Thanksgiving is the official opening whistle to holiday madness, with Christmas season kicking off the second your bloated ass flops on the couch after gorging to near death Thursday night.
And with the ramp up to Christmas underway, the radio will be flooded with holiday tunes, the busy stores will be decked out in green and red, and the television will be a non-stop rotation of classic Christmas movies from now until New Year’s Day.
Half of those flicks will be spins on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, which has been reheated and served more times than leftover turkey on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The latest mutation of this holiday tale shoehorns Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds into the same movie in a “How could it fail?” Hail Mary from the folks at AppleTV.
Well, what’s one more log on the Scrooge fire, eh?
This week’s NFL Underdogs picks and predictions follow the path of “A Christmas Carol”, with our best bets being visited by three ghosts in Week 12. The first of which will come on the strike of 1 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon…
NFL picks against the spread for Week 12
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
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Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (+2.5) pick
Cincinnati squeaked out a 19-16 win at Tennessee in last season’s AFC Divisional Round, knocking off the top-seeded Titans with a last-second field goal.
Tennessee is trying to get back to the top of the conference with seven wins in its last eight games, including a dominating road win over Green Bay last Thursday. That’s given this team extra time to rest, prep, and stew in vengeance while watching the game film of last year’s postseason flop.
The Bengals are also playing with purpose, having won four of their last five. Granted, those wins came against the likes of Pittsburgh, Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans (not the most dangerous offenses) and were broken up by a bad showing against the rival Browns in Week 8.
Not only does Cincy’s poor run-stop unit have to worry about a two-legged Derrick Henry this time around (he played on a broken foot in the playoffs), but the Titans are complementing those ground gains with an uptick in passing performance. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is coming off his two best showings in terms of QBR, with the return of WR Treylon Burks helping spark the air attack.
Defensively, Tennessee is generating solid pressure on the passer (10th in pressure rate) and has tallied 30 sacks without needing to bring extra bodies (15.5% blitz rate). It goes against a revamped Bengals' offensive line still giving up hits on Joe Burrow (32 sacks allowed) and sitting 30th in ESPN’s pass block win rate.
Tannehill and the Titans that were part of last year’s loss are downplaying the revenge angle against the Bengals. But given how Tannehill admitted to how much that playoff defeat haunted him this offseason, Tennessee is ready to exorcise some ghosts in front of the Music City crowd this Sunday.
PICK: Titans +2.5 (-112 at FanDuel)
Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers (+2.5) pick
The Carolina Panthers are visited by the “Ghost of QBs Present” with Sam Darnold suiting up under center for Carolina this Sunday. With their past two passers flunking out (and their potential future in injured rookie Matt Corral), Darnold is the team’s best option — and real only option — in Week 12.
While he’s not a massive upgrade over Mayfield or former starter P.J. Walker, Darnold is something different. And at this point, the Panthers need anything but the "same old, same old" after managing only three points in the loss to Baltimore last week.
Darnold has a big arm and is sneaky with his legs as well, rushing for 222 yards and five touchdowns last season. Carolina currently sits dead last in third down conversion rate (28.03%) but Darnold’s ability to pick up yards with his legs gives the Panthers a little extra pop in those pressure spots.
A few extra first downs and sustained drives will do wonders for this Carolina defense. The Panthers have played the most minutes of any stop unit in the league in terms of time of possession but sit No. 14 in EPA allowed per play.
Carolina stymied the offenses of Baltimore and Atlanta to a combined 28 points the past two weeks — two attacks far more effective than Denver’s offense. The Broncos scored just 16 points in a collapse to the Raiders last Sunday and own the 28th-ranked offense in DVOA at Football Outsiders.
Denver enters this cross-country 1 p.m. ET start with its top two receivers listed as questionable and are thin at running back with Chase Edmonds on IR, Melvin Gordon fumbling his way out of the league, and Jevonte Williams done for the season.
The Panthers have played a very challenging schedule in recent weeks, with three road games in their last five contests. Carolina has managed to stay within the oddsmaker's expectations in that span, owning a 4-1 against the spread count.
PICK: Panthers +2.5 (-110 at bet365)
Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5) at Indianapolis Colts pick
The Indianapolis Colts have played well above expectations since surprisingly swapping out Frank Reich for Jeff Saturday as head coach but will get a visit from the “Ghost of Football Future” on Monday night.
And that future is bleak.
Indianapolis is suddenly a 2.5-point home favorite after knocking off a wretched Raiders team and nearly catching the Eagles with their pants down last Sunday.
Now, Saturday and his play-calling Wunderkind Parks Frazier match wits with one of the greatest head coaches of the modern era in Mike Tomlin, and a defense that is routinely ranked among the best in football.
Granted, the Steelers' stop unit isn’t there this season and is coming off a bad day at the office vs. Cincinnati. But with T.J. Watt in tow the last two games, Pittsburgh’s pass rush is a different beast and can absolutely turn this game on its ear against one of the worst offensive lines out there.
Indy’s pass protection sits among the worst in the league, ranked 31st in ESPN’s pass block win rate (47%) and giving up an NFL-high 40 sacks on the season. Matt Ryan was sacked four times in the loss to Philadelphia and trying to keep the Steelers honest with the ground game of Jonathan Taylor won’t work as well as it did vs. the Eagles.
For all of Pittsburgh’s shortcomings, stopping the run isn’t one of them. The Steelers check opposing rushers to a success rate of only 38.7% (seventh lowest) and foes average just 3.9 yards per carry on the year — plunking Pittsburgh at No. 7 in Run Defense DVOA.
Given the Colts’ improvements with Saturday on the sideline, team owner Jim Irsay could be convinced to continue this path next season. Thankfully, for Indy fans everywhere, Tomlin and the “Ghost of Football Yet To Come” will reveal the dangers of that decision on Monday night.
PICK: Steelers +2.5 (EVEN at WynnBet)
Last week: 0-3 ATS -3.0 units (Risking 1 unit per play)
Season: 12-21 ATS -10.7 units (Risking 1 unit per play)