Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NFL Week 13 (And NCAA Rivalry Weekend) Primer - Give Thanks For Football

Dude, how the hell does our game suddenly matter?
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Thanksgiving is a special day.

Not only do you get to see your whole family (which, admittedly, is not a positive for all people), but it kicks off a four-day weekend of nothing but football. It's a lovely football sandwich, with NFL on Thursday and Sunday, and college on Friday and Saturday (this year's Thanksgiving Friday NCAA slate is highlighted by Arkansas-LSU and Oregon State-Oregon, with Iowa-Nebraska and Miami-Pittsburgh rounding out the un-ranked matchups). And the Saturday after Thanksgiving is rivalry week - Alabama-Auburn. Florida-Florida State. Ohio State-Michigan. Clemson-South Carolina. UCLA-USC. Universities of Georgia and Virginia playing their respective Techs (yeah, this is an NFL picks column, but rivalry week is always fun - see the bonus picks at the end).

Alas, Thanksgiving Sunday doesn't carry the same prestige. The Cowboys and Lions always play on Thursday afternoon, and the Thursday night game is often two blue-blood teams with playoff seeding at stake (this year, a major turnaround from Pittsburgh ensured that Thursday's Steelers-Ravens tilt carries on that tradition), but Sunday's games lack traditional rivalries. Perhaps the NFL would be well-served to make Thanksgiving Week mirror Week 17 when every team plays a division rival. It's done in Week 17 in the hope that late-season division games will prevent teams from sitting star players at the end of the year (given that it's hard to lock up the division early when one of your division games is held to the end of the season) - perhaps guaranteeing a few "rivalry" games during Thanksgiving Week would make sense also.

In any event - Football. Four straight days. Plus the traditional family touch football games that inevitably end in fisticuffs over rule-breaking or a participant rolling and ankle or twisting a knee. But give thanks. For football.

Game(s) of The Week:

Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC)

Usually these two teams are jostling for position atop the AFC North. This year, steps back for each team mean these two are jostling for pole position for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Both have a number of tough games remaining (Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati and plays at Green Bay, who will have Aaron Rodgers healthy by that point and will be fighting for a playoff spot; Baltimore travels to Detroit, hosts New England, and travels to Cincinnati in Weeks 15-17), so whoever wins Thursday will have a much better shot.

Arizona @ Philadelphia (1 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

It's Thanksgiving Week, and two teams named after birds are playing? And they're both secretly pretty good? And Chip Kelly is the coach of one of them? Yeah, I'm watching this game. (It doesn't hurt that the 1 o'clock slate on Sunday is God awful - Jaguars/Browns, anyone?)

Denver @ Kansas City (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Denver got the better of Kansas City last time, but both teams lost last week in rather heartbreaking fashion. Arrowhead is always a tough place to play, and Denver has been suspect on the road this year (average scoring margin at home is +20.0, on the road it's been just +4.0), so don't expect a blowout. The winner of this game basically guarantees a first-round bye in the AFC.

New Orleans @ Seattle (8:40 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

The Monday Night Football lineup hasn't been great this year, but this is a dandy, and combined with Patriots-Panthers from two weeks ago, might make up for the clunkers in previous weeks. With apologies to Denver and Kansas City, this is the best matchup of the week.

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

DETROIT (-6.5) over Green Bay

JC: Green Bay barely looks like a football team without Aaron Rodgers, and Detroit needs a win after unexpectedly losing to Tampa Bay last week.

JP: Detroit has absolutely blown it the last two weeks, so they better win this one against the depleted Packers.

DALLAS (-9.5) over Oakland

JC: I keep waiting for Dallas to go all Dallas (i.e. lose games they shouldn't and have their season fall apart), but they really have been winning the games they're supposed to. A home game against the Raiders on a short week WOULD be when they screw up, but they've looked on point all season, really, outside of their blowout loss to New Orleans.

JP: Romo!!

Pittsburgh (+3) over BALTIMORE

JC: Pittsburgh has won three straight and five of their last seven. Baltimore has lost four of their last six. I'll take the points.

JP: You know when the NFL scheduled this game, they were all like "Pittsburgh and Baltimore, a great match up every year. What could go wrong?!?!" Then the Steelers started 0-4, and they were all like "well, at least the Ravens will be good." Then the Ravens lost three in a row in late October/early November, and they were all like, "DAMMIT!"

And now, somehow, this is essentially a dramatic playoff elimination game. Just like you planned it all along NFL... I have no idea, I'll take the points.

CLEVELAND (-6.5) over Jacksonville

JC: This is clearly the "reach into the Turkey and pull out the gizzards" game of the weekend. Nobody wants this.

JP: Jacksonville has been playing better of late (mostly due to a terribly weak schedule), but Cleveland's defense is no joke, and if they can get the ball in Josh Gordon's (or tight end Jordan Cameron's) hands, they might be able to score some points. This should be an ugly one, but I'll take the Browns and their tough D in presumably nasty weather over Chad Henne and Co.

MINNESOTA (+1) over Chicago

JC: Chicago can't stop the run. At all. They surrendered 258 rushing yards to the Rams (who can't run the ball), 174 to the Ravens (who REALLY can't run the ball), 145 to the Lions (who can't run the ball), 199 to the Packers (who have actually been secretly very good at running the ball), and 209 to Washington (who admittedly, are very good at running the ball). Now they play Adrian Peterson.

JP: I could see the Vikings capitalizing on a few mistakes, running Peterson well, then playing conservatively enough to tie a divisional rival. 26-26 tie, book it! Oh wait, that was last week... Still, sounds about right here.

Miami (+1) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: The up-and-down pattern is over - the Jets lost their second consecutive game for the first time all season last week. Now, there's a chance the up-and-down pattern is just elongating (and they'll win against Miami and again next week against Oakland), but I think it's more likely that they just aren't good.

JP: I'll second that. 

New England (-9) over HOUSTON

JC: Houston has the longest losing streak in the NFL this season. It's true. You can look it up and everything. Jacksonville and Tampa Bay both started 0-8, but Houston started 2-0 and hasn't won since. Don't expect that to change this week.

JP: See my notes for the Buffalo-Atlanta game below.

BUFFALO (-3.5) over Atlanta (at Toronto)

JC: I don't think Vegas has figured out how bad Atlanta is yet. Buffalo isn't even good and they should be giving a touchdown here.

JP: Oh my God, how bad are Houston and Atlanta? I mean, if you would've told me in the preseason that these two teams were going to face each other in the Super Bowl, I would've been a little skeptical about Houston, but still would've thought it was a legitimate prediction. Both have had injuries, but, if we're being honest, they were both circling the drain before they started losing players.

Houston and Atlanta, this year you have played some of the most insanely idiotic football I have ever seen. At no point in your bumbling, inconsistent excuse of a season were you even close to anything that could be considered rational football. Every fan that tuned into one of your games is now dumber for having done so. I award you no picks, and may God have mercy on your souls.

St. Louis (+9.5) over SAN FRANCISCO

JC: San Francisco looks like San Francisco again, but St. Louis has some friskiness to them, and have two straight impressive wins (over Indianapolis and Chicago by a combined 51 points). I wouldn't pick them to win, but they'll keep it within 10 points.

JP: Couldn't have said it any better. Now, if they would just get Tavon Austin some more touches...

Cincinnati (+2) over SAN DIEGO

JC: Cincinnati is coming off a bye, I guess?

JP: Yeah... Two more teams (In the AFC, of course) that I can't get a read on. I guess I trust the Bengals more, though I'm not sure why.

New York Giants (-1.5) over WASHINGTON

JC: Who needs it more? If the Giants win out they can still win the NFC East. Washington is done. I'll take the Giants.

JP: Yeah, the Redskins have now replaced the Giants as the team I will pretty much bet against every week.

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

JC: Tennessee (+4.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

Indianapolis is the most confusing team in the league this year. They blow out San Francisco, beat Seattle, beat Denver. Then they barely beat Houston, get blown out at home by St. Louis, need a comeback to beat Tennessee, and get blown out by Arizona. They seem to be an incredibly up-and-down team, so I'll play it safe and take the points.

JP: INDIANAPOLIS (-4.5) over Tennessee

Yeah, I'm with you on Indy, I have no idea what to make of the Colts from week to week. Still, what I think I know is, they are better than a beaten up Titans team. Add in the home field advantage, and I gotta roll with Luck and the boys.

JC: CAROLINA (-8) over Tampa Bay

Three straight wins for Tampa Bay! Mike Glennon is top-10 in the league in passer rating! But on the road against a surging Carolina team, I'm not sure I see it.

JP: Tampa Bay (+8) over CAROLINA 

I actually think the Bucs can keep this one close. Carolina had its "let down" moment against the Dolphins, so you would think they're past that. A bigger problem for Carolina going forward is that their secondary is only so-so. They can get after the QB, and cover a ton of ground with their LB's, but when they face a player that can stretch the field (like Mike Wallace, who does nothing else)  they could struggle.

Vincent Jackson certainly fits that bill, and with the aforementioned Glennon starting to get comfortable, why can't the red-hot (only half sarcastic) Bucs keep this within a touchdown? I'm probably going to regret this pick five minutes after kickoff.

JC: Arizona (+3) over PHILADELPHIA

I have no idea how Arizona has won seven games, let alone wins over Detroit, Carolina, and Indianapolis, but I'm just going to roll with it.

JP: PHILADELPHIA (-3) over Arizona

This will blow your mind: These two teams have won a combined seven in a row! I know, right? Arizona's wins are more impressive, but I just like this Philly team, and they're playing at home with the points. FOLES!!!

JC: KANSAS CITY (+5) over Denver

So, Denver has only been +4.0 on the road this year, and that's their average. Why should I believe they'll do better than that against one of the best teams in the league?

JP: Denver (-5) over KANSAS CITY

Well, the Broncos beat the Chiefs by 10 the first time around, Manning is going to be extra dialed in after the debacle in Foxboro, and KC pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston will be hampered by injuries, and unable to pester him. That's why you should believe it, good sir.

JC: New Orleans (+6) over SEATTLE 

I understand that Seattle is almost unbeatable at home, and that New Orleans isn't that great on the road, but this line is too high. Vegas is just giving a free point and a half (at least). New Orleans will be down eight, score a touchdown, miss the two-point conversion, but pull the backdoor cover.

JP: SEATTLE (-6) over New Orleans

Can't disagree with what you said, from a value standpoint, but we're talking about the best team in football (record-wise), playing with the best home field advantage in football after a bye week. I'll take the Seahawks to win a by a touchdown even. 

Thanksgiving Bonus Picks

As you'll notice below, Joe's 3-0 record on our disagreements last week pulled us into a dead tie for the season through 12 weeks. We're both ten games under .500, but that's not important right now. We're tied! And the last time we did Bonus Picks (for Stanford-Oregon and Baylor-Oklahoma a few Thursdays ago), we agreed on both and went 1-1. So in order to break the tie, we're picking a few college games. We'll cover rivalry week, the conference championship games, and a few notable bowl games to round out everything.

JC: MICHIGAN (+16) over Ohio State

The Big Ten is awful. So how do we handicap that. Do we say the Big Ten is bad, so not even Ohio State should be giving 16 against a half-decent team? Or do we say the Big Ten is bad, so Michigan's 7-4 record doesn't qualify them as half-decent, they're just garbage? I'll roll with the former.

JP: Ohio State (-16) over MICHIGAN

Michigan is garbage, and Ohio State is a very good team.While every fan south of the Mason-Dixon line will tell you the Bucks would be 6-5 right now if they played in the SEC (Because SEC teams only lose to powerhouses like Georgia Southern), I think the Buckeyes are legitimately one of the five best teams in America.

Michigan, on the other hand, is the 5th best team in the Big Ten's "Legends" division. This is a great rivalry game, but in years where Ohio State is significantly better, they do everything in their power to CRUSH Michigan (ex. 42-7 in 2008, 37-7 in 2010).

Ohio State is significantly better than Michigan this year, so I would expect them to run it up on the Wolverines in the Big House, and add a little fuel to this rivalry's fire.

Florida State (-27) over FLORIDA

JC: Jameis Winston will play, Florida is down to their fourth-string quarterback, and they just lost to an FCS team that didn't even complete a pass.

JP: Tru dat. Perhaps the Gators will advance to blocking the other team this week, but I still don't know how they play with, arguably, the best team in the country after Georgia Southern came into The Swamp and wrecked them. 

JC: INDIANA (-21) over Purdue

We'll make a pick on the Purdue game because that's Joe's team. We'll pick against Purdue because they suck.

JP: Purdue (+21) over INDIANA

Dammit, why would you do this to me? This is, probably, the worst Purdue team EVER! And this is, like, the third-best Indiana team since 1990 (Still terrible). So, you would think based off those two facts, I would be picking the Boilers to barely cover on the road against their hated rivals.

Screw that, because every Boiler knows that IU sucks, and we're keeping The Bucket this year!!! Giant spreads be damned, HAIL PURDUE!!!

(Pick made totally with heart, Purdue will likely lose by 35)

AUBURN (+11) over Alabama

JC: It's weird to say that Alabama doesn't look as good as previous years, especially when (a) they're undefeated (and weren't in either of their last to Championship years), and (b) they've allowed ten points or fewer in nine of their 11 games this year. But the numbers bear it out - their SRS is "only" 22.95 this year, after 24.51 last year and 24.44 the year before. Auburn's score this year is 17.0 (making them six points worse, not 11), and they have home-field advantage.

JP: Yeah, I've gotta be honest, I have an inkling that Auburn will pull off the upset straight up this week. Alabama is more explosive than they have been in year's past, but they're not the immovable object on defense that they have been. Either way, I like Auburn to keep it within 10 in what should be an entertaining Iron Bowl.

Clemson (+4) over SOUTH CAROLINA

JC: I don't quite understand South Carolina being favored here, after barely beating Florida while Clemson has laid the smack-down against everyone they've played since losing to Florida State. Maybe I just don't understand college football lines as well as I do NFL lines (although remember, I *am* ten games under .500 picking NFL games), but I'm taking Clemson and the points here.

JP: Clemson is more explosive, but SC is more physical. SC has won four in a row in the series, and apex predator Jadeveon Clowney is full-go for this one... Still, I think Sammy Watkins burns the Carolina secondary deep a few times to be the difference in this one. If nothing else, I think this game will be a three-pointer, one way or the other.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 5-9
Season: 79-89-9
Last Week's Disagreements: 0-3
Season's Disagreements: 24-24-2

Bonus Picks: 1-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 8-6
Season: 79-89-9

Last Week's Disagreements: 3-0
Season's Disagreements: 24-24-2

Bonus Picks: 1-1 

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