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NFL Divisional Round Free Picks

Saints vs. Seahawks, 4:35PM ET
The forecast for Saturday’s Divisional round game in Seattle is calling for a 70-perent chance of rain throughout and high winds ranging between 28 and 30 miles per hour. Considering Seattle already has the toughest defense in the NFL and has struggled offensively in recent weeks, the under seemingly holds more value than the side in this matchup. The Saints also went with a power run approach last Saturday in Philadelphia and may have to employ a similar tactic if they can’t stretch the ball vertically. The Seahawks also did a great job of limiting New Orleans’ screen and short area game in the first matchup, so offense could be at a premium for the Saints this weekend. The under is 5-0 in the Saints’ last five road games, 7-1 in their last eight games overall and 5-0 in the Seahawks’ last five games.
FREE PICK: UNDER 44

Colts vs. Patriots, 8:15PM ET
Andrew Luck and the Colts staged one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history last week when they knocked off the Chiefs, 45-44. But they also received some help along the way. Kansas City lost six starters throughout the game, including running back Jamaal Charles. Bob Sutton also failed to adjust to T.Y. Hilton’s ability to run free in his secondary in the second half and the Colts turned the ball over a whopping four times. Too many things went right for Indianapolis to bank on more fireworks Saturday night in Foxboro. (I’ll save everyone the “Luck” puns.) This is usually the time of year when Bill Belichick and Tom Brady make their money and Belichick won’t make the same mistakes that Sutton and Andy Reid did a week ago.
FREE PICK: PATRIOTS -7

49ers vs. Panthers, 1:05PM ET
This truly is a coin flip of a matchup. The Panthers beat the 49ers 10-9 in San Francisco back in November of this year but the Niners were without Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith, and only had Vernon Davis for the first half before he injured himself. Colin Kaepernick has also been a different quarterback with Crabtree back in the starting lineup and the Niners are one of the hottest teams in the league. While Carolina plays outstanding defense at home, this will be Cam Newton’s first playoff game and his inexperience could shine through. With this game expected to be tight throughout, look for the Niners to hold onto victory in the end.
FREE PICK: 49ERS PICK’EM

Chargers vs. Broncos, 4:40PM ET
The Broncos were held under 30 points only three times this season and the Chargers were able to do it twice. In their current five-game winning streak, San Diego has rushed at least 36 times per contest and gained over 143 yards in every game. Running the ball and stealing time of possessions away from Peyton Manning will be the key to their success but whether or not they can do it will be another story. Manning realizes that his window to win another Super Bowl is slamming shut and despite his issues in his first playoff games, the cold weather or Denver’s defense, I don’t think Manning will be outdone this weekend by a scrappy San Diego team. It’s too tempting to take the 10 points with the Chargers after they were able to dismantle an underrated Cincinnati team a week ago but I’m going to do it anyway. I think this is Manning’s year to at least get back to the Super Bowl and I see a rout in the final game of Divisional week.
FREE PICK: BRONCOS -10

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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NFL Week 16 Free Picks

Saints vs. Panthers, 1:00PM ET
After the Seahawks thrashed the Saints on “Monday Night Football” a few weeks back, Drew Brees reminded reporters that New Orleans has the best road record of any team in the NFL since 2009. While that may be, there’s no denying that the Saints are a much different team on the road this year than at home. Part that is because the Saints are seemingly unbeatable inside the Superdome. But Sean Payton is also more conservative with his play-calling on the road, Brees is less accurate, and Rob Ryan’s defense is softer versus the run. The Panthers should adjust to what they the Saints did to them in Week 14 when these two teams met in New Orleans (a walk away win for the Saints). I expect them to tighten up their red zone coverage and not allow Jimmy Graham to get a free release up the seam and torch them for a second time. The Saints are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five games in Carolina and 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games overall versus the Panthers.
FREE PICK: PANTHERS -3

Cowboys vs. Redskins, 1:00PM ET
Kirk Cousins was outstanding in the first half last Sunday in Atlanta and nearly helped Washington overcome seven turnovers to beat the hapless Falcons. He may have just as much success on Sunday versus a Dallas defense that ranks dead last in yards allowed this season, but this isn’t the game the Cowboys will choke away. (That’ll come next weekend when they host the Eagles for what will amount to the NFC East Division title game, a la Week 17 last season.) Regardless of who is under center, the Redskins remain a mess defensively and they’re just 2-9 against the number in their last 11 games versus NFC opponents. They’re also 0-4 ATS in their last four divisional games and 0-5 ATS in their last five games following an ATS win. The Cowboys should get it done on Sunday.
FREE PICK: COWBOYS -2.5

Steelers vs. Packers, 4:25PM ET
The Packers have won two straight games after out-playing their opponents in the second half. They trailed by double-digits at home to the Falcons two weeks ago and by 23 points at half versus the Cowboys in Dallas last Sunday but still managed to win. At some point they’re not going to be able to dig themselves out if they continue their inconsistent play on offense and shoddy play on defense. Green Bay is just 1-6 against the spread in its last seven games overall, 0-4 ATS in its last four home games and 0-4 ATS in their last four games against a team with a losing record. On the other side, the Steelers are 5-1 against the number in their last six games overall and 4-1 ATS in their last five games following a straight up win. With Aaron Rodgers sidelined for another week with an injured collarbone, look for Pittsburgh to pull off the minor upset.
FREE PICK: STEELERS +2.5

Bears vs. Eagles, 8:30PM ET
The total is set high in this one but neither of these teams were interested in playing defense last week. The Bears are going to have loads of trouble slowing down LeSean McCoy on Sunday night and after getting torched by Matt Cassel last week, the Eagles should struggle trying to defend Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte. The over is 4-1 in the Bears’ last five games overall, 11-3 in their last 14 road games and 9-2 in the Eagles’ last 11 games following an ATS loss.
FREE PICK: OVER 55.5

College Football Week 15, NFL Week 14 Free Picks

SEC Championship Game, 4:00PM ET
Both Missouri and Auburn were predicted to finish near the bottom of their respective divisions in the SEC and yet both shocked the masses by meeting in the SEC title game. Even though this is an even matchup, all anyone can talk about is Auburn after the Tigers pulled off the upset over Alabama last Saturday. A very underrated Mizzou team isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington create mismatch problems against Auburn’s smaller defensive backs, and Mizzou owns one of the most balanced offenses in the nation led by proficient QB James Franklin. On the other side, Auburn’s rushing attack has been a headache for opponents all season, which includes Alabama and its stout front seven last weekend. That said, Mizzou has an athletic front seven capable of stretching out Auburn’s ground attack and at least limiting its effect. Mizzou won’t be able to contain Auburn because nobody has. But if it can build a lead with its passing game and force Auburn to be somewhat one-dimensional, Mizzou will win this game. Mizzou is 4-0 against the spread in its last four conference games, 13-3-1 ATS in its last 17 games overall, and 7-1-1 ATS in its last nine games following an ATS win.
FREE PICK: MISSOURI +1

Big Ten Championship Game, 8:17PM ET
Based on Michigan State’s vastly underrated defense, many expect this game to be low-scoring. But Ohio State struggled with Michigan’s offense last week despite Devin Gardner’s regression all season. Yes, you can throw out the records when Ohio State and Michigan meet. Thus, it wasn’t shocking that the Wolverines hung with the Buckeyes on their home turf last week. But what was surprising is that Gardner put on a show and a Michigan offense that hadn’t been firing on all cylinders in over a month racked up 41 points on the Buckeyes. Despite Michigan State’s success this season defensively, Braxton Miller and that Ohio State offense will get theirs in the end. Granted, the Big Ten has only held two championship games in its existence. But both games sailed over the total as Wisconsin edged Michigan State 42-39 in 2011 and the Badgers thumped Nebraska 70-31 last year. Look for more fireworks on Saturday night at Lucas Oil.
FREE PICK: OVER 51.5

Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State, 12:00PM ET
The only reason this contest could wind up being close is because its a rivalry game and the Sooners’ defense should keep things interesting, at least at the start. But Oklahoma’s offense has been punchless in big games this season, unless you consider its 38-point outburst over an overrated Texas Tech team back in October. The Sooners could only muster 12 points versus Baylor in early November and scored 20 in a 36-20 loss to Texas in mid-October. If Oklahoma State’s offense is firing on all cylinders, this one should get ugly in the second half. The Cowboys are 6-0 against the spread in their last six conference games and 7-1 ATS in its last eight games following a straight up win of more than 20 points. Look for OK State to roll.
FREE PICK: OKLAHOMA STATE -10

Panthers vs. Saints, 8:30PM ET
The Saints were embarrassed in Seattle on Monday night so look for Sean Payton’s squad to come out fired up with first place in the NFC South up for grabs on Sunday night. Carolina’s defense is criminally underrated but New Orleans’ offense operates at another level at home compared to on the road. Payton is a more aggressive play-caller, Drew Brees is a more accurate passer, and the skill position players are usually unstoppable in their one-on-one matchups. The Saints are 21-6 against the spread in their last 27 home games and 13-3 ATS in their last 16 home games versus a team with a winning road record. The only reason the spread has been set as low as it has is because New Orleans played so poorly on a national stage last Monday. The Saints represent value.
FREE PICK: SAINTS -3

College Football Week 13, NFL Week 12 Free Picks

Missouri vs. Ole Miss, 7:45PM ET
Some pundits didn’t expect Mizzou to win six games this season and now the Tigers are knocking on the door of playing in the SEC championship game. They have two more hurdles to overcome, however, as they need to beat Ole Miss on Saturday night and then Texas A&M in their final game of the regular season. Fortunately their starting quarterback James Franklin is set to return from injury to take the place of redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, who filled in admirably while Franklin was out with a shoulder injury. Before he was knocked out of a win against Georgia earlier this season, Franklin was completing 67.7 percent of his passes and was one of the top quarterbacks in the nation from a statistical standpoint. One mismatch that Franklin can take advantage of is the one-on-one issues that the Tigers’ receivers will give the Rebels’ cornerbacks. L’Damian Washington stands 6’4″ while future NFL prospect Dorial Green-Beckham is 6’6″ and Marcus Lucas is 6’5″. Conversely, Ole Miss’ starting corners are 5’9″ (Senquez Golson) and 5’8″ (Mike Hilton). As long as Mizzou’s stout defense can limit Bo Wallace’s ability to freelance and connect for big plays, they should win.
FREE PICK: MISSOURI -2.5

Oregon vs. Arizona, 3:30PM ET
Oregon is back on track to being the top seed from the Pac-12 and it knows style points will count tomorrow in Arizona. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have failed to cover in three straight games and are coming off a lifeless performance versus Washington State last week. The Ducks are 12-2 against the spread in their last 14 road games and 10-4 ATS in their last 14 conference games. Arizona doesn’t have the hosses up front to dominant Oregon in the trenches. These are the types of matchups where the Ducks thrive.
FREE PICK: OREGON -20.5

Cowboys vs. Giants, 4:25PM ET
The Giants have won four straight but take a look at the quarterbacks they beat during that stretch: Josh Freeman, who didn’t know the playbook, Nick Foles before he became Nick Foles, a hobbled Terrelle Pryor and then Scott Tolzien last Sunday. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row of signal-callers. Granted, the Cowboys’ defense has been brutal under Monte Kiffin this season but Eli Manning hasn’t been sharp himself. The Cowboys are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games following a straight up loss and 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games overall. Take the dog.
FREE PICK: COWBOYS +1

Panthers vs. Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
There isn’t a team hotter right now in the NFL than the Carolina Panthers, which is why they’re probably due for a letdown. They’re coming off back-to-back wins versus the 49ers on the road, and the Patriots at home on Monday night. Seeing as how they’re coming off a short week and now have to make the trip down to Miami, this is a perfect time to fade the Panthers. The Dolphins have been a mess both on and off the field over the past three weeks but they picked up a nice home win last week against the Chargers and are 4-0 against the spread in their last four games versus the Panthers.
FREE PICK: DOLPHINS +4

Intrigue surrounds Newton, Bradford and Freeman heading into 2013

With training camps ready to kick off around the NFL, intrigue surrounds a handful of starting quarterbacks. Here’s a closer look at three rather polarizing signal callers.

Cam Newton
Even if the Panthers match their 2012 season and amass another 7-9 record, Newton will head into 2014 as Carolina’s starting quarterback. Nobody will fault Newton if he can’t out-duel Matt Ryan and Drew Brees within the NFC South, especially when you consider the weapons that the Falcons and Saints have offensively. That said, more will still be expected of Newton as he heads into his third season. In seven of his final eight games, he averaged 245.6 passing yards per contest and threw 13 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. He also rushed for 360 yards and four scores during that same span and continues to be one of the best playmaking quarterbacks in the NFL. But his accuracy was erratic in his second season and his decision making in the clutch also came under scrutiny. He improved when the Panthers took more off his shoulders and spread the wealth offensively, so look for new coordinator Mike Shula to build off of what Rob Chudzinski was able to accomplish with Newton in the second half of last year. Can Newton improve upon his career completion percentage of 58.9? Will the departure of Chudzinksi stall his progress? Will he prosper or fold in the fourth quarter of close games? Newton will once again be one of the more intriguing signal callers heading into the 2013 season.

Sam Bradford
Given the lack of playmakers, the carousel of offensive coordinators, and the suspect pass protection, there have been plenty of excuses for why Bradford hasn’t improved upon his rookie of the year campaign in 2010. But considering the offseason the Rams just had, there are no more excuses: Bradford needs to excel in 2013. Thanks to the free agent signings of Jake Long and Jared Cook, as well as the selections of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Zac Stacy, Bradford will be surrounded by more playmakers this season than at any point during his four-year career. The offensive line has also improved significantly over the past two offseasons (at least on paper), and this will be the first time that Bradford will play under the same offensive coordinator (Brian Schottenheimer) in back-to-back years. Will Bradford elevate his game is the question. According to Rotoworld.com, he’s completed just 46.4 percent of his red zone passes for 541 yards, 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions over the course of his career. And while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out that Bradford’s touchdown-to-interception ratio jumped to 9:1 in the red zone during the second half of the 2012 season, that came against San Francisco (twice), NY Jets, Minnesota, Buffalo and Tampa Bay, which all ranked 22nd or lower in red zone defense. Simply put, he needs to be more consistent on third downs and inside the 20 if this new-look Rams offense is going to fire on all cylinders. He’s wanted more responsibility at the line of scrimmage and he’ll get that under Schottenheimer, who wants Bradford to run more up-tempo looks Time will tell if Bradford can push to become an elite quarterback or settle for being a glorified game manager that doesn’t show the ability to elevate those around him.

Josh Freeman
Who is the real Josh Freeman? The quarterback that threw 16 touchdown passes to just three interceptions between Weeks 6 and 11 last season, or the one that finished with a TD:INT ratio of 6:10 during the Bucs’ 1-5 slide at the end of 2012? Freeman’s biggest issue heading into 2013 is overcoming pressure. He struggles when defenses rush him off the edge, he struggles when they put pressure in his face, and he struggles in a muddied pocket. Granted, most quarterbacks have issues when they’re under duress. According to Pro Football Focus, nine of Freeman’s 17 interceptions last year came when he was under pressure, which probably isn’t an uncommon percentage among starting NFL quarterbacks. But in his four seasons, the Bucs are just 24-32 with him as a starter, and no playoff appearances. Over that same span, Tampa Bay is also just 5-10 against Atlanta and New Orleans, and if Freeman can’t beat those two opponents than the Bucs will continue to fall short in the NFC South. Now, are those failures all on Freeman? Of course not. In fact, he was nearly unbeatable at one point last year, albeit with the aid of Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson. But it’s telling that the Bucs are willing to head into 2013 without extending Freeman’s contract. Greg Schiano wants and demands more from his quarterback, who has enough playmakers around him to succeed. (Tampa has done a nice job of collecting talent on both sides of the ball the past two offseasons.) If Freeman can’t become a more consistent playmaker, the Bucs may chalk up that 10-win season in 2010 as a fluke and look to move on next offseason.

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