Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, November 27, 2011 at 11:34 AM
Okay, so when we left last the folks in the National Football League there were three teams exiting Thanksgiving Day with wins - and first-place holds in their respective divisions (see the NFC North's Green Bay Packers, the NFC East's Dallas Cowboys and the AFC North's Baltimore Ravens) and so now that first-place theme prevails here in this edition of Jim Sez.
The post-Thanksgiving Day NFL card has just 11 games on the docket and so we'll preview three games in a streamlined look here with attention paid to the AFC West's Oakland Raiders, the AFC East's New England Patriots and the AFC South's Houston Texans ... all aboard!
Here's the key NFL Week 12 Sunday afternoon previews ...
CHICAGO (7-3) at OAKLAND (6-4) - 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox
No doubt the main storyline here is the fact that Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler is done till further notice thanks to that freaky broken thumb injury suffered in last week's 31-20 win/cover against the San Diego Chargers.
So out steps Cutler and in steps reserve QB Caleb Hanie who has yet to throw a forward pass this year after going 13-of-20 for 153 yards with one TD and two INTs in last year's NFC Championship Game loss to Green Bay - and let's see if Hanie is running for his life here against a Raiders defense that has 28 sacks this year (that's tied for sixth in NFL ranks) or whether he'll have success throwing some deep balls to speedy WR Johnny Knox who made a fabulous touchdown catch last week versus the Bolts.
The news on the silver-and-black is that QB Carson Palmer is indeed "picking things up" as the former Cincinnati Bengals star has led the Raiders to back-to-back road wins in San Diego and Minnesota but don't be so quick to pencil in RB Darren McFadden here as his troublesome right foot sprain could keep him sidelined one more week.
If there's something of intrigue to watch with these Raiders it's penalties - Oakland's already committed 17 defensive personal fouls this year and it's becoming obvious that first-year head coach Hue Jackson either can't discipline his guys or, perhaps, doesn't care to discipline them but you wonder when those 15-yarders are gonna come back to bite'em.
Spread Notes - Chicago rolls into this tilt on a five-game spread winning streak and did you know the Bears are a solid 10-6-1 ATS (against the spread) since the start of last year when playing outside the confines of the NFC North? Meanwhile, Oakland is 6-3-1 against the odds so far this 2011 season but the Raiders are a believe-it-or-not 2-12-1 ATS as betting favorites the past five-plus seasons.
NEW ENGLAND (7-3) at PHILADELPHIA (4-6) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Maybe it's considered "old hat" that the NE Patriots are sitting alone in first place in the AFC East as we get set to flip the calendar page forward to read December - but remember that Bill Belichick's team had to rescue its season a couple of weeks ago with that dominant 37-16 win at the NY Jets than followed up by the Monday Night Football slaughter of the Kansas City Chiefs.
If the Pats are gonna make it three in a row here (something they accomplished with Week #4-thru-#6 wins this year) than it's vitally important that QB Tom Brady continues his brilliant play in these games against the Eagles: Note that Brady has thrown for 871 yards with 6 TDs and 0 INTs in three career starts against Philly including a 380-yard passing performance in a 31-28 non-cover win against 25-point pup Philadelphia back in 2007.
No doubt that the Brady-to-TE Dan Gronkowski combo be a factor here for the Pats to keep on a roll but here's three keys to victory for New England:
#1 - Keep QB Brady "clean"; #2 - Keep the ball out of the hands of PR/WR DeSean Jackson as much as possible; #3 - Don't abandon the ground game'cause RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (541 yards rushing and 5 TDs) is an important cog in this team's wheel. Note that Philadelphia has not beaten the Pats since 1999 - good luck, Vince Young!
Spread Notes - New England is an electric 19-10 against the odds away since the start of the 2008 campaign and note the Patriots have failed to cover their last three games against NFC competition. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has failed to cover seven of its last 11 games overall dating back to last year's playoff loss to Green Bay. The Eagles are 16-9 vig-wise as pups the past five-plus seasons and that does include last Sunday night's 17-10 triumph at the 6-point favorite NY Giants.
HOUSTON (7-3) at JACKSONVILLE (3-7) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Welcome back to the football world, QB Matt Leinart! The Houston Texans' new man-in-the-saddle replaces the injured Matt Schaub and no doubt the former Heisman Trophy winner is keeping fingers crossed that WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) returns after missing the last six games. Leinart hopes to be the savior the rest of this 2011 season but note he has not started back-to-back games in the NFL since 2007 and now goes up against a frisky Jacksonville defense that's held four of its last five foes to 17 points or less.
Meanwhile, bad stat of the season:
Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert is completing less than 50 percent of his passes (48.9) and comes off a horrid 10-of-30 passing day in last Sunday's 14-10 loss at Cleveland.
Spread Notes - Houston is 6-3-1 versus the vig overall this season and the Texans are a collective 6-1-1 ATS as betting favorites since late in the 2010 campaign. Note that Jacksonville's 4-8-1 vig-wise in its last baker's dozen games overall and the Jaguars are 3-1-1 spreadwise in their last handful of showdowns against Houston.
THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORT
Okay, so we were not gonna chime in right here and right now regarding the BCS Championship Game in January but now that the #1 LSU Tigers have finished their season 12-and-oh after that 41-17 come-from-behind win against Arkansas - boy, it didn't look good after the Bayou Bengals got down 14-zip - we want to go on record to state "no rematch"!
Nope, we don't wish to see LSU-Alabama II because it's simply not fair to Les Miles' crew that rolled up 26 first downs, 494 offensive yards and a time-of-possession of 37:09-to-22:51 in besting the 12 ½-point underdog Hogs on Friday - why should they have to beat'Bama again on a neutral field this time to claim this year's national title?
Didn't the Crimson Tide already lose at home to LSU earlier this month? Sure did!
So, while LSU bathes in the glory of its latest win starring QB Jordan Jefferson (208 yards passing and 53 yards rushing featuring a put-the-game-on-ice 48-yard TD run) the BCS big-wigs better get their act together and decide that Alabama - which didn't even win the SEC West - should not get a shot opposite LSU should the Tigers dispose of Georgia in next weekend's SEC Championship Game.
We don't want to hear from you, Nick Saban!
THE NFL WEEK #12 SUNDAY NIGHT PREVIEW - STEELERS-CHIEFS COLLIDE IN KC
PITTSBURGH (7-3) at KANSAS CITY (4-6) -8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
The final game of this long holiday weekend is here and it sure seems like a long time ago when we last spotted the Pittsburgh Steelers:
The AFC North squad drew a bye last week and that turned out to be pretty good timing as QB Ben Roethlisberger (2,877 yards passing with 16 TDs and 9 INTs) had extra time to heal his broken right (passing) thumb although note that "Big Ben" didn't miss a single snap in that 24-17 hang-on-for-dear-life win/cover against 3 ½-point home dog Cincinnati back in Week 10 play.
If Roethlisberger has to stay in the shotgun for 90 percent of the time here, it's no problem although it's safe to say RB Rashard Mendenhall should get a healthy dose of carries here against a Kansas City defense that's allowed a whopping 153 yards rushing per game in the Chiefs' last five outings (that's the fourth-worse average yield in the NFL during this time span).
Kansas City again pins its offensive hopes on journeyman lefty QB Tyler Palko who aired three INTs in last Monday's 34-3 loss at 17-point fav New England although newly-acquired QB Kyle Orton figures to be in uniform here and could be pressed into service at some point.
Note that the Chiefs have scored a grand total of 16 points in losing back-to-back-to-back games against Miami/Denver/New England even though WRs Dwayne Bowe (a team-leading 48 receptions and 4 TDs) and Steve Breaston (39 catches and a pair of TDs) do form one of the league's better one-two punches at the position ... now can anyone get 'em the ball?
Spread Notes -Pittsburgh's split its first 10 pointspread verdicts this year right down the middle but did you know the Steelers are a money-making 14-8 versus the vig as betting favorites while dating back to late in the 2009 season. Meanwhile, Kansas City enters this prime-time tilt also with a 5-5 ATS (against the spread) mark this year and the Chiefs are 10-5 juice-wise as underdogs since the start of last season.
NOTE: Get our NFL Week 12 re-caps plus the Monday Night Football Preview -that's the New York Giants at the New Orleans Saints -and all the College Football & College Basketball News/Notes in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez.