Thursday, November 29, 2018

NFL Week 13 Primer (With Picks): Hunt Out In Kansas City

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

As you've probably heard by now, the Kansas City Chiefs have released star running back Kareem Hunt after video footage of him assaulting a woman in a Cleveland hotel back in February. It's a rather staggering move by the Chiefs. The last time something like this happened - with Ray Rice in Baltimore - the player in question was coming off the worst season of his career and looked like he was probably on his way out of the league in short order anyway. It's not like Baltimore had a ton to lose by cutting him. They were 8-8 the year before, and the decision came in September, so the team had a few months to figure out their running back situation (it turns out they didn't need to, as Justin Forsett blossomed into an every-down back).

The situation in Kansas City is wildly different. By any measure, Hunt is one of the best handful of running backs in the league, and the Chiefs are in the middle of the chase for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC with just five games remaining. This is a major shakeup that could end up having huge playoff or even Super Bowl implications.

It does, however, bring up some interesting questions.

For one - it's yet another instance of TMZ, and somehow not the NFL having access to video footage of an altercation involving an NFL player. Right off that bat, that's concerning. The NFL released a statement, effectively saying that they asked about the video and the hotel in question said their policy was to share it only with law enforcement. So the league has some cover there, but it's still not a great look.

Second - the statement the Chiefs put out following Hunt's release reads (in part) as follows: "Earlier this year, we were made aware of an incident involving running back Kareem Hunt. At that time, the National Football League and law enforcement initiated investigations into the issue. As part of our internal discussions with Kareem, several members of our management team spoke directly to him. Kareem was not truthful in those discussions. The video released today confirms that fact." So, why again are the Chiefs releasing him? Are they releasing him because he assaulted another person? It doesn't seem like that, because if that were the case, they would have released him in February. This statement reads like the reasons for releasing Hunt are either (a) he lied about the degree to which he assaulted someone, and/or (b) there's suddenly video of the assault.

Third - the Chiefs also employ Tyreek Hill, who was kicked off the Oklahoma State football team for (rather brutally) assaulting his then-girlfriend, now-fiancee. He pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation and was sentenced to three years of probation and a few other light-ish sentences. He was expected to go undrafted, largely because of the domestic violence incident. It was only following two absurd workouts at his pro day and the NFL combine that he got back onto team's radars. At the time, Kansas City was panned locally for drafting a player with such a checkered life off the field - only a few years earlier, Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then took his own life at the team's training facility. So, Hunt gets cut, but Tyreek Hill gets to keep playing football... why? The only explanation I see is that Hill wasn't a member of the Chiefs at the time, but that seems pretty flimsy. It makes you wonder if Tyreek Hill would be playing in the NFL if there were video footage of his assault.

Don't get me wrong - it's refreshing to see an NFL team stand up and make a strong statement about the types of behavior that can't and won't be accepted from their players. They unquestionably made the right choice to release Hunt. But obviously, there's still a long way to go when it comes to this subject.

Week 12 was a lopsided one, with Joe taking a 5-2 edge on disagreements, expanding his lead on the season to six games, and sneaking himself ever closer to .500 for the season. Jeremy, at 7-8, slips even further away.

We got off to a rough start Thursday, with both of bus backing the New Orleans buzzsaw, only for us to find that the saw was toothless. Here are the rest of the Week 13 Picks:

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

New Orleans (-7.5) over DALLAS

Is Dallas good? They've won four straight, they have the second-best scoring defense and the fifth-best yardage defense, and Amari Cooper has given their passing offense some real explosion. If Cooper's Dallas numbers were prorated to a 16-game season, he'd put up 96 catches for 1350-odd yards and double-digit touchdowns. He's playing well. Dallas is playing well. We might have something here.

Indianapolis (-4) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: The Colts need a win to keep pace in the AFC, especially if they want any hope of catching Houston for the South title, and Jacksonville has now lost seven games in a row, and most of them haven't even been that competitive. I'll bet on Jacksonville to win a game when I see it.

JP: Colts, good. Jags, bad.

Baltimore (+2.5) over ATLANTA

JC: The Ravens have two consecutive weeks of not caring that Joe Flacco isn't in the lineup. There's a pretty clear recipe of running game + defense + occasional playmaking at quarterback that seems to work. Atlanta has been in Kitchen Sink mode for three weeks now and still hasn't been able to pull out a win, so I think it's time to finally admit that they're just not that good.

JP: As I said last week, I think I like Baltimore better without Flacco. Maybe you could make the case that their ceiling is lower since, no matter what you think of him, Flacco is a more developed passer than Lamar Jackson, at this point. That said, as a week-to-week team, the Ravens should be more consistent as a run heavy team that protects the ball and plays good defense.

MIAMI (-3.5) over Buffalo

JC: I finally figured out what Miami is good at. They have a legitimately good secondary that can force turnovers and generate extra possessions for an otherwise miserable offense. They've forced 22 turnovers on the year, third-best in the league. When they force two or more turnovers, they're 5-2. When they force one or zero, they're 0-4. On the flip side, Buffalo's M.O. this year has been similar. When they turn the ball over once or fewer on offense, they're a cool 4-0 (including two straight wins entering this week). All other weeks, they're 0-7. So, this really comes down to turnovers. Miami is good at forcing them, and Buffalo is usually eager to turn it over, so I'll take the Dolphins at home.

JP: You're way more thorough than I am. I was just gonna say that Miami is serviceable more often that Buffalo, though both have the potential to devolve into a disaster at any time.

NEW YORK GIANTS (+3.5) over Chicago

JC: That's right. You heard it here first. The Giants are finally finding their offensive stride and staying in games longer than they have any business staying in them. Chicago's defense is impressive, but I'm not overly afraid of Chase Daniel putting the nails in the coffin in the fourth quarter. There's a reason he's 32 years old and this will be his fourth career start.

JP: As I said last week, the Giants are incredibly talented at the skill positions, and now that Eli isn't throwing the ball away every other possession, they can suddenly play with anybody. Not sure if they'll win, but getting more than a field goal at home seems reasonable.

Denver (-5) over CINCINNATI

JC: Denver is making a serious push to get themselves back into the AFC playoff picture. They have a pretty favorable schedule upcoming (at Cincinnati, at San Francisco, Cleveland, and at Oakland), which could put them at 9-6 entering the season's final weekend. Cincinnati is in pure free-fall, and now lose Andy Dalton for the season, so I'd be surprised if the Bengals have much fight left in them.

JP: Man the Bengals stink right now.

Los Angeles Rams (-10) over DETROIT

JC: I'm back on the Detroit Sucks bandwagon. I've been hesitant to take the Rams with big spreads, just because they haven't really been blowing teams out of late, but they've actually been playing decent opponents. The last time they played a Detroit-esque team, they beat the 49ers by four touchdowns, so this seems reasonably safe.

JP: Coming off a bye, it just seems like the Rams are ready for a blowout, doesn't it?

Kansas City (-14) over OAKLAND

JC: It kind of says a lot when a team like the Chiefs cuts their most consistent offensive player and is still favored by two touchdowns on the road. And by that it says a lot about the Raiders. They suck.

JP: Ditto.

TENNESSEE (-8) over New York Jets

JC: The Titans seem to be a good home team and that's it. I got too carried away with their win over the Patriots - I should have been more patient with picking them on the road. I think I've corrected, though - eight points seems like a fair price against a New York team that hasn't won since mid-October.

JP: Jets be bad.

SEATTLE (-10) over San Francisco

JC: The Seahawks are back. It's not official, but I'm giving in the rubber stamp. They'll easily get to 9 wins (two games against San Francisco plus one against Arizona remaining), then pick up a tenth against either Minnesota or Kansas City, and be back in the playoffs.

JP: I think it's official. How did this Seattle offensive line magically become decent again? Either way, you have to like them at home, in front of what should be a juiced crowd against a franchise they would love to beat up on.

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

JC: PITTSBURGH (-3) over Los Angeles Chargers

For me, this just comes down to Melvin Gordon. If Gordon was playing, I'd take the Chargers, especially on the road. Wit Gordon out, though, Los Angeles will pivot to Austin Ekeler as the feature back. Ekeler has been incredibly productive and efficient this year, but in small doses, not big ones. Gordon is really the engine of that offense, so without him in the lineup I don't feel great about backing them.

JP: Los Angeles Chargers (+3) over PITTSBURGH

Pittsburgh hasn't really played well since blowing out Carolina in a weird Thursday night game, and the offense is back to throwing a ton, and not running it efficiently. Phil Rivers, meanwhile, is coming off a virtuoso performance, facing a defense that Denver found success against. Yeah, gimme the points.

JC: Carolina (-3) over TAMPA BAY

The Panthers have lost three straight, and now currently sit on the outside looking in on the NFC Playoffs. The Bucs finally picked up a win and still sit as the league's best yardage offense, but one of the worst defenses I've ever seen. Quarterbacks against Tampa Bay have a quarterback rating of 119.5 against the Bucs this year, which would be the fourth-best mark in history for a single-season quarterback. The difference here is that in those instances, you had Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or Peyton Manning playing all 16 of those games. These Bucs have played against a random assortment of quarterbacks that have torched them to that degree. I'm taking Carolina here.

JP: TAMPA BAY (+3) over Carolina

As I said with the Giants, Tampa Bay's skill guys are absurdly good. If they don't turn the ball over, they can play with anybody, and Carolina's defense seems to be a shadow of its former self.

JC: Cleveland (+5.5) over HOUSTON

Two straight wins for the Browns for the first time since 1947! I think Cleveland is better than they're getting credit for and I continue to think Houston is worse than they're getting credit for (even though I've been burned by them two weeks in a row). Although maybe my refusal to come around on teams in a timely fashion is a good reason why I'm almost 20 games under .500 this year. Whatever. I'll die on this hill if I have to.

JP: HOUSTON (-5.5) Cleveland

I like the corner Cleveland is turning, but I can't buy in on them quite yet, especially against a Houston team that just keeps on chugging.

JC: Arizona (+13.5) over GREEN BAY

I'll almost certainly regret this later, but what impression have the Packers given us all season that makes it seem like they deserve to be a two-touchdown favorite against anyone? They've blown out the Bills and Dolphins, but they let the 49ers hang around and lost to Detroit, so it's not like they always take care of business against the bad teams and lose to the good ones. I just don't think the Packers are good, and not-good teams shouldn't be favored by this much for any reason short of the opposing team not dressing any offensive lineman.

JP: GREEN BAY (-13.5) over Arizona

Green Bay is desperate and has shown it can blow out bad teams. Take care of biz, A-Rod.

JC: Minnesota (+5) over NEW ENGLAND

I'm just not overly impressed with the Patriots this season. They've managed to cover a decent number of spreads, but they just aren't the kick-ass-and-take-names Patriots of yore. Minnesota's defense has really found its stride after getting torched by the Rams early in the season, so I wouldn't be surprised if they can get to Brady and leave him skittish - something that's happened more than usual this season.

JP: NEW ENGLAND (-5) over Minnesota

Nah, I'm not buying it. New England is finding its defense, and its running game, and can smell the top seed in the AFC. I like Minnesota's passing game, but this is the kind of game Brady and Co. win by 10.

JC: PHILADELPHIA (-6.5) over Washington

Washington is just in pure free fall. Three weeks ago I would have picked them to come out of the NFC East, but now that torch is pretty clearly in Dallas' hands (and they have an easy schedule the rest of the way). Philadelphia does still get two games against Washington and one against Dallas to try to catch up, but also have to take on Houston and the Rams. Weirder things have happened, but the division seems to be the Cowboys' to lose. With that in mind, Philadelphia is probably fighting to just finish 8-8, a far fall from last season. In any event, with Washington as decimated as they are, I can't see them keeping too many more games that close.

JP: Washington (+6.5) over PHILADELPHIA

Are we sure Philly is even decent at this point? Both these teams are beaten up, so I'll take the points. Plus, I like Colt McCoy. He definitely has the best quarterback name of all time.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 7-8
Season: 76-93-7
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-5
Season's Disagreements: 27-33-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 10-5
Season: 82-85-7
Last Week's Disagreements: 5-2
Season's Disagreements: 33-27-1

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