It’s almost uncanny how well the NFL works on Thanksgiving, when Americans lumber to their couches and easy chairs after overindulging on the year’s best feast. And would you look at that? Basically the only original content available on television that day is the NFL. Massive TV ratings ensue. Funny how that works.
Here’s what to look for during this season’s three Thanksgiving games.
All times Eastern.
Bears at Lions
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Detroit, which will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss, enters its annual Thanksgiving affair with a somewhat big question mark at quarterback. Matthew Stafford has broken bones in his back and is reportedly on the verge of getting shut down for the year. Jeff Driskel, his replacement, popped up on the Lions’ injury report Monday with a hamstring injury suffered in their loss Sunday to the Washington Redskins. Such an injury is especially problematic for a mobile quarterback such as Driskel, who has averaged 50 rushing yards in his three starts this season. On Thursday, Detroit will turn to undrafted rookie David Blough, who has yet to take a regular season NFL snap. Blough was announced as the starter on Wednesday night. Driskel is expected to back him up.
The Bears got a few encouraging signs from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on Sunday, when he threw for a season-high 278 yards and Chicago’s offense as a whole topped 300 yards for just the second time this year. But that was against the New York Giants, who have one of the NFL’s worst defenses, and Trubisky still threw two interceptions. Detroit’s defense is similarly bad, with only four interceptions on the season, tied with Dallas for the league low.
Point spread: Bears -5½.
The Lions have been an underdog in their annual Thanksgiving game eight times over the past 12 seasons, covering the spread in only one of those games. They enter this season’s game on an 0-6 stretch against the spread, last covering in Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears, meanwhile, enter on a 1-6 ATS run, with their lone cover coming against the Lions in Week 10.
Overall, favorites on Thanksgiving have gone 30-11 ATS since 2005.
Bills at Cowboys
Time: 4:30 p.m.
One year after going 9-3 in one-score games, the Cowboys are just 1-4 this season. They also have had trouble beating the good teams on their schedule: The combined record of the teams Dallas has beaten is 14-40-1, while the teams it has lost to are a combined 39-16. And thus we have owner Jerry Jones saying he was “very disappointed and frustrated” by the Cowboys’ loss to the Patriots, a game in which Dallas had numerous chances to pull even with New England. Coach Jason Garrett’s contract expires at the end of this season, and the time for him to start winning is probably long past.
The Bills are 8-3 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race, but Buffalo has benefited from an easy schedule: Of the 11 starting quarterbacks it has faced, seven have been benched at some point this season. That changes starting Thursday: After facing Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, Buffalo must face Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens and Tom Brady and the Patriots over the season’s final weeks.
Point spread: Cowboys -6½.
Dallas snapped a seven-game Thanksgiving ATS losing streak last season by covering the seven-point spread against the Redskins. The Bills are 3-0-1 ATS over their past four games, and only one of their three straight-up losses was by more than seven points. This is their first game this season with a total this high. They are 8-3 to the under through 11 games.
Saints at Falcons
Time: 8:20 p.m.
The left side of the Saints’ offensive line is something of a patchwork affair at the moment. Starting left guard Andrus Peat broke his arm against Atlanta in Week 10, and left tackle Terron Armstead — one of the NFL’s best at the position — suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Both will miss Thursday night’s game. The Falcons have just 18 sacks on the season, more than only the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins, but a full one-third of them came against Drew Brees and the Saints earlier this month.
With Coach Dan Quinn’s job security seemingly in question, Atlanta beat the Saints and then the Panthers by a combined score of 55-12 before backsliding in a home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. The Falcons, who are hopeful about having both wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman on the field, have just one home win this season and it was back in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles. New Orleans will clinch the NFC South with a win, while the Falcons will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss.
Point spread: Saints by 7.
This is the second year in a row that these two teams will meet on Thanksgiving. Last year, the Saints won and covered the 11.5-point spread in a 31-17 victory, but the Falcons got revenge this season, when they beat New Orleans by 17 as 14-point underdogs.
The under is worth a look in late-season (Week 11 or later) division games with higher totals (44.5 and above). Between Weeks 11 and 16 last season, unders in such situations went 15-6 (they’re 3-3 in such games this year).
Teams favored by at least 6½ points on Thanksgiving have gone 16-3 ATS since 2003, per the Action Network.