NFL Thanksgiving Betting Preview: Will the Cowboys Bounce Back and Cover Against the Raiders?
Turkey Day means different things to different people, but to me, it means an over-indulgence in turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dessert, and -- of course -- football.
This Thanksgiving takes on a particularly special meaning for me. Unfortunately, I lost my father a week ago, and as I have been so often reminded recently, there's so much to celebrate, enjoy, and ultimately be thankful for.
My father was a sports fanatic. If there was a game on, we were watching it, with special reverence for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals but also those of the football variety, as he was a season-ticket holder. But that ranged from us watching bowling, NASCAR, lacrosse, the Olympics -- he loved sports and he loved to compete, and he instilled those loves in me.
Long after my college baseball days, my dad was silly enough to even be there at the finish line of my Thanksgiving Turkey Trots -- and also remind me how stupid runners were for putting their bodies through that pain.
Thanksgiving is one of those wonderful traditions to truly take time to be thankful -- for things that may seem arbitrary like a game of football, gambling articles, and fantasy sports, but most importantly, for the wonderful relationships with family, friends, both new and old, that we get to foster and enjoy on this day.
Take advantage of that opportunity, as the gift of life can be fleeting, and they could be taken from you far too quickly.
Thursday's delightful slate will bring us three matchups that have major playoff implications. To start things off, the NFC North shows off a battle within the division between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, who will square off again for the second straight year. Chicago desperately needs a win to stay in the playoff race. The Dallas Cowboys will host the Las Vegas Raiders, and both teams are squarely eyeing up playoff berths. Finally, we finish off with a Buffalo Bills squad playing on Thanksgiving for the second year in a row and are headed to NOLA to face the New Orleans Saints in the night cap.
So what should we expect from these three contests? Let's dig in and find out.
Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions
It's a new year but the same old NFC North matchup for our appetizer as the Bears and Lions square off in our first contest. Unfortunately for both of these teams, things did not go as planned this season, and as a result, the Bears (27th) and Lions (32nd) are pretty low in our power rankings.
It starts off with somewhat challenging quarterback play -- and I don't think it's a stretch to say that the quarterback position hasn't been one with particularly great play so far this season for the Bears.
From an efficiency perspective, our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric reveals an ugly scene. Rookie Justin Fields, who will miss the game with a rib injury, has logged a -0.10 Passing NEP per drop back, and Andy Dalton hasn't been much better with a season-long mark of 0.10 Passing NEP per drop back, right near league average.
Sadly, it's a similar story on the other side. It looks like Jared Goff will start despite an oblique injury that limited him from playing a week ago, and his -0.06 Passing NEP per drop back isn't great, either. By our per-play metrics, these are the two worst passing offenses in the NFL.
The running game is slightly better. The Bears actually boast the 10th-best rushing offense in the league, thanks to David Montgomery. The running back has been dinged up a bit this season, but he has recorded a solid 0.04 Rushing NEP per rush this season, although his nine catches leave a little bit to be desired.
D'Andre Swift has recorded back-to-back monster efforts in the last two weeks, topping 130 rushing yards in each of these contests, and he is a stud in the passing game -- he owns 53 catches to his name this season
As we peek at things over at oddsFire, 67% of both bets and 62% of wagered dollars have come in on the Bears, who are favored by 3.0 points. Interestingly, history does not favor either team. Earlier this season, the Bears recorded a 24-14 victory over these same Lions at home, but Chicago is only 1-4 against-the-spread (ATS) in their last five games.
This game doesn't necessarily scream over despite the low total, either, as the under has hit in seven of Detroit's last eight games. numberFire's algorithm sees value in taking the under, which it projects to happen 57.55% of the time.
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys
Our main course, yet again, will feature the Dallas Cowboys playing the gracious (or perhaps not so much) host to the Raiders. Theoretically, this could be quite the lopsided affair. The Cowboys rank 3rd in our power rankings, and the Raiders rank 23rd.
Through 10 games, Derek Carr is among the league leaders in passing yards, averaging over 300 yards per game (3,041 this season), and he's been solidly efficient with a 0.17 Passing NEP per drop back.
He's had to throw quite a bit -- the Raiders have the sixth-highest pass-to-run ratio team in the NFL -- and that's partly because of their recent subpar play. The Raiders have lost three straight and have been absolutely blown out the last two games.
Dak Prescott hasn't thrown for as many yards as Carr, but he's been more efficien. He's recorded a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.25, including a Passing Success Rate of 53.49%. Dude has balled, and it's a big reason why they are the fourth-ranked passing offense in the league.
Figuring out the Raiders' backfield is perplexing, to say the least. Josh Jacobs seems to be the lead back, recording 29 carries in the last three weeks to Kenyan Drake's 13 carries, but neither one has been e a dominant presence in the backfield.
For Dallas, while Ezekiel Elliott has been a far larger presence in the backfield to Tony Pollard (151 to 90 rushes, respectively), Pollard's efficiency mark of 0.15 Rushing NEP per rush has been far higher than Elliott's (0.05).
The betting data over at oddsFire has been very interesting. A public team like Dallas has received 60% of all bets but only 33% of all cash has come in on the home team. Dallas is favored by 7.0 points, but our algorithm still likes Dallas to cover 59.5% of the time, winning the game by a score of 28.88 to 17.41.
From a historical perspective, there are two very divergent paths to consider here. The Cowboys are 6-1 ATS in their last seven home contests, while the Raiders haven't covered in their last three games.
Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints
For dessert, the 6-4 Bills will travel south to face the Saints. I'm not sure many folks predicted that Buffalo would be sitting on such a mediocre record at the Thanksgiving holiday, but here we are.
Pinning the Bills challenges this season hasn't fallen on the shoulders of Josh Allen -- his 0.21 Passing NEP per drop back has been fantastic this season. Allen has thrown for over 2,800 yards already this year, and he has added 340 rushing yards with his legs.
Allen squares off head-to-head with Trevor Siemian, who is the starter for New Orleans after Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending knee injury. It's hard to draw conclusions from Siemian's start last week -- he was missing uber-weapon Alvin Kamara last week, and Michael Thomas has yet to play this year.
If Kamara is unable to play yet again, veteran Mark Ingram (yes, that Ingram) will likely be the lead ball carrier. Ingram rushed 16 times for 88 yards just a week ago.
After Allen, Devin Singletary is the primary running back for Buffalo with 83 carries and 415 yards. However, ignoring Zack Moss would be a fool's errand -- he has 75 carries himself this season, posting a solid four scores of his own. From an efficiency perspective, Singletary (0.08) has been far better than Moss (-0.02). Matt Breida has also seen a recent bump in playing time and could also be a factor.
The Bills are favored by 6.0 points, and per our algorithm, we give the home Saints a 58.9% chance to cover this spread. This seems somewhat like a smash spot for the Saints. They are 8-1-1 as home underdogs in their last 10 games, and Buffalo is only 1-3-1 ATS in their last five.
Interestingly, Buffalo has fared well in bounce-back spots, though. They were embarrassed in a 41-15 loss last week, and the Bills are 9-1-1 ATS in their last 11 games following a loss of 14 points or more.