Week 11 was ugly when it came to picking against the spread. It’s been a rough year. But I’m pulling out all the stops for Week 12. We called a players-only meeting. I fired the offensive coordinator. We’re putting the pads on at practice. This has to work, right? Happy Thanksgiving, and on to the picks!
Lines are from FanDuel as of Wednesday morning. Stats are from TruMedia and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
Week 11 record: 4-10
Season record: 78-81-5
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-7.5)
The Lions are legit Super Bowl contenders and big favorites on Thanksgiving? Admit it, you never thought this day would come. Should Detroit have lost to the Bears last week? Probably. On the season, teams that have committed four-plus turnovers, like the Lions did, are 1-15. The Lions’ win is the only exception. Detroit strung together two touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter to escape with a win. That wasn’t a “red flag” game to me. They moved the ball well. They just made a handful of mistakes on offense that nearly cost them. I have some concerns about the defense, but I’m still a big believer in this team.
As for the Packers, Jordan Love has strung together the best three-game stretch of his career. Is he perfect? Of course not. His accuracy can be a bit off, and he leaves plays on the field. But he is also making high-level throws and showing more consistency. Given how young the Packers are on offense, you just wanted to see them improve in the second half of the season, and that’s exactly what’s happening.
I generally roll with the Lions at home, and I think they’ll pile up yards against this Green Bay defense, but I also like the Packers’ chances of moving the ball consistently. I’ll take the points.
The pick: Packers (+7.5)
Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys (-10.5)
The Commanders had 28 first downs and 403 yards of offense, and they sacked Tommy DeVito nine times last week. They still managed to lose to the Giants by 12! I guess that’s what happens when you turn it over six times, huh?
In this week’s edition of “Football Players Are Not Like Us,” I present to you Micah Parsons. Per The Athletic, Parsons took a new kind of protein powder before last week’s game against the Panthers. He said he felt like CO2 was bottled up in his chest and he was about to explode. He threw up multiple times in the first half. But he also had 2.5 sacks against the Panthers. Asked if he would take the protein powder again, Parsons responded: “I might go half a scoop.”
There’s a chance this Thanksgiving afternoon game will get ugly, but the Commanders offense moves the ball against most defenses. They’re not as bad as they looked last week, and it’s a division game. I think they can keep this one competitive … or at least hit a backdoor cover.
The pick: Commanders (+10.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (+7)
Numbers aren’t everything, but Brock Purdy’s stats this season are pretty wild. Not only is he first in expected points added per pass play, but the difference between Purdy and no. 2 is the same as the difference between the quarterbacks ranked no. 2 and no. 11. Purdy was 21-for-25 for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers’ win over the Bucs last week. He’s consistently pushing the ball downfield, and San Francisco’s offense is rolling.
It sounds like Geno Smith will start this game for Seattle, but we don’t know exactly what kind of shape he’ll be in after suffering an elbow injury in Week 11. At the risk of overreacting, Seattle’s loss to the Rams last week could prove devastating. The Seahawks had a 16-7 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Rams scored the game’s final 10 points for the victory. According to the betting markets, Seattle has the NFL’s third-hardest remaining schedule. Its next four games: 49ers, at Dallas, at San Francisco, Eagles. That’s rough!
The 49ers won all three matchups against the Seahawks last season by an average of 15.3 points. Given the Smith injury and how good the 49ers offense has looked, I can’t see a lot of people taking Seattle, so let’s go with the contrarian pick. Is this a sign that I’m shook after last week’s bloodbath? You betcha!
The pick: Seahawks (+7)
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (+9.5)
So now the Jets have finally realized that Zach Wilson can’t be their starter? And he won’t even be their backup? New York is turning to Tim Boyle for this Black Friday game, and he’ll be backed up by Trevor Siemian. A reminder that Aaron Rodgers was injured on the first possession of Week 1. The Jets had time to come up with a solution, and they did nothing. I had to go off on them during the latest episode of Extra Point Taken.
Had to go off on the Jets. Blatant disrespect to their fan base and their players with how they handled this QB situation.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) November 21, 2023
The Rodgers injury happened in Week 1! They didn’t even try to find a solution.
Instead? They just wasted everyone’s time.@BenjaminSolak @ringernfl pic.twitter.com/HfDuX2oq7r
As for the Dolphins, their defense continues to trend up, but their offense hasn’t been quite as consistent in recent weeks. Needing to put the Raiders away last week, they punted on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter. I can see a scenario where the Jets defense keeps this one competitive, but I’m sorry, I won’t spend Black Friday counting on Tim Freakin’ Boyle. You can do what you want.
The pick: Dolphins (-9.5)
New England Patriots at New York Giants (+3.5)
Huge game! Seriously! If the season ended today, the Patriots (2-8) would have the third pick in the draft. The Giants (3-8) would have the fifth pick. There will be a battle among quarterback-needy teams to get into the top two. Big draft implications based on the result here.
Bill Belichick is not saying who will start at quarterback for New England, which pretty much always means the team is making a move. In this case, it would mean benching Mac Jones for either Bailey Zappe or Will Grier.
The Giants defense had six takeaways last week in their win over Washington. We’ll see some of the most conservative football we’ve seen all season in this game. Both teams will be terrified of making mistakes. The over/under is just 33.5! When the total is that low, I generally just take the points. Tommy DeVito vs. Bill Belichick. What could go wrong?
The pick: Giants (+3.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5)
The Steelers are generally viewed as one of the NFL’s most stable franchises, but there’s some turmoil in Pittsburgh right now. Running back Najee Harris made some revealing comments after last week’s loss to the Browns, and on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin announced that the Steelers had fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada. In 45 games with Canada since 2021, the Steelers failed to produce a single game with more than 400 yards of offense. The rest of the NFL produced 333 such games during that span.
The Bengals, meanwhile, will play out the final seven weeks without Joe Burrow after he suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 11. Given how underwhelming Cincinnati’s defense has been this year, I don’t see much hope for a surprise playoff run with Jake Browning as the starter.
I’ll be honest. For the life of me, I can’t pick a Steelers game right this season. If you fade me on one pick (might want to fade me on all of them!), this should be the one. But I like the chances for a post-Canada bump.
The pick: Steelers (-1.5)
Carolina Panthers at Tennessee Titans (-4)
It sure feels like Frank Reich will be one and done in Carolina. He took back play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown last week, and the Panthers totaled 187 yards of offense against the Cowboys. The Panthers have the worst record in the NFL, and their first-round pick is going to Chicago. Bryce Young has not played well and is developing bad habits. This season has just been a complete disaster.
The Titans, meanwhile, have totaled 36 points during their three-game losing streak. Last week’s game against the Jaguars got away from them. Tennessee had just 38 offensive plays. I don’t think they’re a good team, but I think they’re much better than Carolina.
The pick: Titans (-4)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (+1.5)
Based on EPA per drive, last week was the Jaguars’ best offensive performance ever (!) with Trevor Lawrence. His average throw went 9.5 yards past the line of scrimmage—easily the farthest distance Lawrence has produced in a game this season. Lawrence created out of structure, scrambled, and threw lasers off play-action. This was the version of the Jaguars offense I’ve been begging to see. Maybe it’s as simple as good health for Lawrence? He had been dealing with a left knee injury. I want to see more, but that was an encouraging performance.
The Texans, meanwhile, have won three in a row by a combined 10 points. They had three turnovers in last week’s win over the Cardinals, but that’ll happen. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud doesn’t get rattled and continues to be a joy to watch. Houston is all the way up to fourth in passing DVOA. This is a tough one to pick, but the Texans have fielded the more consistent offense this season. It’s wild to say, but I think I trust them more than the Jags in this spot.
The pick: Texans (+1.5)
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (-1.5)
Big one in the NFC South. Who’s excited? Anyone? Hello? The Saints are 5-5 and -130 to win the division. The Falcons are 4-6 and +210. They’ll go back to Desmond Ridder as their starter as Arthur Smith attempts to find answers for an offense that ranks 25th in DVOA (sandwiched between the Bears and the Patriots).
As of this writing, Derek Carr remains in concussion protocol, and it’s unclear if he’ll return for this game. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is expected to be out, and wide receiver Michael Thomas just landed on injured reserve. I have no real feel for this one, but depending on Ridder and Smith to come through in a big spot is not for me. Give me New Orleans.
The pick: Saints (+1.5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts (-2.5)
At 4-6, the Bucs still have a 33.1 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to DVOA. They lost to the 49ers last week, but the offense had some impressive stretches in that game. Keep an eye on their injury report leading up to Sunday. A lot of Tampa Bay’s guys got banged up in Week 11.
The Colts are coming off a bye, and their playoff odds are similar to Tampa Bay’s: 32.4 percent, per DVOA. It doesn’t hurt that Indy has the third-easiest remaining schedule, according to the betting markets.
I see two evenly matched teams, but the Colts are well rested, while the Bucs are coming off a physical game. I like Indy.
The pick: Colts (-2.5)
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-1.5)
The Cardinals had so many chances to steal that game against the Texans last week. They were in Houston territory on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter, needing a touchdown to take the lead, but each possession ended with a turnover on downs. Their defense stinks, but the offense with Kyler Murray should keep Arizona competitive down the stretch.
I can’t figure out this Rams team. It has some stretches in which the offense looks explosive and efficient and other stretches in which it’s a mess. Los Angeles overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Seahawks last week, but wide receiver Cooper Kupp suffered an ankle injury, and his status for this game is up in the air. Still, this passing offense against the Cardinals passing defense has me leaning Rams.
The pick: Rams (+1.5)
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos (-2.5)
Sean Payton has long been thought of as an offensive innovator. Here is how I would describe his new-look scheme:
Checkdown. Checkdown. Checkdown. Courtland Sutton, do something amazing. Checkdown. Checkdown. Checkdown.
The key to the Broncos’ four-game win streak is pretty simple: turnovers. Since Week 7, they are plus-11 in turnover margin. No other team is better than plus-6 during that span. Denver is playing conservatively on offense and capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes on defense. Is this sustainable enough for them to land a playoff spot? Probably not. But I give Payton credit for realizing what he has with this team and finding ways to stay competitive.
The Browns, meanwhile, found a way to survive last week against the Steelers. Rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was up and down, but he did enough on Cleveland’s last drive to set up the game-winning field goal. This Browns defense is allowing just 243.3 yards per game—the lowest average for any defense in the past 10 years. This has the feel of an ugly, grind-it-out, low-scoring game where one team will make a key mistake and lose it in the end. I’m rolling with Cleveland.
The pick: Browns (+2.5)
Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders (+9.5)
I don’t know how anyone can watch this Chiefs offense and think they’re going to be fine. The receivers are KILLING them. Every Patrick Mahomes dropback is an adventure. Sometimes he scrambles. Sometimes he makes an incredible play out of structure. But nothing is in rhythm, and he has no reason to trust the players he’s throwing the football to. That was evident during the Chiefs’ Monday night loss to the Eagles.
The Raiders played the Dolphins tough last week, but the offense managed just 12 first downs. Given how creative Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is with his game plans, I think this is going to be a long day for Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell. This feels like a competitive game in the second half, but the Chiefs pull away late.
The pick: Chiefs (-9.5)
Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles (-3)
Congratulations to the Bills for being the weirdest team in the NFL. After last week’s win over the Jets, they have a plus-104 point margin on the season—fourth best in the NFL and second in the AFC. The Bills are fifth in overall DVOA and third on offense. When they don’t turn the ball over, they are very good. When they do turn the ball over, they are very bad. Aren’t you glad you come to me for analysis like that?
As for the Eagles, I loved Jalen Hurts’s on-field interview Monday night after their win over the Chiefs. It was clear that he had no idea what had just happened or how the Eagles won that game. The defense (and Chiefs miscues) kept them in it, and with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on the outside, the Eagles are always one play away from scoring—even on a night when the offense was having all kinds of issues.
The Eagles are 23-2 in Hurts’s past 25 regular-season starts. I think they are a very good team. I don’t think they’re a juggernaut. And the Bills are the more desperate team. I think this one comes down to the wire.
The pick: Bills (+3)
Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers (+3.5)
I understand why Brandon Staley got testy after the Chargers’ loss last week to the Packers. He’s frustrated, and he probably sees the writing on the wall. I still think it’s a bad look for an NFL head coach.
"There were a lot of other things that caused us to lose today. It certainly wasn't our defense ... stop making it about one unit."— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 19, 2023
- Chargers coach Brandon Staley after giving up 397 yds to the Packers pic.twitter.com/jBj0b6lqCF
Staley has been the Chargers’ coach for three seasons. Let’s take a look at where they rank on offense and defense during that stretch:
Chargers Offense and Defense
|Points Per Game
|Points Per Game
It’s not hard to identify strengths and weaknesses here. Staley is in charge of the defense, and the defense has been bad.
With the Chiefs’ loss on Monday night, the Ravens now own the 1-seed in the AFC playoff picture, but they have the fourth-hardest remaining schedule, according to the betting markets. There’s a scenario in which the Chargers get blown out here and we finally see them hit rock bottom, but Justin Herbert has been playing at a high level in recent weeks. I’ll go ahead and predict a competitive game. I look forward to regretting this immediately on Sunday night.
The pick: Chargers (+3.5)
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
I would call last week’s Bears loss disastrous, but given where the franchise is (and I know most fans don’t want to think like this), it was probably for the best. Chicago kicked a field goal with 4:15 left to take a 26-14 lead against the Lions. They had a 98.2 percent win probability at that point, according to ESPN. From there? They somehow let the Lions score (on a 32-yard touchdown) in 1:16, then went three-and-out, let the Lions score again (in 2:04 this time), and got hit with a safety for the loss. Final score: Lions 31, Bears 26. Chicago became the first team this season to lose a game in which it had four takeaways. The good news? The loss helped the Bears’ draft position. They would own the first and fourth picks if the season ended today.
The Vikings lost a tough one Sunday night to the Broncos. In many ways, Minnesota outplayed Denver, but it was minus-3 on turnovers. I like this Vikings team quite a bit, but they’re not good enough to overcome that kind of thing. In this game, though, I think they have a significant coaching advantage. Justin Fields and that Bears offense will have a tough time against Brian Flores’s defense. Give me Minnesota at home.
The pick: Vikings (-3.5)