Thanksgiving is behind us, there’s snow on the ground, Santa is going his own final walkthroughs, and the NFL season officially is into the stretch drive. It’s easy to see why people call this the most wonderful time of the year.
We’ve got another big week on top in the NFL, as 12 of the 16 games this weekend involve legitimate playoff stakes by virtue of a still wide-open playoff field.
NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian have reconvened after their Turkey Day breaks to bring you against-the-spread picks for every game on the Week 14 slate.
Here’s how they fared last week.
Mike Cole: 8-8 (93-96-3 overall)
Ricky Doyle: 7-9 (104-85-3)
Andre Khatchaturian: 6-10 (93-96-3)
Here are their Week 14 picks.
THURSDAY, DEC. 5
(-3) Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Bears. A couple of weeks ago, we saw the Cowboys struggle with a Patriots team that couldn’t do much offensively but excels in defense and special teams. The Bears aren’t the Patriots, of course, but the defense is still stingy enough to give Dallas fits, and I’m getting points here.
Ricky: Cowboys. The Bears’ defense is solid, no doubt. But it’s been vulnerable against the run since losing defensive tackle Akiem Hicks to a dislocated elbow in Week 5, allowing 115.5 rushing yards per game — a far cry from the 61.5 rush yards per game Chicago surrendered with Hicks on the field.
Andre: Cowboys. Dallas’ defense is legitimate, averaging only 5.1 yards per play. Chicago has well-documented offensive struggles and I just don’t see where they get points. The Cowboys stink against the NFL’s cream of the crop, and fortunately for them, the Bears are far from the cream of the crop.
SUNDAY, DEC. 8
(-6) Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. They’re going to be jacked up in Orchard Park, but this is a bad matchup for the Bills, whose run defense is among the worst in the league and is tasked with trying to slow down a historically dominant rushing attack. Bills QB Josh Allen has struggled at times in his career against the blitz, and no one blitzes more than Baltimore this season.
Ricky: Ravens. Allen has been very good of late, but Baltimore’s defense ranks third against the pass, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. That’ll be an issue if the Ravens, who rank first in the NFL in first-half points per game (18.6), build an early lead. The Bills, who rank 18th in first-half points per game (10.6), simply can’t afford to become one-dimensional if forced to play from behind.
Andre: Ravens. I’m going to keep riding the hot hand with the Ravens until they prove me otherwise. They’ve defeated three 10-2 teams already, which is stunning. The Bills rank 21st in yards allowed per carry, so the Ravens should dominate the ground game and win with ease.
Carolina Panthers at (-3) Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.
Mike: Falcons. The Panthers just fired a coach who seemed to be universally loved. Their season is over as over can be. Devonta Freeman is poised for his biggest game of the season, too, going up against a truly woeful Carolina run defense.
Ricky: Panthers. The Falcons can’t seem to cover no matter where the number falls, posting a 6-14 ATS record in their last 20 games. Their offensive line also is a mess — they surrendered nine sacks to the Saints on Thanksgiving — which could open the door for an upset in a bad divisional matchup.
Andre: Panthers. Carolina leads the league in sacks and Atlanta’s offensive line has allowed the seventh-most sacks this season. Carolina allows the most rushing yards per carry, but Atlanta is 29th in yards per carry so they might not be able to exploit the Panthers’ weakness.
Cincinnati Bengals at (-8.5) Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bengals. Baker Mayfield is banged up, and he’s not alone — the Browns’ injury list seems to be growing by the week. Not only that, Cleveland is all but done after an embarrassing loss to the Steelers last week, while the Bengals are riding high as they have all season after getting their first win last week.
Ricky: Bengals. Say what you want about Andy Dalton, but he might be the better quarterback in this divisional showdown. He also figures to have a significant weapon back in the mix. (No, not A.J. Green. John Ross has been activated off injured reserve.)
Andre: Browns. The Bengals allow the most yards per play and the most rushing yards per game. Nick Chubb leads the league in rushing, so expect him to run all over Cincinnati.
Denver Broncos at (9.5) Houston Texans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Broncos. The Texans are the better team, but this has all the makings of a trap game with Houston coming off an emotionally charged primetime win vs. the Patriots while also perhaps looking ahead to an enormous divisional matchup vs. the Titans next week.
Ricky: Broncos. The Texans are far more appealing as underdogs, evidenced by their 2-6-1 ATS record in their last nine games as favorites. Meanwhile, the Broncos have a relatively stingy defense plus a new rookie quarterback, Drew Lock, who seems to give Denver’s offense some much-needed swagger.
Andre: Broncos. The Broncos have the No. 1-ranked rush defense, according to Pro Football Focus. The Texans are solid in the running game, but if the Broncos could take that away from them, they could keep it within the number, especially with the new boost they’re getting from Lock.
Detroit Lions at (-13) Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m.
Mike: Lions. Minnesota played a grueling game Monday night in Seattle, while Detroit has been off since a Thursday afternoon home game. The Vikings will win, but they might be in a spot where they just try to win and stay healthy with a now must-win Week 16 game against the Packers nearing.
Ricky: Vikings. The Lions have held a lead in every game this season despite a 3-8-1 SU record. They might stick around for a little bit, but the Vikings’ defense eventually will overwhelm undrafted rookie David Blough and pull away late in a get-right win after a tough loss to the Seahawks in Week 13.
Andre: Lions. The Lions are well-rested and that’s a huge number for a divisional game. Every Lions game but one has been decided by one score. They keep games close and should be able to keep this within the number.
Indianapolis Colts at (-3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Colts. Indy outgained the Titans by 100 yards last week and lost by 14. That’s what happens when you allow a blocked field goal touchdown. Kind of fluky. I don’t think the Colts are especially great, but the Tampa Bay pass defense should get Jacoby Brissett back on track, and I’ll always feel somewhat confident betting against Jameis Winston.
Ricky: Bucs. Brissett will have the deck stacked against him this week. Not only will he likely be without top target T.Y. Hilton — in addition to missing tight end Eric Ebron — but Tampa Bay’s defense is very stout against the run.
Andre: Colts. Jameis Winston hasn’t had back-to-back games without an interception this season. Ten of Indy’s 12 games have been decided by one score, so I’m confident in taking the points with them.
Miami Dolphins at (-5.5) New York Jets, 1 p.m.
Mike: Dolphins. I simply believe it’s more likely Brian Flores can get his team ready to go in a meaningless game than Adam Gase can.
Ricky: Dolphins. Just take the points and see what happens.
Andre: Jets. The Jets allow fewer than three yards per carry and the Dolphins are the worst rushing team in the league in terms of yards per carry. Expect a heavy dosage of Ryan Fitzpatrick in this one, and that usually means lots of turnovers. Also, Sam Darnold should be able to feast on a Dolphins defense that’s allowing more than eight yards per pass attempt.
San Francisco 49ers at (-2.5) New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m.
Mike: Saints. Brutal scheduling spot for the 49ers who traveled east to take on the Ravens last week and now go on another long trip to face the Saints this week. Niners cornerback Richard Sherman is dealing with a knee sprain, and if he’s at all limited, it will be very tough to slow down the Saints, whose quick-passing attack should be able to neutralize the San Fran pass rush, especially if Sherman can’t help break up the rhythm.
Ricky: Saints. This could come down to which quarterback is less affected by the opposing pass rush, in which case you’d be crazy not to trust Drew Brees, who has the second-fastest release time in the NFL this season and ranks second in adjusted completion percentage (among 34 quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks) when facing pressure. The Saints also might get back Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, further solidifying their efforts to protect Brees and exploit the 49ers’ so-so run defense.
Andre: Saints. It feels like the 49ers’ early bye week is starting to hurt them down the stretch. They’ve allowed 100 or more rushing yards in every game since Week 5. San Francisco has also struggled against mobile quarterbacks, so maybe expect some Taysom Hill action in this one. I also trust Brees more than Jimmy Garoppolo in the turnover department.
Washington Redskins at (-13) Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Packers. Was going to side with the Redskins given the two-headed rushing attack of Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson going up against a Green Bay team that has struggled to stop the run, but then I saw Aaron Rodgers implore Packers fans to “Get the tailgating goin’ (and) get the PBR flowin'” and changed my mind. Packers by 30.
Ricky: Redskins. This could turn into a slog, with the Redskins doing their best to grind down the Packers’ defense. If that’s the case, we’re talking about a lot of points. Green Bay wins, but Washington covers.
Andre: Redskins. Washington’s new-found rushing attack will feast on the Packers, who allow 4.7 yards per carry this season. That should be enough to keep this one close.
(-3) Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. This is another pretty tough scheduling spot. The Chargers lost a last-second heartbreaker in Denver last week and now they have to travel across the country for a meaningless game against the Jaguars. Jacksonville has nothing to play for as a team, but they have the more desperate quarterback, Gardner Minshew, who is trying to stake his claim for a long-term starting job.
Ricky: Jaguars. Because the Chargers probably — check that, definitely — will find a new way to shoot themselves in the foot.
Andre: Jaguars. Jacksonville’s weakness is their run defense, but Melvin Gordon has struggled mightily this season, averaging less than four yards per carry. I also don’t like the Chargers having to travel east for a 1:00 game.
Kansas City Chiefs at (-3) New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs. The Patriots’ offensive issues have been well-documented, and they’ve struggled to score wherever they’re playing. As long as KC avoids field-flipping plays (turnovers, blocked punts, etc.) and make the Patriots go the length of the field, they should keep it close. And you better believe Andy Reid will scheme up some things after watching the Texans take advantage of the Patriots’ linebackers in pass coverage last week.
Ricky: Patriots. Not yet willing to completely buy into New England’s offensive downfall and Kansas City’s defensive emergence. Maybe that’s naive, but we have a two-decade sample size of the Patriots winning games like this. The Chiefs rank dead-last against the run, per Pro Football Focus’ grades, and dead-last in receiving yards allowed to running backs. This could spell another big game for James White, who thrived in garbage time against the Texans and enters this game as one of Tom Brady’s most trusted teammates.
Andre: Patriots. The Patriots play well after losses. Since 2003, they are 41-16 ATS after a loss. They’re also a much better team at home than on the road, which was the same case last year when they finished sub-.500 away from Gillette and still won the Super Bowl. The Patriots have allowed the fourth-fewest receiving yards to tight ends, so they may be able to limit Travis Kelce. The Chiefs have also allowed the most receiving yards to running backs, so perhaps James White becomes a focal point of the Patriots’ offense.
(-2.5) Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Steelers. Only the 49ers generate pressure on a more consistent basis than Pittsburgh, and the Cardinals’ offensive line has watched Kyler Murray get sacked 41 times this season. Pittsburgh should be able to slow whatever the Cardinals try to do offensively.
Ricky: Steelers. The Rams just trounced the Cardinals, and the Steelers present many of the same challenges defensively.
Andre: Steelers. People would be talking about the Steelers more if they hadn’t opened up their season with three consecutive games against teams that are currently 10-2. Since Week 4, they rank second in yards allowed per play — not good news for rookie quarterback Murray.
(-3) Tennessee Titans at Oakland Raiders, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Titans. The Raiders are in the bottom handful of teams in run defense DVOA, which isn’t great when Derrick Henry is coming to town. Don’t be surprised if Tennessee gets a takeaway or two, as only six teams have forced more turnovers this year.
Ricky: Raiders. Oakland should be able to do something Indianapolis couldn’t do last week against Tennessee: Take advantage of the Titans’ banged-up secondary. A return home also could do wonders for the Raiders after back-to-back blowout losses.
Andre: Titans. Ryan Tannehill has 12 touchdowns and three picks since taking over as starter. Oakland’s pass defense is atrocious. They allow 8.2 yards per pass attempt — fourth-highest in the NFL.
(-1) Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Rams. I’m probably falling victim to a screwy line here and/or am experiencing recency bias after the Rams blew out a lowly Cardinals team last week. But! I still wonder just how good the Seattle defense is — they’re allowing 5.8 yards per play this season — and it’s telling how much better Jared Goff and the Rams offense looked with its full arsenal of (healthy) wideouts.
Ricky: Rams. Russell Wilson has been tremendous, but the Rams’ defense poses a stiff test. According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams grade out as No. 2 in pass rush, No. 4 in coverage and No. 5 against the run. One man can only do so much — right? — and this feels like the week a few turnovers doom the Seahawks’ offense, especially with the Rams capable of slowing down the Chris Carson-Rashaad Penny running back tandem.
Andre: Rams. As Ricky mentioned, the Rams aren’t great at much, but their defense is exceptional this season. It’s a must-win game for Los Angeles to stay alive in the playoff picture, and with them being at home, I think they do enough to win this one.
MONDAY, DEC. 9
New York Giants at (-9.5) Philadelphia Eagles, 8:15 p.m.
Mike: Eagles. The Giants are taking Eli Manning out of mothballs here, and it looks like it might be a wet, windy night. Doesn’t seem like Eli’s cup of tea. And if the Eagles’ passing offense doesn’t go off against the Giants’ 30th-ranked DVOA pass defense, they should be ashamed.
Ricky: Giants. Let’s roll with Eli, mostly because the Eagles are way too inconsistent to bank on them covering by double digits in a divisional game.
Andre: Giants. The Eagles beat the Packers and Bills on the road, but lost to the Lions, Falcons and Dolphins. They’re way too inconsistent. I’m not confident swallowing 9.5 points with them.