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NFL Week 12 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

The Thanksgiving schedule took a major hit when the Baltimore Ravens’ ongoing coronavirus outbreak resulted in the rescheduling of their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to Sunday. That leaves Thursday’s lineup with the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys each hosting a fairly mundane matchup, which was the way the holiday typically went in the years before the N.F.L. added a prime-time game to the mix.

Those games will provide an underwhelming start to a week that includes must-watch matchups like the Kansas City Chiefs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans against the Indianapolis Colts. If the Ravens and Steelers are able to play, their A.F.C. North rivalry could easily be the game of the week.

Here’s a look at N.F.L. Week 12 with all picks made against the spread.

Last week’s record: 7-7

Overall record: 79-78-4

A look ahead at Week 12:

Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys -3 | Total: 46

Every team in the N.F.C. East has three wins, but each is trending in a different direction. The Eagles appear to be sinking, the Giants are making fewer mistakes, the Footballers (3-7) have found some life on offense, and the Cowboys (3-7) looked downright good in last weekend’s win over Minnesota.

You may have seen reports that Coach Mike McCarthy smashed a watermelon to inspire Dallas last week. The team’s success might have been powered by that, or it may have been because running back Ezekiel Elliott had his best game in nearly a year and quarterback Andy Dalton took advantage of a bad Vikings secondary to finally find a rhythm with his team’s talented wide receivers. It’s hard to say which. It probably wasn’t the watermelon.

That being said, Alex Smith’s presence under center probably makes Washington the most complete team in the league’s worst division. Barring another turn-back-the-clock game from Dalton and Elliott (against a much better defense than Minnesota’s), this matchup is the Footballers’ to lose. Pick: Footballers +3

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m., CBS

Line: Texans -3 | Total: 51.5

The Lions’ playing on Thanksgiving is a tradition that stretches back to 1934 (with a break during World War II). The joke, though, is that the real tradition is Detroit (4-6) losing on the holiday, as the team is 37-40-2 in those games.

Adding a 41st loss this week seems fairly likely.

Houston has many flaws, but when Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt are at their best, the Texans (3-7) can be beautiful to watch. That has often been obscured by puzzling personnel changes to their surrounding cast and by injuries to Watt. But both were at the top of their games last week in a win over the New England Patriots, a performance that makes a win over the Lions (4-6) seem attainable. Pick: Texans -3

ImageTom Brady has had plenty of success for Tampa Bay this season, but he has also thrown interceptions at an unusual rate and has struggled to complete deep passes.
Credit…Jason Behnken/Associated Press

Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Line: Chiefs -3.5 | Total: 55.5

Tom Brady can clearly still do many things effectively. He already has more touchdown passes, 25, for the Buccaneers (7-4) than he had all of last season for the Patriots, and Tampa Bay is averaging 29.1 points a game. There is no reason to believe Brady won’t be able to lead the team to its first playoff appearance since 2007.

Though Brady still has clear value, it is worth noting that he has already thrown more interceptions than he did last year, and is throwing them at his highest rate since 2009. More troubling — given his team’s star-studded collection of pass catchers — is his complete inability to stretch the field. According to the N.F.L.’s Next Gen Stats, Brady’s last 22 pass attempts of 20 or more yards have fallen incomplete — the longest such stretch for any quarterback since 2017.

Tampa Bay has risen to the occasion against several good teams — delivering convincing wins against the Panthers, the Raiders and the Packers — and looked fairly inept in losses to the Rams, the Saints (twice) and the Bears. The Chiefs (9-1) on the other hand, have no such problems with consistency. Ahead of the playoffs, Kansas City might want to work out the trouble it had slowing down the offense of its division rivals in Las Vegas, but the Chiefs are a sterling 8-0 against other teams, with Patrick Mahomes presumably on the way to his second Most Valuable Player Award.

At their best, the Buccaneers could beat the Chiefs, but knowing when the best version of Tampa Bay will show up is impossible. Pick: Chiefs -3.5

Credit…Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:15 p.m., NBC

Line: Steelers -5.5 | Total: 44.5

It has been a rough stretch for the Ravens (6-4), and things don’t seem likely to get any easier this week. On the heels of losing for the third time in four games since the team’s bye week, Baltimore had its facilities closed because of multiple positive coronavirus tests among the players and staff. Out of an “abundance of caution,” the N.F.L. delayed this game from Thursday until Sunday.

The total number of affected players is unclear, but running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins are both on the Covid-19 reserve list after positive tests, and their expected absence will dramatically weaken the team’s running game — its biggest strength.

If there is any reason for optimism among the Ravens, it is that a regression to the mean for both teams could happen at any time: Baltimore did not suddenly become bad, and the Steelers (10-0) are talented, but probably not “undefeated season” talented.

Baltimore is deep enough on offense that the plan of attack doesn’t change much even with Ingram and Dobbins out. Gus Edwards — one of just two running backs, along with Dobbins, to have a 100-yard rushing game against Pittsburgh in the last two seasons — will presumably receive the bulk of the carries. But while quarterback Lamar Jackson can be expected to pull out of a recent funk at some point, doing so against the Steelers seems iffy at best.

The Steelers would have been favored even without Baltimore’s run of bad luck, but considering everything happening in the Ravens’ orbit, Pittsburgh has a fairly obvious leg up in its quest to become the first 11-0 team since the 2015 Carolina Panthers. Pick: Steelers -5.5

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bills -5.5 | Total: 53.5

When last seen, the Bills (7-3) were having their hearts broken by Kyler’s “Hail Murray” pass to DeAndre Hopkins. Just how much momentum that play sucked away from Buffalo will be determined this weekend in a home game against the Chargers (3-7), who have had too many injuries on defense to be relevant, but have enough offensive talent alongside quarterback Justin Herbert to cause problems for any opponent.

It is expected to be 49 degrees and clear at game time in Orchard Park, N.Y., conditions that will keep the passing game in play and lead to a fairly entertaining shootout between Herbert and the Bills’ Josh Allen. Buffalo is likely to win, but the score should be closer than oddsmakers are predicting. Pick: Chargers +5.5

Credit…Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -3.5 | Total: 51

Despite an ugly start last weekend, the Colts (7-3) showed how great their defense can be in a thrilling win over Green Bay. After falling behind, 28-14, at halftime, Indianapolis limited the Packers to a field goal on five second-half possessions and forced a fumble in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal. The Colts, who will be without star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner who is on the Covid-19 reserve list, face another stiff test this week from the Titans (7-3), who shook off a bit of a cold streak by beating Baltimore in overtime. To add some spice, this game could go a long way to determining which of these teams win the A.F.C. South.

The Colts are a much more balanced team. They’re playing at home, and it is easy to imagine their offense putting up a huge number of points against Tennessee’s banged-up defense. Ultimately, the Colts have a few too many advantages in this matchup to doubt them. Pick: Colts -3.5

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m., Fox

Line: Rams -7 | Total: 45.5

There is a difference between a bad team and one that is simply overcome by injuries, and San Francisco (4-6) has been more of the latter in its letdown season. The Upshot still gives the 49ers an 11 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, but the team is more suited to a different role: spoiler.

This week, the 49ers travel to Los Angeles to face the surging Rams (7-3) who have pulled even with Seattle at the top of the N.F.C. West. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo remains out with a high ankle sprain, but the team appears to be getting running backs Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson back from their injuries. If wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is cleared from the Covid-19 reserve list in time for this game, Coach Kyle Shanahan could devise a run-heavy game plan using those four players to make up for the current weakness at quarterback.

Will that be enough to beat the Rams? Maybe not. To make a division rival sweat a little? Absolutely. Pick: 49ers +7

Credit…Chris Unger/Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Raiders -3 | Total: 55.5

There is no such thing as a moral victory, but the Raiders (6-4) should be holding their heads high after very nearly beating the Chiefs in a game that came down to which team had the ball last. Had Las Vegas gotten one more possession, the score easily could have gone the other way.

After hanging with the Chiefs, the Raiders shouldn’t find the Falcons (3-7) to be much of a problem.

Atlanta is 1-4 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the team’s porous secondary will be in trouble trying to slow down Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. The unclear status of Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’s injured hamstring makes Atlanta’s efficacy just as questionable. Pick: Raiders -3

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Packers -8.5 | Total: 45

Aaron Rodgers is coming off a disappointing loss, is going up against a division rival that might be starting a third-string quarterback and is playing in prime time. You might expect fireworks in such a situation, but enthusiasm should be tempered considering Chicago’s defense commands respect regardless of the team’s four-game losing streak.

With respect for the fact that Green Bay (7-3) can score 25 or more points against just about any team, the question is how many points Chicago can score against the Packers’ inconsistent defense. Chicago might get running back David Montgomery back this week, but the choice for the Bears (5-5) at quarterback will come down to the health of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky. If neither can go, Tyler Bray will presumably start. All three, at this point in their careers, are bad. The scoring should be fairly low, but it could still result in a lopsided win for Green Bay. Pick: Packers -8.5

Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Vikings -4 | Total: 48.5

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Christian McCaffrey both practiced on Wednesday, but it’s possible that Carolina (4-7) will hold either or both out of the game since the Panthers’ Week 13 bye would give both a chance to get closer to 100 percent. Should Bridgewater be active, however, he could do quite a bit of damage against the Vikings (4-6), even without McCaffrey, as the Panthers have a fairly underrated collection of receivers. If Bridgewater is out, the math changes. Pick: Panthers +4

Credit…David Richard/Associated Press

Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Browns -7 | Total: 49

After slogging through three consecutive home games played in cold, wet conditions, the Browns (7-3) might feel as if they are on vacation when they visit the Jaguars (1-9). The expected game-time temperature of 76 degrees will be helpful, and Jacksonville’s horrible defense should relax Cleveland even more. That the Jaguars appear set to start Mike Glennon at quarterback makes any thought of an upset laughable. Anything can happen, but Cleveland should romp. Pick: Browns -7

Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cardinals -2.5 | Total: 49.5

As recently as last season, a visit from a first- or second-year quarterback to Foxborough, Mass., could be marked down as a win for New England before kickoff. That mastery of young quarterbacks has fallen away this year, and Kyler Murray and the Cardinals (6-4) head into New England as favorites. Arizona hasn’t been a dependable performer, but the Patriots (4-6) struggle far more to be competitive on a week-to-week basis. Pick: Cardinals -2.5

Credit…Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -5.5 | Total: 43.5

The Saints (8-2), who have won seven straight, didn’t slow down much after a switch to Taysom Hill at starting quarterback last week against the Falcons. Playing the Broncos (4-6) and their tough defense on the road presents more of a challenge than Atlanta did, but New Orleans can do enough on both sides of the ball to win this game, even if Hill comes back to Earth a bit. Pick: Saints -5.5

Miami Dolphins at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Dolphins -7 | Total: 44.5

Proving that nearly all evaluation is done via the scoreboard, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s passing statistics for Miami (6-4) in last week’s loss to Denver were not appreciably different from what he delivered against the Rams three weeks before, but this time around he was benched in the fourth quarter rather than lauded for leading his team to a win. The switch back to Ryan Fitzpatrick was temporary — and didn’t work — so Tagovailoa will get his fifth straight start. If Tagovailoa is ever going to have a big week, it will probably come against the Jets (0-10). Pick: Dolphins -7

Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Giants -5.5 | Total: 42.5

Quarterback Brandon Allen was on Cincinnati’s practice squad two weeks ago, but now he will start for the Bengals (2-7-1) against the suddenly competent Giants (3-7). The downgrade from Joe Burrow — who is out for the year with a severe knee injury (and may not be ready for the start of next season) — is palpable. And that’s terrible news when going against the Giants, who have either won or lost by a single score in every game since Week 3. Pick: Giants -5.5

Credit…Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Seahawks -6 | Total: 50.5

The Seahawks (7-3) have proven themselves fairly flawed contenders in recent weeks, but nearly all of their problems are on defense. That hardly seems like a factor against the Eagles (3-6-1). Philadelphia is plagued by more than injuries. Quarterback Carson Wentz had shown some decline, but it has turned into a cliff-dive this season, and his numbers lump him in with some of the worst starting quarterbacks in the N.F.L. Even if Wentz can find some relief in the form of Seattle’s secondary — hardly a given — it is hard to imagine him keeping up with Russell Wilson. Pick: Seahawks -6

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Chiefs -3.5, for example, means that Kansas City must beat Tampa Bay by at least 4 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

All times are Eastern.

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