Green Bay @ Detroit
Spread: Lions by 6
Green Bay is still without Aaron Rodgers. After weeks of stopgap football, with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzein at quarterback, the Packers went with an old friend in the second half of last week’s game against the Vikings: Matt Flynn. After entering the game down 20-7, Flynn orchestrated a 16-point turnaround to force overtime. Although the game ended in a tie, the Flynn factor makes the Thanksgiving rendezvous with the Lions that much more interesting.
We’ve seen Flynn perform well in Rodgers’ absence before, including a 480-yard, six-touchdown performance against the Lions back in 2011. I’m not saying we’ll see that again, but Flynn is a certain upgrade over Tolzein and Wallace. Anyone who can step in against a division rival, down by 13, and immediately pick up where he left off a year and a half ago deserves to be taken seriously.
What do the Packers have going against them? They beat the Lions this year 22-9, but that was with Aaron Rodgers and without Calvin Johnson lining up against them. Surely Detroit has had this game up on the bulletin board throughout the week. Besides, the Lions are coming off of two straight losses against Pittsburgh and, most disappointingly, Tampa Bay. Between Thanksgiving football at home, the division rivalry, the losing streak, and a playoff berth within reach, the Lions have every reason to be motivated.
The Packers’ greatest strength right now is their running game, which is fifth in the NFL; Detroit is fourth in rush defense. Despite Matt Flynn’s best efforts the Lions roar at home, 31-24.
Oakland @ Dallas
Spread: Dallas by 10
Enter the battle of the 0-3’s. As the Cowboys are 0-3 against the rest of the AFC West so too are the Raiders 0-3 against the rest of the NFC East.
This match-up seems to have the most likely outcome pre-kickoff. What does that tell me? This will probably be the most bizarre game you’ll watch on Thanksgiving.
Do you think that Dallas is on the fast track for the playoffs now they’ve beaten the Giants at MetLife Stadium?
Watch out: The Raiders are a trap game and the Cowboys always keep things interesting.
To call Dallas’s defense shoddy would be an insult to shoddy defenses everywhere. In fact, they are last in the NFL in total defense. Rashad Jennings has run for 413 yards over the past four games and has even emerged as a receiving threat for Oakland out of the backfield. If the Raiders can control the clock with Jennings, avoid turnovers, and force Romo and Co. into a few turnovers of their own the unexpected could happen.
The glaring weakness for Oakland is uncertainty at the quarterback position, where rookie free agent Matt McGloin will be making his third career start. But the reality is this: The mercurial Raiders are just what the Cowboys don’t want to see strolling into AT&T Stadium.
Bold prediction: somehow, some way the Raiders pull this one out 24-20.
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
Spread: Baltimore by 3
While everyone is weighed down by the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the corn pudding, and the yams, this will be the game that perpetuates the agon motif.
It will easily be the most rugged of the three Thanksgiving games. While the other two will be played in domed/retractable roofed stadiums, this one will be out in the elements of Baltimore, at night and in the freezing cold.
The spread gives Baltimore the slight nod, but this game is a toss up. Pittsburgh started out 0-4, but has gone 5-2 over the last seven contests. Baltimore is 3-4 over the same stretch, including a loss to the Steelers in a tightly fought 19-16 game. Expect more of the same here.
In the first meeting, Flacco and Roethlisberger were equally effective. The obvious lacking on both sides was the game-changing play. The defenses were bent but unbroken. Instead, it was a battle of the kickers.
Seeing as the defenses are near washes—the Ravens sit tenth overall and the Steelers thirteenth—the key to winning this game will be found on offense. Expect Ray Rice to be bottled up on the ground just as he was in the first match-up. The real difference maker for the Ravens could be Jacoby Jones, who’s been a force on special teams and is always a threat on the deep ball. If it isn’t Jones, it’s Torrey Smith. Both of these players need to show up.
For the Steelers, Antonio Brown must continue his explosive ways. The chemistry between Brown and Big Ben is undeniable—only Calvin Johnson has more receiving yards. Besides Brown, look for Le’Veon Bell to pose match-up problems for the Ravens’ linebacker corps with his hard running and pass catching out of the backfield.
Regardless, this will be a close one. Despite the spread’s favoring of the Ravens, the Steelers win this game on the road 20-17.