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Who has the edge in Week 12?
After nailing all three Thanksgiving Day games, we're off to a 3-0 start with the Week 12 Cheat Sheet. This weekend's games include a slew of backup quarterbacks filling in for franchise guys, three lefties not named Michael Vick under center, and arguably the league's two worst teams — Carolina and Indy-going at it in what should be the exact opposite of Thursday evening's 49ers-Ravens battle.
The theme of my picks below? Pack a bag and make a playlist on your iPod; we're going with the road teams.
Week 11 Record: 10-3
Overall 2011 Record: 106-48
WEEK 12 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith had six catches for 165 yards and a touchdown in the Ravens' 31-24 win over Cincinnati on Sunday. Smith joins one other player as the only rookies to have multiple games with at least 150 receiving yards and a touchdown catch since 1980. Who's the other guy to have accomplished the feat? For bonus points, name that receiver's head coach and offensive coordinator, too.
WEEK 12 IMPRESS YOUR COLLEAGUES WATER COOLER FACT OF THE WEEK
The Lions erased a 24-7 deficit to defeat Carolina 49-35. The Lions are the first team in NFL history to win three games in a single season in which it trailed by at least 17 points. The Lions won games in Weeks 3 (20-point deficit vs. Minnesota) and 4 (24-point deficit vs. Dallas) after trailing by at least 17.
Now, let's get to the picks.
Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT Games
Cleveland at Cincinnati: The Bengals struggled mightily in pass coverage with Leon Hall out of the lineup for the first time in five years on Sunday. Baltimore rookie Torrey Smith lit up the Bengals defensive backs for 165 yards and a score and Anquan Boldin rumbled for 35 yards and a TD in the second quarter. Adam Jones and Nate Clements struggled quite a bit with the Ravens passing attack and there's reason for concern. The good news? The Browns don't have a single receiver worth worrying about on their roster.
The Pick: Bengals 24, Browns 13
Minnesota at Atlanta: The Falcons showed me something on Sunday, bouncing back from a potentially morale-crushing overtime loss to the Saints the week before to beat a solid Titans squad in a must-win situation. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are now 16-3 after regular season losses. Atlanta revealed an interesting no-huddle attack which featured Michael Turner in the backfield and three wideouts and Tony Gonzalez going out for passes. Matt Ryan looked comfortable operating in that offense. I'd like to see more of that in Sunday's meeting with the struggling Vikes.
The Pick: Falcons 30, Vikings 17
Carolina at Indianapolis: According to my guy R.J. Bell at sports betting site Pregame.com, the Colts have a 20 percent chance of finishing the season winless. That number goes up substantially if they lose at home to Carolina on Sunday. The 2011 Panthers defense — currently giving up 28.9 points per game — is one of the worst units you'll ever see. The Colts offense is much worse. You thought things were bad in Indy? This is the season's low point. Bill Polian's old squad blows out the Colts at Lucas Oil.
The Pick: Panthers 34, Colts 14
Tampa Bay at Tennessee: This is the hardest game to pick this week. Just as I was ready to write the Bucs off, they gave the Packers a battle in Green Bay last weekend. And just as I was ready to put the Titans back into the playoff race, they forgot to show up in Atlanta. Tampa Bay's lost four straight, but Raheem Morris' team showed they had a little pride and the ability to compete on the road on Sunday. Tennessee has issues — issues they may need an offseason to repair. Tampa rides some positive momentum into Tennessee for a rare road win.
The Pick: Buccaneers 27, Titans 17
Houston at Jacksonville: Jack Del Rio wears a leather jacket on the sidelines and claims he didn't "know" what the final two play calls were in Sunday's devastating loss in Cleveland. So, yeah, it might be time to put an end to the Jack Del Rio era in Jacksonville. I don't foresee any Hail Mary passes (or Gus Johnson calls) this year. Houston wins, with Matt Leinart under center, in an easy affair.
The Pick: Texans 34, Jaguars 17
Arizona at St. Louis: I know it's on FOX, but I have a feeling this one won't break any ratings records. Watching him rally the Cardinals back from a giant hole last weekend in San Francisco, I decided Arizona backup Richard Bartel needs a nickname. It's a terrible football name. How about "Slick Rick" Bartel? "Tricky Ricky" Bartel? Richard "Raise The" Bartel? That was very Chris Berman-esque. I apologize for that one. Oh, and I like the Rams in this one.
The Pick: Rams 24, Cardinals 20
Buffalo at New York Jets: The Bills sure came crashing back down to earth, huh? In the three weeks after Buffalo brass rewarded quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with a colossal $54 million contract extension, Buffalo's been outscored 106-26. The Jets offense looked disoriented in Denver, but with 10 days to rest and prepare, I like New York in a tight one here.
The Pick: Jets 27, Bills 19
Washington at Seattle: With strong safety LaRon Landry inactive due to that nagging left Achilles' injury that's hampered him over the past two seasons, rookie fifth-round pick DeJon Gomes made his first start Sunday against the Cowboys. How'd he do? Gomes, who hadn't made a tackle other than on special teams during his previous eight games, made 13 against the Cowboys. Look for the DeJon Gomes-led 'Skins D — DeJon Gomes! — to get the Redskins back on track Sunday. Here's your big upset special.
The Pick: Redskins 28, Seahawks 20
Chicago at Oakland: Bears fans looking at the Jay Cutler thumb injury as a season-ender should dig up the New York Giants Super Bowl XXV video. After starting the year 10-0, starting quarterback Phil Simms went down with an injury, only to be replaced by backup Jeff Hostetler. You know the rest. Hostetler lost two games in the regular season, then led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory over the Bills in Tampa. Big defense, a solid running attack and sound coaching led to that Giants championship. Is Caleb Hanie as good as Jay Cutler? No. But he may not have to be.
The Pick: Bears 24, Raiders 20
New England at Philadelphia: Though this isn't an actual transcript, I'm fairly sure every ESPN segment on one of their two dozen talking head morning shows from Monday morning went something like this: "If the Eagles win their last six games …" Enough, guys. They're not beating the Patriots. Weird season for Philadelphia. They'll be 1-5 at home after this one.
The Pick: Patriots 31, Eagles 20
Denver at San Diego: Though the Friday morning media lovefest was all focused on Mr. Tebow, second overall pick Von Miller had the best performance in last Thursday's win over the Jets. Here's a quick Von Miller story for you: While waiting for a cab outside the Dallas Sheraton during Super Bowl week, former NFL PR wunderkind Jared Cooper and I saw Miller standing alone behind us. I struck up a conversation about Aggies football and casually asked if he ever read any of the mock drafts on the Internet. Miller, sporting thick black frame glasses and an outfit you'd see on a hipster in the East Village, smiled wide and said, "Nah, not really. But if you guys write them — and I assume you might — feel free to have me going really high." Great line. Great kid. Excellent player. That defense should eat this shaky 'Bolts offense alive on Sunday. Yes, another road team wins. Tebow!
The Pick: Broncos: 23, Chargers 19
Pittsburgh at Kansas City: If the Chiefs couldn't score on the decimated Patriots secondary, they're certainly not scoring on the Steelers' D. Pittsburgh's had two weeks to get healed. This one could be over by halftime.
The Pick: Steelers 33, Chiefs 14
New York Giants at New Orleans: The Saints are 4-0 at home and coming off a bye, while New York's going through their usual late November swoon. The Giants looked uninspired in their 17-10 loss to Philly on Sunday night, gaining only 29 yards on 17 carries in the defeat. After the Saints, they have just six days to prepare for the Packers. The Giants' season will come down to the two remaining Cowboys games. And, oh yeah, that Week 16 Christmas Eve showdown with the Jets. They're not escaping the Superdome with a win.
The Pick: Saints 34, Giants 23
Reader Email of the Week
My friend and I are having a great debate. Wanted you to weigh in. If you were planning a long road trip with a few buddies, which guy in the NFL would you want in the car with you? It's got to be Ray Lewis, right? That'd be constant entertainment, and if you ended up in some random bar fight in a small town — NO ONE IS MESSING WITH Ray Lewis. Your thoughts?
There are several amazing personalities across the league. Tony Romo's a laid back dude with a great career story he could share over the course of three hours, Jason Babin's a wildman who owns his own ranch and Rob Gronkowski hangs with adult film stars during his off weeks. But if I have to pick someone involved with the NFL that I'd want to go on a road trip with, it'd probably be Chris Berman, and I'd have Kelly Clarkson drive us.
WEEK 12 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER: As a Vikings rookie in 1998, Randy Moss had three games in which he gained 150 yards and scored touchdowns. His head coach was Dennis Green. Offensive coordinator? Our guy Brian Billick, of course.