Hopefully Week 11 was the first time you read my column and used my picks. On its own, a 9-4-1 record last week looks strong. But it was really just an evening out after an abysmal Week 10. Who knows what this week will hold? Will it be winning? I’d be awfully thankful.
Speaking of thanks, the bye season is finally over, so we’re back to a full slate of games for the rest of the year. With more chances to wager, you won’t have to throw the Cardinals in that teaser now. (Unless you really want to.) Hooray!
Thursday, November 23
Minnesota Vikings (-3) at Detroit Lions
The NFC North could be decided before the yams even go in the oven. With a win, Detroit can pull within a game of Minnesota, securing the crucial tiebreaker before closing the year against five straight opponents at or below .500. A Vikings win closes the door on any potential comeback over the final month. Clearly I would like this race to continue, because I’m taking the Lions. They’ve won their last three against Minny, and have covered in five straight Thanksgiving games.
Pick: Lions (+3)
Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys (pick’em)
Bad news, Dallas fans: if you thought Adrian Clayborn and Derek Barnett were tough to block, maybe binge-watching Stranger Things should be your new holiday tradition. It’s fitting that Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will feast on this day.
Also worth noting: in this soft AFC, it’s starting to look like the Chargers are capable of replicating the ’94 team, becoming just the second squad ever to make the playoffs after starting 0-4.
Pick: Chargers (pick)
New York Giants at Washington (-7)
Oh good, the Giants are back in primetime. If the tryptophan doesn’t put you to sleep, their offense will. New York did pull out a valiant win over the Chiefs at home last week, and no one is happy about it. All they accomplished was delaying Ben McAdoo’s inevitable firing. Against a Washington team that’s pissed off after blowing one against the Saints, the G-Men will look like the usual doormats their fans want to see.
Pick: Washington (-7)
Sunday, November 26
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-8)
The Browns continue to not cover in remarkable fashion. They’ve also failed to cover in their last six games against Cincinnati. The Bengals are looking as competent as they have all season, completing just their second game of the year without a turnover in a Week 11 win over Denver.
Pick: Bengals (-8)
Carolina Panthers (-5) at New York Jets
This is an odd situation where both teams are coming off the bye. The Panthers spent their week off getting healthy, with Greg Olsen in line to return to the lineup. The Jets … are still in the playoff hunt. They’re also 5-0 and as a home underdog. Carolina is a weird team; despite being 7-3, they rarely seem to be in control of the game. It feels inevitable that they struggle here.
Pick: Jets (+5)
Tennessee Titans (-3.5) at Indianapolis Colts
The Titans asserted themselves as a team that won’t survive beyond Wild Card weekend. But they’re almost guaranteed to be there thanks to their remaining schedule, which also includes the Texans, Cardinals, and 49ers. Before the bye, the feisty Colts had covered in three-straight. But with Jacoby Brissett in concussion protocol this week, placing an early bet on Indy is high-risk: we know how steep the drop is to Scott Tolzien. With Tennessee failing to cover in four-straight, I’d rather bank on both streaks coming to an end.
Pick: Titans (-3.5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-8.5)
This is the classic Ryan Fitzpatrick sweet spot. The Bucs are done. Expectations are so low. So of course, he’s been great. Quality of opponents be damned! Tampa has covered two straight. Atlanta is riding high, and has a lousy opponent at home: this is a perfect trap game.
Pick: Buccaneers (+8.5)
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-16)
There have only been two games with a spread of 16 or more points since 2014. Both involved the Patriots. Both times they covered. Miami used to play the Pats close, but they also used to think Ryan Tannehill was holding them back. In retrospect, he might have been an MVP candidate.
Pick: Patriots (-16)
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles (-11)
An injury to Jake Elliott forced the Eagles to go for two after every touchdown, and like everything else they try this season, it worked. If they try the same thing next week against the Bears, there’s no way they won’t cover. Chicago’s offense can’t keep pace. Mitch Trubisky has been fine, but he’s not experienced enough to overcome an incompetent Bears coaching staff, that will surely put him in the worst situations possible this weekend.
Pick: Eagles (-11)
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5)
Benching Tyrod Taylor didn’t go well last season; I don’t know why the Bills felt the need to replicate their study of playing with matches inside a propane tank, but they did, and it resulted in rookie QB Nathan Peterman blowing up the entire town with five first-half interceptions. If they go back to Taylor this week, though, I like their chances. Neither of these teams are playing well on defense; this could be the sneaky shootout of the week. Mostly, I’m weary of taking too many high spreads in a season dominated by parity (or is it mediocrity?).
Pick: Bills (+8.5)
Seattle Seahawks (-7) at San Francisco 49ers
We’ve seen and fallen for this Seahawks act before. Despite needing a bounce-back win in a big way, they’re going to drag a** in San Francisco and barely escape with a win, especially if Jimmy Garoppolo makes his 49ers debut.
Pick: 49ers (+7)
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (-4.5)
The Raiders looked completely lost in Mexico, and the defense still doesn’t have an interception through 10 games. Yet all that is going to change, because somehow Brock Osweiler is still starting for Denver. His passer rating is almost seven points lower in his three starts with Denver than it was last year with Houston, when he completed just 59% of his passes and threw more picks (16) than touchdowns (15).
Pick: Raiders (-4.5)
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams (-2)
The Saints were due for a loss, yet a vintage Drew Brees performance helped them escape against Washington in Week 11. Now winners of eight straight, it seems foolish to keep sticking with New Orleans, but that’s what I’m going to do. Like Minnesota, they have a dominant offensive line and they’ll find success against L.A. no matter how they attack them.
Pick: Saints (+2)
Jacksonville Jaguars (-4) at Arizona Cardinals
Blaine Gabbert revenge game! (This season is so stupid.) The only thing working for the Cards right now is Larry Fitzgerald, and the Jaguars are well-equipped to take him out of the game. They’re also one of the best road bets in the league, going 4-1 ATS.
Pick: Jaguars (-4)
Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-14)
The Steelers offense looked great on Thursday. Take a wild guess where the game was played? Another game at Heinz Field means we could see those fireworks again, especially against a reeling Packers team that may be missing Clay Matthews. Pittsburgh’s defense could follow up a four-interception game against the Titans with even more, considering how Brett Hundley looked against the Ravens last week.
Pick: Steelers (-14)
Monday, November 27
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-7)
The Ravens haven’t done much right this season, but their defense has dominated bad quarterbacks, notching three shutouts on the year. Despite getting the win last week, Tom Savage still resides in the “bad QB” class. So does Joe Flacco, but the Ravens success is almost directly inverse to his performance.
Pick: Ravens (-7)