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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS at OAKLAND RAIDERS

Until the Steelers got their number last week, the Chiefs offence was stomping on everything in their path. Such a reality check often proves to set the tone for the near future, but the Raiders are one of the worst defences around, whereas the Steelers are rather good at that job., What makes this an appealing wager is that the Raiders offence is OK – not as bad so far as many suspect, and neither team is defending terribly well. For the Raiders it is a continuation of last season, for the Chiefs a natural consequence of Eric Berry picking up a season-ending injury in week one. Simple stuff.

Over 46.5 points, at 10/11 - WON, a quick start was sustained and the money was in the bank before the third quarter had finished

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

All the evidence here is for a low scoring game. The Jaguars are not offensively very powerful, but the very nippy and unbuttered new rookie running back that they have deployed is doing a handy job. The passing game is same as it has been for a few years, which is not a compliment. They have been just about the best pass defence around, and the fact that it has come at the expense of run defence is not important because the ailing Colts are not any good at either. So the Colts are not equipped to contribute many points at all and the Jaguars will be sure to take things steady themselves. In a week where the bookies are wise to several games with low scoring potential, this one has been underestimated a little.

Under 43.5 points, at 10/11

DALLAS COWBOYS at SAN FRANCISCO 49ers

The meandering rabble that is the Dallas Cowboys pootles merrily on it’s way, so far having lost three out of five. The offence is inconsistent and remain in the law courts trying to delay Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension having been accused of trying to pervert the course of justice. And defensively they are all over the shop, unable to stop anything on a consistent basis. Meanwhile, the 49ers have a 0-6 record and are there for the taking. However, the numbers 20, 3, 2, 3, 3, 2 mean something. They are the margins by which they have lost their games, four of the last five being away. So despite the losses they are playing hard and young players are improving. Also, in the history of NFL 0-6 teams -33 is comfortably the best points difference achieved, and it does look as if a win is near and no other team in NFL history has lost five games in a row with no wider margin than three points. So, after all, the Cowboys are the team who are there for the taking.

San Francisco win, at 11/5 or more
NFL SEASON PREVIEW 2017
NFL WEEK 7 PREVIEW
NFL WEEK 6 PREVIEW
AFC NORTH

Let us get the easy target out of the way first. It does look like the Browns have finally started to make some wise personnel decisions, but they are starting from so far adrift of their divisional rivals, that it would be asking an awful lot of the perennial doormats of the league to make it up in one leap. Between the remaining trio, it is not easy to differentiate the relative qualities. With Steve Smith retiring, the Ravens have not slumped at wide receiver at all, and it is possible to be a bit more confident in their passing game, although none of the running backs are totally convincing as an option to carry the team. The defence lacks the star names of years past but works well as a unit – last year it was good against the pass and excellent against the run, plus it got the first four players that they drafted. The Steelers again seem as if they are walking the razor’s edge between a cracking season and a shambles. And when disaster strikes, they all rally round and adapt barely breaking stride. It is extraordinarily irritating. What they have again this season is the makings of an unstoppable passing attack – speedy receivers, strong armed quarterback still around and an offensive line that will give them time to play. Last up here is the Bengals, a team that just cannot resist talking themselves into looking daft. For a team that is second only to the Cowboys for attracting off field troubles, drafting a talented running back with legal problems was not ideal and linebacker Vontaze Burfict (who dropped in his draft due to off field issues) starts the season suspended. Again. Although he is appealing, presumably on the grounds that pre-season games are designed for players to be stupid.

1: Ravens   2: Steelers   3: Bengals   4: Browns

AFC EAST

So it looks as if the tiresomely predictable Patriots will win this one for the 423rd time in a row (approx). They have done their usual close season job of juggling the pack on a small scale and generally replacing the more talented losses with someone who is probably comparable to the departee. This contrasts hugely with the Bills and Jets. The Bills have embarked on a roster overhaul, but in a way that has sacrificed short term squad quality for an ability to improve in future drafts. They have tried this often before and fluffed the drafting, so fans are not universally impressed, and the defence that was looking top notch two years ago is getting creaky. The Jets have basically got rid of everyone and replaced with somebody that you have never heard of. This can work if the individuals gel as a team, or they successfully mimic the Patriots technique of getting cheap niche players who fit their system – if the Jets actually have a system. It will probably fail. That leaves the Dolphins as the main threat, which is not as laughable as it sounded a couple of years ago. The season took an early jolt with injury a season ending injury to Ryan Tannehill, but they dragged cheerful Jay Cutler out of retirement to stand in, and will probably run the ball a lot anyway because they were getting to be rather good at that by the depths of last winter. It is unlikely that it can carry them beyond the Patriots, but the play-offs are a realistic idea. This could easily be a reprint of the divisional preview for 2016. And 2015. And…

1: Patriots   2: Dolphins   3: Bills   4: Jets

AFC SOUTH

The story / question here is how much further can the Titans improve? “Some” is the unhelpful answer. The attention is all on former top pick Marcus Mariota, who has had both seasons in the NFL ended slightly ahead of schedule by injury. That is a bad omen, but the younger players on the defence were showing signs of getting their acts together as the last season ended (especially the dismal defensive secondary) and if that is not a false dawn then they will do some damage this term. The whole team has a nice aura of quiet confidence around them. The challenge here is that they have a couple of dangerous opponents in the division. The usual tale relates to the Texans. A very good defence will do the job (and they showed that they are up to it even when JJ Watt is injured) but the patchy offence could let them down. A new quarterback was drafted, although it is tough to ask him to come in and immediately excel with ordinary backs and receivers to help, so it looks like Tom Savage keeps the job for the time being. When looking up depth charts on the NFL site, at the time of writing, the link on the Colts brings nothing back. Nor is there one on the team site. Everyone knows that they are absurdly dependent on Andrew Luck, but this is a strange way to admit it in public. It will need luck with injury to keep them in contention. Finally the Jaguars. Words that everyone will be familiar with. After the Gus Bradley era proved to be a false dawn, they are off again into reconstruct mode, but behind the scenes it does appear decisions are being made by people who are not qualified to make them.

1: Titans   2: Texans   3: Colts   4: Jaguars

AFC WEST

The first stopping point here is the Chargers. Their record was diabolical last season, mostly due to a number of injuries that was ridiculous even by NFL standards – another week, another knee knackered. Those that survived actually strove quite gamely to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and whilst they ended up with a cylinder through which everything fell out of the bottom, it showed a potential to improve plenty in a season less blighted with misfortune. Of course, it may turn out that the team has been bringing in players with bones of balsa, but after missing the first quarter of the season in a contract dispute that seemed fairly trivial, youthful defensive end Sammy Bosa seems like a superstar to be in a defence that remained solid through the messy season. The move to Los Angeles from San Diego has the potential to be the 2017 season’s destruction device. Last year it was very trendy to predict a top notch season for the Raiders. The players did not seem to be quite that good nor the roster balanced, and they made the playoffs as a wild card and got tanked by the Texans. It would be a brave call to say that they are significantly changed this time round. They can pass a bit, rush the opposing passer quite well, defend the run weakly and the defensive backs look a bit vulnerable if the pass rush is off. Signing the suddenly unretired Marshawn Lynch was a vote of no-confidence in the running backs. Will his ongoing back injuries get through the season? A couple of seasons ago the Chiefs hit on an effective team policy of signing Seahawks cast-offs. The Raiders are now specialising in I, but the Chiefs still have at least five on board. Last season they won this division by being very aware of what they did well and what they did poorly, then sticking to the former (it is surprising how many teams struggle with the concept). More of the same is on the way. The Broncos 2016 season looked destined to implode due to the gradual loss of their outstanding receiving team of a couple of years ago, natural decline as key defenders aged and the utter failure to have a Payton Manning replacement ready to quarterback. None were quite as bad as feared and the defence was surprisingly excellent, so they won nine games. This, however, is now one of the tougher divisions around, and getting into the playoffs will be a challenge.

1: Chiefs   2: Broncos   3: Raiders   4: Chargers

NFC NORTH

Of all divisions in the league, this one has most tradition embedded all the way back to the formation of the NFL. And in keeping with that it does not change much from year to year. The Packers will have the usual forceful pass attack and a very interesting rushing one, having replaced permanently the portly Eddie Lacy with waif-like converted receiver Ty Montgomery. The defence will again look beatable, and the way that the depth chart sits at the end of the pre-season, with an injury or two playing a part, should be very worrying if you are the sort of person that thinks cheese is a type of hat. The Lions will always be famous for being the first team to lose all sixteen games in a season, but since that they have done some good stuff. The problem is always that they cannot achieve competence in all aspects of the game during the same season. At present the policy is to ignore defending even more than New Orleans and pass like crazy, a policy that last season survived the retirement of the great Calvin Johnson. Expect them to be defeated in too many winnable games to make the most of their strengths. The Vikings were one of the disappointments of last season, but bad luck and trouble got to them. Defending the pass is something that they are good at, and it always gives you a chance in this league. The problems lay with a rush of offensive injuries that would even make the Chargers gasp. Sam Bradford almost carried them out of the hole, but the lateness of his acquisition proved too much of a problem. With a young pair of starting wide receivers having potential to get better, they can make up for lost time. In a season where several teams are threatening to have an hilariously poor year, the Bears are making sure the that the NFC North is involved in that. The quarterback situation is so bad that even the infamous Mark Sanchez has turned up in the pre-season mix. It does not get any better looking at the other positions.

1: Vikings   2: Packers   3: Lions   4: Bears

NFC EAST

The Cowboys won a lot of games last season and the hype machine was really cranked up about the younger players involved. Since then the close season hit and they have spent most of it having run-ins with the law, with Ezekiel Elliott suspended for six games for trying to pervert the course of justice. The offensive line might be past it’s best and if they regress offensively, the pass defence is not strong enough to carry the load. The Redskins started last season as if the usual dysfunctional mess was on the way, but actually finished off looking like a fairly decent team. Well, a decent offensive unit at least. They did some work on the other side of the ball over the summer, but perhaps less than might have been expected, although if the changes bring improvement a good season is almost unavoidable, however hard they try. The Eagles are in a slightly advanced stage of rebuild as before last season they broke everything down and started from scratch. This should have them ready to soar upwards this time around, but the running backs and wide receivers are an uninspiring bunch and the late season signs in 2016 were that opponents had worked out how to contain rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. Which leaves us the unpredictable Giants to assess. In attack they blow hot and cold because of Odell Beckham Jr preferring to show off than play efficiently and the frequency with which Eli Manning has multiple interception games. The woeful 2015 defence improved massively last season and even if they take a step backward, it will still be good enough most weeks. The expectation is for them to end the season looking at a couple of bad days that cost them the division.

1: Redskins   2: Cowboys   3: Giants   4: Eagles

NFC SOUTH

This is slowly becoming a competitive division. The key to it is what the Panther choose to do. After their Superbowl loss early in 2016, they were a massive flop last season. Some questionable personnel decisions did not help, and it seemed that the entire organisation saw playing sport as a brief interlude between rounds of bickering. Interestingly, the General Manager was sacked in the spring, with the owners declaring that enough is enough. If this has had the desired/expected impact on morale, there are still plenty of good players to go round, although the pass defence is shaky. It is fashionable to respect the Buccaneers at the moment. There is plenty to like on the defence, with Brent Grimes non-household name status down to his team’s modest results of late. However, the attacking options do not really fire the imagination. Adding DeSean Jackson at wide receiver should make the passing game less one dimensional, but the running back options are feeble. Next to consider are the Falcons, who just have the small matter of giving away the Superb Owl last season via a woeful second half performance. They are still a strong set of players, but if you are the sort of opponent who likes to wind up the oppo and break their concentration, the Falcons themselves have given you plenty of material to work with. The line up here is completed by the Saints, who one day will find a way to put together a moderately competent defence, but maybe none of us will live to see it. Last year there were hints of the run defence beginning to work, which is irrelevant if they are unable to stop the worst quarterback in the league when he is blindfolded. Just as traditionally, the offence was top notch, including the running game.

1: Panthers   2: Falcons   3: Saints   4: Buccaneers

NFC WEST

In the 2016 draft the Rams took quarterback Jared Goff as number one pick and then shied away from playing him, due to supposed unreadiness. Then they were so bad that they played him anyway and proved that the original view was correct. There has been a stocking up of offensive weaponry over the close season, but it will all be horribly wasted if Goff does not make a lot of improvement. The defence is respectable without being able to carry the team, and might not have got the attention it needed since the end of the 2016 season farce. Amazingly the Rams find themselves in a division with a team that was just as bad in attack and worse defensively. The defensive unit underachieved last season and could fare much better with good morale (in short supply at the 49ers) and luck with injuries, but the offensive players are those with a history of being no better than OK or way past their best if they were ever above average. Next up is the Seahawks, who are doing their usual thing – small group of well paid top notch talent, a swarm of young and inexpensive players eager to prove themselves and a last minute panic to bring some sort of order to the offensive line. The starting left tackle tore his ACL in pre-season week two and they dashed out to nab two replacements. There is no reason to suppose the defence will be deficient as long as Earl Thomas returns from a broken leg in A1 condition – his utter indispensability was highlighted last season after the injury. So, as has been sort of the theme of the preview, we close with the team that will neither excel nor flop (probably). What they are trying to do is work in a fairly youthful defence whilst a couple of more established players take the credit for the good work or blame for the bad. The same is applying on offence, except that the established players are older. The starting line-up looks quite solid, but they seem a bit short of depth if injuries come along.

1: Seahawks    2: Cardinals   3: Rams   4: 49ers


AFC Winner: Kansas City Chiefs

NFC Winner: Minnesota Vikings

Most Receiving Yards: Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)

Most Rushing Yards: LeSean McCoy (Buffalo)
GREEN BAY PACKERS at MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Under 45.5 points, at 10/11 - WON, with the game quickly reduced to Brett Hundley in his first NFL game versus Case Keenum at quarterback, it would have taken criminal defensive play to lose.

MIAMI DOLPHINS at ATLANTA FALCONS

Under 45.5 points, at 10/11 - WON, thanks to the Dolphins offence not turning up for the first half and the Falcons one giving the second half a miss
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