Thursday, October 2, 2014

NFL Week 5 Primer (With Picks): An Extra Dose of Parity?

Jay Cutler's Bears and Aaron Rodgers' Packers are two of the three teams in the NFC North sitting at 2-2. Furthermore, 12 Teams have .500 records league-wide. Basically, we have no idea who's good yet.
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Well, that didn't exactly go well.

Last week, we noted how the lines appeared to be shrinking, and posited that lower lines would help favorites cover easier. This did not turn out to be entirely true. The lines were lower, yes, and favorites did win the week 7-5-1, but two of those wins and the push came from lines that were at least five points. The small lines favored the underdogs, as all five dogs that won against the spread ended up winning outright (New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Dallas, and Kansas City). Both of us picked all five of those teams to lose against the spread.

This week is back to big lines. Nine of the fifteen games this weekend have spreads of a touchdown or higher, including one road favorite giving 7.5 points (Seattle on Monday night against Washington).

The lesson we've learned so far this year is parity. The only undefeated teams through four weeks don't even have four wins - it's the 3-0 Bengals and the 3-0 Cardinals - thanks to a bye week. 12 of the 32 teams are exactly 2-2 (four more are either 2-1 or 1-2 following byes this past week), and only Jacksonville and Oakland have yet to win a game. If anybody can beat anybody, that seems to reinforce the idea of "when in doubt, take the points" which we both stupidly went away from last week and paid the price (see the bottom of the post for last week's records).

Underdog Update:
Last Week: 5-7-1
Season: 33-27-1
Home Dogs Last Week: 3-1
Home Dogs; Season: 8-7

Game(s) of The Week:

Houston @ Dallas (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

The matchup of surprise 3-1 teams in Texas! Chances are one of these teams secretly sucks and it's our hope that we'll figure out who that is this week so we can start betting against them with more confidence. 

Baltimore @ Indianapolis (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Two teams that in spite of themselves can't help but be good. The Ravens get great games out of Flacco just barely often enough that they're always in the mix for the playoffs, while the Colts are the opposite - they crap the bed for three quarters and pray their quarterback can bail them out (or, the alternative is to play other teams from the AFC South - they outscored the Titans and Jaguars by a combined score of 85-34 over the last two weeks).

Arizona @ Denver (4:05 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

(Possibly) the best offense in the league going up against (possibly) the best defense in the league. It's just a shame that nobody on the east coast will actually get to see it because it's the only late game on Fox going up against two national games on CBS.

Cincinnati @ New England (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

Tune in to see the end of the Patriots dynasty, probably!

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

GREEN BAY (-8.5) over Minnesota

JC: I rode the "home teams on Thursday night" train last week before it careened off the tracks and off a cliff. The Giants stormed into Washington last week and torched the [redacted]. But I'm still going to ride it. Green Bay seems to be clicking on offense after torching the Bears last week, and the Vikings are relying on Teddy Bridgewater to come back from what seemed like an ugly ankle sprain in just four days, otherwise they're left with (gulp) Christian Ponder.

JP: To me this pick is about Teddy Bridgewater. If he plays, how healthy can we expect him to be? On another note, how good can we really expect him to be in his second start facing the Pack at Lambeau? Conversely, Green Bay seems poised to hit its stride, and would love to collect another divisional win. I'll take the Packers giving the points on a short week.

Chicago (+2.5) over CAROLINA

JC: The Bears were closer to the Packers last week than the score indicated. They were down 21-17 before the half, primed to score, before Ha Ha Clintox-Dix made a miraculous play to keep Martellus Bennett out of the end zone as time expired. Then the Packers took the first possession of the second half and got a field goal. Chicago saw a tipped pass get picked off on the next possession, and then the Packers drove down for a touchdown and all of a sudden Chicago was down two touchdowns. If Bennett scores and Cutler's pass drops to the ground, Chicago could have been up a touchdown going into the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Carolina has been outscored 75-29 in their last two games.

JP: I love getting points against a team that has looked absolutely hapless the last two weeks.

Cleveland (+1) over TENNESSEE

JC: Cleveland beat New Orleans and came damn close to beating Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Tennessee has been outscored by 66 points in the last three weeks. And they're giving points? On what planet?

JP: See my response from above, only finish it with "the last six years." Ok, I know the Browns have been terrible even longer, but they've shown signs of life, while Tennessee has performed below my already low expectations for it.

DETROIT (-7) over Buffalo

JC: Speaking of Buffalo, they're starting Kyle Orton at quarterback, who should only be employed as a Dave Grohl look-alike, not an NFL quarterback.

JP: Well, if Detroit can keep Aaron Rodgers in check, I think they can do the same to Kyle Orton. Fun fact, one of Rodgers' greatest motivations is a letter written to him by an assistant coach at Purdue University back in 2001. The letter wished Rodgers "good luck with (his) attempt at a college football career."

Rodgers was a senior in high school and had just sent his film to Purdue, hoping to be recruited by the Boilermakers. But Purdue was plenty comfortable with its quarterback situation and the young gun they already had on campus, freshman Kyle Orton. Purdue instead used its quarterback recruiting slot for the 2002 class on Brandon Kirsch, who went on to crash and burn in his lone season as a starter in 2005. And now I've just spent this entire section talking about a guy that doesn't play for either of these teams. That's how interesting I find this game.

Dammit Purdue, you could have had Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Aaron Rodgers all in a row!

Baltimore (+3.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

JC: Until the Colts beat an actual NFL team (I'm not counting Jacksonville or Tennessee), I'm not comfortable laying more than a field goal against a good team.

JP: The Ravens have "good" Joe Flacco going for them right now, so I'll take the points, but we're going to learn a lot about both of these teams this week.

Pittsburgh (-6.5) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: Pittsburgh blew one last week against a should-have-been overmatched winless team. They won't blow two in a row.

JP: Fingers crossed...

DENVER (-8) over Arizona

JC: Eight points is a lot. Probably too many. But isn't Denver due for one of those "Hey, in case you forgot, we're that [expletive deleted]ing team that set every NFL scoring record ever last year, and we're really [expletive deleted]ing good" games? Especially after a bye? Doubly so after losing to Seattle the week before? And isn't Arizona playing over their head, considering all the guys they lost on defense? This seems like a surprisingly large blowout to me.

JP: Just don't know how much I trust Arizona yet, but if they can hang with the Broncos I'll be convinced. I don't see that happening in Denver, but I also don't feel great about this pick.

Kansas City (+6.5) over SAN FRANCISCO

JC: Have we considered the possibility that Kansas City is just still really good and that Week 1 was the biggest fluke of the season? They hung tight with Denver, blew out Miami, and blew out New England. Meanwhile, San Francisco looks like a team nearly ready to fall apart. They shouldn't be giving a touchdown against anybody except Oakland and Jacksonville.

JP: The Niners have lost a lot of bite defensively, and Colin Kaepernick is striking less fear in opposing defenses by the week. Kansas City, meanwhile, put the worst whooping I've ever seen on a Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots team Monday night. I guess we'll find out soon enough if that game was more about the Pats or Chiefs, but for now I like KC getting points against a team that I've probably grossly overrated to this point.

SAN DIEGO (-7) over New York Jets

JC: Don't look now but Phillip Rivers has been the best quarterback in the league. And the Jets' stalwart run defense doesn't really matter here, because the Chargers suck running the ball anyway. They'll just throw Rivers in the shotgun and dink and dunk their way down the field. The Jets have been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but it's been via creative blitzes. Blitzing Rivers doesn't seem like the best idea with how quickly he's been able to get the ball out on the shallow routes.

JP: If this game were in New Jersey, I'd probably take the Jets, but I hate East Coast teams making road trips, especially when Geno Smith is their quarterback. New York has some redeeming qualities, but like you said, this is a tough matchup for them, because San Diego isn't even going to try to be balanced.

Cincinnati (-1.5) over NEW ENGLAND

JC: On one hand, the Patriots are historically great following losses - now 38-8 in the Belichick era after their Week 2 win over Minnesota, which followed a Week 1 loss to Miami. On the other hand, this Patriots team might just be mother[expletive deleted]ing terrible. They barely beat the Raiders and really only beat Minnesota thanks to a blocked field goal for a touchdown and four Matt Cassell interceptions. There are three huge red flags here - the aforementioned "Patriots After Losses" trend, the "Patriots Getting Points At Home" trend (historically, they're a disproportionately good home team, much like Seattle and New Orleans), and the third, a combination of the first two, the "Patriots Getting Points At Home After Losses" trend. But I'm ignoring them. I'd be very happy to be wrong, but I don't think I am.

JP: Cincinnati is strong enough up front to cause many of the same problems KC did Monday, and the Bengals have a far more explosive passing game to make the Patriots pay. I have my reservations, just because it's hard to pass on New England getting points at Gillette, but to this point I think we've seen that Cincy is the better team.

Seattle (-7.5) over WASHINGTON

JC: Washington is at home and getting that extra half-point, which gives me pause. That they also have extra rest is another factor. But Seattle is also getting extra rest (they had a bye last week), and they're also the defending champs.

JP: I like Kirk Cousins, but this ain't the Eagles secondary he's going against, it's the Legion of Boom!

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

JC: Atlanta (+4) over NEW YORK GIANTS

New York has been running the ball well (nearly 350 yards over the last two weeks) and Atlanta has had a lot of problems stopping the run (550 yards allowed in the three games that weren't Thursday night blowouts), so the logical pick would be to lay the points and watch New York salt away a fourth-quarter lead. But with two Jekyll-Hyde teams like these, the logical pick is to kick logic to the curb.

JP: NEW YORK GIANTS (-4) over Atlanta 

Or maybe the illogical thing to do would be to take the illogical pick, since we know this scenario is so illogical? That would mean we'd have to go with the first, more logical choice. That, and I think we're entering a "good" Eli phase. Dammit, now we'll have to hear about Eli and Flacco being "elite" again...

JC: DALLAS (-6) over Houston

If one of these teams secretly sucks, it's probably the one that went 2-14 last year and has been beating up on bad teams so far this year. I mean, really, how hard is it to beat Washington, Oakland, and Buffalo?

JP: Houston (+6) over DALLAS 

I have no real reason for picking this, except that I think we're due for a poorly called Cowboys game offensively where the coaching staff forgets they have DeMarco Murray on the team, and Romo gives the whole thing away. Just a feeling.

JC: NEW ORLEANS (-10) over Tampa Bay

Two of New Orleans' three losses came on field goals that ended the game (either with no time remaining or to win in overtime) and both were on the road. They're only a few plays away from being 3-1 instead of 1-3. Last week was a beat-down, yes, but it was against a dominant rushing attack, on the road (and New Orleans seems to be substantially worse on the road for whatever reason, even indoors like Atlanta and Dallas). I'll ride with them at home, but if they can't make it happen, I'll be officially out.

JP: Tampa Bay (+10) over NEW ORLEANS 

Lost in all the Steelers collapse talk from last week is the fact that Tampa Bay got healthy and looked strong up front on defense, collecting five sacks and eight TFLs against Pittsburgh. Mike Glennon also looks to be a significant upgrade at quarterback, making some clutch throws down the stretch and passing for over 300 yards and a pair of scores. More importantly, he avoided dangerous throws, as his only pick came when receiver Mike Evans came up lame on a deep route, allowing Pittsburgh corner Cortez Allen to come up with an uncontested interception.

Basically, Tampa Bay is a lot better, and will probably be a lot luckier, than it was in the first three games. New Orleans, meanwhile, is not the juggernaut we thought it was, and has been incredibly underwhelming on defense. Not saying the Bucs get the win in the SuperDome, but I think they have the juice to at least keep it close.

JC: St. Louis (+7) over PHILADELPHIA

After Philadelphia failed to score on offense last week, it really knocked home the idea that their offensive line is failing them. Going up against St. Louis' great defensive line and still giving a touchdown might be asking a bit much, especially with their pass defense.

JP: PHILADELPHIA (-7) over St. Louis

In Chip I trust. Philly needs a bounce back game, and I don't see a quarterback on St. Louis' roster that can take advantage of the awful Eagle pass defense you mentioned.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 5-7-1
Season: 31-29-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1
Season's Disagreements: 10-6

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 4-8-1
Season: 27-33-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2
Season's Disagreements: 6-10

No comments :