At long last, the NFL season is about to begin.
Yes, there are 11 weeks of football that might indicate the season is already three months old. Those of us who have spent the last couple of decades in New England, however, know that football season doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving.
The cliché was a constant in the golden years of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. But it’s still applicable to the Patriots and the rest of the league here in 2022, where the NFL playoff picture is a jumbled mess.
Mess around with the ESPN playoff machine, and you can still find ways to crowbar middling teams into the dance. In order for teams to do that, though, they need to get hot — and fast — and also have a lot of things fall their way.
That starts in earnest this week with a full Thanksgiving appetizer giving way to a stuffed Sunday slate.
NESN.com’s Mike Cole and Ricky Doyle already dug into the Turkey Day extravaganza with a special episode of “The Spread,” NESN’s football picks podcast, which you can hear below.
As always, Mike and Ricky also made their against-the-spread picks for every game on the Week 12 schedule.
Before getting into their full slate of Week 12 picks, here’s how they fared last week.
Now, here are their full Week 12 ATS picks using consensus betting lines from the live odds page at NESNBets.
THURSDAY, NOV. 24
(-9.5) Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET
Mike: Lions. The Bills defense continues to show cracks, evidenced by leaving the backdoor open last week against Cleveland. The Lions are a slightly worse version of the Browns, but they’re playing at home in an odd game setting with which they are comfortable. Dan Campbell will have his team ready to go, but even if they fall behind early, they can climb back inside the number.
Ricky: Lions. Detroit’s defense has improved — admittedly a low bar to clear — while its offense remains capable of keeping up with most teams, including Buffalo. Throw in the Bills’ funky travel situation — playing in Detroit on Sunday due to a western New York snowstorm, returning to Buffalo and then going back to the Motor City on a short week — and there’s definitely a path to the Lions staying competitive.
New York Giants at (-9) Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m.
Mike: Cowboys. Since 2000, 35 of 59 Thanksgiving games have been decided by double digits, meaning it happens quite a bit. If we get one lopsided affair, this feels most likely given the Giants’ ridiculous rash of injuries that could have New York down its entire starting secondary against an explosive Dallas offense — not to mention yet another receiver injury.
Ricky: Cowboys. The Giants’ early-season mojo is gone, whereas the Cowboys are only getting better now that they have a really good offense to go along with a defense that’s been excellent all season. This smells like a blowout. Plan your meal accordingly.
New England Patriots at (-2.5) Minnesota Vikings, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Vikings. I liked the Patriots a lot more before it dipped under the three points. This is going to be a defensive struggle, but I ultimately believe the Vikings just have more better players — especially on their offense — to make the difference, while the New England offense can’t keep getting bailed out by defense and special teams.
Ricky: Patriots. Fully anticipated rolling with the Vikings in a bounce-back spot against a Patriots team that stinks offensively. And the number dropping below a field goal is bothersome. But here’s the thing: New England’s defense ranks second in pressure rate — just behind a Dallas defense that made life miserable for Kirk Cousins — and Minnesota will be without starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw. An outright upset is on the (Thanksgiving) table.
SUNDAY, NOV. 27
(-2.5) Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Panthers. The Broncos couldn’t do much of anything at home against a worse defense last week when they faced the Raiders. Granted, the Sam Darnold-led Panthers offense will struggle against the Denver defense, but I just can’t lay points on the road with Nathaniel Hackett’s team right now.
Ricky: Panthers. The total sitting at 36 tells you everything you need to know about this matchup between two offensively inept teams. Roll with the Panthers at home and pray the Broncos beat themselves — again.
(-3.5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. The forecast calls for 20 mph wind gusts Sunday in Cleveland. Maybe that affects Tom Brady, maybe it doesn’t. If it slows down the passing offenses at all, though, it favors the Browns, so I’ll grab the points and hope to keep it within the field goal regardless.
Ricky: Bucs. Not convinced back-to-back wins, including a victory over the Seahawks in Germany, will cure all that’s ailed the Buccaneers this season. But it’s a start. This is the perfect opportunity for Tampa Bay’s offense to (finally) build some momentum, while the defense will continue to do its thing as Cleveland’s offense prepares for Deshaun Watson’s possible return in Week 13.
(-4) Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Only the Raiders have a worse pass defense by DVOA than the Jags. We’re a month removed from Matt Ryan throwing for 389 yards and three touchdowns against this defense. The Ravens will look dominant again after knocking off some rust last week.
Ricky: Ravens. Good get-right spot for Baltimore’s offense after last week’s 13-point showing at home against Carolina. Since allowing 10 combined points in back-to-back wins in Weeks 2 and 3, Jacksonville’s defense ranks 28th in EPA/play.
Houston Texans at (-13) Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Dolphins. Houston’s defensive advanced metrics are woeful, and the Texans have been especially bad against offenses with real talent: Las Vegas, Philly and the Chargers. This Miami offense might be the best it has faced. I think Houston can score a little against Miami, but I ultimately thinks this plays out similar to the Cleveland game a few weeks ago where the Dolphins ran away with a 22-point win.
Ricky: Dolphins. Wanted to pick the Texans, because sometimes they hang around despite not being particularly good at anything. The talent disparity between these teams is impossible to ignore, though. Even if Houston hangs around for, say, the first half, Miami is one or two big plays away from blowing the game open. And the Texans simply are incapable of coming back in that scenario.
Chicago Bears at (-4.5) New York Jets, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jets. The Bears should take it cautiously with Justin Fields and sit him to help heal his shoulder. He has nothing to prove, and it’s a lost season. Even if he plays, this is the best defense they have seen since Dallas — a game they lost by 20. The Jets offense admittedly is a mess but should look better against someone other than Bill Belichick.
Ricky: Jets. Chicago’s offense has made serious strides, with Fields looking like a star, but it’s also feasted on favorable matchups in losing efforts. The Jets’ defense (sixth in DVOA) is a huge step up in competition, and the QB change from Zach Wilson to Mike White could spark New York’s offense — or, at the very least, raise its floor.
(-1.5) Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. Tennessee has an elite defense that is especially stout against the run. The Bengals still can’t block, so Joe Burrow will have company in the backfield, and the Titans also have a considerable rest advantage of Thursday night while Cincy was on the road in the division last week.
Ricky: Bengals. The Titans rank 29th in net yards per drive, ahead of only the Lions, Steelers and Texans (three below-average/bad teams). The Bengals rank fourth, trailing only the Bills, Chiefs and 49ers (three very good teams). Cincinnati’s offense has been humming since its back-to-back losses to open the season — first in success rate and second in EPA/play (behind Kansas City) in that stretch — and it sounds like Ja’Marr Chase is trending toward playing this week.
Atlanta Falcons at (-4) Washington Commanders, 1 p.m.
Mike: Commanders. Washington has one of the NFL’s top run defenses, taking away the Falcons’ biggest strength. The Commanders’ pass rush is also about to improve with Chase Young coming back. Might be a tough day to be Marcus Mariota, as this could be ugly.
Ricky: Falcons. Can’t shake the feeling that Washington — which very quietly sits at 6-5 — is due for a letdown. The matchup isn’t great for Atlanta, but I’ll pounce on catching more than a field goal after the line opened at Washington -3.
(-4.5) Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. This is a sad game, given preseason expectations for both teams. But Justin Herbert should be licking his lips after watching Jimmy Garoppolo go off Monday night against this defense.
Ricky: Cardinals. Kyler Murray is expected to return this week. That won’t save Arizona’s season, but it feels like there’s value here since the line jumped from Chargers -2.5 on the lookahead in wake of the Cardinals’ blowout loss to the 49ers.
Las Vegas Raiders at (-3.5) Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Raiders. The Raiders have played two overtime games this season, and six of their seven losses were by a touchdown or less — including two by a field goal or less. They play close games, and there’s no reason to believe this will be different against a questionable Seahawks team.
Ricky: Seahawks. Love the spot, with Seattle coming off a bye and Vegas playing its fourth road game in five weeks. And love the matchup for the Seahawks’ offense, as the Raiders rank dead-last in defensive DVOA and have been especially putrid against the pass.
Los Angeles Rams at (-15.5) Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m..
Mike: Rams. The Chiefs are just 2-4 against the spread in the Mahomes era as 13-point favorites or better. I don’t quite know how they do it, but I just think there’s enough institutional knowledge — and perhaps pride? — for LA to get run off the field.
Ricky: Rams. Los Angeles won the Super Bowl just nine months ago. Let that sink in for a minute.
New Orleans Saints at (-9) San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: 49ers. The only reason to believe the 49ers won’t win this in a rout is that it’s too obvious to say they’ll win this in a rout. But I think they win this in a rout.
Ricky: Saints. The 49ers have home games with the Dolphins and Buccaneers looming in Weeks 13 and 14, respectively. So, maybe they get caught looking ahead?
Green Bay Packers at (-7) Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Eagles. The Packers just got smothered by the Titans, and the Eagles are like a better version of the Titans. They’ll look to run the ball, which has been a problem for the Green Bay defense. But even if the Packers sell out to stop that run game, Jalen Hurts and AJ Brown will have themselves a good ol’ time in the passing game.
Ricky: Eagles. Hard to imagine Green Bay having much success through the air, with Philadelphia’s upper-echelon pass rush breathing down Aaron Rodgers’ neck while the Eagles’ secondary eliminates the Packers’ lackluster weapons downfield. Plus, the additions of defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh already are paying dividends up front for Philly.
MONDAY, NOV. 28
Pittsburgh Steelers at (-2.5) Indianapolis Colts, 8:15 p.m.
Mike: Colts. Kenny Pickett is in for a rude awakening against a Colts team that has been under-the-radar good all season and even better since Jeff Saturday took over.
Ricky: Colts. Jeff Saturday has to win in his return to the ESPN airwaves, right?