Sports

Week 12 NFL Picks Against the Spread

We’re giving you the picks early this week so that you can enjoy your family on Thanksgiving (or ignore your family for nine hours and watch football).

On one hand, these lines could change once injury reports come out later in the week. On the other, I can use the lack of injury information as an excuse should I perform badly. On to the picks!

Lines are from FanDuel as of Tuesday night. Stats are from TruMedia/Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.

Week 11 record: 6-7-1

Season record: 83-76-5

Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions (+9.5)

The Thanksgiving Day triple-header begins with a fun one. The Bills, forced out of Buffalo by a blizzard, played in Detroit last week and ran for 171 yards in a victory over the Browns. But it was a competitive game, and Cleveland produced 27 first downs and 396 yards of offense.

The Lions, meanwhile, are coming off three straight wins, including an impressive 31-18 road victory against the Giants last week. The on/off splits with wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown are pretty wild. With St. Brown, they’ve performed like the second-most efficient offense in the league in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play. Without him, they’ve operated like the worst offense in the NFL. There’s obviously some noise there, but still, he’s been a legit difference-maker.

The Lions are playing at home, and their offense can move the ball. If you’re not going to bet on Jared Goff to cover on Thanksgiving, what’s the point of even celebrating the holiday?

The pick: Lions (+9.5)

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-9.5)

The Cowboys delivered one of the most impressive wins by any team this season last week, smashing the Vikings 40-3 on the road. When they’ve had Dak Prescott on the field, the Cowboys have performed like the NFL’s fourth-best offense in terms of EPA per play. And they are second in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric.

The Giants, meanwhile, are going in the opposite direction. They lost last week to the Lions and are banged up in their secondary. On paper, there’s no real reason to take the Giants here. The Cowboys beat them by a touchdown in Week 3, and that was with Cooper Rush.

Having said that, one of my rules with these picks is: If it seems too obvious, go the other way. I think the Giants at least have a chance to run the ball here, and I like their coaching staff to come up with some wrinkles, given that they’re big underdogs.

The pick: Giants (+9.5)

New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5)

Not only did the Vikings get hammered by the Cowboys, but they suffered a key injury with standout left tackle Christian Darrisaw sustaining a second concussion in eight days. He won’t play in this game.

The Patriots beat the Jets on a punt return touchdown last week. Their defense ranks first in EPA per drive through 11 weeks. New England’s offensive line got pushed around last week, and Mac Jones turtled under pressure. Jones and Kirk Cousins are similar in many ways. Give them time, and they can pick you apart. Pressure them or confuse them, and it’s over.

Cousins has faced Belichick just twice in his career—the last time was 2018. But in those two starts, he averaged just 4.98 yards per attempt, and Cousins’s teams failed to top 10 points in either game.

All three underdogs on Thanksgiving? Why not?

The pick: Patriots (+2.5)

Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars (+4)

Do you trust this Ravens team? They’re 7-3 and have won four straight. New linebacker Roquan Smith has unlocked fellow linebacker Patrick Queen, and the defense appears to be coming on strong. Then again, they were locked in a 3-3 game against the Panthers last week entering the fourth quarter. Their run game averaged 3.8 YPC, and Demarcus Robinson was their leading receiver. They can win in a number of different ways, but it just feels like the Ravens haven’t quite put it all together.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, have been one of the NFL’s unluckiest teams. They are 1-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that in an alternate universe, this team is competing for a playoff spot. The Jaguars are fifth in offensive success rate; they’ve just come up short in a lot of high-leverage spots. I think there’s a chance they finish out this season strong and take good vibes into 2023.

The pick: Jaguars (+4)

Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers (+2.5)

Interesting exercise with this game: Which franchise would you rather be right now? I think it’s the Panthers, right? Sure, this year has been a disaster, but they have young talent at a number of premium positions like left tackle, wide receiver, edge rusher, defensive tackle and cornerback. They’re probably looking at a top-five pick and can find a quarterback to pair with a new coach. It might not feel like it right now, but there’s a realistic chance for a turnaround that starts in 2023.

The Broncos? Well, it’s a lot harder to get there. They’re going to need to find a coach who can find some way to unlock this version of Russell Wilson, who is making $49 million per year. The defense has some young, talented players, but a coaching change could mean a coordinator change and a scheme change. Plus, they play in a division with Patrick Mahomes.

As for this game, the Panthers continue to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and will go back to Sam Darnold at quarterback. There’s no way to feel good about either side here, but I can’t see Darnold doing much against this Broncos defense.

The pick: Broncos (-2.5)

Atlanta Falcons at Washington Commanders (-4)

This looks like a bad matchup for the Falcons. Atlanta has been the most run-heavy team in the NFL. They’ve passed the ball just 39.8 percent of the time on early downs in score-neutral situations, according to RBSDM.com. Washington’s defense has been playing well and currently ranks second in rushing DVOA.

These two teams are battling for playoff positioning. According to Football Outsiders, the Commanders have a 42.6 percent chance of getting in, while the Falcons are at 24.7 percent.

I see two evenly matched teams, but the Falcons are so one-dimensional, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to lean into their run game here.

The pick: Commanders (-4)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns (+3.5)

The Bucs are coming off a bye. But in Week 10, they delivered one of their best offensive performances of the season, piling up 26 first downs and 419 yards in a win over the Seahawks. What was most impressive about that win was the Bucs’ pass protection. Tom Brady didn’t take a sack and was hit just once. If Tampa Bay can give him time, this offense will be able to fix a lot of the issues it had earlier in the season. And Rachaad White looks like he’ll give the Bucs some juice at running back.

It’s been a strange, strange season for the Browns. This will be their last game without Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Through 11 weeks, the Browns rank fourth in offensive DVOA and 31st in defensive DVOA. Jacoby Brissett has been far from perfect, but for the most part, this offense has worked with him at quarterback. It’s the defense that has been a disaster.

Cleveland can move the ball, so I’m somewhat hesitant to fade them here, but that defense has just been so, so bad.

The pick: Bucs (-3.5)

Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (+1.5)

Anyone noticing what Joe Burrow is doing right now? He casually threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns against the Steelers last week. The Bengals have scored 79 points in their last two games, even though they’ve been without Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow consistently makes the players around him better. Having said that, I have questions about this Bengals defense—specifically in the secondary.

The Titans went up and down the field with ease against the Packers last Thursday night, and their defense has played well. I got burned by not taking Mike Vrabel in the underdog role last week. Not going to make the same mistake again here.

The pick: Titans (+1.5)

Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins (-13)

If we take a look at the top 10 single-game offensive performances this season in terms of EPA per drive, we find one team listed three times. It’s not the Chiefs. It’s the Dolphins (Week 2 against the Ravens, Week 8 against the Lions, and Week 10 against the Browns). The Dolphins rank second in offensive DVOA, and remember, that ranking counts two games where Miami didn’t have Tua Tagovailoa. When they’ve had Tagovailoa, the Dolphins have looked pretty close to unstoppable.

I’m not going to waste words here on the Texans. They stink. Maybe something flukey happens here and they cover, but I’m not counting on it.

The pick: Dolphins (-13)

Chicago Bears at New York Jets (-4.5)

As of this writing, we don’t know whether the Jets will make a quarterback change. But regardless of whether it’s this week, later this season, or this offseason, I think we’re going to look back at last week’s game against the Patriots as the end of the Zach Wilson era. The offense produced six first downs and just 103 yards—both leaguewide lows in a game this season. Wilson was panicked and inaccurate all afternoon. He looked completely lost. And this isn’t a one-game thing. Wilson ranks 32nd out of 34 quarterbacks in EPA per pass play this season.

Maybe at some point, Wilson will figure it out. But right now, anyone with eyes can see the truth: He’s holding the Jets back. Their defense is fantastic, and the pieces are in place on offense to help the quarterback. But the quarterback isn’t improving.

As for the Bears, it’s unclear whether Justin Fields (shoulder injury) is going to play, and their defense lacks talent. I like the Jets to bounce back.

The pick: Jets (-4.5)

Las Vegas Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (-3.5)

With a little help from Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson, the Raiders left Denver with an overtime win last week to improve to 3-7 on the season. The Seahawks are coming off their bye. If the season ended today, Seattle would be the 7-seed in the playoffs and travel to Minnesota in the first round.

The Seahawks defense has gotten a lot better since early in the season, but if they can’t pressure Derek Carr, he’ll make some plays. On the other side of the ball, Geno Smith should be able to light up a Raiders defense that ranks last in DVOA.

I like the Seahawks here, but the Raiders aren’t as bad as their record indicates and can keep it close.

The pick: Raiders (+3.5)

Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona Cardinals (+4)

The Chargers were competitive but couldn’t finish the job Sunday night in a loss to the Chiefs. The good news is they got Keenan Allen back. The bad news is Mike Williams aggravated his ankle injury and left the game. It’s hard to know what to make of this team. They still have Justin Herbert and can compete with anyone on any given week. But the defense has been underwhelming, and Brandon Staley has morphed into one of the NFL’s most conservative coaches with his in-game decision-making this year.

The Cardinals got blown out on Monday night, and it’s hard to see a scenario where they run it back with GM Steve Keim, coach Kliff Kingsbury, and quarterback Kyler Murray next year. I never feel comfortable taking the Chargers, but they need this game, and the Cardinals look like a team that might crater down the stretch.

The pick: Chargers (-4)

Los Angeles Rams at Kansas City Chiefs (-14.5)

Patrick Mahomes made it look easy Sunday night against the Chargers. He got the ball with 1:46 left and the Chiefs trailing 27-23. They went 75 yards in 75 seconds and took home a 30-27 victory. The Chiefs look like an offensive juggernaut and have won four in a row.

This Rams season is a disaster. They have a minus-59 point differential. That’s the worst mark in the NFC. They’re already without Cooper Kupp, and now Matthew Stafford is in the concussion protocol.

This is a big number, but the Chiefs are a well-oiled machine, and the Rams can barely field a team.

The pick: Chiefs (-14.5)

New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers (-9.5)

I made the case on this week’s Extra Point Taken that the 2022 49ers could end up being superior to the 2019 49ers team that made the Super Bowl.

On Monday night, we saw how tough they are to defend with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle. They didn’t even play running back Elijah Mitchell until late in the first half, and then he suddenly started breaking off chunk runs. This is a complete team with a Super Bowl ceiling.

The Saints took care of business at home last week against the Rams, but they’re banged up and are going to have trouble matching San Francisco’s athleticism.

The pick: 49ers (-9.5)

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles (-7)

The Eagles escaped Indianapolis with a win last week, but it was their worst offensive performance of the season in terms of EPA per drive. The Eagles don’t have a high-volume playbook, and the Colts stayed disciplined against some of their staple concepts. The Eagles definitely felt tight end Dallas Goedert’s absence in both the run game and the pass game.

After last week’s loss to the Titans, the Packers are +660 to make the playoffs. That equates to about a 13.2 percent chance.

I could definitely see a scenario here where the Eagles figure some things out offensively and bury the Packers. But given the struggles we saw last week, I’m not comfortable taking them to cover a number this big. Eagles win, but Packers keep it close.

The pick: Packers (+7)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (-2.5)

The Steelers were competitive last week against the Bengals. That was a 27-23 game in the fourth quarter before they eventually lost, 37-30. They’re not a good team, and this looks like it’ll be Mike Tomlin’s first losing season. But the Steelers won’t go down easily down the stretch.

As for the Colts, their defense held up well last week in a loss to the Eagles, but they just don’t have a lot of juice on offense. This feels like a game where the Steelers get a score on defense or special teams and pull off the upset.

The pick: Steelers (+2.5)

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