Best bets for Thanksgiving Day NFL games

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There will be only two Thanksgiving Day NFL games this year, with the NFL pushing the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game to Sunday due to COVID-19 issues for the Ravens.

Our handicappers Drew Dinsick, Dave Tuley and Matt Youmans give their best bets for the Houston-Detroit and Washington-Dallas matchups.

Houston Texans (-3, 51.5) at Detroit Lions

Dinsick: Houston will be playing its second-ever Thanksgiving game on Thursday. The Texans are coming off their biggest win of the season and are finally earning the respect of the market after a dreadful start to their 2020 campaign. The Lions are trending in the opposite direction, as they were shut out 20-0 by the toothless Panthers defense and now find their coach on the hottest seat in the NFL. It is tough to quantify motivations in this spot: Will the Lions players fight for their coach or have they had enough Matt Patricia? 

This may not be the most important angle in the handicap, however, given that Deshaun Watson will be by far the best player on the field on Thursday. In the last four games the Texans have performed comfortably above the league average level; over this time window Houston is No. 8 in offensive EPA per play and No. 21 in defensive EPA per play allowed. Conversely, since Week 8 the Lions are No. 30 in offensive EPA per play and No. 28 in defensive EPA per play allowed.  Most of Detroit’s struggles on offense can be traced back to the absence of Kenny Golladay, who clearly elevates the play of Matthew Stafford, and without Golladay available it will likely be a sad start to Turkey Day for the Lions fans and backers. Fair price considering available players is Houston -3.5 by my numbers, so I will lay the 3 with the road favorite. 

Pick: Texans -3 

Tuley: The Turkey Day kickoff game was off the board last week due to Stafford’s uncertain status. He then played with an injured right thumb and went 18-for-33 for just 178 yards as the Lions were shut out 20-0 by the Panthers; meanwhile, the Texans upset the Patriots 27-20 and this line opened Texans -2.5 and has been bet up to 3. Stafford is clearly not 100% (frankly, he hasn’t looked right since those COVID-19 close contact reports a few weeks ago) and I want no part of the Lions, not even teasing them up over a touchdown. Many of my readers over the years have said that if I’m not able to make a case for the underdog, they see that as a tacit endorsement of the favorite. 

Pick: Pass

Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys (-3, 46)

Youmans: No player in the NFL has made a better comeback than Alex Smith, who threw for 166 yards and a touchdown in Washington’s 20-9 victory over Cincinnati in Week 11. In his previous start, a 30-27 loss at Detroit, Smith went 38-for-55 for 390 yards. The Football Team's offense is showing more life with Smith at the controls and with running back Antonio Gibson and wideout Terry McLaurin getting more touches.

The Dallas defense remains bad, but the "Red Rifle" is back. Andy Dalton returned after the bye week to fire three touchdown passes in a 31-28 win at Minnesota. Ezekiel Elliott just recorded his first 100-yard rushing game of the season by carrying 21 times for 103 yards against the Vikings.

While I bet on the Cowboys last week as 7-point underdogs, it’s tough to trust them to do it again, this time in the role of favorite. For those into Thanksgiving trends, Dallas is 1-8 ATS in its past nine games on Turkey Day. The Cowboys are also 2-8 ATS for the season after covering their past two. One of the worst bets I have made this season was on the Cowboys at pick-em in their 25-3 loss at Washington in late October, when Dalton was knocked out with a concussion.

I don't see a side bet I want to make, although the Circa Sports line of Dallas -2.5 (-120) looks tempting. The NFL is serving up two rotten turkeys on Thanksgiving, but this one has a chance to be an entertaining, high-scoring game.

Pick: Over 46

Dinsick:  A few weeks ago, this looked like a lost season for both the Cowboys and the Washington Football Team, but in the blink of an eye this game went from afterthought to high leverage in the NFC East division race. Both squads are riding high off Week 11 wins; Washington has found stability at QB with Smith and the return of Zack Martin is affording Andy Dalton the time needed to operate the Dallas offense and connect with their talented wideouts. Neither defense has distinguished itself this season, particularly in a way that would stop what the opposing offense does well.  Considering the low total and the narrow expected margin of victory, it is fair to conclude this game will be decided late by whichever team can execute in crunch time. 

Either way, the fair total is 48 by my numbers and I’ll take a swing on the over in what should be a fun cap to the double-header.

Pick: Over 46

Tuley: This was Dallas -1 on the advance line last week, but then even though Washington beat Cincinnati 20-9, the Cowboys have gone to 3-point favoritism after upsetting the Vikings 31-28 as 7-point road underdogs. Again, I think the move has been in the right direction as the Cowboys are much better with Andy Dalton back in the lineup. However, Dalton was the starter when these division rivals met for the first time back in Week 7 and Washington romped 25-3 as Dalton was pressured constantly and only went 9-for-19 for 79 yards with an INT and no TDs as the Cowboys only managed a field goal the whole game. I might start some Week 12 teasers with Washington 9 ( 8.5 still acceptable if line drifts down to 2.5) as I don’t expect a blowout either way.  

Pick: Pass

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