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Your Guide to NFL Football on Thanksgiving Day

While others are slaving away in the kitchen, you can watch football and impress your friends and family with your knowledge.

Every year at Thanksgiving, ‘F’ is a pretty popular letter. It can stand for friends and family that you share a meal with. It can stand for food, and more appropriately feasting. And for some who quickly grow tired of spending time with their families, ‘F’ can stand for something else altogether.

But for me, the ‘F’ I focus on the most is football.

Sure, during the NFL season, Sundays are king. But there’s something about watching multiple games during the week that I’ve also loved. It’s less important now, with the onset of Thursday night football games, but it’s still a special feeling to fill your belly, unloosen the belt, pop those shoes off, and crash on the couch to watch the new and true “American’s Pastime.”

On Sundays, it’s often hard to know what stories to follow, with a full slate of games, each with specific importance to millions of Americans. Here’s your primer to the games this Thursday. Check it out and be able to impress your family and friends with your knowledge – even for the most casual of pigskin supporters. And for those who play fantasy football, I’ll even have some sneaky fantasy plays for you.

Houston Texans (9-1) at Detroit Lions (4-6)
CBS, 12:30 p.m. EST (9:30 a.m. PST)

Both were playoff teams last season, but they are right now trending in opposite directions. Houston is coming off a wild game with Jacksonville, a 43-37 overtime thriller that saw quarterback Matt Schaub throw for 527 yards and 5 TDs.  Truthfully, it was a game they should have lost.

Detroit on the other hand is coming off a loss to division rival Green Bay, in a game they should have won. The Lions still have an outside shot to make the playoffs, but they’d need a lot of help. A loss on Thursday would essentially end any shot for the postseason, in what has been a very disappointing year.

The Texans meanwhile share the best record in the NFL with Atlanta, and are looking to continue winning and setting up a shot at home field advantage and a first-round bye.

Led by San Diego’s own Arian Foster, who leads the NFL with 10 rushing TDs and is fourth in yards, Houston will look to slow down the game with the run and keep Detroit’s offense off the field. While the Lions hope that QB Matthew Stafford can continue to find Calvin Johnson for big plays. After a slow start to the season for both, the have pair hooked up for 350 yards and 2 TDs in their last two contests.

Outlook: Detroit has the offensive firepower capable of hanging with anyone in the league. And seeing what Houston’s once impenetrable defense allowed the lowly, one-win Jaguars to do to them last week, I don’t have confidence that this will be the cakewalk that it might look like on paper. I think Detroit scores early and often and this turns into a shootout. But in an illustration of the way their seasons have gone, the Texans will make one or two more plays down the stretch to win.

Prediction: Texans 34, Lions 30

Sneaky fantasy play: Ryan Broyles, DET, WR – Broyles is in line for extended playing time opposite Calvin Johnson after head coach Jim Schwartz said starting WR Titus Young will not play for disciplinary reasons. Broyles is a good route runner, and has great hands. With the Texans likely game-planning to double-team Johnson, it could open things up for Broyles in the slot.

 

Washington Redskins (4-6) at Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
FOX, 4:15 p.m. EST (1:15 p.m. PST)

Two weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys were dead and buried. Heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss was capped off by their last-minute comeback attempt being shot down after WR Dez Bryant’s apparent game-winning TD was overturned because the tip of his finger came down out of bounds against the Giants three weeks ago.

But since then, they’ve won two straight and now sit only one game back of the Giants for the NFC East lead. A favorable schedule down the stretch has people believing they can make a run.

They’ll face a Washington team coming off a dominating win over Philadelphia last week. Superstar rookie QB Robert Griffin III is already playing like a savvy veteran, using his explosive athleticism to take the league by storm. His 4 TD passes last week gave him 12 on the year, to go along with 613 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs.

Dallas will have to use its strong front seven on defense to try and corral the rookie and keep him from breaking containment outside the pocket, where he can make big plays. Fellow rookie RB Alfred Morris has also been a revelation for the ‘Skins, as he has put up 849 rushing yards and 5 TDs in 10 games so far.

The key for Washington will be trying to stop the Cowboys passing offense. Their pass defense ranks 29th in the league in passing yards given up, and with enigmatic Dallas WR Dez Bryant showing signs of a breakout, it could be a long day for the Redskins defense.

Outlook: People are looking to this Dallas mini-turnaround as a sign of things to come. But like any Cowboys fan can tell you, the minute the team starts to give you hope, it will just as quickly break your heart.  Despite having won six out of the last seven games against Washington, this is exactly the kind of
"should win" game Dallas typically loses (it almost happened against Cleveland last week), once again throwing its fanbase into full-fledged panic mode.

Prediction: Redskins 24, Cowboys 23

Sneaky fantasy play: Logan Paulson, WAS, TE – Dallas has allowed five TDs to opposing tight ends this year, including two to Cleveland’s Ben Watson last week. Paulson has become a nice safety valve for RGIII, and could be in line for a decent game. With other TEs around the league either hurt or inconsistent, taking a flier on Paulson isn’t your worst option.

 

New England Patriots (7-3) at New York Jets (4-6)
NBC, 8:20 p.m. EST (5:20 p.m. PST)

The day’s most high-profile game is saved for prime time, as the bitter AFC East rivals square off in MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. New England is coming off a trouncing of Indianapolis last week. With QB Tom Brady leading the charge, the Patriots have ripped off six wins in their last seven games, with the only loss being a miracle comeback by Seattle in Week 6.

Brady has been clicking as of late, averaging 305 yards and 2.6 TDs over his last five games. The Jets will have a hard time slowing that train down. And it’s not just Brady that the Jets need to worry about. New England RB Steven Ridley ranks seventh in the league with 842 rushing yards, and is tied for second with four other running backs with 7 TDs.

For New York, they stopped a three-game losing streak last week with an unexpected win on the road against St. Louis. But prior to that game, they had averaged only 11 points per game over their last three. QB Mark Sanchez continues to be well below average for an NFL starter. He ranks 24th in the league in passing yards. His 11 TDs place him next to last among QBs that have kept their starting job all year, and his 53 percent completion percentage is dead last among starting quarterbacks.

Still, the Jets have the ability to pull scrappy performances out of nowhere. They lost a close game to these same Patriots 29-26 in Week 7. New England has won the last three matchups in the rivalry, after losing in the 2010 playoffs to New York at home.

Outlook: The Patriots have had their offense working lately, and their defense and special teams is playing strong as well, scoring three TDs last week. Division games tend to be close this time of the year, but New England’s firepower (even without Rob Gronkowski and possibly Aaron Hernandez) is too much to handle for the beleaguered Jets. The Pats are rounding into playoff form.

Prediction: Patriots 34, Jets 17

Sneaky fantasy play: Shane Vereen, NE, RB – Ridley has carried the load for most of the season, but he’s scored a late TD in two out of the last three games for New England. His 11 carries represented a season-high, meaning that head coach Bill Belichick might be starting to trust the second-year man more. If you’re an owner who is decimated by injuries at running back (see LeSean McCoy, Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones Drew, DeMarco Murray) Vereen might be available as a stealthy flex play for you this week.

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