I would, however, like to take a brief moment to wish all those who have participated in this contest, the picking, the reading, the commenting and the heckling, a very happy Thanksgiving.
May your friends and family be happy and healthy and their hearts, wallets and bellies be full.
Now enough of that mush. Let’s talk some football.
SPORTSCHUMP’S TASTY HOLIDAY TREATS
CHICAGO +7 at DETROIT
The Bears got a break last week getting to host the lowly Buccaneers, who by the way, were leading that game by ten points before realizing they were the Buccaneers and choking one away. The Bears, once considered one of the worst, if not most underachieving, teams in the league are actually on a two-game winning streak. That’s like a crazy person making two straight psychiatrist’s appointments. Detroit on the other hand has lost two straight. In fact, that last home team to win a game at Ford Field was the Buffalo Bills. I’ve been down on the Bears all season long but for some reason, I think they continue their mini-streak here. I’m not convinced the Lions are a playoff team. Winning this game would significantly help them in their cause for a wild card spot. Losing it would come close to ensuring they miss the playoffs altogether. I prefer the latter. I’ll take the Bears and the points.
PHILADELPHIA +3 at DALLAS
Did you happen to catch ESPN’s Cowboys-Eagles history segment the other day? There so many bloodied people being carted off the field, I thought I was watching a WWE match. Bloodied noses, fist fights. Ah, the good old days. It’s a shame the current NFL doesn’t allow violence anymore. It only does so off the field. I’m surprised Commissioner Goodell didn’t fine ESPN for showing those highlights. Even though this rivalry and the league itself have been Charminized, I still think we may see some fisticuffs or at least a few hard hits in this game when the refs aren’t looking. Too bad Big Brother is always watching. Don’t expect the Eagles to go easy into that Dallas night. With both teams sitting at 8-3, this game could very well decide who wins the NFC East. Las Vegas has these teams evenly matched with Dallas a three point favorite at home. Tony Romo’s back can’t be entirely healthy but they’re coming off an emotional victory Sunday night against the Giants and that should carry over to Thanksgiving Day. I liked Dallas to win this division at the beginning of the season. If they want to see that through, this will be the game they need to win. I like Dallas to cover.
SEATTLE +1 at SAN FRANCISCO
What a way to finish off Turkey Day. Too bad everyone will be asleep at this point, feeling the aftereffects of tryptophan and the snooze-fest of the earlier Bears-Lions game. Seattle is starting to get its groove back. Richard Sherman’s press conference the other day, mocking the NFL for fining his teammate, showed us that any reports of this locker room being divided were premature. Both these teams are 7-4, which is underachieving compared to where we’d thought they’d be at this point. Similar to the aforementioned Lions, the loser of this game could be in trouble come playoff time. I know that San Fran has won three straight. I know that Seattle is under .500 on the road. I just feel like the ‘Hawks are playing better football right now. Seattle is a team that feeds on emotion. They’ll find it on Thanksgiving night and cover that point on the road.
(That team from) WASHINGTON +9.5 at INDIANAPOLIS
So you’re benching Robert Griffin III, huh? Lost in all this benching talk is the fact that Luck and RGII were taken first and second in the 2012 NFL Draft. That was two and a half years ago. For all those who contemplated taking Griffin first back then, you probably thought Leaf was the safe play over Manning. Okay, so maybe that’s a little harsh but so is benching your number two draft pick. Give him the chance to play in a game he might actually be motivated to play in. Or better yet, find an offensive line to protect him. Nah, the way RGIII is playing, I’d probably bench him too. Sitting your franchise quarterback this late in the season can only mean three things. One, he sucks, two, you don’t want him banged up before you try to trade him and three, your team is as dysfunctional as they come. Let’s look at option three for a moment. I’m a firm believer in dysfunctional teams continuing to implode at this point in the season. While the Colts aren’t playing all that well either, a scrimmage against (that team from) Washington could be all the boost they need. I like Indy to cover, followed by a midfield, heartfelt embrace between Mr. Luck and Mr. Griffin as they both wonder for whom he’ll play next.
TENNESSEE +7 at HOUSTON
This line seems a little ambitious. I get that the Titans have lost five straight games but the Texans are a sub-.500 team. Neither team has anything to play for at this point so does Las Vegas think that Houston is going to take out its frustrations of yet another unsuccessful season on one of its division rivals? Houston can run the ball but can’t pass. Tennessee can stop the pass but not the run. Uh oh, the odds makers might be right. While Houston is a sorry excuse for a football team, they might look to open up a can against the Titans. While I do think this spread is a little too large, kind of like the Thanksgiving meals most of us partook in, I’ll go ahead and take the Texans here just because the Titans are just that bad.
CLEVELAND +2.5 at BUFFALO
Here’s a pretty good game between two teams nobody in their right mind thought would be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Seriously, when’s the last time these two teams played each other so late in the season with both of them being over .500? I’m guessing never. Buffalo should be back to playing in its own stadium, weather-permitting, but a brisk November afternoon means nothing to Clevelanders whose weather is also unbearable. This game’s really a toss-up for me. Once again, we’re getting to the point in the season where a loss could mean kissing the playoffs good-bye. While both of these teams are on the outside looking in, losing this week will push even farther outside the playoff bubble. I hate to have to choose one of these teams because they’ve both had such decent seasons but I’m going with the Brownies and the points here only because they’re more battle-tested.
SAN DIEGO +5.5 at BALTIMORE
Once upon a time, San Diego was relevant. Then they lost three straight. Would it surprise you if I told you both these teams were 7-4? This is yet another game where a loss means post-season goes bye-bye. Seriously, has anyone called this weekend separation Sunday yet? Every game seems to matter. Finally, the Commish got something right. Five-and-a-half does seem like a lot to lay here even though the Ravens are playing pretty well. Not only are both these teams on a two-game winning streak, those streaks are coming off the heels of multiple-game losing streaks which means we could be in store for a very close football game. I don’t like the Chargers, not one bit. I do like the way the Ravens are playing right now. But I do think San Diego has enough in them for one last push and that means they’ll keep it close. I’ll take the five-and-a-half.
NY GIANTS -2 at JACKSONVILLE
I hereby declare his the worst game of the NFL season. In fact, it might be the worst game ever played. Fortunately for the league, enough New Yorkers live in Florida that might attend this debacle simply because they have nothing better to do. Unfortunately for the league, most New Yorkers have enough sense not to settle in Jacksonville so this stadium will probably once again be empty. If it weren’t for Odell Beckham, Jr., no self-respecting football fan would admit to watching this game. If the NFL wanted to do itself a favor, it should invite the Raiders, Jets and Bucs to sit in the stands then blow up the stadium. Think of how much better the NFL would be after that. Okay, enough wishful thinking on my part. Giants-Jags. Who cares? Give me the G-Men and lay the deuce only because a) Tom Coughlin is going back to a city where he once coached and b) I still can’t believe the Giants are this damn bad.
CINCINNATI -4 at TAMPA BAY
Yeah, I’m a Buccaneers fan. This season has been painful enough. Just give me the Bengals to cover the four on the road and let’s move on.
OAKLAND +7 at ST. LOUIS
Yay! The Raiders finally won a game. That won’t happen this week. The Rams are good. They just have the unfortunate disadvantage of having to play Niners, Seahawks and Cardinals twice a year. I wonder what Sam Bradford is doing for Thanksgiving. Has he ever played football on Thanksgiving? But I digress. The Rams are the better team by far. I just read that they’re on their way to their 11th consecutive losing season. And I thought being a Buccaneers fan was difficult. The Raiders aren’t much better. They haven’t finished over .500 since the year they went to the Super Bowl. I guess this weekend’s game can’t all be winners. While the Raiders did get that first win, I think the Rams care more about this game than Oakland does That’s why St. Louis should cover the number.
NEW ORLEANS +4 at PITTSBURGH
New Orleans has to be considered one of this year’s biggest disappointments yet they’re still in contention in their division. That’s because the NFC South is laughably bad. I think once the Saints got fined for Bounty Gate, they feared playing any sort of physical defense. At least that’s the way they’re playing. They’re allowing 26 points a game. That’s good for 25th in the league. Ironically, the Steelers score 26 points a game. By that logic, the Saints would only have to score 22 points this game to cover this number. I’m no math major but the Saints usually score 22 points by halftime. Both these teams have no business making the post-season. They’re just bad. But I’ll take New Orleans to cover just because I keep thinking back to how the Steelers lost to the Buccaneers and the Saints are just a wee bit better.
CAROLINA +3 at MINNESOTA
I think I’d rather watch reruns of Little House On The Prairie for three hours with Enya blasting in the background than have to watch this football game. Either way, both options are painful. These two are a combined 7-14 which, believe it or not, is even a worse winning percentage than my picks this year. Just joking… I’m at least two percentage points better. Minnesota played Green Bay well at home last week but that was a divisional rivalry. Carolina has lost five straight but as bad as they are, I don’t think they’re actually THAT bad. Wait a minute, who am I kidding? Yes they are. The Vikes cover at home, resulting in the Panthers trading Cam Newton outright for RGIII.
ARIZONA -2.5 at ATLANTA
Haven’t we had this discussion before? You know, the one about Atlanta being horrifically bad? Arizona on the other hand is horrifically good. Good team being favored over bad team by less than a field goal, even on the road? I’m taking the good team. That’s why I’m taking the Cards here. Next question.
NEW ENGLAND +3 at GREEN BAY
This is the game of the week in my opinion and with all the teams vying for playoff position, that’s saying something. Although neither of these teams is in the playoffs quite yet, neither should have much to worry about. New England is not in any danger of dropping their comfy three-game lead in the AFC East. On the other hand, Green Bay’s lead in the NFC North is a little more tenuous. It won’t be after this weekend. Green Bay handles the Pats and covers the number.
DENVER -1.5 at KANSAS CITY
I’m having a tough time figuring out the Denver Broncos this season. Every time I think they’ll cover a number, they don’t. If I were Broncos fan, I’d be concerned about this team heading into December. John Elway is aging before our very eyes. KC’s going to be rowdy place this Sunday night as they look to go back and forth with Seattle trying to determine which stadium is louder. A Chiefs win knots things up in that division. Will Peyton Manning stand idly by and allow that to happen? He might not have a choice. I’m stubborn. I still think Denver is the better team which means they’ll end up silencing that KC crowd and cover.
MIAMI -6 at NY JETS
The Jets on Monday night? Really? That’s more charitable that giving the Salvation Army guy outside your local supermarket a twenty dollar bill to stop ringing his bell. Seriously, Roger Goodell had to know the Jets were going to be bad this season. He is paying attention, right? Why did he schedule them for a late season Monday night game, against the Dolphins no less? Anyone who thought this game could have had post-season implications this late in the season was kidding themselves. Or maybe the league thought, like they did for Oakland’s last Thursday night game, that this would be a chance for the Jets to get one of their only meaningful wins on the season. Like I said, charity. Prime time game, Monday night, home team’s getting six points. The Dolphins are clearly the better team here but maybe, just maybe, Rex Ryan can muster up a win and play spoiler to their division rivals. I’ll take the Jets and the six ‘cause ‘tis the season to be charitable.
MISTER LANCASTER’S THANKSGIVING DINNER PICKS
NFL Thanksgiving Weekend 2014 is upon us. There’s nothing more American than stuffing our faces (twice in the same day!), surrounded by relatives we see once a year, and watching some good old fashioned football while we slip into our tryptophan-induced comas. Here are my sure-fire picks for beating the spread and winning some money while you pack on the pounds. I have ranked the games from least interesting to most interesting, using my very-official Thanksgiving food ‘watchability’ rating system, so you know which games to tune into. So, wipe that gravy stain off your shirt, pick up a pencil, and get picking – as they say on TommyBoy “I can literally hear you getting fatter…”
Cranberry sauce…from the can – Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-6.5)
Lions and turkey and bears, oh my! This matchup looks better on paper than it will be on the field. Marshall is hobbled and Cutler will have another multi-pick game. Remember to say grace, and pick the Lions to cover.
The turkey and gravy – Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (-2.5)
I think Sanchez will have a decent game, but as much as I want to pick my boys, I think the Dallas O-line and Murray pile on the yards in the fourth quarter, earning their post-game Turducken legs. Cowboys by a touchdown.
Pumpkin pie with cool whip – Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-1.5)
My friend Stuey Griffin said this game should get a dollop of “coo-wwwhip”, as it will be one of the better games of the weekend. The reigning champs haven’t exactly carved up the NFL this year, and have looked very beatable at times. That said, the Seahawks looked good in taking out the Cards recently, while San Fran is banged up. I think the Seahawks win a close one, but those fantasy owners who have Borland in IDP leagues (wink, wink) will be smiling. Look for 15+ tackles from the little LB.
Salted nuts – New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)
I have no idea why the spread in this game is so close. The Jags continue to underwhelm…Bortles has yet to put together two back-to-back impressive games, and even with Mercedes back at full strength, I think the Jags sputter against the Giants. The G-men win by 10, despite a quiet game by Beckham Jr.
Aunt Aileen’s Jello Mold – Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills (-1.5)
Ah, the rust belt bowl. Despite growing up within a few hours of both of these cities, I just can’t get excited about this one. Weather could be a factor, and I think the Bills have a shot to win, but look for the ghost of Scott Norwood to help push a FG wide right (Laces Out!) as time expires. I think we find out that the Browns are for real this year and beat Buffalo away.
Green bean casserole – New Orleans Saints at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)
How any team could be tied for leading its division at 4-7 is beyond me. Meanwhile, the “Stillers” are in a dogfight in the balanced AFC North. Who ‘Dat? Oh, Roethlisberger – Steelers cover easily.
Mashed red skin potatoes – Washington Redskins at Indianapolis Colts (-9.5)
Red skin potatoes – did you catch that, huh? Genius. RG3 is riding the pine in this one, and the ‘Skins will look to Colt McCoy to run the offense. The Redskins’ locker room appears to be in turmoil, but I think Luck and the Colts pull out a game winning FG as time expires. Take the points in this one.
Tofurkey leg – Oakland Raiders at St. Louis Rams (-6.5)
Did you see the Raiders celebrating at the end of last Thursday night’s game as if they had just won the Super Bowl? Oh right, it was their first win of the season. It may have also been their last. Change the channel to RedZone, as Fisher and the Rams will have this one in the bag by halftime.
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls – Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5)
I thought the Tampa Two referred to defensive set, but I was wrong – it refers to the number of wins the Bucs have this season. The Bengals will bring the thunder with the Bernard and Hill duo RB attack, and once the ground game gets going, look for some big play-action pass plays from Dalton to his wideouts. Go with the Bengals, who will cover the spread easily – as long as they’re not looking ahead to next week’s AFC North matchup against the Steelers.
A glass of Riesling – Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (-6.5)
This is a classic battle between ‘Old Houston’ (Titans – formerly the Oilers) and ‘New Houston’ franchises. With Mallett out for the year, the bearded wonder, Fitzpatrick, gets the nod to lead the Texans on offense. Look for Alfred Blue to start at RB for Houston, but Arian Foster will likely see some carries, too. In the end, Houston’s defense, including JJ Watt, will prove to be too much, as Bill O’Brien and the Texans become ‘bowl-eligible’ with their sixth win on the year. Texans by double digits.
Peas and carrots – Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5)
Watching this game at Noon on Sunday may be like eating your veggies. Look for Cam Newton to be the difference with his legs, as the Panthers pull the mild upset on the road in a clash between two 7-loss heavyweights. Both teams’ chances for the playoffs are on life support, but the loser of this game (Vikings) will be out of the race for sure. Time of death: 3:30 PM EST.
Shrimp Cocktail – San Diego Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (-4.5)
I think this could be one of the better matchups of the weekend. The Chargers need this one to stay relevant in the AFC West, but I think the Ravens have a mismatch in their favor when their D-line and Haloti Ngata goes up against the Chargers’ O-line, which includes rookie center Chris Watt. Look for the Ravens to stop the run early, and make Rivers beat them through the air, forcing a late interception. Ravens by 7.
Mom’s famous stuffing – Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (+2.5)
This one would not be close if played in Arizona. I think the Falcons somehow put the pieces together and make this a decent game, but not enough of an effort to pull the upset. Cards cover.
Warm apple pie with ice cream – New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers (-3.5)
This is the apple pie game of the week – even Jason Biggs will want a slice. The Pats have been on a roll and I think the New England defense frustrates Rodgers and Cobb, generating a key turnover. The Pack will have no answer for Gronk, who has an 8-10 reception game. Sit back and enjoy the best game of the weekend, but take the Pats and the points.
Sweet potato casserole – Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (+1.5)
Which Chiefs team will show up? The Chiefs who beat the Patriots earlier this year or the ‘Chefs’ who lost to the Raiders last week? This is KC’s best chance to control their own destiny with respect to the AFC West Division. At first look, my gut tells me to go with Peyton and the vaunted Denver offense. However, KC’s pass defense is tops in the league, and I think they may be able to keep Manning in check. On the other side of the ball, KC is the best rushing team in the league, but Denver matches up well against the run. I think home field and Jamaal Charles give the Chiefs the edge, and the victory.
TUMS – Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (+4.5)
This is my sleeper pick of the weekend…literally. This one could be over by the end of the first quarter, and turn into a real snooze fest, as the Dolphins dominate. With Ryan’s coaching job on the ropes – and a chance for the number one pick in the draft, thanks to the Raiders’ recent “resurgence” – look for the J-E-T-S to crash and burn. Take the ‘Fins, who cover easily.
KP’S I’M WAITING UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE AT USUAL BECAUSE I HAVE FAMILY IN TOWN ONCE AGAIN PICKS
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-6.5)
The Lions have struggled offensively over the last two weeks, scoring just 15 total points against the Cardinals and Patriots. Both were road games against tough teams, and now, Detroit returns home where it is 4-1 and facing a Bears defense that is ranked 28th against the pass. Expect Calvin Johnson to finally post a big game since returning from injury, while Matt Forte – the focal point of Chicago’s offense – will have a tough time versus Detroit’s defense that is ranked first against the run. Jay Cutler should also be good for a few turnovers against Detroit’s strong ‘D’, and expect the Lions to bounce back in front of its home crowd on Thanksgiving. Detroit covers.
Against the Spread: Detroit Lions
Straight Up: Detroit Lions
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (-2.5)
Here are two strong offenses and bitter rivals battling for first place in the NFC East. Both teams have the ability to score in bunches, and likely will. Tony Romo is 6-1 on Thanksgiving, throwing for 18 touchdowns in that seven game span. On the other side, there’s Mark Sanchez, who has plenty of weapons to throw to, but can be turnover prone. Romo’s success, combined with DeMarco Murray’s effectiveness and the home field advantage should be enough for the Cowboys to cover on Turkey Day.
Against the Spread: Dallas Cowboys
Straight Up: Dallas Cowboys
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-1.5)
Forget the tryptophan coma, here’s another nasty rivalry that you can’t miss on Thanksgiving. Both teams are 7-4 and battling for position in a strong NFC West division. Each is solid against the pass (Niners are 2nd, Seahawks 3rd), and neither puts up big numbers through the air. Seattle is not the same team away from home, but the Seahawks are getting healthier and will likely force feed a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch and the team’s top ranked rushing offense. The ‘Hawks are averaging nearly 170 yards a game on the ground (with 14 TD’s). Add in a Seattle defense that should create numerous headaches for a very inconsistent Colin Kaepernick, and I like the Seahawks to steal one on the road.
Against the Spread: Seattle Seahawks
Straight Up: Seattle Seahawks
New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)
The Giants’ offense looked solid last week against the Cowboys, and Odell Beckham Jr. had a breakout game on national TV, with the catch that spread like wildfire on Twitter. Beckham left that game with a back injury, but is expected to play. A balanced Giants offense should play well again, facing a Jacksonville defense that is ranked 27th against the pass and has just five INT’s in 11 games. That’s a positive sign for Eli Manning, but the Giants will also need to hold Jacksonville’s pass rush (33 sacks – 3rd in NFL) in check. With this line, I feel confident taking Eli, Odell and the G-Men. New York covers.
Against the Spread: New York Giants
Straight Up: New York Giants
Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills (-1.5)
The Bills return home after needing to play in Detroit following the ridiculous snow totals in the Buffalo area. Buffalo leads the NFL with 46 sacks, which is eight more than any other team. Both teams feature top ten pass defenses, but Buffalo also features a top ten team against the run, while the Browns are ranked 29th. Josh Gordon did give the Browns a boost offensively last week, but playing on the road against the league’s best pass rush, it will be tough for Brian Hoyer to get the ball to him consistently. In the end, I like Buffalo’s defense and the boost it will get from being in front of its home crowd again.
Against the Spread: Buffalo Bills
Straight Up: Buffalo Bills
New Orleans Saints at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)
The Steelers are coming off a bye and have had extra time to rest and get healthy. New Orleans, meanwhile, travels to Pittsburgh after dropping three straight at home, a stat that is unheard of in recent years. The Saints are bad defensively, meaning Ben Roethlisberger should have success moving the ball down the field. New Orleans features an offense that is #1 in the NFL in 3rd down conversions (50.7%), yet defensively, is last in 3rd down conversions allowed (47.9%). Then again, Pittsburgh might just be the biggest Jekyll and Hyde team in the NFL. While the Steelers are 4-1 at home and the Saints are 1-4 on the road, it comes down to which team I trust more – and that’s the Saints, considering how the Steelers have performed against teams like the Bucs, Jags, Titans and Jets. In Brees, I trust.
Against the Spread: New Orleans Saints
Straight Up: New Orleans Saints
Washington Redskins at Indianapolis Colts (-9.5)
The Redskins have benched RGIII, which may actually provide a boost to the team’s offense, and eliminate some of the negative locker room headlines. Colt McCoy doesn’t possess the same talent as RGIII, but he held his own weeks back, leading the ‘Skins to a shocking upset of the Cowboys. But this game is against an Indianapolis team that owns the NFL’s top passing game (323.1 ypg) and is playing at home, where it is 4-2 on the season. Plain and simple, it’s difficult to see Colt McCoy and the Redskins being able to stick with Andrew Luck and Indy’s potent offense. Colts cover at home.
Against the Spread: Indianapolis Colts
Straight Up: Indianapolis Colts
Oakland Raiders at St. Louis Rams (-6.5)
The Raiders might actually own some momentum, after notching its first win against the Chiefs last Thursday night. Oakland has allowed just 13 sacks on the season, second fewest in the NFL, while managing just 12 of its own (fewest in the league). St. Louis does have wins against the Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos, which will stand out in many eyes. But statistics would say that the Raiders could potentially slow down a St. Louis pass rush that has been deadly for the last month. Call it a gut pick – and that’s a Thanksgiving treat-filled gut, by the way – but I think Oakland keeps this one close. The Rams add another home ‘W’, but take the Raiders and the points.
Against the Spread: Oakland Raiders
Straight Up: St. Louis Rams
Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5)
The Bucs have just two wins and are winless at home, yet remain just two games back of the division lead. Star linebacker Levonte David is questionable and if he can’t go, that could lead to a boost to an already strong Cincy run game. The Bengals are vulnerable against the run, but Tampa Bay is 29th in rushing offense, and has dealt with injuries at the RB position all season. Bengals WR A.J. Green should also have a solid day against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed 21 TD’s through the air. Bengals cover on the road against the hapless Bucs.
Against the Spread: Cincinnati Bengals
Straight Up: Cincinnati Bengals
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (-6.5)
The Titans are dead last against the run, allowing 145.4 yards per game (along with 13 TD’s). On the other side, Houston is 3rd in rushing offense, averaging 137.3 yards per game. Whether it’s Arian Foster or Alfred Blue, the Texans have been effective with the ground game. Toss in J.J. Watt and a pass rush that should feast on a Titans front that has allowed 30 sacks this year, and it’s easy to see the Texans winning at home game by at least a touchdown.
Against the Spread: Houston Texans
Straight Up: Houston Texans
Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5)
The Panthers are coming off a bye and have had an extra week to rest and prepare for this game. Meanwhile, the Vikings are coming off a tight loss to the Packers, but have the home field advantage. Looking at Carolina’s schedule, the Panthers have faced nothing but stronger offenses for weeks. The Vikings have the 29th ranked passing offense, with just nine TD’s through the air. Cam Newton has had some time to heal up a bit, and while the Carolina defense has struggled, I like Newton and the Panthers to pick up the win on the road.
Against the Spread: Carolina Panthers
Straight Up: Carolina Panthers
San Diego Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (-4.5)
The Ravens are 4-1 at home, while the Chargers are 2-3 on the road and will be traveling across the country, which is always a challenge for west coast teams. San Diego has just 13 takeaways this season and the Ravens have allowed just 15 sacks in 11 games, which are both good signs for Baltimore. The Ravens have had great balance between its run game headlined by Justin Forsett, alongside a passing game that features Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith and Steve Smith. But I keep coming coming back to that cross-country trip, because hey, holiday travel is a bitch. Ravens cover.
Against the Spread: Baltimore Ravens
Straight Up: Baltimore Ravens
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (+2.5)
The Cardinals faltered against a rejuvenated Seahawks defense last week, while the Falcons couldn’t take care of the Browns. Matt Ryan is usually stellar at home, but the Falcons are just 2-3 in front of its home fans this year. Drew Stanton has struggled a bit under center, leaving Arizona to be a bit sluggish on offense. Teams have therefore focused more on Andre Ellington, leaving him to be rather ineffective, as well. But Atlanta WR Roddy White is questionable with an ankle injury, and Ellington will be facing a Falcons defense that is 24th against the run, while allowing a league-high 15 TD’s on the ground. Overall, I like Arizona’s talent on both sides of the ball, and think the Cardinals have enough to take care of a Falcons team that has failed to produce in the clutch. Cards cover.
Against the Spread: Arizona Cardinals
Straight Up: Arizona Cardinals
New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers (-3.5)
Let me borrow a line from Terrell Owens: “Getcha popcorn ready!”, because this one is sure to be a dandy. In what many will coin a possible Super Bowl preview, the Packers – with its 5-0 record at Lambeau – welcome Tom Brady and the Patriots. Each of Green Bay’s last four home games have been victories by three touchdowns or more, and that includes a 53-20 win over the Eagles on November 16th. The weather doesn’t appear as if it will be a major factor in this game, and even if so, the Pats are used to playing in cold, blustery games, too. I have a hard time picking against the Pack at home, but I have an even harder time going against a New England team that appears to be unstoppable. Pats win this one outright, hand Green Bay its first home loss of the season.
Against the Spread: New England Patriots
Straight Up: New England Patriots
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (+1.5)
Here’s a tricky game, considering how strong the Chiefs are at home, combined with the Eric Barry story, which is likely to leave a Kansas City team extra motivated and passionate to play for its ill teammate. It’s always difficult to pick against a Peyton Manning-led offense, even if facing a Kansas City pass defense that allows just 198.9 yards per game (1st in NFL). Then again, remove Barry from that lineup and also note that the Chiefs have just four interceptions on defense. Kansas City is also led by Jamaal Charles and its fourth-ranked rushing offense, which is facing a Denver run defense that is ranked second in the NFL, allowing just 75.5 yards per game. With these stats in mind, I like Denver, despite the road contest and emotional side stories.
Against the Spread: Denver Broncos
Straight Up: Denver Broncos
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (+4.5)
Hey look, Geno Smith is back as the Jets starting QB – and he brings along with him a 67.4 QB rating, 7 TD and 10 INT’s. Place Smith in a starting lineup that has a -12 turnover differential, which is 31st in the league. Throw in the fact that the Jets only have 7 takeaways this season and have allowed opposing teams to convert on 47.4% of third downs (also 31st in the NFL). Geno will also be facing a Miami pass defense that is ranked fourth in the NFL. Quite honestly, I could probably write a 2,000 word post on why you shouldn’t take the Jets in this game, or in any game for the rest of the season. Dolphins cover.
Against the Spread: Miami Dolphins
Straight Up: Miami Dolphins