Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 12 NFL Picks
Thanksgiving signifies that we've hit the home stretch.
The 2018 NFL season is no longer young. It was old enough to drive and shave in October, and now it has started a real job and is adulting on the daily. It's supposed to have its act together, but that hasn't made things any more predictable.
Just ask Bleacher Report NFL experts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, all of whom have grown frustrated by the volatility that has plagued this particular campaign, which is revealed in their consensus record against the spread.
Individually and as a crew, here's where our predictors now stand through 11 weeks (last week's records in parentheses).
1. Gary Davenport: 85-70-6 (7-6)
2. Brent Sobleski: 74-81-6 (3-10)
3. Brad Gagnon: 73-82-6 (5-8)
Consensus picks: 76-79-6 (5-8)
Yeah, it was ugly. Can they right the ship?
Lines based on consensuses at OddsShark as of Wednesday.
Chicago Bears (7-3) at Detroit Lions (4-6)
The Chicago Bears haven't lost since mid-October, but quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is dealing with an injury to his throwing shoulder, and now they're about to play a tough road game just 85 hours after their last game ended.
That has the majority of our panel siding with the Detroit Lions on Thursday afternoon at Ford Field.
"The Lions are 5-1 against the spread and 4-2 straight up in their last six Thanksgiving games," Gagnon said. "Meanwhile, the Bears are traveling on short rest following a challenging Sunday night game against the Minnesota Vikings. Even if Mitchell Trubisky plays, he won't be 100 percent. All signs point to the Lions keeping this close."
But the three-point line accounts for Trubisky's injury. Before it became clear he might miss this game, the Bears were listed as at least a four-point favorite at most sportsbooks. You would have been best-served jumping in then. With the spread down to a field goal, Sobleski is sticking with the favorite.
That's fair too, because Chicago dominated Detroit in Illinois just 11 days ago. And although the Lions kept their season alive with a narrow victory over the Carolina Panthers last week, they're still a 4-6 team that won't have top running back Kerryon Johnson.
One final note if you're on the fence: Chicago hasn't defeated Detroit by more than three points on the road since 2010, and the Lions have won nine of the last 11 meetings straight up.
Davenport: Detroit (+3)
Gagnon: Detroit (+3)
Sobleski: Chicago (-3)
Consensus: Detroit (+3)
Score Prediction: Detroit 21, Chicago 20
Washington Redskins (6-4) at Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
Is Vegas overreacting to Alex Smith's absence?
The Washington Redskins quarterback suffered a gruesome leg injury in Week 11, forcing the team to start backup Colt McCoy on Thursday afternoon against the Dallas Cowboys. But the majority of books have the Cowboys laying more than a touchdown as a 7.5-point favorite, which is too high for all three of our experts.
"Apparently, no one outside of the D.C. area believes in Colt McCoy as a starting quarterback," Sobleski said. "Alex Smith's devastating injury certainly factors into the equation, but Washington is getting healthy and runs the ball well, and the defense is still stingy. McCoy is solid enough to keep the ship afloat against a non-explosive Cowboys squad."
Sobleski pointed out that McCoy almost led a double-digit comeback in relief of Smith in Week 11. Smith is a good quarterback, but the league's eight-lowest-rated qualified passer had just 10 touchdown passes in 10 games. He was by no means carrying the Redskins, while the veteran McCoy has completed 32 of 41 passes for a 108.0 rating in three career appearances against Dallas.
Make what you will of those numbers because they were generated in 2014 and 2015, but it might help that the 32-year-old has experienced success against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
Regardless, he's one of the stronger backups in the league, and he should help a defensively strong team keep things close in Dallas.
Davenport: Washington (+7.5)
Gagnon: Washington (+7.5)
Sobleski: Washington (+7.5)
Consensus: Washington (+7.5)
Score Prediction: Dallas 23, Washington 20
Atlanta Falcons (4-6) at New Orleans Saints (9-1)
The Atlanta Falcons are out of gas, while the New Orleans Saints are topped up and flying at Mach 1. At least that's how our analysts see it. Why else would they have the Saints beating the Falcons by a two-touchdown margin for the first time since 2011?
"This is a perfect storm," Gagnon said. "New Orleans is at home against a bleeding Falcons team that is traveling on short rest. The Falcons have already been embarrassed in two of their last three road games—including a double-digit loss to the Cleveland Browns—and they often looked lifeless in a Week 11 loss to Dallas. It's often dangerous to assume a trend will continue in this league, but it's undeniable that these teams are moving in opposite directions."
It's a divisional matchup, the Falcons might be desperate and the backdoor cover could be in play, but the fact is the Saints have won four straight games by double-digit margins. If they can beat the Minnesota Vikings by 10 on the road and the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles by 10 and 41, respectively, at home, they can blow out the fading Falcons on a Thursday night at the Superdome.
If it helps, home teams are 8-3 against the spread on Thursday Night Football this season, while favorites are 9-2.
Davenport: New Orleans (-13)
Gagnon: New Orleans (-13)
Sobleski: New Orleans (-13)
Consensus: New Orleans (-13)
Score Prediction: New Orleans 38, Atlanta 21
Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
Neither the Cleveland Browns nor the Cincinnati Bengals appear to be trustworthy right now, which makes their Sunday matchup a tough one to predict. But the Browns may benefit from extra rest coming off their bye week and have a lot more momentum than their opponent, so two of our three experts believe they can hang with the Bengals on the road.
"Baker Mayfield and the Browns had two weeks to prepare for the NFL's worst defense," Sobleski said. "More importantly, the rookie signal-caller has been exceptional the previous two weeks with interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens calling the plays. Since Hue Jackson and Todd Haley's dismissals, Mayfield has completed 74.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns compared to only one interception."
Still, that's a small sample, and Mayfield and the Browns haven't been consistent this season. The Bengals are 7-0 against Cleveland in the last four calendar years, and a veteran Cincinnati team might be desperate/inspired at 5-5.
In other words, this probably isn't a game to spend all of your discretionary income on. Would anybody be surprised if Mayfield and rookie back Nick Chubb tore apart the league's lowest-ranked defense? Would anybody be surprised if Mayfield struggled against a quality group of Cincinnati pass-rushers? Or if A.J. Green returned from injury and helped Andy Dalton light up a still-vulnerable Browns defense?
Of course, a push is a strong possibility too.
Davenport: Cleveland (+3)
Gagnon: Cincinnati (-3)
Sobleski: Cleveland (+3)
Consensus: Cleveland (+3)
Score Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 23
Seattle Seahawks (5-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-4)
The Carolina Panthers haven't lost three straight games since October 2016 and haven't lost a home game since last October, which might explain why most books list them as a 3.5-point favorite despite having lost back-to-back games heading into Sunday's matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in Charlotte.
The majority of our panelists can't get behind Carolina with that spread, especially against a hungry opponent that is well-rested following a Thursday night Week 11 home victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Not that Davenport feels good about it.
"It didn't take long," he said, "for this week's picks to give me the upset stomach I was hoping not to have until Thursday evening (friendly tip—a fifth slice of pie is a bad idea). Picking against a Panthers team riding a 10-game home winning streak will do that. However, I can't get past the momentum these two teams have established in opposite directions of late. Or Seattle's ability to control tempo and play teams close. I'm not saying the Seahawks will win here. But with two run-heavy teams who can play defense, I expect a close one. That extra half-point could make all the difference."
Gagnon is the lone wolf on the Panthers as a 3.5-point home fave, noting that Carolina is better than it has played of late and Seattle is probably a little worse than it played at home against a Packers squad traveling on short rest. But just to be safe, even he suggests buying that half-point, if possible, in order to get the Panthers at -3.
Davenport: Seattle (+3.5)
Gagnon: Carolina (-3.5)
Sobleski: Seattle (+3.5)
Consensus: Seattle (+3.5)
Score Prediction: Carolina 24, Seattle 23
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (3-7)
The Jacksonville Jaguars are mired in a six-game losing streak and preparing to face a rested Buffalo Bills team that crushed the New York Jets on the road before its Week 11 bye. Considering that this game is in Orchard Park and that Jacksonville managed just 10 points against the Bills when the two met in Florida during last year's playoffs, it's not surprising the Jags are giving up just a field goal here.
But regardless of recent results, the Jaguars have more talent on their roster than the vast majority of the rest of the league. With that in mind, our analysts agree they're due for a big performance in a matchup with an inconsistent opponent.
"Eventually, the Jags have to pull out of this funk, right?" Sobleski said. "The Bills are the perfect opponent to snap a six-game losing streak, especially with rookie Josh Allen's return to the lineup. The Jags offense might have some problems with Buffalo's defense, but the Jags can get after Allen and force him into mistakes."
The Bills defense has indeed been decent, but much of that success has come in pass defense. They rank first in terms of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) at Football Outsiders against the pass, but they're more beatable on the ground (just ask Marlon Mack or Aaron Jones). Look for the Jags to ride increasingly healthy back Leonard Fournette and follow up a three-takeaway performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers with another stellar defensive effort against Allen and Buffalo's 32nd-ranked scoring offense.
This could be a blowout.
Davenport: Jacksonville (-3)
Gagnon: Jacksonville (-3)
Sobleski: Jacksonville (-3)
Consensus: Jacksonville (-3)
Score Prediction: Jacksonville 24, Buffalo 13
Oakland Raiders (2-8) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)
Considering their quarterback situation, nobody will fault you for staying away from the Baltimore Ravens as a double-digit road favorite in Week 12.
It's still unclear if veteran starter Joe Flacco will be able to return from a hip injury Sunday against Oakland Raiders. And while rookie Lamar Jackson put on a show in a Week 11 spot start against Cincinnati, the raw Louisville product ran eight more times than he threw.
That's not a sustainable approach, and Jackson is probably going to suffer agonizing growing pains at some point, but two of our three experts aren't convinced that'll happen in a home matchup with the toothless Raiders defense.
"If indeed Jackson starts against Oakland," Gagnon said, "you couldn't have asked for a better first two opponents for the guy. First he got to face Cincinnati's last-ranked D, and now he's going up against an Oakland team that has just nine takeaways and nine sacks in 10 games."
Baltimore hasn't won convincingly at M&T Bank Stadium since beating the Denver Broncos by a double-digit margin back in Week 3, but a traditionally strong home team could be due for a blowout victory. The Raiders were hammered in their last two road games before edging the equally terrible Arizona Cardinals in Glendale in Week 11.
That said, the Raiders are still coming off a road win, and they probably have the better quarterback regardless of who Baltimore starts under center. There's a decent chance they at least find a way to keep this close, especially if Jackson is forced to pass more often without the support of a running game that has lacked consistency. That's why there's no unanimity here, and it should be pointed out that those among this group who pick against the majority as lone wolves are 44-40-1 this season.
Davenport: Baltimore (-10.5)
Gagnon: Baltimore (-10.5)
Sobleski: Oakland (+10.5)
Consensus: Baltimore (-10.5)
Score Prediction: Baltimore 30, Oakland 13
San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7)
Just eight weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers were reeling with a 1-2 record and a hole at quarterback following the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo to a season-ending knee injury, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the league's fourth-highest-scoring offense after an impressive and entertaining 2-1 start.
At that point, it would have been hard to believe San Francisco would get only 3.5 points in Tampa in Week 12, and harder to believe that all three of our experts would be happy to jump on the Niners as an outright winner.
Of course, the relatively unknown Nick Mullens has come from nowhere and performed well at quarterback for the 49ers, while Tampa Bay has experienced nothing but turbulence at that position.
That's at least one reason Sobleski is on San Francisco's side.
"Two factors are working in San Francisco's favor besides the spread," he said. "First, the 49ers have played well the last two games with Mullens at the helm, beating the Raiders 34-3 and losing to the Giants 27-23. Plus, Jameis Winston is a turnover machine. When he's in the lineup, the Buccaneers offense isn't going to be operating at maximum efficiency."
Ditto for when Ryan Fitzpatrick is in the lineup, which is a possibility for Sunday's game considering how often the Bucs flip back and forth between their two comically mistake-prone signal-callers. Winston's interception rate of 6.7 is the highest among qualified passers by a wide margin, but Fitzpatrick ranks second at 4.9.
As a result, Tampa Bay's turnover margin is a ridiculous minus-23. Only one other team in football is below minus-nine, although it should be pointed out that that team is San Francisco at minus-15. But the 49ers have two turnovers in their last three games, and they haven't lost by more than three points in any of their last three road games.
Meanwhile, the Bucs have 14 turnovers and zero takeaways in their last four games, which is silly.
Davenport: San Francisco (+3.5)
Gagnon: San Francisco (+3.5)
Sobleski: San Francisco (+3.5)
Consensus: San Francisco (+3.5)
Score Prediction: San Francisco 27, Tampa Bay 24
New York Giants (3-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)
There's a yo-yo element to this league. You're rarely as bad as your last really bad game, and you're rarely as good as your last really good one. Oftentimes, that makes it dangerous to get caught up in hot or cold streaks.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been outscored 75-27 in back-to-back losses, the first of which came at home after their bye week and the second of which was an embarrassing blowout in New Orleans. The New York Giants have scored a combined 65 points in back-to-back wins with a plus-six turnover margin in that span.
Does that mean we should expect a correction when the NFC East rivals meet Sunday? The Eagles, who beat the Giants by 21 points on the road last month, might be inspired enough to save their season with a home victory, but none of our analysts are willing to pick them to cover a six-point spread under the current circumstances.
"Here's a tidbit that I had to go back and check, because the first time I read it I thought it must be a typo: The Philadelphia Eagles—the defending world champions—haven't won a game at Lincoln Financial Field since September 23, two months ago," Davenport said. "Over Philly's last two games (both losses), the Eagles have scored 27 points total. Over their last two games (both wins), the Giants are averaging 32.5 points per contest. The Philly secondary is chewed to pieces, and now leading tackler Jordan Hicks is out too. It's not outside the realm of reason that the Giants could win this game outright, and I'm sure as heck not laying almost a touchdown."
Injuries are a real factor. The Eagles defense is a mess with Hicks, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Jalen Mills and Avonte Maddox all hurt and Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod and Derek Barnett already out. That unit might have a lot of trouble containing an offense that hasn't been consistent but is finding a groove with Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram.
This should be a close game, especially if the Giants realize they have a chance to storm back and win the NFC East.
Davenport: New York (+6)
Gagnon: New York (+6)
Sobleski: New York (+6)
Consensus: New York (+6)
Score Prediction: New York 24, Philadelphia 23
New England Patriots (7-3) at New York Jets (3-7)
If you're the New York Jets, there's never a good time to play the New England Patriots. The Jets haven't beaten the Patriots in regulation in any of their last 15 regular-season meetings (they beat them in overtime in 2013 and 2015). But this might be a particularly ill-timed matchup with the bullies of the AFC East because New England is coming off a bye week that followed a 24-point loss to the Tennessee Titans.
By the time they kick this one off Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Bill Belichick will have had 13 days to stew over that abysmal performance in Nashville.
That has our crew in agreement: This'll be a blowout.
"When the Patriots last lost a game by that many points, against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014, they followed it up with a 26-point victory over a Bengals team that was 3-0 at the time," Gagnon said. "Considering that the Jets have averaged 10.8 points per game in four consecutive losses to the Pats, and that Gang Green is two weeks removed from a 31-point home loss to the Buffalo freakin' Bills, I don't see this one staying close."
We should point out that the Jets often do play the Pats tough at home. Both of those overtime wins came in East Rutherford, and they haven't lost to New England at home by more than seven points since 2012.
But every streak has an expiration date.
Davenport: New England (-9.5)
Gagnon: New England (-9.5)
Sobleski: New England (-9.5)
Consensus: New England (-9.5)
Score Prediction: New England 31, New York 13
Arizona Cardinals (2-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)
The Arizona Cardinals have played relatively well on the road this season, beating San Francisco by a double-digit margin and avoiding embarrassment in Minnesota and Kansas City. But the Cardinals are slipping as Josh Rosen's difficult rookie season wears on, and they might be in the wrong place at the wrong time in the case of this weekend's meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Figuring that the Chargers will angrily bounce back from their first unexpected loss of the season in a home matchup with a significantly inferior team, our analysts agree unanimously that the Bolts will cover a 12.5-point spread in a one-sided victory over the Cards.
Still, there's some trepidation. There almost always is when we're talking about the Chargers.
"Screw this game and both teams in it," Davenport shouted, presumably. "The Chargers finally Chargered last week and choked away a 12-point second-half lead against the Denver Broncos, while the Cardinals managed to find a new nadir for their season by losing at home to Oakland. That's right. They lost…at home…to Oakland. I got both picks wrong—not that I'm bitter or anything. I hate the idea of trusting the Chargers to cover a spread this large—but not as much as I hate the idea of backing the Redbirds after last week's turkey. Get it? Turkey? Here's hoping the Bolts are honked off after last week's collapse and take it out on Arizona."
This game probably shouldn't take more than your loose change, simply because the Cards are erratic and the Chargers are the Chargers, and that's a big number. Still, the Los Angeles defense has been strong and Rosen has completed just 52.5 percent of his passes while posting an atrocious 64.5 rating in his last two games. His pass protection hasn't been there at all, which could give a finally healthy Joey Bosa a chance to reintroduce himself often.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-12.5)
Gagnon: Los Angeles (-12.5)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-12.5)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-12.5)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 28, Arizona 13
Miami Dolphins (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5)
You might see a wide variety of lines for Sunday's critical matchup between perceived AFC wild-card contenders in Indianapolis, but the most common spread right now has the Colts laying 7.5 points at home against the Miami Dolphins.
Our analysts agree across the board that the favorite is a contender and the underdog is a pretender.
"The Colts are rolling, scoring 36.5 points per game over the last four contests," Sobleski said. "The Dolphins offense has only scored 30 or more points once this season in an overtime contest against the Bears. Even with Ryan Tannehill's return to the lineup, Miami doesn't have the firepower to keep up with Indianapolis."
Tannehill could be rusty after six weeks off, and it's not as though he was lighting up the football world before suffering the shoulder injury that gave us five Brock Osweiler performances to behold. The 30-year-old had a combined 54.0 passer rating in back-to-back one-sided losses to New England and Cincinnati. The Dolphins defense was also starting to crack then, and it has only gotten worse. Miami has surrendered 34.5 points per game in its last four road outings.
With a slumping defense, a less-than-100-percent quarterback who wasn't on fire to begin with and a depleted offensive line, the Dolphins aren't likely to hang around with a smoking-hot opponent on the road.
Davenport: Indianapolis (-7.5)
Gagnon: Indianapolis (-7.5)
Sobleski: Indianapolis (-7.5)
Consensus: Indianapolis (-7.5)
Score Prediction: Indianapolis 34, Miami 17
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1) at Denver Broncos (4-6)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six consecutive games by at least four points each, while the Denver Broncos haven't won at home since Week 2.
That's enough for our analysts to unanimously back Pittsburgh as a mere three-point favorite Sunday in Denver, but you won't find anyone chock-full of confidence when picking against the Broncos at Mile High.
"This was one of the harder calls to make this week—Denver getting points at home is tempting given how tight they usually play teams at Mile High even in defeat," Davenport said. "The Broncos are not a bad football team—if Pittsburgh plays another first half like it did in Jacksonville, there ain't gonna be a miracle comeback this time. But the Steelers know that—and know they have to keep winning to hold on to the No. 2 seed in the AFC. So I'll lay the field goal and go with the better team."
Indeed, while Denver hasn't won at home since Week 2, those three losses have come by a combined nine points against three division-leading opponents (Kansas City, the Rams and the Houston Texans). So don't touch this game if you can't grab the Steelers at or below a field goal, because anything higher is too risky.
"What makes the difference for me," Gagnon added, "is that the key to a Broncos victory in any given game is that pass rush. But I don't think there's a quarterback in football who is better protected than Ben Roethlisberger. I'm sure this'll be a close game, but it's not a good matchup for Denver."
Davenport: Pittsburgh (-3)
Gagnon: Pittsburgh (-3)
Sobleski: Pittsburgh (-3)
Consensus: Pittsburgh (-3)
Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 26, Denver 23
Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)
This is a trap!
At least that's what our analysts fear. They'd strongly consider siding with the Minnesota Vikings as a field-goal favorite at home, but once you give a potentially furious and well-rested Green Bay Packers team more than three points in a must-win game, you've pushed it too far.
"My indigestion is back," confessed a frustrated Davenport. "The Packers have lost every game they've played away from Lambeau this year, the defense isn't especially good and the Vikings are no doubt seething after getting slapped around by the Bears in a game that wasn't as close as the score. So why am I backing the Pack here? Three words: desperate Aaron Rodgers.
"The Packers are done, but they're still in the first stage of grief about the 2018 season—denial. If this spread was three or less, I'd be on the Vikings. But it's not, so I'm taking the hook and banking on Rodgers' standing on his head and keeping this close."
Gagnon echoed that sentiment by predicting that even if the Packers lose to a superior team, Rodgers will find a way to make it a dramatic loss. The highest-rated passer in NFL history rarely goes down without a fight, and Rodgers hasn't lost by more than three points in Minnesota this decade (excluding last year's meeting, when he was hurt after throwing just four passes).
Throw in that the Packers have been blessed with extra time to prepare following a Thursday night game in Seattle and that the Vikes could be pooped following a tough Sunday night loss in Chicago, and Green Bay looks like the safer bet.
Davenport: Green Bay (+3.5)
Gagnon: Green Bay (+3.5)
Sobleski: Green Bay (+3.5)
Consensus: Green Bay (+3.5)
Score Prediction: Minnesota 26, Green Bay 24
Tennessee Titans (5-5) at Houston Texans (7-3)
The Tennessee Titans may or may not have quarterback Marcus Mariota on Monday night against the Houston Texans in the Lone Star State, which is why our friends at OddsShark had only one spread listed for said matchup Wednesday afternoon.
That line has the Texans giving six, which would probably be a gift to Titans backers if Mariota were to play. After all, the Titans beat Houston in Nashville without Mariota earlier this season.
"That took place before Houston got hot," Gagnon said, "but the Jekyll-and-Hyde Titans have also been more Jekyll (impressive wins over Houston, Jacksonville, Philly, Dallas and New England) than Hyde (ugly losses to Buffalo, Baltimore and Indy), and they're due to bounce back after laying an egg against the Colts.
"The Texans have won seven straight, but that includes two overtime wins and two two-point victories. They're also due for a fresh result. They might catch a break if Mariota doesn't play, but Blaine Gabbert quarterbacked the Titans when they beat Houston in Week 2. Either quarterback should at least be able to keep this within a handful of points."
His colleagues agree.
Davenport: Tennessee (+6)
Gagnon: Tennessee (+6)
Sobleski: Tennessee (+6)
Consensus: Tennessee (+6)
Score Prediction: Houston 21, Tennessee 17