Thanksgiving Thursday NFL Preview
Last Week Recap
Welcome back to the Gridiron Experts Thursday Night Football Preview! Last week, I took the Packers to pull the upset in Seattle. Although the game was tightly contested, the Seahawks ended up getting the win 27-24. Many criticized Coach Mike McCarthy for punting on 4th and 2 with only minutes to go. The decision would ultimately seal the Packers’ fate. For a bit of silver lining, Aaron Jones did have his breakout game, as I predicted. We’re moving on to Week 12, where we have a 3-game Thanksgiving slate for you. We’ll preview each of the contests below, and provide the usual picks. Here we go!
Brad’s TNF Picks Season Record:
- Straight-Up: 8-3
- Against the Spread: 7-3-1
Bears at Lions
Bears (-3) | Game Time: 12:30 PM
The Chicago Bears (7-3) will travel to play the Detroit Lions (4-6) on Thanksgiving day for an NFC North divisional showdown. After knocking off the Vikings on Sunday Night Football this past week, the Bears have won 4 consecutive games. The Lions pulled out a fantastic win against the Panthers in Week 11, but it was their first win since October 21st.
Matt Nagy’s team seems to be turning a corner, and it’s being led by a fantastic defensive unit. Khalil Mack is asserting himself as one of the most dominant players in the NFL and is the unquestioned leader of this Bears defense. Mack’s edge rushing has been impeccable this year, as he leads the league with 5 forced fumbles, having recovered 2 as well. Mack’s 8 sacks are also among the league’s best and he’s proving to be worth every penny the Bears paid for him this offseason.
Another huge piece of the Bears’ rise is their newfound success in Nagy’s offensive scheme. QB Mitchell Trubisky has had a breakout campaign, logging 20 TDs to 9 INT so far this season. In 12 games as a rookie, Trubisky touted a 7:7 TD to INT ratio; so his progress is evident. He was listed on Monday’s estimated injury report and didn’t practice Tuesday. He’s listed day-to-day and may not be available for Thursday’s game. It’ll be important to monitor his status tomorrow.
His main receiving threats are also greatly improved. The Bears added WR Allen Robinson and TE Trey Burton this offseason and drafted rookie WR Anthony Miller. This trio has been effective so far this season, along with newly added veteran Taylor Gabriel. When you combine Swiss Army Knife Tarik Cohen out of the backfield, defenses really need to keep their heads on a swivel.
Gabriel currently leads the team in receiving with 478 yards, but Trubisky has really been spreading the ball out this year. All 5 of the aforementioned pass catchers have at least 350 yards receiving and have combined to catch 19 of Trubisky’s 20 touchdowns. Robinson, the team’s big splash acquisition, has logged 457 receiving yards and 4 TDs thus far, but has been hampered by injuries.
Jordan Howard is the team’s leading rusher with 523 yards and 5 TDs. Howard forms a dynamic duo with the do-it-all Cohen. When you add in his rushing yards, Cohen’s 729 yards lead the team by a significant margin. All-in-all, this Bears team is proving weekly that they’re here to stay.
The Lions are working their way through their first season with Head Coach Matt Patricia. Although the season has been up-and-down, the Lions come into this contest with a pep in their step, having knocked off the Panthers last week. Unfortunately, the victory came at a large cost, as RB Kerryon Johnson went down with a knee injury. It seems Johnson avoided a larger injury and only escaped with a sprained knee, but he’s not expected to suit up for the Thanksgiving Day game.
Instead, the Lions will likely turn to a three-headed-monster of LeGarrette Blount, Zach Zenner, and pass-catcher Theo Riddick. Blount has been featured as mostly a goal-line back this year, and Riddick has functioned as more of a receiver than a back in his career. Therefore, look for Zenner to mix in with Blount on early downs. I think we could be looking at a true workload split here. Riddick has been averaging 6 targets per game out of the backfield since he returned from injury in Week 9. With Johnson out, and more touches to go around, look for him to contribute in this one.
With their power RB out, the Lions will likely turn to QB Matthew Stafford to toss the pigskin a bit more than usual in this one. Stafford, in his 10th season, is the leader of this Lions offense. Through 10 games, Stafford has logged 17 TDs and only 8 INT. At his current pace, Stafford could be (quietly) on his way to one of his best seasons as a professional.
Unfortunately, he’s going to have to work a little harder for it, as he’s losing his pass catchers left and right. WR Marvin Jones is week-to-week with a bone bruise on his knee. He was listed as DNP on the estimated injury report for Monday and is likely to miss his second straight game. With Golden Tate’s recent departure, the Lions made it clear that they believe in WR Kenny Golladay. In his second year, Golladay has made a major leap and is turning into a bonafide WR1. Golladay already has 714 yards this year and has added 5 TDs. He’s made many highlight-reel catches, and it’s clear that we’re watching a star in the making. Golladay will have to continue to step up, especially if Jones misses this game.
The Bears are hot right now, and the injury woes are going to hurt the Lions. It’s a short week of preparation, and I trust Nagy and his staff to get Chicago ready to go to battle in Detroit. UPDATE: Trubisky is listed as doubtful, leaving Chase Daniel to quarterback the Bears. I think the Chicago defense is still good enough to pull through here and I’ll stick with my pick of Chicago (-3). Give me Chicago, 28-20.
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Redskins at Cowboys
Cowboys (-7.5) | Game Time: 4:30 PM
The Washington Redskins (6-4) will head to Dallas to play Cowboys (5-5) on Thanksgiving day. This will be a pivotal battle for the NFC East throne, as the Redskins currently lead the Cowboys by 1 game in the standings. Last week, the Cowboys won their 2nd consecutive tough game, beating the Falcons on their home turf. The Redskins lost a close game at home to the Houston Texans, 22-19.
Unfortunately, the Redskins’ loss came at a much greater cost, as QB Alex Smith broke 2 bones in his leg with an injury many compared to Joe Theismann’s from 33 years ago. Needless to say, Smith will miss the rest of the season and QB Colt McCoy will take the reins of this offense. Before Sunday, McCoy hadn’t thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2015. Although, he did show flashes of capability on Sunday, as he completed 6/12 passes for 54 yards and a TD. McCoy also added 35 rushing yards on 5 attempts. It’s hard to read how the journeyman Longhorn will fare, but at least he’ll suit up in his home state for this start.
The story of the season for the Redskins is undoubtedly Adrian Peterson. The ageless wonder is currently experiencing a Comeback Player of the Year type season, where he ranks 7th in the NFL with 723 rushing yards. His 6 TDs also rank 8th in the league, and he’s added 168 yards through the air. Peterson’s resurgence has been huge for the Redskins, who lost rookie Derrius Guice in the preseason to a knee injury. Usually, RB Chris Thompson handles the ball a bit for Washington, but he’s been out since Week 8, leading to increased usage for Peterson. Also of note is that the Redskins’ offensive line is quite banged up… this makes Peterson’s resurgence all the more impressive.
The Redskins’ receiving situation is murky, to say the least. TE Jordan Reed leads the team with 462 receiving yards. Even more surprising, though, is the fact that Reed hasn’t missed a game yet this year. With Paul Richardson landing on season-ending Injured Reserve, and Jamison Crowder looking unlikely to play on Thanksgiving (DNP Monday *estimated) the Redskins are really strapped for options. Maurice Harris has flashed in his limited opportunities but might struggle against Dallas’ potent defense.
Rookie Trey Quinn, who was activated from IR last week, provided a spark last week, catching all 4 of his targets for 49 yards.
Otherwise, the Redskins’ top option is Josh Doctson. The third-year wideout is capable of a breakout and has a ton of talent. However, through 9 games, he’s still yet to surpass 300 total yards receiving. Washington will need him to step up if they want to retain the Divison lead.
The Washington defense has been stout this year, allowing only 19.8 points per game, which ranks 5th in the NFL. LB Mason Foster is one of the league’s top performers this year, logging 89 combined tackles, which ranks 3rd in the league. Along with Zach Brown, the Redskins’ LB corps rank among the league’s most formidable. Josh Norman and HaHa Clinton-Dix headlines a Top 10 secondary (ypg) that stymies opposing WRs and keeps QBs guessing. It’s important to note that DB Quinton Dunbar is a bit banged up and his status should be monitored leading up to Thursday’s game.
Dallas’ season has been a roller coaster, but they find themselves only 1 game behind Washington in the NFC East. The Cowboys’ defense has really risen to the occasion this year and is loaded with young stars. LBs Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have combined for 156 tackles, and are all over the field for the Cowboys. Brown has also added 3 sacks this season. Both have a nose for the ball and feature phenomenal lateral quickness. The duo’s rise certainly lessens the sting of Sean Lee’s injury, which has caused him to miss the last few contests. They’ll certainly be stars in this league for years to come, and the fans of Jerry World couldn’t be more excited.
On the edge, the Cowboys also have one of the league’s best in Demarcus Lawrence. His 8 sacks are among the NFC’s highest marks, and when combined with Tyrone Crawford, Dallas truly has a monstrous line. Colt McCoy might have his hands full on Thursday.
On offense, the Dallas attack is paced by one of the league’s best, RB Ezekiel Elliott. This year, Zeke leads the NFL (along with Todd Gurley) with a 5.0 yards per carry average. His 953 rushing yards are 2nd in the NFL only to Gurley, and he’s added 5 TDs. However, it’s important to note that Elliott has had his Bye week already, while the Rams are on Bye in Week 12. Therefore, with a 91-yard effort, Zeke could take the league lead on Thanksgiving. Elliott is also 2nd on the team in receiving, catching 42 balls for 341 yards and 2 TDs. The Cowboys will certainly be looking to feed Zeke on Thanksgiving.
QB Dak Prescott has had a season littered with bright and dark moments. Prescott got out to a slow start; through 5 weeks, he only had 5 TDs, compared to 4 INTs. However, Dak has turned it on as of late, throwing 6 TD and only 1 INT since. He’s also found his running game, logging 4 rushing TDs in that same timeframe. Needless to say, if the Cowboys can recreate their Dak & Zeke combination from 2 seasons ago, they could continue their run of success into the playoffs.
However, they’ll need their line to stay healthy if they want to do so. On Monday’s injury report, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith & Connor Williams were all estimated to be Limited Participants– certainly something to monitor.
Cole Beasley currently leads the team with 454 yards receiving, mostly out of the slot. Rookie Michael Gallup has flashed this year but is currently away from the team coping with the tragic loss of his brother. With Allen Hurns failing to make an impact and a murky TE situation, Dallas decided to make a move at the deadline and bring in WR Amari Cooper from Dallas. In 3 games since joining the Cowboys, Cooper has logged 169 yards and a TD. Dallas will need Cooper to play well to compete, especially in a potential matchup against CB Josh Norman.
Even though Colt McCoy is a veteran, I just can’t help but think that he’s a bit rusty, having not thrown a pass since 2015 before Sunday. I think that Demarcus Lawrence will terrorize the patchwork Washington offensive line, and log multiple sacks. The Cowboys’ duo of young stud LBs will contain AP and will force McCoy to have to throw more than Jay Gruden would like. Look for Elliott to have a big game, posting a big yardage total and allowing Dallas to control the clock. I like Dallas (-7.5) to put in a workmanlike performance at home and win, covering the spread in the process. Cowboys 25-13.
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Falcons at Saints
Saints (-13.5) | Game Time: 8:20 PM
Here come the points! The Atlanta Falcons (4-6) will head to New Orleans to match up with the Saints (9-1). The Falcons dropped a close game against Dallas last week, while the Saints absolutely steamrolled the Eagles. These teams met up earlier this year in Atlanta, with the Saints pulling out a 43-37 victory.
New Orleans actually hasn’t lost since their Week 1 game against Tampa Bay and their Fitzmagic. QB Drew Brees has been a big part of that success, proving that age truly is just a number. The 39-year-old Brees has thrown 25 TDs this year, good for 4th in the NFL. The most amazing thing, however, is that Brees has only thrown 1 INT all season. The future Hall of Famer has been nothing short of outstanding and he has an arsenal of weapons around him at all times.
In the backfield, New Orleans has two of the game’s best in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara is the dual-threat option and is equally effective in both facets of the game. His 1,127 yards from scrimmage rank 8th among all players, and it’s split almost 50/50 between rushing (617 yards) and receiving (510 yards). Defenses have to watch for Kamara wherever he goes, and he creates a matchup nightmare whenever he is on the field. Kamara’s 11 rushing TDs are 2nd in the NFL, and he’s added 4 receiving TDs for good measure.
The second half of the dynamic duo, RB Mark Ingram, has also been effective. In 6 games since returning from a suspension, Ingram has rushed for 388 yards and 4 scores. He’s also logged 120 receiving yards and caught a TD. Furthermore, Ingram is gaining steam, as he’s eclipsed 100 rushing yards in each of his last two contests. Look for he and Kamara to continue to build on this success against an Atlanta Defense that allows an average of 405 yards per game, and ranks 28th in points per game allowed.
Saints WR Michael Thomas has continued his meteoric rise this season and is one of the league’s best. Thomas ranks 3rd in receiving yards (1,042), 2nd in catches (82), and 5th in touchdowns (8). He and Kamara are clearly Brees’ two favorite targets, and they should be able to go wild against this Atlanta defense. Look for Thomas to have a banner game on Thanksgiving. I’m just not convinced anyone on Atlanta can slow him down.
Rookie Tre’Quan Smith had his best game of the season in Week 11 where he reeled in 10 balls for 157 yards and a TD. However, he was listed as DNP for practice on Monday and his status should be monitored leading up to Thursday night. Last week proved that, when healthy, Smith can certainly hold down the #2 WR role vacated by the injured Ted Ginn. Veteran TE Ben Watson rounds out this explosive receiving corps in New Orleans and can work the middle of the field. Look for him to benefit from a plethora of red zone opportunities on Thursday night.
For Atlanta, Matt Ryan has rebounded with an impressive year. Ryan ranks third in the NFL with 3,306 yards and has thrown 22 TDs compared to only 4 INTs. If Ryan continues at this pace, he could be in for a career-best year and threaten the numbers that earned him the NFL MVP 2 seasons ago. In his first matchup against the Saints, Ryan exploded for 374 yards and 5 TDs. He’ll hope to replicate that effort on Thanksgiving.
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Ryan’s main target is still the unbelievable Julio Jones. The 8th year veteran is on pace to have one of his best years as a professional. He currently leads the NFL with 1,158 yards and finally broke his famous touchdown drought 3 weeks ago. Since he broke the drought, he’s scored in 3 consecutive games. The most impressive bit about Jones, though, is his consistency: Julio has surpassed 100 yards receiving in 7 of 10 games. The man is an absolute weapon and will certainly look to exploit the Saints secondary, which gives up the 6th most passing yards per game in the NFL.
The Falcons lost RB Devonta Freeman to an injury early on this year, and Tevin Coleman has had to shoulder the load. He’s shown the ability to be effective, logging 500 yards on 114 carries so far this year. Ito Smith has also been a part of the gameplan in Freeman’s absence, logging 325 all-purpose yards in a change-of-pace role. Coleman & Smith will have their work cut out on Thursday, as the Saints’ run defense ranks 2nd in the league, allowing only 77.9 rushing yards per game.
Atlanta has a few other good options in their pass catching ranks. TE Austin Hooper has had a strong year so far catching 50 balls for 445 yards and 3 TDs. He’s on pace to shatter his career highs in every single category and has been a welcomed effective piece of this offense.
Rookie WR Calvin Ridley has shown bits of brilliance so far this year as well. The first time these two teams matched up, Ridley had a field day, catching 7 balls for 146 yards and 3 TDs. Since then, however, Ridley has been up-and-down and hasn’t found his groove. Maybe another game against the Saints will be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Alabama product. Veteran Mohamed Sanu rounds out the WR corps for Atlanta, posting 472 yards thus far, even though he’s had a Questionable designation most weeks.
On the injury front, both teams are limping a bit. As mentioned, Tre’Quan Smith earned a DNP designation for the Monday walkthrough, while DEs Marcus Davenport & Trey Hendrickson were estimated as Limited. A few New Orleans Linemen (Unger, Armstead, Bushrod, and Peat) were listed as DNP as well, and their status will need to be monitored ahead of Thursday. The Falcons didn’t have anyone listed as DNP, but Ridley, along with DBs Desmond Trufant, Damonte Kazee, and Robert Alford were all estimated to be limited. LB Deion Jones was also listed as limited. Jones hasn’t played since he injured his foot in Week 1, so his return would be a huge boost for the Atlanta defense.
Earlier this season, these two teams combined to score 80 points and could threaten that total again. Both teams sport formidable offenses and defenses with clear points of weakness– a formula for a very high game total. I do think that the Saints’ defense does carry a bit of an edge here and that they have more ways to attack Atlanta. Sean Peyton’s offense can score in bunches and I think he’ll out-coach Dan Quinn in this one. The Saints are the hottest team in football right now, and I’m not going to be the one to pick against them. I’ll take the Saints (-13.5) to win, and cover the spread, 40-26.
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Thanks and have a Happy Thanksgiving
A former D1 College Wrestler at Boston University, Brad hails from New Jersey. By day, Brad works in the corporate automotive world, but by night, he is an avid sports, football, and fantasy sports enthusiast with a passion for winning. Fun Fact: Brad ran and finished the 2019 Boston Marathon!
Over the past decade, Brad has won dozens of fantasy league championships and has been writing for Gridiron Experts for the past 4 seasons. While he’s surrounded by Giants and Jets supporters, Brad is a diehard Tennessee Titans fan, and, accordingly has dumped a ton of money into NFL Sunday Ticket in his years!