Chris Simms' Week 12 NFL Picks
There is something special about having NFL football on Thanksgiving Day. I usually don't like Thursday games, but Thanksgiving is different.
I was lucky enough to be a part of two Thanksgiving games. I was with the Denver Broncos when we hosted the New York Giants in 2009, and I was with the Tennessee Titans when we traveled to take on the Detroit Lions the year before. Both games came with a wonderful holiday atmosphere and an incredible sense of honor.
There's such a rich tradition linking the NFL and Thanksgiving, and it feels special to be a part of it. Players soak that feeling in because they know the country is watching with their families and eating turkey, potatoes and pie. It's an even better feeling when you're playing at home and know you get to go join your family after the game to continue the festivities.
Hell, Thanksgiving football may be the most American thing we have in our country right now, and I'm hoping this year's games help bring everyone together for at least a day.
Thankfully, we have some wonderful games on Thanksgiving and in Week 12 in general. Here's how I see each of them playing out.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
When: Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET (Fox), Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
To me, this is one of the best matchups of the weekend. It's my favorite Thanksgiving Day game.
The Minnesota Vikings are clearly a better overall team than the Detroit Lions. Detroit's offensive line is getting healthy, and the Lions may be able to get a run game going. However, they still put too much on the shoulders of Matthew Stafford, essentially asking him to win games for them.
Still, the Lions are a good team, and they're used to playing these Thanksgiving games at home. That should make for a terrific game.
I have to side with Minnesota, though. The Vikings are one of the five best teams in football, and they're not just a defensive powerhouse. People might not realize Minnesota has the No. 5 offense in the NFL (372.5 yards per game). That's right, No. 5. This isn't a defensive team that is going to try to play in a low-scoring game. That defense is very, very special, though. It all adds up to being too much for the Lions.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Lions 24
Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys
When: Thursday at 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS), AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Right now, the Los Angeles Chargers are a better team than the Dallas Cowboys. The one advantage Dallas has is it is a Thanksgiving game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys are more accustomed to this game.
When I break down the game itself, the Chargers have the advantage. The run game and offensive line for Dallas isn't what it was last year—Ronald Leary and Doug Free not being there hurts. Tyron Smith and La'el Collins are questionable, so even if they play, they won't be 100 percent.
Not having Ezekiel Elliott profoundly affects the Cowboys offense.
The Chargers, meanwhile, have gotten much better in run defense. They also have the league's best pass-rushing duo in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to go with some solid cover guys on the back end.
Dallas' biggest asset on defense is the defensive line. However, L.A. is doing a tremendous job of protecting Philip Rivers right now. Hell, the Jacksonville Jaguars barely got close to him a couple of weeks ago—and if Jacksonville can't pressure Rivers, the Cowboys aren't going to.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Cowboys 21
New York Giants at Washington Redskins
When: Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC), FedExField, Landover, Maryland
The New York Giants defense does match up well with the Washington Redskins offense. Plus, the Redskins are going to be missing some key pieces in Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson. Jay Gruden said Trent Williams is a game-time decision too, per ESPN.com's John Keim, so that's scary if you're a Washington fan.
The big thing I look at, though, is that the Redskins are the better team, they're playing at home and they're still playing for something. While Washington may be a long shot, it does have a chance at earning the NFC's sixth seed. The Giants have nothing to play for but pride. Playing for something meaningful is a human emotion, and as a former player, I can tell you it can have a tangible impact.
The Giants will struggle to consistently move the ball down the field, and if they get down early, it's going to be hard to stay motivated. This is a lost season for New York, and guys won't want to keep putting their bodies on the line if the game goes south in a hurry.
The Redskins are the more well-rounded team, they have the motivation factor, and I'm picking them to win.
Prediction: Redskins 24, Giants 16
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
The matchup between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals is going to be a defensive struggle. I have zero faith in either offense, though I do have faith in Andy Dalton to make fewer mistakes than DeShone Kizer.
The Bengals still have a chance to be the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. They still have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball too. Cleveland's defense is going to give Cincinnati a tough time, but a few big plays form A.J. Green should be enough to make the difference.
The Browns have no playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, so moving down the field is going to be difficult.
The Bengals are at home, they have guys who have been in the playoffs before, and they still have something to play for. Cleveland is still trying to figure out how to win a game.
Prediction: Cincinnati 17, Cleveland 13
Carolina Panthers at New York Jets
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
This may be a better game than people expect. The Carolina Panthers and New York Jets are both coming off the bye week, so both have had plenty of time to analyze the opponent.
The Jets have a physical defense that is built to counter the power-run game of Carolina. The thing I've liked about the Panthers in recent weeks is the creative ways they've found to run with Cam Newton. That's made them more dangerous. However, the Jets have a stout front seven, two standout safeties and have had two weeks to game-plan for that. They'll be able to slow down those edge runs by Newton and Christian McCaffrey.
The Jets are big up front offensively, and they're not going to be overpowered by the Panthers on that side of the ball either. However, Carolina has one of the best defenses in the league, and I just cannot see New York consistently finding big plays against it.
This is going to be a physical, low-scoring game, but the Panthers have more playmakers and are the better overall team.
Prediction: Panthers 16, Jets 13
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
This is a scary game for the Tennessee Titans. I still question whether they can consistently win games when they cannot run the ball effectively. The Indianapolis Colts, who are in the middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed per game, are big and physical in the front seven.
The Colts also have the ability to strike deep in the passing game with Jacoby Brissett and T.Y. Hilton. That's a problem for a Titans defense that was gashed by Pittsburgh's passing attack a week ago.
Now, the Colts pass defense is also bad (30th in the NFL), and we saw Marcus Mariota make some big plays against the Steelers last week. The key for him will be avoiding the turnovers that doomed Tennessee against Pittsburgh.
This is another game that's going to be closer than people expect. It's going to be won by the team that makes fewer mistakes. That team will be Tennessee, at least this week.
Prediction: Titans 24, Colts 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
The Atlanta Falcons are not the team from last year. We're never going to see that team again, so people need to get over that. The Falcons still have a dangerous offense, though, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had trouble stopping the pass game all year. The Buccaneers don't have the pass-rushers needed to harass Matt Ryan either.
Now, Ryan Fitzpatrick gave Tampa a spark and a win against the Miami Dolphins last week. When I go back and watch the film, though, it doesn't make me feel any better about the Buccaneers offense. There were plenty of Dolphins mistakes that helped the Buccaneers win.
The Atlanta defense is chaotic, it's fast, and it's tough to beat at home on that turf. Tampa Bay is going to struggle to consistently move the ball, while the Falcons are going to have their way in the pass game.
Prediction: Falcons 28, Buccaneers 17
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
Let's be honest, the New England Patriots are going to win this game. I am a little concerned, though, that the Patriots have been on the road for two weeks. They stayed in Colorado for a week, had a long trip to Mexico and then a long trip back home. Bill Belichick referenced this fact in his early-week press conference. Fatigue could be a factor.
With all that said, though, this is still the best team in football right now. New England is hot and has fixed its defensive problems, and I have no faith in the Dolphins' ability to consistently move the ball.
While the Dolphins defense is better than last year, it's still a middle-of-the-road unit. It allows some big plays in the pass game, and it doesn't rush the passer well enough with the front four alone to be in Tom Brady's face all day.
It's too difficult to stop every weapon on New England's offense, and it's tough for AFC East opponents to go into Foxborough and win.
Prediction: Patriots 35, Dolphins 17
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Chicago Bears are a team that wants to beat you with physicality on both sides of the ball. That game plan goes out the window in this matchup because there might not be a more physical team up front on offense and defense than the Philadelphia Eagles.
What worries me if I'm a Chicago fan is the fact Ronald Darby is back and the Eagles corners are beginning to cover well. If the Bears try to adjust their game plan and lean more on the arm of Mitchell Trubisky, that could backfire too. It doesn't help that there's no one on the outside of the Bears offense to scare the Philadelphia defense.
The Eagles have an aggressive and physical defensive line, and they won't have to worry about an explosive passing attack. They'll be able to play basic coverages and clamp down on Jordan Howard and the run game.
The Bears have a fantastic front seven too, but Leonard Floyd is likely done for the year, and it's going to be hard to pressure Carson Wentz. The Philadelphia line is awesome, and the Bears don't have the talent in the secondary to match up man to man. When quarterbacks have time, they're able to pick apart the Chicago secondary, and that's what I expect Wentz to do.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Bears 17
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
The Kansas City Chiefs are always tough at home, but their defense stinks. Period. I think we're going to see a motivated Tyrod Taylor for the Buffalo Bills. Everyone moves the ball on Kansas City, and I don't expect that to change with the Bills.
On the other side of the ball, Buffalo presents a tough matchup for the Chiefs. Buffalo wants to force opponents to execute all the way down the field, and there are questions about Kansas City's ability to do that. When trickery like speed-sweeps and shovel passes don't work, can Alex Smith consistently drop back and beat defenses? I still have my doubts.
Buffalo is going to force Smith to dink and dunk to beat the zone, and that doesn't play to Kansas City's offensive strengths.
With all that said, I'm still going with the Chiefs. They're at home and desperate to get back on track.
Prediction: Chiefs 23, Bills 20
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (Fox), Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Kyle Shanahan has had an extra week to craft a game plan for his San Francisco 49ers. He has experience against the Seattle Seahawks too—he beat them with the Falcons in the playoffs last year and nearly beat them in Seattle earlier this season.
We should also remember Shanahan's offenses have practiced against this defensive scheme the past two years because the Falcons and 49ers run the same scheme.
The 49ers will know how to attack Seattle. Yet, the Seahawks are the better overall team, and I'm still not sold on 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard.
On the other side, I don't love the Seahawks offense, but I love Russell Wilson. He's amazing. He's the greatest one-man show in football, and I can't see San Francisco keeping him down all game. The 49ers don't have the athletes up front to contain him and prevent him from making magic. They don't have the cover guys needed to stop Doug Baldwin downfield when the scramble drill starts, either.
Prediction: Seahawks 28, 49ers 16
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. (CBS). Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California
First of all, I want to give Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff some love. I know the Rams didn't play great last week, but Goff has impressed me with his toughness, fearlessness in the pocket and his willingness to pull the trigger on tight-window throws downfield. Goff deserves credit, and Sean McVay deserves credit for putting him in situations to be successful each week.
As we saw last week, the New Orleans Saints can still give up big plays in the pass game. I also look at it like this, though. The Saints played the Redskins last week, and McVay's offense—he came from Washington, after all—is a similar unit. The defense should have a different approach to stopping this Rams offense.
That's an advantage for New Orleans, as is the fact the team won a close game last week. The Saints will have tightened things up heading into this matchup.
The Saints also have one of the most dominant rushing attacks in football. Run defense is the weakness of the L.A. defense. The Rams aren't going to be able to stop Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram all game. If they contain them, the Saints will still have Drew Brees to fall back on.
The Rams are one of the better teams in the NFC, but the Saints will be too much for them.
Prediction: Saints 35, Rams 31
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS), Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California
The Denver Broncos are going to be motivated. Mike McCoy has been fired, and his replacement, Bill Musgrave, will be going against his former team in the Oakland Raiders. He's going to want to do some creative things to get back at Oakland.
John Pagano is taking over the Raiders defense, and I expect him to implement some creative new things as well. With this being Paxton Lynch's first start of the season as Denver's quarterback, it makes it difficult to pick the Broncos.
Denver's defense is still phenomenal and can match up against Oakland's offense. However, the Raiders are at home and are still in the hunt for the AFC's sixth seed. It's pretty much all over for the Broncos. If they come out playing like they're playing for next year, they will lose.
I also have to take Derek Carr over Lynch in the quarterback matchup. Oakland will do just enough to win this one.
Prediction: Raiders 19, Broncos 17
Jacksonville Jaguars at Arizona Cardinals
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS), University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
The Jacksonville Jaguars might have the best team in football. The problem is they have one of the worst quarterbacks in the game, and that knocks them down a few pegs.
Regardless, Jacksonville's defense is really, really special and is capable of winning games by itself. The Arizona Cardinals have no running game, and the only remote weakness of the Jacksonville defense is against the run.
With the state of Arizona's offensive line, I have a hard time believing the Cardinals will be able to protect Blaine Gabbert. I also find it hard to believe the Cardinals will be able to consistently push the ball downfield against the best secondary in football.
On the other side, I'm concerned about Blake Bortles' ability to move the ball downfield against the Cardinals secondary—but my Bortles concerns are weekly; they're nothing new. The Cardinals defense is so up and down from week to week, I think Jacksonville will be able to run the ball just enough to pull ahead in this game.
Prediction: Jaguars 20, Cardinals 13
Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers
When: Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC), Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Green Bay Packers are looking at the prospect of a young Brett Hundley starting on the road in a tough environment on Sunday Night Football. That's scary because Hundley doesn't have the support of even an average run game. He's going to be staring into the teeth of the chaotic Steelers front seven all game.
Green Bay's defense can be a pain in the butt because Dom Capers does some unconventional things. It isn't talented enough to match up with the Pittsburgh offense all game, though.
The Steelers are the better team by far. Green Bay hasn't had a good roster over the last couple of years. It's just been the presence of Aaron Rodgers that has fooled people into believing the Packers were Super Bowl contenders.
Pittsburgh can sleepwalk to a victory here.
Prediction: Steelers 28, Packers 13
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN), M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
Right away, I see an extremely physical football game when I look at the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. These are two of the most physical teams in the sport.
Houston quarterback Tom Savage was better last week, but Baltimore's defense has been getting healthier and better as well. Houston is simple in the pass game, and that's a concern against coordinator Dean Pees and the Ravens defense. Pees is creative and great at breaking down opposing offenses—plus he gets an extra day to analyze things.
It's going to be a similar situation on the other side. Baltimore isn't good on offense, and Houston is well-coached defensively.
This is going to be a tough, low-scoring game that could go either way. I'll take Joe Flacco over Savage, however, and I'll take the Ravens at home.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Texans 16