Week 12 NFL picks straight up: Lions upset Vikings; Chargers bury Cowboys

We’ve reached that glorious time in the NFL season when byes are over, and flex scheduling is in play. Not to mention Thanksgiving and the Thursday football that’s always been welcome.

It’s also that time of year when there’s an honest-to-goodness showdown for playoff supremacy, in the late-afternoon window, in California sunshine as the weather worsens back east, and featuring a future Hall of Fame quarterback and two high-octane offenses. Saints vs. Rams at the LA Coliseum is the game of the week, easily, and it’s worth setting time aside to watch.

That makes up for the letdowns in all the primetime games this weekend. No Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night, no Deshaun Watson on Monday night … and that Thanksgiving night matchup is strictly for those without good streaming service or recent DVDs. Even bootlegs (especially bootlegs) are acceptable.

MORE: Week 12 NFL picks against the spread

Week 12 NFL picks, predictions

(All times ET)

Minnesota Vikings (8-2) at Detroit Lions (6-4)

Thursday, 12:30 p.m., Fox

A good (and rare) Thanksgiving rematch, with the Lions having won last year on a last-second field goal. The Lions have won four straight on their traditional Thanksgiving date, a little treat for those who are perpetually looking for a reason to fire Jim Caldwell. It’s a tall order to pull off this year with the way the Vikings are playing right now on both sides of the ball. Matthew Stafford’s Lions still have a habit of putting themselves in position to have to come back late; they can’t get away with that against this team.

Prediction: Lions, 20-19

Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) at Dallas Cowboys (5-5)

Thursday, 4:30 p.m., CBS

The Chargers’ pass rush (yup, that’s Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram with 20 sacks between them) vs. whoever might replace Tyron Smith on a short week — that’s an awful combination for the Cowboys. Honestly, there really isn’t that much more to say about this game. Without Smith, as much as without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys are the Chargers, except the Chargers are a better version of the Chargers.

Prediction: Chargers, 27-17

New York Giants (2-8) at Washington Redskins (4-6)

Thursday, 8:30 p.m., NBC

Since this is the most unpredictable NFL season in a while, bet on this ending up as the most entertaining game of the holiday. Yes, the odds are long. The Giants managed to not wow anybody even while beating the Chiefs last week. Washington’s collapse in the final minutes in New Orleans made their fans (again) question their will to live. Signs are growing that a national audience will be witnessing a lot of empty seats at FedEx Field. Of the two teams that can’t be trusted, the Giants can’t be trusted more.

Prediction: Washington, 30-21

Buffalo Bills (5-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Coach Sean McDermott stood his ground in the days following the Nathan Peterman debacle. The odds were strong that Peterman would be rewarded for his five-interception half with another start. Even though the Chiefs gave up just one touchdown to the Giants in last week’s loss, the defense has not gotten enough blame for the Kansas City’s recent fade (bottom 10 in yards, yards per play and sacks, middle of the pack in takeaways and points). It won’t matter, though. Peterman does not make the Bills better.

Prediction: Chiefs, 33-14

Tennessee Titans (6-4) at Indianapolis Colts (3-7)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

The Titans aren’t going to overlook this opponent; not after the second-half beatdown in Pittsburgh and after four Marcus Mariota interceptions. They need this win to keep the Jaguars from pulling away further in the AFC South. The Colts couldn’t hold a 10-point second-half lead against the Titans last month in Nashville. But they are coming off a bye and a respectable showing against the same Steelers that buried the Titans four days later.

Prediction: Titans, 26-23

Cleveland Browns (0-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

The Bengals won the battle of “O”-hio in Week 4 and have managed to go 4-3 since their 0-3 start. They’re four wins against teams that have proven to be fairly dreadful (Browns, Bills, Colts, Broncos), but they all count, and so does this rematch with the Browns. Oddly, this is one of the three games remaining that give the Browns a decent chance to avoid 0-16 (also the Packers at home, and at Chicago).

Prediction: Bengals, 16-13

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

This will be Week 3 of the Bucs resting Jameis Winston’s bad shoulder and starting Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has won both starts so far. The Falcons come off a short week and a West Coast trip, where they flirted with blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead to the Seahawks. Facing the Bucs defense will be a breather; the 34 points in Seattle were still a chore, and not a sure sign that the old offense is fully back.

Prediction: Falcons, 30-17

Miami Dolphins (4-6) at New England Patriots (8-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Teams still pile up yards against the Patriots defense (last in total yards), yet in their six straight wins, they haven’t given up more than 17 points in a game. No one knows which Dolphins offense will show up in Foxborough — which quarterback, in particular. Neither Matt Moore nor Jay Cutler appear to stand a chance at putting pressure on Tom Brady to keep up.

Prediction: Patriots, 33-16

Chicago Bears (3-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

The brief window of optimism about the Bears hanging in the playoff race slammed shut fast with three straight aggravating losses. Now it’s just getting Mitchell Trubisky experience and making decisions on the coaches, front office and roster. If the Eagles are going to cool off at any point, this week isn’t likely to be the time. Jay Ajayi has now broken off long runs in each of his two games since the trade from Miami. Dropping a weapon like that into this offense doesn’t even seem fair.

Prediction: Eagles, 27-10

Carolina Panthers (7-3) at New York Jets (4-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

Both teams were on byes last week, and both know what their tasks are. The Panthers are chasing one of the NFL’s hottest teams in the Saints, in their division. The Jets are somehow on the fringe of the playoff hunt but have a brutal finish to their schedule (Chiefs, Saints, Patriots in final five weeks). The Panthers’ defense is going to pin its ears back on Josh McCown; the Jets will do the same to Cam Newton, but to much lesser effect.

Prediction: Panthers, 23-13

Seattle Seahawks (6-4) at San Francisco 49ers (1-9)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox

In Week 2, even before the Seahawks defense was gutted by injury, the 49ers made them sweat it out in Seattle. It’s tough to imagine Russell Wilson and Co. being held to 12 points by the 49ers, even in Santa Clara (not that it’s ever been a home-field edge for them). And that defense will still submit C.J. Beathard to another trial by fire, reminding everybody why the 49ers are in no rush to subject Jimmy Garoppollo to any of that yet.

Prediction: Seahawks, 28-10

New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

The Rams will miss Robert Woods this week, but they will be mildly relieved that they’re facing the Saints’ off-and-on defense instead of the constant threat the Vikings imposed last week. The Saints, though, are closing the gap on the Rams in terms of offenses that can truly score at will, as the win over Washington attests. They’ve rushed for 150 yards or more in five of their last six games. The Rams can’t afford to let that continue.

Prediction: Saints, 27-24

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3) at Arizona Cardinals (4-6)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Blaine Gabbert gets his second start for the Cardinals, and the Jaguars are entitled to rub their hands together in glee over that. While Gabbert was serviceable against the Texans … this defense isn’t that of the Texans. Speaking of underwhelming quarterbacks in Jaguars history, that defense is doing Blake Bortles a big favor in covering up his weaknesses and giving him chances to do something with the few times he needs to throw. He has the seventh-lowest passer rating (81.8) among current starters, and it’s not hurting his team.

Prediction: Jaguars, 24-14

Denver Broncos (3-7) at Oakland Raiders (4-6)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

The Lost Opportunities Bowl. The Broncos’ woes can pretty much be traced directly to crummy choices at quarterback provided by president John Elway — which, of course, is why offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was scapegoated this week. The Raiders’ skid defies logic, on the other hand, just a team-wide underachievement. In Week 4, the Raiders gave the Broncos a run with EJ Manuel replacing the injured Derek Carr. Denver hasn’t won since.

Prediction: Raiders, 27-14

Green Bay Packers (5-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2)

Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC

Brett Hundley being in over his head isn’t nearly as troubling as the Packers giving any of their quarterbacks (in the quarterback room they claim to be so happy with) so little help, and such a poor chance of winning each week. This is a game the Steelers would never forgive themselves for losing; there simply is no excuse given what the Steelers have a chance to accomplish this season.

Prediction: Steelers, 33-9

Houston Texans (4-6) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Yes, a shutout is a shutout, and three shutouts are three shutouts. Also yes: The Ravens’ defense has accomplished this against some dreadful offenses in the Bengals, Dolphins and Packers. But that means the defense is doing what it’s supposed to do, and if Joe Flacco and the offense can hold up its end, the Ravens can keep their playoff hopes alive. It helps that they’re 11-1 at home in prime time under John Harbaugh.

Prediction: Ravens, 24-19

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