N.F.L. Week 12 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

Our N.F.L. playoffs calculator has an up-to-date look at the latest playoff picture.

The surprising upsets among the N.F.L.’s elite continue, making it hard to decipher which teams are actually good. The parity has decimated our record against the spread and has vaulted under-the-radar teams into the playoff conversation. The Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings are on unlikely winning streaks, and each has a real chance at a wild-card spot pending the outcome of this weekend’s games.

In the meantime, teams that sat atop their divisions mere weeks ago can no longer assume home-field advantages for the playoffs.

The drama continues this week with a potential N.F.C. Championship preview between the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers, an important A.F.C. North game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, and a matchup of two playoff dark horses, the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers. Oh, and there are three games on Thursday for Thanksgiving.

Below is a look at N.F.L. Week 12, with all picks made against the spread.

Last week’s record: 5-10

All times are Eastern.

Byes: Kansas City, Arizona

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Thanksgiving Day Games
  • Sunday’s Best Games
  • Sunday’s Other Games
  • Monday’s Matchup
  • How Betting Lines Work

Thanksgiving Day Games

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m., Fox

Line: Bears -3.5 | Total: 41.5

Football can wait. The Bears (3-7) and Lions (0-9-1) are bad, and the game is important only for draft positioning and as a backdrop for putting the final touches on the Thanksgiving meal before guests arrive. Chicago’s rookie quarterback Justin Fields injured his knee last week, meaning the veteran Andy Dalton will start, and Detroit’s Jared Goff is uncertain, but looks likely to play with an ​​oblique injury.

But they won’t be the deciding factors in this one. The Lions’ lone offensive threat is D’Andre Swift, who has rushed for over 100 yards in the last two games. Bears head coach Matt Nagy, the subject of firing rumors, may want to end his tenure by keeping Detroit winless. Pick: Bears -3.5

Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m., CBS

Line: Cowboys -7 | Total: 51

The Raiders (5-5), who began the season 3-0, have now lost five of their last seven games and are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. In each defeat, the team failed to pass for over 300 yards. The Cowboys (7-3) are holistically better. Even if they play without Amari Cooper, who remains on the Covid-19 list, and CeeDee Lamb, who is in the concussion protocol, Dallas’s offense can exploit the Raiders’ defense, which has looked suspect in recent weeks. Pick: Cowboys -7

Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Bills -4 | Total: 46.5

The Saints (5-5) desperately need Alvin Kamara (knee) back to confidently start a playoff push. A win here improves their chances to 59 percent, a loss drops them to 35 percent, according to the Playoff Predictor. With his status in limbo for a third straight game, figure to bet the Bills (6-4) to cover on the road. Buffalo has lost to inferior opponents in two of the last three weeks, with quarterback Josh Allen taking four sacks against Jacksonville, and Indianapolis racking up 264 rushing yards against the Bills’ usually stout defense.

Kamara’s presumed absence eliminates the rushing threat — backup Mark Ingram (knee) also did not practice Tuesday — and the Saints’ defense is stronger at stopping the run than the pass. If Allen stays upright, the Bills should cover. Pick: Bills -4

Sunday’s Best Games

Running back Jonathan Taylor has given the Colts new life. Indianapolis won its last three games ahead of Sunday’s meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Credit…Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Buccaneers -2.5 | Total: 51.5

This game should determine whether it’s time to add the Colts (6-5) into the hectic fray of A.F.C. challengers. They have won five of their last six games, and are currently on a three-game winning streak. Jonathan Taylor leads the league in rushing yards (1,222), and has entered the Most Valuable Player Award conversation. But Indianapolis’s postseason hopes hinge on getting a win: They have a 66 percent chance of making it if they win, and only a 45 percent shot if they lose.

The Buccaneers (7-3), though, allow the fewest rushing yards per game (78.4), and could get a lift from the returns of defensive tackle Vita Vea (knee) and receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) from injury. Vea’s presence would be particularly helpful in clogging Taylor’s run lanes. If Tampa Bay’s defense neutralizes Taylor, it will turn into a shootout between Carson Wentz and Tom Brady. Who do you trust more in that scenario? Pick: Buccaneers -2.5

Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -1 | Total: 47.5

Last week’s bye was perfectly timed for the Rams (7-3) to gather their pride after two embarrassing losses, and to integrate receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and linebacker Von Miller — acquired in the past month — into their system. The showdown against the Packers (8-3) could be a preview of the N.F.C. Championship game.

The Rams figure to be in a better position than in last season’s divisional round loss to the Packers, when Aaron Donald was compromised with a rib injury. He should feast with two of Green Bay’s starters from the offensive line out: Guard Elgton Jenkins was placed on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last week, and tackle David Bakhtiari is likely to miss time after having his knee scoped this week. Forecasts call for a kickoff temperature around 37 degrees, but that looks like the only advantage the Packers should have in this one. Pick: Rams +1

Ja’Marr Chase and the Cincinnati Bengals are a game back of the Baltimore Ravens in the A.F.C. North.Credit…David Becker/Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. CBS

Line: Bengals -3.5 | Total: 45.5

The Steelers (5-4-1) nearly beat the Chargers last week without some of their best players, which makes predicting their divisional matchup with the Bengals (6-4) tough. Coach Mike Tomlin said he expected T.J. Watt (hip and knee), Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was on the Covid-19 list last week, and Joe Haden (foot) to play. They will certainly help, but the Steelers must also run the ball better — they rushed for only 55 yards against Los Angeles, whose defense has been awful against the run.

Cincinnati has allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game (98) and could force Pittsburgh to again be one-dimensional. If the Bengals get out to a lead, they should be able to keep it. A Cincinnati win increases their postseason chances to 60 percent but a loss would drop them to 28 percent. Pick: Bengals -3.5

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Patriots -5.5 | Total: 44.5

Injuries are affecting the Titans (8-3) and their slipping grip atop the A.F.C. The team placed linebacker Bud Dupree (abdominal) on injured reserve, and receiver A.J. Brown also hurt his chest in a fluky loss to the lowly Texans. Ryan Tannehill threw four interceptions against one of the worst teams in the league, not a good precursor to playing the Patriots (7-4).

New England has allowed opponents an average of only 135 passing yards and 72.3 rushing yards over their last three games. Meanwhile, Mac Jones has completed over 80 percent of his passes in back-to-back weeks. The Patriots are the hotter team while Tennessee is banged up, making this an easy bet. Pick: Patriots -5.5

The Vikings’ Justin Jefferson ranks fourth in the league with 944 receiving yards.Credit…Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: 49ers -3 | Total: 48

Back-to-back wins for the Vikings (5-5) and the 49ers (5-5) have given both teams momentum for their playoff hopes. Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson has posted over 100 receiving yards in that stretch, and Kirk Cousins has not thrown an interception in the last five games. Defending Jefferson and receiver Adam Thielen will be a big barometer for San Francisco’s secondary, which has allowed the third-fewest passing yards per game (202.4). Cousins struggles under duress, and if the 49ers’ front seven can generate pressure, he could be liable for a turnover or two, allowing San Francisco’s methodical offensive approach to chew clock. Pick: 49ers -3

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Ravens -3.5 | Total: 46

A narrow victory last week for the Browns (6-5) against the winless Lions felt like a loss as Baker Mayfield declined to talk to reporters afterward and then scolded fans who booed the team. The quarterback played through shoulder and knee injuries, ailments that are clearly affecting his performance, but Mayfield will start if he is cleared.

Against the Ravens (7-3), running back Kareem Hunt is hopeful to play for the first time since he injured his calf in October. Baltimore has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards, though, and could contain even a backfield as dynamic as Hunt and Nick Chubb. Lamar Jackson’s status is questionable as he recovers from an illness that kept him out in Week 11. But with the Browns faltering, Baltimore is still the safer bet. Pick: Ravens -3.5

Sunday’s Other Games

Linebacker Jerome Baker and the Dolphins defense have powered Miami on a three-game win streak.Credit…Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Carolina Panthers at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Panthers -1 | Total: 42.5

Cam Newton’s return for the Panthers (5-6) doesn’t fix that the team has no consistent playmaker other than running back Christian McCaffrey, that the run defense is mediocre and that Carolina leads the league in penalties (81). The Dolphins (4-7) have won their last three games behind their defense, which has created seven turnovers in that stretch.

But there’s still reason to think that the Panthers are the better team. Miami’s pass defense is still the worst in the league, and the team has rushed for 100 yards only three times. If Carolina takes care of the ball and handle Miami’s aggressive blitzes, the Panthers should win. Pick: Panthers -1

Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Falcons -1 | Total: 48.5

Anything can happen when two of the worst teams in the league meet up. The Falcons (5-6), though, have played far worse than the Jaguars (2-8) recently and have been outscored, 68-3, in their last two games. Jacksonville, meanwhile, has played competitively against strong competition, allowing only 186.3 passing yards per game in their last three.

Atlanta will still be without receiver Calvin Ridley (mental health) and do-it-all back Cordarrelle Patterson (ankle), making Matt Ryan’s one option finding tight end Kyle Pitts. The Jaguars know that and can cut it off. Pick: Jaguars +1

Philadelphia Eagles at Giants, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Eagles -3.5 | Total: 46

After leaning heavily on the pass earlier in the season, the Eagles (5-6) have become more balanced, rushing for over 200 yards in three of their last four games. That strategy should succeed against the Giants (3-7), who allow 119.7 rushing yards per game. The Giants offense scores a mere 18.9 points per game, a lack of production so dire it got offensive coordinator Jason Garrett fired Tuesday. These two teams are on opposite trajectories, and the spread could be a bit higher. Pick: Eagles -3.5

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is expected to return against the Texans after missing four games because of a knee injury.Credit…Brad Penner/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Jets at Houston Texans, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Texans -2.5 | Total: 44.5

Realistically, don’t bet on this game. If you do, take the Texans (2-8) based on momentum. Houston surprisingly beat the Titans last week thanks to a five-turnover performance by its defense. The unit could see similar results against the Jets (2-8), who will start the rookie quarterback Zach Wilson after he missed four games because of a knee injury.

Wilson struggled with ball security and is tied for fourth in interceptions (9) even after sitting out a month. Other young skill players have blossomed in his absence, including receiver Elijah Moore and running back Michael Carter, though Carter will be out with an ankle injury. The Jets defense has underperformed, though, allowing 171.3 rushing yards per game over their last three. Wilson’s rust, Carter’s absence and the defense’s problems should allow Houston to cover. Pick: Texans -2.5

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Chargers -2.5 | Total: 47.5

This A.F.C. West matchup puts the Chargers’ (6-4) playoff standing on the line. With a win, Los Angeles is back in the fight for the division lead. A loss drops them back into wild card territory, where they’d have a 52 percent chance of making the postseason.

The Chargers’ last four games have been decided by one score and even if they are a better team, the potential absences of defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is on the Covid-19 list, and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who is in the concussion protocol for the second time this season, could display Los Angeles’s propensity for unnecessary fourth-quarter drama. Fresh off their bye, Denver designated linebacker Bradley Chubb to return from injured reserve, and his presence would help stop Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who scored four touchdowns last week. Denver can win outright, or keep it within the spread. Pick: Broncos +2.5

Monday’s Matchup

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Footballers, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Washington -1 | Total: 46.5

The Seahawks (3-7) have become irrelevant. The defense is still one of the worst in the league, allowing the third-most passing yards per game (279.6). The offense, even with Russell Wilson back from finger surgery, is inept, especially now that running back Chris Carson is officially out for the remainder of the year with a neck issue.

Taylor Heinicke has played well recently, leading Washington (4-6) to two straight wins, and he has not thrown an interception in that time frame. Each week gives Wilson and his agent more material to request a trade this off-season. A loss to Washington in prime time could be a final straw. Pick: Washington -1

How Betting Lines Work

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Raiders -5.5, for example, means that Las Vegas must beat Chicago by at least 6 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

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