Week 12 gives us a trio of Thanksgiving Day games to be thankful for, and then once everyone is recovered from turkey and stuffing, we get a slate of Sunday games that includes several intriguing matchups, including the Cincinnati Bengals visiting the Tennessee Titans and a night game between the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles.
What is worth looking at from a betting perspective? And what are the best plays to help you make smart wagering decisions?
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan; fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings; ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder; and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz offer their insight into the games with tips and picks.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
After a turnaround victory last Sunday, the Buffalo Bills (-9.5, 54.5) are heavy favorites over the Detroit Lions for their Thanksgiving Day matchup. The Lions are 6-4 ATS and four of their five home games have gone over the total. What are your thoughts on this game, and who do you like?
Fortenbaugh: I'm playing under 54.5 total points. Sure, the Lions have scored 31 points in each of their past two games, but that came against the Bears and Giants. This is a step up in class against a Buffalo defense that ranks fifth in scoring. By the way, even with those two recent performances by the Lions, Detroit is still averaging just 18 points per game over its past six outings. The Bills should have no problem running the ball here and should be encouraged to do so to take some of the weight off Josh Allen's ailing elbow.
Schatz: Here's another vote for playing the under. We pay so much attention to Allen that sometimes we fail to realize how strong the Bills defense is. Buffalo is currently third in defensive DVOA behind New England and Dallas. Meanwhile, the Lions' defense has actually been above average, 11th in DVOA, since its Week 6 bye. These are two good offenses as well, but that 54.5 is a very high number considering the quality of the defenses involved.
Moody: The Lions haven't had many wins on Thanksgiving Day in recent years, and I expect that trend to continue against the Bills. However, I do expect the Lions to keep this closer than the spread suggests. Detroit is 7-2 ATS in its past nine home games. The Lions would be wise to lean on their running game in this matchup. Over the past three games, the Bills have allowed the 13th-most rushing yards per game. The Lions are on a three-game winning streak and playing their best football so far this season on both sides of the ball, and I expect to see that trend to continue Thursday.
Marks: The Lions are playing very hard for Dan Campbell and have won three straight games (Packers, Bears, Giants). They have been outgained in yardage but are victorious because they win the turnover battle. The Bills average more turnovers per game than any team in the NFL. Detroit is better in both trenches. I like the Lions getting the 9.5 and will use them in my Thanksgiving Day 3-team teaser (+15.5).
Snellings: Lions +9.5, over 54.5 points. I'm old enough to remember when the Lions were expected to be a sure thing on Thanksgiving. They haven't been that in awhile, but quietly, these Lions have been impressive of late. They've won three straight outright over solid competition, and in the game before they went toe-to-toe with a Tua Tagovailoa-led Dolphins squad that's essentially undefeated this season. Playing at home, against a Bills team with issues, I think the Lions cover. And I'll go over because I still don't trust the Lions' defense and think Allen will have to put some points on the board to beat them.
The Dallas Cowboys (-9.5, 45.5) are looking for their fifth straight home victory and welcome the New York Giants to AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. The Giants are 2-9 ATS in their past 11 meetings against Dallas, while the Cowboys are 22-8 ATS in their past 30 games against NFC East opponents. Can the Giants pull off the upset on a short week, or will Dak Prescott and America's Team keep rolling?
Schatz: I've been driving the "Giants are overrated" bandwagon since early in the season, and I'm not going to stop now. Dallas should win this game. But that line of 9.5 is really big and honestly not worth playing. The Cowboys are better on defense than offense, and the Giants are worse on defense than offense. But we also know offense is more predictive than defense, and so we need to consider it more when considering future lines. In fact, if this line went to 10 I would even play the Giants as an underdog.
Moody: I'm backing the Cowboys. Dallas bounced back nicely from its overtime loss at Green Bay by dismantling the Vikings. Tony Pollard's emergence has come at a great time for the Cowboys, and he now faces a Giants defense that ranks 28th in run stop win rate. Dallas is 9-2 against the spread in its past 11 matchups against the Giants, and New York has lost its past five games at AT&T Stadium.
Marks: The Giants are injury-riddled and barely have warm bodies to field a team. They will be starting their fourth and fifth starting corners. Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb should feast on this Giants defense. A bug has ravaged the Giants for the past two weeks -- many players were affected last week against the Lions, and now those who missed the first wave are sick this week. I wouldn't be surprised by a 31-13 beatdown, so I'll lay the points with Dallas (-9.5) and also include them in my teaser (-3.5).
Snellings: Over 45.5. The Cowboys are so Jekyll and Hyde right now that I don't feel comfortable with giving the 9.5 points. But Anita's point is well received that the Giants' defense is struggling right now, and it just gave up 31 points to the Lions last week. The Cowboys should put a big number on the board this week, so I'll play the over.
In the last game of the day, the New England Patriots, fresh off a tight division victory over the Jets, face the Minnesota Vikings (-2.5, 42.5), who suffered their first home loss of the season last Sunday. Are oddsmakers overlooking New England or do you expect Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and the Vikings to bounce back Thursday night?
Fulghum: The move off the key number of 3 is peculiar to me, but I will not be deterred. I like the Vikings in this spot mostly because I cannot trust their offense to provide enough points in this environment to cover a number less than a FG. Mac Jones has regressed tremendously this year. The Joe Judge-Matt Patricia experiment is predictably unimpressive. Teams with explosive ability through the air can give the Vikings problems, but that certainly is not New England. It's possible Kirk Cousins plays as poorly as Jones in this matchup -- especially because the game is in prime time -- but as strange as it might sound, I trust Cousins more than Jones. Vikings -2.5.
Fortenbaugh: Under 42.5 is where you'll find me. New England's offense stinks, but its defense has been fantastic. I'm betting Bill Belichick sells out against the Minnesota passing attack in an effort to limit the Vikings' big plays, which means Dalvin Cook should be in for a good game on the ground.
Schatz: The Vikings are the first 8-2 team to ever have a negative point differential, and they're the worst 8-2 team ever according to our DVOA ratings. They aren't as bad as they looked in a 40-3 loss last week, but they're just very mediocre all around, slightly below average in DVOA for all three phases. Obviously, the Patriots are driven by defense, and defense is harder to predict than offense, but a couple of splits that point out how they'll slow down the Vikings: The Patriots are fourth in the league against No. 1 wide receivers and fifth against tight ends. Even in Minnesota, I'll take the Patriots and the points. Patriots +2.5.
Moody: I like the Patriots. The Vikings' defense is allowing the fourth-most total yards per game to opponents. Edge rusher Matthew Judon and the Patriots' defense should be able to pressure Cousins, especially with left tackle Christian Darrisaw out. The Patriots are 9-4 against the spread in their past 13 games following a straight-up win. Furthermore, New England is 4-1 against the spread in its past five Thursday games. It is well known that Cousins struggles in prime-time games.
Marks: This Patriots defense is sick, ranking second in points allowed, yards allowed, pressure rate and sacks. The Vikings showed how vulnerable they are against a great pass rush (Cousins was sacked seven times). Cousins will now be without starting LT Darrisaw against the Patriots and Matt Judon -- good luck with that! My play is under 42.5, and I will complete my teaser with the Patriots +8.5.
What is your favorite bet for Thanksgiving
Fulghum: The Giants are a 9.5-point road underdog against the Cowboys. That's the type of expected negative game script that might have them dropping back a lot in the second half to play catch-up. The only problem? They don't really have any wide receivers available to catch the ball at the moment other than Darius Slayton. Rookie WR Wan'Dale Robinson tore his ACL in the Week 11 loss to Detroit, and Richie James is dealing with a knee injury that might impact his availability. Slayton has been the only reliable pass-catcher on the perimeter for this team. He has had 58-plus receiving yards in five of his past six games. Slayton should see plenty of action from Daniel Jones on Thursday, especially if the Giants are playing from behind as expected. Slayton over 46.5 receiving yards.
What is your favorite player prop for Thanksgiving?
Walder: Von Miller under 0.25 sacks (+110 at DraftKings). I know it doesn't feel great, and Miller has recorded a sack in six of 10 games this year, but I have this as a value. The big reason? Jared Goff. For all the Lions' problems, Goff taking sacks isn't one of them. His 4.3% sack rate is sixth lowest in the league.
Schatz: I noted above that the Patriots are high in DVOA against No. 1 receivers and tight ends. So who will Kirk Cousins throw to? I'm betting we see a good amount of Adam Thielen in this game. His line is 44.5 receiving yards, and Thielen has topped that in three of the past four games as well as six of the 10 games this year. Let's go with Thielen over 44.5 receiving yards (-117).
Moody: Tony Pollard over 67.5 rushing yards. Pollard has averaged 108.6 rushing yards per game over the past three games and has six rushing attempts of 15 or more yards over that span. The Giants' defense has allowed the eighth-most rushing yards per game this season.
Marks: Matt Breida over 10.5 rushing yards (-120). A number of Giants players are dealing with an illness that has ravaged the locker room the past two weeks, and Saquon Barkley might be dealing with something this week. We are also at about the time of the season when load management is important for teams looking forward to the postseason. Breida has exceeded 10 rushing yards in five of his past seven games.
Despite a 7-3 record and multigame lead in the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans are 1.5-point underdogs to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12. What are your thoughts on this line? Are oddsmakers disrespecting the Titans, or will Cincinnati come away with its fifth victory in six games on Sunday
Fulghum: Oddsmakers are disrespecting the Titans and Mike Vrabel, more notably. Tennessee will have the rest advantage coming off its Week 11 Thursday night win at Green Bay. Vrabel and Derrick Henry have dominated in this spot. Tennessee is a very live underdog.
Fortenbaugh: My favorite betting trend in all of football is this: Since taking over as head coach of the Titans in 2018, Vrabel has had at least 10 days of preparation for eight regular-season games. In those eight games, Vrabel is 8-0 SU, 8-0 ATS and beating the closing point spread by an average of 17.5 points per game! I think that tells you all you need to know about where my money will be for this one.
Schatz: Our DVOA ratings have these teams very close together, with the Bengals currently 10th and the Titans 12th. But that includes two Malik Willis games. Take those out of the Titans' offense and the Titans would have the higher rating between the two teams. In addition, the Titans' pass defense has really been playing well since their Week 6 bye, fifth in the league in DVOA in the past five weeks. So I'll take the Titans here as slight underdogs.
Snellings: The Titans have been disrespected all season, full stop. They are a very good team and should be treated as such. With that said, the Bengals have been almost equally overlooked, particularly after their 0-2 start. But when healthy this season, the Bengals have won at a better rate than last season's Super Bowl squad and could be getting Ja'Marr Chase back Sunday. These two teams also have history, with the Bengals beating the No. 1-seeded Titans in Tennessee during last season's playoffs. I think the spread is reasonable in what should be a heavyweight battle Sunday. The more interesting play, to me, is over 42.5 points. The Titans have a strong defense, but the Bengals should put points on the board. The Bengals' defensive weakness has been on the ground, and Derrick Henry should eat. I think this one goes over, comfortably.
The Washington Commanders, winners of five of their past six games, are 4.5-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons, who sit just a half-game back of the Buccaneers in the NFC South. Atlanta started the season 6-0 ATS but has failed to cover in four straight games and barely covered against the Bears last week. Meanwhile, the Commanders are 3-0 SU in games which they are favored this season. Can Taylor Heinicke keep the Commanders hot this weekend, or will Atlanta pull off a surprise victory?
Fortenbaugh: Love the Commanders here. Atlanta wants to run the football. Too bad for them Washington excels at stopping the run, ranking second in Football Outsiders' rush DVOA metric. If not for a late interception, Washington would enter this matchup riding a six-game winning streak. There's a good case to be made that Washington is the most underrated team in the NFL right now.
Moody: Commanders -4.5. Mr. Fortenbaugh and I seem to be on the same page. It is likely that the Commanders' defense can force the Falcons' offense out of its comfort zone, which is running the ball. Atlanta ranks fourth in the league with 32.8 rushing attempts per game. The Commanders rank ninth in run stop win rate. It will be an intriguing game as the Commanders and Falcons jockey for playoff position. Washington is 18-7-1 against the spread in its past 26 games following a straight up win.
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What are the most important things our analytics say?
Walder: There are three games for which the FPI disagrees with the betting market.
FPI prediction: Cardinals by 3.9
FPI is assuming Kyler Murray plays here, which is part of why there's a massive disagreement with the market -- because Murray's status is not truly certain. But what this line is telling us is that the model believes the Cardinals are better than the Chargers on a neutral field with Murray at QB. Which is perhaps a hot take! But it also not that hot of a take. The Chargers have been been better in EPA/P on offense by 0.02 and worse on defense by 0.03. But the Chargers have also played the easier schedule.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-9.5, 45.5)
Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
FPI prediction: Cowboys by 13.9
The model is fully buying the Cowboys after their 40-3 dismantling of the Vikings and now sees Dallas as a true Super Bowl contender. It has never bought in on the Giants, who have had a record above their talent level all year.
FPI prediction: Buccaneers by 0.5
The Browns' defense has been atrocious. That has cost them wins, but it has also hidden just how effective the offense has been with Jacoby Brissett under center. Cleveland ranks sixth in EPA per play thanks to an excellent ground game and an above-average passing attack in terms of efficiency. Brissett ranks sixth (sixth!) in QBR. All of this is to say -- the Browns are better than their record.
What is your favorite bet for Sunday?
Fulghum: My favorite bet is banking on the Miami Dolphins to score a lot of points at home against the Houston Texans. Not only is Houston's defense not that good, especially against the run, it's compounded by the fact that the Texans' offense is Dameon Pierce and a bunch of nothing. If he's not churning out yards, then the opposition is likely to get a lot of possessions and good field position. Mike McDaniel should be able to scheme circles around this defense on the ground and through the air. Dolphins team total over 29.5.
Fortenbaugh: Commanders -4.5 over Falcons for all the reasons I listed above.
Schatz: Let's go with over 43 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. A difficult schedule of opposing defenses has helped hide just how efficient the Browns' offense has been this year. The Browns currently rank fourth in DVOA! Honestly, I'm not sure how they get better when they get Deshaun Watson back because things are already going so well. The Buccaneers have overall been a very average offense but a better passing game, and the running game might be resuscitated in part by replacing Leonard Fournette as starting running back with Rachaad White. Plus, the Buccaneers are the fastest-paced offense in the NFL this year when you look at how much game time goes between plays. More plays means more points.
Moody: Chiefs -14.5. The Chiefs' offense has been a juggernaut all season, ranking first in total yards per game and points per game. With an 8-2 record, Kansas City is eager to make a statement in the postseason, while the Rams are essentially out of the playoff race at 3-7. Los Angeles is without Cooper Kupp, and now Matthew Stafford is in the league's concussion protocol. It's a big number, but I'd be surprised if the Chiefs played down to their opponent in this matchup.
Snellings: Dolphins -13.5 over Texans. The Dolphins can score at will when healthy, and they are fully loaded right now. Their running back room has been thriving as well since Jeff Wilson came to town, and I expect them to gash the Texans both on the ground and through the air. Meanwhile, the Texans have averaged only 17.7 PPG in their past four outings, and I just don't see where they have the weapons to keep up with the Dolphins on Sunday.