Romilly Evans previews the three-match Thanksgiving card, where he expects Tony Romo to shine in the Lone Star State
Thanksgiving is a funny time for us on this side of the pond. While Americans raise a glass to their founding fathers and pass the turkey, Brits drown their sorrows at the lost glory days of empire. But it's reassuring to know that at least we NFL fans can join in the holiday celebrations with a bumper, three-game Thanksgiving special.
The festivities commence, as ever, with the Detroit Lions who this year play host to the Houston Texans. The latter, standing proudly at 9-1 in the AFC South, can actually become the first team to qualify for the play-offs, should results fall their way this week. However, they have higher-minded goals too (like securing the top seed in the AFC for the postseason) so there will be no resting on their laurels.
For all the Texans' impressive record, though, they nearly tripped up against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. Matt Schaub's late fourth-quarter rally set up a tense overtime win that covered all manner of sins. In essence, these supposed Super Bowl contenders scraped past the worst outfit in the league - and their back-up quarterback.
The Lions should fancy their chances accordingly. Despite the disappointment of coming off on the wrong side of their own tight finish at the weekend (24-20), Detroit are playing better of late and must win this to bolster their slim play-off hopes. They won't lack for motivation in front of a holiday crowd. And nor will their QB, Matthew Stafford, who will be desperate to atone for a poor recent showing which saw him fumble once and yield two picks. If he can cut out such basic errors, he should keep Detroit inside a useful field-goal handicap.
I fancied the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East at the beginning of the campaign, but in truth I'm amazed how they've stumbled and fumbled their way to 5-5 on the season. Nevertheless, they find themselves in with a shot over overhauling the New York Giants (who admittedly still hold a key tiebreaker advantage) even though they've failed to play well for all four quarters of a game.
Success in this key game against their divisional rivals, the Washington Redskins, would set the Cowboys up well for a strong home run where they benefit from a easy schedule. Chiefly, they must stifle rookie-of-the-year candidate, Robert Griffin III, and his twin pass-run threat. RG3 is exciting but unpredictable and has not convinced with his passing accuracy or decision-making, as befits an NFL debutant. Nor has Tony Romo, but the Cowboys' leader really should know better by now.
Still, Dallas are the more balanced team and are even getting their act together on defense. Romo will have his focus narrowed by some unexpected play-off possibilities and an unblemished Thanksgiving Day record (5-0), while the impulsive Griffin could crumble in the crucible Cowboys Stadium. In short, they're my best bet of the weekend.
Back Dallas Cowboys (-3 points) on the Match Point Spread @ 1.824/5 or better
Back Dallas Cowboys (-3 points) on the First-Half Point Spread @ 2.111/10 or better
Back Under 47.5 Total Points @ 2.021/1 or better
Many judges had been wondering why the New England Patriots are trading at such miserly prices for the Super Bowl. Surely priced on reputation alone? Well, the Pats finally produced a performance on the pitch to answer the crits last week with a 59-24 demolition of the Indianapolis Colts.
Tom Brady was at his ruthless best, picking apart Indy's secondary with some lasers. And even though two of his three touchdown connections were with tight end target man, Rob Gronkowski - now out with a broken arm - Brady has enough talent at his disposal to ground these New York Jets.
The slight worry is the Vegas line, pitched at a touchdown's head-start, which doesn't allow the Pats offense much margin for error. Their execution has often been ragged this term, as eloquently evidenced by their Jekyll-and-Hyde efforts when they entertained the Jets at Foxborough in October. Having dominated the first half on both sides of the ball, Bill Belichick's boys nearly let another win slip through their clutches before catching a break for a fortunate overtime win (29-26).
The Patriots were double-digit favourites that day and failed to cover, but this is the time of year they traditionally build momentum. The Jets remain underwhelming, while QB Mark Sanchez keeps coming up short when it matters. Brady is his antithesis: a perfect 3-0 in the East, marshalling a side that are set to secure their umpteenth divisional title. The surplus of Pats playmakers should push them comfortably above the handicap mark. And in other news, Wes Welker can ably deputise on TD duty for the sidelined "Gronk".
Back New England Patriots (-6.5 points) on the Match Point Spread @ 1.910/11 or better
Back New England Patriots (-12.5 points) on the Match Point Spread @ 3.02/1 or better
Back W Welker to be First/Anytime Touchdown Scorer @ 6.05/1 or better