In honor of tomorrow being a holiday and this apparently being my 200th post, I thought I would flesh out the Thanksgiving picks a little more and get them up early so everyone can enjoy the football tomorrow in peace. I’m thankful to Bodog for having a full set of numbers up already to help make this possible.
We’ll take things in reverse order so I can finish with the Lions. The evening game is the Harbaugh bowl, featuring John and the Ravens hosting Jim and the 49ers. The Ravens are 7-3 and lead the AFC North with a decent chance to win it since they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers. Even if the Steelers win the division, the Ravens are a virtual lock for a wild card spot. The Ravens have confused by losing three easy games (against the Titans, Jaguars, and Seahawks, albeit each on the road) but playing impressively otherwise, beating the Steelers (twice), Texans, and Bengals. The 49ers are 9-1 and a lock for the NFC West and most likely a playoff bye. Their only loss was in overtime to the Cowboys, and they have wins over Bengals, Lions, and Giants. So both teams appear pretty strong.
Statistically both teams are pretty similar. They’ve both scored 256 points but the Ravens have given up an extra field goal on average over the ten games played so far. In my power rankings the 49ers are fifth and the Ravens sixth, with most of the difference being due to the 49ers’ better defense. More specifically, the Ravens are a little below average on offense in terms of passing and rushing efficiency, although they make up for it a little bit by not throwing as many interceptions. On defense the Ravens are particularly stout against the run and they force a little more interceptions, although they certainly aren’t getting a lot of fumbles. Their line play has been very good, both at protecting Flacco from sacks and in sacking the opponent’s QB. The 49ers have also been good at protecting their quarterback, Alex Smith, and are a bit better at passing and running. They protect the football well but take a few more penalties than average. On defense the 49ers don’t have the same pass rush or run defense as the Ravens but their pass defense is pretty good and they force turnovers as well.
If you add it all up like my power rankings do, you find that the 49ers have a small advantage, but the Ravens are at home for this game. Bodog gives the Ravens the typical three point home field advantage, but since the 49ers are the better team Luigi says to take them to cover. The Ravens moneyline is -180 while the 49ers is +160. Luigi thinks the Ravens have a 54% chance of winning, so the 49ers are a good bet there as well. The 49ers are a good bet as long as you think they have a 38.5% chance of winning or better. Luigi also sees the total coming in over the Bodog number of 38.5. Bill Simmons is going with the Ravens because he still doesn’t believe in Alex Smith and the 49ers are currently 9-0-1 against the spread and must be due for a loss, e.g. the gambler’s fallacy. Why isn’t the gambler’s fallacy based on inertia? I don’t know. Personally, I always bet on black.
Dallas hosting Miami is kind of the let-down game compared to the other two. Dallas is in the hunt for the NFC East division lead, but Miami isn’t doing anything this season besides playing spoiler. That being said, Miami has had a tough schedule (Pats, Texans, at San Diego, at Jets, at Giants) and have won three in a row after losing their first seven and their starting quarterback. Dallas has also played the Pats and Jets as well as the Lions and 49ers but has generally had a bit of an easier road. Dallas and Miami have played four common opponents (the Jets, Pats, Redskins (whom the Cowboys have played twice), and the Bills), and the Cowboys have won those games by an average of 8 points while the Dolphins have won them by an average of only 1.5. Both lost to the Jets and Pats but Dallas lost by less, and both beat the Redskins and Bills but the Cowboys won by more.
Statistically Dallas is the better team but Miami isn’t as bad as their 3-7 record might lead you to believe. Dallas is efficient at both passing and running and has done a good job of protecting Romo. Their defense is also good against both the run and the pass as well as getting pressure and interceptions. In short, Dallas is a fairly decent team. Miami, on the other hand, is very average on offense. They don’t take a lot of penalties, but they do get sacked too much. Their defense isn’t great either, but they do get some sacks and they do force interceptions. That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but remember that the Dolphins have faced some tough teams and are only 3-7. It would be tough for their defense to look great.
Bodog has put the line at -7 for the Cowboys. But the Dolphins might hang in there; Luigi has it as more of a 5 point game. Similarly with the moneyline at -300/+250, the Dolphins are a reasonable look for the win as well; if they would win 28.5% of the time, they would be a good bet. Luigi sees Dallas winning 67.6% of the time and the game coming in under the total of 44. This game will likely come down to turnovers; if Miami can get Romo off the field with a couple picks they should keep it close and possibly even win. If not I could see Dallas running away with it. Simmons is also going with a close game, taking the Dolphins to cover.
Finally we get to the game that everyone’s really interested in, the Lions and the Packers. Green Bay is 10-0 and could probably lose the rest of their games and still get a wild card. The Lions are 7-3 and something of the NFL’s darlings after making a drastic turn-around from 2009 when they went 2-14 (or even last year when they had to win the last four games to go 6-10). The Packers have obviously taken out all comers, a list which includes the Saints, Bears, Falcons, and Chargers. The Lions have beaten Dallas and Chicago but also lost to the Bears, 49ers, and Falcons and required comebacks against the Vikings and Panthers. As a Lions fan, I have been sweating bullets every week.
The Lions, as you might have guessed, are an above-average offensive team. Their rushing has picked up a bit in recent weeks to help make up for the passing coming a bit back down to earth, and they do a good job of protecting Stafford. Even with his recent spate of picks, the interception rate is about average. The defense hasn’t been great, especially against the run, but they’ve been getting some picks and pressure on the QB. The Packers, on the other hand, are a passing juggernaut. They take good care of the ball, too. But they’re only average runners and are a bit vulnerable to taking sacks. Given the importance of passing and avoiding turnovers, though, the Packers are the best offense in the league. Defensively they’re more average, not getting a ton of sacks or fumbles. They do get a good number of interceptions, which is bad news for Stafford and his broken thumb, but are roughly average against the pass and run in general.
The best news for the Lions this week is that they’re at home. The Packers are clearly the better team; they’re as far above the Lions as the Lions are above the Cardinals. But home field helps a good amount. Luigi gives the Lions a 45% chance of winning, which is plenty against the moneyline of 245/-290. Vegas apparently thinks the Lions will only win about 29% of the time. That goes along with a line of 7; Luigi thinks the Lions should only lose by a point or two. The total is pretty high at 56, which seems appropriate with these two offenses, but Luigi thinks it’ll come in lower. So all in all Luigi doesn’t quite favor the Lions, but does like them to cover and be a good bet to win. Simmons is also taking them to cover and even to win outright. I’m going to keep my hopes more even-keeled; I hope it’s a good, close game throughout. As long as it makes up for the years of cruddy Thanksgiving games, I’ll be happy enough.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!