Featured post

NBA December Picks 2016 (December 1-4)

The NBA week this week is going to be split into two threads to cover the end of November and the move into December in the 2017 season. I m...

Friday, 2 December 2016

College Football Week 14 Picks 2016 (December 2-3)

Last week was 'Rivalry Week' and this week it is 'Championship Week' as the College Football regular season comes to a close barring the Navy-Army game of next week. At the end of this week we are going to see the College Football Top Four and the teams that will enter the Play Offs to determine the National Champion.

One place has been assured with the Alabama Crimson Tide in regardless of how their SEC Championship Game goes, but there are some questions about the other three participants. The Clemson Tigers and Washington Huskies have to be considered as likely to get in if they win their Conference Championship Games, but the doubts are over the Big Ten Champion.

It is Wisconsin v Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Ohio State Buckeyes are considered the best team in the Conference and it is hard to see the Ranking committee ignoring their presence as a one loss team compared with either the Badgers or Nittany Lions who have had multiple losses. However the committee have made it clear how much stock they put into Conference Champions so you have to imagine they are cheering for one of the other two potential Champions, Clemson and Washington, to fail to close the deal.

This is all going to lead to more people perhaps talking about the Play Offs being expanded to include eight teams rather than four. Personally I am not sure that is oversaturating the pull of the Play Offs, but this year the likes of Michigan, USC and Oklahoma could join Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Washington and Penn State/Wisconsin to make an exciting eight team Play Off but this feels like a special year where the Big Ten Champion clearly doesn't look the best team in that Conference.

There is clearly a set way the committee decides the Rankings because I would have a very different four team line up if it was down to the eyeball test over the last month of the season. Ohio State and Alabama would be in, but there might not be a hotter team in the nation than the USC Trojans, while the Oklahoma Sooners are unbeaten in their own Conference and have a long winning streak behind them too. The Sooners could potentially crash the Play Offs but they need to beat their rivals Oklahoma State and then hope both Washington and Clemson lose their Championship Games and perhaps even Wisconsin beating Penn State.

A guess now would be that Alabama, Clemson, Washington and, controversially, Ohio State will be put into the Play Offs regardless of what happens in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Week 13 was a little up and down for the picks and I was disappointed with how they went down. There are not as many games this week as we had last week but the picks will begin on Friday night and cover the Saturday games.

Washington Huskies v Colorado Buffaloes Pick: How can you be anything but impressed with the way the Colorado Buffaloes have played this season as they surprisingly won the Pac-12 South to earn a spot in the Championship Game to be played in Levi's Stadium on Friday night. The Buffaloes have shown they can play as an underdog and win games, but this is another big test for them when they take on the Washington Huskies who have a Conference Championship and the College Football Play Offs on their minds.

Neither team has ever been in this spot before which should mean nerves on both sides of the field, but the Washington Huskies have rightly been favoured to win the game.

The spread has certainly been moving in favour of the Huskies even though they are only narrowly favoured by the public which suggests the sharp money is on them in this Friday night game in Santa Clara. With the powerful Offense possessed by Washington and a Defensive unit that have shown heart through injuries, I can't say I blame anyone who has been backing Washington this week.

The Huskies have bounced back from their only loss of the season against the USC Trojans to wipe out the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Washington State Cougars, although they had to thank their Defense for some 4th and Goal stops in the win last week over rivals Washington State. The Defensive Line will believe they can give Washington a shot to win this game by shutting down Philipp Lindsay at Running Back and forcing Colorado to risk winning this game through the air.

Sefo Liufau has shown he can do that Quarter Back with some big numbers in recent games and the Washington Huskies Secondary have been guilty of giving up some big plays. However they have played better passing teams than the Buffaloes although I do think Liufau will have some nice passes in this one.

The problem for the Quarter Back is going to be if he is constantly in third and long with Lindsay likely to be stifled. At that point the Huskies have shown they can still generate a pass rush and take down the Quarter Back and it might lead to mistakes when throwing into the Secondary or drives to stall and having to settle for punts or Field Goals.

Washington should feel much more confident in what they can do Offensively because the Colorado Defensive Line has begun to show some wear and it might mean the Huskies are a more balanced Offense than the Buffaloes. Myles Gaskin should be able to establish the run against a Defensive Line that has allowed 5 yards per carry over their last three games and that will open things up for Jake Browning at Quarter Back.

Running the ball will slow down the pass rush that Colorado can generate and also perhaps ease the pressure on Browning who has been guilty of one or two mistakes throwing the ball in recent games. Whether that is down to the pressure of trying to take Washington into the Play Offs is up for debate, but Browning has shown he can move the chains with his arm when necessary and overall it feels like Washington will have the Colorado Defensive unit perhaps second guessing themselves.

I do have so much respect for the way Colorado have played this year and they are 10-2 against the spread and 5-0 against the spread as the underdog which makes it hard to oppose them. However Washington do look a little better on both sides of the ball and I think that will ultimately show up in what can be a win by around ten points for the Huskies and winning the Pac-12 Conference.

Temple Owls @ Navy Midshipmen Pick: This is the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, but instead of a neutral field it is going to be played at the home of the team with the best record. In this case it is the Navy Midshipmen who get that benefit, but I can't help feel the Temple Owls are being underrated here.

Maybe not by everyone though- while Navy are being supported hugely by the public having only three points to cover, the Owls have received the 'sharp' support with the number coming off the key number three the last few days. That says a lot about where the smart money is going and I do have to say that this Temple Defensive unit is more than capable of bringing a title home.

No one is going to dispute how good Navy have been this season and the Midshipmen are very disciplined which means they won't beat themselves in any game. They have some very good wins under their belt and Will Worth has done an exceptional job at Quarter Back despite beginning the season as the back up. We all know what Navy want to do too as does every team in the nation and it will be up to the Temple Owls to show they can limit the effect of the triple option rushing Offense they are facing.

The Owls Defensive Line is amongst the best and they have had success against other teams that run that Offense, although Navy might be the best at doing that. That battle at the line of scrimmage can dictate so much of how this game is going to develop, but Temple have shown they are very tough up front and I do think they can have some success even if Navy will also get their numbers on the ground.

Temple produce plenty of penetration up front and that has helped the Secondary show some strong numbers. The Owls are not likely to turn the ball over too many times, but they can play well enough to force some punts from their opponents and that gives them a chance to spring the upset in Week 14.

While there are some question marks as to how Navy will do against a very good Temple Defensive Line, I am not seeing the same issues on the other side of the ball. The Navy Defensive Line has allowed teams to establish the run and I think Temple have success even though Ryquell Armstead has been ruled out with an injury from the win over East Carolina in Week 13. Armstead has some big numbers, but Temple still have leading rusher Jahad Thomas and I very much expect Temple to earn some big yards on the ground.

It also looks an opportunity for Phillip Walker, despite some limitations he might be feeling, to make some plays with his arm. Whereas the Temple Secondary have been strong for most of the season, Navy's Secondary has allowed some big plays through the air and Walker could have a decent outing as long as his foot injury is not holding him back too much. Walker will have to be careful of the ball-hawking nature of the Navy Secondary but the balance on Offense and a strong Defensive Line looks to give the road team the edge in this one.

Navy have been very strong at home against the spread, but Temple are 5-0 against the spread on the road. I also like the fact that the Owls have produced when set as the underdog and I can see a close game decided by their stronger Defensive Line which can just make a few plays to slow what Navy are wanting to do. It is a shame the threes earlier this week have gone, but I will back Temple as the underdog to surprise Navy and the public with a road win for the American Athletic Conference Championship.

Oklahoma State Cowboys @ Oklahoma Sooners Pick: The Big 12 might not have a Championship Game like the other Conferences, but this is a Championship Game in Norman with the winner being crowned. The Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys both will feel they have an outside shot to get into the Play Offs if they can win this game, but ultimately the Big 12 needs help to get into that position.

Neither Mike Gundy or Bob Stoops will be thinking about their Play Off ambitions until after this game, but both will push for their teams to be involved if they are winners in Week 14. There is also some revenge on the minds of the Cowboys who were humiliated by the Sooners at home last season when trying to ruin their rival's ambitions of reaching the Play Offs in 2015.

Oklahoma State have blamed the injuries they were dealing with as a reason they were unable to challenge the Sooners as they would have wanted. There are no such excuses this year with Mason Randolph leading the way at Quarter Back with another year of experience under his belt after being gimpy in this game last season.

It won't be all up to Randolph as he can hand the ball off and allow his Running Backs to rip off big gains against this Oklahoma Defensive Line which has allowed 6.7 yards per carry over their last three games. Per carry is a big number, but the Sooners have also given up 243 yards per game on the ground in that time and the Cowboys should be able to establish the run with a healthy Randolph taking the attention at Quarter Back.

Randolph has been well protected and he should have time to throw the ball with the Sooners looking to stop the run and the only issue he has to worry about is turning the ball over. Protect the ball and the Cowboys have to feel they can move the chains up and down the field for much of the day.

The same can be said for the Sooners who have an elite set of Running Backs that have made life easy for Baker Mayfield at Quarter Back. Mayfield is another threat to run the ball, but he can hand the ball off to Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to rip off big gains as they did against the West Virginia Mountaineers. While the Oklahoma State Cowboys Defensive Line has not struggled as much as the Sooners in recent games, it won't be a surprise to see Mixon/Perine/Mayfield earning some solid numbers on the ground in this one too.

That should ease any pass rush the Cowboys are generating and Mayfield should be able to make his throws in a similar manner to Rudolph as the Defenses try to load up and stop the run. Mayfield has been guilty of a couple of bad throws in recent games and this Cowboys Secondary thrive on turning the ball over.

Turnovers are going to be huge in this game with both Offenses expected to move the chains at will. That is the 'x factor' in a game like this, but on the face of it this does seem a lot of points to give the Cowboys. Oklahoma State have taken Oklahoma to Overtime in their last two visits and won one and lost one, but covered both times against the spread. Getting a double digit start looks very appealing and the public are all over the road underdog, but this time I am going the same way.

There is never too much in terms of overall yards gained when these rivals meet in recent years and I think this one comes down to the team who has the ball last. Either way, I like the Cowboys with the points to keep this one close.

Baylor Bears @ West Virginia Mountaineers Pick: The chance of winning the Big 12 ended for the Baylor Bears a few weeks ago, but the West Virginia Mountaineers were still in contention until Week 12. A blowout home loss to the Oklahoma Sooners ended their hopes, but that doesn't mean there is nothing for the Mountaineers to play for in Week 14.

Any time a team gets to win 10 games in a single season is a considerable achievement and a win for West Virginia gives them a shot to do that before the Bowl Game. It might also persuade Dana Holgerson to ignore any advances other schools may have for him to fulfil their vacant Head Coach roles, but the bigger factor may be the embarrassing way the Mountaineers were crushed by the Baylor Bears last year which has clearly not been forgotten by the players.

It looks like a good time for West Virginia to face Baylor who have lost five in a row, and been blown out in each of the last 4. The Mountaineers might have been a little disappointed by the way they were beaten by the Sooners, but West Virginia bounced back by crushing the Iowa State Cyclones and that should have kept the confidence going to earn revenge over the Bears.

Seth Russell has gone down with an injury at Quarter Back for the Bears which has hurt them, but they have still managed to keep the chains moving with young replacement Zach Smith. The Bears can run the ball effectively in this one to keep the pressure from Smith, but I do think the Freshman will have success throwing the ball too as the Mountaineers have struggled in both aspects.

However Baylor have not been running the ball as effectively as earlier in the season with teams daring them to win with Smith's arm, while a young inexperienced player is likely to make some mistakes. The Interceptions have hurt Smith which leads into a vicious circle as he is being asked to throw the ball more than perhaps Baylor would like thank to their own Defensive struggles.

Injuries to the Running Back unit has to be a concern for West Virginia, but they were able to bring in Martell Pettaway who had a huge game against Iowa State and may be the next star here. A couple of the injured Backs may return this week, and they should help West Virginia have a very strong day running the ball against a Baylor Defensive Line that has worn down as games have progressed.

Trying to stop the run hasn't been helped by the fact that the Baylor Secondary have been giving up some huge plays and now face an underrated Skylar Howard for the West Virginia Mountaineers at Quarter Back. They have been able to get some pressure up front, but Baylor haven't been able to stop teams throwing the ball and I can see Howard having a big game at home this week. Howard must avoid turnovers which can keep Baylor in this one, but it does feel like a very good opportunity for West Virginia to punish their visitors for the blow out last year.

The last four Baylor losses have come by at least 19 points per game and I do think West Virginia have shown Offensive power to think they can pull away in this one. I will look for them to exploit Zach Smith for a couple of turnovers and those extra possessions can see the Mountaineers pull away for a big win.

Both teams will have some big Offensive moments, but eventually I will look for the Mountaineers to come through with a win by around three Touchdowns and cover this very big number.

Alabama Crimson Tide v Florida Gators Pick: The SEC Championship Game feels like a mismatch and the layers are not going against that with the Alabama Crimson Tide set as a big favourite to knock off the Florida Gators in Atlanta this weekend. It is hard to argue against that mindset, but the public seem to be behind the heavy underdog with the points and they did play a closer than expected game in the SEC Championship Game just twelve months ago.

Fading the public simply to fade the public is not going to be enough and on first glance this is a surprising amount of points given to the Gators in a neutral field game. However the Crimson Tide have looked far and away the best team in the nation at this level and I am going to back them to cover the spread in this one despite the big number I have mentioned.

Essentially the Crimson Tide need to win by four Touchdowns which is asking a lot of teams facing non-Conference overmatched opponents, let alone the SEC West giving this to the SEC East Division winners. When you look a little deeper, you can't ignore the fact that Florida have lost by 21 points to the Arkansas Razorbacks and 18 points to the Florida State Seminoles and neither team is really comparable to what the Crimson Tide bring to the table.

Injuries to the Defensive unit has to be a big concern for the Florida Gators and, even though they shut down the LSU Tigers, they have to know Alabama are capable of exploiting those vulnerabilities. There has suddenly been an issue with Florida when it comes to slowing down the rushing Offense of teams and that is where Jalen Hurts and the Crimson Tide can get the ball rolling and begin to punish the Gators.

Establishing the run should mean Hurts is able to make some throws from Quarter Back without a fierce pass rush in his face and I do think the Crimson Tide can have a big game Offensively. Moving the chains at will can put the pressure on the Gators to play 'keep up' with them and it is a position no team in the nation really wants to find themselves when playing the Crimson Tide.

Unlike Alabama, Florida are not likely to have too many open running lanes to expose on the ground with the Crimson Tide Defensive Line proving they are the best in the country on a weekly basis. They have given up just 2.2 yards per carry over their last three games and can force Florida to make Austin Appleby throw the ball to move the chains which is not really what they want to be doing.

Appleby might feel some pressure behind an Offensive Line which has struggled, but Alabama have shown they don't need considerable pressure to shut down the pass. I do think the Crimson Tide pass rush will get to Appleby at Quarter Back, but they also have a Secondary which has made big plays all season and I think Florida will do well to stay competitive in this one.

You can't disguise this is a big number, but Florida have shown they might not have the Offensive output to stay with Alabama and a couple of turnovers can see the Crimson Tide push clear. I do think Nick Saban has been irritated by suggestions that Alabama can lose this game and still make the Play Offs and I think he will want a more dominant win than they produced against Florida in the SEC Championship Game in 2015. They won that by 14 points, but I can see them being more ruthless in 2016 and I will ask them to cover this number.

Clemson Tigers v Virginia Tech Hokies Pick: The Clemson Tigers have to be aware that failing to win the ACC Championship Game is going to end their interest in the College Football Play Offs. That puts some pressure on them as they head to Orlando to face the Virginia Tech Hokies who have already lost three times this season and basically outlasted the North Carolina Tar Heels to win their Division and make it to the Championship Game.

This is far from an easy game for the Tigers who have bounced back from their single loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers and simply cannot afford to drop another game. Virginia Tech might not be up to the standards of previous years, but they have plenty to be positive about for their future and a win in the ACC Championship Game would be a huge shot in the arm for the entire school.

It could easily have been a different scenario for the Hokies in Week 14 if they had not dropped silly losses to the Syracuse Orange and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Take those away and they might have been considered for a spot in the College Football Play Offs with a win in this one, but instead they are preparing to build something that can eventually lead to the Play Offs and potentially National Championships.

This is a real test for the Hokies who have to put their Offense up against the Clemson Defensive unit which has played well. It is going to be very difficult for Virginia Tech to establish the run in this one and that will only increase the pressure on Jerod Evans at Quarter Back even if he has dealt with it well for much of the season.

Evans has had some problems behind this Offensive Line in recent games and the Tigers will be able to generate a pass rush that can get to him. The Quarter Back has proved to be a dynamic one who can make some plays with his legs as well as his arm, but Evans has turned the ball over a little more than he would have liked in recent games and may need his own Defensive unit to help keep this one close.

It does look difficult for the Defensive unit to get on top against the Clemson Offense which has slowly improved in each passing week this season. Wayne Gallman has to be excited seeing the Hokies Defensive Line just suffer some wear and tear over the last few weeks and the Running Back can set up Clemson and Deshaun Watson up for a big day.

Gallman is likely able to establish the run against a Virginia Tech Defensive Line which has given up 4.9 yards per carry over their last three games and that should open up some passing lanes for Watson. He has to respect how well the Hokies Secondary has played but Watson should be able to make plays from third and short spots which will give Clemson a chance to move the chains effectively in this one and eventually force some mistakes from Evans at Quarter Back for Virginia Tech.

Those mistakes should see Clemson have a chance to pull clear in this one and I do think they are the better team in this one. I will back the Tigers to show that on the field in this Championship Game and I will look for them to cover this number and move on to the College Football Play Offs later this month.

Wisconsin Badgers v Penn State Nittany Lions Pick: The biggest decision the College Football Play Off committee are going to have next week is whether the Big Ten Champion deserves to be Ranked above the Ohio State Buckeyes. If the Pac-12 is won by the Washington Huskies and the ACC is won by the Clemson Tigers, this question is going to have to be answered.

The controversy may come if Penn State were to win the Big Ten Championship Game this weekend and finish below the resting Ohio State Buckeyes whose sole loss came to the Nittany Lions. On the other hand a Wisconsin Badgers win would be easier to explain away as they were beaten by both Michigan and Ohio State during the regular season, but even then there will be some questions with the committee previously noting how much stock they put into Conference winners.

There is nothing either the Penn State Nittany Lions or the Wisconsin Badgers can do about that right now but an impressive win in the Championship Game might just swing some voters in their direction. Whoever wins this one is going to have to earn it with both Defensive units proving to be amongst the best in the Conference.

Both teams will be aware that the other wants to run the ball and the key to this game is going to which of the Defensive Lines will step up the most. I really do think the Penn State Defensive Line can do that in this one because they won't respect the Wisconsin passing game as much as the Badgers will respect what Penn State can do through the air.

Neither Secondary has really allowed too much against them and I expect that to continue in what could be a low-scoring Championship Game. When you are expecting a low-scoring game, getting the points looks the smart play and I do think the Penn State team are the more likely winners in this one. They have a little better play coming from the Quarter Back position which can make all the difference in a close game and I will be taking the points in this one and looking for the Nittany Lions to have chances to win this one outright in the Fourth Quarter.

MY PICKS: Washington Huskies - 8.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Temple Owls + 2.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Oklahoma State Cowboys + 11 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
West Virginia Mountaineers - 17.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 24 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Clemson Tigers - 10 Points @ 1.91 Coral (1 Unit)
Penn State Nittany Lions + 3 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (1 Unit)

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (December 2-5)

If you think where the November totals were just two weeks ago, you would not have predicted positive numbers to end the month but a strong two weeks has turned things around. That means adding to the season totals as two positive months and two negative months has put me in a decent position knowing I've had considerably more success in the second half of the season compared with the first over the last three years.

I don't want to take anything for granted as previous performance isn't always an indication for future success, but I am comfortable with how things have gone to this point.

December is always a tough month for players and making picks as the games come thick and fast and making the right adjustments in regards to team strengths can be tough. Watch out for players being rested at this time of the season to keep them fresh for the five months in 2017 that determines where silverware goes, but managers will do well to note how important this time of the year can be, particularly in England.

It is a month with domestic football around Europe up until the weekend of the 17th/18th December before most Leagues shut down for a short 'Winter Break'. The English Leagues continue with games scheduled for Boxing Day, New Year's Weekend and Monday 2nd January where a lot of the players will be tested.

Personally I love this time of the year for the football we get to see, although December has been proven to be something of a graveyard for my picks even if last season was one of the better Decembers I have had. Hopefully I will be getting the month off to a really strong start this weekend which can build some momentum before we head into the final Champions League/Europa League Group matches next week.

A number of teams will be playing twice a week right through to the weekend of the 17th/18th December when they will have eight days to get ready for the Boxing Day fixtures.

Manchester City v Chelsea PickThere has been a lot of high praise given to Antonio Conte in recent weeks which is a far cry from when he was favoured to be the next manager to lose his job in the Premier League after the 3-0 loss to Arsenal. I think the Italian should be given credit for the change of formation which is getting plenty of positives out of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, but you can raise some questions about their 7 game winning run in the Premier League.

They scored early against Manchester United and Southampton, but both of those teams had opportunities to get back into the game which could have changed the whole feel of the game if they had taken them. Last weekend Chelsea were far inferior to Tottenham Hotspur in the first 45 minutes and being fresher helped them turn that game around as well as scoring right on half time when they might have been out of the game by that point.

It is hard to ignore the results, but Manchester City is a completely different test to what they have faced away from home since the 3-0 loss at Arsenal. Chelsea have beaten Hull City, Southampton and Middlesbrough in the League, but they have also lost at West Ham United in the Cup in that time and having odds against quotes on the home team look very appealing.

Manchester City might have drawn 3 home games in a row, but Chelsea won't sit back and make life awkward as much as Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough did. In all seriousness, Manchester City had enough chances to win at least two of those games and the win over Barcelona shows what this team can do when they are facing a team that might be a little more positive and thus leave some spaces.

Tactically it should be a fascinating game and Manchester City's poor defensive record would be a big concern for Pep Guardiola. However the Spaniard has had a full week to prepare his men for this one and the freshness won't be a concern as it became for Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday.

I simply also don't think Chelsea are as good as their recent results suggest and I do think Manchester City will prove too strong on the day. The home team will create enough chances to win this one and it is all about whether they can punish Chelsea when they come unlike the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in recent weeks.

Crystal Palace v Southampton PickThis has to be a huge weekend for Alan Pardew whose run to the FA Cup Final as Crystal Palace manager at the end of the 2015/16 season papered over the really poor form in the Premier League. Despite a huge outlay financially in the summer, Crystal Palace have not been able to get out of a consistent slump and are on the brink of falling into the bottom three.

I do have to think the Chairman at Selhurst Park and others in power might be waiting to see if Pardew can turn things around having had faith in him before. However a fall into the bottom three might see a little bit of panic creep into any decision about the manager's future at the club and another defeat on Saturday would ramp up that pressure.

You simply can't avoid that when overseeing 6 straight losses and not when Crystal Palace managed to blow a 3-4 lead at Swansea City last weekend in an eventual 5-4 loss as The Eagles conceded twice in injury time. The goals being conceded at the moment has to be a big concern for Pardew especially as they are facing a Southampton team full of confidence after 2 wins this week and one that doesn't concede a lot of goals.

There is definitely an attacking threat in the Southampton line up that will feel they can expose the soft underbelly of their hosts, but I do think this is a side that is not as strong away from home as they are at St Mary's. The win over Arsenal in the English Football League Cup Quarter Final came against a much changed home team and you can't easily ignore the 2-1 loss at Hull City in a game Southampton took the lead.

However the recent Crystal Palace form makes it tough to believe in them too much either and the vulnerabilities that both have shown suggests the layers may have got it wrong with odds against quotes for at least three goals. 4 of the last 7 fixtures between these two teams have featured at least three goals and the goals being conceded by both at home/away respectively suggests the attacking players will have their chances to improve those numbers.

Crystal Palace are likely to want to tighten up at the back considering recent performances, but Pardew might have to rely on his own attacking players to help the club out of trouble. At odds against I think the chance of seeing goals has been underestimated because of Southampton's lack of goals in recent games, but I think that may change here.

Stoke City v Burnley Pick: There are a few teams in the Premier League from who you simply don't know what kind of performance you are going to see from game to game. Stoke City are one of those and that has contributed to a really inconsistent start to the season for Mark Hughes' team who have plenty of quality but from players who can produce 9/10 performances one week and 5/10 the next.

The football is more enjoyable these days but the results have not been as positive at times as shown when Stoke City were beaten 0-1 by Bournemouth here two weeks ago. This is not the fortress it used to be under Tony Pulis, but Stoke City are able to produce results on their travels more than they ever could under their former manager.

This is the kind of game Stoke City should be winning when they host Burnley, but the layers are taking no chances with the price on the home team. That looks very short to me when you think Burnley have been able to hold out at Manchester United recently even if they did ride their luck in that one.

A real issue for Burnley is finding enough goals to win games and that leads me to my pick. They have only scored in 1 of their 6 away games in all competitions this season and even that was through a penalty at Southampton. Burnley have had some tough away games, but they have also failed to find the net at Accrington Stanley from League Two and at West Brom and I do think Stoke City can become the latest to keep them out.

At some point I would think Stoke City will create their opportunities to win the game, but a small interest on them winning with a clean sheet is the call.

Sunderland v Leicester City PickLast week David Moyes took some criticism from the media for the defensive shape Sunderland played with at Liverpool, but most fans would have recognised any points from that game at Anfield would have been considered a bonus. This week there will be a different feel with Sunderland at home and facing a team that is surprisingly considered a relegation rival when Leicester City visit the North East.

The poor performances that Leicester City have produced away from home is a big concern for Claudio Ranieri and recent weeks has seen the side slide down into the bottom half of the table. Even games at home have begun to bog Leicester City down and this is a very difficult game for them.

While Sunderland have conceded plenty of goals at home, they have also found a way to score goals here and have to believe they can take the game to Leicester City. It is that belief that potentially plays into Leicester City's hands as they might be able to have more success on the counter attack than they have for much of this season.

That will make Leicester City a dangerous proposition this weekend, but Jermain Defoe will believe he can help Sunderland get on the scoreboard too. The away side have really been struggling defensively and Sunderland could pose a real threat from set pieces but the home team have also had defensive problems.

With that in mind, I do think this is a game that could feature three goals at least as the two clubs involved chase an important three points to get their seasons turned around. At odds against I think you can back this game to have at least three goals shared out.

West Ham United v Arsenal Pick: Games between West Ham United and Arsenal at Upton Park were highly entertaining in recent seasons, and I feel the move to the London Stadium will not take away anything from what these teams could produce. Both suffered disappointing English Football League Cup Quarter Final exits on Wednesday, but the changes made suggested they both had one eye on this big Premier League game which will have an impact at both ends of the League table.

There have been a few signs that West Ham United are willing to turn a corner, but they can't afford to be as sloppy as they were in the 3-2 loss at Tottenham Hotspur a couple of weeks ago. That is going to be punished by Arsenal and I do think The Hammers are giving up too many chances at the moment which is going to lead to problems.

After initially struggling in their new home, West Ham United do come into this one with a 4 game unbeaten run and that includes being the only team in recent weeks to beat Chelsea. That should give West Ham United some confidence, but defensively they have only kept one clean sheet in their last 5 home games in all competitions.

A team like Arsenal might be missing the influence of Santi Cazorla, but they have shown they have goals in the side and should be able to expose those vulnerabilities. However I do think West Ham United can play a part in this one too with the defensive frailties Arsenal have shown in recent weeks and that makes it a fascinating League game on Saturday afternoon.

I do think the extra quality Arsenal have shown in recent games gives them an edge in this one. Darren Randolph will need to have a game of the highest standard as he produced at Old Trafford last week but he is facing an Arsenal team that have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 6 away games in all competitions.

I will have a small interest in Arsenal continuing their recent dominance of this fixture away from home and I will back them to win a game where both teams do score.

Bournemouth v Liverpool PickThis is a big game on Sunday for both Bournemouth and Liverpool and there are a couple of questions for both teams to answer. The home team have had a few sloppy results recently most notably the 1-2 loss to Sunderland here despite taking the lead, while Liverpool are missing a huge part of their attacking threat in Philippe Coutinho.

Confidence is a big issue for teams like Bournemouth, but I also believe their style of play makes it easier for the better teams in the Premier League to play against them. Unlike some of the other clubs in the bottom half, Eddie Howe will want his side to express themselves in every game they play and I think that has contributed to the fact that they were beaten in 7 of their 10 home games against teams that finished in the top half last season.

A draw with Tottenham Hotspur and a win over Everton this season might suggest things have changed, but Bournemouth will give Liverpool the space to operate and I think that makes it a tough afternoon for them.

Even though Coutinho is out of the line up, Liverpool have players like Sadio Mane and Roberto Firminho who can provide the quality to win this game. They do look stronger than Bournemouth and while I think Liverpool have some tougher tests ahead before the end of the year where Coutinho's absence might be an issue, I am not sure that shows up here.

I do think it will be a tighter game than the layers imagine, but Liverpool are likely to come away with the three points and I will back them to do that.

Everton v Manchester United PickThis is a big game for an out of form Everton and a Manchester United team desperate to put a winning run together in the Premier League.

Being at home should give Everton a little more confidence as they have kept their best performances for Goodison Park but they have been struggling to really put Ronald Koeman's ideas onto the field. It can be hard to understand what Everton are trying to do at times when they get into the final third but facing a Manchester United defence that is not at full strength should help them in that regards.

There is still talent in the Everton squad and they haven't been beaten in the Premier League at home which makes them dangerous.

However Manchester United have to feel they can start winning games consistently if they maintain the standards of their play. Another home draw might look like a bad result, but Manchester United dominated West Ham United as they have Burnley and Arsenal and only a second goal has been missing in those games to earn the wins.

Defensively Manchester United have made mistakes which have seemed to be punished every time they have occurred. That is going to be an issue at Goodison Park but I think Manchester United can create chances in this one and will feel they can win having earned more away wins in the Premier League than they have at Old Trafford.

It does have to be pointed out that Everton are yet to concede twice at home in the League this season but Manchester United can become the first team to do that if they can show their Cup clinical finishing in the Premier League. On the other hand I do expect Everton will cause more problems than they did for Southampton last weekend and this could be an entertaining game.

I do think both teams will score and I have a gut feeling Manchester United win this game. That leans me towards picking this game to feature at least three goals which has happened in 4 of the last 5 games between Manchester United and Everton and at odds against I feel this is a real possibility again this weekend.

Nottingham Forest v Newcastle United PickThis could be quite an interesting game for the live television cameras on Friday as Nottingham Forest have just shown improved form of late and they might be catching Newcastle United at the right time. The visitors were in action with a strong looking line up on Tuesday night at Premier League Hull City and having been forced all the way to penalties could easily lead to some fatigue to be addressed.

Nottingham Forest are a side that will get forward and create chances and that makes them dangerous, although Newcastle United have scored plenty of goals at this level themselves. The Magpies will feel they can expose some holes in the defensive areas of Nottingham Forest too and that makes it a game that could feature at least three goals.

Both teams have scored in every Nottingham Forest home game in the Championship while Newcastle United have scored at least twice in their last 3 away games in the League. They have had clean sheets in those games but the fatigue I mentioned can help Nottingham Forest earn some opportunities and play their part in this one.

The 1-1 scoreline could be a concern, but Newcastle United haven't played out too many draws this season and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

MY PICKS: Manchester City @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Stoke City Win to Nil @ 2.70 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Sunderland-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal to Win and Both Teams to Score @ 3.20 William Hill (1 Unit)
Liverpool @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Nottingham Forest-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% Yield)
October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/17142-145-8, + 10.70 Units (555 Units Staked, + 1.93% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Thursday, 1 December 2016

NFL Week 13 Picks 2016 (December 1-5)

As soon as the NFL hits Thanksgiving weekend I begin to feel like the Play Offs are just around the corner and I have little doubt that there are plenty of Head Coaches and players feeling the same as December clocks around.

Some teams already know that their focus is on the 2017 season, while others are in a very strong position and will have to have some collapse down the stretch to miss out on the post-season. With five weeks left in the regular season, every game matters even more for teams chasing their spots in the Play Offs and that makes it an interesting time for the fans.

Off the field there has been some interesting developments too with the NFL increasing their presence to four games in London next season, although confirmation will likely come out this weekend or when the games to be played here have been set. We know the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins is one game to come to London in 2017 and it has been heavily rumoured that the Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Baltimore Ravens in what has been their annual game in the English capital in recent years.

The other two games are surrounded by rumours at the moment which will likely be cleared up in the coming days.

One aspect of the London games that has been revealed is the removal of the 1:30pm local start times which have been a feature of those games over the last coupe of years. That window hasn't worked for the NFL in the United States and the oversaturation of football has become a problem for many over there.

It has led to suggestions that Thursday Night Football will not be a regular scheduled game but instead could either be scrapped altogether or only used following Thanksgiving Day and those Thursday games. The television ratings are down this year, which is a surprise, and the NFL is looking to make their Football a little more premium rather than upping the amount of windows in which one game is broadcast as they have this year.

People do seem a little tired of the NFL over in the States and that has to be addressed in the off-season.

The Week 12 Picks were at the crossroads going into the Monday Night game and it was all down to the Green Bay Packers to make it a successful week or not. Thankfully they didn't just stay within the points but won outright to make up for some bad breaks in the earlier games.

I had no right losing the Minnesota Vikings pick as they self-destructed at the end of their loss to the Detroit Lions, while Washington scored a backdoor cover over the Dallas Cowboys. I did have a couple of terrible picks most notably the Seattle Seahawks to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game they ended up losing, so overall a winning week is a positive to take away from Week 12.

Hopefully there is some momentum to take into Week 13 which I am opening up with a pick from Thursday Night Football. The rest of the picks will follow in the coming days on this thread.

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: I was really hoping the Minnesota Vikings would have beaten the Detroit Lions last week because they might then have been a small underdog in this week's Thursday Night Football when they host the Dallas Cowboys. The public have been convinced by the Cowboys and it is no surprise that they are heavily behind the only team with double digit wins in the regular season after eleven games.

However the sharps have been backing the Minnesota Vikings and that has actually seen the hook removed on this spread and the number back at the key number three. I really don't like being on the same side as the public in these standalone games, but I was looking to back the Cowboys before Week 12 and nothing that happened on Thanksgiving Day has made me change my mind.

 Dallas have won ten games in a row compared with the Minnesota Vikings who have lost five of their last six games and are under pressure in the NFC North. The two losses to the Detroit Lions means the tiebreaker is gone and the Vikings are already a game behind the NFC North leaders so are in a desperate position to win this one.

That will help them focus, and Stefon Diggs is back in the line up for the Vikings who has proved to have had an effective connection with Sam Bradford at Quarter Back. It is very important for Bradford to be able to find his Receivers he trusts because the Vikings have struggled to run the ball all season without Adrian Peterson and there is not likely to be a lot of room to get that aspect of their game going.

However Bradford should still have success as the Cowboys have struggled to get to the Quarter Back and the Secondary has been susceptible to some big plays. We have seen Bradford make some solid plays with Diggs to throw to, but the pressure is going to be on his shoulders to find some consistency as I am not convinced the Minnesota Defensive unit can shut down the Cowboys.

There has been some wear and tear on the Defensive Line which is a big concern for the Vikings. They have been giving up some big plays to Running Backs and I have no idea how they are going to be able to slow down Ezekiel Elliot and this Offensive Line which has proved they can wear down opponents over sixty minutes and Elliot will break off some big runs.

The problems stopping the run is an issue for the Minnesota Vikings because they have to respect what Dak Prescott has been able to do from the Quarter Back position. He is a more elusive runner than some may think, but Prescott has also shown considerable intelligence in deciphering what the Defenses have tried to do in front of him and being able to throw to the open Receiver.

Prescott has also made some big time throws when the Cowboys have needed him to, but the Minnesota Secondary is pretty good and could cause some issues for the rookie Quarter Back. On the other hand, Minnesota are going to have a difficult time keeping this Cowboys Offensive unit moving up and down the field if they can't slow the run because Prescott is good enough to make the necessary throws to get his team moving in the right direction.

Minnesota are also going to be without Mike Zimmer today as the Head Coach is out with an injury to his eye which has meant he hasn't been able to get on the sidelines. They are a home underdog which has to irritate them, but I am not sure the Vikings are going to be able to keep up with Dallas even if I do think the Minnesota will have more Offensive success than they have had in a long time.

Ultimately I can see the Dallas Defensive unit forcing Bradford into a critical mistake which allows them to earn the extra possession to move clear of this number. They look the stronger team Offensively and I just can't see Minnesota being able to stop the run which allows Dallas to score enough points to pull clear.

Both teams have had a week to prepare for this game but it Dallas who might prove why they are likely to finish with the Number 1 Seed in the NFC with another win this week.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: For the second season in a row, a fast start for the Atlanta Falcons has not meant they have been in a prime position to make the Play Offs. Just like last season they have begun to struggle in the second half of the season and the Falcons have the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers breathing down the back of their necks in the NFC South.

This is a big game for Atlanta but also a big game for the Kansas City Chiefs who are still trying to chase down AFC West leaders Oakland Raiders. There is still time for them to do that, but the Chiefs have got to keep finding their way to improbable wins like they showed against in Week 12 by coming back from eight points down to beat the Denver Broncos on the road.

The Chiefs have not exactly been a free flowing Offensive unit and it is no surprise that they have been outgained in yards in 8 of their last 10 games, but have still gone 8-3 through the first twelve weeks of the season. It is a big reason no one really believes the Chiefs are a Super Bowl winner in the making especially with a Defense that has not been as strong as last year.

It is a Defensive unit that has been able to make plays and Justin Houston's return gives them a big time pass rusher which is critical at this time of the season. Going up against Atlanta's struggling and banged up Offensive Line should give Houston a chance to produce another big game after showing off his talent last week in the win over Denver.

However the Chiefs are facing a very positive Quarter Back in Matt Ryan who has shown he can be very good at the NFL level through his career. Whether he can help Atlanta take the next step and win the Super Bowl is arguable, but Ryan has a very strong Receiving corps at his disposal and should be able to make plays against a Secondary that is not so strong outside of Marcus Peters. I expect Julio Jones can win his fair share of battles with Peters, but Ryan has other playmakers at his disposal who can help move the chains.

It is unlikely that DeVonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman have a lot of success running the ball, but both Running Backs can be effective safety blankets out of the backfield and Atlanta should have a chance to make plays in this one. Ryan has to be careful with turnovers as that is an area Kansas City have thrived in recent weeks to win games they should perhaps have been losing.

That ability has been huge for Alex Smith and a fairly vanilla Offense that is pretty predictable when it comes to what they want to do. The Chiefs will hope Spencer Ware can establish the run and that will keep Smith in third and manageable to make his short passes to keep the Offense plodding up the field. Ware has a good match up against the Falcons, so the Chiefs should be able to have some success in this one too, but they have to avoid mistakes.

Getting behind the down and distance will be an issue for Smith whose Offensive Line is also susceptible to the pass rush, an area Atlanta have improved significantly in recent games. That will force Smith to get rid of the ball even quicker than usual although the Quarter Back does have the ability to make some plays with his legs which will give Kansas City another chance to keep hitting the First Down markers.

I do think the Chiefs can have some success in this one, but this looks a bad spot for them between an emotional win over the Denver Broncos and facing AFC West leaders Oakland Raiders in just four days time on Thursday Night Football. Being on the road against a non-Conference opponent might not get the juices flowing and Kansas City have been fortunate to have won a number of games recently.

I feel the Atlanta Falcons can make enough plays on both sides of the ball to ensure a win by around a Touchdown mark in this one and I will back the home team to maintain their hold of the NFC South lead for another week at least.

Miami Dolphins @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: The Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens are not Divisional rivals but this is the fourth season in a row that they have played one another. However the Miami Dolphins have hosted the last three games and now head to Baltimore for the first time since 2010, while the Dolphins snapped a five game losing run to the Ravens with a win last season.

This is a huge game for both the Ravens and the Dolphins with big Play Off implications involved. The winner will feel they have the inside track to one of the AFC Wild Card spots at the very least, while the losing team will be needing some help. For Miami it is arguably a bigger game knowing they can only really rely on a Wild Card to move into the Play Offs with the New England Patriots some way clear, while the Baltimore Ravens currently lead the AFC North in a tight race with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Dolphins have won six games in a row which is a huge surprise after they looked like having another dead season at 1-4. That has moved them into the top six in the AFC, but the success has come behind a healthy Offensive Line and that is not the case at the moment. Establishing Jay Ajayi and keeping the pressure off Ryan Tannehill has been the game plan, but running the ball with a healthy Offensive Line is difficult against the Baltimore Ravens let alone with a banged up Line.

That might mean asking Tannehill to make a few more plays with his arm in this one which is going to be a real test of the Quarter Back who has divided the fanbase and some of his teammates. Tannehill might find himself under pressure in obvious passing situations and it won't be easy to find the likes of Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker against this Ravens Defensive unit which has been one of the best in the NFL.

It should give Baltimore enough of an edge to come away with a victory, but they have to hope Joe Flacco can keep away from the Interceptions that have hurt him all through the season. There are decent Receivers here like Mike Wallace, Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith that should be good enough for Flacco, but he has made some poor decisions at times which hasn't helped things.

Flacco should be helped by the fact that Kenneth Dixon is close to winning the starting Running Back spot over Terrance West and is a considerable upgrade for him. Despite the power in the Miami Defensive Line, they have struggled to stop the run at times and Dixon/West should be able to establish the team on the ground to make life easier for the Quarter Back. Dixon could also be a safety blanket for Flacco and could be dangerous out in space and I do think the Ravens are going to come out on top in this one.

I would love to be wrong as a Dolphins fan, but the Baltimore Defensive unit can make enough plays to give their Offense a chance to win this one by around a Touchdown and I will back them to do so. Both teams need this game so it should be a good one, but the Ravens have home advantage and look like they match up well with Miami and they look good to cover.

LA Rams @ New England Patriots Pick: Jeff Fisher has to be given a lot of credit for seemingly fooling the Los Angeles Rams owners that mediocrity is something acceptable for a Head Coach. This looks like another wasted season for the Rams who have beaten both the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks but who have a 4-7 record and close to being out of contention in the Play Off race.

They were on the wrong end of a blow out loss to the New Orleans Saints last week and now the Rams head to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots who have the joint best record in the AFC. It hasn't been all good news for the Patriots with news that Rob Gronkowski is going to be ruled out for the season which is a big blow for this Offense.

This will be a test for the New England Patriots to show they are going to be able to battle through the absence of Gronkowski for the remainder of the season. The Rams Defensive Line was embarrassed by the Saints last week with Mark Ingram having some huge runs so they have to step up and show they can shut down LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis in this one although not many teams can do that.

Over the course of the season the Rams have shown they can be strong up front led by Aaron Donald and that same Offensive Line can put some pressure on Tom Brady at Quarter Back. Brady has a tough Secondary to dissect in front of him too and I do think the Rams have to show some character after the way the Saints scored at will against them.

The bigger problem for the Rams has always come on the Offensive side of the ball and rookie Jared Goff is the kind of Quarter Back that Bill Belichick lives to confuse. While Goff had some strong moments against New Orleans and the Miami Dolphins, he still looks a little uncertain behind Center and is also facing a Patriots pass rush that can get to him during this game.

Goff can't rely on Todd Gurley to run the ball effectively either having seen the Offensive Line struggle to open holes for him all season. There won't be a lot of room at the line of scrimmage for Gurley, but the Rams will know the longer they can extend drives the better it will be as they keep Brady and the Patriots Offensive unit on the sidelines.

I can't deny that this feels like a lot of points for the Rams to be given despite the way they played last week in New Orleans. They haven't been blown out too often this season and the New England Patriots have shown they are not a team as good as some would have you believe with some close wins even after Tom Brady returned from suspension and now Rob Gronkowski out of the line up.

Los Angeles have to have their Defensive unit show up because Bill Belichick is likely going to bamboozle Jared Goff with some exotic looks and taking away his biggest playmakers. However I do think this is a game that New England just want to win and get out without more injuries and so the almost two converted Touchdown start is huge for me. Goff can make mistakes which allows New England to pull away, but I will take the points with the Rams and hope the rookie Quarter Back can be smart enough with the ball to allow the Defensive unit space to keep the Rams in this one.

Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints Pick: The Detroit Lions could have a two game lead in the NFC North at the end of Week 13 if they can earn the upset win over the New Orleans Saints on the road on Sunday. That won't be easy against the Saints who are chasing Wild Card spots as well as Divisional leaders the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South and New Orleans are fresh off a big win over the LA Rams.

This is a much easier game to break down than some of the others because most should know what you are going to get out of the New Orleans Saints. That is especially the case on the Offensive side of the ball as Drew Brees has found a couple of new targets in the passing game and Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower have shown they can be a very effective duo when it comes to running the ball.

Ingram and Hightower were strong against the Rams last week, but they are facing a Detroit Defensive Line that has been stout up front. That is going to give the Saints a real challenge with the Lions knuckling down at the line of scrimmage and forcing teams to throw the ball against them into a Secondary which is perhaps underrated.

Over the course of the season the Lions haven't been that strong, but they have had some key players return to the Secondary which has seen some improvement from them over the last three games. However they won't have faced a Quarter Back like Brees too often in that time and I do think he finds his Receivers in this one to help the Saints move the ball although it might not be as easy to punch them into the End Zone instead of having to accept Field Goals.

There will still be pressure on the Detroit Lions to make sure they don't fall into too big a hole against the Saints which is never easy to recover in the Superdome. The problem for the Lions, if you can have many at 7-4, is running the ball effectively and they have not been able to do that all season, but have found some special ways to win games. It is unlikely that Matt Stafford will be given too much support on the ground in this one either and he is facing a New Orleans Secondary that have shown they can be effective over their last three games.

New Orleans have faced Cam Newton in that stretch of games, but they have also played Trevor Siemian and Jared Goff which has perhaps helped the improved numbers rather than the actual play. Stafford is a very strong Quarter Back and he has some solid Receivers which can help the Lions move the chains in this one even if they can't run the ball and I do think the Lions can be involved in something of a shoot out here.

The Saints' pass rush could be a deciding factor in this game though as they should be able to get to Stafford who has had to be in obvious passing situations far too often this season. That pressure has seen the Secondary pick off mistakes from Quarter Backs in recent games, but Stafford has looked after the ball well enough to think the Lions are perhaps being given too many points in this one.

I do believe the Lions Defensive unit is not given the respect they perhaps deserve and Stafford is more than capable of throwing the ball well enough to keep the Lions in this game. Backing against New Orleans at home has been productive in recent seasons and I want to back the Lions to keep this one close in Week 13.

Washington Redskins @ Arizona Cardinals Pick: The Arizona Cardinals are just about in the last chance saloon when it comes to getting back into the NFC Play Off picture. A defeat to the Washington Redskins might just end the chances for the Cardinals when you consider the tiebreaker would be against them in the Wild Card hunt and it looks like the layers don't have a lot of belief in the home team.

Heading out west to face the Cardinals is a tough task though even for a Washington team that have been better than most would have expected. They have battled through injuries and have a chance to make the Play Offs through the Wild Card spots after dropping a second game to Dallas last week which has ended their interest in winning the NFC East. That defeat came on Thanksgiving Day so Washington should be well rested and ready to compete in Week 13.

Much is going to depend on Kirk Cousins at Quarter Back for the Redskins if they are going to bounce back from their loss in Week 13. He has had some huge games statistically through the season, but Cousins would love to be backed up by a strong running day from Rob Kelley in this one which is going to be difficult considering how well the Arizona Defensive Line have contained the run.

Kelley has shown he can get a few yards after the contact so I do think he can have some success, but the majority of the pressure will be on Cousins to throw the ball effectively and keep the chains moving. Cousins has to be aware that this Arizona Secondary is better than they showed against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 and Patrick Peterson is a top Corner Back even though he is banged up. With Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson both a little banged up, Washington might need Cousins to find other targets to get the ball moving up and down the field.

The pressure will also be put on by the fact that the Washington Defensive unit has been hurt by injuries all season and have struggled to stop teams moving the ball against them. This looks a big chance for David Johnson to help the Cardinals by running the ball and keeping them from needing Carson Palmer to throw the ball constantly to get into the game. Johnson should be ready to play and could have some success running the ball this week to ease the pass rush the Redskins generate.

Johnson will need to do that because the Arizona Offensive Line has really had a hard time protecting Carson Palmer and a player like Ryan Kerrigan is going to be able to get after the Quarter Back. If the team has established the run, Palmer gets that little more time to throw against a Secondary that has given up some big numbers even though they have a big time Corner Back too in Josh Norman.

Interceptions have killed Palmer this season and the veteran might be on his last ride as a starter for the Cardinals with those mistakes becoming a real problem for a team that wants to throw under Bruce Arians. Avoiding those mistakes can give Arizona a real chance to win this game and I think they can take advantage of a Washington Secondary that has been hurt while the Cardinals own Defensive unit is better than it looked in Week 12.

It wouldn't be a big surprise to me if both Arizona and Washington had a big game statistically, but I think the Cardinals can show they have not given up on 2016 and come through with a narrow win in this one.

New York Giants @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: The Pittsburgh Steelers were considered a real Super Bowl contender at the start of this season but they need to pick up some momentum to make sure they can earn their place in the Play Offs. The Steelers could be considered one of the more dangerous teams in the post-season if they can get there and that makes games like this one very important for them.

The New York Giants are up to 8-3 and are on course to make the Play Offs, but they still need more consistency from their play. That might be strange to hear for an 8-3 team, but the Giants have perhaps been fortunate with their scheduling and I think they are far from a sure thing to make the Play Offs despite the record they hold right now.

Offensively they have some playmakers, but the Giants have been one-dimensional to say the least as they have struggled to run the ball effectively all season. It will be a surprise if that changes too much this weekend as the Steelers Defensive Line have shown some toughness up front even if they are not to the standard of their old Lines.

The likes of Rashad Jennings might not be able to earn too much on the ground and at least not consistently throughout the sixty minutes and that has put the pressure on Eli Manning behind a porous Offensive Line. That Line is going to be tested by the pass rush Pittsburgh have generated and Manning might not take too many Sacks, but that is because he is willing to throw the ball into the dirt as soon as the rush gets close.

The Manning to Odell Beckham play has worked well though and it is hard to stop OBJ earning his yards and perhaps finding the End Zone. Pittsburgh might feel they can force Manning to throw the ball quickly, but Beckham can win his battles immediately and then there is no catching him. However it is very difficult to do that over and over again before the Defense keys into what is coming and turns the ball over, something the Steelers have begun to do in recent games.

I said the Giants might not have a big day running the ball and the same can be said for the Steelers despite the presence of Le'Veon Bell at Running Back. The Giants Defensive Line has been very strong against the run all season and will feel they can limit what Bell can do, although Ben Roethlisberger is intelligent enough to set up screens and short passes in lieu of a running game to make those gains he wants.

Like Pittsburgh, the Giants have suddenly got a real pass rush going, but they might not be able to get as close to Big Ben as the other way around. Roethlisberger should find enough time to take his shots down the field and Antonio Brown is a difficult match up in the Secondary which the Steelers should take advantage of.

This does feel like it will be a close game which can be decided by a turnover but I do like the Steelers a little more than the Giants in this spot. They've had longer to prepare for this game having played on Thanksgiving Day and home advantage has proved to be very big for the Steelers in recent seasons. Add in the fact that they should be very motivated to win the game and keep up in the AFC North compared with the Giants who might be thinking about the big game with Dallas next week and I think the Steelers catch them at the right time.

I am not that convinced that the Giants are an 8-3 team despite the record and I am going to back the Steelers to win and cover especially as the public have a slight lean towards the road underdog. It is a big spread on paper, but I like Pittsburgh to win and cover.

MY PICKS: Dallas Cowboys - 3 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Atlanta Falcons - 5.5 Points @ 2.00 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Baltimore Ravens - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
LA Rams + 13.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Detroit Lions + 6 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Arizona Cardinals - 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Pittsburgh Steelers - 6 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)