Friday, November 13, 2015

NFL Week 10 Primer (With Picks): Halfway Done

Can Arizona wrangle Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to seize control of the NFC West?
  By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

At some point last Sunday, the NFL season officially hit the halfway mark. Every team has played at least eight games. Some have played nine.

The cream is starting to rise to the top, at least in the AFC. The Patriots, Bengals, and Broncos, based on their current records and the strength of their divisions, have all but wrapped up playoff berths, barring an epic, near-unprecedented collapse. (Football Outsiders lists all three as having a better than 90 percent chance of winning their divisions).

Indianapolis seems to remain the favorite in the South, if only by default, and a handful of other teams - New York, Buffalo, Miami, Pittsburgh, Oakland - will be left to duke it out for two Wild Card spots. You could try to talk yourself into Baltimore, Houston, or Kansas City, but you'd be very stupid.

The NFC is murkier. The only team with a real stranglehold on their division is Carolina, but really only because Atlanta has stumbled of late, and their 5-0 start may have been a mirage. The East and the West are both totally up for grabs, and the NFC North suddenly finds itself with a tie atop the division between Green Bay and Minnesota. The Packers are still the favorites (and a Week 17 head-to-head at Lambeau Field with the Vikings tilts the scales even more), but Minnesota's easy schedule should continue to benefit them.

Don't expect much separation to occur this weekend - only two games feature teams competing for (potentially) the same playoff spot, and one of them occurred Thursday night. As for the other one, it's one of our games of the week.

Game(s) of The Week

New England at New York Giants (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

New England is obviously the class of the AFC East, and probably the favorite to take the conference crown. The Giants are certainly in the mix in the NFC East, and have proven time and again that, once in the playoffs, they're capable of making inexplicable runs to the Lombardi trophy. These aren't your slightly-older-brother's Giants' teams - there isn't much of a pass rush, and they don't throw deep. Their success stems from short timing routes to quick, shifty receivers.

Kind of like, you know, the Patriots.

Arizona at Seattle (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

This is really the only matchup with any true playoff implications, or, at the very least, the only game where a tiebreaker might be decided (other than Thursday night, of course). Seattle is a bit of a tough nut to crack. They're just 4-4, but those losses are to St. Louis, Green Bay, Cincinnati, and Carolina. None of those offer any reason to be embarrassed whatsoever.

They've taken care of business against Chicago and San Francisco, which is promising, but they've also struggled to put away teams like Detroit and Dallas, which is troubling. Arizona holds the lead in the division, but a Seattle win could certainly make things interesting.

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

Buffalo (+2) over NEW YORK JETS

We both had this one. Jeremy, for one, is starting to think that the Thursday night game just comes down to whichever team had an easier game the previous Sunday. Wouldn't it make sense that if one team blew out their opponent and didn't really have to do much in the fourth quarter (Buffalo) would hold an advantage over a team that had to fight down to the last drive (New York) when they're playing again with just three days in between? We'll keep an eye out.

Chicago (+7) over ST. LOUIS

JC: The Bears actually showed signs of life last week - they put up 446 yards of total offense and only punted twice. They only mustered 22 points because of a myriad of dumb mistakes, but if they can hold it together, they should be able to keep this close.

JP: Ok, so maybe the Bears aren't THAT bad. I don't like this pick, but they feel like they should stay within a touchdown of the Rams. 

Jacksonville (+5.5) over BALTIMORE

JC: Wait a minute, you're telling me that I'm getting more than a field goal if I take Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson running deep over and over again against the worst secondary in football? And you're telling me that a Baltimore offense with literally no reliable receivers is going up against (mind-blowingly) the league's No. 1 defense in opponents' yards per carry?

JP: Jacksonville isn't terrible and, hang onto your hats, Blake Bortles is actually developing into a promising young quarterback. Crazy, I know. 

GREEN BAY (-12) over Detroit

JC: Detroit hasn't won in Green Bay since 1991. There are a handful of current Lions players who weren't even born yet. If the Packers are looking for an elixir for their two straight losses, then playing the 1-7 Lions, coming off a five-touchdown loss to a team that *also* sucks is probably the best they can hope for.

JP: Yeah, it feels like Green Bay's gonna go up 14 early and pour it on to let out the frustrations of the last two weeks. I'm getting a little concerned that the Packers' early defensive success was a fluke, but they should get back on track against a somehow terrible Lions offense.

TAMPA BAY (-1) over Dallas

JC: If it might as well be a pick'em, I might as well pick against Dallas.

JP: A lot of books have this as a pick'em but, even giving that single point, I too will go with the home team that isn't missing its starting quarterback.

New Orleans (-1.5) over WASHINGTON

JC: The Saints' offense has woken up, apparently. They've averaged 491 yards per game over their last three outings, and now rank first in the league in total offense. Washington's defense got off to a good start, but has surrendered 450+ yards in each of their last three games (granted, last week was against New England, but the two before that were against Tampa Bay and the Jets).

JP: What happened to Washington's defense? After a Top-5 start, that unit has ranked among the league's worst in every category the last month, and may have the worst pair of safeties and inside linebackers in football. The Saints lost a tough one last week, but not due to Drew Brees and the offense, which continues its re-birth. 

Carolina (-6) over TENNESSEE


JP: Sure.

DENVER (-5.5) over Kansas City

JC: Yeah, I'm not buying the Chiefs. I don't care how low the price is. I have no interest in buying that stock. Their wins are over Houston [*fart noise*], Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger [*louder fart noise*], and the Lions in London [*fart noises so loud that people turn to see what's going on*]. Like, they put up 45 points but only managed 340 yards of offense. Without Jamaal Charles, I don't see any way they move the ball on Denver's defense.

JP: Aqib Talib's suspension and DeMarcus Ware's injury make me a little nervous about trusting this defense to continue its dominance, and Peyton Manning still looks old... But come on, the Broncos are totally blowing this awful team out, somehow.

Arizona (+3) over SEATTLE

JC: Seattle's offensive line scares me. I don't think they can protect Russell Wilson, and Arizona dials up a lot of unorthodox blitzes that could cause a lot of problems. The Seahawks' secondary has been substantially better since the return of Kam Chancellor, but they've also benefited from playing pathetic pass offenses (San Francisco, Dallas sans Romo, Chicago sans Cutler, Detroit). They haven't found a reliable nickel corner, which will be a huge problem against Arizona's three-receiver sets. This game will tell us a lot about how good Seattle actually is, and I'm betting on them being not as good as we think.

JP: You hit the nail on the head about Seattle' handling of the blitz. Since they traded away center Max Unger (for a Jimmy Graham they haven't been using), the Seahawks have failed miserably protecting Wilson against blitz pressure. According to ESPN Stats and Info, when opposing teams blitz (send five or more rushers) against the Seahawks, they sack Wilson nearly 18 percent of the time.

Considering that the Cardinals blitz on 44 percent of defensive snaps (the second most in the NFL), it could be a long day for the Seattle offense

CINCINNATI (-10.5) over Houston

JC: This line could be three points higher and I'd still take Cincinnati. They're coming off an extra-long week and playing a profoundly terrible team.

JP: I mean, Houston has won two out of its last three, so if this were a two touchdown spread, I'd probably be taking them. That said, Cincinnati is clearly a far better team, and playing at home with plenty of time to prepare. Hard to bet against that.

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

JC: PHILADELPHIA (-6) over Miami

So, Miami had their fun. It was cute, but it's over now. They've been dominated for the last two weeks and haven't looked good on either side of the ball. The Eagles have looked good of late, winning three of their last four, with the only loss coming at Carolina.

JP: Miami (+6) over PHILADELPHIA

I still don't trust Philadelphia. They seem like they're ready for a meltdown, especially on defense where they just shouldn't be this good. Gimme a touchdown and, perhaps, a Miami team that will remember how to get its play makers in space.

JC: PITTSBURGH (-5.5) over Cleveland

I was on the Cleveland-As-A-Sneaky-Underdog Bandwagon until it careened into the face of a cliff last Thursday night. I don't think I'll be getting back on.

JP: Cleveland (+5.5) over PITTSBURGH

That was a Thursday game which, as you said, can be difficult to draw conclusions from. I'll go with Cleveland, regardless of who is starting at quarterback, against a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell.

JC: NEW YORK GIANTS (+7.5) over New England

I'm about 97 percent sure that I'm just being a paranoid Patriots fan against the Giants, but I just don't want to lay more than a touchdown. It just makes me feel queasy.

JP: New England (-7.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

Look at you picking against the Pats right after I bet against the Steelers! Anyways, yeah, I think you're just being paranoid. The Giants aren't terrible, but New England is the best team in football. I'll lay a touchdown for that bet.

JC: OAKLAND (-3) over Minnesota

I'm still hesitant on the Vikings. They're 6-2, but they haven't had a single convincing win. Their last two (over Chicago and St. Louis) both came down to last-second field goals and could have easily gone the other way, and let's not forget that they lost to San Francisco. I'm not convinced that Oakland is that much better, but at least I know that Oakland can move the ball on just about everybody.

JP: Minnesota (+3) over OAKLAND

This pick doesn't make a whole lot of sense, given that I've over-valued the Raiders all year (which has sorta worked out), and thought the Vikings were overrated (I still sorta think that). All that said, I just can't turn down getting a field goal with a 6-2 team going against a 4-4. I get that Minnesota is a weak 6-4, and Oakland might be a pretty impressive 4-4, but this should be a pick'em at the most.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Week: 7-6
Season: 71-56-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 4-2
Season's Disagreements: 20-15-2 

Joe's Record: 
Last Week: 5-8
Season: 66-61-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-4
Season's Disagreements: 15-20-2

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