Usually, gambling on Thursday Night Football is a pain for 9-5ers because you either don’t actually get to watch your bet play out and have to wake up to the result, or you do watch it only to see a ridiculous backdoor cover around 5 in the morning.
But Thanksgiving is different. Turkey Day not only means you get two extra games, but you get to watch them at a much more reasonable time for a British Isles body clock. This means you get to see your bets play out as you dig into some chicken wings and drown a few Sam Adams. Sounds almost too perfect, doesn’t it?
This time of year is also good for gamblers because, by now, teams have shown us exactly who they are.
The Chiefs, once the hottest side in the NFL have lost four of their past five and Alex Smith — the one-time MVP leader — and Kareem Hunt are a shadow of their former selves. In contrast, the Saints, a team that lost their opening two games in pretty unremarkable fashion, are now eight games unbeaten and one of the most exciting teams in the league.
But what does their season to date tell us about the teams playing this Thursday?
Minnesota Vikings (8-2) @ Detroit Lions (6-4) – 5.30pm
For so many years, as the Lions bounced between just inept and outright terrible, it was really easy to bet against them on Thanksgiving; a day when they, and the Cowboys, always play. Indeed, between 2004 and 2012, they lost nine games in a row on the third week in November. However, since then, they’ve won four straight Thanksgiving games including a 16-13 victory over Minnesota in this fixture last season.
This year has slightly more significance as Detroit chase the Vikings in the race for the NFC North title. Matthew Stafford and company have won three straight, but have failed to make any inroads into Minnesota’s lead as the Vikings themselves are undefeated in six. With the NFC so top heavy, there’s a worst-case scenario where 10 wins for Detroit might not even be enough for a Wildcard spot so a win here is crucial.
The Lions rank 28th in the league in rushing yards per game (80.8), 30th in yards per carry (3.4) and 24th in rushing touchdowns per game (0.4) so it should come as no surprise that they throw the ball on more than 60% of plays. Against a Minnesota defensive unit that ranks fifth against the run, that might not be such a bad thing.
The Vikings earned a statement win against the streaking Rams last week, limiting the most potent offense in the NFL to just seven points while scoring 24 against a team that went into the week with the best defense in football according to Football Outsiders. That they’re so hard to score against shouldn’t be much surprise given they’ve conceded more than 17 points just three times this season through 10 games.
The Lions are still in the playoff hunt but their six wins have come against teams with a combined record of 14-36 which puts their season into perspective. For that reason, I’m taking the Vikings (-3) and I’ll also take the under (44.5) with the Vikings stingy defense having another big night.
LA Chargers (4-6) @ Dallas Cowboys (5-5) – 9.30pm
It tells you a lot about the difference in quality between the AFC and NFC that the Chargers have a more realistic shot of playing in the postseason than the Cowboys, a team with one more win than them. But such has been the drop off for Dallas since the loss of left tackle Tyron Smith, running back Zeke Elliott and, most crucially, linebacker Sean Lee, most have written off the Cowboys as playoff contenders.
With the expected return of Smith for Thursday’s game, Dak Prescott should at least have some more time in the pocket but Dallas needs to start putting some wins together to keep any hope of meaningful January football alive. However, the last thing a struggling quarterback wants to see — even with the return of Smith — is this Chargers’ defensive front containing the amazing Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The pair have combined for 19 sacks, second only to Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue of the Jags (20.5).
Without Smith, Prescott has hit the dirt 12 times in his last two games which goes some way towards explaining how the Dallas offense has come to a stuttering halt. Having averaged 32.4 points per game in their previous five, America’s team has scored just 16 total points in their last two. And even when he hasn’t been taking sacks, Prescott looks a completely different player without the safety blanket of Elliott in the backfield.
While everything clicked for LA last weekend against a hapless Bills side, this will be their fifth road game in their last seven and their only two road losses — against the Patriots and Jags — have come in their last two away games. It’s a very small sample size but one worth noting when so many people are almost automatically chalking them down for a win in this game.
However, that small note of pessimism aside, the Chargers are 3-1-1 against the spread on the road this season, while Dallas has covered just one of their last four home games so I’ll be taking LA (-1). Backing the under on the total (48) is very tempting, but I’ll probably be staying away.
New York Giants (2-8) @ Washington Redskins (4-6) @ 1.30am
These two NFC East rivals suffered contrasting fortunes last weekend with the G-Men securing a shock 12-9 overtime win over the Chiefs while Washington blew a 15-point late fourth-quarter lead over the New Orleans Saints. That result means that this game, sadly, will have very little impact on the 2017/18 season, other than helping to determine a draft position for next year.
And while it’s my job to make an argument for both teams, it’s difficult to imagine how the Giants can rely on the freak combination of wild weather conditions, big turnovers on defence and unbelievably athletic plays on offence they benefited from last week in every game, so we can expect a return to the New York we’ve been used to seeing this season.
With that in mind, even though they’ve very little to play for, I’m happy to take Washington at -7 and the over (45) in the final game of Thanksgiving.
Steve’s Thanksgiving Picks:
- Vikings -3
- Under 44.5 pts Vikings @ Lions
- Chargers -1
- Washington -7
- Over 45 pts Giants @ Redskins