The holiday season is upon us, and you know what that means. Thanksgiving Day football, of course! On one of the quintessential “American” holidays (right behind Fourth of July, and right ahead of Super Bowl Sunday), what could be more perfect than pigging out and watching some football on the tube? I know I’ll be munching on turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes all day, maybe throw around a pigskin, and then tune into the games in the afternoon. My picks in bold. Last week: 9 wins – 7 losses. Season record: 82-73-5.
New England Patriots (-6.5) at Detroit Lions: Turkey Day football is a tradition in Detroit, hosting a Thanksgiving Day game for the 71st time since its inaugural game in 1934. The problem for the Lions is that it’s a losing tradition. In their last six games on Thanksgiving, Detroit has a 0-6 record, losing by an average of 26 points. In those six games, Detroit hasn’t lost by less than 11 points. I know this Lions team is a different one than years past, but they are still 2-8, playing with their backup QB, and going against one of the league’s toughest teams with the 8-2 Patriots. Pats roll in a big way.
New Orleans Saints (-3.5) at Dallas Cowboys: It’s about time the champs started looking like the champs. After a shaky start to their season, New Orleans has definitely righted the ship and have four of their last five, going 4-1 against the spread in that stretch. Meanwhile, the Cowboys appear to have turned their season around, although it’s far too late to make a difference in the playoff picture as anything but a spoiler. The ‘boys look to go 3-0 under interim head coach Jason Garrett, former Princeton QB, but I think the Saints show they are completely back in the mix for another Super Bowl.
Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets (-9): I really wish I could skip this game. The Bengals are gawd awful, and I’ve been riding against them all season. The Bengals are in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, dropping their record to 2-8. Last week’s 49-31 home loss to the hapless Bills led to the Bengals’ own WR Terrell Owens declaring themselves as “terrible.” On this rare occasion, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. T.O. On the other hand, the Jets are throwing games away and then sneaking by with razor close wins. In their past three games, they have two overtime wins and one last-minute fourth-quarter comeback win. I really don’t want to bet on the Jets after their past three squeakers. But I can’t bring myself to take the Bengals under any circumstances. They truly are terrible.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-2): Rule of thumb #1: Homefield advantage equals a 3-point edge for any home team. Therefore, if two teams are equally matched, the home team should be favored by 3 points. Atlanta has not lost a single game all year at home, going 5-0. In games that QB Matt Ryan has started in the last three years, the Falcons have lost only once in the Georgia Dome. So shouldn’t Atlanta be favored by (at least) 3? I don’t quite understand, and I like Atlanta as the front runner in the NFC, so I think there’s some serious value in the Falcons as a small favorite at home.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5) at Buffalo Bills: Look, I’ve been riding the Bills for several weeks now. They were winless, but showed some serious fight in close losses. And in the past two weeks, it’s paid off with victories. But those were over Detroit and Cincinnati. The fun stops now that the Steelers come to town. Plus, the Steelers bounced back nicely with a huge blowout win over Oakland by the score of 35-3. This came on the heels of two losses in three weeks. The Steelers might not beat the cream of the crop with all their injuries, but they can still beat down on the mediocre teams.
Carolina Panthers (+9.5) at Cleveland Browns: The Cleveland Browns struggled mightily early in the season with Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace playing QB. After injuries to both, rookie QB Colt McCoy took over with some very impressive results. I had started believing this Browns team could be a dangerous spoiler come December. But a high ankle sprain to McCoy has thrust Jake Delhomme back in the lineup. And that kind of news scares away bettors. Carolina played with some fight against Baltimore last week, closing the Ravens lead to 20-13, before allowing two defensive TDs to blow the game wide open. 10 points seems like a lot to lay, even if Carolina has the league’s worst record. (Sidenote: Could any team have a bigger hole at QB than the Panthers? Starting Brian St. Pierre with zero career starts was the last straw. Seems like we’re bound to hear the following words from Commish Roger Goodell next April: “With the number one pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panther select Andrew Luck, quarterback from Stanford University.” I give this a 99% chance of happening.)
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants (-7): I’m not ready to give up on the Giants. Despite two straight losses for the Giants, Big Blue still rates 2nd in total defense at 282 yards allowed per game and 3rd in total offense at 390 yards gained per game. That kind of discrepancy is going to lead to wins. Then again, this pick may be more related to how I don’t believe in Jacksonville. The Jags’ defense is pretty suspect, particularly against the pass. They give up nearly 265 passing yards per game. Even without his top two targets, Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks, I expect a big game from the younger Manning as the Giants get back on track.
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins (+1.5): Vegas knows something about this game that I don’t. This line opened at Redskins by 3 earlier this week, and has since shifted 4.5 points to Vikings by 1.5. Did former Vikings coach Brad Childress really hurt them that much? I know the players didn’t like him. And the Cowboys already showed how teams can play better after a coaching change. But nothing is changing the fact that Brett Favre is 41 years old. Unless interim head coach and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is going to bench the old man, I think there’s value in the ‘Skins at home as a slight underdog.
Tennessee Titans (+6) at Houston Texans: The Titans have been switching QBs all season, between Vince Young and Kerry Collins, and now they are forced to make another change. Rookie QB Rusty Smith will start on Sunday with Young going on the IR and Collins still recovering from a calf injury. The sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic University, Smith completed 3 of 9 passes in limited play last Sunday against Washington. Fortunately for Rusty, he gets his first career start against an absolutely putrid pass defense. The Houston Texans rank dead last in the NFL, allowing 301 yards per game in the air. Even Rusty Smith can potentially torch this team. Not sure what’s more embarrassing, being a grown man named Rusty Smith or getting beat by some random guy named Rusty Smith. In a toss-up, I’ll take the points.
Miami Dolphins at Oakland Raiders (-2.5): Last week, both of these teams suffered one-sided defeats, the Raiders getting crushed 35-3 by Pittsburgh and the Dolphins laying an egg against the Bears, falling 16-0. Both these teams have had QB troubles, with third-string Tyler Thigpen starting for Miami, while the Raiders can’t decide between Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski. In a battle of mediocrity, I’m taking the team whose QB isn’t 1-11 in twelve career starts. That’s right, Miami QB Tyler Thigpen has just one win in twelve starts as QB. (Wait, isn’t that the guy I defended and rode last week against Chicago? Yes, I’m an idiot.) Even if that one win was against Oakland, I won’t lose any sleep betting against Thigpen and the Dolphins.
Kansas City Chiefs (-2) at Seattle Seahawks: The Seattle Seahawks could very well win the NFC West. At 5-5, Seattle holds a one-game lead over St. Louis in their division. So why am I going against them? Because it’s very possible to win the NFC West with an 8-8 or 7-9 record. For comparison, look at Miami in the AFC East, who is 5-5 and 3 games out of first place behind both the Jets and the Pats. Seattle holds the same record, yet has an outright lead in their division. Ridiculous. We should banish the NFC West to play in the Pac-10.
Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Chicago Bears: Despite Atlanta’s 8-2 record, the Philadelphia Eagles are the clear favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. A good win over the Giants on Sunday night 27-17 (and should have been a wider margin) did nothing to concern me over the Eagles’ chances. Meanwhile, I keep overlooking the Bears and taking cheap shots at QB Jay Cutler. After a good performance in yet another Chicago win, moving them to 7-3, I will issue a formal apology: Dear Jay, I am sorry for doubting your abilities as a QB. I am also sorry that you led the league in interceptions last year. I’m sorry you’ve never finished a season with a winning record as starting QB in the NFL or college. Maybe you’ve finally changed. (Worst apology ever.) And on that note, I’m going to overlook Jay Cutler and the Bears some more.
St. Louis Rams (+3.5) at Denver Broncos: Quite honestly, I love that Sam Bradford guy. The Rams rookie QB impresses me every time I see him play. In his last five games, Bradford has thrown 8 TDs and only 1 interception, while completing over 65 percent of his passes. As far as rookie QBs go, the kid from Oklahoma University is putting up an impressive debut season. He’s a keeper. I don’t care about Denver enough to write about them, so I’m not gonna bother. Have I mentioned how much I like the Rams rookie QB?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7.5) at Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens ended up blowing out the Carolina Panthers, but it took far longer than expected to put the game out of reach last week. It wasn’t until two fourth-quarter defensive TDs off interceptions from two future Hall-of-Famers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis sealed the deal, and Baltimore could breathe easy. Tampa Bay continues to surprise, and while I don’t think the Bucs are as good as the Ravens, they’ll be able to hang. This game reminds me a lot of Week 9 match-up when Tampa visited the Falcons in Atlanta as 9-point underdogs and held their ground. They ended losing by six to a good home team in the Falcons (much like the Ravens), so I’m thinking this will be a similar result. Bucs keep it close, but lose out to the superior Ravens team.
San Diego Chargers (+2.5) at Indianapolis Colts: If one team has Indy’s number, it’s Philip Rivers and the Chargers. In their last five meetings, San Diego has taken four of those games, including twice in the playoffs. San Diego is finally putting it together after another slow start in the season’s opening months. After starting 2-5, the Chargers have won three in a row and pulled within a game of the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, Indy continues to play well despite injuries but this may be one of the weaker teams Peyton Manning has carried in quite a while. There’s something weird going on with this matchup, karma or voodoo or what not, but San Diego has Indy figured out, when few others can stop them.
San Francisco 49ers (-1) at Arizona Cardinals: No offense to ESPN, the NFL or the people of the Bay Area and Phoenix and the rest of the great state of Arizona, but this is an utter disgrace of a primetime Monday Night Football matchup. I mean, two 3-7 square off to determine who will finish last in the NFC West! Really!?! Give me a break. No one cares about this game. Niners and Cards fans should have given up by now. And in a year when the winner of the NFC could finish under .500, should we reward those teams with more primetime games? I think not.