Sunday, October 22, 2017

NFL Week 7 Primer (With Picks): Undefeated No More

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

Well, the last time we saw you, there was still an undefeated NFL team. In the last seven days, that team has lost two football games. In the same time span, the "best" team in the NFC lost their quarterback, possibly for the season. The other "best" team in the NFC blew a 17-point lead at home to a team that had mustered all of 22 points over the previous 3 weeks. Ezekiel Elliot was re-suspended, and then a few days later had the re-suspension re-overruled.

It's been a weird week.

Last week, we asked you which teams you'd be willing to bet your life on to make the playoffs, and we came up with one "almost definitely" (Kansas City), followed by a few "probables" (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Green Bay, New England). Since then, Kansas City has certainly fallen past "probably" to "maybe," Green Bay and Atlanta have fallen all the way down to "definitely would not bet my life on them to make the playoffs," and the Patriots and Eagles have probably jumped up to the top two spots by default.

Everything is just confusing.

Who is your NFL MVP right now? Tom Brady is having a stellar season, but the Patriots have still been (mostly) unimpressive. Alex Smith has looked amazing, but has been, well, Alex Smith over the last two weeks, and the Chiefs have lost twice. The Eagles have the NFL's best record, but it's hard to take anyone on that team seriously as an MVP candidate, even Carson Wentz, who has looked pretty good (but not spectacular). There have been a number of running backs putting up big numbers, but a running back has won the MVP just five times in the last 20 years, and those seasons were twice from a guy who ran for 2000 yards (Adrian Peterson in 2012, Terrell Davis in 1998), and three guys that set NFL records in their respective seasons (LaDanian Tomlinson for touchdowns in 2006, Shaun Alexander for touchdowns in 2005, and Marshall Faulk for total scrimmage touchdowns in 2000).

Sure, Kareem Hunt is having a good season, but not THAT good of a season. There haven't yet been any defensive players that have established themselves in that conversation, either. Through six weeks, it might just be Tom Brady by default, as weird as that sounds.

For as long as the season remains confusing, we're going to keep talking about how confusing it is. We're sorry, we really are. We'd much rather have everything make sense. Maybe the Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks, Cowboys, and Panthers will all win by 30 this week and we'll go into next week with a clearly defined first tier of the league. But the odds of that happening are roughly zero. We don't know what else to tell you.

Week 7 got underway Thursday night, with the Raiders winning a wild and crazy game over the Chiefs. Both Joe and Jeremy took Kansas City giving three points on the road, and we were happy to be wrong. Any entertaining Thursday night game is worth starting the week with a loss. Let's get to the rest of the picks.

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

Tennessee (-6) over CLEVELAND

JC: The Titans looked impressive on Monday night. Granted, they were playing probably the worst team in the league, but still, they looked impressive. They did what good teams do - they overcame a few fluky plays early, regained the lead, shut the door, and then tacked on a garbage time touchdown for a comfortable cover against a bad team. The Tennessee passing attack seems to be clicking, and we all know they can run the ball, so look for the offense to keep rolling against the Browns.

JP: Man do I have a new appreciation for Marcus Mariota. With him back on the field, the Titans are a playoff team.

Jacksonville (-3) over INDIANAPOLIS

JC: Speaking of bad teams, these Colts just might be the worst. They're bad on the ground, slightly less bad through the air, and much, much more bad in all facets of defense and special teams that don't involve the most accomplished kicker in NFL history. Jacksonville seems like, at worst, a frisky team that can beat up on the bad ones (and occasionally the good ones) but never actually get anywhere because at the end of the day, their quarterback is still Blake Bortles.

JP: So, Andrew Luck isn't actually playing this year, is he?

Cincinnati (+5.5) over PITTSBURGH

JC: I'm willing to fade Pittsburgh for a week after their line is artificially inflated following what was, all things considered, a rather fluky win against the Chiefs. Obviously, yes, they played well. But they also scored a touchdown on a play where the ball caromed off the helmet of a defensive back and straight into the arms of Antonio Brown. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is coming off their bye week, following two straight wins, and their offense has certainly woken up.

JP: I've been betting against Pittsburgh all year, and will continue to do so since they always play to their level of competition, and there might be a brawl before kickoff in this one.

New York Jets (+3) over MIAMI

JC: God, I really hate this pick, but I can't pretend any longer - the Jets might just actually be an okay team and not the league's laughingstock that we all assumed they were coming into the season. And for all the talent that Miami has on offense, they really haven't played like it at any point this season. Their wins have come via their defense, usually thanks to a timely turnover. If a team just has to have a turnover at the right time to win a game, at some point you have to think they just won't get one, right? I just don't think Miami's success is sustainable, whereas New York's might be.

JP: Shoot, somebody is getting points against the Dolphins? Man, last week really threw oddsmakers for a loop.

BUFFALO (-3) over Tampa Bay

JC: Here's another potentially frisky team that could push towards the playoffs if their offense ever gets their act together. Considering Arizona just had an offensive resurgence against this Tampa Bay team, I'd give Buffalo a good chance as well. The health status of Jameis Winston is still up in the air, but I like Buffalo to take this one at home regardless of whether or not Winston plays.

JP: Dammit, is Tampa Bay bad again? I really thought this would be the year they put it together. Oh well, now I can cheer for this being the year that Tyrod Taylor gets Buffalo back to the postseason.

Carolina (-3) over CHICAGO

JC: Okay, so Chicago got their feel-good win over the Ravens, but I think this Carolina team is a lot closer to the version that went 15-1 in 2015 than the one that went 6-10 last year. They seem to have more playmakers on both sides than they've had in a few years, and it's tough to blame them for a loss to Philadelphia when most signs point towards the Eagles being the best team in the league right now. If Carolina is the team that I think they are, this should be a relatively easy win against an overmatched team with a rookie quarterback.

JP: Chicago's magic only works against Jekyll and Hyde teams from the AFC North. Now, this Jekyll and Hyde team from the NFC South should roll.

New Orleans (-4.5) over GREEN BAY

JC: I'll just ride with a hot New Orleans team against what might just be a straight-up bad Green Bay team sans Aaron Rodgers.

JP: Ditto.

LOS ANGELES RAMS (-3.5) over Arizona

JC: Every week just provides more and more evidence that the Rams just might be a legitimately good team. They have pretty much everything - they're great in both trenches, they have playmakers at running back, wide receiver, and in the secondary, and they have a blue-chip pedigree quarterback that is starting to look like he deserved to be the No. 1 overall pick. Arizona got back on their feet last week, but now they have to go on the road against a defense that isn't Tampa Bay's. I'd expect tougher sledding for them, and I just can't be bothered to care too much about the extra half-point.

JP: I've been saying it for a while: LA is legitimately good, and it all starts up front on defense. You simply can't block Aaron Donald and company.


JC: I refuse to quit Phillip Rivers, especially Phillip Rivers coming off BACK TO BACK WINS IN GAMES DECIDED BY LESS THAN A TOUCHDOWN. Yes, you read that correctly. The Chargers are winning close games, and there's no turning back now. 

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

JC: MINNESOTA (-5.5) over Baltimore

Baltimore's offense is really, really bad, and Minnesota's defense is really, really good. Sometimes it's just that simple.

JP: Baltimore (+5.5) over MINNESOTA

Call me crazy, but I think Baltimore puts together a decent game here to keep its season afloat. Just a feeling.

JC: SAN FRANCISCO (+6) over Dallas

As of now, Ezekiel Elliot is back to playing football, and the latest stories suggest Elliot and the league might get together for a face-saving resolution to this never-ending saga. If Elliot is finally able to put it behind him, he might get back to what he looked like last season. He certainly did at times over his last two games, and he's coming off a bye week here. On the other hand, the 49ers have shown pretty much every week that they can hang around against average teams. The Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, and Redskins haven't been able to put them away, so what makes us think that an as-of-yet mediocre Dallas team can?

JP: Dallas (-6) over SAN FRANCISCO

I'm just gonna pretend this game is being played between 1992 and 1997. Man, those were the days for this rivalry.

JC: NEW YORK GIANTS (+4.5) over Seattle

So, the Giants finally got a win against a Denver team that couldn't move the ball well against a still-pretty-talented New York defense, and the Seahawks have yet to really impress me this season (sorry, but beating up on the Colts doesn't count). Even with all the injuries that New York has suffered at receiver, they've found ways to move the ball on the ground over the last two weeks with Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman, who have both been impressive. If even one of their replacement receivers steps up, the Giants could maybe save their season.

JP: Seattle (-4.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

Lol, nah.

JC: Atlanta (+3.5) over NEW ENGLAND

I mean, the Patriots struggled to get stops in the first half against the Jets. The Jets. Come on. If not for a gift by the referees, they would have seen their lead cut to a field goal halfway through the fourth quarter. Against the Jets. Now they're getting the Falcons, still pissed off about last February, and now even more pissed off coming off an embarrassing home loss to Miami. And even in a winning effort, the Patriots managed to surrender more than 350 passing yards to an offense piloted by Josh McCown, surrounded by a crew of cast-offs and misfits at running back and receiver. What will this hapless New England defense do against one of the best offenses in the leauge?

JP: NEW ENGLAND (-3.5) over Atlanta

A wise man told me to never count out Touchdown Tom. 

JC: Washington (+4.5) over PHILADELPHIA

I think this line is a bit too expensive. Philadelphia is the best team in the league by default at this point, but I'm not sure exactly how good they are. I still think Washington is pretty good, too. I'm not sure they're as good as Philadelphia, but both teams are enough of a question mark for me that I'm willing to just ride the points in a divisional game.

JP: PHILADELPHIA (-4.5) over Washington

That Philly defense at home is scary, and Wentz is quietly playing as well as any quarterback in football. Am I really trusting Kirk Cousins against that?

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 6-8
Season: 42-48-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1
Season's Disagreements: 11-14

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 5-9
Season: 46-44-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2
Season's Disagreements: 14-11

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