Thursday, September 26, 2013

NFL Week 4 Primer - The Death of "NFC Over AFC" (With Picks)

Cincinnati's big win over Green Bay is just one of the many reasons blindly picking the NFC over AFC was a silly idea.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

"NFC over AFC" is dead.

Long live "AFC over NFC."

I, Jeremy (hi!) came into the season with a steadfast belief that the NFC was better than the AFC. I thought the good-to-great teams in the NFC (Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco, etc) were better than good-to-great teams in the AFC (New England, Houston, Cincinnati, etc). I also thought the mid-level teams in the NFC (Dallas, New York, Tampa Bay) were better than those in the AFC (Indianapolis, Miami, Kansas City), and the worst teams in the NFC (Arizona, St. Louis) were better than their AFC counterparts (Jacksonville, Oakland).

As it turns out, other than Jacksonville being hellaciously bad, I was wrong. Like, incredibly, mind-blowingly wrong. Through two weeks, the AFC was 5-1 straight up against the NFC and 4-1-1 against the spread. Last week, I decided I was going to ride it out and potentially go down with the ship - I took all eight NFC teams over their AFC opponents in the Week 3 Picks.

It did not go well.

The NFC went 2-6 against the AFC in Week 3, both straight up and against the spread, making the tally on the season so far 11-3 straight up, 11-2-1 against the spread. Two of those wins (and the push against the spread) are from the Bears over teams from the AFC North (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati).

So what does this mean for my picks? (And Joe's picks, I suppose, although the bastard (hi Joe!) never bought into my idea, and probably for good reason - I'm an idiot.) It means I'm only definitely taking an NFC team over the AFC if it's the Bears against the Browns or Ravens. Otherwise I think I'm giving up.

Stop the ride. I want to get off.

Game(s) of The Week:

Pittsburgh vs. Minnesota (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

It's in London, I guess?

Seattle @ Houston (1 p.m. Sunday, FOX)
Chicago @ Detroit (1 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

The two early Fox games feature the most combined wins of any Sunday afternoon games (the least - the winless Steelers and winless Vikings - happy football, Great Britain!). Seattle at Houston probably seemed the more intriguing game on the pre-season schedule, but Houston hasn't been particularly impressive - they needed come-from-behind wins to beat Tennessee and San Diego, and got blown out by Baltimore.

Meanwhile, the Bears are 3-0 against a semi-tough schedule and the Lions' offense is clicking much like it was during their 2011 playoff season, only now with Reggie Bush they can execute with foreign concepts like "running the football" and "throwing screen passes." Novel stuff.

Philadelphia @ Denver (4:25 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

Say what you want about Philadelphia, their games are exciting if not competitive. The over/under on this game is 58.5 and I think that might be 20 points too low.

New England @ Atlanta (8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

Brady? Ryan?

Yeah, I guess I'll watch.

(Oh wait this is during the series finale of Breaking Bad - is Picture-in-Picture still a thing?)

Miami @ New Orleans (8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

The Monday Night game is the best matchup of the weekend, even if it's only by accident. Still, a nice throw-back to the days when Monday Night was better than Sunday Night.

BYE WEEKS: Green Bay, Carolina

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams in CAPS):

Pittsburgh (-2.5) over Minnesota (Neutral Site)

JC: Minnesota is the nominal "home" team here, but the game is in London.

Pittsburgh is 0-3, but it's a respectable 0-3. The loss Week 1 to Tennessee doesn't seem so bad now that they're 2-1 and nearly beat Houston, and the losses in Weeks 2 and 3 to Cincinnati and Chicago are nothing to be ashamed of. Meanwhile, Minnesota just lost to Brian Hoyer.

JP: Ugh, I guess I HAVE to take the Steelers this week since it may be the only game they're favored in for a while...

Baltimore (-3) over BUFFALO

JC: Baltimore has appeared to get back on track over the last two weeks, especially on defense. After allowing just six points to the lowly Browns, they held Houston's far superior offense to just 264 yards and nine points. Granted, Baltimore's offense only managed 236 yards, and two of their touchdowns came on returns (one interception, one punt), but the stingy defense should hold against the Bills.

JP: Yeah, the Ravens look unexpectedly pedestrian on offense, and it appears Joe Flacco has regressed to the 'ole one-eye browed gun slinger we know and love. Still, the Bills are starting a rookie quarterback against Baltimore's defense. EJ Manuel has had his moments, but you know how those young whippersnapper QBs are usually up and down... Well, not last year, but pretty much every other year.

Cincinnati (-4.5) over CLEVELAND

JC: The Hoyer Honeymoon is over. Cincinnati might be the best team in the AFC that doesn't feature a T-800 at quarterback (I'm looking at you, Denver).

JP: You could just call it the Hoyermoon. But yeah, I can't believe Cincy is giving less than a touchdown here.

Indianapolis (-9.5) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: Along with my "NFC over AFC" idea, my "Indianapolis will regress" theory might also be dead after they went into Candlestick and curb-stomped the 49ers. I'm not totally willing to give up on that idea yet (because the 49ers seem to be reeling for reasons completely independent of the Colts), but against Jacksonville? Yeah, I'll lay the points.

JP: Until the spreads get to 24 points, or they face some other God awful team with a 10 point spread, I am going to bet against Jacksonville every week.

Seattle (-3) over HOUSTON

JC: NFC over AFC, right? (glances around nervously)

JP: I believe the hype on Seattle and I'm less convinced about the Texans. I'm a little nervous because the Seahawks are occasionally a completely different team on the road, but they should have enough defense and Beast Mode to take this by a touchdown.

Arizona (+2.5) over TAMPA BAY

JC: Greg Schiano benched Josh Freeman, with the thought likely being that it's impossible for any quarterback to be any worse than Freeman has been through three weeks. At first glance, that's entirely possible, considering Freeman ranks dead last in completion percentage and passer rating among qualified candidates. However, I'm dubious that the ineptitude of the Bucs really lands on Freeman's shoulders. Tampa Bay plays a jarringly vanilla offense that any 10th-grader with experience playing Madden would be able to figure out. Yes, Freeman's completion percentage is low, but he can't exactly help if if his receivers never actually get open and can't seem to catch the ball even when they are. Freeman hasn't been good, but Mike Glennon won't be any better.

JP: Tampa is in self-destruct mode and they're GIVING points?

Chicago (+2.5) over DETROIT

JC: Reggie Bush is still limited in practice, but it appears he'll play Sunday. Despite that, I don't have a lot of confidence in Detroit's backfield in this matchup. Joique Bell put together an exemplary performance last week against Washington, but that was against Washington, the worst defense through three weeks in NFL history. If Bush is even remotely hampered (and it seems like he will be), I think Detroit's offense will become too predictable against a defense like Chicago's (see: Week 3 against Pittsburgh).

JP: I'm not a exactly a huge Jay Cutler fan or a Bear-liever quite yet, but I came away impressed with the way they answered the bell when Pittsburgh mounted its mini-comeback Monday night. Also, I still just don't think the Lions are that good.

KANSAS CITY (-5) over New York Giants

JC: AFC over NFC! I've been saying it all year!

JP: It's hard to see the Giants being as bad as they were last week this week. But, then again, it's hard to see them beating ANYBODY after the egg they laid against Carolina.

TENNESSEE (-4) over New York Jets

JC: The Jets might actually not be as bad as I thought, but they're still bad. Tennessee is much better than I thought, and in fact might actually be good.

JP: This is getting a little sad, I need to start disagreeing with you on something. I mean, we agreed on almost everything last week, and look how that went... Still,  as I've said in previous weeks, I'm quite high on Tennessee, and the Jets are pretty bad and relying on a rookie quarterback on the road.

ATLANTA (-2.5) over New England

JC: This is the other shoe dropping for both of these teams. New England isn't nearly as good as their record would indicate (and might not even be the best team in their own division), and Atlanta is much better than their record shows (even without Steven Jackson). If Gronkowski is actually healthy and active, he'll certainly be a difference maker, but I can't imagine that he's going to go straight from almost needing his arm amputated this summer (I'm just guessing - I'm not a doctor, but all the reports seemed really gruesome) to immediately returning to Pro Bowl form.

JP: I actually think these teams are pretty equal, and if the game were being played in Foxboro I'd take the Pats. But, seeing as we're in the Georgia Dome, where Matt Ryan does his best work, I'll roll with the dirty birds.

Miami (+6.5) over NEW ORLEANS

JC: #HotSportsTake - Miami is the second-best team in the AFC. THERE, I SAID IT.

They beat up on Cleveland, which is what good teams do when they play bad teams. They won on the road against Indianapolis, who themselves went on the road and beat San Francisco, who won the NFC last year. I'd say that's a pretty good win for Miami. Last week they beat Atlanta, who was the #1 overall seed in the postseason last year.

If we agree that Denver is the best team in the AFC, who else is up for that No. 2 spot? New England barely survived against Buffalo and the Jets. Baltimore got steam-rolled by Denver and didn't look all that great against Cleveland. Houston got steam-rolled by the aforementioned unimpressive Baltimore. Kansas City is the other remaining unbeaten, but Miami's wins are more impressive (and by that I mean they include teams that aren't Jacksonville).

So, if Miami is the second-best team in the AFC, and the AFC is better(?) than the NFC (let's just try this out and see where it goes, huh?), Miami shouldn't be giving a touchdown. Gimme dem points.

JP: I'm not going to listen to any of that logic, and just say that I don't trust the Saints to beat a good team by a touchdown or more yet.

Here Are The Picks We Don't (Home Teams Still in CAPS): 

JC: ST. LOUIS (+3.5) over San Francisco

With Aldon Smith out of the lineup, San Francisco's front seven (who has already had a lot of trouble this season) is going to take a big step back. Over the last few years, San Francisco's defense has been buoyed by the strength of their front seven, often covering up some deficiencies in the secondary. If the front seven can't do that any longer, their defense could be in trouble.

JP: San Francisco (-3.5) over ST. LOUIS 

I hear ya on all that, but the Rams just got spanked by the Cowboys, and you know Colin Kaepernick and the Niner offense will bounce back from a brutal couple of weeks. I see San Fran taking this one relatively easily.

JC: SAN DIEGO (+2) over Dallas

Just on principle, I'm taking the home team getting points when both teams seem to be (relatively) even. Last week, I would have taken Dallas under the "NFC over AFC" umbrella, but I threw that umbrella away. I'm dumping the AFC for the NFC.

JP: Dallas (-2) over SAN DIEGO

Did you see Dallas last week? The Boys were on a mission! San Diego is meh, they're home field advantage is meh, and Romo is playing well. I'll take Dallas by at least a field goal.

JC: DENVER (-11.5) over Philadelphia

This was a tough call for me until I figured out it was only because of my irrational love for watching Philadelphia's offense. When you remember that the Eagles start Patrick Chung and Nate Allen at safety you realize that Philly would have to score 59 points to cover this spread.

JP: Philadelphia (+11.5) over DENVER

This game has "backdoor cover" written all over it. 45-34 Broncos as Vick runs in a meaningless touchdown with less than a minute to play. Book it!

JC: Washington (-3.5) over OAKLAND

Terrelle Pryor has actually looked good so far this season, but it seems more likely than not that he'll miss the game with a concussion. We haven't seen much from Matt Flynn, but we do know that he's moved to two teams in the Pacific Northwest in the last two seasons with the expectation of being the team's starting quarterback, and both times has lost the job in pre-season. I'm no expert, but that doesn't instill much confidence.

JP: OAKLAND (+3.5) over Washington

You said it yourself, Washington's defense has been historically bad. Add in the fact that the offense hasn't exactly been great (Until it's already getting blown out) and I've gotta take the Raiders in the Black Hole, even if Matt Flynn is starting. Dear God, I can't remember the last time I picked the Raiders.

Three Team Tease(s) of The Week:

JC: Baltimore (to +7), Cincinnati (to +5.5), Indianapolis (to +0.5)
JP: Nope

Jeremy's Records (he doesn't want to talk about it):
Last Week: 4-10-2
Season: 18-26-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2
Season's Disagreements: 5-7-1
Teases: 2-1

Joe's Records (ditto):
Last Week: 4-10-2
Season: 20-24-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2
Season's Disagreements: 7-5-1
Teases: 0-0

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