Sports | November 26, 2020 6:14 am

Expert NFL Picks for Week 12, Including Both Thanksgiving Games

The smart money on Texans-Lions, Washington-Dallas and more

Expert NFL Picks for Week 12, Including the Lions and Cowboys on Thanksgiving
A general view of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line lined up against the Washington Football Team.
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This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.

For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for PennBets.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 12 games, including the Lions hosting the Texans and the Cowboys hosting the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Houston Texans (3-7) (-150, -2.5, O/U 51.5) at Detroit Lions (4-6)


A compelling matchup because … it’s going to be taking place on Thanksgiving? In all honesty, this is probably not the most interesting game on the schedule, but it will be on national TV while many of us are prepping turkey, pie and stuffing, and thus should get a decent amount of eyeballs. The Lions are 1-3 at home this season and have a worse point-differential (-60) than the Texans (-45) despite having a (slightly) better record.

Altruda’s Angle: In a miserable season for the Texans, they found some salvation last week in dealing the New England Patriots a crippling blow to their playoff chances. Quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to carry an offense that has been gradually stripped of weapons at an elite level, accounting for 380 yards of total offense and factoring in on all three touchdowns Houston TDs in Week 11. He may be hard-pressed to maintain that level if left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Randall Cobb are unavailable due to injury, but Watson covers up enough deficiencies to give the Texans, at worst, a puncher’s chance every weekend. The Lions, meanwhile, are coming off a rancid 20-0 loss at Carolina that again raised questions about third-year coach Matt Patricia’s job security. Yes, Matthew Stafford was without wideouts Danny Amendola and Kenny Golladay and rookie running back D’Andre Swift, but getting blanked and totaling just 185 yards is awful. It is uncertain how many of the three — if any — will be available on a short turnaround, but Watson is playing at a high enough level it should not matter. Give me the Texans and lay the narrow number.

Gable’s Guess: Houston is only averaging 22.2 points per game on offense, while Detroit isn’t much better at 25.2 ppg. Both teams are giving up more defensively on average than they’re scoring, Houston at 28 points per game and Detroit at 29.7. Watson did have a good game on Sunday, passing for 344 yards, two TDs with no interceptions and also rushed for a touchdown. Sunday was the first time the Lions were shut out in Stafford’s 162 career starts. They only gained 185 yards total against Carolina. Obviously, they have some injuries, but since Detroit certainly can’t seem to run the ball at all, Stafford really needs to step it up here if the Lions are going to have a chance. I think Coach Patricia runs a similar defensive scheme to what Bill Belichick does, which Houston just saw. If you can get Houston at less than 3, I’d be looking to lay the points with them.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Texans (3-7 ATS) just pulled off a big 27-20 upset win over the Patriots, winning outright as 2.5-point home dogs. On the flip side, the Lions (4-6 ATS) are coming off a listless effort against the Panthers, losing 20-0 as 3-point road favorites. This line opened with Houston listed as a 2.5-point road favorite. The public is rushing to the window to lay the points with the Texans off a big win and fade the struggling Lions. This lopsided support has pushed the line up to the key number of 3. We are now seeing some buyback on Detroit +3, at some shops with a possible drop back down to 2.5 based on the heavy Lions juice (+3 at -120). Detroit has value as a contrarian dog in a heavily bet game and a buy-low home dog off a blowout loss. Give me the Lions +3 on Turkey Day.

Our Pick: Given the shutout against Carolina, lay the points with Houston.

The Washington Football Team (3-7) (+130, +3, O/U 46) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7)


A compelling matchup because … in a storyline that is truly emblematic of the oddness and crappiness of 2020, the winner of this game will improve to three games under .500 and, at least temporarily, move into first place in the NFC East. Washington has yet to win a game on the road this season while two of the three wins the Cowboys have on the year have come in Dallas.

Altruda’s Angle: Washington got over the hump last weekend, beating Cincinnati after tight losses to the New York Giants and Detroit in their previous two games. Alex Smith has command of this offense and rookie running back Antonio Gibson — who pounded Dallas for 128 yards in WFT’s 25-3 win in Week 7 — is coming off a 94-yard effort. The Cowboys welcomed back Andy Dalton in Week 11 and he rallied them past the Minnesota Vikings with a three-touchdown effort. Dalton’s return also gave the offense proper balance, as running back Ezekiel Elliott had his first 100-yard game of the season. Even with the quarterbacks showing poise, it seems hard-pressed to think these teams will crack 50 points. I’m grabbing the under now at 46 points and hoping it doesn’t reverse ground and climb back towards its open of 48.

Gable’s Guess: Washington comes in averaging 20 points per game, which is good for 29th in the league. But Dallas has the worst defense in the league and is allowing 32.2 points per game. The Cowboys just won and they did stay competitive against the Steelers a couple weeks ago, so maybe they found some sort of spark. The Dallas defense got important stops when they needed them in Week 11, which is something they have not been able to do this year consistently at all. I don’t Dallas will not be able to win a low-scoring game. They’ll have to put up at least 30 points or more to beat Washington and I just don’t see them being able to put up than many points against a defense that’s pretty decent overall. I’d be looking to grab Washington plus the points here.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: Washington (4-5-1 ATS) just took down the Bengals 20-9, covering as 1.5-point home favorites. Meanwhile, the Cowboys (2-8 ATS) are coming off a huge upset of the Vikings 31-28, winning outright as 7-point road dogs. This line opened with Dallas listed as a 3-point home favorite. The public says give me the Cowboys laying the short spread. However, despite this lopsided support, we’ve seen the line remain frozen at 3. In fact, the juice on the Washington +3 is -120, indicating liability on the Football Team and a possible drop down to 2.5. Washington has value as a divisional dog (31-24 ATS, 56 percent this season) and a short road dog +6 or less (38-24 ATS, 61 percent). I’ll sell high on the Cowboys after a big upset win and grab Washington getting the key number of +3.

Our Pick: Taking Dallas to win the game and the division. Lay the points.

Baltimore Ravens (6-4) (+170, +4, O/U 45) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0)


A compelling matchup because … as of now, this game is still on, although coronavirus-related issues have caused it to be postponed from Thursday until Sunday. If it is played, this is one of the last difficult matchups remaining on Pittsburgh’s schedule, and you know the Ravens would like nothing more than to put an end to the Steelers’ undefeated season. When these divisional foes get together, the games are usually close, physical games. This game should be no different. (Note: The following assessments and picks were made before the game moved to Sunday).

Altruda’s Angle:  Expect this line to move accordingly should more Ravens players beyond running backs Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins and defensive lineman Brandon Williams be placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. The absence of both running backs is significant for Baltimore, especially given how Dobbins was being utilized in the red zone. Gus Edwards is a capable backup — he ran for 87 yards in the 28-24 loss to Pittsburgh in Week 8 — but the hot take is the Ravens’ running game is going to feature a lot of quarterback Lamar Jackson. That adds to an increased amount of pressure on the signal-caller, who is in need of a No. 2 WR to step up opposite Willie Snead. Pittsburgh did not play an “A” game on Sunday versus Jacksonville, but it also did not need an “A” game to take care of the Jaguars. The Steelers offense is like an amoeba — there is no standout player, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finds the target who can best attack an opposing defense. Against the Jaguars, it was wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who had 12 catches for 116 yards. In the first win over Baltimore, it was JuJu Smith-Schuster. The current line of Steelers -4 is the maximum I am comfortable laying given the expectation of a typical AFC North slugfest. Anything higher, and it’s Pittsburgh on the moneyline.

Gable’s Guess: Baltimore is 1-3 since Week 8, the week that they lost to Pittsburgh. But Baltimore definitely needs this win more than Pittsburgh does, so I think they’ll have the revenge factor on their minds. They certainly have motivation. The Ravens have really been struggling to score and have maxed out at 24 points in their last four games. The Steelers are very, very good defensively. They’ve registered a sack in 67 consecutive regular-season games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. On offense, Roethlisberger is healthy and seems to be spreading the ball around nicely. Here I just think there’s good value in taking a road dog coming off a loss. In the last couple of years, we’ve really seen that and the public inflates the number on the favorite. In the end, the Ravens have too much on the line in this one and I’m going to take the points with them.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: After starting the season 5-1, the Ravens (4-5-1 ATS) have fallen on hard times the past month. Baltimore is mired in a two-game losing skid and just fell to the Titans 30-24, losing outright as 6-point home favorites. Meanwhile, the Steelers (8-2 ATS) continue to roll as the NFL’s only remaining undefeated team. Pittsburgh just crushed the Jaguars 27-3, easily covering as 10.5-point road favorites. This line originally opened with the Steelers listed as 3-point home favorites. A combination of heavy action and COVID concerns for Baltimore has driven the line up from Pittsburgh -3 to -5.5. Since that time, we’ve seen steady buyback hit the Ravens, dropping Baltimore from +5.5 to +4.5 or 4. Baltimore still has buy-low value inflated line value, along with being a divisional dog (31-24 ATS, 56 percent this season), a short road dog of +6 or less (39-24 ATS, 62 percent) and a primetime dog (22-12 ATS, 65 percent). Baltimore is desperate. I’ll grab the points in what is usually a field goal game.

Our Pick: Just have a feeling about Baltimore here. Take ’em with points.

Tennessee Titans (7-3) (+170, +3.5, O/U 51) at Indianapolis Colts (7-3)


A compelling matchup because … in another battle for first place that is the polar opposite of what is happening in the NFC East, these two AFC South foes will play for the second time in just three weeks. The Colts came out on top the first time around and will put their two-game winning streak on the line at home in Indy, where they have lost only once this season.

Altruda’s Angle: The Colts have a chance to put destiny in their own hands regarding the AFC South if they can beat the Titans for the second time in 17 days. Indianapolis got the job done in Music City a few weeks ago thanks to superior special teams play and bottling up Titans receivers. Philip Rivers also threw for 308 yards and a touchdown in that victory, part of a solid five-game run in which he has 1,456 yards and 10 TD passes while guiding the Colts to a 4-1 record. The Colts were good at times in last week’s overtime win over Green Bay but also fortunate that their spate of holding calls while trying to run out the clock in regulation didn’t end up haunting them. It can be argued the Titans saved their season with last Sunday’s 30-24 overtime win at Baltimore — Derrick Henry’s 29-yard, game-winning touchdown run capped a dominant fourth quarter and overtime from the Tennessee running back. If the Colts can again keep Tennessee’s receivers in check, it will allow the rest of the defense to key on Henry to at least slow him down. He did have 103 yards in the first meeting and 149 in last year’s win at Indianapolis that helped trigger Tennessee’s surge to the playoffs. The feeling is the Colts, though, are the team clicking better on offense at the moment and should be able to cover the number here.

Gable’s Guess: The Colts have won four of their last five and have scored 31 or more in each of those games. So they’re certainly coming in pretty hot here. They’re giving up only 19.7 points per game on defense, which is fourth in the NFL. The Titans are a little better than average on offense, averaging 27.7 points per game on offense, good enough for 10th in the NFL. Tennessee’s defense looked better on Sunday than it has in a while, but they did lose their leading tackler in linebacker Jayon Brown. That’s a big loss there defensively for the Titans. With the recent surge by the Colts and how they’ve been playing lately, I can certainly see the public being in on them in this one. If this sticks around 3.5, I will lay the points with the Colts. If it goes much higher than that, I’d probably be looking at the Titans if it hits 4 or 5.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Titans (4-6 ATS) have won two of their last three games, including an upset win over the Ravens last week 30-24, winning outright as 6-point road dogs. Similarly, the Colts 6-4 ATS) have won two straight and just posted a dramatic win over the Packers, covering as 1.5-point home favorites. This line opened with the Colts listed anywhere between 3.5-point and 4.5-point home favorites. Pros and Joes seem to be united on the Titans plus the points, as we’ve seen the number fall to 3.5 across the board. The next move will be critical. If you see the line fall to 3, that will be further evidence of wiseguys grabbing Tennessee plus the hook. The Titans have value as a divisional dog (31-24 ATS, 56 percent this season) and a short road dog +6 or less (39-24 ATS, 62 percent). This is also a revenge spot for the Titans, who got embarrassed by the Colts 34-17 two weeks ago, losing as 1-point home dogs. Pros are also eying this over, which has risen from 49.5 to 51. Both teams have been profitable to the over, with the Titans going 7-2-1 and the Colts 6-4. Give me the Titans getting the hook at +3.5.

Our Pick: The Titans won’t lose two in a row to Indy. Take the points.

Chicago Bears (5-5) (+340,+8.5, O/U 45) at Green Bay Packers (7-3)


A compelling matchup because … despite being losers of four in a row, the Bears can get themselves back in the race for first place in the NFC North with a win here. The Green Bay offense taking on the Chicago defense is always a good watch and it seems likely Aaron Rodgers will have a bit of a chip on his shoulder after losing in overtime last week due to a bad fumble.

Altruda’s Angle: The Packers should have won as well as lost last weekend’s game in Indianapolis, which they eventually did drop in overtime after a turnover by wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling in Green Bay territory. They played well in the first half, but were completely overrun for most of the second before the Colts tried to give them the game back late in regulation. The game typified most of Green Bay’s season: Rodgers reaffirms himself as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but the defense goes missing for stretches during games before the QB occasionally has to rescue a win. The offense’s margin of error, even in facing a fairly stout Bears defense, is larger Sunday night, because Chicago simply does not have an offense. The Bears have totaled 63 points during a four-game losing streak while committing seven turnovers, their quarterback situation is in a state-of-flux even coming out of the bye week after Nick Foles was carted off near the end of their 19-13 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 16 and the Bears’ ground game has not generated 100 rushing yards since Week 3. Regardless of who is under center — Foles or Mitch Trubisky (who has not thrown a pass since getting hurt in Week 3 at Atlanta) — this offense has zero confidence and zero playmakers beyond wide receiver Allen Robinson III. Even if it takes Rodgers and the Packers a few possessions to work through their gears, they should cover comfortably provided they do not turn the ball over. Take the Pack and lay the points.

Gable’s Guess: The Bears are coming off the bye week, but I don’t know if that’s any real advantage for them. Between Trubisky and Foles, no matter who starts, I don’t think either one is really 100 percent and obviously neither has played well at all this year. Chicago is only averaging 19.1 points scored per game, which is second-worst in the NFL. It’s going to come down to whether Chicago’s defense can stop Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. They’re averaging 30.8 points per game, which is third in the league. Defensively, the Bears are still only allowing 20.9, which is good for seventh. It’s really going to be up to them to keep this close because I don’t know how many points the Bears are actually going to score in this one. I think the public will be counting on a bounce-back performance for the Packers after their loss to the Colts. The public was all over the Packers in that one as well. If the number gets to 8 or 9, I’ll take the Bears. But below that, I’m going to just stay away.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Bears (5-5 ATS) are in a tailspin. After starting the season 5-1, they have now lost four straight, most recently falling to the Vikings 19-13 and failing to cover as 3-point home dogs. Meanwhile, the Packers (6-4 ATS) saw their two-game winning streak come to an end last week, losing a heartbreaker to the Colts and failing to cover as 1.5-point road dogs. This line originally opened with the Packers listed as 7.5-point home favorites. Pros and Joes have both sided with the Packers, which has pushed this line up to -9 in some places. Some books have taken this line off the board while we await word on who will start at quarterback for the Bears. Both Foles and Trubisky are hurt. If neither of them can go, it would be Tyler Bray under center. Chicago has a rest advantage as they are coming off a bye. The Bears are also a divisional dog (31-24 ATS, 56 percent this season) and a primetime dog (22-12 ATS, 65 percent). Also, keep an eye on this total. It has fallen from 45.5 to 45. Primetime unders are 21-13 (62 percent) this season. I’ll back the Bears and hope to keep it close.

Our Pick: The Bears have no offense. Lay the points with the Packers.

Last Week: 3-2, Season: 29-26

Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.