Bleacher Report's Expert Week 12 NFL Picks
Happy Thanksgiving, America! And to the rest of the football-loving world outside of the United States, happy Call in Sick to Watch Football Day! You still have a little time to devise the perfect excuse.
Maybe you're looking to make the holiday more interesting by laying down some legal bets, maybe you're in an office pool that is becoming far too heated entering the home stretch, or maybe you just want an edge against the spread in another capacity as Week 12 hits early on Thursday afternoon.
Regardless, Bleacher Report national NFL writers Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, B/R Gridiron editors Ian Kenyon and Wes O'Donnell, and B/R Betting host Connor Rogers have many spread-related takes on Thursday's games as well as the 12 other games on the Week 12 slate in their weekly ATS picks.
Let's dive in.
Chicago Bears (3-7) at Detroit Lions (0-9-1)
DraftKings Line: Chicago -3
The Detroit Lions continue to be winless but also continue to be feisty. Took the Pittsburgh Steelers to overtime on the road and then fell just three points short of the Browns in Cleveland. But the Chicago Bears still have more talent, and their last two losses to Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens have come by just five total points.
So it's no surprise the Bears are a somewhat generic three-point favorite Thursday in the Motor City, and it's no more surprising that the panel is deadlocked.
Davenport on Chicago: "It's fitting that the Bears and Lions are playing on Thanksgiving, because this game has the makings of a real turkey. Kidding aside, both of these teams have sizable injury concerns, including at quarterback. But the Bears might actually be a better offensive team with Andy Dalton starting, and Detroit hasn't been able to move the ball consistently regardless of which stiff is under center. Lay the points… and pass the Pepto."
Sobleski on Detroit: "The Lions are the NFL's worst team, but they remain competitive. The squad hasn't given up despite an 0-9-1 record. With Jared Goff's potential return to the lineup and the Bears struggling through a five-game losing streak, Detroit could taste victory for the first time."
And yeah, it's Thanksgiving in Detroit and the Bears are the ones traveling on real short rest, but Detroit is 0-4 straight-up and 1-3 against the spread the last four years on this date.
Score Prediction: Bears 23, Lions 20
Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) at Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
DraftKings Line: Dallas -7.5
It was also a close call with the limping Dallas Cowboys laying a touchdown plus a hook at home Thursday against the slumping Las Vegas Raiders. Ultimately, the slimmest possible majority was willing to lay the points, but we wouldn't fault you for having reservations either way in this spot.
"In the last three weeks the Raiders have lost to the New York Giants by seven, the Kansas City Chiefs by 27 and the Cincinnati Bengals by 19," Rogers said in defense of those on Dallas. "After a promising start, they've barely looked competitive in this recent stretch. The Cowboys might be without CeeDee Lamb in addition to Amari Cooper, but Michael Gallup can hold the fort on the short week as a high-volume weapon. This should be a 'get right' week for Dak Prescott and the entire Dallas roster."
Dallas hasn't been consistent, but it's true that Las Vegas hasn't been in the game ever since encountering significant off-field issues earlier this fall. Now they're traveling on super-short rest, and their opponent might at least get stalwart left tackle Tyron Smith back from an ankle injury.
So we're reluctantly joining two-thirds of the country in support of America's Team, who are 8-2 ATS this season.
Davenport: Las Vegas
Gagnon: Las Vegas
Score Prediction: Cowboys 31, Raiders 20
Buffalo Bills (6-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-5)
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -5.5
The Buffalo Bills have been particularly prone to out-of-nowhere dud performances this season, but none of those have come in consecutive weeks. They're 3-0 both straight-up and against the spread coming off losses in 2021, and all of their wins have come by 15 or more points.
So why are they laying just 5.5 Thursday night against a New Orleans Saints team mired in a three-game losing streak? Beats us. The entire gang is laying the points.
"The well-coached Saints really need this and they do have obvious advantages when it comes to location and timing here," Gagnon admitted, "but that's not enough. This should have been a seven-plus-point spread from the get-go. The Bills have had their issues with elite running backs, but Alvin Kamara is far from 100 percent for the Saints, and interim starting quarterback Trevor Siemian has come back to earth. I don't expect this to be a blowout, but the Bills should take care of business with a multi-score victory."
Kamara and Mark Ingram are both dealing with knee injuries, and it's entirely possible neither will play on Thursday night. Throw in tight end Adam Trautman's fresh knee injury and it's difficult to see the Saints keeping up here.
Score Prediction: Bills 28, Saints 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
DraftKings Line: Tampa Bay -2.5
Following somewhat of a midseason slump, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appeared to redeem themselves with a dominant performance against the New York Giants Monday night. They'll be in a tougher spot Sunday against the surging Indianapolis Colts on short rest, but they're laying less than a field goal and the majority of our pickers are cool backing the defending Super Bowl champs under those circumstances.
That said, it's far from a no-brainer.
"I don't like anything about this game," O'Donnell said. "The Bucs don't allow teams to run the football at all, and that's all the Colts want to do with league-leading rusher Jonathan Taylor. Something has to give, right? Taking the points on a short week with the home team is probably the safer play, but if the Bucs can corral JT they'll beat the Colts by way more than three points."
That's probably true, although you never know when Carson Wentz might shine, and the Bucs' shorthanded secondary has been vulnerable this season. With that in mind, our gang would likely be leaning Indy's way with a hook in their back pocket. Instead, at -2.5, you have to essentially believe the Colts can win this thing outright, and that's a dangerous leap considering that this is about when the Bucs took off in 2020.
Davenport: Tampa Bay
Gagnon: Tampa Bay
Kenyon: Tampa Bay
O'Donnell: Tampa Bay
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 28, Colts 24
New York Jets (2-8) at Houston Texans (2-8)
DraftKings Line: Houston -2.5
Few will watch when the New York Jets battle the Houston Texans in a matchup between two teams with a combined four victories, and relatively few will likely put significant stakes on a bet involving either of those unreliable teams. So it makes sense that the crew is split with Houston laying 2.5 points at home.
Davenport on Gang Green: "Picking a team here feels like choosing which knee to be hit with a hammer on—either way you're going to be hopping up and down and swearing at some point. The Texans shocked the Titans last week, but that was a game in which Houston managed just 190 yards of offense, and the Texans are dead last in both total offense and scoring offense. This isn't a matter of 'liking' the Jets so much as it is reluctance to lay points with Houston's non-existent offense."
Kenyon on the Texans: "Am I really picking the Texans to win a game and cover points? I am! The Texans have played winnable NFL football when Tyrod Taylor has been under center this year, coming off a huge road win over the Titans. There's letdown potential here, but they get the Jets at home, and New York has yet to win on the road this year."
In fact, they've surrendered 99 total points in their last two road games.
Davenport: New York
Gagnon: New York
Rogers: New York
Score Prediction: Texans 24, Jets 21
Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) at New York Giants (3-7)
DraftKings Line: Philadelphia -3.5
We have another hook in play with the surging Philadelphia Eagles taking on the potentially flustered New York Giants Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Without that hook, it'd be hard to justify backing the G-Men after they laid an egg against the Bucs Monday night before firing offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but the Giants covered in both of their matchups with Philly last year and you just never know what to expect in these NFC East matchups between mediocre teams.
Sobleski on Philadelphia: "The Eagles found their winning formula. They're running the ball successfully behind arguably the game's most physical offensive front and taking full advantage of Jalen Hurts' dual-threat capabilities. One the opposite side of the field, the Giants lack any kind of identity. No one on offense is playing particularly well. New York hasn't scored 30 points in the team's last 21 games, while Philadelphia has done it twice in the last two weeks (and three of their last four outings)."
Gagnon on the Giants: "By no means do I trust the Giants, but I don't feel any better about laying more than a field goal with the Eagles on the road. They're playing solid football, but that defense is still vulnerable and let's not forget that the Giants won two of three prior to their Week 10 bye. A dud against the Bucs isn't that shameful. They'll put up a fight against a similar-caliber team here."
You're rolling the dice either way in this spot.
Davenport: New York
Gagnon: New York
O'Donnell: New York
Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Giants 21
Carolina Panthers (5-6) at Miami Dolphins (4-7)
DraftKings Line: Carolina -2
The Miami Dolphins are riding a three-game winning streak, while the Carolina Panthers are just 2-6 in their last eight games. But a slim majority of the panel is willing to lay two points with Carolina in Miami Sunday afternoon.
"The Dolphins are coming off a road win against the Jets," Rogers said, "but their offense still has major question marks. The pass protection is a disaster and the run game isn't consistent enough. This won't be easy sailing for the Panthers offense, but their defense should dominate."
Nearly three-quarters of the public is also on Carolina, but two members of our staff—including this year's picks leader, Gagnon—are fading that and this majority with Miami.
"Is Carolina really a better team than Miami?" Gagnon asked. "I don't see it that way and recent trends don't indicate that either, so why would I lay points with them on the road?"
Fair enough. Bettor beware.
Score Prediction: Panthers 24, Dolphins 20
Tennessee Titans (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4)
DraftKings Line: New England -6
Our last deadlock from the early slate of Sunday games comes in a critical matchup between two AFC division leaders with a lot in common as the streaking New England Patriots host the conference-leading Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium.
In this case, the Pats were once favored by only a point or two, but recent results for both sides and public betting in favor of New England have worked to push the line close to a touchdown.
Kenyon on Tennessee: "The Titans were one of the NFL's hottest teams before losing a home game to the Texans. The Patriots will still likely win this game, but it should be close and there's good backdoor cover potential with this line. A.J. Brown's status could shift me toward New England, but if Ryan Tannehill has his top target, I think this game should remain closer than 5.5."
O'Donnell on New England: "The Titans should bounce back from their inexcusable loss to the Texans. Even without star running back Derrick Henry, they've proven to be a legitimate force. All signs point to the Titans covering, if not winning this game outright against a Patriots team that hasn't lost in over a month. But there's something about this home side that has me believing, and needing just a potential late touchdown to cover in Foxborough, I'm willing to roll the dice."
The Titans have won back-to-back meetings, including a playoff matchup two years ago, but they rode Henry heavily to that postseason victory and he's not there to play hero this time. That also could be the case with Brown, who is dealing with a new chest injury.
This is a tricky one.
Davenport: New England
O'Donnell: New England
Sobleski: New England
Score Prediction: Patriots 23, Titans 17
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
DraftKings Line: Cincinnati -4
The Cincinnati Bengals easily defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season, and now Pittsburgh's arguably in worse shape from a health standpoint. But the Bengals have become unpredictable of late, and most of the gang is uncool with laying four points with Cincy for the rematch between AFC North foes Sunday in Ohio.
"That the Bengals are angling for the season sweep here shows how weird the 2021 season has been," Davenport said. "Pittsburgh should get some of the defenders who missed last week's narrow loss to the Chargers back here, and Pittsburgh knows this is all but a 'must win' game lest the Steelers fall too far off the pace in a tightly-packed AFC North. I think the Steelers win a close one outright here, so getting over a field goal on top of that is just too good to pass up."
This could be likely. The Bengals remain young. The Steelers have vast experience and are always competitive. The Bengals haven't swept a season series against Pittsburgh since 2009, and even if that happens here, there's a good chance it comes via a margin of three points or fewer.
Throw in that the Steelers might get T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden back on defense and this seems clear.
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Bengals 21
Atlanta Falcons (4-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)
DraftKings Line: Atlanta -1
Nobody likes picking the Atlanta Falcons, especially when favored. But we're only talking about a single point here for a well-rested team in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have lost 11 of their last 12 games. So while Atlanta might be unreliable, it's not surprising that at least a slim majority of the gang is backing the Falcons here.
"At this point, the idea of throwing a dart to pick between the Falcons and Jaguars seems like a better idea than trying to rationalize which one of these flailing teams will play better," Sobleski admitted. "In this case, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Arthur Smith are more trustworthy than Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer."
That's hard to dispute. The Jags have shown some life of late, but this remains a team that has lost 23 of its last 25 games overall and was crushed at home by a flawed San Francisco 49ers squad in Week 11. And while Ryan has been hot and cold this year, he was at least cold last and has had a few extra days to prepare for a very weak opponent.
This would be a lot more complicated if those on Atlanta were facing a hook. If you're going to put up cash, it's tough to justify doing so with Jacksonville in a virtual pick'em.
Score Prediction: Falcons 26, Jaguars 23
Los Angeles Chargers (6-4) at Denver Broncos (5-5)
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -3
Our second clean sweep of the week comes with the Los Angeles Chargers laying a field goal for a critical divisional matchup with the Denver Broncos, who have drawn less than 20 percent of public bets.
"Fading the public is often recommended," Gagnon said, "but when the public backing rate climbs that high, it can be a sign we're dealing with a stubborn line. This one has only moved from -2.5 in some spots. Those on L.A. still aren't facing a hook, which makes it hard not to feel confident about a push in the worst-case scenario."
Denver did beat the Chargers in Colorado last November, and both 2020 matchups between the two NFC West foes were close. Plus, all five Denver wins this season have come by seven or more points. But the Chargers rarely get handily defeated, and the Broncos looked lifeless in a brutal home loss to the Eagles last time out. They'll also potentially be without both of their starting offensive tackles for a matchup with Joey Bosa.
It's not a good spot for them.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Kenyon: Los Angeles
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Chargers 30, Broncos 17
Los Angeles Rams (7-3) at Green Bay Packers (8-3)
DraftKings Line: Green Bay -1
How good are the Green Bay Packers? Sure, they're a league-best 9-2 against the spread, but they've lost two of their last three games, they'd been held to 27 or fewer points in seven consecutive outings before scoring 31 but surrendering 34 in a Week 11 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and they rank 13th in the NFL in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders.
And yet, they're favored this week to beat a Los Angeles Rams team that is superior on paper, healthier off paper and coming off a bye. Even with L.A. having lost back-to-back games before said bye, nearly the entire crew is taking a point with Matthew Stafford and Co.
"Coming off back-to-back losses, a trip to Green Bay isn't exactly what the Rams love to see," Rogers admitted. "With that being said, the Packers have played in a ton of close games this year and have key injuries across their offense. I think the Los Angeles defensive line wreaks havoc in a down-to-the-wire nail-biter."
Aaron Donald and Co. could have a field day. The Packers were already without star left tackle David Bakhtiari before losing thriving replacement Elgton Jenkins to a torn ACL in Week 11. Rodgers is also hampered by a toe injury, and both Rashan Gary (elbow) and Allen Lazard (core) are question marks as well for the depleted Packers.
Look for the Rams to get back on track in this spot.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Kenyon: Green Bay
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Rams 26, Packers 24
Minnesota Vikings (5-5) at San Francisco 49ers (5-5)
DraftKings Line: San Francisco -3
The final hung jury of the week comes with the San Francisco 49ers laying a typical field goal at home in a matchup with a Minnesota Vikings squad that has similar talent and possesses the same 5-5 record. This is Vegas shouting it doesn't know which team is better, and neither do we. They're ranked a few spots apart in DVOA, and they both need this one badly.
O'Donnell on San Francisco: "Everybody knows the Vikes should probably have a better record than their 5-5 mark. They haven't lost by more than a touchdown all season and they're tied for the league lead in not turning the ball over. But they can't be trusted to be consistent or get lucky. Riding a two-game win streak, it's time for Minnesota to regress to the norm. A trip to San Fran, a team also finding its stride as players get healthy, will show the real Vikings, and I'm not willing to bet on them."
Kenyon on Minnesota: "Nine of the Vikings' first 10 games this year have been decided by one score and this one should be no different. Coming off back-to-back huge wins over the Chargers and Packers, the Vikings ride into Santa Clara full of confidence. This should be another close game with the surging 49ers but give me the points for Minnesota."
Everybody's expecting a close game, and the public is about split as well. This might come down to who you trust more.
Gagnon: San Francisco
O'Donnell: San Francisco
Rogers: San Francisco
Score Prediction: Vikings 26, 49ers 23
Cleveland Browns (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
DraftKings Line: Baltimore -4
It's hard to get a strong feel for Sunday night's key AFC North matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, mainly because Cleveland's roster is in a significant amount of flux.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is beginning to resemble a rag doll for Cleveland, while Jarvis Landry (knee), Kareem Hunt (calf), Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin), Anthony Schwartz (concussion) and Troy Hill (neck) remain question marks as well. And that's created enough uncertainty for all of our pickers to lay four points with Baltimore at home.
"Even if the Browns get some key guys healthier this week," Gagnon said, "they're still going to be hurting overall. This team is a mess, and it showed with back-to-back poor performances against New England and Detroit. Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson should be back and fresh for the Ravens, who eventually have to win a game in typical blowout fashion. This could be that game."
The rest of the gang agrees, but watch that injury report.
Score Prediction: Ravens 27, Browns 17
Seattle Seahawks (3-7) at Washington Football Team (4-6)
DraftKings Line: Washington -1
We close with a near-pick'em between 2020 NFC divisional champions who have struggled in 2021. But the Seattle Seahawks have been flailing a lot more than the Washington Football Team, and there's evidence the two teams are headed in opposite directions of late.
With that in mind, nearly the entire panel is laying a single point with Washington at home in prime time.
"This is a difficult call between a pair of teams that haven't come close to meeting expectations in 2021," Davenport said. "But while the Seahawks continue to flounder, Washington has peeled off a couple of wins, including a stunner over the Buccaneers a couple of weeks ago.
"If Russell Wilson was close to 100 percent, he'd have his way with Washington's secondary. But he has looked absolutely awful the past two games, and the Washington offense is playing substantially better of late. Seattle's nightmare season rolls on."
But Gagnon, who leads the pack this season, disagrees. He can't imagine Wilson laying another egg, even if it just means redemption for his ego. Washington hasn't been reliable and is without top defender Chase Young, and this is the Seahawks' last shot at competing this season. It's possible a veteran Seattle team will dig deep, but the vast majority of the crew isn't counting on that.
Score Prediction: Washington 27, Seahawks 20
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