The final month of the NFL season is upon us, and the best team in the NFL might be the force named "parity," or the home-field advantage of elite teams.
Think about it: When it comes to the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs or any of the other elite teams in the NFL, do you really like them on the road against any of the others? When talking about the most important storylines over the last part of the season, who ends up with home-field advantage might be the biggest.
This week, we're thankful for a number of games with playoff implications—Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs and more! Thanksgiving has long become a football holiday, and the NFL has come through with a fantastic slate of games on Thursday.
Our experts will be picking all these and more just a few clicks ahead. Don't like our picks? Make yours in the comments section below!
Name: Last Week; Overall
Consensus: 5-8; 94-58 (62 Percent)
Andrea Hangst: 5-9; 119-56
Ty Schalter: 5-9; 111-64
Matt Bowen: 7-7; 111-64
Brad Gagnon: 8-6; 111-64
Chris Hansen: 5-9; 109-66
Tyson Langland: 7-7; 108-67
Matt Miller: 7-7; 108-67
Zach Kruse: 4-10; 107-68
Erik Frenz: 8-6; 104-71
Michael Schottey: 5-11; 101-74
Mike Freeman: 6-8; 99-76
Knox Bardeen: 4-10; 97-78
To see how Bleacher Report's experts are faring against the best at other media outlets, check out Pickwatch.
They didn't stay that way, as the Lions rolled 40-10 in a game that wasn't even that close.
B/R Consensus Pick: Lions (12-0)
Schottey: Lions, 28-17
The Lions are a in self-inflicted shambles right now, but the Packers are in even worse shape without Aaron Rodgers. The defense won't be able to stop the Lions on the ground or in the air, so the Packers' hope is more unforced errors by Detroit—which isn't exactly out of the question.
Miller: Lions, 24-20
Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers offense won't be able to keep pace in what should be a Thanksgiving Day shootout. The Packers simply don't have anyone to stop Calvin Johnson.
Frenz: Lions, 30-20
Aaron Rodgers probably won't make it back for this game, which gives the Lions a decided advantage. Look for Reggie Bush to have a big day against a Packers defense that has yielded over 150 yards rushing in three of its past four games.
Hansen: Lions, 30-20
Matt Flynn played last week. That's all you really need to know about the Packers. Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers aren't a very good team. Even though the Lions aren't playing well, they should have enough juice to get past a suspect team.
Kruse: Lions, 31-23
The Packers needed five periods to settle a tie with the two-win Vikings at home. Playing on Thursday should be a boost for the Lions, as Green Bay is still beat up and preparing to play two quarterbacks not named Aaron Rodgers.
Other Picks: Lions (Bowen, Schalter, Freeman, Hangst, Bardeen, Gagnon, Langland)
The win kept Dallas in a tie for first place in the division, but it raises more questions about the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC than it answers.
B/R Consensus Pick: Cowboys (12-0)
Bowen: Cowboys, 27-17
Rookie Matt McGloin gets another start, but this game is all about Tony Romo. The Cowboys quarterback makes some plays versus the Raiders secondary to pick up the win on Turkey Day.
Schalter: Cowboys, 24-20
The Raiders are one of the toughest teams to figure out, but I can't see them outscoring the Cowboys.
Hangst: Cowboys, 27-20
The Raiders have a better offense with Matt McGloin under center, but this is a rookie quarterback on the road against the NFL's most iconic Thanksgiving team. That's a lot of pressure on a team that is still a work in progress. Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense thrive in moments like these. It could get interesting, but Dallas gets the win.
Hansen: Cowboys, 27-20
The deck is stacked against the Raiders, if we are being honest. The Raiders play on the road, on a short week, and with an undrafted rookie free agent starting at quarterback. Cowboys by a touchdown just feels right, which probably means they will lose.
Gagnon: Cowboys, 27-17
That Oakland offense doesn't really have the weapons to fully take advantage of the Cowboys' banged-up defense, which played pretty well in New York anyway. At home, the Cowboys should roll against a mediocre West Coast team traveling a pair of time zones on short rest.
Other Picks: Cowboys (Schottey, Freeman, Miller, Frenz, Bardeen, Langland, Kruse)
It was no surprise that the game came down to the end. A two-point conversion pass by Ben Roethlisberger that would have tied the game was incomplete, handing the Ravens a 22-20 victory that got the defending Super Bowl champs back into the playoff picture in the AFC.
B/R Consensus Pick: Ravens (7-5)
Bowen: Steelers, 19-16
Can the Steelers defense limit the deep ball versus Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith? I think so. Look for Pittsburgh to grind out this win on Thursday night.
Freeman: Steelers, 20-17
My Super Bowl team is still alive because Big Ben suddenly has protection and that defense has awakened.
Hangst: Ravens, 19-16
The Ravens and Steelers are evenly matched this year—their offensive lines cannot run block, the pass protection has been shaky, and both defenses have been streaky. No wonder they are both 5-6 headed into this week's all-important showdown. While the momentum favors the Steelers, the home-field advantage favors the Ravens. The Ravens rarely lose at home and are clinging to the hope of defending their Super Bowl championship come January. This makes them the more dangerous team this week.
Hansen: Ravens, 17-16
The Ravens play better at home, and the Steelers are 2-4 on the road with wins over the Jets and Browns. It's a tough call, but it seems like a low-scoring affair to me with one team getting the win by less than a touchdown.
Kruse: Ravens, 20-17
There's no reason to expect the holiday nightcap to be any different than previous games in this rivalry. Defenses rule the day. Baltimore wins on a late drive from Joe Flacco.
Other Picks: Ravens (Schottey, Schalter, Gagnon, Langland); Steelers (Miller, Frenz, Bardeen)
Look at the bright side, Browns fans. With every Weeden start, Cleveland's first round pick in 2014 gets higher.
B/R Consensus Pick: Browns (10-2)
Schottey: Browns, 13-10
Gut reaction here is that the Jaguars are trending upward while the Browns under Brandon Weeden have not been impressive. Yet this game is in Cleveland, and that Browns defense has plenty of teeth left.
Freeman: Jaguars, 24-21
The team is finally getting Maurice Jones-Drew in the mix. That will continue to happen.
Miller: Jaguars, 20-10
The Jaguars may actually be a favorite this week with Brandon Weeden coming to town as the opposing starting quarterback. Look for Gus Bradley's defense to tee off on Weeden and get at least one defensive score.
Hangst: Browns, 21-10
The Browns have a top-10 defense—one that can get to quarterbacks and stop the run with the best of them. Yards will be at a premium for the Jags this week, which gives the Browns the upper hand despite Brandon Weeden getting the start under center. A few well-timed connections with Josh Gordon and Cleveland should pick up its fifth win.
Bardeen: Browns, 20-7
Jacksonville may have won two of its last three games, but the Jaguars won’t be able to move on offense very well against Cleveland. The Browns will get back to winning ways after a tough six-game stretch.
Other Picks: Browns (Bowen, Schalter, Frenz, Hansen, Gagnon, Langland, Kruse)
Granted, Browns 54 yards on 14 carries is hardly eye-popping, but Brown's fourth-quarter score salted away a 22-14 win that all but sews up the South for the Colts.
B/R Consensus Pick: Colts (9-3)
Bowen: Colts, 20-17
I would expect this game to look similar to the first matchup, with Andrew Luck and the Colts making enough plays in the fourth quarter to pick up the win.
Schalter: Colts, 21-17
The Colts are 7-4, but 3-3 in their last six games. One of those wins was a comeback over the Titans in Tennessee, though, and the Colts need this sweep to keep the Titans at bay in the AFC South race.
Freeman: Colts, 17-16
Normally, this would be an easy Colts win, but the team has been decimated with injuries. I still think Andrew Luck has enough to win.
Miller: Titans, 20-17
The Colts cannot sleep on the Titans, not with a slim two-game lead in the division. Now they must get back on track at home. The Titans will attack a Colts offensive line that has been terrible in pass protection as of late. And with young speed on offense, the Titans have the edge.
Hangst: Titans, 23-17
Who are the 2013 Colts? Are they the heirs apparent to the AFC South, or are they the team that has lost two of its last three and can no longer dig itself out of the first-half holes it keeps finding itself in? It seems like a rebound is in order, considering the Colts are hosting the division-rival Titans this week. But the Colts aren't a team worth trusting right now—an early lead will be all it takes for the Titans to defeat the offensively challenged Colts.
Other Picks: Colts (Schottey, Frenz, Hansen, Bardeen, Gagnon, Langland); Titans (Kruse)
The 211 rushing yards that Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson racked up may have had something to do with it.
B/R Consensus Pick: Bears (7-5)
Schalter: Vikings, 28-24
Minnesota's defense came alive against Matt Flynn (who played well) and the Packers. Josh McCown and the Bears seem to be falling apart. Minnesota at home.
Frenz: Vikings, 30-27
The NFC North is one of the most upside-down and tough-to-predict divisions in football, so the home team gets the advantage here. It's hard to imagine the Bears, with the league's worst run defense, having any success slowing down Adrian Peterson. The Vikings will likely lay out a conservative game plan for Christian Ponder, and even that should be enough to drop 30 on the Bears in a win.
Bardeen: Bears, 24-20
Chicago is going to throw the ball against Minnesota’s 29th-ranked pass defense; Adrian Peterson is going to have a field day against the Bears’ run defense. Who wins? I’ll take the better team (Chicago) in a domed environment, because it can use its strength to its advantage.
Langland: Bears, 20-17
Christian Ponder or Josh McCown: Who would you rather have under center if you needed to win a game? I’ll take McCown any day of the week, especially on Sunday.
Kruse: Vikings, 27-20
The Bears defense has allowed 985 rushing yards in the last five games alone. Lance Briggs won't be back. Expect Adrian Peterson to run wild.
Other Picks: Bears (Schottey, Bowen, Freeman, Miller) ; Vikings (Hangst, Gagnon)
The Dolphins, on the other hand, are in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race at 6-6. They may be a long shot, but the team deserves credit for not completely imploding amid all the distractions that have beset the team this year.
B/R Consensus Pick: Dolphins (7-5)
Schottey: Jets, 17-7
I get that the Jets have looked poor the past couple of weeks (especially on offense), and they even broke up the whole alternating-wins-and-losses thing. Still, it's a good defense against a struggling Dolphins offense—with an awfully rough line.
Bowen: Dolphins, 24-16
Can Geno Smith protect the ball? Can the Jets execute the offensive game plan? Too many questions for me. I'm taking the Dolphins.
Freeman: Dolphins, 20-16
Which Geno Smith shows up, the eight-turnover Smith or just the four-turnover one?
Frenz: Dolphins, 20-14
We don't know which Jets team will show up any given week, but we're starting to get a feel for which Geno Smith will show up. Most recently, it's been “Bad Geno,” with one touchdown and 10 interceptions in the past six games. The Dolphins have been erratic as well, but are 3-1 when their opponent has more than one turnover. With Smith averaging two turnovers per game on his own, the Dolphins should get more than a little help to pick up the win.
Bardeen: Jets, 27-16
This is going to be a battle of 5-6 teams that can’t catch the Patriots in the division but amazingly have playoff aspirations with a losing record. Miami can’t run—not that the Jets would allow it even if the Dolphins possessed a good rushing attack. But the story is different on the other side. The Dolphins can’t stop the run, and the Jets have the tools to do so. Chris Ivory could be a key if his injured ankle isn't an issue.
Langland: Dolphins, 21-9
The Jets and Dolphins are playing equally poor football right now, but no quarterback in the NFL is struggling more than Geno Smith. Can he have a bounce-back game at home, or will Miami force him into more crucial mistakes? Odds are he will make mistakes and turn the ball over a few times.
Other Picks: Dolphins (Schalter, Gagnon, Kruse) ; Jets (Miller, Hangst, Hansen)
The experts were split right down the middle on this one, so we'll call it a push.
B/R Consensus Pick: Pick'em (6-6)
Schottey: Cardinals, 20-14
I'm not saying the bottom drops out for Nick Foles, but I'd put money on this Cardinals defense forcing him to turn the ball over a couple of times. That's the difference.
Schalter: Cardinals, 33-24
Bruce Arians finally has Carson Palmer executing the offense at a high level. This should be a shootout, but I like the Cardinals defense to get a few more stops.
Miller: Eagles, 24-21
In a game that features a tough, hard-nosed defense versus an uptempo, spread-out offense, the home team will win. Late-season football comes down to home-field advantage, who is healthiest and who has the better quarterback, and right now that's Philadelphia.
Hangst: Eagles, 30-23
The Cardinals may have the second-best record in the NFL's best division, but they've built it on good play at home. On the road, they are 2-3, and an outdoor game in chilly Philadelphia will be a major challenge. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will have a challenge himself in outsmarting Arizona's defense, but Carson Palmer is the less trustworthy quarterback in this game.
Gagnon: Eagles, 24-23
Both defenses are playing really well, but the Eagles have the better quarterback and way more talent on offense. At home, they stay hot with a close victory.
Other Picks: Cardinals (Bowen, Freeman, Bardeen, Cardinals) ; Eagles (Frenz, Hansen, Langland)
Don't look now, but should the Saints fall at Seattle Monday night (a very real possibility), then next Sunday night's clash in the Superdome will feature two 9-3 teams battling for first place in the NFC South.
B/R Consensus Pick: Panthers (10-2)
Miller: Buccaneers, 21-20
The Panthers can beat you with the run, the pass or with a suffocating defense. The Buccaneers have a ton of talent, though, and on paper are a good matchup to contain Cam Newton. And with Darrelle Revis, they can stop Steve Smith and frustrate the Panthers' passing game.
Frenz: Panthers, 21-17
If anyone's going to snap the Panthers' eight-game winning streak, it's probably not the Buccaneers, and it's probably not going to happen at Bank of America Stadium. Look for the Panthers to expose an undisciplined Buccaneers defense with a heavy dose of the read-option.
Hansen: Panthers, 30-20
The Panthers should dominate in all three phases of the game playing at home. Cam might be closer to average in this game, but Carolina's defense will sink the Bucs' winning streak and send them back to the bottom of the NFC.
Bardeen: Panthers, 27-10
The Buccaneers have a nice thing going for a change with three straight wins. But rookie Mike Glennon hasn’t faced a defense that can bring pain like Carolina, and Bobby Rainey won’t be effective running the football either. The Panthers will make this look easy.
Gagnon: Buccaneers, 24-21
Last week was supposed to be Carolina's trap game. Push it back one week. The Bucs have nothing to lose and know this Panthers team well. So they could have what it takes to edge them out on the road, especially if a young Carolina team is already starting to think about next week's huge matchup with New Orleans.
Other Picks: Panthers (Schottey, Bowen, Schalter, Freeman, Hangst, Langland, Kruse)
Every time you think they've hit rock bottom, Houston finds a new nadir.
B/R Consensus Pick: Patriots (12-0)
Schottey: Patriots, 31-16
The Patriots are more vulnerable on the road, and the J.J. Watt effect scares me. But New England will turn this into a shootout, and the Texans won't be able to keep up.
Bowen: Patriots, 34-14
Tom Brady should put up big numbers against a team that looks like it has packed it in for the season.
Freeman: Patriots, 35-17
From the Houston Chronicle's John McClain: The Texans' second-half scoring this season—4, 17, 0, 0, 3, 7, 6, 3, 7, 6, 3. That's 78 second-half points—35 in last nine games. Patriots roast them.
Frenz: Patriots, 41-20
The Texans are 4-13 since they came to Gillette Stadium on Monday Night Football in 2012, and even Andre Johnson said the Texans “suck” after their loss to the Jaguars. This might have “trap game” written all over it, with the Patriots coming off their emotional overtime win against the Broncos. But, more likely, Bill Belichick won't let his team come out as flat against the Texans as they did in the first half last week.
Langland: Patriots, 41-20
Remember when pundits were picking the Houston Texans and New England Patriots to square off in the AFC Championship Game? That seems like such a long time ago. Since the preseason picks, the Patriots have easily become one of the best teams in the league (as usual), while the Texans are contending for the No. 1 overall pick next May.
Other Picks: Patriots (Schalter, Miller, Hangst, Hansen, Bardeen, Gagnon, Kruse)
Final Verdict: For several years there have been rumblings that Bills annual game in Toronto is a precursor to the team eventually moving north of the border.
B/R Consensus Pick: Bills (9-3)
Schalter: Bills, 20-17
Don't trust the Falcons to tie their shoes right now, let alone beat the Bills (technically, still alive for the playoffs!) on the road.
Freeman: Bills, 28-24
Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods are both back at practice this week. They overwhelm the hapless Falcons.
Frenz: Bills, 17-10
The Bills have more rush attempts than any other NFL team, which bodes well for their chances of exploiting the Falcons' porous front seven. Look for Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to crank up the heat on Matt Ryan, who has been under more duress than usual this season.
Bardeen: Falcons, 24-21
Finally, Falcons fans are going to see what running back Steven Jackson can bring to the table. Expect Atlanta to head to a dome in Toronto, take advantage of Buffalo’s porous run defense and do just enough through the air to make the offense move.
Gagnon: Falcons, 27-24
The Falcons hung with the Saints last week and are due for at least one more win this year. That should happen at what is essentially a neutral site in Toronto, where Atlanta gains a big edge at Rogers Centre.
Other Picks: Bills (Schottey, Bowen, Miller, Hangst, Hansen, Langland); Falcons (Kruse)
B/R Consensus Pick: 49ers (8-4)
Schottey: 49ers, 27-16
I get that the Rams offense has been playing better than expected, but the 49ers defense is no joke. Rams make a game of it with a turnover or two, but the Niners D holds late.
Schalter: Rams, 23-14
It's time to face facts: The 49ers have not been the contender we thought they'd be. The Rams will relish the chance to pull within one game of them.
Freeman: 49ers, 28-24
This is a brutal spot for the 49ers. Not a pick of great conviction because the Rams have suddenly become a fast, talented football team.
Hansen: 49ers, 27-20
The 49ers made a statement on Monday Night Football, and now they have to back it up. It's a home game against the Rams, which makes for an interesting division game. The Rams have just been too inconsistent to believe they will show up in San Francisco.
Langland: 49ers, 24-21
The Rams' run-heavy offense has fueled their offensive explosion amid their two-game win streak; the only problem is, they haven’t faced a defense like the 49ers. While Jeff Fisher’s club will make it a close game, the more talented of the two teams will prevail.
Other Picks: 49ers (Bowen, Miller, Frenz, Hangst ; Rams (Bardeen, Gagnon, Kruse)
B/R Consensus Pick: Broncos (9-3)
Schottey: Chiefs, 20-13
I took the Chiefs last time and am coming back for more. Arrowhead is a tough place to play, and one has to wonder about Manning in the cold weather after last week in Foxborough.
Bowen: Broncos, 30-20
With the Chiefs' top pass-rushers battling injuries, Peyton Manning will control the tempo of this game. I'm picking the Broncos on the road.
Miller: Chiefs, 21-20
The second time around, the Chiefs will be in a better position to stop the Broncos wide receivers and get pressure on Peyton Manning. That said, this all hinges on getting Jamaal Charles very involved and healthy outside linebackers in Kansas City.
Hansen: Broncos, 30-21
Kansas City's secondary is playing poorly and has been since the pass rush disappeared. The Chiefs' slide will continue, as the pass rush won't magically get better with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali hurt (even if one of them is able to play).
Kruse: Broncos, 33-21
Kansas City hasn't played well on defense in a month. Unless the Chiefs offense can match Peyton Manning score for score, the Broncos will complete their sweep.
Other Picks: Broncos (Schalter, Freeman, Frenz, Bardeen, Gagnon, Langland) ; Chiefs (Hangst)
B/R Consensus Pick: Bengals (10-2)
Schottey: Chargers, 21-20
The Bengals are the more talented team, but the Chargers are good when they can keep games close. I think they pull it out at home against a Bengals team that has already dropped a few close games this season.
Freeman: Bengals, 38-35
The Chargers seem to be turning everything into a shootout lately, and I'll take the Bengals in a shootout.
Hangst: Bengals, 30-24
The Bengals have only one weak link: quarterback Andy Dalton. But Dalton and his Bengals are coming off their bye week with a chance to restart their season and take out an AFC playoff hopeful at the same time. If Dalton can raise his performance back to simply "good" and the defense handles business as it has all season, there should be no issue on the road this week.
Hansen: Bengals, 30-24
San Diego's defense is pathetic; the cornerbacks are competing for jobs this week. The Bengals are a much more complete team and should be able to get the win by getting a few stops on defense. A.J. Green is going to go bananas.
Kruse: Chargers, 27-21
Always take the hot quarterback? Philip Rivers is returning home after torching the Chiefs for 392 yards and three scores in Kansas City.
Other Picks: Bengals (Bowen, Schalter, Miller, Frenz, Bardeen, Gagnon, Langland)
It wasn't, and a turnover on the next play left the Giants 21-17 winners and Mike Shanahan apocalyptically apoplectic on the sideline.
B/R Consensus Pick: Giants (11-1)
Bowen: Giants, 24-20
I like the Giants on the road here. Too much up front on the defensive side of the ball for RG3 and Washington.
Schalter: Giants, 24-21
I don't think the Giants are much better than their 4-7 record, but I don't think Washington can stop anybody right now.
Hansen: Washington, 24-17
Before Washington's performance on Monday night, this looked like a much closer matchup. The Giants' win streak was a fraud, so I'm going Washington because they are playing at home.
Gagnon: Giants, 30-13
Tom Coughlin won't let his team throw in the towel, whereas it looks as though Washington has already begun to do exactly that. On short rest, Washington falls again.
Langland: Giants, 27-21
Can the New York Giants rebound after a fourth-quarter loss to the Dallas Cowboys? Based on RG3’s level of play and the Washington Redskins' leaky defensive secondary, head coach Tom Coughlin and Co. should find their fifth win in six weeks.
Other Picks: Giants (Schottey, Freeman, Miller, Frenz, Hanst, Hansen, Bardeen, Kruse)
B/R Consensus Pick: Seahawks (8-4)
Schottey: Seahawks, 30-27
The Seahawks are a team trending upward, with a fantastic home-field advantage. Their ability to win matchups at the line of scrimmage is going to win this one for them.
Freeman: Seahawks, 28-20
Outdoors. In Seattle. Brutal defense. Hardcore running game. This has "Seattle win" written all over it.
Miller: Seahawks, 31-30
Without Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond (both gone due to suspension), I'm tempted to pick the Saints to win this one. But playing outside in Seattle has its advantages. I can't bet against the 12th man.
Frenz: Saints, 31-27
The Seahawks' stingy defense makes it tough to bet against them, but the extra time for Sean Payton and Co. to prepare for this game could be the key. If the Saints can pack their improving run defense with them to the Northwest, Drew Brees should be able to win his quarterback duel with Russell Wilson.
Bardeen: Seahawks, 30-20
With their records, you’d believe this game might be one of the toughest to call all season. Nope—the Saints don’t travel well, and Seattle is a miserable place to be a road team. Take into account that Seattle should be able to exploit the New Orleans run defense and slow down Drew Brees, and you’ve got a double-digit win for Seattle over the NFC’s second-best team.
Langland: Seahawks, 34-28
The battle of the short quarterbacks will come down to which player turns the ball over less. Considering the Seahawks are at home in front of the 12th man, my bet is Wilson protects the ball better and Seattle outguns New Orleans.
Other Picks: Seahawks (Schalter, Hangst, Hansen); Saints (Bowen, Gagnon, Kruse)