AFTER a relatively successful Sunday Picks last week another hefty 21 games of basketball and football action dominate tomorrow’s sporting schedule. A clash between two early East heavyweights seems to be the best NBA game on offer and no I’m not talking about the Wizards vs. Raptors match. Some intriguing Week 9 matchups could almost draw a line through some NFL teams if they fall on the wrong side of the scorecard, while an upset W can revive hope for some franchises. Of course, I will attempt to correctly pick the winners from each contest as the never-ending quest to increase my reputation (and betting account balance) continues!

Last Sunday Picks: 13 – 6

Overall: 337 – 261

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Atlanta Hawks (1-8) @ Cleveland Cavaliers (4-5)
CLEVELAND’S back baby! LeBron is going to average 50 for the rest of the year and D-Rose has all but sewn up ‘Most Improved Player’ honours. All jokes aside, Cleveland did what I expected them to and took care of business against Washington on the road, with the King sending a message to everyone that they are still the big dog’s in the East. That doesn’t bode well for Atlanta, but who knows what Cleveland outfit will show up. Still, LeBron is feeling himself right now.
Verdict: Cavaliers W

Miami Heat (3-5) @ LA Clippers (5-3)
THE other afternoon game to close out the weekend sees the Clips host Miami with both teams eager to return to the winner’s list. I expect LA to do so with Blake Griffin looking like an MVP contender. With the power forward not playing in Chris Paul’s shadow for the first time in his career, Griffin is balling, shooting a career high from three (42.5%) and thriving as the teams true No. 1 guy. Hassan Whiteside against DeAndre Jordan is worth watching too and we all know what ‘Waiter’s Island’ is capable. Still, Clips get the win.
Verdict: Clippers W

Boston Celtics (7-2) @ Orlando Magic (6-3)
NO one is surprised to see Boston streaking to seven straight wins. But for those string of wins to come after Gordon Hayward broke himself AND the fact that they are playing the 6-3 Orlando Magic epitomizes how weird this season has been so far. Orlando is starting to realise they aren’t Golden State and when their long bombs start to dry up a few more losses will come their way, including one tomorrow.
Verdict: Celtics W

Washington Wizards (4-4) @ Toronto Raptors (5-3)
I’M hype for this matchup. I really think that this is the year Washington cracks 50 wins as a franchise and makes a legit run at the conference finals. Toronto has done what Washington is looking to achieve in the past but has fallen to the juggernaut Cleveland outfit in consecutive postseasons. In an early season battle of the East powerhouses, I’m predicting some John Wall magic (fingers crossed his shoulder holds up) en route to an impressive win.
Verdict: Wizards W

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Utah Jazz (5-4) @ Houston Rockets (7-3)
EVEN without Chris Paul, Houston has stormed to a great start reeling off one of the best records in the league. Their offense will be tested by the defensive-minded Utah Jazz, but with Eric Gordon in career-best form, it’s tough to see the Rockets losing on their home court. However… In the true nature of season 2017-18, I’m tipping Utah to come out swinging and defeat Houston with Rudy Gobert due to a 20+ point performance sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Jazz W

Phoenix Suns (4-5) @ San Antonio Spurs (5-4)
I was not a believer of the Suns’ form after their firing of Earl Watson. All of a sudden they bolted to four wins in five tries including a stunning performance against Washington. The outfit that lost to the Knicks the other night is the one I expect to see more often this season. San Antonio hasn’t been too impressive as of late either, but even without Kawhi Leonard, they have enough in the tank to top Phoenix.
Verdict: Spurs W

Indiana Pacers (5-4) @ New York Knicks (4-4)
IT’S tough to pinpoint, just how these teams are tracking early on. Both were expected to hover near the bottom of the standings and win about a third of their games. At times early on though, they have looked pretty impressive, each beating the reigning East champion Cavaliers by double-digits. Porzinigs is playing like a legit breakout star averaging 29 points a night and Indiana went on a three-game winning streak last week without Myles Turner healthy. I think the depth of the Pacers will be the difference in determining the winner here, sorry Knicks fans.
Verdict: Pacers W

Charlotte Hornets (5-4) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (6-3)
THE T-Wolves are still trying to sift through their new star trio and find the best way to deploy them. Riding a four-game winning streak (the first Minnesota has had since 2012) they may be starting to understand each other faster than I expected. A win over Charlotte is no guarantee’s though with Kemba Walker and Buzz City looking pretty good early on, even though their record may suggest otherwise. Flip a coin for this one, it’s too tough to rule a clear winner.
Verdict: Hornets W

Oklahoma City Thunder (4-4) @ Portland Trailblazers (5-4)
MUCH like the aforementioned Timberwolves, the Thunder are dealing with their own struggles while working through new personnel. Consistency remains the issue for Billy Donovan’s men, illustrated clearly in their L at the hands of Boston a few nights ago. Portland is hype right now after Lillard delivered another clutch shot in their latest outing to swing the result in their favour. While I’m sure that the OKC win-loss record will look better than the Trailblazers’ by seasons end I’m still tipping Rip City in this one.
Verdict: Trailblazers W

Memphis Grizzlies (6-3) @ Los Angeles Lakers (4-5)
GRIND City hasn’t lost a step so far this year. After roster changes to their core, we expected a new-look Grizzlies team struggle in 2017-18. With Gasol and Conley the clear go-to guys though, Memphis is enjoying a fruitful start that includes wins over some of the league’s best in Golden State and Houston. For the second time in two nights, they clash with a Los Angeles resident after beating the Clippers yesterday. The Lakers are looking to find their mojo after a weird, disjointed start to the year. The standings will start to make sense as trends establish themselves soon. While the drama and randomness still exists though I’m climbing all aboard the Lake Show!
Verdict: Lakers W

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Baltimore Ravens (4-4) @ Tennessee Titans (4-3)
EVERY game from here on out alters playoff implications for teams in the hunt for January action. For Tennessee and Baltimore, an AFC wildcard spot is definitely in the mix for the winner, and for the loser, life gets a hell of a lot tougher. Flacco will play for the Ravens after being decapitated last week, but the real matchup is between Mariota and the Baltimore D. If he can fix their red-zone efficiency, then they are another step closer to a desired return to the postseason.
Verdict: Titans W

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) @ New Orleans Saints (5-2)
DREW Brees and the Saints might just be legit. A much-improved unit on the defensive side of the ball from a year ago has them sitting at an NFC South best 5-2. It doesn’t look like they are destined for another 7-9 season, while that might be the ceiling for their division rivals in Tampa Bay. The expected improvement from the Bucs hasn’t panned out the way many of expected it to, with Jamies Winston’s mediocrity a big reason for that. He is dealing with an elbow issue and with their season free falling, they may opt to sit the former No. 1 pick for the first time in his career. All signs point to a sixth win on the trot for NOLA.
Verdict: Saints W

Los Angeles Rams (5-2) @ New York Giants (1-6)
UPSET ALERT! Call me a hater, but I still don’t believe in Jared Goff and the Rams. Everyone’s favourite darling of the early season are flying high, but that momentum will be halted by the 1-6, yes the 1-6 Odell-less Giants. Don’t expect New York to turn this win into a playoff appearance, but after a disastrous start and fresh off their bye I expect them to defend home field and keep the Rams’ winless streak against them going at MetLife Stadium (their last win against the Giants was in 2001).
Verdict: Giants W

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Denver Broncos (3-4) @ Philadelphia Eagles (7-1)
FINALLY, after weeks of struggling the Broncos are making a quarterback change. I expected them to make the change a week earlier and promote Brock Osweiler after Trevor Siemian’s struggles. We know that Osweiler isn’t going to instantly fix Denver (see: Texans 2016 season), but it would have been ill-advised to try and resolve their issues with Siemian as their starter and the QB shakeup could jumpstart their season/record. Oh wait their playing Philly this week? On the Road? Scratch that, Denver’s screwed.
Verdict: Eagles W

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) @ Carolina Panthers (5-3)
WHO would have guessed that the past two MVP winners would enter this game under so much scrutiny. Both have looked pretty average in season 2017 with Cam Newton making more headlines off the field than on it and Matt Ryan is fumbling snaps like a nervous prom date trying to score. Not exactly what you want to see from your ‘franchise-player’ and both of them clearly need to sort their shit out. Last week I said a similar thing about Cam when he played the Bucs and he leant on his defense/running game to get a win. Unless Matt Ryan remembers to target Julio in the red-zone, then I expect the same storyline this week.
Verdict: Panthers W

Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3)
I’M not quite sure if I believe in Jacksonville yet. Yes, their defense has been dominant, but their two big performances came against the Texans and Colts who are a combined 5-10. A pretty solid offense in Cincinnati comes to town and a dominant display against Andy Dalton and his peers could convince me that they are legit. We have seen what happens when Dalton and his main man A.J. Green are on the same page in the past and I think we are due for another big game from the two. Of course, if Jacksonville can contain them, Blake Bortles and his offensive peers can’t make mistakes either if they stand any chance of winning. This one’s tough to pick for all the wrong reasons, but I am banking on a cold performance from the Jags play caller that will see both teams locked at 4-4 when the final whistle blows.
Verdict: Bengals W

Indianapolis Colts (2-6) @ Houston Texans (3-4)
IN very different circumstances both teams lost their preferred starting quarterback for the rest of the season this week. After months of toying with our emotions, the Colts shut down Andrew Luck for the remainder of the season as he battles a shoulder injury. Deshaun Watson, the favourite for Rookie of the Year and a potential MVP candidate suffered a heartbreaking ACL injury in a non-contact practice injury, deflating fans across the globe. It’s tough to know what to expect from both groups without their starters and you can be forgiven for changing channels when this one kicks off.
Verdict: Colts W

Arizona Cardinals (3-4) @ San Francisco 49ers (0-8)
SAN Fransisco now own the great new hope in Jimmy Garoppolo. There is a high possibility that the former Patriot won’t have an impact on the result against the Cardinals and their current issues aren’t going to be magically fixed when he does appear under center. Having been outscored 73-20 in the last two weeks a much closer game is in store against Arizona, who are experiencing a shuffle at quarterback too. If Carson Palmer was healthy I would pencil this in as a Cardinal win. With Drew Stanton calling the shots, I do not have the same confidence. Hence I expect the 49ers to record their first win of 2017.
Verdict: 49ers W

Washington Redskins (3-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (5-2)
THE Redskins shortcomings and inconsistencies are annoying me. I don’t know why, but I had them flagged as a potential surprise team early on capable of double-digit wins. In the past few weeks though we have learnt exactly what kind of team they are and as a result, a playoff spot is now probably out of the question. We have learnt a bunch from the last few weeks about the Seahawks as well, who are quickly becoming the team we all expected them to be in the preseason. The added bonus of Duane Brown at the trade deadline to their miserable O-line will only help them continue their winning ways.
Verdict: Seahawks W

Kansas City Chiefs @ Dallas Cowboys
YOUR weekly Ezekiel-Elliott-is-suspended-and-won’t-play-oh-wait-yes-he-will-never-mind storyline continued it’s course as we collectively shake our heads at its level of complexity and bullshit. All that you need to know is once again he will go to war for Dallas and try to help the Cowboys keep their hopes of defending their division crown alive. They face one of their toughest tests to date in Kansas City, who after running out to a 5-0 start has dropped two of their past three contests. This a pretty massive game for both franchises and the factor that could swing the game is the output of Kareem Hunt. The rookie struggled for the first real time in his first pro season last week against Denver. If he gets off the chain though it could be a long night for the Cowboys defense. I don’t think they have the defensive firepower to stop all of the Chiefs weapons and Alex Smith could reestablish himself in MVP discussions with a big game.
Verdict: Chiefs W

Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins
AVOID this game like the plague. No seriously, do yourself a favour and get an early night, or earn some brownie points with the wife and take her out for dinner. I have been very disappointed by Oakland in the first half of the season and they can’t use the Derek Carr injury card to get out of jail. If they lose to the Dolphins though that will be flat out embarrassing. Miami traded away arguably their best offensive player in Jay Ajayi at the deadline, leaving Jay Cutler with one less asset to lean on. With a tough schedule coming up the Raiders will need all the momentum they can find in Miami and I expect them to try and steal it all.
Verdict: Raiders W