Thanksgiving storylines and picks

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Thanksgiving storylines and picks

The Thanksgiving slate can be hit or miss. This year’s lineup is particularly unique. At the beginning of the season, Packers-Lions and Steelers-Ravens looked like massive games with the potential to swing the North divisions. Then the beginning of November hit – Aaron Rodgers breaks his collarbone, Pittsburgh and Baltimore find themselves a combined 5-11 and looking up at the Browns and Bengals – and suddenly, Turkey Day had the makings of an all-time bust.

What a difference a few weeks can make. While the Packers have predictably gone into a tailspin without Rodgers, the Lions – by virtue of dropping two straight winnable games to the Steelers and Bucs – evidently decided they would prefer the Thanksgiving game to have huge implications. If so, they got their wish, as a loss to Green Bay would drop Detroit from first to third place in the NFC North. Tough to get any bigger than that.

As for Pittsburgh-Baltimore, since Week 10 the fierce rivals have gone a combined 5-1 and currently find themselves among a glut of teams tied for the final AFC playoff spot. Whoever emerges from what figures to be another trench war between the foes will officially be the odds-on favorite to grab that second wild-card spot. You gotta love the NFL. Onto the Turkey Day picks.

Cowboys vs. Raiders – over 46.5

Tony Romo may be known for his December collapses, but in November – and particularly on Thanksgiving – the show has historically belonged to the much-maligned quarterback. In six career Thanksgiving games, Romo has thrown for an average of 301 yards and a total of 17 touchdowns while putting up a tick over 30 points per game. Against an Oakland team that’s given up at least 23 points in each of its last four games and ranks near the bottom of the league in pass defense (25th) and scoring defense (20th), Romo figures to lead the Dallas offense to right around that 30-point plateau. The Oakland offense, meanwhile, has shown itself to be a passable unit of late. In five games since their bye, the Raiders are averaging 21.6 points per game, their low mark coming last week in a 23-19 loss to the Titans. Matt McGloin has moved the ball with relative consistency since assuming the team’s quarterback reins – the Raiders amassed approximately 350 yards of offense against Houston and Tennessee, both of which boast far stingier defenses than the Cowboys, who are allowing a league-worst 432.2 yards per game. This game may not reach shootout levels, but both teams should score their fair share of points. With the total expected to rise as kickoff nears, bettors should lock in the over sooner than later.

Steelers (+3) at Ravens

Despite being the road team, the Steelers have a few things going for them in this matchup. First, as a blind play, taking the underdog +3 in this rivalry will almost always lead to at least a push. Over their last 10 games, the final margin of victory between the Steelers and Ravens has been exactly three on nine of those 10 occasions. That is not a typo. These teams know each other so well and play such similar brands of football that it’s almost impossible for either to gain any real separation when they square off. Then there’s the fact that Pittsburgh is simply playing better of late. Since their woeful 0-4 start and subsequent bye, the Steelers are 5-2, with a 21-18 loss to the Raiders that featured a 93-yard touchdown run by Terrelle Pryor on the first play from scrimmage and a pair of Shaun Suisham shanked field goals all that has thwarted them from a 6-1 run. During a three-game win streak, the Pittsburgh defense has held the Bills, Lions and Browns to a combined 48 points, 27 of which Detroit exploded for in one outlier quarter. Baltimore, on the other hand, has been unable to establish any consistency in 2013, winning no more than two straight games (Weeks 2-3). Although the Ravens have been typically stout in their house (4-1), home field doesn’t mean a whole lot when these teams meet. Taking the three points is the safe play here. Look for Pittsburgh to win outright.

Overall picks: 19-12

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