Many analysts believe that the season truly starts once Thanksgiving comes around. This statement holds true for many teams heading into Sunday. The Falcons started hot, but a midseason slide has let every team in the NFC South back in the mix. The Raiders lead the Chiefs and Broncos by a game, but have a tough matchup against Carolina this week. Also, nobody is talking about the Dolphins, who, with a win today, will move into a tie with the Chiefs-Broncos loser for the second wild card spot. The Texans haven’t clinched anything either, with the Colts and Titans sitting right in their shadow. With lots of important games on the slate, let’s get to the picks.
Last Week: 12-2
On the Season: 104-55-2
This Week: 3-0
Giants (-6.5) 28, Browns 17
The Giants continue to shine when the game’s on the line (that’s poetry right there folks). But really, the Giants find ways to win the close ones late in games. They hung on two weeks ago by one point over Cincinnati, and came back against Chicago to pull it out late. It seems like Cleveland will give everything they’ve got the rest of the way to win one game to avoid 0-16. Maybe this is the week, but it doesn’t feel like it. The Giants have come together on defense, with their pass rush and secondary thriving. JPP has been excellent as a rusher this year, Olivier Vernon has been great against the run, and Landon Collins is quietly building a defensive player of the year resume. The Browns will find it very tough to move the ball. Along with that, their defense still can’t stop the run, and Rashad Jennings is a full go. With too much talent on both sides, the Giants win this one.
Titans 22, Bears 16 (EVEN)
Let’s count the players the Bears are missing on offense this week: Kyle Long, Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Miller, possibly Josh Sitton. Yikes. The Bears will lean on Matt Barkley this week in his first start, along with their running backs. The problem is that Tennessee is very tough to run on with Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug locking down the middle. Barkley’s main target in the passing game will be Cameron Meredith. The good news for the Bears is that they play better defense than people think, but if DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry get going early, it will be a long afternoon.
Chargers 26, Texans (-1) 24
The Chargers, like the Giants and Lions, always find themselves in close games. They had it rolling against the Dolphins before pick after pick sunk them. This week, they head to Houston with the playoffs still on their mind. Rivers will need to pick it up against Houston, who is fourth in total defense. Rivers has many weapons at his disposal. Melvin Gordon will need to be productive in between the tackles and as a pass catcher. Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman need to find openings on the perimeter. The one stat that favors the Chargers in overwhelming fashion is their run defense against Lamar Miller. They lost DT Brandon Mebane, but even so, their run defense ranks fifth in the league. This will be a battle, but with Miller not finding much room, Osweiler won’t be able to do enough.
Bills (-6.5) 24, Jaguars 17
It looks like the Bills will get both LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins on the field this week. This could spell trouble for the Jags, who have solid pass defense but can’t find a way to stop the run. LeSean McCoy, provided he can still hold a football, should get chunks of yardage all game long. Tyrod Taylor has done well this year too protecting the ball. The only hope for Jacksonville this week is to hit a couple deep balls to Robinson and Hurns, but the Bills defense will prove tough to crack. Jacksonville will play spoiler to someone down the road, but this isn’t the week.
Ravens (-3) 20, Bengals 13
The Bengals, like the Bears, are missing top weapons this week. AJ Green’s hamstring injury will keep him out a while, and Bernard is done for the year with an ACL tear. Andy Dalton will have to lean on rookie Tyler Boyd and tight end Tyler Eifert. Jeremy Hill won’t find much running room against the top ranked rush defense. The Bengals will have to stop the run on defense and force Joe Flacco to make mistakes. The Bengals have won their last five against the Ravens, but today’s offensive struggle will end the streak.
Cardinals 28, Falcons (-4) 27
This is one of the two potential shootouts this week, and yet, maybe it won’t be. Atlanta is last in pass defense this season, while Arizona, shockingly, is first in pass defense. Atlanta has the weapons to challenge the Cardinal secondary, and Tevin Coleman returns to pair with Devonta Freeman. Losing Desmond Trufant hurts the Falcons, and with the weapons Arizona has, including superstar running back David Johnson, they can match Atlanta score for score. This will come down to one team getting a stop, and with their talent on defense, Arizona gets the upset.
Saints (-6.5) 23, Rams 14
Jared Goff’s first start wasn’t that great, but in the rain against Miami wasn’t exactly a great matchup. Now he gets what many thought was the worst defense in the league. But, their defensive line has found a way to mask their secondary issues. Todd Gurley owners probably thought this was his best game down the stretch, but it might not be. Meanwhile, Drew Brees continues to put up numbers knowing he needs 28 points every single week. He has enough weapons to make plays, and the short and quick passing game will be essential against Aaron Donald and that front. I don’t think Goff is ready to win a game for the Rams yet.
Dolphins (-8.5) 21, 49ers 16
Colin Kaepernick has been surprisingly decent in the past few games, but now Miami’s defense will test him. Their secondary will be all over the Niners’ mediocre receivers, and it will be tough to run the ball. On the other side, the Dolphins are riding a five game win streak into this one, and Jay Ajayi gets an excellent matchup here. Tannehill will have a little less time to throw, but if they can lean on Ajayi all day, the Niners upset bid could be cut short early.
Seahawks (-6) 30, Buccaneers 21
Seattle is as hot as anyone on both sides of the ball, but this road trip could prove tricky. The Bucs have some guys up front who can rush the passer, and Seattle’s offensive line isn’t getting better. The return of Thomas Rawls could help Wilson out, but this game will end up falling on Wilson’s shoulders. Luckily, Winston does make a few errant throws a game, and I expect a couple to be picked off. The Bucs could hang around for a while, but Seattle will pull away late.
Raiders (-4.5) 31, Panthers 27
The other shootout of the week, the Panthers travel to Oakland in what seems like a must win every week the rest of the way. The running game, even with Stewart healthy, has floundered this year. Newton is getting banged up, and with Khalil Mack rushing the passer, Newton will look to Greg Olsen for help. Oakland’s secondary is their weakness, so expect Newton to have a solid day. On the other side, Oakland’s offensive line is giving Derek Carr plenty of time, and should handle the talented Carolina line. The weapons outside for Oakland will be too much down the stretch for rookies to handle. The Raiders extend their winning streak this week.
Patriots (-7.5) 27, Jets 16
At the beginning of the year, many thought this game could be for first place. Alas, the Jets have regressed heavily this season, and even with New England’s defense faltering, the Jets will have a tough time moving the ball. Fitzpatrick leads the league in picks, and I’d be surprised if he left this game scot-free. Matt Forte should find holes, but this Patriot defense has held in the red zone. As long as Brady has just enough time against this great Jets front, he will find guys open. I don’t think the Jets hang around long.
Chiefs 16, Broncos (-3.5) 13
The night game features an excellent defensive battle. The Chiefs look like the best defense around the past few weeks, but with Aqib Talib back, Denver will have something to say about that. This game will come down to running the football; whichever team can run it effectively will win this game. Alex Smith is without Jeremy Maclin again this week, so Travis Kelce figures to be the top target. In a game with quarterbacks who need help to win games, I’ll take the hotter defense right now in Kansas City.
Eagles (-3) 27, Packers 25
Boy, how the mighty have fallen. The Packers are looking to end their four game skid on Monday night. However, the Eagles pass rush is looking to make things very tough on Aaron Rodgers, who has been just fine this past month. It’s the Packer defense that needs help somewhere. Jake Ryan and Damarious Randall could return, but with a load of injuries on defense, Wentz and company might find more success this week. This will be a close game all the way, but the home field advantage matched with the Eagles defense will be enough this week.
Enjoy the last day of your Thanksgiving weekend! Be sure to continue to check out Tuesday Morning Takes every week!