Baltimore Ravens

NFL Thanksgiving picks (yes, including the HarBowl)

So I’m supposed to be helping my wife with the pre-Thanksgiving Day cooking instead of writing this post. A couple weeks ago, my wife (who plans everything in advance, especially around the holidays) asked if I’d help her make a pumpkin cheesecake. I told her I would and didn’t think about it once for about two weeks.

From what I’ve gathered this evening, she was actually serious about wanting my help. Who knew?

Tomorrow, I plan on driving to Petaluma, opening the front door of the new house my sister and brother-in-law just moved into, walking to the living room, kicking off my shoes and watching about 10 hours of football with my shoes off and my belt loosened. I hope all of you are able to spend the day in a similar way. Happy Thanksgiving!

Onto the Thanksgiving Day picks, with odds courtesy of from around 8 pm PDT Wednesday (11/23/11):

Packers (-6) @ Lions
Didn’t the Lions need two late touchdowns to beat the Panthers last week, after Carolina tied the game 35-35 with less than 5 minutes left? Wasn’t that game in Detroit, too? Don’t the Packers’ offense seem to take these national TV games as opportunities to show off? Have you ever been in a Turkish prison? Sorry, I got in repetitive question mode. It happens.
Pick: Packers

Dolphins @ Cowboys (-7)
The Dolphins have won their last three games by a combined 66 points, and the Cowboys aren’t especially mentally tough — Tony Romo has probably already planned which color towel he’s going to drape around his neck during his fourth quarter rest time, while he’s indirectly mugging for the camera and chatting/giggling with Jason Witten. For some reason I can’t shake the feeling that the Dolphins are going to finish ahead of the Bills (and maybe the Jets, too) in the AFC East, and the team that wins the NFC East will have an 8-8 record.

Pick: Dolphins

49ers @ Ravens (-3.5)
It’s crazy how similar these two teams are to each other. It’s especially nutty that these teams, both with great defenses, elite running backs and Harbaughs galore, are finally mirror images of each other AFTER the Niners got rid of Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.

The Ravens are the established contender, a team that’s played countless high-profile games like this on national television (mostly against the Steelers). The 49ers are the young newbies, a team that isn’t quite on the same level as Baltimore in terms of experience or national reputation. Not by a long shot.

What wins championships again?

The 49ers haven’t faced a defense like this, but neither have the Ravens — the Steelers aren’t what they once were defensively, and Cincinnati’s defense is solid. But the 49ers beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, in a game everyone (including this blogger) dismissed at the time as bad football. Actually, Niners/Bengals was a game between two very good defenses in front of 28,000 rowdy fans.

It’s impossible to know what to expect from either team schematically, because both brothers are probably going to throw in wrinkles that nobody’s ever seen before, seeing as they both know each other so well. Or maybe they’ll go the opposite direction and play straight-up, traditional, field position football and see which team blinks first with a bad turnover or a couple of penalties. Who knows…

One of these teams is a proven commodity

All we really have to go on is what we know about the 2011 season. The 49ers have only slipped up once, in Week 2, and at the time the overtime loss to Dallas was considered a great sign due to how San Francisco played. The Niners have done everything asked of them. They’ve revamped the special teams while installing a new offense and defense in a short amount of time. They’ll travel more miles this regular season than any other team (even Tampa Bay and Chicago, who played a game in London), and now they play on the other side of the country against a very good team, especially at home. But these 49ers still haven’t failed. And they’re 9-0-1 against the spread.

Baltimore followed a blowout win over Pittsburgh with a surprising loss in Tennessee. They lost in Jacksonville, and Seattle. They almost lost to the Cardinals at home, which seems almost insane after seeing the Cardinals give up in the first quarter at Candlestick on Sunday (the Cardinals didn’t have Kevin Kolb, but Niners/Cardinals is still a division rivalry of sorts).

Low scoring? Nah, too predictable…

That doesn’t mean this game is going to be a blowout win for the 49ers — no way the Ravens screw around in the first half the way they did against Arizona, not with the Niners’ record and the publicity this game has generated. I also don’t see this game topping out at some kind of 9-7 type of score, simply because it seems like whenever everyone figures a game is guaranteed to be a defensive struggle, it doesn’t happen that way (and vice versa, which means the Packers will probably beat the Lions 17-7).

This week I’ve written a couple comparisons between the Ravens and the Giants, because before all this “HarBowl” silliness the game against New York was supposed to represent the 49ers’ ultimate test. Can the 49ers score 27 points against Baltimore like they did against New York? Maybe not, unless Ray Lewis is still hampered by the foot injury that kept him out last week against the Bengals. Can the Ravens score 20 points against the 49ers? Unless Torrey Smith makes a big play or three, it seems unlikely. Will the 49ers falter in the face of their latest, greatest challenge? Even though as an oldest sibling I understand how badly John Harbaugh probably wants to win the first “HarBowl,” I don’t see it happening.
Prediction: 49ers 26, Ravens 19

Last week: 8-6
Overall: 80-78-2

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