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Tasty matchups on tap after weak Thursday menu

After a forgettable schedule of three games on Thanksgiving, the NFL is serving something much better today.

Breakfast — The best early game features the New York Giants as 31/2-point favorites at the Washington Redskins.

Emotions will be running high for the Redskins, who will induct the late Sean Taylor into their Ring of Fame just before kickoff.

The Redskins gave the Giants all they could handle in a low-scoring 16-7 affair in the season opener. The Giants, the consensus best team in the league, have not been eating cupcakes on their way to a 10-1 record. New York has won five straight games against teams with winning records.

To hang with the Giants, running back Clinton Portis, a surprise starter who carried the Redskins to victory last week at Seattle, must have another big game. His importance to Washington’s fortunes can’t be underestimated.

Portis, the league’s rushing leader with 1,206 yards, is questionable with knee and rib injuries.

Across the field, the Giants don’t have that type of concern. In this salary cap era, the depth the defending Super Bowl champs have developed is nothing short of amazing.

“It has been evident that the Giants can roll talent out in waves,” Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Sean Van Patten said. “Whether it’s the loss of defensive end Osi Umenyiora, Plaxico Burress acting up or running back Brandon Jacobs getting nicked up, it doesn’t slow them down. Their backups play at a very high level.”

Eli Manning will be without his top wide receiver again today, as Burress sits out with a sore right hamstring.

Lunch — In a 1:15 p.m. local kickoff, we could be seeing a playoff preview when the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) pay a visit to the New England Patriots (7-4).

This game could determine home-field advantage down the road, so plenty is at stake in Foxborough, Mass. The Steelers have lost six of the past seven meetings against the Patriots, who are 1-point favorites. The total is 40.

Dick LeBeau’s defense has been the story in Pittsburgh this season. The underrated defensive coordinator has developed a cohesive, ball-hawking group. His knowledge and feel for the game lead to devilish adjustments that regularly confound opposing offenses.

The Steelers lead the league in rushing, passing and total defense. They allow 66.5 yards per game on the ground and 168.8 yards through the air. No team has led the NFL in all three categories since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles.

LVSC oddsmaker Mike Seba made Pittsburgh a 1-point road favorite, citing a matchup he believes benefits the Steelers and works against Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.

“It’s Cassel going up against an outstanding defense,” Seba said. “Yes, he’s improving, but the jury is certainly still out on him, especially in a big-game scenario. This Pittsburgh team has its own identity, but there are parallels to the old ‘Steel Curtain’ defenses of the 1970s. Pittsburgh also can exact some revenge, ensuring the Pats are a wild-card team at best.”

Dinner — The winner of tonight’s Chicago-Minnesota game assumes control of the NFC North. Both teams are 6-5, with a one-game lead over Green Bay. The Vikings are 3-point home favorites.

Running back Adrian Peterson has done some of his best work against the Bears. Last year, he ripped them for 224 yards on 20 carries in Chicago, and earlier this year in a 48-41 loss at Soldier Field, Peterson netted 121 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.

Van Patten said the total of 411/2 might be too low.

“The Bears’ defense has certainly struggled containing Peterson in the past,” he said. “Both teams have made strides on offense as the season has gone along. Defense was projected to be the calling card for the Vikings and Bears before the season, but I think they’ve both regressed.”

Brian Blessing, project manager for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, can be reached at bblessing@lvsc.com. Hear the LVSC oddsmakers on Sportsbook Radio, weekdays at 4 p.m. on Fox Sports Radio (920 AM). Visit vegassportsconnect.com for more odds information.

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