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Against the Spread: 2011 NFL Picks: Week 12

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- It's Thanksgiving week, so that means you're almost guaranteed at least 50 Thanksgiving-related puns from the NFL morning shows on Thursday and Sunday. Here's mine: I hope my picks against the spread this week don't end up being turkeys.

After going 3-2 in Week 11, my record currently stands at 19-29 with two ties, good for a miserable winning percentage of 38% in the 40 games I've picked so far. I ended up with two very bad beats last weekend. The first came when the Jacksonville Jaguars were unable to score against the Cleveland Browns on first and goal from the 2-yard line with about 45 seconds to go. The second was after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was injured early in the team's game against the Oakland Raiders, a key loss that sank the Vikings in a fairly close game.

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Peterson is just one of several key wounded starters over the past two weeks, and now the futures of some possible playoff teams are in doubt. The first and most obvious is the Chicago Bears, who lost quarterback Jay Cutler to a thumb injury as they fight to secure at least one of the two Wild Card spots in the NFC. Over in the AFC, the Houston Texans now have to look in the rearview mirror at the Tennessee Titans after quarterback Matt Schaub injured his foot.

Turning the game over to Matt Leinart isn't a great proposition for Texan fans who know of his weak resume, but bettors should be licking their chops at the opportunity to play on the public's overreaction to some of these key injuries and the backup players stepping into starting roles.

"I found that the most value this week, and the games I look forward to most, are when Vegas drastically over or under values replacement players in critical situations," says Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site His model is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

"It's a high-risk, high-reward situation," Bessire says about picking games where Leinart, Caleb Hanie and Toby Gerhart are set to start in their respective games. "There is more opportunity for error, but I'm more comfortable with how we approach it versus how the public will account for it. In those situations, we have strong opinions. We're going to do a better job at analyzing that situation."

With that, it's on to the picks for Week 12 of the NFL season, including the three games to be played on Thanksgiving. As I'll remind you through the entire season, these are for entertainment purposes only. As always, I have enlisted the help of's Paul Bessire, who offers analysis of the data his model provides for the games I've picked this week.

I have also collected commentary from Bryan Leonard, a professional sports handicapper with who is also part of the Tuesday Group, a collection of professional bettors in Las Vegas who get together to handicap the games each week. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by Vegas oddsmakers to determine where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These trends prove to be critical for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value.

Read on for the first game pick for tomorrow's game, where the Oakland Raiders travel to play the San Diego Chargers. And as always, I encourage you to leave comments below with your favorite picks against the spread this week.
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