Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NFL Week 12 Primer (With Picks): Thanksgiving

Give thanks for Cam Newton "Superman" plays when the Panthers face the Cowboys on Turkey Day.

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

Thanksgiving is about three things. Family, Food, and Football. Not in that order.

We're starting to get a better view of the playoff picture. According to the Football Outsiders model, six teams already have a 90 percent chance or better to reach the playoffs - the six division leaders that aren't the NFC East or AFC South. Those leaders (New York and Indianapolis) still see just a coin flip likelihood of playing any deeper into January.

Weekly Playoff Machine Nonsense

There is one fun tool out there on the internets - a page that allows you to choose winners for each remaining game and see how the seedings change (much like ESPN's Playoff Machine, which, for whatever reason, hasn't yet been updated for this season). These tools (whatever is available) will be featured in this space going forward, to keep you, fair reader, abreast of tiebreakers and such.

Here are two (relatively) realistic scenarios:

1. All four teams in the NFC East finish 8-8. Dallas would win the division thanks to the first tiebreaker (they'd have the best division record so long as their only remaining loss comes to Carolina or Green Bay).
2. The AFC South champion finishes 7-9 and gets a home playoff game. Meanwhile, all four teams in the AFC East finish 8-8 or better.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, both can't happen at the same time, as the NFC East and AFC East play each other, so adding wins to one usually means taking wins from the other.

Here is one slightly (incredibly) more far-fetched:

3. Minnesota loses out, finishes 7-9, and ends up with the SEVENTH pick in the draft. It's frankly, ridiculous, if only because it requires a ton of weird stuff to happen (far too much to list, but suffice it to say that New England, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Green Bay would combine to finish 11-19). Basically, if Minnesota loses out (shockingly possible - their remaining schedule is at Atlanta, Seattle, at Arizona, Chicago, New York Giants, and at Green Bay) and EVERY middling team in the 4-6, 5-5, 6-4 range manages to get to 8-8 (or better), the only teams worse than Minnesota would be Cleveland, Baltimore, Tennessee, San Diego, San Francisco, and Detroit. There's an even more ridiculous scenario where Baltimore, Tennessee, and Detroit make it to 8-8, so Minnesota would have the FOURTH pick. Just don't ask me to get San Francisco to 8-8, also. I can't make it happen.

Anyway, it stemmed from the idea that Minnesota losing out is actually, well, kind of a possibility. They're likely to only be favored in two of them (home for Chicago and New York), but both are still eminently loseable games for a team that doesn't really have any signature wins despite playing the league's second-easiest schedule.

Anyway. Onto the week.

Game(s) of The Week

Philadelphia at Detroit (12:30 p.m. Thursday, FOX)

Rule No. 1: It's a football game on Thanksgiving. You will watch it.

Carolina at Dallas (4:30 p.m. Thursday, CBS)

Let's put it this way - Romo and the Cowboys knocked off a 9-0 Indianapolis team in 2006, then knocked off a 13-0 Saints team in 2009. Both of those teams went on to win the Super Bowl, and both were almost certainly better than this Carolina team. Yeah, we're pretty far removed from either of those games, and yeah, Dallas has had a weird season, but they're an elite team with Romo under center with a penchant for pulling big upsets. Just sayin'.

Chicago at Green Bay (8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC)

See Rule No. 1

Buffalo at Kansas City (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Battle for an AFC wild card spot, or something!

New York Giants at Washington (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

Battle for the NFC East tiebreaker, or something!

Minnesota at Atlanta (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

Battle for an NFC wild card spot, or something!

Pittsburgh at Seattle (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

This one might actually be a pretty nice game but we're starting to get a little long here and we need to get to the picks.

New England at Denver (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC) 

See above.

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

[Editor's note - we're taking the lines based on where they were Tuesday evening. With most games not kicking off until Sunday, we'll check on the lines again Friday to see if anything moved drastically. For example, the Chicago-Green Bay line moved two points in a day. The New England-Denver line moved two and a half points in about 16 hours. If those or any other lines move that much between now and Friday, we'll make a note of it.]

DETROIT (Pick'em) over Philadelphia

JC: Detroit has looked semi-alive over the last two weeks, while Philadelphia has looked, well, not that. I'm going against Philadelphia until Mark Sanchez isn't their quarterback, and I'm looking at Chip Kelly as the best bet for Next Coach Fired.

JP: It would really be something if both Chip Kelly and Les Miles were fired in the same month, but it could happen. Man I wish my alma mater (Purdue) had enough money/cared enough about football to throw a pile of cash at one of those guys.

Carolina (Pick'em) over DALLAS

JC: If I was getting any points for it, I'd definitely take Dallas. I'm just wary of Romo coming off injured reserve and then playing two games in four days.

JP: I think I'd need at least 4.5 points to take the Cowboys here. Romo or no Romo, Carolina is still undefeated, the defense is still a Top-3 unit and Cam is still Superman.

Chicago (+9) over GREEN BAY

JC: Uh, Chicago is kinda good? They won two straight then held tight with Denver despite not having their two best offensive players. If Forte and Jeffery suit up, there's no reason for Chicago to be giving this many points.

JP: Green Bay is on the rebound, and Chicago just lost to Brock Osweiler, but come on. The Bears are decent and the Pack is still beaten up. The line is about 3.5 points too high.

Miami (+3.5) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: The Jets have lost four of their last five and they turn the ball over like crazy. Granted, they've also forced turnovers like crazy. In their five wins, they've forced 19 turnovers. In their five losses, they've forced four. In their five wins, they've turned the ball over six times. In their five losses, they've turned the ball over twelve times. That's really their whole season. Regardless, I want that half-point.

JP: Both of these teams are falling apart, yet still (vaguely) in the AFC Wild Card picture. This rivalry has seen a bunch of close games, so I'll bank on that and take the points.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

JC: Tampa Bay has turned into the sneaky-good underdog that covers for inexplicable reasons. Indianapolis somehow finds ways to win with Matt Hasselbeck, but that has to end eventually, right?

JP: Tampa Bay is flat-out good when Jameis isn't giving the game away. Like last week against Philly, I'll take the Bucs to win outright here.

KANSAS CITY (-4) over Buffalo

JC: Kansas City is one of the hottest teams in the league, and Buffalo has a banged-up quarterback. Next.

JP: Yeah, Tyrod Taylor looked bad at the end of that Patriots game, and KC has won four in a row, with double-digit wins over Pittsburgh and Denver, plus last week's 30-point smacking of San Diego. Crazy stuff. I really thought they were dead in the water after Jamaal Charles went down, but they've been able to run the ball with both Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Weird.

Pittsburgh (+4.5) over SEATTLE

JC: I can't figure Seattle out. Sometimes they beat up on crappy teams (San Francisco, San Francisco again, Chicago sans Cutler), sometimes they barely pull it out (Detroit, Dallas). The one thing they've been consistent with is blowing it against the good teams. They're 0-4 against teams with winning records. In their defense, those teams have been Green Bay, Cincinnati, Carolina, and Arizona, so I'm not so sure they've just been unlucky. That being said, Pittsburgh is coming off a bye and shouldn't be getting more than a field goal.

JP: The Seattle defense is still elite, though not historically elite, but the offense has regressed, and is playing terrible situational football. I get why they're favored, since the game is in Seattle, but this seems like a -3 type of game, at best, given that Pittsburgh is coming off a much-needed bye week to get Ben Roethlisberger healthy.

New England (-3) over DENVER

JC: New England's offense is dropping like flies, which could spell disaster against a defense like Denver's, but New England's defense has stepped up themselves. Also, the strength of Denver's defense is their pass rush and outside coverage, but the Patriots get the ball out quick and focus more on the middle of the field. It just might not be the right matchup for the Broncos' defense.

JP: I'm taking the Pats until further notice. If Denver had a healthy (and two years younger) Peyton Manning, then we could talk.

CLEVELAND (-2.5) over Baltimore

JC: No thank you.

JP: No Joe Flacco or Johnny Football? There is literally no reason to watch this game if you live outside these two cities.

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

JC: WASHINGTON (+2.5) over New York Giants

My only pause was that the Giants are coming off a bye, but I just can't talk myself out of the idea that these teams really aren't that far off, the Giants are banged up on defense, Washington has torched bad defensive teams this year and played one of the hardest schedules in the league (they played at New England *and* at Carolina), and they're getting points at home.

JP: New York Giants (-2.5) over WASHINGTON

I don't know man, freakin NFC East. I'll take the Giants because... They should be better than Washington, I guess.

JC: ATLANTA (-2.5) over Minnesota

Both of these teams are vaguely fraud-ish (they've played the two easiest schedules in football), but I think they're about even. I'll take the home team giving less than a field goal.

JP: Minnesota (+2.5) over ATLANTA

Last week's home collapse against the Colts finally pushed me from "the Falcons are a little overrated" into "Atlanta sucks, and are we sure all their wins didn't come against Sun Belt teams?" territory. I know I haven't exactly been high on the Vikings this year, but I believe in Adrian Peterson, Stefon Diggs and Teddy Bridgewater more than I trust Julio Jones and his understudies.

Oh yeah, gimme the points.

JC: TENNESSEE (+2) over Oakland

Oakland can sling the ball all over the place, but their defense has been abysmal of late. Tennessee has the sneakiest of sneaky-good defenses (they're sixth in yards allowed, third in passing yards allowed), and have been unlucky in close games (1-4 in games decided by less than a touchdown, 0-3 in games decided by three points or less), so I think they're a little better than people realize.

JP: Oakland (-2) over TENNESSEE

I've been higher on these two teams than most people this year, so I'm a little torn. While Oakland's performance last week was a disappointment, the Raiders have bounced back from let downs before, and I just don't see Amari Cooper being held down much longer.

JC: St. Louis (+9) over CINCINNATI

I find it a bit hilarious that St. Louis benched Nick Foles. Their wide receivers are Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, and... whoops, that's the whole list. They thought it was Nick Foles' fault that the pass offense sucks? Sure. Anyway, Andy Dalton is the best quarterback in the league (by ESPN's Total QBR metric) when he isn't hurried in the pocket. He's bottom quarter of the league when he faces pressure. St. Louis can rush the quarterback. It might be the only thing they do well. Nine points is too many, especially when Cincinnati is coming off two straight losses.

JP: CINCINNATI (-9) over St. Louis

I think you just made my case for me, other than your last sentence. St. Louis does one thing well, and Cincinnati will be looking to let out some frustrations and send a message at home after back-to-back losses. 

JC: New Orleans (+3) over HOUSTON

This is what I was talking about last week when I said I was really looking forward to gambling against Houston. Yeah, New Orleans has a poop-your-pants bad defense, but are we really gambling on Brian Hoyer to pick it apart? New Orleans is coming off a bye and shook up their defense by firing Rex Ryan. Even if it's just a one-week correction, it'll be enough to pull out a win.

JP: HOUSTON (-3) over New Orleans

I don't know man, that Houston defense is really coming on, and New Orleans' D is soooooo bad... The Texans at home by a field goal sounds about right.

San Francisco (+10.5) over ARIZONA

JC: There's a 100 percent chance I feel really stupid about this when Arizona is up 21-6 at halftime. Whatever. This line is a point too high. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

JP: ARIZONA (-10.5) over San Francisco

I'm glad we agree on your first point.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Week: 7-7
Season: 86-69-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-3
Season's Disagreements: 24-20-2 

Joe's Record: 
Last Week: 8-6
Season: 82-73-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-2
Season's Disagreements: 24-20-2

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