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PFT’s Week 13 picks

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All I wanted was a chance to catch MDS.  And I suddenly have it.

After going 3-1 in our head-to-head disagreements last week, I’m now five games back.  And we disagree on five games this week.  If I can pull off the unlikely-but-not-unpossible five-game sweep, we’ll be tied with four weeks left.

For all our picks for Thanksgiving weekend, scroll baby, scroll.

I was 8-6 last week, MDS was 6-8, and for the year he still leads at 113-63.  I’m 108-68.

Packers at Lions

MDS’s take: Does anyone want to win the NFC North? None of the contenders are playing like it. Two weeks ago, the Lions were in great shape to run away with the division, and now they’ve lost back-to-back games to teams with losing records. Still, I don’t trust the Packers’ defense to rein in a Lions offense with Calvin Johnson (who missed the previous Lions-Packers game with a knee injury) and I don’t trust the Packers’ offense to score much without Aaron Rodgers.

MDS’s pick: Lions 24, Packers 14.

Florio’s take:  Detroit needs to end its recent free fall.  So do the Packers.  With Aaron Rodgers most likely out, the Lions have more talent and more incentive to win.  They’ll still have four games after that to screw things up and miss the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 27, Packers 20.

Raiders at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Dallas is neck-and-neck in an NFC East race that seems destined to be determined in Week 17. The Cowboys know they can’t afford any slip-ups, and they’ll avoid one against an overmatched Raiders team.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 27, Raiders 13.

Florio’s take:  A letdown is entirely possible for the home team, with the erratic and underachieving Raiders coming to town only four days after the Cowboys scored an emotional and physical win over the Giants.  And I’m tempted to pick the upset, because losing in this spot would be the ultimate Cowboys maneuver.  But this could be the year that chances perceptions in Dallas — at least until the Panthers or Cardinals roll into town for the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Raiders 21.

Steelers at Ravens

MDS’s take: It says something about how bad the AFC is that the winner of this game will (for at least three days) take the lead for the sixth and final playoff spot. If one of these teams has a playoff run in them, I think it’s Baltimore.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 17, Steelers 14.

Florio’s takeBen Roethlisberger has a 7-2 record against Joe Flacco, and a 3-1 mark in Baltimore since Flacco and John Harbaugh arrived.  More importantly, the Steelers have become the Steelers again.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Ravens 10.

Buccaneers at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Bucs are playing surprisingly good football on their current three-game winning streak (and in an overtime loss at Seattle before that). But Tampa Bay isn’t on the same level as Carolina, which is playing far too well to get tripped up at home.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 28, Buccaneers 21.

Florio’s take:  It’s another potential letdown for a Panthers team poised to challenge the Saints for the division title.  The Bucs will give Carolina a tough fight and possibly win the game — but these Panthers know how to overcome adversity with a potent defense and a maturing quarterback who soon will be in the MVP discussion.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Buccaneers 23.

Jaguars at Browns

MDS’s take: This is a tough one. Can I pick a Brandon Weeden-led Browns team to win a game? I don’t feel like I can. But can I pick the Jaguars to win their third consecutive road game? I don’t feel like I can. I suppose I could pick this game to end in a tie, but I’ll say the Browns find a way to win.

MDS’s pick: Browns 12, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:   The Factory of Sadness hosts a perpetually sad team that has been a little less sad lately.  I feel sad for anyone who bought tickets for this one.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 24, Jaguars 13.

Titans at Colts

MDS’s take: If the Titans win this one, they can make the AFC South race interesting. But I have a feeling Andrew Luck is going to put the Colts on his back over the final month of the season and drag them to the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Colts 33, Titans 21.

Florio’s take:  Outscored 93-12 in the first halves of the last four games, the Colts can essentially nail down the AFC South with a win over Tennessee.  It won’t be easy — and they may not go far in the playoffs — but the Colts reclaim the division, even if by default.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Titans 24.

Broncos at Chiefs

MDS’s take: After giving up a 24-0 halftime lead in New England, the pressure is on the Broncos. Lose in Kansas City, and there’s a good chance that they’ll be on the road throughout the playoffs. But I think Peyton Manning will turn things around and win a big one against the Chiefs.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  The stakes are high for this one, with the winner on track to secure the top seed and the loser relegated at best to No. 5.  Lost in Kansas City’s defensive collapse is that the Chiefs had their best offensive output of the year against the Chargers.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 30, Broncos 27.

Bears at Vikings

MDS’s take: Minnesota is a bad matchup for Chicago.  The thing the Bears do worst is stop the run, and the thing the Vikings do best is hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson. The Bears will hurt their own playoff hopes and drop a game in the division.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Bears 23.

Florio’s takeJosh McCown gets another crack at the Vikings, nearly a decade after he knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs in a Week 17 thriller at Arizona.  At least McCown can’t impact the Vikings’ playoff position this time around.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Vikings 21.

Dolphins at Jets

MDS’s take: The Jets had a nice run, but they look like they’re on the verge of collapse. Miami is still playing competitive football.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 20, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s an elimination game, as a practical matter, between a pair of AFC East teams that seem to be trying to get eliminated.  The Dolphins get eliminated on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 24, Dolphins 16.

Cardinals at Eagles

MDS’s take: This is a surprisingly great game.  The Cardinals’ defense is playing tough, physical football, while Nick Foles and Chip Kelly have the Eagles’ offense rolling. In a close game with playoff implications for both teams, I’ll take the Eagles at home.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 28, Cardinals 24.

Florio’s take:  Former Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles comes home with a much better defense, and one of the hottest teams in the league.  Chip Kelly never saw an Arizona team like this when he was at Oregon.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 27, Eagles 20.

Falcons at Bills

MDS’s take: The CFL season is over, and now the Canadian fans get to see two of the NFL’s worst teams square off in Toronto. I’m not sure if I’d pick the Falcons to beat anyone right now.

MDS’s pick: Bills 17, Falcons 14.

Florio’s take:  It’s fitting that the Falcons will be playing in Toronto.  They’ve imploded almost as quickly and completely as the mayor.  The implosion continues.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 20, Falcons 17.

Rams at 49ers

MDS’s take: I love the way the Rams are playing tough, physical football, and I also love the way they’re finally making use of Tavon Austin’s game-changing speed. Unfortunately, they’re catching a 49ers team that looks like it’s getting all the pieces in place for a late-season run.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 31, Rams 17.

Florio’s take:   Before Niners fans get too giddy about Monday night, keep in mind that the victory came against the Redskins.  This next one will be a lot harder.  Throw in the short week and the cross-country flight, and it could be time for an upset.  And I was going to take the upset  And then I remembered that Kellen Clemens is the St. Louis quarterback, and that the 49ers can actually defend against the run.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Rams 10.

Patriots at Texans

MDS’s take: New England beat Houston easily last year, when the Texans were good. The Patriots will surely beat the Texans easily now that they’re bad.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Texans 14.

Florio’s take:   It was nearly a year ago that the Patriots brought the 11-1 Texans back to reality with a 42-14 drubbing in New England.  Since then, the Texans are 4-13.  The letterman jackets are in mothballs, and the coaching staff is about to get exterminated.

Florio’s pick:   Patriots 42, Texans 13.

Bengals at Chargers

MDS’s take: With Geno Atkins and Leon Hall out for the seaosn, I think the Bengals’ defense is going to be a major liability down the stretch. Look for the Chargers’ offense to put a lot of points on the board as San Diego keeps up its run toward the final AFC wild-card berth.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 34, Bengals 28.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home.  The Chargers weren’t the same team at Kansas City that they’ve been most of the year.  Give the advantage to the home team.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Bengals 21.

Giants at Redskins

MDS’s take: In the race for last place in the NFC East, I think Washington will get to the bottom with another poor showing from Robert Griffin III, who turns the ball over far too often and will do so a couple times against the Giants.

MDS’s pick: Giants 21, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:  The spotlight of the national stage remains in D.C., and things are getting more and more dysfunctional.  From winning their final seven after starting 3-6 last year, these Redskins could do the opposite, starting at 3-6 and ending at 3-13.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Redsins 13.

Saints at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The best game of the week, between the two best teams in the NFC, will come down to home-field advantage and will all but clinch home field throughout the playoffs for the Seahawks. Seattle is such a tough place to play that it’s hard for me to see the Saints winning there — and hard for me to see the Seahawks losing at home in the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 27, Saints 20.

Florio’s take:  The race for the No. 1 seed ends Monday night, if the Seahawks win.  It becomes a bigger “if” without Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond.  But the 12th Man can fill the avoid, and the 13th Man (i.e., the weatherman) could be the difference, with freezing temperatures and the possibility of rain/snow in the extended forecast.

Florio’s pick:   Seahawks 24, Saints 17.

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Amid rampant rumors and reports, 49ers front office silent about Harbaugh

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As the 49ers move closer to the end of the 2014 season, the sense that coach Jim Harbaugh will be leaving the franchise continues to linger.

Through it all, the organization hasn’t done much to push back against the perception that Harbaugh won’t be back for 2015.  When the reports reached critical mass in early October, with some suggesting that the players wanted Jim to hit the road, Jack, owner Jed York offered up this via Twitter:  “Jim is my coach.  We are trying to win a [Super Bowl], not a personality or popularity contest.  Any more questions?”

While the quest to win a Super Bowl this year continues, with a showdown against the Seahawks starting later tonight, there has been nothing more from the organization to rebut the notion that, as soon as the season ends, the process of separating will commence.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports has reported that Harbaugh will be gone regardless of whether the team wins the Super Bowl.  Weeks later, that specific report hasn’t been rebutted or refuted by the team.

That’s caused some in the league to notice that Harbaugh hasn’t received the support he deserves in what apparently will be his final year.  Eventually, the question will be Harbaugh’s next move — which is expected to entail staying in the Bay Area or, at a minimum, on the West Coast.  It makes the Raiders (Oakland or L.A.) the most likely NFL landing spot for Harbaugh.

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With Ron Parker moving to safety, Chiefs look at cornerbacks

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The season-ending illness to safety Eric Berry has prompted the Chiefs to move cornerback Ron Parker back to the position he maintained while Berry missed time due to an ankle injury.  Which means that the Chiefs need to beef up the depth chart not at the safety position, but at the cornerback position.

Toward that end, the Chiefs have worked out a trio of cornerbacks.  Per a league source, they’ve taken a look at Ellis Lankster (pictured), Johnny Patrick, and DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Parker’s play during Berry’s absence earned a starting cornerback job for him.  Philip Gaines, a third-round rookie from Rice, could be in line to replace Parker at starting cornerback.

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Eagles push lead to 20

McCoy AP

Barring a comeback that would become fodder for legends on par with Clint Longley and Leon Lett, the Eagles will be beating the Cowboys in their first Thanksgiving Day get-together since the Bounty Bowl in 1989.

Midway through the third quarter, the Eagles lead the Cowboys, 30-10.

Philly running back LeSean McCoy has 129 yards rushing on 17 carries, including a 38-yard run that pushing the margin to 20 points.

Down 23-7, Dallas had a chance to make things interesting after a McCoy fumble deep in the Eagles’ end of the field.  But Philly’s defense stiffened, culminating in a self-sack by Tony Romo aimed at keeping his fragile back in one piece.

There’s plenty of time left, but Dallas will have to find a way to triple its output of points in the next 20 minutes of clock time.  If that doesn’t happen, the Eagles will move to 9-3, the Cowboys will fall to 8-4, and the rematch will happen on December 14 on NBC.

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Seahawks may wait to work out new deal with Wilson

Wilson AP

After the Seahawks won the Super Bowl to cap quarterback Russell Wilson’s second NFL season, it became a given that Seattle would sign Wilson to a big-money contract as soon as he became eligible for a new deal, after the completion of the 2014 regular season.

With the Seahawks struggling (in comparison to last year) and with Wilson showing signs of regression, the Seahawks may decide to wait.

Per a league source, the team’s willingness to give Wilson a new deal will depend in large part on how the current season turns out.  Miss the playoffs or get eliminated early, and the Seahawks will be inclined to wait.  Return to the Super Bowl, and a new deal becomes more likely.

Whatever happens, the Seahawks will be sure to do that which is regarded as fair within the locker room.  They didn’t hesitate to pay cornerback Richard Sherman or safety Earl Thomas, cognizant of the importance of rewarding those who have helped contribute to the team’s success.

Wilson definitely has contributed, but the challenge becomes pegging his value if both player and team achieve a lot less than they did last year.

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Eagles take 16-point lead at halftime

Sanchez AP

It looked like it was going to be a shootout, but the Cowboys haven’t done much shooting.

At halftime in Dallas, the Eagles lead the Cowboys, 23-7.

After the Cowboys cut the lead in half, the Eagles generated a trio of field goals, while keeping the Cowboys off the board.

Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez has 202 yards passing, a career first-half high.  He has thrown for more than 300 yards in three straight games.

The Cowboys get the ball to start the third quarter.  Philly’s failure to turn multiple opportunities inside the 10 into touchdowns could come back to haunt the Eagles, if/when Dallas can start scoring more points — and start holding the Eagles from doing the same.

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Cowboys cut lead in half

Romo AP

A Thanksgiving shootout could be shaping up in Dallas.

Down 14-0, the Cowboys on their second drive of the game punched in a touchdown that trimmed the Philly lead in half.

The seven-play, 67-yard drive ended with a short touchdown run from running back DeMarco Murray.  The touchdown was set up by a 38-yard pass from quarterback Tony Romo to receiver Dez Bryant, who hauled in the pass despite being interfered with.  (Again.)

The Eagles lead 14-7 early in the second quarter.

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Eagles take 14-0 lead over Cowboys

Sanchez AP

For the second time in five days, the Cowboys face a double-digit deficit against an NFC East rival.

On Sunday night, they came from 11 behind to beat the Giants.  On Thursday, the Cowboys trail the Eagles by 14.

Philly scored on each of its two drives, with a 2-yard run from quarterback Mark Sanchez and a 27-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to receiver Jordan Matthews.

In between, the Eagles eventually forced a Dallas punt on a drive that ended with Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant apparently being interfered with on third down.  A flag was not thrown.

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Sanchez leads Eagles to touchdown on opening drive

Sanchez AP

In his shot at redemption for an embarrassing Thanksgiving game with the Jets two years ago, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez engineered a touchdown drive to open the game.

Sanchez completed four of five passes for 30 yards, capping the 80-yard effort with a two-yard run on a read-option play.

Wisely, Sanchez ran where the butts weren’t.

The touchdown was upheld on replay review, and the Eagles lead, 7-0.

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Griffin addresses media, says he’s here to help the team win

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Last week, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was focused on San Francisco.  Now, he’s focused on something other than playing.

On Thursday, Griffin met with reporters for the first time since he was supplanted by Colt McCoy.

It was Coach’s decision,” Griffin said, via Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com.  “I’m here to help this team win.”

Asked to explain his level of disappointment over the decision, Griffin repeated himself.  The same way he did last week.

“Like I said, it was Coach’s decision,” Griffin said.  “I’m here to help this team win.”

Will he use the situation as motivation?

“Be ready to play,” Griffin said.  “I’m here to help the team win anyway I can.”

He won’t be helping the team by playing, at least not for now.  We’ll have more on what the events of the past few days actually mean for Griffin later tonight.  Unless the Tryptophan wins.

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Julius Thomas practices, Fox dubs tight end “day to day”

Thomas Getty Images

Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who hasn’t done much since injuring an ankle 11 days ago, participated in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis.

Via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, it’s the most Thomas has done in the aftermath of the injury.

Coach John Fox declined to say much about whether Thomas will face the Chiefs on Sunday night.

“We’re just day to day,” Fox said, via quotes distributed by the team.  “I don’t like trying to predict the future.”

A label will be applied to the expected availability of Thomas on Friday.

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Lions snap two-game skid, beat Bears to improve to 8-4

calvinjohnson AP

After back-to-back losses raised questions about the Lions’ ability to contend for a playoff berth, Detroit got the win it needed today.

The Lions started slowly and fell behind 14-3, but a three-touchdown second quarter turned things around in a hurry, and the Lions controlled the second half as well to win 34-17.

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had a big day, catching 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Now that Johnson is finally back to 100 percent healthy, the Lions’ offense may finally be back on track. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been struggling for much of the season, had an excellent game. Stafford completed 34 of 45 passes for 390 yards, with those two touchdowns to Johnson and no interceptions.

The Lions’ defense shook off its slow start, in which Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery scored two first-quarter touchdowns, and mostly shut down the Bears the rest of the way. Detroit’s run defense was particularly impressive, and safety Glover Quinn made a great diving interception after Darius Slay tipped a Jay Cutler pass that ended the Bears’ last chance to make a game of it.

For the Bears, the loss drops their record to 5-7 and makes clear that they’re not going anywhere. After showing some promise in Marc Trestman’s first season last year, the Bears have taken a step backward. Now about all the Bears can do is hope to play spoiler over the next three weeks, when they have games against playoff contenders Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit again.

The 8-4 Lions, however, are very much alive in the playoff race. If the Packers lose to the Patriots on Sunday, the Lions would become the leaders in the NFC North. And even if the Packers win, the Lions are in good position for a wild-card run. This was a game the Lions needed to win, and they delivered with one of their best performances of the season.

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Acho active for Eagles

Acho Getty Images

As the Eagles prefer to face a pick-your-poison offense, they’ll have a defensive player who was injured on Sunday in uniform.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho is active and will play after injuring a groin against the Titans.  He has been splitting time with Casey Matthews at inside linebacker in place of DeMeco Ryans, who tore an Achilles tendon several weeks ago.

Inactive for the Eagles are quarterback Nick Foles, cornerback Roc Carmichael, safety Jaylen Watkins, offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, receiver Jeff Maehl, and Taylor Hart.

The Cowboys’ inactives include quarterback Dustin Vaughan, cornerback Tyler Patmon, safety Jeff Heath, linebacker Dekoda Watson, offensive tackle Tony Hills, offensive tackle Donald Hawkins, and defensive tackle Josh Brent.

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Megatron scores twice, tops 10,000 career receiving yards

calvinjohnson AP

Calvin Johnson has topped 100 yards in the first half today, and 10,000 yards in his NFL career.

Johnson scored two touchdown in the second quarter against the Bears to help give the Lions a 24-14 lead, and he caught nine passes for 109 receiving yards in the first half, making him the fastest player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard mark.

The NFL has changed enormously in the last couple of decades, and so it’s no surprise that 27 of the 43 players with 10,000 yards started their careers in 1990 or later. A 10,000-yard career is not what it used to be, but Johnson still has many more good seasons left in him. Jerry Rice’s record of 22,895 receiving yards may be beyond reach for anyone, but Megatron may move into second place before he’s all done. The No. 2 spot on the all-time receiving yards list is currently occupied by Terrell Owens, with 15,934 receiving yards.

Now we’ll see if the Lions can keep it going in the second half, and re-establish themselves as contenders in the NFC playoff race.

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Bears banged up on defense, Detroit takes advantage

megatron AP

The Bears’ defense has suffered a couple of first-half injuries today at Detroit, and the Lions are taking advantage.

Bears defensive end Cornelius Washington has been ruled out for the rest of the game with a chest injury, and safety Chris Conte left for what was first termed a concussion evaluation but later termed an eye injury. The Bears were already without linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, so they’re really hurting.

And the Lions are really taking advantage: After going 25 drives over three games without a single touchdown, Detroit scored on back-to-back drives. The first was a nine-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson. The second was a 10-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Joique Bell.

That gave the Lions a 17-14 lead. The Bears started fast, with two Alshon Jeffery touchdown passes, but the Lions have turned this game around in a hurry.

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New stadium isn’t giving the 49ers a true home-field advantage

49ers Getty Images

The 49ers christened a new home stadium this year, but they’re still waiting for a new home-field advantage.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News takes a look at the relatively tranquil” atmosphere at Levi’s Stadium.  And Kawakami makes a great point — if a home-field advantage doesn’t emerge tonight against the Seahawks, it never will.

The 49ers are 3-2 at home this season, with no convincing victories.  Most recently, San Francisco barely beat Washington.

The toughest test comes against the Seahawks.  As Kawakami said, if it’s not loud and raucous in Santa Clara tonight, perhaps it never will be.

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