Friday, November 15, 2013


Cam Newton has the Panthers looking towards the playoffs.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We've finally crossed the halfway point of the season, in that every team in the league has played more than half of their schedule. It's a bit unfortunate that it took that long before we finally got to the meat of the league's schedule, but we're not here to complain. We're happy people. Good football is finally here, and we're going to enjoy it.

We're starting to get some separation from the pack - there seem to be four sure-fire playoff teams in each conference: Kansas City, Denver, New England, and Indianapolis in the AFC, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Carolina in the NFC. The AFC North is still (somehow) up for grabs, the NFC North has three teams within a game of each other in various states of infirm, and the Cowboys and Eagles will slap-fight each other for the right to be the No. 4 seed. Meanwhile, the bad teams seem to have entrenched themselves in terrible-ness, the only unknown left is which mediocre team(s) will rise to the occasion to snag a playoff berth and/or trip up a favorite looking to lock down a first-round bye.

Of those eight sure-fire (or, at the very least, overwhelmingly likely) playoff teams, there are a whopping TEN games between them over the next seven weeks. They are:

Chiefs at Broncos, 49ers at Saints, Patriots at Panthers (Week 11); Broncos at Patriots (Week 12); Broncos at Chiefs, Saints at Seahawks (Week 13); Panthers at Saints, Seahawks at 49ers (Week 14); Saints at Panthers, Colts at Chiefs (Week 16)

Weeks 15 and 17 have (seemingly) empty slates, but Week 17 could have two do-or-die games for playoff spots in the NFC North (Packers at Bears) and NFC East (Eagles at Cowboys). We're in for a good run.

Game(s) of The Week:

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

Interesting not only because they're two of the best teams in the conference and played one of the most exciting playoff games in recent memory back in January of 2012, but because it's a bit of a crossroads game for the two teams - San Francisco is coming off a loss at home to Carolina, New Orleans is coming off a blowout win over Dallas. If both teams stay true to form, New Orleans should have an easy win (especially at home). But if they reverse course and New Orleans loses, all of a sudden the NFC playoff picture becomes very interesting.

Kansas City @ Denver (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

Here's what nobody wants to happen - Denver beats Kansas City twice, then New England wins out (including their Week 12 tilt against Denver), and all three teams finish at 14-2. That would leave either Denver or Kansas City (I'm not sure which, the exact tiebreakers escape me right now) as a ROAD team in Round 1 of the playoffs, in all likelihood against the AFC North Champ (probably Cincinnati, but maybe Baltimore?). In any event the 5th seed in the AFC is going to be an AFC West juggernaut, but a 14-2 team playing on the road in the playoffs just seems stupid.

New England @ Carolina (8:40 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

So many conflicting feels. On one hand, it's my team. The Patriots. My favorite team. On the other hand, it's my team. The Panthers. My sleeper pick/bandwagon I'm driving. I WON'T PICK AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME.

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

Indianapolis (-3) over TENNESSEE

Backdoor covers and pushes suck. 

TAMPA BAY (+2) over Atlanta

JC: Tampa Bay has actually resembled a professional football team lately. They picked up their first win of the season over Miami on Monday night, and forced overtime in a moral victory (a.k.a. covering the spread) two weeks ago against Seattle, who might only be the best team in the league. Meanwhile, Atlanta has been a train wreck of late, getting blown out in each of their last three games. There's no reason whatsoever that they should be GIVING points on the road.

JP: And so continues the fall of my Super Bowl pick.

BUFFALO (PK) over New York Jets

JC: The Jets are one of the worst 5-4 teams ever - their scoring differential suggests they should be 3-6. The Bills, meanwhile, are actually 3-6, and their scoring differential suggests they're in fact slightly better than that. If the Bills are slightly better than the Jets, riding a pick'em at home seems like the right idea.

JP: Much like last week's Buffalo-Pittsburgh game, I have no idea which version of either of these teams shows up. I guess that's why it's a PK. With no points to take, I'll whimp out and pick the home team.

PHILADELPHIA (-4) over Washington

JC: Nick Foles has looked rather incredible in his four starts this year (he also looked great in his extended relief appearance against the Giants). As a matter of fact, he has a higher QB rating than Peyton Manning does, thanks in large part to his 0.0% Interception Rate and a ridiculous 15.8 yards per completion. He has yet to light up a good defense, but it's not like Washington qualifies as such - the Eagles should continue to roll.

JP: Yeah, not much more to add here. Still, I wonder when this Nick Foles gravy train runs out. I mean, the guy isn't that good, is he?

Baltimore (+3) over CHICAGO

JC: Jay Cutler has a high ankle sprain. His official status is "week-to-week" (aren't we all?), but even if he plays, I can't imagine he'll be very effective. Baltimore's defense has looked strong, and if you discount their Week 1 embarrassment in Denver, they've actually been one of the league's best, holding opponents under 300 yards in four games. Against a banged-up Bears team, I'll take the points.

JP: The Bears are going to be that "if we only could have stayed healthy" fan base at the end of this year, because they've been ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball, and they're still pretty darn good. That being said, Baltimore is rounding into form, and is back to its old "winning in spite of Flacco" ways.

HOUSTON (-7) over Oakland

JC: Oakland is just way too banged up across their entire team and Case Keenum has actually performed admirably in his three starts - they've lost all three but been in close games and covered the spread comfortably in two of them.

JP: You're right, Case Keenum is proving to the entire league that he's a serviceable starter on a terrible team. It will take at least three years for teams to figure out that you can't win with him, regardless of the supporting cast. If he were less accurate and more mobile, I'd say we were dealing with the next Tyler Thigpen.

JACKSONVILLE (+9) over Arizona

JC: Another crappy team that actually looked like a football team last week! I'm dumb enough to ride the wave.

JP: And the fact that Arizona is favored by nine on the road...

San Diego (-2.5) over MIAMI

JC: Any team that loses to Tampa Bay can't be picked the following week, even getting points at home against a team under .500.

JP: I was about to disagree with you and say "Miami is the definition of an up and down team," but then I had visions of the left side of the Dolphins line just getting annihilated by Tampa. Granted, the Bucs front is more talented than San Diego's, but the Dolphins have zero talent on the left side of their line, and that usually means trouble for your running game and, more importantly, your QB's safety. 

San Francisco (+3.5) over NEW ORLEANS

JC: This is one of those stickler gambling moments - this line is an overreaction to last week. As far as I'm concerned, these two teams are dead-even (which means New Orleans should be a three-point favorite at home). But because New Orleans won convincingly and San Francisco looked like crap last week, they're bumping it up a half-point. I'll take the free half-point, especially in a game I expect to be close.

JP: I don't even know who I would take in this one straight up because every time I start to believe in the Saints, they lose, and every time I start to think the Niners might be overrated, the bounce back. I'll take the points.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-5) over Green Bay

JC: Peyton Manning is pretty comfortable in the MVP race, but if you're looking to vote against him, the last two weeks have been a pretty good argument in favor of Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay offense is literally hopeless without him. Meanwhile, the Giants have won three straight (permanently killing the "Jaguars North" moniker) and could still inexplicably win the NFC East if everything breaks right for them. Let's just move on before I start throwing things.

JP: The quintessential "Scott Tolzien stat line" is 14-20 for 160 yards, 0 TDs and 0 INTs. That was good enough when he was the quarterback at Wisconsin facing Northwestern, it is not good enough in the NFL. Also, everyone knows my MVP vote is going to Carmelo.

Kansas City (+7.5) over DENVER

JC: When was the last time that an undefeated team in Week 10 or later was getting a touchdown? I haven't done the research but I'm going to guess that it's incredibly rare, if it's even happened at all. The KC Offense vs. Denver Defense matchup is a classic "Stoppable Force versus Moveable Object" showdown, and the KC Defense vs. Denver Offense matchup is just about the opposite. I think the teams are much closer than people realize, and I think this line is at least two points too high.

JP: Even if you think Denver is better than KC (I do), you have to admit that the Chiefs play defense as well as anybody, and that Peyton Manning's ankle injury makes you a little nervous. Honestly, given Manning's health, I don't know who I would pick in this game straight up, but I will take KC and the points.

New England (+1.5) over CAROLINA

JC: Okay. I think Carolina is the best team in the NFC and I'm only 12% joking when I say that. I really, really, really, really want them to lay waste to the entire NFC. I'd even be okay with them blowing out the Patriots, because they're pretty much set in winning their division and I have no delusions about their postseason ceiling this year. But my love for Carolina was based on them being woefully under-valued. They were +2500 to win the NFC two weeks ago; those odds have dropped to +850. I would have been all over Carolina if they were getting a point or two at home, but after beating San Francisco the table has finally turned - they might even be over-valued now, giving points against a Patriots team coming off a bye, where the Patriots are 15-3 (including playoffs) since 2001. We've finally swung too far. Part of me hopes I'm wrong, but the Patriots are the safer bet here.

JP: Each of these teams has a lot going for it, but I can't get the images of the Patriots putting 610 yards on the Steelers from two weeks ago out of my head. The healthy New England offense vs the speed of the Panther D will be must-see TV, and the underrated (Yet beaten up) Patriot defense against Cam and the Cats on offense should be a great matchup as well. The thing that seals it for me is Belichick having an extra week to prepare for this one. Whether he still deserves it or not, we all think of him as the mad scientist, and I believe he will have something special prepared for Carolina's defense.

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

JC: PITTSBURGH (+2.5) over Detroit

The Lions haven't looked very good on the road this year. Granted, the Steelers haven't looked very good anywhere, but they've at least looked better at home. If their defense can stay respectable - under 300 yards in three of their last four games (their 610-yard drubbing at the hands of the Patriots in Week 9 being the fourth) - they have a good chance to pull an upset and stay vaguely alive in the AFC North race.

JP: Detroit (-2.5) over PITTSBURGH

The Steelers got back on track last week against Buffalo because EJ Manuel was fresh off injury and the Bills basically handcuffed him with vanilla play calling. Against an experienced and talented QB, the Steeler D has gone from very bad (week 3 vs Jay Cutler) to the worst defense in franchise history (week 9 vs Tom Brady). Not a good sign when they're about to face Stafford and Megatron. 

JC: Cleveland (+6) over CINCINNATI

I have no idea what to believe about this Bengals team, other than that they can't score against a good defense. I'd pick them to win at home but I don't think they can cover a spread right now.

JP: CINCINNATI (-6) over Cleveland

Well, they did look terrible against Baltimore last week, I'll give you that. But, I have to believe Andy Dalton is going to turn things around, and if there's been a signature "turnaround" game for AFC North teams the last decade, it's been at home against Cleveland.

JC: SEATTLE (-12.5) over Minnesota

Seattle at home. Minnesota on the road. Done and done.

JP: Minnesota (+12.5) over SEATTLE

These super high lines always make me nervous, and I just can't shake the Seahawks nearly losing to the Bucs at home a couple weeks back. My thought here is the Vikes either run the ball all day and limit Seattle's chances, or score a late meaningless TD to lose by 10.

Jeremy's Record:
This Week: 0-0-1
Last Week: 7-6-1
Season: 67-74-7
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2-1
Season's Disagreements: 22-20-2
Teases: 5-5

Joe's Record:
This Week: 0-0-1
Last Week: 7-6-1
Season: 65-76-7

Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2-1
Season's Disagreements: 20-22-2

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