Friday, October 6, 2017

NFL Week 5 Primer (With Picks): Where Have All The Favorites Gone?

Buffalo is... Good? Kansas City is the best team in football? What is happening!?!?

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

Consider this: The New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Oakland Raiders - six teams that were a combined 71-24-1 last season - have started this season just 14-10 overall, and a staggering 10-14 against the spread.

What happened to the top end of the league? Are we really ready for a world where the Kansas City Chiefs are *unquestionably* the best team in football? That's a little weird, right? The two most important people involved in a football team are the head coach and the quarterback. For Kansas City, those two people are Andy Reid and Alex Smith, who are best described with a non-committal shoulder shrug.

Reid has a stellar record in the regular season (a .608 winning percentage, a top-20 figure among post-merger coaches) but is just 11-12 lifetime in the postseason, and has made the Super Bowl just once, despite making the playoffs in 12 different seasons. His 12 postseason losses are the 4th-most ever. Sure, Tom Landry and Don Shula are 1st and 2nd on that list, but those guys had a boatload of postseason wins and Super Bowl appearances between them.

Alex Smith, meanwhile, has been the quarterback you want if you're just looking for someone to not screw up, and run an efficient unit that does the bare minimum in order to win a reasonable amount of games. But he's not a playmaker. He never has been.

The more and more we see of this season, the more and more it seems like the league is wide open with no true favorite. We've seen teams look impressive and then turn around and suck (like Tennessee beating up on Seattle and then getting beaten mercilessly by Houston), and we've seen teams look like garbage and then suddenly figure everything out (like Carolina's offense in Week 2 and Week 3, compared to last Sunday in New England). Nobody seems consistent right now. Sure, the Chiefs are rolling, and a good bet to secure a bye in the AFC playoffs, and they're probably safe to wager on for the next 12 weeks - but are they going to be there in January?

Based on the two guys steering the ship, we'd bet on them not. So who is going to step up? Your guess is as good as ours.

The good new is, a wide-open season makes for exciting football. The bad news is, a wide-open season makes for unpredictable football. Zeroing in on these lines is probably going to be more difficult than it normally is.

Here are the Week 5 Picks

[Editor's Note: Both of us are anticipating a busy end of the week, so we made our picks based on the lines as of Wednesday night. So the lines may be out of date by the time of publishing. Just a fair warning. We aren't cheating, we just pulled the lines earlier than we normally do.]

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

Buffalo (+3) over CINCINNATI

JC: Are the Bills legit? They have one of the best defenses in the league, and their only loss came when their offense sputtered on the road in Carolina. The Bengals aren't exactly lighting the world on fire with their offense, so it doesn't take much to get me to buy into the idea that the Bills can hold them under 20 points and squeeze out another close win. I might be willing to ride Buffalo for a few weeks, at least as a frisky home team.

JP: I keep saying, "the Bills are still bad, but..." Well, that needs to stop, because they aren't bad. I don't know if they're good, but they are at least an average to above average team, while Cincy has proven to be a dumpster fire this year.

New York Jets (Pick'em) over CLEVELAND

JC: Here's a short video that is more entertaining than this game will be.

JP: Not sure how the Jets aren't giving points in this one. Cleveland hasn't looked like an NFL team since Week 1, and doesn't have a win to its name. The Jets, meanwhile, enter the week tied in the standings with New England...

Jacksonville (+8) over PITTSBURGH

JC: Are the Jaguars good? I mean, they looked great in London, and then gave up 470 yards of offense to the Jets. I don't get it. It seems like they've been kinda good at most things, so I want to say that they're an okay team that can cover a spread like this, but I'm really starting to doubt everything that I thought I knew. We'll see.

JP: The Jaguars are (pretty) good, and Pittsburgh is not as good as their record makes them appear, especially offensively. If Jacksonville can score some early points and put pressure on Pittsburgh, forget the spread, they could win this outright, ala Chicago two weeks ago.

Tennessee (-3) over MIAMI

JC: It's tough to find a consensus line, with Marcus Mariota's status in question with a hamstring injury. If he plays, this is a fairly easy pick, as Miami has looked asleep at the wheel for the last two weeks. If Mariota sits, and the Titans go with Matt Cassel, (a) this line will almost certainly change, and (b) there's no way in hell I'm taking Tennessee, regardless of what the new line is.

JP: Dude, Miami is awful, and nobody cares less than Jay Cutler. I know we mentioned it when the Dolphins signed him, but geez was Cutler a massive waste of time, money and effort. The Dolphins probably weren't a playoff again, even with a healthy Ryan Tannehill. So, what exactly was history's most apathetic quarterback going to do for them, especially on a shortened offseason?  Dolphins should've just accepted their fate and tanked, but they may accidentally end up getting a Top-5 pick anyway. So, uh, Phins Up?!

PHILADELPHIA (-6.5) over Arizona

JC: Hoooooo boy are the Cardinals bad. They have two wins, over maybe the two worst teams in football (Indianapolis and San Francisco), both by a field goal, both in overtime, and both were nearly losses. Carson Palmer just isn't bringing anything relevant to the table anymore, and they have no running game to speak of. Philadelphia's defensive front should dominate this game easily.

JP: It's kind of remarkable how unimpressive Arizona's offense has become, and how good Philadelphia's front seven has quietly grown. It's hard to see the Cardinal offense gaining yards consistently in this one.

DETROIT (-2.5) over Carolina

JC: So, I thought Houston's offensive explosion against the Patriots was a blip, considering the Patriots' defense is garbage, but after they put up 57 points last week, maybe it wasn't. That being said, I don't think Carolina is going to continue the pace they set against New England last weekend, I think they'll go back to being just a regular team. Detroit has shown that they can hang with, and handle the flotsam among the league-average teams, so I like them giving less than a field goal.

JP: I have no idea what to make of the Panthers right now... I have no idea what to make of the Lions right now. Alright.

LOS ANGELES RAMS (-1.5) over Seattle

JC: I think the Rams are good and I think Seattle is not. That's my hot take for the week. I just think the Rams are straight-up better than the Seahawks right now. I don't especially care what happened in the second half against the Colts, the Colts are barely an NFL team anyway. I think the Rams win this one rather convincingly.

JP: LA is certainly better in both trenches, and the Rams' defensive line is easily among the best in the league. Add in the ability to run the ball with Todd Gurley, and yeah, the Rams are probably just a flat-out better team than Seattle right now.

OAKLAND (-2.5) over Baltimore

JC: Both of these teams are inconsistent, but the Ravens are much higher variance. When they're good, they look spectacular and their defense looks unbeatable. When they're bad, they're god-awful and their offense looks like a JV team from a bad school in a bad district in Nova Scotia. The Raiders get Michael Crabtree back this week, so that's enough to get me on board.

JP: Man is Baltimore's offense BAD. I mean, Pittsburgh's defense is better than you think, but for about 58 minutes last week, the Ravens looked like a high school JV team when they had the ball. True, Derek Carr is out for the Raiders, but E.J. Manuel actually looked not terrible in Denver last week. A ringing endorsement, I know.

Kansas City (-1) over HOUSTON

JC: The Chiefs are the best team in football. I'll ride them until I see something that says they're not.

JP: There is no room left on the Watson/Watt wagon I began last week, so I'll jump off for a few days and stick with the Chiefs, who have covered in some, uh, interesting ways lately.

CHICAGO (+3) over Minnesota

JC: If the Bears are going to Mitch Trubisky, and the Vikings are still without Sam Bradford, I'm willing to roll the dice.

JP: Trubisky was not terrible in the preseason. Seriously, I watched him for like five minutes and did not want to vomit. That should be enough for the Bears to keep this close at home.

Here are the Picks we Disagree on (Home Team Still in CAPS) 

Ed. Note- Jeremy and Joe picked different teams in the Thursday night game, but since they picked those teams at different times, with different lines (Joe took the Patriots at -4 after it was announced that Rob Gronkowski would not play, while Jeremy took Tampa at +5.5 earlier in the day), they both ended up covering. Sometimes the football Gods smile upon you.

JC: TAMPA BAY (+5.5) over New England

It baffles me that the Patriots are still getting this much respect. They've surrendered over 1,800 yards of total offense, dead last in the league by a margin so wide that the 31st-place Colts are almost as close to the league average as they are to the last-place Patriots. Bill Belichick's record following a loss is impeccable, but I've never seen a Patriots defense this bad. I really don't know what to make of the team, and the line coming in between a field goal and a touchdown is a good indicator that Vegas doesn't really know what to do, either. Until further notice, which I suppose means until New England can actually execute on defense, I'm taking the points and expecting the Patriots to win by scores like 37-34, if they manage to win at all.

JP: New England (-4) over TAMPA BAY

You said it yourself, Belichick's record following a loss is impeccable. No defense, no offensive line, no Edelman, and no Gronk... I'll still take the Pats on a short week on the road, giving four.

JC: Los Angeles Chargers (+3.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

I'm going down with the ship. On my tombstone, it will read "Jeremy Conlin - he just kept betting on Phil Rivers to win a close game."

JP: NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5) over Los Angeles Chargers

I mentioned last week that I thought Ben Roethlisberger was over the hill. Well, it may be a day of reckoning for all the draft class of 2004 quarterbacks. At this point, what are Eli and Phil doing? Just piling up stats and getting beaten up on bad teams, each with a single good receiver to help them move up the career yardage leader board.

This all seems so pointless, but I like Odell and his touchdown celebrations, so I'll take the Giants.

JC: San Francisco (+1.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

I'll just leave this here again.

JP: INDIANAPOLIS (-1.5) over San Francisco 

Hey, give the Colts some credit... They have beaten an NFL team this year (ok, it was the Browns, but that still technically counts), which is more than I can say for San Francisco, thus far.

JC: DALLAS (-2) over Green Bay

The Packers are banged up just enough that I'd want to see them getting a field goal or more before I took them on the road against a team that might be starting to figure out their offense. Sure, the Cowboys lost last week, but their offense looked explosive again. They fell apart on defense, but if Green Bay is still missing their two tackles, plus their starting running back and their second-best receiver (and as of this writing, they're all graded as questionable, or worse), I just don't think they have the firepower to keep up.

JP: Green Bay (+2) over DALLAS

I'm worried about Green Bay, but I'm quitting you, Dallas. I didn't think it would be this early in the season, but the Cowboys are like a leaky boat, where every time you plug one hole, a new leak springs. Not sure what it will be this week, but I have a feeling the Boys are going to continue to find interesting ways to lose.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 4-12
Season: 29-34
Last Week's Disagreements: 0-7
Season's Disagreements: 7-11

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 12-4
Season: 34-29
Last Week's Disagreements: 7-0
Season's Disagreements: 11-7

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