Happy Thanksgiving everyone, it’s the extended weekend for all Americans to enjoy a massive turkey, the company of friends and family, but most importantly, a full program of Football! Three games on Thursday evening, in addition to the usual schedule equals a veritable feast on the Gridiron.
Week 12’s antics reached a high point in New England on Monday morning, where we saw one of the best games of the year, while the turgidity-fest provided by the Jags and Texans in Houston provided us with one of the worst. So let’s hope that week 13 will provide us with more crackers than damp squibs.
No byes this week, so there are 16 points on offer, and at 111-65 for the season, I need as many of those as I can get. We start, as always on thanksgiving week, in Detroit.
Green Bay Packers 17-34 Detroit Lions
This Packers team without Aaron Rodgers is a shadow of what it used to be. The defense looks lost with the exception of Clay Matthews and the while the offense can move the football, it’s about 40% as effective. His importance to the team is such that they may try to get him on the field here, but I seriously doubt the doctors will allow it. The Lions will be distraught at their loss to the Bucs last week, but I can’t see that they will have many games where so many mistakes will be made, especially by Matt Stafford. I’m expecting a big bounce back from him in a comfortable win for the Lions at home.
Oakland Raiders 20-30 Dallas Cowboys
If the Raiders had edged past the Titans, they would have been in the thick of the playoff race… who knew!? But instead at 4-7 and facing a trip to 6-5 Dallas, who are desperate to win the NFC East, it looks like it could be the end for the Raiders’ season, even though they have shown promise on both sides of the ball. Matt McGloin has done well in his few starts, and against this Cowboys’ D, he should have another decent day, but Tony Romo should outdo him. DeMarco Murray is huge for this offense and it is no coincidence that the Cowboys do well when he is on the field: another 130 combined yards should do the trick at home.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20-23 Baltimore Ravens
Both of these teams are really finding their feet and are chasing down the Bengals at the top of the AFC North. At 5-6, this game has become hugely important for both teams, and I think we could see the hardest-hitting matchup of the week in Baltimore. Looking on paper, these sides are very closely matched, but the way Josh Gordon lit up the Steelers’ D with 220 yards receiving is a big worry, as if Joe Flacco can get the long bomb to Torrey Smith fully functioning, the Ravens pose a massive threat to any team. Antonio Brown is an x-factor player for the road team, and Baltimore’s excellent defense will focus on locking him down, something that could help them win this game at home.
Tennessee Titans 23-24 Indianapolis Colts
I’m not sure what happened to the Colts last week in Arizona, it could just be that the Cardinals are becoming a very solid team indeed. Andrew Luck was off, the running game went nowhere and the defense was flimsy at best, but we’ve seen that this Indy team are better than that, something a home game against divisional rivals could help remind them of. The Titans are solid, nothing more, nothing less, although there is a huge amount of potential for better on both sides of the ball, especially on offense: Chris Johnson, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker. There is one hell of a lot of explosion sat there waiting to go off. They just need the right fuse, or a top QB. Unfortunately they don’t have one, and the loss of safety Michael Griffin to suspension could open up the middle of the field in the pass and run games. Colts bounce back at home.
Jacksonville Jaguars 10-31 Cleveland Browns
The Jags battled extremely well to defeat the Texans in Houston last week, but going to cold Cleveland, who are sure to produce a reaction to last week’s poor home defeat against the Steelers, is a totally different matter. The Browns’ defense should bounce back here, and I expect a stifling of Chad Henne, and it goes without saying that MJD won’t have such a good day either. It remains to be seen whether Jason Campbell will be at QB for the home team after being battered by Pittsburgh last week, but I think that even if Brandon Weeden starts, Josh Gordon will have another match-winning stat-line to his name.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-27 Carolina Panthers
It was only right that the Bucs beat the Lions last week as there were so many turnovers and mistakes committed by Detroit that it was almost impossible not to cash in on most of them. However, this Panthers’ defense is for real, and if they can stifle the running game, Mike Glennon could be in for one of his most difficult days as a pro in Charlotte. Carolina will want to get their running game back in gear after a below-par showing last week, and Cam Newton may be used a bit more outside the pocket to nullify Tampa’s strong secondary play from Revis, Barron and co. The Bucs revival should hit a snag here, and the Panthers can go to 9-3.
Chicago Bears 27-23 Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings really should have won in Green bay last week, but their weak defense threw it away so they were left with a tie after overtime. They will have another opportunity to put up a few yards against this leaky Chicago D, but the Bears’ offense is far superior to what they faced last week. For that reason, Minnesota will struggle to keep up with Chicago, especially with the Bears being better against the run.
New England Patriots 30-17 Houston Texans
I never thought I’d see this Texans roster at 2-9 after a loss to the Jags, but it has happened somehow, and there is no way I can pick them to upset a Patriots team who turned over Peyton’s Denver juggernaut in overtime in a thriller early Monday morning. New England are improving all the time while Houston seem stuck in the doldrums of mediocrity. Having said all that, the Texans should put up a better fight here at home, and I don’t expect this to be easy for the Pats at all. But when you have the Brady to Gronk connection in full flow, it’s an irresistible force. At 9-3, New England are in with a shot of taking the #1 seed in the AFC, an incredible coaching feat for Bill Belichick.
Arizona Cardinals 27-23 Philadelphia Eagles
This is what I would call a pendulum game, could go either way. Normally I would consider home advantage and defensive strength as the two main factors, but they cancel each other out, so I’ll have to look somewhere else. Something happened last week that no-one can ever remember happening before: Carson Palmer went two games in a row without throwing an interception. It seems that the Arizona offense has clicked, and the Eagles’ D is vulnerable. Yes the Eagles will still threaten on offense with their plethora of weapons, but the Cards are well set up to go on the road and stifle teams.
Miami Dolphins 13-17 New York Jets
I’m not expecting anything pretty here, just two teams and a good fight. Both have issues on offense while their defenses are some of the better units in the NFL. The pressure the Jets’ defensive line could put on Ryan Tannehill and the Miami running game could be the game winner here though, even though their pass defense is less impressive than you would expect (23rd ranked). Miami are very hit and miss, normally miss on the road, so I’ll go with Geno and the Jets.
Atlanta Falcons 20-24 Buffalo Bills
This matchup rests on one key thing: the Bills’ pass rush. If the Atlanta offensive line keeps playing the way it has done, the Buffalo defensive line will cause havoc with Matt Ryan and his timing. The Falcons were better last week against the Saints, but on the road they may well slip back into the bad habits they were developing. EJ Manuel and the Bills haven’t given up on a wildcard spot just yet either.
St Louis Rams 13-20 San Francisco 49’ers
This is going to be a classic NFC West matchup: ground and pound, big hits and stifling defense. Although the Rams are a much improved team recently, the Niners will tailor this game so it suits them at home, and that is the reason why they should win this. They don’t want to give Arizona a lead to hang onto in the race for a wildcard spot behind Seattle, so they will be plying harder than their opponents who have nothing to lose in one of the strongest divisions in football. St Louis are a threat to the 49’ers, but one they are well equipped to deal with.
Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 San Diego Chargers
The Chargers showed their brilliant side on offense in their win over the Chiefs, but they also exhibited their bad side in the amount of points and yards they conceded against a fairly stagnant looking offense. It cannot be underestimated how badly the Kansas D was affected by losing Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, and with basically no pass rush, they were shredded through the air. The Bengals will not let that happen this week, and unless Ryan Mathews can get rushing this week, it could be a whole different story. I have a feeling that, coming off a bye week, Cincinnati will be tuned up to push for a high seeding in the playoffs, and although it will not be an easy task going to San Diego, a tighter game suits the Bengals more. But Andy Dalton MUST take care of the football better.
Denver Broncos 34-20 Kansas City Chiefs
The last encounter between these two was difficult to call, however with the Chiefs possibly without Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and with the Broncos reeling after a late loss in New England, I’m expecting a big-time lashing out from Peyton Manning and Denver. The Chiefs will move the football on a pretty poor Broncos’ D, but they will not be able to stop the same happening to them, just in a much more destructive way. Denver gets back on track for the AFC’s #1 seeding.
New York Giants 24-23 Washington Redskins
This is a very close game to call, but at the end of the day, one team still has a shot of going to the post-season, so it’s a question of who wants it more. I’m not sure what the Skins will do for the rest of this season but it could be shutting down their stars to avoid injuries and evaluate their roster going into next season: if so, the G-men should definitely win, but I don’t think coach Shanahan will be quite as drastic. Oddly, this could end up being one of the most exciting games of the weekend, but Eli Manning’s weaponry and the return of New York’s running game could be the slim difference.
New Orleans Saints 20-17 Seattle Seahawks
A possible dress rehursal for the NFC Championship game, the Saints visiting the Seahawks is a definitive test to see exactly how far both teams have come this year. This will probably end up being a very had fought, defensively focussed game, with two top 10 rosters facing off. However, it is on offense that this game should be settled: I have never been convinced that the Seahawks offense is that great a unit, and against top defenses who can stop/slow Marshawn Lynch, their weaknesses get exposed. The return of Percy Harvin could change this, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The Saints just keep finding rough gems for their brilliant QB Drew Brees to polish up, and deep threat Kenny Stills is the latest addition to this category. The best thing about New Orleans is the fact they don’t have to have that great a running game because of the diversity of their pass attack, but in Pierre Thomas, they do anyway. Thomas is one of the unsung heroes of this team, and he could come up big on screen passes and short dump-off plays in the redzone. Oh and did I mention that Jimmy Graham is a beast? He scores TD’s in every game, and even though the Hawks will have a plan for him, he will do so again when it matters.