- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If the folks who make the NFL schedule are grimacing, it’s understandable. Those spicy Thanksgiving matchups have lost their spark.

With the tradition of staging the holiday games in Detroit and Dallas, the key is finding attractive opponents for the Lions and Cowboys. Especially the Lions, who haven’t had a winning season since the Pilgrims landed. Well, almost.

So the schedule makers came up with, fittingly, the Patriots at Detroit. New England (8-2) is tied for the league’s best record and figures to put on a good show as a 6 1/2-point favorite.

They also must have been salivating about having the Saints visit the Cowboys in what they envisioned as an NFC championship preview. Sorry: Dallas spoiled that scenario by flopping to 3-7.

At least defending champion New Orleans (7-3) held up its end and is a 3-point favorite at Jerry’s palace near Dallas.

The night game, which rotates locations, landed at the Meadowlands for a rematch of not only a wild-card playoff game from January, but of the 2009 season finale in which the Jets closed down Giants Stadium by routing the Bengals to sneak into the postseason.

That one has lost its juice, too, with the Jets (8-2), 8 1/2-point choices and headed back toward the playoffs, and the Bengals (2-8, seven straight defeats) already in oblivion.

Jacksonville (plus 9 1/2) at New York Giants

Jags are in the mix for the playoffs. Hey, they actually lead the AFC South with a tiebreaker over Indy. Giants are banged-up at receiver and on the offensive line. New York still has enough to win, but not by this margin.

BEST BET: GIANTS, 18-14

Kansas City (minus 1) at Seattle

Seahawks are another bird at home. Chiefs struggle on the road and Qwest Field is as tough as any venue.

UPSET SPECIAL: SEAHAWKS 17-13

New England (minus 6 1/2) at Detroit

How can anyone pick against the Patriots on Thanksgiving? New England’s precision offense will dominate.

PATRIOTS, 30-16

New Orleans (minus 3) at Dallas

This is the true test whether the Cowboys have waded out of mediocrity and turned around their fortunes. Saints can’t afford a stumble in next three winnable games before tough closing stretch.

SAINTS, 27-20

Cincinnati (plus 8 1/2) at New York Jets

Jets haven’t played a complete game since early October. Bengals haven’t played one all season.

JETS, 27-16

Minnesota (plus 1 1/2) at Washington

On the theory that Vikings get a boost from their coaching change, just like Dallas did.

VIKINGS, 20-19

Green Bay (pick-em) at Atlanta

Best game on this week’s schedule, with two teams that might meet up again in January. Packers don’t fear the road, not even Georgia Dome where Falcons are perfect.

PACKERS, 27-24

Tampa Bay (plus 9 1/2) at Baltimore

Next-best game on this week’s schedule, despite the overblown spread. A win can establish Bucs as what coach Raheem Morris claims they are: the best team in NFC.

RAVENS, 20-17

Philadelphia (minus 3 1/2) at Chicago

Another terrific matchup now that the Bears look for real. Michael Vick looked more real and less like a video game superhero last week. Can Chicago’s defense keep up with him?

EAGLES, 17-14

San Diego (plus 3) at Indianapolis

Chargers are on their usual midseason/late season rampage. Colts nearly won at Patriots despite being so short-handed. This is in Indy and Chargers aren’t the Patriots.

COLTS, 30-24

Pittsburgh (minus 6) at Buffalo

How is Buffalo’s worst-ranked run defense going to handle Rashard Mendenhall and Pittsburgh’s strong running game? Not well.

STEELERS, 23-10

St. Louis (plus 5) at Denver

If this was in St. Louis, we’d make Rams the BEST BET. But they are shoddy on the road, so we don’t even consider them the UPSET SPECIAL. A win, though, is not out of the question.

RAMS, 21-20

San Francisco (minus 2 1/2) at Arizona (Monday night)

Now this one really must embarrass whoever puts together the schedule.

49ERS, 16-13

Carolina (plus 11) at Cleveland

Can Jake Delhomme play QB for both teams? Probably not.

BROWNS, 14-6

Tennessee (no line) at Houston

A month ago, this was an intriguing matchup. Then these AFC rivals went backward.

TEXANS, 24-14

Miami (no line) at Oakland

Raiders’ schedule gets tougher in December, so they need this one to stay in contention in AFC West. They should get it against injury-ravaged Dolphins.

RAIDERS, 21-13

___

RECORD:

Versus spread, 8-7-1 (overall 85-66-2); Straight up, 14-2 (overall 105-55)

Best Bet: 5-6 against spread, 7-4 straight up.

Upset Special: 7-4 against spread, 7-4 straight up.

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