Happy Thanksgiving! Along with your turkey, we have three NFL games kicking off today, and Andy Benoit breaks down the biggest key matchups on both sides of the ball and makes score predictions for each game.
Chicago Bears (7–3) @ Detroit Lions (4–6)
Bears offense vs. Lions defense
When these teams met just over a week ago, the Bears frequently aligned in a formation some call “speed trips,” with three wide receivers to one side of the field and athletic tight end Trey Burton by himself on the other. From there the Bears shrewdly isolated individual Lions defenders and featured intertwined routes that complicated Detroit’s man coverages. Look for this formation again on Thursday, and look for the usual heavy dosage of misdirection concepts involving Tarik Cohen. Detroit’s second-year linebacker Jarrad Davis has scintillating talent but isn’t always comfortable processing information.
Lions offense vs. Bears defense
When Detroit has struggled this November, it’s been against quality zone defenses. The Bears, with their blurry, deceptive two-deep safety looks, are one of football’s best zone units. Strong coverage was behind many of their six sacks on Stafford in Week 10. The Lions will try to get the ball out quickly and over the middle, where Stafford can deal with Chicago’s linebackers instead of safeties. That means a prominent role for injured Kerryon Johnson’s replacement Theo Riddick, who has returned to the backfield after a two-week trial in the slot following the Golden Tate trade.
Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 20 (an atrociously unfair short week schedule for the Bears, who played the latest game last Sunday and now travel to play the earliest game on Thursday.)
Washington Redskins (6-4) @ Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
Cowboys offense vs. Redskins defense
The Cowboys are only as good as their running game. It’s rolling right now and facing a Redskins run D that ranks sixth overall but has been less stable the last two weeks. It’d be wise to run Ezekiel Elliott outside. It’s not ideal when playing against speedy linebacker Zach Brown, but it’s a good way to attack sluggish chaser Mason Foster, as well as avoid D.J. Swearinger, who has bordered on unstoppable as an unblocked box defender this year.
Redskins offense vs. Cowboys defense
The show can go on with Colt McCoy. Yes, he’s a downgrade from Alex Smith, but he has over four years of experience in Jay Gruden’s offense, which is predicated on a QB making timing and rhythm throws. The bigger concern this week will be Washington’s overachieving but still makeshift offensive line. It must contest with a Cowboys front four that employs a lot of stunts and slants.
Prediction: Cowboys 21, Redskins 12
Atlanta Falcons (4-6) @ New Orleans Saints (9-1)
Saints offense vs. Falcons defense
When these teams met back in Week 3, Alvin Kamara was targeted 20 times, an NFL single-game record for a running back. One way the Saints did this was by attacking Atlanta’s linebackers with wide receivers on deep crossing routes and then running Kamara on dumpoff routes underneath that. The Falcons must be prepared for that when they play zone coverage. When in man-to-man, they’ll consistently keep a safety or linebacker free in the shallow underneath part of the field, where he can easily double Kamara or Michael Thomas, both of whom are at their most dangerous when operating as receivers inside. Drew Brees can figure out if it’s man or zone before the snap by putting Kamara in motion and evaluating Atlanta’s reaction. Brees did this back in Week 3 and got the Falcons a few times on shrewd audibles.
Falcons offense vs. Saints defense
Saints No. 1 corner Marshon Lattimore will likely travel with Julio Jones, but recall that in Week 3, Calvin Ridley lit up P.J. Williams and Ken Crawley for 138 yards and three touchdowns in little over a half. (He also drew a 45-yard pass interference.) Eventually the Saints moved Lattimore off of Jones and over to first-round rookie receiver. And, a few weeks later, they made an even bigger adjustment by trading for a new No. 2 corner, Eli Apple. If Lattimore follows Ridley on Thursday, it will be in iso-man coverage so that a safety can help Apple against Jones. Don’t be surprised if the Falcons put Jones or Ridley in the slot early to draw a matchup against Williams. Matt Ryan knows that a big completion against the fourth-year slot corner, who had perhaps his worst professional outing back in Week 3, could play mental games with New Orleans’s secondary.
Prediction: Saints 31, Falcons 27
Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet? Sign up for The MMQB’s Morning Huddle.
NOW ON THE MMQB: Jonathan Jones on how Ezekiel Elliott is reaping the benefits of Amari Cooper signing with the Cowboys. ... Jenny Vrentas on the already-spinning NFL coaching carousel. ... NFL draft scouts takes on the loaded defensive line class. ... Set your fantasy football lineups with a special Thanksgiving Day edition of Start ’Em, Sit ’Em.
WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: Robert Klemko on how the Jaguars are dealing with it all falling apart. ... Michael McKnight from Los Angeles, how the Rams-Chiefs game meant so much more to a community in pain. ... Not football, but SI TV’s latest short documentary, Swing in the Dark, follows three of the top blind and visually-impaired golfers in the country—a project from MMQB producer Mitch Goldich ... and more.
1. Bears backup QB Chase Daniel will start on Thanksgiving instead of Mitchell Trubisky, who suffered a shoulder bruise against the Vikings.
2. Aaron Rodgers, who grew up in Chico, Calif., has pledged to donate $1 million to relief and recovery efforts for those impacted by the Camp Fire.
3. This NFL season has already been one for the record books. Here are 14 more records that could fall by the end of the year.
There’s only one thing we can put here on Thanksgiving: the classic scene from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
“C’mon Charlie Brown, I’ll hold the ball and you kick it.” “Hold it?! HA! You’ll pull it away and I’ll land flat on my back and kill myself.” “But Charlie Brown, it’s Thanksgiving!” “What’s that got to do with anything?”
Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.