Saturday, September 30, 2017

NFL Week 4 Primer (With Picks): The Chiefs(!) Hold The Belt

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

Week Three has come and gone, which means the adjustments we made have proven to be either fortuitous or, well, not. Considering Jeremy went 7-9 against the spread last weekend, and Joe was an even worse 5-11, you can probably draw your own conclusion there.

(In our own defense, we got hosed on the same games that pretty much every handicapper got hosed on. It's not like our adjustments were mis-guided, there were just some performances out of the blue that nobody really saw coming, like Buffalo, the Jets, and the Case Keenum-led Vikings.)

One way or the other, we now have three weeks of information to work with, which means at the very least, we have some tiebreakers for teams we were still on the fence about. Does New England's defense suck? Two of our first three weeks say yes. Can the Chargers cover a tight spread? Two of our first three weeks say no. Is Seattle's offense a train wreck? We're actually three for three on that one, so bet at your own risk.

As we said last week, Weeks 3 and 4 are when things stop being coincidences. After this weekend, we'll be a quarter of the way through the season, and that's starting to become a pretty reliable sample. Obviously, it's not foolproof. Just as one recent example, the 2014 Patriots opened the season getting summarily beat down twice in the first four weeks by Miami and Kansas City, the defense looked in shambles, and the Boston sports media did the whole "sky is falling" routine. Well, they went 13-2 the rest of the way, finished with a top-10 defense, and won the Super Bowl. So, yes, some teams take longer to jell than others (other examples being both Giants Super Bowl teams, the 2016 Falcons defense, and Baltimore's passing game in 2012). But, that being said, you can't just dismiss what you've seen the first month of the season. So keep your eyes peeled.

Now the picks.

Jeremy went back and forth on his Thursday pick, but as the line moved to Green Bay -7.5 by kickoff, he decided to stick the extra half-point in his pocket and go with the Bears. Joe wasn't distracted by the shiny half-point and stuck with the Packers. Joe was right, Jeremy was wrong.

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

Carolina (+9.5) over NEW ENGLAND

JC: The Patriots couldn't come close to covering a two-touchdown spread against a Houston team that came into the game with a legitimately incompetent offense. And they gave up 26 points (the other seven were on a fumble return) and 417 total yards. The Patriots are giving up 5.1 yards per rush (31st in the league). Here's another fun fact - the Patriots are in the middle of the pack in the number of plays they defend per drive, they're 14th in the league. Despite that, they're 30th in yards per drive and 31st in points per drive. They're giving up 7.1 yards every time the other team so much as snaps the ball. Sure, their offense has looked sharp, and they've won their last two games, but I'm not trusting them to cover any spread over a touchdown until I see some improvement on defense.

JP: New England should still be favored in every game they play, especially in Foxboro, but not by this much. Not with that defense.

Los Angeles Rams (+6.5) over DALLAS

JC: Is the Rams' offense [gulp] actually good? Is that possible? They've scored north of 40 points twice this year, and they're leading the league in yards per pass attempt. Is that just because they've played against Indianapolis and San Francisco? It's certainly possible. But if that's the line you want to take, do me a quick favor and raise your hand if you've been impressed by anything the Cowboys have done so far this year. They looked thoroughly average on Monday night against what seems to be a pretty bad Arizona team. I'm not convinced this is the same Dallas team that had the No. 1 seed effectively locked up by Thanksgiving last year. This line is too high.

JP: I'm not buying the Ram offense quite yet, but I'm totally sold on their offensive line. Going against a suddenly human Cowboy O-line and struggling Dak/Zeke backfield, I like LA's chances to keep this within a touchdown.

Detroit (+2) over MINNESOTA

JC: I have no idea what to make of this Minnesota team. Their strength was supposed to be a suffocating defense, but that unit has looked kind of just pretty good instead of exceptional, and meanwhile, an offense that couldn't get out of it's own way for most of last year and finished 28th in yards (and had just one week with over 400 yards of total offense) is suddenly slinging the ball all over the field, even with Case Keenum at quarterback? Really? That's happening? The Lions, meanwhile, are an obscure end-of-game timing rule away from maybe being 3-0, so maybe this is the week where things start to make sense for both of these teams.

JP: Yeah, I'm bamboozled about the Vikings, so I'll go with the Lions, who at least have an offense I can trust.

Jacksonville (-3.5) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: So, the Jets won a game, which I guess is nice. The Jaguars have shown, however, against both Houston and Baltimore, that their defense can really beat up on teams that don't have all their ducks in a row. The Jaguars seem like they might be The Good Bad Team, which means this should be a great matchup for them. They've allowed a grand total of 373 yards passing so far this season (easily the best in the league), while the Jets aerial attack has them ranked 25th. The Jaguars might only need to score a touchdown to cover this spread comfortably.

JP: I want to believe, Jacksonville, I really do. Don't make me feel like an idiot.

Cincinnati (-3) over CLEVELAND

JC: The Bengals got back on track, kind of, by leading in Green Bay for most of the game? And they're ready to turn their season around now that they have some semblance of a plan on offense? And the Browns still suck? I don't know, I'm just kind of making this up as I go.

JP: Even with a loss, I'd still take Ohio State over both these teams right now.

BALTIMORE (+3) over Pittsburgh

JC: As the Vegas proverb goes, home-field advantage is worth three points. So, Vegas is telling us that this would be a touchdown spread on a neutral field or a nine-point spread with Pittsburgh at home. I might be willing to buy those two numbers, but as soon as you move Pittsburgh on the road and put Baltimore at home, the swing is way more than three points. For some reason, the Steelers just aren't the same team on the road, so I'm riding the Ravens.

JP:Both these teams are coming off embarrassing losses, but at least Baltimore lost in Europe to a team that MIGHT be good. Pittsburgh's offense has been the disappointment of the first three games and, quite frankly, Ben Roethlisberger just looks over the hill.

Oakland (+3) over DENVER

JC: Both of these teams looked really, really good in Weeks 1 and 2, and were both road favorites in Week 3, and both lost outright to teams that hadn't really looked good until that point. So I can see why Vegas is calling them even and giving Denver the old home-team-gives-three. That being said, I just think Oakland is better. For one, their starting quarterback isn't Trevor Siemian. The Broncos have turned the ball over six times through three weeks, and that won't be sustainable for much longer. The Raiders are certainly the type of offense that punishes teams for turning the ball over. Denver's defense is still strong, but I'm not sure their offense has the firepower to keep up with Oakland.

JP:Ditto. Not sure what happened to either team last week, but I'll take the points, and Derek Carr, in a bounce back game for the Raiders.

Indianapolis (+13) over SEATTLE

JC: What happens when a totally moveable force meets an absolutely stoppable object? We'll find out when the Colts' defense plays patty-cake with Seattle's offense. What through the first three weeks leads you to believe that the Seahawks are capable of covering a 13-point spread against anyone? Even at home, they played the 49ers in Week 2 and barely scraped out a win. Yeah, the Colts suck. We all know that. But I'm not sure Seattle is even good right now. I need them to prove it to me first.

JP:Seattle vs Indianapolis is one of the least watchable games of the week, which is something that would have sounded crazy two years ago.

KANSAS CITY (-7) over Washington

JC: Until further notice, the Kansas City Chiefs are the best team in football. That's right, a professional football team coached by Andy Reid and Andy Reid's Mustache are the best team in the NFL. I know it sounds weird, but when you're the only team in the league with an undefeated record and a win over the defending Super Bowl champions and a knack for coming up with 70-yard touchdowns to ice games in the 4th quarter, that's the kind of respect you get. Washington looked impressive last Sunday night against Oakland, but Kansas City holds the belt right now, and I'm going to see how long they can hold it for.

JP:Once again, this team is loaded, can run the ball, can defend everything, and will totally blow it in the playoffs. But, until then, ride this train.

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

JC: MIAMI (+3) over New Orleans (London)

Miami's offense has been hit or miss so far this season, so who better to play than the New Orleans Saints? The Saints are 31st in opponent's yards per pass attempt and 26th in opponent's yards per rush attempt, and dead last in opponent's yards per drive and points per drive. There really isn't anything they've done even reasonably well on defense so far this season. Miami's offense has looked sharp on one drive and terrible the next, so the New Orleans elixir should get them to the level that they're capable of.

JP: New Orleans (-3) over MIAMI (London)

Did you watch the Dolphins against the Jets last week? I did. I did...
JC: Tennessee (-1) over HOUSTON

My money says Houston's offensive explosion in Week 3 had more to do with the Patriots' defense than it did Houston's ability to move the ball up and down the field. Tennessee's defense has been pretty solid so far (they only started giving up yards and points last week after Seattle fell behind 30-14 and started airing it out in the 2nd half), and Houston isn't that far removed from a two-week span where they accumulated 208 yards passing combined.

JP: HOUSTON (+1) over Tennessee

Nah, I'm totally jumping on the Watson/Watt bandwagon. The Texans seem like that team that can't do anything consistently well offensively, but find a few new wrinkles every week, and play great defense. I think they have some tricks up their sleeves for the Titans.

JC: ATLANTA (-8.5) over Buffalo

I almost got bit last week, but I'll stick with my "take Atlanta at any reasonable price when they play indoors" rule. Their game on both sides of the ball is so based on speed that I have to think that playing indoors matters a lot for them.

JP: Buffalo (+8.5) over ATLANTA 

The Bills are still bad, despite last week's win against Denver, but I want to believe they're decent, and that my Tyrod Taylor love isn't crazy.

JC: TAMPA BAY (-3) over New York Giants

The Giants' passing game looked alive in the second half against Philadelphia last week, and Tampa Bay's defense has looked a little sketchy, but I think I want to see Eli Manning and the G-Men look competent for more than three drives before I'm willing to put money on them.

JP: New York Giants (+3) over TAMPA BAY 

I have no logical reason for this pick. Just got a feeling that New York puts it all together in Tampa.

JC: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-1) over Philadelphia

Goddammit, one of these days the Chargers are actually going to put it all together and win a close game in the 4th quarter, and goddammit, I'm going to have picked them when they do it.

JP: Philadelphia (+1) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Wait, I get the better team, playing on the road in a half-empty stadium with no homefield advantage, and I don't give any points? Sign me up!

JC: ARIZONA (-7) over San Francisco

Carson Palmer might be totally washed up, but Arizona's defense is too talented to let the 49ers hang around. There's going to be a lot of punting in this game, but the Cardinals offense has enough big-play potential to cover this spread.

JP: San Francisco (+7) over ARIZONA

Man, I really don't like giving a touchdown with a team I don't think is any good.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 7-9
Season: 25-22
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-1
Season's Disagreements: 7-4

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 5-11
Season: 22-25
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-3
Season's Disagreements: 4-7

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