Week 12 gave us a Packers upset over the Lions on Thanksgiving, an overtime thriller between the Eagles and Bills, and a statement win by the Jaguars. We’re two-thirds of the way through the regular season. Do you know who’s winning the Super Bowl? Yeah, me neither. Will we be able to better answer that question after Week 13? Maybe. On to the picks!
Lines are from FanDuel as of Thursday morning. Stats are from TruMedia and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
Week 12 record: 8-7-1
Season record: 86-88-6
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (-8.5)
Simple question: What do the Seahawks do at an above-average level right now? They got blown out by the 49ers on Thanksgiving, and they look like a mediocre group across the board. The Seahawks are 17th in DVOA—18th on offense and 22nd on defense. They’re not bad. They’re not good. They just have nothing to hang their hat on. At 6-5, the Seahawks currently own the sixth playoff spot in the NFC, but according to the betting markets, they have the fourth-hardest remaining schedule. Seattle’s next three games: at Dallas, at San Francisco, home against the Eagles.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, are trending in the opposite direction as Seattle. They’ve feasted on a soft schedule (the easiest in the NFL, by one metric), but have looked impressive in recent blowout wins over the Giants, Panthers, and Commanders. Dak Prescott is playing the best football of his career, and the Cowboys defense is loaded. Dallas’s plus-162 point differential is tops in the NFL.
It will not surprise me if this game gets out of hand and Dallas rolls, but I just can’t give up on a Pete Carroll–coached team with its back against the wall. Seattle finds a way to keep it competitive.
The pick: Seahawks (+8.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (+5.5)
The Chargers continue to be a miserable team to watch. Great nugget from The Athletic’s Daniel Popper: The Chargers have been either winning or within one score in the fourth quarter of every game this season. They’ve had the ball while trailing by one score in the fourth quarter of eight games. They are 1-7 in those games. It’s just the same thing week after week after week (and year after year after year?).
As for the Patriots, fading them has been the best bet in football this season. They are 2-9 against the spread; that’s the worst cover percentage in the NFL. On the bright side, New England would pick third in the draft if the season ended today, and they have a great chance to overtake the Cardinals for the no. 2 pick.
There’s no way to feel good about this one, but give me the Chargers.
The pick: Chargers (-5.5)
Arizona Cardinals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5)
I can’t believe it. The greatest streak in all of professional sports is dead. The Steelers went 45 straight games under offensive coordinator Matt Canada without gaining at least 400 yards. In their first game after Mike Tomlin fired Canada, the Steelers gained 421 yards! Regular readers of this column know that I had an unhealthy obsession with the streak. Now I feel lost. Where do I focus all of my energy? I am begging another NFL team to hire Canada. C’mon. He can get to 46 if you give him another shot. I need this. You need this. The world needs this!
As for this post-Canada Steelers team, it looks like they’ll be on the cutting edge of new offensive concepts like play-action and throwing the ball in the middle of the field. I really liked what I saw from them last week.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, got blown out by the Rams. Their defense stinks, but maybe Kyler Murray can make a handful of plays to keep this one close. I don’t fully trust Pittsburgh to cover a number this big just yet.
The pick: Cardinals (+5.5)
Denver Broncos at Houston Texans (-3.5)
If you are a Broncos fan, you should sit back and enjoy this run. They’ve won five games in a row to improve to 6-5 and now have a chance to make the playoffs. If you’re an objective observer, you should know that the way they’re winning does not feel sustainable. During this win streak, the Broncos are plus-13 in turnover margin. That’s not only best in the NFL, but five better than any other team. Every coach emphasizes taking care of the ball and taking the football away from opponents. There’s definitely some skill involved, but there’s also a whole lot of randomness. That randomness is going the Broncos’ way right now, but it’s unlikely to continue the rest of the season—at least not at this rate.
As for the Texans, their defense got lit up in the loss to Jacksonville last week, but I’m still all in on C.J. Stroud. He didn’t have a lot of easy answers in that game but still found ways to create and keep Houston in the game.
I think the Texans are making the playoffs, and I think they’ll get back on track here.
The pick: Texans (-3.5)
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (+4.5)
I am not too concerned about the Lions offense. The NFL season is long, and most teams are going to have stretches when they make mistakes and turn the ball over and look bad. I trust that the offense will figure it out. The defense, on the other hand? That has my attention. Earlier this season, it looked like the Lions would be much improved on that side of the ball. But since Week 7, they rank last in expected points added (EPA) per drive and 31st in defensive success rate.
The Saints, meanwhile, piled up 444 yards of offense last week, but that translated to just 15 points in a loss to the Falcons.
I went back and forth on this one. The Saints’ ability to move the ball against Detroit’s defense concerns me, but in the end, I hate the feeling of having to count on Dennis Allen and Derek Carr. I think the Lions bounce back.
The pick: Lions (-4.5)
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans (+1.5)
If the season ended today, the Colts would be in the playoffs. I was completely wrong about them. I looked at the roster before the season and thought they would be one of the NFL’s worst teams. But first-year head coach Shane Steichen finds ways to scheme things up on offense, and I loved his aggressiveness during their win over the Bucs last week. Defensively, coordinator Gus Bradley is doing more with less. Indianapolis is all the way up to 11th in defensive DVOA. The Colts have been a well-coached team all season.
The Titans didn’t light it up last week, but they took care of business against the Panthers. Tennessee has looked like a different team at home this season. I think they’ll play spoiler here.
The pick: Titans (+1.5)
Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets (+2.5)
If I were putting together an All-Pro team right now, I’d have Falcons safety Jessie Bates III on the first team. High-priced free agent signings bust more often than they work out, but Bates has been incredible for the Falcons, and there’s no denying that the Bengals miss him. Bates had a 92-yard pick-six against the Saints last week that completely changed the game.
I have nothing new to say about the Jets. I think this will be a low-scoring game, and their defense is good enough to coax Desmond Ridder into a couple of turnovers. I should probably be banned from writing this column after this pick, but give me Tim Boyle and the points.
The pick: Jets (+2.5)
Miami Dolphins at Washington Commanders (+9.5)
The Commanders defense has fallen all the way down to 31st in DVOA. That’s a bad, bad unit. It doesn’t help that they traded two of their best pass rushers, Chase Young and Montez Sweat, at the deadline. Firing defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio won’t solve all their problems, but it probably won’t hurt either. I am open to a little new coordinator bump here.
The Dolphins beat the Jets on Black Friday but were dealt a big blow; they lost edge defender Jaelan Phillips to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. Miami’s defense had been coming on strong, but Phillips was one of its best players. I wonder whether the Dolphins will be able to produce enough pass rush against the AFC’s elite offenses later this season and into the playoffs.
It would not surprise me if Miami puts up 500 yards of offense here, but I think Washington quarterback Sam Howell can make enough plays to keep it competitive.
The pick: Commanders (+9.5)
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-5.5)
On the one hand, Panthers owner David Tepper was justified in firing Frank Reich. The team is 1-10 and showing no signs of improvement, and Bryce Young is in danger of developing bad habits. On the other hand, there is no evidence to suggest that Tepper knows what he’s doing. Since he bought the team in 2018, the Panthers have the second-worst record (30-63) in the NFL, with zero winning seasons and zero playoff appearances.
The Bucs had chances last week against the Colts, but their banged-up defense couldn’t get stops, and quarterback Baker Mayfield had a big fumble late. Let’s go with the old theory that a team gets a one-game bump when it fires its coach in-season. And no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t feel good about this one.
The pick: Panthers (+5.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles (+2.5)
There’s a lot of juice for this one after the Eagles beat San Francisco in the NFC championship game last season. Brock Purdy suffered an elbow injury on San Francisco’s first possession of that game, and the 49ers have since made it clear that they feel like they should have been playing in the Super Bowl.
Some fun questions and matchups in this one. First, how will the Eagles match up to the 49ers when San Francisco is in 21-personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) and 22-personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one wide receiver) packages? Linebacker is the weakest link on the Eagles roster. If they have to play in their base defense, Kyle Shanahan will find ways to successfully attack the middle of the field.
Second, when the Eagles have the ball, can the 49ers stop the run? San Francisco has an excellent pass rush but is just 20th in DVOA against the run. D’Andre Swift has played well for the Eagles, and Jalen Hurts’s legs were a factor last week against Buffalo.
This game will end either with Kyle Shanahan popping champagne for winning his regular-season Super Bowl or with Nick Sirianni flipping the double bird to visiting 49ers fans after an Eagles victory. I’ll take the home dogs.
The pick: Eagles (+2.5)
Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)
The quarterback carousel continues to spin in Cleveland. Joe Flacco is now the team’s no. 2 quarterback, and if Dorian Thompson-Robinson (concussion) isn’t cleared, Flacco will start this game. Let me take a second to confirm what you are all thinking: HOW IS JOE FLACCO STILL IN OUR LIVES?
How impressive were the Rams in their win last week against the Cardinals? In terms of success rate, that was the fourth-best offensive performance by any team this season. If quarterback Matthew Stafford can stay healthy, they have a legit shot at stealing a wild-card spot. But given how stingy this Browns defense typically is, I’ll go ahead and take the points.
The pick: Browns (+3.5)
Kansas City Chiefs at Green Bay Packers (+6)
Earlier this week on Extra Point Taken, I declared that the Packers will make the playoffs.
The moment @BenjaminSolak and I realized we both had the same take: The Packers are making the playoffs.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) November 28, 2023
(So sorry to do this to you, Packers fans).
Full discussion here:https://t.co/7mOjOrkisg@ringer @ringernfl pic.twitter.com/TCDA7jaayD
What Jordan Love did to the Lions on Thanksgiving was not a one-game thing. He has been showing steady improvement over the past month. The Packers have a young team. The best-case scenario for this season was that the young players would improve and they’d be competitive down the stretch. That seems to be what’s happening.
The Chiefs fell behind 14-0 last week against the Raiders but rallied back and ended up winning by two touchdowns. Wide receiver Rashee Rice showed some juice in that game, snagging eight passes from Patrick Mahomes for 107 yards. The Chiefs really need one of their wide receivers to emerge as a reliable target for Mahomes, and Rice seems like the best bet to be that guy.
I think we’ll get a close game, but I don’t trust the Packers defense in a big spot. The Chiefs score late for the cover.
The pick: Chiefs (-6)
Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars (-8.5)
Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning’s showing last week against the Steelers didn’t do much to inspire confidence in his ability to replace Joe Burrow. He had a couple of passes get deflected and land in Ja’Marr Chase’s hands. Otherwise, the numbers would have looked even worse. The Bengals totaled 10 first downs in that game.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, are trending in the right direction. They look to me like a team that’s figured some things out offensively in the past two weeks. Jacksonville put up 445 yards in its win at Houston last week. If a couple of 50-50 plays went their way, that easily could have been a double-digit victory. I have been skeptical of the Jaguars defense, but it made C.J. Stroud work for everything he got in that game.
This is a “Be careful, the NFL is weird” game, but I won’t overthink it. The Jaguars are Super Bowl contenders, and the Bengals are on the road with a backup quarterback and a leaky defense.
The pick: Jaguars (-8.5)