Thursday, October 10, 2013

NFL Week 6 Primer - The Worst Teams and Worst Games (With Picks)

Much has been made of the Jaguars' terrible start, but there's been a lot of "Manning Face" going on in New York.
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Five weeks of games starts to give us a pretty good sample size to work with. This is not to say that we know everything we will ever need to know after five weeks, simply because every week we'll have a more reliable sample size than the week before, but five weeks is still pretty good.

It's good enough that we can start to talk about how good (and how bad) certain teams REALLY are. And through five weeks, the Jaguars are REALLY bad. The phrase "historically bad" gets thrown about a lot (in this space included), but, as it turns out, they really are historically bad. The nifty metric SRS (Simple Rating System - an easy amalgam of scoring margin and strength of schedule) scores the Jaguars as a -18.4. That's the worst score in the league since the 1976 Tampa Bay "Yucks," who scored at -19.7.

The best team in the league through five weeks are the Denver Broncos. SRS scores them as +18.2, so about as good as the Jaguars are bad. Their meeting this week marks the biggest disparity in SRS scores between two teams (minimum five games played) in the history of the league. SRS can actually work as a rudimentary point spread (as it is meant to measure how many points better or worse than league average a team is), so in this case, SRS would expect Denver, on average, to be 36.6 points better than Jacksonville on a neutral field. Given that the game is in Denver, if we include Vegas' pet three-point bump for home-field advantage, SRS would expect Denver to be almost 40 points better than the Jaguars on Sunday.

Now, no NFL game will ever have a spread of 40 points, deserved or not. In fact, the spread for the Denver-Jacksonville game, the largest spread ever, doesn't even come close to 40 points, and is in fact moving down, not up. The line opened at 28 points, and has actually dropped a half-point to 27.5. Many books won't even list a money line for the game - nobody in their right mind would bet on Jacksonville straight up unless they had inside information about Peyton Manning and Blaine Gabbert switching teams before kickoff.

The other train-wreck game this week features the New York Giants, or, as they will be known in this space until further notice, Jaguars North. They haven't won a game this season (or even come particularly close), and currently sport an SRS of -14.8, a score that in most years would be good enough to lock down the cellar spot by three or four points. Last Week, they were torched by Philadelphia's backup quarterback and lost at home by two touchdowns. Now they play Thursday night.

On a short week. On the road. Against a good team.

The Bears pale in comparison to the Broncos, but compared to Jaguars North, they're the '99 Rams. For some reason, however, the spread is barely more than a touchdown (Chicago is giving eight points). Jaguars North continue to get respect from bookmakers based on the franchise winning two Super Bowls in the last six years. A blowout loss to Chicago might be the end of that respect.

Game(s) of The Week:

Green Bay @ Baltimore (1 p.m. Sunday; FOX)

The best early game by default, it's one of just two matchups where both teams are .500 or better. The other is Detroit at Cleveland, which looks like it might feature a Detroit offense short Calvin Johnson (I'll pass) and a Cleveland offense with Brandon Weeden at quarterback (yeah, definitely).

Green Bay's offense seems to be clicking again - they've even had two straight games with 180 or more rushing yards (although last week's was only thanks to Randall Cobb's 67-yard sweep, but don't worry about the details). Baltimore barely escaped by the skin of their teeth last week, but a return home could get them back on track.

Jacksonville @ Denver (4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Final Score: Denver 77; Jacksonville 3

New Orleans @ New England (4:25 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

The best all-around matchup of the week, and it looks like Rob Gronkowski will finally be in the lineup, which means New England actually might have an offense that resembles an NFL team for once this season. If I told you the Patriots were 24th in the NFL in scoring, would you believe me? You should, it's the truth. The Chiefs, Titans, (gulp) Jets, (big gulp) Rams, and (enormous gulp) Browns have scored more points than the Patriots this year. We'll see if that turns around. 

Washington @ Dallas (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

It's a divisional game between two teams with great offenses and terrible defenses. And, depending on the outcome of the early Eagles-Bucs game, could end in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East with each team at 2-4. I'm excited and you should be too. 

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

CHICAGO (-8) over Jaguars North

JC: Jaguars North has done nothing to inspire any confidence in anything this season. On a short week they'll probably be even worse.

JP: The Bears are also one of the best teams in the league when it comes to taking advantage of turnovers. If they're as good as we think they are, they should roll up the Giants at home.

Oakland (+8) over KANSAS CITY

JC: Yes, Kansas City is 5-0, but it's not a super impressive 5-0. They have two blowout wins over the Jaguars and Jaguars North (yawn, so does everyone), a win by 10 over Philadelphia, a barely-hanging-on one-point win over Dallas, and a win over Tennessee's backup quarterback last week. I just don't think they've shown enough to justify an eight-point spread against a team that turns out to be half-decent with a quarterback capable of swinging a game.

JP: All that stuff, plus I can away very impressed with Oakland's defense in their 3 am Eastern Time win over San Diego last week.

Philadelphia (-1.5) over TAMPA BAY

JC: I really don't want to bet on Nick Foles trying to run Chip Kelly's offense, but that is more than overwhelmed by my refusal to bet on Tampa Bay. Jacksonville is more likely to go 0-16, but I'd much rather see Tampa Bay go winless after the start they had to the season. I want them to be so bad that Greg Schiano one-ups Lane Kiffin and gets fired in the locker room at halftime.

JP: This spread is so low, and Tampa continues to implode. Nick Foles is the only thing that scares me, but in Chip I trust.

Detroit (-3) over CLEVELAND

JC: More like Detroit Without Calvin Johnson (-3) over BRANDON WEEDEN

JP: Yeah, putting Brandon Weeden in caps like that really drives the point home.

HOUSTON (-7.5) over St. Louis

JC: Okay, Matt Schaub has to turn it around eventually, right? If Janoris Jenkins takes one to the house in the first quarter we could see a fan rush the field and murder Schaub in the end zone. It's like a 15% chance, minimum.

JP: Don't let last week's win over Jacksonville fool you, St. Louis sucks too. This might be the end of the sorta-memorable Houston run with Matt Schaub, but they're still good enough to beat bad teams by 10 at home.

Cincinnati (-7.5) over BUFFALO

JC: I think Cincinnati is good, but not quite good enough to cover a touchdown spread on the road. Then again, Buffalo is starting Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback, a guy I've literally never heard of. The track record of NFL teams starting quarterbacks I've never heard of isn't great, so that puts me at ease.

JP: Thaddeus Lewis is my dog from Opa-locka, and he started for the Browns last year against Pittsburgh. He was actually a decent game manager. I mean, the Browns lost by 14, but they were terrible and Pittsburgh was in the middle of its early season run. What does this all mean? Nothing really. If Cincy's defense can put the clamps down on Tom Brady, regardless of weapons, they should be able to handle a dude that only threw for 3,000 yards only once in his four years starting at Duke.

DENVER (-27.5) over Jacksonville

JC: That line just looks ridiculous every time I see it. As bizarre as this sounds, the difference between 27.5 and 28 is what cements this pick for me. Although by Sunday night I'll probably look stupid for saying that after Denver has the spread covered by the end of the first quarter and never looks back.

JP: I was thinking about how high this spread would have to be for me to pick the Jaguars. You've got a team off to one of the worst start in NFL history, traveling away from its warm weather home to play in a chilly, high altitude, rowdy road environment against a team and quarterback off to arguably the greatest start in NFL history. I think 35. That's the point where I could see Denver's backups giving up a backdoor cover.

SAN FRANCISCO (-11.5) over Arizona

JC: San Francisco looks like they're getting back to their butt-whoopin' ways - Colin Kaepernick played an objectively bad game on Sunday and they still had a blowout win over a team that won 12 games last year. The Cardinals offense is rather hapless, and the Niners don't commit stupid turnovers in the red zone like the Panthers did last week.

JP: Man, the Cardinals are still terrible on offense. So much for Carson Palmer being just what the doctor ordered. If they don't get a big turnover producing day from Patrick Peterson and company, this one should be a breeze for the Niners.

New Orleans (+1.5) over NEW ENGLAND

JC: My confidence in the Patriots was artificially inflated after their win in Atlanta. Now that the Jets did the same thing, it's not as impressive a win. Meanwhile, the Saints have shown that playing outdoors doesn't exactly slow down their offense; they had a good showing in Chicago last week. Without Vince Wilfork, the middle of the Patriots' defense is pretty strained, which means Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham could have a field day.

JP: If this were in the Dome, I would probably take the Saints +7, but I have a feeling their offense slows down a little this week outdoors against a surprisingly salty Patriots secondary. Still, due to New England's own offensive struggles, I think New Orleans will win the game. Unless the spread is 3.5 or more, I usually just pick the team I think is going to win straight up.

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

JC: Green Bay (-3) over BALTIMORE

This just seems like one of those seasons where a former power never gets going full-speed and ends up zig-zagging back and forth between quality wins (like a 30-9 drubbing of Houston or a road win in Miami) and baffling losses (losing at home to Buffalo and turning the ball over five times). A week ago I would have said this year's team was Atlanta, but maybe Atlanta is the former power than inexplicably falls apart completely.

JP: BALTIMORE (+3) over Green Bay 
I have a feeling this is going to be "home team" week for me. Let's start in Baltimore where I just don't see the defending champs going down without a fight in their own building. The Ravens looked physical on both sides of the ball last week against Miami, so my thinking is they'll do a poor man's version of what San Francisco usually does to the Green Bay offense. Flacco is the wild card. When he's good, he's really good. When he's bad, there aren't too many starting QBs in the league worse. Here's hoping he's good Sunday.

JC: Carolina (+2.5) over MINNESOTA

 Nope. I have nothing to say here. Just move on.

JP: MINNESOTA (-2.5) over Carolina

Well I've got a little something to say. The Vikings are coming off a bye, seem to have gotten things going offensively with Matt Cassel not screwing things up like Christian Ponder, and the pass rush is fierce enough to force Cam into a few mistakes. Plus, they're at home.

JC: NEW YORK JETS (-2.5) over Pittsburgh

What if it turns out that the Jets are just actually good? They played the Patriots tough in Week 2, and while most of us chalked it up to a (a) weird Thursday game (b) played in a torrential downpour against (c) a team scrambling to find any continuity in the passing game, isn't there a chance that maybe the Jets are actually a competitive team against all odds? At the very least their defense is impressive, and that should shut down a painful Pittsburgh offense.

JP: Pittsburgh (+2.5) over NEW YORK JETS 

Ok, well so much for my home team theme, but I still just don't bye into the Jets offensively. On the other side of the ball, they're run defense looks like it could be one of the league's best, but they don't have anybody that can rush the passer other than Muhammad Wilkerson, and he's more of a bull rusher. The Steelers can't run the ball on anybody, so who cares, and they're line is big and plodding, so you would think a powerful rusher like Wilkerson would be less effective than a speedy edge rusher.

Plus, that Pittsburgh defense has to force a turnover at some point. Off a bye week and facing a rookie quarterback seems like as good a time as any. Now, this line has shifted from PIT -2.5 all the way to NYJ -2.5, so clearly nobody agrees with me.

JC: Tennessee (+13.5) over SEATTLE

Last week, Tennessee was getting three points against Kansas City. Yes, I realize that Kansas City covered the spread fairly comfortably, but do we really think that Seattle is 10 points better this week than Kansas City was last week? If the Chiefs and Seahawks were facing up, Seattle would not be giving 10 points. This line is too high.

JP: SEATTLE (-13.5) over Tennessee

The Titans with a backup quarterback facing a motivated Super Bowl contender in the toughest road environment in the NFL? The spread is high, but I think the Hawks win this by 14-17.

JC: Washington (+6.5) over DALLAS

Two big offenses, two crappy defenses, two inconsistent teams. I'm just taking the points.

JP: DALLAS (-6.5) over Washington

I trust Dallas' big offense, especially the oft-maligned Tony Romo, far more than I do Washington's right now. Plus, you guessed it, they're at home.

JC: SAN DIEGO (+2) over Indianapolis 

This seems like a sucker bet. Indianapolis beats (supposedly) the two class teams of the NFC with a unapologetic beat-down of Jacksonville sandwiched in between, and now they're only giving two against San Diego, who doesn't seem to generate a response much more enthusiastic than "meh" either way? Seems to good to be true, right? Probably is. Take the home dog.

JP: Indianapolis (-2) over SAN DIEGO

I feel like you just made my case for me. The Colts are good, the Chargers are meh, and Indy is only giving two in a less than terrifying road game.

Three Team Tease(s) of The Week:

JC: San Francisco (to -1.5), Chicago (to +2), Seattle (to -3.5)
JP: Chicken

Jeremy's Records:
Last Week: 8-6
Season: 33-39-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-1
Season's Disagreements: 11-9-1
Teases: 2-3

Joe's Records:
Last Week: 6-8
Season: 31-41-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-3
Season's Disagreements: 9-11-1
Teases: 0-5

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