It’s finally turkey time, and as families across America break bread on Thanksgiving Day, the NFL offers three reasons to be grateful.
To kick off Thursday’s tripleheader, the Detroit Lions (6-4) host the Minnesota Vikings (8-2) in a de facto NFC North title game.
The Vikings are riding a six-game winning streak, and over that span, the defense has allowed a stingy 16 points per game. If they can make it seven straight, Minnesota will take a commanding three-game lead over Detroit in the divisional standings – putting the Vikings on the inside track to host a playoff game. And with Super Bowl 52 held in their hometown U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings have every incentive to pursue the Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) for the NFC’s top seed.
The Lions have won three in a row, but those wins were over a Green Bay Packers (5-5) team missing Aaron Rodgers, followed by the Cleveland Browns (0-10) and Chicago Bears (3-7). When faced with legitimate competition in their prior three contests, the Lions lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2), New Orleans Saints (8-2), and Carolina Panthers (7-3).
In fact, Detroit has beaten just a single winning team all season – the Vikings, in a 14-7 slugfest in Week 4.
Appropriately enough, online sportsbook Bovada has this one in the “too close to call” category, as the Lions are 3-point home underdogs against an elite divisional foe.
With the appetizer out of the way, the main course for Thursday’s slate pits a pair of enigmas against one another in a season-saving showdown.
The Dallas Cowboys (5-5) host the Los Angeles Chargers (4-6), and whichever team comes up short will likely see their postseason chances evaporate in kind.
Two weeks ago, Dallas was 5-3 and appeared likely to secure yet another playoff bid – but the reinstated suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott threw a wrench in those plans. But while veteran Alfred Morris has backed Elliott up admirably – rushing for a gaudy 6.2 yards per carry average to 4.1 per for Elliott – it was the sudden loss of left tackle Tyron Smith that really derailed Dallas’ season.
Since losing Smith to injury two weeks ago, the Cowboys have scored just 16 points total in two blowout losses, falling to the Atlanta Falcons (6-4) and the Eagles. Smith “expects” to play on Thanksgiving, but even if he goes, Dallas is also down a defensive captain in linebacker Sean Lee.
As for the Chargers, starting 0-4 seemed to leave the team for dead, but a 4-2 run since then has inspired a bit of hope in La La Land. And last Sunday’s 54-24 romp over the Buffalo Bills (5-5) certainly lends L.A. a sense of momentum heading into the short week.
This one opened with Dallas as 4-point home favorites, but being destroyed 37-9 by the Eagles on Sunday Night Football didn’t help the Cowboys’ cause in the eyes of linemakers. Throw in the Chargers’ own blowout win, and the line has shifted all the way to a pure pick’em.
To close out the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day trifecta, the Washington Redskins (4-6) host the New York Giants (2-8) in a clash of NFC East also-rans.
Despite the subpar record, the Redskins can hang their hat on the fact that they’ve competed against by far the toughest schedule in the league. Washington’s six losses have come against the division-leading Eagles (twice), the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs (6-4), the Cowboys with Elliott at running back and a full roster, the NFC North-leading Vikings, and the NFC South-leading Saints.
Last week’s loss against New Orleans was especially painful, as Washington somehow squandered a 31-16 lead with under six minutes left to fall 34-31 in overtime.
If the Redskins are to rebound from such an excruciating defeat, a home date against the hapless Giants may be just the ticket.
New York was a trendy Super Bowl pick in the preseason, before dropping five straight to sink their season before it ever really began. The loss of wideout Odell Beckham Jr. has garnered the headlines, but the Giants’ roster has been decimated by offseason mismanagement and in-season injuries.
A 12-9 overtime win last Sunday over the reeling Chiefs provided some solace, but the Giants are still big 7.5-point underdogs on the road.