Friday, November 4, 2016

NFL Week 9 Primer (With Picks): Get Excited! Please?

Trevor Siemian: Catch the fever!
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe) and Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

There's no doubt about it: This year's NFL season has been a let down.

Between another botched domestic violence situation, declining TV ratings, injuries/suspensions for some of the league's most recognizable quarterbacks, and lengthening games with increasingly more maddening replay reviews, there's plenty of blame to go around.

But, one thing is for certain: The NFL is probably at its lowest point since the turn of the Millennium. Now, that doesn't mean it isn't still the top league in American sports, but with LeBron delivering a title to Cleveland, the Cubs finally capturing a World Series and Sidney Crosby being the face of another Penguins Stanley Cup win, there were plenty of other, better stories this year.

Will this week make matters any better? Yes and no. We've got some intriguing matchups, and some traditional rivalries that are sure to get fans excited, but even a game like, say, Steelers-Ravens, might be spoiled if Ben Roethlisberger can't play. And, while the Raiders and Broncos will jockey for the top of the AFC West, something about a Trevor Siemian-Derek Carr quarterback duel just doesn't get the blood flowing.

But, it's still football, and there are still plenty of good games on the slate, so join us as we go through them and make our picks, won't you?

Games of the Week

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

It seems like Roethlisberger will play, just because he always comes back two weeks earlier than he should to play horribly against a divisional foe. Still, having a one-legged Ben is probably Pittsburgh's best bet, even if the Ravens are struggling themselves this year.

As I said last week, the AFC North might be the worst all-around division in football, and only Pittsburgh really has the potential to be any good.

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

Both teams sit at 4-3, in relatively good standing in the division and in the conference. Obviously the winner here has an inside track at a potential Wild Card spot in the NFC, and for some reason the NFC East matchups always seem more intriguing than the team's records warrant. There's something about those old-guard rivalries in the NFC that just make the games more fun. 

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

Are either of these teams actually any good? Who knows!

Indianapolis at Green Bay (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

If nothing else, there should be a ton of points scored in this one. That's fun, right?

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

As stated above, the winner takes control of the AFC West and moves to 7-2. So why am I not actually that excited about this game?

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

Dallas (-7.5) over CLEVELAND

Let the pain continue in Believeland.

JC: The rational side of my brain is saying that the half-point above the touchdown might make it worth taking Cleveland at home. Nobody in the NFL gets blown out every week - sooner or later they're going to play a competitive game, or maybe even win. Weird stuff happens. But Cleveland's run defense (29th in the league) against Dallas' power running game is a brutal matchup. The Cowboys should grind the clock and win a 24-3-type game. 

Jacksonville (+7.5) over KANSAS CITY

Well, the Chiefs are starting Nick Foles, and Jacksonville's defense actually isn't terrible. If they can just get that offense going again a little bit, they should be able to keep it close.

JC: This is where the rational side of my brain wins the argument - Blake Bortles has proven himself to be the king of garbage time. If he can't pull out a backdoor cover against a 7.5-point spread against Nick Foles, then we need to elect a new king. 

Detroit (+6) over MINNESOTA

I suppose the Vikings are due for a bounce back, but I'm not sure what to make of their offense now, especially in the wake of coordinator Norv Turner stepping down, and the injury to Adrian Peterson. Matthew Stafford is having a nice season, so I'd expect the Lions to at least put some points on the board against a stout Vikings D.

JC: I'm a little bit nervous, given Detroit's glaring issues on the back end of their defense - Sam Bradford is just competent enough to pull that one out. But given how much trouble the Vikings had moving the ball against Chicago (not a good defense) and their ongoing train-wreck of a ground game (they're averaging 2.7 yards per carry - as a team - for the season - seriously), I can't lay six points on a team that's lost two straight and looked bad doing it. 

Philadelphia (+2.5) over NY GIANTS

I overrate the Eagles every week. You think I'd have learned by now…

JC: Philadelphia's three losses this season? By 1 to Detroit on the road, by 7 to Washington on the road, and by six in overtime to Dallas on the road. All three games were winnable. Sure, their offense kinda sucks but nobody wants to say it because we've spent the last two months blowing smoke up Carson Wentz's butt, but the defense is legitimately good, and they're playing the Giants, who are 4-3 despite not having any convincing wins and have had a ton of trouble moving the ball against any respectable defense. 

MIAMI (-3.5) over NY Jets

The Dolphin are running the ball like crazy, and the Jets can't stop anybody.

JC: Miami may have found a formula - have Jay Ajayi break a bunch of really long runs and then hang on for dear life. Sure, the Jets have a great run defense, but they also have one of the worst pass defenses in the league and have surrendered huge games to everyone they've played. If Tannehill is going to get back on track, it will be against the Jets. 

New Orleans (-5) over SAN FRANCISCO

The Niners are not so good at the football, but the Saints might be pretty good at the football.

JC: Hoooooooo boy do the 49ers have a terrible defense. They've already given up 500 yards of offense twice this year, and now they're going up against a New Orleans squad that has been on fire recently. 

Carolina (-3.5) over LOS ANGELES

Are the Panthers back?!?! I'm not so sure, but I know the Rams were never there, so I'll roll with Cam, who is finally starting to look like himself.

JC: In April, when we start looking at the draft order, and we see the Rams picking around the middle of the top 10 with a 5-11 record, we'll wonder how the hell they got to 5 wins, look at their schedule, and then REALLY wonder how the hell they pulled out wins against Seattle and Arizona.

GREEN BAY (-7.5) over Indianapolis

The Colts defense is so bad, man.

JC: Green Bay's offense seems to be waking up - they took a tough loss in Atlanta last week, but they were without Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery and still managed to move the ball efficiently. Both of those guys are questionable this week, but they might not even need either against this Colts' defense. 

Buffalo (+7) over SEATTLE

I'm still going with my theory that the Bills aren't as bad as people think, and that Seattle is down a bit. Don't feel great about this pick, but a full touchdown is too rich for my blood.

JC: I said it last week - if their offense can't wake up against New Orleans, it might be time to panic. Well, the Bills come into the week tied for the most sacks in the league with 26 and first in sack rate (dropping opposing quarterbacks on 9 percent of pass plays). Meanwhile, the Seahawks' offensive line has been brutal all year. If the Bills spend a lot of time in the backfield, they could actually go into Seattle and leave with a win. 

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

JP: TAMPA BAY (+4.5) over Atlanta

Who still believes in Tampa Bay?

JC: Atlanta (-4.5) over TAMPA BAY

ATL, country as hell.

JP: BALTIMORE (+2) over Pittsburgh

I swear this pick isn't just because I've bet against the Steelers every week. Even if Big Ben plays, he's been pretty atrocious in his first games back from injury, especially when he pushes it to get back early.

On the other hand, if he doesn't play, Landry Jones will start. Sorry Steelers, you're effed either way.

JC: Pittsburgh (-2) over BALTIMORE

Sure, the Steelers might look rocky with Roethlisberger a bit hobbled in his first game back, but exactly what about Baltimore is inspiring confidence right now? They started 3-0, but two of those wins were over Cleveland and Jacksonville. They've lost four straight since and haven't looked good in any of those games. They have thrown five touchdown passes in seven games. They're 30th in yards per pass and 25th in yards per rush. Even if the Steelers are at half-speed, we think Baltimore is going to put up enough points to win?

JP: Tennessee (+5) over SAN DIEGO

Both these teams are underrated, but I think five points is a stretch, even at home, for the Chargers against an offense with a pulse. The Titans have been sneaky good this year, and I'd expect them to make this very interesting, if not win outright.

JC: SAN DIEGO (-5) over Tennessee

I've been riding both of these bandwagons for a few weeks, so this was a tough choice for me to make. I finally came down to the decision that Tennessee is really just "AFC South good" (which I suppose is kind of like winning Employee of The Month at a T.G.I. Fridays), whereas the Chargers might be actually good. Five points might be steep, but I'll take actually good over AFC South good any time.

JP: Denver (+1) over OAKLAND

I've been high on the Raiders all season, but this seems like one of those "oh my God, we've arrived!" games where a young team gets way too excited, and makes a ton of mistakes to give the game away. The Broncos have the defense and the ground game to take advantage of that.

JC: OAKLAND (-1) over Denver

The Broncos are pretty banged up on both sides of the ball and haven't looked good for a few weeks despite a schedule way easier than we thought it would be coming into the season (is anyone still impressed by the wins over Carolina, Indianapolis, or Cincinnati?). What if Denver just isn't that good but have been propped up by an easy schedule and a good defense? San Diego and Atlanta have shown that you can drive methodically against the Denver defense. Derek Carr is no virtuoso, but he's good enough to put up points.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 5-7-1
Season: 59-57-4
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2-1    
Season's Disagreements: 16-19-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 6-6-1
Season: 62-54-4
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1-1    
Season's Disagreements: 19-16-1

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