Thursday, October 1, 2015

NFL Week 4 Primer (With Picks) - Still Can't Be Sure

The Bengals and quarterback Andy Dalton (14) come into Week 4 undefeated and riding high, while linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) and the 0-3 Ravens badly need a win Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We've learned a few things over the first three weeks of the season - The Packers still have an elite offense even without Jordy Nelosn, the Broncos have maybe the best defense in football, the Patriots plan on scoring a lot of points, and the Cardinals are taking no prisoners. Meanwhile, Chicago and New Orleans suck, and the AFC South is a dumpster fire as usual.

But there's a lot we still don't know. For instance - is Atlanta actually good? They've beaten three NFC East teams, but the NFC East might suck. Are the Panthers good? They're also 3-0, but they've also defeated three terrible teams. Are the Colts as bad as they look, or are the Bills and Jets just much better than we were anticipating? How good (or bad) are teams like Tennessee, Oakland, Kansas City, Minnesota, St. Louis, and the entire AFC North? There's still a lot of uncertainty about.

Game(s) of the Week

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (8:25 p.m. Thursday, CBS/NFL Network)

I know Ben Roethlisberger isn't playing in this one, but it's still Steelers-Ravens in Pittsburgh, and both teams have a ton to play for. The 2-1 Steelers are just hoping to stay afloat without their franchise quarterback, and they'll lean on the largely washed up Michael Vick to manage the offense, hoping that All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown and All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell can bring him along.

On the other side, the Ravens are 0-3 for the first time since the club moved to Baltimore, and staring a playoff-less season in the face. Aging receiver Steve Smith Sr. is playing like a young pup again, but the Ravens haven't found any other reliable weapons offensively. Normally that wouldn't be a huge problem, but Baltimore is currently a below-average defense thanks to the loss of All-Pro linebacker Terrell Suggs, ranking 22nd in the league in total defense (and that counts a solid Week 1 performance in which Suggs played most of the game).

Both teams have issues in the secondary, but can the toothless Ravens skill position group or the Vick-led Steelers offense capitalize?

New York Giants at Buffalo (1 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

This intrastate matchup will tell us a lot more about both teams. The Giants are 1-2, but with close losses to undefeated Atlanta and Dallas (when the Cowboys had Tony Romo). Meanwhile, the Bills have stomped both Indianapolis and Miami, but I'm not sure either of those wins is quite as impressive as we thought a few weeks ago.

Something has to give, and we'll see just how good Buffalo's defense is against a Giants offense, and if Tyrod Taylor can continue to make good decisions against simplistic defenses. Injuries could also loom large in this one, as Giants receiver Victor Cruz has re-aggravated his calf injury, and LeSean McCoy may not be available for the Bills.

Houston at Atlanta (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

A desperate team with some redeeming qualities hoping to get its season back on track, playing at an undefeated team that we're not sure is for real.

Kansas City at Cincinnati (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

See above.

Minnesota at Denver (4:25 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

The Broncos are undefeated, but surprise, Minnesota is 2-1! Sure, they're not a very impressive 2-1, but this slate of games isn't exactly stellar, so check out the late game on FOX for Peyton Manning vs Teddy Bridgewater.

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

Baltimore (-3) over PITTSBURGH

JC: So, Baltimore is in full-on desperation mode at 0-3, and they're playing against a team that's replacing their quarterback on a short week, so it's unlikely that they're going to have a small handful of packages available. Thursday games are always ugly and disjointed, and that's more likely to favor the team that, you know, isn't relying on a washed-up backup quarterback.

JP: Yeah, desperate team that has its quarterback vs somewhat content team that has the shell of Michael Vick... I'll take the former.

NEW YORK JETS (-2) over MIAMI (London)

JC: The Dolphins are a miracle Jarvis Landry punt return in Week 1 from being winless right now (and that Week 1 game was against Washington, who seems to suck, so that doesn't bode well for them either). The Bills absolutely manhandled them up front on both sides of the ball last week, and the Jets have a lot of talent in the trenches that should be able to replicate that. 

JP: Remember how the Bills bullied the Colts, then the Jets did the exact same thing the following week? Miami is about to feel Indianapolis' pain, and coach Joe Philbin may be on the way out as this promising Dolphins season seems to be falling apart far earlier than anyone anticipated.

New York Giants (+5.5) over BUFFALO

JC: Buffalo's front four is pretty impressive, but the Giants have been leaning on an offense built on short passes, which is what the Patriots did to cause Buffalo fits. Granted, Tom Brady is much better executing that offense than Eli Manning is, and the Giants don't have reasonable facsimiles for Julian Edelman or Rob Gronkowski, but what they do have is the "if the pass rush is becoming a problem just throw the ball in the general direction of Odell Beckham and it will probably work out" package, which has worked fairly well for them so far.

JP: Don't talk to me about how the Giants don't have scrappy little white receivers, they worked out Wes Welker this week! On a serious note, I do like the Bills to win this game, but it has more of a field goal feel to me, and I believe this line has been inflated due to Buffalo's demolition of a half-dead Miami team last week.

Oakland (-3) over CHICAGO

JC: Holy crap are the Bears terrible. Like, Jay Cutler isn't even good, but the drop-off from him to Jimmy Clausen is like the drop-off from Peyton Manning in his prime to, well, Jay Cutler. You get the point. Oakland's offense looks pretty fresh - they might be my sneaky-good underdog pick in future weeks. For now, I think they can cover a field goal against the worst team in the league. 

JP: The Bears are probably the worst team in football, and they seem to be in tank/fire sale mode (fail for Cardale? Lose easy for Nkemdiche? Have all your starters drink Mimosas for Bosa?). Oakland actually has some hope and some good young players, so I'll take them to win by a field goal over the fighting Jimmy Clausens. 

WASHINGTON (+3.5) over Philadelphia

JC: List of NFC East teams I currently believe in: [whoops there aren't any teams on the list]. Just give me the points.

JP: Uh... I have no idea what to expect from either team in this game, but I think Washington can run the ball, and Sam Bradford will probably get hurt.

Cleveland (+7.5) over SAN DIEGO

JC: San Diego's loss last week wasn't as bad as the scoreboard indicated. There was a 10- or 14-point swing when the Vikings intercepted Phil Rivers inside the 10 yard line and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. The Chargers out-gained Minnesota by 115 yards but somehow lost by two touchdowns, so I don't think it's time to panic yet. That being said, they shouldn't be favored by a touchdown. 

JP: I hate making this pick, because I could totally see the Browns losing by 35 here and Johnny Manziel being named starter for life by default after the fact. But, this line seems a point too high for me, considering San Diego has underwhelmed thus far.

Green Bay (-9.5) over SAN FRANCISCO

JC: Until I receive proof that Aaron Rodgers is human, I'm sticking with him. 

JP: And don't forget that San Francisco sucks.

Minnesota (+7) over DENVER

JC: Denver's offense is still sputtering, which means all their opponent has to do is run the ball to slow down the pass rush and then make a big play or two downfield once the defense softens up. If Minnesota's pass rush can affect Manning, the Vikings could conceivably pull an upset. I'm not betting on that, but I like them at least enough to cover. 

JP: Everyone that is saying Peyton Manning looked great last week didn't watch Denver's win over Detroit. He made a bunch of good decisions, and a few good throws, but anything beyond 20 yards hung in the air for seemingly an eternity, and Demaryious Thomas had to come back to his "amazing" 45-yard touchdown pass to end the first half.

Look, Peyton is one of the smartest quarterbacks of all time, so he's not going to suck, but this isn't your big brother's Peyton Manning. I'll be picking against the Broncos in games where they're giving a touchdown or more (unless they're playing the Bears or Dolphins). 

ARIZONA (-7) over St. Louis

JC: They're reliable for as long as Carson Palmer is healthy. If that actually turns out to be all 16 games, watch out. This team has talent everywhere (except, you know, backup quarterback, but you get the idea). 

JP: Yeah, they really should have brought in Michael Vick to fix that problem... Back to the Cards, who are loaded on defense, have Larry Fitzgerald suddenly playing like it's 2008 and seem to be on a mission. Arizona wants to get an early jump in the NFC West, and a win in St. Louis would certainly help them before they get into the meat of their schedule. This team has the talent to dethrone Seattle in the West and contend with Green Bay in the NFC.

Dallas (+5) over NEW ORLEANS

JC: New Orleans is garbage. They should not be favored by more than a field goal against anybody. If Dallas can lead for most of the game against Atlanta, they can beat New Orleans outright.

JP: I'm sure Sunday Night Football is thrilled to get a quarterback duel between Brandon Weeden and Luke McCown. 

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

JC: ATLANTA (-7) over Houston

The Falcons are either The Good Bad Team or The Bad Good Team, I'm not sure which yet. But either way, they're going to spend the majority of the season beating up on mediocre-or-worse teams. Nobody has shown any evidence that Julio Jones can be slowed down, let alone stopped, while Houston has a red zone offense that resembles a drunk baby trying to give CPR. Atlanta will score touchdowns while Houston has to settle for field goals. 

JP: Houston (+7) over ATLANTA

I still don't trust the Falcons enough to give a touchdown, even at home.

JC: INDIANAPOLIS (-9) over Jacksonville

At the very least, the Colts' offense woke up last week, and the Jaguars are coming off a game where they surrendered 51 points. The Jaguars tried their "when all else fails, just throw deep" offense against the Patriots and it didn't work. It could against the Colts, but I'm betting that this is the week Indianapolis finally turns it around. 

JP: Jacksonville (+9) over INDIANAPOLIS

The "Andrew Luck is playing hurt" narrative is already starting, which is basically excuse-making for the fact that the Colts are playing so poorly. The offense may have woken up, but it's still turning the ball over. The Jags may not have to chuck it deep if they get a couple of picks (Luck has thrown 7 in three games this season), and they've already shown they can score points against an undisciplined defense (Miami). Indy is not exactly a model for defensive soundness.

JC: TAMPA BAY (+3.5) over Carolina

I'm not sure if Carolina is actually good, but I'm betting on no. If they come out and drop a flying elbow on the Bucs, I'll be convinced, but they haven't really had an emphatic win yet.

JP: Carolina (-3.5) over TAMPA BAY

The Bucs just lost by 10 to Houston and were annihilated by Tennessee in Week 1. If they didn't beat the imploding Saints in Week 2 (and they almost blew it in the second half), this line would be around 10.

JC: CINCINNATI (-4.5) over Kansas City

Kansas City's pass rush is the only thing that has translated for them across the first three weeks, but Andy Dalton has quietly been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league so far, and the Bengals' Week 1 blowout over Oakland is looking a lot more impressive now. The Kansas City secondary has been absolutely torched for the last six quarters, so I don't see them having a lot of success against A.J. Green. 

JP: Kansas City (+4.5) over CINCINNATI 

I mean, to be fair, that secondary has been "torched" by Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, so I'll cut them a little slack. Andy Dalton is playing well, but I like KC to step it up as a bit of desperation creeps in.

JC: SEATTLE (-10) over Detroit

Matthew Stafford has been getting beat up and Detroit can't run the ball. That's not a recipe for success against Seattle, who got absolutely funky on Chicago last week. With Kam Chancellor back, the Seahawks seem to have their groove back, so thumping on the Lions shouldn't be too much to ask.

JP: Detroit (+10) over SEATTLE

I'm not so sure the Seahawks are back on track after last week's demolition of the fire-sale Bears, so I'll take a Detroit team that at least has some weapons, a feeling of desperation, and a two-score spread.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Week: 9-7
Season: 28-17-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-3
Season's Disagreements: 9-5

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 10-6
Season: 24-23-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-2
Season's Disagreements: 5-9

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

You guys are overrating desperation. You're talking about it like some video games power ups teams can use when about to be knocked out. If Atlanta loses, it's because they didn't play well enough, not because their weaker opponent suddently became better to avoid a 3rd loss. Same for the Bengals.

Other than that, good article, as always!