Wednesday, November 26, 2014

NFL Week 13 Primer (With Picks): Byes Are Over; NFC South Still Sucks; Thanksgiving

Can Aaron Rodgers and the Pack cool off the red-hot Patriots?
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Picks are out a day early this week, as most of you (and us) will be too busy gorging on poultry (or preparing to gorge on poultry, or traveling to a place where you plan to gorge on poultry) come Thursday to read our incessant rambling.

Bye weeks are over, which means from here on out, we get a full slate for the rest of the season. The bad news means that now that bye weeks are over, we're guaranteed to see all four NFC South teams play every week.

There are five weeks left in the season, and the Falcons and Saints are tied for the division lead at 4-7. That's [expletive deleted]ing ridiculous. There's never been a division winner that's ever finished worse than 7-9, so that means even to *match* that, one of them would have to finish 3-2. One of them is guaranteed to get to at least five wins, considering they play each other in Week 16 (New Orleans hosts that train-wreck, which, if it ends in a tie, I believe NFL rules state that the NFC South folds and all the players get re-drafted by the real playoff teams). New Orleans' other games are at Pittsburgh, home for Carolina, at Chicago, and at Tampa Bay (they could get to 7-9 if they just beat the other garbage teams in the division, which doesn't seem fair, considering there's a good chance that a 10-win team in the AFC North with a head-to-head win over New Orleans will be left out). Atlanta's other games are Arizona, at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Carolina (seems more likely than not that they finish 5-11). The dark horse, absolutely inexplicably, is Carolina at 3-7-1. If they upset New Orleans and Atlanta (although considering how much all these teams suck, I'm not sure it actually qualifies as an "upset"), their other three games are at Minnesota and home for Cleveland and Tampa Bay. If they get to 7-8-1, they'll win the division. Now excuse me while I go vomit blood.

[Devil's advocate that I'm not sure I buy, but statistical evidence says is worth mentioning - New Orleans has been one of the unluckiest teams in the league this year. Their aggregate scoring margin is 288-286, which suggests they're pretty much a .500 team. They're 0-4 in games decided by 3 points or less, 1-5 in games decided by 7 points or less, and historical evidence suggests that teams, regardless of quality, should finish close to .500 in those types of games. On the season, Detroit has outscored opponents by seven points total (but is 4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less). San Francisco has outscored opponents by three points total (but is 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less). They're both 7-4. New Orleans has outscored opponents by two points total, but they're 4-7. According to most metrics, those three teams are vaguely equal. So maybe New Orleans' luck will turn around and they'll get to .500.]

(P.S. Underdogs are turning things around, going 17-12 over the last two weeks. We said "Year Of The Underdog" was dead, but maybe we have a Michael Myers situation on our hands.)

Underdog Update:
Last Week: 9-6
Season: 85-89-2
Home Dogs, Last Week: 3-1
Home Dogs, Season: 22-27-1

Game(s) of The Week:

Philadelphia @ Dallas (4:30 p.m. Thursday, FOX)

This game, as well as their rematch in Week 15, will go a long way towards deciding the NFC East champion. If the last few years are any indication, Philly will beat Dallas both times and the Cowboys will somehow find a way to finish 8-8. 

Seattle @ San Francisco (8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC)

Even when both teams are having (relative) down years, these games take on greater importance. With Arizona having huge stumble potential down the stretch, the NFC West is up for grabs. And with the NFC East and NFC North each having potential wild-card candidates, someone is going to be left out in the cold (my guess is Detroit, but who knows).

New Orleans @ Pittsburgh (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

Just in case it wasn't clear, the Saints are 4-7 and will be playing for first place in the NFC South.

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

The AFC is even more topsy-turvy than the NFC. 12 of the 16 teams are still technically alive, and an astounding seven teams (including these two) have seven wins, but a 6-5 team (Miami) might be better than all of them. It's going to be a very weird few weeks, so any matchup among teams in the second tier (pretty much everyone after New England and Denver) deserves extra attention. 

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

See above. 

New England @ Green Bay (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

As the league looks now, this seems to be the most likely Super Bowl preview, and, as a matter of fact, the fancy computers at Football Outsiders lists it as the most likely (a 9.0 percent chance). 

Denver @ Kansas City (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

The Broncos have looked very beatable of late (2-2 over their last four, one of the wins was over Oakland, and the other was by the skin of their teeth against Miami; the two losses were both convincing against New England and St. Louis), and until last Thursday Night (I repeat ad nauseam - ALWAYS a weird game that usually doesn't say much of anything in the long run), Kansas City had won five straight and covered nine straight. If Kansas City steals a win, they might end up stealing the division, too.

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

Chicago (+7) over DETROIT

JC: The Lions are reeling, almost like they just remembered that they're coached by Jim Caldwell. Chicago has been impressive in their last two games (granted, they've been against Minnesota and Tampa Bay), but even on the whole, their resume says they're pretty decent if you exclude the two blowout losses against New England and Green Bay (who are only the two best teams in the league, and both of those games were on the road). A touchdown seems a little steep here.

JP: What's up with Detroit's offense? With a healthy Megatron and Golden Tate catching balls from Matt Stafford, this team should be putting up more than a combined 15 points the last two weeks. Granted, those pitiful performances came against Arizona and New England, and this week brings a significantly worse Bears D, but the Lions haven't scored more than 24 since week 1. Hard to lay a touchdown when the team you're betting on generally only scores one or two in a game.

DALLAS (-3.5) over Philadelphia

JC: If it were Foles, I'd take Philly. I think one of these teams is secretly overrated and the sniff test would suggest Dallas. But with Mark Sanchez, I'll lay the extra half-point.

JP: I'm going to keep riding Dallas until their seemingly inevitable meltdown.

Seattle (+1) over SAN FRANCISCO

JC: Remember above when I mentioned that San Francisco only has a scoring margin of plus-seven for the entire season? Well, Seattle is plus-61. Just because they have the same record doesn't mean they're of the same quality. Go through San Francisco's schedule - they have some garbage wins against teams they should have blown out (read: New Orleans, New York, Washington).

JP: San Francisco seems like a bit of a fraud at this point (they've beaten terrible Washington & the NY Giants the last two weeks in boring, teen-scoring games), and you get the feeling Seattle is finally waking up. I worry about the Seahawk line holding up against a still salty San Francisco front, and Anquan Boldin is quietly having a great year, but I still think Seattle gets the win and takes control of the Wild Card race/puts itself back in position to win the NFC West.

INDIANAPOLIS (-10) over Washington

JC: If there's anything in the league that I can trust right now, it's that Andrew Luck and the Colts take care of business against bad teams. Against a team that's even or better, it's anyone's guess (are they going to blow out Cincinnati or get blown out by Pittsburgh?), but against an overmatched Washington, I'll ride the Luck train.

JP: Washington is a mess right now after benching RG3 and going with Colt McCoy... Though McCoy did lead the team to its only significant win this year (at Dallas)... Nope, no way I'm starting to bet on Washington now.

Cleveland (+2.5) over BUFFALO

JC: I really hate both of these teams. I don't think either one is as good as advertised. Speaking of close games, Cleveland has played in six games decided by five points or less, Buffalo has played in five games decided by six points or less. When both teams play a lot of close games, just give me the team getting points.

JP: Dammit Cleveland, why do you keep getting points against bad teams? Now I have to keep betting on you.

BALTIMORE (-5.5) over San Diego

JC: The Ravens are playing well, San Diego is struggling big time. And it's a west coast team traveling East and playing at 1 p.m. EST. San Diego might be desperate, considering their murderous end-of-year schedule (at Baltimore, New England, Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City), but the Ravens will be just as desperate with all four AFC North teams in a virtual tie for first place.

JP: Ditto.

New York Giants (-3) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: The Giants have occasionally looked like a professional football team. They're a lot better than 3-8. Look at their losses - Detroit, Arizona, Philadelphia, Dallas twice, Indianapolis, Seattle, and San Francisco. Which of those are we saying should be a win? Against average-or-worse teams, they take care of business (double-digit wins over Houston, Washington, and Atlanta).

JP: Dammit Jags, you couldn't even backdoor cover a +14 when you were within 3 at halftime last week? I'm done betting on you guys.

ST. LOUIS (-7) over Oakland

JC: Dilemma. My against-the-spread sleeper (Oakland is 6-5!) against my real-life sleeper. St. Louis has come up with some impressive wins (both Super Bowl teams is nothing to sneeze at), and all of their losses are pretty defensible (except Week 1 against Minnesota). The Rams haven't really blown anyone out this year, so a 1-10 team would be a good place to start.

JP: I hate myself for picking against the Raiders after their first win, especially since I don't think they're quite as bad as their record indicates, but the Rams have defeated both Seattle and Denver in their last two home games. Dome Sweet Dome.

Cincinnati (-4) over TAMPA BAY

JC: I'm just going to bet against the NFC South and see what happens

JP: Hard to take the Bucs against anybody when they're getting less than a touchdown. With the Bengals back at full strength on offense, this one could get ugly.

MINNESOTA (-2.5) over Carolina

JC: See above.

JP: I'm half-tempted to take the Panthers just to disagree with you, but the fact of the matter is that Carolina has lost five in a row while Minnesota is coming off a very impressive loss at Green Bay and Teddy Bridgewater is playing some pretty good football for them. I guess I'll continue your NFC South bashing.

Arizona (-3) over ATLANTA

JC: See above.

JP: NFC South bashing nearly complete...

New England (+3) over GREEN BAY

JC: Okay, so here's where we're at - Green Bay is 4-0-1 against the spread at home. New England is 4-0 against the spread as an underdog. Green Bay hasn't lost at home at all, the Patriots losses came against the two most underrated teams in the AFC (Miami and Kansas City, both of whom sport aggregate scoring margins better than anyone in the NFC other than Green Bay). Both teams have juggernaut offenses and banged-up defenses. And both teams are the hottest (and just best, period) teams in their respective conferences. Isn't everything pointing towards "these teams are even, just take the points"? I say yes.

JP: Any time I can take New England and the points, I do.

Miami (-6) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: Miami is really good and the Jets are really bad. You could make an argument that this should be the highest line of the week. I don't get why it's only six.

JP: Phins up!

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

JC: HOUSTON (-6) over Tennessee

Ryan Mallett is out for the year, which means the return of the Ryan Fitzpatrick era, but remember - this is a revenge game for Fitzpatrick. He wants to exact vengeance on the Tennessee team that ditched him. Or, you know, he just wants to play well enough to not blow a game against a team they should blow out if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.

JP: Tennessee (+6) over HOUSTON

I have this sneaking suspicion that Tennessee is going to upset SOMEBODY down the stretch and ruin their season. Houston with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback seems like as good a candidate as any.

JC: PITTSBURGH (-4) over New Orleans

See above (NFC South).

JP: New Orleans (+4) over PITTSBURGH

So, the Steelers couldn't cover against the Titans and have been as hot-and-cold a team as there is in football. Coming off a bye, which I think might cool down the Steelers offense, I actually trust them less. New Orleans has had to hear all week how terrible they are, and I could see them coming out and stealing this one.

JC: KANSAS CITY (+2.5) over Denver

I'm probably going to feel stupid about this later, especially because I'm not even getting a field goal, but Kansas City's incredible streak of covers was only busted by quite possibly the goofiest game in the long history of goofy Thursday Night games. Look at the slate of Thursday games this year. Have any of them been representative of the two teams' actual quality? It's really just Week 11 (Dolphins over Bills), Week 8 (Broncos over Chargers), and Week 2 (Ravens over Steelers) that we can really say offered conclusive results. When Atlanta comes up with a 42-point win, the Giants come up with a 31-point win, and the Jets nearly beat the Patriots with a field goal as time expires, we might as well just throw the Thursday games out the window. That's what I'm doing.

JP: Denver (-2.5) over KANSAS CITY

Arrowhead is a tough venue and the Chiefs need a win after that disappointing loss to Oakland, but if you're giving me Peyton Manning against anybody except the two or three best teams in the league and I can lay less than a field goal, I'm taking it. The Chiefs are good, but they aren't New England/Green Bay good.

 Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 8-7
Season: 85-89-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2
Season's Disagreements: 22-29

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 8-7
Season: 92-82-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2
Season's Disagreements: 29-22

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