Thanksgiving week in the NFL provided some fantastic games all around, and reminded us that there’s nothing better than a little turkey and pigskin.
The Thanksgiving Day games provided plenty of entertainment, and taught us all a new rule about challenges that should never have existed to begin with. Many teams find themselves ever further from the playoff hunt following losses while the league’s elite teams slowly begin to separate from the rest of the pack.
I ended up right around my season averages in all three categories last week, slightly raising my ATS percentage as I reach for a new goal of 55 percent by the end of the season. Sadly, my original goal of 60 percent seems to be a pipe dream. After tallying Week 12 my season totals sit at:
Straight: 116-59 (66 percent)
Spread: 89-86 (51 percent)
Over/Under: 89-86 (51 percent)
I’m still hopeful I can hit the 70 percent mark in straight up picks, but it will take some very solid weeks moving forward. This is the part of the season where playoff scenarios start to come to life, and the teams worthy of the postseason start to shine. Keeping that in mind, here’s my take on this week’s 16 matchups:
New Orleans Saints (+3.5) at Atlanta Falcons (O/U = 56)
On Thursday night we are treated to a NFC South beauty as the Saints travel to Atlanta to match up with their division-leading rival. New Orleans pulled out a win in the first matchup between these teams, and will need to do the same here if they hope to remain afloat in the playoff hunt. Coming off a tough loss to San Francisco, this offense should be poised to explode after being slowed by one of the league’s best defenses.
The loss to the Saints remains the Falcons’ only loss to this point and, although their playoff position is pretty much set in stone already, there is no question they’d like some redemption for their only defeat. The Falcons' strongest weapon is their passing game, and the 30th-ranked Saints' passing defense will likely find themselves outmatched early and often.
The Saints' win at home was one thing, but winning on the road in this rivalry is a whole different story. Atlanta defends serve in front of the home fans in primetime.
Seattle Seahawks (+4.5) at Chicago Bears (O/U = 37.5)
The Bears put a game between themselves and the Packers with a win in Week 12, and would surely hate to give up that lead just a week after gaining some separation from the preseason division favorite. They throttled Minnesota behind a mediocre performance by Jay Cutler, and may be in for a miniscule amount of support from the offense again against a strong Seattle defense.
Currently third in the league against the pass, the Seahawks received the dreaded news that their top two corners will face four-game suspensions for PED use following a disappointing loss to Miami last week. The duo will suit up for this game, however, as they are currently appealing the penalty and claiming innocence
I expect Seattle to play hard in the face of these accusations, but I think the Bears will be too much for them in a hard-fought defensive battle.
Houston Texans (-5.5) at Tennessee Titans (O/U = 47)
The Texans' run atop the AFC continued last week, beating Detroit in the early game on the holiday. Arian Foster thrashed the Lions' D, and crossed the 1000-yard mark for the season in the process. This Houston team seems to be the best the franchise has had to offer since its inception, and hopes are deservedly high heading into the later part of the season and beyond.
Tennessee faltered at home against the Jags in Week 12, losing their third contest in four games. This team has been able to turn out four wins against some of the NFL’s middle-of-the-road teams, but this matchup against a superpower will be too much for Mike Munchak’s crew to handle, even at home.
New England Patriots (-7.5) at Miami Dolphins (O/U = 51)
The Patriots won their fifth straight in a beatdown of the Jets on Thursday night, and the once-close AFC East has slowly turned into the Pats' playground for yet another season. This is the first of two games between these division opponents this year, and they won’t see each other again until Week 17, a game in which the Pats may be starting their benchies.
Miami was finally on the good end of a game-winning field goal in Week 12, earning a win with zeroes on the clock against Seattle. After losing many close ones this year, this team might be turning a corner if they are able to continue to put together strong performances with the game on the line. It will likely take their best offensive effort of the year to pull out a win against the Pats.
Miami clearly appears to be headed in the right direction, but this one against one of the league’s best is too much to ask.
Straight: New England
Spread: New England
Jacksonville Jaguars (+6) at Buffalo Bills (O/U = 45)
The Jags finally pulled out their second win of the season in Week 12 after coming close to victory the week before. With Chad Henne under center, this team has shown the ability to move the ball, and WRs Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon have both shown improvement since he took over for Blaine Gabbert.
Buffalo has lost four of five heading into this one, and have likely already ended any playoff hopes. C.J. Spiller leads the league in yards per carry at running back, but an inconsistent passing attack has ruined plenty of drives before the talented back could find his way to the end zone.
I’m not too high on either of these teams, but it seems like about time the off-and-on Bills won again.
Indianapolis Colts (+4.5) at Detroit Lions (O/U = 51)
Falling victim to a terrible blown call and equally terrible defense, the Lions lost on Thanksgiving Day to Houston in a game that likely put an end to their playoff hopes. Matt Stafford leads the league in passing yards, and threw for another 400-plus in the losing effort, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some scores through the air against this mediocre pass defense.
The Colts have gone from winning one game in 2011 to being serious playoff contenders just a year later behind the spectacular debut season of no. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck. Rarely does a draft acquisition have such a major impact on a team in year one and, even more so than rookie counterpart RGIII, Luck has made an extreme difference.
With playoff hopes on the line for both teams I expect a tough game here, but I think the Lions' passing attack gives them too much of an advantage.
Carolina Panthers (-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (O/U = 40.5)
Cam Newton and the Panthers pulled out their third win of the season on Monday night against the struggling Eagles. The second-year QB accounted for four touchdowns in the game, and looked to be having real fun on the field for the first time in recent memory. With a winnable matchup here against KC, the Panthers could make it two in a row for the first time this year.
The Chiefs have been consistently awful since the year begun, and failed to put up double digit points for the second straight game last week against Denver. This team has not won since September, and haven’t shown many signs of life whatsoever since then.
I think the Panthers are the better team here, and like them to win their second straight on the road.
Minnesota Vikings (+9) at Green Bay Packers (O/U = 46.5)
This NFC North matchup sends the Vikings to Lambeau Field to face the Packers in a game with tons of divisional implications. The Packers were somewhat embarrassed by the Giants on Sunday night in a 38-10 loss, and looked to be a bit off after winning five straight heading in to that one. They still have a solid shot at winning the division, and even better hopes at a wild card berth, but only if they continue to win at the pace they have all year.
The Vikings would love nothing more than to spoil that playoff dream, and in turn put themselves in even better postseason position. Adrian Peterson has been nothing short of remarkable following ACL surgery, and currently leads the NFL in rushing heading into this one. He will need to bring his A-game if he hopes to continue his dominance in this one as the Packers are giving up barely 100 rushing yards per game total on the year.
In an important game for both teams, I’m taking the Packers to rebound off a loss and take this one from the Vikes.
Straight: Green Bay
Spread: Green Bay
San Francisco 49ers (-7) at St. Louis Rams (O/U = 40)
In his first professional start, QB Colin Kaepernick notched a win for the 49ers, defeating the Saints on the road in NO. While his numbers weren’t quite as spectacular as the previous week’s breakout performance, it is impressive nevertheless to win in such a hostile environment. With Kaepernick slated to start again this weekend we will see if his hot streak continues.
After losing to the Jets, the Rams were able to turn things around in a victory over their division rival Cardinals in Week 12. With a tie, a loss and a win over their last three, this team has been all over the board, making it hard to pinpoint exactly where they stand amongst other middle of the road teams. After tying the 49ers in Week 10, it will be a true test to see if they can compete at that level again this week.
I’m not counting on it.
Straight: San Francisco
Spread: San Francisco
Arizona Cardinals (+4.5) at New York Jets (O/U = 36.5)
Both of these teams enter Week 13 coming off of a loss, and have effectively eliminated themselves from the playoffs. The Jets' loss to New England on Thanksgiving was one of the most embarrassing displays I can remember seeing on a professional level, and there’s no doubt Mark Sanchez’s buttock sack/forced fumble will go down in infamy in New York sports history.
The Cards have now lost seven straight games, and don’t look to be turning things around even with the reappearance of RB Beanie Wells. With rookie QB Ryan Lindley now starting for this team, they are clearly reaching into the bottom of the barrel and their recent results reflect this.
While both of these teams have been pretty awful, I think the Jets will look to save a little bit of face at home here in a win.
Straight: New York
Spread: New York
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7) at Denver Broncos (O/U = 50.5)
One of the week’s more exciting games will feature the surprise Bucs against the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. The Bucs had been red-hot before losing by just a point to Atlanta last week, and even in defeat they were pretty impressive. Rookie RB Doug Martin continues to dominate on the ground, and the rest of the offense has benefited from his presence all year.
The Broncos held off the Chiefs last week in a bit of an ugly win on the road. After scoring 30-plus points in five straight games Denver was only able to put up 17 against a questionable KC defense, leading to some minor questions about their future. My guess is that they will be just fine, and were simply playing down to their opponents in a game they knew they could take with a marginal effort.
This is a game that I can’t wait to watch, and I’m predicting a 300-plus yard performance for both QBs in a Denver victory.
Spread: Tampa Bay
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Spread N/A due to Roethlisberger injury)
Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers were bordering on unwatchable in a loss to Cleveland in which they turned the ball over eight times. Clearly in need of a jolt, Mike Tomlin has made some clear distinctions on the offensive depth chart, including naming Jonathan Dwyer the no. 1 running back based on his body of work this season.
The Ravens were able to pull out an overtime victory against San Diego last week, made possible by a miraculous fourth down conversion by Ray Rice late in the fourth quarter. This team continues to win close games, a trait that can be very valuable come playoff time.
Without Ben this one shouldn’t be close, with him I still give the Ravens the edge.
Cincinnati Bengals (-1.5) at San Diego Chargers (O/U = 46)
On the other side of the Ravens' thrilling OT victory was the Chargers, who have now lost three straight. This team has never really gotten started this season, and despite their second place position in the AFC West, their playoff chances are looking slim. If this season continues down its current path, then it may ultimately spell doom for Norv Turner.
The Bengals walloped Oakland in Week 12 despite A.J. Green’s first scoreless game since Week 1. Cinci is right on the edge of the AFC playoff race, and a win here could be huge in launching them into a more favorable position.
The Bengals have more to gain in this one than San Diego, so I expect them to come out stronger than their opponents on the road.
Cleveland Browns (+1.5) at Oakland Raiders (O/U = 45)
The Browns were able to tally a rare win last week at the hands of the depleted Steelers, and look to build on that success as they travel to Oakland in Week 13. Yet again, Trent Richardson put up solid numbers and has clearly shown he has what it takes to be a premier back in the NFL. He will have to continue to perform at a high level if they want to make it back-to-back wins here, as they can’t expect another team to turn the ball over eight times.
Oakland was blown out by Cincinnati last week, and are pretty much locked into yet another terrible season. With the second-worst point differential in the NFL, it’s clear they have struggled on both sides of the ball, and must look to improve in both facets.
Neither one of these teams is very good, so I’m taking the safe route with the home team.
Philadelphia Eagles (+9) at Dallas Cowboys (O/U = 43)
The Eagles’ miseries continued as they lost to the lowly Panthers on Monday night, and after dropping Jason Babin and losing DeSean Jackson for the year to IR, it is clear this team’s hopes are lost for the year. Nick Foles has failed to provide any sort of spark since the loss of Michael Vick, and the Philly losing streak has now grown to seven—the longest of Andy Reid’s career.
The Cowboys were unable to complete a comeback on Thanksgiving night, and lost their sixth game to drop below .500 on the year. That loss put them two games behind the Giants, and any hope of a playoff run will have to begin with a win at home here against the lowly Eagles.
With the current state of Philadelphia there’s no way I can pick them. Not even getting nine points.
New York Giants (-2.5) at Washington Redskins (O/U = 51)
Monday Night’s matchup will feature an NFC East duel between Eli and RGIII. A win for Washington will put them just a game behind the Giants in the division, and no doubt they are putting in their most focused week of the year heading into this one. The Giants haven’t fared too well against the pass, so look out for a couple of long scores for Griffin.
On the other side of the coin are the Giants, who could stretch their lead over the ‘Skins to three games with a win here. After a few down weeks the, Giants' offense came out of its shell against Green Bay last week in a dominant win. This team has shown the ability to rise to the occasion late in the season over the past few years, and it appears they may be reaching that point yet again heading into this one.
Straight: New York
Spread: New York
All spreads and Over/Under numbers provided courtesy of VegasInsider.com