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Monty Andrews breaks down some of the underlying betting mismatches on the National Football League slate for Thanksgiving Day, giving you an inside edge when handicapping the Turkey Day schedule and setting your daily fantasy lineup.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (+1.5, 44.5)
Vikings' vaunted run defense vs. Lions' limp ground game
The Detroit Lions playing on Thanksgiving is an NFL tradition - and this year's game carries added significance as the Lions look to keep pace with the first-place Minnesota Vikings in an NFL North showdown. The Lions have won three consecutive games but have yet to slice into Minnesota's two-game lead, as the Vikings have reeled off six wins in a row. They'll look to extend that hot streak further on the strength of a sensational run defense - one that could cause Detroit serious problems.
While a surprisingly balanced offense led by quarterback Case Keenum has been a factor in the Vikings' rise to the top of the NFC power rankings - alongside the Philadelphia Eagles, of course - it's that vaunted defense that has played the biggest role. Minnesota has allowed more than 17 points just once during the streak, and held one of the league's most formidable attacks at bay last weekend, using a big fourth quarter to subdue the Los Angeles Rams 24-7.
Minnesota squashed the Rams' running game from the start, limiting Todd Gurley and Co. to 45 rushing yards on 17 attempts. That has been the trademark of the Vikings' 2017 resurgence - they rank in the top three league-wide in average rushing yards against (77.7), yards per carry allowed (3.3) and fewest rushing first downs allowed (3.8). It's no wonder that teams run the ball just 37.4 percent of the time against Minnesota, the second-lowest rate in the league.
The Lions are known for being a pass-first team - they throw the ball nearly 62 percent of the time, the ninth-highest rate in the NFL. But when they do run the ball, the results have been ... not good. Detroit ranks 28th in the league in rushing yards per game (80.8), 30th in yards per carry (3.4) and 24th in rushing touchdowns per contest (0.4). Matthew Stafford can't air it out every time - and when Detroit does take to the ground, bettors should expect Minnesota to shut down the run game with emphasis.
Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys (-1, 47.5)
Chargers' 1-2 sack combo vs. Cowboys' suddenly leaky O-line
It's officially time to panic in Big D, as the Dallas Cowboys enter their annual Thanksgiving foray desperate to improve their suddenly sagging playoff chances. The Cowboys have dropped two in a row and were humiliated at home in their last game, a 37-9 drubbing at the hands of the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Times have been tough without offensive lineman Tyron Smith, and if he doesn't return this weekend, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott might find himself on his back a whole lot.
The last thing a team struggling to protect its quarterback wants to see is a date with the Chargers on the calendar. Los Angeles is in tough to make the postseason - it comes into this one with a disappointing 4-6 mark - but you can't blame the pass rush, which has consistenly been one of the league's best all season long. The Chargers enter Week 12 having compiled 30 sacks to date; only the Jacksonville Jaguars (40) and Pittsburgh Steelers (30) have more.
The catalyst for Los Angeles' QB-chasing prowess: The sensational duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who have combined for an incredible 19 sacks between them; Bosa ranks third overall with 10.5 sacks, while Ingram is close behind in seventh (8.5). They're the second-most prolific duo in the league, behind only the Jaguars' tandem of Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. An Oct. 1 loss to the Eagles is the only game all season in which neither Bosa nor Ingram recorded a sack.
With two QB hunters as effective as Bosa and Ingram coming to town, you can forgive Prescott for feeling a little antsy. The second-year signal caller has been sacked a whopping 12 times over the past two weeks, as the Cowboys' pass protection has completely faltered in Smith's absence. If he can't go this Thursday, look for Bosa and Ingram to make Prescott run for his life - and in a game that's expected to be close, that could tip the scales in favor of the visitors.
New York Giants at Washington Redskins (-7.5, 44.5)
Giants' big-play D struggles vs. Kirk Cousins' long-pass prowess
The New York Giants have long been eliminated from post-season contention - but they have proven to be a tough out in recent weeks, and would love nothing more than to ruin the Redskins' playoff hopes this weekend in an NFC East tussle at FedExField. The Giants shocked the visiting Kansas City Chiefs 12-9 on Sunday, and will look to carry that momentum into conference play, having lost their first seven games to NFC foes. But to do it, they'll need to find a way to contain Kirk Cousins.
The Giants haven't done a lot of things right - and while most of the attention has been focused on the offense, and quarterback Eli Manning in particular, the defense hasn't inspired much confidence, either. New York has been a magnet for big passing plays, allowing quarterbacks an average of 7.7 yards per pass attempt - lower than just four other NFL teams. And the Giants rank 28th out of 32 teams in average yards per completed pass against (7.5).
That makes this weekend's showdown with Cousins and the Redskins the perfect test. Cousins has made a career out of throwing the ball downfield, and is averaging a whopping 8.1 yards per pass attempt so far in 2017 - only Tom Brady (8.3), Jared Goff (8.3) and Drew Brees (8.2) have a higher rate. It should come as no surprise, then, that Cousins comes into Week 12 ranked second in the NFL in passing yards (2,796) despite sitting sixth in total attempts (345).
If last week is any indication, the Giants should expect Cousins to be even more vertically inclined than usual. Cousins averaged more than 10 yards per passing attempt in Sunday's stunning overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints, racking up 322 passing yards on 32 throws. And while his 7.98 passing yards per attempt at home ranks slightly below his road mark (8.25), facing a Giants secondary that has been more than generous should bump his home mark above the 8.00 mark for the season.