NFL Week 12 picks: A bettor’s guide to winning Thanksgiving with the family

NFL Week 12 picks: A bettor’s guide to winning Thanksgiving with the family

Thanksgiving. A day where we get together with the family and give thanks for what truly matters. No. 1 on the list: proving you know more about football than everyone at the table.

We’re going to break down all three Thanksgiving games in this space from a bettor’s perspective and give you a leg up on the competition, whether you’re looking to win some money at the sports book or win bragging rights over the in-laws. You’ll find my basic leans for each spread as well as some props to consider throughout the day, including my best bet for each game.

You can get all my picks, including my five SuperContest plays every week, as well as access to more expert picks and analysis by signing up for SportsLine today.

Vikings at Lions

  • The line: Vikings -3
  • The total: 44.5 points

This game is a rematch of a Week 4 matchup that Detroit won 14-7 in Minnesota. So why are the Vikings now favored, you ask? Simple: they haven’t lost since, beating up on NFL lightweights like the Browns as well as potential playoff contenders like the Rams last week. The Lions are on a three-game winning streak of their own, but it’s come against suspect competition: the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and offensively-challenged Bears on the road, and the 0-infinity Browns at home.

This line opened as a pick ’em, meaning you just had to pick the winner of the game to win your bet. But sharp money (a.k.a, respected professional bettors) has poured in on the Vikings, pushing the line all the way up to Vikings -3. That’s as high as it’s going to get, and if you want to be on the smart side, you should take the three points and the Lions in this matchup.

However, I personally think the Vikings win this game, and I’d hold out hope that this line drops to -2.5 before kickoff and lay the points with the Vikings. The Lions have a reputation of beating up on the dregs of the NFL but coming up short against legit playoff-caliber teams. That’s continued this season, where they’ve beaten the Cardinals and Giants in addition to their current win streak against the Packers, Browns and Bears and the Week 4 victory over the Vikings. They’ve lost to the Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Steelers. Throw out the previous Vikings game, and it’s clear that the Lions are losers against winning teams and winners against losing teams.

The pick: Vikings -3.

To make our best bet for this game, you’ll have to wait until halftime. Why? Because even though I like the Vikings to win the game, taking the Lions to cover in the second half has been worth playing. The Lions have outscored the competition in eight of their 10 games this year, as Matthew Stafford has gone to work with his rushing game largely ineffective. This could be a particularly smart bet to make during Thanksgiving festivities if the Vikings have a lead at halftime after anyone potentially taking the other side has seen Minnesota dominate for 30 minutes.

The best bet: Lions +TBD in the second half.

Looking to the props in this game available at, there’s one that sticks out if you like the Vikings to win. Latavius Murray ran for two TDs against the Rams, and it marked the third time in the last four games that he reached the end zone on the ground. Detroit has one of the worst rush defenses in the league, and only one team has given up more rushing TDs this year. They’ve been particularly vulnerable lately, giving up multiple rushing TDs in each of their last three games despite winning all three.

Murray seems like a great bet to score, and while he’s +105 to reach the end zone in this game (meaning you risk $100 to win $105), that bumps up to +190 if you take him to score and the Vikings to win. You could also take him at +750 to score the first TD if you’re feeling lucky. We’ll play it safe and just bank on him reaching the end zone at some point.

The best prop: Latavius Murray scores TD +105.

Want a fun bet to make before this game starts? Get into a conversation with someone about how you think Adam Thielen is the best receiver on the team. He is, but anyone who hasn’t been watching closely probably would give that honor to Stefon Diggs, who opened the season as the team’s top target and scored two TDs in two of Minnesota’s first three games. But he’s only received 17 targets total in three games since returning from injury, while Thielen has seen at least eight targets in every game except in Week 2. He’s turned those into big plays lately, scoring TDs in each of his last three games and topping 95 yards in four of his last five.

Any bet you can make where you get Thielen and the other side takes Diggs should be a good one. The easiest bet to track is to make it total receptions in the game, and if your mark is still a little hesitant, offer to let them win in the case of a tie. 

The fun bet: Adam Thielen over Stefon Diggs in receptions.

Chargers at Cowboys

  • The line: Chargers -2.5
  • The total: 47.5 points

Like the previous game, this one has seen a massive move to the road team. The Cowboys were initially 3.5-point favorites for this game, but after getting blasted for a second straight game on Sunday night, this line reopened at Cowboys -1. That wasn’t good enough for the sharp money, who quickly pushed this game to pick ’em and then kept loading up on the Chargers, with the line moving all the way to Chargers -2.5 at many books by Wednesday afternoon.

If you want to follow the money, take the Chargers to cover at anything less than three points. However, this time I’m going to be on the opposite side and go with the Cowboys. They’ve struggled in recent weeks without some of their best players, and while Ezekiel Elliott isn’t walking through that door anytime soon and Sean Lee remains sidelined, Tyron Smith was able to practice in a limited fashion all week and is listed as questionable for this game. If he’s able to suit up, it would go a long way toward keeping an excellent Chargers pass rush at bay. The Chargers are also dealing with key line injuries, as Russell Okung has been limited all week as well. He’s the one Chargers lineman that’s been a serviceable pass blocker this year; if he’s not 100 percent, the Cowboys pass rush could also have a field day.

The Chargers are a better passing team than rushing team, but that plays into the strength of the Cowboys’ defense. And the Chargers offense hasn’t been lighting things up in games where they don’t get five interceptions against a fifth-round rookie making his first start. The Cowboys still can move the ball on the ground without Elliott, and they’ve managed to rush for over 100 yards in each of the last two games despite being down big in each. A run-heavy attack takes advantage of the Chargers’ weakness on defense. I like the Cowboys to defy expectations and bounce back with a win here.

The pick: Cowboys +2.5.

My best bet for this game has to do with the total, which I feel is far too high at 47.5 points. The Cowboys have failed to score 10 points in each of their last two games, and while they should have a better showing here, we can’t expect them to suddenly light up the scoreboard. And though the Chargers scored 54 in their last game, they tend to be involved in lower-scoring affairs, with their previous four games going Under the total. The three times they’ve been Over the total, the games have finished with 50, 49 and 45 points. There doesn’t seem to be a high ceiling for points in this game, and if this total goes Over, it’ll be by a hair. I’d rather bank on the Under hitting and root for a low-scoring game.

The best bet: Under 47.5 points.

For our prop bet, I’m looking at the longest touchdown of the game. The line is set at 44.5 yards, and while the Chargers have been involved in several big play touchdowns, with their defense giving up four over 44 yards and the Chargers scoring four over that number as well, that’s not something we’ve seen much in Cowboys games. They’ve scored only one TD longer than 37 yards this year, on a pass to Elliott. They’ve given up just two TDs over 44 yards on defense as well. I expect both teams to be focused on the running game, and this feels like a game with more field goals than touchdowns anyway. I’ll fade the long TD in this case.

The best prop: Under 44.5 yards for longest TD.

Here’s an interesting side bet you can make with someone while watching this game. You’ll take a Chargers RB, he or she will take a Cowboys RB, and whichever scores first wins the bet. But to tilt things in their favor, you say that Melvin Gordon is off-limits for your pick. Why would you want this bet? Pinning down the right Cowboys running back is no easy task; your mark will likely side with Alfred Morris, but Rod Smith got the start last week and could easily poach a score from Morris. So could Dak Prescott, who has five rushing TDs this year. Meanwhile, you’ll take Austin Ekeler, a no-name Chargers running back who has scored five times himself, including three times in the last two game.

The fun bet: Austin Ekeler vs. your opponent’s pick of Cowboys RBs.

Giants at Redskins

  • The line: Redskins -7.5
  • The total: 44.5 points

The Redskins are coming off back-to-back losses, while the Giants just upset the Chiefs in overtime despite being double-digit underdogs. As a result, I think this line is a bit lower than where it should be, making the Redskins a nice play. That’s doubly the case and shop around for a -7, which should be available even if you have to lay -120 to play it.

Though the Redskins are in the middle of a rough patch in terms of wins and losses, they’ve played an exceptionally hard schedule in recent weeks and had to deal with a massive amount of injuries to their offensive linemen along the way. They lost to the Eagles and Cowboys (when Zeke was still playing), beat the Seahawks in Seattle, then lost to the Vikings and Saints. Their other losses this year came in their other Eagles game and against the Chiefs in Kansas City. There aren’t many teams that are going to have success in those matchups, but the offense has still largely managed to play well all season, ranking 10th in overall DVOA.

This is a massive spot for a team looking to get back in the playoff hunt with all of their most difficult matchups now behind them. And they should be able to take care of business against a Giants team that lost by double digits to the Seahawks (24-7), Rams (51-17) and 49ers (31-21) before upsetting the Chiefs in poor conditions last week.

The pick: Redskins -7 (-120).

My best bet for this game doubles as the prop bet to play. Jordan Reed has again been ruled out, leaving Vernon Davis as the Redskins’ top tight end for this game. He’ll be up against a defense that has been atrocious covering TEs, allowing a tight end touchdown in every game this season except for last week’s upset of the Chiefs. Don’t expect last week to be the start of a trend — the Redskins’ team total for this game is 26.5 points, and if they’re going to score multiple TDs as expected, at least one has to go to Davis. Feel free to gamble on Davis +800 to score the first TD of the game, but taking him to score at least one touchdown on the day at +120 is a virtual lock.

The best bet and best prop: Vernon Davis +120 to score a touchdown.

For the fun bet here, I’m going to assume everyone will be tuckered out after a long day of football and feasting. If you can convince someone to at least watch the beginning of this game, you can bet on when the first score will happen. The current odds set the line at 6 1/2 minutes, with a slight lean on there being a score by then (-120 on Yes). Take that side and hope to knock out your Vernon Davis bet immediately and hopefully call it an early night.

The fun bet: Yes, there will be a score in first 6 1/2 minutes vs. No.


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Pete Carroll mulls over decisions made in Seahawks loss

Pete Carroll mulls over decisions made in Seahawks loss

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Coach Pete Carroll was taking responsibility Wednesday for decisions that contributed to Seattle’s loss against Atlanta that left the Seahawks having to play catch up in the NFC playoff race.

”I hold myself highly accountable and I take it very seriously that I help us and I wish I would have helped us,” Carroll said.

The 34-31 loss on Monday left the Seahawks at 6-4 heading into this week’s game at San Francisco. The Seahawks are one game behind the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West race, but are also now chasing the Falcons and others in the wild card hunt.

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While facing the one-win 49ers might be seen as a break, Seattle’s schedule gets significantly tougher after this week with home games against NFC-leading Philadelphia and the Rams sandwiching a difficult road trip to surprising Jacksonville. It’s those upcoming challenges that only magnify the mistakes Seattle made in its loss to Atlanta, which included a failed fake field goal attempt, losing a replay challenge in the fourth quarter and poor timeout management.

”I had a couple of chances there and I wish I would have helped us more effectively than I did,” Carroll said. ”The timeout. The fake (field goal) that didn’t go. I loved the chance but we didn’t execute so that weighs in on me.”

While Carroll’s decision to call a fake field goal in the final seconds of the first half was perhaps the most obvious failed choice, the most damaging moves were Seattle’s use of a timeout early in the second half and a poor replay challenge decision that cost the Seahawks a second timeout in the fourth quarter.

Seattle spent a timeout early in the third quarter before a third-and-12 play. Their second timeout of the half was lost when Carroll challenged the ruling of an incomplete pass to Doug Baldwin with just over nine minutes remaining. Baldwin was adamant he made the catch, but replays clearly showed the ball hitting the ground.

Carroll said he’s come to trust Baldwin when he believes a call is incorrect and he wasn’t receiving information from the coaches in the press box to tell him otherwise.

”I declared a while back that if he’s really committed and he knows he’s got it – I’m going to look because I would never go against our guys in the box – I’m going to trust him again,” Carroll said. ”I’m not going to not trust him. It’s just depends on the situation. I have to feel it. Time on the clock and all those things. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. That happens sometimes.”

Carroll was also answering for the decision to waive veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney on Tuesday. Freeney had recorded three sacks in his first two games with Seattle but had little production the past two weeks. Seattle had been carrying extra defensive linemen on the roster and Carroll indicated there were some salary cap considerations in the decision.

”We hated to do it but we had to do something,” Carroll said.

There was also concern about losing wide receiver David Moore, who was signed from the practice squad to take Freeney’s roster spot. Carroll indicated there was the chance Seattle was going to lose Moore to another team.

NOTES: CB Shaquill Griffin is unlikely to be cleared through the concussion protocol and be ready to play Sunday, Carroll said. Griffin was hurt on the second play of Monday’s game. … OL Luke Joeckel may have a chance to return this week. Joeckel is expected to practice after missing a month due to knee surgery. … RB Mike Davis is hopeful of being ready for this week after leaving Monday’s game early due to a groin strain.

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Packers in similar spot a year after “run-the-table” streak

Packers in similar spot a year after “run-the-table” streak

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) A bright spot to the rough, five-game stretch that has dropped the Green Bay Packers to a .500 record is that many players in the locker room know what it’s like to dig out of a similar hole.

A year ago, the Packers were 4-6 after 10 games, riding a four-game losing streak before a trip to Pennsylvania for a prime-time matchup against the Eagles.

The 27-13 victory over Philadelphia started a six-game winning streak that carried Green Bay to another NFC North title.

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Fast forward to 2017 and the Packers (5-5) have lost four of five – capped by a 23-0 defeat at home to the Baltimore Ravens – going into a night game on Sunday against the surging Pittsburgh Steelers.

The biggest difference this season – the Packers have to start a new streak without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

”Adversity experiences are all definitely things you can pay forward because you have to know what it feels like, you know what it looks like, you know what it smells like,” coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday.

”At the end of the day, this is its own unique situation,” he added. ”I can’t say enough about their work ethic, their prep. But we know it takes a lot more than that to win games.”

First and foremost, they need to limit mistakes on offense with Brett Hundley starting for Rodgers, who is recovering from a broken right collarbone.

The once-potent Packers hit a new low last week against the Ravens with five turnovers. Hundley accounted for three interceptions and a fumble. He was sacked six times.

Green Bay was shut out for the first time in 11 seasons .

”It’s not one thing that’s causing our problems or else we’d have it fixed,” receiver Jordy Nelson said this week . ”It’s everyone continuing to grind at it and get better and go out and play to the best of their ability.”

The margin for error is smaller without Rodgers, whose ability to buy time with his scrambling allows Nelson and other receivers to get open when the pocket breaks down.

Hundley, in his third year in the system but going into just his fifth NFL start, lacks the kind of experience and savvy that makes Rodgers so successful.

”Brett’s fine. He’s working hard, he’s got his nose down, he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s spending the extra time,” McCarthy said.

The confidence in Hundley in the locker room remains high, McCarthy has said. What the Packers haven’t had, at least of yet, is the kind of confidence-building, ”run-the-table” statement that Rodgers made the week before the start of the six-game winning streak.

Anyone could make such proclamations. It means more when it comes from the respected Rodgers, especially after the two-time NFL MVP backed it up with perhaps the best stretch of football in his brilliant career.

The challenge for Sunday is to try to spark a similar run in a night game on national television at rowdy Heinz Field.

Green Bay’s defense could be without key injured players, including linebacker Clay Matthews (groin) and defensive lineman Kenny Clark (ankle).

The offense is down to its third starter at running back because of injuries, and Hundley is coming off his worst game as a starter.

”Obviously not where we anticipated or sought to be at the beginning of the season,” Matthews said.

”But … at 4-6 last year, we obviously overcame a lot to win eight in a row. It’s a little different this year in that respect, but at the same time, we’ve got a great opportunity in front of us.”

NOTES: Matthews, DL Kenny Clark (ankle) and RB Ty Montgomery (ribs) did not participate in practice. Matthews said he might be a game-time decision. ”It’s one of those things that we may not want to push it as well and set myself back,” he said. ”I can’t give you a realistic answer, but we’ll probably take it up to the game.” … The Packers got good news in the secondary, where CB Kevin King (shoulder) was limited while S Morgan Burnett (groin) was a full participant. Both players missed the Ravens game.

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Arizona’s Gabbert faces Jaguar franchise that gave up on him

Arizona’s Gabbert faces Jaguar franchise that gave up on him

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) For the first time, Blaine Gabbert will be facing the Jacksonville franchise that gave up on him.

It’s a little bit of a special matchup, he said, but not that much. He said he’s long moved on from that situation.

”Yeah, that was the team that drafted me,” Gabbert said. ”Things didn’t work out there, but looking back on it, hindsight is always 20-20. That was a long time ago.”

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The Jaguars so coveted the young quarterback out of Missouri in 2011 that they traded up six spots to make him the draft’s 10th selection overall.

Gabbert was 5-22 as a starter in Jacksonville, throwing 22 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions in 28 career games. He had more than one touchdown in a game just four times.

He also couldn’t stay healthy. He missed games because of injuries to his shoulder, forearm, thumb, hamstring and a cut on his hand. He failed to finish six of his last 10 starts, including the preseason, because of injuries.

So in March of 2014, Jacksonville traded the quarterback to San Francisco for a sixth-round draft choice.

Is he bitter about the way things ended in Florida?

”No, not all,” Gabbert said. ”Everything happens for a reason. I’m a firm believer in that, and it didn’t work out there. There were things in my control, some things out of my control, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t work. I wouldn’t change it at all. I learned a lot, met a lot of great people there.

”It was a great town to live in, but the past is the past. I’ve moved on. I’m happy to be a Cardinal. Phoenix is a tough area to beat to live in, too, especially this time of year.”

When he was released by the 49ers after last season, the Cardinals – intrigued by Gabbert’s strong arm and athleticism – signed him to a one-year deal as the team’s No. 3 quarterback.

Gabbert, who has had seven offensive coordinators in his seven NFL seasons, has started 42 games and won only nine. The latest loss came in his first Arizona start Sunday at Houston. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 257 yards and a career-best three touchdowns but two late interceptions marred his otherwise solid day.

Gabbert started because the regular backup, Drew Stanton, was out with a knee injury. Coach Bruce Arians said this week he would stick with Gabbert until Stanton is fully recovered and then decide where to go from there.

Stanton took over when Carson Palmer broke his left arm last month against the Los Angeles Rams in London.

Only four players remain from the days Gabbert was in Jacksonville – quarterback Chad Henne, defensive tackle Abry Jones, tight end Marcedes Lewis and linebacker Paul Posluszny.

”I don’t have a background with him, like maybe some other people do in this league or this building,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. ”I went out there and looked at the tape and saw someone that, obviously, can make all the throws, has a very good arm, has excellent mobility, a good decision-maker, and thought that if he has a clean pocket, and if he is able to stay in rhythm, he is very, very dangerous.”

Gabbert is just glad to be playing again.

”It was a lot of fun to get back out there,” he said. ”It was fun playing in the preseason, going through training camp and whatnot, but being able to run the system, be out in the huddle with the guys in a regular-season game, that’s why we practice out here day-in and day-out.”

Gabbert leads an injury-riddled Arizona team that stumbles in at 4-6 after a 31-21 loss at Houston against a 7-3 Jaguars team.

There will be no reinforcements for the Cardinals. Arians said after Wednesday’s practice that there are no plans to bring anyone, including running back David Johnson, off injured reserve.

Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year, broke his left wrist in the season opener.

Notes: Arizona promoted wide receiver Carlton Agudosi from the practice squad. Agudosi, an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, has been on the Cardinals practice squad all season. … He takes the roster spot of running back Andre Ellington, who was released Monday. The team also signed Alonzo Russell to the practice squad.

AP sports writer Mark Long in Jacksonville contributed this report.

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Steelers look to take advantage of slumping Packers (Nov 26, 2017)

Steelers look to take advantage of slumping Packers (Nov 26, 2017)

The Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a classic Super Bowl to conclude the 2010 season.

Maybe Sunday night’s game at Pittsburgh would have set the stage for a Super Bowl clash this year. Instead, the surging Steelers are two-touchdown favorites against the slumping Packers for this not-fit-for-primetime matchup between traditional powers.

Green Bay won four of its first five games before Aaron Rodgers’ suffered a broken right collarbone in the first quarter of the Week 6 game at Minnesota. The Packers lost that game and are 1-3 in Brett Hundley’s four starts. They lost 23-0 at home to Baltimore last week, which snapped the Packers’ 175-game shutout-free streak, which was the fifth-longest in the league.

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The Steelers, meanwhile, are winners of five in a row, including a 40-17 shellacking of Tennessee last Thursday night.

Offensively, Le’Veon Bell leads the NFL in rushing yards and Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receptions. Defensively, the Steelers rank second in the NFL in scoring while surrendering an average of 16.5 points.

This appears to be “Mission Impossible” for Green Bay. In the five games with Hundley, the Packers are averaging 13.4 points. During Pittsburgh’s winning streak, it hasn’t allowed more than 17 points. The Steelers rank second in the league with 34 sacks.

“When you go through the statistics, when you put the opponent up as we did on Tuesday with our offense, there’s a lot of production,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said of Pittsburgh’s defense. “There’s a lot of production throughout their defense and especially their defensive front. That’s a real tribute to not only what they’re doing and how they’re doing it but really to their personnel. This is an excellent, excellent opportunity for our offense.”

And a huge challenge for Hundley, who ranks No. 34 in passer rating and owns two touchdowns vs. seven interceptions. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, however, is taking nothing for granted.

“I’ve been impressed that their offense hasn’t been reduced in any way,” he said. “They can change the pace on you, they spread you out, they personnel you. It speaks to their level of confidence in his preparedness. The play is the play, you know. Sometimes you play well, sometimes you don’t but, when I watch the video, I’m just impressed with their level of confidence in him by what they ask him to do and the manner in which they function, which appears to be very normal.”

The Packers are in ninth place in the NFC playoff race but can take solace in what they did last year, when they were 4-6 and losers of four in a row before running off eight consecutive wins to get to the NFC Championship Game.

That team, of course, had Rodgers at the controls. He’ll be sidelined for at least the next three games. Still, at least there’s some positive history.

“This is one game and we’re focused on getting this game and getting a sixth game,” McCarthy said. “Adversity experiences are all definitely things you can pay forward because you have to know what it feels like, you know what it looks like, you know what it smells like.

“At the end of the day, this is its own unique situation. I love the way our guys are working. I can’t say enough about their work ethic, their prep. But we know it takes a lot more than that to win games.”

That’s a formula the Steelers have found since getting crushed at home by Jacksonville 30-9 in Week 5. They played their best game of the season in routing the Titans. Tennessee limited Bell to 46 yards on 12 carries — the fourth consecutive game in which Bell has failed to average 4.0 yards per carry — but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made it pay by throwing for 299 yards and four touchdowns.

Green Bay’s run defense has been superb the past three games. If those trends continue, it will be up to Roethlisberger to move the offense again.

“We have to be able to ring up the scoreboard and get yards in chunks by any and every means,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes we’re going to step into the stadium and people are going to be committed to minimizing our passing game. And we’ve got to take that running game when it’s given to us, and vice versa.”

Coming off their mini-bye, Pittsburgh listed only five players on its injury report. Cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday.

Green Bay’s injury report was filled with 12 players, with outside linebacker Clay Matthews (groin), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (ankle) and running backs Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) not participating to start the week.


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Lions bolster pass rush by reportedly claiming Dwight Freeney after Seahawks cut him

Lions bolster pass rush by reportedly claiming Dwight Freeney after Seahawks cut him

Dwight Freeney is moving from one NFC Wild-Card contender to the next. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Adam Scehfter reported that Freeney landed with the Lions a day after getting cut by the Seahawks, which means he’ll be reuniting with Jim Caldwell. 

That’s a heck of a late-season move by the Lions, who are in the middle of a playoff push. Freeney, 37, thrived in Seattle, notching three sacks in four games, even though he was only on the field for 101 total snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, he also generated two hits, seven hurries, and one batted pass. In Freeney’s illustrious career, most of which he spent with the Colts, he has 125.5 sacks — the 17th most all-time. 

His release didn’t just surprise us. It also surprised him.

The Lions could use another pass rusher. They’ve accumulated only 21 sacks this season — tied for 20th in the NFL. Anthony Zettel and Ziggy Ansah are responsible for 10 of those sacks. No one else on the team has more than 2.5 sacks.

And the Lions are surging. They’ve won three straight to push their record to 6-4. Even though they own the same record as the Falcons and Seahawks, it’s the Falcons who hold the final Wild-Card spot in the NFC due to a head-to-head tiebreaker. 

But the Lions are very much alive, both in the Wild-Card race and in the division. They are two games back of the Vikings in the NFC North, already beat them once, and will face them one more time on Thanksgiving. If he can get ready for the game in time, Freeney should help break through a Vikings offensive line that has allowed an NFL-low 10 sacks.


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Rejuvenated Falcons vie for 3rd win in row, host Bucs (Nov 26, 2017)

Rejuvenated Falcons vie for 3rd win in row, host Bucs (Nov 26, 2017)

The Atlanta Falcons, admittedly, have a lot of work remaining.

With a fresh burst of confidence, however, the Falcons believe they can continue climbing back into the NFC South race with Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons (6-4), last season’s NFC champions, captured their second straight victory Monday night with a 34-31 road win over the Seattle Seahawks.

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Atlanta held steady behind the Carolina Panthers (7-3) and the first-place New Orleans Saints (8-2), who have won eight straight games after an 0-2 start.

Even though Atlanta has two games remaining against the Saints — while also carrying a 5-1 record in NFC games to help tiebreaker possibilities — quarterback Matt Ryan said his team can’t look further than Sunday’s meeting against the Bucs (4-6).

“It’s one of those things that if we handle our business, things will work out just fine,” Ryan said. “I can’t worry about what other people are doing because we have no control. I certainly know where we’re at, but we’re focused on taking care of our business.”

The Falcons were wounded by three consecutive defeats against AFC East teams in October. But now they’re on a two-game winning streak and have their next three contests at home, providing a potential opportunity to make up some ground.

“We’re getting the outcome we want now,” Falcons receiver Julio Jones said. “Winning will breed more swagger and more confidence.”

The Bucs have acquired some confidence, too.

Just when Tampa Bay’s season appeared to be unraveling — with a five-game losing streak and a shoulder injury that sidelined quarterback Jameis Winston — the Bucs rallied around veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and responded with two straight victories.

Fitzpatrick will start Sunday against the Falcons, who were beaten by Winston the past two seasons at home. Winston’s shoulder was evaluated Monday and doctors said he wasn’t ready to resume throwing.

So Fitzpatrick, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 275 yards in Sunday’s 30-20 win against the Miami Dolphins, will start his third straight game for Tampa Bay.

“My confidence (in Fitzpatrick) is the same, but I am sure other people’s (confidence) has grown,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “Ryan has done exactly what I thought he would do, but I can understand why other people who haven’t seen him in practice would not necessarily expect that. He’s playing how I thought he would play.”

Koetter said he was most impressed with Fitzpatrick’s ability to avoid mistakes.

“Ryan made really good decisions,” Koetter said. “We didn’t turn the ball over. We say every week in our meetings that if we don’t turn it over, we’ve got a great chance to win.

“It starts with that. But no matter how much of a veteran quarterback you are, throwing the ball away when the play is not there is still to this day one of the hardest things to get a quarterback to do. Ryan did a good job of that.”

The Falcons know first-hand about the challenge offered by Winston, but also expressed respect for Fitzpatrick, who is playing with his seventh different NFL team.

“Fitzpatrick is a very good quarterback,” Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said. “He has been doing it for a while and there’s a reason he has been doing it for a while. There’s a reason he’s in the league still.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he’s wary of Fitzpatrick’s ability to involve Tampa Bay’s offensive players, including receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, along with rookie tight end O.J. Howard, a first-round draft pick.

“You can see the different weapons that are coming alive,” Quinn said.

Overall, though, Quinn said he’s confident in the Falcons’ ability to move forward by continuing to play well on both sides of the ball.

That’s what happened against the Seahawks.

“What an absolute team win,” Quinn said. “We talked about that connection between offensive and defense and special teams, almost like a relay team, passing the baton to the next group, to go after it again.”

The Falcons had a season-low 279 yards against the Seahawks, but made enough plays to gain an advantage. Another key was a fumble-return touchdown by Falcons defensive lineman Adrian Clayborne, one week after he registered six sacks against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Falcons secured the victory when Seattle’s Blair Walsh came up just short on a 52-yard field-goal attempt on the game’s final play.

That allowed Atlanta to remain close in the NFC South.

“We know how tough our division is,” Quinn said.

“We pay attention to each game as they come,” Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu said. “You’ve got to be 1-0 each week. We’ve got to worry about us.”


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Titans QB eager to play again, prove 4 interceptions fluke

Titans QB eager to play again, prove 4 interceptions fluke

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Marcus Mariota finally has done something in the NFL that the Tennessee quarterback never managed before in his career. Not in college at Oregon while winning the Heisman Trophy , nor in high school back in Hawaii.

He saw defenders intercept four of his passes in the same game.

And it’s been as painful as anyone could expect. Making it worse? All those interceptions coming on a Thursday night to add extra days to Mariota’s wait before the Titans (6-4) visit Indianapolis (3-7) on Sunday.

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”I would say I’m anxious,” Mariota said Wednesday. ”I think the competitor in me wants to prove that it was a fluke and that I’m better than that. Obviously, you can learn from it, make smarter decisions with the football. Yes, I’m ready to get back out there.”

With the four interceptions in the 40-17 loss in Pittsburgh , Mariota already has 10 this season, two more than the eighth touchdown passes he’s thrown. The 10 interceptions through his nine games already match what Mariota had through 12 games as a rookie and is one more than he had in 15 games last season.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey said the interceptions in Pittsburgh weren’t all Mariota’s fault.

”Whether it’s been pressure, had more pressure, more blitz, more making him move, more guys needing to make plays, more guys being where that ball, like (in Pittsburgh),” Mularkey said. ”That’s the thing about zone coverage … they just happen to be in the right place in the right time and that’s kind of what happened with some of his interceptions.”

A couple of interceptions simply sailed on Mariota this season, like the first one in Pittsburgh that went over wide receiver Rishard Matthews’ head. Rookie wide receiver Corey Davis took the blame for two interceptions.

Mariota said Davis doesn’t have to say that at all because he’s the quarterback throwing the ball.

”Really when it comes down to it, if I can be smarter with the football,” Mariota said. ”I think every quarterback when they’re sitting back there thinks they can make every throw, and sometimes it’s better to either take off and maybe get a few yards or even get a sack. Those are things that I learned and I’ll continue to get better at them.”

The Titans have given Mariota more responsibility at the line of scrimmage to switch plays. But Davis, the fifth pick overall out of Western Michigan, has only played five games this season due to a hamstring injury, and veteran Eric Decker didn’t join the team until training camp.

The combination has Mariota ranked 27th among NFL quarterbacks with a 79.9 passer rating; 20th with 2,089 yards passing; and tied for 29th in TD passes. Yet Mariota has led the Titans on three game-winning drives this season.

Matthews said it’s impressive how Mariota bounces back as a competitor.

”Whether it’s going good or bad, he’s pretty even-keeled,” Matthews said. ”And his only focus is to go out there and put us in the best position to make plays and make the plays that are there.”

Mariota should have a chance to bounce back against a Colts defense that ranks 30th, allowing 274.5 yards passing per game.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano has seen Mariota as much as any NFL coach, and he sees a quarterback looking more comfortable and making good decisions despite the performance in Pittsburgh. Pagano said everyone has some struggles in the NFL.

”That’s how it is in the National Football League,” Pagano said. ”He had a tough day against the Steelers, and you’ve got to credit the defense and things like that. He’s making great decisions, he’s a great manager, competitive guy, we know what an athlete he is.”

Notes: The Titans had a completely empty injury report Wednesday with nobody listed.

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Cam Newton reflects on 2008 arrest, says it changed his life

Cam Newton reflects on 2008 arrest, says it changed his life

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton describes it as his resurrection day.

The Carolina Panthers quarterback reflected on his arrest in 2008 for stealing a laptop while at the University of Florida. He reflected Wednesday on what he said was a low point in his life.

Newton was charged with felony counts of burglary, larceny and obstructing justice. He posted his police mug shot on the nine-year anniversary of his arrest Tuesday, saying he did it to show others that people can rebound from the mistakes.

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”A lot of me changed that day, for obvious reasons,” Newton said during a news conference on Wednesday. ”My biggest scar, in essence, ended up being my biggest star.”

He thought his football career was over. He completed a pretrial diversion program, struck a plea deal and all charges were dropped. The moment still sticks with Carolina Panthers quarterback as the low point of his life.

But Newton said hitting rock bottom helped turn his life around.

Since transferring from Florida amid allegations that he cheated on classwork, Newton has enjoyed plenty of success on the field. He has won two national championships – one at Blinn College and another at Auburn. He was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in 2011, is a former league MVP award, has played in three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl. The 28-year-old has also run for more touchdowns than any QB in NFL history.

He also has several endorsement deals.

Newton said he contemplated whether or not to post his arrest photo, knowing it would open him up to more scrutiny from and bring back some painful memories. But he said he thought someone who has made a mistake might benefit if he did.

”For a person that probably made a mistake, no matter what it was, to try to be better from it,” Newton said. ”I have (people I know) that are in the penitentiary, family members that are incarcerated. But yet that doesn’t define them. We are all owed a second chance, even third and fourth chances.

”It is what you learn from it that defines you.”

Newton has had to live by those words.

His share of off-the-field issues didn’t cease after he left Florida.

In 2010, the NCAA said Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, and another unnamed person tried to market Newton ”as a part of a pay-for-play scenario in return for Newton’s commitment to attend college and play football.” Newton was suspended for one day but then reinstated after an NCAA investigation determined he had not violated any rules.

Newton’s image took a hit after his abbreviated press conference following a Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos in February of 2016 where he barely answered questions, carrying himself as a poor loser.

And he lost a sponsor earlier this year following sexist remarks he made to a female reporter during a news conference. He later apologized on social media for his comments.

Newton said after talking with a friend about all of his past problems he decided to post the arrest photo, saying he was ”thankful” for a second chance.

”I don’t want to be the poster child of perfection because when you put yourself up on that pinnacle and you finally mess up, that’s when it all comes tumbling down,” Newton said. ”I want people to look at me and say, `Cam is still going strong, but look at the mistakes that he has made.’

”I’m still a work in progress myself.”

Newton had received more than 215,000 ”likes” on his Instagram post as of Wednesday.

”It was a turning point in his life, obviously,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ”I think it helped him. He could have gone one way or the other. I think it motivated him to do things the right way.”

Panthers wide receiver Russell Shepard wasn’t surprised by Newton’s Instagram post.

”That’s Cam,” Shepard said. ”Cam is going to be bold. He’s going to be very opinionated. He’s going to be the guy that isn’t the stereotypical type of guy. That is what makes him who he is. That is what makes his story a little different than most franchise quarterbacks.”

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