The Thanksgiving weekend run of football comes full circle back to the NFL on Sunday, after college football enjoyed center stage for a couple days. Once again, it’s the Denver Broncos in the spotlight.
After two big Sunday Night games against the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots, the Broncos get an afternoon kickoff this time (4:25 PM ET, CBS) but their rematch in Kansas City is still the game of the day, the best of NFL Week 13 overall and perhaps the most significant game of the year in the regular season.
Kansas City has much more at stake in this game. Even though both teams are 9-2, the Broncos have a head-to-head win in hand. Furthermore, KC’s second loss came to an AFC West opponent, the San Diego Chargers. That means that even if the Chiefs win on Sunday, the Broncos are still going to hold the tiebreaker advantage. If Denver wins, the AFC West is all but over. If Kansas City wins, this division still remains up for grabs.
The Chiefs have a terrific home crowd and the weather will be cold, a circumstance that will favor their ground-n-pound approach behind running back Jamaal Charles at the expense of the passing game that Denver relies on with Peyton Manning. But the injuries are piling up in KC, with outside linebacker Justin Houston already ruled out. On the opposite side, fellow OLB Tamba Hali is questionable, and there are some question marks regarding the health of the offensive line.
Everything is all set up for Denver, and they are a (-240) favorite on the moneyline, while you can bet Kansas City to win outright and get (+200) odds. I’m taking a shot with the Chiefs. This is a combination of gut feeling and legitimate analysis. On the latter, I think some of the defensive injuries might be offset by weather conditions making it harder for Peyton to throw the football. On the former, I’ve just got a feeling that Kansas City, after a couple weeks of losing and their doubters out in full force, is ready to stand up with a max effort.
Two of the league’s biggest disappointments will grace your TV screen in prime-time…
NY Giants (-115) Washington (-105) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): I picked each of these teams to win 10 games and make the playoffs back when the season began. Right now they’ve only combined for seven victories. The injury situation favors the Redskins. It looks like tight end Jordan Reed, the favorite target for RG3 will be back from a concussion, while the Giants have ruled out defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and corner Corey Webster.
Regular readers of TheSportsNotebook know I refuse to pick against my own team, that being the Redskins. But that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to keep giving away moneyline increments against my score, so I’m passing on the game.
Other games seen by large chunks of the country…
New England (-330) Houston (+270) (1 PM ET, CBS): The Patriots are actually a pretty cheap favorite given how big of a mismatch this is. Maybe the Texans of 2011-12 could have exploited New England’s soft run defense, but not this year. And even if they do, it’s not going to be nearly enough. I know the letdown issue is there with the Pats after last Sunday night’s dramatic win over Denver, but this is a veteran team that knows there’s no room for letups if they want the #1 seed in the AFC.
Arizona (+135) Philadelphia (-160) (1 PM ET, Fox): This is a terrific matchup and not just because both teams are playoff contenders. Arizona is tied for the final wild-card spot and Philly needs to win to stay tied with Dallas in the NFC East. This is also a great showdown of each team’s strength.
LeSean McCoy has already cleared the 1,000-yard mark rushing for the Eagles, while the Cardinals have the second-best rush defense in the NFL. If McCoy has a big day here we have to get him into some serious MVP discussion, at least if Peyton Manning has another rough game.
I think Arizona can at least slow down McCoy, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win the game. Nick Foles is playing well, and at the end of the day, I buy into the “body clock” theory which says that West Coast teams face a big disadvantage on these early kicks. That swings me to picking the Birds.
St. Louis (+310) San Francisco (-380) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): There are a few areas in the northeast that will see this as the one Fox game of Sunday, a network decision that surprises me given the quality of the game above. The other thing that surprises me is that the 49ers are Sunday’s biggest favorite, both on the moneyline and the point spread, which is (-7.5).
What am I missing? The Rams are a respectable team at 5-6, they just played well against the Chicago Bears, and St. Louis caused problems for San Francisco last year, getting a win and a tie. They’re worth a moneyline shot at this price.
Games with playoff implications…
Chicago (-105) Minnesota (-115): Las Vegas is expecting some points in the climate-controlled environment at Minnesota, as the Over/Under of 50 is the highest of NFL Week 13. The Bears need this win to keep pace with the Detroit Lions in the NFC North, and even on the road, I’m not sure why they’re available at such an affordable price. I’ll take Chicago.
Tampa Bay (+270) Carolina (-330): During Fox’s broadcast of the Packers-Lions game on Thanksgiving, Troy Aikman noted this matchup and how unlikely it would have been several weeks ago that Bucs-Panthers was one of the most attractive games of NFL Week 13. Tampa Bay may be long gone from the playoff race, but they’re a hot team. Carolina is missing defensive end Charles Johnson for this game, and when you combine these two factors, I think the Bucs are a worth a shot at the underdog price. Mike Glennon is playing well and if Carolina doesn’t get pressure, he can have himself a nice day.
Cincinnati (-105) San Diego (-115): Another really good matchup in the AFC, as the Chargers are in the mess of 5-6 teams that needs to match Baltimore’s win on Thursday night and keep pace. The Bengals also have the Ravens in their rearview mirror in the AFC North. San Diego relies heavily on Philip Rivers throwing the ball, and I’ll bank on Cincy defensive end Carlos Dunlap coming up with a big game teeing off in the pass rush to help get his team a road win.
Miami (+115)NY Jets (-135): The winner of this game goes to 6-6, but this has all the earmarks of a really ugly football game. The Jets lost such a game in Baltimore last Sunday, but the Miami passing game lacks the same big-play capability. If Geno Smith can avoid a turnover meltdown, I like the Jets to get the win.
Tennessee (+165) Indianapolis (-195): Indy’s only win in the last three weeks came against Tennessee on a Thursday night, but the Colts’ struggles have kept the Titans nominally in the race. Indianapolis still leads by two games and will likely hold the tiebreaker edge regardless of what happens here, thanks to the Tennessee loss to AFC South foe Jacksonville.
The Colts have the best playmaker on the field in outside linebacker Robert Mathis and his 14.5 sacks. That, combined with some of Andrew Luck’s rough-around-the-edges toughness is enough for the Colts to win and finally end things in the AFC South.
Two other games that are off the postseason radar…
Jacksonville (+255) Cleveland (-310): I suppose you can argue the Browns are in the race, being only one back in the loss column at 4-7, but with so many 5-6 teams in front of them, I’m not ready to go there just yet. After being let down by the Brownies the last couple weeks, I’m also not ready to go laying better than 3-1 odds on them. The Jaguars delivered for me as a hefty dog last week in Houston, and Maurice Jones-Drew leads the way again.
Atlanta (+145) Buffalo (-170): This game is being played in Toronto. In the league’s two games in London, the NFL sent the winless Steelers-Vikings for the first game and the Jaguars for the second. Is the NFL going out of its way to antagonize as many other countries as possible? I’ll pick Atlanta, not out of conviction, but only because I’m unwilling to lose more than (-100) on either of these teams.