“Time to talk turkey.”
I’m not sure where that expression originated, I just know it means it’s time to get serious. For NFL teams and survivor players, Thanksgiving means more than turkey; it is a line of demarcation. By now the pretenders have been revealed or weeded out. Bill Belichick pointed to Thanksgiving as the target date for when he wants his teams peaking. He famously showed a clip of a horse race and froze it halfway through, asking his team who would win the race. The answers varied, but the point was clear: We don’t know who’s going to win because the race has yet to be completed.
Thanksgiving signifies the start of the NFL stretch run, and if you’ve made it this far as a survivor player, you have accomplished something. But much like a team with a good record, the job is not finished. As we head into the stretch, let’s look at which horse we should ride, and let’s avoid being the turkey.
Here are my Week 12 NFL survivor picks:
Games to consider
Los Angeles Rams (-7) over San Francisco 49ers
Last summer this game looked like a potential survivor play, only with the 49ers as the preferred choice. If you’ve ever purchased a house, you know how much paperwork comes with that. That pales in comparison to the size of the 49ers’ weekly injury report. Simply put, this team has been decimated by injuries and is a shell of the team we watched take a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in the Super Bowl last February. Nick Mullens, one of the league’s more coveted backups last offseason, has proved why he’s a backup more than why he was so coveted. Still, Kyle Shanahan is a fantastic coach who has had Sean McVay’s number, including a win over the Rams at Levi's Stadium in October. Division games are usually close, so this pick is well-intentioned but likely not the safest as the 49ers are coming off of a bye and are perhaps a little healthier this week. (It would be hard for them to be less healthy.)
Miami Dolphins (-7) over New York Jets
What would a survivor column in 2020 be without a mention of the Jets? We could have saved ourselves a lot of ink, and you a lot of time, by just penciling in “Jets opponent” as the weekly pick. Yes, maybe the Jets are trying to get Trevor Lawrence. But maybe they just want to help you win your survivor pool? They’ve actually been competitive in recent weeks, rallying against the Chargers and hanging with the Patriots until the very end, covering in both games. The Dolphins, as hot as anyone in the NFL, were cooled off by the Broncos on Sunday and were thoroughly outplayed in the process. While a loss was perhaps bound to happen, the way they played has to be alarming. Their offensive line was manhandled, they were gashed on the ground and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looks underwhelming. He may be good down the road, but he looks nowhere near as impressive as the man who was picked immediately after him, the Chargers’ Justin Herbert. This is a division game and a rematch against a Jets team that’s at home looking to avoid an 0-16 season. The Jets probably will lose (again), but many of you may have used Miami in the first meeting between these teams, so let’s keep looking.
Cleveland Browns (-7) over Jacksonville Jaguars
I’ve said it for years -- when you need a win, you turn to ... the 7-3 Cleveland Browns?!? Just saying that out loud -- “the 7-3 Cleveland Browns” -- is a reminder that it’s 2020. But the Browns are fun and somewhat ... reliable? When you can run the ball effectively, you can mask many other shortcomings. The Jaguars are just the Jets with better weather. Since stunning the Colts in Week 1, they’ve lost every game, getting blown out in most of them. They are bad against the run, bad against the pass and starting a sixth-round rookie backup quarterback. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? The Browns likely have not been used by most survivors this year, so now is as good a time as any to fire that bullet. The 8-3, playoff-bound Cleveland Browns?!? Strange times, indeed.