We are entering one of the best parts of the NFL Season: the playoff push. Many analysts believe the real season starts at Thanksgiving, and here we are. There are three huge games on Thanksgiving this year, all with playoff implications. The winner of the Lions and Vikings will take sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Dallas can extend their NFC East and further cement their home field advantage hopes with a win over the rival Redskins, and on the other hand, the Redskins could stay in the Wild Card hunt with a big win on the road. The Steelers and Colts desperately need every win they can get in their division races as well as the Wild Card race. Three big games and lots of food on Thanksgiving; what more could you want?
Key Players – One player in each game who could impact Turkey Day games
Darius Slay – The Detroit corner will be tasked with taking on the fast Vikings receivers in what could prove to be a key task. The Lions defensive line will make it tough for Minnesota to get any sort of run game going, so it’s important for Slay to make his presence felt to throw the Vikings off their rhythm. Guys like Charles Johnson will be running short, quick routes to get open, and Slay needs to be ready. They might even do well putting him on tight end Kyle Rudolph as well.
Cole Beasley – Josh Norman will be patrolling the secondary for Washington all afternoon, and Dez Bryant will find himself in a lot of one-on-one looks against Norman. Bryant will be less of a factor than usual, so someone else will have to step up to give Prescott some help. Cole Beasley has the quickness and route running to get open against the Redskin defense. He will need to do so in order for Dallas to sustain drives and keep them alive on key third downs.
Frank Gore – With no Andrew Luck Thursday night, someone will have to step up in order to help out Scott Tolzien. Frank Gore, whose season has stunned quite a number of people so far, and he will need to keep it rolling. Establishing the run against an average front is key to open things up for Tolzien. Gore will also need to be there for check downs in the passing game. Expect a lot of touches for Gore in the night game.
To The Picks!
Vikings at Lions (-2.5)
The Lions and Vikings will do battle in a key game that could ultimately decide the division title. Last time around, Stafford led a key drive late in the fourth that led to a game-tying field goal. Then, in overtime, he found Golden Tate in double coverage, who evaded both defenders to score for the win. Now, the Vikings have ended their four game skid. Detroit has continued to find ways to win late in the fourth quarter, but this will be tougher. The Vikings have gotten their defensive mojo back. They pressured Palmer at will last Sunday, and forced him to make bad throws, including one thrown right at Xavier Rhodes for a pick six. Stafford will need to be cautious and take what Minnesota gives him, even if it results in 8-10 minute drives. Minnesota will generate consistent pressure, so it’s up to Stafford to make reads quick. The Vikings won’t be able to run the ball well, but that’s nothing new for them without AP and three tackles hurt. The Vikings will be implementing the same game plan on offense that Detroit will, with lots of quick passes to gain small chunks at a time. This will come right down to the wire, and I trust Stafford and his body of work this season over Bradford’s.
Prediction: Lions 19, Vikings 17
Redskins at Cowboys (-6.5)
In what will be the best game of the day, the Cowboys are looking to make it 10 straight against the Redskins, the team they played to start that win streak back in Landover, Maryland. This time though, it’s at Jerry World. The Cowboys will not deviate from their strategy of feeding Elliott and letting Dak air it out when necessary. The Redskins need to look at the first half of Dallas’ game against Baltimore last Sunday. The Ravens contained Elliott enough and were relentless to pressure Dak Prescott. The Redskins might not have enough bodies to rush the passer that well, it’s their best shot. Chris Baker, who is questionable, will be integral in stopping the run and getting pressure on Prescott. If he is unable to go, it will fall on Preston Smith to be the main man rushing the passer. Josh Norman can do his job covering anyone on his side, but Brashaud Breeland has struggled this season, and Dallas will look to exploit that matchup. No matter the defensive issues, the Redskins do have enough weapons to keep up with the Cowboys. Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon will be enough trouble to contain, along with slot receiver Jamison Crowder, but if DeSean Jackson can go, that might be too much for the Cowboys. The one thing Dallas does have going for them is their improved defensive line. With guys like Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins making plays from the interior, Washington has reason to worry. Trent Williams is still out, so Ty Nsekhe will be important this week to protect Kirk Cousins. I just don’t know if the Redskins can keep up with Dallas.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, Redskins 24
Steelers (-2.5) at Colts
This game would have been a lot better if Andrew Luck (concussion) was playing. Now, the only way the Colts can stay in this game is if they keep it low scoring. How do the Colts keep it low scoring? They must control the time of possession to limit the possessions of Pittsburgh’s high flying offense. The Colts must ride Frank Gore to the promised land to take pressure off of Scott Tolzien, and if Gore gets success in the run game, other parts of the offense could open up. Indy isn’t void of weapons. TY Hilton and Phillip Dorsett provide speed that could cause issues in the Steeler secondary. Jack Doyle is a great option for Tolzien, as he has emerged as the best tight end in that system. All these things need to come together for the Colts to win. Pittsburgh has shown to play down to the level of opponents under Mike Tomlin, but the pressure is on for the Steelers. It is going to be very tough to get a Wild Card spot, so the division is the goal. The trio needs to come out firing to put this game away early. The Colts will hang around, but the Steelers pick up a much needed victory.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Colts 17
Enjoy the Thanksgiving games everybody! And, from everyone here at The Sports Guys, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving spent with your families, friends, food, and football.