We are now a a week away from Thanksgiving and the official stretch run of the 2013 NFL season. This has been a pretty strange year from the standpoint that mediocrity has truly rained supreme this year with 17 teams that are either a game over, or, a game under the .500 mark. This has created a log jam for wild card slots in both conferences and division titles in both the NFC East and North.
But that is why the stretch run is so much fun; chances are someone is going to come out of the muck and make a serious pre-January statement. So without further adieu, let's take a look at a few key games in week 12.
NY Jets @ Baltimore (-3.5): Unless Rex Ryan feels the need to take his team to the Hooters of
Baltimore, there won't be any late night-before-the-game trips to go bar hopping this time around. But why is it that Ryan has to realize this now? (More on that in the next article). On the field, the Jets come limping into Baltimore, a city where they have never won a regular season game, against a Ravens team desperate to get a victory to stay in the thick of the race. The Ravens know that their next two games are keys to the playoffs; the Jets and Geno Smith make a perfect first victim. PICK: RAVENS 27, JETS 13.
Panthers (-4.5) @ Dolphins: The Panthers are the real deal. They have won six in a row, and their defense has led the way. It's not like the offense isn't doing anything, because Can Newton (63.2 completion %, 16 TD) has really come into his own in year three. There is no more discussion about firing Ron Rivera. The talk now is playoffs. The Dolphins responded after a two week period of adversity with a gutsy victory over San Diego, and they are a real threat to upset the Panthers at home in the MIA. PICK: UPSET ALERT: DOLPHINS 26, PANTHERS 21.
Steelers @ Browns (-1.5): It goes to show you that even a two-game winning streak is not enough to give Pittsburgh a slight betting edge on the road in Cleveland, but the Browns have been real tough at home this year. The Browns already own victories over Cincinnati and Baltimore at home and are looking to sweep their divisional home games this week. However, just the idea of Jason Campbell taking on a hungry Steelers defense is a nightmare waiting to happen. I also expect Big Ben and the Steelers offense to continue their reclamation project for another week. PICK: STEELERS 20, BROWNS 17.
Broncos (-2.5) @ Patriots: Ah, the game of the week! A game that will go a long way in determining who will get the number 1 and 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots and Broncos square off in Foxboro, Sunday night. For Denver this is the middle game of a crucial three game stretch, which they already 1-0 on. A win in New England would pretty much assure that Denver will be either the number 1 seed or 5 seed (depending on what happens with Kansas City).
However, I never like picking against the Patriots at home after a loss. The Patriots need this game more than Denver does, and that will mean a lot in the end. The Patriots want to make a statement, and expect them to do so in a thrilling Brady vs. Manning battle. PICK: PATRIOTS 38, BRONCOS 31.
Cowboys @ Giants (-2.5): Listen to talk radio this week and you would think the Giants were 9-1, not 4-6 and clinging to a very slim playoff dream. But that is life in New York where being a prisoner of the moment is true bliss. However going up against the erratic Jerry Boys in Jersey might be the right tonic to get Big Blue back in it, even though Dallas has won its last two in the Meadowlands.
If the Cowboys want to make a statement and support their embattled coach, they will come out guns-a-blazing against the hyped up Giants. Keep in mind that during New York's four-game winning streak they have not faced a superior starting quarterback. Tony Romo, love him or hate him, is better than any of the QBs the Giants face the previous four weeks. Plus, Romo gets his favorite receiver Miles Austin back for this one. Fantasy owners get ready.
This could be a shootout, but if the Giants are to control this game they have got to cut down on the turnovers. Eli Manning (17 interceptions) is good for a pick a game. He had a pick last week, and a pick six the week before against Oakland. Turnovers on Sunday will kill Big Blue's chances. At least Manning will be throwing against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, as Dallas is 32nd in pass defense. On the plus side for New York, their defense has played a lot better of late, and the addition of the emotional Jon Beason has added a lot to this New York lineup. PICK: I won't be shocked if Dallas wins this, but until they get off the inconsistent bandwagon .... GIANTS 30, COWBOYS 27.