Saturday, December 12, 2015

NFL Week 14 Primer (With Picks): Playoff Shakeup

The Jets are known for their running game, but Brandon Marshall has given them a lethal downfield threat this year, racking up over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air all ready. The Jets will need another win Sunday to keep pace in the AFC playoff race.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Last week, eight road favorites won outright. There was only one home favorite that lost, and it shook up a good portion of the AFC Playoff picture.

Of the six teams that entered Week 13 with a playoff spot, five of them now occupy a different seed (or no seed at all). The only team that saw no movement is the 5th-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (who, given their remaining schedule, seem locked into that seed). The Patriots lost, dropping them from No. 1 to No. 3. Denver and Cincinnati each got a bump, putting them into the Round 1 bye slots. Houston lost, and fell out of the picture, overtaken by Indianapolis and the Jets. Pittsburgh and Buffalo kept pace, and remain still in the hunt.

The Patriots loss also shook up the NFC East - Philadelphia moved into a three-way tie atop the division thanks to losses by both Washington and the Giants. Washington holds the tiebreaker, but Philadelphia is the only team that plays at home this week. A win would move them into first with a Washington loss.

Thursday night's game also had playoff implications - the Cardinals clinched a playoff berth with their close win over Minnesota, and with the Packers hosting a banged-up Dallas squad, Green Bay could open a full game lead over the Vikings with a Week 17 matchup at Lambeau still to come. And thanks to Seattle's head-to-head victory over Minnesota last week, a Seattle win Sunday (at Baltimore) would vault Seattle into the No. 5 seed.

The 5th seed in both conferences will be a gold mine. They'll have the good fortune of playing the weak champion of the AFC South/NFC East, as opposed to the (currently) 10-2 juggernaut waiting on the AFC's No. 3 line, or the NFC North Champion on the NFC's No. 3 line.

Game(s) of The Week

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

Not only is it the Shady McCoy revenge game, but it's also a huge spot in the season for both teams. Buffalo is trying to claw its way into the AFC's second Wild Card spot (although their Week 17 matchup against the Jets will probably be of even higher leverage), while Philadelphia is trying to claw its way into the lead in the NFC East (ditto for their Week 17 matchup against the Giants).

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

Of the three 10-2 teams atop the AFC, the squad currently holding the No. 1 seed faces the toughest matchup. The Pittsburgh offense has been on fire of late - 30 points scored and 459 yards of total offense have been their LOWEST marks over the last four games. With a banged-up Cincinnati secondary, this game could be a turning point in the AFC playoff race

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

Carolina has gone through 75 percent of their schedule undefeated. I think all of their games deserve "Game of The Week" status at this point.

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

The Patriots have lost two straight, while Houston has been surging (four straight wins prior to a loss last Sunday). With the Patriots as banged up as they are, a transformed Houston defense could set the Patriots back even further in their quest for a bye.

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

Minnesota (+10.5) over ARIZONA

We both thought the line was too high when it opened at -7. When it pushed another field goal, the decision was easy. When it then got pushed ANOTHER half-point, it was a no-brainer.

Pittsburgh (+3) over CINCINNATI

JC: As mentioned above, the Steelers have been the most explosive offense in football over the last month, and it isn't even that close. Meanwhile, the injuries for Cincinnati's defense are starting to rack up. Playing St. Louis and Cleveland the last two weeks has been a nice respite after back-to-back losses, but the Steelers have been on a roll and I think it continues.

JP: The Steelers always seem to beat Cincinnati late in the year, and bring on the Bengals' annual implosion. I don't know if the second part will happen, but Ben Roethlisberger is playing well enough that this should at least be a very, very close one.

Buffalo (+1) over PHILADELPHIA

JC: The Eagles took a 35-14 lead thanks to three return touchdowns and a New England offense decimated by injuries. They came damn close to blowing that lead in the fourth quarter. And now they're favored over a team fighting for their postseason lives?

JP: Yeah, I guess beating New England made everyone forget that whole "Chip Kelly is getting fired" noise. 

CAROLINA (-7.5) over Atlanta

JC: Yeah, it's official. Atlanta sucks. Carolina should come out firing after last week's near miss.

JP: The Panthers are lucky to still be undefeated, but they come back home to face a team that has regressed to the middle of the league in practically every defensive category, and has given the ball away on offense 22 times, good for third-worst in the league.

San Francisco (+1.5) over CLEVELAND

JC: San Francisco has proven that they don't totally suck with Blaine Gabbert under center (I know, I don't quite understand it either), while Cleveland has only stayed within two touchdowns once in their last six outings.

JP: Blaine Gabbert is in "play just well enough for a crappy team to give you $40 million" mode, and you don't bet against a dude in that frame of mind.

Detroit (+3) over ST. LOUIS

JC: The Rams have been falling apart for a month now, and then it came out this week that Robert Quinn will be placed on Injured Reserve. The strength of the team is on defense, but they've been dropping like flies. A much improved Detroit offense should be able to move the ball easily.

JP: So much for St. Louis being sneaky good, as all those "potential guys" on offense have struggled with consistency, and the powerful defensive line hasn't had much behind it. Without Quinn, they're missing one of their two best players (Aaron Donald is the other, but even he benefits from Quinn's presence), and Detroit is quietly playing pretty well. The Lions are a Hail Mary away from being winners of four in a row, after all.

TAMPA BAY (-4) over New Orleans

JC: The Saints only stayed in the game with Carolina thanks to turnovers and a slew of drops from Ted Ginn. They still gave up almost 500 yards of total offense. They have the worst rush defense in the league (by far) and are about to go up against the league's No. 2 rush offense. Jameis Winston might not even need to throw a pass to pick up a win here.

JP: All that, and Tampa Bay has a young team fighting for a playoff spot. Not that the Saints won't be motivated to play, but you have to like a team full of kids playing at home against an aging road team with nothing tangible to play for.

JACKSONVILLE (-1) over Indianapolis

JC: Can Blake Bortles do to the Colts what Ben Roethlisberger did? I vote yes.

JP: I've got a Bortles-Roethlisberger dilemma in two of my fantasy leagues for the playoffs... Blake definitely has the better matchup, and the Jags can close some ground in the race to the bottom in the AFC South.

Tennessee (+7.5) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: The Titans have been prone to random offensive explosions, while the Jets have been prone to random defensive implosions. And the Titans *still* have a pretty underrated defense. If the Jets miss a few tackles in the secondary, Tennessee should be able to keep this within a touchdown.

JP: I like the Jets' defense, running game, and receiving corps, but New York has had some major letdowns, while Marcus Mariota has become must-see TV for the Titans. He should be able to make a spectacular play or two to keep this thing close.

New England (-4) over HOUSTON

JC: The Patriots losing two games in a row happens rarely, if ever. The Patriots losing three games in a row has happened exactly once in the Brady-Belichick era, and that was in 2002. Their last two games have been ugly, but they've been in a position to win or force overtime in both of them. And both have featured uncharacteristic New England failures (rush defense against Denver, special teams miscues against Philadelphia). The "Sky Is Falling" routine in Foxborough is overblown. They should right the ship here.

JP: It's pretty simple: New England is undervalued after an un-Patriots like performance last week, and the Texans are overvalued after a pretty solid last month. That, and New England's miserable injury situation on offense. Still, this is Tom Brady against Brian Hoyer. I'm gonna have to get more than four points to take Hoyer in that one.

GREEN BAY (-7) over Dallas

JC: The Packers grab a stranglehold on the NFC North with a win here, and I trust Aaron Rodgers to take care of business.

JP: Both teams are beaten up, but the Packers are coming off 10 days of rest to get healthy and playing at home. Oh yeah, and Green Bay still has a healthy franchise quarterback.

Seattle (-10) over BALTIMORE

JC: Here lies Baltimore's 12-game streak of games decided by one possession. It died as it lived, with great fervor.

JP: Surely Baltimore can't keep it close any more, facing a red-hot Seahawks team that looks like its old Super Bowl self of late. I mean, they might be starting Jimmy Clausen Sunday. Jimmy Clausen is awful! Why am I still scared they only lose this one 27-24? 

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

Washington (+3.5) at CHICAGO (-3.5)

JC: Chicago

I've been on the "Washington Sucks" bandwagon all year. The only reason they've stayed afloat is because their division is just as bad (or worse) as they are. That, plus they haven't won a road game all year, and four of the five have been by at least two scores.

JP: Washington

Washington isn't great, that's for sure, but Chicago isn't amazing either, and at least the former is fighting for a playoff spot (albeit one in a terrible division). I'll go with the team that has something to play for, and take the points.

San Diego (+10) at KANSAS CITY (-10)

JC: Kansas City

I'm not sure that Kansas City isn't the AFC's best team right now. They've won six straight, by margins of 10, 35, 16, 30, 8, and 14. San Diego's only win since early October was against the Jaguars. Maybe this line should be a few points higher, even.

JP: San Diego

If you want to give me a few extra points, I'll take them, but even at 10 points, I'm going to put my faith in Phillip Rivers to score a backdoor cover.

Denver (-7) at Oakland (+7)

JC: Oakland

At some point, we're going to talk about how Brock Osweiler hasn't been *that* much better than Peyton Manning, and that Denver's offensive resurgence has been purely on the back of an improved ground game. I have no rational reason to expect it to happen this week after a shocking Oakland upset, but here we are.

JP: Denver

The Broncos are choking people out with their defense and starting to find their running game. That should spell doom for a young Raiders team that has skill players aplenty, but only a few stalwarts in the trenches. 

New York Giants (-1.5) at MIAMI (+1.5) over New York Giants


Yeah, whatever.

JP: NY Giants

Neither of these teams have been able to find any consistency, aside from each of their respective LSU alum receivers (Odell Beckham in New York and Jarvis Landry in Miami), so I'll continue my theme of taking the team with more to play for. New York, despite all the inconsistency, has a chance to win the NFC East. Hopefully they'll take advantage of that opportunity.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Week: 11-5
Season: 103-84-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1
Season's Disagreements: 28-25-2 

Joe's Record: 
Last Week: 10-6
Season: 100-87-5
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2
Season's Disagreements: 25-28-2

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