Thanksgiving week brings many do-or-die fights to your home television as everyone has something to play for—even if that something is Andrew Luck.
These road underdogs are all playing with at least three points from Vegas, but recent trends suggest an upset could be in the offing.
All spreads are current as of 11/23
The resurgent Dolphins carry a three-game winning streak into Dallas for an early Thanksgiving game that should prove the legitimacy of unproven QB Matt Moore. There is no question that Moore’s improved play and 6 TD’s against 1 INT in the last three games are the root of Miami’s current streak but the Dallas defense is a vast improved from the Buffalo Bills, who Moore torched last weekend. The Dolphins 9th ranked run defense is another test for the Cowboys standout rookie RB DeMarco Murray and if they can contain him, the Dolphins might overcome a full touchdown of doubt in Dallas.
Tim Tebow inherited a 1-4 roster that had just traded their best WR (Brandon Lloyd) and immediately resurrected the Broncos playoff hopes in the AFC West by winning three of four games. The vastly improved defense deserves their fare share of credit but the much-maligned Tebow is also gettin’ it done, with or without a consistent forward pass. The unorthodox style of the Denver offense makes them a constant crap shoot but after five straight losses, the Chargers are in free fall. That the Chargers defense plays far better against the pass is a boon for the Broncos running game and of all the road underdogs in Week 12, you have to be most wary of Denver’s potential to not just upset San Diego, but prove they are the better team.
Despite losing four games in a row, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a force to be reckoned with when LeGarrette Blount is set loose upon the opposition. Any discussion of the Bucs playoff hopes has to rest with their damaged defense and inability to stop the run but Chris Johnson has exactly one vintage performance on his 2011 resume. The Titans passing attack is also grounded by star WR Kenny Britt’s absence and QB Matt Hasselbeck’s recent injury so Tampa should be able to keep it close enough to run Blount at least 20 times. This game should be a low-scoring contest and you have to like Tampa’s potential if Jake Locker sees the field.
The family meeting of the Harbaugh brothers on Thanksgiving day will earn its share of headlines and one has to wonder if the 49ers deserve to be underdogs after winning 9 of 10 games in convincing fashion. The NFL’s top ranked run defense will certainly have its hands full with Ray Rice but a banged-up Ray Lewis & Co. will have equal trouble with Frank Gore. A underrated difficulty for the 49ers are the sheer logistics of travelling across the country for an early Thursday game and if there were ever a time for the veteran Harbaugh to show his brother what’s what, it would be this week. However, in a game that features two fluky QB’s in Alex Smith and Joe Flacco you have to go with the better defense, even on the road.
This NFC showdown features two explosive passing games that must succeed to distract from weaknesses in the running game. The Saints are notoriously pass-happy anywhere outside the red zone and Brandon Jacobs has struggled to replace the injured Ahmad Bradshaw for the 6-4 Giants. The New York schedule is very strong the rest of the way (Packers, @Jets, Dallas X2) and New Orleans is most commonly beaten by controlling the clock through the ground. Despite every knock against them, Eli Manning is playing at an elite level and has almost as many weapons as Drew Brees with rookies Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard rising to complement Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. This will be a classic shootout in New Orleans so don’t be surprised if one potent passing attack outperforms the other.