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Five Things We Learned From the NFL’s Thanksgiving Slate

From Matt Nagy's current job status to the state of the Bills' offense, here's what the turkey day contests showed us.
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The 2021 Thanksgiving slate is in the books. While the matchups were relatively low wattage, the short-term ramifications are not. Matt Nagy shook off immediate concerns about his job status. Mike McCarthy took some new ones on his shoulders amid a shower of penalty flags and a loss to the Raiders. And Sean Payton was forced back to the drawing board in an attempt to cut a four-game losing streak.

Since we’re battling against an overload of tryptophan for your attention, we’ll keep the preamble short and jump right into what we learned on Thursday.

1. Matt Nagy is still the head coach of the Bears...for right now

The Bears’ organization was upended by a report this week suggesting that Matt Nagy had already been told he was coaching his last game with the team. As of the writing of this post, Nagy is still the head coach of the Bears, even though it would not be difficult to reach into the pool of coaching circle insiders and find someone who expects Nagy will not oversee the team in 2022. Fox announcer Joe Buck called the report “debunked” on the broadcast, though the wording feels strong there. The Bears never denied the report publicly. Jay Glazer of Fox reported that Bears ownership addressed the team privately, and said that while Nagy would not be fired after the Thanksgiving game, that didn’t mean he would not be fired at some point. There was an eerie silence around the whole thing and Nagy appeared shaken at his press conference during efforts to defend himself. Chicago has a 2% chance of making the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight and needed a last-second field goal to eke out a win over the worst team in the NFL. There was nothing beautiful or progressive about this win over the Lions, but it did save the organization from a situation where their backs were against the wall, much like the Lions were a year ago with Matt Patricia around this time. An eternal optimist might say that if Chicago can get the best out of Justin Fields over these last few weeks maybe we enter a situation where the team would be open minded about giving Nagy another year. After all, he was the coach of the year back in 2018 and has made the playoffs twice in three years.

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2. The Cowboys-Raiders game was a flag-fest

Just what the NFL wants out of the day’s premiere matchup at a time when most Americans are milling about their living rooms with the television on: a game with 28 combined penalties, 14 for each team and over 300 penalty yards as a whole. Cowboys corner Anthony Brown was hit with four defensive pass interference penalties, including one in overtime that set up the eventual game-winning field goal. Mike McCarthy said after the game that this particular officiating crew had a penchant for throwing flags, even though Shawn Hochuli has been middle-of-the-road in terms of flag-happy officials this year. The constant penalty flags complicated what should have been an enjoyable watch. The flow was nonexistent and it seemed like there was an inconsistent and aggressive definition of playing the ball. McCarthy said that certain calls were overturned in the central replay booth in New York.

3. What happens in Dallas now?

The Cowboys have been without their best offensive weapons for most of this recent skid where they’ve lost three out of their last four games, but that doesn’t change the fact that Dallas has begun to slide back into the muck that is the NFC East while at least two other middling teams in the division have shown some signs of improvement. While this is probably nothing more than a mid-season losing streak, the kind of slump that nearly all good playoff teams find themselves in at one point or another, McCarthy is playing a dangerous game. After woefully underperforming without Dak Prescott in his first season, McCarthy upgraded at the defensive coordinator spot and returned one of the most talented casts in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore could very well be gone at the end of the season, off to be a head coach elsewhere. Jerry Jones previously remade his team to accommodate a hot assistant coach with an offensive background who was going to take another job. We’re not suggesting this will happen now, just that it cannot be far out of mind for a coach like McCarthy, who took the job understanding its parameters and how quickly he was expected to turn the roster around. The Cowboys now enter a three-game road trip against the Saints, Washington and the Giants, and while that sounds like a generous slate, Washington are winners of two straight, including a standout performance against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. The Giants will be running a new offense, likely much different than the one Jason Garrett utilized over the last year and a half and Joe Judge is coaching for his own future in New York. The Saints are among the best defenses in the NFL.

4. The Bills show glimpses of vintage offensive prowess

This was the best of what we saw from Brian Daboll and Josh Allen from last year, which is stunning that they’re able to replicate this matchup offense without a dominant rushing game. The Bills got Stefon Diggs the ball in a manner befitting of a No. 1 wide receiver despite paltry to average separation on nearly every route and some sticky defense from New Orleans. While Josh Allen’s interceptions will come under scrutiny, his situational rushing has never been better, nor have the play designs allowing the Bills to spread their opponents out and create obvious chunk lanes for Allen to rush through. As we approach the two most important games of the Bills’ season, a brutal back-to-back stretch against the Patriots and Buccaneers, Thursday was the kind of performance that instills a bit of reticent confidence. Pummeling New Orleans makes those defenses seem a little less intimidating.

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5. Can the Saints recover?

Thursday’s loss—New Orleans’s fourth straight—crippled the Saints’ playoff chances, but we shouldn't count them out quite yet. At 5–6, New Orleans is primed to get a good number of their best players back and could make a guerilla run at the No. 7 seed. Trevor Siemian doesn’t seem to be a middle-term option and the Saints seem to be infinitely more efficient with Taysom Hill under center when Hill is healthy. Some of their drives Thursday stalled due to their inability to call on Hill for a short-yardage boost. The Saints still have games against an uncertain Panthers team, the Jets, Dolphins and Falcons remaining on their schedule, all of which they could win without much of a roster improvement. Next weekend’s game against Dallas should be a far better indicator of their postseason chances. Without a star right tackle, two of their best quarterbacks and arguably the best running back in football, any team is ripe for a beatdown at the hands of one of the four best teams in the NFL.

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