NFL WEEK 12: Thanksgiving is the football holiday and this year’s Turkey Day delivered, as all three games were competitive enough to provide those trapped in interminable drunken uncle conversations with a valid excuse to disengage and ignore. The Bills, Cowboys, and Vikings ended the day victorious, and all three of those teams appear to be legit Super Bowl contenders if they can stay healthy.

The rest of this Week 12 slate is a bit underwhelming, with the Bengals/Titans showdown in Nashville the only game that pits two winning teams. That said, there are nine games featuring lines of 6 points or fewer and lots of teams scratching and clawing for their playoff lives, so we should have another exciting, stressful, glorious NFL Sunday on tap.

Our strong season continued with a perfect 4-0 sweep last week, and though we don’t have quite as many games to choose from this Sunday due to the Thanksgiving tripleheader, I’ve found three that I feel really good about (two on Sunday plus the Monday nighter). Here’s what I’m thinking:

Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars (BAL -3.5, 43.5)

Recommendation: Jacksonville +3.5 at 2.01

It’s been another disappointing season in Jacksonville and the Jags have been one of the worst teams to bet on once again, covering only three times in 10 games. That being said, these Jags are definitively better than some recent versions, as they have a top-10 offense, a plus-11 point differential, and a defense that ranks 6th in the AFC in points allowed. Trevor Lawrence should be able to build some confidence against a generous Baltimore secondary that ranks 27th in the NFL against the pass, and the Ravens offense has been struggling mightily amidst injuries to some key players. Last week, for instance, they managed just 13 points and 308 total yards against the hapless Panthers, and Lamar Jackson has thrown for more than 210 yards just once in the team’s last seven games. With the Jags coming off a bye and desperate for a win, this feels like a tough spot for Baltimore. Look for Trevor Lawrence to eclipse 300 yards passing for only the second time this season, and for Jacksonville to make this one awfully uncomfortable for the visiting Ravens.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Tennessee Titans (CIN -2.5, 44)

Recommendation: Tennessee +2.5 at 1.99; Tennessee moneyline (to win) at 2.27

This is a rematch of last year’s Divisional Round playoff game, when Joe Burrow and the boys marched into Nashville and ended Tennessee’s season. After a slow start the Bengals are rounding into form once again, winning 4 of their last 5 games, but the competition has been a little soft, as all four of the recent wins have come against teams with losing records and there was a loss to the sub-.500 Browns sprinkled in there, as well.

This week’s test is quite different: the Titans have won 7 of 8 to take firm control of the AFC South, and after battling some significant injuries earlier in the season they are now as healthy as they’ve been all year. Ryan Tannehill is back in the lineup and coming off his best performance of the season, a 333-yard outing in a victory over Green Bay; Derrick Henry is once again getting stronger as the season progresses, rushing for 474 yards and 5 TDs over the team’s last four games; and this is the best defense of the Mike Vrabel era, a unit that has held seven consecutive opponents to 20 points or fewer. The Bengals are slight favorites here because they’re viewed as the team with the better quarterback and more explosive offense, but Burrow’s top target Ja’Marr Chase is still limited by a hip injury and Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon is out this week recovering from a concussion, while Tennessee is rolling, with all the key pieces healthy and contributing. I expect the Titans get a little revenge here and send Cincy home with a loss.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Indianapolis Colts (IND -2.5, 39)

Recommendation: Indianapolis -2.5 at 1.91

The Colts have been awfully tough to predict lately, shifting from “tanking their way to irrelevance” to “interesting, competitive team” over the past few weeks. The surprise hiring of interim coach Jeff Saturday is the most obvious change, but the sudden improvement can be more directly tied to a decision that Saturday made upon taking over: re-inserting veteran QB Matt Ryan into the starting lineup. With Ryan under center, the Colts actually have a credible passing game again, with young receivers Michael Pittman and Parris Campbell putting pressure on opposing defenses and opening things up for Jonathan Taylor and one of the league’s top rushing attacks.

Indianapolis beat Las Vegas in Saturday’s debut and nearly pulled off a shocker against the undefeated Eagles last week, losing a 17-16 heartbreaker after taking a 13-3 lead into the 4th quarter. Things get a little easier this week with the 3-7 Steelers coming to town, a team that has lost 3 of 4 behind a rookie quarterback and a defense that has fallen apart in recent weeks, surrendering 72 combined points in the two most recent losses. With a win here the Colts would improve to 5-6-1 on the season and might be only a game removed from the AFC’s final playoff spot, so this is a huge game for them, and I’m just not sure the Steelers are good enough offensively to spoil the party.

DAQMAN Sat: Big Race Preview
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