It’s time to give thanks, to feast and to drink in the annual NFL Thanksgiving slate of games.
Originally scheduled to cap the holiday’s festivities, the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game was moved to Sunday, the league announced Wednesday.
The opening course will see the Houston Texans (3-7) face the host Detroit Lions (4-6) at 12:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
The second game on the Thanksgiving slate will be a storied rivalry featuring the Washington Football Team (3-7) playing the host Dallas Cowboys (3-7) at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
Here’s what to watch for in the Thanksgiving doubleheader.
Questions abound for struggling Lions
This is a puzzling and troubled pride in Detroit, having hung around long enough this season to offer hope to its fanbase but fallen to the occasion too many times to provide legitimate hope for what’s ahead. One constant has been Stafford. There have been few quarterbacks as consistently good on bad teams as Stafford, but that was certainly not the case in the Lions’ 20-0 shutout loss to the Panthers. Stafford’s line was riddled with season-lows of 178 passing yards, a 54.5 completion rate, 5.4 yards per attempt and a 70.0 QB rating as he was sacked five times – a season-high for Carolina. The hot seat is getting hotter for coach Matt Patricia, playoff aspirations are all but gone and the areas in which improvement are needed are numerous. But Stafford’s stumbles might be the most glaring because he’s seemingly persevered despite a franchise falling around him for most of his career. The Lions, who began hosting Thanksgiving games all the way back in 1934, have lost three Thanksgiving tilts in a row. With a winnable game and a Thanksgiving tradition to turn around, Stafford, who’s very much been hot and cold all season, will need to lead the way.
Watson’s star still shining
Watson is that NFL star who’s seldom bestowed the starry treatment he deserves. As Houston lingers in the abyss of a lost season with the front office rebuilding and the talent uncertain of what lies ahead, Watson is coming off arguably his best game this year and is amid a terrific run of play. In an impressive 27-20 victory over the Patriots, Watson had 344 yards passing, two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. Watson had five interceptions over his first five games, but has none since, having produced an 11:0 TD:INT ratio over the past five games. Heading into Thursday, he’s passed for 2,883 yards (288.3), completed 68.9% of his passes, thrown 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions and also run for a pair of scores and 269 yards. The 25-year-old might well turn in his top season statistically when all is said and done. One of the most talented and dynamic young quarterbacks in the game is taking the field Thursday.
Is J.J. due for another big day?
When it comes to the Thanksgiving football history that’s on the table in this one, the Lions and Texans are on opposite ends. No NFL club has had more Thanksgiving games than Detroit, which has played 80 such games and gone 37-41-2. The Texans, however, have played just once on turkey day. It’s likely J.J. Watt recalls the Texans’ first and only Thanksgiving tilt, as he terrorized Stafford. In a 34-31 Houston victory in 2012, Watt racked up three sacks, five quarterback hits and two passes defended. Stafford still threw for 444 yards, but it was no doubt a painful outing in more ways than one as Houston won on the strength of a controversial Justin Forsett 81-yard scoring run. This time around, Watt’s Texans are 31st in total defense and have struggled for much of the season. However, Houston is facing a 25th-ranked Detroit offense and coming off an inspiring effort in a 27-20 win over the Patriots in which Watt had an eye-popping four passes defended. Perhaps another solid outing for the Texans defense and a stellar outing for Watt is coming up.
Can the Cowboys build off Week 11?
Though the Cowboys and Washington have a combined six wins, this is the turkey day tussle with first-place on the line. With Dallas coming off a smashing success in the form of a Week 11 win over the Vikings, the Cowboys defense seems to be improving and the Andy Dalton-quarterbacked offense looks to be settling in. And so it goes that these Cowboys who were preseason favorites to win the NFC East might well be the favorites once again if they can string some wins together. Dalton has returned and is coming off a three-TD showing as he faces the team that knocked him out with a concussion on a controversial hit from Jon Bostic. Upon the Red Rifle’s reemergence, solid play from receiver Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb followed. It did come against a Vikings pass defense ranked 26th in the NFL, so a top-ranked Washington pass defense portends to a stricter test. Perhaps of most promise for the Cowboys, though, is that Elliott posted 103 yards rushing against the Vikings, his first game this season hitting the century mark. It ended a nine-game streak without a 100-yard showing — the longest of his career. If Elliott rounds into the resounding form that has characterized his career, it bodes well for the Cowboys’ chances of running to first in a division race in which everyone’s lagging behind.
The continuation of the Alex Smith comeback
It’s amazing that Smith’s even playing, but it’s fitting that he’s playing on Thanksgiving. At one point, there was very real cause for concern for the life of Smith in the aftermath of a gruesome leg injury in 2018. Coming back to play an actual professional football game seemed a foolhardy proposition, but in Week 11, a Smith-led Washington squad downed the Bengals and Smith had his first win as a starter since Week 10 of 2018. The victory came after back-to-back 300-yard passing efforts. Smith’s comeback story was such an uplifting and unbelievable tale that seemingly reached its pinnacle when he returned to the field. However, it’s now settling in that this truly incredible comeback tale could also be one of success. In such a turbulent year as 2020 has been on the field and around the world, wouldn’t it be a bit uplifting to see an underwhelming NFC East produce a feel-good story of Smith coming back and coach Ron Rivera battling through cancer to claim a division crown? Maybe that starts coming to fruition on Thanksgiving.
Young WRs McLaurin, Lamb standing out
Washington’s offense has largely struggled all season, while Dallas found itself in a Dak Prescott-less funk until recently. Despite that, Washington second-season standout Terry McLaurin and Cowboys rookie CeeDee Lamb have provided plenty of excitement and promise as a pair of burgeoning young wideouts to watch. Lamb, 21, is leading the way among a much-hyped 2020 wide receiver class, as he leads it with 48 catches — which is already a franchise rookie record — and is second among first-year wideouts with 629 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Like the Cowboys offense as a whole, Lamb’s production has waned with the loss of Prescott, going from 86.6 yards per game with Dak to 39.2 without him. Still, Lamb has had TDs in each of the last two games, including one of the jaw-dropping variety in Week 11. While Lamb has dealt with four starting QBs this year, McLaurin, 25, has had three in a season much like his rookie campaign in terms of the quarterback carousel. Nonetheless, McLaurin is third in the league in receiving among wideouts and fourth overall, trailing only veterans DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs and Travis Kelce with his 871 yards and his nine games of 60 yards receiving or more are tops in the NFL. He’s had at least five catches and 70 yards for five games running. Heading into his third matchup with the Cowboys, McLaurin’s had a touchdown in each of his first two. There’s some talent at receiver that we might well be talking about for seasons to come and most likely on Thursday, as well.