Its thanksgiving week which doesn’t mean a great deal to many this side of the pond but for football fans it means a tasty treat and we aren’t thinking of turkey, a tripleheader of football is on our plates. On the back of a disappointing week where we scraped our way to a 7-6-1 week we have decided to split this week’s predictions with the thanksgiving special here to be followed by the Sunday and Monday previews a little later in the week.
Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions
This fixture was set to be a cracker until Aaron Rodgers injury a few weeks ago. Green Bay haven’t won without their star quarterback but forced the tie in week 12 as their rivals Chicago and of course Detroit both lost. In a race that seems to have a new leader each week the Packers are now just half a game behind and their rivals haven’t taken full advantage of their plight.
Rodgers is in anyone’s book a top five quarterback; many would he is say the best in the game so it’s hardly surprising the Packers have missed him. He has begun some practice this week and while head coach Mike McCarthy has said he has little chance of playing the magnitude of this game means we aren’t ruling him out. In his absence the Packers have leant heavily on running back and rookie of the year candidate Eddie Lacy who had 160 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown last week. Scott Tolzien is now injured so presuming Rodgers misses it will be Matt Flynn who has returned to Green Bay after realising the grass isn’t always greener on the other side with failed stops in Seattle, Buffalo and Oakland to his name. Flynn looked sharp enough last week and should be at least the equal of Tolzien given his experience. Defensively the Packers inability to create turnovers continues to be their biggest problem; even against the ever helpful Vikings they managed just one.
The Lions lost to an inferior team for the second week running when beaten by the lowly if improving Buccaneers at home in week 12. Jim Schwartz’s team need to regain momentum if they are to prevail in what looks like being a three way battle to the end in the NFC North. Their issue these past two weeks has been turnovers; they had three in Pittsburgh and no less than five last week, four of which were Matt Stafford interceptions. Compounding the woe was the fact that Detroit didn’t force a turnover from either opponent. Stafford is very much the gunslinger, he has a massive arm and will back himself time and again but it can be his undoing. Behind Stafford and the unplayable Calvin Johnson the Lions have the third most passing yards so far but if Stafford is to become an elite quarterback he must tone down the risky throws. If Rodgers is out the Lions should win this massive game but another turnover strewn game would change things.
Both teams are renowned for their high octane, vertical passing attacks but if Rodgers remains sidelined the Packers offense will again be hamstrung. Stafford takes too many chances but Green Bay aren’t the sort of team likely to capitalise so we are banking on him leading his team to enough points to take the NFC North initiative, at least for now.
ATPF Prediction– Presuming Rodgers is out Detroit win by ten.
Oakland Raiders @ Dallas Cowboys
Another season appears to have passed the Raiders by after a backbreaking loss to the toiling Titans at home last week with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing the winning score with just eight seconds to go. Dallas meanwhile remain right in the hunt for the NFC East, they drew level with the Eagles who were on their bye with a game winning field goal against the resurgent Giants.
The Cowboys are yet to beat a team with a winning record at the time they played them but they are 6-1 against teams who had losing records going into their matchup. The Cowboys continue to be inconsistent offensively; at times they looked good against the Giants before disappearing as they allowed a fifteen point lead to evaporate only to spark into life with a game winning drive. Defensively they forced two key stops inside their own ten yard line a week ago but were gashed by journeyman running back Andre Brown time and again. No team has allowed more yards than the Cowboys but they are excellent at creating turnovers and will expect to grab more here against an inexperienced quarterback.
The Raiders looked on course for the win until Ryan Fitzpatrick found Justin Hunter in the back left of the end zone a week ago. Rookie quarterback Matt McGloin who went undrafted was again pretty impressive and certainly looks a better passer than Terrelle Pryor and in Darren McFadden’s absence the Raiders have gotten a couple of nice performances from Rashad Jennings. Defensively the Raiders rank 17th so they are very much middle of the road but they have given up 21 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions so could find the Cowboys talented receivers tough to handle.
Exactly how good the Cowboys are or aren’t remains a mystery. They pushed Denver and Kansas City really hard and are 4-0 in the NFC East but they were awful in New Orleans and struggled against the lowly Vikings too. The Cowboys have been easy prey against the pass so far but in New York it was the run minus Sean Lee that hurt them. The Raiders will take heart from knowing the Cowboys are 0-3 against AFC West teams so far but they are easily the least talented team in that division and in most matchups here they look second favourites.
ATPF Prediction– Cowboys lean on turnovers to win this by two touchdowns.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens
Neither of these bitter rivals has hit the heights we have come to expect but both are at 5-6 and right in the race for the final wildcard spot in the AFC so don’t expect any less intensity or brutality from this always engrossing game.
The Steelers are 5-2 since their bye week and beat the Ravens at Heinz field in week 7. Typically the margin was just three points there as both teams managed just one touchdown in a battle of the kickers. Pittsburgh have won their last three and their improving defense is now ranked eleventh after some pretty un-Pittsburgh showings earlier in the year. Le’Veon Bell has added a modicum of balance to an offense still predicated on the passing of Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben has performed admirably behind a poor offensive line and with limited receiving talent at his disposal. Antonio Brown has become his go to guy while Jerricho Cotchery is the redzone threat.
Baltimore just can’t string together wins; they won a defensive battle with the Jets last week but lost in overtime to Chicago the week before. The Ravens defense was huge against the Jets last week, holding them to just a field goal and the unit now ranks tenth overall. They have been playing catch up ever since that still too fresh in the memory week one annihilation in Denver. The Ravens offense has certainly been the thing holding them back with only Torrey Smith a reliable receiver and Ray Rice a shadow of his usual self. Baltimore have given up nineteen turnovers so far, fourteen are Joe Flacco interceptions and the highly paid Superbowl MVP needs to return to something like his outstanding playoff form of 2012 down the stretch if the Ravens are going to make the postseason.
These games are always tight, they are always hard fought and one mistake can be all it takes to decide it. We thought that homefield advantage gave the Steelers the edge at home earlier in the year and they won by three which is generally considered to be what playing at home is worth which only goes to illustrate how closely matched the two again are. The Steelers are undoubtedly the hotter team but they are by no means an unbeatable team all of a sudden and with the Ravens now at home we will side with them and their defense to shade it.
ATPF Prediction– A field goal is again the margin, this time it’s in Baltimore’s favour.