The last two weeks have made finishing the year with a winning record seem like a pipe dream. I was just 4-9-1 against the spread last week and now sit at 68-84-7 on the year, but there is still lots of football left to be played.
My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.
Vikings (-3) at Lions – These teams are tough to wrap your arms around, but this Thanksgiving Day tilt is dripping with playoff implications. The Lions continue to get away with slow starts more often than they should. Matthew Stafford is the only reason for that. They have no balance whatsoever and have not had a 100-yard rusher in four years.
Case Keenum is playing way above his head. He has given the Vikings enough cushion so that they are almost certainly a playoff team. Even so, it is hard to think that he will not eventually come back to earth. For now though, the Vikings play better defense and run the ball better than this week’s opponent. Holding the Rams to seven points was the most impressive outing from a defense all year. Min 24 Det 17
Chargers (-1) at *Cowboys – The Cowboys’ season is on the line here. They have been physically dominated the last two weeks. With the AFC growing more mediocre by the week, the Chargers are also very much in the playoff mix, but they have to travel a fairly long way on a short week. Dallas tends to play well in their traditional Thanksgiving time slot, so they will find a way to win here. Dal 24 LAC 23
*Giants at Redskins (-7) – Washington has been the better team this year, but they lost their best running back last week in addition to their late-game collapse. Whatever playoff hopes they had probably went by the boards too. Given all that, they may check out on the season.
New York’s upset of Kansas City last week should provide incentive for them to keep playing hard. Timing is everything in this matchup and the timing is right for an upset. NYG 23 Was 20
Bills at Chiefs (-10) – This is the first of many large spreads this week. Both of these teams are struggling in a big way. They each look miles away from the teams that got off to two of the best starts in the league.
Kansas City is still in firm control of the AFC West despite losing four out of five games. Andy Reid has earned the benefit of the doubt and will likely get his team back on track before long. Alex Smith has regressed from being an MVP candidate in the first part of the season back to being the average Alex Smith that everyone should be used to. The Chiefs still have playmakers all over the field though.
It is hard to have that same confidence in Buffalo right now. Mercifully, the Nathan Peterman experiment ended after one disastrous half against the Chargers last week. The Bills are still very much in the AFC Wild Card mix. However, even with Tyrod Taylor back under center, Sean McDermott may have already lost this team.
Buffalo has given up 135 combined points during its current losing streak. Yet, they tinkered with the quarterback rather than the defense? It is absolutely mystifying, and it must feel that way for some of the players too. The walls are closing in on Buffalo. A trip to Kansas City will not make it any better. KC 24 Buf 13
Panthers (-4.5) at Jets – After being picked to go winless by many before the season, the Jets have fought the good fight all year long. But at 4-6, reality is starting to set in. Carolina has won three in a row and are finally figuring out how to use the young talent they drafted to help Cam Newton, who is also finding consistency. These two teams are headed in opposite directions. The Panthers keep rolling. The Jets keep fading. Car 28 NYJ 20
Bears at Eagles (-13.5) – The Eagles are showing no signs of slowing down. Carson Wentz is really good, and it seems like he gets help from different offensive weapons every week.
Meanwhile, Chicago has not been winning games consistently since rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky took over. They have been playing teams like Detroit, New Orleans and Minnesota right to the wire though. The Bears run the ball and play defense well enough to hang around with anybody in this league. Additionally, they do not even have to keep this one all that close to be a winning bet here. Phi 28 Chi 17
Browns at Bengals (-8) – Believe it or not, the Bengals are just a single game out of an AFC playoff spot. The winless Browns are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot as well. Take your pick as to which of those two facts is more unbelievable.
The Browns keep losing, but have played well in patches over the last handful of weeks. Moreover, the Bengals never blow anyone out, especially when they are supposed to. Look no further than the Indianapolis game from about a month ago. A.J. Green will make a big play late to help Cincinnati avoid disaster. Cin 16 Cle 13
Dolphins at Patriots (-16.5) – As usual, New England is the class of the AFC and Miami is far from it. Even so, 16.5 points in any NFL game is too many to give up. In a game between division rivals, it feels like stealing. NE 31 Mia 17
Buccaneers at Falcons (-10) – The Falcons are getting a little too much credit here. The win in Seattle was massive and impressive. Even so, Atlanta has been chasing consistency all year. After dismantling the Aaron Rodgers led Packers, they lost home games to Buffalo and Miami. Thus, it is hard to see them blowing out a Tampa Bay team that is suddenly playing much better with veteran backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the controls. Falcon fans will have to bite their nails late in this game. Atl 27 TB 24
Titans (-3) at *Colts – Indianapolis is not very good, but Jacoby Brissett has had them in almost every game since taking over the starting quarterback job. This includes a meeting earlier this year with Tennessee where the Colts led heading into the fourth quarter before collapsing.
The Titans offense has just become stagnant in recent weeks. They are either in a low-scoring battle or getting blown out every week. It is fair to wonder whether or not Mike Mullarkey is the right coach to get Marcus Mariota to the next level. Brissett makes a play late, Mariota does not. Ind 28 Ten 24
Seahawks (-7) at 49ers – It is foolish to sell your Seahawks stock. Yes, the defense is injured and aging. However, in their last two losses, they have missed four combined field goals and had a bizarre attempt at a fake. If even one of those plays is different, no one is panicking about the Seahawks right now.
As long as Russell Wilson stays healthy, this team will be in every game and win most of them. San Francisco is scrappy, but undermanned here. They are the perfect team for Seattle to play right now. Sea 27 SF 13
Broncos at Raiders (-5) – These bitter AFC West rivals had legitimate playoff aspirations at the start of the year and are now a mess. They almost seem to be trying to match each other’s dysfunction. Denver fired its offensive coordinator this week. The Raiders sent their defensive coordinator packing.
Paxton Lynch will finally get a legitimate crack at being the long-term quarterback answer in Denver starting with this game. With everything going on, this had to be a tough game for Vegas to put a line on. Anything could happen here. Even though Denver already shut him down once this year, Derek Carr is still better than anything the Broncos have on offense at the moment. Oak 21 Den 14
Jaguars (-4.5) at Cardinals – Jacksonville is a lot like Minnesota. They have a really good defense and some nice skill players, but their limitations at quarterback will eventually doom them in or before the playoffs. They are fortunate to be playing against quarterback Blaine Gabbert this week. Despite playing well in defeat last week, the former Jaguars first-round pick is just the kind of quarterback that Jacksonville’s sack and turnover happy defense has feasted on all year long. Jac 24 Ari 14
*Saints at Rams (-2.5) – The Rams are still very much a factor in the NFC, but they were humbled by a very good Vikings defense last week. This week is just a bad matchup. No one has ran the ball better than New Orleans over the last month. The Rams are in the bottom third of the league in rush defense. The new style of the Saints does not revolve solely around Drew Brees, and it travels very well. NO 24 LAR 21
Packers at Steelers (-14) – Swallowing this many points in an NFL game is normally foolish, but there is no reason not to do it here. The Pittsburgh offense is almost always going to produce regardless of the opponent.
It is the defense that has been a fairly well kept secret on their current five-game winning streak. They have not allowed more than 17 points in any game during the streak. The Packers have scored more than 20 points just once since Brett Hundley stepped in for injured Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay was shutout last week. It is hard to see a much different scenario in this one. Pit 35 GB 17
Texans at Ravens (-7) – The Texans were finally able to scrape together a win with Tom Savage at quarterback last week. It was more than likely too little too late though. Sometimes all you have to do is say it out loud. Savage is going on the road to face Baltimore defense that has shutout two of its last three opponents. This is going to get ugly. Bal 24 Hou 10
Featured image from forbes.com
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