Friday, September 25, 2015

NFL Week 3 Primer (With Picks): A Crummy Slate With Some Big Lines

Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are 0-2, but still give over two touchdowns this week to the injury-depleted (and horrible) Bears.

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

Look, we all know that Jeremy wasn't going to go 13-2-1 every week. Nobody is going to nail 84.3 percent of their picks for a full season. If anyone ever does that, they're a wizard. Ask them who really killed Kennedy.

But Week 2 was a little bit of a regression. Really, not so much of a regression to the mean, but a regression far past the mean and a collision into suckitude. All the teams that came through for him in Week 1 (St. Louis, Miami, San Francisco, Tennessee) flopped, and the teams he made hay betting against (Minnesota, Oakland, Washington) all of a sudden won games outright as underdogs.

Joe wasn't as good Week 1, but still above board (9-6-1), but fell even harder in Week 2. His strategy of intentionally finding games to disagree with Jeremy on backfired, and he went 1-2 in disagreements, expanding Jeremy's lead even further. 

Through two weeks, we haven't really learned much other than the NFC East and AFC South are both hot garbage, the NFC West might not be as good as we think it is, and the AFC East might be the best division in football (so far).

The Patriots look like the clear favorite in the AFC, while the Packers and Cardinals appear to be the class of the NFC for now. Our best guess is that the Patriots will pace the AFC just about all season and a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl will depend on postseason health and matchups, while the NFC will be topsy-turvy for the next month or two before a favorite emerges around Thanksgiving. Who that is, we have no idea. Let's just get to the picks.

Game(s) of The Week

Dude, that is one homely slate this week. The only matchup of two undefeated teams is Atlanta-Dallas, which now his significantly less intrigue thanks to Tony Romo's collarbone. I was only able to talk myself into this one: 

Cincinnati @ Baltimore (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Cincinnati is an impressive 2-0, while Baltimore is a surprising 0-2 and suddenly might be decimated by injuries. Postseason prospects for teams that start the season 0-3 are historically, well, not good, so if they want to have any hope, they're going to need to get a move on, and quickly.

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

Pittsburgh (-1.5) over ST. LOUIS

JC: Pittsburgh has moved the ball pretty much at will through the first two weeks - even against the Patriots they were racking up yards, but drives fizzled in the red zone and they missed field goals. Now with Le'Veon Bell back in the lineup, they have an extra receiving threat (I was expecting him to be a huge upgrade over DeAngelo Williams, but Williams has been running like it's 2008 again - it's bizarre), and St. Louis doesn't have anyone on the boundary even remotely capable of dealing with Antonio Brown. The Rams got off to a nice start but it might have just been smoke and mirrors.

JP: Part of me thinks Pittsburgh will give up enough to keep the Rams in it, but the Steelers should get better week-to-week defensively as they adjust to new defensive coordinator Kevin Butler's scheme, and break in a host of new faces. For example, Brandon Boykin may have been Pittsburgh's best defensive back a week ago against San Francisco, and the dude didn't play a defensive snap in the opener against New England after coming over in a trade from Philly. This is a work in progress on defense, but everything Jeremy said about the offense is true, and the D should come along.

San Diego (+2.5) over MINNESOTA

JC: Minnesota bounced back nicely, and San Diego bounced back not so nicely, but the Chargers still looked pretty good in a losing effort. Cincinnati seems to be pretty good, and that game was competitive from start to finish. I'm sticking with my guns and saying Minnesota is overrated.

JP: I'm a little higher on the Vikings than you are, but I also like the Chargers this year, despite last week's loss to a good Bengals team. In this case I'll just say give me the points and the better quarterback.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) over HOUSTON

JC: Have we seen anything through two weeks that suggests Houston should be giving a touchdown against anybody? And didn't we just see last week that Tampa Bay is good enough to go on the road and beat an overrated team that's a far bigger favorite than they deserve? Houston can't run the ball and their quarterbacks are a bunch of Patriots castoffs that never made it anywhere. I think Michael Bishop and Damon Huard are on the depth chart.

JP: To answer your original question, no.

NEW YORK JETS (-2.5) over Philadelphia

JC: THE JETS WILL HAVE ALL OF YOUR FUMBLES, THANK YOU. There have been eight fumbles in the first two Jets games. The Jets have recovered all eight of them. If you accept all fumbles as roughly a 50-50 chance for each team to recover (which, statistically speaking, they are, with the exception of fumbled snaps), the likelihood of the Jets recovering eight fumbles in a row is roughly 0.39 percent. Not 39 percent, 0.39 percent. A one-in-256 chance. Call me crazy, but I feel like that isn't sustainable. What might be sustainable, however, is New York's ability to dominate the line of scrimmage, something Philadelphia has had trouble with. The Eagles have rushed for just 70 yards total through two weeks, and that's against teams with not-so-great defensive lines in Atlanta and Dallas. The Jets should win up front and that should carry them.

JP: How many more Eagles losses until Chip Kelly is officially a racist that can't coach? Judging from the talk on Philly talk radio, I'm guessing we could be there by Monday morning.

CAROLINA (-6.5) over New Orleans

JC: We spent half of last Thursday's game wondering if Peyton Manning was washed up, but I haven't heard much chatter about Drew Brees, who might actually be washed up. He's banged up, and if the Saints can't make big plays, they really have no offense to speak of. Carolina has dominated defensively in their first two games, and seem more willing to let Cam Newton freelance the offense as a runner and improviser. With the New Orleans defense as wishy-washy as it is, Newton should be able to run amok.

JP: Yeah, I think this is the year Drew and Peyton officially fall into actual decline. The only difference? Peyton still has a defense and some weapons around him. The Saints are in trouble, and it may be time for Brees to weasel his way out and get to a contender while he still has some game. 

Oakland (+3.5) over CLEVELAND

JC: Cleveland is starting Josh McCown despite (a) sucking with him at quarterback in Week 1 and (b) winning with someone else at quarterback in Week 2. You figure it out. Oakland made big plays last week and was able to keep Derek Carr upright, really the best thing you can do for a young quarterback. If they can protect him, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper might emerge as the most underrated duo of receivers in the league.

JP: I thought Oakland would surprise in Week 1 against Cincinnati... Turns out I was just a little early on the Raiders. I love this offense. You already mentioned the receivers, but I think Latavius Murray might be one of the league's most purely talented backs (6'3'' and 230 lbs shouldn't be able to run a 4.38 second 40-yard dash), and Derek Carr took a huge step from the opener to last week.

Atlanta (-1.5) over DALLAS

JC: I really don't care who they're playing and where, but if Brandon Weeden is the starting quarterback, I'm betting against Dallas. To be honest, I really can't figure out why they're even within a touchdown.

JP: That, and, I mean, Atlanta doesn't totally suck. I'm trying to figure this line out. If you took the franchise QB and best weapon off any other team, would the line be this close against an undefeated team? If Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger were out for the Steelers, I'd pick against them and give 10, so I'll go with Atlanta here.

ARIZONA (-6.5) over San Francisco

JC: So, Pittsburgh put up about 120 points on the 49ers last week, and the Cardinals are coming off a game where they covered a 46-point over/under all on their lonesome. As long as Carson Palmer is healthy, this Arizona offense is going to be explosive. San Francisco has a smoke-and-mirrors defense that will work occasionally, but it won't here.

JP: The 49ers defense was absolutely exposed last week, much in the way that many thought the Vikings would in Week 1. I'm willing to put the Cardinals closer to the Steelers than the Vikes, and they're at home, so gimme Arizona.

SEATTLE (-15) over Chicago

JC: I don't like spreads this big (more on that later), but this is a pissed-off Seattle team, with Kam Chancellor back, fighting to avoid an 0-3 start, against a Chicago team that sucked WITH Jay Cutler, and now will be turning to Jimmy Clausen, and might still be without Alshon Jeffery. This line could be 30 points and I would still consider taking Seattle.

JP: I wouldn't take it at 30, but I understand your sentiment. Did you watch the Bears with Jimmy Clausen last week? It was like they didn't know whether or not he could actually throw a football. It was all bubble screens and dump offs. Then, when they did let him throw it down the field, an immediate interception. Gonna be a long season for Chicago.

Buffalo (+2.5) over MIAMI

JC: Through two weeks, it seems like the Jets unexpectedly supplanted both of these teams as the 2nd-best AFC East squad, but Buffalo has looked far more impressive through two weeks than Miami has. The Jaguars got pressure on Ryan Tannehill last week, so Buffalo should be able to double-down on that.

JP: I disagree with your assessment of the Jets, a little, but agree with your pick here. The Bills can get pressure without blitzing, and when you can do that against Miami, Tannehill usually struggles. 

Denver (-3.5) over DETROIT

JC: The Vikings absolutely beat the crap out of Matthew Stafford last week, so imagine what Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will do. The Lions had no running game to speak of and through two weeks, have been suspect against power rushing attacks and short passes. The Broncos should be able to take advantage of all three of those areas, and Peyton Manning always seems to pull night games out of his butt exactly when he needs to.

JP: As I said above in my New Orleans pick, I think Peyton's decline has for reals begun (as opposed to all those other time he got a little worse physically, but found some other way to actually imrpove and break records and such), but I love this Denver defense. Add in the fact that Teddy Bridgewater was able to find holes in the Lions' secondary, and it's hard not to take the Broncos. 

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

JC: NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5) over Washington

The game sucked, but I'll take it.

JP: Washington (+3.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

Joe didn't Tweet his pick but Jeremy has screenshots of the text and will provide proof if necessary.

JC: Jacksonville (+14) over NEW ENGLAND

As a general rule, I'm not too fond of two-touchdown spreads. For this Patriots team, especially, who allowed a garbage time touchdown in Week 1 for a miracle push, then let Buffalo back in the game with a 19-point fourth quarter, covering two touchdowns might be a tall order. Blake Bortles has shown no hesitation to bombing the ball downfield, which could become a problem if Bradley Fletcher is prominently involved. The Patriots should win easily, but 14 points makes me nervous.

JP: NEW ENGLAND (-14) over Jacksonville

I hate two-touchdown spreads as well, but I just don't see a Bill Belichick defense getting out-foxed by Blake Bortles. This game is at home, the Pats have a bye coming up, and literally every talk radio guy in town and every other fan is talking about them running the table.

Now that I think about it, that kind of sounds like they're about to have a letdown... Nope, sticking to my guns. Patriots by 21.

JC: BALTIMORE (-2.5) over Cincinnati

As mentioned above, I don't think Baltimore is going to allow themselves to fall to 0-3. They're a good home team, and it's a small spread.

JP: Cincinnati (+2.5) over BALTIMORE

Wait, I'm getting points for riding with an undefeated team, looking to grab a stranglehold on the division, going against a beaten up defense and a weaponless offense? I'll take it.

JC: Indianapolis (-3.5) over TENNESSEE

Same deal as Baltimore. I can't see Indianapolis falling to 0-3, and Tennessee is the type of team that they usually beat up on.

JP: TENNESSEE (+3.5) over Indianapolis

You have much more faith in these desperate teams than I do. Not sure if the Titans will win this outright, but man does Indy have problems up front and, crazily enough, Andrew Luck has compounded their problems so far. Let's call it a Mariota bounce-back game at home as well.

JC: GREEN BAY (-7) over Kansas City

Aaron Rodgers may or may not be human. We'll check it out and report back.

JP: Kansas City (+7) over GREEN BAY

You know what, I like KC to keep this thing within a score. I mean, it's not like Green Bay dominated a bad Bears team in Week 1, and they only pulled away late against Seattle last week. With the Chiefs' running game and defense, I could see 'em hangin' in there.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 6-10
Season: 19-12-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1
Season's Disagreements: 7-2

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 5-11
Season: 14-17-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2
Season's Disagreements: 2-7

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