Thanksgiving Preview: Three teams on the brink

Print

Thanksgiving remains the best holiday on the calendar, even if it might bring bad tidings for three teams this year. The Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears are on the edge of falling out of the playoff picture. A loss on turkey day could be the nail in the coffin.

The Eagles are reeling after an embarrassing home blowout loss to Tampa. Thursday's game against Detroit once looked like a layup, but the Lions have played inspired ball the last two weeks in wins over the Packers and Raiders. The Cowboys are a different team with Tony Romo. We believe they are the best team in the NFC East, but does it really matter if they lose to Carolina on Thursday to go to 3-8? Finally, the Bears have been a nice story this season. But they have a tall task on Thanksgiving trying to play spoiler on Brett Favre night in Green Bay. Otherwise, they will be a nice story that is out of the wild card mix at 4-7.

We previewed the entire Thanksgiving slate on the Around the NFL Podcast, but if you are into written language, here's what to watch for on Thanksgiving:

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions


To watch this game live online, click here

1. What happened to Philadelphia's defense over the last few weeks? Once ranked third by Football Outsiders, the Eagles have been pushed around up front by the Panthers, Cowboys and Buccaneers. They are now 28th in rushing yards allowed and 25th in yards per carry allowed. The team's pass rush was also dominated by Tampa's line last week.

Detroit's offensive line struggled badly to recognize blitzes early in the season, but things have calmed down the last two weeks. This should be a game where Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis gets creative, and sees if Matthew Stafford can handle some heat. 

2. Stafford and the Detroit offense has looked far more competent over the last two weeks. He's avoided big mistakes and made some great plays on the team's clinching drive against the Packers. Calvin Johnson is back to making tough catches and Golden Tate is finally producing again. Philadelphia's cornerbacks are struggling, especially Nolan Carroll.

3. It's time for Ameer Abdullah to break out. The preseason darling has shown signs of becoming a big impact player over the last few weeks, making defenders miss in space as a runner and returner. Abdullah led the Lions in carries with 12 last week. Don't be surprised if he breaks off some big plays against a Philly secondary that has struggled to tackle.

4. Eagles fans wanted to see Mark Sanchez take over for Sam Bradford for much of this season. While Bradford has been medically cleared after his recent concussion, Sanchez is expected to start his second straight game. Sanchez has struggled to recapture some of his productive moments from a season ago. He checks down the ball too much and makes one or two big mental mistakes per game. The difference in the Eagles' offense this year is that there are no longer wide-open receivers streaking down the field.

Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys


To watch this game live online, click here

1. This is the best game of the day because it features the team currently playing the best in the league against a Cowboys squad just starting to believe again. Cowboys fans can talk about making a run if they win this game, but it is a brutal task. These two teams want to play a similar style of football. The Cowboys wore down Miami last week with a brutalizing running game and possessing the ball. That's what the Panthers have done all year.

2. Carolina gets Charles Johnson back this week to an already-strong defensive line. Their pass rush has occasionally faded late in games, but it's worth noting that Dallas' vaunted offensive line gave up a ton of pressure on Tony Romo last week in Miami. Dallas' big uglies are far more comfortable firing out on running plays.

3. Dez Bryant versus Defensive Player of the Year candidate Josh Norman is the matchup of the afternoon. Bryant and Romo struggled to get on the same page in Romo's first game back last week. Brent Grimes did a nice job battling Bryant, who still doesn't seem all the way back from his injury. Carolina's secondary is very opportunistic and Romo had a few head-scratching throws last week to go along with a number of strong plays.

4. Cam Newton gets better every week this season. He has been more accurate than ever this past month, and the Dallas secondary can be exploited. The Cowboys defense is coming off one of its best games of the season, but they can be too aggressive at times. Carolina's complex running game, led by Jonathan Stewart and Newton, can test the discipline of speedy linebackers like Rolando McClain and even Sean Lee.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers


To watch this game live online, click here

1. This is not the Jay Cutler you have grown to snicker about at bars. He's one of the steadiest quarterbacks in the league this season, with far fewer flashy throws and far fewer mistakes. Every game is a B-, and the Bears have to be thrilled that he's lifting up a group of young, unproven players. He's making the players around him better, which is not something we could say most of his career.

2. The Bears are expected to get Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte back on Thursday night, which gives the Bears a fighting chance. They will be going against a Green Bay defense that has been up and down lately, but they are coming off a dominant performance up front against Minnesota. Chicago's offensive line has performed better than expected this year, but they will be severely tested against Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and a strong Packers front.

3. In case you haven't heard, Brett Favre will be honored at halftime of the game. Perhaps Aaron Rodgers can bring out his best improvisational skills for the occasion. Rodgers got back on track in Minnesota with a handful of outrageous completions, something he pulled off on a weekly basis in September. Still, Rodgers and Randall Cobb have struggled to get on the same page all season.

4. A revived Eddie Lacy will square off against a true no-name defense. Coordinator Vic Fangio has done a nice job keeping the Bears competitive with unheralded guys like linebacker Christian Jones, safeties Adrian Amos and Chris Prosinski, and defensive tackle Bruce Gaston making big contributions in recent weeks. Fangio has even found a way to maximize former first-round pick Shea McClellin.

Print