A special day calls for a special edition of NFL mismatches. And in the run of the NFL schedule, rarely do you find a more special day than Thanksgiving. We break down some of the underlying mismatches, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping Thursday’s action:
Houston Texans at Detroit Lions (+3, 49.5)
Texans’ pissed pass defense vs. Lions’ WR drama
Houston’s fourth-ranked defense had an uncharacteristic day last weekend, allowing the Jaguars’ second-stringer Chad Henne to pass for 354 yards and four touchdowns in a near overtime upset. Needless to say, defending the pass was priority No. 1 for the Texans during the short week.
“We didn’t play up to our standard,” Texans’ head coach Gary Kubiak told the Houston Chronicle. “We had an opportunity to start fast as a team, but then we started giving up big plays. We had a few assignment issues, which is unusual for us. That’s something we’ve got to fix. We had a couple of opportunities to make plays, but we didn’t make them.”
Detroit had its hands full with WR Titus Young last Sunday and will bench the second-year wideout after he was openly unhappy about his role in the offense and didn’t complete routes in last week’s loss to Green Bay. That leaves the Lions thin at receiver, allowing Houston to concentrate on Calvin Johnson.
Megatron was invisible in crunch time versus the Packers and was thrown to just once in the final three possessions, which came on the final play of the game. Green Bay locked up Johnson with a two-man trap in the secondary. Quarterback Matt Stafford was also sacked five times by the Packers and now faces the sack-happy Texans, who have 27 QB kills this year.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (-3.5, 48)Redskins’ rushing defense vs. Cowboys’ RB injuries
Dallas has become very one-dimensional since RB DeMarco Murray went down with the foot injury in Week 6. The Cowboys managed just 63 yards on 21 carries versus the Browns last week and rank 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Cleveland, knowing Dallas couldn’t run the ball, brought heavy pressure on Tony Romo, sacking him seven times and forcing a fumble late in the game.
Backup RB Felix Jones hasn’t been able to shoulder the load and has been less than 100 percent all season. Jones left the field in the fourth quarter Sunday, leaving the Cowboys with third-stringer Lance Dunbar. Murray is out again and Jones will limp into Thanksgiving with a bum knee.
Washington is doing one thing right on defense, stuffing the run. The Redskins are giving up just 94.6 yards on the ground per game (in part to their poor pass defense), and checked Philadelphia for just 80 yards on 21 carries and knocked RB LeSean McCoy out of the game in Sunday’s win. Foes are picking up the first down on the ground just 23.5 percent of the time versus Washington. Dallas has picked up a fresh 10 yards on just 22 percent of its run attempts this season.
New England Patriots at New York Jets (+6.5, 48)Patriots’ no-huddle offense vs. Jets’ third down defense
The Patriots’ rapid pace on offense has produced an average of more than 28 first downs per game, including a stellar 51 percent success rate on third downs this year. New England hung 59 points on the Colts last Sunday, marching for 7.4 yards per play including 13.8 yards per pass completion from Tom Brady.
Sure, Rob Gronkowski is out and Aaron Hernandez is not 100 percent, but Bill Belichick’s offense has proven it’s not about the players but the system. Wes Welker and Julian Edelman – Wes Welker 2.0 – were targeted a combined 18 times Sunday, posting a total of 12 catches for 138 yards and one score. The Pats’ no-huddle will help these slippery receivers shed the coverage for big yardage.
New York’s defense has done well against the pass, allowing just over 200 yards per game (in part to a porous run stop) and “held” Brady to 259 yards and two TDs in their overtime loss to New England in Week 7. However, New York has watched opponents convert third downs at a 42.86 percent rate (third worst in the NFL) this season. The Jets complained about the Pats’ no-huddle earlier this year, arguing about substitution rules, and could be sucking wind when it counts thanks to the short-week Thanksgiving schedule.