NBA 2017 All-Star starters revealed: Curry, Harden get nod, Westbrook left out

Photo: GameFace-Photos via Flickr.com

Photo: GameFace-Photos via Flickr.com

The 2017 NBA All-Star Game starters were officially announced on Thursday after weeks of voting from fans, players, and media analysts alike.

The ten starting players will be as follows:

Western Conference

Eastern Conference

One of the biggest controversies following the announcement will surely be the absence of Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook, who is in the MVP discussion but will not be a starter in the Western Conference.

Westbrook is bound to be a reserve but will start the All-Star Game on the bench despite averaging a triple-double this season. His 30.6 points (a league-high), 10.4 assists, and 10.6 rebounds per game have helped him lead the NBA with a 29.56 player efficiency rating, according to ESPN.com.

If Westbrook finished the season with the numbers he has put up to this point in the year, he would be the first player to finish a season averaging a triple-double since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62.

Harden has been the other player in the perennial MVP conversation this season, so it makes sense that he is starting, but it may have made more sense to start Westbrook and Harden alongside each other.

Curry is averaging 24.6 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game; All-Star worthy numbers, but numbers that don’t surpass Westbrook’s phenomenal season.

What set Curry apart from Westbrook is the fact that he led the “fan vote” in the Western Conference and, fair or unfair, the fans were responsible for 50 percent of the vote in determining this year’s starters. Players made up 25 percent and media members made up the other 25 percent.

Harden, who finished second among Western Conference guards in the fan vote, is fewer than two rebounds per game shy of averaging a triple-double himself this season.

The rest of the All-Star starters out West (Leonard, Durant, and Davis) were no-brainers, although this was Davis’ first time being named a starter.

In the East, Irving and James are the only ones in the starting five that have been named a starter before.

Butler and DeRozan have been named reserves before, but superb years and some help from the fan vote gave them each well-deserved starting roles.

Antetokounmpo will be playing in his first All-Star Game all together, but a breakout season made it nearly impossible to leave him out of the starting five.

The 22-year-old is averaging 23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.8 steals per game, leading the Bucks in each category.

Boston point guard Isaiah Thomas, who is scoring 28.7 points per game including a league-high 10.1 in the fourth quarter, made a strong case to start in this year’s Game, but he will most likely be a reserve this year.

The same can be said about Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, whose 28.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game were only a hair short of Davis’ numbers.

The 66th NBA All-Star Game will be played on Sunday, Feb. 19, in New Orleans at the Smoothie King Center.

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Chris Paul’s thumb injury means all eyes are on Austin Rivers halfway through season

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

A seven-game win streak has helped the Los Angeles Clippers tread water in the Western Conference this season, but rough waters lie ahead.

Chris Paul, the team’s nine-time All Star, is expected to miss about a month and a half as he recovers from a surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Paul injured the thumb in the second quarter of Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After jamming it while guarding Russell Westbrook, Paul immediately left the game and headed to the locker room. The initial diagnosis was a sprain, but on Tuesday, an additional test revealed a tear.

Paul is scheduled to have surgery to repair the ligament on Wednesday.

The injury comes just days after the veteran point guard missed seven games with a strained hamstring.

In the 36 games he’s played this year, Paul has been both consistent and efficient, leading the Clippers to a 29-14 record and the fourth seed in a competitive Western Conference. His 9.7 assists per game are fourth-most in the NBA and he’s balanced that number with 17.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game.

Now the Clippers, who went 2-5 in the games Paul missed, are tasked with staying afloat without their veteran leader.

Austin Rivers is expected to take over as the team’s starter at the point, though he isn’t nearly the playmaker Paul is.

Few players are.

But Rivers has shown in his career that he simply plays a different style of basketball than Paul, which will take a bit of adjusting to in the long run.

The Clippers usually lean on Paul’s exceptional passing abilities to work the ball around the floor, but Rivers tends to look more comfortable shooting than passing the rock.

A career backup, Rivers is averaging only 2.1 assists per game in his career. This season, in a career-high 26.3 minutes played per game, he is averaging 2.5.

If there is reason for optimism, it’s that Los Angeles is expected to get Blake Griffin back in the next few days, having played without him for nearly a month as he recovers from knee surgery.

Griffin has shown his importance to the Clippers as well and he, along with DeAndre Jordan, has helped shape Los Angeles’ frontcourt into one of the most exciting in the league.

With Paul gone, the two are missing the dynamic ring leader that has helped both of them average double digits in the scoring column.

That means all eyes are on Rivers and if he can orchestrate a talented team as the quarterback on the floor.

Ball movement will be key.

While Rivers has had occasions this season where he has put together six or seven assists in a game, he has had many more performances that have shown his focus was on scoring and not moving the ball.

On Saturday, in 31 minutes played, Rivers only contributed two assists to go with his 15 points.

On Jan. 6, he scored 24 points in 36 minutes but had only two assists. And on Dec. 28, he played 32 minutes, scored 22 points even while going 2-for-8 from beyond the arc — and had zero assists.

Paul’s ability to move the ball runs parallel with his leadership ability; for years he’s been able to get everyone involved on the floor and use everyone to their potential.

That’s not to say Rivers should suddenly become Paul in the next few weeks, but it’s certainly his job now to keep the Clippers moving and work everyone to their potential.

It’s his job to get everyone involved, not just himself. He has the ability to do it, it will be intriguing to see if he can.

The Clippers’ next game is Thursday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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NFL Divisional Round Picks, Predictions: Cowboys win close game, Patriots win big

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com


Saturday, Jan. 14

Seattle Seahawks (11-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

The Seahawks demonstrated something last weekend that they haven’t all season — a dominant run game.

Thomas Rawls ran for 161 yards, reaching the 100-yard plateau for just the second time this season. It was also only the third time Seattle had a 100-yard rusher all year.

That poses an interesting matchup against a Falcons defense that ranked 17th this season in yards allowed on the ground (104.5 ypg), especially because Seattle might get C.J. Prosise back this week.

But the “matchup to watch” is unquestionably Matt Ryan‘s high-flying offense against a Legion of Boom that will be without Earl Thomas.

These teams met in Week 6 and Ryan lit up Seattle’s secondary for 335 yards and a trio of touchdowns, one of which went to Julio Jones who led both teams with 139 receiving yards.

And that was against a defense with Thomas.

Seattle won that game 26-24, but it was in Seattle before the Falcons had truly found themselves as a unit.

Russell Wilson performed well last week against the Lions, throwing for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns which helped him finish with a 119.3 passer rating, and he will need similar numbers to beat the Falcons.

The concern is if he can outduel Ryan offensively, because as good as Seattle’s defense was last weekend, they haven’t been nearly the same unit on the road.

Seattle will give the Falcons a game, but Atlanta should have enough firepower, and more rest, to seal a spot in the conference championship game.

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 34-24


Houston Texans (10-7) at New England Patriots (14-2)

Of all the games so far this postseason, this one seems to be the first that has clear indications of a blowout.

For the sixth time in franchise history, the Patriots are the No. 1 seed in the AFC and they aren’t a team to mess with when earning that distinction. Four of the first five times, the Patriots have ended up in the Super Bowl, twice they have won it.

New England hasn’t lost this season since the Seahawks upset them at Gillette Stadium back on Nov. 13, and they haven’t lost a home playoff game since the 2012 postseason.

OK, Tom Brady and company are the top dogs, we get it.

Can Houston really keep up with this team?

Well, the Texans have never won a game at Gillette Stadium, and when they tried visiting earlier this year they were dismantled, 27-0.

They will also be playing in sub-30 degree temperatures, a bit of a culture shock after beating the Raiders in their cozy dome last weekend.

The only thing Houston seems to have on their side is their defense.

Their secondary was the second-best in the league this season, allowing only 201.6 yards per game through the air. If they want to win they will have to shut down Tom Brady, something very few teams have ever been able to do.

Brock Osweiler will has his confidence back and that bodes well against an average New England secondary, but Lamar Miller might struggle against a Patriots run defense allowing fewer than 89 yards per game on the ground (3rd).

It would take a tremendous mixture of perfection from the Texans and imbalance from the Patriots for Houston to pull off what would be one of the biggest upsets in modern NFL postseason history.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 31-20


Sunday, Jan. 15

Green Bay Packers (11-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3)

When these teams met in Week 6, Dallas demolished the Pack at Lambeau Field, beating Green Bay, 30-16, while dominating on both sides of the ball.

Don’t expect such a blowout this week.

The Cowboys have been a good team all season but the Packers had yet to find themselves when that matchup occurred.

As of now, Green Bay is riding a seven-game winning streak and proved to the Giants last weekend that they are a legitimate threat in the NFC.

But one of their biggest complications this weekend has nothing to do with Dallas.

It’s wondering how their offense will respond without Jordy Nelson, who was ruled out of this matchup with a pair of broken ribs.

Nelson, one of the premiere receivers in the game, scored 14 touchdowns this season and finished with more than 1,200 receiving yards, racking up at least 100 yards in a game five times.

His absence leaves pressure on Aaron Rodgers to rely on Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, among others, to penetrate a Dallas secondary that has been below average at stopping quarterbacks this season.

But Dallas has been sneaky good at stopping the run game, leading the league by allowing only 83 yards per game on the ground. If Dallas can stop the run game and rush Rodgers into poor throws, they will have a big advantage.

On the other side of the ball, Green Bay is tasked with slowing down Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 157 yards when they played earlier this season, and Dak Prescott, who threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns in the same game.

The Packers run defense is solid so they have a chance against Elliott, but the secondary is still questionable and gave up nearly 300 yards to Eli Manning last weekend excluding a number of dropped balls from Giants’ receivers that weren’t well defended.

Prescott needs to figure out how to get the offense going through the air in the event that Elliott can’t get anything going on the ground.

Don’t sleep on Rodgers and the Packers though — unlike the Cowboys, they’ve been in the postseason many times before and know what to expect.

Prescott and Elliott are still rookies so mistakes are bound to happen.

Still, Dallas seems to have a more complete, reliable, and healthy team right now and they should win what could turn into an instant classic.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 26-23


Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

Weather concerns pushed this game back to primetime following the Cowboys-Packers game, but this is another one that could come down to the wire.

The Steelers are led offensively by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell and the Chiefs have to figure out how to keep them from compiling yardage.

That’s been an issue for Kansas City this season.

The Chiefs defense allows 247.4 yards per game through the air (18th) and 121.1 yards per game on the ground (26th).

So how have they been able to win 12 games this season?

Turnovers and points allowed.

The Chiefs defense had a league-high 33 takeaways this season and their plus-16 turnover differential was tied for the highest in the league. They also tend to make stops when they matter most as they are one of only seven teams in the league allowing 19 points or fewer per game.

The high-yardage they allow is like playing with fire, though, especially against an offense as explosive as Pittsburgh’s.

If the Chiefs can’t get those turnovers or big stops, the Steelers could put up the same numbers they put up against the Dolphins last weekend.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s defense has improved since the start of the season, but is still considered average statistically in most major categories.

They will be tasked with stopping Tyreek Hill, a do-it-all First Team All Pro in his rookie season.

Hill is the only real difference-maker the Chiefs have on the offensive side of the ball, besides Travis Kelce, so stopping him would force Alex Smith to open up a passing game that only averaged 233 yards per game through the air.

The Chiefs can win this game, but the Steelers have been playing so well as of late I think Pittsburgh should be the first team this postseason to win on the road.

 Q’s Pick: Steelers, 27-23


Last Week’s Record: 4-0

Postseason Record: 4-0

Regular Season Record: 165-89-2

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Klay Thompson hilariously interrupts Steph Curry’s pregame antics without noticing

Photo: nikk_la via Flickr.com

Photo: nikk_la via Flickr.com

The Golden State Warriors beat the Detroit Pistons, 127-107, on Thursday night at Oracle Arena, displaying the same offensive dominance basketball fans have become accustomed to seeing from the Bay Area team.

Leading the charge, once again, were Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors backcourt pair of superstars who have helped lead Golden State to a 34-6 record through the first 40 games of the season.

They’ve also helped the Warriors score 100 points or more in 48-straight games, the longest streak the NBA has seen in nearly three decades.

As good as the Warriors have been in recent years (with this year being no exception), they’ve shown it’s important to have some fun throughout the long season and they accidentally gave fans a good laugh on Thursday night right before the Pistons game tipped off.

During their pregame shootaround, Curry set a ball on the three-point line with the intent to give it a soccer-style kick to a teammate on the other side of the court before Thompson nonchalantly picked up the ball and used it to continue his pregame shooting.

Curry’s free kick had been hilariously interrupted:

Thompson didn’t seem to realize that his pregame focus had barged into Curry’s fun, but Curry couldn’t help but laugh after the fact.

Thompson’s locked-in mentality served him well after the incident, though, as he would go on to score 23 points against the Pistons, 12 of which came from beyond the arc.

Curry added 24, including draining some wild buckets from three-point land that many fans have grown used to seeing him make.

The Warriors and Kevin Durant seem to be in good shape to lead the charge in the Western Conference once again and are looking to go to what would be their third-straight NBA Finals.

We’ll see if they continue to give us laughs along the way.

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks, Predictions: Steelers score big, Lions keep it close

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com


Saturday, Jan. 7

Oakland Raiders (12-4) at Houston Texans (9-7)

One of the most intriguing elements of this matchup is that last month, few could have seen it happening.

The Raiders were 10-2 and looked in place to clinch at least one of the top two seeds in the AFC and the Texans had stumbled to a 6-6 record and were in danger of missing the postseason.

Thanks to division inequality, Oakland’s 12 wins weren’t enough to win their division while Houston’s nine wins were.

But the bigger storyline in this matchup is at the quarterback position.

Oakland had a potential MVP candidate in Derek Carr, but his broken leg and Matt McGloin‘s shoulder injury means Connor Cook will be the first quarterback in NFL history to make his first career start in a postseason game.

Houston’s QB situation isn’t much better — after a dismal year from Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage was expected to be the team’s savior by the end of the season. Now that a concussion has forced Savage out of Saturday’s game, Osweiler will be asked to lead the same team that benched him a few weeks ago to a win.

It’s seems more likely, though, that defenses will decide the winner of this game, not the quarterbacks.

The Texans allowed only 301.3 total yards per game this year, the fewest in the league. Oakland allowed 75 yards more per game and ranked 26th.

Houston also has the second-best secondary in the league, statistically, and that’s bad news for Cook who threw for only 150 yards and an interception against a similarly impressive Denver defense last weekend.

Oakland’s defense isn’t good enough to contain Osweiler or Lamar Miller. The Texans should get the upset win at home.

Q’s Pick: Texans, 27-24


Detroit Lions (9-7) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)

When Seattle plays in a postseason game at home, they win. At least, that’s what history shows as the Seahawks have not yet lost a playoff game at CenturyLink Field.

But this isn’t the same Seahawks team from seasons past.

They struggled to finish the year on a high note and will now be forced, for the first time, to endure the grind of the postseason without their star defensive anchor Earl Thomas.

His absence might be tested by the Lions who have shown that Marvin Jones and Golden Tate can both serve as deep threats; the only question being if Mathew Stafford and his broken fingers can throw a ball that far in what could be cold, snowy weather.

The forecast calls for a chance of “freezing rain” (to wit, I’ve never seen written that way before), but that usually means more utilization of the run game — something neither team is good at.

The Seahawks went from averaging more than 140 yards per game on the ground last year to a hair over 99 yards per game this season, thanks in large part to Marshawn Lynch‘s absence and slew of injuries to Thomas Rawls and others.

Detroit, on the other hand, never seemed to recover from Ameer Abdullah‘s leg injury early in the season and averaged only 81.9 yards per game on the ground, third-fewest in the league.

The lack of run game means the better quarterback may end up being the difference maker.

Russell Wilson is 7-3 in his postseason career with 16 passing touchdowns, and he will have a healthy Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham to orchestrate the air game against a Lions defense that gave up four touchdowns and 300 yards to Aaron Rodgers last week.

CenturyLink Field will be rocking and the Seahawks should be able to rally behind it to get a close win.

Q’s Pick: Seahawks, 24-23


Sunday, Jan. 8

Miami Dolphins (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

In spite of Miami’s impressive and well-earned record, I’m really struggling to see how they are going to contain Pittsburgh’s offensive three-headed monster.

Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell all helped the Steelers average more than 372 total yards per game, 7th in the NFL.

The Dolphins, thanks to a dreary run defense, ranked 29th in terms of yards allowed per game. They are one of only three teams in the league that allowed more than 140 yards per game on the ground this season and they will now get the luxury of being the first team the Steelers’ “Big 3” gets to play against in the postseason together.

Bell missed the past two playoffs with knee injuries, but this year, on the heels of becoming the first player in NFL history to average more than 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game, he is ready to show why he is considered one of the most dynamic players in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins will also have to try to work around the absence of Ryan Tannehill, although Matt Moore has looked like this has been his team since the start of the season.

Jay Ajayi has anchored Miami’s rushing attack which has been surprisingly good this season, hovering around 114 yards per game. The Steelers run defense (and secondary for that matter) rank right in the middle of the league in most major categories so there’s a chance they could be exploited.

Still, the Steelers have only lost one playoff game at home since 2007 and the Dolphins haven’t won a playoff game since 2000.

 Q’s Pick: Steelers, 30-23


New York Giants (11-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-6)

I like what the Giants have done this season but Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are on a tear right now and showed no signs of slowing down last week.

Green Bay essentially played their way into this matchup by beating the Lions for the NFC North crown last weekend, their sixth-straight win.

But now they get to play in somewhat unfamiliar territory — a postseason game at home.

Since 2009, eight of the Packers 12 playoff games have been on the road.

The Giants, on the other hand, are in unfamiliar territory by verge of just being in the postseason, somewhere they haven’t been since they won the Super Bowl in 2011.

This year’s New York squad has struggled on offense to the point that it’s almost a wonder they won 11 games. In spite of having Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, the Giants were one of only eight teams in the league to average fewer than 20 points per game.

New York’s run defense has been among the league’s best this season, but it won’t help much against Green Bay who hasn’t been able to get anything going on the ground all season.

Rodgers will be tasked with leading Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb against a physical and intimidating secondary that gave up 251 yards per game through the air.

The Packers should keep rolling in this one.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 26-20


Last Week’s Record: 12-4

Regular Season Record: 165-89-2

Postseason Record: 0-0

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NFL Week 17 Picks, Predictions: Patriots, Chiefs clinch top seeds in AFC

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com


Sunday, Jan. 1

Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-9-1)

At this point in the season, most teams just want to finish on a high note.

Baltimore suffered a devastating loss with the AFC North crown on the line last weekend in Pittsburgh, so the best way to salvage the season might be with a win going into the offseason.

Andy Dalton and the Bengals are thinking similarly, but the Ravens have a defense that can contain Andy Dalton.

Q’s Pick: Ravens, 24-16


Houston Texans (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)

The Titans suffered a huge blow when Marcus Mariota broke his leg last weekend, all but ending Tennessee’s hopes to win the division.

Houston clinched the AFC South with their win against the Bengals and the Titans loss, so neither team is really playing for much at this point.

But the Texans will be looking to polish themselves up before heading into the postseason and should be more ready for battle.

Q’s Pick: Texans, 27-23


Carolina Panthers (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7)

The Bucs were close to making a postseason run but they came up just short and will miss the playoffs once again.

There’s still something to play for on Sunday though — a win would clinch their first winning record since 2010.

And it could come against the defending NFC champs? Buc-kle up, this could be a fun one.

Q’s Pick: Buccaneers, 30-26


Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

Andrew Luck and the Colts will miss the postseason again and could finish in 3rd place in an AFC South many thought they would rule in the latter half of this decade.

Now the Jaguars come to town having already played spoiler to the Titans last weekend.

I just don’t see Jacksonville winning back-to-back games to finish off the season.

 Q’s Pick: Colts, 33-20


New England Patriots (13-2) at Miami Dolphins (10-5)

You would think 13 wins would be enough to clinch the top seed in the postseason, but it’s not going to be for the Patriots.

They need a win against a red-hot Dolphins team that has already clinched a playoff spot.

Tom Brady should deliver, even on the road, to give them their first 14-win season since 2010.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 27-24


Chicago Bears (3-12) at Minnesota Vikings (7-8)

The Vikings started the year 5-0 (remember that?) and have absolutely self-imploded to finish off the season.

The Bears, on the other hand, have spent all year just trying to win a game.

Minnesota will be at home and can save their season by finishing .500, something few would have suggested in early October.

Q’s Pick: Vikings, 24-19


Buffalo Bills (7-8) at New York Jets (4-11)

The Bills fired Rex Ryan this week and will therefore be led by interim coach Anthony Lynn for the final week of the season.

That shouldn’t stop them from beating a Jets team that hasn’t been able to stop anybody this season.

Although I always seem to jinx the Bills when I pick them, I’m rolling with them this week.

Q’s Pick: Bills, 27-19


Dallas Cowboys (13-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-9)

The Cowboys aren’t playing for anything having already clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC postseason, but even if they rest their starters, their backups are talented.

Tony Romo is expected to see some snaps and we all know what he can do when he’s healthy, and Darren McFadden figures to get the majority of the carries if Ezekiel Elliott sits.

The Eagles will probably send all their starters out there which will keep it a close game.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 24-21


Cleveland Browns (1-14) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

My goodness, the Browns won a game.

I’m happy for them, truly, because no team deserves to go winless. Unfortunately, they’ll go 1-15 since they have to visit Pittsburgh on the road.

The Steelers also have little to play for but even if they send their preseason starters in, I can’t see the Browns winning two in a row.

 Q’s Pick: Steelers, 31-23


New Orleans Saints (7-8) at Atlanta Falcons (10-5)

Thanks to the Seahawks loss last weekend, the Falcons have a clear path to the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

They can put an exclamation point on that with a win at home against the Saints in what is expected to be the final game at the Georgia Dome.

Expect Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to do their thing with Devonta Freeman acting as the cherry on top.

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 34-30


New York Giants (10-5) at Washington Redskins (8-6-1)

The Giants were predicted to finish in the middle of their division by a number of experts at the start of the year, but a win this weekend would clinch their first 11-win season since 2008.

Washington would love to play spoiler themselves, but Eli Manning and Odell Beckham seem to have a good chemistry working right now, something that will help tremendously come postseason time.

The New York Football Giants will be back in the postseason for the first time since they won the Super Bowl in 2011.

 Q’s Pick: Giants, 24-22


Arizona Cardinals (6-8-1) at Los Angeles Rams (4-11)

Having played spoiler to the Seahawks last weekend, the Cardinals season is already ending on a high point.

Their MVP candidate David Johnson showed once again that he could not be stopped and I find it unlikely that the Rams are the team that slows him down.

Johnson could be among a number of Cardinals that end the year strong after a highly disappointing season for the Bird Gang.

 Q’s Pick: Cardinals, 31-20


Oakland Raiders (12-3) at Denver Broncos (8-7)

The quest to repeat as Super Bowl champs is over for the Broncos, but the quest to play spoiler is still very much in play.

Here’s the thing: Derek Carr broke his leg last weekend so the Raiders will now be relying on Matt McGloin to lead Oakland to a win in the Mile High City, where they have won only once in the last five years.

Von Miller and the Broncos defense, likely upset at missing the postseason, will take out their anger on the Raiders and Oakland’s defense isn’t good enough to contain Trevor Siemian in a shootout if it turns into that.

Q’s Pick: Broncos, 27-24


Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (5-10)

The Chiefs knocked out the Broncos last weekend and with a Raiders loss, the division and No. 2 seed will be theirs.

All that’s standing in their way is a Chargers team that lost to the then-winless Browns last weekend and is now playing with head coach Mike McCoy on a blazing hot seat.

Kansas City should take this one by at least a touchdown.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 29-23


Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-13)

The Seahawks blew their chance at a No. 2 seed with a loss last weekend against the Cardinals, at home no less.

They can redeem themselves by winning their final game of the season against a 49ers team that has only beat the Rams this year.

Russell Wilson has some things to work on mechanically and so does the offense. This would be a good place to work on those things.

Q’s Pick: Seahawks, 24-17


Green Bay Packers (9-6) at Detroit Lions (9-6)

The Packers have rolled to five-straight wins to set up a date with the Lions for the NFC North crown.

At this point, both teams have a realistic shot at making the postseason, the loser will likely just end up a low seed.

Still, winning the division guarantees a home game and who wouldn’t want that? This should be as tough and close a game as it gets but I think Aaron Rodgers seals the deal on the road.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 27-26


Last Week’s Record: 9-7

Season Record: 153-85-2


** Bye Week: N/A

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NFL Week 16 Picks, Predictions: Packers, Titans move closer to playoff spots

Photo: Mike Morbeck via Flickr.com

Photo: Mike Morbeck via Flickr.com


Thursday, Dec. 22

New York Giants (10-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-9)

The Giants are still fighting for a playoff spot, the Eagles are not.

It’s easy to assume the Giants, with the NFC East title still within reach, will come out and dominate but they have a history of playing poorly in Philadelphia and Eli Manning has struggled in the past against the Eagles.

Don’t be surprised if the Eagles win, but the Giants should topple them in prime time.

 Q’s Pick: Giants, 24-20


Saturday, Dec. 24

Washington Redskins (7-6-1) at Chicago Bears (3-11)

The Redskins have a ridiculously low chance of getting into the postseason, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

Kirk Cousins has to be thrilled going up against a Bears defense that has struggled against the passing game.

DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder could be in for big nights.

Q’s Pick: Redskins, 30-24


Miami Dolphins (9-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-7)

The Bills would love to play spoiler against a Dolphins team that is without Ryan Tannehill and playing on the road again.

Buffalo doesn’t have any real shot of getting into the postseason but keeping their division rival from clinching a spot should serve as motivation enough to get the upset win.

LeSean McCoy is also expected to play, as the anchor of the league’s top run offense.

Q’s Pick: Bills, 24-23


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) at New Orleans Saints (6-8)

The Saints season has already been a disappointment, but Jameis Winston would love to make it a completely forgettable one by beating New Orleans at home.

The Bucs have hung around with some of the best teams in the NFC, including the Cowboys, and the Saints aren’t in that category.

Expect a shootout.

Q’s Pick: Buccaneers, 31-28


Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-8)

If the Seahawks lose this week, the Falcons have a real shot at clinching the No. 2 spot in the NFC playoffs, which would assure a first round bye and some home games.

They have to beat the Panthers first, the defending NFC champions who have been a thorn in the side of Matt Ryan and company for the last two years.

Julio Jones and the Falcons will get the last laugh.

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 30-27


Minnesota Vikings (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (8-6)

Aaron Rodgers once told the media to R-E-L-A-X, but this is far from the time to do that if you’re the Packers.

A team that just a few weeks ago allowed 42 points to the Redskins and fell to 4-6 on the year now has a legitimate shot to win the NFC North.

If they can beat the Vikings it sets up a date with the Lions for the division crown next weekend.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 27-23


New York Jets (4-10) at New England Patriots (12-2)

The Patriots don’t want to rest any starters in this game because the No. 1 seed in the AFC postseason is still in play.

That’s bad news for the Jets, who haven’t won a game at Gillette Stadium since 2011.

Tom Brady and LeGarrette Blount should go off for major fantasy points in this one.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 31-20


Tennessee Titans (8-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Would you believe the Titans are just a win or two away from winning the AFC South? Would you believe the Jaguars have only won two games this season?

Both are true and each team’s trajectory should continue curving in those directions following this game.

Jacksonville would love to be a spoiler but can they really stop Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray?

Q’s Pick: Titans, 26-20


San Diego Chargers (5-9) at Cleveland Browns (0-14)

I don’t see the Browns going 0-16 this season, but I also don’t see an offense as high-powered as San Diego’s falling victim to Cleveland’s defense.

Then again, if there’s a team that’s going to lose to the Browns, it’s probably the Chargers. They’ve figured out ways to lose close games all season.

This time, they should be able to hold onto the lead.

 Q’s Pick: Chargers, 28-23


Indianapolis Colts (7-7) at Oakland Raiders (11-3)

The Raiders can still get the No. 2 seed in the AFC postseason if they win out, something that would have been unheard of just a few seasons ago.

Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have paced an offense that seems ready for the playoff limelight.

But Oakland’s defense needs to make some stops here at the end of the season and they might allow a shootout against Andrew Luck and the Colts.

Q’s Pick: Raiders, 33-29


San Francisco 49ers (1-13) at Los Angeles Rams (4-10)

The last time these teams met was the season opener — which was also the last time the 49ers won a game.

The Rams are a bad team but they aren’t as bad as the 49ers.

Unless you’re forced to because of local television regulations, try to avoid watching what could become a battle of terrible teams.

 Q’s Pick: Rams, 20-17


Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1) at Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1)

The Seahawks are still in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the NFC which would mean a bye and fewer games on the road.

That’s been their Achilles heel all season so if winning this weekend will help them avoid that, you can bet they are going to do everything in their power to beat the Cardinals.

These teams are so evenly matched, it could come down to a game-winner from Steven Hauschka.

Q’s Pick: Seahawks, 28-26


Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) at Houston Texans (8-6)

The Texans, like the Titans, are just a few wins from clinching the AFC South, as crazy as that sounds.

After all, Brock Osweiler is far from the quarterback his contract says he is and the Texans defense has been good but not great.

Luckily, the Bengals aren’t much better so the Texans might be able to steal this one at home.

Q’s Pick: Texans, 27-21


Sunday, Dec. 25

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)

With the AFC North title on the line, I would have given this game to whichever team was playing at home.

That’s how big a factor the crowd is going to be. Baltimore has won the last four meetings and six of the last seven, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown aren’t going to let them win another.

The Steelers have been rolling and not even the Ravens defense is going to stop them this Christmas.

 Q’s Pick: Steelers, 27-23


Denver Broncos (8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

The defending Super Bowl champs are just a loss or two away from being eliminated from the postseason.

The Chiefs know they are in a position to deliver the knockout blow and with postseason seedings still a factor, they should win this one at home.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 26-23


Monday, Dec. 26

Detroit Lions (9-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-2)

Matthew Stafford is still hurt and the Cowboys are still rolling.

Dak Prescott is just one win away from tying Ben Roethlisberger for the most wins by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

He should get the win against Detroit’s defense, who has a strong secondary but has struggled against the run game in the past.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 27-24


Last Week’s Record: 12-4

Season Record: 144-78-2


** Bye Week: N/A

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NFL Week 15 Picks, Predictions: Seahawks clinch NFC West against lowly Rams

Photo: <a rel=


Thursday, Dec. 15

Los Angeles Rams (4-9) at Seattle Seahawks (8-4-1)

Seattle made themselves look ridiculous in a 38-10 blowout loss at Lambeau Field last weekend, thanks in large part to Russell Wilson‘s career-high five interceptions.

But expect a big bounce-back this weekend, even on short rest.

Their opponent is stumbling into this matchup and the Seahawks have a chance to obtain another NFC West crown with a win in front of their fans.

Q’s Pick: Seahawks, 28-17


Saturday, Dec. 17

Miami Dolphins (8-5) at New York Jets (4-9)

The only thing that might keep the Dolphins from running away with this game is if they can’t learn to adjust on the fly without Ryan Tannehill.

Matt Moore will be making a spot start, but he should only need to play just-well-enough for Miami to keep their playoff hopes alive against such a bad Jets team.

Q’s Pick: Dolphins, 24-17


Sunday, Dec. 18

Detroit Lions (9-4) at New York Giants (9-4)

The Lions can clinch the NFC North with a win and a Packers loss, but their test is a challenging one in the Big Apple.

The Giants are fresh off a big win against the Cowboys and Detroit has to win with an injured Matthew Stafford, who has torn ligaments in his throwing fingers.

New York is fighting just to get into the postseason and that grit should show Sunday.

 Q’s Pick: Giants, 27-26


Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

Baltimore’s defense remains among the league’s best with the No. 1-ranked run defense to boast (75.5 ypg).

In Philly’s favor, Carson Wentz is the focal point, not the run game.

But the Ravens play well at home, winners of four-straight at M&T Bank Stadium, and they have more to gain from a win.

Q’s Pick: Ravens, 23-20


Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Chicago Bears (3-10)

The Packers playoff hopes are bleak at best, but the Bears won’t pose much of a challenge.

Green Bay’s newly-found secondary has held three-straight opponents to 13 points or fewer and their average margin of victory in those games has been by more than two touchdowns.

Aaron Rodgers, the floor is yours.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 30-20


Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (7-6)

The Colts’ best chance to win their division may have slipped away from them last weekend when they failed to beat the Texans at home.

The Vikings aren’t playing for much, but their defense is much better than Houston’s and a win at home still helps their playoff chances.

Q’s Pick: Vikings, 27-23


Cleveland Browns (0-13) at Buffalo Bills (6-7)

The Browns haven’t just been bad, they’ve been dismal this year.

It’s unfortunate, because no team deserves to lose every game, but even in games they might have had chances to win, they’ve blown it.

LeSean McCoy and the Bills are too talented a squad to fall victim to an upset win at home.

Q’s Pick: Bills, 26-16


Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)

The Chiefs have powered into position to win the AFC West, thanks to eight wins in nine games, including two against the Raiders.

The Titans aren’t a pushover team, they’re very much in play to win the AFC South for themselves and a statement win in Kansas City would help do the trick.

But Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill have had 10 days to get ready for Marcus Mariota and company and they should demonstrate that Sunday.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 30-24


Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Houston Texans (7-6)

The Texans, like the Titans, need to win-out for a shot to win the AFC South.

They took care of Step One last weekend by beating the Colts on the road, now they can return home to focus on Blake Bortles and the Jaguars.

This game is Houston’s to lose.

Q’s Pick: Texans, 27-17


Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1)

What do the Steelers need to sneak into the postseason? A win and some help.

It starts with a win though and they can’t get caught snoozing on the Bengals, a team that has scored 55 total points in their last two games.

Pittsburgh has the offense, but do they have the defense to win?

 Q’s Pick: Steelers, 31-23


New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1)

Drew Brees continues to struggle leading to what could be an ugly finish for a team that has had one of the league’s best offenses all season.

The Bird Gang will counter with one of the league’s best defenses, including a secondary that only gives up 201.8 passing yards per game.

On a side note, if David Johnson rushes for 100 yards, he would break the record set by former Colts running back Edgerrin James for most consecutive games with triple-digit total yards.

 Q’s Pick: Cardinals, 27-24


San Francisco 49ers (1-12) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5)

The Falcons probably thought that they would be battling the NFC champion Panthers right now for the chance to win the division, but they are actually battling the 8-5 Buccaneers.

Atlanta can’t afford to lose because it could cost them the chance at the NFC South title.

Expect them to come out firing on all cylinders for that very reason.

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 30-13


New England Patriots (11-2) at Denver Broncos (8-5)

These teams love playing in primetime and the rivalry will be even more heated with the fact that both teams have a lot on the line.

The Patriots can win their division and get close to a No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win — Denver could be eliminated from the postseason with a loss.

Tom Brady‘s history against Denver isn’t great but history re-writes itself.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 24-20


Oakland Raiders (10-3) at San Diego Chargers (5-8)

The Raiders all but had the AFC West locked up but now they are in a race to win-out before the Chiefs can.

That starts against Philip Rivers‘ high-flying offense in Southern California.

The Raiders should have their own firepower working well enough to get the win, but their exposed and deteriorating defense could make this a close one.

Q’s Pick: Raiders, 34-30


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-2)

The Bucs are playing their hearts out so don’t expect them to roll over against Dallas, who still only has a playoff spot clinched.

This game was flexed into primetime rightfully so, but I would still be extremely surprised if Jameis Winston manages to lead an upset against America’s Team.

That being said, Ezekiel Elliott might have a big night against Tampa’s run defense that allows 110.7 yards per game (21st).

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 27-22


Monday, Dec. 19

Carolina Panthers (5-8) at Washington Redskins (7-5-1)

The Redskins are longshots to make the postseason, but Kirk Cousins isn’t going to let them disappear quietly.

Washington hasn’t played at home since Nov. 20 so the crowd should be amped and cheering on the league’s No. 2-ranked pass offense (302.8 ypg).

Cam Newton will keep things close, just not close enough.

Q’s Pick: Redskins, 29-24


Last Week’s Record: 10-6

Season Record: 132-74-2


** Bye Week: N/A

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NFL Week 14 Picks, Predictions: Chiefs make statement in quest for AFC West

Photo: Kelly via Flickr.com

Photo: Kelly via Flickr.com

Thursday, Dec. 8

Oakland Raiders (10-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)

The Raiders are facing perhaps their biggest test of the season on the road in Kansas City against a team that already beat them this year.

In that game, Derek Carr only managed to throw for 225 yards and Oakland’s offense was held scoreless in the second half.

The Chiefs’ defense has countered their own offense efficiently — the team has played in five-straight games decided by five or fewer points and they’ve won four of them.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 30-28


Sunday, Dec. 11

Denver Broncos (8-4) at Tennessee Titans (6-6)

The Titans are in a three-way tie for the AFC South lead while the Broncos are in danger of missing out on a Wild Card spot. Interesting how that works out, given both of these teams’ records.

The Broncos should win even though the Titans will be well-rested following their bye week, meaning Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray should be ready to test Denver’s defense.

Q’s Pick: Broncos, 27-23


San Diego Chargers (5-7) at Carolina Panthers (4-8)

The Chargers have a more excitable offense behind Philip Rivers than the Panthers have going at defense.

San Diego should take care of this one.

 Q’s Pick: Chargers, 30-20


Houston Texans (6-6) at Indianapolis Colts (6-6)

In a battle for the AFC South, you would think a team led by Andrew Luck would be having an easier time than this.

They’re fortunate that they get to face Brock Osweiler‘s dismal offense this weekend.

 Q’s Pick: Colts, 30-20


Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-12)

There’s no way the Browns are going to go 0-16… is there?

For their sake, I hope not, but they’re going to go 0-13. Thanks, Andy Dalton.

 Q’s Pick: Bengals, 28-21


Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)

Both of these sqauds boast the game’s best run offenses, thanks to Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy.

But the team from Pittsburgh also has a pass offense and a better defense.

 Q’s Pick: Steelers, 30-24


Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-5)

The Bird Gang’s hopes for back-to-back NFC West titles look bleak, but they need a win to keep their season alive.

They should get one, even against the streaky Fish.

 Q’s Pick: Cardinals, 31-26


Chicago Bears (3-9) at Detroit Lions (8-4)

The Lions have been struggling far too much to stay in the way of a Detroit team that still has a chance to win their first NFC North title since, well, ever.

The last time they won a division title was 1993 when the division was called the NFC Central Division.

Q’s Pick: Lions, 30-17


Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)

That 5-0 start seems so long ago for the once promising Vikings, but they’re still a better team than Blake Bortles‘ Jags.

Jacksonville has a lot of work to do this season. How they perform against a defense like Minnesota’s will dictate some of that work.

Q’s Pick: Vikings, 24-20


New Orleans Saints (5-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)

The Buccaneers are rolling. I didn’t believe in them but I do now.

If you still don’t believe in them, tell me how you feel when they shut down Drew Brees.

Q’s Pick: Buccaneers, 28-24


Washington Redskins (6-5-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

The Redskins are on the outside-looking-in when it comes to the postseason but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance.

Those chances will be a lot more bleak if they can’t beat Philly.

Q’s Pick: Redskins, 27-24


New York Jets (3-9) at San Francisco 49ers (1-11)

Another battle of the bad teams includes the 49ers this season, but I still don’t see them getting a win.

Does that make the Jets a good team? For this week, it does.

 Q’s Pick: Jets, 26-24


Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) at Green Bay Packers (6-6)

The Seahawks are on their way to winning their third NFC West title in the last four years.

In their way this week is Aaron Rodgers‘ 15-2 record at home in December. Expect snow and a lot of scoring in this game.

Q’s Pick: Seahawks, 28-24


Atlanta Falcons (7-5) at Los Angeles Rams (4-8)

The Falcons continue to fly-high behind Matt Ryan‘s video game numbers and the Rams contine to look lost in their first season in Los Angeles.

Good thing the Rams have a good run defense for Julio Jones and company?

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 30-20


Dallas Cowboys (11-1) at New York Giants (8-4)

I know the Giants won this matchup in Week 1 but both teams are much different than that day four months ago.

I also am not sure New York is as good as their record indicates. They would prove me wrong with a win.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 27-21


Monday, Dec. 12

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at New England Patriots (10-2)

Baltimore’s top-ranked defense is a tempting choice but it’s hard to bet against Tom Brady in a late-season conference game.

Still, don’t expect a blowout by any means.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 24-20


Last Week’s Record: 10-5

Season Record: 122-68-2


** Bye Week: N/A

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College Football Playoff teams set, Penn State glaringly, alarmingly snubbed

Photo: Ben Stanfield via Flickr.com

Photo: Ben Stanfield via Flickr.com

For months, debates have been held and cases have been made, but on Sunday, the College Football Playoff’s 2016-17 participants were finally revealed.

The final four teams will be as follows:

  1. Alabama (13-0)
  2. Clemson (12-1)
  3. Ohio State (11-1)
  4. Washington (12-1)

On New Year’s Eve, the Crimson Tide and Huskies will square off in the Peach Bowl and the Tigers and Buckeyes will battle in the Fiesta Bowl.

But one team was notably left out of the Playoff — the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Champions of the Big Ten, Penn State deserves the spot currently held by Ohio State and it’s a travesty that the CFP selection committee decided to give the Nittany Lions the cold shoulder after a fantastic season.

According to the College Football Playoff’s official website, “the selection committee ranks the [top four] teams based on conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and other factors.”

At least half of those factors are already in the Nittany Lions’ favor.

Ohio State, while a talented and proven football team, didn’t even play for their conference title, a knock that should be taken into account.

Further, Penn State won the head-to-head matchup with Ohio State this season, 24-21, at the end of October.

Neither mattered to the selection committee who made the Buckeyes the first non-conference champion in the Playoff since its inception three seasons ago.

CFP committee chair Kirby Hocutt made things even more interesting on Sunday when he told reporters that the debate for the final spot wasn’t even between Penn State and Ohio State, it was between the former and Pac-12 champion Washington:

“We looked at a lot of things,”Hocutt told ESPN.“We looked at two conference championship teams. … We looked at one-loss Washington — that loss being against a top-10 opponent — compared to a two-loss Penn State team — one loss they were not competitive in that particular game, the other loss was to an 8-4 team. We talked about strength of schedule. Obviously, strength of schedule favored Penn State. Had Washington had a stronger strength of schedule, I don’t think the conversation and discussion would have been as difficult.

Penn State’s glaring blemishes include a 49-10 beating at the hands of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the fourth game of the season.

The other is the loss “to an 8-4 team” Hocutt is talking about, which was a three-point loss to Pittsburgh in the second game of the year, a non-conference loss that wouldn’t have seemed detrimental at the time but cost the Nittany Lions a Playoff spot.

Still, Washington deserves to be in and that shouldn’t be up for debate — they are their conference’s champions.

In that same respect, so should Penn State.

The selection committee has been wish-washy about what constitutes the “best” teams in the nation and while history tells us they like to watch conference champions play, apparently they can make exceptions.

Ohio State had a few things in their favor, like strength of schedule, and I can live with that. They aren’t a bad team to be in the Playoff but it doesn’t make sense to me that you can be considered one of the best teams in the nation without even playing for your conference’s title.

Had Penn State been in the CFP with no conference championship and a head-to-head loss to Ohio State, wouldn’t more people be upset that the Buckeyes were snubbed?

Apparently winning your conference’s championship doesn’t make you your conference’s best team.

There’s a lot of factors that go into making a “great” team, but a conference title should be a huge part of it, and the selection committee showed us it’s a mere footnote.

Ohio State just proved that and Penn State will have to settle because of it.

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