Every team has played at least ten games now, and six more weeks will determine the 2020-21 NFL playoff field. Week 12 has no shortage of games that will affect playoff races immensely.
First and foremost, you have two 3-7 teams duking it out on Thanksgiving. Snooze and skip, right? Well the winner of the late afternoon matchup between the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys will actually assume first place in the NFC East.
But in terms of teams that will actually have a chance in the postseason, there are key matchups on Sunday. The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts meet with identical 7-3 records, and first place in the AFC South at stake. In a game pushed back from Thanksgiving night due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Baltimore Ravens organization, the Pittsburgh Steelers look to push their undefeated start to 11-0. For Baltimore, it’s less about catching Pittsburgh in the AFC North and more about just staying relevant in the AFC wildcard race.
In an exciting inter-conference matchup, the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs take on the 7-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An interesting wrinkle? Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady are the last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Tampa Bay is hungry for a win after dropping a Monday night matchup with the Los Angles Rams.
UPDATE 11/28: The Ravens-Steelers matchup has gone from the marquee matchup of Thanksgiving, to a key Sunday afternoon game, to.. a skippable Tuesday game. Without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, (as well as their top two running backs,) due to COVID-19, the Baltimore Ravens don’t stand much of a chance against the undefeated Steelers.
I’m a little meticulous when it comes to choosing my featured image, or the cover boy for this week’s picks, if you will. So Jackson remains the poster child for my Week 12 NFL pick, despite developments that unfolded after the picks were published. I will, however, be changing my pick to Pittsburgh instead of a Baltimore upset.
Week 1: 10-6
Week 2: 11-5
Week 3: 8-7-1
Week 4: 10-5
Week 5: 7-7
Week 6: 10-4
Week 7: 10-4
Week 8: 7-7
Week 9: 7-7
Week 10: 9-5
Week 11: 7-7
Overall: 96-64-1 (60% correct)
Last week I incorrectly predicted:
- Eagles over Browns
- Ravens over Titans
- Patriots over Texans
- Packers over Colts
- Vikings over Cowboys
- Dolphins over Broncos
- Buccaneers over Rams
Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6)
Line: Houston Texans (-3.0)
I’m not a sports bettor, but I can imagine that would be the best way to enjoy the two games played on Thanksgiving. This matchup in particular features a close line, pretty much a toss-up, between two teams that don’t necessarily have playoff aspirations. I also don’t imagine you’ll be watching the game with any Lions or Texans fans, unless you live in Michigan or Houston.
The Detroit Lions laid a goose egg in their last game, losing 20-0 to the Carolina Panthers, while the Houston Texans emerged victorious 27-20 over the New England Patriots. Houston definitely comes in on a better note, but I could see a bounceback game from Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense.
Lions win 26-23, Lions win ATS
Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7)
Line: Dallas Cowboys (-3.0)
The two teams featured in this game are worse than in the first matchup, but there’s one major difference: the winner of this game will temporarily take hold of first place in the NFC East. The stakes are higher, and Washington and Dallas both have bigger followings than Houston and Detroit.
The Cowboys looked down and out during a four-game losing streak, but showed signs of life in a win over the Vikings last week. If Andy Dalton can lead an efficient offense, the Cowboys could win their second straight.
Washington has been better with Alex Smith at quarterback, but that can’t make up for other shortcomings on their roster, including on defense. Dallas’ defense isn’t all that great either, but the Cowboys offense’s peak capability is greater than that of Washington’s.
Best case scenario? A back-and-forth shootout.
Cowboys win 34-30, Cowboys win ATS
Sunday Day Games
Las Vegas Raiders (6-4) at Atlanta Falcons (3-7)
Line: Las Vegas Raiders (-3.0)
Derek Carr and the Raiders can play with the best of them (defeating the Chiefs and Saints this season.) Of their four losses, three of them were to teams with winning records.
Long story short, this is the Raiders game to lose. Atlanta relies on a high-profile offense to make up for their defensive shortcomings, but scored just nine points last week against Taysom Hill and the Saints.
Raiders win 27-20, Raiders win ATS
Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-3)
Line: Buffalo Bills (-5.5)
The Buffalo Bills are the better team here, but the gap isn’t as big as you might think. I would like to pick the Chargers in an upset but there’s a couple reasons I can’t. First of all the location: Orchard Park, New York. It’s not brutally cold yet, but the Chargers have to come a long way from Los Angeles. Buffalo is 4-1 at home, while the Chargers are 1-4 on the road. The Bills always enjoy a homefield advantage, fans or no fans.
Secondly, while the Chargers are coming off a 34-28 win over the New York Jets, I would have liked to see a more dominant win over the NFL’s worst team.
Bills win 27-24, Chargers win ATS
New York Giants (3-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1)
Line: New York Giants (-6.0)
Daniel Jones and the Giants are getting better by the week. In addition to winning back-to-back games against Washington and Philadelphia, New York has won three of four games and hasn’t lost by more than a score since Week 3.
The Bengals just lost Joe Burow for the season, forcing Brandon Allen in to a starting role. Barring an exceptional performance by Allen, this could be the Giants biggest win of the season.
Giants win 30-17, Giants win ATS
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tennessee Titans (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (7-3)
Line: Indianapolis Colts (-3.0)
Perhaps the most important game of the week is this AFC South clash. The Colts took Round 1 a couple weeks ago on a Thursday night, and by taking Round 2 against the Titans, Indianapolis can put themselves in the driver’s seat for the division title.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched enough Titans or Colts games this season to provide a detailed reason for picking a winner. Instead I’m going with my gut: Philip Rivers and the Colts win again, improving to a somewhat surprising 8-3.
Colts win 28-24, Colts win ATS
Carolina Panthers (4-7) at Minnesota Vikings (4-6)
Line: Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
Here we have two teams that are playing decent to good right now, even though they’re too far behind in the standings for it to matter. For Carolina, P.J. Walker led a 20-0 shutout win over the Lions last week. The Vikings lost at the last-second to the Cowboys last Sunday, but had previously won three straight games.
Teddy Bridgewater will be back this week, and Minnesota is a subpar 1-4 at home. Give me the Panthers in a late comeback.
Panthers win 31-27, Panthers win ATS
Arizona Cardinals (6-4) at New England Patriots (4-6)
Line: Arizona Cardinals (-2.5)
No matter how you slice it up, the Cardinals are the better team here. But Arizona is far from a shoo-in for victory. Once again, fans or no fans, Bill Belichick at home is a force to be reckoned with. But my biggest concern, from Arizona’s point of view, is the fact that New England was able to handle Lamar Jackson with relative ease. Of course, it wasn’t Belichick’s first time seeing Jackson, and it will be his first time gameplanning against Kyler Murray.
I am going to pick the Cardinals, but if the Patriots win, it will be due to an immaculate Belichick defensive gameplan.
Cardinals win 26-20, Cardinals win ATS
Miami Dolphins (6-4) at New York Jets (0-10)
Line: Miami Dolphins (-7.0)
Tua Tagovailoa was limited in Wednesday’s practice, but is expected to be good to go against the winless Jets on Sunday. The Dolphins fell to the Broncos last week, ending their winning streak. The Jets have lost their last two games by just three and six points…
But those games were both against teams with losing records. This is a well-rounded Miami team, and even if Ryan Fitzpatrick had to start, I would still pick the Dolphins. At the same time, if the Jets want to avoid going winless, this could be one of their best remaining chances to pull off a victory.
Dolphins win 29-22, PUSH ATS
Cleveland Browns (7-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
Line: Cleveland Browns (-7.0)
The Cleveland Browns aren’t as good as their record suggests, but that situation will only be exacerbated this week when they take care of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Browns will finish Week 12 with an 8-3 record, one victory away from securing a winning season.
Browns win 33-17, Browns win ATS
New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Denver Broncos (4-6)
Line: New Orleans Saints (-6.0)
Between the Broncos’ gritty defense and play style, combined with their homefield advantage in Denver’s altitude, this game might be closer and more hard-fought than you would expect. I’ll still choose New Orleans, but this might not be a typical win for the Saints.
UPDATE 11/28: With the Broncos having no quarterbacks available to play in this game, it would take a miracle for them to pull off a victory.
Saints win 24-6, Broncos win ATS
San Francisco 49ers (4-6) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
Line: Los Angeles Rams (-6.5)
The 49ers have lost three straight, all without the services of Jimmy Garoppolo. While the quarterback would have made a tangible difference, San Francisco still may have lost to Seattle, Green Bay, and New Orleans all the same.
The 49ers took their first matchup with the Rams, winning 24-16 behind three touchdown passes from Garoppolo. Without him, and with Los Angeles playing better football right now, the Rams roll to win and put the 49ers out of reasonable playoff reach.
Rams win 34-22, Rams win ATS
Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4)
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5)
While this isn’t the most important game of the week, it’s certainly the most high profile. The winners of the last two Super Bowls, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, squaring off with hopes of reaching the NFL’s highest stage again this season.
Both teams have a lot to play for, even though they play in different conferences. The Chiefs are looking to keep the AFC’s top seed within striking distance, while the Buccaneers have to keep pace in the NFC wildcard race, or hope New Orleans somehow falters in the NFC South.
With both teams trying to play their best football, the winner is obvious: the Kansas City Chiefs. I think this could be a close and exciting game, or the Chiefs could go on a touchdown streak and make the game out of hand early. My prediction will fall somewhere in the middle, with Brady throwing a couple more costly picks.
Chiefs win 37-24, Chiefs win ATS
Sunday Night Football
Chicago Bears (5-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-3)
Line: Green Bay Packers (-8.5)
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are a vulnerable team, and not ready to be considered among the NFL’s three elite teams. In recent weeks, they’ve lost to the Vikings and squandered a 14-point lead against the Colts last week.
Green Bay is beatable right now, but not by an ice cold Chicago Bears team. Nick Foles and the Bears have lost four straight, eclipsing 20 points just once in that stretch. While Chicago has an above average defense, I don’t see them outscoring the Packers in primetime.
Packers win 25-16, Packers win ATS
Monday Night Football
Seattle Seahawks (7-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1)
Line: Seattle Seahawks (-5.0)
When these two teams last met, the Seattle Seahawks outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles 17-9 in last season’s Wildcard Playoff round. If Philadelphia wins the NFC East, and Seattle finishes the season second in the NFC West but with the top wildcard spot, they would meet in the playoffs once again in January 2021.
Despite losing back-to-back games, I wouldn’t count the Eagles out completely. A perfect storm of limiting Russell Wilson’s production and taking advantage of Seattle’s defense could lead to an Eagles upset.
On paper, I like the Seahawks by a touchdown or more.
Seahawks win 31-23, Seahawks win ATS
Baltimore Ravens (6-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0)
Original Pick: On paper, I thought this would be the Game of the Week. Originally slated for Thanksgiving night, this game features a now desperate Baltimore Ravens team, sitting in third place in the AFC North. Make no doubt, this should still be an exciting matchup between Lamar Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger. But the Game of the Week honors went to Titans-Colts, were the winner assumes first place of the AFC South. In this matchup, even if the Ravens win, it’s almost impossible for them to catch Pittsburgh for the AFC North lead.
Still, Baltimore is fighting for their playoff life. Expect a strong effort, and dare I say, a victory.
Ravens win 27-26
New Pick: If this game is indeed played this week (it might not be,) the Pittsburgh Steelers are the sure favorite. Robert Griffin III is about as good as they get as far as backup quarterbacks go, but with multiple holes created by their COVID-19 outbreak, Baltimore would need a miracle to beat an undefeated Steelers team.
Steelers win 30-18
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