Thursday was Thanksgiving Day in the USA, and time for me to be thankful I didn't make any picks on the day's games. Although I had two out of three straight up, the Lions were a push, Washington covered, and the under on the Pats-Jets (48.5) was nearly passed just by Jet turnovers. Not that this Sunday is looking clearer: the Niners-Saints game is 'pick 'em', which means no one knows what starting Colin Kaepernick at QB means, and the Eagles-Panthers game Monday, which was 'pick 'em', now has the Eagles as one-point home dogs, which means the absolute awfulness of Philadelphia is becoming more evident. Giving them a concession point may be the only way to get anyone to lay on them. I make it eight home dogs (plus the pick 'em Saints, which is virtually the same thing), which shows you just how hard-to-pick/parity-laden/full-of-bad-match-ups this NFL season can be.
Sure thing: Cleveland v Steelers (-1) at 1.85
I like the Steelers to win in Cleveland, even giving a point and even with their third-choice quarterback playing. I'd like them more if Bruce Arians were still their offensive coordinator, because he'd run a trick play or two to try to cover Charlie Batch's limitations. But last week we saw them come out and take the Ravens by surprise with second-stringer Byron Leftwich throwing, and then settle into a more conventional game-plan that highlighted his limitations. The thing is the Browns' strengths are basically things the Steelers can stop, and this is almost a must win for them, at 6-4 and two games behind the Ravens.
Value bet: Arizona v Rams (+1) at 1.95
I'm thinking about the Rams who played the Niners to a tie on the road a couple of weeks ago, and looked good doing it, and the Rams who started off strong against the Jets before turning the ball over, falling into a hole, and losing. They're unlikely to fall too far behind the Cardinals, with rookie Ryan Lindlay at QB: Lindlay's got a good arm but is often inaccurate, and probably needed more seasoning, like the Thanksgiving turkey at a chain hotel's dining room. I'd like the Rams better if they had a downfield threat receiver (Danny Amendola may miss this game, but even healthy that's not what he is) but their biggest weakness defensively, stopping the run, should not be such a problem against the Cards, and their pass-rush ought to come alive.
Outside pick: Over 50.5 points in Indianapolis v Buffalo at 1.90
This one really intrigues me, because these are two awful defences. The reason I hesitate is that both offences can misfire, and it's hard to count on Mark Fitzpatrick of Buffalo to give you points consistently. The beauty of the over/under bet, though, is that a player like Fitz, who may give the opposition a TD or two, helps you out, and the Bills also have a good return game, as we saw last week against the Dolphins. I've kept away from picking over-unders in this column, for the sake of simplicity, but since this week's picks are indeed driving me simple, I'll include it. Caveat emptor: I did take the under on Pats-Jest (and no, that is not a misspelling!). I'm tempted by the 37.5 under on Seattle (-3) at Miami, but that may be just a point or two too low.
One to avoid: Eagles v Panthers (-1)
I mentioned it above, but think about it for a second. The Eagles have lost Shady McCoy, the running back who is their most effective, but most under-utilised, offensive weapon. They're starting rookie Nick Foles at quarterback, having given up, at least for this week, on Michael Vick. Andy Reid is under fire like Gregory Peck on Pork Chop Hill, and the Eagles don't really seem to want to block or tackle anyone unless they really have to. And they've won one game more than the Panthers. I'd try to pretend Monday night just doesn't exist this week.