Wednesday, November 23, 2011

THANKSGIVING PREVIEWS

So this week for your reading pleasure, I've added spreads to see if I'm as good, as bad, or just somewhere in the middle.  Happy Turkey Day everyone.

GREEN BAY @ DETROIT
From 1993 until 2001, no matter what kind of season the Detroit Lions were having, they were a lock to eat some opponent alive on Thanksgiving Day. The team that ended that win streak was none other than the Green Bay Packers. Since then, Detroit has won one game in their last nine Thanksgiving tries. They would like to offer up some payback. This game will truly come down to one key statistic. At present the Packers are converting their third down attempts over 52 percent of the time. That number is second best behind only the Saints. Detroit's defense allows just 28 percent of third down conversions for the season. On the flip side, Green Bay allows almost a 50 percent conversion rate while Detroit is converting at barely 30. The ability to sustain drives and run the clock will factor huge. It will also determine whether Green Bay's quick-strike offense is on the field. Matthew Stafford is a must play at home on Turkey Day, but he must cut down the mistakes if Detroit is to prevail. Kevin Smith was an obvious waiver-wire pickup but don't get so excited about him posting a great game against Carolina. Carolina's run defense has been abysmal all year long, particularly when it has come to holding leads. Smith's injury problems of the past, as well as serious acceleration problem always made me hesitant on him. He's fresh now, but against Green Bay, the road will be tougher. Green Bay will focus on slowing down Calvin Johnson, who has scored more touchdowns against them than any other team he has faced (eight). Remember what Vincent Jackson did to this secondary just a few weeks ago? On the other side, Detroit's 27th ranked rush defense make Ryan Grant a great flex play with upside. For his career, Grant has a 4.30 YPA against the Lions, and has gained 435 yards on 99 attempts with two touchdowns. He's also managed 15 receptions for 113 and two scores. He put up over 100 total yards against them in Detroit the last time he played, which was 2009, but hasn't scored since 2007. The Packers are aware of their run problems and may try to establish something here. You're starting Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley as tight ends have found the end zone 30 percent of the time against Detroit on passing touchdowns. However, your biggest concern is his decrease in targets recently. With four days rest, expect Green Bay to enlist some more names like John Kuhn and James Jones for touchdown looks. Another note if you're considering the Green Bay defense/special teams: Detroit has allowed five returns for touchdowns and Randall Cobb has taken two to the house. After a tight game, Green Bay closes it out in the fourth quarter for the victory. Give the points, take the Packers.

GREEN BAY 31, DETROIT 23


MIAMI @ DALLAS
You know, if you were on Mars for the last few months and checked in on the NFL season the past few weeks, you'd think the Dolphins were contending for the AFC East division title. Both teams have won three straight and have quarterbacks performing well, even though Miami has actually provided better protection for Matt Moore than Dallas has for Tony Romo. Moore has six touchdown passes in the last three games against one interception. He's thrown three touchdowns in two of those games. The biggest beneficiary of the new Moore regime is Anthony Fasano, who has three touchdowns in during those three games. Keep in mind though, that's in just nine targets over that same span. So if you play him, you're angling that he gets another red zone target. The Dolphins line will also have to keep Moore upright against DeMarcus Ware, who leads the league with 14 sacks.  Also, even in their three wins, Miami has barely managed over 100 yards rushing per game.  Meanwhile, Romo has gone three games without an interception, while tossing eight touchdowns, making some Southern Baptists in Dallas start hoarding water waiting for the Apocalypse. Miles Austin is still out with his leg issues, so Dez Bryant will once again be the focal point of the Miami secondary, which has given up just 206 yards passing per game in their last three matchups while stealing four interceptions and not allowing a touchdown. Jason Witten will provide linebacker Cameron Wake or safety Yeremiah Bell a stiff challenge as he is the second most targeted tight end in the NFL behind Jimmy Graham. DeMarco Murray faces the seventh best rush defense in Miami now, which over the last five weeks went from being ranked 20th down 13 spots. If this game were in Miami, I might consider the Dolphins, who may have won three but had put together a string of five really good football games. The difference maker besides Ware could be Laurent Robinson, who his having himself a career year, and has four touchdowns the last three games, including three inside the red zone. I'm taking Romo over Moore because it's still November and he's at home, but if you're going spread, I'd actually take the Fins and the seven.

COWBOYS 21, DOLPHINS 17


SAN FRANCISCO @ BALTIMORE
The Harbaugh dinner table certainly would be an interesting one to dine at after this one. Some would say this is a matchup of Ray Rice versus Frank Gore, but I'm dubious that either can do much besides take some flat passes and inside screens for some yardage. Keep in mind San Francisco hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this year, and though they've faced just one top notch back this year in LeSean McCoy, they bottled him up for 18 yards on nine carries. The Ravens are coming off two games where their rush defense allowed 119 yards, and three rushing touchdowns. They had allowed just four ground scores prior to that. If Gore is healthy, he's running behind a strong offensive front that may give him the upper hand, particularly if LB Ray Lewis can't go. Still, this game is likely more about which quarterback is ready to lead his team in crucial games for a deep playoff run. Joe Flacco has been inconsistent as of late. When he's good, he's been nearly sensational. When he's been hurried or just off, he's been painstakingly disjointed. Alex Smith has been amazingly consistent this year, doing nearly everything right when he's needed. Last week, it was two timely third quarter touchdown throws to Kyle Williams and Vernon Davis that locked away the game. The week prior, it was a fourth quarter, 31-yard strike to Davis that put the pressure back on the Giants, who then turned it over. Smith is completing over 62 percent of his passes; that's a number that makes his seasonal 58 percent something stat hawks will point their attention. Is this elevated rate a sign of growth, better talent around him or just a fluke? The 49ers secondary is the biggest question here, and with newest deep threat Torrey Smith haunting defensive backs in the last two Raven's wins, expect that he'll be crucial in helping the Ravens early on. Ed Dickson has only three touchdowns this year, and Dennis Pitta has zero, but they're crucial chain movers who will be tested by linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman who are strong pass defenders. If Alex Smith can continue to avoid turnovers (he has just four interceptions overall, lowest of any NFL starter) and they can slow the Ravens in the first quarter, San Francisco can run the table on their East Coast schedule. The other element that can't be ignored is special teams – Baltimore has allowed four to go for scores, and Ted Ginn Jr. has taken two to the house, and has a knack for making big returns when you think he's disappeared. It's Harbaugh versus Harbaugh, so pick one, and cross your fingers. I'm going with Harbaugh, you know, the one with the points.

SAN FRANCISCO 17, BALTIMORE 13