Winnowing down survivor pools

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

December 14, 2021 06:59 PM
burkesurvivor

Sweats were few and far between with the most popular picks in NFL Week 14, and that is a blessing and a curse for those still alive in survivor pools. Advancing is great, but you’d certainly like to see a favorite or two that didn’t end up being your pick go down. It was a chalky Sunday, and that means most everybody lived to fight another week.

Like I’ve said recently, it is an excellent accomplishment to make it this deep into the season in a survivor contest. But the focus definitely shifted from “happy to be here” to “I want to win” a while ago.

The goal here is to pick another winner for survivor pools, something I did last week with the Broncos. The picks are 11-3 on the season, and I did repeat a team last week for the first time. An editorial decision was made after the first loss to shuffle all 32 teams back into the mix. Because I believed a lot of readers would still have Denver available, that became the first. This week’s pick is not one I’ve used so far.

Let’s see what Week 15 has in store.

GAMES TO CONSIDER

Cleveland Browns (-6) over Las Vegas Raiders

The Games to Consider went 4-0 last week to improve to 35-13 on the season, and the starting point for this week is the Browns, who are nearly a touchdown favorite Saturday against the slumping Las Vegas Raiders. Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield had a great first half against Baltimore before being unable to make the right adjustments in the second half, but he looked healthier off the bye week, and that matters a lot.

The Raiders are in free fall, having lost five of six. They managed only nine points and were held under 5 yards per play by the Chiefs last week. It marked the fifth time in six weeks they’d scored 17 or fewer points, and, well, that explains the losses. Derek Carr suggested in his postgame news conference that effort has been an issue with some players.

This team went through a lot early in the season and probably overperformed relative to expectations. Without an offensive genius in Jon Gruden and with some injuries at the skill positions, this offense is a shell of what we saw earlier. The Browns’ defense has really played well of late, making great strides on third down. The Raiders are inept on third downs now, and they can’t score in the red zone. You can’t win if you can’t execute in those situations, and the Raiders cannot execute at present.

Buffalo Bills (-10.5) over Carolina Panthers

Something is still very, very wrong with the Bills. They battled back and forced overtime against the Buccaneers just to suffer another tough defeat, but this week’s opponent is much easier,  and the Bills should be able to get right against the Panthers. Carolina’s defense is still solid, but the Bills grade among the league’s best in defensive DVOA and yards per play, so the one positive attribute the Panthers have is counterfeited in this game.

The Buffalo offense is messy, and you worry about turnovers or fluky special-teams miscues to keep a game like this close, given the low total. But Carolina’s offense is absolutely pathetic. Cam Newton was pulled yet again in the loss at home to the Falcons, and P.J. Walker once again failed to inspire confidence that he can play better.

Obviously we have to worry about Josh Allen’s foot, though Mitchell Trubisky is an experienced guy and should be able to shoulder the load enough to beat a team like Carolina if called upon. However, most survivor players don’t have the Bills left and may not need to make a call like this. The Bills are just one of the biggest favorites on the board, so they deserve a mention.

Arizona Cardinals (-14) over Detroit Lions

Yes, I actually still have the Cardinals available. I have not used them yet, with picks on the Rams, Packers, Broncos, Bengals, Ravens, Cowboys, Patriots, Bills, Colts, Bucs (L), Browns, Eagles (L), Vikings (L) and Broncos. Like I said, we made an editorial decision after that Week 10 loss on Tampa Bay to make everybody available in hopes of simply making the best pick.

Arizona is the biggest favorite on the board and rightly so. The Lions battle really hard week in and week out, especially last week, when COVID-19 and the flu wiped out a good portion of the roster. The team just isn’t talented enough to win games most Sundays and likely won’t this week either.

The obvious worry is how seriously the Cardinals take the Lions coming off the huge “MNF” game against the Rams. It feels like Kliff Kingsbury has really emphasized winning on the road, where the Cardinals are unbeaten this season. If the trip to the Motor City came in the cold, gray, windy conditions of the Great Lakes in mid-December, I’d be more concerned. In climate-controlled Ford Field, it doesn’t really matter.

The Cardinals know Jared Goff well from his days with the Rams and have major matchup advantages all over the field and the stat sheet. If you still have the Cardinals available, they’re the most obvious team in the world. Most don’t, so I won’t make them the official pick, because that doesn’t really help anybody at this time of the year. It’s an obvious pick if you do and not really an option for most because they don’t. So let’s pick a team that a lot of people do have available.

THE PICK

Miami Dolphins (-8.5) over New York Jets

This is where it gets interesting because a lot of survivor contestants will have the Dolphins left. This is the optimal time to use a team like that. They’re at home against the Jets, a traveling bunch for whom Zach Wilson went 19 of 42 against the Saints last weekend. The Jets have lost five of the last six and haven’t looked any good on offense since Wilson returned from injury.

Miami, meanwhile, has played really well of late, as Brian Flores has gotten a complete 180 out of his team as the season has gone along. With Tua Tagovailoa playing well and fully healthy out of the bye week, this seems about as safe a spot to use a middle-of-the-road team as any. The reality is that teams like that are the majority of what you have left.

The full-season stats for Miami still leave a lot to be desired, as the team hit the bye week 30th in yards per play. But the defense has not allowed more than 17 points during this winning streak and has held two other awful offenses, the Texans and Giants, to just nine points apiece. This stretch also includes a win over the Jets and Joe Flacco.

If you have the Cardinals like I do, had I remained perfect, they’re a no-brainer. Since you probably don’t, this is the next-best thing, especially since the Dolphins should be available.

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