NFL WEEK 12: Thanksgiving Day is about food, family, and football, and if we’re being honest you never quite know what you’re going to get from any of the holiday’s three main elements. Sometimes you get a perfect, juicy turkey with several delectable side dishes, and other times you get a dry, overcooked bird served with inedible squash casserole and cranberry sauce that tastes like motor oil. Sometimes you get to have some laughs with seldom-seen friends or relatives, and other times you get cornered by the uncle who insists on talking politics while showering you with spittle and food bits that were stuck between his dentures before finding a new home on your cheek.
The football can be similarly unpredictable, though with the Lions always on the menu we know we’ll have to choke down some lukewarm vegetables at some point. And sitting through three hours of Andy Dalton vs. Jared Goff was pretty much exactly how you would expect it to be– long stretches of boredom and ineptitude punctuated by a few chuckles and an overriding feeling of gratitude that you’re not a fan of either team. Imagine being emotionally invested in such a clown show!
The late game was just as unwatchable, with the Bills absolutely pummeling an overmatched Saints team, but we had some fun in the afternoon window, as the Raiders and Cowboys went back and forth in a crucial game for both teams before Vegas kicker Daniel Carlson ended it with a 34-yard field goal in overtime. It was riveting television, particularly when compared with the Bears/Lions snoozefest that preceded it, and tens of millions of people apparently agreed, as the game drew 38 million viewers, making it the most-watched regular season NFL game in over 30 years.
The Thanksgiving action was merely an appetizer for what is a terrific Week 12 slate, with 7 of Sunday’s 10 games pitting teams that are both .500 or better. Here are four that I’ll be playing:
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals (CIN -3.5, 45)
Recommendation: Cincinnati -3.5 at 1.96
The Steelers have dominated this rivalry in recent years, but when these teams met in Week 3 it was the Bengals who played bully ball, shutting down the Pittsburgh rushing attack and intercepting Ben Roethlisberger twice in a 14-point victory. Steelers RB Najee Harris rushed for just 40 yards on 14 carries in that game, with 20 of the yards coming on one run, and the Cincinnati defense has continued to be stout up front, ranking 6th in the NFL with just 98 rush ypg allowed. That means Roethlisberger will likely be forced to air it out more than usual in this game, which would make me nervous if I were a Steelers fan. The Pittsburgh offense has been so reliant on Harris in large part because Roethlisberger no longer seems up for the part of carrying the offense– he looks all of his 39 years, and it doesn’t help that he lacks a true No. 1 option at receiver. You could argue that Big Ben’s counterpart in this game, Cincy’s Joe Burrow, has three receivers that would top Pittsburgh’s WR depth chart, and as a result the Bengals passing attack has been highly effective, leading the league with 8.5 yards per pass attempt. These teams are only separated by a half-game in the standings, but the Bengals are clearly superior on offense and their defense matches up well with the run-first Steelers. Plus, Cincinnati’s last three wins have all come by 19 points or more, so there’s no reason to get squeamish about the 3.5-point number here.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants (PHI -3.5, 45.5)
Recommendation: New York +3.5 at 1.98
When the Giants are bad, they can be one of the ugliest, most difficult-to-watch teams in the NFL, as was the case last week, when they produced just 215 total yards in a 30-10 loss to Tampa Bay. But they’re really not quite as bad as most seem to think they are– they’re 2-2 in their last 4 games, with wins over Carolina and Oakland and a 3-point loss at Kansas City to go along with last week’s Tampa debacle. This week they fired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, a move that was long overdue in the estimation of many NFL observers, and replaced him with Freddie Kitchens, who was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator and then head coach before getting a job coaching tight ends in New York. Kitchens has a reputation as a sharp and creative play-caller, and we can expect some new wrinkles from the Giants offense in this game, with the freshness and new looks potentially giving them a competitive advantage against a vulnerable Philly D that has given up 27 points or more in each of the team’s last five losses. The Eagles offense has shown signs of improvement lately, but it’s still an extraordinarily one-dimensional attack, as only four teams leaguewide average fewer passing yards per game. Jalen Hurts is going to have to keep the chains moving with his legs, and that just doesn’t feel like a recipe for success in a divisional road game. Gimme the home ‘dog here.
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots (NE -7, 43.5)
Recommendation: Tennessee +7 at 1.91
The Titans have taken one hit after another on the injury front but they kept on winning until last week, when their lack of healthy offensive weapons finally caught up with them in an ugly loss to Houston. They have a veteran defense, though, and they like to get after the quarterback with multiple blitz packages. New England QB Mac Jones has been awfully poised and composed for a rookie, but this is a tough spot for him, as the Titans are excellent against the run (5th in the NFL in rush yds allowed) and have registered 27 sacks, the 4th-most in the AFC. I don’t see the Patriots scoring more than 20-25 points in this game, so for them to cover the 7-point number they’re going to have to totally shut down the Tennessee offense, and though the absence of Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and Julio Jones makes that task considerably easier, we’ve seen Ryan Tannehill rise to the challenge repeatedly this season and I expect him to be the clear best QB on the field in this one. The Pats have been fattening up on some bad teams, beating the likes of Atlanta, Carolina, New York, and Cleveland (sans Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb) in this current winning streak, but they’ll be in for a fight on Sunday despite Tennessee’s injury concerns. Seven points is too many in this situation.
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Football Team (WAS -1, 46.5)
Recommendation: Washington moneyline at 1.9
The hope in Seattle was that Russell Wilson was going to swoop in and save the season, and though Wilson did make his return in Green Bay a couple of weeks ago, the offense has continued to be utterly ineffective, producing just 13 points over the last eight quarters of game action. Injuries on the offensive line and in the backfield haven’t helped, but Wilson himself doesn’t look quite healthy, and time is running out on the 3-7 ‘Hawks. That might actually be putting it too mildly– at five games back in the division after losing 5 of their last 6, all hope might already be lost, and that feeling is driven home anytime you listen to a Pete Carroll press conference these days or take a glance at the injury report. In Washington, meanwhile, there is renewed optimism after back-to-back wins, as the Football Team is now just two games back of division-leading Dallas in the NFC East. Duel-threat QB Taylor Heinicke has found his footing and is playing good football again after some midseason struggles, and he’ll be facing a Seattle defense that has allowed more yards than every team but the Jets. The ‘Hawks have been particularly bad in the secondary– not only can they not cover anybody, they can’t rush the passer, either, so opposing QBs have put together some career days against this defense. Heinicke doesn’t need big numbers to get the job done in this one, he just needs to protect the ball. I’m betting he will and that Washington will move one step closer to another playoff berth.