Saturday, October 6, 2018

NFL Week 5 Primer (With Picks): NFL Quarter Pole

It's unclear whether or not Terrell Suggs has terrified more fans at Heinz Field than Bane (he probably has), but it is clear that this old man is still (somehow) pretty good, and the Ravens are to be taken seriously the rest of the way.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

The NFL season is one-quarter over, which sounds really depressing because it seems like it started yesterday.

Well, technically, it's not quite one-quarter over. Washington and Carolina have still only played three games because bye weeks started last week. Everyone else in the league, though, has played 25 percent of their schedule. That being the case, we figured we would run through what we've seen so far and hand out some "awards."

Biggest (Pleasant) Surprise: We aren't going to give this one to the Rams or Chiefs, because while those teams are undefeated, most people expected them to be at or near the top of their respective conference coming into the year. I don't think anyone is really that surprised that those teams are 4-0. From there, we look at the teams that are currently sitting at 3-1, and there are a few surprise inclusions there.

The Dolphins, Bears, and Titans are all somehow 3-1, despite playing (moderately) difficult schedules up to this point. Of those three teams, I'd say the Bears probably seem the most sustainable - they have a really good defense, two really talented running backs that can make plays, and on par, have the most impressive win of any of these teams this season (blowing out Tampa Bay last week). With the Vikings and Packers both looking at least slightly worse than they were last year, Chicago probably has a decent shot to make the postseason. In fact, Football Outsiders lists the Bears as having the third-best odds to make the postseason this year, behind only those two undefeated teams, better than New Orleans and Jacksonville. We'll see if they can keep up this pace, but to this point, they look like a strong team.

Most Disappointing Team: As of last week, this would have to be either Pittsburgh or New England, right? Who would have bet on these two teams combining for a 3-4-1 record through four weeks? After New England's last two games, they probably played themselves out of this spot, but Pittsburgh's problems on defense have them in some potential trouble. The Steelers actually might have themselves a dogfight in the AFC North with Baltimore and Cincinnati both appearing to be real contenders, and the Browns aren't the rollovers they once were.

Quarter Pole Tier Report: Here's something we'll try this year - at each quarter point this season, we'll (and by "we," we mean Jeremy) rank every team in the league and split them into hopefully easy-to-understand groupings. If teams end up in different groups, it means we (again - Jeremy) think they are just slightly a cut above or below and belong thusly separate. For clarification - these are not meant to be predictive. These are not predictions about the rest of the season. These are just meant to take the temperature of each team as they stand today. Don't send us hate mail. Here we go:

The Doormats

32. Arizona Cardinals

Just Barely A Pulse

31. Buffalo Bills
30. Oakland Raiders
29. San Francisco 49ers
28. New York Giants

The Good Bad Teams

27. Detroit Lions
26. Houston Texans
25. New York Jets
24. Indianapolis Colts

Inexplicably Frisky

23. Cleveland Browns
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers


21. Miami Dolphins
20. Tennessee Titans

Average As Average Gets

19. Seattle Seahawks
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Denver Broncos
16. Los Angeles Chargers
15. Washington Redskins

Unclear Why They Aren't Better

14. Atlanta Falcons
13. Minnestoa Vikings
12. Pittsburgh Steelers


11. Philadelphia Eagles
10. Green Bay Packers

The Bad Good Teams

9. Chicago Bears
8. Baltimore Ravens
7. Cincinnati Bengals

The Contenders

6. New England Patriots
5. Carolina Panthers
4. New Orleans Saints
3. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Favorites

2. Kansas City Chiefs
1. Los Angeles Rams

Last week went really, really bad. On our agreements, we went 1-6-2, narrowly missing on Cleveland, Kansas City, and Indianapolis. When you include pushes, we were like, 10 total points away from going 6-3. That's how the cookie crumbles, I guess. Joe extended his lead with a 4-2 win on disagreements, but again, both of your heroes remain woefully behind your standard-issue coin.

Jeremy, in fact, comes into this week clocking a 20-39-2 record, by leaps and bounds the worst record he's ever posted over a four-week stretch in now five-plus years of this contest. He's embarrassed about it and promises to do better this week, or you're all entitled to a full refund for this week's post.

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

NEW ENGLAND (-10.5) over Indianapolis

Joe confidently took "Patriots by a million" (remains to be seen whether or not we'll credit him for a win considering the Patriots, strictly speaking, did not win by one million points). Jeremy also took the Patriots and hated it as he was making it, then felt really good in the first half, and then spent most of the second half sweating the Andrew Luck Patented Backdoor Cover. Everything turned out alright in the end, though.

Baltimore (-3) over CLEVELAND

JC: Okay, I'm going to start taking the Ravens seriously. I was maybe a week late to the party because I didn't put that much stock into their Week 1 shellacking of Buffalo, but they've looked very impressive since. I genuinely like this Cleveland team and look forward to taking them as underdogs several times this year, but I think Baltimore is really good.

JP: The Ravens are still somehow good on defense, despite T-Sizzle pushing 60 and Eric Weddle playing like a safety from the 1970s. Oh, and Joe Flacco is protecting the ball again, and pushing it downfield to his new speedy group of WRs. Baltimore is legit in the sense that they'll win this division, and that's good enough for me this week.

Jacksonville (+3) over KANSAS CITY

JC: I think Jacksonville can play a similar game to what Denver did this past Monday night. (Mostly) take away the ground game, pressure Patrick Mahomes just enough to make him uncomfortable, and move the ball against a still-quietly pretty bad Kansas City defense. Jacksonville's offense is weird. They could barely move the ball against the Giants, couldn't move the ball at all against the Titans, then combined for almost 1000 yards of offense against the Patriots and Jets. With the Chiefs currently sitting dead last in yards allowed, I feel confident that Jacksonville can keep the game close.

JP: If "Big Game Blake" shows up, I think the Jags can stun Arrowhead and win outright. But, even if he doesn't, the Jacksonville defense is good enough to keep even the Chiefs in the high 20s or low 30s, and that should be good enough to keep it close.

CAROLINA (-6) over New York Giants

JC: Carolina at home, coming off a bye week, against an offensive line that can't block anyone, giving less than a touchdown seems almost too good to be true. The Giants haven't been able to stop the run, so I envision the Panthers just eating through a ton of clock and winning this game with relative ease.

JP: This feels like a game where Cam rushes for 2 touchdowns and Odell gets very angry on the sideline...

Denver (Pick'em) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: Denver's defense really impressed me on Monday night against Kansas City. Yes, they gave up the most yards of the season, but considering what Kansas City has done against other teams, holding them to field goals instead of touchdowns on a few early drives was certainly a win and worth mentioning. The sticking point with Denver, as it's been for the last few seasons, is at quarterback. Case Keenum seems to be back to the Texans/Rams version of Keenum, which is certainly concerning. That being said, the Jets have looked asleep at the wheel since that Week 1 rout of the Lions, so I don't think it will take much for Denver to end up on top.

JP: How is this a pick'em?

Green Bay (Pick'em) over DETROIT

JC: I haven't been that impressed with Green Bay this year. They took care of business last week against Buffalo, like they should have, but otherwise, I'm underwhelmed. The Lions continue to have a stellar pass defense (just 687 passing yards allowed in four games), but haven't been able to get stops on the ground, surrendering 5.3 yards per rush. In the grand scheme of things, how impressed are we by their win over a reeling New England team? Considering they haven't really been able to replicate that performance, I'm inclined to call it a fluke.

JP: How is this a pick'em (Part 2)?

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-5) over Oakland

JC: This line has moved two full points towards the Raiders since it opened at -7 late Sunday. You might even be able to buy it at -4.5 in some places. That indicates that a lot of people are on the Raiders despite coming in with a 1-3 record, maybe the league's worst defense, and against a team whose only losses came against undefeated teams. The Chargers played game closer than I was comfortable with last week, but I still think they're legitimately good and a playoff contender in the AFC.

JP: I'm finally buying in on the Chargers, who have a good enough offense to keep bad teams at arm's length, and a good enough pass rush to make Jon Gruden want to get back into broadcasting. 

Los Angeles Rams (-7) over SEATTLE

JC: Seattle is riding the struggle bus pretty hard. They have talent at linebacker and wide receiver (and obviously, quarterback) but good grief, they are lacking pretty much everywhere else. Arizona is the worst team in the league and the Seahawks could barely put them away. This Rams team just looks like a buzzsaw, so I think I'll end up taking them at any price against any opponent until they give me a reason not to.

JP: I'm picking the Rams to blow out everybody until further notice. This team is an absolute wagon, and I'll be pretty disappointed if we don't get to see them in the Super Bowl.

NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Washington

JC: Is Washington's defense good, or did they just play against the Cardinals and Colts for the first two weeks? Obviously, stats like total yards are useless - they had a bye last week so of course those numbers look eye-popping - but they're still third in the league in yards per play allowed and tied for second in net yards per pass attempt allowed. All that being said, they haven't played an offense like New Orleans. The Saints seem to put up 400 yards and 30 points accidentally, regardless of who they're playing. Alvin Kamara already has 611 yards from scrimmage on the season, which seems astronomical, but here we are. Washington might turn out to be good, but I'd like to see them play a real team before I put too much stock into them.

JP: The Saints, in The Dome, with Ingram coming back? Yeah, they're scoring at least 45, and I don't see Washington putting up 39.

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

JC: PITTSBURGH (-3) over Atlanta

Both of these teams have explosive offenses and terrible defenses. Normally in these cases I'll take the points, but I'll actually take the Steelers on spec here. The Falcons have a bad defense because their three best defensive players are injured and scraping the bottom of the barrel to replace them. The Steelers have some bumps and bruises of their own, but their top-end talent is all healthy. To me, that suggests that they actually have room for improvement. Will it happen this week? Who knows? But if both teams have under-performing defenses, I'll take the one where the cupboard isn't bare.

JP: Atlanta (+3) over PITTSBURGH

Have you noticed that Pittsburgh hasn't actually done anything outside of the second quarter this year?

Seriously, the Steelers are outscoring opponents 66-3 in the second quarter, and getting outscored 113-36 in all other quarters combined. If this entire game was being played in the second quarter, I would take the Steelers but, unfortunately, the slow passage of time is cruel and inevitable, and is coming for us all.

JC: BUFFALO (+5) over Tennessee

I don't quite understand the Titans. They're on the of the best scoring defenses in the league, but they're allowing 5.7 yards per play (which is 20th in the league). They have two very impressive wins, over Jacksonville (on the road) and Philadelphia, but they barely escaped against Houston and lost to Miami. I don't think this team is very good. The Bills certainly aren't good either, now with two games on the season with under 100 yards passing, but getting four and a half points at home seems like a price I'm willing to buy at.

JP: Tennessee (-5) over BUFFALO 

Call me crazy, I'm actually kind of high on this Titans team. Maybe it's just my childhood fandom coming back, but as a Steelers fan who grew up in the 90s, I have an affinity for a team that wins close games by playing just enough defense, running the ball, and praying that a mobile QB doesn't screw everything up.

JC: CINCINNATI (-6) over Miami

I think Cincinnati is actually really good and I think Miami stinks. I gave Miami way too much credit last week after not giving them enough credit the first three weeks, but now I'm starting to feel like I was right all along. They played a pretty cupcake schedule and it's not like they were blowing them out, either. The Bengals don't have an explosive offense, but they're efficient - they come into the week as the 5th-best offense on 3rd downs (converting 46.5%) and the best in the Red Zone (11-for-13). Against a Miami defense that allowed the Patriots to go 10-for-15 on third down and 5-for-6 in the Red Zone, this seems like a good matchup for the Bengals.

JP: Miami (+6) over CINCINNATI  

Miami wasn't as bad as they showed last week, though Ryan Tannehill is not as good as people were making him out to be two weeks ago. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and the same can be said for Cincinnati. That being the case, I'll take the six points and the Phins.

JC: Arizona (+4) over SAN FRANCISCO

I want absolutely nothing to do with this game. I'm taking the points and hopefully not watching a single down of this game.

JP: SAN FRANCISCO (-4) over Arizona 

I mean, at least the Niners are looking scrappy these days.

JC: PHILADELPHIA (-3) over Minnesota

So, Minnesota's defense sucks, right? That's where we are? They're going to go from having one of the best defenses in modern history to having a bottom-quarter outfit. Their only good performance on the year was Week 1 when they forced four turnovers (and still only won by eight). I don't really like the Eagles, either, but I have little to no faith in anything Minnesota's doing right now.

JP: Minnesota (+3) over PHILADELPHIA  

This should be fun, and I love Minnesota's offense right now. I know Philly is probably the more complete team, but right now I don't really trust any part of the Eagles as much as I trust Minny's passing game. Gimme Kirk Cousins and his band of underrated wideouts.

JC: Dallas (+3) over HOUSTON

I like this line even more at +3.5, but I'm still taking Dallas here. I still really like their defense and their ground game (which is what won them the game last week, even if they couldn't quite cover), and I'm pretty medium on Houston. The Texans have put up yards, but a lot of that has been a function of trailing in 4th quarters. They're fifth in total yards but Football Outsiders has them ranked as the 18th-best offense in the league. I think Dallas is the better team on par, so getting points with them seems like gravy.

JP: HOUSTON (-3) over Dallas 

I truly have no idea why I'm feeling this, but I bet you DeShaun Watson breaks out for like 375 yards and four touchdowns to humiliate the Cowboys. Just a hunch...

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 3-10-2
Season: 20-39-4
Last Weeks's Disagreements: 2-4
Season's Disagreements: 7-12-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 5-8-2
Season: 25-34-4
Last Week's Disagreements: 4-2
Season's Disagreements: 12-7-1

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