Family, food and football. Thanksgiving combines three of the things we love most in life. Week 12 in the NFL features a feast of mouth-watering action—arguably the best slate of games of the season to date. It kicks off with the greatest Turkey Day menu ever, as the unbeaten Green Bay Packers (10-0) battle the Detroit Lions (7-3) in the Motor City, the up-and-coming Miami Dolphins (3-7) take on the Dallas Cowboys (6-4) and the San Francisco 49ers (9-1) and the Baltimore Ravens (7-3) collide in the highly-anticipated Harbaugh Bowl.
Last Week: 9-5 (108-52 Overall)
Green Bay (10-0) at Detroit (7-3) (Thurs, FOX, 12:30pm EST)
Played annually since 1934, the upcoming clash between the Lions and Packers has the makings of an instant classic. It’s seldom been an inner-division collision of much import in recent years since the Lions haven’t cracked the playoffs in over a decade. The last time the Lions beat the Packers was in last December, 7-3 in Week 15. The last time the Lions beat the Packers on Thanksgiving was back in 2003 in fourth quarter comeback fashion 22-14.
However, flash forward to last week. The Buccaneers gave the Packers all they could handle in a 35-26 hard-fought outing and Matthew Stafford and the Lions roared back to win for the third time this season from a 17-point deficit or more—the only team in NFL history to overcome that large of a margin three times in a single season.
Green Bay seems unbeatable and is off to its best start since 1962. But back on Thanksgiving in that 1962 season, the Packers—10-0—just as they are now—and defending champions—just as they are now—rolled into Tiger Stadium to face the ferocious 8-2 Lions. On that festive day, the perception of the Packers’ unassailability was shattered, as Bart Starr suffered double-digit sacks and the Lions advanced to a comfortable 26-14 victory.
It was a 14-game season back then and Green Bay never lost after Turkey Day, finishing 13-1 before winning the NFL Championship against the Giants. Will history repeat itself 49 years later? Oddly enough, I think it will. NFL Network Analyst Charles Davis also believes history will repeat itself.
Detroit once again has home-field advantage and is sending a stern resonating message to doubters—don’t mess with the Lions. Look for the effervescent home crowd to play an intrinsic factor, as Stafford and company shock Aaron Rodgers and the Packers down-to-the-wire. Prediction: Detroit 36, Green Bay 30
Miami (3-7) at Dallas (6-4) (Thurs, CBS, 4:15pm EST)
Only Rodgers and Romo have chalked up a better quarterback rating than Miami’s Matt Moore (104.5) in the last four weeks. The ex-Panthers signal-caller, who actually began his NFL career in Dallas, has also completed 68 percent of his throws in the four-game span. The Dolphins have become one of the hottest teams in the league, winning three straight and haven’t surrendered double-digits to an opponents since the tail-end of October.
I like Tony Romo and the Cowboys in this one at home though, considering Romo’s roller coaster is always climbing high in the month of November. Moreover, DeMarco Murray is braking records and making Romo look all that much better. Furthermore, the three teams the ‘Phins have beat (Buffalo, Kansas City and Washington) all look pretty pathetic overall and absolutely anemic on offense right now. Look for another entertaining performance from Reggie Bush, nonetheless. Prediction: Dallas 27, Miami 17
San Francisco (9-1) at Baltimore (7-3) (Thurs, NFL Network, 8:20pm EST)
One thing is absolutely certain about this marquee matchup: Harbaugh will pull off the win on Thursday Night Football. It’s T.G.I.T. (“Thank God It’s Thursday,” as NFL Network calls it) and also on Thanksgiving. What fun! Oh, and it’s also the Harbaugh Bowl—the first-ever head-to-head get-together between head-coaching brothers in the 92-year history of the NFL.
I have an intuition that the older brother will get the win with Ray Lewis expected to do everything possible to play.
Couple that with the fact that while the night time might help with their biological clocks, the Niners face another daunting challenge in the Eastern Time Zone. It’s a long-distance travel on a very short emotional-filled week and the Ravens’ home-field edge might also be significant—having not lost a single game all season in Baltimore.
These teams match each other stride for stride in scoring (tied for seventh spot with 25.6 PPG). The 49ers lead the league in run defense at 73.9 YPG with no touchdowns allowed, while the Ravens are ranked fifth at 93.2 YPG, but have only surrendered six scores and lead the NFL with a rate of 3.3 yards per carry.
In points allowed, these two teams are only separated by the Houston Texans, as the Niners are at the top with 14.5 PPG and the Ravens are ranked third at 17.6 PPG. And finally in terms of total defense, Baltimore’s No. 4 with 304.5 YPG and the Niners are No. 8 with 323.1 YPG.
Look for this contest to be incredibly intense down to the last second. It probably won’t end there, either. Post-game conferences, post-game hand-shakes, interviews, the whole nine yards. These two coaches could also meet again in the Super Bowl. Boy wouldn’t that be something? Both teams are ranked in my top three in my latest power rankings after all. Harbaugh wins, I guarantee it. That’s unless it ends in a rare tie of course. Prediction: Baltimore 20, San Francisco 16
Thanksgiving Day Review: Packers prevailed over the Lions 27-15. The Cowboys advanced with a last-second, game-winning field goal over the visiting Dolphins. And in the bare-knuckles Har-bowl, the older brother and the Ravens got the hard-earned win, 16-6 over San Francisco.
Cleveland (4-6) at Cincinnati (6-4) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Andy Dalton and the Bengals are earning their stripes as a sure-fire potential playoff contender. Coming off back-to-back defeats at the hands of AFC heavyweights Baltimore and Pittsburgh by 14 points combined, Cincinnati suits up for round 2 with the Cleveland Browns. Chris Ogbonnaya scored the Browns’ first touchdown at home since Week 4 against the Jaguars, but they’ll need a stellar showing from him and Colt McCoy to keep pace with Dalton and company. Prediction: Cincinnati 23, Cleveland 9
Buffalo (5-5) at N.Y. Jets (5-5) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Insult has met injury in up-state New York. Buffalo has lost its last three games by 80 points combined. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been playing like Phillip Rivers, Mark Sanchez, Rex Grossman and Matthew Stafford tossed into one in that span and not only are all of his weapons banged up, but Fred Jackson is also now out for the rest of the year. Rex Ryan should have his mouth taped up and stay out of the spotlight. His team always plays better when he lays low and Mark Sanchez and the Jets are up against the wall. Prediction: N.Y. Jets 35, Buffalo 6
Houston (7-3) at Jacksonville (3-7) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Along with the NFL’s No. 1 defense, the Texans possess the league’s best 1-2 running back punch and the top receiver who’s returning from a six-week absence this Sunday. Matt Leinart might be rather rusty, but he’s in good hands and well-acquainted with the offensive system. Home-field advantage and a historically hard-fought series should give Jacksonville a chance, but stopping the Texans’ high-powered ground attack along with a very healthy Andre Johnson for four quarters is a pipe dream. Prediction: Houston 27, Jacksonville 13
Carolina (2-8) at Indianapolis (0-10) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
This game’s in Indianapolis. The Colts are coming off a bye week. Cam Newton has thrown five interceptions in the past two weeks. Finally Indianapolis gets its first victory of the season…right? Perhaps. Curtis Painter and company at least have a chance. But Newton and the Panthers are much more likely to bounce back. Indy inches closer to the ’08 Lions and ’76 Bucs. Prediction: Carolina 28, Indianapolis 16
Tampa Bay (4-6) at Tennessee (5-5) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Former Buccaneers star linebacker Barrett Ruud spent his first six seasons in Tampa Bay and will miss his first encounter against his former club (groin), while Albert Haynesworth said on Wednesday that he holds no ill will towards the Titans. Now where have we heard that vernacular used before? Oh yeah, earlier this year with Baltimore’s Vonta Leach, who said he had no ill towards the Texans and then said just the opposite after the game. If that weren’t enough, LeGarrette Blount was released last year by the Titans before jumping ship to the Buccaneers. Both of these teams are also in an absolutely must-win game. I like Josh Freeman and company to continue to play with a strong sense of urgency and find a way to win. Prediction: Tampa Bay 23, Tennessee 20
Minnesota (2-8) at Atlanta (6-4) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Matty Ice and the Falcons are getting hot and peaking at the perfect time, winning four of their last five. The Falcons face a Vikings team with a rookie quarterback, no Adrian Peterson and no Antoine Winfield—at home in the Georgia Dome. That should indicate taking names later for star running back Michael Turner, who ranks second in carries, fourth in rushing scores and fifth in rushing yards right now in the NFL. Prediction: Atlanta 27, Minnesota 10
Arizona (3-7) at St. Louis (2-8) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Patrick Peterson sealed the win for the Cardinals in the first meeting three weeks ago with a game-winning touchdown on a punt return in overtime, 19-13. St. Louis is a little healthier and has the home-field edge, so I’m taking the Rams. Prediction: St. Louis 20, Arizona 17
Chicago (7-3) at Oakland (6-4) (FOX, 4:05pm EST)
The Raiders sold the farm earlier this year for Carson Palmer. The Bears just lost Jay Cutler, who had been playing lights out all year, for the remainder of the season. Chicago will now rely on Matt Forte more than ever. That might end up being a two-edged sword, nonetheless since Forte has averaged just 3.18 YPC the past two weeks. Oakland, on the other hand, hasn’t missed a beat without Darren McFadden, as Michael Bush has been putting on a clinic as of late. Both clubs would make the playoffs if the season ended today, but there’s still many gristly games and tough tests ahead for both teams. The Raiders are at home and I don’t believe Caleb Hanie can get it done on this short notice. Prediction: Oakland 23, Chicago 17
Washington (3-7) at Seattle (4-6) (FOX, 4:05pm EST)
Aside from the debacle in Toronto, the Redskins haven’t lost a game by more than 13 points all year. Yet, they’re stuck on a six-game losing skid, something Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier were even able to avoid. Look for a competitive contest here, but the Seahawks are flying high and tend to excel at home. It’ll be picking season in Seattle’s secondary against Rex Grossman. Prediction: Seattle 24, Washington 10
Denver (5-5) at San Diego (4-6) (CBS, 4:15pm EST)
The 2011 season has been jam-packed of surprises. Will this game feature more of the same? Tim Tebow is one of the NFL’s best fourth quarter quarterbacks and Phillip Rivers leads the league in fourth quarter interceptions. The Chargers haven’t won since Week 5—when they first clashed with Denver in the Mile High. The Broncos have won four of their last five since that get-together and have had headlines and controversy inevitably swirling around their starting signal-caller, who almost always manages to put together late-game magic, which is of course referred to as Tebow Time. Will Rivers and the Bolts finally break from self-destruct mode, slow down (and sweep) those Tebows and get back into the playoff picture? Coming off a mini-bye week with an edge in the pass rush against San Diego’s waning offensive line could potentially pay dividends and lead way to the upset. Prediction: Denver 19, San Diego 17
New England (7-3) at Philadelphia (4-6) (CBS, 4:15pm EST)
Philly has the home-field advantage and should be treating this game with a much more deep-seated sense of urgency. Vince Young’s a Tebow-esque winner and the Eagles’ star corners, led by Nnamdi Asomugha, will reportedly start in today’s high-stakes marquee matchup. The Eagles will need big plays from the defense and LeSean McCoy on offense out of the backfield. Prediction: Philadelphia 30, New England 27
Pittsburgh (7-3) at Kansas City (4-6) (NBC, 8:20pm EST)
The Steelers’ defense has been a wrecking ball for opposing offenses in recent weeks, while the Chiefs have been outscored by the likes of the Lions, Bills, Dolphins and Patriots by an average of 34.5 points. Expect another brutal day at the office for Tyler Palko and company. Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Kansas City 14
***Update: Please note that with all of the holiday happenings, I wasn’t able to dish out predictions for every game before Thursday and Sunday’s late action before late Saturday night/early Sunday morning (depending on time zone). I did post my predictions on our Facebook page beforehand (so there is proof that I did indeed predict the games and as always, didn’t change any picks or scores). Thanks folks for reading! Please feel free to comment and let us know what YOU think and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Be sure to check out Peter King’s predictions (105-55), Albert Breer’s picks (99-60) and Jason La Canfora’s preview on all of the games. And enjoy another great slate of games! Also find ESPN.com’s and CBSSports.com’s expert roundtable picks.
Verse of This Piece: “Whoever gives to others will get richer; those who help others will themselves be helped.” —Proverbs 11:25