Friday, December 13, 2013

NFL Week 15 Primer - The Calm Before The Storm

Ryan Tannehill helped Miami run past Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Can he do the same to Brady and the Pats?
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

(Quick procedural note: In last week's picks column, we forgot to make a pick for the Atlanta-Green Bay game. This was because when we went through the lines Thursday evening for a Friday publish, the Falcons-Packers game was off the board, presumably because of uncertainty regarding Aaron Rodgers' status. We realized our mistake moments before kickoff and both ended up taking Atlanta. Here's my timestamped Tweet for confirmation.)

Back in our Week 11 Primer, we looked ahead to some of the key matchups over the last half-dozen weeks of the season. If you notice, Week 15 didn't get much love, because the slate of games doesn't have too many direct playoff implications. There are plenty of teams that are fighting for position, but there is only one game that guarantees the winner a tie-breaker that matters over the loser, and that's Dallas-Green Bay (should Dallas win the East and Green Bay win the North). However, Aaron Rodgers is doubtful to play, which tilts the scales firmly in Dallas' favor.

All told, the slate of games would be one relatively easy to pick straight-up. Against the spread is obviously another story, but many games seem tough to pick incorrectly. We're mostly just waiting for next week, with New Orleans visiting Carolina, Indianapolis visiting Kansas City, New England visiting Baltimore, and Chicago visiting Philadelphia.

But we'll have to wait.

Game(s) of The Week

Green Bay @ Dallas (4:25 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

As of this writing (late Thursday night), Rodgers' status is still in question. He is listed as a "limited participant" in the Packers' injury report, and the best guess as to whether he'll play is basically " ¯\_(ツ)_/¯."

As mentioned above, the game does have tie-break potential. If Green Bay wins out (including a Week 17 win over Chicago) and gets help from Baltimore (see below), Green Bay will win the NFC North at 9-6-1. If Dallas follows up a loss this week with wins over Washington and Philly, they'll win the NFC East at 9-7, granted that Chicago beats Philadelphia next week. In that instance, Green Bay will jump to the No. 3 seed.

New England @ Miami (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

Pittsburgh and Miami remain vaguely in the playoff hunt ("vaguely" might be too conservative for Miami, considering they finish with the Bills and Jets and a likely 9-7 record, while Baltimore, who currently holds the No. 6 seed, would have to go 2-1 against the Lions, Patriots, and Bengals to beat them out), and both are playing at home in winnable games - Miami because the Patriots are once again without Rob Gronkowski, Pittsburgh because it seems like Andy Dalton is more liable than most to throw up total crap-fests on the road against good defenses.

Pittsburgh needs to win out and then get a LOT of help (Miami, Baltimore, New York, and San Diego all need to finish 8-8 or worse, Tennessee needs to finish 7-9 or worse) to get into the playoffs, but a win here would keep them alive.

Baltimore @ Detroit (8:40 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

Plenty of playoff implications here, just none that affect both teams simultaneously. A win for Baltimore puts them in the driver's seat for the No. 6 seed in the AFC, a win for Detroit puts them in the driver's seat for the NFC North title.

Here Are The Picks We Agree On

ATLANTA (-7) over Washington

JC: Am I the only one who doesn't get the controversy regarding Robert Griffin getting benched? He SHOULD get benched. He's taken an absolute pounding this year, and it's not like Washington is fighting for a playoff spot. Long term planning. Bench him.

JP: Betting against the Redskins every week from here on out.

San Francisco (-6) over TAMPA BAY

JC: The Bucs have won four of five. They're actually a semi-frisky team at home. But the 49ers look like the 49ers again. I can't see Tampa Bay moving the ball with Mike Glennon and Bobby Rainey against the same defense that held Seattle to 264 yards.

JP: Yeah, San Fran seems to be turning the corner at the right time and the offense isn't starting as abysmally slow as it was a few weeks back. Love what the Bucs are doing right now, but the Niners need every win they can get with Arizona quietly nipping at theirs heels.

Chicago (-1) over CLEVELAND

JC: The Bears defense is really, really bad, which means Josh Gordon could continue to pile on to his historic season (he's averaging more yards per game than Calvin Johnson did last year when he broke the NFL record for receiving yards). But Chicago will win. Or at least they should.

JP: Chicago needs to keep winning, and they are playing the Browns who seemed to blow their load last week in New England. Plus, I guarantee whoever wins this game will take it by at least one point.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6) over Houston

JC: I would really enjoy Houston ending the season with 14 straight losses.

JP: See my Washington pick.

JACKSONVILLE (+1) over Buffalo

JC: I also enjoy Jacksonville's sudden friskiness. Get this - the Jags, Bucs, and Giants started the season a combined 0-22 (0-8 for Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, 0-6 for New York). Since then, the three teams are a combined 13-4 (4-1 for Jacksonville and Tampa, 5-2 for New York). I don't get it. But Jacksonville's on the way up, Buffalo is on the way down (1-5 after starting 3-4).

JP: "You don't just walk into Jacksonville and win!"- Nobody, but I'm still picking them.

New England (-1) over MIAMI

JC: I get that Gronkowski is out, but we do realize that they started the season 5-1 without him, right? They beat New Orleans. You can look it up and everything.

JP: Damn, I was really hoping this line would be a little higher and I could take Miami. At the end of the day, the Pats are still an AFC title contender, even without Gronk, and Miami is just fighting to be above average.

Philadelphia (-6) over MINNESOTA

JC: Chip Kelly's offense. Indoors. Against the 22nd-ranked rush defense.


Kansas City (-5.5) over OAKLAND

JC: The lack of respect for Kansas City remains perplexing. Oakland just lost by ten to the Jets. The Chiefs bounced back from their losing streak by beating the crap out of Washington. And they're still giving less than a touchdown.

JP: Oakland sucks, Kansas City doesn't. This line should be at least 10.

New Orleans (-6.5) over ST. LOUIS

JC: The last two weeks have shown the difference between New Orleans playing indoors and New Orleans playing outdoors. Yes, it's a road game, but as long as they're playing inside, I'm riding the Saints.

JP: After that Carolina game, I believe in Brees and the boys again. I don't think they'll be able to win in Seattle in the playoffs, but if somebody knocks off the Seahawks for them, they could end up in the Super Bowl. Too bad that one's gonna be played outside in the cold no matter what they do.

Green Bay (+7) over DALLAS

JC: Yes, Aaron Rodgers seems doubtful to play. But if he does, the Cowboys have literally zero hope of stopping the Packers' offense. Considering they were barely able to stop Matt McGloin and were downright incapable of stopping Josh McCown, Aaron Rodgers would tear them apart. And even if he doesn't play, Matt Flynn has put together two good starts (and albeit one horrific start, but that was on the road on Thanksgiving against a respectable defense). I'm willing to gamble here.

JP: I think Matt Flynn will torch the Boys if he plays, so the Rodgers thing doesn't concern me much. My "ROMO!!!" picks should have ended as soon as the calendar hit December, even though it's not about him this year. That defense is God awful. Guess they shouldn't have fire Rob Ryan to bring in Monte Kiffin's "revolutionary in 1999" Tampa 2, eh?

DETROIT (-6) over Baltimore

JC: Another Jekyll/Hyde team based on location - the 6-1 Home/1-5 Road Baltimore Ravens. And the Lions playing indoors does wonders for their offense, especially their running game (139.3 yards per game at home, 89.4 per game on the road). On top of that, Joe Flacco has been dying to lose a winnable game for weeks now. After last week's horseshoe game against Minnesota, the Ravens will flop.

JP: I have a sneaking suspicion that neither of these teams are actually any good... Sure, I'll take the home team that needs a playoff berth more. Plus, NFC over AFC, remember?

Here Are The Picks We Don't

JC: San Diego (+10.5) over DENVER

I got this one in on time.

JP: DENVER (+10.5) over San Diego

I didn't, which means I had to take the opposite team. We're really just trying to manufacture disagreements. It's no fun when we agree on everything.

JC: NEW YORK GIANTS (+7) over Seattle

I'm testing out a theory here - Seattle is secretly a crappy road team ("crappy" being a relative term). They barely beat Carolina in Week 1. They needed overtime to beat Houston (gulp) in Week 4. They lost at Indianapolis in Week 5. They looked ugly against St. Louis on a Monday Night in Week 8. They lost to San Francisco in Week 14. All together, they have an average scoring margin of +18.7 at home, just +5.7 on the road (mostly buoyed by a 23-point win over Atlanta). The Giants seem like they might roll over and die any minute, but they also might randomly put together an all-world performance the week after they got mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. I have no idea with this team.

JP: Seattle (-7) over NEW YORK GIANTS

Seattle certainly isn't as good away as they are at home, but this is still one of the two or three best teams in the league against a turnover-prone Eli Manning. Me thinks that dominant Seahawk secondary gets its hands on a few balls in this one.

JC: CAROLINA (-11.5) over New York Jets

Carolina's defense vs. Geno Smith doesn't even seem remotely fair.

JP: New York Jets (+11.5) over CAROLINA

I got back on the Jets' bandwagon last week, and I've had a recent run of success with backdoor covers against multi-score spreads. Given those two facts, this pick just makes too much sense for me.

JC: TENNESSEE (+3) over Arizona

Tennessee's general friskiness (+3) over Arizona's lack of friskiness on the road.

JP: Arizona (-3) over TENNESSEE 

Arizona is 8-5 in, maybe, the toughest division in football, fighting for a playoff spot in the superior NFC. Tennessee is beaten up, and has lost two in a row to fall to 5-8 in a division where Jacksonville is suddenly a threat to finish second. Yeah, I'll go with the Cardinals, even away.

JC: PITTSBURGH (+3) over Cincinnati 

The Bengals are 3-4 on the road this year, and the three wins were by a combined 13 points. The Steelers have lost two straight, but both have been close games that easily could have been won (they were a two-point conversion shy of tying Baltimore in the final minute, and would have beat Miami had Antonio Brown not stepped out of bounds on the final play). And prior to that, they'd won three in a row and five of seven. Pittsburgh is the safe pick here.

JP: Cincinnati (-3) over PITSSBURGH

Gotta disagree. The Steelers are, effectively, out of the playoffs after giving up tie-breaks to the Dolphins and Ravens in recent weeks (They split with Baltimore, but have more AFC losses), plus the Titans already had the tie-break against them. The Bengals want to lock this division down, and Dalton has burnt the Steelers the last two times out, so he's clearly comfortable against their defense. Bengals put themselves into the playoffs and hand Mike Tomlin his first losing season as a head coach Sunday night.

Bonus Picks

Sometime next week, we will unveil our Bowl Pick'em choices (the game where you pick straight winners for all 35 Bowl Games and assign each one between 1-35 Confidence Points). And as we pull closer to the big-time Bowl Games, we'll drop our Against The Spread picks for individual games in this space as well.

Jeremy's Record:
This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 8-8
Season: 95-105-10
Last Week's Disagreements: 0-2
Season's Disagreements: 25-29-3

Bonus Picks: 6-5

Joe's Record:
This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 10-6-
Season: 99-101-10

Last Week's Disagreements: 2-0
Season's Disagreements: 29-25-3

Bonus Picks: 7-4

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