Le’Veon Bell

Since the 2001 season, the New England Patriots have been dominating the AFC East. Will it be more of the same in 2019? What are the other teams looking like as we get set for a new season? Let’s take a look and find out.

Buffalo Bills

2018 Record: 6-10

A year after a surprising playoff berth, the Bills took a step back in 2018. The team would enter the offseason with a clear idea of where improvement was needed. Buffalo managed to check off all the boxes.

Josh Allen has new weapons and better protection. The club has found a potential anchor on defense via the draft in Ed Oliver. Things are looking up for the Bills, but oddsmakers still aren’t expecting all that much in the way of improvement.

Key Departures
John Miller (G), Charles Clay (TE)

Key Additions
Ed Oliver (DL), Cole Beasley (WR), John Brown (WR), Mitch Morse (C)

Prediction: 9-7
The Bills looked awful in the first-half of 2018, but it was a different story down the stretch. The tweaks the team has made should lead to improvement. We’ll gladly take the Over on regular season wins and keep our eyes peeled for value in September game lines.

Fantasy Radar: Cole Beasley
Allen now has some much needed weapons in the passing attack. Beasley steps into the safety blanket role for the second-year pro, and he should see plenty of targets. He’s an intriguing player to keep in mind for the mid to late rounds.

Miami Dolphins

2018 Record: 7-9

A rebuild is on the menu in Miami. The Adam Gase era is over, and Brian Flores will be tasked with putting the franchise back together again. Based on the offseason moves, the club is taking a build from the inside out approach.

That could work in the long run, but there will be growing pains along the way. It’s unclear if Josh Allen will be the long-term answer at QB, but it looks this club is going to be in line for an early pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Key Departures
Ja’Wuan James (RT), Cameron Wake (DE)

Key Additions
Christian Wilkins (DL), Josh Allen (QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB)

Prediction: 3-13
The Dolphins have done all but waive the white flag heading into 2019. That doesn’t bolster enthusiasm for much more than a 3-win campaign. We’re not expecting to see them favored often, if at all.

Fantasy Radar: DeVante Parker
Miami should be behind often in the coming year. That means Allen or Ryan Fitzpatrick should be slinging the rock a lot. Parker has disappointed thus far. There’s simply no excuse if he doesn’t rack up some serious yardage this year.

New England Patriots

2018 Record: 11-5

The defending Super Bowl champions weren’t being taken seriously by a number of observers heading into the playoffs. That proved to be a bad call. Another trophy is now in the case, and the club enters 2019 as a favorite to do it again.

There’s always turnover for the Patriots to deal with, and it’s the same this year. There will likely be a bad loss somewhere along the way in 2019. We’ll patiently await the warnings that the sky is falling in on New England afterwards and check back in for the postseason.

Key Departures
Trey Flowers (DE), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Trent Brown (RT)

Key Additions
N’Keal Harry (WR), Mike Pennel (DE), Jamie Collins (LB)

Prediction: 12-4
Barring something catastrophic, the Patriots will contend for another ring in 2019. We can’t promise that everything will go swimmingly along the way, but we also don’t feel the need to try and call a shot on an end to a dynasty which has no intention of going away.

Fantasy Radar: Sony Michel
The backfield in New England is traditionally frustrating for fantasy owners. Michel showed a lot in his rookie campaign and earned the trust of coaches. That’s enough to rely on him as a reliable fantasy asset for the new season.

New York Jets

2018 Record: 4-12

Gase proved to be the wrong guy in Miami, but Jets brass thinks he’ll do just fine. The club was quite active in the offseason, and there is a chance that the moves will bear fruit. Le’Veon Bell changes the offense, while Quinnen Williams and C.J. Mosley can help bolster a defense which already had solid pieces in place.

On the down side, dysfunction reared its head in New York once again when GM Mike Maccagnan was shown the door. This happened after he was entrusted with spending a boatload of cash. We can’t guarantee that will impact the product on the field, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Key Departures
James Carpenter (G), Buster Skrine (CB

Key Additions
C.J. Mosley (LB), Le’Veon Bell (RB), Ryan Kalil (OC), Quinnen Williams (DT)

Prediction: 6-10
We’re optimistic that the Jets will improve on both sides of the ball this year. However, that’s tempered by the behind the scenes drama and a seemingly lackluster hire at head coach. New DC Gregg Williams will make the defense better, but we’ll see what Gase can do with Sam Darnold and company.

Fantasy Radar: Robby Anderson
While most of the attention will go to Bell in fantasy circles, the Jets passing game should also improve as a result of his addition. Anderson has wheels and can do some damage. He should find even more room to get open this season to boot.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Football fans can start making their couch potato plans and planning their Daily Fantasy Football drafts at Fanpicks.com after the NFL unveiled its full regular-season schedule for 2019.

The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have the honor of kicking off the new campaign. They’ll meet Sept. 5 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The dates for the remaining 255 games are available on NFL.com

The key dates are listed below, along with some of the more notable games to kick off your 2019 Daily Fantasy Sports NFL Season.

2019 Key Dates + Games to Watch

Thursday, September 5: Regular-Season Kickoff

Packers @ Bears – This was the Sunday Night Football opener last year and featured a wrecking-ball start to Khalil Mack’s Chicago career in the first half and then one of the best comebacks of Aaron Rodgers’s career in the second half.  A full 4 quarters of Rodgers vs Mack is a mouthwatering way to open the year.

Sunday, September 8: Regular-Season Kickoff Weekend

Steelers @ Patriots – If Packers-Bears is the Week 1 appetizer, this is the main course and some. Pats-Steelers has been one of the best regular-season games of the year for two years in a row.  Therefore no reason to expect anything less this time around.

Sunday, September 15: Rematch of 2018 NFC Championship

Saints @ Rams – We knew we were getting the rematch, but it is so sweet that it comes so early in the season. The Rams were in the Super Bowl largely because of a refereeing disaster.  You can be sure Sean Payton will need to do very little to motivate his boys for this game.

Sunday, December 29: Final Day of Regular Season

Saturday, January 4: NFL Playoffs Begin

Sunday, February 2: Super Bowl LIV (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida)

Who can you expect to find matched up in Super Bowl LIV?  We are leaning Saints vs Chiefs, but honestly who can be sure based on what we saw last season.  One thing is for certain, you can experience all the excitement of the 2019 NFL Season at Fanpicks.com.  Your home for NFL Daily Fantasy contests.

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1-Arizona picked Kyler Murray

If you’re going to hire Kliff Kingsbury as your head coach, you might as well give him the QB he wants to run the system. This selection certainly has a bust factor to it, but he has electric ability that could be a paradigm changer. But Murray had better be good — and relatively fast — otherwise it could be trouble for GM Steve Keim.

2-San Francisco picked Nick Bosa

Arguably the best player in the draft, definitely no lower than third, Joey’s younger brother is a plug-and-play prospect. He may not be as big and athletic as his older brother, but they are virtually the same player.

3-New York Jets picked Quinnen Williams

The No. 1 player on our draft board, Williams is the total package. He’s big, strong, fast and can take over a game. As Missouri coach Barry Odom said, “You have to gameplan around him.” The Jets reportedly tried to trade this pick.

4-Oakland picked Clelin Ferrell

Solid player, military kid, winner, but No. 4? This is the Raiders not using group think and going with who they think is the best player on the board. They’re going to get crushed for picking a player most thought would go middle of the first round. They could have the last laugh. Or not.

5-Tampa Bay picked Devin White

A former running back, White is as tenacious as they come. He is a vicious hitter who flies all over the field, which is his biggest knock: Can he play under control? He has the potential to be the heartbeat of the Bucs defense from Day 1.

6-New York Giants picked Daniel Jones

So Giants fans … here is Eli Manning’s replacement. No. 56 on our board, this is the best GM Dave Gettleman can do? Could have had their choice of QB last year (outside of Baker Mayfield), but instead have opted for a player who didn’t complete 60-percent of his passes in college.

7-Jacksonville picked Josh Allen

Fell right into the Jaguars lap. Allen is a game-changing talent who forces offenses to account for his whereabouts. Allen is a sack machine who will work best if Jacksonville simply lets him loose.

8-Detroit picked T.J. Hockenson

Can catch and block, a rarity at tight end these days. The Lions will rely on him more for the latter to start, with the hope that A) he becomes a playmaker by Year 2 or 3 and B) isn’t Eric Ebron.

9-Buffalo picked Ed Oliver

Rare athleticism for a big man, the 281-pounder’s shuttle time was faster than Saquon Barkley’s. Seriously. The only knock is that he’s a bit undersized for a D-lineman. That said, Oliver’s play did lead the NCAA to make a rule change, so that’s something.

10-Pittsburgh picked Devin Bush

Via a trade with Denver, Steelers get an instinctive playmaker who can cover the field sideline-to-sideline. Bush is a superb leader who can fit in anywhere. Pittsburgh, in an effort to fill the gap left by Ryan Shazier’s injury, gave up their own first (20) a second this year and a third next year.

11-Cincinnati picked Jonah Williams

A detailed-obsessed film junkie, Williams can play every position on the O-line, save center. That gives the Bengals flexibility. Not a sexy pick, but Cincinnati can plug him in for the next eight to 10 years.

12-Green Bay picked Rashan Gary

Good for him, bad for Green Bay. A high-maintenance guy who isn’t a pass rusher. Doesn’t strike fear in opponents. This has bust written all over it.

13-Miami picked Christian Wilkins

Big, big athlete. Wilkins is a high-character guy who will make the Dolphins locker room better Day 1. He’s a versatile guy who will help shore up a bad rushing defense.

14-Atlanta picked Chris Lindstrom

No one moved up more through the draft process than Lindstrom thanks to a solid Senior Bowl. The best pass-blocking guard in the draft, he can step in and start immediately for the Falcons, who have a need at the guard position. Lindstrom may not be special, but he will be very good.

15-Washington picked Dwayne Haskins

Washington gets their QB, as Haskins becomes the third quarterback off the board. Big body, analytical, strong arm … Haskins seemingly has all the necessary tools. The Redskins would be wise to sit him for a year behind Case Keenum.

16-Carolina picked Brian Burns

Just 21, Burns has massive potential (No. 4 on our board) that he’s yet to unlock. The Panthers may need to give him some time to develop, but when he does he could be one of the league’s premier pass rushers.

17-New York Giants picked Dexter Lawrence

Notable: Daniel Jones would have been available with this pick. Lawrence becomes the third defensive linemen from Clemson off the board. Three years ago, he would have been a top-five pick with rare athleticism/size combination, but he comes with a lot of risk (see the PED suspension and nerve damage in his leg).

18-Minnesota picked Garrett Bradburry

He’s not big for an interior linemen, but he’s quick, agile (he is a former tight end) and smart. He has the goods to start immediately for the Vikings and stay there for the next decade.

19-Tennessee picked Jeffery Simmons

Character issues and an ACL tear are definite concerns surrounding Simmons. But if he turns out to be the guy he models his game after (J.J. Watt, sans the injuries), the Titans are getting a stud who can be a disruptor on the defensive line.

20-Denver picked Noah Fant

Second tight end off the board, second tight end off the board from Iowa (the first time that’s ever happened). He’s a better pass-catcher than blocker, but good luck putting a linebacker on him man to man.

21-Green Bay picked Darnell Savage Jr

They had to trade up to 21 to get Savage, who was 89th on our board? A nice player, but this is a questionable move by the Packers.

22-Philadelphia picked Andre Dillard

The Eagles traded up to fill a need, replacing Jason Peters. This is an excellent move by Philadelphia, who need to keep Carson Wentz healthy.

23-Houston picked Tytus Howard

A former high school quarterback who couldn’t bench 175 pounds once when he arrived at Alabama State. Can play both left and right tackle, who swapped between the two in games. Big question: Does the competition at Alabama St. transfer to the NFL?

24-Oakland picked Josh Jacobs

With Marshawn Lynch retiring, the Raiders fill a need at running back. It may have been an obvious pick, but it’s a solid one. He’s elusive and can catch the ball, key in Jon Gruden’s scheme.

25-Baltimore picked Marquise Brown

Lamar Jackson gets his home run threat. Brown, who will replace John Brown, is the first wide receiver off the board. The Ravens can utilize him all over the field: screens, deep, end arounds.

26-Washington picked Montez Sweat

Maybe the biggest question mark in this draft. Sweat’s talent as a defensive playmaker isn’t in question; his enlarged heart is. Some teams took him off their boards entirely. The Redskins clearly did not, trading up to get him. They paid a price (a second rounder this year and next), but they got a top-10 talent late in the first round.

27-Oakland picked Johnathan Abram

He is a junkyard dog, perfect for the Raiders. Hard worker in practice who will bring it every single day. He’s a decent cover player, but he is an enforcer who will make his presence known.

28-Los Angeles Chargers picked Jerry Tillery

A fascinating character, some call eccentric. Some question if he has other interests outside of football, but when he wants to turn it on, he can be a nasty dude. He will complement an already stout Chargers defensive front.

29-Seattle picked L.J. Collier

Some like him more than others. Collier is a rough-and-tumble power end to help replace Frank Clark. It’s an interesting pick for the Seahawks, but it remains to be seen if he can help get after QBs consistently.

30-New York Giants picked Deandre Baker

The Jim Thorpe Award winner brings his shutdown corner skills to the Giants, who are in a division that is looking up at Philadelphia. Baker doesn’t lack in confidence and isn’t afraid to say as much.

31-Atlanta picked Kaleb McGary

Falcons fortifying the right side of their offensive line after taking Chris Lindstrom earlier. It’s a huge win for Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones.

32-New England picked N’Keal Harry

A big, physical receiver who the Patriots have been on for awhile. Harry is a hard-working, high-character player, which means he’ll be perfect for Brady/Belichick.


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Pictured: Tom Brady (left) & Jared Goff (right)
Source: Zuma Press

Breaking down Sunday’s big game.

Back in 2002, the Los Angeles Rams lived in St. Louis, seeking their second Super Bowl title in three years against an upstart New England Patriots team. It was a group of no-name players from the AFC seemingly sent to be sacrificed against one of the best NFC teams fielded this century.

The Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, was a prodigy who’d failed to deliver in six previous NFL seasons. He had as many playoff victories, one, that equaled what he was really known for: days as head coach of the New York Jets before quitting the job. His quarterback, Tom Brady, was a sixth-round draft pick who had thrown a total of three career NFL passes entering the year; he was pressed into service when longtime starter Drew Bledsoe got hurt.

That left the AFC champs as heavy underdogs against the “Greatest Show On Turf,” a Rams group who had cruised to a 14-2 record and the NFC’s top seed. The offensive juggernaut was favored by 14 points; Kurt Warner and Rams head coach Mike Martz were the ones fit to be football kings.

But something happened on the way to their coronation; the Patriots refused to cede the crown. A late drive by Brady led to a game-winning field goal, producing a 20-17 upset that snuffed out the Rams’ dynasty and started his. Seven more Super Bowls would follow, producing four more wins and turning the Patriots into arguably the greatest NFL team of all time.

So here we are, 17 years later, with the script flipped on Brady and Belichick. It’s a group of young upstarts in the Rams who aren’t supposed to be here yet, led by the league’s youngest head coach, 33-year-old Sean McVay. The quarterback is 24-year-old Jared Goff; he was in second grade when Brady won his first Super Bowl. The Rams come in as the second seed, like the Patriots in 2002, peaking at the right time while persevering through a few lucky breaks. A timely interception preserved a victory against the Eagles, the league’s defending Super Bowl champs. One week later, a no-call on pass interference boosted the Rams in an upset of the NFC’s top seed, the New Orleans Saints.

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Now back in Los Angeles, the Rams have a chance to bring the city their first Super Bowl victory since 1984. The Patriots and Brady, meanwhile, are looking to cement their legendary status. A 6-3 record in Super Bowls looks a whole lot better than 5-4; a win also would tie Brady with Michael Jordan’s six NBA titles and break one with Charles Haley for the most rings ever won by an NFL player.

Historically, it would also put a bow on a Brady career most believed would never still be active at age 41. He is the only player remaining from that game on the Patriots, outlasting everyone who stepped foot on the field in Super Bowl XXXVI except kicker Adam Vinatieri. It’s a quarterback that gutted it out on that fateful night, willed his team to the win and hasn’t looked back… for 17 years.

Will Brady refuse to give up, yet again? Or can the Rams usher in a new generation through their collection of young talent?

Super Bowl 53: New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams

Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Atlanta)

TV: CBS

Spread: Patriots -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Brady’s big game experience vs. Goff’s biggest moment

There’s not much to say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said. His postseason experience includes more playoff wins (29) than Jared Goff’s actual age (24). He enters his ninth Super Bowl with the highest playoff completion percentage of his NFL career (71.1) through two games and a healthy 7.7 yards per attempt. And his three straight third-down conversions on a touchdown-winning overtime drive against the Chiefs? Yet another chapter in a book growing too large for your shelf at home. If you’re looking for Brady to slip Sunday, don’t; it’s a man who’s as battle-tested as they come.

Instead, this Super Bowl becomes all about Goff and his ability to carry the Rams. The first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft took a major step toward stardom this season. His 8.4 yards per attempt ranked fourth in the NFL; a 101.1 QB rating ranked eighth, four notches higher than Brady. And only Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan threw for more yards than Goff (4,688).

For much of the year, Goff lurked in the shadows behind young Mahomes, who set the league on fire with 5,097 passing yards and 50 touchdowns. But Goff has had success of his own, in particular in big games. He outdueled Mahomes in a 54-51 win for the Rams in the regular season, throwing for 413 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. He also calmly led the Rams on both the game-tying and game-winning drives last week in the NFC Championship, succeeding in one of the sport’s most hostile road environments: the Superdome.

Through it all, Goff maintained a calm, even-keeled demeanor that’s drawn comparisons to his Super Bowl rival. The question is whether he can continue that in the biggest game of his NFL career. He’s shown inconsistency late in the year, in particular after the loss of slot receiver Cooper Kupp to a torn ACL. He’s failed to throw a touchdown in three of the last five games and had a career-worst four interceptions against the Bears last month.

You shouldn’t expect that many turnovers against the Patriots. But all it takes is one fumble or a pick-six and suddenly momentum turns against you. Goff can’t make that type of mistake against this opponent.

2. Is Todd Gurley healthy? If not, who becomes the star of the Rams’ offense?

Gurley remains the biggest x-factor in a running game that’s been carried most of the postseason by C.J. Anderson. Anderson isn’t a full-time back for a reason; he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in the NFC Championship against the Saints.

But despite Anderson’s ineffectiveness and claims that Gurley was healthy, the Pro Bowl running back rarely spent time in the backfield. Just four carries for 10 yards have everyone scratching their head as to how much time Gurley will play on Super Bowl Sunday.

He was on the field for less than half the snaps, touching the ball just five times for his lowest output of the season. Even worse, the first pass targeted his way bounced right through his hands and into the arms of a Saints defender for an interception. That’s not the way you’d expect a guy who has a league-leading 3,924 yards from scrimmage the last two seasons to perform in your biggest game.

So is a knee injury suffered back in December hobbling Gurley?

“C’mon man,” he said to reporters Friday, adamantly denying it. “If there was an issue with my knee, it would be on the injury report. I’m at practice. I’m playing.”

“You just have to feed off what we are doing, and C.J. was running the ball well,” added Goff to FOX’s Chris Myers after the NFC Championship. “I expect Todd to have a hell of a game in the Super Bowl.”

But will he play well? The Patriots have allowed just 30 rushing yards per game in the postseason, redeeming themselves after an inconsistent regular season. It’s difficult to see Gurley breaking through if he’s less than 100 percent, putting even more pressure on both Anderson and Goff. Gurley’s reduced presence could also hurt in the passing game; he had 59 receptions for 580 yards during the regular season, good for third on the team.

Compare Gurley’s ailment to Sony Michel’s accomplishments over the past two weeks. He’s posted 242 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in the postseason, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and allowing the Patriots to spread the field and open up passing windows for Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald must take charge here and stop Michel or Rex Burkhead from establishing a rhythm.

3. Trench warfare

The Patriots’ offensive line has been the unsung heroes of these playoffs. With a 41-year-old quarterback who’s not as mobile they’ve given up a grand total of zero sacks. The offensive line of the Rams is close behind; just one sack in two games.

So what now? Both teams have used defensive penetration to their advantage; they’ve racked up nine sacks between the two of them. Something’s got to give, somewhere and you have to figure the Patriots have the edge despite the Rams’ Donald. Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers have formed an effective 1-2 punch with two sacks apiece. Dont’a Hightower, despite just four tackles in the postseason, has proved generally disruptive.

The key for the Rams is simply to get Donald going. He has just four tackles during the postseason and no major plays of note, at least on paper. Can those three postseason quarterback hits turn into sacks? Contact is more likely to hobble Brady based on his age and current mobility. Getting to Brady is key to getting the Lombardi trophy.

X-Factor: A tale of two coaches

Bill Belichick has done it all. Sean McVay? He’s just getting started. But both coaches benefit from unconventional styles and a penchant for doing things their own way.

The two men met at the NFL Scouting Combine and have texted since, with Belichick taking his time to congratulate McVay after games. The normally tight-lipped Patriots head coach was even willing to compliment the prodigy half his age during Super Bowl media festivities.

“I have a ton of respect for Sean,” he said. “He’s done a great job in the two years he’s been with the Rams. His teams have performed at an extremely high level. They’re very consistent. They’re well-coached. The players execute on a consistent basis on a very high level.”

But for all the confidence Belichick shows in McVay, he also has the experience earned from Super Bowl victories. The Patriots are also coming off a Super Bowl in which the aggressive, youngish coaching style of Doug Pederson kept them off guard. He pushed down on the accelerator and never relented, taking high-risk approaches and offensive gambles that paid off.

One thing about great coaches, they don’t get fooled by the same method twice. Expect Belichick to have learned from that experience and for McVay to be the innocent victim of last year’s frustration.

Final Analysis

This year’s Super Bowl line opened with the Rams favored by one. But as game time inches closer, the Patriots have edged back on top and seem to be regaining respect. They’re presenting themselves as a healthy, loose team in position to avenge their narrow loss to the Eagles a season ago.

The Rams, meanwhile, have seen some clouds roll in. The news stories surrounding the pass interference call won’t die; a local New Orleans car dealership has bought billboards all over Atlanta claiming the Saints got robbed. Calls have come from their owner, other NFL players and even Congress itself to change the rules going forward. (Had the penalty been called, the Saints would have run down the clock and attempted a chip shot field goal for the win.)

It leaves the Rams, well, a bit off balance while the Patriots enter the Super Bowl playing at their peak. A motivated Brady is on a mission; one year after losing a step from his MVP status at age 40, he’s out to reinforce his top-tier status at age 41. Add in another week of rest for Gronkowski, the emergence of a rushing star in Michel and it makes the Patriots’ offense seemingly impossible to beat.

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Pictured: Aaron Donald
Source: Getty Image North America

Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defense have dominated the line of scrimmage in their two playoff victories

The Rams are back! While this isn’t exactly “The Greatest Show on Turf,” the Rams are back in the Super Bowl after knocking off the top-seeded Saints 26-23 in overtime in the NFC Championship on Sunday in New Orleans. The win not only marked the franchise’s first conference title since 2001 (back when they were in St. Louis), it also means that for the first time in more than 30 years, the city of Los Angeles will be represented in the Super Bowl.

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Even though there was some questionable officiating on Sunday, credit goes to the Rams who overcame a 13-0 first-quarter deficit to fight back, force overtime, and hand the Saints just their third home loss this season. Next up is a date on Feb. 3 in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face the seemingly unstoppable New England Patriots. Los Angeles has already been installed as the underdog, which should came as no surprise since New England will be making its third straight appearance and fourth in five years.

And most of us remember when these two teams met in the Super Bowl nearly 20 years ago when Bill Belichick/Tom Brady were leading the upstart team against the heavy favorites. Obviously much has changed since then but it seems the roles have been reversed. So can the Rams slay the NFL’s current giant and this time take care of business in Atlanta? Here are five reasons to expect the NFC champion to be the victorious team by the end of Super Sunday.

5 Reasons Why the Los Angeles Rams Will Win Super Bowl LIII

1. The Rams’ emerging pass rush

Even with a stout defensive line led by the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Aaron Donald, Los Angeles finished the regular season in the middle of the pack with 41 sacks (15th). But that has changed during the playoffs where the pass rush has already made an impact.

In their wins over the Cowboys and Saints, the Rams have collected three sacks and nine quarterback hits and also have recorded 12.5 tackles for a loss. On Sunday, Dante Fowler Jr. was the one who was able to put enough pressure on Drew Brees to hit his arm which resulted in the interception that gave the ball to Los Angeles near midfield and resulted in the game-winning field goal by Greg Zuerlein.

In the AFC Championship, Kansas City not only didn’t record a sack of Tom Brady, the Chiefs had just one quarterback hit and were flagged for roughing the passer in a key spot. They did have two interceptions but in the end, Brady still threw for 348 yards in leading his team to victory in overtime. Brady is similar to Brees in that he’s not the most mobile of quarterbacks but he gets rid of the ball quickly and the Patriots’ offensive line has done a good job protecting him. The Rams need to keep bringing the heat with Donald, Fowler, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers and other rushers so Brady doesn’t pick them apart from the pocket. Consistent pressure also can force Brady to have happy feet and potentially force some throws or make mistakes.

2. Keep it on the ground

Another thing that Los Angeles has done well in January is run the ball, even if Todd Gurley hasn’t been his usual explosive self. The Rams have put up 350 rushing yards and four touchdowns in their two playoff wins, with most of that damage coming against Dallas in the Divisional Round. C.J. Anderson (167 yards, 2 TDs) has come up huge since signing with the team a month ago, and Gurley will get a little more time to let his knee recover from the injury that caused him to miss the last two games of the regular season.

New England was OK against the run in the regular season (112.7 ypg) but has been very good in the playoffs, holding the Chargers and Chiefs to a total of 60 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Game script had a lot to do with this as both teams were playing from behind for most of their games, but Sean McVay knows he can’t simply abandon the run as much as he may want to air it out with Jared Goff. With two solid options to run the ball with, some old-school football could work in Los Angeles’ favor.

3. The Rams can also stop the run

While Wade Phillips’ defense gave up five yards per carry during the regular season, the unit has tightened things up considerably in the playoffs. Dallas and New Orleans managed a total of 98 rushing yards while averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. The longest running play the Rams have surrendered in the postseason is 16 yards.

For New England, rookie Sony Michel was come up huge in the Patriots’ two playoff victories, as he’s piled up 242 yards and five touchdowns on a whopping 53 carries. He averaged a healthy 5.5 yards per attempt against Kansas City and his effectiveness opened up opportunities for fellow running back Rex Burkhead (2 TDs including game-winner vs. Kansas City in overtime) as well as the passing game (Brady completed passes to eight different Patriots in win over Chiefs).

Brady has proven in years past that he can beat teams even without a strong running game but if Los Angeles can make things easier on itself on defense if the Rams can somehow make Michel a non-factor.

4. The offensive line has stood its ground

Not only have the boys up front cleared a path for the rushing attack, they’ve also kept the pocket mostly clean for Goff in recent weeks. He’s been sacked just once in the two playoff victories and the six hits the Saints got on him in the NFC Championship were the most since the Eagles got seven back in Week 15. Goff also has been sharp with his throws and decision-making with just two interceptions over his last five games.

The Patriots’ defense has wreaked havoc this postseason by collecting six sacks and 17 quarterback hits. Even though New England has able to harass Patrick Mahomes on Sunday, it still took overtime to beat a pesky Chiefs team. If the Rams’ offensive line can do its job and give Goff the time he needs to find his receivers downfield, Los Angeles should be able to move the ball against he Patriots.

5. The Rams have made their presence felt in Atlanta through the years

When the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV at the conclusion of the 1999 season, they’re only Super Bowl title thus far, they did so in Atlanta. Since then the Rams have made six trips to Georgia’s biggest city where they’ve won twice and have scored 161 total points. Those games, however, were in the since-demolished Georgia Dome. This will be the Rams’ first appearance in Mercedes-Benz Stadium where they hope to create some more history.

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Pictured: Tom Brady
Source: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Image North America

Will the ninth time be the charm for an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl ring for Belichick and Brady?

Love them or hate them, the New England Patriots have established an NFL dynasty that may never be matched in the salary cap era. Defeating the Kansas City Chiefs on the road Sunday earned them a fourth Super Bowl bid in the past five seasons and the team’s ninth with Bill Belichick as head coach. Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady will now go for their sixth Super Bowl ring 17 years to the day after they earned their first, coming against the same team they’ll face a second time down in Atlanta.

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Of course, the Rams are hardly the same in terms of personnel since that fateful Super Bowl in 2002; they don’t even play in the same city anymore. Not a single player that played for the franchise then remains on the Rams; head coach Sean McVay was in high school when that game happened. Rams quarterback Jared Goff? He was in second grade.

That type of longevity is what makes these Patriots, Belichick and Brady one of the game’s all-time greats. It’s also experience that leaves them well-positioned to win the Super Bowl, yet again, in a game where they’ve opened as 1.5-point favorites.

5 Reasons Why The New England Patriots Will Win Super Bowl LIII

1. A resurgent running game

Saquon Barkley may be getting all the buzz as the best new running back this season but Sony Michel made a case of his own during these playoffs. Michel just trampled over the Chiefs in the first half of the AFC Championship, finishing with 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns despite inexplicably sitting unused for much of the fourth quarter and overtime. (It was Rex Burkhead, not Michel, who scored the game-winning touchdown and had a number of key runs in the Patriots’ final two offensive drives.)

But the fact the Patriots could switch out Burkhead and get the same effectiveness shows you the state of their run game. Michel has now put together back-to-back 100-yard performances against two AFC playoff teams; he has three 100-yard games in his last four. (That puts him one behind Barkley’s 2018 benchmark of four straight.)

While the Rams have buckled down in the playoffs this is still the same defense that ranked just 23rd overall during the regular season. On offense, their own rushing attack is questionable with the health of Todd Gurley II a major concern after he was used sparingly in the NFC Championship.

2. An unheralded offensive line

The Patriots’ line paved the way for a 41-year-old Tom Brady to make magic in the late stages of their comeback win against the Chiefs. During two postseason games, Brady has yet to be sacked. That’s right; zero sacks from a Chiefs defense that tied for the league lead with 52 during the regular season.

Not one of these linemen were selected to the Pro Bowl but rising from virtual anonymity is how the Patriots have done it all these years. The group of David Andrews, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and Trent Brown have an average of just 4.6 years of experience between them. But this quintet is growing up at the right time and provided Brady some extra comfort to make key throws down the stretch, especially on third downs.

3. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman

Speaking of third downs, both Gronkowski and Edelman were money when it mattered, although the latter dodged one potential, game-changing mistake. Two key throws to Edelman kept alive the overtime drive before Gronkowski stepped in to set up the Patriots near the goal line. That duo appears to be all the Patriots need, although Chris Hogan had a key third-down catch himself in the fourth quarter.

Edelman was stopped just short of 100 yards in the AFC Championship one week after going for nine catches and 151 yards in the convincing win over the Chargers. He’s Brady’s most reliable target and has had a chip on his shoulder after his four-game suspension reminiscent of his quarterback’s time away a few years ago. Edelman did get a mulligan when an apparent fumble on a muffed punt return about midway through the fourth quarter was overturned on replay. Brady threw an interception two plays later on a ball that, ironically, bounced off of Edelman’s fingertips.

But otherwise as a receiver Edelman came through, hauling in seven of his 10 targets. And when No. 11 was covered? Gronk lined up on the outside and delivered after a season that increasingly appears to be his last. But a creaky, hobbled tight end from years of injuries pulled one out of the hat in the AFC Championship. Seemingly every one of his six catches was a game-changer but it was his blocking that was the real secret weapon, opening up even more running lanes for Michel, Burkhead and James White.

Once again, a Rams defense that allowed 23 points to the Saints’ many talented offensive pieces will struggle to stop a “healthier” Gronk. And if it’s the tight end’s last game ever? He won’t hold back.

4. A defense that pressures the quarterback

The Rams’ offensive line has been almost as good as the Patriots’; Jared Goff has been sacked just once during the postseason. But it’s hard to see that number staying low with the Pats’ numbers against the speedy NFL MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes. Their four sacks of the young quarterback included one that pushed them out of field goal range late in the first half, a score that would have potentially made the difference.

Weirdly enough, the Rams and Patriots have the same turnover margin during the postseason, coming out even. But who do you trust heading to Atlanta? The 24-year-old Goff, playing in his first Super Bowl without two major weapons at 100 percent? (Gurley and deep threat Cooper Kupp, out for the season with a torn ACL?) Or do you trust the guy in Brady that’s been there more times (nine) than Goff’s age (seven) when Brady won his first ring?

That leads us to…

5. Belichick-Brady

This duo got beat at their own game last year, Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles using the underdog mantra and dog masks to waltz their way to an epic Super Bowl victory. It’s the first time Belichick-Brady has been beaten in the big game by a team other than Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Since then, it’s felt like the Patriots have had the odds stacked against them. A bizarre, game-ending miracle play against the Miami Dolphins robbed them of home-field advantage. Eleven wins were their fewest since 2009; inconsistent play dogged both sides of the ball. It all added up to the Patriots being labeled an underdog on the road in the AFC Championship for the first time in what felt like forever.

But that’s when the mastery of Brady and Belichick turned on. The underdog mantra became a rallying cry in the locker room, most famously by Edelman and his Hashtag BetAgainstUs shirts. Then, both quarterback and coach came to play. Belichick and his coaches had perhaps their most inspiring performance during the postseason in years Sunday; the variety and gustiness of play-calling kept the Chiefs’ defense off guard all night. Remember, the staff was so aggressive they tried to win the game through a flea-flicker with time ticking down in the fourth quarter! Who does that?

Through it all, there was the steady hand of Brady. Sure, he’s had his rough moments this year; an interception in the end zone was the type of mistake he typically doesn’t make (and might have put the game away in the first half). But when it mattered, with the game on the line Brady brought that team down three straight times and scored. His stat line on those drives (taking away the one kneel down to force overtime): 5-for-6 on third down, no sacks taken, 21 points scored. That’s all that matters.

And it’s the type of gritty performance that offers a storybook ending to the 41-year-old 17 years after his first ring. Perhaps the real question is, if the Patriots win again, will Brady choose to retire with the storybook seemingly as complete as it can possibly be?

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Source: 2019 NFL Super Bowl 53 logo. (AP)

The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will meet in Super Bowl LIII (aka Super Bowl 53, or 2019 Super Bowl) on Sunday, Feb. 3 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This will be the seventh time the Super Bowl features a rematch. These two teams met in Super Bowl XXXVI back in 2002 as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won their first Lombardi Trophy by knocking off the heavily favored Rams (then in St. Louis) and the “Greatest Show on Turf” 20-17 in the Superdome in New Orleans.

Much has changed since then, as Belichick and Brady are now making their ninth Super Bowl appearance and the 11th in Patriots’ franchise history. A win would tie New England with Pittsburgh for the most Lombardi Trophies (six).

For the Rams, it’s their fourth Super Bowl appearance, but the first for a team from Los Angeles since the Raiders beat the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII way back in 1984. A victory for the Rams would even their Super Bowl record at 2-2 while exacting a bit of revenge for what happened 17 years ago.

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WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WATCH

Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

Date: Feb. 3, 2019

Time: 6:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS (20th Super Bowl, breaks tie with NBC for the most); ESPN Deportes (Spanish language)

Broadcast Team: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (color commentary), Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn (sideline reporters)

Radio Network: Westwood One

Halftime Performance: Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Tom Brady
Source: Maddie Meyer / Getty Image North America

The top two seeds come together for a rematch of their 43-40 thriller earlier this season

It’s hard to look at this year’s AFC Championship between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs as anything other than a potential changing of the guard. Tom Brady, 41, will be eyeing an unprecedented ninth Super Bowl appearance; to do it, he’ll need to rise to the challenge of 23-year-old emerging superstar Patrick Mahomes. Perhaps the greatest ever to play the sport at his position will be pitted against the man who may define it for the next generation.

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But the rivalry runs far deeper than just those two men. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is looking to erase his record of playoff futility by finally beating the game’s best on the other sideline in Bill Belichick. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce hopes to displace an aging, injury-prone Rob Gronkowski as the AFC’s best at the position. And despite the Patriots’ undefeated home record this season (9-0) it’s the Chiefs’ fans at Arrowhead who have one last opportunity to prove what home-field advantage in the postseason is all about.

Their last matchup, a 43-40 Patriots victory in Foxborough, was easily one of the best in the NFL this season. Expect Sunday’s game to bring the same amount of offensive firepower and late-game drama with a berth in Super Bowl LIII on the line.

AFC Championship: New England at Kansas City

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 6:40 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

Spread: Chiefs -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Mahomes keep from making mistakes?

In this type of game, it’s fairly clear what you’ll get from the Patriots’ Tom Brady. A roller-coaster regular season was put to rest last week against the Chargers; 343 passing yards and no turnovers meant the outcome was never in doubt. The Chiefs can’t expect to capitalize on his mistakes although Brady did have a lost fumble in their matchup earlier this season.

The real focus is on whether Patrick Mahomes can keep it together. On paper, he had one of the best statistical seasons in history with 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,100 passing yards. He did nothing to cost his team in a cruise control-type performance against the Colts in Arrowhead last week.

But the Patriots in the playoffs are a different story altogether. The Chiefs were mortally wounded in their regular-season matchup through multiple mistakes by Mahomes early on. Two interceptions led to seven Patriots points and cost the Chiefs seven more at the end of the first half. It’s enough to make the difference in a game where we’ll count the number of punts on one hand.

“We didn’t feel good,” Mahomes said this week about the Patriots’ loss earlier this year. “We didn’t play our best, especially early in the game. And when you play teams of this caliber, with this much history of knowing how to win and capitalizing on people’s mistakes, you can’t come back and win games like that.”

“For us, we have to learn from that, know we can’t make those mistakes. It’s going to be a dogfight for the entire game.”

Can he outduel the Patriots’ secondary this time? Philip Rivers never looked comfortable last week and New England’s defensive unit heads in with momentum. The Patriots know how to create takeaways in the playoffs. It’s imperative Mahomes puts those demons behind them by striking early and often in the first half.

2. Can Sony Michel outduel Damien Williams?

You might be surprised to know all four of the Chiefs’ touchdowns last week came on the ground. After releasing Kareem Hunt last month, many felt their rushing game would struggle but Williams has proven up to the task. The fifth-year player has stepped in admirably, posting a higher yards per carry average than Hunt (5.1 to 4.6) and two 100-yard rushing efforts. (That included 129 yards against the Colts last week). Hunt, by comparison, had just one 100-yard rushing game this year despite his speed and explosiveness.

Is that more because of the Chiefs’ offensive line or is it Williams himself? The answer is a little bit of both. But the Patriots’ defense will offer a stiffer test than the Colts’ front line. New England held Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to just 15 rushing yards and the Chargers to 19 total. Ranked 11th against the run, allowing 112.3 rushing yards per game over the course of a full season that number drops to 65.0 when you include just the last three weeks.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has a rushing defense that ranked 27th in the NFL. It provides a make-or-break opportunity for rookie Sony Michel to put up some big numbers once again after a masterful 129-yard, three-touchdown performance last week. Michel, who lost part of his season due to injury, has been left in the shadows while other rookies like Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley have taken center stage. But they’re not playing this late into January. Michel might be the most important person on the field for a Patriots offense that finally appeared to loosen up with the chains constantly moving on the ground.

3. All Tyreek, all the time

Tyreek Hill was unhinged the last time these teams played. Seven catches, 142 yards and three touchdowns almost singlehandedly kept the Chiefs in the game. Last week’s postseason contest was a bit more pedestrian (eight catches, 72 yards) but a bounce-back performance should be expected.

Travis Kelce may be the Chiefs’ most reliable receiver but Hill is the one who can score at any given moment. The fastest player on the field can get more yards after the catch than anyone else in this game when given space and he’s already proved he can outrun the Patriots’ secondary.

This 75-yard touchdown play from the first matchup truly highlights the explosiveness of the Chiefs’ offense when both he and Mahomes are on the same page. It’s why the Patriots can’t fall behind in this game but the Chiefs will never feel like they’re out of it.

X-Factor: Kicking Game

Stephen Gostkowski is one of the game’s most reliable kickers. But a 27-for-32 season obscured the fact he was just six-for-11 on kicks over 40 yards in length.

During a year where long field goals have become the norm, not the exception, that may give the edge to another changing-of-the-guard figure: 23-year-old Harrison Butker. Butker was eight-for-11 on kicks 40 yards and longer while nailing a 54-yarder just a few weeks ago against Seattle. He also has the advantage of kicking within his own stadium during a night where the wind will make a difference (forecast to be 10-15 mph).

One miss from either kicker could be all that’s needed to determine the outcome.

Final Analysis

Conventional wisdom says the Chiefs should come out on top in this one. It’s a youthful team playing at home and hungry for revenge after their national stub-a-toe moment against the Patriots earlier this year. Andy Reid, 1-4 in championship games is too good a head coach to get shut out of the Super Bowl with this team.

And yet. The Patriots, labeled as rare underdogs have embraced that mentality with a bear hug. Julian Edelman’s Twitter posted a hype video followed by T-Shirts fans could order with the hashtag BETAGAINSTUS. It’s the type of us against the world mentality that plays well within a Bill Belichick locker room and the same type of emotional boost the Eagles used against them in Super Bowl LII (with great success, I might add).

Add in Tom Brady, who seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder amid criticism his play has slipped at 41 and it’s hard to count the Patriots out. They need everything to break right for them to pull this out but we’ve seen that type before from them in the postseason, haven’t we?

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Photo: Todd Gurley
Source: Harry How / Getty Image North America

A rematch of heavyweights set to brawl in the Big Easy for a ticket to Super Bowl LIII

The Los Angeles Rams make their second trip to the Crescent City to battle the New Orleans Saints this season as the top two seeds meet in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. The Rams (14-3) and Saints (14-3) find themselves one victory away from a spot in Super Bowl LIII after taking care of business at home last week in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

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Los Angeles trampled Dallas 30-22 out on the West Coast last Saturday. The Rams’ tandem of C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley piled up 238 rushing yards and three touchdowns while averaging more than six yards per carry (on 39 total attempts). Los Angeles controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, limiting Dallas to just 50 rushing yards, and dominated time of possession (36:13 to 23:47).

New Orleans stumbled through the first quarter of its game this past Sunday against Philadelphia. Drew Brees threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage and the Eagles jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. But a Marshon Lattimore pick of Nick Foles started to turn the tide, as the Saints’ offense found its footing and the defense shut Philadelphia out the rest of the way. After a shaky start, the Brees-to-Michael Thomas connection got going as New Orleans went on to score the final 20 points of the game.

These two teams met in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome back in Week 9 as the Saints won a high-scoring affair 45-35. The offenses combined for 970 yards with Brees (346 yards, 4 TDs) and Jared Goff (391, 3) both filling up the stat sheet. Thomas (211 yards) also made his presence felt as New Orleans handed the Rams their first loss of the season. That game ended up being the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

NFC Championship: Los Angeles at New Orleans

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3:05 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Spread: Saints -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Michael Thomas vs. Rams’ secondary

Last week against Philadelphia, Thomas hauled in 12 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown. The receptions were his highest since Week 9 when he went for 211 and a score on 12 grabs against the Rams. Will the All-Pro continue to have success against Los Angeles’ defense?

The Rams’ secondary will include a key component who was missing from the teams’ previous matchup. Starting cornerback Aqib Talib will start this Sunday after missing half of the regular season (Weeks 4-12) because of an ankle injury.

How much of a difference will Talib make? In the nine games (including last week’s playoff win) Talib has played this season, Los Angeles is giving up 206.3 passing yards and 17.7 points per game. Without him, those numbers jump to 272.6 and 30.8.

Additionally, no one should forget about the on-going squabble between Rams’ cornerback Marcus Peters and Saints’ head coach Sean Payton. Those two bantered during the first meeting in November. The feisty rhetoric continued this week. Despite what Peters mentioned, it seems unlikely that these two will sit down together to enjoy some gumbo. Will the Saints’ receivers go out and back up their coach’s trash talk?

2. Todd Gurley/C.J. Anderson vs. Saints’ front seven

Gurley’s production dipped toward the end of the regular season as he dealt with a knee injury that caused him to miss the last two games. Before that he failed to gain 50 rushing yards in Weeks 14 or 15, but he did remain a factor in the passing game (combined 13 catches for 106 yards).

But the positive for the Rams was that Gurley’s absence opened up an opportunity for C.J. Anderson, who the team signed following his release by Carolina. The former 1,000-yard rusher showed he was still capable of carrying the load, as he went for nearly 300 yards in the final two games of the regular season and then led the team with 123 in the Divisional Round win over Dallas. Not to be outdone, Gurley showed he was plenty healthy by going for 115 and averaging a robust 7.2 yards per carry against the Cowboys.

The duo will look to keep things going against a New Orleans defense that finished second in the regular season vs. the run (80.2 ypg). In the first meeting, the Rams managed 92 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries with Gurley responsible for most of the damage (68 yards, TD, 5.2 ypc). Anderson wasn’t with Los Angeles then but you can pretty much expect head coach Sean McVay will call on both of his backs on Sunday.

3. Saints’ offensive line vs. Rams’ defensive line

New Orleans has done a superb job of keeping Drew Brees upright. He took all but a small percentage of the snaps from center in 15 games during the regular season with opponents registering a total of 17 sacks. No other quarterback started as many games yet was sacked so few times this season. To put it another way, he was sacked during just 3.4 percent of his pass attempts. That’s the second-lowest rate in the NFL even though Brees attempted nearly 500 passes (489, 16th).

Los Angeles has a formidable trio that anchors its defensive line. It starts with Aaron Donald, the All-Pro who is the front-runner to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight year after racking up 20.5 sacks, 25 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the regular season. Ndamukong Suh has done his part clogging things in the middle while Michael Brockers chips in as the other starting defensive end. These three have started all 17 games together and are tasked with making plays behind the line of scrimmage and getting pressure on Brees, even if it doesn’t result in a sack. Their effectiveness will dictate how the linebackers are used by veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Can the Saints’ offensive line hold up against the Rams’ fearsome threesome? Three Saints’ linemen were flagged for holding versus the Eagles. Andrus Peat struggled in particular, with two holding calls against him. He is expected to play Sunday in spite of his broken hand, which clearly hampered him last week. Considering that Donald leads the NFL in sacks and tackles for a loss, New Orleans cannot let him dominate a the point of attack and take over the game, even if that means double-teaming him.

Final Analysis

The NFC bracket held to form to give us a No. 1 vs. No. 2 championship game. As a result, fans will witness two evenly matched teams that are tied for the best records in the NFL. If the regular-season matchup foreshadows what will happen in this one, another high-scoring contest awaits.

But this game appears headed for a closer finish than what transpired back in November. The Saints had a 21-point lead late in the first half before a field goal made it 35-17. The Rams battled all the way back to tie the game with less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter only to watch New Orleans score the next 10 points over a three-minute span. Sunday’s matchup figures to stay tight for the duration and may even need overtime to decide the winner.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

The Saints are slight favorites to take the Vince Lombardi Trophy

The cream has risen to the top. This weekend’s conference championship games feature perhaps the most loaded final four in NFL history. The quarterbacks alone provide a truckload of storylines: Tom Brady attempts to put a stranglehold on the GOAT label by making his ninth Super Bowl; MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes tries to extend his historic season for one more game; Drew Brees seeks to put an exclamation point on his Hall of Fame career as a newly minted 40-year-old; and Jared Goff seeks to take the next step into superstardom.

Here’s a look at the latest Vegas odds heading into the weekend, as the NFL’s final four eye Super Bowl LIII. 

Super Bowl Odds

New Orleans Saints 7/4

The Saints remain the slight Vegas favorites. But before we give them the nod over the Rams thanks to their Dome-field advantage, let’s remember that two of their three losses this season came at home. 

Kansas City Chiefs 13/5

KC has painted a masterpiece this season thanks to the wizardry of Mahomes and his array of weapons, including the electrifying Tyreek Hill. Andy Reid could exorcise a career’s worth of postseason demons with two more wins.

New England Patriots 7/2

Of the four teams left standing, the Patriots have the most losses, with five. But does anyone have the courage to bet against Old Man Brady after his flawless performance against the Chargers?  

Los Angeles Rams 7/2

It’s strange to call a dominant three-loss team an underdog, but that’s where we are with the Rams, who feature the NFC’s top offense as well as the Defensive Player of the Year in the unblockable Aaron Donald.  

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Photo: Patrick Mahomes
Source: David Eulitt / Getty Image North America

Top-seeded Chiefs will have to fend off the surging Colts to secure their first home playoff win in 25 years

The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Indianapolis Colts in Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday to kick off the AFC Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL Playoffs. These teams last met in the postseason in 2014, resulting in one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history.

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The slightly favored Colts managed to erase a 28-point second-half deficit in that game to score a dramatic 45-44 victory over the visiting Chiefs. Saturday’s matchup is setting up to be another high-scoring affair with two high-powered offenses poised to put plenty of points on the scoreboard. Only this time around, the Chiefs are the favored home team, and the expectation is a closely contested shootout for four quarters.

The Chiefs (12-4) capped off a dominant regular season in similar fashion with a 35-3 victory over the Raiders to secure the AFC West title and No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They also earned the luxury of sitting out last week’s Wild Card Round with a bye. That should pay dividends for the well-rested home team. It also bodes well that Andy Reid is 20-4 all-time as a head coach when coming off a bye week. What doesn’t bode well is Reid’s 11-13 record all-time in the postseason, including a 1-4 with the Chiefs.

After a 1-5 start, the resurgent Colts enter Saturday’s game with a record of 11-6. Under first-year head coach Frank Reich, Indianapolis has won five in a row and 10 of its last 11, including a 21-7 road victory over AFC South rival (and champion) Houston in the wild-card game. The Colts now look to carry that momentum against Kansas City, who is 7-1 at home this season. Indianapolis is just 5-4 on the road, although the Colts have won their past three such contests, beating the Texans (twice) and Titans. More importantly, the Colts are 4-0 against the Chiefs in the postseason and Kansas City’s is in the midst of a six-game home losing streak in the playoffs, a stretch that goes back to 1996.

AFC Divisional Playoff: Indianapolis at Kansas City

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:35 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Spread: Chiefs -5.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s explosive passing game

It’s no secret why the Chiefs led the NFL in total yards (425.6 ypg) and scoring (35.3 ppg) during the regular season. Mahomes has been a force to be reckoned with, and in 2018 no NFL player has been more fun to watch. In addition to Mahomes’ 5,097 passing yards, the MVP front-runner and first-team All-Pro selection became just the third player in NFL history to throw for 50 touchdowns. And he’s doing this in his just second season, first as the starter, in the NFL. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a standout receiving corps, led by fellow first-team All-Pro selections Travis Kelce (103 rec., 1,336 yds., 10 TDs) and Tyreek Hill (87, 1,479 yds., 12).

On Saturday, Mahomes and company will be paired against a young Indianapolis defense that has come a long way since the beginning of the season, thanks in large part to the emergence of All-Pro rookie linebacker Darius Leonard (league-leading 163 tackles). Leonard and the Colts limited a dangerous Houston offense to just seven points and 322 yards last week. But they have a much bigger challenge in front of them — trying to slow down Mahomes and the Chiefs’ high-octane passing attack.

Indianapolis finished the regular season in the middle of the pick in pass defense, allowing 237.8 yards per game. The Colts also gave up more yards (1,194) to opposing tight ends than any other defense in the league. And they have not faced a tight end better than Kelce all season. In addition to the already daunting task of keeping tabs on Kelce and Hill, Indianapolis’ secondary may also have to contend with the return of speedy wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who has missed the last six games because of a foot injury. That’s a tall order.

2. Indianapolis’ running game

Most of the hype surrounding the Colts’ offense heading into Saturday’s playoff game centers around Andrew Luck and a potent passing game. And for good reason as Indianapolis boasts the seventh-ranked passing attack in the league (278.8 ypg), and Luck’s 39 touchdown passes in the regular season were good for second behind only Mahomes’ 50. However, it could be the running game that pays the biggest dividends against Kansas City.

Despite ranking just 20th at 107.4 rushing yards per game, the Colts’ ground game has been hitting on all cylinders of late. Last week, they ran for 200 yards against Houston’s third-ranked rushing defense, led by a franchise playoff-record 148 rushing yards from running back Marlon Mack. It marked Mack’s third 100-yard game in the last four weeks, two of which came against the aforementioned Texans and the Cowboys (fifth in the NFL in rushing defense).

The Chiefs finished 27th in that department, giving up 132.1 yards and an NFL-worst five yards per carry. This certainly bodes well for Indianapolis. Another reason the Colts need to have success running the ball is that it would them to control the clock and limit the number of possessions for Mahomes and Kansas City’s quick-strike offense.

3. Kansas City’s pass rush vs. Indianapolis’ offensive line

No one can argue that the Chiefs’ defense is good. However, they have shined in one area on that side of the ball. No other defense in the NFL had more sacks during the regular season than Kansas City’s 52. That effort was spearheaded by defensive end Chris Jones’ 15.5 sacks, with Pro Bowl linebacker Dee Ford (13), and Justin Houston (9 in 12 games) also getting in on the action.

Meanwhile, no offensive line has fared better in pass protection than the Colts’, which is a welcome sight after this being a persistent issue throughout Luck’s time in Indianapolis. A standout line led by All-Pro rookie guard Quenton Nelson has surrendered a league-low 18 sacks in 17 games. That includes last week’s dominant effort in shutting out J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Texans last week.

There are plenty of intriguing matchups worth paying close attention to in Saturday’s playoff showdown, but none are more compelling than the matchup between the Chiefs’ pass rush and the Colts’ offensive line. One of these groups will have to come out on top, and It could be a major factor in determining the outcome.

Final Analysis

There are a few reasons to like the underdog Colts on Saturday. For starters, history is not exactly on the Chiefs’ side in this matchup. They are 0-4 all-time in playoff games against the Colts, they are an abysmal 0-6 in home playoff games over the last 25 years, and their head coach has a long history of coming up short in the postseason. We also can take into consideration that the Chiefs are just 3-2 since releasing star running back Kareem Hunt, and that two of those wins came against the lowly Raiders. And last, but certainly not least, is Kansas City’s much-maligned defense, whose only saving grace is a stellar pass rush that might just meet its match in the form of an equally talented Indianapolis offensive line.

But this will mark the Colts’ third straight road game while the Chiefs are coming off of a bye. Arrowhead Stadium is one of the top home-field advantages in the NFL, and Kansas City took full advantage of that, going 7-1 in the regular season. And despite Kansas City’s (and Andy Reid’s) past struggles in the postseason, the Chiefs now have something, or should we say someone, they didn’t previously — Patrick Mahomes as a starting quarterback.

Indianapolis should keep it interesting with Andrew Luck leading a well-balanced offensive attack to go along with a much-improved defense. However, the Colts’ offense will be hard-pressed to keep pace with Mahomes and company. Andy Reid and the Chiefs should finally get over the playoff hump at home to advance to the AFC Championship Game courtesy of a close, hard-fought, victory.

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Photo: Oakland Alameda County Coliseum

Raiders host the Broncos on Christmas Eve for what could be their final game in Oakland Coliseum

Monday night’s game between the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders won’t be unique just because it is on Christmas Eve. It will be special because it could be the Raiders’ final game played at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum.

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Raiders owner Mark Davis is moving the Raiders to Las Vegas in 2020. Since the city of Oakland recently sued the Raiders and the rest of the NFL over the move to Las Vegas, Davis is looking for another venue for the team in 2019.

Oakland and Denver do have one thing in common — both teams are putting the final touches on disappointing seasons. For the Raiders (3-11) and Broncos (6-8), most of the focus has shifted towards next season and the 2019 NFL Draft. But there’s still pride on the line (and maybe a head coach’s job), especially considering the first meeting between these two teams came down to a last-second field goal.

Back in Week 2, Denver overcame a 12-0 halftime deficit to beat Oakland 20-19. The Broncos scored the final 13 points of the game with Brandon McManus kicking a 36-yard field with six seconds left to complete the comeback. It also should be pointed out that several of the key participants in that game won’t be a part of the return matchup whether it be due to injury (Marshawn Lynch, Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Harris Jr.) or trade (Amari Cooper, Demaryius Thomas).

Denver at Oakland

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 24 at 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN
Spread: Denver -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Derek Carr
Despite the Raiders’ record, Carr has played some of the best football of his career the last two months. He has not thrown an interception in his last nine games, a span of 292 pass attempts. That’s already a franchise record and the current longest active streak in the NFL since Aaron Rodgers’ record run came to an end at 402 following an interception in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to Chicago.

For the season, Carr has 3,697 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Those numbers may not seem all that impressive, but Carr hasn’t gotten a lot of help from either his pass catchers or his offensive line this season. He’s been sacked 47 times through 14 games, that’s the third-highest total in the league, yet he’s seventh in the league with a completion rate of 68.4 percent, which is a career-best mark for him.

Denver can still get after the quarterback (42 sacks), but the Broncos have been susceptible through the air. They rank 25th in the league at 257.9 passing yards per game allowed and just put top cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on injured reserve. If Oakland’s line can give Carr enough time to throw, he should be able to have some success on Monday night.

2. Phillip Lindsay

Lindsay has not only been among the best rookies in the NFL this season but one of the biggest surprises in the entire league. After going undrafted in April, Lindsay has rushed for 991 yards and nine touchdowns, becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl.

“To be able to have 100 yards in a game was great,” Lindsay said earlier this week. “To get a touchdown, to be able to play [at Broncos Stadium at Mile High], that’s the stuff right there that I dreamt about. The Pro Bowl is something that you think like five years down the line, three years down the line. It’s an honor to get it.”

Oakland’s rushing defense is dead last in the league at 146.4 yards per game. The Raiders already know what to expect when facing Lindsay. He posted his first career 100-yard game against them back in Week 2, going for 107 on just 14 carries (7.6 ypc) with a long of 53 yards.

3. Emotions
Just like the fans watching and attending Monday night’s game, it figures to be emotional for Oakland’s players as well as the coaches given the uncertain status about where they will be playing in 2019.

Head coach Jon Gruden is in his second stint with the Raiders after first coming to the franchise back in 1998. So Gruden has been through the ups and downs with the Raiders.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere Monday night, on Christmas Eve, the Denver Broncos coming to town,” Gruden said. “I get excited thinking about it. Just raging in the Black Hole. Rocking and raging down there after the Steelers game, after a lot of wins over the years. Seeing a lot of the old highlights of the great Raiders teams. I get excited, and I get emotional about it. Hopefully, we get it all resolved where we can continue to play here.”

Final Analysis

Although this game doesn’t have any playoff implications, the Raiders would love nothing more than to go out with a victory in possibly their last game in Oakland. If the Raiders can contain Phillip Lindsay and the Broncos’ running game, they will have a chance for the upset.

Denver quarterback Case Keenum, like the Broncos as a team, has been inconsistent this season. He’s on pace to set a new career high for passing yards (3,396 entering Monday night), but he has just 15 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions.

While this game will likely be close as it reaches the fourth quarter, look for the Raiders, with a rejuvenated Carr leading the way, give the fans an early Christmas present with one last victory in the Black Hole.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Nick Foles – 
Source: Corey Perrine/Getty Images North America

A potential NFC Championship Game preview has turned into potential rout as Eagles’ injury woes mount

Earlier this season, the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams had this date circled on the calendar as a potential NFC Championship Game preview. These two teams with exciting offenses and two of the best young quarterbacks in the game appeared on a collision course to battle over conference supremacy for years to come.

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But as the 2018 season wore on, they’ve moved in decidedly different directions. The Eagles, reigning Super Bowl champions, didn’t even get Carson Wentz back from a torn ACL until Week 3. An up-and-down season followed, with major injuries, close losses and key mistakes on offense leaving the team scratching their heads. This week, the Eagles finally found out why their leader has been a step behind, at least. A broken vertebra, one Wentz has been dealing with quietly for weeks, will likely shut down their franchise player for the rest of 2018.

That puts Nick Foles up against his former Rams team with the Eagles needing a miracle. At 6-7, three wins would likely earn them the six seed in the NFC playoff race but they’ll need to beat the 11-2 Rams in L.A., the 9-4 Houston Texans, and the 6-7 Washington Redskins on the road in order to qualify. It’s a daunting task for the team even if they were at 100 percent; instead, the odds are stacked against the Eagles even mounting a Super Bowl defense.

They’ll run into an angry Rams team looking to prove themselves after an ugly loss to the Chicago Bears on the road last Sunday night. It cost them control of their own destiny as the team seeks home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In order to have a chance, they’ll likely need to sweep their final three games with the Eagles their only serious obstacle. After that looms two opponents, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, with a combined record of 6-20.

Can the Rams take care of business? Or will Foles rise up to create another edition of the Philly special as he auditions for a role elsewhere in 2019?

Philadelphia at Los Angeles

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 16 at 8:20 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Spread: Rams -11.5

Three Things To Watch

1. Can a ragtag bunch of substitute Eagles overcome a slew of injuries?

The Eagles have plenty of reasons they’ve fallen far behind the Rams in 2018. But one of them was left completely to the football gods. Just check this week’s injury report, where not a single Ram is listed with a physical problem as of Thursday’s writing. They’ve had a few setbacks, most notably wide receiver Cooper Kupp out for the year after tearing his ACL, but have most of their top-tier players in mint condition 14 weeks into the year.

Compare that to the Eagles, who had 10 players (nine for physical reasons) listed on Thursday’s report. They also have a number of key contributors out for the year: running back Jay Ajayi (ACL), free agent pickup wide receiver Mike Wallace (fibula), and starting cornerback Ronald Darby (ACL), to name a few. The Eagles have over a dozen(!) players on injured reserve, forcing relative unknowns or practice squad players to play major roles.

That lack of depth was evident last week against the Cowboys, when Amari Cooper torched the secondary for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns. Cre’Von Leblanc, while putting in a yeoman’s effort, is not going to keep up with the likes of Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and even Josh Reynolds. If running back Todd Gurley opens up the passing game, Jared Goff has a chance for a field day against this weakened defense.

Just last week, Dak Prescott threw for a career-best 455 yards. And according to the injury report, the Eagles are likely to be down another player in the secondary as Sidney Jones aggravated his hamstring injury in that Cowboys game and hasn’t practiced all week.

2. Can the Rams’ offense get back on track?

Goff had arguably the worst game of his career against the Bears. A career-high four interceptions combined with a season-low 180 passing yards as he was picked apart at Soldier Field. A team that scores 32.7 points per game, third in the NFL behind the Chiefs and Saints, was limited to just six points.

One of the issues for the Rams during that game was an inability to commit to the run. Todd Gurley had just 11 carries for 28 yards, averaging a season-low 2.5 yards per carry. Second in the NFL with 1,203 rushing yards, you can’t expect Gurley to stay down for long. He now faces an Eagles defense that’s allowed the following to top-tier running backs:

Last week vs. Ezekiel Elliott: 113 yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 79 receiving yards

Two weeks ago vs. Adrian Peterson: A 90-yard touchdown run (98 rushing yards overall)

Three weeks ago vs. Saquon Barkley: 101 yards, 7.8 yards per carry, 41 receiving yards, two total touchdowns

There’s a clear pattern here. It’s a golden opportunity for Gurley to reestablish himself after the Cowboys’ comeback has Elliott threatening to take home the rushing title. And if Gurley does get going… this one could get ugly, early considering the Eagles’ inability to score in the first quarter. The Rams average 5.9 points to start the first 15 minutes, third in the NFL while the Eagles are dead last at 2.2.

3. How will Nick Foles do?

Foles will certainly be motivated to face his former team, especially with a 2019 job on the line. It’s likely he’ll move on to be a starter elsewhere after agreeing to back up an ailing Wentz for one last season. How could the Super Bowl MVP stay a backup the rest of his career?

That said, Foles has work to do to impress potential suitors. He hasn’t played since Week 2 against the Buccaneers and his stats this season are unimpressive: 451 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a pedestrian quarterback rating of 78.9. Foles did nothing to lose those games for the Eagles but he did little to win them; and back then, they had a full-fledged run game with Jay Ajayi and arguably similar receiving options surrounding him.

One benefactor of Foles’ emergence back onto the field: Nelson Agholor. Agholor had 16 catches the first two games; he hasn’t had more than six grabs since. A backup always changes the complexion of the offense and with Foles, look for a few deep plays to Agholor and potentially Golden Tate as the Philly offense should take a few more chances. At this point, they have nothing to lose.

You wonder how head coach Doug Pederson thinks heading into this weekend, by the way, after watching the Chargers go for two in the closing minute against the Chiefs and winning the game on “Thursday Night Football?” Pederson passed on the opportunity last week against the Cowboys, ended up losing in overtime and now he’s about to lose a shot at the playoffs.

Final Analysis

Nick Foles did an admirable job last season of keeping this Eagles team in the game against the Rams and hanging on after Carson Wentz suffered his ACL injury. But that thrilling, 43-35 victory in Los Angeles also came with a decidedly different team around him.

The Rams are hungry to avenge that defeat and healthy compared to an Eagles team just seven days removed from watching the NFC East (and potentially their Super Bowl defense) fully evaporate in overtime. It’s hard to see them recovering with the loss of their leader the cherry on top of an utterly disappointing 2018.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks