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Thanksgiving Football Feast
by Dennis Ranahan

Thanksgiving and football has been an American tradition since the 1800’s. The Detroit Lions hosted their first Thanksgiving Day game in 1934, and beginning in 1966 the Dallas Cowboys have hosted the second game played on the holiday. In 2006, the NFL adopted a triple-header format for Thanksgiving with the third game, played in the evening, not tied to any particular team.

The first two games today feature forced quarterback changes. The Chicago Bears, who lead the NFC North Division by 1½ games over the Minnesota Vikings and have a three game margin over the last place Detroit Lions, will be under the direction of Chase Daniels today. The ten-year undrafted quarterback starts today for the injured Mitchell Trubisky. While this is Daniels’ first year with the Bears, he did play three years with the Kansas City Chiefs while first-year Bears head coach Matt Nagy was quarterback coach and offensive coordinator on Andy Reid’s staff.

This is an ideal spot for the Lions to take advantage of a Chicago team that comes to town on a short work week and following a huge division win over the Vikings last Sunday night. Detroit would be getting 3½ or 4 points if Trubisky was not injured, but now the line has dropped to below a field goal.

The Bears are the more talented squad on the field today in Detroit and while the Lions would have had a huge motivational edge when challenged by a Bears team at full strength, the loss of Trubisky actually serves to offer the Bears extra motivation. Is it enough to allow Chicago to earn their fifth straight win and further put a lock on the the NFC North Division race?

The problem with backing the Lions now is that a wager on their chances today is tied directly to their motivational edge, and with the need for the Bears to compensate for the loss of their starting quarterback, that edge is compromised.

The second game also sees a visiting team needing to make a quick adjustment at quarterback. The Washington Redskins big off-season acquisition was quarterback Alex Smith, and his play was pivotal in leading his new team to the top spot in the NFC East Division. Last week, in a hardfought two-point loss to the Houston Texans, Smith was lost for the season with a broken leg.

In his place, the Redskins will turn to veteran Colt McCoy.

Even if Smith was healthy, the Cowboys still would have had a talent edge in this contest despite them trailing Washington by a game in the standings. The Redskins talent takes a hit with the move from Smith to McCoy, and the Cowboys still have the motivational edge based on them coming into this game trailing their archrivals in the NFC East.

The point spread is higher than it would have been if Smith was available, but not so high as to diminish the Cowboys chances in this ideal spot to pick up the home win and catch Washington in their division race.

The third game on the NFL Thanksgiving schedule features the team that has looked the best over the past ten weeks, the New Orleans Saints. They host an Atlanta Falcons team that was in the Super Bowl two years ago and the playoffs last season, but won’t be around for the postseason this year.

Despite great play by second-year Kansas CIty Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and another stellar year from Los Angeles Rams runningback Todd Gurley, the likely Most Valuable Player in the NFL this season is Saints Quarterback Drew Brees. After losing their opener, and being challenged by the Cleveland Browns in second week action, the Saints have been perfect.

They seemingly score at will and their nine game winning streak is the longest in the NFL this season and not likely to be ended by the struggling Falcons.

Still, laying double-digits with a team that put up nearly 50 points the week before is a low percentage play, and one-time MVP Matt Ryan still has weapons that can score points in bunches.

It’s not the Falcons year, and betting against the Saints appears sheer folly … but you can’t make a good point spread wager with a bad line.

One of the three Thanksgiving Day games ranks as a money rated play today.

Qoxhi Picks: Dallas Cowboys (-7) over the Washington Redskins