NFL Week 12 game picks: Vikes top Pack; Texans, Colts stay hot

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Thanksgiving Day football is upon us ...

Since 1920, the NFL has made it a habit of playing on Turkey Day, with so many fantastic games taking place on the most special Thursday of the year. This year, we have a few solid matchups, with plenty at stake. The Bears look to stay in front of the NFC North, while the Lions try to salvage their season. The Redskins and Cowboys are playing for the NFC East. And the Falcons aim to stay playoff-viable against the best team in the league.

Yep, the Saints play together, and they've proven they are about more than simply Drew Brees, though he is certainly the leader in the clubhouse for MVP. Sometimes, though, an incredible player can take over a game and seem like a one-man outfit. You don't see it often in pro football, whereas in baseball, a starting pitcher can dominate, and in the NBA, a LeBron James can impose his will on the outcome. If there is an example of one guy in the NFL winning a game, it came on Thanksgiving in 1982.

That was one of the more memorable Lions games in the history of Thanksgiving football. The Redskins and Cowboys, meanwhile, have played eight times on Turkey Day, but they're playing on the holiday with first place at stake for the first time since 1996.

Nope, no one notices man. We even put the record in tallies below. They only spew fire when I pick against their team.

Speaking of, all the picks are below. Will Ezekiel Elliott go off like Emmitt Smith? What about Sunday? There are quite a few games relevant to the playoff chase. The following is how I see them going. Your thoughts are welcome, too ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Elliot Harrison went 9-4 on his predictions for Week 11, bringing his record for the season to 109-50-2. How will he fare in Week 12? His picks are below.

SUNDAY, NOV. 25

Cincinnati Bengals 30, Cleveland Browns 27 (OT)

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)

Taking the Bengals at home. Don't feel too confident about their prospects, though. They might be 5-5, but they've now lost four of their last five, while the defense is still ranked last in the league. Marvin Lewis took over the defensive play calling last week in Baltimore, producing mixed results. As experienced as Lewis is being the head guy, implementing the defensive scheme and calling the defense is a different matter entirely. As would be true of any assistant in that role, Lewis must find a rhythm. What makes this matchup intriguing: While Lewis gets used to his self-imposed assignment, despite having seen everything during his 27 years in the NFL, he faces a quarterback in Baker Mayfield who has seen very little. How much help Mayfield receives from running back (and fellow rookie) Nick Chubb against a cruddy run defense could determine the day ... for both teams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28, San Francisco 49ers 24

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Florida)

These are two franchises that are missing key parts on the field and playing the shifting tides at quarterback, with their records reflecting it. San Francisco (2-8) has been without the services of Jimmy Garoppolo for most of the season and Jerick McKinnon for all of it. The Tampa (3-7) defense has been roasted all year; offenses have made out like Tecmo Bo, a problem that was not helped by the season-ending injury to Kwon Alexander and health concerns of several role players on defense. Going to take the Bucs at home, however, as Jameis Winston must realize what is in front of him. He played well off the bench in New York, helping Tampa Bay climb back in the game. What he needs to do is climb the pocket -- and be decisive, which includes deciding to take the sack instead of suffering another giveaway.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17, Buffalo Bills 14

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | New Era Field (Orchard Park, N.Y.)

Bortles ... Allen ... It's the NFL on CBS! The Jaguars lost any chance of winning the AFC South -- in all likelihood, anyway -- by blowing that 16-point lead against the Steelers. Meanwhile, the Bills are getting Josh Allen back in the saddle this week after riding the Matt Barkley Express to a rollicking victory in New Jersey. Surprisingly, the Jags' secondary let them down last week against Ben Roethlisberger late, but it is highly doubtful Allen will be able to manufacture those same splash plays down the field. The rookie is averaging a sub-mediocre 6.0 yards per attempt. With sacks figured in, the yards per dropback drops to 5.2. Interesting game for Doug Marrone, who returns to Buffalo as a head coach for the first time since exiting stage left during the Bills' ownership change in late 2014.

Baltimore Ravens 26, Oakland Raiders 10

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)

The Raiders' offense showed signs of life in Arizona after terrible outings against the 49ers and Chargers in which they put up all of nine points total. Last week, Oakland was able to move the football mostly due to the running back rotation. Jalen Richard and Doug Martin will be principal factors in determining whether the Raiders can hang with the Ravens on the road. On paper, Baltimore's front seven should have a field day with Oakland's offensive front, which has allowed Derek Carr to be pummeled repeatedly. Yet Don "Wink" Martindale's pass rush has slowed down since hammering Marcus Mariota 11 times back in October, and that presented a problem when Baltimore faced Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger in consecutive weeks. Here's what we do know: The Raiders aren't getting to Lamar Jackson. They couldn't sack Vinny Testaverde if they wanted to -- and I mean Vinny Testaverde right now.

Carolina Panthers 26, Seattle Seahawks 24

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)

The season hasn't spun out of control for the 6-4 Panthers yet, although they had better stop messing around. In what amounts to a huge contest in terms of the NFC wild-card race, the Seahawks need this win more than Carolina does. If Pete Carroll's group were to falter, Seattle would tumble to 5-6 and two games back of the Panthers, one of their prime combatants for the fifth or sixth seed. Speaking of, at least one of these two teams has made the playoffs the last six years. Also interesting to note: Seattle has won its last three meetings in Charlotte, all with Russell Wilson under center. If the Panthers are to win this time, Cam Newton must set up and deliver accurately downfield; he sports a not-sterling 58.1 passer rating on throws of 20-plus air yards, according to Next Gen Stats.

New England Patriots 35, New York Jets 17

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Who knows if Sam Darnold will play this Sunday? I do know who is lining up under center for the visitors, though. And if we know anything about Tom Brady in Year 19, the Hall of Famer-to-be was quite pissed off after the way the entire Pats offense played against the Titans. Darnold's first season in the bigs has been up and down; before he got hurt, he was creating more turnovers than the Jets' defense could mitigate. Tell you what is really hurting Gang Green, though: a complete absence of the ground game. Yardage totals over the past four weeks: 71, 57, 73, 83. Of course, going minus-10 in turnover differential over those very games can make trying to run an afterthought.

Philadelphia Eagles 26, New York Giants 20

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)

Can the Giants make it three in a row? No. As badly as Philly was trounced in New Orleans, this group should rebound at home against its longtime rival. Recall also that New York won its previous two games over the 49ers and Bucs, who are a combined 5-15. Philadelphia does have major work to do to win, however. First, the Eagles must develop consistency on the ground -- somehow -- to prevent Carson Wentz from pressing like he has the last two weeks. Mixing blitzes and coverages will be paramount, because Philadelphia's secondary is not good enough to play straight zone and win right now. Eli Manning comes into the NFC East matchup having just balled out in Week 11, following a strong performance in Week 10. This could be another Giants-Eagles slugaroo.

Los Angeles Chargers 33, Arizona Cardinals 20

4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | ROKiT Field at StubHub Center (Carson, Calif.)

Maybe the Cardinals can go into the soccer pitch and deliver a few quick kicks, get up early and let their potent pass rush get after Philip Rivers. Don't see it. Anthony Lynn's locker room must be pissed after letting the Broncos hang around last Sunday before playing terrible football in the fourth quarter to lose the game. Rivers forced several throws, which turned into costly giveaways. Arizona's Chandler Jones (10.5 sacks, third in the NFL) could force quick decision-making from the veteran quarterback; Rivers should consider eating the ball and living to play another down. The Cards have seen the light in their recent (heavy) utilization of David Johnson: 54 touches, 337 scrimmage yards and two scores the last two weeks.

Indianapolis Colts 34, Miami Dolphins 17

4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)

Ryan Tannehill makes his long-awaited return to the Dolphins lineup after a month and a half of Brockball. The issue for Tannehill, besides the obvious worry about rust, is that he will face a defense that has been vastly underappreciated. Statistically, Indy's defensive unit is no great shakes, ranking 18th in points allowed per game (24.9). However, that is a viable number when your quarterback is playing at an MVP level and his offensive line is not allowing him to get hit. Yes, Andrew Luck has not been sacked in his last 214 pass attempts, and Miami's pass rush has darn near been absentee, with only 17 sacks all year.

Trivia: Luck's sack-less streak is the second-longest since 1991. Which former Super Bowl MVP went 244 passes without being sacked back in 1991?

Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Denver Broncos 20

4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Broncos Stadium at Mile High (Denver)

Plenty of folks will pick the Broncos to secure an upset here, as the Steelers were unimpressive for much of their win in Jacksonville. That's all the more reason to think the Pittsburgh offense will bounce back, though. Also, Denver won an emotional game against the Chargers and could show up flat. If the Broncos are to win, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb must make life uncomfortable for Ben Roethlisberger early. Think they will serve notice to James Conner that this ain't Cleveland, as the Denver run defense has been mostly outstanding for a month. But if the Broncos let Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and the boys get hot early, they will be in for a long day. First, the Jags' personnel matches up with the Steelers' better than it does with Denver's. Second, Pittsburgh is only allowing 18 points per game over its last six outings and forced eight three-and-outs last week.

Minnesota Vikings 30, Green Bay Packers 27

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)

Although neither team might be there yet, they are both pulling dangerously close to must-win territory. Especially the Packers. If they fail in Minnesota, they will have lost for the fourth time in five games. They would also fall two games behind the Vikings (currently the sixth seed in the NFC), and if the Panthers triumph over the Seahawks, they would be 2.5 games behind Ron Rivera and Co. for a wild-card spot. The offense has been all the talk in Green Bay. The defense will have its hands full, though, against these Vikings, who hit a rhythm in the loss to the Bears when it was too late. Look for Minnesota to pick up the pace at home, especially if Packers DC Mike Pettine deploys his numbers to the back end to defend against prolific WR1 Adam Thielen (1,013 yards this season) and Stefon Diggs. That would leave Dalvin Cook to feast on a run defense that allows 4 yards or more 49.1 percent of the time, 30th in the NFL. Think Green Bay is going fishing.

MONDAY, NOV. 26

Houston Texans 25, Tennessee Titans 17

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | NRG Stadium (Houston, N.J.)

If you have figured out the Titans, please enter your synopsis here ______________. Their entire season has played out like a weird Elvira flick in one of those late-night UHF lineups from the late 1980s. They've had a few outings that were nice to look at (Jaguars, Cowboys, Patriots), but their performances are incongruous, with no offensive plot, to boot. They have been scary intimidating, or just plain scary to watch, like last weekend. A huge issue for OC Matt LaFleur has been the inability to generate chunk plays (20-plus yards), where Tennessee ranks 31st in the league. Meanwhile, we've yet to see Deshaun Watson replicate his 2017 catalog, but Houston keeps finding ways to win. If the Texans win again on Monday night, Tennessee can kiss the AFC South goodbye. This will be a tight, ugly game. Houston wins.

ALREADY COMPLETED

Detroit Lions 24, Chicago Bears 22

This is a dangerous matchup for the Bears, who are humming right now. Going into Detroit on a short week will be at least as difficult as -- if not more difficult than -- hosting the Vikings last week. Couple that with the fact that Chicago is in line to start Chase Daniel, who at best squeezed in a few walkthroughs before flying out to face a division rival, and you can clearly see the uphill challenge facing Matt Nagy and staff. The Lions played at home Sunday, snapping a three-game losing streak by building an early lead over the Panthers with balanced offense and holding on late. Unfortunately for Detroit, with Kerryon Johnson (knee sprain) out, Chicago's pass rush won't have to hesitate on its way to the pocket. The Bears have already posted 32 sacks (tied for fifth in the NFL). Was feeling a Bears road win, but Matthew Stafford has played well since that opening Monday night disaster ... except for two weeks ago against the Bears. The advantage over Daniel is too much. Thus, I'm taking Detroit at home.

Dallas Cowboys 23, Washington Redskins 17

4:30 p.m. ET (FOX) | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)

Folks might expect the Cowboys to run all over the Redskins, but it won't be that easy. Start with the fact that Colt McCoy is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league. In fact, he beat Dallas at JerryWorld in 2014 -- the same year the Cowboys went 12-4 and lost to the Packers in the playoffs. If Washington is to come out of Turkey Day with a win, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne must impose their will. Otherwise, Ezekiel Elliott will run wild. Zeke's last two weeks: 388 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns. Dallas has only lost once to the Redskins on Thanksgiving, and that came in 2012, at the hands of RGIII. Seems like forever ago, too. Oh, before I forget ... #Dezcaughtit

New Orleans Saints 38, Atlanta Falcons 28

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)

If the Falcons are to make anything of what has devolved into a trying season, Thursday night's game against the Saints qualifies as a must-win. A major factor in whether they can topple the league's best team: Deion Jones' availability for Thursday night. Jones has been missing from the lineup -- and sorely missed -- since the NFL Kickoff Game in Philadelphia. If he's a no-go, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram will surely cause headaches for a Dan Quinn defense that couldn't contain Ezekiel Elliott at all last Sunday. Kamara has eclipsed 100 scrimmage yards in each of the last three games, scoring six touchdowns in the process. Ingram has rushed for 100 yards in the last two outings, notching three touchdowns himself. Good grief.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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