For many years, this week featured the first and only Thursday NFL games. The Lions would be the early kickoff, the Cowboys played later in the afternoon and then we’d all sit down with full stomachs and take in the Egg Bowl for dessert (maybe second or third desserts if we’re being truthful). Now Thursday games have become the norm, and we get a third NFL game on Thanksgiving night every year. The Steelers and Ravens will square off in the nightcap this year in what looked for weeks like it could decide not only the division but perhaps who gets the AFC playoff bye. After a rash of injuries, the Ravens are fighting just to qualify for the playoffs, with the Steelers long gone in the race for the division and six games from completing a perfect regular season. The Cowboys and Washington play in a game that is suddenly somehow pivotal to deciding who limps away with the NFC East title after the Cowboys’ big upset of the Vikings. The Texans play the Lions in the early game, and ... well, at least we can bet on it. Let’s get to the picks ...
Texans (-2.5) over Lions:
I was higher than I should have been on the Lions coming into the season. I’ve always viewed Matthew Stafford as one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league, and I thought they possessed a vast array of weapons to make for a potent offense. Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson spiced up an offense that I thought could be in the top third of the league. Fast-forward to Sunday, when Stafford, listed as questionable all week, was clearly not 100% healthy dealing with torn ligaments in his hand. Golladay and Swift were inactive, and Hockenson played despite also being listed as questionable all week. The Lions were shut out by a well-below-average Panthers defense. With only three days to recover and the playoffs now a fantasy, I don’t see Detroit rallying for a coach whose days are limited. The Texans are better than their record, have no incentive to tank because they owe their first two picks to Miami and are only so far out out of contention because their first four games were against the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers and Vikings, They have a truly elite player at the most important position and are in better form than these beleaguered Lions. My guess is this line gets to or over a field goal by kickoff. If you like the Texans, best to grab it now. If you like the Lions, perhaps it’s best to wait it out and seek a 3 or even a 3.5. (When a line is 2.5, it’s always best to wait if you like the dog because the upside of getting a 3 outweighs the downside of it going to 2).
Ravens (+ 4.5) over Steelers:
Classic buy-low/sell-high situation with a talented and more desperate team getting over a field goal. These games have a history of being decided by three or fewer points, so getting over a field goal is paramount in this spot. With the Raiders, Browns and Dolphins surging toward double-digit wins, Baltimore is in danger of missing the postseason. This does not fall into the category of the overused must-win situation, but it’s very close when you examine the records and upcoming schedules of the other AFC wild-card contenders. The first matchup went to the Steelers 28-24, but a closer look tells a different story. The Steelers were outgained 448-221 and yielded nearly 6 yards per play. The Ravens moved the ball successfully but were simply undone by committing four turnovers, one returned for a touchdown. The Ravens will be without J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram in the backfield, but I expect a home-run effort. Coupled with taking the superior coach on a short week, it makes this a play on the dog. The gap between these teams is not as wide as the records suggest, so take the hungrier soldier getting the points.
Chargers (+ 6) over Bills:
The Chargers have been one of the most maddening teams in the league but are predictable to an extent: Don’t trust them as favorites, and take the points with them as dogs. Dating back to last year, the Chargers are plagued by close loss after close loss. Despite their poor record, their largest margin of defeat this season is eight points. They’ve had the Chiefs, Bucs, Saints and Broncos down by large deficits and seemingly beaten ... but didn’t win. They will not be outclassed by any opponent, including the playoff-bound Bills, who struggle on defense. Justin Herbert likely sealed his status as rookie of the year with the unfortunate yet inevitable injury to Joe Burrow. Herbert continues to impress, and despite the bevy of draft capital the Dolphins own, they would likely exchange a large chunk of it if they could go back in time and select the quarterback who went one spot later instead of Tua Tagovailoa. The Chargers will probably lose a heartbreaker but are a good bet to stay within the number.
Seahawks to win NFC West (-120):
It’s always important to monitor and revisit the futures markets throughout the season. This one jumped out at me, and even though I already bet this and recommended it before the season, I think it’s a good idea to jump in or double down. The schedule is very forgiving to a Seahawks defense that was finally somewhat competitive in its victory over the Cardinals and now gets 11 days off to prepare for three NFC East opponents as well as a possible Super Bowl preview vs. the Jets. (I’m kidding, just trying to make sure you’re paying attention.) The Eagles, Giants, Jets and Washington are on the menu for this team, which is tied for the NFC West lead. Worst-case scenario, this bet will come down to Week 17 vs. a decimated 49ers team. In that case, the Seahawks will be favored, and you can hedge if you feel the need and give yourself a chance to hit a middle opportunity. That scenario, however, is unlikely. With a pillow-soft schedule on tap, I expect the Seahawks to pull away down the stretch.