NFL Thanksgiving Classic Predictions To Stuff Down Your Gullet
While the NFL has had some recent games on Thanksgiving make families eat while watching other programs on television, or choose to abstain from any viewing whatsoever, this year may be a year where one can happily fill themselves with tryptophan while watching a couple of games that could be competitive.
The Detroit Lions have hosted the Thanksgiving Classic since 1934. They have won just twice since 2000, one being a 34-9 pasting of the New England Patriots in 2000. That was the first year head coach Bill Belichick had the job with New England, and they went 5-11 that season. They won Super Bowl XXXVI the next year. The last Thanksgiving Classic they played was in 2002, where they defeated the Lions 20-12 with the help of three turnovers and 111 yards on 10 receptions by Troy Brown.
The Dallas Cowboys have played the Thanksgiving Classic 42 times, winning 27 games. Though their 2010 season is over, they will play for pride and try to spoil the dreams of others. They face a New Orleans Saints squad that has won their last three games and needs to keep going in order to stay within reach of the hot Atlanta Falcons in order to have a chance to win the NFC South.
The New York Jets have played the Thanksgiving Classic six times, winning three. They won the first game the American Football League played in 1960 while still named the Titans. They got stomped on in 2007 by the Dallas Cowboys 34-3, the last time they played on Thanksgiving. They will face a struggling Cincinnati Bengals team that has never played in a Thanksgiving Classic.
New England Patriots @ Detroit Lions
The Patriots have to be happy with their 31-28 win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday for a few reasons. The victory keeps them tied for first place in the AFC East with the Jets as they are going to host New York next week in a game that could decide who gets the division crown. They also picked off Peyton Manning three times, including one that clinched the win late in the fourth quarter, with a young secondary much maligned all season.
Detroit is a young team that is beat up, but competes most weeks in spite of everything. Though they have won just two games all year, they have lost five games by five or less points. One loss came on a very dubious officiating call in the first week of the season.
Though their starting quarterback is hurt again, the back up has filled in superbly. If they could get half the performance of a reserve halfback in place of a starter battling a bad toe, the Lions may have a few more victories. Detroit has the sixth best passing attack in the league, but their anemic running game is the second worst in the NFL.
New England's offense is one of balance. The rushing and passing attack are both ranked 16th in the league. While Detroit's 13th ranked pass defense might have some successes, thanks to the seven sacks by Rookie of the Year candidate Ndamukong Suh and four more by veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, the run defense has not been good.
Tom Brady will have to get rid of the pass quickly, relying heavily on slot receivers like Wes Welker. He also needs to hand the ball off over 20 times at least. The question is which Patriots back can be effective. Benjarvis Green-Ellis, the oft-injured Fred Taylor, and the diminutive Danny Woodhead should all touch the ball often.
Patriots 23 Lions 21
New Orleans Saints @ Dallas Cowboys
Dallas has won two of their three games this year the last two weeks by playing solid football in the second half of each game. Running the ball more than passing it was the key, something Jason Garrett ignored as offensive coordinator the first eight games the Cowboys played this year.
While the Saints have the second best pass defense in the NFL right now, the run defense is ranked 13th. The offense has gotten better each week, but that is because guys are getting healthy again. Though starting running back Pierre Thomas is expected to miss his his seventh game, rookie Chris Ivory has done a fantastic job replacing him and Reggie Bush is expected to return after missing the last two months with a bad leg.
Dallas has one of the worst defenses in football, ranked 22nd overall. They give up an average of 342 yards a game, including 117 yards on the ground. If Ivory and Bush are effective, Saints quarterback Drew Brees will have even more fun lighting up a thin and banged up Cowboys secondary with five receivers who have 23 or more receptions so far.
Saints 38 Cowboys 21
Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets
It is too bad for the Bengals that football games last 60 minutes, because they can be pretty good for 15 to 30 minutes. Whether it is throwing up 22 unanswered points in a quarter against Atlanta or going up by 21 points at halftime to Buffalo before losing by 18, the dysfunctional Bengals have little luck in 2010. Despite defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the second week of the season, the Bengals have lost six games by eight or less points.
The Jets are a team that has lived on the edge the last five weeks, thanks to four wins that required them to come back from deficits late in the game. Some has been the luck of bad defensive plays by opponents, but winning a game in the NFL is an accomplishment however it is garnered.
The vaunted Jets rushing attack has been sluggish the last five games. The 72 yards on 20 carries that Shonn Greene had in their overtime win against Cleveland has been the best performance. This is a far cry from when Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson both ran for over 100 yards six weeks ago against the Bills. Tomlinson has helped alleviate this by catching 43 balls so far.
New York needs to do well against the 23rd ranked Bengals run defense. This would go a long way in boosting confidence heading into a huge match up in New England next week, a game that could decide the winner of the AFC East. Though the Bengals have the 18th ranked pass defense, Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph are excellent cornerbacks that have seven interceptions and a score between them.
The Jets defense has given up 20 or more points in six games this year, something they did just five times the whole 2009 season. Though injuries to the defensive line has hurt them this year, the back seven has only five interceptions so far and the pass rush has just 21 sacks. They had 32 sacks and 17 interceptions last year. They still hop on fumbles, getting 21 so far. They had 25 in 2009.
If Cincinnati can attack the secondary the whole game, they have a legitimate shot at winning. They have three wide receivers and a tight end with 35 receptions or more. Though running back Cedric Benson is not duplicating his 2009 performance that saw him ground out 1,251 yards, he still has 747 on 200 carries in 2010.
The Jets surely realize they can't look over the Bengals for the Patriots. They also must know they can't afford to keep hoping they can come back as the clock expires, though it has to make them feel good in knowing they have this ability. Expect a steady dose of Tomlinson and Greene to dictate pace.