The NFL is serving up a heaping helping of divisional matchup goodness for Thursday's platter of Thanksgiving Day contests. Here's a breakdown of what to watch for in Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions; Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys; and Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints.
- Eighty-eight hours after their monumental victory over their divisional rivals from Minnesota, the Bears are doing the NFC North rivalry thing all over again, this time in Detroit. Chicago's three-and-a-half-day game week is the shortest break between games since 2000, per NFL Research. The short week comes at the worst time for the Bears, who are in dire need of some R&R. Officially ruled as doubtful to play Thursday, Mitchell Trubisky has not practiced since suffering a minor shoulder injury late in the Bears' Sunday night win over Minnesota. The rising QB is not expected to be available for the 12:30 p.m. ET start time, which means Chase Daniel is very likely start his first game since 2014. Trubisky was unstoppable in Chicago's first meeting with Detroit just 11 days prior, when he threw three TDs with a 148.6 passer rating. But Trubisky's last game at Ford Field was one of his worst; then a rookie, the Bears QB threw three picks in a 10-point loss. If and when Trubisky takes a seat, expect a healthy amount of work for Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen against Damon Harrison and Detroit's 24th-ranked rushing defense, even though the Lions held Chicago to 2.5 yards per carry in their previous meeting.
- Will Khalil Mack make Matthew Stafford look like a turkey in the Lions' backfield? The Defensive Player of the Year contender is in the midst of a career year and coming off of another game with a sack and forced fumble. The face of and motor behind Chicago's third-ranked defense, Mack leads the league in five forced fumbles. Making Mack's life easier, his target this week, Stafford, is collapsing like his pocket. The Lions veteran is averaging a career-high three sacks per game and has been sacked on 33.9 percent of his pressures over the last five games, three of which were assured defeats. Stafford threw two picks and was sacked six times in Chicago in Week 10 and had his second-lowest passer rating of the season (74.9) against Mack's Bears. Before Mack and the Bears take down a gallon of tryptophan, it's likely they will feast on Stafford.
- On its biggest stage of the season, Detroit unfortunately will be without one of its breakout offensive players. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson sprained his knee during the Lions' win over the Panthers and is expected to miss up to two weeks. Thankfully, Johnson avoided a serious ACL tear, but it's a shame for the novice football fans tuning in to avoid conversations with relatives that Detroit's best running back since Barry Sanders will be unavailable to play. Johnson's 20 touches, 89 yards and two scores from that first meeting will have to be replaced by Theo Riddick, LeGarrette Blount and newly promoted Zach Zenner. Elsewhere on Detroit's offense, if Marvin Jones (knee) can't go, then it will be all Kenny Golladay on this November holiday.
- Welcome to the winner-takes-all (for a week) game! This mid-Thursday classic between two historic NFC East rivals will decide for a good 10 days which team will have the upper hand in the division heading into the stretch run. The Redskins have been leading the way for most of the season on the strength of a stiff front seven and a boom-or-bust running game led by Adrian Peterson. But Washington has fallen on hard times -- the team, not the city, of course. The Redskins' $94 million starting quarterback is lost for the season, just as their division opponents are finding theirs. Dallas (5-5) has risen from the dead on the backs of Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and Leighton Vander Esch, racking off consecutive wins for the first time this season. A Cowboys win in front of Jerry Jones and the Salvation Army would lock them in a tie atop the NFC East with Washington at 6-5. If Dallas loses, however, the Cowboys fall essentially two games back of the 'Skins, as they will have lost both meetings to the division leaders. The course of the division, and perhaps league history, rides on this result. Better grab some cobbler and tune in.
- Colt McCoy, famed Texas Longhorn and son of the Lone Star State, returns to his home state as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys' hated rivals -- and this isn't the first time. Alex Smith's replacement beat Dallas in overtime back in 2014 when he filled in the injured Kirk Cousins on Monday Night Football. That was McCoy's last NFL win. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride in the pros, McCoy is about to embark on a six-week wedding with no honeymoon period. He hasn't started a game since Week 15 of 2014, but looked all right last week, throwing one passing TD. Over the course of a 60-minute game though, let's see how he holds up. Dallas' front seven, led by Vander Esch and DeMarcus Lawrence, is as healthy and fierce as it has been in years and, since Week 9, is pressuring the QB on 31.9 percent of dropbacks (fourth-best in that span). A surging DROY candidate, Vander Esch is second in the league with 61 solo tackles. With eyes on a Khalil Mack-like extension, Lawrence has 22.5 sacks since 2017, good for third in the league. Washington's offensive line meanwhile is a triage. Both of the 'Skins' starting guards are donezo foshonzo and All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is questionable. Safe to say, McCoy won't receive a warm welcome from his home-state team.
- Don't look now -- well, look if you want, it's a "free" country -- but the Cowboys offense is waking up. Elliott is running like his Rookie of the Year self behind an improved offensive line, possibly benefiting from the departure three weeks ago of O-line coach Paul Alexander. Elliott is looking for his fourth straight game with 100-plus scrimmage yards but might run into some trouble against Matthew Ioannidis, Ryan Kerrigan and Washington's sixth-ranked run defense. Dallas will stumble, but not necessarily struggle if the run game doesn't get going because of an improved aerial attack. The acquisition of Cooper, though controversial for the compensation, has paid dividends of Dak Prescott and Co. Since Cooper's arrival, Prescott has made fewer tight-window throws (9.7 percent decrease), seen more separation from his receivers (30th to eighth in NFL in three weeks) and achieved a 7.6 percent increase in his completion percentage. Plus, Cooper allows Dallas to comfortably use 11 personnel more often, forcing defenses to play more nickel and stack the box less often, hence lessening the burden on Elliott.
- There might be no worse matchup all season than the Saints offense against the Falcons defense. I say that knowing full well that the Raiders still have two games left to play against the Chiefs. New Orleans is on pace to finish with the third-highest scoring average in league history (37.8 PPG) just behind Peyton Manning's 2013 Broncos and ahead of Tom Brady's 2007 Patriots. The Saints have scored 40-plus points in three consecutive games, two of them against the defending Super Bowl champs and the juggernaut Rams. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram lead the league with 20 scores from scrimmage by a RB duo. Meanwhile, Atlanta's injury-riddled defense is floundering. The Falcons have allowed 27.6 PPG and 405.2 YPG this season, both marks far worse from last year and the year before last -- ranking 29th in the league. Against top-tier offenses like New Orleans, Pittsburgh and even Cincinnati, the Falcons have struggled to get off the field and have allowed an average of 40.3 points per game. What's to say that changes on Thursday night?
- The MVP race is Drew Brees' to lose. The future Hall of Famer has never won the honor, but that could change this history-making season. The 39-year-old leads the league in completion percentage (76.9), TD-INT ratio (25:1) and passer rating (126.9). If the season ended today, each of those would be single-season records. And the scary thing is he's getting better as the season goes along. In the last three weeks, Brees has nearly matched his passing TD total from his first seven games (14, 11). Though he might be down a receiver on Thursday night -- Tre'Quan Smith is iffy with a foot injury -- Brees will remain flush with receiving options: Ingram, Kamara, Brandon Marshall (potentially) and arguably the league's best receiver, Michael Thomas. The third-year wideout leads the league in reception percentage (90.1), yards after the catch (417) and is easily the most reliable receiver Brees has had in his 18-year career. In five career games against Atlanta, Thomas has averaged 107.8 yards per game. Most recently in the ATL, Thomas caught 10 balls on 10 targets for 129 yards. Back home in the dome, expect more of the same from the wideout and his MVP-caliber gunslinger.
- Wait, but what about Atlanta's offense? Quiet, you. I'm getting to it. Overshadowed by their many holes on defense, the Falcons' attack has been more than proficient and is among the league's best. The Matt Ryan-led offensive unit ranks second in passing YPG (314.6) and completion percentage (71.1), just behind their NFC South rivals. While Brees is en route to a hardware-laden February, Ryan is the only player in the league completing at least 70 percent of his passes and averaging at least 300 passing YPG. Julio Jones is off the TD schneid, is leading the league in receiving (1,158) and has a game-breaking partner in crime. Calvin Ridley was unstoppable in his first game against the Saints, scoring three TDs on seven receptions. But New Orleans' defense has bunkered down since then, allowing just 21 points over their last two games. These Falcons-Saints clashes are always close, despite either team's glaring weaknesses coming in. The last four games have been decided by an average of 6.3 points. Key to this edition of the rivalry staying within a touchdown's margin will be Ryan's ability to keep pace with Brees.