The NFL Thanksgiving feast is about as good as it gets with huge NFC playoff implications in all three games, along with a top-caliber AFC team in Baltimore and the battle of the Harbaugh brothers set as the prime-time dessert. Here’s the Notebook look at the games…
Green Bay-Detroit (12:30 ET, Fox): I know all the focus is on Green Bay trying to go undefeated, while Detroit fights for a playoff spot. But this game is hardly cosmetic for the Packers’ playoff hopes. Even at 10-0, they’re only up one game on San Francisco for the top seed in the NFC so there’s plenty to play for beyond history. I’m looking at a pair of duos on each side of the ball as the key to this one. Detroit has the defensive line to exploit Green Bay’s biggest problem, which is pass protection. Packer tackles Bryan Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse have to contain Cliff Aril and Kyle Vanned Bosch on the edges. The other duo is in the Lion secondary, where corners Eric Wright and Chris Houston have to be sure tacklers. You won’t stop Green Bay’s receivers from getting open, and even with pressure, you won’t stop Aaron Rodgers from getting them the ball, but if the tackling after the catch is sure and true, Detroit can contain the Green Bay attack. Then it would boil down to Matthew Stafford’s battle with the Packers’ own dynamite corners in Charles Woodson and Tram on Williams, a matchup where the edge has to go to the Lions, given how much the Green Bay secondary has struggled in the absence of free safety Nick Collins. I’m on the underdog bandwagon here and like the Lions 35-31.
Miami-Dallas (4 ET, CBS): This game was looking like a horrible clunker three weeks ago when Miami was 0-7 and Dallas was floundering. Now the Cowboys are 6-4, tied for the top of the NFC East and hot on the heels of Detroit and Chicago for a wild-card berth. Miami has won three in a row and has new life. The Dolphins’ defensive playmakers—Cameron Wake and Carlos Danby at linebacker, along with Vantaa Davis at corner, need to come up with some big plays and Tony Room can often oblige in a key moment. Matt Moore needs to stay steady and mistake-free for the Dolphins in the passing game. If he does that, the game can swing on the battle of the ground games. You still have to give Dallas the edge, but in any game that’s down to the wire, Room’s inconsistency always makes it interesting. Let’s call this one for the Cowboys 21-17.
San Francisco-Baltimore (8:20 ET, NFL): By kickoff, San Fran will know if they can pull even with Green Bay for the top spot in the conference and even without that, the Inners are still trying to hold a two-game lead for the second first-round bye. Baltimore is at 7-3, tied with Pittsburgh, Houston and New England for the best record in the AFC. The Ravens have the AFC North tiebreaker on the Steelers, but there are no locks for the playoffs in this conference, much less anything more. Baltimore must cash in this opportunity at home as John Harbaugh’s team hosts his brother Jim. The Ravens have a deep passing game that San Francisco can’t match, with Torrey Smith having emerged as a downfield threat. The 49ers are either going to have to pressure Flacco and force mistakes, or control the game with their ground attack. Baltimore is like Dallas, in that they have the ability to come up with key mistakes in tight games. Like Dallas though, I think they survive a tough defensive battle here thanks to a few deep balls from Flacco and win 17-10.