Friday, September 21, 2018

NFL Week 3 Primer (With Picks): Decision Points

Don't look now, but the Dolphins are 2-0, and Ryan Tannehill has won nine of his last 10 starts dating back to 2016...

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

So, Week 1 gives us our initial impressions, then we overreact in Week 2, based on Week 1. It happens every year. It's like clockwork. Week 3, though, is where the real money is on the table.

What do you do when Week 1 and Week 2 give you wildly different pictures of a team? Take, for example, the Colts and the Redskins. The Colts lost at home Week 1, but it was a reasonably close game. Washington dominated Arizona in Week 1 on the road. Naturally, Washington was favored for their head-to-head matchup last week, but Indianapolis won the game outright (and in reasonably convincing fashion). So, now we have four teams that we need to re-evaluate.

Are the Bengals better than we thought? Maybe they are after they handed Baltimore a thorough butt-whoopin'. Are the Cardinals worse than we thought? Almost certainly, after they couldn't even cross midfield against the Rams. But as for the Colts and Redskins themselves, Week 2 gave us a different picture than Week 1 did. The same can be said for teams like San Francisco, the Chargers, Chicago, Dallas, and even New England.

For some teams, Week 2 just reinforces what we saw in Week 1 (and, if the universe smiles on us, reinforces things we already thought coming into the season). For instance, the Jaguars and Rams clearly look like the best teams in their respective conferences at this point in time. The Chiefs offense looks as explosive as ever. Chicago and Cleveland are reasonably frisky teams that don't outright suck and have good defenses that can keep games close. The Giants and Bills are train wrecks. Denver looks like they have found some semblance of stability at quarterback, and their defense is still elite.

So now, we have our decision point. For teams that looked the same Week 1 and Week 2, are we comfortable with a two-week sample dictating our mindset for the next few weeks? And for teams that looked wildly different from one week to the next, which snapshot are we more willing to accept?

Week 2 again went poorly for both of your heroes. On the picks we agreed on, we went 3-9. Jeremy took a 2-1-1 edge on disagreements, somehow picking up a push on a pick'em between Green Bay and Minnesota. Joe still holds a lead, although both of us remain decidedly under .500 for the year.

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)

PHILDELPHIA (-6.5) over Indianapolis

JC: The Eagles' offense has looked rather medium through two weeks. That being said, I have to imagine that Carson Wentz's return to the lineup will lead to some improvement. The Colts have looked similarly medium, so when both teams look medium, I'll go with the team that won the Super Bowl last year.

JP: Carson Wentz coming back to save his team, and potentially my fantasy team.

CAROLINA (-3) over Cincinnati

JC: I really like Carolina's defense. They didn't look all that great last week against Atlanta, but I'm still buying. Cincinnati was impressive last Thursday night, but for the most part, I don't put that much stock into Thursday night games this early in the season - teams are under-prepared as it is, and then they lose three days of preparation during the week. It just leads to weird, wonky games that don't give us the most accurate portrayal of a team. I just trust Carolina more than I trust Cincinnati right now, so I'll lean that way. 

JP: I trust Cam more than I trust Andy, but if Cincy wins this game, we may have to start re-thinking the way we look at these teams.

JACKSONVILLE (-6.5) over Tennessee

JC: Good luck if you can find a line on this game. With Leonard Fournette and Marcus Mariota's health in question, obviously Vegas doesn't want to post a line that they'll end up regretting later. The only line I could find for this game comes from a not-totally-reliable offshore book, so don't plan all of your Sunday wagers around having this line available. One way or the other, though, I like the Jags at this price. The Titans were only able to win last week on the back of a 60+ yard fake punt for a touchdown. Blaine Gabbert looked unsurprisingly awful, and the Titans ended up getting out-gained by nearly 150 yards. I just don't think the Titans are very good, and the Jaguars are coming off a game where they established themselves as the de facto AFC favorite.

JP: I almost think that Fournette's injury is a blessing in disguise for Jacksonville, as it's forced the Jags to be more aggressive, which led to them not curling up into a ball and dying against the Pats last week, and actually trust Blake Bortles. And hey, he actually delivered. They won't need him to be as sharp this week, but the Titans present another opportunity for the Bortles Legend to grow.

Denver (+5.5) over BALTIMORE

JC: Derek Carr went 29-for-32 against Denver's defense last week. Denver won the game, but there were only three balls all day that hit the ground. It has to be a little disconcerting for a defense that manhandled Seattle the previous week. Denver won the game on third and fourth down (Oakland was 3-for-11) and in the Red Zone, holding Oakland to just two field goal attempts on their first two long drives. I wouldn't expect Joe Flacco to be able to sling the ball with the precision that Derek Carr did last week, and Baltimore had some trouble keeping Flacco upright last week anyway. I'd expect a pretty low scoring game, which I think favors Denver getting a few points with a good defense.

JP: This line is too rich for my blood, since I think Baltimore is gonna be a little Jekyll and Hyde this year. The Broncos seem to be finding ways to win, so I'll count on them to keep it close, and maybe squeak out the upset.

New York Giants (+6) over HOUSTON

JC: Well, both of these teams have serious issues on offense. The Giants have an offensive line (I mean, it certainly offends me, I'm not sure about anyone else) that can't protect Eli Manning or really open up lanes for Saquon Barkley. The good news is that Barkley can make something out of nothing, and in the event that Manning has more than a second and a half to find a receiver, Odell Beckham has been electric. Houston has found success running the ball (300+ yards on the season, north of five yards per rush) but Deshaun Watson has been pretty inconsistent throwing the ball. Overall, the Giants concern me more than Houston does, but I just don't trust the Texans to cover a six-point spread at this point.

JP: Somebody's gonna break out in this game: Will it be the Giants' high-octane skill players, or Houston's young QB? Like you, my bet is on Odell and Saquon, but I don't have a high degree of confidence.

Green Bay (-3) over WASHINGTON

JC: The Packers have gotten through the first two weeks by the skin of their teeth. They could quite easily be 0-2 at this point. The running game leaves a lot to be desired, but the defense has stepped up. Really, though, it's the individual brilliance of Aaron Rodgers that's been keeping them afloat to this point. Washington's defense has been very good - leading the league in yards allowed through two weeks, but their offense has been underwhelming, especially on the ground. I really don't like the matchup for Washington's offense (especially with how well Green Bay has been pressuring quarterbacks), and I just trust Aaron Rodgers to make enough plays for the Packers to win the game.

JP: Rodgers finally gets his revenge against Alex Smith for getting drafted No. 1 ahead of him all those years ago...

MINNESOTA (-16.5) over Buffalo

JC: I mean, what line would make you want to take the Bills here? They have just about the league's worst offense, and just about the league's worst defense, and they might be without LeSean McCoy with his injured ribs. Like, I hate taking teams favored by this much, especially so early in the season, but I have absolutely no confidence in Buffalo's ability to look like a professional football team right now. I have some confidence that they'll be able to do it eventually - they don't look like an 0-16 team by any means, but I'm just not buying them going into Minnesota and playing an even remotely competitive game.

JP: Start Kirk Cousins in your fantasy league this week.

KANSAS CITY (-6.5) over San Francisco

JC: Kansas City gets my early vote for the best team in the league. Their offense seems pretty unstoppable. They have explosive athletes at every position, a quarterback that seems an awful lot like Jay Cutler, except good and more athletic (and trust me when I say this, I can't possibly compliment a quarterback any higher than that), and a true offensive guru calling the plays. The defense seems pretty medium (and that might be a compliment), but I'll definitely trust them to cover a touchdown against pretty much anyone short of the league's other elite teams.

JP: I think the Niners are building something, but it ain't there yet, really on either side of the ball. Pat Mahomes is off to, uh, maybe the best start ever for a first-year starter, and I trust that each week Andy Reid will open the playbook just a little bit wider for his young gun slinger.

LOS ANGELES RAMS (-7) over Los Angeles Chargers

JC: If this was a true road game for the Chargers (like, if the Rams still played in St. Louis or something), I'd actually be tempted to take them because they seem to play so well on the road. I really like the Chargers offense, but I don't think this is the matchup for them. The Rams might have more talent on defense than anyone else in the league (including Jacksonville and the Eagles), and their offense seems to be humming. To me, this game will probably look a lot like the Chargers game Week 1 against Kansas City - a competitive game that slips away late because one team just has more raw talent.

JP: As I said last week: I think the Rams are just gonna house people this year. They seem like the kind of team with the defense and ground game to just crush bad teams, and keep "pretty good" teams at arm's length. I think we have a case of the latter this week, but I'll still take the original LA pro football team until my luck runs out.

Chicago (-5.5) over ARIZONA

JC: Arizona played maybe the worst game of football I've ever seen last week. The sum total of things they did well consists of (a) putting their uniforms on correctly and (b) successfully putting 11 men on the field for every play. Other than that, they were terrible. For the season, they have 350 yards of offense. The Packers, Raiders, Ravens, Rams, Chiefs, Broncos, Steelers, and Buccaneers each have accrued that many yards in both of their first two games this season. And Chicago has a legitimately good defense. They've sacked opposing quarterbacks 10 times in two weeks and forced a pair of turnovers in each game. Arizona's defense hasn't been much better, surrendering 400+ yards in each game. In case you didn't connect the dots on your own - each of Arizona's opponents, just in their games against Arizona, gained more yards than Arizona has all season. The Cardinals have been outscored 58-6 and out-gained 861-350 through two weeks. Arizona is almost unquestionably the worst team in the league so far this year, and I don't even have to lay a touchdown to bet against them? Sign me up.

JP: Yeah, the Cards are bad.

Dallas (+1.5) over SEATTLE

JC: I really like Dallas' defense. I really like betting against Seattle's offense. This seems like a match made in heaven. Russell Wilson has been sacked 12 times, the most in the league. Dallas has sacked opposing quarterbacks nine times, second to only the Bears. It just doesn't seem like a fair fight, especially with Seattle having so much trouble running out serviceable skill position players. That's really the difference this year with Seattle - their offensive line has been garbage for a few years now, but they always at least had talent at running back and receiver. With Doug Baldwin out of the lineup, they don't even have that. Russell Wilson is just a one-man-band back there, and it's not going well. If Dallas gets their ground game going, they should be able to just chew up clock (I can't imagine Seattle putting together too many sustained drives) and get out of there with a relatively easy win.

JP: Seattle has no offensive line, and their best receiving option is (checks notes) the remains of Brandon Marshall... Yeah, my boy Russ better just try to stay healthy this season.

New England (-6.5) over DETROIT

JC: Have you seen Bill Belichick's record following a loss? Have you seen Bill Belichick's record against his former proteges? Have you seen Detroit's defense so far this season? The Patriots haven't done much to inspire confidence, but this seems like the perfect opportunity for an easy win to get back on track.

JP: Belichick is gonna make Matt Patricia look like Romeo Crennel 2.0 this week.

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

JC: CLEVELAND (-3) over New York Jets

I'm doing it. I'm really doing it. I'm putting real American dollars on the Cleveland Browns to win a professional football game. I am doing it on purpose, of my own personal volition. Not only that, but I'm LAYING POINTS in the process. I am of sound mental faculties, I have not suffered any type of brain injury. I'm doing it. I'm really, really doing it.

JP: New York Jets (+3) over CLEVELAND

Ok, so maybe the Jets weren't the completely safe pick I made them out to be...

JC: ATLANTA (-3) over New Orleans

New Orleans has a bad defense. I'm sorry, but it's true. Atlanta's offense has been inconsistent so far this year - their struggles in the red zone can't possibly be overstated - but they're still talented enough to take advantage of any weaknesses they find. Atlanta is also pretty banged up on defense. Their two best players on that side - Keanu Neal and Deion Jones, are both on IR (Jones may return later in the year but Neal is out for the season). Expect this game to be pretty high-scoring.

JP: New Orleans (+3) over ATLANTA

I don't know what to make of either of these teams at this point, but I still have high hopes for Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees, so I'll take the points and the Saints.

JC: Oakland (+3.5) over MIAMI

Okay, I was wrong about Miami. I thought they were going to be one of the worst teams in the league, and they have decidedly not been that bad. The defense seems pretty good, or at least opportunistic (forcing six turnovers in two games). In fact, Football Outsiders has Miami ranked as the league's top defense through two weeks. Kenny Stills has been a big play threat in the passing game, and Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore seem efficient if not explosive. All that being said, I'm still not buying Miami this week. Their wins are over Tennessee and the Jets, two teams that I don't have a ton of respect for at this point, and neither of the wins were particularly convincing. Don't get me wrong - Oakland hasn't really impressed me either, getting blown out by the Rams and blowing a late lead against Denver. But given the competition these two teams have faced, I'm leaning more towards Oakland, and the half-point pushes me just far enough over the edge.

JP: MIAMI (-3.5) over Oakland

I have nothing to add. I think you're first four sentences explain why I'm taking the Phins.

JC: Pittsburgh (-1.5) over TAMPA BAY

So, Tampa Bay has certainly had an explosive offense, and Pittsburgh has certainly had a dismal defense, but think about the following questions. How many weeks in a row can Ryan Fitzpatrick look like an All-Pro? How much credit do we give Tampa Bay for converting busted coverages into long touchdowns? Does it concern you that Tampa Bay is averaging 2.7 yards per rush? Does it concern you that Tampa Bay has surrendered 887 yards on defense? Both of these offenses have been great, and both of these defenses have been bad. Doesn't it make more sense to roll with the team that's just objectively better at quarterback and every skill position save for maybe tight end? One way or another, this should be a shootout, and I just trust Roethlisberger in games like that over most quarterbacks in the league.

JP: TAMPA BAY (+1.5) over Pittsburgh

My God, I told myself that I wouldn't fall for the Dolphins and Bucs this year, but here we are, in Week 3, and I'm already picking them both in disagreement with you. But can ya blame me? Ryan will probably run out of Fitzmagic at some point, but I doubt it will be against a Steeler defense in total disarray, and with Pittsburgh's offense starting slow the past two weeks, I just can't give points with the Steelers, on the road, against a red-hot, undefeated team.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 5-10-1
Season: 11-19-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-1-1
Season's Disagreements: 3-6-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 4-11-1
Season: 14-16-2
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-2-1
Season's Disagreements: 6-3-1

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