Before we delve into this week’s game, I’d like to wish all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Even during these tough economic times, we have so much to be thankful for, namely living in the great country on the face of the earth. You have to love living in a land where we dedicate an entire day to feeding ourselves, and watching football from noon until midnight. What a country!
Speaking of football, there will be plenty of it this Thanksgiving weekend and even though the college season is winding down, there are still a number of key games to be played in the next two weeks.
One of those games comes Thursday night when the Texas Longhorns travel to College Station to take on their arch rivals, the Texas A&M Aggies in a prime time affair on ESPN. Texas should enter this game having already wrapped up the Big 12 South title (they would have accomplished that with a win at home over Kansas this past Saturday) and a trip to the Big South title game Dec. 5 in Arlington. Mack Brown’s team knows even one loss this late in the season could ruin their chance of landing a spot in the BCS title game opposite the winner of the Alabama-Florida game, also set for Dec. 5. The Aggies would love nothing more than to spoil UT’s season, so expect a fired up bunch of Ags come Thursday night.
On Sunday, the Texans host Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts could still be undefeated when they arrive at Reliant Stadium on Sunday. They did have to play at Baltimore last Sunday against a Ravens team that is playing for its playoff life from here on out. Even if the Colts come in with one loss, they are still the best team in the AFC and if the Texans are serious about earning a playoff slot, they will have to start beating the best teams in their conference to make other AFC teams take notice. This should be a good one to watch this Sunday.
Before we take a look at those two games and a host of others, let’s review last week’s record. An 8-4 mark upped the season record to 74-53 (58 percent). Time is running short, which means it’s time to put a run together to get over the 60 percent mark.
Texas at Texas A&M: You can throw out the records when these two bitter rivals square off in Kyle Field on Thanksgiving night. The Aggies know a win over Texas will make their season and with this being the 10th anniversary of the tragic bonfire accident, which claimed the lives of 12 Aggies, A&M will be doubly fired up when the Longhorns come calling. UT quarterback Colt McCoy and his mates are well aware of the troubles they’ve had with the Aggies since they put on the orange and white uniforms. They have lost two of the last three meetings with the Aggies, but this is a mentally stronger Texas squad and it knows it cannot afford any slip-ups at this point of the season. Texas struggled in the running game early in the season, but it appears they have found a solution with the insertion of bullish tailback Cody Johnson into the starting lineup. The 250-pounder has power and enough speed to keep defenses honest. While Johnson has added another dimension to the UT offense, look for McCoy to factor more in the running game starting Thursday night against the Aggies. My pick, Texas 31, Texas A&M 23
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: This has been a tough year for Bob Stoops and the Sooners. Injuries have decimated a team that had high hopes entering the season. Oklahoma State also entered the year with BCS dreams, but an early-season loss to Houston and a subsequent loss to Texas pretty much dashed those hopes. The Cowboys can still pick up their 10th win of the season and probably a Cotton Bowl berth with a win at Norman, which is easier, said than done. OU plays well at home, just ask the Aggies. Two weeks ago, the Sooners took the Aggies apart en route to a 65-10 victory. I don’t expect OU to put up 65 points on an OSU squad that has an explosive offense of its own, but I do look for the Sooners to pull out all the stops as they look to avoid losing for a fifth time this season. This should be a high-scoring game, but the nod goes to the home standing Sooners who play better defense than do the Cowboys. My pick, Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 34
Alabama at Auburn: It’s been stated in this space for years that this is one of the nastiest rivalries in the history of college football. These two schools literally hate one another, which only fuels the fire when their football teams meet on the gridiron. This is a tough game for the Crimson Tide to play what with the SEC title game against Florida looming in a week. Nick Saban does not want to suffer any major injuries in what should be a very physical football game, but don’t look for Saban to rest any of his key starters on either side of the football. He knows his troops need to be razor sharp heading to Atlanta for their showdown with Tim Tebow and the Gators, so look for the Tide to roll early and take an Auburn team that has struggled since the midway point of the season out before halftime. Look for running back Mark Ingram to have a big game as he states his case in the Heisman Trophy race. My pick, Alabama 33, Auburn 15
Notre Dame at Stanford: Prior to the start of the 2008 season, Notre Dame fans had high hopes that this would be the year head coach Charlie Weiss delivered on his promise to make the Irish relevant again as a top 10 program and a player in the BCS title hunt. Well, those dreams have been dashed as ND entered last Saturday’s game at home against Connecticut with four losses and rising speculation that Weiss will be removed as head coach at the end of this season. And while many Irish fans circled this one as a win, they may be pulling out the erasers after seeing what Stanford has done in the last few weeks. They blew out Oregon earlier this month and followed that impressive win up with a 55-21 trouncing at USC. Stanford has the nation’s leading rusher in senior tailback Toby Gerhart. Gerhart is a punishing runner and that’s not good news for a Notre Dame defense that gives up chunks of yards and is not the best tackling bunch around. If the Irish hope to hang around in this one on Saturday night, they’d better hope quarterback Jimmy Clausen and the offense rediscover the magic they had earlier in the season, if not, this could be another long night for Weiss and his team. It says here, Irish eyes won’t be smiling after this one and the powers that be will either have to pay Weiss $18 million to part company, or give him one more year to turn things around. My pick, Stanford 36, Notre Dame 24
Green Bay at Detroit: The Lions host the annual Thanksgiving kickoff game and this year, they should give the Packers a game. Sure, Detroit has one win, but this team plays hard and has a talented, young quarterback in Matthew Stafford. That being said, the Lions will be taking on a Packers team that got itself back into the NFC Wild Card hunt thanks to its 17-7 win over Dallas two weeks ago. If the Packer defense plays like it did against the Cowboys, they should be able to pick up the win on Thursday. Look for GB QB Aaron Rodgers to have a big day as he attacks the Lions’ secondary early and often. Detroit will make this a competitive game, but the Packers’ experience and weapons on offense should be the difference in this one. My pick, Green Bay 30, Detroit 22
Oakland at Dallas: Just what the doctor ordered for the Cowboys after stinking things up two weeks ago at Green Bay. The Raiders are the tonic for any team that is ailing, especially a team that is a serious playoff contender as the Cowboys are. They didn’t look like much of a playoff game two weeks ago against the Packers, but perhaps that game served as a wake up call for this team. The Cowboys are a good team, but not a great one and it appeared too many of them were reading their press clippings after their win at Philadelphia the week before. The Green Bay game was a slap in the face, especially to the offense that hard its worst game of the season. Quarterback Tony Romo and mates need to come out smoking against an Oakland team that is down right awful. Get the running game going, which should open up Romo’s passing game. Defensively, look for DeMarcus Ware and Co. to make it a long and unhappy Thanksgiving Day for Oakland QB Jemarcus Russell. My pick, Dallas 31, Oakland 13
New York Giants at Denver: The Thanksgiving Day triple-header concludes that night when the Giants travel to Denver to take on the Broncos. This is an important game for both teams who after getting off to strong starts have struggled in the last month. The Giants won their first five games before losing four straight, while the Broncos won their first six before losing four straight, so something has to give in this one. Look for the Giants to establish the running game early, while the Broncos will look to attack a beat up NY secondary by sending Brandon Marshall deep. Kyle Orton sustained a sprained ankle two weeks ago against the Redskins, but he should be ready to go Thursday night. Something tells me the high altitude will also play a factor in this one as the Broncos get back on the winning side of things. My pick, Denver 23, New York 20
Arizona at Tennessee: The Cardinals take on a Titans team that has suddenly found new life with Vince Young at quarterback and it helps that running back Chris Johnson has become the leading rusher in the NFL and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field thanks to his blazing speed. But the Cards are proving to be true road warriors this season as they’ve won four road games thus far this season. Kurt Warner will face an improving Titans defense, but he should make all the plays he needs thanks to the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquin Bolden. Look for the Titans to once again feed Johnson the ball, but he will be facing a stiff run defense. This should be an entertaining game to watch, but something tells me Young will be the difference maker in this one as the Titans continue their winning ways. My pick, Tennessee 26, Arizona 23
Indianapolis at Houston: This is the Texans’ chance to send a statement to the rest of the NFL that they can play with the best teams in the NFL. It won’t be easy, but the Texans have played the Colts tough at home the last three years. It will be imperative for the offense to get off to a good start against an Indy defense that is beaten up, especially in the secondary. Look for Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub to have big days against the Colts secondary as the Texans come out slinging the ball all over the yard. But the Colts have a pretty fair QB of their own in Peyton Manning, who is having a MVP type season. He has a pretty decent WR to throw to himself in Reggie Wayne, who is having one of the best years of his career. This should be a high-scoring game, but something tells me Manning will make one more play than Schaub to pull out the victory. My pick, Indianapolis 31, Houston 27
Carolina at New York Jets: The Jets started off like gangbusters but have cooled off dramatically in the last five weeks, while the Panthers started off poorly and have turned things around thanks to their strong running game led by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. That’s bad news for a Jets team that has had trouble stopping the run as of late. Look for another big rushing day from Carolina and look for their defense to pressure Jets’ rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez into a couple of key turnovers that should make the difference in this one. My pick, Carolina 24, New York Jets 18
Pittsburgh at Baltimore: Hide the women and children when as these two hard hitters and bitter rivals get it on on Sunday night in front of a national television audience on NBC. Last year, the Steelers defeated the Ravens three times en route to their sixth Super Bowl title. The Steelers know they need to win this one if they hope to defense their division title. They suffered a big blow two weeks ago when they lost to Cincinnati for the second time this season, which basically is a two-game swing in the division. The Ravens are also a desperate team and can ill afford too many more losses if they hope to return to the playoffs. Both defenses should dominate this game, but the edge goes to the Steelers because they have the better quarterback in Ben Rothlisberger. Sure, Big Ben did not have his best day against the Bengals, but he’s a proven big-game performer and enjoys playing under the bright lights. My pick, Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 17
New England at New Orleans: The folks at ESPN have to be thanking their lucky stars, and the NFL schedule maker, that they landed this one for Monday Night Football. This game will pit two of the league’s best quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Drew Brees so expect plenty of offensive fireworks on Monday night. Two weeks ago, the Pats lost a heartbreaking 35-34 decision at Indianapolis when head coach Bill Belichick’s gamble on fourth down backfired. Don’t expect the Hoodie to make that mistake this time around. The Saints have taken on all challengers this year and beaten every one of them (heading into last Sunday’s game), but they showed a bit of a chink in their armor two weeks ago when the Rams were able to have a lot of success running the football. The Pats don’t have a Steven Jackson on their team, but look for them to run it when the Saints least expect it. Brady will come out flinging it as well as he and Randy Moss are having a lot of success with the deep routes this year. The Saints will also run at the Pats, but their bread and butter is Brees and the host of talented receivers he has at his disposal. The Saints want to prove to the rest of the NFL that they can beat the league’s best, and I expect them to treat this game like a playoff game. The Dome will be rocking as this one turns into a shootout with Brees making a play late to lead the Saints to victory. My pick, New Orleans 34, New England 31