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N.F.L. Week 10 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

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The N.F.L. is down to one unbeaten team (the San Francisco 49ers), and you will have to wait until Monday night to see it play. This week’s games do not offer a lot of must-see matchups, but viewers should be buoyed considerably by the expected return of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 10, with all picks made against the point spread.

Last week’s record: 6-7-1

Overall record: 72-61-2

Vikings at Cowboys, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Cowboys -3 | Total: 47.5

As the Cowboys (5-3) went through a three-game losing streak, it was easy to wonder if their strong start to the season had been a mirage. Instead, it appears those three losses, in which Dallas dealt with injuries on its offensive line, were the anomaly. Back at something close to 100 percent, the Cowboys have rolled to consecutive wins with a combined score of 74-28.

Dallas’s hallmark this season has been the big play. Led by Amari Cooper, who is expected to play this week despite a bruised knee, the Cowboys’ wide receivers have produced 31 receptions of 20 or more yards through eight games, which is just eight short of the 39 they had in 2018. Cooper and Michael Gallup have done a great job of generating yardage after the catch, and quarterback Dak Prescott has thrived in Kellen Moore’s offense without taking away much productivity from Ezekiel Elliott and the running game.

The Vikings (6-3) are, in many ways, a similar team. Kirk Cousins has made good use of his star wide receivers while Dalvin Cook has churned out a league-leading 894 rushing yards. Both teams have above average defenses and, according to The Upshot, both face an extreme change in their postseason chances depending on the outcome. A win will give either team a 76 percent chance of a postseason berth, while a loss will drop Dallas to 53 percent and Minnesota to 49 percent.

With a close point spread and evenly matched teams, going with the home team seems right, especially with wide receiver Adam Thielen expected to miss the game for Minnesota. Pick: Cowboys -3

Panthers at Packers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -5 | Total: 47

The Packers (7-2) started the year looking much improved on defense, but their enthusiasm has waned from week to week. They are still allowing fewer points per game (21) than they did last year (23.5), but their ranking in terms of total yardage allowed per game has declined from 18th in 2018 to 26th this year. Last week, those defensive shortcomings were evident as Green Bay was crushed after its offense pulled a disappearing act.

This week may not be any easier. Green Bay struggles to defend running backs, and the Panthers (5-3) have the most versatile and productive back in the N.F.L.: Christian McCaffrey, who is on a pace to make a serious challenge at Chris Johnson’s single-season record for yards from scrimmage (2,509, set in 2009).

It’s a mismatch made in fantasy football heaven, and even with the wild card of how Cincinnati’s offense will differ with Ryan Finley replacing Andy Dalton at quarterback, it still has the makings of a blowout. Pick: Ravens -10

Falcons at Saints, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -13 | Total: 51.5

Teddy Bridgewater helped keep the Saints (7-1) in first place in the N.F.C. South while Drew Brees recovered from surgery on his thumb, but the team did not score at its normal rate — through eight games, it is 15th in the N.F.L. in points per game (24.4). That ranking could improve in a hurry. Over the next four weeks, the Saints face Atlanta (31.2 points allowed a game), Tampa Bay (31.5), Carolina (25.5) and then Atlanta again. Scoring 30 or more points in a win at home should be easy enough for New Orleans, but with Matt Ryan expected to be back for the Falcons (1-7), this game could be more of a shootout than a blowout. Pick: Falcons +13

Bills at Browns, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Browns -2.5 | Total: 40

The Bills (6-2) have been thoroughly outplayed only once this season (a Week 8 loss to Philadelphia). In the other games, Buffalo’s defense put on a show and its offense found a way to survive. The Browns (2-6), meanwhile, seem to find new dysfunction weekly. Their losing streak, which began in October, was understandable considering the opponents (San Francisco, Seattle, New England), but turned ugly when Brandon Allen and the lowly Broncos stretched it to four games. Cleveland has a ton of talent, but it does not appear that quarterback Baker Mayfield knows what to do with it. Pick: Bills +2.5

Cardinals at Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Buccaneers -4 | Total: 52

Over the last five weeks, the Cardinals (3-5-1) have established that they can beat bad teams (wins over Cincinnati, Atlanta and the Giants) and lose to good ones (New Orleans, San Francisco). The Buccaneers (2-6) are an interesting challenge as they are nowhere near as bad as the teams Arizona beat, but nowhere near as good as the teams that beat Arizona. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett and Tampa Bay’s defense can put a lot of pressure on Arizona’s Kyler Murray, but his Cardinals counterpoint, Chandler Jones, could play an even larger role, rattling Jameis Winston into the game-changing turnovers that the Buccaneers quarterback is famous for. Pick: Cardinals +4

Dolphins at Colts, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -10.5 | Total: 44

You might think Las Vegas would ease up on the Dolphins (1-7) after they secured their first win of the season, but oddsmakers have instead made them double-digit underdogs to the Colts (5-3), even though there is ambiguity as to whether Indianapolis will have its starting quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, or if Brian Hoyer will have to start in his place. The Colts are a much better team than Miami, and should absolutely be expected to win, but the uncertainty of their quarterback situation makes a close game more likely. Pick: Dolphins +10.5

Lions at Bears, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bears -2.5 | Total: 42

The Bears (3-5) have been reeling during their four-game losing streak. Mitchell Trubisky even asked for the televisions in the team’s practice facility to be turned off so he didn’t have to hear the criticism. A home game against the Lions (3-4-1) could be a huge morale boost, as Detroit allows an average of 424.1 yards of offense a game, which is 31st of 32 teams. But should Chicago fail to make something work with Trubisky or David Montgomery against a defense that porous, then the TV criticism would appear to have a point. Pick: Lions +2.5



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Kawhi Leonard. Paul George. Same Court. Same Time.

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LOS ANGELES — It rained in Los Angeles on Wednesday, one of those infrequent meteorological events that seem to transfix this city while paralyzing the traffic. At around the same time, the Clippers went through their morning shootaround ahead of their game against the Boston Celtics later that night.

Shootarounds tend to be unremarkable, but this one was as odd and rare as the weather: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were finally on the court together, partaking in an official workout for the first time as teammates. One of the Clippers’ marketing slogans this season is “We Over Me,” but they have seldom been whole. George missed the first 11 of games of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, then Leonard was sidelined with a left knee contusion when George joined the starting lineup last week.

On Wednesday, though, they overlapped: their first communal shootaround followed by their first game as superfriends. In some ways, it felt like the season was starting all over again.

“I think I know what to expect,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said about an hour and a half before the game began, “but I don’t really know what to expect.”

Rivers wound up getting a bit of everything: a bundle of turnovers, a late-game comeback and a glimpse of his team’s frightening potential.

It was no surprise that the Clippers were uneven in their 107-104 overtime victory: Leonard had missed the previous three games, George is still working himself into playing shape and their teammates are coping with change. But the Celtics (11-3) took the court at Staples Center tied for the best record in the N.B.A.’s Eastern Conference, and the Clippers still emerged with a win.

“We understand we’re going to have growing pains,” said George, who finished with 25 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. “We’re going to make mistakes. It’s not going to be pretty right now. But whatever the case may be, we’re going to find a way to win.”

Leonard added 17 points and blocked the Celtics’ Kemba Walker at the buzzer to preserve the win, but what stood out most as Leonard and George seized the stage was the play of their supporting cast. Patrick Beverley had 14 points and 16 rebounds. Lou Williams scored 27 points off the bench. The Clippers (10-5) revealed their depth.

“If we trust the pass, the ball will find the open guy,” Rivers said, “and the open guy will make the shot.”

All that depth is a luxury as Leonard and George feel their way through this process. Rivers recalled meeting with his staff after the team’s morning shootaround and reflecting on how strange it all was: When was the last time another tandem had made such a highly anticipated debut without having spent any real time together on the practice court?

“We couldn’t come up with one,” Rivers said.

Of course, Leonard and George were not exactly strangers when they showed up for Wednesday’s game. In coordinating their relocation to Los Angeles over the summer, Leonard agreed to sign with the Clippers only after they had hashed out a deal to acquire George from the Oklahoma City Thunder. And they have been around each other for months.

In the run-up to the season, they appeared together on billboards and in television commercials and in the wildest dreams of the franchise’s championship-starved fans. It was all a reflection of just how much was suddenly at stake for the Clippers, who mortgaged an enormous chunk of their long-term future to win now. It is worth remembering what was required of them to pry George loose from Oklahoma City: a package that included five future first-round draft picks and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of their most promising young players.

But the Clippers are living for the moment, and George was quick to provide evidence of his worth in his first three games with the team by averaging 29.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 56.3 percent from the field — all while Leonard nursed his knee injury. After going months without competitive basketball, George made his return look effortless.

But Wednesday was different, a milestone for a franchise that has never been synonymous with success. Before the game, Rivers acknowledged that he was experiencing a smorgasbord of emotions: excitement and nervousness, but also curiosity to see how it would all look. He knew it would take time for Leonard and George to form chemistry and for the team as a whole to adjust to revamped rotations and roles. But come on: It was finally happening.





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Texans Look for Stability Against Wildly Unpredictable Colts

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The rest of Week 12’s matchups will be published on Friday.

Colts at Texans, 8:20 p.m. Eastern time, Fox & NFL Network

Line: Texans -3.5 | Total: 45.5

With first place in the A.F.C. South on the line, this game is predicted by The Upshot to be the week’s most important matchup in terms of playoff implications. The Texans (6-4) are predicted to have an 82 percent chance of making the playoffs should they win, and a 49 percent chance if they lose. The Colts (6-4) would have a 79 percent chance with a win and a 36 percent chance with a loss.

Indianapolis has been somewhat limited in the passing game in recent weeks because of injuries, but it used a dominant running game to demolish Jacksonville on Sunday. Marlon Mack and Jonathan Williams each carried the ball for more than 100 yards, but Mack left in the third quarter with a fracture in his right hand and will be out indefinitely. A committee of Williams, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins will have its hands full trying to run on Houston’s defense, which has been fairly stout this season outside of last week’s thrashing by Baltimore.

Would it work to put the ball in Jacoby Brissett’s hands and expect the young quarterback to lead the Colts to victory? It did in Week 7, when he threw for 326 yards in a 30-23 victory over Houston. But that performance is looking like an outlier, with injuries to both Brissett and some of his key receivers leading to Indianapolis passing for fewer than 200 yards as a team in five of its previous six games. Tight end Eric Ebron looks unlikely to play, and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will either be out or limited, so that trend could continue even against Houston’s weak pass defense.

It is easy enough to forgive the Houston defense for not knowing how to slow down Lamar Jackson and the Ravens last week. But the Texans’ offense also no-showed on Sunday, which is harder to overlook. Houston generated just 232 yards of total offense, while turning the ball over twice. An offensive line that had given Deshaun Watson plenty of time to work this season allowed six sacks, leading Watson to rush several key plays and resulted in the star quarterback injuring his ankle.

So heading into this game, the questions are plentiful. Can Williams handle a larger role for Indianapolis? If not, can Hilton return from injury to stabilize the passing game? Can Houston’s offense bounce back against a Colts defense that is in the middle of the pack in most metrics? And can anyone truly predict the performance of the Colts — a team that has won as a 10.5-point underdog and lost as an 11-point favorite this season?

Watson’s returning to form, despite the ankle injury, is the most likely of a seemingly endless list of potential scenarios. Pick: Texans -3.5



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Thursday night game’s key things to watch

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INDIANAPOLIS — A monumental game awaits the Colts at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at NRG Stadium in Houston.

At stake? First place in the AFC South and firm control of the division heading into the final month of the season. The Colts won the first matchup, 28-23, but a lot has changed.  

1. The potential return of T.Y. Hilton should strike fear into the hearts of the city of Houston. Hilton has missed the last three games with a calf injury, but everything seems to be trending toward a return this week. Hilton said earlier this week that he feels good, the team estimated that he would have practiced in full on Wednesday and he’s listed as questionable. When Hilton’s in Houston, he almost always does big-time damage; Hilton has 46 catches for 1,018 yards in just eight career games at NRG Stadium.

2. Hilton isn’t the only Texans killer in the Colts receiving corps. Zach Pascal has 17 catches for 230 yards in three regular-season games against Houston — he had just one catch in last year’s playoff game — but the Texans are responsible for a third of Pascal’s career production to this point.

3. With or without Hilton, this might be a game for Jacoby Brissett and the Colts’ passing attack. Brissett turned in his best game of the season against Houston in the first matchup — he threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns — and the Texans team he’s facing Thursday is badly banged up in the secondary. Rookie cornerback Lonnie Johnson, safety Justin Reid and former Colts safety Mike Adams have already been declared out, and Bradley Roby will be a game-time decision, which might make Houston ripe for the picking.

4. Brissett also doesn’t have to worry about the threat that gave him the most trouble in the first meeting. J.J. Watt, Houston’s All-Pro defensive end, is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Outside of Watt, the Texans struggled to get much pressure on Brissett in the first meeting between the two teams. 

5. Without Watt, Houston has no prime threat on the outside. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus hasn’t had a sack since the Colts game, and although Brennan Scarlett has come on with three sacks in the last two games, he’s not the caliber of pass rusher Indianapolis right tackle Braden Smith faced against Jacksonville, Pittsburgh or Denver.

6. Watt’s absence has hurt Houston’s defense as a whole. In the three games the Texans haven’t had Watt at their disposal for the entire game, Houston has given up 408.3 yards per game, struggling against the run and the pass.

7. The loss of Reid and Adams, along with an injured Tashaun Gipson, who is questionable with a back injury, might mean the middle of the field is open again for the likes of Eric Ebron. He had his best game of the season in the first meeting, hauling in four passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.

8. Houston held Indianapolis to just 62 rushing yards in the first meeting, by far the Colts’ worst showing of the season, but that could change, based on the way the two teams played last season. The Texans shut down the Colts’ running game in both regular-season contests, but in the playoffs, Indianapolis ripped off 200 rushing yards to knock out the Texans.

9. The loss of Marlon Mack, who broke his hand against Jacksonville, makes it harder to get the ground game going. With Jordan Wilkins expected to play, he’ll likely take the lead in a committee approach, with Indianapolis sprinkling in Jonathan Williams and a little more of Nyheim Hines. Wilkins is less patient than Mack, more of a hard-hitter, and so is Williams; the running game changes a bit without Mack.

10. The Colts secondary has its own injury issues to consider. Although it looks like Indianapolis will get Pierre Desir back in the lineup, rookie cornerback Rock Ya-Sin is questionable with an ankle injury and safety Khari Willis is out with a concussion. Houston might get back Will Fuller, who hasn’t played since suffering a hamstring injury in the first meeting. When the Texans are at full strength with Fuller, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee, Houston’s wide receivers are a formidable bunch.

11. Deshaun Watson injured an ankle against the Ravens. He’s said he’s healthy, and the Texans estimated that he would have practiced in full all week, but if he’s lost any mobility at all, he’ll be easier to track down than his normal elusive self.

12. The Colts pass rush is going to have opportunities, and they have to make the most of them. Watson was sacked seven times by the Ravens last week, the third time this season that he’s been sacked at least six times in a game. His tendency to hold onto the ball and buy time in hopes of hitting the big play gives the pass rush time to get home. Indianapolis sacked him three times in the first game.

13. Expect Justin Houston to line up on the left side, across from rookie right tackle Tytus Howard, rather than going up against Laremy Tunsil at left tackle. Houston has a sack in six consecutive games, including two of Watson in the first matchup, and as the Colts’ most consistent pass rusher so far, getting to Watson begins and ends with him.

14. Any time the Colts play the Texans, Darius Leonard’s ability to track and spy Watson is an enormous part of the game. One of Leonard’s best traits is his ability to close ground on a quarterback and keep him from scrambling; Watson’s his ultimate test. Leonard knows it and feeds off the matchup.  

15. Desir has been the Colts’ primary cover man against Hopkins in the last three meetings between the teams, and it seems likely that he’d play that role again, even though he’s coming off of four missed games due to the hamstring. With Ya-Sin questionable and fellow rookie Marvell Tell the next man up, Desir seems like the likely option; Hopkins had nine catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting between the two teams.

16. Indianapolis is likely going to have to make some red-zone stops early. The Colts defense has been great the last six games, giving up just over 300 yards and 17 points per game, but if Indianapolis has had trouble in any area consistently, it’s early in games. Avoiding that kind of slow start is key against the Texans; best to not let Watson get a hot hand.

17. The key to slowing down the Texans is taking away the big play; Watson’s worst games this season have come against teams that limit his downfield throws and force him to check it down. The Colts have been vulnerable in the intermediate range over the middle this season; Indianapolis has to take that away and make Watson hold onto the ball or check it down.

18. A Colts run defense that ranks ninth in the NFL will be tested. Houston has rushed for more than 100 yards in six straight games, and the fifth-ranked Texans rushing attack isn’t likely to abandon the ground game the way the Jaguars did with Leonard Fournette. Expect Carlos Hyde to get a lot of work.

19. Adam Vinatieri. Even after a rock-solid game against the Jaguars, the watch isn’t over yet.

20. No matter what teams have been throughout the season, the matchup tends to get a little wonky on Thursday nights, due to the lack of rest time and preparation time as compared to a normal week. Hard to tell which team that favors; the Colts are on the road, but the Texans are coming off of a demoralizing 41-7 loss in Baltimore.



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