It was 10–4 last week, to get back to the winnings ways. If you missed it, Washington absolutely destroyed Green Bay on Sunday night, led by the strong play of quarterback Kirk Cousins who had 375 passing yards and three touchdowns. Cousins, who only got a one-year deal in the off season to prove he was a top-flight quarterback, was so fired up after the game that he screamed in his general manager’s face, “How you like me now?!” In other action, the Cowboys, Raiders, Patriots, and Seahawks all took care of business and continue to look like the front runners for the Super Bowl. Looking ahead to this week, I must begin with a happy American Thanksgiving to you all. Two of the three Thursday games should be highly entertaining and are Game of the Week worthy, with only the Colts vs. Steelers looking like a dud due to Andrew Luck’s injury. This week also features a Grey Cup Preview, which features a player I actually have coached against.
Minnesota (6–4) at Detroit (6–4), Thursday 9:30 a.m.
Having lived in Ontario for most of my life, these early kickoff times are just unnatural. American Thanksgiving is a time call in sick, drink beer, and watch football. A 9:30 a.m. start is just too early for such pastimes. Nevertheless, this game is critically important as the winner will claim first place in the NFC North. The Vikings are coming off a big win against the Cardinals to avoid a fifth consecutive loss. The Lions have been mediocre all season with most of their games, including last week’s comeback against the lowly Jaguars being decided by extremely close margins. I’ll take the Lions at home in this one as I have more faith in Matthew Stafford than his quarterback counterpart Sam Bradford.
Prediction: Lions 23 Vikings 20
Game of the Week
Washington (6–3–1) at Dallas (9–1), Thursday 1:30 p.m.
A divisional rivalry game with two hot teams playing in Big D on Thanksgiving — you’ve got to love sports! Washington is riding high with back-to-back wins over the Vikings and Packers. Their offence is clicking on all cylinders with Kirk Cousins distributing the ball with authority to the likes of Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, and DeSean Jackson. Washington has also established the running game with Rob Kelley rushing for 87, 97, and 137 yards his last three games. The Cowboys meanwhile have set a franchise record with nine consecutive wins. They are also just the third team in NFL history to compile over 400 yards on offence in eight consecutive games — a streak which is ongoing. What is dangerous for opponents is that star receiver Dez Bryant seems to be rounding into form. With the league’s leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott and a resurgent Bryant, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott should have the opportunity to play even better. The Cowboys beat Washington earlier in the season 27–23 in Washington. In this matchup, look for a muffed Cowboys kick in this season of awful NFL kicking to propel Washington to the upset win.
Prediction: Washington 31 Cowboys 30
Pittsburgh (5–5) at Indianapolis (5–5), Thursday 5:30 p.m.
The Colts are a mediocre team with Andrew Luck. Without him, they will not have enough to beat the Steelers even at home. A big factor is that backup Scott Tolzien has a short week to prepare for this matchup and has had limited practice reps with the first team offence all season. Steelers take care of business.
Prediction: Steelers 27 Colts 17
San Diego (4–6) at Houston (6–4), Sunday 10 a.m.
The Chargers are coming off their bye week, and are facing a Houston team on a short week after a hard-fought Monday night loss to the Raiders. I think the Texans are the worst team leading a division in the league, whereas the Chargers are the best AFC team with a losing record. I like the Chargers defence to be the difference in this one, sparked by a big game by rookie pass rusher Joey Bosa.
Prediction: Chargers 24 Texans 21
New York Giants (7–3) at Cleveland (0–11), Sunday 10 a.m.
The Browns cannot seem to catch a break with the schedule. They’re 0-11, and the Giants with their five consecutive wins roll into town. Last week the Browns gave up eight sacks to the Steelers and got their rookie quarterback Cody Kessler knocked out of a game for the third time this season. Both Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown have also been injured this season behind the Browns’ shaky offensive line. Look for big games from Giants defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul as the Browns head closer to 0–16.
Prediction: Giants 34 Browns 17
Cincinnati (3–6–1) at Baltimore (5–5), Sunday 10 a.m.
When is desperation time going to set in for the Bengals? Last week they managed just 13 points against a mediocre Bills defence at home, and now face a very good Ravens defence on the road. The Ravens should also know that they need to win to keep pace with the Steelers for the division lead. The Bengals are further limited by injuries last week to all-world receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard. The Ravens channel their inner Edgar Allan Poe and declare to the Bengals, “Nevermore!”
Prediction: Ravens 26 Bengals 16
Arizona (4–5–1) at Atlanta (6–4), Sunday 10 a.m.
The Falcons are rested after their bye week and are at home in the dome against a Cardinals team playing back-to-back road games. The Falcons are a dominant team at home and will be buoyed by the return of running back Tevin Coleman. When Coleman is paired with Devonta Freeman out of the backfield, the results have been electric. Keep an eye on the matchup between Falcons receiver Julio Jones and Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. These two elite players facing off should be a lot of fun. Atlanta wins a close one.
Prediction: Falcons 29 Cardinals 28
Los Angeles (4–6) at New Orleans (4–6), Sunday 10 a.m.
The Rams’ outstanding defence can only do so much when their offence cannot score more than 10 points. For much of last week’s game, the Rams’ D held the Dolphins scoreless before two second-half touchdowns sent the Rams to a 14–10 defeat. The Saints at home are an extremely difficult team to stop for 60 minutes. I can’t see the Rams and rookie quarterback Jared Goff scoring enough points to outpace the Saints. Look for a big game from Saints rookie receiver Michael Thomas who will get back to being Drew Brees’ favourite target.
Prediction: Saints 24 Rams 15
Jacksonville (2–8) at Buffalo (5–5), Sunday 10 a.m.
One of my favourite moments as a kid watching football happened in 1998 when a former CFL star quarterback named Doug Flutie ran a naked bootleg for the game winning touchdown as the Bills beat the heavily favoured Jaguars. In this matchup, the Bills are favoured to win and rightfully so, as they are facing the woeful Jaguars. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor will keep the Bills in playoff contention in this matchup. Look for a big game from Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who is tied for the league lead with 10 sacks. Alexander was a career special teams player who waited 10 years to be a regular defensive player, and is making the most of the opportunity.
Prediction: Bills 36 Jaguars 24
San Francisco (1–9) at Miami (6–4), Sunday 10 a.m.
Miami gutted out a tough road win last week against the Rams, which highlighted how much their quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved as a player. Tannehill’s growth and the Dolphins’ surprising 6–4 record is making head coach Adam Gase look like a very smart hire and a potential coach of the year candidate. They should improve to 7–4 against a 49ers team that is low on talent and facing a long trip to humid Florida.
Prediction: Dolphins 34 49ers 24
Tennessee (5–6) at Chicago (2–8), Sunday 10 a.m.
At 5–6, the Titans are still very much alive for a playoff spot, because of how unimposing Houston at 6–4 is at the top of their division. The Titans have a very favourable matchup this week despite playing on the road, because they play a Chicago team which has lost two straight after an improbable win over the Vikings. Compounding matters is that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler may not play this week due to injury. The Titans and their “exotic smashmouth” offence will put up enough points to send the Bears spiralling further to a top three pick in the 2017 draft.
Prediction: Titans 38 Bears 21
Seattle (7–2–1) at Tampa Bay (5–5), Sunday 1:05 p.m.
Tampa Bay is suddenly right in the thick of the playoff race on the strength of back-to-back wins and by being just one game back of the Falcons. They pulled a shocker last week by going into Arrowhead and beating Kansas City. With star receiver Mike Evans, a good young quarterback in Jameis Winston, and with running back Doug Martin returning last week from injury, this is a stern test for the Seahawks on the road. With all that being said, the Seahawks are looking like they’re a Super Bowl team again and Russell Wilson will find a way to win this game one way or another. Look for Wilson and Jimmy Graham to both have big games in a close Seahawks wins.
Prediction: Seahawks 33 Buccaneers 31
Carolina (4–6) at Oakland (8–2), Sunday 1:25 p.m.
Oakland is coming off a big win in Mexico City last week against Houston and will face a Panthers team which beat New Orleans last week to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Panthers will probably be without former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly which will significantly hurt their chances. I like the Panthers to nevertheless steal one against a Raiders team on a short week which was disrupted by an international game. Cam Newton finally plays like an MVP in a big-time road upset.
Prediction: Panthers 37 Raiders 33
New England (8–2) at New York Jets (3–7), Sunday 1:25 p.m.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might be playing the best football of his career at age 39. Since serving a nonsensical four-game suspension, he has thrown for 1,915 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just one interception in six games. He is also just one win away from tying Peyton Manning for first place among quarterbacks with 200 wins and needs just 57 yards to be the fifth quarterback in NFL history to reach 600 yards. Not bad for a sixth round draft pick who only got his chance to play because of an injury to franchise starter Drew Bledsoe. There is cause for concern in this matchup though, as the Patriots are playing consecutive road games against a divisional opponent who is coming off a bye. Jets coach Todd Bowles is also a very good defensive mind and will have a strong game plan in place. Their quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to the starter’s role after an injury and should know that this very well could be his last NFL start if he has another poor performance. Fitzpatrick is a grizzled veteran who has played for six NFL teams and will leave everything on the field against a hated foe. The Patriots also have not played great defence this year and have had trouble forcing defensive turnovers. The Jets find a way.
The Seahawks are looking like they’re a Super Bowl team again
Prediction: Jets 28 Patriots 27
Kansas City (7–3) at Denver (7–3), Sunday 5:30 p.m.
These divisional rivals face off in a game with major playoff implications. While both are 7–3, it remains to be determined if either is really playoff calibre. Both the Chiefs and Broncos are offensively limited and will need to step up their overall play to be Super Bowl contenders. I like the Broncos at home off their bye week to beat a Chiefs team which was upset last week at home against Tampa Bay. The Chiefs’ defence has not looked as stout as Denver’s and that will be the difference in this matchup. Look for Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders to make a few big plays to give their mediocre offence some juice.
Prediction: Broncos 23 Chiefs 19
Green Bay (4–6) at Philadelphia (5–5), Monday 5:30 p.m.
In their last four games, all defeats, the Packers have given up 33, 31, 47, and 42 points. Last week, their former MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a terrific game with 355 yards and three touchdowns. Great quarterback play cannot make up for an atrocious defence, though. I would speculate that if the Eagles hang 30 plus on Green Bay that defensive coordinator Dom Capers may have to look for another job. The Packers are playing consecutive road games and are in major jeopardy to miss the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Facing them is an Eagles team that started the season 3–0 and has crashed back to earth with losses in five of their last seven games. The Eagles’ five losses have been by close margins though, and they boast a stout defence. That should be enough for them to send the Packers to their fifth straight defeat.
Prediction: Eagles 27 Packers 24
Bonus 104th Grey Cup preview
Calgary (15–2–1) vs. Ottawa (8–9–1), Sunday 3:30 p.m. in Toronto
After an outstanding regular season, the Stampeders crushed the BC Lions 42–15 in the Western Final. They will be facing an Ottawa team which finished first in a putrid Eastern Conference and advanced to their second consecutive Grey Cup with a narrow win in the Eastern Final over Edmonton. The key question in this matchup is whether the Redblacks can pull off a monumental upset over a Calgary squad which has looked like the best team in the CFL from start to finish. The top storyline in this matchup is the opportunity for revenge that 41-year-old Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris will have against the team that unexpectedly traded him away five years ago. Burris has had an up and down year with an injury early on and may be playing the final game of his career. Nevertheless, this is a dream matchup for him and a win would provide a storybook ending to a long and distinguished career. Calgary is led by quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell who threw for 5,385 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season and looks like the front runner for CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.
Look for a big game from Stamps running back Jerome Messam. Messam rushed for 1,198 yards, and had 54 receptions for another 485 yards with 12 total touchdowns. I had the chance to coach against Messam in 2004 when he played for the Brampton Bulldogs in the Ontario Varsity Football League. He was an outstanding player with a rare blend of size, power and speed. That season, he had a five-touchdown and a 300-yard performance against Oshawa. That winter, Messam impressively rushed for 300 yards again for Team Canada in a gold medal win over Team USA in the NFL Global Junior Football Championship where he was named tournament MVP. In our matchup, the Huronia Stallions defeated Brampton 19–9 and we held Messam to 16 carries for 76 yards and no touchdowns. The key play was in the first quarter when they went for it on fourth and goal at the nine-yard line on a toss play to Messam that saw our safety Greg Van Bolderen make an open field solo tackle. In this matchup, Messam will crush Burris’ dream finale by returning to the GTA and having a huge game to propel the Stampeders to a Grey Cup victory.
Prediction: Calgary 39 Ottawa 31