Spread picks for every NFL Week 12 game
Thanksgiving football gives rise to an early addition of our spread picks in Week 12. Three Thursday games—all with playoff implications—are sure to be exciting, and the slate of Sunday games promises to be compelling, as well. Last week wasn’t our best showing, but we’re still sitting at 78-65-4 (54.5 percent) on the season.
For future picks and win probabilities for each game, follow me on Twitter at @EricEager82.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here.]
Vikings at Lions (-2.5)
Prediction: Vikings win by 2
Thanksgiving opens with a surprise showdown for sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Both teams have been absolutely inept running the football this season, with the Vikings generating just 2.7 yards per carry, and Detroit managing only 14 yards rushing on 21 carries against the Jaguars last week. In a game sure to be full of passing, look for the secondary that plays the best to determine this one. Vikings cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (32.7 passer rating allowed), Terence Newman (61.1), and Trae Waynes (71.9) have been very stingy thus far, while Detroit has just the 26th-highest pass-coverage grade so far this year among NFL teams. Look for Minnesota to ride this advantage in this one.
Washington at Cowboys (-7)
Prediction: Cowboys win by 5
In any other year, what Washington has done would be one of the more remarkable feats through the season’s first 11 weeks. However, with a Dallas team that has started 8-1 in their own division, the team that plays in the nation’s capital has been mostly an afterthought. However, since Week 2, quarterback Kirk Cousins has been one of the league’s best signal callers, generating the league’s fifth-best passer rating and ninth-best accuracy percentage, while throwing 16 touchdown passes (to only four interceptions). He’ll need to continue his strong play against a Cowboys defense that had one of its lowest-graded games of the season last week against the Ravens. If Dallas’ defense continues to regress back to what we expected from the unit going into the season, look for Washington to keep this closer than expected on the road.
Steelers (-9) at Colts
Prediction: Steelers win by 1
Both of these teams are an enigma. Although each side is coming off impressive victories last week, neither has been particularly dominant for any extended period this season. The Colts, particularly, have struggled up front, with just one front-seven player on defense and two offensive linemen owning overall grades above 50.0 on the season. With Andrew Luck (concussion) likely out this week, it will be up to T.Y. Hilton (83.8), Donte Moncrief (78.1), and the Colts’ weapons to aide quarterback Scott Tolzien in his first start since 2013.
Chargers (1.5) at Texans
Prediction: Texans win by 1
The Texans are coming off a short week, while the Chargers are fresh off their bye. The fourth-place team in a division that may have three playoff teams, San Diego will be looking toward the future in the upcoming weeks. Luckily for them, that future includes edge player Joey Bosa, who has already generated 31 QB pressures, despite missing substantial development time due to a holdout. The Texans are currently in first place in their division, with a defense that has some young firepower of its own. A.J. Bouye (87.9) is positing one of the best seasons of any cornerback in the league to this point, while Jadeveon Clowney (82.0) has been the easily the most-efficient run defender of all 3-4 outside linebackers. Look for a close one down in the Houston.
Titans (-5) at Bears
Prediction: Titans win by 1
The Titans disappointed in Week 11, digging themselves a 21-0 hole that their exotic smash-mouth attack could not eventually overcome. Week 12 presents another game they should win, this time against a Bears team missing its two best offensive players; Chicago has also allowed seven sacks, two hits, and 21 hurries on QB Jay Cutler (now out) the last two weeks. The Titans’ defensive front—with Jurrell Casey generating the fifth-best pass-rushing productivity mark among 3-4 DEs, and Brian Orakpo the eighth-best mark among 3-4 OLBs—is more than capable of taking advantage of this deficiency. The Bears have been surprisingly stout against the run this season (they have the sixth-best run-defense grade), and must continue this strong play (without suspended LB Jerrell Freeman) to have a chance in this one.
Jaguars at Bills (-7.5)
Prediction: Bills win by 7
After three straight losses following four straight wins, the Bills are still in position to challenge for a playoff spot in the AFC after their win last week in Cincinnati. The Jaguars are not in any such position, and will probably be picking near the top of the NFL draft yet again this coming May. They’ve played seven of their 10 games within one score, however, including their last three opponents, who have a combined record of 18-13 on the season. It’s up to Jacksonville’s run defense (13th-graded in the league) to make sure this one stays close as well. Led by LeSean McCoy’s (78.0) revival, the Bills average a blistering 5.3 yards per carry and have generated 17 touchdowns on the ground. If McCoy can return from his thumb injury in time to play this Sunday, look for the RB to be the difference in this one.
Bengals at Ravens (-4.5)
Prediction: Ravens win by 3
The Ravens can all but put the Bengals away with a home win this weekend against their 3-6-1 division rival. Without WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati will need to lean on their running game to move the ball against a Baltimore defense surrendering just 3.4 yards per carry on the season. Specifically, Lawrence Guy and Timmy Jernigan rank first and second, respectively, among 3-4 defensive ends in run-stop percentage, while linebacker C.J. Mosley (87.2) has done his part, as well. Without RB Giovani Bernard (our for the season), Jeremy Hill (67.4) will have to elevate his play. He’s averaged a sold 4.6 yards per carry and 2.9 yards per carry after contact this season, generating 16 missed tackles in the process. Look for a prideful Bengals team to keep this close in Baltimore.
Cardinals at Falcons (-4)
Prediction: Falcons win by 3
There’s a lot of uncertainty in this matchup. How will the Cardinals respond to a cross-country trip during a week in which their coach was admitted to the hospital with stress-induced chest pains? How will the Falcons respond to a bye week following a disappointing loss to the Eagles? In previous seasons, the Falcons’ lack of athleticism at the linebacker position, coupled with the Cardinals’ inclusion in the playoff hunt, would spell doom for Atlanta against a running back like David Johnson and a team like Arizona. However, while the Falcons LBs have struggled on the season as a whole, they’ve improved as the year has progressed, and should be aided by a pass-rush led by Vick Beasley, who generally dominates against tackles with talent levels commensurate to that of Arizona backup-turned-starters D.J. Humphries (67.9) and John Wetzel (43.8). With the Falcons’ defense providing sufficient resistance, look for the team with more to play for to win this one at home.
49ers at Dolphins (-8)
Prediction: Dolphins win by 10
The 49ers have been surprisingly competitive in recent weeks, while the Dolphins have the lowest-key five-game winning streak in recent memory. The main features to this one are clear—the 49ers are the league’s worst rushing defense by 0.5 yards per carry (and second-worst in terms of PFF grades), while the Dolphins have one of the league’s best runners in Jay Ajayi (leading the league with 5.6 yards per carry and 3.6 yards after contact). Ajayi was slowed a bit last week, while the Dolphins were playing some backups along their offensive line. If Mike Pouncey, Laremy Tunsil, and/or Brandon Albert can return—and return to form—this week, look for the Dolphins to make it a sixth-straight win against Chip Kelly’s bunch.
Rams at Saints (-7)
Prediction: Saints win by 6
The Rams are average 14.9 points per game, while the Saints average 28.5, and will likely get to dictate the pace of this one at home. With receivers like rookie Michael Thomas (81.4), Brandin Cooks (80.8), and Willie Snead (80.1), quarterback Drew Brees (87.3) will be able exploit a Rams’ secondary that, while Trumaine Johnson (78.4) and Lamarcus Joyner (82.1) have been good, just released third cornerback Troy Hill (46.1) after his recent arrest, and have E.J. Gaines (37.9) surrendering a 116.8 passer rating into his coverage. While the Saints’ defense has had their struggles, I’m skeptical as to the ability of rookie Jared Goff to match New Orleans score-for-score in his second-career start.
Giants (-7) at Browns
Prediction: Giants win by 6
Normally, this would be a game in which the Giants would struggle—an inevitable midseason letdown derailing a solid season up until this point. It looks like the Giants had that game last week, though, with a sluggish effort against a Bears squad with nothing to play for, and even less talent on offense. New York won said game, however, overcoming weak performances by Eli Manning, Marshall Newhouse, John Jerry, and Ereck Flowers on offense, as well as two missed extra points by Robbie Gould. Look for them to go after old-starter-turned-new-starter Josh McCown and the Browns’ offense in this one, leveraging a sixth-highest-graded defense featuring Landon Collins (89.9), Janoris Jenkins (84.3), Jason Pierre-Paul (84.0), Olivier Vernon (83.5) and Damon Harrison (83.1), which has come together even better than most could have even imagined at this point in the season.
Seahawks (5.5) at Buccaneers
Prediction: Seahawks win by 4
Five-and-a-half points is a lot to give a team traveling west-to-east against a squad that has won three of five games, including an impressive showing last week in Kansas City. That said, it’s become high time for Russell Wilson to begin his annual tradition of carrying Seattle. In the last three weeks, Wilson has the highest overall grade among all quarterbacks in the league by a mile, the third-highest passer rating, and the league’s highest passer rating on deep passes (142.0). Tampa Bay is still allowing 25.9 points per game, with the third-lowest grade among all NFL defenses and lowest-graded run defense. Without rookie RB C.J. Prosise, who had some really nice moments the last two weeks, it will be up to the Seahawks to find a way to exploit this deficiency and cover on the road.
Panthers at Raiders (-3.5)
Prediction: Raiders win by 5
The Panthers are coming off something of a long break after beating the Saints last Thursday at home, while the Raiders have a short week after winning in a relatively dramatic fashion on Monday night against Houston. Carolina will be without their leader on defense, as Luke Kuechly (92.9) sustained a concussion against the Saints and needed to be carted off. After struggling a bit early on in the season, the re-vamped Raiders’ defense has been better as of late. The strong play of Khalil Mack (90.9), Perry Riley (87.2), Sean Smith (84.2), David Amerson (83.5), Bruce Irvin (83.3) and rookie Karl Joseph (82.9) individually suggests that there is more to come from this unit in future weeks. The combo of Mack and Irvin should specifically haunt the Panthers, as they continue to receive offensive-tackle play worthy of sub-50.0 game grades on a week-to-week basis. Look for a difficult one for Newton and the Panthers on the road this week.
Patriots (-8) at Jets
Prediction: Patriots win by 8
The Patriots rebounded from their first loss since Brady’s return with a road win in Brady’s hometown last week, while the Jets had their bye. New York is turning back to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback after a couple of benchings and injuries pressed other, less-experienced players into that role. Fitzpatrick certainly has what it takes to put together a near-perfect effort—which is what it would likely take to win against New England this week. Unfortunately for Jets’ fans, he’s far more likely to play as he as most of this season—throwing five more interceptions (13) than touchdowns, and earning the second-lowest NFL passer rating. With Tom Brady (94.7) playing at his career peak right now, and Darrelle Revis (59.5) entering something of a career valley, look for the Patriots to roll in this one.
Chiefs at Broncos (-3.5)
Prediction: Broncos win by 3
The last time the Chiefs were in Denver, they effectively ended Peyton Manning’s consecutive starts streak, intercepting four passes in a laugher. Since that time, the Broncos have very much embraced what has come to be the Chiefs’ approach to winning—utilizing an offensive approach that looks to avoid mistakes and lean on a defense that aims to be one of the league’s best. While Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian is a bit more of a downfield thrower than the Chiefs’ Alex Smith (8.8 average depth of target versus 7.5), Smith’s results are generally better. With conservative offenses on both sides, it will come down to whether the Chiefs’ star power of Eric Berry (85.9), Marcus Peters (81.1), and Derrick Johnson (81.4) can outplay that of the Broncos’ Von Miller (89.5), Aqib Talib (90.8), and Chris Harris Jr. (87.2) in this one.
Packers at Eagles (-3.5)
Prediction: Eagles win by 1
This is a game between two teams that started the season promisingly, only to fade badly in recent weeks. The dynamic is different between the two, though, with the Eagles likely looking to build on the wounds of this season and leverage the relatively-strong play of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who is still near the top 10 of PFF’s overall grades among all quarterbacks so far this season. The Packers’ fall from grace feels more permanent, as it is unlikely Mike McCarthy survives this season if it doesn’t end in at least a playoff berth. Since the Eagles probably do not have the offensive firepower to take as big an advantage of Green Bay’s depleted defense as Washington did last week, their pass-rush of Brandon Graham (second among 4-3 DEs in pass-rushing productivity) and Fletcher Cox (second among all DTs in the same metric) will need to work overtime and pressure Aaron Rodgers against a banged-up Green Bay offensive line. That O-line has the highest pass-blocking efficiency in the league to this point, so look for a good one on Monday in Philadelphia.
[Editor’s note: To see how PFF Analyst Eric Eager fares versus other spread pick experts, check out the latest rankings on NFL Pickwatch.]