The NFL's traditional Thanksgiving pair, Detroit and Dallas, throw up two tough match-ups on Thursday, but all football is good football, writes Mark Kirwan...
"Dalton came back on Sunday, leading them to a gritty win over Minnesota, aided by an improving defence and returning help on the offensive line. They have plenty of talent to go and take the division if they want it."
Houston Texans @ Detroit Lions
Live on Sky Sports NFL
Motor city meltdown
First up on the Thanksgiving football feast is a trip to Detroit, though the way home team are playing would be enough to even put John Madden off his turducken.
Matt Patricia is a dead coach walking. If he didn't know that already, the zero his Lions team posted on Sunday against a Carolina side with one of the weakest defences in the league and that was missing both Christian McCaffrey and Teddy Bridgewater.
Detroit were without a few important players of their own. Kenny Golladay is the gravitational pole around which their offence revolves, and he missed the game. De'Andre Swift, their promising rookie back, was also absent, and QB Matt Stafford was limited by a hand injury, but this display would not give you any expectations for another game four days later.
If you're reading this, congratulations. You scored as many points as the Detroit Lions did today.? Detroit Free Press (@freep) November 22, 2020
It dropped them to 4-6, they're bottom of the NFC North and their season is over already. Maybe the pressure is off, but if they don't have their missing playmakers back it won't matter.
Texans turn up
Houston have already dumped their dead-weight coach and will use the off-season to put a new regime in place.
Since Bill O'Brien departed at 0-4 they've won three games and lost four. Now, two of those were against the desperate Jaguars, so we're not handing out rosettes for the turnaround, but victory against an improving Patriots team last week is encouraging.
More impressive still is the play of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who through passes completed and rushing efforts, accounted for all but 19 of their 399 offensive yards in that 27-20 win.
Like their opponents, Houston need snookers to figure in the post season so Thursday's game is all about pride and not much else.
Houston were underdogs last week against New England and now go in as favourites on the road against Detroit on a short week, and by 3 points, a significant amount. I'd find it hard to back the Lions on the handicap if Golladay and Swift remain out, but it looks like Swift will return and Golladay still has a chance, so my inclination is to take the home underdog getting a field goal in a game where both sides have questionable motivations.
For a sneaky scorer bet, I'd look at the Texans' Keke Coutee. He has been treated terribly by ex-Houston coach O'Brien - at least as far as those who've followed his fortunes for fantasy purposes are concerned - but he might get a chance this week with Houston carrying a few knocks at receiver. He's 22/1 as a first TD option and 4/1 anytime.
Washington Football Team @ Dallas Cowboys
Live on Sky Sports NFL
And the terrible games just keep coming!
At least this game has playoff implications, but that's largely because the NFC East has been abominable this season.
Whoever wins here will take the top spot in the division on their own, a position Dallas would've expected to occupy with ease at the start of the season.
The generous interpretation of their 2-7 start is that the change of coach to Mike McCarthy was hampered by Covid-19 restrictions. Injury to Dak Prescott at QB has hit them hard, especially when his replacement, Andy Dalton, was concussed by Washington's Jon Bostic with a late hit.
Andy Dalton walked off the field to the locker room. There's just no place for this in football. Jon Bostic was ejected. pic.twitter.com/G1ZFfgVInV? NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) October 25, 2020
Dalton came back on Sunday, leading them to a gritty win over Minnesota, aided by an improving defence and returning help on the offensive line. They have plenty of talent to go and take the division if they want it.
Smith's road to recovery
The story of the season in Washington - besides the overdue disappearance of their nickname - has been the return of Alex Smith from his horrible injury of a couple of years back.
That'll be a big story if you watch this game, but on the field, it's hard to be excited by much about them. Coach Ron Rivera is choosing to start the bruised veteran over their first-round pick from 2018, Dwayne Haskins, who has been a disaster, though 2020 rookies Chase Young and Antonio Gibson are making an impact, with the latter leading the team with eight of their 23 offensive touchdowns, while Young has added to an already formidable defensive line.
In Terry McLaurin at receiver they have one of the most exciting talents to enter the league in recent years, but a limited supporting cast around him.
They're coming into this off a win against the Bengals, who lost their Joe Burrow mojo in that game after Young landed on the quarterback's knee, changing the course of the game and the Cincy QB's prospects for the next couple of seasons, sadly.
I'm a bit wary of recency bias here, but I'll side with the Cowboys -2.5 on the spread. Their improvement on defence and along the O-line are key factors. DC Mike Nolan installed a new system at the start of the season and it saw them shredded due to lack of practice. It's coming together now though should show up in on Thursday, but if it goes to 3 points or higher stay away.
While Andy Dalton was Kirk Cousins before Kirk Cousins in primetime games, Zeke Elliott had his first 100 yard game of the season last week as Dallas's O-line has seen some of their big names return. They should protect Dalton too and he's a competent QB option with plenty of talent around him to catch passes.
If you'd like a scoring punt, I'd look at one of the Dallas receivers for the first TD and rookie Ceedee Lamb is my preference over Amari Cooper as the 2020 arrival is growing into the offence every week. He's 8/1 for the first score. Given the rate he's scored at this season, I find it hard to look past Antonio Gibson for Washington as an Anytime option at Evens.
1pt on Detroit +3 on the Handicap @ 10/11 on the Sportsbook
0.5pt on Keke Coutee for First Touchdown Scorer on the Sportsbook @ 22/1
1pt on Keke Coutee Anytime Touchdown Scorer @ 4/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt on Dallas -2.5 on the Handicap @ 10/11 on the Sportsbook
0.5pt on Ceedee Lamb for First Touchdown Scorer on the Sportsbook @ 8/1
1pt on Antonio Gibson Anytime Touchdown Scorer @ Evens on the Sportsbook