Saturday, November 4, 2017

NFL Week 9 Primer (With Picks): The Cream Rises

Drew Brees and the Saints have won five in a row, but do we trust them yet?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We did it, you guys. We're finally here.

The NFL makes sense again!

It took us until the halfway point of the season, but we're at last at a point where there seems to be a clear-cut tier of good teams, a clear-cut tier of bad teams, and then a slowly shrinking group of teams in the middle. Heading into Week 9, six of the eight NFL divisions have (in our opinion) a team that has established itself as The Team To Beat In Division X. They're easy to identify, they're the teams that sit atop the standings in each division save for the NFC West and AFC South.

At this point, there is a very clear top 3 in each conference. The Patriots, Steelers, and Chiefs (in some order) seem head and shoulders above the rest of the AFC, while the Eagles, Vikings, and Saints (as bizarre as that sounds) are the class of the NFC. How those teams shake out against each other as they jostle for playoff positioning remains to be seen, but as of the beginning of November, those six seem to be pretty safe bets to make the playoffs.

Week 8 was very straightforward. There wasn't a single game that left us scratching our heads thinking "wait a second, how exactly did Buffalo beat Atlanta IN Atlanta?" (like Week 4 did) or "Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh by THREE touchdowns?" (like Week 5). Things just went (mostly) according to script. Sure, some games are harder to pin down point spreads than others, but there weren't any nutty upsets or blowouts where there shouldn't have been. So there's that.

If you're looking for the parts that are still super weird, I guess it's that we still don't have an MVP candidate that doesn't feel like we're either (a) forcing a narrative that's not quite there (like, Carson Wentz is currently 7th in passer rating and 9th in DVOA - he's a fine quarterback, but let's not pretend that this is an MVP-caliber resume), or (b) boring because it's such well-tread ground (you're not going to believe it, but it's Tom Brady that's the only quarterback in the top 5 of passer rating, DVOA, DYAR, and Total QBR). The teams are separating themselves from the pack, but the individual players haven't. Yet.

Week 9 got underway Thursday with an AFC East tilt featuring only one team from New York (sorry, Meadowlands). Jeremy, the idiot that he is, decided to take the Jets getting three points at home because as much as nobody wants to admit it, the Jets don't actually suck. He turned out to be right, for once, while Joe rolled with the Not Jets and paid the price. Here are the rest of the Week 9 picks:

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

PHILADELPHIA (-7.5) over Denver

JC: Philadelphia has truly established themselves as the class of the league. They haven't played a game that's been really that competitive in over a month, and they're doing it on both sides of the ball. If they have a weakness, it's in their secondary, but Denver is dealing with a quarterback change (they're back to Brock Osweiler, so, yahoo) and has looked like their offense has been showering in cement before each game.

JP: Brock is back, baby!

Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

JC: The Giants offense looked bad when they had healthy wide receivers, and they've looked even worse since. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why this line was so small, and for a second I thought it was because the Giants are coming off of their bye week (so, I guess they're rested and prepared?), but then I checked and so are the Rams. So if anyone can explain to me why maybe the 2nd-best team in the NFC is giving just a field goal and change to maybe the 2nd-worst team in the NFC, I'm all ears, but until then, I'm taking the Rams.


Yeah, this seems like an absurdly low line. Must be a lot of homer money flowing to the Giants?

JACKSONVILLE (-5.5) over Cincinnati

JC: Lines halfway between a field goal and a touchdown always scare me, because it just makes like it seem even Vegas isn't sure where to value the two teams. With these two teams, I can't blame them. The Jaguars somehow have the AFC's best scoring margin, but then lost to the Titans by 20+ points and also lost to the Jets. Meanwhile Cincinnati might seem like they've turned their season around, but it's really only thanks to wins over Cleveland and Indianapolis. I'll ignore the records here and go with the more telling numbers, which seem to suggest that Jacksonville is pretty good, and the Bengals are pretty bad.

JP: Jacksonville is your typical "talented but young, still trying to figure out how to win consistently" team, while the Bengals are just bad. I'll take the former.

Indianapolis (+6.5) over HOUSTON

JC: What a difference one injury can make. When this line opened, Houston was giving two full touchdowns, and I was 100 percent prepared to lay all 14 of those points. Then Deshaun Watson tears his ACL in practice, and I can't even bring myself to give half that. That's effectively a 21-point swing on one knee. It's really sad, because Watson's success was probably the most fun storyline in the NFL this year. The good news for Houston is that (a) they just won the World Series, and (b) they definitely have a franchise quarterback if he can come back healthy.

JP: Man, this is gonna be tough to watch. I still think Houston is better, even without DeShaun, but you have to think this game is gonna be a defensive rock fight. If that's the case, a touchdown is too much to give.

Washington (+7) over SEATTLE

JC: Call me crazy, but I just don't think this Seattle defense is up to the snuff of previous Seattle defenses. Tennessee and Houston both really gave them trouble, and Kirk Cousins has had a much better season than he's gotten credit for (for reference, Cousins currently ranks 3rd in the NFL in passer rating). Washington has run into the tough part of their schedule, but I think they keep this game close.

JP: All bird-related teams in the NFC are overrated. Well, except the Cardinals, they're properly rated as terrible.

Kansas City (+1) over DALLAS

JC: Well, just when Dallas' offense was clicking again, down goes their engine. And just when Kansas City looked like they had stalled, they pick up a blowout win over a good Denver defense. Kansas City doesn't hold the belt anymore (Philadelphia has it now), but they're still one of the best teams in the league.

JP: Even if Zeke plays, I still Kansas City has the offensive balance to grind this one out. Gonna be a good one though.

Oakland (-3) over MIAMI

JC: Jay Cutler is expected to be under center for Miami, so I'm definitely not interested.

JP: Somehow, Miami was worse without Jay Cutler last week. Like, way worse. That said, Oakland's explosive offense needs to get going, and Miami's defense came crashing down last week as well.

Detroit (-2.5) over GREEN BAY

JC: Detroit is still a reasonably competitive team, and I really need to see Green Bay's offense accomplish anything worthwhile with Bretty Hundley at quarterback before I'm willing to wager on them. I think Detroit is underrated - they were a fluky 97-yard catch-and-run and a few plays in the red zone away from blowing out Pittsburgh last week, and this Packers team is just holding on by a thread at this point.

JP: I can't bring myself to bet on Green Bay without Rodgers. Just can't.

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

JC: NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Tampa Bay

The Saints seem to be humming - they've won five straight, and looked pretty convincing in most of them. Their offense has been solid, as usual, but they've started to impress on defense as well. At the very least, their defense has been keeping bad offenses in check, which they couldn't even do last year, so there's progress being made. I'm not quite sure what Tampa Bay's thing is, because what was supposed to be the strength of the team (their front seven) has been really, really bad. So I'm comfortable giving less than a touchdown at home here.

JP: Tampa Bay (+6.5) over NEW ORLEANS

This looks like a classic "we think this NFC South team is actually good before the bottom falls out" kind of week. The Bucs are far worse than I'd hoped, but I just don't totally trust the Saints yet. Kinda hope I'm wrong though, because it would be awesome to see New Orleans get a home playoff game and get that building rocking again.

JC: CAROLINA (+1.5) over Atlanta

*whispers* what if the Falcons just aren't that good?

JP: Atlanta (-1.5) over CAROLINA 

*whispers slightly louder* what if we only think Carolina is good because it beat New England?

JC: TENNESSEE (-3.5) over Baltimore

I really can't pin down either of these two teams. Like, at all. They're just so inconsistent. I'll take Tennessee because they're coming off a bye and they just have way fewer noteworthy injuries.

JP: Baltimore (+3.5) over TENNESSEE

Nah, eff that, Joe Flacco is back in ELITE MODE (when playing the Dolphins), so Baltimore's gonna cover, at least. Hey, maybe this team gets back into the playoff race this week...

JC: SAN FRANCISCO (+2.5) over Arizona

[fart noises]

JP: Arizona (-2.5) over SAN FRANCISCO 

Solid point, but the Niners' have been smellier.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 6-6-1
Season: 53-62-4
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-1
Season's Disagreements: 13-19

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 6-6-1
Season: 60-55-4
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-1
Season's Disagreements: 19-13

No comments :