Thanksgiving will have plenty of sports action.
The World Cup has four more matches. There are, oddly, two separate college basketball events named after Phil Knight that feature seven ranked teams in action on Thursday. The Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Mississippi happens too.
But we all know the NFL takes center stage on Thanksgiving. Here is a betting preview and some picks for each of the three NFL games on Thursday:
Lions (+9.5) over Bills
A few weeks ago, this game looked like an absolutely miserable way to spend the early part of Thanksgiving. Then the Detroit Lions showed some signs of life, and the Buffalo Bills have looked a little vulnerable.
Detroit has won three in a row and the Bills have lost two of three. Buffalo did break its losing steak last week in Detroit, beating the Cleveland Browns after a snowstorm moved their home game to Michigan. At least there’s some hope that we get a competitive game.
The key to the Lions’ turnaround has been better play by the defense. They shut down the Green Bay Packers to start the winning streak. They took Saquon Barkley completely out of the game in last week’s win over the New York Giants. For a defense that was clearly the worst in the NFL for most of September and October, it has been a surprising turnaround.
The Bills could blow the Lions out. That’s why the line is hovering near double digits. But it’s a lot of points for a road favorite, and the Bills might be a little tired after the ordeal of last week and the short week before another game in Detroit. They also ran the ball a lot more against the Browns, and if that continues that could help keep the game a little closer.
The Lions have been blown out plenty on Thanksgiving and if the team that started 1-6 shows up, you can tune out pretty early. But Detroit has been better lately. Maybe we’ll get a close game.
Cowboys (-9.5) over Giants
The Dallas Cowboys are good. People have resisted admitting that, perhaps because Dallas didn’t have a great offseason or they’re still dwelling on an ugly Week 1 loss. Or because people hate the Cowboys. But Dallas is one of the best teams in the NFL. Hard stop.
On paper, a matchup between the 7-3 Giants and 7-3 Cowboys should be a great one. By now, everyone who has followed the Giants season knows these two 7-3 teams aren’t the same. The Giants have built a very good record on some close wins and a fairly soft schedule. Even logical Giants fans would have to admit they were way over their skis at 7-2. A loss to the Lions last week at home didn’t expose the Giants; everyone pretty much knew what they were before that. And losing rookie receiver Wan’Dale Robinson to a knee injury makes them even thinner on offense.
The Giants can’t afford to fall behind. If they do, the Cowboys can get their fantastic pass rush going and it’s going to get ugly. Ask the Minnesota Vikings how that works. The Giants are well coached and probably going to the playoffs, but I think this game could get away from them.
Vikings (-2.5) over Patriots
It’s never a bad idea to take a good team coming off an embarrassing loss.
The Vikings have to be embarrassed after losing 40-3 to the Cowboys. Like the Giants losing to the Lions, it didn’t really expose the Vikings. Most rational NFL observers knew the Vikings weren’t a Super Bowl contender even at 8-1. It’s a good team. It’s not a great team. That shouldn’t be a surprise.
On the other side, the New England Patriots are fortunate they got an 84-yard punt return touchdown in the final seconds to beat the New York Jets or we’d be talking about their offense. They had 297 yards and 13 first downs last week. If the Jets offense wasn’t much, much worse in the same game so we overlooked the Patriots. New England’s defense is very good. The offense is not.
There’s an argument to be made for the Patriots, which is why the spread is just a field goal. They do play great defense and Bill Belichick will have a great plan to fluster Kirk Cousins. The Patriots offense will be better when it’s not facing the Jets, who have a much better defense than the Vikings. But I’ll ride with the Vikings. They might not be an elite team, but they’re nowhere near as bad as what we saw against Dallas.