NFL Picks Week 12: Predictions for Every Game
It's Thanksgiving week, and that means turkey, beer and football in the Miller house. Fight off a food coma though, as this week's games peak on Thursday and then fade to a nap-inducing crawl by Monday night.
The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens highlight the week's schedule in the first Harbaugh Bowl. Brothers Jim and John become the first brothers in NFL history to coach against each other on Thursday night. This should be a good one, even if one coach's last name was "Smith."
The Green Bay Packers look to extend their winning streak to 11 games, but they'll have to beat a division rival, the Detroit Lions, on Thursday afternoon.
Enough teasing; let's get to the picks.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (Thursday)
When Green Bay Has the Ball
We've seen now for 10 games what the Green Bay Packer game plan is; that doesn't mean anyone can stop it.
The Packers will put the ball in the air, with Aaron Rodgers hitting Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley early and often. The big three for the Packer passing game haven't been stopped this year. Don't bet on Detroit being the first team to do so.
The Lions have to find a way to pressure Rodgers while also containing him in the pocket. It's tougher than it sounds. The Lions need an excellent up-field push from their defensive line, but they will need to keep a linebacker in to spy Rodgers, who is an excellent scrambler. One linebacker spying Rodgers means one less player in coverage, which means Rodgers will find openings when he's given time to throw the ball.
When Detroit Has the Ball
The Green Bay defense is giving up yards and points this year; the struggle is keeping up with their offense.
One strategy I haven't seen deployed yet this year is the ol' grind-it-out run game that keeps the ball out of Rodgers' hands. Many teams have used this strategy against Peyton Manning's Colts over the years. It's time we see it against Rodgers.
The Lions got 200 yards from Kevin Smith last week against Carolina, but they can't expect the same against a jacked Packer defense that's hyped for this game.
Prediction: Green Bay 45, Detroit 31
Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys (Thursday)
When Miami Has the Ball
Believe it or not, the Miami Dolphins have seen impressive production from Matt Moore and Reggie Bush over the last three games. The duo will have its chance this week for sure.
The Dallas Cowboy defense is allowing the 10th-most yards per game, which is good but not great, but it is slipping as of late. This is the same defense that just allowed the Washington Redskins to score 24 points.
Miami needs a solid running day from Bush and Daniel Thomas. If the Dolphins can keep the tempo down and control time of possession, they'll have a chance to make it four straight wins.
When Dallas Has the Ball
As Tony Romo goes, so go the Dallas Cowboys.
Romo will see a very tough Miami secondary, but this is a unit that's hyped more than it deserves. Even with improved play lately, Miami's cornerbacks can be beaten by good route running. Good route running is what Dallas will get from Jason Witten and Dez Bryant underneath.
DeMarco Murray could be a non-factor this week against Miami's seventh-ranked run defense.
Prediction: Dallas 24, Miami 21
Game of the Week: San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens (Thursday)
When San Francisco Has the Ball
It's almost cliche at this point to say the San Francisco 49er offense is powered solely by Frank Gore; that's simply not true anymore.
The 49er offense has come alive as of late with great play from Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Alex Smith. Those three will be counted on heavily this week. If the 49ers see a Baltimore defense minus Ray Lewis in the middle of the field, the crossing routes they love so much will be wide open.
Baltimore needs to get pressure on Alex Smith, and against the San Francisco offense it should be able to. Keep an eye on the Ravens' third-down pass-rushing unit; Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee have been wonderful on third down.
San Francisco needs to keep Smith clean, and they'll do that by establishing the run very early with Gore and Kendall Hunter. That should open up play action and give Davis and Crabtree room to operate underneath.
When Baltimore Has the Ball
If I was asked to help out the Raven offense on Thursday, I'd tell them to acknowledge early that Ray Rice won't get his yards this week. That shouldn't be a big shocker, as Rice hasn't been used as often as last year. Adding on to that though is the fact that the 49ers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 32 straight games. That streak won't come to an end this week.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Baltimore's run offense is averaging just under 100 yards per game. It's not a stretch to see the Ravens going away from Rice early in the game. What Baltimore can do is push the ball upfield with Joe Flacco finding Torrey Smith deep.
Flacco hasn't been playing up to expectations this season, but he's a dangerous passer and has some mobility in the pocket. San Francisco needs to hit Flacco as much as possible to throw him off his rhythm in the pocket.
Prediction: San Francisco 17, Baltimore 16
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
When Buffalo Has the Ball
The Buffalo Bill offense has been thrown off the tracks the last five weeks after a hot start to the season. Whether the blame falls on the coaches, the quarterback or the offensive line, something's broken and it needs to be fixed.
Chan Gailey is known for his innovation as an offensive mind. I'm willing to bet that after watching Tim Tebow throw off the New York Jet defense last week, Gailey will have plenty of Wildcat packages for Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller in this game. And if not, he should be putting them in right now.
The Jet defense continues to struggle to rush the passer, but now it's struggling to stop the run. Buffalo has a good one in Fred Jackson. If Jackson gets going, the Jets won't be able to stop him.
When New York Has the Ball
Rex Ryan knows it's now or never on the 2011 season in New York. Another loss could all but kick the Jets out of the playoff race. Expect an aggressive output from the New York offense this week against a Buffalo defense that, much like New York, can't rush the passer or stop the run.
Mark Sanchez will have plenty of time to make plays this week, which could mean a big day for the much-maligned third-year quarterback. Buffalo's lack of a pass rush will be its demise this week.
Prediction: Jets 35, Bills 17
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
When Cleveland Has the Ball
Something you may have missed is the surprisingly solid play of Chris Ogbonnaya (didn't even Google that one) at running back for the Cleveland Browns during the absence of Montario Hardesty and Peyton Hillis.
Without Hardesty and Hillis, Ogbonnaya has been asked to carry the load, and he's getting the job done. Cleveland finally took the shackles off Colt McCoy this week and let him throw deep. No surprise, they won. A light bulb may have flashed for Pat Shurmur in this one. With the Cincinnati Bengals without their best cornerback in Leon Hall, McCoy and the Browns should press the edges of the Bengal defense.
Cincinnati is winning with very good front-four play. To get a win this week and stay alive, the Bengals will need better tackling from their linebackers than they showed against the Baltimore Ravens last week.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
As of Monday night it sounds like rookie wide receiver A.J. Green will be back this week for Cincinnati. That's great news for Green, Andy Dalton and the rest of the Cincinnati receivers.
Green is already drawing double teams, forcing safeties to help over the top. This will open things up for Andrew Hawkins and Jerome Simpson on crossing routes and underneath. This will also make tight end Jermaine Gresham a focal point for Dalton.
The Browns defense is much better than it gets credit for, but on a man-to-man situation it lacks the talent to line up against the Cincinnati offense.
Prediction: Cincinnati 30, Cleveland 20
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
When Houston Has the Ball
Yes, that is a picture of Matt Leinart. The Houston Texans will lean on the Heisman Trophy winner to lead them down the stretch as starter Matt Schaub recovers from a Lisfranc injury.
The Texans have already been relying heavily on the run game of Arian Foster and Ben Tate to score wins. With Schaub out, Foster and Tate will be asked to control the clock this week as the Texans ease Leinart into the lineup.
Jacksonville has an underrated defense, but it is ranked just 15th overall against the run. Facing the best offensive line in football, Jacksonville will fold.
When Jacksonville Has the Ball
A stat that should surprise no one: Jacksonville has the NFL's worst offense in yards per game and second worst in points per game. The Texans defense is fast, mean and aggressive. Feel bad for the Jaguars this weekend.
The Jaguars are using rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and he has been bad, but he's also playing without talent at wide receiver. Jacksonville will lean on Maurice Jones-Drew, but even he can't do it all alone.
This is the Houston defense's time to shine. It needs a big game to prove it can step up and carry this team to the playoffs.
Prediction: Houston 21, Jacksonville 10
Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
When Minnesota Has the Ball
The Christian Ponder era has gotten off to a rocky start. It'll get even rockier without running back Adrian Peterson, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday's loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Without Peterson and with a game plan that is ignoring Percy Harvin, Minnesota will struggle again this week against a much better defense than it saw last week.
Atlanta will want to pin its ears back and prepare for a hard-fought game. Toby Gerhart is a load to bring down, and he'll get the bulk of (if not all) the carries this week.
When Atlanta Has the Ball
This is the Atlanta Falcons' chance to get everyone on the same page before a tough playoff push. A game against the Vikings, at home, should be a confidence builder. The pressure is on for them to not screw it up.
The Falcons have to find a way to keep Jared Allen off Matt Ryan in this one. Allen is the best pass-rushing defensive end in the game, and Atlanta is far from set at left tackle. If Allen can get into Ryan's head, this could be a long day.
Prediction: Atlanta 27, Minnesota 15
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
When Arizona Has the Ball
The biggest question surrounding this game is who will be under center for the Arizona Cardinals. It may be Kevin Kolb, it may be John Skelton and it may be Richard Bartel. At this point, no one can be sure.
Arizona's offense is built on two players, Chris Wells and Larry Fitzgerald, and it will be the job of whomever is in at quarterback to make plays with these two players. Against a St. Louis defense that is much better against the run than the pass, expect Arizona to have chances in the air.
St. Louis is starting to get good production from rookie defensive end Robert Quinn. He'll have an advantage over a horrible Arizona offense this week.
When St. Louis Has the Ball
If the Rams take any advice I can offer, I would tell them to stay away from Patrick Peterson. Whether it's throwing his way, letting him free on field goals or punting to him, the Rams must account for Peterson on every down.
The Cardinal defense has been up and down. There are good players (Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington) and bad players scattered across the depth chart on defense. Stopping Sam Bradford doesn't require an All-Pro cast, but stopping Steven Jackson can.
The Cardinals will load up on Jackson, which should let Bradford find Brandon Lloyd down the field. The Rams have nothing to lose; it's time to unleash Bradford's arm.
Prediction: St. Louis 24, Arizona 17
Carolina Panthers at Indianapolis Colts
When Carolina Has the Ball
This will be the Cam Newton show. The Indianapolis Colts have some speed at defensive end, but the rest of their defense will be left gasping for air trying to keep up with Newton and the Carolina Panther offense.
Carolina scored 35 points against a much better Detroit Lion team last week. I would say 50 points are very possible this week. If you have Newton or Steve Smith on your fantasy football team, play him.
The Colts need to let it all hang out this week. Facing a rookie quarterback, they should bring every blitz in the playbook in an attempt to force Newton into turnovers. It's their only chance.
When Indianapolis Has the Ball
The Panthers currently have the NFL's second-worst defense. The Colts will have opportunities to run the ball against the Carolina front four, but do they have anyone who can get the job done?
You never know exactly what you're getting from the Indianapolis offense. Curtis Painter has been both solid and horrible this season. If ever there was a week to be solid, this is it, as the Colts' chances to get a win this season are shrinking.
Prediction: Carolina 42, Indianapolis 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans
When Tampa Bay Has the Ball
There were signs of life from the Tampa Bay Buccaneer offense this past week against the Green Bay Packers, but it was too little, too late, as the Bucs were already losing when their offensive output happened. Either way, it has to be encouraging to see Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams making plays again.
The Tennessee defense is nasty. It won't make mistakes or give up big plays, but Tampa Bay has room to move the ball with Blount and a power run game.
If I'm in Tampa's meeting this week, I would find a way to move the pocket and protect Freeman from a very sound pass rush in Tennessee. This should open up chances in the passing game and create room for cutbacks from Blount.
When Tennessee Has the Ball
We can officially rule out Chris Johnson as an elite running back in the NFL; hell, he's not even a good running back anymore.
Take that into consideration and then remember that Kenny Britt has been out all season, and what the Titans have done on offense is even more impressive.
Damian Williams is emerging, as is Javon Ringer. Another player who looked good Sunday and may see more time this week is quarterback Jake Locker, who relieved an injured Matt Hasselbeck and threw two late touchdowns against Atlanta.
I like Locker in this offense quite a bit. Whether it's Jake or Matt at quarterback, Tennessee's game-planning is always solid.
Prediction: Tennessee 17, Tampa Bay 13
Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks
When Washington Has the Ball
Will we see good Rex Grossman or bad Rex Grossman this weekend? That's the question on the minds of fans of Washington and Seattle this week.
When Grossman is on, he's able to move the ball in this Mike Shanahan offense and open things up for Roy Helu Jr. in the run/pass game. However, bad Grossman is more likely to throw three interceptions than spark the offense.
Washington matches up pretty well this week in man situations, but overall I'll take the underrated Seattle defense over the uncertain Redskin offense.
When Seattle Has the Ball
Over their current two-game win streak, the Seattle Seahawks are getting excellent production from Marshawn Lynch, even with half of their offensive line injured. Lynch will be the key again this week.
The Redskins are best when rushing the passer. Their speedy linebackers are sound in shutting down the run, but they aren't big in the middle to take on a power runner like Lynch. If Seattle is determined to power up the gut with Lynch behind Max Unger and Russell Okung, there will be running room.
Washington will be able to get to Tarvaris Jackson in the backfield; that's a given. Stopping the pass rush will be tough for Seattle, and that's why it cannot afford to fall behind.
Prediction: Seattle 17, Washington 14
Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders
When Chicago Has the Ball
Jay Cutler is out for six to eight weeks with a broken thumb. Enter Caleb Hanie.
Lovie Smith says the offense won't change with Hanie at quarterback, but I remain skeptical of this. Hanie is a much more mobile quarterback than Cutler (who is pretty mobile himself), but he doesn't have the arm strength to match. Hanie will do well with the timing of this offense once he settles down, but Mike Martz should be looking for run-pass options on the edge for Hanie.
The Raider defense has struggled to stop the run all year, and Chicago has a very good back in Matt Forte. If Martz is on his game this week, he'll call early and often for No. 22 to get the ball up the middle.
When Oakland Has the Ball
Memo to Carson Palmer: Stay away from Charles Tillman.
Tillman is playing All-Pro football for the Bears this season, eliminating one side of the field for Palmer's passing attack. Carson has never been a quarterback to shy away from defenders, but in this one he should find Tillman and check away from him.
Oakland has given the ball to Michael Bush in heavy doses over the last two weeks, averaging 30 runs per game. Bush won't find the same holes against Chicago, but he will at least set up the play-action game that Hue Jackson loves to run.
Prediction: Oakland 17, Chicago 10
New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles
When New England Has the Ball
The offense in New England has clicked the last two weeks, giving spark to the Patriots' 2011 season as the playoffs come into view. Tom Brady and his numerous targets are getting hot at the right time, and with a plethora of running backs in the stable the run game is versatile.
The system in New England hasn't changed. Tom Brady runs a quick-tempo offense that's unpredictable from snap to snap. Brady is smart enough to look for weaknesses pre-snap and make adjustments to get his team in the best play. In this game, look for the tight ends to have huge games against an overmatched linebacker crew in Philadelphia.
The strength of the Eagles is at defensive end and cornerback. The strength of the Patriots is at offensive tackle and tight end. Advantage Patriots.
When Philadelphia Has the Ball
Will it be Michael Vick or Vince Young at quarterback this week? Patriot fans may want Michael Vick over Young after seeing Sunday night's performance.
I am of the belief that the quarterback doesn't matter much for Philadelphia. Vick does things that Young doesn't, but Young brings tools to the table that Vick doesn't. The biggest issue for me is the play (or lack of playing) from the Eagle wide receivers. Without Jeremy Maclin or DeSean Jackson healthy, Philadelphia is quickly outmanned.
The Patriots defense is as unpredictable as its offense, but it could struggle to keep up with a speedy quarterback. Bill Belichick is smart enough to spy Vick/Young and beg the Eagles' third and fourth receivers to beat his secondary.
Prediction: New England 35, Philadelphia 21
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
When Denver Has the Ball
As long as Tim Tebow is in at quarterback, the offense will be based on the running of Tebow, Willis McGahee and anyone else eligible to carry the rock in Denver.
Where Denver can be beaten is if an offense gets up on it early and forces the offense to play from behind. Tebow is faulty (at best) as a passer, and faced with a deficit to overcome, Tebow's arm is not good enough to lead a points surge.
The Broncos know this, and they'll attempt to grind it out again this week and limit touches by the San Diego Charger offense. San Diego has to stay patient and stick to its assignments. Miami and New York both did this and contained Tebow for most of the game; it was when they left their principles that Denver won.
When San Diego Has the Ball
This is the week Philip Rivers needs to come out of his funk and hook up early with his receivers and tight end early. Rivers' goal should be a 14-point lead by halftime.
Denver's defense is underrated, especially in rushing the passer. What San Diego wants to do is run Ryan Mathews enough to get Brian Dawkins sucking up into the box and then take shots down the field to Vincent Jackson.
Denver will unleash Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil again this week. San Diego has been weak at offensive tackle, and if Rivers is pressured he will make mistakes. Keeping Rivers clean is the No. 1 priority for San Diego.
Prediction: San Diego 31, Denver 27
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
The Mike Wallace and Friends show has been good for the Pittsburgh Steelers all season. They'll find openings all day against the Kansas City Chiefs secondary—and I mean ALL DAY.
Ben Roethlisberger has been great in the pocket this year, and with just one good pass-rusher on the Chiefs defense, he will have plenty of time to pick apart a beat-up unit.
A few players for the Steelers to stay away from: Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers. Pick on the other eight players, but Pittsburgh would be wise to circle these guys on film all week.
When Kansas City Has the Ball
The playoffs hopes died in New England last week. The Chiefs are playing for their jobs and pride right now.
Tyler Palko was absolutely horrid in the second half last week. If the Chiefs don't get better play at quarterback next week, things will be very ugly. Pittsburgh is known for its aggressive defense. Even great quarterbacks get confused by Dick LeBeau's defense. Expecting Palko to read the zone blitz is asking way too much.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 40, Kansas City 6
New York Giants at New Orleans Saints (Monday)
When New York Has the Ball
The New York Giants will be hoping for healthy players this week, as they'll need every available player to face the New Orleans Saints.
If New York has Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks this week, the offense can make plays against the New Orleans defense. While the Saints are playing great this year, their defensive line hasn't been great. The Saints defense is more about scheme than athletes. The Giants have the athletes to pressure that scheme.
Eli Manning can be great if he has time. The offensive line was bad against the Eagles and will need to step up this week and shut down defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' pass rush.
When New Orleans Has the Ball
Drew Brees is good. You know this, everyone knows this, but it needs to be said. In a season dominated by Aaron Rodgers, it's important to note just how good Brees has been all year.
The Saints offense is rolling, and a big part of that is tight end Jimmy Graham. I'm anxiously awaiting the matchup of Graham against the talented New York safeties. The other spark plug in this offense, Darren Sproles, will be able to get his yards against a Giants defense that's not fast enough to keep up with one of the NFL's most dangerous players.
Prediction: New Orleans 31, New York 23