Week 9 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 11/10/2016 by levcohen in Football

Why can’t all four AFC West teams make the playoffs??? The division went 3-1 last week, with Oakland beating Denver in an entertaining Sunday Night Football game. The four are now a combined 23-12, and they all rank in the top 13 in DVOA. They’re all good, and Oakland and San Diego in particular are also among the most fun teams to watch this season. I think we’re likely to see a bunch single-digit win teams make the playoffs, including the AFC South winner, perhaps the AFC North winner, maybe the NFC North winner, and likely at least one NFC wild card team. That makes the fact that we might get three double-digit win teams in the AFC West alone seem kind of unfair, especially for the Chargers, a darn good team that got super unlucky early on and now, at 4-5, might need to win out to make the playoffs.

The fluidity of the playoff race makes it hard for me to feel good about eliminating any other teams. On the positive side, my choice to cross off the Bills early on looks a lot better than it did a couple of weeks ago. Buffalo’s 4-5 now, and I don’t think they have much of a chance to make the playoffs given the fact that the AFC West seems like it has locked up three playoff spots. I’m ready to cross off the Los Angeles Rams. They’re a bad team, they’re 3-5, Case Keenum is their starting quarterback, Jeff Fisher is their head coach, and they’re 2.5 games behind the Seahawks. I also want to cross off the Buccaneers, who looked listless against the Falcons and are now last in the NFC South (albeit just on a tiebreak). Tampa has one of the toughest remaining schedules in football. Besides those two, though, I don’t think any other team I haven’t yet crossed off can be eliminated from playoff contention just yet. As for the top tier, Dallas and New England continue to look like the cream of the crop. I’m also going to throw Oakland in there, because they’re now 7-2 and because they just got a huge win over the Broncos. One thing’s for sure, though: aside from perhaps the Patriots, there just aren’t many super strong teams this year. There also aren’t many super weak teams, which is why we’ve seen a league laden with mediocrity this season.

Top tier: New England, Dallas, Oakland
Eliminated teams: Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, New Orleans, San Francisco, Miami, New York Jets, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay. That leaves 22 teams for 12 spots, and it may remain that way for a few weeks.

Here are some other quick takeaways from the BYE-heavy Week 9:

  • Even when they’re idle, the Patriots win. While they were resting, they saw the Bills lose heartbreakingly in Seattle, while the Dolphins beat the Jets in a game that managed to make both teams look pedestrian-at-best. New England is going to win the AFC East, and they’re also going to get a first round BYE. Given that they have the fourth easiest remaining schedule this season (per Football Outsiders), we can pencil them in as the #1 seed in the AFC. The Pats have to be odds-on favorites to make the Super Bowl.
  • The Ravens beat the Steelers to take first place in the AFC North (on a tiebreaker), but 4-4 Baltimore is not a good football team. Ben Roethlisberger looked far from full strength, and the Ravens only won by a touchdown despite getting a fluky 95 yard touchdown pass (courtesy of a slant to Mike Wallace) and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. It was a good week for the Bengals, who are now a half game out at 3-4-1 and have looked like the best team in the division over the past month. The Steelers still have to be considered the favorites to win the division, simply because their offense is so explosive when everyone’s healthy, but the Bengals will play meaningful games in December, something I wasn’t so sure about a few weeks ago. As for the Ravens? Well, I wouldn’t advise watching their game against the Browns tonight.
  • Speaking of disappointing divisions, it’s time to admit that the NFC North is really lackluster this season. I’m devoting my final three bullet points to it. The Vikings have a horrific offensive line and just lost to the Lions at home, making it three straight losses against mediocre opposition. Their defense is still great (missed tackles against Golden Tate aside), but no team is going to be able to win games when they’re supplied with 36 combined points in three games. The early-season production was spurred by great special teams and a bunch of takeaways, and the Vikings might need more of that to halt their losing streak.
  • Meanwhile, the Lions are 5-4 and were one of my favorite sleeper teams before the season. I’d be thrilled if they ended up atop the NFC North, but let’s be honest: they aren’t a great football team. Every game they’ve played this season has been a close one, with a seven point loss in Green Bay (the game wasn’t as close as the score indicates) being the closest thing to an exception. Matthew Stafford is playing really well, and in Tate, Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin, Eric Ebron, and Theo Riddick he has a bunch of weapons. But they also have the 32nd ranked defensive DVOA in football. For those who don’t remember, there are 32 teams in the NFL. 32nd is bad.
  • How have I not mentioned the Packers?? Well, the perennial NFC North favorites have looked bad recently. Remember the week after last season’s BYE, when then-undefeated Green Bay got shellacked by Denver? The offense hasn’t looked the same since. This is a team whose quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, the same guy who led an absurdly dominant offense in 2014 (#1 in DVOA) and is widely considered a top quarterback. The consensus before the season was that the return of top receiver Jordy Nelson would catapult the Pack back to the top. That just hasn’t happened. They’re 11th in offensive DVOA, which is fine but hardly what you would expect from Green Bay. With their next three games on the road followed by home games against tough defenses (Houston and Seattle), I don’t think the high-octane offense is coming back anytime soon.

Last week’s picks:
7-6 straight up… 74-57-2 for the season
6-6-1 against the spread… 68-59-6
8-5 over/under… 65-66-2

0-3 on upset picks… 13-19-1 (my shot in the dark — Jacksonville over KC — was pretty close)
1-0 on lock… 5-4

Best picks of the week:
Dolphins 27, Jets 20… Actual result: Dolphins 27, Jets 23
Saints 30, Niners 17… Actual result: Saints 41, Niners 23
Falcons 30, Buccaneers 27… Actual result: Falcons 43, Buccaneers 28

Worst picks of the week:
Eagles 21, Giants 17… Actual result: Giants 28, Eagles 23
Seahawks 19, Bills 17… Actual result: Seahawks 31, Bills 25
Vikings 28, Lions 13… Actual result: Lions 22, Vikings 16

Cleveland Browns (0-9, 3-6 against the spread) at Baltimore Ravens (4-4, 2-6):
Spread: Ravens favored by 7.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Stay away! Please! Unless you’re a football junkie (as I am) or a fantasy owner of Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Terrence West, Terrelle Pryor, Steve Smith, Corey Coleman, or Mike Wallace (I, fortunately, am not), this is not going to be a fun game to watch. If I were to make a watchability ranking (which I might do at some point), these two would rank near the bottom. Especially the Ravens. I really don’t like the Ravens. This is the second matchup between these two, and the first was actually somewhat watchable, ending up in a 25-20 Baltimore win. This spread seems a bit too low at first glance, with a winless team traveling to play the division leader. But the more I think about it, the less likely I believe it is that the Ravens can actually build and maintain a big league. They’re the AFC’s version of the Lions in that they’ve only played close games this season… the difference is that the Lions are actually fun to watch. If the spread were 10 points, as it was at one point, I would certainly pick the Browns to cover. But with the spread inching closer and closer to a touchdown, I no longer feel confident backing the Browns. Ravens win 23-13.
Ravens cover
Under

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