Thursday, October 16, 2014

NFL Week 7 Primer (With Picks): Favorites Strike Back

So yeah, Peyton Manning was our "picks" picture last week, but he's now on the verge of history in our game of the week, plus he's coming off a win over a home underdog. Just read the article, you'll see how he fits all the themes...
  By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

So much for the year of the underdog.

After starting the year on a tear, dogs are regressing to the mean, now virtually even with their favored counterparts in terms of covering spreads. Thus far, underdogs are 45-44-2 on the season. I'm no statistician, but I'm going to go ahead and say the one game difference in a sample size of 91 is not statistically significant.

Part of the reason for the regression was a catastrophic week for underdogs last week, particularly those dogs playing at home. Basically, Vegas is starting to figure out who is for real and who stinks, as underdogs went just 5-9-1 last week (Miami losing by three was the tie), with home dogs (the really bad teams) going 1-6-1.

Yeah, if you're giving points at home at this point in the year, chances are you aren't very good. It seems like Vegas is already accounting for this with bigger spreads. Last week, in a very favorite heavy set of lines, the average spread was 4.3 points, with only five spreads set at a touchdown/two field goals (6) or larger.

This week, the average spread has been bumped up to 5.6 points, and eight games feature spreads of six points or larger. Also, unlike last week, we have a double-digit spread (New England is -10 vs the Jets).

Let's move onto our complete underdogs update, our games of the week, our picks and updated pick records (we're tied!).


Underdog Update:
Last Week: 5-9-1
Season: 45-44-2
Home Dogs, Last Week: 1-6-1
Home Dogs, Season: 10-15-1

Game(s) of the Week

San Francisco at Denver (8:30 pm Sunday, NBC)

It's a weak slate this week, but Sunday Night's inter-conference clash between two Super Bowl contenders gets top billing. The 49er offense got a shot in the arm last week against the Rams (I know, they're the Rams) and Denver seems to have rediscovered its historic form on the offensive side of the ball as well.

Questions actually lie on defense for both teams, as the Broncos are coming off a lackluster defensive performance against the anemic Jets offense, and San Francisco's D is crippled by injuries and suspensions. Still, this is one of the few games of the regular season that we could see again in early February, and that fact alone makes it a must-watch.

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

BALTIMORE (-7) over Atlanta

JP: Both these teams have blown out the Bucs, so there's that, but since blowing out Tampa Bay, Atlanta has lost three in a row, played practically no defense, and run the ball as poorly as anyone in the league. The Ravens, meanwhile, are in a "good" Joe Flacco stage, which is really the only time they're a playoff threat.

JC: Who would have thought that the Ravens could scrape the bottom of the barrel in search of running backs to replace Ray Rice and come up with two who are out-performing what Rice gave them last year? Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro are eating up chunks of yardage and making everything easier for Flacco, especially in play-action. Meanwhile, the Falcons have surrendered 475 rushing yards in their last three games. Baltimore should be able to chew clock and keep the game in their control.

Seattle (-7.5) over ST. LOUIS

The Seahawks are out for blood after losing to Dallas last week, and the quarterback-less and, surprisingly pass rush deficient Rams won't be able to slow them down.

JC: I like St. Louis as a sleeper for the 174th year in a row, but until they show me any semblance of a pass rush, I just can't take them, especially against a team looking to lay the smackdown on someone.

JP: Speaking of laying the smackdown...

Cleveland (-6) over JACKSONVILLE

Blake Bortles is quietly coming along for Jacksonville, and showing signs that he might not be a walking punchline like many of his predecessors. That said, Cleveland's Bryan Hoyer is making all the right decisions, and the Browns are brutally efficient on the ground.

They won't be able to beat elite teams, due to a lack of offensive play makers, but the Jags are far from elite.

JC:  Something here just feels wrong. I think it's the Browns giving a touchdown - on the road, no less! But six points is the same spread they were getting against Tennessee, and the Browns are decidedly better than Tennessee.

INDIANAPOLIS (-3.5) over Cincinnati

I've been underwhelmed by the Bengals, particularly on defense, the last two games out, and I love Indy's passing game, especially T.Y. Hilton. The Colts are at home and coming off 10 days rest. Cincy is a worthy opponent, but I think Indy is just that much better right now.

JC: Home-field advantage is still worth three points, right? So this is saying that Indianapolis is roughly a half-point better than Cincinnati, right now, on a neutral field? I would buy that Indianapolis is equal to Cincinnati at full strength on a neutral field, so this means that A.J. Green is only worth a half-point? Shut the front door.

BUFFALO (-6) over Minnesota

I know the Bills have come back down to Earth, but the Vikings have done a whole lotto nothing on both sides of the ball the last two weeks, and have only scored more than 10 points ONCE ALL SEASON! Buffalo isn't great, but they did beat the Lions in Detroit two weeks back, the same Detroit team that just took Minnesota to the wood shed.

JC: Again, I'm not a huge fan of laying a touchdown with downtrodden franchises. But Minnesota looks pretty hapless right now. 

New Orleans (+3) over DETROIT

The Saints have underachieved in every conceivable way, but the Lions are still beat up, and the Saints just need this game so badly. Plus, they're playing in a Dome and getting points. Come on Brees, don't let me down!

JC: They suck me in. Every week. I just can't quit you, New Orleans.

Carolina (+7) over GREEN BAY

The Panthers are getting feisty again after a two-week lull, and I just hate giving a touchdown or more when I don't think one team is a complete tier ahead of the other. If the Panthers can run the ball, I see no reason why they can't keep this thing within a score.

JC: Carolina was getting a touchdown against Cincinnati and covered easily. And now they're getting a touchdown again? Is Green Bay that much better than the Bengals? I don't buy it. 

SAN DIEGO (-4) over Kansas City

This spread should be far larger. After all, if Green Bay (4-2) is giving a touchdown at home to Carolina (3-2-1), then shouldn't San Diego (5-1) be giving at least that much at home against Kansas City (2-3)?

Well, you can thank the Chiefs' dismantling of New England a few weeks back for KC being overvalued the rest of the year. I'll take the Chargers in a game that should be at least a 7-8 point spread.

JC: This line threw me off so much that I had to double-check that Kansas City wasn't the home team and we were just being idiots. Nope. This one is in San Diego. Are they looking at San Diego's underwhelming performance against Oakland? I have no idea. Just give me Rivers. 

Arizona (-4) over OAKLAND

Ok, ok, the Raiders hung with San Diego in their first game without fired coach Dennis Allen, but let's pump the breaks on Oakland being competitive. This is the same Raider team that lost to the Jets, fell behind Houston by 31 in a blowout, and was housed by the Dolphins, trailing 27-0 after three quarters.

Yeah, this team is bad, and a decent Arizona team giving less than a touchdown is a gift.

JC: Arizona's blitzing schemes are some of the more sophisticated in the league. Don't bank on Derek Carr being able to figure them out, let alone beat Patrick Peterson for touchdowns. 

DALLAS (-6.5) over New York Giants

Unlike the Ravens, the Giants are entering a "bad" phase with their bi-polar quarterback, while the Cowboys are running the ball as well as anybody. After New York couldn't get off the field against Philly (not that unusual) or string drives together against the Eagles defense (cause for concern), I find it hard to believe that they'll keep it within a touchdown of the Cowboys in Jerry World.

JC: Remember in the first few weeks when I was convinced the Cowboys sucked and that you could find value betting against them every week because the public would just take them because they're the Cowboys? That was hilarious. 

Houston (+3.5) over PITTSBURGH

The Steelers offense is a mess in terms of play calling, as coordinator Todd Haley has repeatedly taken the ball out of Ben Roethlisberger's hands when the passing game is rolling, and limited Le'Veon Bell's carries when the passing game is struggling.

It's almost like he's purposely feeding the "cold hand" each drive out. That could be trouble against J.J. Watt, and this Texans ground game should be able to get on track against a beaten and battered Pittsburgh front-seven, which could be missing as many as four starters this week.

JC: Pittsburgh's offense is kind of a mess, and they have to go up against J.J. Watt. Pittsburgh's front seven is kind of a mess, and they have to go up against Arian Foster. 

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

JP: NEW ENGLAND (-10) over New York Jets

What did I say earlier about underdogs? If the Jets are giving double-digits, that should tell you they're awful, and I think we've found out the last two weeks that New England is a contender. Maybe not a juggernaut, but definitely a contender.

The only thing that gives me pause is memories of overmatched Jets squads hanging with Brady and the boys, but then I also have plenty of memories of the Pats blowing the Jets out, so I'll go with my home dog trend and take the road favorite to win big.

JC: New York Jets (+10) over NEW ENGLAND

All that is well and good, but also keep in mind that for inexplicable reasons, the Jets always seem to play the Patriots close. Including their upset win in the 2011 Playoffs (following the 2010 season - these things always confuse me), the Jets are 8-4 against the spread in their last 12 games against the Patriots. And one of those Patriots wins was a 30-21 win that just barely covered an 8-point spread. For once, I don't actually care how good the Patriots look (very good) or how bad the Jets look (I mean, their only win is over Oakland, and they didn't cover) - I'm just taking the points.

JP: Tennessee (+5.5) over WASHINGTON
I really don't like either of these teams, so just give me the points if it's over a field goal.

JC: WASHINGTON (-5.5) over Tennessee

The Titans can't even cover against the Jaguars, so they deserve none of my respect.

JP: Miami (+3.5) over CHICAGO

I have a sneaking suspicion that Chicago isn't actually that good, and that Miami is just good enough to lose by three every week. With that logic in mind, I offer you my 27-24 Chicago prediction and take the Phins against the spread.

JC: CHICAGO (-3.5) over Miami

Aaron Rodgers was able to torch Miami's secondary exactly when he needed to last week in order to pull out the win. I think Cutler will be able to pull that off as well, especially at home.  

JP: DENVER (-6.5) over San Francisco 

The Broncos are really hitting their stride offensively, and I still don't quite trust the 49ers D, or their ground based offense, yet. This looks like it could be a record-setting Sunday Night for Peyton Manning (needs 2 TD passes to tie Brett Favre for the all-time lead and 3 to break the record), and I could just see it coming in a big win.

JC: San Francisco (+6.5) over DENVER

Ehhhhh, San Francisco is a little too good for Denver to be giving a touchdown. Their defense has stepped up way more than I thought they would.  

(For the record, I don't feel confident about any of the picks I've made this week. Not a one. This could be bad.)

Jeremy's Record:

Last Week: 7-7-1
Season: 46-43-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-4
Season's Disagreements: 13-13

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 9-5-1
Season: 46-43-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 4-2
Season's Disagreements: 13-13

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