Intro by Doug Kezirian
After NFL bettors survive a triple-header on Thanksgiving, they have to tackle a Sunday card that offers an unusual amount of short spreads and games that seemingly will come down to the final few minutes. Only one Sunday game has a point spread above 4.5 points, thanks to nine games featuring a line of 3.5 points or less.
"When you really dissect each game, it's a really good slate. It's still a little early to be talking playoffs, but teams that are in the hunt have big games," DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello told ESPN. "For the most part, when you look at all the matchups, they're pretty competitive and they mean a lot."
The early slate is headlined by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) visiting the Indianapolis Colts, while the afternoon's marquee matchup is the Green Bay Packers (pick 'em) hosting the Los Angeles Rams. "Sunday Night Football" involves a divisional showdown with the Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) hosting the Cleveland Browns.
Each week during the season, betting analysts Doug Kezirian (13-20-2, 1-1 last week), Tyler Fulghum (9-23, 1-3), Joe Fortenbaugh (34-27-1, 0-4) and Anita Marks (173-161, 8-15), Fantasy and Sports Betting analyst Eric Moody (85-75, 6-15), ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder (45-41, 4-2) and Mackenzie Kraemer (4-10, 1-2), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (23-18-1, 2-1) and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz (36-28, 2-4) will provide their top plays across the NFL landscape. (Records through Week 11.)
Here are their best bets for Week 12.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook as of Wednesday (unless otherwise indicated).
Jump to: Steelers-Bengals | Buccaneers-Colts | Panthers-Dolphins | Titans-Patriots | Eagles-Giants | Falcons-Jaguars | Jets-Texans | Chargers-Broncos | Rams-Packers | Vikings-49ers | Browns-Ravens | Bears-Lions | Raiders-Cowboys | Bills-Saints
Sunday's 8:20 p.m. ET game
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-3.5, 46)
Moody: When these AFC North rivals get together, things get interesting. Baltimore leads the NFL with 31.6 rushing attempts per game, while the Browns rank fifth with 30 attempts per game. Lamar Jackson's return is obviously a big deal for Baltimore. Jackson is averaging 272 passing yards and 71 rushing yards per game this season. Baker Mayfield, on the other hand, is averaging only 216.6 passing yards per game this season while playing through multiple injuries. Because of Mayfield's limited mobility, the Ravens' pass rush could pose a problem for the Browns. Mayfield has been under pressure on 29.3% of his dropbacks this season and completed only 41.4% of his 58 attempts. The Ravens will want to protect their home field in prime time on Sunday night.
Pick: Ravens -3.5
Marks: Mayfield is beat up and Jackson is back in action after a week off due to an illness. The Browns nearly lost to the Lions, and the Ravens beat the Bears with their backup quarterback. The Browns' defense has not done well against top-tier quarterbacks and will have a difficult time stopping Jackson and his explosive passing game this season. Meanwhile, Cleveland has a plethora of injuries in its wide receiving corps and might have to rely on its tight ends to generate success in the passing game.
Pick: Ravens -3 (buying the hook, -130 at DK)
Sunday's 4 p.m. ET games
Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5, 47.5) at Denver Broncos
Schatz: Two weeks ago I picked a Denver over and fell two points short, but I'm going back to the well. The issue here is Denver's defense is much, much better in points allowed (third in the NFL) than in our DVOA ratings, where the Broncos are now down to 26th. DVOA is more predictive going forward. Denver actually ranks higher in offense (15th) than defense. Meanwhile, we know that the Chargers can score plenty of points. They rank third in offensive DVOA and 21st on defense, and four of their past six games have gone over this number, with a fifth just missing at 47 points. Our simulations suggest this game will go over the number roughly 72% of the time.
Pick: Over 47.5
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers (Even, 48)
Fortenbaugh: There's a reason this game moved from Green Bay -2 to a pick 'em shortly after opening. The Rams are off the bye and have had two weeks to get ready for this matchup, which means Sean McVay has had two weeks to fix Matthew Stafford while simultaneously getting the newly acquired Odell Beckham Jr. integrated into his offense. Green Bay's defense got exposed in Minnesota last Sunday, putting plenty of evidence on tape as to how McVay and Stafford can formulate a plan of attack.
Pick: Rams Pk
Walder: FPI favors the Packers by just a half-point here, in part because it has never truly bought in on Green Bay this year, and in part because the Rams are coming off their bye. But it also is lacking a crucial piece of information: Aaron Rodgers' toe injury. Rodgers is obviously the key ingredient to any Green Bay success, and if he's not at 100 percent, neither is the team. If our model sees this as almost a 50/50 with a healthy Rodgers, I lean the Rams with a banged-up Rodgers.
Pick: Rams Pk
Moody: There are multiple signs that the Rams and Packers could score less than 50 points. While averaging 30.6 points per game during the first half of the season, the Rams looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Once Robert Woods was knocked out for the season with a torn ACL, the Rams hit a further roadblock, falling to the Titans and 49ers in back-to-back games in which they averaged only 13 points. Stafford averaged 268.5 passing yards per game in those losses, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Over the first eight games of 2021, he averaged 309.7 passing yards per game with 22 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. That leads me to my next point. The Packers' defense is formidable. The Packers had allowed 22 points or less in each of their previous seven games before last week's game against the Vikings, in which they surrendered 34 points. The Packers' defense has been particularly strong at Lambeau, allowing an average of only 11 points over four games played at home. As the game goes into the early evening, the extended forecast in the area calls for temperatures at or near freezing.
Pick: Under 48
Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers (-3, 48)
Fortenbaugh: Like Hampton Coliseum in 1998 (Phish fans will get the reference), the Minnesota offense has come alive ever since that 16-point disaster against Cooper Rush and the Cowboys back in Week 8. Over the team's past three outings (at Ravens, at Chargers, vs. Packers), the Vikings are averaging a healthy 30.6 points and 369 total yards per outing. This unit is going to pose a big problem for San Francisco's highly questionable secondary. Conversely, look for Jimmy Garoppolo & Co. to hang a respectable number against a Vikings defense that is permitting an average of 28.6 points per game on the road this season (28th in the NFL).
Pick: Vikings +3, Over 48
Marks: The Vikings are playing sneaky good football. Minnesota's defense is fourth in pressure rate and first in sack differential. Offensively, they are not turning the ball over. Kirk Cousins has 21 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, and his last pick was six games ago. Over the past two games, Justin Jefferson has received 21 targets, and I expect more of the same this week against the 49ers.
Pick: Vikings +3, Vikings +9 in 6-point teaser with Patriots -0.5, Kyle Juszczyk over 6.6 rec yards (-110)
Kraemer: There has perhaps been no more profitable trend over the years than fading Kyle Shanahan as a home favorite. Shanahan is 3-16-2 ATS as a home favorite and has lost the past nine games outright, the longest streak by any coach in the Super Bowl era. Minnesota has been a very profitable underdog this season, going 5-1 ATS, largely because every Vikings game seems to go down to the wire. Minnesota has played nine one-score games and five games decided by three or fewer points, so I like getting at least a field goal with the Vikings. The 49ers are 2-5 when they don't win the turnover battle, and Minnesota has just six turnovers all season, tied for the fewest in the NFL.
Pick: Vikings +3
Thanksgiving Day games
Chicago Bears (-3, 41.5) at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET
Schatz: This is the tale of two backup quarterbacks. Andy Dalton is the backup to Justin Fields, but that's only because the Bears need to develop Fields. Dalton has been the better quarterback this season and gives the Bears a better chance to win if Fields needs to sit out because of Sunday's rib injury. Fields' passing DVOA of -41.7% is the worst among qualifying quarterbacks. Dalton's -6.5% is only slightly below average. ESPN's QBR tells a similar story, with Dalton at 54.0 and Fields at 25.6. It's a huge gap.