Thursday, September 18, 2014

NFL Week 3 Primer (With Picks): Meet In The Middle

Tom Brady and the Patriots looked bad in week one, but great in week two. Which one is the real New England?

 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Week 3 is when we really start to figure out who's good and who isn't. We all come into the season with some idea, but sometimes Week 1 turns that on its head (to wit - New England and Green Bay both lost by two touchdowns). Week 2 gives us more information, but sometimes it contradicts what Week 1 told us (like Seattle falling to San Diego after stomping the Packers), and other times it even further confuses our pre-season ideas (for example, Buffalo is now 2-0 and New Orleans is 0-2).

But Week 3 galvanizes. If you have a team with two drastically different performances (New England, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco, to name a few), whichever one Week 3 more closely resembles is probably a good bet for how they'll play the rest of the year. For teams that start a surprising 0-2 (Indianapolis, New Orleans), if Week 3 isn't an improvement, one probably isn't coming. For team's that start a surprising 2-0 (Buffalo, Houston, Carolina, Arizona), another Week 3 win probably means they're the real deal.

From a gambling standpoint, this means you probably have one more week to stick to your guns. If a team has burned you twice, don't toss them aside just yet. The first quarter of the season is about patience.


Dogs finished 9-7 against the spread in Week 2, moving them to 20-12 for the year (Buffalo-Miami closed as a pick'em, but Buffalo was the home team, and thus the official "favorite"). There were four home dogs, who finished 2-2, moving that total to 4-3 on the year. This week there are five home dogs.

Game(s) of The Week

San Diego @ Buffalo (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

The most surprisingly good team of the year hosts the team with (arguably) the most impressive win of the young season - thumping the Seahawks and holding the ball for 42 minutes. Buffalo's impressive defense will be put to the test against a San Diego offense built to win first and second down and keep drives alive by staying "ahead of schedule."

Green Bay @ Detroit (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

Two teams that we still aren't sure about. Green Bay understandably lost to Seattle on opening night, but were able to mount an impressive comeback against a probably-better-than-we-think-they-are Jets team. Meanwhile, Detroit blew out the Giants (who might suck), and got blown out by Carolina (who might be really good), so it's tough to get a read on them, also. Whoever comes out on top here will have the early upper hand in the NFC North. 

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

It's a rematch of the Super Bowl. What else needs to be said?

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

ATLANTA (-6.5) over Tampa Bay

JC: I kinda think Tampa Bay sucks. Granted, they've gone against the two best defensive lines in football - Carolina and St. Louis - and come out okay (they only surrendered one sack and gained 157 yards on the ground Sunday against the Rams), and now they go against Atlanta's defense, which has not impressed so far this season. But the cumulative effect of playing two really tough games in the trenches in a row and now coming back in a short week probably isn't great for an offense that already seems rather anemic.

JP: I don't know what to think of Atlanta yet, but last week definitely threw me off the Bucs bandwagon. I'll take the Dirty Birds in the dome.

San Diego (+2.5) over BUFFALO

JC: Week 2 was a lot closer to what I was expecting out of San Diego than Week 1. The offense is built on converting third downs, and they were 10-17 in Week 2 after going just 6-15 in Week 1. But that 6-15 in Week 1 was partially due to some uncharacteristic mistakes - drops, receivers running the wrong routes, etc. I think the Chargers will be able to keep their offense on the field, and even if they can't, Buffalo's offense hasn't exactly been explosive. They've had a number of drives stall (hence six field goal attempts from Dan Carpenter last week), and their Week 2 blowout was buoyed by a kickoff return for a touchdown, plus three field goals on drives that started inside Miami territory. If you exclude their kneel-down at the end of the game, Buffalo had 11 drives, and those drives averaged out to start at their own 46 yard line (FIVE started inside Miami territory and they only came away with nine points). If San Diego has any modicum of success on third downs, that won't happen again.

JP: Wow, a good team is getting points against Buffalo a week after it knocked off the defending Super Bowl champs. That's all I need to know.

Washington (+6.5) over PHILADELPHIA

JC: Trends from last week - Philadelphia had trouble containing Indianapolis' power running game; Washington had 191 rushing yards against Jacksonville. Philadelphia is down to their backup left guard and third-string right tackle and, while they didn't allow any sacks, did allow consistent pressure on Nick Foles against a decidedly below-average Indianapolis pass rush; Washington sacked Chad Henne TEN times on Sunday.

JP: Ryan Kerrigan has entered full beast mode, piling up four sacks last weeks against the Jaguars, and Kirk Cousins proved an immediate upgrade at quarterback for Washington. Don't know if they'll win outright, but Philadelphia's inability to start quickly should make this a close one.

Houston (-2.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

JC: Houston is probably a lot better than anyone is giving them credit for, and New York is probably a lot worse than anyone is giving them credit for.

JP: The Giants have been God awful thus far, while the Texans have been about as solid as many expected. 

NEW ORLEANS (-10.5) over Minnesota

JC: After watching Minnesota last week, if New Orleans can't blow out *this* team, then they have some serious problems.

JP: This pick scares the hell out of me. Cassel looked like Cassel last week, but the Saints look like a 9-7 team right now, and have drastically regressed on defense.Still, I have to believe that New Orleans gets back on track with a blowout at home, where they rarely lose under coach Sean Payton.

CINCINNATI (-7) over Tennessee

JC: Without A.J. Green (Green hasn't practiced this week and is officially listed as "questionable," but with a Bye during Week 4, the Bengals might just give him two weeks off for safety), this line might be a little steep, but Cincinnati's defense looks like it might be one of the best outfits in the league. And Tennessee can't stop the run even a little bit. Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill should be able to roll right over them.

JP: I thought Jake Locker might be ready to take a serious step, but last week's performance against a bad Cowboys defense was a huge disappointment. The Bengals are far better on defense, and less turnover prone on offense. The game being in Cincinnati clinches it for me.

Green Bay (+2) over DETROIT

JC: Have you ever seen Aaron Rodgers' numbers when he plays inside? They're insane. I posted the game logs on Twitter Wednesday night. Those numbers total out to 460-for-650, 6141 yards, and 53 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. That's 19 games. Prorated to a 16-game season, it's a 70.7% completion rate, 5171 yards, and 45 touchdowns to 3 interceptions, for a QB rating of 125.0. And you're GIVING me two points. YES! PLEASE! MORE!

JP: It's the year of the dog, and I can't bet against Rodgers when he's getting points against anybody that isn't Seattle.

Indianapolis (-7) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: Jacksonville is terrible, and Indy has had the misfortune of running into two teams with offensive savants at the helm. They should have this one no problem.

JP: The Jags have played one decent quarter so far this year...

Denver (+5) over SEATTLE

JC: These are the two best teams in football. Seattle is the home team, so that's a three-point advantage there. Seattle's home crowd is disproportionately disruptive, so that's another point. Where is the fifth point coming from? This line is too high, especially for a team coming off a loss that could have been much uglier. Antonio Gates just grossly exposed a few matchup problems that Denver might be able to take advantage of with Julius Thomas. Then, of course, Seattle's pass rush and Kam Chancellor can just take over the game like they did in the Super Bowl and make me look like an idiot. But I'm sticking with my two-pronged principle that (a) this line is a point too high, and (b) it's the year of the underdog.

JP: Year of the dog, for sure, but I also think Denver needs this one more than Seattle. Not standings-wise, but psychologically the Broncos need to at least be competitive against the Seahawks. I would expect Peyton Manning to be extra plugged-in this week, and expose a Seattle secondary that lost a little #Swag last week.

CAROLINA (-3.5) over Pittsburgh

JC: Carolina's defense looks like the real deal, and Pittsburgh's offense has only mustered nine points in their last six quarters of football. Their offense will probably get back on track eventually, but I'm not betting on it happening against Carolina.

JP: The only prayer Pittsburgh has here is a total Antonio Brown takeover for them and a disappearing act from Carolina's young stud receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Both of those things are definitely possible, but I'll take the red-hot Panthers at home against a team stuck in the mud offensively. 

Chicago (+3) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: Once Green Bay figured out how to keep Aaron Rodgers upright, Jordy Nelson absolutely torched New York's secondary. That's kind of what happened with Chicago against San Francisco. Unless New York can generate a ton of pass rush, I think Chicago's big receivers present a lot of matchup problems. And Chicago's defense seems to be clicking a lot better than Green Bay's right now, so don't expect the Jets to jump out to a three-possession lead, either.

JP: If I were making a "LOCK OF THE WEEK" in this piece, this would be it. The Jets look solid on defense, particularly up front, but if Chicago can handle San Francisco's defense and contain Colin Kapernick, I think they'll be able to move the ball and slow down Geno Smith. Oh yeah, and they're GETTING POINTS! 

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

JC: ST. LOUIS (+1) over Dallas

This might be the most "Meet In The Middle" game of the week. Both teams got blown out in Week 1 but rallied to pick up not-so-unimpressive wins on the road in Week 2. Say what you want about their opponents, but truly terrible teams usually don't pick up more than one or maybe two road wins per season. If you want to argue that Week 2 was the road win for the season for both of these teams, be my guest. I won't stop you. That's why I'm taking the home team in this one.

JP: Dallas (-1) over ST. LOUIS

I'm not in love with Dallas, quite the opposite actually. Still, if the Cowboys continue to give the ball to their best player, running back DeMarco Murray,  they should be able to hold off St, Louis' outstanding pass rush. Meanwhile, I have zero faith in the Rams' quarterback situation. I know they're on the road, and I have to give a point (even though, uh, you can't win by less than a point), but I'm taking the Cowboys.

JC: CLEVELAND (+1.5) over Baltimore

The transitive property says that Baltimore is better than Cleveland - the Ravens beat Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh beat the Browns. But we continue to mount evidence that Brian Hoyer is an overwhelmingly competent quarterback, who, at the very least, will not irrevocably damage his team's chances of winning. If you're going to give me points to take them at home, I'll sign up.

JP: Baltimore (-1.5) over CLEVELAND 

Flacco seems to be entering a "good Joe" stretch, so that's promising for the Ravens, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve Smith is going to do some big things for Baltimore, particularly in these important divisional games.

JC: Kansas City (+4.5) over MIAMI

Kansas City gets blown out by Tennessee, then sticks with Denver for four quarters, and had the ball inside Denver's 10-yard line with a chance to tie the game in the final minute. Miami beats New England convincingly, then gets blown out by Buffalo. I can't figure out either of these two teams so I'm just taking the points.

JP: MIAMI (-4.5) over Kansas City

I don't know, I really don't. I just want to get these over with and disagree with you here.

ARIZONA (+3) over San Francisco

JC: San Francisco won easily when Dallas just handed them the ball four times in the first half. It was 28-3 at halftime. They looked like they were cruising against Chicago, but then committed four turnovers of their own and fell apart. We haven't seen what San Francisco looks like playing a game where the turnover margin doesn't completely and totally throw things out of whack. Arizona's defense has looked very impressive through their first two games, so I'll take them getting points at home.

JP: San Francisco (-3) over ARIZONA 

I still don't know how the Niners lost last week, or how Arizona beat San Diego in week one. I just think San Francisco is significantly better. 

JC: NEW ENGLAND (-14.5) over Oakland

I'm apprehensive, because New England hasn't exactly blown the doors off so far this season. As I outlined Tuesday, their game last week was a lot closer than anyone realized - 17 of their 30 points came either on drives that started in opposing territory or from the blocked field goal they returned for a touchdown. They won 30-7, but they only out-gained Minnesota 292-217. But then again, Oakland is so absolutely incredibly bad, New England should only need a performance as good as last week to cover it, and I'll be optimistic about their home opener.

JP: Oakland (+14.5) over NEW ENGLAND

Wow. I know New England took advantage of a bunch of Vikings turnovers last week and blew Minnesota out, but I doubt even rookie Derek Carr can be as awful as Matt Cassel was last week. For that reason (and the year of the underdog), I'll pick the Raiders to (probably backdoor) cover.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Week: 9-7
Season: 17-15
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-0
Season's Disagreements: 6-2

Joe's Record: 
Last Week: 6-10
Season: 13-19
Last Week's Disagreements: 0-3
Season's Disagreements: 2-6

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