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Week 12 NFL Picks: Thanksgiving Special!

How to balance football, family, and the inevitable Kirk Cousins memes

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

We all know what the meaning of Thanksgiving is: Every year, we gather to mark the anniversary of the Buttfumble, when Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez ran into Brandon Moore’s posterior, losing the football and sparking a Patriots touchdown. If you think Thanksgiving is about more than that, you’re right: On that day in 1989, Jimmy Johnson accused Buddy Ryan of putting a bounty on the Cowboys’ kicker.

There’s always a lot to honor and juggle on Thanksgiving, and there’s even more than usual this year, because the NFL is giving us three pretty good games, offering additional welcome distractions from your core Thursday activity: closing your eyes and hoping that no one at your table brings up politics.

Of course, it’s not easy to manage three appealing games on a day that’s supposed to be reserved for family, because gridiron viewing means a lot of time away from the table, the leftovers, and the second batch of leftovers. Remember the following tips, though, and you’ll emerge unscathed:


This is the most important thing: There’s a game every four hours on Thursday, which means that if you watch all three, you won’t be able to properly pretend to care about which family member’s flight was delayed. Unless you’re a Vikings or Lions fan (in which case I am so, so sorry) or a Colts or Steelers enthusiast, it’s probably best to fraternize while keeping one eye on those games and save your real energy for Washington-Dallas, the unquestioned game of the day. You can’t miss Ezekiel Elliott doing the “feed me” celebration on a day that centers on food! It’s too perfect! But being able to give Skins-Cowboys your very best means getting all of the “Wow, Uncle Joe, I didn’t know about your full collection of Mark Wahlberg movies on DVD, that’s great,” talk out of the way during the other two contests, so focus.

Watch the Eating Schedule

Turkey makes you tired. So do 6,000 calories worth of sugary, creamy pie. So do seven glasses of whiskey. You get the point: Thanksgiving football viewing is a process, and you have to trust the process so that you’re not napping when Kirk Cousins becomes unhinged.

One tip for remaining alert: Don’t consume your sixth piece of pie until the third quarter of the final game. (It’s always the sixth piece that does it.) Tragically, the Buttfumble game failed to get great ratings, which is a real cautionary tale. It’s never completely safe to look away on Thanksgiving. Stay frosty!

Avoid Talking About the Elephant in the Room

Look, something happened earlier this month that people are going to want to talk about while you’re trying to watch football. It’s a controversial topic, so the conversation is going to be painful once it begins. So please, for the love of turkey, do whatever you can to avoid talking about Bill O’Brien’s decision to punt on fourth-and-5 with his team trailing and just 3:02 left against the Raiders this past Monday night.

Argue About Names

Is Dak Prescott a good name? This is the perfect time to debate that very question with loved ones.

And now, on to the picks. (Home team in CAPS.)

Minnesota (+3) over DETROIT

The Lions have covered four of their past five on Thanksgiving and have hit the over five times in a row. In the Matthew Stafford era, they’ve stopped embarrassing themselves on this holiday. Let’s not praise them unncessarily, though: The Detroit defense got positive press this week for dominating the Jaguars, which is not really something to boast about:

The Vikings, meanwhile, are coming off of a desperately needed win in which Xavier Rhodes emerged as the scoring weapon they’ve sorely lacked. Unfortunately for the Minnesota offense, Xavier Rhodes is a cornerback. The Vikings are still in the NFC North race, but the offense clearly isn’t going to carry them, so they’re going to have to rely on defense and special teams to score. I actually think that they can do enough to make the playoffs while relying on those units, if only due to their competition in the division. The Vikings defense is the most dominant unit in the North — unless you count how the Packers defense dominates at giving up touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that he likes the short week ahead of the Thanksgiving game, because it prevents coaches from going “too crazy” in scheming for the opponent. That’s a hilarious way to view preparation. Minnesota should be able to steal this one without having to go too crazy.

DALLAS (-7) over Washington

What a game for memes. There’s always a lot of talk about the great players on the Cowboys and Redskins, but there’s not nearly enough discussion about the great tweets these squads spark, even though they’re far more important:

The Cowboys’ Week 11 game changed how we should think about this team: With Dallas facing the top rushing defense in the NFL, I assumed the Ravens would do enough to shut down the ground game and keep things close. But instead of letting that matchup become a roadblock, the Cowboys took to the air, with Dak Prescott passing for more than 300 yards in a comfortable win. That ability to adjust based on the opponent confirmed that, quite simply, the Cowboys are freaking awesome.

The Redskins rank 31st in rushing yards per attempt allowed, so Dallas won’t even need to be inventive in this one. The Boys can go back to running the ball down their opponent’s throat instead.

Pittsburgh (no line) over INDIANAPOLIS

Obviously, it’s never fun when a player has a concussion. But sometimes, it’s secretly fun to see what happens when a star quarterback misses a game or two and his inept team has to compete without him. Alas, we’ve reached the end of the “sort of fun” phase for the Colts, who will likely be without Andrew Luck for the 10th time in the past two years after he was placed in the concussion protocol Monday. The Colts without Luck are the worst possible version of an NFL team, so get ready for some awkward time with not only your family, but also Colts backup quarterback Scott Tolzien.

The Steelers, meanwhile, will get the shorthanded Colts a week after playing the perpetually shorthanded Browns. They’re going to win this one. And soon, they’re going to pull away from the rest of their division.