Thanksgiving Day Football
As usual, Dallas and Detroit host Turkey Day games. This week features division rivalries, all representing the NFC by the way.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Top of the morning to you, as the Chicago Bears face the Detroit Lions. With still a handful of games to be played, the 5-7 Bears trail the 7-5 Lions by a couple games in the NFC North. Both of course, are looking up at the 8-3 Green Bay Packers. The Wildcard spots are up for grabs, and this division could send two teams into the postseason. Just when you think Detroit has turned the corner, they come back to reality. I told myself, if they were to beat the Miami Dolphins, that I’d buy into them. That was a mistake, I wasn’t a fan of Jim Caldwell becoming the head coach in the first place. I must admit, he’s kept their penalties down and gotten Matthew Stafford to check down more. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are going to get their stats, but clearly two things hold them back: Stafford’s down moments, and the O-line. Joique Bell is a solid back, Reggie Bush hasn’t been healthy, and Theo Riddick has moments, but is still raw. The story in Motown has to be their elite defense. They’re probably playing better than they really are but it’s working. Who hasn’t suffered defeat at the hands of the New england Patriots? The D stills ranks first with the fewest points allowed, and 3rd in yards. Standout D-tackles, Ndomukong Suh is a free agent to be, and boy, the big man is having a big season. His partner in crime, Nick Fairley, was having a good campaign before getting hurt in week 8. They hope to get him back soon.
Chicago is again, questioning the future of Jay Cutler. The recent contract extension doesn’t mean he’ll be with the Bears forever. The O-line has actually played better, and Matt Forte is 4th in the entire league in catches. They just need to keep feeding 40-water. With that said, Cutler needs to be under center, instead of in the shotgun, it’s not working. Putting him under center, and letting him use his mobility a little bit, should be a focus to turn things around from the play-action. Brandon Marshall’s recent touchdowns have come when he was covered, so it’s not like Cutler has to make perfect throws. He’s zeroed in way too much on Alshon Jeffrey, some of those looks need to be checked down to Martellus Bennett, who’s still on pace for career highs despite being neglected lately. The defense is going through a transition, it hurts to be without veterans like Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs. No, the hype on Kyle Fuller wasn’t an overreation, the rookie is the real deal. He’s just dealing with getting banged up himself, for a bottom-tier unit. The special teams hasn’t been the same either. No LaMarr Houston, so hopefully Jared Allen can things things up in the second half of the season. Their success is pretty much reliant on the offense, and they’re very talented.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
The same can be said for the NFC East teams, in particular, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. The 2014 Cowboys look a lot like the 2013 Eagles. Ground and pound, then taking advantage with their star receiver over the top. LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing, and that crown appears to be staying in the division, as DeMarco Murray has racked up a hundred yards in every game but one. This is exactly what happens when you invest in the trenches. All those boring first and second round picks for offensive linemen, that is something that both of these teams have focused on. So have the Seahawks and 49ers, but more on them in a minute. Murray is tearing it up in a contract season, which may draw the franchise tag down the road. Dez Bryant is torching defenses in a contract season as well, the fiery playmaker has taken more of a leadership role and it shows. Dallas has found a way to keep offenses in front of them, leaving both safeties on the back end to defend the big play. The front-7 flocks to the ball, they have been patient in their lanes to turn things around.
Philly’s special teams has been dominant, with 9 impact plays in 11 games, giving the offense the advantage in field position. The defense is yardage-friendly, but they sure do get after the quarterback. The tally sacks and force turnovers, they are built to play with a lead. Connor Barwin is tied for 2nd in sacks, Trent Cole and Vinny Curry rank in the top 20. Brandon Boykin’s reputation as the best slot corner is solidified, and Malcolm Jenkins has been a do-it-all. An offense that has discovered the talents of rookie receiver Jordan Matthews. Every defense has game-planned to stop Shady McCoy, which has opened the door for Matthews to contribute,a cross from Jeremy Maclin. Back from injury in a contract season, Maclin is on pace to put up comparable numbers that DeSean Jackson posted a year ago. One of the biggest offseason additions, was snagging Darren Sproles for a 5th round pick. Mark Sanchez doesn’t deserve the heat that’s been coming his way, but it comes with the position. His O-line is as healthy as they will ever be in 2014, something Nick Foles didn’t have, to be fair. Sanchez has shown good footwork and pocket presence, it has been his O-line that has been out of sync, and receivers letting him down on the interceptions.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
The most physically imposing rivalry battles it out in the night game, a pair of NFC West teams that have provided a blueprint for teams without a star quarterback. The Seattle Seahawks visit the San Francisco 49ers. You know, Pete Carroll vs. Jim Harbaugh, Russell Wilson vs. Colin Kaepernick, and Marshawn Lynch vs. Frank Gore. How about Richard Sherman against the mediocre receiver that he calls Michael Crabtree? Holiday game in prime time, the fierce rival between 7-4 teams that smell blood. The Arizona Cardinals finally got tripped up last week, and as you know, Carson Palmer is out for the year. Not only were these teams in the Wildcard hunt, that injury breathes new life into the NFC West. Remember last season, while the Seahawks and 49ers advanced to the playoffs, the Cardinals went 10-6 and missed the tournament. Seattle’s defense has had some favorable match-ups, and they’ve taken care of business in dominant fashion. The offense has to stay patient, riding Beast Mode and the legs of Wilson. Perhaps at some point, Coach Carroll intervenes with the offense and makes it a point to hit Jermaine Kearse off play-action. Nobody picks up more yards per carry than Wilson, despite his passing struggles, he’s scrambled for over 600 yards so far.
Each team has defended their home field well over the years, the exception coming last season, where the Seahawks won both games. I’m not sure there are many veteran receivers playing at the level of Anquan Boldin. This guy has been a constant in the inconsistent offense, that looks uncertain of what to do with Frank Gore these days. Carlos Hyde may be the back of the future, and probably next season, but they need to play their style of football and that’s utilizing Gore. Vernon Davis continues his injury woes, but when he’s on the field he has to be one of the top three mouths to feed, along with Gore and Boldin. Kaepernick doesn’t have any more excuses, Crabree and Stevie Johnson give him the strongest supporting cast of his career. Weathering the storm, the Niners strung together victories while shuffling faces on defense. They may not get the middle linebackers back this year, but Aldon Smith’s return has been evident. He applies relentless and constant pressure off the edge. The workhorses up front, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, are the anchors. Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite, especially Borland, have been good on the second level. The secondary won’t lock you down, but you feel their hits.
Lions over Bears
Chicago has moments defensively, but I don’t see them stopping Detroit with regularity. On the other hand, Detroit’s elite defense will be able to get off the field more, against a struggling Bears passing game. Megatron and Tate might combined for 200 yards. The same could be said about Marshall and Jeffrey, just not the way Cutler has been inaccurate. Detroit can focus on the backfield, pressuring Cutler with all linebacker eyes on Forte.
Eagles over Cowboys
McCoy and Sproles present the best backfield tandem in football, and the line won’t be shaky for too much longer. Sanchez is extending plays in the pocket, but it’s not even the offense that has me picking them, aside from the fact I think this is set up for Sproles to have a big game. The defense is finding ways to hit the quarterback. Stopping Murray hasn’t been easy and he’ll probably hit the century mark again. Tony Romo looked rattled against the Washington Redskins, and that was before getting hurt. He’s a tough guy, it doesn’t mean he plays well through the pain. Philly is going to dial up the pressure, their special teams is the best in the game, and I don’t think there’s a team that has payed better on prime time.
Seahawks over 49ers
This game really comes down to X’s and O’s. Simply put, Bobby Wagner returned for the Hawks in the middle of the D. On the flips-side, this is the biggest game that inside linebackers, rookie Borland and inexperienced Wilhoite, will have played in their careers. I think that helps that read-option, whether it’s Wilson or Lynch on any given play. That also sets up some targets to the tight ends, something Wilhoite has been very prone to. Frankly, Seattle should be able to get more stops on the Jeckyll and Hyde offense of the Niners.
For those of you scoring, that’s two road teams getting a win on Thanksgiving.
I’m thankful for the NFL of course, but more importantly: the Lord, for the people in my life, my surroundings, and you dedicated fans.