LOS ANGELES, November 23, 2016 — Any football weekend is special, but Thanksgiving is the best of what truly makes America great. The luckiest among us get to be with family, friends and loved ones. The turkey is carved, the stuffing is passed, and American children learn more about their heritage and traditions. For many young people, Black Friday shopping is a tradition. This is a recent phenomenon that has its supporters and detractors.
One tradition that is quintessentially American is Thanksgiving Day football. The Detroit Lions always host a game on Thanksgiving. The Dallas Cowboys do as well, unless they play the Lions at which point Dallas is the road team. Other teams have suggested that the league rotate these teams out in favor of other teams. Those notions are quickly shot down, as Dallas and Detroit zealously defend their prerogative. Like many traditions, this is a case of loyalty winning out.
The Old Testament says that God approached many people about accepting his laws. Many groups turned the opportunity down. For whatever reason, the Jews said yes. When people complain why the Jews get this special status, it is because they wanted it when nobody else did.
In presidential politics, Iowa and New Hampshire always get to go first. Other states could have volunteered. These two small states chose to accept early contests before it really mattered. Now that there is significant money and power and influence, other states want to leapfrog. Their requests are denied. Iowa and New Hampshire stepped up.
In football, nobody wanted to play on Thanksgiving. The league was a couple of decades away from being the multi-billion dollar television sport. The Detroit Lions volunteered when nobody else did. The Dallas Cowboys followed. The NFL has now added a third night game, and different teams every year get to participate. For the foreseeable future, the only guarantees on Thanksgiving are the Lions and the Cowboys.
This should be a valuable lesson for all Americans. It is easy to volunteer for something everybody wants. To take on something undesirable and turn it into something special that is the envy of everyone else is very rewarding.
What is also truly rewarding is that this is the only time of year where there are five straight days of football. Granted, Friday and Saturday feature college games (unless one counts high school football on Friday nights), but college football wrecked their best tradition. The Friday after Thanksgiving used to always feature the Nebraska Cornhuskers against the Oklahoma Sooners. The NCAA should really bring back the Oklahoma-Nebraska game.
For now, pass the gravy, the cranberries, and the turducken for all who are lucky enough to be celebrating with or emulating John Madden. Let us all be thankful that we live in a country where we are free to eat delicious big meals and shop at stores with shelves full of products. Let us be thankful that we have a day off to be with those we love. As we get older, those days become less frequent and more important.
Let us be thankful that Walter Camp invented this great game of football, and that the Lions and Cowboys were willing to give up their Thanksgiving to spend it with us. With that, here is the NFL 2016 Week 12 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
Thanksgiving Thursday, November 24, 2016, 12:30 p.m.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-2.5) — There was a time when betting against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day was a guaranteed mistake. They then suffered some very lean years. Now both teams are 6-4. Detroit is healthy and Minnesota is depleted. Minnesota has the defense but Matthew Stafford is in a groove when it matters most. At home, it is time to trust the Lions again on Turkey Day. Lions cover.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (-7) — It is one thing for the Redskins to win big at home against a Green Bay team that is not as good as it was in recent years. It is another to go on the road and take on the team with the NFL’s best record. Although the Cowboys are clicking on all cylinders, the spread is high. Cousins is playing well enough to keep this close. Cowboys win but fail to cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-6) at Indianapolis Colts — These teams both began the year with high expectations. They are now both 5-5 and fighting for survival to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh broke a four game losing streak but struggled to beat winless Cleveland. With Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck both big in the clutch, the difference should be LeVeon Bell grinding out tough yards. Steelers win but fail to cover.
Sunday, November 27, 1:00 p.m.
San Diego Chargers at Houston Texans (Pick) Houston collapsed last week against Oakland despite dominating the game. Meanwhile, San Diego has had a season of late game collapses. Philip Rivers cannot do it all by himself, and Houston’s defense is vastly improved. A late turnover could be the key. Texans win.
Tennessee Titans (-3.5) at Chicago Bears — The Bears are horrendous, and Tennessee is putting up a ton of points on the board. Marcus Mariota is lighting up the scoreboard while Jay Cutler is injured again. Titans cover.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills (-7) — Blake Bortles has seriously regressed, while Rex Ryan saw his Bills gut out a tough road win at Cincinnati last week. At home, fighting for playoff survival, the Buffalo defense will tee off on Bortles and force him into turnovers. He will get his late garbage time touchdown to deceptively pad his stats. Bills win but fail to cover.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-4.5) — Baltimore is every bit as average as their 5-5 record, but Cincinnati has fallen from playoff flameout to regular season flameout at 3-6. Now AJ Green is injured. On paper the Bengals have more talent but at some point potential has to actualize. With Cincinnati, it has not. Ravens win but fail to cover.
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (-4.5) — This is another case of teams that on paper look like Super Bowl contenders, especially on offense. Yet Atlanta is only 6-4 and Arizona is 4-5. Bruce Arians was rushed to the hospital with chest pains but has since been released. In a battle of quarterbacks, Matt Ryan at home to Julio Jones will out-duel Carson Palmer and his receivers that are not reaching their potential. Exempt ageless Larry Fitzgerald from this criticism. Falcons win but fail to cover.
San Francisco 49ers at Miami Dolphins (-7.5) — The Dolphins looked like a miserably bad team for 55 minutes but somehow won a slog over Los Angeles in the rain. As inept as Miami’s offense is, they have quietly won five straight games to get to 6-4. They face the dumpster fire 1-9 49ers. Miami is not that good, but the 49ers are that bad. However, they hung tough against New England last week, so give them a chance to sneak under and defeat the high spread. Dolphins win but fail to cover.
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints (-7) — Jeff Fisher is facing the same problem as his late mentor Buddy Ryan. Fisher has a Super bowl defense and a pathetic offense. Maybe Jared Goff will learn, but on the road against pinball wizard Drew Brees is a tall order. The 4-6 Rams have lost five of their last six, usually by agonizingly close margins. This week the levee breaks. Saints cover.
New York Giants (-7) at Cleveland Browns — The Giants are nowhere near as good as their 7-3 record, but Cleveland is 0-11. They have been fighting hard, but have been unable to keep a quarterback healthy. with Josh McCown taking over for injured Cody Kessler, the Browns have a chance. The Giants always play to the level of their competition. They lose to bad teams. If the Browns win one game, this may be their best shot. Giants win but fail to cover.
Seattle Seahawks (-5.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Legion of Boom is hitting every bit as hard as they did during their consecutive trips to the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers are an inconsistent team that is 5-5. Jameis Winston has played well enough, but Seattle is no ordinary defense. Seahawks cover.
Carolina Panthers at Oakland Raiders (-4) — The Panthers went from a 15-1 NFC Champion to a 4-6 team clinging to playoff life. However, they have won three of their last four games. The Raiders have won four straight and are 8-2, but they have no pass defense. Cam Newton could run and throw wild. In a shootout, trust Derek Carr. He has earned it. The Raiders never win easy, but this year they have won the close games. Raiders win but fail to cover.
New England Patriots (-8) at New York Jets — This rivalry is far less intense now that Rex Ryan is in Buffalo. Now the Jets are just a 3-7 team. Todd Bowles has gone back to Ryan Fitzpatrick and his beard, but Tom Brady’s revenge tour will not be stopped this week. Patriots cover.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (-3.5) — Both teams have great defenses. In a battle of quarterbacks, trust Trevor Siemian over Alex Smith. Smith’s West Coast Offense dinking and dunking will not work against Von Miller and his friends. Two yard passes on third down and four will not get it done for Kansas City. Broncos cover.
Monday, November 28, 8:30 p.m.
Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) — The Packers are a head-scratching 4-6 as Green Bay’s injury-riddled defense has been torched for over 40 points in consecutive weeks. Aaron Rodgers cannot do it all himself. Carson Wentz is playing above average even though his team is a very average 5-5. Both teams are fighting for their playoff lives, so give Rodgers one last chance to lift his entire team. Upset special, Packers win outright.