Every week, I pick three NFL games against the spread (ATS) and last week was a week to forget.
Despite finishing 0-2-1 ATS last week, my season record through Week 11 is still 22-8-3 (73.3 percent) ATS and it was only my second losing week on the season.
As a corporate trainer by day, I always advise folks to not change their answers on the industry exam for which I prepare them to take. That said, I ignored my own advice as I wrote a complete rationale as to why I thought the Packers would win last week, but that the Buccaneers would cover. Instead I changed that selection to the Jaguars over the Browns.
I won't make that mistake again. (If I lose, it will be with my first choice.)
Here are my Week 12 picks against the spread:
Detroit Lions +6.5 (over Green Bay Packers)
The Lions have long hosted the first Thanksgiving Day game. However, it's been a long time since this game has meant anything. Going into today's game, however, the Lions are in control of their playoff destiny as they would be a wildcard team if the season ended yesterday. And, of course, the Packers have not lost in 16 consecutive games going back to their Super Bowl run.
Although the Packers are clearly the best team in football (and the unanimous choice as No. 1 in our Power Rankings), I have a strong preference for taking home teams on Thursday games, especially when they are nearly a touchdown underdog.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is coming off a five-touchdown come-from-behind performance against the Panthers. But Detroit has repeatedly shown its ability to overcome large deficits this season and that may come in handy versus the Packers' high-powered offense even though I think the Lions will keep it close. Although the league's best wide receiver missed practice on Tuesday, Calvin Johnson is listed as probable on the injury report for Thursday's game.
Throughout the year, I have continuously pointed out how poor the Panthers are in stopping running backs so I wouldn't expect Kevin Smith to have a repeat performance of last week's surprise 201-yard game. At the same time, I feel that Smith gives the Lions more balance in their offense than they had with Maurice Morris as the primary ball-carrier.
Look for the Lions defensive line to put some pressure on All-World quarterback Aaron Rodgers and take the Lions and the points here as this game goes down to the wire.
Dallas Cowboys -7 (over Miami Dolphins)
The Dolphins bring their three-game winning streak to Cowboys Stadium. Undoubtedly, you have seen replays this week of the Leon Lett feet-first slide into the ball on the blocked field goal attempt on Thanksgiving in 1993 over and over again. (Fortunately there is no snow in the forecast.)
While the Dolphins are playing better football, so are the Cowboys, who have their own three-game winning streak. Unlike Miami, however, the Cowboys have their sights on the playoffs as Dallas is in a tie with the Giants at the top of the NFC East.
Not surprisingly, both starting quarterbacks have played well during their teams' three-game winning streaks. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has an 8:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 112-plus in all three wins. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore has a 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has completed more than 70 percent of his passes during that span.
That said, the Cowboys have been much better at forcing turnovers this season. Dallas' defense has 14 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles this season while Miami's defense has only five interceptions and six forced fumbles.
In addition, the Cowboys have more offensive firepower than the Dolphins even though Reggie Bush has been playing well. DeMarco Murray has provided the Cowboys with legitimate balance in their running-passing attack.
Houston Texans -3.5 (over Jacksonville Jaguars)
Aside from Maurice Jones-Drew, who has 80-plus rushing yards in nine of 10 games this year, the Jaguars have virtually no offense. After all, the only reason Blaine Gabbert's 201 passing yards from last week seems like a success is that it ended his four-game streak of 118 yards or less. In eight career starts, Gabbert has thrown for 200-plus yards only twice. Ultimately an offense's effectiveness is judged by the points it scores and only the Rams are scoring (12.0 points per game) less than the Jaguars (12.5 PPG).
Regardless of the defense they face, the Jaguars struggle to score. But the Texans are currently ranked No. 1 in overall defense (269.7 yards allowed per game). I've always said that Wade Phillips (although a bad head coach) is a great defensive coordinator. Last year, the Texans allowed almost the same total in passing yards alone and they ranked 30th in the league in total defense.
To be fair, I think Matt Leinart stinks and the loss of Matt Schaub hurts (a lot). With the return of Andre Johnson, one of the league's most gifted wide receivers, and arguably the league's best rushing attack, however, Leinart will be counted on to "manage" the game. (We don't care if we offend Jim Harbaugh's sports sensibility.")
In his past seven games, Arian Foster has four 100-yard rushing games and three 100-yard receiving games. Backup Ben Tate has four 100-yard rushing games on the season. Here's another way to look at the effectiveness of the Texans rushing offense: Foster and Tate both rank in the top 11 in rushing (or ahead of Baltimore's Ray Rice, who is 12th in the league).
Coming off their bye, the Texans and Phillips will throw the kitchen sink at Gabbert as the Texans win this divisional matchup easily.
For all of the Week 12 picks by our three handicappers, check out The Weekly Blitz home page.
Good luck in Week 12!
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