It’s usually easy to avoid Thanksgiving games, especially the early one. That’s because Detroit is always involved and the Lions are what might be called “traditionally challenged” on a traditional day.

But there’s quite a bit on the line in Thursday night’s game between Denver and Kansas City, who trail San Diego in the AFC West, easily the NFL’s best division this season.

Denver is favored on the road by one point despite blowing a 24-7 third-quarter lead at home Sunday night and losing to San Diego. That dropped the Broncos into second place, a game behind the Chargers, a game ahead of the Chiefs.

The 35-27 final was not only a blow to the Broncos’ won-lost record, but a blow to the ego of a defense that considers itself the NFL’s best. Is it? In losses to San Diego and Indianapolis, both at home, it has allowed a total of 69 points.

“That’s on us,” middle linebacker Al Wilson says. “You can’t ask the offense to score 50 points a game. Defensively, we’ve got to find ways to get a stop.”

It will probably be easier against the Chiefs, although Trent Green should be sharper in his second game back after missing eight games with a serious concussion. Green only threw 16 times in last week’s 17-13 win over Oakland as Larry Johnson carried the load with 154 yards rushing.

One important factor is the inconsistent Jake Plummer, who runs the Denver offense.

The other is Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs have lost just once in five games.

CHIEFS, 20-17

Tampa Bay (plus 11) at Dallas (Thanksgiving)

Tony Romo has Bill Parcells smiling.

COWBOYS, 31-13

Miami (minus 3) at Detroit

Joey Harrington comes back to Detroit with three straight wins.

Make it four.

DOLPHINS 24-20

Chicago (plus 3) at New England

The Bears are 2-for-2 on their Northeast road trip. The Patriots are just 2-3 at home, but have the schemes to befuddle Rex Grossman.

PATRIOTS, 16-10

Pittsburgh (plus 3) at Baltimore

If the Steelers are serious about a playoff push, this is a must win.

Sorry.

RAVENS, 22-17

Carolina (minus 4) at Washington

Like the Cowboys, the Panthers are starting to perform as they should.

PANTHERS, 31-13

New Orleans (plus 3) at Atlanta

These two NFC South contenders are starting to slide.

FALCONS, 24-23

Philadelphia (plus 9) at Indianapolis

The Colts don’t win by lot, especially at home. But without McNabb for the Eagles …

COLTS, 31-20

Green Bay (off) at Seattle (Monday night)

The oddsmakers believe Brett Favre will play. The “off” is for Matt Hasselbeck.

SEAHAWKS, 27-16

New York Giants (minus 3) at Tennessee

The Giants could be as bad as they looked in Jacksonville on Monday night.

TITANS, 20-16

Cincinnati (minus 3) at Cleveland

The Browns don’t lose badly.

But they lose.

BENGALS, 20-16

Jacksonville (minus 3) at Buffalo

Beware a southern team in the north off a short week.

BILLS, 19-18

Oakland (plus 13) at San Diego

LaDainian Tomlinson only gets three TDs this week.

CHARGERS, 31-10

Houston (plus 6) at New York Jets

The Texans lost 14-10 in their first trip to the Meadowlands this season.

JETS 14-10.

San Francisco (plus 51/2) at St. Louis

The Rams have lost five straight. The Niners have won three straight and beat St. Louis at home.

Let the streaks continue.

49ERS, 21-20

Arizona (plus 6) at Minnesota

The Cardinals have won more recently than the Vikings.

The streaks stop here.

VIKINGS, 19-16



LAST WEEK: 6-9-1 (spread) 8-8 (Straight up)

SEASON 63-90-7 (spread); 96-64 (straight up)

AP-ES-11-21-06 1432EST



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