NFL Thanksgiving Day 2017 Preview
The first of our three Thanksgiving NFL games features the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings in a key NFC North tilt. In the late-afternoon game, the Los Angeles Chargers -- who are climbing hard in the AFC West and are now only two games back of the Kansas City Chiefs -- will try to keep winning against the Dallas Cowboys, who are 5-5 and fighting for a wild card berth. The nightcap features the New York Giants -- who pulled off a stunning win last week -- taking on the Washington Redskins, who are also hunting for a wild card spot.
So what will these three contests have in store for us?
Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions
his is a rematch of last year's Turkey Day contest, and these two teams already met in Week 4 this season, with the Lions claiming a narrow 14-7 road victory. According to our NFL power rankings Vikings are the 5th-ranked team in the league, while the Lions sit at 14.
The Vikings will lean heavily on a pass offense led by Case Keenum, who ranks fifth among the 36 quarterbacks with 125 or more drop backs in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.21). Keenum will have his work cut out for him, as he will face a solid Lions' pass defense, which clocks in 11th per our metrics.
Keenum's main weapon will likely be piping-hot Adam Thielen. In half-point PPR leagues, Thielen ranks third among wide receivers, and he's been efficient per our numberFire metrics. Thielen checks in 20th among the 53 wide receivers with 50 targets or more in Reception NEP per target (0.74). In the last three weeks, Thielen has stepped up his production, catching 19 passes for 387 yards and 3 touchdowns. As a secondary target, Stefon Diggs hasn't been too shabby, either -- he ranks second in Reception NEP per target (0.97).
For the Lions, Matthew Stafford leads a pass-happy offense that ranks ninth in the league in pass-to-run ratio (1.63 passes per rush). Stafford's Passing NEP per drop back of 0.12 ranks 15th among signal callers with at least 125 drop backs. Stafford's main target is Marvin Jones, who ranks third in Reception NEP per target (0.90) and fourth in Reception Success Rate (95.0%).
Using our adjusted per-play metrics, Minnesota's defense checks in eighth, while Detroit ranks a respectable 12th. Both offenses will be tested.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Los Angeles (7th in our power rankings) and Dallas (20th) will face off in the second game, and these teams are heading in different directions.
The Chargers, who were previously chasing an undefeated Chiefs team, now sit only two games out of the division lead. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are backsliding. Ezekiel Elliott is now serving a suspension, but the real challenge for the Cowboys has been dealing with the loss of Tyron Smith, who has missed the last two games.
The Chargers have a pile of offensive weapons. Philip Rivers has quietly been fantastic, ranking eighth among the 36 quarterbacks with 125 or more drop backs in Passing NEP per drop back (0.18). Rivers' primary target has been Keenan Allen, who ranks eighth in targets and receptions, and 17th among the 53 wide receivers with 50 targets or more in Reception NEP per target (0.77).
But the offense doesn't stop with the passing game, as Melvin Gordon has been solid on the ground. Gordon ranks 27th in Rushing NEP per play (-0.07) among rushers with 50 carries or more, and he ranks 10th among running backs in receptions.
The Cowboys have been a different offense with Zeke out on suspension in their previous two contests. Dak Prescott is now the focus, and he ranks only 23rd in Passing NEP per drop back (0.01), and 24th in Passing Success Rate (44.28%). The sledding has been particularly tough in recent weeks with his offensive line banged up, as he has passed for only 321 yards and zero touchdowns, while being sacked 12 times.
Coming off a 50-catch, 796-receiving yard season, Dez Bryant is still trying to find his Pro Bowl form. In 2017, Dez has already caught 50 passes, but ranks 46th out of 53 wide receivers with 50 targets or more in Reception NEP per target (0.52). Perhaps the Dallas wide receiver just hasn't found that connection yet with the second-year signal caller -- among that same group of wide receivers, which averages a 60.59% catch rate, Dez checks in far below at only 51.04%. Number two receiving option Terrance Williams hasn't been much more efficient -- he only clocks in one spot higher than Dez in Reception NEP per target (0.55).
We are two weeks into Elliott's six-game suspension, and Alfred Morris has been the primary ball carrier in Zeke's absence, out-rushing Rod Smith 28 to 11. In those 28 carries, Morris has been really good, racking up a Rushing NEP per play mark of 0.10.
Both defenses will be tested on Thursday, and using our adjusted per-play metrics, they check in at 10th (Los Angeles) and 29th (Dallas) overall. The Chargers have an absolutely fantastic defensive line, and in looking at Adjusted Sack Rate, the Chargers rank third overall, while the 'Boys are pretty robust at ninth.
New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins
The nightcap features the lowest-ranked matchup of the day -- the Giants find themselves at 23, while the 'Skins are at 11.
Eli Manning leads a Giants offense that has struggled, and he's missing a ton of his receiving weapons, including Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Dwayne Harris. His two primary targets are now Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard. Engram leads tight ends in targets this year (78), while Shepard went off in a monster Week 10 matchup with 11 catches for 142 receiving yards, but had to miss last week while dealing with migraines.
Thanks in part to the multitude of injuries, Manning ranks 22nd among passers in Passing NEP per drop back (0.03).
Orleans Darkwa has been the lead rusher for the G-Men, and he is perhaps the lone bright spot in this dismal season. He ranks 10th among running backs in Rushing NEP per play (0.01).
Leading the charge for the home team is Kirk Cousins, who ranks third in passing yards and 13th in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks (0.15).
Without both Terrelle Pryor and Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder has led the team in targets the last two weeks (19), but he hasn't been all that efficient. Crowder ranks a league-worst in Reception NEP per target (0.34) this season.
Samaje Perine has taken over lead back duties with Rob Kelley suffering an ankle injury, and he was fantastic in Week 11, rushing 23 times for 117 yards and a score. For the season, the rookie runner hasn't been so hot -- he has recorded a Rushing NEP per play mark of -0.08.
This contest will feature two average defenses -- the Giants rank 19th and the Redskins rank 14th -- and neither team gets to the quarterback much. The 'Skins rank 13th in adjusted sack rate, and the Giants are 28th.
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