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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

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Free Picks

Chiefs vs. Colts, 4:35PM ET
The Colts hammered the Chiefs 23-7 in Indianapolis in Week 16 but expect a different outcome today. Kansas City wasn’t prepared for the hurry up that Pep Hamilton threw at Bob Sutton’s defense but with more time to prepare, the Chiefs should adjust. Injuries could impact this game from Kansas City’s side of things, as Tamba Hali is questionable and Eric Fisher has been ruled out for the contest. But Fisher the Chiefs expect Hali to play and Fisher wasn’t performing well before suffering the injury so his loss shouldn’t play a significant role in today’s outcome. The Colts aren’t a very good first half team but they’ve done well playing from behind with Andrew Luck under center. Unfortunately that plays into Kansas City’s hands. Look for the Chiefs to build a lead and then protect it with a combination of Jamaal Charles and their pass rush.
FREE PICK: Chiefs -2.5

Saints vs. Eagles, 8:10PM ET
The Eagles have only beaten one playoff team this year and that came in Week 10 against an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers squad. But you’re na├»ve if you believe that Philly’s success this year is somehow marginalized by its schedule. Look at the NFL this year – half the league is garbage, which contributed to the Eagles’ “soft schedule.” Regardless, the Saints are a completely different team on the road than it is playing on the fast track of the Superdome. Drew Brees can talk about the Saints’ road record since 2009 all he wants but the fact remains that he’s a less accurate quarterback, Sean Payton is a more conservative play-caller and Rob Ryan’s defense isn’t as potent. Look for the red-hot Eagles to advance to the next round with a victory.
FREE PICK: Eagles -3

Chargers vs. Bengals, 1:05PM ET
The side is difficult to handicap for this matchup because nobody knows which Andy Dalton will show up. He’s as likely to throw for four touchdowns and 350 yards as he is to turn the ball over four times and keep his opponent in the game nearly single-handedly. Thus, the true value of this matchup may be in the total. The over is 4-0-1 in the last five meetings between these two teams in Cincinnati and 7-2-2 in the last 11 meetings overall. The over is also 4-0 in the Bengals’ last four games overall, 5-0 in their last five home games and 4-1 in their last five games versus AFC opponents.
FREE PICK: OVER 45.5

49ers vs. Packers, 4:40PM ET
Everything about this matchup screams 49ers, at least on paper. They have the significantly better defense, they’re built to win on the road thanks to their running game, and they’ve owned the Packers in the recent past. But this Green Bay team is eirly similar to the one that won the Super Bowl in 2010. That year, the Packers suffered key injuries throughout the season and barely made the postseason before riding a red-hot Aaron Rodgers to the title game versus Pittsburgh. Rodgers looked rusty last week versus the Bears but his second-half magic makes it hard to bet against him at home tomorrow night. If this game turns into a shootout, I like Rodgers over Colin Kaepernick, who has gotten a free pass for his inconsistent play this season after leading the Niners to the Super Bowl last season and playing with Michael Crabtree for most of this season.
FREE PICK: PACKERS +3

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

Officiating controversies dominate this week’s NFL games

The photo on the right has everyone talking today, though the one on the left shows how holding is out of control with offensive linemen as officials will only call it from time to time when it’s blatant. The call at the end of the Patriots-Panthers game last night is highlighted in the photo on the right. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was mugged by Luke Kuechly in the end zone but the refs picked up the flag as the pass was intercepted in a spot where the refs said Gronk couldn’t get the ball. But Gronk had zero chance because Kuechly was all over him. At the very least there should have been a holding call.

The call in the photo below was also controversial, as the roughing the quarterback call against the 49ers helped Drew Brees keep a drive to win the game. I agree with many who feel the NFL is ruining the game with some of the pathetic personal fouls calls, particularly when defenders just barely touch the quarterback. But here, the defenders bicep directly hit the neck of Drew Brees. Brees could have been seriously hurt on that play, and it’s precisely the type of hit the NFL is trying to penalize, so I understood that particular call.

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