Saturday, December 23, 2017

NFL Week 16 Primer (With Picks): The Holidays Cometh

Did we just witness a changing of the guard in the NFC West last week?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Week 16 is upon us, which means some clinching scenarios are in play. Here are the least complicated ones:

1. New England and/or Pittsburgh clinch a first-round bye with a win and a Jacksonville loss
2. Jacksonville clinches the AFC South with a win or a Tennessee loss.
3. Kansas City clinches the AFC West with a win or a Chargers loss
4. Philadelphia clinches the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win or Minnesota loss
5. The Rams clinch the NFC West with a win or Seattle loss
6. New Orleans clinches a playoff berth with a win, and then clinches the NFC South with a Carolina loss
7. Carolina clinches a playoff berth with a win (can't clinch the NFC South this week)
8. Atlanta clinches a playoff berth with a win

That means any team you didn't see here either (a) can't really clinch anything of consequence this week, or (b) has a scenario convoluted enough that it's not worth mentioning, or (c) both. Like, Minnesota has already clinched the NFC North, and can clinch a first-round bye if a few things go right, but who really cares?

The next few weeks are also a great opportunity for the NFC to start making sense. The Rams, Eagles, Vikings, Saints, and Panthers are all within two games of each other, but only two can pick up a bye in Round 1, which seems like it will be very, very relevant with so many teams bunched up together. If we assume those five teams are effectively shoo-ins for the playoffs (Football Outsiders has them all with at least a 95% chance to get in), that means there are four more teams (Dallas, Detroit, Atlanta, and Seattle) all fighting for one spot. Whoever ends up getting it could throw a monkey wrench into the NFC Playoffs if they pick up a favorable matchup in the Wild Card round.

The AFC is more straightforward, I guess. With the Patriots win last week, they have the inside track for the No. 1 seed, with Pittsburgh lined up well to also pick up a bye. Jacksonville has an easy path to the AFC South crown, as do the Chiefs in the AFC West. The only real question is who is going to end up in the No. 6 seed (assuming Baltimore takes care of business against the Colts and Bengals to lock up the No. 5 seed) - Buffalo, Tennessee, the Chargers, and, technically, Oakland are all in the mix, with the slight problem that all of them might suck. Regardless of who ends up there, it seems like the Patriots and Steelers are on a collision course again, but the Jaguars could throw their hat in the ring as well (after all, they beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh back in October).

A quick note on last week's Steelers-Patriots game: The Steelers won that game. Jesse James caught the ball and scored a touchdown with 30-odd seconds left on the clock. That's what happened. Sure, you can comment with a quote from Mike Pereira or Dean Blandino telling me that actually James never completed to process of the catch as he went to the ground, but the problem is, they're wrong.

Sure, that's what the rule says. The rule says it was an incomplete pass. But the rule is wrong. Why is it that when a dude is running with the ball, the instant that a knee or elbow or buttcheek touches the ground or the ball crosses the plane of the goal line, the play is over and everything that happens afterwards is irrelevant, while on a forward pass, the player needs to secure possession of the ball with two feet inbounds, go to the ground with possession of the ball, then stand up, recite the Gettysburg Address, do the Macarena, and then maintain possession of the ball for a full Five Mississippi after being tackled.

It. Does. Not. Need. To. Be. This. Complicated.

If you have possession of the ball with two feet (or one knee, one elbow, one shoulder, one buttcheek, or etc), it's a catch. Full stop. If the ground causes you to lose possession BEFORE you have your feet/other joint on the ground, it's an incomplete pass. If you lose possession in the process of going to the ground and you haven't been touched down by contact, it's a fumble. Everyone good?

[Editor's Note: The previous paragraphs were written by Jeremy - a full-blown Patriots apologist. We don't want you thinking that Joe is just salty because his Steelers lost. The call completely swung the game in favor of Jeremy's favorite team and he's still this fired up about it. The rule is stupid, it needs to be changed, and the Steelers deserved the win.]

We didn't have any Thursday games this week, so we've got the full slate of 16 ahead of us. Let's not waste any more time.

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

Indianapolis (+13.5) over BALTIMORE

JC: Baltimore has been playing too well lately. The ultimate Flacco move would be to lose outright to a two-touchdown underdog. The Colts have intermittently looked like a professional football team this season, so I’m not sure I buy this line.

JP: Flacco is just waiting to blow out, and the Ravens defense is nicked up in the back end. Indy still has some talent at receiver, and Jacoby has had his moments. This line should be at around 8.5 or 9, so I'll take the value, even though the Colts have nothing to play for, while Baltimore is in the thick of a playoff race.

Minnesota (-9) over GREEN BAY

JC: The Vikings need a win to keep pace with the rest of the top of the NFC, and Green Bay has decidedly given up on their season following last week’s loss - Aaron Rodgers is back on Injured Reserve, and I can’t imagine they’ll be pulling too many tricks out of the bag. They probably just want to get out of the next two weeks healthy.

JP: Probable divisional smackdown coming, as the Vikings turn their defense loose against the beaten and battered Packers.

Detroit (-4) over CINCINNATI

JC: Detroit, technically, is still alive. They need Atlanta to lose two in a row, the Rams to lose two in a row, the Lions need to win both of their remaining games, and they needed the ghost of Jack Ruby to awaken and expose the conspiracy behind the Kennedy Assassination. If all of those things happen, the Lions will be in the playoffs at 10-6.

JP: So, you know what's hilarious about Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis stepping down, other than him being the only guy to coach a single team for 15 years without a single playoff win? The fact that he wasn't about to be fired, he legitimately made the decision to leave for himself. The Bengals were shocked he was skipping town. They were going to have him back. Holy hell, Cincy, that's some seriously masochistic stuff right there.

As a side note, the only other guy to be an NFL head coach for at least 15 seasons and not win a playoff game is Jim Mora Sr. (PLAYOFFS?!?!), but he did it with two teams, going 0-4 in postseason play with the Saints, then 0-2 with the Colts.

Los Angeles Chargers (-7) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: This week I’m really just going with whoever needs it more. The Chargers are still alive in the AFC West, but they’ll need some help. That being said, Phil Rivers already had his inexplicable clunker in a big game, and now he’s going up against a Jets team that is all but checked out. If the Chargers have anything left in the tank, they need to win this game.

JP: Holy crap did the Chargers blow it last week. It would be the most Chargers thing ever for them to fight all the way back from an awful start, only to lay an egg, then win a bunch of effectively meaningless games to end the season without a playoff berth. You know what to do, guys. 

Los Angeles Rams (-7) over TENNESSEE

JC: At some point we’re going to talk about how the Rams only losses in the last three months are to Philadelphia (the best team in the league) and at Minnesota (another top-5 team). Meanwhile, the Rams have demolished every other team that they’ve played.

JP: Yeah, this is an old-school tough team that grew up seemingly over night, thanks to improved and simplified play by second year QB Jared Goff, and the defense/running game finally staying healthy/not being coached by Jeff Fisher. 

Tampa Bay (+10) over CAROLINA

JC: Wouldn’t it be the most Carolina thing ever to beat Minnesota and Green Bay to get themselves into the mix for a first-round bye, and then blow a game against a terrible Bucs team? And hey, Tampa Bay has played Detroit and Atlanta close the last two weeks. Like, the Bucs are bad, but they aren’t really getting blown out. I’m not sure Carolina is topsy-turvy enough to just crap the bed and lose, but this could end up being too close for comfort.

JP: Am I crazy, or is Jameis Winston the one thing holding Tampa Bay back? Like, they have weapons, they have talent on defense, but the Bucs can't win games in crunch time. 

Atlanta (+6) over NEW ORLEANS


JP: And the six points don't hurt.

Buffalo (+12) over NEW ENGLAND

JC: It’s going to be cold and crappy in Foxborough this weekend, I really don’t want to lay 12 points in a game that could end up being 16-6 because of (a) bad weather, and (b) the Patriots not wanting to dig too deep into the playbook with the playoffs right around the corner, and (c) Buffalo rather pissed off after the last game between these two teams.

JP: Buffalo did promise some form of retaliation for Gronk dropping the People's Elbow the last time these teams got together, so hopefully the refs can seize control of this one early. As for the actual score, 12 points is too much for a Patriots team coming off a thriller to be laying against a team with a pulse.

SAN FRANCISCO (+4) over Jacksonville

JC: You. Can’t. Stop. Jimmy. You. Can. Only. Hope. To. Contain. Him.

JP: This is an oddly scary game for Jacksonville, who still has a shot at a first round bye (only a game back and holding the tie breaker over Pittsburgh), but also the first real test for Jimmy G. Call me crazy, but I think this will be one of the weekend's best games.

ARIZONA (-3.5) over New York Giants

JC: [the kind of fart noises that can only exist in mid-December after drinking two gallons of egg nog over the last three weeks

JP: Arizona is (somehow) not THAT bad...

Seattle (+5) over DALLAS

JC: If one of these teams is going to get their act together and making a token attempt to get into the playoffs, my money is on Seattle.

JP: I actually kinda disagree, especially with Zeke coming back, but this has the feel of a field goal game, one way or the other, so I'll take the five points.

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

JC: Cleveland (+6.5) over CHICAGO

I like Chicago as a value underdog, but not as a touchdown favorite. Hard pass.

JP: CHICAGO (-6.5) over Cleveland

(Famous last words) You know what, I like the Bears to win this one by double digits.

KANSAS CITY (-10.5) over Miami

JC: Okay, so maybe the Chiefs aren’t a giant dumpster fire? I really don’t get it. I know Miami sucks, though. So there’s that.

JP: Miami (+10.5) over KANSAS CITY

Too many inflated lines this week, and I want to stick to my "KC is secretly terrible" guns one more time before I give it up.

JC: WASHINGTON (-3.5) over Denver

Raise your hand if you care about this game. Now, do me a favor - if your hand is raised, go home. Be with your family for the holidays. You need a little cheer.

JP: Denver (+3.5) over WASHINGTON

I don't care about it, but I do think Denver suddenly looking like Denver again makes this a nice line to grab.

JC: Pittsburgh (-9.5) over HOUSTON

I’ve liked betting against Pittsburgh as a heavy favorite (they just don’t seem to blow teams out all that often), but Houston is maybe the worst non-Cleveland team in the league and my guess is Pittsburgh plays this game with a chip on their shoulder.

JP: HOUSTON (+9.5) over Pittsburgh

Nah, still betting against the Steelers. Without Antonio Brown, this line is about two points too high, especially when you consider how often the Steelers play down to their level of competition.

JC: PHILADELPHIA (-9) over Oakland

Nick Foles actually looked pretty good last weekend, so I don’t think Philadelphia is going to miss Carson Wentz all that much (and it’s also a rather sizeable hole in Wentz’s MVP argument, not that it was still alive anyway). Oakland is definitely trending in the wrong direction. They do technically remain alive but it’s probably the most convoluted scenario for any team (Raiders win out, Buffalo loses out, Tennessee loses out, Miami wins out, Chargers finish 8-8 or worse, and the Ravens DON’T finish 8-8). So, yeah.

JP: Oakland (+9) over PHILADELPHIA

Yeah, I mean, I'm not in love with Oakland by any stretch, but this is a backup quarterback giving nine. I know Nick Foles has played (sometimes extremely well) for Philly before, but I'll count on a desperate Oakland team to at least keep this competitive. 

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 7-7-2
Season: 110-103-11
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-2
Season's Disagreements: 32-33-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 6-8-2
Season: 112-101-11
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-3
Season's Disagreements: 33-32-1

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