Thursday, October 23, 2014

NFL Week 8 Primer (With Picks): Desperation Creeping In

After a surprising loss in St. Louis dropped the Seahawks to 3-3, is it time to panic in Seattle?

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

It's amazing how NFL teams can, to quote our man Bob Lobel, "push the panic button" less than halfway through the year.

Several teams have to be doing just that, at least internally this week, as the defending champion Seahawks are looking far from super after losing to lifeless St. Louis, and the Bengals haven't won a game in three weeks. The NFC West is suddenly, get this, Arizona's to lose. Yeah, the same Arizona that started Drew Stanton earlier this year.

Let's just say Seattle and San Francisco are both feeling the heat, and everybody in the NFC South is looking for a shot in the arm. Luckily, they all, uh, play in the NFC South, which pretty much stinks from top to bottom.

Let's check back in on how underdogs are doing against the spread (Spoiler: not as well as before), and look at our games of the week and picks.


Underdog Update:
Last Week: 7-8
Season: 52-52-2
Home Dogs, Last Week: 2-1
Home Dogs, Season: 12-16-1

Game(s) of the Week

Chargers at Broncos (8:25 pm Thursday, CBS)

This battle for AFC West supremacy comes a week after the Chargers dropped a close one to Kansas City and Peyton Manning made the usually formidable 49er defense look like Swiss cheese. At first glance, this has the look of a laugher that the red-hot Broncos should dominate (Thursday night at home), but don't sleep on the surprisingly stingy Charger pass defense, allowing the third lowest yards per game in football.

Couple that with Phillip Rivers and a group of speedy skill players, and this could be a good one… Or another Thursday blowout. We'll see.

Seahawks at Panthers (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

Seattle officially has its back against the wall after trading away its most dynamic offensive weapon in Percy Harvin, then dropping a game to wounded and desperate St. Louis. The Panthers are in even worse shape, as their best result since Week 2 is probably a tie with the Bengals, and last week's hapless performance against Green Bay has you wondering what the hell it is Carolina does well.

With a totally renovated secondary falling on its face and a lack of weapons on offense, the Panthers have underachieved, but Seattle's defense isn't exactly living up to its amazing reputation either.

Ravens at Bengals (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

The Ravens look like the kings of the North (it would be a better Game of Thrones parallel if they were "The Crows," but I digress), but the Bengals have to be feeling desperate after three weeks without a win. Even with a rough last few weeks, Cincinnati can still take a major step toward a division crown with a win Sunday, as it would ensure a season sweep over Baltimore (giving them the tie-breaker over the Ravens) and put them right back into the thick of things.

Colts at Steelers (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Speaking of the AFC North, who can figure out this Steelers team? They've looked lost on defense and anemic on offense at times, but strung together some amazing stretches of football as well. The defense is beaten and bruised, but the offense features arguably a Top-5 receiver in Antonio Brown and Top-5 back in Le'Veon Bell, plus an upper-echelon quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.

The problem is, what can the Steelers count on other than those three guys? Not much, but Indianapolis isn't the deepest team either, and Andrew Luck is beginning to look a little like early Roethlisberger in terms of the punishment he takes to lead his team down the field. The Colts are the better team, but Pittsburgh badly needs this win to stay in its division race.

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

DENVER (-8) over San Diego

The Broncos are absolutely rolling right now, and San Diego is coming off back-to-back letdowns. Half of me says that Denver can't keep this going and that San Diego is due for a bounce-back, but I'll ride Peyton Manning while he's in God-Mode.

JC: The Chargers won this game last year by dominating time of possession against a gassed Denver defense. Denver's defense is probably the most improved unit in football this season, though, so don't expect San Diego to be able to dominate third down like they did last year. 

Detroit (-4) over Atlanta (Played in London)

The Falcons are third-worst in the league against the pass, and Detroit has proven capable of moving the ball through the air, even without Calvin Johnson in the lineup. Megatron may be out again this week, but Falcons receiver Julio Jones has been limited in practice as well, so I'll call that even. Gimme the Lions and their stout defense.

JC: The sooner we realize that Atlanta's only two wins came against a New Orleans team that secretly might suck and a Tampa Bay team that definitely does suck, both at home, the better. Atlanta just isn't good. Their defense is bad and their offensive line is worse. Detroit's strong front four should have a field day. 

St. Louis (+7) over KANSAS CITY

AUSTIN DAVIS FTW! But seriously, I am absolutely ready to overreact to St. Louis' upset win over Seattle last week. The offense is somehow humming with Davis in there, and rookie running back Tre Mason looks like a keeper.

All that, and Robert Quinn is finally starting to look like Robert Quinn again, which is a big help.

JC: Kansas City has won their last five games against the spread, and it seems like the lines are starting to turn. These teams are way closer than this line would suggest, especially if the Rams' front four is awake. 

Houston (-2.5) over TENNESSEE

The Texans outplayed Pittsburgh for about 55 minutes Monday, but a disastrous three minutes before the half and a few other big plays doomed them. Tennessee, on the other hand, was barely able to hang with horrible Washington, and Colt McCoy proved to be too much for them.

JC: Tennessee is starting a sixth-round rookie (Zach Mettenberger) at quarterback. Against J.J. Watt. Think about it this way - against Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, and Ben Roethlisberger, the Texans are 0-4. But against an injured Robert Griffin III, Derek Carr, and E.J. Manuel, they're 3-0. Which group do you think Zach Mettenberger has more in common with?

Minnesota (+3) over TAMPA BAY

I get to bet against Tampa Bay AND get points? Oh wait, I have to take Minnesota? Ok, well I'll still do it.

JC: Year of The Underdog?

Seattle (-5.5) over CAROLINA

Everything I said last week about the Seahawks being out for blood… Sorta the same thing this week, only now they NEED to win. I think they get the job done against a depleted Carolina team that has no identity on either side of the ball right now.

JC: This is a statement game for Seattle. If they can't come up with a truly convincing win (and don't look now, but they haven't had one since Week 1), then it might be time to find a new NFC favorite.

Baltimore (-1) over CINCINNATI

The Ravens are just better than Cincinnati right now, and A.J. Green still isn't practicing. I expect Baltimore to put a stranglehold on the division Sunday.

JC: Not only is A.J. Green banged up, but so is Giovanni Bernard. That's both halves of Cincinnati's offensive engine. Baltimore should cruise, unless Bad Flacco decides to show up. 

Miami (-6) over JACKSONVILLE

The Dolphins seem to have circled the wagons, and I think Jacksonville's win last week was more about Cleveland than the Jags. Ryan Tannehill is actually playing efficient football and, even in a win, Jacksonville's offense was turnover-prone.

JC: Jacksonville got their win for the year. Now it's back to sucking. 

NEW ENGLAND (-6) over Chicago

The Bears seem to be imploding, and New England is rounding into form on both sides of the ball. Yeah, last week's game against New York was too close for comfort, but at home they should be able to distance themselves from a team in disarray.

JC: Bill Belichick after a bye week is historically amazing. The Patriots didn't have a bye last week, but playing on Thursday gives them an extra three days of preparation, so functionally it's the same thing. 

Buffalo (+3) over NY JETS

You can't stop Kyle Orton, you can only hope to contain him! In all seriousness, both these teams are flawed, so I'll take the points.

JC: Wait a minute - the Jets are *GIVING* points? To an NFL team? Who allowed this to happen?

Indianapolis (-3.5) over PITTSBURGH

The Colts are rolling offensively and playing very opportunistic football on defense. As for Pittsburgh, the defense is a mess, and the offense is remarkably hot-and-cold.

JC: If not for Ryan Fitzpatrick going all Ryan Fitzpatrick on Monday night, Pittsburgh loses. I don't think Andrew Luck is about to commit three turnovers in a span of 45 seconds. (Or did it just seem that bad?)

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

JP: Philadelphia (+2.5) over ARIZONAThe Cardinals are at home and playing well, but I can't get the image of Philly whooping the Giants out of my head. That, and I shutter to think what Chip Kelly has in store for the Arizona defense after an extra week to prepare.

JC: ARIZONA (-2.5) over Philadelphia
I don't see why this game would be substantially different from the Philly-San Francisco game. The Eagles couldn't score and were only in the game thanks to three return touchdowns. The degree to which the Eagles have been relying on special teams to win (or cover games) is going to catch up to them eventually. If Arizona's front seven locks down the Eagles' inside zone, I'm not sure what Plan B is.  

JP: CLEVELAND (-7) over Oakland The Raiders have played respectably against San Diego and Arizona the last two weeks, while the Browns have blown out the Steelers and gotten owned by the Jags. Still, Cleveland is at home, in desperation mode, and I just can't bring myself to bet on the Raiders.

JC: Oakland (+7) over CLEVELAND
Cleveland has played four super close games and lost to Jacksonville. Meanwhile, don't look now, but Oakland is 3-3 against the spread. I'm not sure Cleveland is good enough to be giving a touchdown against anyone. Even Oakland, even at home.  

JP: Green Bay (PK) over NEW ORLEANSOkay, I know the Saints are REALLY good at home, but have you watched these two teams play this year? Green Bay is miles ahead right now, I don't care where they play this thing.

JC: NEW ORLEANS (PK) over Green Bay
This is your last last chance, New Orleans. You covered last week, so I'm giving you one last chance. You won't have that luxury this week. Your only way to cover is to win outright.

JP: Washington (+10) over DALLAS

Hear me out. I think the Redskins can hold Murray under 150 yards, and Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is on an absolute tear (6 sacks the last 4 games). On the other side, Colt McCoy comes back to the Lone Star State and makes just enough plays to keep his team in the game.

Not saying Washington will win this thing outright, but it's hard to believe Dallas can sustain its level of play (particularly on defense). The good news for the Cowboys is they can have a let down and still survive against a bad Washington squad.

JC: DALLAS (-10) over Washington
I'm a believer.  

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 6-9
Season: 52-52-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-3
Season's Disagreements: 14-16

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 8-7
Season: 54-50-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-1
Season's Disagreements: 16-14

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