NFL Week 12 Picks: Predicting Closest Contests on Sunday's Slate

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistNovember 22, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 10:  Quarterback Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals throws a pass against the Houston Texans at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 10, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The NFL has provided a handful of nail-biting finishes already this season. Don't expect that to change during Week 12.

Although questionable calls stole the headlines during two of last week's best finishes, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers each obtained narrow victories over the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots, respectively, to set up an intriguing NFC South race.

But hidden from the spotlight, the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers played to a close finish in a match with big wild-card implications (sadly) while the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears jousted to overtime in the Windy City.

Let's take a look at some under-the-radar matchups in store for this weekend that can offer exciting conclusions.

NFL Week 12 Picks
AwayPredicted ScoreHomeTime (ET)
Pittsburgh Steelers13-9Cleveland Browns (-1.5)1 p.m.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers20-27Detroit Lions (-9)1 p.m.
Minnesota Vikings16-24Green Bay Packers (-4.5)1 p.m.
San Diego Chargers13-20Kansas City Chiefs (-5)1 p.m.
Chicago Bears20-17St. Louis Rams (-1)1 p.m.
Carolina Panthers (-4.5)17-6Miami Dolphins1 p.m.
New York Jets10-20Baltimore Ravens (-3.5)1 p.m.
Jacksonville Jaguars9-24Houston Texans (-10)1 p.m.
Tennessee Titans21-20Oakland Raiders (-1)4:05 p.m.
Indianapolis Colts27-23Arizona Cardinals (-2.5)4:05 p.m.
Dallas Cowboys34-26New York Giants (-2.5)4:25 p.m.
Denver Broncos (-2.5)35-31New England Patriots8:30 p.m.
San Francisco 49ers (-6)27-14Washington Redskins8:30 p,m. (Mon.)
Spreads courtesy of Vegas Insider


Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams

As of Thursday, Vegas Insider touts the 4-6 Rams as the one-point favorite over the 6-4 Bears. Are the oddsmakers simply reading too much into St. Louis' home-field advantage, or are they on to something?

The Rams are getting a deep look due to their 30-point victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Using the transitive property, the Rams have now defeated the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. In reality, the Seahawks and 49ers have both bested the Rams in their NFC West clashes.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 10: Tavon Austin #11 of the St. Louis Rams runs with the ball during the game against the  Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 10, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Against the Colts, the Rams found a blueprint to victory that is difficult to sustain. Kellen Clemens only needed to throw 16 times, as he hit Tavon Austin on two deep scores. Austin also returned a punt for a touchdown while the defense scooped up a fumble recovery for another six points.

But there is hope to beating the Bears, who rank No. 31 with 133.9 rushing yards allowed per game. Zac Stacy, who has run the ball at least 26 times in each of his last three games, will again receive plenty of carries on his plate.

A bullying ground game will keep the Rams close, but the Bears' more well-rounded offense will make enough plays to sneak past a squad with just one big win to boast.

Prediction: Bears 20, Rams 17


Tennessee Titans at Oakland Raiders

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 14:  Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball against the Indianapolis Colts in the second quarter at LP Field on November 14, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As much as you'd rather not believe it, the winner of this bout is well alive in the AFC.

Each team resides at 4-6 along with most of the AFC, but the two 5-5 squads ahead of them are far from safe bets. The Dolphins will face the Panthers, while the Jets again followed a victory with a catastrophic loss, so 5-6 could be good for a share of a wild-card spot after Sunday.

Matt McGloin made an impressive first start for the Raiders last week, combating the Houston Texans' elite passing defense for 197 yards and three touchdowns. But we've seen plenty of replacements get exposed through more playing time, and Tennessee's secondary ranks seventh with 213.1 passing yards surrendered per game.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven a competent fill-in for the injured Jake Locker, and Chris Johnson is again finding his second-half mojo with 266 rushing yards and four scores in his past three games.

Brandishing a plus-one point differential to Oakland's minus-52 rate, Tennessee is the lesser of two evils here.

Prediction: Titans 21, Raiders 20


Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 27:  Inside linebacker Daryl Washington #58 of the Arizona Cardinals returns an interception during the NFL game against the Atlanta Falcons at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 27, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardina
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This game would have carried a much different tune if it was played a few weeks ago.

The Colts were cruising after slaying the league's fiercest giants, but a monumental letdown against the Rams and a near defeat to the Titans has them looking vulnerable. On the other side of this matchup, the Cardinals are demanding to be taken seriously after winning their last three games.

These teams rest on near-even footing, but the Colts will easily win the poor AFC South while the Cardinals look to steal a playoff spot from a heavy helping of fierce players. This is a golden chance for the Cardinals to put the NFL on notice, but expect them to fall just short.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 14:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on November 14, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If the Cardinals would give Andre Ellington a chance, maybe they'd have a stronger shot at winning. But Rashard Mendenhall and his 2.9 yards per carry are not nearly good enough to attack the Colts' main weakness. Indianapolis, however, can eschew the run against Arizona's dominant front seven and instead exploit its secondary.

It's also getting increasingly difficult to dismiss Andrew Luck's late-game heroics as lucky, so that could come into play during a tightly contested affair.

Prediction: Colts 27, Cardinals 23


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