Breakdowns

Thanksgiving Day NFL Preview

Thanksgiving Day NFL Preview

CHICAGO BEARS (3-7) AT DETROIT LIONS (0-9-1), 12:30ET

Line: Bears -3, Total: 41.5

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It’s a Passing League, Right?  

For our appetizer course on this year’s Thanksgiving Day slate, we’ve got a battle between two of the worst passing offenses in the league. With Justin Fields out for this game after suffering a rib injury in last weekend’s loss to Baltimore (Chicago’s fifth-straight defeat), Andy Dalton will get the nod at quarterback. No matter who has been under center for the Bears this season, it has not gone well — they’ve thrown a combined seven touchdown passes in the league this year, which is the fewest in the league. They’re just behind a pair of other NFL bottom-feeders in the standings: the Jaguars and the Lions (who each have eight passing scores).

The Bears average 155.8 yards passing per game this season, also the fewest in the league. They’re nearly 40 yards per game behind Houston (194.6), who ranks 31st. Dalton has been better than Fields through the air this season with only three touchdown passes, but just one interception. Fields has 4 TD passes and 8 INTs. Fields, along with a pair of Jets — Mike White and Zach Wilson — are the only passers in the NFL with 8+ interceptions this season on fewer than 200 passing attempts. Dalton’s QB rating of 91.8 is more than 20 points better than Fields’ mark of 69.0. Fields ranks second-to-last in passer rating, just ahead of Wilson (63.5). Fields has taken 31 sacks this year, which is tied for most in the NFL with Ryan Tannehill, though Tannehill has attempted 170 more passes than Fields. Fields takes one sack for every 6.4 passing attempts and throws an interception once every 24.8 attempts. Conversely, Dalton takes a sack every 14.6 attempts and has thrown one interception in 73 attempts.

This is not to exalt the virtues of Dalton, but rather to show how badly Fields has struggled. Even though Bears fans want the rookie out there as much as possible, he may not quite be ready for the starting gig, just yet.

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

Don’t Act Like You’ve Been Here Before

Despite playing at 12:30 on Thanksgiving every year, the Lions haven’t been particularly good in this spot, especially as underdogs. While the Lions are actually 4-0 against-the-spread when favored on Thanksgiving Day, they are 2-10 ATS when installed as dogs and they’ve lost all 12 outright. In fact, their opponents have covered the spread by an average of 9.8 points per game. In general, betting on favorites on Thanksgiving Day has worked out pretty well — favorites are 32-14 ATS (70%) since 2005, according to Action Network.

Chicago has covered five of its last seven against Detroit and is 9-4-1 ATS in the last 14 with its NFC North rivals.

Despite those numbers, money is coming in on the Lions — 64% of the money bet in this game has been on the home underdog so far, including sharp action. They are also attracting more bets, though at a much smaller advantage (52%) according to Action Network.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

Missing the Chief of Staff

We dove into Chicago’s 32nd-ranked passing offense in the first part, so it’s only fair to examine the NFL’s 30th-ranked passing attack: Detroit. The Lions average 197.8 passing yards/game meaning that the two teams in this matchup are two of only four NFL teams who average less than 200 yards passing per game, along with Houston and Philadelphia (199.5). While these two teams average 176.8 passing yards per game, the rest of the NFL throws for an average of 241.7 per game.

Last year, with Matthew Stafford under center, Detroit ranked 12th in the NFL with 256.5 yards passing per game. The differences between this year’s Jared Goff-led offense and 2020’s Stafford version are staggering — Goff’s eight touchdown passes through nine games match the number that Stafford threw in the first four games last season. After nine games played last season, Stafford had already connected on 17 TD strikes. Stafford averaged 7.7 yards per attempt in 2020, while Goff has the third-lowest mark in the NFL in 2021 at 6.3 yards per attempt (only Jacoby Brissett, 5.7 and Trevor Lawrence, 6.0 are worse).

Goff’s QBR is currently 26.8, which is more than 10 points worse than in any of Stafford’s 12 seasons in Detroit (37.1 in 2009). The reason Rams head coach Sean McVay said that he wanted to move on from Goff was because he was looking for a QB to push the ball down the field. So far this season, McVay has been proven right on that guy NOT being Goff, whose average intended air yards per throw (IAY) is just 6.2, which is the lowest in the NFL among qualified QBs (200+ pass attempts). His air yards to the sticks mark of minus-2.6 is also the NFL’s lowest number. The longest completed pass that Goff has thrown this season in terms of air yards is 42.9 — that ranks only ahead of Davis Mills (41.8) among qualified quarterbacks.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell has publicly stated that he needs more from his quarterback, and with this being the final time that the Lions will play in front of a national audience, Goff is going to need to provide that, now. Of the Lions four remaining home games, this is currently the most expensive to attend, according to StubHub. If Goff doesn’t give the home fans who had to pay decent money to see this contest something to cheer for, it could be a rough holiday for the former #1 overall pick.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (5-5) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (7-3), 4:30ET

 Line: Cowboys -7.5, Total: 51.5

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All-or-Nothing

The Raiders offense has been very inconsistent this season, yet somehow very consistent. In their five wins, they’ve scored between 26 and 34 points in each, averaging 31.4 points per game in victories. In their five losses, they’ve scored between 9 and 16 points in each, averaging 13.2 PPG in defeat. Derek Carr has thrown for 300+ yards in all five victories and less than 300 yards in all five defeats.

After Jon Gruden resigned, the Raiders won their first two games under interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, which moved them to 5-2 on the season and they seemed poised to make a postseason run following their Week 8 bye. Since then, however, they’ve lost three straight games by an average score of 32.0 to 14.3. Their last two opponents (Chiefs and Bengals) have scored 30+ points; they hadn’t allowed any team to reach that mark in their first eight games this season. Their offense has been nearly non-existent across those two games, as well, failing to reach 300 yards in either game. It’s not as if they were playing top-level defenses, either; Cincinnati and Kansas City both allow 350+ yards of total offense per game. In fact, the Bengals defense that held the Raiders to 13 points had just given up 34 points to the Jets (Mike White’s famous 400-yard, three-touchdown performance) and 41 points to the Browns — a Cleveland team that has scored 17+ points just once in its past six games — over the previous two games.

Now they face a Dallas defense that has been remarkably similar to the Bengals; Cincinnati allows 21.6 points per game, Dallas allows 21.4. Cincinnati gives up 352.9 yards of offense per contest, Dallas 355.6. One of the biggest differences that Las Vegas needs to take advantage of is Dallas’ tendency to allow early points. The Cowboys have allowed opponents to score 63 points in the first quarter this season, third-most in the NFL (Jets and Jags have both allowed 68 first-quarter points). Unfortunately for the Raiders, they’ve been bad in the first quarter as well, as they’ve given up the fifth-most first-quarter points (59). So, after you’re done eating your Thanksgiving dinner, save the cleanup for halftime … you don’t want to miss what could be a fun first period of the mid-day game.

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

Well, There’s One Favorite to Not Back on Turkey Day…  

In the write-up about Detroit above, we noted that favorites have fared very well on Thanksgiving Day. That is, except for the Cowboys. Excluding the Cowboys, all other favorites are 27-7 ATS. Dallas, though, is 5-7 ATS as a favorite on this holiday since 2005. They are the only NFL team that has played multiple games on Thanksgiving to have a losing record against the spread as a favorite in the past 15 seasons. There is one trend working in favor of the Cowboys: back the big favorites on this food-and-football-centric holiday. Favorites of seven or more points are 16-3 ATS in the last 19 such occurrences, according to Action Network.

The Raiders started the season with back-to-back ATS wins, but since have gone just 2-6 vs. the number including failing to cover in three straight. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are 8-2 ATS this season. They started with a seven-game cover streak to begin the year but have dropped two of the past three. And their past four games have gone Under the total after seeing five of their first six go Over. In Dak Prescott’s career, the Over is 22-12 (65%) when Dallas is a home favorite.

Despite 67% of the tickets backing the Cowboys, the home favorite and traditional Thanksgiving Day team, the money is split exactly 50-50 between these two teams, according to Action. The bets (54%) and the money (62%) lean toward the Over, though Action is reporting some sharp betting on the Under.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

Breakdown of the Cowboys’ Breakdown in KC

In what was billed as a potential Super Bowl preview, Dallas went into Kansas City and laid an egg on offense, failing to score a touchdown for the first time this season. Despite going against one of the softer defenses in the league — KC was ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense, among other categories — Dallas scored a season-low nine points.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked a season-high 5 times and threw multiple INTs for the first time this season; his three turnovers (lost a fumble too) were also a season-high. Prescott’s INT in the 4th quarter was his 11th in his last 12 games played. He had thrown two picks in the previous nine games. He was held under 225 yards passing for just the second time this season and without a TD for the second time, as Prescott posted his lowest QB rating of the season (57.9). The Chiefs defense hadn’t recorded more than three sacks in a game this season until facing the Cowboys; it was also the first time this season they forced at least three turnovers.

Since returning from a calf injury that sidelined him for Dallas’ Week 8 win over Minnesota, Prescott hasn’t been the same. After throwing 3+ touchdown passes in five of his first six starts, he hasn’t thrown more than two in any of the three since returning. He’s also yet to pass for 300+ yards since his return. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is 4-to-3 over the past three contests after a 16-to-4 start to the season. He’s also struggled against the AFC West this season, going 1-2 with two touchdown passes and three interceptions. In three games against AFC West opponents, Prescott has been sacked eight times and Dallas has scored an average of 15.0 points per game (38.0 points per game in his other six starts).

There was one major bright spot in the Cowboys loss to Kansas City: rookie defender Micah Parsons. Parsons, the #12 overall pick out of Penn State, is the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year (-400 at DraftKings) following an incredible performance against the Chiefs. Parsons aligned at EDGE on a career-high 56 of 58 defensive snaps (97%) with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory injured. He generated a career-high seven pressures and leads the NFL with a 19.0% pressure rate this season (min. 100 pass rushes).

After sacking Patrick Mahomes twice, Parsons is the 2nd rookie in the last 20 seasons with 8+ sacks and 40+ tackles in his first 10 career games; the other was 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year winner, Von Miller. Parsons also became the first NFL player to record at least five sacks, more than 25 tackles, double-digit tackles-for-loss, and multiple forced fumbles in a four-game span since 1999 when TFL began being charted as an NFL statistic. He will now face a Las Vegas offense that has failed to score more than 16 points in any of its past three games and a quarterback who has taken an average of 2.2 sacks per game. Good luck, Mr. Carr.

BUFFALO BILLS (6-4) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-5), 8:20ET

 Line: Bills -6, Total: 45.5

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Teams Going in the Same Direction

If you asked head coaches Sean Payton and Sean McDermott if we could rewind back to Halloween night, we bet both would take you up on that offer. On October 31, both Buffalo and New Orleans were sitting at 5-2, looking to repeat as respective division champions in the AFC East and NFC South. Since then, neither team has won a game, both going 0-3 in that span. Luckily for one of them, no-win-November will end on Thanksgiving night (unless the game ends in a tie). Unfortunately for the other (or both, if they do manage to tie), their next opportunity to win a game in November will come in 2022.

Both Buffalo and New Orleans have each already lost more games this season than they did last year — Buffalo went 13-3 in 2020 and New Orleans was 12-4. The Bills now trail the Patriots (7-4) in the AFC East race by a half-game and the Saints are behind the Buccaneers (7-3) by two games. While the Bills are still the favorites to win the East according to DraftKings (-165), the Saints are not being given much of a chance to catch and pass Tampa Bay (+900 for New Orleans, while the Bucs are -1100 to win the South). And despite the hiccups, Buffalo is still tied with Kansas City when it comes to AFC Champion odds (both teams at +350 at DraftKings).

Without Drew Brees and now without Jameis Winston, the Saints have fallen to 50-1 to win the NFC Championship after the three-game skid. Though these are two teams who have been heading in the same direction this month, Vegas thinks one of them — the Bills — are just making a pit stop before getting back on track. For the Saints, they may have already hit their high point this season.

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

More Turkey Day Trends!

The theme of the sports betting section this week is Thanksgiving, and some of the prior trends obviously apply to this game, as well. Additionally, we can look at only Thanksgiving night games, which are the only games that don’t include the Lions or Cowboys. First, we re-visit the favorites trend. Excluding the Cowboys, all other Thanksgiving Day favorites are 27-7 ATS and Thanksgiving night favorites are 10-4 ATS all-time. More good news for the Bills is their 8-1 ATS record vs. NFC teams since 2019.

Additionally, the public has been winning on Thanksgiving, according to Action Network: “When at least 57% of the spread bets are on a Thanksgiving favorite, that team is covering 77% of the time at 24-7 ATS.” As of right now, Buffalo is above that threshold, attracting 68% of the bets. However, 52% of the money, including sharp action, is on the Saints.

Finally, the Thanksgiving Day night game has gone Under the total in each of the past six seasons and in 10 out of 14 games all-time. And, while 64% of the tickets are on the Over, 54% of the money, including sharp money, is on the Under, according to Action.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

What’s Going on in Buffalo?

In a battle between the top-two turnover differential teams in the NFL, the Colts destroyed the Bills in that category and on the scoreboard in Week 11. Entering Week 11 games, Buffalo was first in the NFL in turnover differential at +14, ahead of second-place Indianapolis, which was +11. However, the Bills turned the ball over a season-high four times in the game and failed to force a turnover for just the second time this season, the first since an opening-week loss to Pittsburgh. The Bills dropped to +10, which still ranks second in the league, ahead of the third-place Cardinals who are +8. After committing just five turnovers in their first seven games, Buffalo has coughed the ball up nine times in the past three weeks.

Much of that falls on the shoulders of quarterback Josh Allen, who has thrown five interceptions over the past three games and added a lost fumble. After throwing 3 interceptions in his first 7 games this season with no multiple-interception games, Allen has had two games with multiple INTs (both losses). The Bills are 1-10 when Allen throws multiple picks in a game since entering the league in 2018. This is the first time Allen has had multiple 2+ interception games in a three-game span since his rookie season, when he threw 12 INTs in 11 starts.

The pressure has started to ramp up on Allen — not just metaphorically, but literally as well. After taking eight sacks in the first seven games, he’s been dropped seven times in the past three. Sacks have correlated to losses: in the Bills four losses this season, Allen has been sacked 11 times. In their six wins, he’s been sacked four times total. The game against the Colts was the first time this year that Allen took one sack or fewer and the Bills lost (sacked 3+ times in each of the other three losses). It’s hard to pin the blame squarely on the Bills offensive line, either. According to ESPN Analytics, Buffalo ranks eighth in the NFL with a 64% Pass-Block Win Rate and Allen averages 2.89 seconds to throw, which ranks as the sixth-most time to pass among QBs with at least 200 pass attempts this season, according to Next Gen Stats.

This week’s opponent, New Orleans, has the second-worst Pass-Rush Win Rate in the NFL at 32% (only the Giants are worse at 29%). Despite not winning at the line of scrimmage, New Orleans has recorded at least two sacks in nine of its 10 games this season, including 15 over the last five games. The magic number with Allen this season seems to be at least three sacks, and New Orleans has recorded 3+ sacks in three of their past five games, as well. The Saints haven’t recorded an interception in any of their past three games, but they did pick off 11 passes in their first seven games, including intercepting Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers each twice.