, but the opportunity cost is what won it for Evans here. Rated as ESPN’s 5th receiver and eighth player overall, fantasy owners would have needed to most likely spend a top ten pick to nab the extremely talented receiver. Considering that he was Jameis Winston’s favorite target, the Buccaneers expecting to put up points with ease, and a traditional “Hard Knocks” bump it seemed like a pick well spent.

While still productive, Evans has not lived up to the billing of what it would cost to draft him. With a game remaining, he ranks 18th among receivers in fantasy points scored and just didn’t seem to get on the same page with Winston as often as we’ve become accustomed to. Regardless, Evans is 54 yards away from another 1,000 yard season and the talent is still very apparent. He could bounce back in a major way in 2018.

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Week 17 Predictions

Cam NewtonLast week was a decent showing for my predictions but now we enter one of if not the toughest week of the regular season to predict. With only a few games having playoff implications, many teams who have already clinched will be playing their regulars sparingly or not at all. Some are doing this as they’ve already maxed out their potential playoff seeding, while others such as the Rams seem to be going about it to line up a more favorable second round matchup if they did advance. Regardless, fans are in for a treat Sunday as it will be the last 16 game slate of the season.

Last week: 11-5, Season: 157-83

Last week against the spread: 7-9, Season: 116-124

Game of the weak: Texans vs Colts: Since division realignment in 2002, these are the two teams who since its inception have captured the AFC South title. Now, they’re both playing in week 17 with quarterbacks who weren’t on the roster to start the season.  With five different quarterbacks taking snaps and some key blows on the defensive side of the ball, this is a year the Texans would like to forget. The good news is Deshaun Watson before his injury did show plenty of reasons to be excited about the future.

The Colts season rested on the shoulder of Andrew Luck, and even before being shutdown it became inevitable that he’d be shutdown. While the Colts did add some nice pieces on the defensive side of the ball, their best bet to relevance will come through taking advantage of the draft capital they’ll be given. The hardest thing to find is a franchise quarterback and assuming Luck is fully recovered that’s already in place. Texans 17 Colts (-5.5) 24

Game of the week: Panthers vs Falcons: With the Panthers playing for a potential division title and the Falcons having a “win and in” scenario, you can’t ask for much more than this. It may not be a coincidence at this point that the Panthers are now 6-1 since trading away Kelvin Benjamin. Remember, their 2015 run to the Super Bowl also happened to occur when Benjamin suffered a season ending ACL tear in training camp. Since the trade, Cam Newton has thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions while he threw for 10 touchdowns with 11 interceptions prior.

While the Panther offense is clicking, the same can’t be said for the Falcons. They’ve shown glimpses over the course of the season, but Steve Sarkisian just hasn’t gotten the same production out of this group. If Matt Ryan and company struggle this week, it will be interesting to see if coaching changes are made on that side of the ball in the offseason. Panthers 21 Falcons (-4.5) 24

Cowboys 26 Eagles (+3.5) 16

Browns 20 Steelers (-7.5) 24

Bears 16 Vikings (-11.5) 28

Jets 17 Patriots (-15.5) 33

Packers 21 Lions (-6.5) 26

Redskins 24 Giants (+3.5) 17

Raiders 20 Chargers (-7.5) 28

49ers 26 Rams (+3.5) 20

Jaguars 24 Titans (-3.5) 20

Chiefs 21 Broncos (-3.5) 23

Saints 28 Buccaneers (+6.5) 21

Bengals 16 Ravens (-9.5) 24

Bills 24 Dolphins (+2.5) 23

Cardinals 20 Seahawks (-9.5) 28




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Week 16 Fantasy Surprises

eric-ebron-landon-collinsLast week was a boom-or-bust one for my fantasy surprises, but the ones that hit did so in a big way. Blake Bortles was one of the better fantasy quarterbacks in week 15, while Robbie Gould poured in six field goals. Unless you’re playing daily fantasy this week, odds are that this is the week of your fantasy championship game. If you made it, congratulations. At this point, my advice would be don’t overthink things as hindsight is always 20/20, and stick with the stars who have gotten you to this point.

QB: Nick Foles vs Raiders: Players like Foles are why the dilemma of “stick with your stars” can get confusing. Last week, there was a chance you could have played Tom Brady who turned in a below average fantasy week by his standards and lost, while picking up Foles off the waiver wire would’ve likely led you to victory. Oddly enough, this is a year where simply streaming your quarterbacks could have been a better idea than investing heavy draft capital.

This week, Foles should be counted on again as the Eagles are still playing for something, and the Raiders have been very generous against the pass. Depending on how active teams in consolation games are in your league, Foles might be available. If he is, the matchup is worth playing if you face QB uncertainty. Expect around 250 yards and three touchdowns.

RB: Latavius Murray vs Packers: Despite being in a committee with Jerick McKinnon, Murray has seen 15 plus touches in five of his six games since the Vikings bye week. The only game he didn’t was the loss to the Panthers where Case Keenum was in comeback mode. This week Murray gets a Packer defense that has allowed a dozen touchdowns to opposing backs, and there is a chance for 20 plus touches if the Vikings get out to an early lead. Expect around 90 total yards and a touchdown.

WR: Keelan Cole vs 49ers: Cole burst out in a huge way last week, but don’t start thinking he is a one game wonder. The undrafted rookie has big time speed, and on the day I went to Jaguar training camp this summer he was consistently making contested one handed catches over defenders. This week with Marqise Lee out, Cole should see at least six to eight targets in a matchup that appears to be very favorable. With a big game this Sunday, Cole has the chance to enter Fantasy football lore and be described in reverential terms by fantasy players for years. Expect around 80 yards and a touchdown.

TE: Eric Ebron vs Bengals: Don’t look now, but Ebron has been progressing of late. With 27 catches in his last five games, he looks much more comfortable catching the ball and is making the most of his targets. The Bengals linebacker corps has been decimated by injuries, so it wouldn’t be surprising if once again Ebron finds himself heavily involved in the offense. He could make for a nice streaming option at a thin position this week. Expect around 60 yards and a touchdown.

K: Phil Dawson vs Giants: As those who have read these before might know, I tend to target opportunity most when it comes to kickers. Over the past two weeks, you can’t have much more than Dawson whose nine field goals have accounted for all of the Cardinals points in that span. Drew Stanton might have more success moving the ball than Blaine Gabbert, but against a vulnerable Giant defense, Dawson will still get his chances. Expect around three field goals and two extra points.

DEF: Bears vs Browns: The Bears fantasy defense hasn’t been a very reliable option, but they have performed better at home. That is where they’ll be squaring off against the Browns. With DeShone Kizer’s turnover tendencies in the redzone, this matchup could pay off in a big way if you stream your fantasy defenses. Plus, there is always the special teams factor as you’d receive points in the event Tarik Cohen took a punt back for a touchdown. Expect around three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

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