Friday, October 30, 2015

NFL Week 8 Primer (With Picks): A Premature End to Division Races?

Will the return of Ben Roethlisberger make Pittsburgh a legitimate player in the AFC North, or will Cincinnati all but lock up the division with a win Sunday?
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We're only in Week 8, and a bunch of divisional races may already be over. As crazy as it sounds, the Bengals can grab a stranglehold on the AFC North with a win in Pittsburgh this week, stretching their lead to three games over the Steelers with a victory.

But this isn't unique to one division. We pretty much pencil in New England as the AFC East champ every year, and this season the Patriots have etched it in stone before midseason. Their win over the Dolphins gave them a a two-game lead and the tie-breaker over Buffalo, while the Broncos can all but wrap up the AFC West with a win and Raiders loss this week.

Let's not even talk about the AFC South, which is competitive, but features some of the worst teams in football. When 1-5 Tennessee is only two games out of first place, you've got some problems.

In the NFC things are a bit more competitive, with an NFC South race between Carolina and Atlanta that could bring some high drama, and an NFC West led by Arizona, but with Seattle and St. Louis coming on strong. The NFC North is Green Bay's once again, and the NFC East is as unpredictable, and horrible, as it has been in a while.

With all that in mind, let's take a look at the games that already have playoff implications.

Game(s) of The Week

Detroit @ Kansas City (from London - 9:30 a.m. Sunday, FOX)

Get bent, England. You'll take our crappy football and like it.

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

This game decides which is the best bad team in the NFC. Functionally, this game doesn't mean much outside the NFC East, but it might tell us a lot for gambling purposes.

Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Cincinnati, obviously, sits atop the AFC North, and have a pretty comfortable lead. That being said, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh haven't played each other yet. With Ben Roethlisberger back, Pittsburgh certainly has a chance to win both and put themselves right back in the division race. If nothing else, Antonio Brown should be relevant again.

Green Bay @ Denver (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

Okay. Let's hop back in a time machine to the end of October last year. If I told you that Week 8 of the 2015 NFL season would feature a game of two undefeated teams, who are ranked 1st and 2nd in scoring defense, but 11th and 29th in total offense, how many guesses would you need before you got to Green Bay-Denver?

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

NEW ENGLAND (-8.5) over Miami

We both sniffed this one out - Miami's offense of the last few weeks has been thanks more to terrible defense than good schemes from the Dolphins, and the Patriots were due for a kick-ass-take-names outing.

Detroit (+4) over KANSAS CITY (London)

JC: I don't think Kansas City is four points better than anybody. At the very least, the Lions have been getting the ball to Calvin Johnson of late, and Detroit's terrible defense shouldn't matter as much against a quarterback who can't throw the ball downfield.

JP: This line is VERY skewed by KC's win over Pittsburgh and a third-string quarterback last week. The Lions, as bad as they've been, still have the talent on offense to put up points, and I'm still not sold on the Chiefs offense without Jamaal Charles.

Minnesota (PK) over CHICAGO

JC: At the end of the season when Minnesota is 10-6 and a frisky wild-card pick, we're definitely going to look back and have no idea how they lost to San Francisco by three scores back in Week 1.

JP: The Vikings are a playoff contender, and the Bears are just fighting to not be the worst team in the NFC. I get that the game is in Chicago, but how is Minnesota not giving any points?

Tampa Bay (+7.5) over ATLANTA

JC: I stared at this line for about 15 minutes and kept going back and forth. I really have no idea. When in doubt, take the points.

JP: As long as Jameis Winston doesn't throw multiple picks, Tampa Bay is talented enough to stay within a score of almost anybody (takes drink at the prospect of Jameis protecting the ball).

New York Giants (+3.5) over NEW ORLEANS

JC: I think I've taken every underdog who has been getting 3.5 points this season. I think I'm 0-for-however many. Whatever. Who cares.

JP: I can't get a feel for either of these teams, and the line is over a field goal, so I'll take the points.

ST. LOUIS (-8.5) over San Francisco

JC: I'm just gonna go for it - St. Louis is going to win the NFC West. There. I said it. They already have wins over Arizona and Seattle, still have two against San Francisco, plus the easy half of the NFC North (Chicago and Detroit, both at home), Tampa Bay, and Baltimore. Todd Gurley and the defense should take care of the rest. They're currently 7-to-1. Just sayin'.

JP: San Francisco is REALLY bad.

Cincinnati (+1.5) over PITTSBURGH

JC: As a general rule, if I get points for taking an undefeated team, I'm going to do it.

JP: Amazing that Pittsburgh is the favorite here, but I guess a home game with Ben Roethlisberger back in the lineup will do that. The Steelers have typically owned Cincinnati in big games, but doesn't it feel like this is the Bengals' year?

San Diego (+3.5) over BALTIMORE

JC: A competent quarterback against Baltimore's defense? Sure. Yes please.

JP: Start Phil Rivers in your fantasy league.

Tennessee (+3.5) over HOUSTON

JC: I don't get why Houston gives points. I really don't. Tennessee's defense is actually kinda good. If Mariota is mobile and can make plays, Houston's defense (which SUCKS, J.J. Watt be damned) can't deal with him.

JP: After watching a ton of film on both of these teams for my piece on the new-look Dolphins (that didn't last long, by the way), I have come to the conclusion that neither of these teams should be favored, ever. With that said, I'll take the team that is not favored.

Seattle (-6.5) over DALLAS

JC: Wait, you're telling me that I get Seattle's defense against Matt Cassel, and I don't even have to give a full touchdown? Where do I sign up? Here? Okay, I sign up.

JP: I'm still a little skeptical of Seattle, but yeah, the Dallas quarterback situation makes up for any Seahawk reservations. 

Indianapolis (+7) over CAROLINA

JC: I love the Panthers and I love Cam Newton, but Indianapolis has to start to put this together at some point, right? Like, is an Andrew Luck team going to go 6-10, 0-10 outside the division, and still make the playoffs? That seems far-fetched, right? Eventually they're going to have to win a game, or at least keep it close.

JP: If this were a half-point lower, I might be inclined to take the Panthers, but Carolina just isn't explosive enough, outside of Cam, to be giving a full touchdown. I don't feel good about it, but I guess I'll bet on the good Colts showing up this week in Charlotte.

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

JC: CLEVELAND (+6.5) over Arizona

Cleveland has an above-average pass defense. They pulled out garbage covers against San Diego, Baltimore (which they won outright), and Denver. Josh McCown inexplicably throws for a buttload of yards. I don't think Cleveland is actually good, but I think they're gambling good.

JP: Arizona (-6.5) over CLEVELAND

Yeah, but I think Arizona is actually good, provided Carson Palmer is on his game. Cleveland's defense isn't good enough to take him out of rhythm, and  Josh McCown is playing hurt (or we could have a Johnny Manziel sighting, which would be awesome).

JC: New York Jets (-3) over OAKLAND

Oakland is starting to look frisky but the Jets are legitimately good. Any team that holds a lead into the fourth quarter against the Patriots at home deserves to be taken seriously.

JP: OAKLAND (+3) over New York Jets

Good to see you're coming around on my Raiders, who I think are legitimately good, but will struggle a bit with consistency. All their important player are still on rookie deals, after all (except Charles Woodson, who is 73). I was impressed with the Jets' game against the Patriots, but come on, New York football teams always play surprisingly well against New England. That's like a law of nature.

I'll take the Raiders at home with the points to score a breakthrough win, or at least keep it very close.

JC: DENVER (+3) over Green Bay

As a general rule, if I get points for taking an undefeated team (who is also at home with the No. 1 defense and Peyton Manning in a night game), I'm going to do it.

JP: Green Bay (-3) over DENVER

The Broncos are playing at home with a sick defense against a beaten up Packer offense, but this just feels like a game that Aaron Rodgers takes over. These are the two top pass-rush defenses coming into the week (though New England tied Denver in their Thursday night win over the Dolphins), and which quarterback do you think is better equipped to escape pressure? Yeah, I'll go with arguably the best QB in the league, in his prime, against the interception-throwing carcass of Peyton Manning.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Week: 7-6-1
Season: 55-45-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2
Season's Disagreements: 15-11-2 

Joe's Record: 
Last Week: 8-5-1
Season: 51-49-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1
Season's Disagreements: 11-15-2

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