Friday, October 21, 2016

NFL Week 7 Primer (With Picks): The Death of The AFC

With Ben Roethlisberger out for an extended period with a torn meniscus, can anyone challenge New England in the AFC?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

So, besides the Patriots, who is good in the AFC?

The elites of last year's AFC have disappeared. Cincinnati is a pitiful 2-4 (and those wins come against a suddenly-terrible Jets team and a not-so-suddenly-terrible Miami team). Denver has lost two straight and are ranked 28th in the league in total offense. Pittsburgh is 4-2, but looked terrible against Miami, even before Roethlisberger got hurt, and now the word is he could miss up to six weeks.

All the while, the AFC South is a four-team dumpster fire and it's tough to point to even a second team that you'd feel comfortable laying more than a field goal against a half-decent NFC team.

Will some of these teams rally? The law of averages says it's overwhelmingly likely. Pittsburgh knows its identity pretty well, and has a formula for success pretty well established. As such, the Steelers will probably take their time bringing Big Ben back, and that doesn't seem to be a bad idea, considering it won't take much better than 9-7 to grab a playoff spot. Someone from the AFC West is bound to step forward - Denver has the defense, Oakland has the offense, and Kansas City has the balance. But none of them are going to light the world on fire.

Six weeks into the season, the AFC seems like New England's conference to lose.

Game(s) of The Week

New York Giants at St. Louis (9:30 a.m. Sunday, FOX)

The NFL must really hate their European market.

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

Philadelphia has stumbled after a hot start, but these are two of the three or four best defenses in the whole league, and neither one of these quarterbacks are that great. This could be a topsy-turvy game with a lot of punts, but it should be interesting to see these defenses at work.

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

This would have been a lot more fun if Roethlisberger were playing, but there are still some things Pittsburgh can do against a quietly-not-that-great New England defense. The Patriots are banged up at linebacker, and the Steelers have a pair of talented receiving backs that might be able to make plays.

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

This seems to have taken the place of Seattle-San Francisco as the premier twice-a-year rivalry in the NFC. Arizona looked like it got back on track in Monday night's drubbing, but with everybody talking about the rise of Minnesota and Dallas and the collapse of Carolina, nobody seems to mention that Seattle is 4-1 and might be the best team in football. So there's that.

Houston at Denver (8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

Ostensibly, these are two division-leading teams that are both 4-2. Are either one of them that good? Who knows. Probably not. But on paper, this is a good game. Sort of.

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

GREEN BAY (-8) over Chicago

A combination of must-win-game-to-keep-pace for Green Bay and I'm-not-sure-anyone-realizes-exactly-how-bad-Chicago-is had us both zeroing in on the Packers here.

New York Giants (-3) over LOS ANGELES (In London)

JC: This one is from London, so no home-field advantage for the Rams here. To be honest, I'm not that sure what  Los Angeles is good at. They have talent, but it doesn't seem to translate to success in any facet of the game. And yet, they somehow have wins over Seattle and Arizona. The Giants seem to have ditched the running game, which might serve them well here - the Rams have serious issues in their secondary.

JP: Just keep throwing it to Odell so he doesn't lose he mind. Oh wait, too late.

PHILADELPHIA (+3) over Minnesota

JC: I think we've reached the point where things have swung too far for both of these teams. Minnesota's defense isn't *that* much better than the Eagles', and Minnesota hasn't really gone up against a team with a defense at full strength yet. Like, we're still talking about an offense led by Sam Bradford and a rushing offense that's averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, last in the league by a hilarious margin. Not to mention that both of Minnesota's starting tackles are out and they're starting That Really Fat Guy From Remember The Titans at right tackle on Sunday. Minnesota currently has a turnover margin of +Texas - I don't think Philadelphia will turn the ball over much, if at all.

JP: Yeah, what he said. I'll take the points, because, while both these teams are far better than I thought they'd be, I'm still not really sure what to make of them. 

Washington (+1) over DETROIT

JC: Washington's offense is pretty good, you guys. Even with Jordan Reed out of the lineup, they have a good power running game and a deep selection at wide receiver. Their defense has struggled, but their weakness there is on the ground. Detroit, for the 63rd year in a row, has an offense that just can't make plays on the ground. And if Detroit's defense is going to give up north of 300 yards passing to Case Keenum and the Rams, I'm confident that Kirk Cousins can make a few plays downfield.

JP: Yeah, even playing on the road you have to take Washington here, with them actually getting the ball to Matt Jones and Kirk Cousins in a "good Kirk" phase.

Cleveland (+10) over CINCINNATI

JC: The Bengals are 2-4 and have played a grand total of one credible football game this season, and that was on a Thursday night against the Dolphins. Meanwhile, the Browns' offense doesn't totally suck. They can move the ball on the ground and Terrelle Pryor is a versatile threat. If you want to lay 10 points with a bad Bengals team, be my guest, but this has backdoor cover written all over it.

JP: Cleveland is awful, don't get me wrong, but Cincinnati isn't good enough to give 10 against anybody at this point.

Buffalo (-3) over MIAMI

JC: That was Miami's one good game for the month, they'll go back to rolling over now. We'll check back in November when they inexplicably beat the Rams by 40 on the road.

JP: Could the Bills be a sleeper in the AFC? Buffalo plays great run defense, and clamps down in the red zone to keep teams out of the end zone, despite being a little susceptible to the pass. Meanwhile, Miami mostly ran through Pittsburgh last week, but that was without Cam Heyward and Ryan Shazier, their best lineman and linebacker, respectively. Don't expect the same thing against Buffalo's front, putting the game back in Ryan Tannehill's hands, and that's not where anybody wants it.

Baltimore (+2) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: The Jets are FAVORED in this game?

JP: They're getting the Geno bump! (Ed. Note- The Geno bump is not a thing.)

San Diego (+6.5) over ATLANTA

JC: I continue to believe that San Diego isn't that bad. Sure, they lost four games in excruciating fashion and seem to blow leads every week, but the fact that they held leads big enough that the losses were surprising is every bit as relevant as the blown leads themselves. Here's a fun fact - San Diego has a better average scoring margin than Kansas City, Oakland, Houston, Green Bay, and Washington. San Diego shouldn't be getting a touchdown here, especially when Atlanta's defense might just be smoke and mirrors.

JP: Yeah, I'm starting to come around on San Diego, a team that has dealt with some insanely bad luck to start the season. This could end up being the game of the week.

Tampa Bay (-1) over SAN FRANCISCO

JC: I'm quitting Chip Kelly

JP: Yeah, things unraveled pretty quickly for the Niners.

New England (-7.5) over PITTSBURGH

JC: New England's banged-up defense does worry me, but Pittsburgh's defense is pretty banged up as well, and it seems like the Patriots can mimic a lot of the downhill power running that Miami gashed the Steelers with last week. Also, for the life of me, I have no idea how Pittsburgh's defense is going to deal with Gronkowski and Bennett.

JP: This is gonna be ugly.

Seattle (+1.5) over ARIZONA

JC: The Cardinals are going from the Jets, probably the worst pass defense in football, to Seattle, probably the best. Arizona can't seem to find a reliable second receiver to compliment Larry Fitzgerald. Nobody has been consistent. John Brown and Michael Floyd have been mostly M.I.A. this season, and Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson just aren't dynamic enough to make consistent plays against Seattle's defense.

JP: Stupid Seattle, rounding into form and ruining my Arizona Super Bowl bet...

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

JC: JACKSONVILLE (-1) over Oakland

Oakland's offense is good, but in that "we have talent and if you don't have a good defense, we'll put up 40 points" kind of way. They aren't like the Patriots or Falcons or Cowboys who just figure out how to attack you and bludgeon you in that spot until you're dead. A good defense can take them out of their game, like the Ravens and Chiefs have. Jacksonville's defense, meanwhile, is probably the best defense that nobody is talking about. They've held Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Baltimore to under 300 total yards, and Football Outsiders have them as the 13th-best outfit in the league, 8th against the pass. Oakland feels like they should be a playoff team, but they haven't actually beaten anybody good yet, and three of their wins are by a total of five points. This could be a rude awakening for them.

JP: Oakland (+1) over JACKSONVILLE

Jacksonville is a little underrated on defense, but I still don't trust them if Oakland gets into any kind of a rhythm offensively. I can see the Jags' explosive, but occasionally maddening offense giving this one away.

JC: TENNESSEE (-3) over Indianapolis

The Titans are the best team in the AFC South and this is the game they use to put themselves on the map. Other than Buffalo and Dallas, nobody has a better ground attack, and the Colts have a pathetic run defense that can't tackle (usually an important skill for a defense).

JP: Indianapolis (+3) over TENNESSEE

I have no idea why I have any faith left in Indy, but come on! They're gonna beat the Titans, right?

JC: DENVER (-9) over Houston

This line comes down to one question - do you think the Broncos can score 10 points? Because that might be all they need to cover this spread against Houston's offense. Football Outsiders' ranks Houston's offense dead last, and they even struggled to move the ball against the Colts. If they can't generate offense against the Colts, they're dead in the water against Denver.

JP: Houston (+9) over DENVER

Not sure if Denver can score 10, even on a J.J. Watt-less Texans defense.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 8-6-1
Season: 45-44-3
Last Week's Disagreements: 4-4
Season's Disagreements: 14-15

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 8-6-1
Season: 46-43-3
Last Week's Disagreements: 4-4
Season's Disagreements: 15-14

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