Thursday, October 9, 2014

NFL Week 6 Primer (With Picks): Hey, We're Doing a Little Better Now

Peyton Manning joined Brett Favre in the super-exclusive 500 TD passes club, and just generally had his way with Arizona last week. Not to toot our own horn, but we totally saw it coming.

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

Jeremy's taking a break from leading these pick pieces, so I (Joe) will be guiding you through our games of the week and making my picks first.

Last week was a big week for me, as I took my first steps back toward tying Jeremy, and finishing the year with at least a .500 record, but stupid Jeremy still finished with a winning record on the week (you can see our results for last week, and the whole year, at the bottom of this post). Actually, we both had pretty good weeks, despite a bunch of "WTF?" games.

Cleveland came back from 8,000 points down to beat Tennessee, the Broncos put a beating on Arizona's normally solid defense, Jacksonville hung with Pittsburgh for 55 minutes, Carolina woke up from a two-week coma and Tampa Bay looked like a competent football team for the second week in a row.

To quote the great Vince Lombardi, "what the hell's going on out here?!"

Underdog Update:
Last Week: 7-8
Season: 40-35-1
Home Dogs, Last Week: 1-2
Home Dogs, Season: 9-9

Game(s) of the Week:

Chicago at Atlanta (4:25 Sunday, FOX)

Atlanta started the year with a big win over New Orleans, but has only beaten Tampa Bay (though it was a sound beating) since. A non-competitive loss to Cincinnati, and a pair of lackluster showings against the Vikings and Giants have me skeptical about the Falcons, but I'm willing to reserve judgement until they play the Bears.

Oh hell, who am I kidding, I don't know what to make of Chicago either. Hopefully, we'll learn SOMETHING about these teams Sunday, but expect the unexpected.

Dallas at Seattle (4:25 Sunday, FOX)

At 4-1, the Cowboys are one of football's biggest surprises. Dallas comes into Sunday's game at Seattle with the league's 5th ranked offense (No. 2 rushing) and will go up against the Seahawks' 5th ranked defense.

For all the talk about Seattle's secondary, it has actually been the Seahawk front getting the job done, holding opposing offenses to a league-low 62 yards per game rushing on a league-low 2.6 YPC. It will be unstoppable force meets immovable object when the Cowboys attempt to run the NFL's leading rusher DeMarco Murray on Seattle, but wouldn't you know it that Tony Romo could be poised for a big game as well.

Believe it or not, the Seahawks, and their vaunted "Legion of Boom" secondary currently rank 22nd in passing yards allowed per game, and 24th in QB rating allowed, with quarterbacks earning an average rating of over 97 against Seattle, partially due to the eight touchdowns they've surrendered, vs just two interceptions collected.

With the way Dez Bryant is catching the ball, Romo may look to air it out.

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia (8:30 Sunday, NBC)

The Sunday Night game, per usual, is a pretty good one, with streaking New York heading to Philadelphia to take on the always interesting Eagles. Chip Kelly's bunch hasn't put together a complete 60 minutes of football this season, yet the Eagles are 4-1. I think that's good news for them, but the Giants and Cowboys are coming on strong in the race for the NFC East, and Sunday could shape the rest of the season for the division.

The winner of this game, especially if it's New York, would obviously get a huge boost, and Eli Manning is finally playing good football again, just in time to face Philadelphia's 4th-worst pass defense.

It's not like things are much better on the other side, as New York boasts the 8th-worst pass defense in the league, so expect a ton of yards through the air. The difference, however, could be the Giants' knack for turning opponents over. While they do give up a ton of yards, the Giants also lead the league with eight interceptions. Big plays in the passing game will loom large for both teams on each side of the ball.

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

Indianapolis (-3) over HOUSTON

JP: It's a Thursday night game so, obviously, somebody is getting blown out. The way things have gone so far this year, I'll bet on that team being Houston.

JC: This is the first home underdog we've had on Thursday night, but, as Joe mentioned, they've all been blowouts. I had some concerns regarding Indianapolis playing against "real" teams, but they beat up Baltimore last week. And we've already established that they can and will demolish the riff-raff at the bottom of the AFC South. So either Houston is for real, and Indianapolis takes care of business, or Houston is riff-raff and Indianapolis blows them out. 

Denver (-9.5) over N.Y. JETS

I'll probably regret this pick when the Jets miraculously backdoor cover on a meaningless late game touchdown, but it's hard to see the team I watched in San Diego staying within 10 points of anybody with a pulse right now.

JC: Uh, The Jets scored zero points against San Diego's defense, and San Diego's defense isn't even that good. Denver's defense is actually good. And New York can't cover anyone in the secondary. Their only hope to slow down a passing game is to blitz the hell out of the quarterback. Blitzing Peyton Manning is usually not advised. 

Pittsburgh (+2) over CLEVELAND

I know the Browns are improved and Pittsburgh is dealing with injuries on defense, but whenever the Steelers get points against Cleveland, you've got to take it. Need I remind you that Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 against Cleveland, and that the Browns needed a total Charlie Whitehurst job to come back against one of the worst teams in football last week?

JC: The Browns have scored 103 points and surrendered 105 points. The Steelers have scored 114 points and surrendered 108 points. If you give me two teams that are just about as close to completely average as can be, I'll just take the team getting points.

Jacksonville (+6) over TENNESSEE

There are no winners in this game, but I actually came away from last week impressed with Blake Bortles, despite some rookie mistakes, and I think the Jaguar defense, particularly up front, is just good enough to slow down a bad and beaten up Titans offense. Don't know who will win straight up, but this has the makings of an ugly, boring, close one.

JC: Boooooo!!!! BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chicago (+3) over ATLANTA

I'm quickly losing faith in both these teams, so I'm just going to roll with the one I liked better before the season, and take the points.

JC: "When in doubt, take the points" vs. "When in doubt, take Atlanta at home." I'll roll with the points. 

Green Bay (-3) over MIAMI

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense seemed to wake up last week, and they've had 10 days to prepare for the Dolphins (who, admittedly, are coming off a bye, but still). I just think Green Bay is double-digits better than Miami, and playing this game in a half-full South Florida stadium won't affect that.

JC: Green Bay is rolling. Miami is reeling. Okay sure, they did win by 28 in their last game. But that was against Oakland, so it doesn't count. The two before that, they lost by a combined 38 points. So yeah, Green Bay. 

New England (-3) over BUFFALO

When you can take the Patriots against a divisional opponent giving just a field goal, by God, you better take them.

JC: That was Kyle Orton's one good game of the season. He's allotted one. And he just used it. 

San Diego (-7) over OAKLAND

Did you see what the Chargers did to the Jets last week? Have the seen what the Raiders have done against everybody the last decade?

JC: Bet against Oakland until they prove you shouldn't. Coincidentally, they're coming off their best week of the season so far. They had a bye. But I'm still betting against them.

N.Y. Giants (+3.5) over PHILADELPHIA

Like I mentioned above, I love the way Eli Manning is playing right now, and I think the Giants' ability to turn people over will be key. That, and they're getting points against an inconsistent team, so I've gotta take'em.

JC: Philadelphia nearly blew a 27-point lead against Austin Davis. AUSTIN. DAVIS. In their last three games, they've surrendered 511, 407, and 466 yards. The Giants, meanwhile, have won their last three games by an average of 18 points per contest, and have spent that time running the ball down their opponent's throats. 

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

JP: Detroit (-1.5) over MINNESOTA
Teddy Bridgewater should be back for the Vikings, which is a huge deal, but the Lions absolutely NEED this game. I think Detroit's defense will take any semblance of a run game away from Minnesota, and force Bridgewater to throw it over 40 times, something I'm not sure you want him doing quite yet if you're the Vikings.

JC: MINNESOTA (+1.5) over Detroit

Detroit on the road, with a sputtering offense (did you know they're 27th in scoring so far this year?), probably without Calvin Johnson (doubtful with a high ankle sprain), possibly without Reggie Bush (questionable with an ankle sprain), possibly without Joique Bell (questionable with a concussion), possibly without third-string running back Theo Riddick (questionable with a hamstring strain)? And you expect me to lay points? *fart noises*

JP: CINCINNATI (-7) over Carolina
The Panthers can't beat the AFC North. It's science.

The line being a full touchdown scares me, but I don't think Carolina can generate consistent offense, and the Bengals are primed for a bounce-back at home after getting waxed in New England Monday night.

JC: Carolina (+7) over CINCINNATI

In Week 1, Carolina forced three turnovers and won. In Week 2, Carolina forced three turnovers and won. In Week 3, Carolina forced zero turnovers and lost. In Week 4, Carolina forced zero turnovers and lost. In Week 5, Carolina forced four turnovers and won. Notice a pattern?  If A.J. Green's toe continues to bother him (which it seems like it is, considering he left practice today on a cart), I'm not sure Cincinnati can generate enough offense to cover a touchdown spread.

JP: Baltimore (-3) over TAMPA BAY
I think the Bucs are a much better team than they were two weeks ago, but are we really sure that beating mistake-prone Pittsburgh in one of the weirder finishes of the year, or hanging with underwhelming New Orleans are impressive results? I'm not, so I'll take the team in the playoff hunt.

JC: TAMPA BAY (+3) over Baltimore

 If we just take the Thursday night games out of each team's respective resumes, these teams aren't actually that far apart. The annoying thing about picking Baltimore games these days is that you're basically just flipping a coin on whether you're going to get Good Flacco or Bad Flacco. Tampa seems to be trending up, and Baltimore seems to be leveling off, so I'll just take the points.

JP: SEATTLE (-8) over Dallas

The Seahawks are borderline unbeatable at home, and if their rush defense continues to impress, forcing Tony Romo to air it out with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas lurking, I don't see why Seattle can't win this one 27-17.

JC: Dallas (+8) over SEATTLE

DeMarco Murray continues his dominance on the ground, Dallas chews up clock and takes the raucous Seattle crowd out of the game. The game stays close, so Romo never has to bring Dallas back through the air. Seattle probably wins, but Dallas will stick close enough to make it respectable. 

JP: ARIZONA (-3.5) over Washington

We don't know who will start at quarterback for the Cardinals, and their defense is dealing with a bunch of injuries as well. Still, they're playing at home against a bad team, and I'm pretty sure any defense would have looked awful with the way Denver played against them last week. Like the Bengals, put the Cards down for a bounce-back win at home.

JC: Washington (+3.5) over ARIZONA

If Arizona is starting Logan Thomas at quarterback (totally plausible), they shouldn't be giving points against anybody. Except Oakland. But Washington has shown that they don't totally suck. They've hung with Philly and Seattle, blew out Jacksonville like they should have, and only got beat up on Thursday Night (which we're starting to see can almost be totally dismissed because we don't seem to actually learn anything). Washington's defensive front should be able to tee off against whoever Arizona lines up at quarterback and keep them within striking distance.  

JP: San Francisco (-3.5) over ST. LOUIS
The 49ers must keep winning to keep pace in the loaded NFC West, and St. Louis is just too depleted to keep up, even at home.

JC: ST. LOUIS (+3.5) over San Francisco

The 49ers defense has played way better than I expected, given all their injuries and suspensions, but their offense is secretly shaky, especially their offensive line. The Rams defensive line has been a gross disappointment so far this season (just one sack in four games), but that can't last all season. In the last few weeks, we've seen that St. Louis doesn't go away (closed a lead on Philadelphia to cover, squandered a lead to Dallas but stayed close, comeback win against Tampa Bay) and San Francisco has trouble closing games out (only mustered three field goals in the second half, allowing Kansas City to hang around, let Philly march down the field for a potential go-ahead touchdown after not allowing them to cross mid-field for the first three quarters, epic second-half collapses against Arizona and Chicago), so those two trend lines seem to intersect in a close game Monday night. I'll take the points.  

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 8-7
Season: 39-36-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-3
Season's Disagreements: 11-9

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 10-5
Season: 37-38-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-1
Season's Disagreements: 9-11

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