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Craig Melvin/Buffalo Bills

2023 NFL Game Picks: Week 12

Thanksgiving: 2-1

Last week: 9-5

Season: 103-65


MIA (7-3) @ NYJ (4-6)

Friday, November 24 | 3:00 PM ET | Prime Video


The first ever NFL Black Friday game won’t feature Aaron Rodgers (at least on the field), but it’s still a huge game for New York as they turn to Tim Boyle to keep their season alive, and any hopes of a Rodgers return might be dashed with a loss. If the accelerated rehab does get pulled back for the four-time MVP quarterback, the focus will shift to 2024, and the question will be just how much influence he has in the building. While impossible to know what team owner Woody Johnson is thinking, the Jets are now 24-52 under Joe Douglas, and benching former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson arguably puts more pressure on management (and the coaching staff) when you look at the success Joshua Dobbs and other backups have had in 2023. To win this week and keep the door open for Rodgers to save the season, New York needs the defense to play lights out—but Mike McDaniel didn’t have Tua Tagovailoa in either matchup last year when Miami was limited to 17 points and 11 points in a season split. Even if the defense comes to play, though, I would trust Tua more to avoid a mistake than I would Boyle, especially with the Dolphins reaching their potential on defense.


Winner: Miami Dolphins


NO (5-5) @ ATL (4-6)

Sunday, November 26 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Desmond Ridder has been re-installed as the starting quarterback for Atlanta, and he has a massive opportunity over the final seven games with the NFC South up for grabs—including the first of two games against the Saints coming this weekend. Playing through Bijan Robinson, Drake London, and Kyle Pitts is something that seems simple enough considering they are a trio of top-ten picks from the past three years, so adjustments made by Arthur Smith with extra time to reflect will be interesting to follow this week and beyond. Defensively, the Falcons have fallen off since a strong start to the season, but rookie cornerback Clark Phillips III saw his first defensive snaps before the bye, so keep an eye on him as a potential playmaker out of the slot. Of course, the Saints have a playmaking cornerback of their own with Paulson Adebo in the midst of an All-Pro campaign, and I like the offense to get on track with Taysom Hill having plenty of success against Atlanta in his career.


Winner: New Orleans Saints


PIT (6-4) @ CIN (5-5)

Sunday, November 26 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Joe Burrow (wrist) being done for the season is another crushing injury that’s hit the league in 2023, but Cincinnati has a roster full of players that won’t fold, and it could be argued that defense is what has made them the biggest threat to Kansas City over the past couple of years. For this week, the Bengals have had Pittsburgh’s number in recent matchups with four wins in the past five meetings (and the other being an overtime loss)—which is a huge turnaround from the days of the Steelers completely dominating the rivalry. Jake Browning will be facing heavy pressure, though, and an emotional team like Cincinnati needs to be patient if there are struggles; if not, a spiral is very possible, and then the focus will shift to next year with a high draft pick that could very well be used on a replacement for Tee Higgins. I’m going with Pittsburgh because of their defense, but changes on offense will be intriguing after Matt Canada was fired as offensive coordinator on Tuesday.


Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


JAX (7-3) @ HOU (6-4)

Sunday, November 26 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Jaguars-Texans is the best game of the early-afternoon window, as first place in the AFC South is on the line with Houston getting an opportunity to sweep the season series. C.J. Stroud having all five of his interceptions—including three last week, and a couple of others that have been dropped—come over the past five games might be a sign that teams are learning how to defend him and the offense, but he’s proven to be clutch following any mistakes that have been made. This week, the priority needs to be stopping Josh Allen (who has 9.5 of Jacksonville’s 20 sacks on the year), and rookie wideout Tank Dell can shred the secondary if Stroud is consistently given time. The X-factor for me will be the rate at which Trevor Lawrence uses his legs, particularly if Will Anderson Jr. continues to emerge this month with a sack in two of the past three games. I’ll give the edge to a team that has more experience on the big stage.


Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars


TB (4-6) @ IND (5-5)

Sunday, November 26 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The Colts are very much in contention for at least a wild card spot in the AFC, and it shows the job that Shane Steichen has done in his first season as head coach, including back-to-back road wins (one being in Germany) prior to the bye week. Jonathan Taylor could find running room difficult to come by on Sunday with Tampa Bay getting back to being one of the NFL’s top run defenses, but Michael Pittman Jr. has formed a strong connection with Gardner Minshew, and rookie Josh Downs should be healthier after playing through a knee injury for a few weeks. On defense, Indy has lengthy cornerbacks to perhaps give Mike Evans some problems, but they need to be prepared to defend the deep ball with the veteran still able to get downfield and create late separation. This is a game I have gone back and forth on with the Bucs playing everyone other than Philadelphia, Detroit, and San Francisco close—but a bye week, homefield advantage, and impressive coaching by Steichen tilts it in favor of the Colts.


Winner: Indianapolis Colts


NE (2-8) @ NYG (3-8)

Sunday, November 26 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Patriots and Giants have been two of the most disappointments teams of 2023, and many fans will be thinking about draft position more than anything else this week and the rest of the way. That said, Bill Belichick and Brian Daboll will both have their teams ready to play, which should lead to a very competitive—and perhaps low-scoring—matchup between two franchises with a lot of history. We’ll see what happens and how long his leash is, but it sounds like Mac Jones will be under center for New England, and that is the right move; while he obviously needs to play better, Jones looked like a future star as a rookie, and the Patriots need to find a way to rebuild his confidence over the final seven games. For the Giants, you have to be happy (unless you’re a Commanders fan) for Tommy DeVito getting a win and playing excellent in it, but Belichick will make things a lot tougher on the rookie just a week after he and Daboll has answers for everything.


Winner: New England Patriots


CAR (1-9) @ TEN (3-7)

Sunday, November 26 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Panthers continue to be broken on offense, and the team now has three road games in a row (@ TEN, @ TB, @ NO) as the coaching staff desperately searches for answers. The primary concern for Carolina—whether it be from the perspective of ownership or fans—is Bryce Young “surviving” the year without losing too much confidence or falling into too many bad habits, but sub-par rookie seasons used to be the norm in the league, and a new coaching staff should be able to pull the best from Young in 2024. Tennessee is also seeking a fix for the offense, but the solution is easy to reach with Derrick Henry needing to be fed versus a vulnerable run defense, and getting six or seven carries in the first half of games isn’t good enough. Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and the pass rush of the Panthers might be able to get to Will Levis if the Titans don’t play through King Henry, but Mike Vrabel has won the last five matchups against Frank Reich.


Winner: Tennessee Titans


LAR (4-6) @ ARI (2-9)

Sunday, November 26 | 4:05 PM ET | FOX


The Rams have had Kyler Murray’s number throughout his career (1-7 record, including a blowout loss in the playoffs), but will a new coaching staff for Arizona allow the dynamic quarterback to have more success? Although the first meeting this year didn’t go well with Joshua Dobbs struggling in a 26-9 loss, he did rush seven times for 47 yards, and the Cardinals were able to keep it close until the fourth quarter by forcing the Rams to settle for a few short field goals. In two games so far this year, Murray has combined to rush 13 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns, and the connection with Marquise Brown—who had 11 targets in the first matchup—should soon hit. Still, the Rams have a playoff return in their sights with a favorable rest-of-season schedule outside of road games versus the Ravens and 49ers, so it’s important for them to not slip up in winnable spots like the one they get this weekend.


Winner: Los Angeles Rams


CLE (7-3) @ DEN (5-5)

Sunday, November 26 | 4:05 PM ET | FOX


Russell Wilson has been more of a “game manager” under Sean Payton, but he’s made some patented teardrop-type throws and clutch plays to get Denver back to .500, and the soon-to-be 35-year-old quarterback should get more credit for how efficient he’s been (19:4 touchdown-interception ratio on the season with zero picks during the four-game winning streak). This week, the Browns will be extremely aggressive on defense, so the offensive line needs to be on top of things, and—as also mentioned last week—Wilson will need to be quick on the trigger to avoid strip sacks. I’m also concerned about Denver being unable to tackle a rotating backfield trio and rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson potentially being unleashed as a runner, and David Njoku (15 targets last week) could have a huge game considering the struggles for Vance Joseph-led defense against tight ends. However, the Broncos are hot, and I like them to stay that way at home.


Winner: Denver Broncos


KC (7-3) @ LV (5-6)

Sunday, November 26 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


The Chiefs have mostly blown out the Raiders over the past few years, but there have been a few battles, and the job interim head coach Antonio Pierce has done—combined with the struggles for Kansas City’s offense this season—could make this a closer-than-expected game. As usual, the key for Las Vegas is to play through Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams, but Ameer Abdullah could be a sneaky candidate to have increased involvement on those screen passes that Philadelphia had success with on Monday night, and Aidan O’Connell will ideally be better balancing aggressiveness with taking what the defense gives him. Other than perhaps inconsistency at wide receiver (which I would solve by playing Rashee Rice and Kadarius Toney more), the issue for the Chiefs this weekend will be slowing down Maxx Crosby in his first matchup against KC’s remade tackle duo, but Patrick Mahomes is due for an aerial explosion with yardage totals of 240, 185, and 177 over the past three games.


Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


BUF (6-5) @ PHI (9-1)

Sunday, November 26 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


The Bills didn’t have a good result in Josh Allen’s lone career matchup against the Eagles (a 31-13 loss), but that came back in 2019—with a lot changing since then for both sides. The Buffalo offense in particular has changed just from two weeks ago, as new offensive coordinator Joe Brady succeeded in implementing more of a matchup-based attack in the win over the Jets, and that should lead to Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis going off on Sunday with the Eagles struggling at cornerback after it was a major strength for them in 2022. Allen being unleashed as a runner is also a part of the offense that should come into play when needed, and it will be awesome to watch two of the best quarterbacks in the league face off for the first time in what could end up being a Super Bowl preview. Jalen Hurts needs to be aware of former Eagle and now playmaking Bills cornerback Rasul Douglas, and the Philly crowd can certainly come into play. But I’ll go with Buffalo to carry the momentum over from last week and position themselves back among the NFL’s elite in another statement game.


Winner: Buffalo Bills


BAL (8-3) @ LAC (4-6)

Sunday, November 26 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


The pressure is building in Los Angeles with head coach Brandon Staley—after a blown 27-0 playoff lead in January that had many questioning if he would be fired—now in danger of dropping to 4-7 on the year, and urgency is at an all-time high despite another assault of injury issues for the Chargers (a common theme that well preceded Staley). Baltimore will not be a fun opponent to get on track against with Roquan Smith leading perhaps the best defense in football, so Justin Herbert has a tall task of keeping up with Lamar Jackson, and the pass-catchers other than Keenan Allen need to step up. One of those weapons is first-round rookie Quentin Johnston (who had a bad drop late in last week’s loss), and the Ravens are thrilled with the guy they got after Johnston in Zay Flowers; I imagine they might want to show exactly how thrilled by featuring their own first-rounder this weekend, and fellow rookie Keaton Mitchell is another name to watch on the Baltimore offense. The Chargers having their backs against the wall might not be enough to come away with a needed win.


Winner: Baltimore Ravens


CHI (3-8) @ MIN (6-5)

Monday, November 27 | 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ABC


The legend of Joshua Dobbs continued last week in a near upset road win against Denver, and “second-chance” plays have been a regular occurrence to put points on the board as Kevin O’Connell’s offense tries to head into the bye at 7-5 with heavy reinforcements—in the form of Justin Jefferson (hamstring)—set to arrive in Week 14. Just to note, Dobbs is another quarterback (along with Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Brock Purdy, and others) that Wolf Sports has been far higher on than the league and media consensus in the pre-draft process, as he was our No. 60 overall prospect in 2017 and has finally gotten a chance to prove himself over an extended stretch. The Bears have played stingy defense in recent weeks and will be a challenge for Dobbs and the Vikings, but Brian Flores was able to get to Justin Fields in the first meeting before Chicago’s starter left the game early, and the aggressiveness should get him another chance to be a head coach before long. Could another dominant showing against the Bears make them a possible option for Flores in 2024?


Winner: Minnesota Vikings