Thanksgiving Day Picks

Posted: 11/24/2016 by levcohen in Football

For the first time in a long time, all three Thanksgiving games have playoff ramifications for both teams — along with a host of others. That’s what happens when all six teams that are playing are at least .500. The nightcap lost a lot of luster when it became clear that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck would miss the game with a concussion, but that game still ranks second on FiveThirtyEight’s list of biggest “swing” games this week behind only Detroit-Minnesota, which also happens to be the first game today…

Minnesota Vikings (6-4, 6-4 against the spread) at Detroit Lions (6-4, 6-3-1):*
Spread: Lions favored by 2
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Minnesota’s crappy offense, meet Detroit’s crappy defense. The Vikings scored 30 points last week, but 14 of those points came on a pick-six by Xavier Rhodes and a kick return touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson. Sam Bradford has been sacked 18 times in the last five games, as the Vikings’ offensive line has gotten more and more banged up. To make matters worse, top target Stefon Diggs, who has 40 catches in the last four weeks, will miss this game, leaving Bradford with Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen, and Patterson as his top three targets. Against most defenses, this Vikings offense would have no chance. Luckily for Minnesota, though, the Lions rank 32nd in the league in defensive DVOA, although they’ve been better of late. When these two teams played each other less than three weeks ago, the Lions limited the Vikings to 16 points, but the Vikings out-gained and out-played Detroit. I think they can crack 20 points.
I also think Minnesota’s defense can shut down a Detroit offense that has slowed down considerably of late. Matthew Stafford’s a good quarterback, but the Vikings are going to get a lot of pressure on him and force some mistakes out of a quarterback who’s been known to make mistakes. And that’s what the Vikings feast on. Their offense’s main goal is to hold onto the ball and maybe score a touchdown or two. The defense has to make plays, as it did against the Cardinals last week to halt a four game losing streak. This could be an ugly game, but it’s sure to be a close one, as the two teams are pretty similar talent-wise and the Lions have played one-possession games each week this season. I’ll take Minnesota’s superior defense. Vikings win 20-17.
Vikings cover
Under

Washington Redskins (6-3-1, 7-3) at Dallas Cowboys (9-1, 9-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 6.5
Over/under: 52
My prediction: About 88 hours after getting off the field in Washington, the Redskins are going to have to play a game in Dallas against perhaps the best team in the NFL. The schedule-making algorithm is ruthless. Do the Redskins have a chance? Well, if they played like they did against the Packers, they can certainly keep it close. Even in a windy atmosphere that wasn’t exactly conducive to big passing numbers, Kirk Cousins threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns on 12.5 yards per attempt while Fat Rob Kelley ran for 137 yards and three more scores. I find it hard to believe that the Cowboys can slow down Washington’s explosive offense. On the other side, though, can the Redskins slow down Ezekiel Elliott? They held Zeke to 83 yards on 21 carries in Week 2, but that was before he really took off — his lowest total since is 92 yards. But after getting demolished in the running game early and often before their BYE, the Redskins have held their last two opponents to 70 yards on 31 carries. The problem is that Dallas’s run game is a different animal than Minnesota’s and Green Bay’s, two of the worst rushing games in the NFL. I expect Zeke to have a huge game and the Cowboys to dominate time of possession and win the game. Cowboys win 35-24.
Cowboys cover
Over

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5, 5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5, 5-4-1):
Spread: Steelers favored by 9
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: Ever wondered how much Andrew Luck means to the Colts? If so, this is the game to watch. Before Luck’s concussion was reported, the Steelers were favored by three, so it’s clear how much Vegas values the Indy QB. Luck’s backup is ex-Packer Scott Tolzien, who has thrown one pass since 2013. Tolzien has thrown 91 passes in his career, and only one of them has been a touchdown (five have been interceptions). This is not good news for an Indianapolis team that was just getting itself back into the AFC South title conversation. I thought everything might click for the Steelers last week against the Browns, but the offense didn’t look great in an unconvincing 24-9 win. I expect the offense to be a bit better today but the game plan to be similar. They’ll feed Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and win the time of possession battle. This might be a similar game to the one last week against Cleveland, with the Steelers capitalizing on a terrible opponent to win handily on the road. Steelers win 31-10.
Steelers cover
Under

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