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Week 13 NFL Picks and Thanksgiving Day Recap

Three games are already in the books with the fourth Thursday in November having come and gone. The NFL’s traditional Thanksgiving Day games provided a blowout, an almost upset and a typical smash mouth affair between the league’s best rivals.

The Detroit Lions made a statement with their 40-10 win over the Green Bay Packers.
The Lions win snapped a nine-game Thanksgiving Day losing streak, which was the longest such losing streak in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was also just the Lions’ fourth 30-point win in 75 all-time Thanksgiving games, and the first since a 35-point win over the Chicago Bears in 1997. Detroit finished with a 435-yard advantage over the Packers in total offense (561-126), which was their largest single-game yard margin in franchise history. Lions running backs Reggie Bush (182) and Joique Bell (128) both finished with more yards from scrimmage than the entire Packers offense. 

In Dallas, Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray ran for touchdowns of two, four and seven yards as Dallas moved one-half game ahead of the Eagles in the NFC East with a 31-24 victory. Murray became only the third Cowboys player to score three (or more) touchdowns in a Thanksgiving Day victory, joining Bob Hayes, who did it against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967, and Emmitt Smith, who did it against the Redskins in 1996. (Mike Renfro, in 1987, and Smith, in 1998, also scored three touchdowns for the Cowboys in Thanksgiving Day games that the team lost, each time to the Vikings.) Tony Romo came up a winner for the sixth time in seven Thanksgiving Day starts, tying the NFL record for Thanksgiving Day wins by a starting quarterback established by a Cowboys quarterback of a previous generation. No, not Don Meredith, nor Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman; it was Danny White who started six Thanksgiving Day victories for America’s Team, in successive seasons, from 1980 to 1985.

And there was the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens hosting their bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens and Steelers battled in yet another affair that ended too close for comfort for the winners. The Ravens won this down to the wire nail bitter, 22-20, which marked the ninth time in the teams’ last ten regular season meetings that they have played a game decided by three-or-fewer points. No other pair of teams in NFL history ever produced nine such games within a span of 10 meetings.

Defending Super Bowl champions are 9-2 in Thanksgiving Day games, having won their last 7 contests. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was the difference with his leg. He made all five of his attempts on Thursday, reaching a career high for field goals made. In fact, Tucker’s five field goals tied him for the most field goals made in any NFL game this season. After going 0-2 in Week 2, Tucker has made 27 consecutive field-goal attempts. 

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Ravens QB Joe Flacco played well in the contest. Roethlisberger had two touchdown passes, giving him 212 for his career, tied with Terry Bradshaw for the most in Steelers franchise history. He also notched his 25th consecutive game with a passing touchdown, tied with Tony Romo for second-longest active streak (Peyton Manning, 34). Joe Flacco threw for 251 yards and a touchdown. For the first time since Week 7 (also against the Steelers), Flacco went through a game without throwing an interception. This reflected a larger theme, as it marked the first game in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry not to feature a turnover from either team (40 games including playoffs). 

Where Flacco was better was on third down. Joe Cool threw for 118 yards and a touchdown, as the Ravens were 10-17 or a 58 percent success rate. Roethlisberger was good, but not to the level of Flacco, as he gained more than 50 fewer yards on third down, as his team was 7-13 (54 %).  

Aside from Tuckers leg, another leg almost made a big difference in this game. Steelers HC Mike Tomlin may find himself a lot lighter in the pockets this holiday season after he interfered with Ravens WR/KR Jacoby Jones kick return for a potential TD. Tomlin claims he was watching the return on the Jumbo Tron and did not realize the play was as close to him as it was. The replay clearly shows Tomlin looking back over his shoulder and then curiously planting his right foot onto the field of play to jump left and out of the way. Try it at home; it is an awkward motion to say the least.

Jones had to alter his run by cutting slightly back towards the field and was subsequently caught from behind. It appeared, as if Jones would have been caught anyway but he is a Pro-Bowl returner and single handedly beat the Steelers last season in Pittsburgh with a punt return TD. When you factor in the timing of when the move by Tomlin occurred, the conclusion has to be it was a bush league move from one of the NFL’s classiest head coaches. The Steelers had just scored a TD and seemingly stole the momentum of the game but Jones fielded the ensuing kick and took off down the left sidelines untouched until Tomlin appeared 73 yards later on the sidelines. Had the Ravens lost the game, the NFL would have quite a problem on its hands. Stay tuned, as this is sure to dominate the headlines this weekend in the NFL.

The NFL announced today (Friday) that they would take the week to review the play.

Now onto the rest of Week 13:

The muddled mess that is the AFC Wildcard race could potentially produce a playoff team that does not possess a winning record now. Since the current 12-team playoff format was instituted in 1990, 16 teams have reached the postseason despite having a losing record after 11 games, including one team in eight of the past nine seasons.

Additionally, this includes a streak of seven consecutive seasons (2004-2010) in which a sub-.500 team after 11 games reached the playoffs. Six of those seven won at least one playoff game.

Entering Week 13, there are 24 teams either in or within one game of a playoff spot. In addition, with five weeks to play, nothing has been settled. I went 3-0 on Thanksgiving Day taking all three winners and correctly guessing the Cowboys wining by seven points. I also noted that the Ravens would beat the Steelers 23-20—your final was 22-20. For the year, I am 103-40.

REST OF WEEK 13 PICKS:

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns:

The Jaguars lost their first eight games, all by double digits but have won two of three since their bye week and are playing their best ball of the season. The Jags defense held the Texans to 218 yards and just two field goals, as RB Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for season-high 84 yards on 14 carries in the 13-6 road win. The Browns continue to nosedive, as they dropped their second straight last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers and have now lost five of their last six. This week presents a good news-bad news scenario for the Browns. The good news is they are home to one of the NFL’s worst teams; the bad news is Browns QB Brandon Weeden returns to starting lineup after being benched twice this season. Weeden replaces Jason Campbell, who sustained concussion last week. This is likely to be uglier than the lines at Toys R Us this weekend but someone has to win and I’ll take the Browns at home by four.

Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts:

Following another blowout loss last week, their second in three weeks, Colts Owner Jim Irsay does what he does best, he Tweeted. Irsay said his team needed to “get our heads out of r butts-WAKE UP!” The Titans may just be what Irsay’s Twitter universe ordered for Andrew Luck and company. The Titans have dropped five of six, are 0-5 at Lucas Oil Field and have lost four straight in series with Indy. Since 2008, the Colts are 14-1 against division foes in the second meeting of the season and can all but wrap up the AFC South with a win. The Titans are still in control of their own playoff destiny in terms of the sixth and final wildcard spot despite their recent woes. They did manage a dramatic 23-19 victory over Oakland last Sunday but that may be where the hope dies. Take the Colts to rebound in a big way at home, as Luck and company light up the scoreboard with at least a 10-point win.Colts 27 Titans 17

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings:

With the Lions win on Thanksgiving, the pressure is once again turned up on the Chicago Bears, as they travel to play the Vikings. An initial glance at this one would lead one to believe that Chicago should have an easy time of it vs. the 2-8 Vikings but the Bears bring the NFL’s worst rushing defense into the game vs. the leagues still most dangerous running back in Adrian Peterson. Concerns about the Chicago Bears having to rush Jay Cutler back from injury have been alleviated with the play of backup Josh McCown, who has been more than serviceable in five games and three starts, completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,106 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception while posting a 100.8 rating. The Vikings will look to take advantage of a Bears defense that allows a league-worst 145.2 yards per game on the ground. The Bears (6-5), who have allowed at least 40 points on three occasions for the first time since 1964, gave up 258 rushing yards in last week’s 42-21 loss at St. Louis. Peterson ranks first in the NFL with 10 rushing touchdowns and second with 997 yards. He has averaged 120.6 yards in his last three against the Bears, including 100 on 26 carries in Chicago’s 31-30 victory Sept. 15. I like the Vikings at home in what could be a surprisingly entertaining game to watch. Take the Vikings at home by a late Blair Walsh field goal. Vikings 27 Bears 24

Rest of the Picks



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