Friday, November 20, 2015

NFL Week 11 Primer (With Picks): Surprises

Tony Romo returns for this Cowboys this wee against Miami. As crazy as it sounds, he still has time to get 2-7 Dallas into the playoffs.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Through five weeks, there were six undefeated teams. Five weeks later, we're down to just two, and we came close to having just one - New England needed a last-second field goal to escape the Meadowlands.

I think we all expected New England to be the class of the AFC, but Carolina might be the league's most surprising team this year (other than maybe Indianapolis and Seattle, for different reasons). Both teams are home this week, and both are 7.5-point favorites. The other surprise team in the NFC is Minnesota, which currently sits at 7-2. But, perhaps even more shocking, the Vikings are 8-1 against the spread, including an incredible eight straight. Through about 45 minutes of half-assed research, I could not find another time in NFL history such a feat had taken place, so keep that in mind.

The two worst teams against the spread? Seattle and Baltimore. That's perhaps less surprising, considering what we've seen from the two teams this year, but there can't possibly a soul alive who would have said two of the last three Super Bowl champions would open the season a combined 3-13-2 in Vegas.

Let's get to the week.

Game(s) of The Week:

Dallas at Miami (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

Tony Romo returns!

Denver at Chicago (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Brock Osweiler begins his Hall of Fame career!

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

I don't think any of us expected this game to feature the first-place Vikings hosting a quietly-imploding Green Bay team, but here we are. I'm still not even convinced that Minnesota is that good - they've only had one game where they've out-gained their opponent by more than 25 yards, and that was against Detroit. In fact, they've been out-gained on the season, both in total yards and yards per play. But then again, Green Bay's offense is in shambles. So we'll see.

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

This is our first flexed-in game on the season, and thank god. Did you want to watch Kansas City and San Diego? I didn't. All told, it's a nice game - the second-best team in each conference, with serious playoff implications for both teams - neither one of them wants to lose their lead for a first-round bye, but both could lose that standing with a loss and a win by other teams (Denver and Minnesota).

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

CAROLINA (-7.5) over Washington

JC: The Redskins rank dead-last in opponents yards per rush, and I don't expect Washington to put up 500 yards of offense two weeks in a row, especially against a top-tier defense.

JP: Yeah, I'm probably not going to start Kirk Cousins in fantasy again.

Oakland (-1.5) over DETROIT

JC: I'm not buying Detroit as a post-bye week frisky candidate. They just can't cover anyone and Oakland's defense indoors should look pretty good.

JP: I've had a pretty good feel for the Raiders this year, and my Spidey Senses are telling me Derek Carr goes bananas against a Detroit defense that allows eight yards per pass attempt, good for fifth-worst in the league.

Dallas (-1.5) over MIAMI

JC: Ready for a #HotTake? Dallas is going to win the NFC East, at 8-8. They'll lose to either Carolina or Green Bay (probably Carolina), but the rest of their schedule is quite favorable. Dallas, New York, and Philadelphia will all finish 8-8, and Dallas will take it thanks to their division record.

JP: Romo is coming back against a pretty friendly Miami secondary, and did you know that Miami has surrendered a safety in each of their last three games? No team has ever taken a safety in four consecutive games... Come on, Dallas, sack Tannehill in the end zone and let the Dolphins make some history!

ATLANTA (-5.5) over Indianapolis

JC: Neither team seems too interested in winning games of late, but at least the Falcons are healthy. Both teams are coming off a bye week, and I have to think that "Matt Ryan following a bye" will be better than "Matt Hasselbeck following a bye."

JP: The battle of Boston College quarterbacks!!.... Yeah, Atlanta at home against a guy that hasn't been a serviceable starter in what seems like a decade. I'll go with the Dirty Birds.

St. Louis (+2.5) over BALTIMORE

JC: For the life of me, I still don't get how Baltimore is favored over anybody, let alone a still-pretty-good-even-though-they've-been-struggling Rams team. They have a garbage secondary, so even Nick Foles should be able to pick them apart, and I don't see them having much offensive success against the St. Louis front line. They can barely make plays in the passing game when they aren't facing a dominant defense.

JP: This might be the last week we get to take advantage of Baltimore being overrated. Of course, I thought that last week.

HOUSTON (+3) over New York Jets

JC: On Monday night, I was greatly looking forward to betting against Houston, but that was using the assumption that beating Cincinnati would swing their perceived value too far. I assumed that they'd be *giving* a field goal at home over a Jets team that hasn't really done anything of note in the last handful of games. But Houston is a three-point dog, so I'll role with their suddenly-pretty-good defense.

JP: Yo, the Texans have won three out of their last four, haven't allowed a touchdown the last two weeks, and can (probably) grab first place in the AFC South with a win. Sure, they don't have a quarterback, but the Jets aren't exactly starting Tom Brady over there.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) over PHILADELPHIA

JC: I've got nothing. I don't have much of a handle on Tampa Bay at all, and I've just been taking the points. It's worked out fairly well, so I'll stay with it.

JP: Philly just isn't very good, and Tampa Bay has play makers and a decent defense. As long as Jameis doesn't give it away, they should win this baby outright.

Cincinnati (+5) over ARIZONA

JC: Cincinnati layed an egg last week, but this is an overreaction. This is a classic Arizona -3 game, and I'm not sure why they're giving those two extra points.

JP: Definite overreaction, and not just by Vegas, but by all the fans who are saying "classic Bengals. They're falling apart. Can't believe we thought they were for real this year!"

Dude, it was one game. Now, if they get blown out by Arizona I'll change my tune, but this should be a great one.

NEW ENGLAND (-7.5) over Buffalo

JC: This has "New England seems vulnerable with all their injuries on offense but Touchdown Tom doesn't care and slings the ball all over the field for a 21-point win" written all over it. Also, New England has the No. 4 pass rush as ranked by Football Outsiders, and Buffalo has a bottom-four pass protection ranking, also per Football Outsiders. That seems like a bad matchup.

JP: I've already seen this play, and it doesn't end well for the Bills.

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

JC: Tennessee (+3) over JACKSONVILLE

I went solely with the "Mariota > Bortles" rationale, and it almost worked. I still have no idea how Tennessee lost that game.

JP: JACKSONVILLE (-3) over Tennessee 

That was a weird one, but you can't fight Jaguars fever! The city of Jacksonville is electric with the energy of a team that just might win the worst division in the league!

JC: CHICAGO (-1) over Denver

Chicago has looked half-legitimately good of late, and I'm not ready to declare Brock Osweiler any better than Peyton Manning, regardless of how bad Manning has looked. Denver's offense might just not be good - their offensive line has been shoddy as well.

JP: Denver (+1) over CHICAGO

I doubt Osweiler is an upgrade mentally, but if he can throw a 15-yard out route, he will be an upgrade physically. That, and Denver's defense is still the best in football. I know Chicago is proving to be a decent team, but the Broncos should be able to choke them out.

JC: Kansas City (-3.5) over SAN DIEGO

Kansas City should be able to run all over San Diego, and that's the totality of things I want to ever discuss about this game.

JP: SAN DIEGO (+3.5) over Kansas City

Phil Rivers, at home, coming off a bye, against a mediocre pass defense sounds good to me. Sure, I'd probably be able to rush for 125 yards against this Chargers defense, but San Diego's offense will keep it close.

JC: MINNESOTA (Pick) over Green Bay

I've been terrible picking Minnesota this year, so bet the house on Green Bay.

JP: Green Bay (Pick) over MINNESOTA

If I don't have to give points, I'm going to take Aaron Rodgers against all but two or three teams. Minnesota is not one of those teams.

JC: SEATTLE (-12.5) over San Francisco

Seattle has been a pretty big disappointment this year, but their defense is still very good, and Blaine Gabbert is still very bad. 17 points from Seattle covers this spread.

JP: San Francisco (+12.5) over SEATTLE

I know it's Seattle at home, but this line is too high for a team that isn't playing all that well. They might be playing the worst team in football, but this has 17-6 snooze fest written all over it.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Week: 8-6
Season: 79-62-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2
Season's Disagreements: 22-17-2 

Joe's Record: 
Last Week: 8-6
Season: 74-67-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-2
Season's Disagreements: 17-22-2

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