Cheat Sheet: Bills-Chiefs clash could be real treat of the week
Coming off a loss to the Patriots where they had chances to win, the Bills are heading into the buzz saw known as Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are arguably the NFL’s hottest team (save for the undefeated squads) and boast a ferocious defense.
The Bills, however, had LeSean McCoy, who is going to start to heat up. They also have master schemer Rex Ryan, so let’s see what he has in store for Alex Smith, who as we know, is no Tom Brady. The Patriots all-world quarterback struggled against Ryan’s schemes on Monday night, so we imagine Smith may also have some issues.
Week 12 Cheat Sheet Trivia Question: Doug Martin's 177 rushing yards on Sunday were the most in the first half of a game since which player had 180 yards in the first half of a 2003 game?
Peter Schrager Podcast: This week, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn voiced his disappointment in Johnny Manziel and made the case for Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff.
Now, on to my Thanksgiving Day picks.
Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions: No, this didn’t end up being the NFC playoff preview that FOX executives had hoped for when the schedules came out in April, but it beats discussing the Drake "Hotline Bling" video with Grandma Janice and arguing about politics with Cousin Eleanor. I've read 35 articles about Chip Kelly's revolutionary sleep science tactics. Guess what? Unless you have an NFL quarterback, sleep science isn't winning you any games. Mark Sanchez has one dubious start on Thanksgiving (there was some famous play a few years ago), and I think he could be in line for another.
The Pick: Lions 31, Eagles 23
Final: Lions, 45, Eagles 14
Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys: Kudos to Cam Newton, who on Monday night had an event at which more than 900 kids were fed Thanksgiving dinners and there was a "dabbing" contest in Charlotte. And kudos to Darren McFadden, who didn't necessarily have a long line of suitors piling up to sign him this offseason as a free agent, and is having a big year in Dallas. He helped Dallas hold on for its first win since September last week. McFadden won't get the same media love as Romo or even Dez Bryant or linebacker Sean Lee, but he may end up being the difference between being a playoff team and watching from home in January this season.
The Pick: Cowboys 33, Panthers 23
Final: Panthers 33, Cowboys 14
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre will be the big name, as he returns to Lambeau Field with great fanfare on Thursday night, but it's all about Aaron Rodgers for me. This wasn't quite the "R-E-L-A-X" treatment last Sunday in Minnesota, but it was something. Green Bay showed life, they showed resilience, and they showed a defense that could rally when needed. The Bears lost a heartbreaker vs. the Broncos last week. I don't see them strolling into Green Bay and winning on Thursday.
The Pick: Packers 27, Bears 20
Final: Bears 17, Packers 13
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: You can have your Patriots-Broncos. This is the better, more interesting AFC West-AFC East matchup of the weekend. Buffalo is desperate to stay in the playoff hunt, Kansas City has a small window with Peyton Manning going down for a division title, and both teams play ferocious defense. Kansas City won a similar, hard-fought game between them last year in November. I like Buffalo — led by one Shady McCoy — on Sunday.
The Pick: Bills 21, Chiefs 16
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: A few Jets fans I know were lining Broadway with ticker tape and getting ready for a Super Bowl parade after starting the season with wins in four of their first five games. The team has hit the skids since then and looked absolutely listless against the Texans a week ago. Former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum slyly picked up Quinton Coples, a former first-round pick of the Jets, and added him to Miami’s roster this week. A little enemy intel never hurt anyone.
The Pick: Dolphins 24, Jets 20
St. Louis Rams at Cincinnati Bengals: After three straight primetime games, the Bengals are back to their usual 1 p.m. ET kickoff time, with few eyes and little expectations. We know this team performs best under those conditions. Perhaps those two losses were the best thing that could happen to Cincinnati. A little pressure is off, Andy Dalton can just go about his business, and the fan base can take a second to catch its breath. I can’t see the Bengals losing a third straight game.
The Pick: Bengals 27, Rams 14
Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons: Both the Vikings and the Falcons — two victims of early-season hype machines — have come down to earth a bit. The Vikings have a tough road ahead, with games against Seattle, Arizona, Chicago, New York and Green Bay left on the slate. I don’t want to count out any team with a 7-3 record, but that’s asking a lot from a very young team. The Falcons, not exactly my pick for Super Bowl 50 champions, shouldn’t lose this one at home if they are, indeed, a tougher team than they were under Mike Smith.
The Pick: Falcons 20, Vikings 16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts: My favorite game of the week and one that I’ll be working the sidelines with on FOX. It’s a fun clash between young and old, with the NFL’s oldest quarterback Matt Hasselbeck going up against one of its youngest in Jameis Winston. The latter was a promising 4-year-old boy when Hasselbeck was drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft. I like what the Colts have going on, even with starting left tackle Anthony Constanzo out indefinitely. I’m riding this Hasselbeck wave. Whether it’s enough to save Chuck Pagano’s job — I have no idea.
The Pick: Colts 27, Buccaneers 24
San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars: San Diego’s the pits. What an egg the Chargers laid last week. More than 20 Chargers greats, including Shawne Merriman and Lorenzo Neal, were in the building to honor LaDainian Tomlinson. And San Diego responded by getting beaten by 30 points in its own building. I’m not oozing with confidence over the Jaguars, but I can’t see the same Chargers team that failed to show up last Sunday putting up much of a fight after a long road trip and a 10 a.m. San Diego kickoff time.
The Pick: Jaguars 30, Chargers 20
New Orleans at Houston: Brian Hoyer is back under center, but this one will be all about the suddenly rejuvenated Texans defense. The same unit that somehow gave up over 40 points to the now anemic Falcons and Dolphins offenses, has now put the clamps on the Jets and Bengals in consecutive weeks. The guy to watch isn't J.J. Watt. It's Jadeveon Clowney, who is back in the lineup and all over the field.
The Pick: Texans 22, Saints 17
Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans: Just three weeks ago, the Raiders bandwagon was filled to the brim, spilling over with optimism and Johnny-Come-Lately's. Now, it’s completely empty, with a few broken beer bottles, a shoulder pad filled with spikes and lots of shrugged shoulders. I know Tennessee hasn’t won a home game since October 2014, but I just can’t see this Raiders team getting it together on the road. This has a huge Marcus Mariota game — he seems to have them every few weeks — written all over it.
The Pick: Titans 31, Raiders 20
New York Giants at Washington Redskins: Tom Coughlin said it best this week when he referred to the remainder of the 2015 campaign as a “six-week season.” The Giants still control their own fate, and if they’re a true division champion, they win this one. We know all the Coughlin-led Giants need is to get into the playoffs. From there, I wouldn’t pick against them. I think they find a way on Sunday in a fun little shootout.
The Pick: Giants 30, Redskins 24
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: There have been a bunch of low points for the 49ers this season, but the nadir probably was their 47-7 loss in Arizona on national TV. I don’t think this one is that bad, but I also don’t see Blaine Gabbert beating Carson Palmer on Sunday. I don’t think I see that happening ever.
The Pick: Cardinals 33, 49ers 17
Pittsburgh Steelers at Seattle Seahawks: A good old Super Bowl rematch, though Seahawks fans would rather not discuss this one for reasons understood. Seattle’s found a gem in Thomas Rawls. The undrafted rookie became the first rookie in NFL history to compile more than 250 yards from scrimmage, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in a single game. They’ll ride him to a win again on Sunday, regardless of what people are saying about their “celebrity QB.”
The Pick: Seahawks 33, Steelers 23
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos: At some point, the Patriots' injuries might catch up with them. If there’s a game I can see them dropping on the schedule, it’s this one. New England has been without Julian Edelman, Jamie Collins, Nate Solder and Dion Lewis. On Monday, both Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola left the game with injuries. I can see New England blowing out the Broncos without Peyton Manning, yes, but I also would love to see how things play out if Denver keeps on winning without Manning in the lineup. Give me Brock and the Broncos.
The Pick: Broncos 24, Patriots 20
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: Matt Schaub vs. Josh McCown isn’t exactly a matchup anyone’s ever expected to see on a theater marquee, but it’s still football, and football is better than watching a singing competition. OK, maybe not. I may be watching “The Voice” on Monday night instead. I love that Jordan Smith. He’s got the voice of an angel.
The Pick: Browns 20, Ravens 13
Reader Email of the Week:
The refs botched the Bills-Patriots game. They've botched a million things before that this season. It's getting worse every week. Remember when they all returned from their "strike"? The fans cheered them! Gave them standing ovations. Can anyone do a worse job than these guys are doing this year? I am almost wishing we had the replacement refs back.
Jeff, Minneapolis, Minnesota
These officials are in a no-win situation. Not to make excuses, but every call is dissected, every call is scrutinized, and with the rise of social media and constant replay reviews — fans and teams have all the power in these critiques. The officials are doing this in real-time. That's hard! Hey, inadvertent whistles, botched calls and poor explanations will happen. They always have. The zebras just haven't had the amount of eyes, and reviews, and constant deliberation that they're subject to as they do now. That said, you're right. They've been very bad this year. Happy Thanksgiving, Jeff!
Week 12 Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer: Baltimore Ravens great Jamal Lewis ran for 180 yards in the first half of a Week 2 game vs. the Browns in 2003. He finished the afternoon with 295 yards on the ground.