Saturday, November 18, 2017

NFL Week 11 Primer (With Picks): Let's Talk About The MVP

Jared Goff isn't really an MVP candidate, is he? IS HE?!?!
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We've danced around the subject of the NFL MVP in this space a few times, but let's take a minute to really dive into it.

Over the last 20 years or so, the MVP has gone to a quarterback, unless one specific running back had an absolutely ridiculous season (like, setting a touchdown record, or rushing for 2,000+ yards). The last time it went to a player at any other position was 1986, when Lawrence Taylor won it. So, historically speaking, the pool is pretty small.

Plus, it really only goes to a running back when (a) none of the quarterbacks really stand out, but then also (b) one of the running backs stands out A LOT. So, putting that in the context of this season, we can say that none of this year's running backs really project to surpass some never-before-seen barrier.

Like, Kareem Hunt is on pace for roughly 1,400 rushing yards, 600 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. Le'Veon Bell, entering this week, was on pace for slightly better numbers in yardage. So the odds of somebody reaching 2,000 rushing yards, or even approaching Chris Johnson's record of 2,500+ yards from scrimmage in 2009 is slim to none.

So, let's work under the assumption that the MVP will be a quarterback.

When the MVP is a quarterback, it's for one of the following reasons:

1. The MVP puts up absurd numbers and is generally agreed to be the most prolific quarterback of the season (see: 2013 Peyton Manning, 2016 Matt Ryan).
2. An MVP puts up really, really good numbers (but not off the charts) and either (a) does it on what is CLEARLY the best team during the regular season, and/or (b) does it without marquee skill position receivers (see: 2015 Cam Newton, 2010 Tom Brady).

All the while, with all else being equal, the narrative wins out (in some cases, guys that haven't won the award before get a leg up in a muddled field, or a guy that switches teams, or a guy making a comeback, or whatever, etc.)

This season is a bit interesting, because Criteria 1 and Criteria 2 might merge with each other, which is pretty uncommon. The top five quarterbacks in the league this year are all playing for teams in contention for a top seed in their conference, and all of them are doing it with some degree of friction elsewhere within their offense.

Right now, those five seem to be Tom Brady, Alex Smith, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, and yes, Jared Goff. All five of them seem to be legitimate candidates. Brady and Brees could win it under the "how do they keep doing it?!?!?" umbrella, Brees could win it under the "wait, he's never won the MVP?!?!?!?" umbrella, Smith could win it under the "wait, is Alex Smith finally legit?!?!?" umbrella, and Wentz and Goff could win it under the "check out the next generation!!" umbrella.

Right now, the two front-runners seem to be Brady (the best combination of team success and statistical prowess) and Wentz (the best combination of team success and narrative support). Vegas seems to agree, they have Wentz (even money) and Brady (+110) pretty much neck-in-neck. Goff (+900) and Smith (+1400) are pretty far off, but if you're looking for value, Drew Brees at 25-1 is jumping off the page right now. His team is 7-2 and he's been just as good numbers-wise as anyone else.

Let's get to the Week 11 Picks:

We kicked off the week last night with Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Joe took the Titans in a hilarious attempt to reverse-jinx his beloved Steelers. Jeremy refused to play the cute game and just took the better team. As it turns out, Jeremy will be laughing all the way to the bank on this one.

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

Detroit (-3) over CHICAGO:

JC: I'd really like to be able to see Chicago muster 350 yards of total offense (they haven't done it yet) before I wager on them this season. Beyond that, Detroit might actually be good. They put away Green Bay and Cleveland like they were supposed to the last two weeks, and their only losses are to Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Carolina, and Atlanta. I think people got thrown off the scent by their three straight losses. They've taken care of business against bad teams, and this Chicago team is bad.

JP: Chicago has the potential to be pretty good relatively soon, mostly due to its underrated running game, but the Bears ain't there yet. Detroit is solid, but needs to take the next step.

Kansas City (-10.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

JC: I've been willing to ride the Giants as value dogs a few times this year, but that's over now. They're still getting too much respect based on the fact that they're the Giants and Peyton's brother is their quarterback. If the Chiefs still have anything left (slightly doubtful given their last month or so), they should mop the floor here.

JP: I'm starting to lose faith in the Chiefs, mostly because of their deteriorating defense, but the Giants are a freaking dumpster fire.

Tampa Bay (Pick'em) over MIAMI

JC: This game is like any movie the dude that played Harry Potter was in that wasn't a Harry Potter movie. Nobody understands why it exists, but we all know we don't want to see it.

JP:  Man, I give up with these two, but Miami has been more depressing lately.

Los Angeles Rams (+2.5) over MINNESOTA

JC: Case Keenum has won five straight starts. Five. Case Keenum. Five straight starts. Case. Keenum. Five. Starts. CASE. KEENUM. FIVE.

JP: Is that sustainable?

CLEVELAND (+7.5) over Jacksonville

JC: Cleveland has to not suck sometime soon, right?

JP:  That sounds like the official Cleveland motto. Depressing Browns jokes aside, Jacksonville is so talented, but Blake Bortles and just youth elsewhere on the offense make it a little inconsistent. Over a touchdown is a lot to ask without that consistency.

NEW ORLEANS (-7.5) over Washington

JC: At some point, the injuries just start adding up a bit too much for Washington. Don't get me wrong, they're a really good team when they're healthy, but attrition is a thing that exists. The Saints are humming right now. They've won seven in a row, five of them by two touchdowns or more, and their only losses are to Minnesota and the Patriots. This team is goooood.

JP: New Orleans is a running team now. Don't @ me.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-4.5) over Buffalo

JC: Phil Rivers is likely to play, but even if he wasn't, I'm not putting money on Nate Peterman. All things considered, Tyrod Taylor has been a good quarterback this season. His numbers are in the same neighborhood as, or better than, quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Marcus Mariota, Phil Rivers, Cam Newton, Derek Carr, and Matt Ryan (no, really, you can look it up and everything). So the idea that the Bills need to move in a different direction is, well, rather fishy. Karma says the Bills lose by 30 this week.

JP: Freakin' Bills, mane. I quite enjoy watching Tyrod Taylor play, and he's been, maybe, the best thing about this awful franchise since Flutie Flakes. WHY, BUFFALO?! WHY?!

DENVER (-2.5) over Cincinnati

JC: If not for all of the special teams blunders last weekend, the Broncos could have kept that game against New England pretty competitive. Brock Osweiler looked, well, pretty good for most of the game until he started forcing throws late because they were down by three scores. If they keep the game close against the Bengals they should be able to pull it out late.

JP: I'm not buying the "Denver was pretty good against New England" line you're selling, but they are the more talented team here, and should be able to clamp down on Cincy's struggling offense.

New England (-7) over Oakland (Mexico City)

JC: The Patriots seem to be rolling, especially on defense. Oakland, meanwhile, has been, well, not. They've lost five of their last seven, and those two wins came (a) on the last play of the game against the Chiefs, and (b) by a scant field goal against the train wreck Dolphins. If this game was in Oakland, I'd consider taking the Raiders, because they need a win in the worst way right now, but I don't think a neutral field is the right place for them at this point.

JP: Oakland has really regressed, while New England is making its annual mid-to-late season run. A touchdown seems about right, but I could easily see this becoming a 35-17 type of game.

Philadelphia (-4.5) over DALLAS

JC: I'm floating a "Dallas might suck without Ezekiel Elliot" idea for the next few weeks. It paid off last week, and now they're playing against the best team in the league, so it's probably a decent line.

JP: I don't know about Dallas sucking without Zeke, but I do know that the Eagles are plenty good.

Here Are the Picks We Disagree On (Home Team Still in CAPS)

JC: Baltimore (-2) over GREEN BAY

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, will Joe Flacco still be a bad quarterback the following Sunday? Who knows? But at least their defense is still good and Brett Hundley is still bad.

JP: GREEN BAY (+2) over Baltimore

Two bad QBs, but the Packers are getting points at home against a team with a losing record. Seems too good to pass up.

JC: HOUSTON (-1) over Arizona

Savage! Gabbert! It's the NFL on ESPN8 The Ocho!

JP: Arizona (+1) over HOUSTON

I'm starting to like Arizona in these battles of bad teams. The Cards could be sneaky against the spread down the stretch.

 JC: SEATTLE (-3) over Atlanta

Atlanta's win over Dallas doesn't impress me much, and they're playing on the road, probably without Devonta Freeman. Seattle, to their credit, has kept pace in the conference, and hasn't looked out-and-out bad since Week 2. I'm still not sold on their prospects overall in the NFC, but I definitely think they're more than a field goal better than the Falcons at this point.

JP: Atlanta (+3) over SEATTLE

I don't particularly trust either one of these teams, but I get the feeling that Atlanta is about to get hot, just to throw a wrench in things and ruin my Saints love.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 7-6-1
Season: 69-71-6
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-3
Season's Disagreements: 18-24

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 8-5-1
Season: 76-64-6
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-2
Season's Disagreements: 24-18

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