NFL WEEK 12: For many Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday is about three things: food, family, and football. The football is often used as an escape from the family, and the food sort of ties the whole thing together. It just wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving if you weren’t grotesquely overstuffed, sitting on an uncomfortable piece of furniture in an older relative’s house watching the Lions while your great-uncle wears his death mask and snores away in the chair beside you.
It’s glorious, really. A day to over-indulge, lay around, and let 9+ hours of football wash over you. There are three games this Thursday, as usual, and it’s our mission to fatten our wallet while we fatten our bellies. And we’ve been doing a pretty good job with that mission lately, going 7-1 on the picks over the past two weeks. Let’s see if we can keep it going with these five games:
L.A. CHARGERS @ DALLAS COWBOYS (THU.) (pk, 48)
Recommendation: Los Angeles moneyline at 1.86
The Chargers are 4-6 and Dallas is 5-5, but it sure feels like these teams are headed in opposite directions. The Cowboys seem to be unraveling after back-to-back blowout losses, the last one a 37-9 walloping at the hands of division rival Philadelphia. They’re still without some of their best players on both sides of the ball, as Ezekiel Elliott is serving his league-mandated suspension and linebacker Sean Lee, a defensive captain and probably the unit’s best player, is still injured and out. And the ‘Boys could be without All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith again this week as he fights through a groin injury.
Smith’s status is especially important, as the Dallas o-line has been a disaster lately, allowing 11 sacks in the team’s last two games, and they’ll be facing a Chargers defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and features two dynamic pass-rushers in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. L.A. also has a balanced yet explosive offense that is coming off its best performance of the season— a 30-point drubbing of the Buffalo Bills in which they put up 54 points (aided by five Nathan Peterman turnovers, but still..). The Chargers have now won 4 of their past 6 games, and that’s after totally throwing one away in Jacksonville two weeks ago. For my money, they may be the NFL’s most underrated team at the moment, and I expect them to take care of business against the fading Cowboys on Thursday.
N.Y. GIANTS @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS (THU.) (Was -7, 44.5)
Recommendation: New York +7 at 1.9
At 2-8, the Giants might be the single most disappointing team in the NFL this season. But they’re coming off their best performance of the year, a 12-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, so it’s clear that they haven’t folded up the tent and begun making their offseason plans just yet. And with their playoff dreams all but dead, this week’s game— against a division rival on Thanksgiving night, when the entire football-watching world will be tuning in— is effectively their Super Bowl. I think we’re going to see a motivated, engaged Giants team here, and if last week is any indication, they’ll pull out all the stops in pursuit of victory: trick plays, fakes, 4th-down gambles, etc.
The current state of the Redskins has to give New York some confidence. The Skins have lost 4 of 5 and they’re coming off an absolutely gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of New Orleans, blowing a two-score lead late in the 4th quarter and going on to lose in overtime. The defense has fallen apart, surrendering 33 points or more in four of the team’s past five games, and the offense has been ravaged by injuries, the latest victim being running back Chris Thompson, who has probably been the team’s most productive offensive player this season. They’ll now turn to rookie Samaje Perine, but he’ll be running behind a patchwork offensive line that will be shuffling guys around again and may be rolling out a new center. Kirk Cousins has been solid, but the Giants have a decent secondary that totally shut down the Alex Smith-led Kansas City passing attack last week, so I’m not expecting video game-like numbers from Cousins in this one. Something tells me that this will be a tougher-than-expected game for the ‘Skins, and I think the G-Men are worth a long look as 7-point ‘dogs.
CAROLINA PANTHERS @ N.Y. JETS (Car -4.5, 39.5)
Recommendation: New York +4.5 at 1.89; New York moneyline at 2.86
At first glance, this game seems fairly straightforward: the Panthers have won three straight and now sit at 7-3 on the season, while the Jets have lost 4 of 5 to sink to 4-6, their postseason hopes on life support. But I have reason to believe that this one might be closer than some of the “experts” think. I’m telling you: don’t sleep on the Jets here. They’re coming off a bye, and even in their recent rough stretch they haven’t played all that poorly, as their last four losses have each come by 7 points or fewer, and the only 7-point defeat came at the hands of New England.
I know, I know— the Panthers are better than the Jets on both sides of the ball, and they’re coming off a 24-point pasting of the Miami Dolphins. But prior to that Miami game the Carolina offense had really been struggling, averaging just 15.7 ppg in weeks 6-9, and the New York defense has been solid this season, limiting 7 of their last 8 opponents to 25 points or fewer. Carolina leads the NFL in time of possession, and the Jets also have a conservative, ball-control offense that tries to shorten the game and limit the opposing team’s opportunities— it’s a big reason why they’ve been involved in so many close games this season. I’m expecting a fairly low-scoring game here, and if Josh McCown can make a couple of plays downfield I think the Jets have an excellent chance to pull the upset. That said, those 4.5 points could really come in handy.
DENVER BRONCOS @ OAKLAND RAIDERS (Oak -4.5, 43.5)
Recommendation: Oakland -4.5 at 1.83
The Raiders have had some serious problems lately, losing 5 of their last 7 games to fall to 4-6 on the season, but, still, their issues pale in comparison to what is going on in Denver. First-year coach Vance Joseph seems to have lost control of the ship, as the Broncos have continued to regress on both sides of the ball amidst reports of infighting and some very public criticism from general manager John Elway. Denver has now lost six straight games, failing to cover each time, and there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel, at least not in the short term.
The primary culprit has been the offense, a unit that has produced fewer than 20 points in 7 of the team’s past 8 games and doesn’t really do anything well. Because of this, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired a few days ago, but the problems run much deeper than the play-caller. The Broncos have dealt with substandard quarterback play all season, and Brock Osweiler will now join Trevor Siemian on the bench, as the team has decided to give the inexperienced Paxton Lynch a shot at quarterback. Lynch will be facing a bad Oakland defense, so he should have some opportunities for success, but the Raiders do have a capable offense that has produced 26 points or more in each of the team’s four wins, so Lynch will need to get things rolling.
A few weeks ago you would’ve said that Lynch would be aided by one of the NFL’s top defenses, but the Denver D seems to have lost interest lately, surrendering 140 combined points in the team’s past four games, and you get the feeling that the vets on that unit are fed up with the situation and already making their offseason plans. I think this Denver team is a sinking ship that bettors should avoid like the plague– I said it last week, and boy did they prove me right. I’m happy to continue to profit off of their misery, and Sunday provides us with another golden opportunity. Oakland should win this one comfortably.
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Pit -13.5, 41.5)
Recommendation: Pittsburgh -13.5 at 1.88
Have you ever seen a team fall apart as quickly as the Packers have since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone? I mean, Rodgers should probably be given the MVP award based solely on the fact that his absence is apparently enough to turn a Super Bowl contender into a hapless laughingstock. The Packers have now lost 4 of their last 5 games, and last week’s shutout loss at the hands of Baltimore was probably their ugliest performance yet. The defense is (still) substandard, ranking in the bottom-half of the league in both yards allowed and points allowed, and the offense looks completely hopeless with Brett Hundley under center in place of Rodgers. There is literally nothing good you could say about the Green Bay offense right now.
Unfortunately for them, this week they’ll be facing one of the NFL’s very best defenses— the Steelers rank 4th in the league in yards allowed, and only Jacksonville is allowing fewer points per game than Pittsburgh’s 16.5. A Packers offense that is averaging a mere 12 points per game in their past five contests will be lucky to score half that many. And though the Pittsburgh offense has had consistency issues this season, they just hung 40 points on Tennessee last week and should be able to keep things rolling against the vulnerable Green Bay D. When looking at this game, the only question is “by how many?”, and I don’t think 13.5 is enough. Don’t get cute here, back the better team.