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NFL Week 15 Free Picks

Eagles vs. Vikings, 1:00PM ET
With both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart expected to be out for Minnesota, points will be at a premium for the Vikings. The Eagles defense was brutal in the first two months of the season but the team has found its rhythm of late and is playing better on that side of the ball than at any point this year. Philly is also running the ball at will, and Minnesota has had issues slowing the run over the past few weeks. The Eagles are 4-0 against the spread in their last four road games, 4-1 ATS in their last four games versus a team with a losing record, and 4-1 ATS in their last five games overall. They’re also 5-1 against the spread in their last six games versus the Vikings so lay the points.
NFL FREE PICK: EAGLES -6.5

Patriots vs. Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
Thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the Patriots will survive without Rob Gronkowski, just like they did earlier in the season when he missed the first six games of the year. That said, they survived earlier in the year because of the play of their defense, which has lost Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly along the way. The Dolphins impressed last week in Pittsburgh, beating the Steelers on the road and in the elements. The Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin distraction has died down and there has been a semblance of stability again in Miami. The Patriots are 0-4 against the spread in their last four road games, 1-4 ATS in their last five games in December and 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games versus AFC opponents. On the other side, the Dolphins are 4-0 against the spread in their last four games overall, 4-0 ATS in their last four games versus AFC opponents and 8-2 ATS in their last 10 home games.
FREE PICK: DOLPHINS -1

Bears vs. Browns, 1:00PM ET
With all the talk about who should start under center, the most glaring situation that is facing the Bears has gone somewhat unnoticed. The defense is an absolute mess and with the way Jason Campbell has played since taking over the starting quarterback job in Cleveland, Chicago should continue to struggle defensively today. The over is 10-3 in the Bears’ last 13 road games, 11-4 in their last 15 games overall, and 5-1 in their last six road games versus a team with a losing record. The over is also 5-1 in the Browns’ last six games overall, 4-1 in their last five home games and 4-0 in their last four games following an ATS win.
FREE PICK: OVER 44

Packers vs. Cowboys, 4:25PM ET
The Packers were fortunate to come away with a victory last week at home versus the Falcons in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. They trailed 21-10 at halftime and Atlanta did them a favor by once again putting together another second half collapse. Give credit to Dom Campers’ defense for coming alive in the final two quarters of that game, but today will be a different animal in Dallas. The Cowboys’ defense has been atrocious this season, ranking dead last in total yards per game. But they should have an easier time defending against an ineffective Matt Flynn and a hobbled Eddie Lacy at home. The favorite is 8-2 against the spread in the last 10 meetings between these two teams while the Packers are 0-5 against the number in their last five trips to Dallas.
FREE PICK: COWBOYS -6.5

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Jets, Bills and Raiders stumbling into NFL season

Rex Ryan is frustrated, and you can hardly blame him. He watched rookie Geno Smith toss three interceptions in the last preseason game, and then he watched Mark Sanchez hurt his shoulder in preseason garbage time.

The Buffalo Bills have their own issues, with Kevin Kolb suffering another concussion that could keep him out for the season or possibly threaten his career. Meanwhile top draft pick EJ Manuel may not be ready for the opener against the Patriots as he heels from a knee injury. If he can’t play, then the Bills will have to start Washington State undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel.

The Raiders look like a complete mess, and they’re so desperate that they’re considering having Terrelle Pryor start week one. Pryor hasn’t looked terrible but he still a very raw passer. Matt Flynn has a sore elbow, which doesn’t help a guy who has had another mediocre preseason.

The NFL is very hard to predict, and often you’ll see teams suddenly turn things on in week one. But you have to be skeptical with these three teams, and when we look at the odds for week one, you have to consider picking their opponents, even considering the larger spreads.

Buffalo is currently a ten-point underdog at home against the Patriots. Considering the problems at the quarterback position and that cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been lost with a broken left wrist, things look pretty bad for the Bills. The question is whether you want to lay ten points with the Bills playing at home.

The Raiders are on the road against Andrew Luck and the Colts as a 9-point underdog, and this one seems like a gift. I suspect the line might move even more in Indy’s favor, as Andrew Luck looks like he’s getting even better as he enters his second year. I love the Colts here.

The Jets are a home underdog as Tampa Bay is giving them three points. I would wait to see what happens at quarterback here. If Sanchez is healthy I would avoid it, but if Geno Smith has to start, then Tampa might be an interesting bet.

Ten NFL storylines to follow this Offseason

From a slew of head-coaching changes to an unpredictable draft (even more so than usual), there’s no shortage of storylines to keep an eye on this NFL offseason. Here are 10 to follow over the next few months.

1. RGIII’s health.
Robert Griffin III vows to be ready by Week 1 of the regular season but in addition to damaging both his LCL and ACL, the dynamic quarterback also suffered a medial meniscus tear in the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seahawks. While Adrian Peterson proved that ACL tears aren’t always a two-year injury, “All Day” was also a medical marvel. We’re talking about a guy who suffered a sports hernia injury in Week 10 and questioned whether or not he would be able to continue by Week 16, only to rush for 596 yards over the Vikings’ final four games (including playoffs). Not everyone is Adrian Peterson.

According to reports, RGIII was seen walking without a limp at “Media Week” down in New Orleans. But no matter how quickly he’s progressing with his rehab, the Redskins need to first be concerned with his the long-term health. If they rush him back and he suffers even further damage to his knee(s), his career could be in jeopardy. Mike Shanahan and Co. have a couple of months to evaluate the situation but at some point they’re going to be faced with the decision of whether or not to place RGIII on the regular season PUP list. While that would cost them their starting quarterback for the first six weeks of the season, riding Kirk Cousins over that stretch is a lot better than installing him as the franchise signal caller because RGIII’s knees are shot. For the Redskins, there’s more at stake here than just six weeks.

2. Newsome’s unenviable task of re-constructing the Ravens.
Whether anyone thinks Joe Flacco should be paid like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees is rather moot. The going rate these days for franchise quarterbacks is $20 million per season, and Flacco proved in the postseason that he’s Baltimore’s franchise player. He may never put up the same jaw-dropping numbers that Brees has, but Flacco is worth his weight in gold to a team like the Ravens, who consistently draft well and will continue to compete under John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome. When you find a quarterback in this league (particularly a quarterback coming off one of the finest postseason performances in NFL history), you hang onto him. And in order to hang onto Flacco, the Ravens will pay the $20-plus million-a-year asking price.

No, the real storyline in Baltimore is whether or not Newsome can build another Super Bowl contender after he gets done paying Flacco. Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Bryant McKinnie all helped Baltimore win the Super Bowl this year and all four of them are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Receiver Anquan Boldin is also set to make $6 million, so he could be forced to either restructure his deal or become a cap casualty. (He said he’ll retire if Baltimore releases him.) Newsome build two entirely different Super Bowl winners over the past 12 years. But this offseason might offer him his biggest challenge to date. As one of the finest general managers in the NFL, Newsome is certainly up for the challenge but the pressure will also be on Harbaugh and his staff to win with younger players as Baltimore re-stocks through the draft.

3. No consensus No. 1 pick.
Ask 10 NFL analysts who they have rated No. 1 in this year’s draft and you might be supplied with 10 different answers. Some believe Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel is the safest pick in the draft but if the Chiefs re-sign Branden Albert than they have no use for Joeckel at No. 1. Besides, some think Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher is the best offensive tackle in the draft, not Joeckel.

Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and even Florida State’s Bjorn Werner’s names are atop some analyst’s rankings. Why so much uncertainty? Point to the fact that there’s no consensus top quarterback in his year’s draft class. Twelve of the last 15 first-overall selections have been quarterbacks, with only Jake Long (2008), Mario Williams (2006) and Courtney Brown (2000) being the exceptions. With no potential franchise signal caller to be had, the ultimate crapshoot is even more unpredictable than ever this year.

4. Veteran quarterbacks in limbo.
Flacco is the best free agent quarterback this offseason but the Ravens won’t allow him to escape Baltimore without at least slapping him with the franchise tag. That means backups will litter the open market, unless you still consider guys like Jason Campbell, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Moore capable starters. (And why would you?)

The more intriguing names are Alex Smith, Michael Vick and Matt Flynn, who are all currently under contract but could become available either via trade or release at some point this offseason. While the 49ers will certainly honor Smith’s desire to start elsewhere, at the end of the day they don’t owe him anything (non-monetarily, that is). If they don’t acquire what they feel to be decent compensation for the 28-year-old veteran, they could use him as insurance behind Colin Kaepernick for another season. That may not be fair for Smith, but the Niners will ultimately do what’s best for the franchise.

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Twitter reacts to ref debacle in Seattle


Image source: Seattle Seahawks Facebook page

The photo above was posted by the official Facebook page of the Seattle Seahawks. Not surprisingly, they aren’t acknowledging the complete fiasco caused by the replacement refs in this game. Now, I have little sympathy for Aaron Rodgers, who might be the most arrogant quarterback in the NFL. Also, Seattle’s defense was just incredible last night, so they deserve credit for making this a game against a Green Bay team that won 15 games last year.

But, the calls at the end of that game were just a disgrace. I really haven’t been interested in the replacement ref story. I found it to be boring and didn’t think it was a big deal. But it’s now painfully obvious that these guys are not up to the difficult task of managing an NFL game with the best athletes in the world. Things are getting out of control, and the NFL is managing to tarnish the excellent product they’ve built over the years.

If you’re not on Twitter during NFL games you’re missing out on a fun way to follow the reactions of commentators and fans, and the reactions last night to the debacle in Seattle were hilarious. Here’s a few that I pulled out following the game.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t that impressed with Russell Wilson. The only offense he and the Seattle offense were able to muster in the 2nd half came from ridiculous penalties. Seattle has an incredible defense, and Pete Carroll is taking a big risk playing Wilson over Matt Flynn.

Pete Carroll’s big gamble with Russell Wilson

Pete Carroll announced that Russell Wilson will get the start over Matt Flynn in the team’s third preseason game. Carroll acknowledged NFL conventional wisdom of using the third preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the starting quarterback to get him ready for the regular season, but Carroll isn’t ready to name a starter, and he wants to see Wilson play with the first-teamers in order to make a final decision on the quarterback battle.

I do admire his willingness to toss conventional wisdom and do what he thinks is best for his team, but I’m a little shocked he would interrupt Matt Flynn’s preparation for the regular season just because Russell Wilson has looked good playing against third-string defenses.

Flynn has not played poorly, and he threw a beautiful bomb last week that Terrell Owens dropped. Seattle invested a lot of money in Flynn, and he’s certainly earned the opportunity to start for the Seahawks.

Meanwhile, Wilson dropped to the third round for a reason. His size is a huge disadvantage, and he’s also a rookie who has a lot to learn. For a team that’s presumably battling for another playoff appearance, this comes across as Carroll trying to outsmart himself. We’ll see who ultimately gets the start, but Flynn has lost out on a lot of the reps he’ll need to be ready for the opener.

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