(Editor's note: Every week this season, gay teenage NFL fan Jeremy Brener will give his perspective and predictions for the upcoming week).
I'm not the biggest Thanksgiving fan, but I do appreciate the idea behind the holiday: being thankful for what we have. Sometimes we take for granted for what we have and who we are, and Thanksgiving allows us to remind ourselves of what is important. It's been a crazy year for me, and never more in my life have I ever been thankful to be a sports fan and to be gay.
I was a sports fan before I ever realized I was gay. Sports is my first true love. Sports have the power to impact a person's life, and it is amazing what they can do. For me, sports is an outlet to express myself and to provide an oasis for the crazy world we live in. With the amount of terrible things that have happened in the world, sports is always there to be a distraction and to entertain us. Watching football every Sunday is such a treat for me, and to have the chance to write and analyze and play fantasy football is a dream. Sports inspire us, impact us, entertain us, change us, and shape us as people. And I know that if I am ever upset, lost or distraught, I have sports to pick me up again.
Being a gay sports fan is also something I take pride in. The fact that I get to break the stereotype of being this die-hard sports fan and a gay guy is fascinating. Another reason why I am so grateful to be gay is the amount of friends and connections I have made. I have made so many friends that I never would have thought existed if I did not come out.
Being honest and open with myself has allowed me to have a sense of identity and a community of people that can relate to me. Before I came out, I felt misunderstood and lost. Coming out was one of the best decisions I have made, and I am thankful for it each and every day.
Here are my Week 12 predictions:
Game of the Week
Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys
It's a battle of two undefeated teams: the 10-0 Carolina Panthers, and the Cowboys, who are 3-0 when Tony Romo is the QB. With seven losses in the seven games Romo missed with a broken collarbone, the Cowboys are in the cellar of their division. They play in the NFC East and they are only two games behind the division-leading New York Giants, but they have no room for error. The 10-0 Panthers have had an incredible season, finding multiple ways to win. Watching them defeat the Redskins by 27 points, they look Super Bowl-bound. After losing star wideout Kelvin Benjamin with a torn ACL in the summer, all hope looked lost. But Cam Newton has been putting up an MVP-caliber campaign at quarterback and has been making the whole team around him better. Dallas will be getting the NFL's best on Turkey Day. Dallas' desperation to gain ground in their division vs. Carolina's determination to stay perfect makes this the game of the week. Dallas will give them a good fight, but Newton and the Panthers will stay perfect, winning 27-20.
Upset of the Week
Miami Dolphins over New York Jets
This is a must-win game for both teams. The Jets have lost four of five, and the Dolphins have lost three of four. The Jets are probably the favorites because a) they have the better record, and b) they gave the Dolphins a hard loss in Week 4, beating them 27-14, which ultimately lead the Dolphins to fire their defensive coordinator and head coach. The Jets have been struggling, barely beating the Jaguars and losing to the Bills and Texans. With injuries to Sheldon Richardson and Darrelle Revis, and Chris Ivory and Ryan Fitzpatrick struggling on offense, New York needs a big win here. Meanwhile, this is a revenge game for the Dolphins, and an important moment in their season. A loss to the Jets on Sunday could knock them out of the playoff race. The Dolphins have fought adversity already this season; they are no strangers to it. A win in the Meadowlands could shift their season 180 degrees. I like Miami to bounce back and get the win on the road, 23-14.
Fantasy Start of the Week
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer vs. San Francisco 49ers
Could almost-36-year-old Carson Palmer really be an MVP candidate? Palmer has had a resurrection of his career in Arizona, winning 24 of 32 starts. In his last three games, he has thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns. In four career starts against the 49ers, he averages 317 yards and almost two touchdowns. In their meeting in Week 3 against San Francisco, the Cardinals won 47-7, and he threw for more than 300 yards. Imagine if last year's Cardinals, who were 9-1 at this point in the season, had a healthy Carson Palmer under center? This year's Cardinals will get to play that scenario out, and it wouldn't surprise me if the next time they travel to Santa Clara, it will be for the Super Bowl.
Fantasy Sit of the Week
Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. St. Louis Rams
A.J. Green has struggled in 2015. The star receiver for the Bengals has only scored one touchdown and eclipsed 100 yards receiving once in the last seven games. Plus, this week he draws a matchup against the St. Louis Rams, who allow the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Green is in an offense full of offensive weapons. The Bengals have two capable running backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, and the league leader in touchdowns, Tyler Eifert. Andy Dalton has so many fun toys to play with, and he has been playing with Green a little bit less. With a tough matchup, Green is less likely to make noise this week. Green is not a terrible play, but there are a number of options that are much more suitable to play this week, and one of them is probably on your roster.
Fantasy Pick-up of the Week
Chiefs RB Spencer Ware
This week, Thomas Rawls and Buck Allen are the two likeliest waiver-wire pickups, but look out for Ware. When Charcandrick West went down with an injury against the Chargers last week, Ware picked up the pieces and scored two touchdowns with 96 yards rushing. West is day-to-day with his hamstring injury and is questionable to play Sunday vs. the Bills, who are coming off a short week. If West does not play Sunday, Ware will pick up his workload. Even if West does play Sunday, Ware is a valuable handcuff, and if this season has taught us anything with all of these injuries to running backs, it is to pick up the handcuff!
Lock of the Week
Green Bay Packers over Chicago Bears
The Packers rebounded from their three-game losing streak with a win against the Vikings. Now, they face a banged up Bears team that took the field without Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte this past Sunday. On a short week, the Bears will not have both of them at 100%, if at all. The Packers will ride their three-score win against Minnesota and take this momentum to help them out for the rest of the year. I picked the Packers two weeks ago against the Lions at Lambeau, and I was wrong. The Packers lacked discipline in that loss to Detroit, but they gained it all back this past Sunday in Minnesota. Green Bay looks like a playoff contender yet again, and coming off their biggest win of the year against their division rival, they have a great shot to beat their banged-up, bigger division rival on Thanksgiving night with all the lights shining on Lambeau. Packers win 31-13.
Buzzer's Best Bet
Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski will make one pick each week against the spread.
Pittsburgh +4 at Seattle. Pick: Pittsburgh
The Seahawks keep getting love from the betting public when playing at home, despite how mediocre this team is at home this season, only 2-3 against the spread. And those two covers were against the Bears and 49ers, quarterbacked by Jimmy Clausen and Blaine Gabbert. This week, they step up in class, going against Ben Roethlisberger, throwing to a bevy of great receivers led by Antonio Brown. The Steelers come off a bye and are the better team. They not only cover, they win outright.
Last week: 1-0. Season: 7-4.
Hot Player of the Week
Seahawks RB Thomas Rawls
The undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan exploded for the second time this season on Sunday against San Francisco, gaining 255 yards and two touchdowns. The "Rawls Royce" is likely to start again this week against Pittsburgh, and he has made the most of every opportunity that has been presented to him. He's a feel good story and a hard worker that fought for everything he has earned, and no matter who you are, you have to admire and respect what he has done so far and what he will do in the future.
Jeremy Brener lives in Houston. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@BrenerJeremy).