aps in six straight New Hampshire races. Gin
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The banged-up Carolina Panthers will be without star linebacker Luke Kuechly and two other key defenders Sunday while their playoff hopes hang by a thread.The 2015 All-Pro Kuechly and safety Kurt Coleman have been ruled out at Seattle (7-3-1 ) with concussions. Defensive end Mario Addison, the teams leader with 6 1-2 sacks, will miss his second straight game with a foot injury. Ron Riveras team desperately needs a win to hang in a crowded race for a playoff spot in the NFC.Kuechly traveled with the team to the Bay Area for practice at San Jose State; the team stayed on the West Coast to cut down on travel time. The Panthers lost to the Raiders last week 35-32, after surrendering an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.I thought he did a really nice job, Rivera said of Kuechly, who spent the week in the concussion protocol. (He) just talked to the guys, was in communication with them. Well see how it goes.Kuechly will miss his second straight start after suffering a scary head injury in a victory over the Saints on Nov. 17. Fourth-year linebacker A.J. Klein will likely make his second straight start in place of the perennial Pro Bowler.Rivera said Klein, practiced really well during the week. Shaq Thompson, a first-round pick in 2015, could also rotate in. Michael Griffin and Tre Boston are expected to start at safety with Coleman out.Klein, a fifth-round pick in 2013, replaced Kuechly in three games early in 2015 after sustaining a concussion in the season opener. Klein had a forced fumble and five tackles against the Raiders, but was in coverage on a 47-yard completion to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, which set up the winning field goal in the fourth quarter.Perception is unfair because of what happened. The perception is he got beat. said Rivera. Theres more to the game and thats what I think people need to understand.Carolina is three games behind the NFC South-leading Atlanta (7-4) and behind the Washington Redskins (6-4-1) for the final wild-card spot. Five teams enter the weekend within a game of the final seed with five weeks left.The Panthers (4-7) have been decimated by injuries along the offensive line, and lately on defense, after remaining mostly injury free during their run to Super Bowl 50 last season. But Rivera likes his teams mindset despite 2016 not going to plan.I think its very good, I really do, Rivera said. They seem to be relaxed, loose and have good energy, which I think is important. So well see.The Panthers play the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field this week after getting two wins against them in the 2015 season, including the divisional round of the playoffs 31-24.Carolina will also be without right tackle Daryl Williams after suffering a left ankle injury in the second quarter against the Raiders. Right guard Trai Turner replaced Williams at tackle in the second half after not playing the position since high school.Additionally, the Panthers this week placed their top two centers Ryan Kalil (shoulder) and his backup Gino Gradkowski (knee) on injured reserve. Tyler Larsen is expected to make his first career start at center after playing his first offensive snaps last week against the Raiders. The only member of the offensive line playing in the same position he started the season is left guard Andrew Norwell.I thought theyve done well, Rivera said of the offensive line. I thought Trai Turners handled it very nicely. Its a real plus to have a guy like that.The Seahawks vaunted defense ranks first in scoring and seventh overall. Safety Earl Thomas (hamstring) and lineman Michael Bennett (knee) are listed as probable. Thomas missed his first career start last week when Seattle lost in Tampa Bay, 14-5. 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Last week at Kentucky, we were back with 1.5-mile track racing, and we were back with a familiar theme of the season, trust the pole-sitter.While Kevin Harvick may not have ended up getting the win, he led a race-high 128 laps (somebody has now led more than 100 laps in all six Kentucky races all-time), and finished with a race-best 81 points.Martin Truex Jr., one of my drivers to consider, like Harvick, couldnt stretch the fuel mileage, but finished up with a race-high 69 fastest laps led (to go along with his 46 laps led) for 77 points.My top pick for the week, Kyle Busch, didnt follow through with a third Kentucky win, but did put up 38.5 points on the day.The other theme for the day was drivers such as Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney all getting into trouble on the slick track. If all six of your drivers avoided trouble, you probably had a good day just by avoiding calamity.That mayhem also gave us some unusual drivers getting good finishes if you dipped into the bargain basement bin, such as Cole Whitt (21st for 38 points), Josh Wise (24th for 36 points) and Michael Annett (26th for 31.5 points). But you cant count on that sort of performance every week.This week, we head to New Hampshire, a fairly flat track measuring just over a mile. It might be over a mile, but I liken it more closely to the short tracks Martinsville or Richmond, or a better comparison might be Phoenix.There are laps led to be had at this track. The race goes 301 laps, and the trends there to watch are drivers finishing up front also starting up front; and the driver dominating in laps led recently hasnt gone on to win. But they dont need to win! They cant take those laps led points away!Last fall, Kevin Harvick led 216 laps and finished 21st, but still had 104.5 points. In the first race, Brad Keselowski led 100 laps and finished second for 106 points. The race before that, it was Harvick again leading 104 laps, finishing third, but still giving 87.5 points.So, what does this mean for this race? Here are my picks to get you started for the week. But check back again after qualifying for my final picks and fades for the week.Im starting my team with:There are two drivers I love at this point in the lead. The top spot goes to Kevin Harvick. His run of excellence at the track doesnt ggo back quite as far as No.dddddddddddd 2 on this list (just wait, hes right under this entry), but the recent numbers have been the best.Even with his drop-off to 21st in the last race there, his in-race domination has given him averages of 94.9 DraftKings points, 63.3 fastest laps and 126.3 laps led per race, all the race in the field. Given that he seemed to have one of the best cars on the track last week, and Im going to start my team here.Keep an eye on these four:Brad Keselowski: Hes right behind Harvick on my list early in the week. Harvick took the majority of laps led in the last race, but Keselowski led 100, 78 and 138 laps in the three races before that. Plus hes put up more than 20 fastest laps in six straight New Hampshire races. Going back to the start of 2013, his 76.5 DraftKings points average is more than 16 more than any other driver.Kyle Larson: Larson had one of the fastest cars in practice last week at Kentucky, but pit strategy let him down at the end. This week, Im thinking he can perform closer to his 2014 numbers at the track (top-three finishes in both races and more than 50 DraftKings points) instead of 2015 (17th and 31st and eight points per race). Hes had a top-15 finish in all three races on short, flat tracks this season.Austin Dillon: Dillon is a whole new driver this season, but hes always put up decent numbers at New Hampshire. Im tying his performance to qualifying. In three of his four starts at the track, he started 22nd or worse and finished 14th or better. In those three, hes averaging more than 45 points per race. Take him if hes starting mid-pack or worse.Ryan Newman: Newman might not be mega-low value, but he usually finds himself at the front of the field here and will come at a modest price. Last year, he was 10th and 11th in the two New Hampshire races. Im hoping he pulls off the qualifying/race combo that he did in the last two summer races here. Last year, he started 26th and finished 11th. The year before, he started 24th and finished fifth.Thats all I have for you this week. Sounds like the perfect time to go get a New England lobster roll. Butter only, no mayo. Mayo has no place on lobster. 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