So, how was that? Good food? Some family time? A little wine, a little laughter, a little quality time with those who mean the most to you? Yeah, that sounds nice. Of course, any Thanksgiving is made better by going three-for-three on NFL predictions, and that is my gift to you. Those of you who have been following my advice are now 13-4, which is a tasty accompaniment to your turkey-casserole-potato-jello-pumpkin-pie-leftovers sandwich. Mmmmm.
No no, don't get up to thank me. Your unspoken devotion is all the thanks I need. Now, indulge me while I sip this Crown Royal, light a cigar, and continue to tell you everything you need to know about the rest of this weekend's games.
Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
Okay, let me get this out of the way early -- the Falcons are going to win this game. I imagine they'll win it pretty handily, too. Minnesota is on the verge of mailing in their season, have an over-drafted rookie QB playing on the road with an (at best) half-strength Adrian Peterson and will be lucky to cover any one of Roddy White, Julio Jones (if healthy), or Tony Gonzalez on any given play. They can hang with the Falcons in the trenches, but lack the firepower to match the Dirty Birds at the "skill" positions.
Atlanta is, in my mind, the team whose blueprint every Seahawks fan should want John Schneider and Pete Carroll to follow. Young, talented, disciplined, the team is on the upswing, even though their record has regressed from last year's improbable 13-3. I don't think they're ready to challenge Green Bay for NFC supremacy, but really, who is? That said, Michael "Dumps Like A Truck" Turner is running the ball like he's mad at everyone who said he's due for a drop-off and Matt Ryan continues to make the right reads in a disproportionately high number of situations. The Falcons are far from mistake-proof, but they're closer than most teams in the league and have an outrageous 23-6 home record since drafting Ryan. This team is trending upward and their ergonomic blend of experience and youth should keep them relevant for the next five years at least. THE PICK: FALCONS
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
Remember a few years ago, when Josh McDaniels brought his my-way-or-the-highway show to Denver and the Broncos subsequently won their first six games? The NFL media machine is the epitome of immediate over-reaction, and perhaps that has never been so clearly evident as it was during the Broncos smoke-and-mirrors start to that season. Talent-wise, they had no business with that record and they regressed as hard as shit towards the mean. It was like all of a sudden the rest of the league realized that the wannabe-Belichick had chased all of his best players off the team and they went on to finish 8-8. A predictably awful start to the next season cost McDaniels his job.
During the Bills red-hot 4-1 start to this year, I couldn't help shake the feeling that they were just a more likeable version of those Broncos. It seems as though the secret of the Bills' "high-powered" offense got out immediately after they broke the bank for Ryan Fitzpatrick and every team realized that if you commit two people to Fred Jackson and assume that they won't pass deep without play-action, you'll be fine. I like Chan Gailey (who looks absolutely nothing like you'd expect him to, based on that name), but you can only go screen/draw for so long. Like I said last week, I love that since the Bills don't have much talent on defense, they gamble like crazy; but all that does is contribute to a moderately more exciting version of a bad defense and even though the Jets aren't an offensive dynamo, Buffalo is ill-equipped to stop them consistently. Toss in the fact that the only All-Pro they have (Fred Jackson) is out for the year, things could get real ugly real quick in upstate New York.
I am so tired of the Jets, and I hate that analysts will debate whether or not they're "back" after this win, but it doesn't change the fact that even 87 year-old Mark Brunell could beat the mid-season version of this Bills team. THE PICK: JETS
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
I did it! I spelled Cincinatti correctly on the first try! The Browns suck. THE PICK: BENGALS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans
Before the season, I would've pegged this as a Bucs win, but that was before Josh Freeman started playing quarterback like Gordan Freeman (nerd alert). Mike Williams has disappeared after a promising rookie season and the aptly named LeGarrette Blount is only effective when Tampa has a lead because he can't catch or pass block, only hurdle grown-ass men all the time. Plus, since Gerald McCoy went down, the Bucs have had the worst rush defense in the NFL.
Lets not get it twisted, I don't think Tennessee is a particularly great team, but I think they're good enough to beat this hollow version of the Buccaneers at home. My main focus, besides hoping that Chris Johnson can tap back into his milestone-achieving, Twitter-thanking, gotta-see-what-he-does-next self, is watching whether Jake Locker gets a chance to play. He saw significant action for the first time last week, and I'm anxious to see what he does next. My guess is that Matt Hasselbeck starts, and probably plays the whole game, but I'll pay closer attention if they put Locker in. Anyway, this game is tough to pick because these are two very average teams, but I'm leaning with the hosts this go-'round. THE PICK: TITANS
Carolina Panthers at Indianapolis Colts
I can't imagine that any 2-8 team has ever been a 3.5-point favorite on the road, but such is the plight of the Colts, post-Peyton Manning*. Cam Newton is a hell of a quarterback who requires a different sort of preparation than almost any other QB in the league and his emergence has drawn the uber-talented Steve Smith out from the shadows and back into the elite class of NFL wide receivers. Newton is exactly what the league needs him to be, and the Colts aren't going to have an answer for him.
*Can we all agree, in light of Indy's regression from a 12-win lock to the worst team in the league, that the NFL should retro-actively award Manning the last ten MVPs?
Side note: could there have possibly been worse timing for Reggie Wayne's contract year? Some team is going to get a very good WR on the cheap next season. THE PICK: PANTHERS
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
It's way more difficult to pick the winner between two bad teams than it is to do the same between two good teams. When it doubt, give the edge to the team with the best player, and given that Larry Fitzgerald might be the most physically-gifted receiver in the world, I guess that means going with Arizona, even though they'll have to rely on some guy that is below John freaking Skelton on the depth chart. Man, our division blows. THE PICK: CARDINALS
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Remember when the Jags beat the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night that one time? THE PICK: TEXANS
PS - Matt Leinart was right to choose to stay with Houston instead of signing with Seattle. There might not be an offense better suited for a non-elite quarterback than the Texans'.
Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders
It is my belief that the Bears are a better overall team than the Raiders, but quarterback means so damn much and with the jowl-heavy Jay Cutler on the shelf (not literally), I just don't know if the general talent difference is enough to overcome the supposed drop-off from Cutler to Caleb Hanie. I think that the Raiders are a true-talent 8-8 team that may very well go 10-6 because of their schedule and the fact that they catch the Bears mid-QB-switch, in their own yard, is a blessing that they can't afford to give up.
Then again, this is Oakland we're talking about, and I'm simply not sold on Carson Palmer. Vegas loves the Raiders in this one, but I do not. I say it's too much Bears D, too many Oakland mistakes, and not nearly enough Michael Bush. Caleb Hanie goes to 1-0 on the year. THE PICK: BEARS
Washington Redskins vs Seattle Seahawks
I've correctly picked the outcome of every Seahawks game this season. That won't change this week. Before I say who takes this one, let me say that Rex Grossman is not worthy of the overwhelming disdain his name evokes. He's a higher-risk version of Tony Romo (who I think is great) and would be a decent quarterback on a team that actually gave him a pocket and some decent weapons.
Unfortunately for the Gross Man, he won't have a pocket or any weapons (as long as the 'Hawks are smart enough to key in on the newly recovered Santana Moss). The Redskins defense looked good early in the season when they didn't have to play 40 minutes a game, but they've looked pretty bad when their backs are against the wall, which I imagine they will be in Century Link.
Seattle's defense has been terrific of late and, although they haven't forced as many turnovers as I'd like, they've been stingy with yardage and don't seem likely to give up any big plays to Moss or the uninspiring carousel of Ryan Torain and Roy Helu Jr. What does seem likely is either Kam Chancellor or Leroy Hill physically removing the head from the shoulders of at least one 'Skins player.
To top it off, I think Marshawn Lynch is good for 100 yards from scrimmage, easing the pressure on Tarvaris Jackson. Brace yourselves for irrational playoff talk after this one. THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers is a much better QB than he's displayed so far this season. The big issue, obviously, has been his turnovers, but I don't see Denver's D forcing many of those in this one. The orange and blue's best chance on Sunday is to hope that their boring as hell ball-control offense can keep Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates off the field enough to keep this one close. No matter what my sub-conscious is telling me, SD's five-game train wreck ends here. THE PICK: CHARGERS
New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles
Despite what the records say, if Michael Vick was fully healthy for this one, I'd choose Philly. As it is, it'll either be a half-healthy Vick or Vince Young (same difference) at the helm against Bill Belichick's crew. Tom Brady is still one of the three best QBs in the NFL and with Nnamdi Asomwugha banged up and a defensive scheme that's as ill-suited for its personnel as could possibly be imagined (really, you pay twelve billion dollars for three shutdown corners and then run zone with completely over-matched linebackers?), I just don't see a way Philly pulls this off. Rob Gronkowski is going to feast like a Polish king in this one. THE PICK: PATRIOTS
I love the shit out of LeSean McCoy, though. Also, if Jeffrey Lawrie fires Andy Reid after this season, he's either crazy or stupid.
Pittsburgh Steelers over Kansas City Chiefs
Len Dawson ain't walking through that door. THE PICK: STEELERS
New York Giants at New Orleans Saints
This is one of the better MNF games of the year. The Giants are better than you think, and the Saints are, in my opinion, the second-best team in the NFC, even though their defense has taken a step back. There are a lot of variables in this one, as is normal when one field contains as many offensive playmakers as the Superdome's will on Monday.
Both quarterbacks are very good, neither team will even try to run the ball after the second quarter, and both squads have defenses that are only barely capable of keeping the other team's receivers from going nuts. At some point, the dam will break (sorry, New Orleans, still too soon?), and one of the teams will be unable to recover. My guess is that the Giants falter first and Drew Brees makes sure they don't get back on their feet. The Giants have such a brutal schedule in the second half of the season; they may finish the year as the best 8-8 team we've seen in a while. Poor little guys. THE PICK: SAINTS
There you have it. Enjoy taking money from your friends.