Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there who realizes, like me, that Thanksgiving is meant to be for three things: family, food, and football. Once again this year, we get a triple-header on which to feast—as long as you have NFL Network, or live in or around New York or Denver. Then on Sunday and Monday Night, we get our usual helping for games from around the league, topped off by the big game of the week on Monday night when the Saints play the Patriots in the Big Easy. So before you go into your tryptophan-induced comas, here are the Week 12 picks. Last week: 11-5. Season: 84-73-1 (.535)
Packers (-11) at Lions
The annual Turkey Day showdown between these two teams kicks off a real yawner of a holiday in terms of the matchups. There are a ton of concerns for the Lions with respect to the shoulder of Matt Stafford, and the Packers need to keep winning if they expect to win the NFC Wild Card. The Pack should win easily in Detroit.
Raiders (+14) at Cowboys
I fully expect the Cowboys to beat the Oakland Raiders, especially considering that Dallas still has a full complement of running backs—unlike the Bengals, who were stunned in the Black Hole last week. However, I think Oakland will come out playing very hard in this one, and Bruce Gradkowski is trying to earn himself a shot at an NFL job next season. It’ll be closer than you think.
Giants (-7) at Broncos
In a matchup of two teams that are in dire need of wins, the G-Men seem to have a lot more composure than the suddenly dysfunctional Broncos, who are looking to avoid a fifth-straight loss which would completely erase a 6-0 start. If the Giants' pass rush is as bad as its been in recent games, expect Brandon Marshall to have a big day, but I would still expect New York to pull this one out easily.
Buccaneers (+13) at Falcons
There’s really nothing going right for the Atlanta Falcons recently. Matt Ryan has been less than stellar and Michael Turner is banged up. Tampa Bay seems to have found some hints of life with Josh Freeman under center. The Falcons win it, but Tampa stays with them the whole way.
Dolphins (-4) at Bills
Last week, I figured that the Phins were basically done with the loss of Ronnie Brown. This week, I think Ricky Williams is going to carry the load once again, especially against the porous Bills' run D. Miami is on the cusp of being in the playoff mix. They should get into the thick of the discussion after this one.
Browns at Bengals (-14)
The Browns mustered 37 points last week in their loss to Detroit. I’d be surprised to see them score 37 points in all of their remaining games combined. Plus, this week, they get to face a very angry Cincy squad that’s coming off an unacceptable loss to the Raiders. Cincy will reassert itself as the best team in the AFC North this week.
Seahawks at Rams (+3)
This game is a complete pillow fight, but I’ve liked what St. Louis has done the last couple of weeks. It’s amazing that, even though their season is effectively over, they keep playing so hard. I think they’ll be rewarded with win No. 2 on Sunday.
Panthers (+3) at Jets
Has anyone been watching the Jets the last two months? They’re playing they way a rookie coach and QB combination should be expected to play. They might not win another game for the rest of the season. Maybe Rex Ryan will cry about that, too.
Redskins (+10) at Eagles
There are two reasons to take Washington this week. The first is that they almost beat Dallas in Dallas last week and, in fact, probably should have won. The second is that this is an NFC East game, and how often are these games actually blowouts?
Colts (-4) at Texans
After their loss to the Titans on Monday Night, the Houston Texans are beginning to lose their luster with me. Houston really needs a win to hang in the playoff race. Unfortunately, the Texans face Peyton Manning & Co., who will not lose in Houston this time around. Way too hard to pick against Indy right now.
Chiefs at Chargers (-14)
San Diego is riding one heck of a high right now after routing Denver last week. I don’t expect the Chargers to do anything less than run away with the AFC West now, and it starts with a big win over the lowly Chiefs.
Jaguars (+4) at 49ers
Jacksonville suddenly finds itself in second place in an AFC South in which most expected it to finish dead last. San Francisco is quickly realizing the importance of needing a viable passing game in order to make the playoffs. Jacksonville will take this one and continue it’s unlikely playoff push behind another stellar performance by Maurice Jones-Drew.
Cardinals (+2) at Titans
I know that Vince Young has lit a spark under the Tennessee Titans, but they haven’t faced an offense like the Cardinals during the winning streak. Plus, the Cards are 5-0 on the road this year, and can basically wrap up the non-competitive NFC West with a win on Sunday.
Bears at Vikings (-11)
The Bears are basically in crisis mode at this point of the season, and the calls for Lovie Smith’s head have begun. The Vikings remain one of the hottest teams in the NFL this season and a front-runner in terms of Super Bowl contenders. The Vikes should cruise and continue on their march toward the NFC North crown and playoffs.
Steelers at Ravens (pick)
Interesting stat—Troy Polamalu has missed four games this season. In those games, Pittsburgh is 0-4. Also, remember that one hard hit could end Ben Roethlisberger’s day and force Dennis Dixon into action. Dixon has thrown five passes in his NFL career. Against the Ravens’ D? Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Patriots (+3) at Saints
I really want to take New Orleans in this game, but it has run into one of the teams I would least want to face in this part of the season. In the last 10 years, New England is 52-10 in regular season games after Thanksgiving. This is winning time, and the Pats don’t lose very often when it's winning time. It’ll be a battle, but Brady and Belichick will find a way to outwit Brees.