Week 12 features four great games between legitimate playoff contenders – though unlike last week, the Patriots will now be on the under-card rather than the main event. Things kick off with a pair of division leaders as the 7-3 Detroit Lions travel to Foxborough to take on the 8-2 New England Patriots in an early afternoon game on FOX. After that 9-1 Arizona goes to Seattle to play the Seahawks in a game that has huge ramifications for the defending champs as well as the entire NFC playoff race.

A few minutes later the 7-3 Broncos host the 6-4 Miami Dolphins in primary late game on CBS (who has the doubleheader this week) as Denver attempts to stop a two-game skid and maintain their slim one-game lead in the AFC West. The Sunday night there’s another good matchup on NBC as the Baltimore Ravens, who are a half game out of the lead in the AFC North, travel to the Big Easy to play the Saints. 4-6 New Orleans has lost two in a row and has not lived up to preseason expectations thus far, but a victory could put them in first place in what has been a down year for the NFC South.

 

On Monday morning as everybody at work talking about the Pats victory over the Colts? If so, that’s not surprising considering the ratings that game achieved. The 40.0 rating and 58 market share were the second-highest numbers ever for the Pats in the history of Sunday Night Football. So what game was the highest? A 42.6 rating in 2010 against the Green Bay Packers – the team the Patriots will play next week. Expect the Brady-Rodgers hype to rival a typical Brady-Manning week, and the ratings for that game to bring very large smiles to CBS advertising executives.

For a benchmark perspective, the Bills-Dolphins week eleven game received a 4.8 household share – in comparison to the Pats-Colts number of 58.

 

Detroit Lions (7-3) at New England Patriots (8-2) ★★★★★
Early game on FOX
Announcing crew: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews

Detroit owns the NFL’s best defense, ranked first both ‘officially’ (290.3 yards per game) and where it counts (15.6 points per game, which is two full points better tan number two Arizona). However, five of their seven wins came against teams with losing records, and one other victory was against Green Bay when the Packers were stumbling early in the season. The Lions were beaten soundly by the three-win Panthers, lost to Buffalo at home, and all of their last three wins – by a total of six points – could very easily have been losses.

The Lions have struggled on offense, but much of that can be attributed to the installation of a new offense. A good comparison would be with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013; Carson Palmer looked lost early in that season, but was clicking on all cylinders down the stretch. Detroit now has a healthy Calvin Johnson, though Reggie Bush will likely miss this game. The Pats can’t solely focus on Megatron because Golden Tate (68 receptions for 950 yards) has performed very well in his absence. Last week TE Coby Fleener was the beneficiary of a Patriot defense designed to hold Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton in check. Detroit’s tight ends haven’t done much (Eric Ebron leads the TE corps with 24 catches for 125 yards), nor have the running backs (Detroit is last with 798 rushing yards and 30th with 3.2 yards per carry), so the Pats may dare Detroit to beat them with either of those two groups.

For more on this game, check out:
Patriots 4th and Two Podcast
Patriots-Lions, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups
Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Host Lions Sunday
New England Patriots Gameplan: Week 12 vs. Detroit Lions
And a Detroit newspaper perspective, mlive.com

The Patriots have scored 37 or more points in all but one of their last six games. The Pats are coming off big wins against Denver and Indy, with Green Bay on tap next week. For any other team I would think this game would be ripe for a bit of a letdown, but I can’t envision that happening to this team.
Pick • Patriots 31, Lions 27
Lions +7
over 48½ (one unit)

Cleveland Browns (6-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-6) ★★★
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein

The Falcons will be looking for their first win in seven tries outside the NFC South. The return of WR Josh Gordon gives a boost to Cleveland’s offense as the Browns seek to reclaim first place in the AFC North. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White typically light it up at home, this may turn out to be an entertaining, high scoring game.
Pick • Falcons 28, Browns 24
Falcons -3
over 47 (one unit)

Tennessee Titans (2-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-3)
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn

After last week’s embarrassing 53-20 loss to Green Bay, Philly will be fired up to play much better this week. The Titans not only find themselves on the road against a superior team, but also in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Titans are 1-6 in games following a loss; on Monday morning that will be 1-7.
Pick • Eagles 35, Titans 17
Eagles -8½
over 48½

Green Bay Packers (7-3) at Minnesota Vikings (4-6) ★★★
Early game on FOX
Announcing crew: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

Last time these two teams met the Packers ran for 156 yards, 5.6 yards per carry and two touchdowns. If Minnesota becomes overly focused on stopping the Green Bay passing game then expect Eddie Lacy to have another big game. If not, then expect the Packers to have a game like they did the last two weeks – when they lit up Chicago for 55 points and Philly for 53.
Pick • Packers 31, Vikings 24
Vikings +9½
over 48½

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) at Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Tom McCarthy, Chris Simms

After a three-game stretch in which they averaged allowing only 13 points per game, the Jacksonville defense has regressed and given up 91 points in their three games since then. The Colts (3-0 within the division, 3-4 outside) continue to take advantage of the AFC South. The Jaguars are too banged up for me to take a very tempting point spread.
Pick • Colts 35, Jaguars 17
Colts -13½
over 50 (one unit)

Cincinnati Bengals (6-3-1) at Houston Texans (5-5) ★★★
Early game on CBS
Announcing crew: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell

The Bengals are an inconsistent team, and inconsistent teams don’t play well in consecutive games on the road. On the other hand it’s tough to fully back a quarterback making his second NFL start (Ryan Mallett) against a solid defense.
Pick • Texans 20, Bengals 17
Texans -1½
under 43½

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) at Chicago Bears (4-6) ★★
Early game on FOX
Announcing crew: Thom Brennaman, David Diehl, Laura Okmin

Lovie Smith and Josh McCown return to play their first game in Chicago. Supposedly they were going to get revenge when the Bucs played the Falcons for the second time, after losing at Atlanta by 42 points; that didn’t happen. I don’t see it happening on the road rather than at home this week either. Giving up a ton of points at New England or at Green Bay is not unusual for an NFL team; the Bears defense will more resemble the one that allowed only 13 points at home last week.
Pick • Bears 27, Bucs 17
Bears -5
under 46½

Arizona Cardinals (9-1) at Seattle Seahawks (6-4) ★★★★★
Late game on FOX
Announcing crew: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver

A one-loss team with the NFL’s best record versus the defending champions makes for week twelve’s best game. Arizona is second in the league with a plus-20 turnover differential, which more than compensates for a defense that may at first glance (12th in yards, 20th in yards per play) appear to be overrated. Seattle desperately needs to win this game – not to win the division, but to keep a wild card spot within their sights. I can’t recall a 9-1 team ever being this much of an underdog to a team with three fewer wins; I’m sure Arizona will play the disrespect card in the locker room, even if there’s no need for any extra motivation.
Pick • Cardinals 20, Seahawks 17
Cardinals +7
under 42½

St. Louis Rams (4-6) at San Diego Chargers (6-4) ★★★★
Late game on FOX
Announcing crew: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale

While the Rams deserve to be congratulated for knocking off Denver last week, consider this: the Broncos were playing their third straight road game, something that historically results in a poor performance quite often. Now St. Louis is on the road rather than at home, and San Diego – who is one game off the lead in the AFC West as well as one game out of a playoff spot – won’t be taking the Rams lightly. While the Chargers have lost three of their last four, two were against quality teams (Denver and Miami) on the road; they should get the win here.
Pick • Chargers 24, Rams 17
Chargers -5
under 43½

Miami Dolphins (6-4) at Denver Broncos (7-3) ★★★★★
Late game on CBS
Announcing crew: im Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

It looks like TE Julius Thomas will not play but WR Emmanuel Sanders will start for Denver. In their five games since losing to Green Bay by three, the Dolphins are allowing just 11.2 points per game. Ryan Tannehill is playing well (17 TD, 7 INT) this season and very well this month (6 TD, 1 INT, 73% complete) for Miami. If this game was in south Florida I would solidly back the Dolphins, but I’m reluctant to do so at Mile High; Manning and the Broncos rarely lose two in a row.
Pick • Broncos 27, Dolphins 20
Broncos -6½
under 48½

Washington (3-7) at San Francisco (6-4) ★★
Late game on FOX
Announcing crew: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Scott Kaplan

Washington has lost six of their last eight games, has covered the spread just once in their last seven games, owns the second worst record in the NFC, and now travels across three time zones to play a team fighting for a playoff spot. The Niners won two straight games on the road after being upset by St. Louis; they should have no trouble giving their home fans a victory here.
Pick • Niners 27, Skins 13
Niners -9
under 44½

Dallas Cowboys (7-3) at New York Giants (3-7) ★★★
Sunday night on NBC
Announcing crew: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michelle Tafoya

The Giants are allowing far too much pressure too often on passing plays, and the revamped Dallas defense should be able to take advantage of the weakness. The Cowboys are coming off a bye week, which means a well rested DeMarco Murray could be in for a big game. New York does not have a good football team, and the annual Dallas slide does not occur until we flip the calendar to december.
Pick • Cowboys 27, Giants 17
Cowboys -3½
under 48½

New York Jets (2-8) at Buffalo Bills (5-5)
Monday night on CBS
Announcing crew: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots, Chris Fischer

Cool deal for this game: tickets are free and available to the general public. Good idea, because otherwise the attendance would rival that of a WNBA game. The Bills have lost two in a row and have had their normal week of preparation turned upside down by the snow at Orchard Park.
Pick • Jets 20, Bills 17
Jets +2½
under 41½

Baltimore Ravens (6-4) at New Orleans Saints (4-6) ★★★★
Monday night on ESPN
Announcing crew: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

After an unthinkable two straight home losses, the Saints host a Baltimore team that is coming off a bye. Both teams are currently on the bubble for a playoff spot, but this matchup doesn’t look good for the Ravens. Baltimore is still working with a makeshift secondary that Drew Brees should be able to take advantage of converted safety Anthony Levine and journeyman Danny Gorrer trying to cover the Saints receivers.
Pick • Saints 30, Ravens 21
Saints -3
over 50

Bye Week: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4), Carolina Panthers (3-7-1)

Two-Way Parlays:
Eagles and Over
Colts and Over
Niners and Under

 

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