Week 13 of the National Football League season lands on Thanksgiving weekend this year, meaning that instead of the usual one Thursday game, we get three today! The problem is (as has been the case the past few seasons) that these “Turkey Day” games are, in a manner of speaking, turkeys themselves!
We will have to wait until the late Sunday/Monday night games for the true feasts of the football weekend, but there is some drama to look forward to. With every team now complete with their bye weeks, the 32 NFL squads are making their push forward for the playoffs and the right (?) to head to New Jersey in February for Super Bowl XLVIII (home team in CAPS, choice for game in BOLD, lines from the Mirage in Las Vegas).
Green Bay Packers vs. DETROIT LIONS (-7)
One of the traditional combatants of Thanksgiving Day football, the Detroit Lions, come into this Thursday’s game still at the helm of the NFC North even after a stunning loss to Tampa Bay last weekend. Their opponent this year is one of those teams that are chasing them for the North title, the Green Bay Packers (only a half-game back at 5-5-1), but this team is a shell of its former self.
Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers is still at least another week away from making his return to the team from his broken collarbone, meaning that journeyman QB Matt Flynn (and calling him “journeyman” just encapsulates his last two years in the league) will take the snaps today. I can’t go for the Pack in this game with Flynn running the operation, so I’ll lay the points and take the Lions, who should put both QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson on display today.
Oakland Raiders vs. DALLAS COWBOYS (-8.5)
I really hate to give up more than a touchdown to the Cowboys, who haven’t exactly been stunning of late, but they seem to thrive in these Thanksgiving Day battles. Add into the fact that Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor is out for the game and backup Matthew McGloin is nursing some aches and pains and the ‘Boys D is whetting their chops for a quarterback sandwich before they even get to their Thanksgiving meal. Dallas needs this more than Oakland (with the Cowboys looking to keep their tenuous hold on the NFC East lead) and they should show up today, especially since they are at home where they are 4-1 this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+3) vs. BALTIMORE RAVENS
This is an elimination game in the AFC North as the winner will cling to hopes of a wild card (or potentially catching the Cincinnati Bengals) and the loser will most likely be done for the year. Something’s going to have to give in this game; the Steelers are 5-2 in their last seven games after starting the season 0-4, while the Ravens are 4-1 at home this season.
The reason for the Steelers’ surge rests entirely on the arm of QB Ben Roethlisberger. He leads the eighth ranked passing offense in the NFL (surprisingly) and WR Antonio Brown has broken out as a star. Rookie RB Le’Veon Bell has also added some punch to the Steelers’ offense, which leads me to take the boys from Steeltown over the defending Super Bowl champions and their lackluster offense this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+7) vs. CLEVELAND BROWNS
The Jaguars have actually shown signs of life over the past few weeks, winning their last two road games over Tennessee and Houston. While they’re not a threat to storm to the top of the AFC South (Indianapolis would have to literally collapse for that to happen), they are a competitive football team of late. Continuing the quarterback carousel in Cleveland, former starter Brandon Weeden will be under center in place of Jason Campbell and this doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence in the Browns. It’s going to be a close game and it could go either way, so take the points and the Jags in this match.
Tennessee Titans vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-4)
This is an iffy bet, especially after the travails that the Colts have undergone over the past few games. They barely beat Tennessee two weeks ago and, around that game, suffered whippings at the hands of St. Louis and Arizona. With this being a home game for the Colts, I’ve got to take them to cover against the Titans, who have yet to win a division game this season.
Chicago Bears (+1) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Here is an exercise in contrarian betting philosophy. The line initially opened at 2.5 points for the Bears but, over the past week, the betting public has gotten all over the Vikings’ ship to swing it to Vikings side. Quarterback Josh McCown of the Bears is probable for the game (as is RB Matt Forte) and the Bears should have enough defense to thwart the Vikings and take the game.
Miami Dolphins vs. NEW YORK JETS (-1.5)
Just last week, the Jets were in the final wild card slot. That was before they threw up a stinker against the Ravens and, while still in the mix, they need to win out and get quite a bit of help. Miami should give them that first step in winning, which will move them back up the ladder.
Arizona Cardinals vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-3.5)
The Cardinals need this game to try to keep pace with the San Francisco 49ers in the race for the final wild card slot in the NFC. Unfortunately, they have to travel east for this game on Sunday and, while the Eagles aren’t exactly wowing the football world with their home performance, the boys from Philadelphia should have enough to take the victory over the Cardinals.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+8) vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS
After losing their first eight games of the season, the Bucs have run off three consecutive victories to be one of the hottest teams in the NFL. That streak will come to an end, however, against an even hotter team in the Panthers (won their last seven). QB Cam Newton and the Panthers defense will be looking to catch up with the NFC South division leading New Orleans Saints (especially with the Saints having a tough road game), so they will be at their best in taking down the Buccaneers but they won’t beat the spread.
New England Patriots (-7.5) vs. HOUSTON TEXANS
Running high after their fluke overtime win over Denver last Sunday night, the Patriots travel to Houston to take on the woeful Texans. This line is actually probably too low; the Patriots seem to have everything running well behind QB Tom Brady and the Texans are in disarray after losing to Jacksonville last week. Expect the Patriots (who can clinch at least a tie for the AFC East title with a win) to have no mercy on the Texans and win this game going away.
Atlanta Falcons vs. BUFFALO BILLS (-3.5) (game in Toronto, Canada)
When is a home game not really a home game? When you’re the Buffalo Bills and you’re taking one of your trips to play a “home game” in Toronto, Canada. At least they chose well in their opponent for that game in the Falcons, who probably are neck-and-neck with the Texans for biggest disappointment of the 2013 NFL season. The biggest question will be whether the folks at the Rodgers Centre in Toronto open or shut the dome for the game; if they leave the dome open, the Bills should handily win the game. Even with the dome shut, the Bills will still cover the game.
St. Louis Rams (+8.5) vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
Even after their easy win over the Washington Redskins on Monday night, I am still not sold on the defending NFC champions. QB Colin Kaepernick hasn’t exactly shown the same brilliance he did last year, his offense is not quite clicking and the defense isn’t as aggressive as they were last year. The Rams will give them a game and, while not winning it, will at least keep it close.
Denver Broncos (-5) vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
This is one of the feast games of this weekend. These teams met two weeks ago and Denver was able to take down a workmanlike 27-17 win at Mile High Stadium to end Kansas City’s nine game winning streak. They both then went out and lost last week (the Broncos in the aforementioned fluke game against New England and the Chiefs against the San Diego Chargers). This time the stakes are a bit higher.
The winner of this game (especially if it’s the Broncos) will take command of the AFC West and the #1 seed in the playoffs with four weeks to go in the season. QB Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense will be looking to show that the Patriots loss was an anomaly and should put a third consecutive loss on the Chiefs’ resume.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (-1)
The Chargers stunned the Chiefs last week in a wild affair in Kansas City and come home with glimmers of hope for making the playoffs (some work still needed there). QB Phillip Rivers and RB Danny Woodhead will lead the offense against the Bengals, who are a disappointing 2-4 on the road this season. I expect that the Chargers, back home in the comfortable climes of San Diego, will take down the Bengals, who can’t afford another loss with Baltimore and Pittsburgh on their heels.
New York Giants (-1.5) vs. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Another game that has seen a wide swing in the line since it was announced last week. The Redskins started as a 2.5 point favorite but, as of today, they are now a 1.5 dog to the Giants. There are excellent reasons for that: QB Robert Griffin III isn’t using the read-option as he did last year (not threatening to run as much) either because of his knee injuries or because he wants to show he’s a “real” quarterback, there is a dearth of productivity on the offense around him and the defense couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. The Giants, still with visions of getting into the NFC East division title mix (losses by Dallas and Philly would help their cause), should beat their division rival easily.
New Orleans Saints vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (-5)
This is another feast game and probably the toughest call of the weekend. The Saints need this game to stay ahead of the hungry Panthers, but a road trip to Seattle isn’t the best way to go about it. If they were to win, the Saints would have the edge over the Seahawks for the NFC’s #1 seed in the playoffs and the home field advantage, something they can use with that Superdome crowd behind them.
Throw that all out the window, however. The Seahawks haven’t lost a home game in two years (credit to their own wildly fanatical base) and are hell-bent on holding onto that #1 seed. The Saints’ road record outside of a dome is 2-2 and the weather conditions for Monday night are calling for rain turning to snow during the game. They’ll be 2-3 after this game as the Saints have shown they aren’t that productive when they have to go outside of a domed stadium.
Last Week: Another disappointment, going 7-6-1 (the push wasn’t the Vikes/Pack tie (actually won that in taking the Vikes and the points); it was the Panthers win over the Dolphins). You need to have at least a 65% win percentage to consider a week profitable (then again, a wise sports bettor doesn’t bet every game!)…let’s see if we can actually do that this weekend.
Season: 85-81-9 and still crushing ESPN’s Bill Simmons, who is 75-94-6 right now!
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