Every so often the NFL schedule maker gives a team an atomic wedgy. On Thanksgiving, the victim will be Pittsburgh.
They are coming off a game in Cleveland on Sunday and will be traveling to Baltimore for a Thursday night meeting against the archrival Ravens.
How rare is that scheduling injustice?
Well, for starters, it’s the first time the past nine seasons a team has had to play on the road in a Thursday game after playing away from home the previous Sunday. And if that’s not bad enough, the Steelers will face a Ravens team that played at home last Sunday.
Adding it all up, there hasn’t been such a rotten scenario for a visiting Thursday squad (playing back-to-back road games four days apart vs. a team having consecutive home games) since the 1994 Green Bay Packers came off a Sunday game in Buffalo to face the home-bound Cowboys in Dallas. Naturally, the Cowboys won, 42-31, as a 6.5-point choice.
Anyway, Steelers fans, wager with caution. But here’s a nugget of hope. Since 2000, visiting teams on Thanksgiving are 18-15 ATS.
Now for a closer look at the Turkey Day menu. All times PST. Lines provided by the LVH SuperBook.
PRO FOOTBALL – THURSDAY, NOV. 28
Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) at Detroit Lions (6-5)
Time: 9:30 a.m. PST
Line: Lions by 6½ (50)
Facts: Detroit is a favorite on Turkey Day for the first time since 2000, when it beat first-year New England boss Bill Belichick 34-9 as a 6½-point choice. It’s also the first time in 13 years the Lions enter this game with a better record than their foe… Green Bay is 15-1 in this series since 2005, including a 22-9 victory in Green Bay in Week 5 off a bye. But that was with QB Aaron Rodgers (shoulder), whereas the Lions were without WR Calvin Johnson… Detroit’s only victory in that stretch was 7-3 in 2010, when Matt Flynn entered as an emergency sub for injured Rodgers… Expect the unexpected: Perhaps the most celebrated Thanksgiving game in Detroit history occurred in 1962, when the Lions beat the undefeated Packers 26-14, getting a franchise-record 11 sacks. It was GB’s only loss of a championship season. Six years later, the Lions were 12-0 losers in the mud to an 0-11 Philly team.
Analysis: Things sure have changed since that Week 5 meeting. Now Rodgers is out (shoulder) and Johnson is on a tear. The word out of Green Bay is that Flynn will be making his first start for Green Bay since a record-setting day with the Packers’ JV in a 45-41 win over Detroit in the 2011 finale. He’ll be GB’s fourth starter at the position this year, one off the NFL record. He looked good in helping the Packers rally from a 23-7 fourth-quarter deficit, but was a waste of a uniform in OT in a game that ended 26-26. Detroit, meanwhile, is coming off a stunning 24-21 home loss to Tampa Bay, but don’t count on the Lions to have a minus-5 turnover differential again.
Forecast: Lions 27, Packers 14
Oakland Raiders (4-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)
Time: 1:30 p.m. PST
Line: Cowboys by 9½ (47½)
Facts: This the 10th time the past 11 Thanksgivings the Cowboys have been installed as the favorite, but last year lost 38-31 to Washington as a 3-point choice… This also marks the seventh time in eight Turkey Days that Dallas is facing a team with a losing record… The only other time the Raiders were Thanksgiving visitors in Dallas, in 2009, the Cowboys won 24-7 as a 13½-point underdog. That ties for the biggest spread for Dallas the past five years… Oakland free-agent rookie QB Matt McGloin will be making his third start. Over the past two seasons, first-year quarterbacks are only 2-7 on three-days’ prep time, but 5-4 ATS, including RG3’s win with the Redskins vs, Dallas on this holiday last year.
Analysis: The Cowboys looked like heroes last week in their 24-21 triumph over a vastly overrated Giants team that had built its four-game winning streak against some of the worst quarterbacks in the league – including three third-stringers. In in the case of GB’s Scott Tolzien, NYG actually made him look good. Dallas, coming off a bye Sunday, also benefited from stewing after their 49-17 embarrassment in New Orleans and were out to prove it wasn’t the league’s defensive doormat. Mission accomplished. The Cowboys should win this game against a Raiders team that took a jolt in a last-second home loss to Tennessee. And especially since Oakland is crossing two time zones in a mega-short week. But this point spread is too steep for Dallas to cover considering it allowed NYG 202 rush yards last week.
Forecast: Cowboys 30, Raiders 27
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6) at Baltimore Ravens (5-6)
Time: Ravens by 3 (40½)
Weather: Clear, high 20s
Line: Pittsburgh’s 27-11 victory vs. the Browns was in large part a result of its plus-4 turnover margin and 18-yard edge in average starting field position (40-22). Not mention an easy pick-six off emergency fill-in Brandon Weeden… In Baltimore’s last game as Thanksgiving host, in 2011, it beat San Francisco 16-6 as a 3-point choice in the first battle of the Harbaughs, The 49ers had entered the game 9-1 (9-0-1 ATS)… The Ravens are 7-0 against the line their past seven home games, 5-0 this season, including last week’s 19-3 pounding of the Jets… Pittsburgh has gone 5-2 since returning from London at 0-4.
Analysis: It’s already been discussed up high how the Steelers are facing what has to be a colossal disadvantage. If that wasn’t the case, chances are the NFL would schedule more teams to play back-to-back road games four days apart. Then again, does anyone remember the Duluth Eskimos getting their pants in a bunch because they had to play three road games in only four days in 1926? And one more thing about the Steelers, it won’t help that they have the league’s 10th-oldest roster (as of opening day). The Ravens, meanwhile, appear to have juiced up their running game and with run-stuffing Haloti Ngata back along the line, have been manhandling foes.
Forecast: Ravens 26, Steelers 13
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].