Friday, December 5, 2014

NFL Week 14 Primer (With Picks): Hitting the Home Stretch

A.J. Green is just like you. Except he's hoping to lead the Bengals to a fourth straight playoff appearance.
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We're late with our picks this week.

Joe (I) was tired, Jeremy was sick, and we're entering the final quarter of the NFL season. That means every team has exactly four games left to play. For teams in the AFC North, that means somebody is probably going to implode and somebody is probably going to get hot, while the Saints and Falcons suddenly look like decent playoff teams in the potentially not-historically-awful NFC South.

The Patriots' tough loss at Green Bay means they need to keep winning, while the NFC's top spot and NFC West title are up for grabs with Arizona coming apart at the seams.

As much as we've learned throughout the season's first three quarters, we still have so much to look forward to. Which playoff team is a fraud? Which 7-5 squad will catch fire and contend for the Super Bowl? Who will emerge in a crowded MVP race? When will Tony Romo totally screw this all up (not this week, apparently)?

Game(s) of the Week

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (1 pm Sunday, CBS)

First place in the AFC North will be on the line (sort of for Pittsburgh), but these teams do meet again in the Steel City a few weeks down the road.

Baltimore at Miami (1 pm Sunday, CBS)

A pair of 7-5 teams both eying the postseason meet in South Florida, and Baltimore will be without star defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who was suspended for the remainder of the regular season for violation of the league's performance enhancing drug policy.

Still, the Dolphins need the win more, as Miami only has the hotly contested AFC Wild Card race to hope for. Baltimore can always just bank on the rest of the AFC North wetting the bed.

Indianapolis at Cleveland (1 pm Sunday, CBS)

Cleveland is 7-5, in the thick of the playoff race and has fans clamoring for Johnny Football… Dear God, find an illegal stream of this game right now!

Buffalo at Denver (4:05 pm Sunday, CBS)

The Bills keep hanging around thanks to a fantastic pass rush, but will Mario Williams and Co. be able to rattle Peyton at home?

Kansas City at Arizona (4:05 pm Sunday, CBS)

The Chiefs are another 7-5 AFC team fighting for a playoff spot and, given Arizona's recent performances, this game is a lot less daunting than it looked a few weeks back. After falling back to Earth, the Cardinals also need a win in a big way. This one should have a playoff-type feel to it.

Seattle at Philadelphia (4:25 pm Sunday, FOX)

Forget Dallas and Arizona, those teams are so last month! This meeting of the NFC's top squads could determine whether or not Seattle's 12th Man can again help decide the conference's Super Bowl representative.

Underdog Update (Against the Spread):
Last Week: 8-8
Season: 93-97-2
Home Dogs, Last Week: 4-1
Home Dogs, Season: 26-28-1

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

Dallas (-4.5) over CHICAGO

We know the game already happened so it seems convenient that we both took Dallas, but we did. 

St. Louis (-3) over WASHINGTON

Washington is a disaster and the Rams actually have some positive momentum. Washington has actually been decent against the run this year, but with several key defenders out for the year, and the team's collective will seemingly broken, I'll ride with workhorse Tre Mason and St. Louis.

JC: St. Louis isn't actually that good (despite winning by 52 points last week they still have a negative scoring margin for the season), but Washington is just god-awful and should be getting a touchdown against pretty much anyone besides Oakland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, or Tampa Bay. 

Carolina (+10) over NEW ORLEANS

The Saints picked apart Pittsburgh last week, but gave up a ton of points at the end to make it look respectable. In a total throwback pick, I'm calling for Cam Newton to re-discover his "King of the Backdoor Cover" form and pull the Panthers within 10 on a meaningless late-game score.

JC: New Orleans picked up a win in the toughest game remaining on their schedule to keep hope alive of finishing with a winning record. Given the season they've had, it would only suit them to blow another home game against a bad team. At the very least, 10 points is too high. 

MINNESOTA (-6) over New York Jets

The Jets actually played Miami tough, but those Dolphins games always seem to bring out the best in them. I think they return to their form from the week prior (a 38-3 loss to Buffalo) and get housed by a sneaky-decent Minnesota team.

JC: The Jets discovered that they can run the ball pretty effectively, but an aberration on that scale (49 runs to just 13 passes) isn't likely to work two weeks in a row.

Baltimore (+3) over MIAMI

No idea what to expect from either of these teams, so I'll just take the points.

JC: With five teams tied at 7-5, it seems like decent odds that one of them wins out. My money is on Baltimore.

Indianapolis (-4) over CLEVELAND

The Browns have a shot to win the division, yet have stuck with ice-cold Brian Hoyer and refused to start Johnny Manziel at home in a critical game… I think we know how this all ends.

JC: Cleveland has played a cupcake schedule this year (easiest in the league), and still can't seem to get out of their own way. Over his last three games, Brian Hoyer has a QB Rating of just 55.7, compared to Andrew Luck, who has posted a 113.7 over the same time frame.

Houston (-6.5) over JACKSONVILLE

I know the Jags are coming off a win (though it was against the Giants), but Houston needs this win BAD to stay in the playoff hunt. They just plastered one bad divisional foe in Tennessee, and I don't see why they can't do it again this week against Jacksonville.

JC: Houston is a lot like their AFC South counterparts in Indianapolis. They beat up on bad teams and lose to good ones (their loss to the Giants being the one exception). They have two games against Jacksonville left on their schedule and they'll need to take both to have any hope of making the playoffs. 

DENVER (-10) over Buffalo

I really like Buffalo's defense, and as a Purdue alum, I feel like I should be optimistic about Kyle Orton. But, as a person who has eyes, I just can't do that. No way he keeps up with Peyton in Denver.

JC: Part of me thinks that the league's best pass rush can slow down Denver's offense the way St. Louis' did, but the rest of me thinks there's no way Buffalo can move the ball well enough against the league's No. 2-ranked run defense. 

Kansas City (PK) over ARIZONA

The Cardinals have plenty of issues offensively, not the least of which is protecting quarterback Drew Stanton and creating movement in the running game. With Andre Ellington averaging just 2.4 yards per carry the last two weeks and league sack leader Justin Houston bringing the heat for the Chiefs, I just don't see Arizona getting back on track.

JC: I called Arizona a fraud when they were 9-1 and I feel even more comfortable saying it now. They don't have a single win this season that makes you say "wow, they really dominated a good team," so don't expect one now. 

Seattle (+1) over PHILADELPHIA

Both these teams looked dominant on Thanksgiving and had an extra couple days to prepare for this matchup atop the NFC. I'm really torn here, but I'll go with the Seahawks due to championship experience, defense and not having Mark Sanchez starting at quarterback.

JC: The Seahawks have allowed six points in the last eight quarters of football, and they're about to go up against Mark Sanchez? Where do I sign up?

New England (-4) over SAN DIEGO

The Chargers picked up a big win over Baltimore, but I see them tumbling back to Earth against a motivated Tom Brady and New England.

JC: Never Count Out Touchdown Tom. 

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

JP: CINCINNATI (-3.5) over Pittsburgh

The Steelers have been .500 team since 2011, and they are 5-5 in my unofficial category of "games Ben Roethlisberger isn't in God Mode" this season.

Gimme three points for the game being in Cincinnati and another couple because I plain don't trust the Steelers to show up.

JC: Pittsburgh (+3.5) over CINCINNATI

Both teams have been floundering in recent weeks, and I really don't trust either team at this point. I'll take the points. Furthermore, if the Week 17 matchup between these two teams will decide the division (and I think it will), then Pittsburgh needs to make up some ground now.

JP: TENNESSEE (+1.5) over New York Giants

Oh man, these two. I doubt even Archie Manning watches this game.

JC: New York Giants (-1.5) over TENNESSEE


JP: Tampa Bay (+10) over DETROIT

The Bucs are awful, but they have talent on defense and play makers at receiver and running back. Jeez, if they were just decent at quarterback they could take the next step. On the other side, I just don't know if the Lions have back-to-back blowouts in them.

JC: DETROIT (-10) over Tampa Bay

I'm not sure why we need to doubt Detroit just because they lost to Arizona and New England (only two of the five best teams in the league), both on the road. 10 points is a lot to lay for a team that plays so many close games, but Tampa Bay just isn't good.  

JP: San Francisco (-9) over OAKLAND

I keep betting on the Niners to cover large spreads against awful teams, and they keep screwing it up. It will totally work this time though…

JC: OAKLAND (+9) over San Francisco

Both of these teams are 6-6 against the spread, and San Francisco has a whopping total of two double-digit wins this season (and none in their last six games). Expect another inexplicably close game.  

JP: Atlanta (+13.5) over GREEN BAY

Green Bay could have a bit of a let down, and the Falcons have been throwing the ball well enough to keep up with high-powered offenses in recent weeks. I think this line is over-valuing the Packers due to their win over the Pats last week, so I'll bet on the Dirty Birds to backdoor cover. Oh, that sounds kinda dirty.

JC: GREEN BAY (-13.5) over Atlanta

The Packers are undefeated against the spread at home. They blow teams out. Atlanta's road games this year have either been close wins (Carolina, Tampa Bay) or blowout losses (Baltimore, the Giants, Minnesota, Cincinnati). With Aaron Rodgers in God Mode (27:2 TD-INT ratio, 127.2 QB Rating over the last nine weeks), Green Bay should win convincingly. 

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 6-10
Season: 91-99-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2
Season's Disagreements: 23-31

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 7-9
Season: 99-91-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1
Season's Disagreements: 31-23

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