Saturday, December 17, 2016

NFL Week 15 Primer (With Picks): Clinching Time

Things could get ugly in Cincy, as Vontaze Burfict and the Bengals look to inflict some more pain on Antonio Brown and the Steelers.
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Week 15 is already underway, and we've entered the fun part of football season when the premier college teams get a few weeks off, so that means NFL Football on Saturdays. Plus, Bowl Season.

We're getting down to the wire in the NFL regular season, which means clinching scenarios are very much in play this week. Seattle and Dallas have already clinched playoff spots, and a few more teams control their own destiny as well - New England clinches the AFC East and a first-round bye with a win in Denver this week, or they can lose and still pick up a bye if Miami and Pittsburgh both stumble. Both Oakland and Kansas City clinch playoff spots with a win, but the AFC West title will still be up for grabs going into next week.

Those are the only sure-fire win-and-in scenarios, but there are plenty more that involve teams getting in so long as they tie and then seven other teams lose or tie, or something like that. It's not worth running through them all. Here's what is interesting, though - 26 teams are still technically alive, including the 5-8 Chargers, Saints, Panthers, and Eagles. Any of those teams getting in would need an absurd amount of help, but it's still mathematically possible.

There are a few key games that will have a huge impact on how playoff seeding will shake out, most notably the Giants-Lions game. Both teams need to pick up a win for any conceivable clinching scenario (and both teams would like to see Green Bay fall flat in Chicago for a little helping hand), but both teams are also probably pretty safe in terms of getting themselves into the postseason.

Here are the rest of the picks.

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

Los Angeles (+15.5) over SEATTLE

JC: You know your team sucks when you can't even cover a two-touchdown spread against a team that has failed to score even the 16 points required to cover this spread in five other games this season. The Rams should fire Jeff Fisher again for good measure.

Detroit (+3.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

JC: Sure, the Giants have been "surging" of late, but they've all been close games. 10 of their 13 games this year have been decided by a touchdown or less (they're 8-2 in those games), and their only blowout win on the season came over the Browns. The Lions have also played a ton of close games - 12 of their 13 games have been within 7 points (they're 8-4 in those games). So if both teams play close games, this game will probably be close, so why should I lay an extra half-point?

JP: I've been off picking the Giants the past few weeks, so I'll just side with you here.

Green Bay (-6) over CHICAGO

JC: Well, after I was just about ready to write off the Packers, they've won three straight and looked very impressive in the process. After giving up 153 points in a four-game span, they've given up just 36 over their last three. Against a Chicago offense that's 30th in scoring, I think the Packers will keep rolling.

JP: Green Bay needs to keep winning, and the Bears are terrible.

MINNESOTA (-4.5) over Indianapolis

JC: Minnesota's offense actually looked half-decent last week (goal-to-go foibles notwithstanding), and while the Colts remain very much alive in the embarrassing AFC South, their offense has had too many hiccoughs in the last few weeks to make me think they can go into Minnesota and take care of business.

JP: If Adrian Peterson plays (and reports are that he will) then I see no reason why Minnesota's offense can't put 24 on Indy's terrible defense, which should be enough for the Vikings defense to cover.

Cleveland (+10) over BUFFALO

JC: I'm going down with the ship.

JP: Yeah, I'm with ya this week. The Bills shouldn't be giving 10 to anybody.

Jacksonville (+5.5) over HOUSTON

JC: Blegh

JP: Catch the fever!

New Orleans (+3) over ARIZONA

JC: Loser leaves town, and neither one of these teams can be coming into this game feeling all that great about their recent play. Carson Palmer might have finally lost it, so I'll get behind Drew Brees fighting for his playoff life.

JP: Honestly, the Cardinals have been a tremendous disappointment to me. I had my sister put 50 bucks on them to win the Super Bowl when she was in Vegas last summer, and only my hedge bet on Alabama to win the College Football Playoff has a chance of making my money back.

Basically, screw Arizona, and go Nick Saban. Oh, and Drew Brees.

ATLANTA (-13.5) over San Francisco

JC: The 49ers have actually vaguely resembled a professional football team over the last month. Not enough to, you know, win any games, but they've looked okay. But their defense is still terrible. They have one of the worst rush defenses I've ever seen. And Atlanta's offense hasn't lost a step. This should be an easy blowout for the Falcons.

JP: It would be so Chip Kelly to ruin this for me, but the Niners haven't given us any reason to belive in them lately.

Oakland (-3) over SAN DIEGO

JC: San Diego's season went down the drain when Melvin Gordon left last week with his injury. He was the engine of that offense, and I don't think they'll be able to keep up with Oakland without him.

JP: The Raiders need this one pretty bad, and the Chargers are running out of reasons to play. These AFC West games have been weird lately, but I'll go with Oakland by a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (+7) over DALLAS

JC: The Bucs have been surging, and the Cowboys have been bearish of late (3 straight close games, one loss, one near-loss). Tampa Bay's defense has been impressive, so let's see if they can slow down Dallas.

JP: I know you think the Cowboys are overvalued, and I finally agree with you, because people aren't giving the Bucs any credit. This is a legit playoff team (I think), and Gerald McCoy finally looks like Gerald McCoy again up front. That talent is finally showing up for Tampa Bay.

Carolina (+6) over WASHINGTON

JC: I don't even know at this point. I can't make heads or tails of this Carolina team.

JP: Or Washington. Gimme the points.

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

JC: NEW YORK JETS (+2.5) over Miami

I'd like to see Matt Moore attempt more than five passes before I'm ready to lay points with him on the road against a good run defense.

JP: Miami (-2.5) over NEW YORK JETS

My faith in the Phins is unshakable! True, Tannethrill was playing a little better of late, but I'm still of the opinion that he isn't any good, and this is a team getting by on its resurgent ground game, Jarvis Landry (who has gone all Antonio/Odell lately) and a suddenly potent pass rush. If all those things show up, they should take this thing by at least a touchdown.

JC: BALTIMORE (-6) over Philadelphia

My dream of all-out chaos in the NFC is technically still alive, but I think it's time to put it to bed. Baltimore has looked good (and nearly pulled of a great comeback against New England on Monday night), and Philadelphia just hasn't looked the same of late.

JP: Philadelphia (+6) over BALTIMORE

Yeah, I don't know what has happened to Philly, but I just have a feeling they keep this close, and maybe win to throw a wrench in Baltimore postseason plans. A guy can dream.

JC: Tennessee (+5) over KANSAS CITY

Now that the Titans are finally above .500 for the season, I'm betting on them to win out and take the AFC South title, and maybe even pull a not-quite-upset-upset in the divisional round against a good wild card team (like these Chiefs, or maybe the Raiders). The Chiefs haven't had a super convincing win since October, and I'm just not sure they're all that great. I mean, sure, they're good. But are they AFC West Champion and First-Round Bye good? I honestly don't know.

JP: KANSAS CITY (-5) over Tennessee

The Titans have been great at times, but also pretty average. The Chiefs have a chance to snatch that bye, and are playing at Arrowhead, so it's hard to bet against them, even giving 5.

JC: Pittsburgh (-3.5) over CINCINNATI

The Steelers now control their own destiny in the AFC North and have an offense that's clicking on all cylinders. The Bengals have picked up two wins to re-enter the realm of respectability, but they've been over Cleveland and Philadelphia, who are a combined 0-8 over the last month. I'm just not buying a Cincinnati resurgence, especially without A.J. Green.

JP: CINCINNATI (+3.5) over Pittsburgh

These games are always close, and as a Steelers fan I just hope Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell get out of this one without Vontaze Burfic decapitating them. 

JC: DENVER (+3.5) over New England

The Patriots are banged up on offense + The Broncos still have a great defense + Tom Brady's history in Denver + The Broncos trying to stay alive in the AFC West + That extra half-point.

JP: New England (-3.5) over DENVER

The Brady in Denver thing has me a little nervous about this pick, but Denver's quarterback situation makes me even more uncomfortable. 

 Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 7-8-1
Season: 100-102-6
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-3
Season's Disagreements: 30-35-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 8-7-1
Season: 105-97-6
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-2  
Season's Disagreements: 35-30-1

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