NFL Thanksgiving preview: Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills look to bounce back,

NFL Thanksgiving preview: Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills look to bounce back,

Micah Parsons has been one of the standout rookies so far in 2021

NFL Thanksgiving Day football is here, and you can watch it all live on Sky Sports.

The Detroit Lions continue their Turkey Day marriage when they take on the Chicago Bears, before the Las Vegas Raiders visit the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills face the New Orleans Saints on the road.

We cast our eye over all three match-ups, from each team’s form heading in, to some of the players to watch…

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November 25, 2021, 5:00pm

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Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions – 6pm

Form guide

The Bears enter 3-7 amid a five-game losing streak on the back of their 16-13 defeat to the Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens in Week 11, during which rookie play-caller Justin Fields was forced off due to a rib injury. Their three victories on the year have come against the Cincinnati Bengals (20-17 in Week Two), the Lions (24-14 in Week Four) and the Las Vegas Raiders (20-9 in Week Five), they are ranked second last on total offense and 11th on defense, and the clock, as it has been for some time, is seemingly ticking on head coach Matt Nagy.

Dan Campbell’s Lions remain winless this season at 0-9-1 having been edged out 13-10 by the Cleveland Browns on Sunday following their 16-16 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous week. Detroit are ranked 27th on both offense and defense with the second worst -0.108 EPA/play (expected points added) in the league. They play hard and were unlucky to come off second best in two-point games against the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings, but it has largely been ugly.

Watch D'Andre Swift's incredible 57-yard run to score the Detroit Lions' first touchdown of the night against the Cleveland Browns

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Watch D’Andre Swift’s incredible 57-yard run to score the Detroit Lions’ first touchdown of the night against the Cleveland Browns

Watch D’Andre Swift’s incredible 57-yard run to score the Detroit Lions’ first touchdown of the night against the Cleveland Browns

Ones to watch

Darnell Mooney provided a glimpse of what an expanded role might look like for him moving forward on Sunday as he was targeted 16 times in the absence of Chicago’s star wide receiver Allen Robinson, finishing with five catches for 121 yards and one touchdown. David Montgomery, recently back from injury, and rookie Khalil Herbert also make a useful running back tandem that has combined for 794 rushing yards so far on the year.

Second-year running back D’Andre Swift has been one of the few bright spots for the Lions and enters Thursday with 266 total rushing yards over his last two outings, including a 57-yard touchdown run against the Browns last time out. The Georgia product has 555 yards for two touchdowns on the ground as well as 53 catches for 420 yards and two scores so far this season. The best is still to come from 2019 first-round tight end TJ Hockenson, while rookie offensive tackle Penei Sewell is worth monitoring up against Robert Quinn.

Key to the game

Andy Dalton is in as starter for the injured Fields, while Jared Goff could be back after missing Sunday’s loss to the Browns, during which back-up Tim Boyle threw two interceptions in what marked his first career start. Which quarterback can play cleaner football? Which defense can be most disruptive in the backfield? A Bears defense that has surrendered 709 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground over the last five games will also be tasked with rediscovering some resistance in order to contain a surging Swift.

What both teams are saying

Lions head coach Dan Campbell: “To get a win, period, is going to be freakin’ outstanding, but to get it on Thanksgiving would make it that much more special.”

Lions quarterback Jared Goff: “I feel good (on recovery from injury), better every day, we’ll see, I don’t know what he (coach Campbell) said but I’d probably categorise it as a game-day decision. I feel good, though, I feel really good. I’d describe it (oblique injury) as any other strained muscle, it gets better over time and there can be setbacks if you push it too far or too quickly so it’s that delicate little dance we’re managing.”

Bears head coach Matt Nagy: “The simple fact of the matter is that now we’re 3-7 instead of 5-5. That’s a big difference right now when you look at where these NFC teams are. We have to keep fighting because we know where we’re at. That’s the way these guys are wired.”

Bears safety Tashaun Gipson on talk over Nagy’s job security: “I don’t see any distractions on that tip of guys talking about what they heard or what’s going on. We’re just itching to win a football game. And I think that’s more so of the conversations that’s being had.”

Bears quarterback Andy Dalton: “I believe I’m a starter in this league. Coming into this year, that’s what I was. That’s what I expect. I started every year I’ve been in the league minus last year [as a back-up with the Cowboys], but still got to play a lot. My focus isn’t on what is going to be going on after this year or after this game. My whole focus is just on being the best quarterback and best player I can be to help this team win on Thursday.”

Las Vegas Raiders @ Dallas Cowboys – 9.30pm

Form guide

The Raiders opened the season 5-2 and looking like playoff contenders with some Vegas pizzazz on offense having also amended their woes on the other side of the ball. A turbulent period, including the resignation of head coach Jon Gruden and release of wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and cornerback Damon Arnette for off-field incidents, has since coincided with a slump that leaves them on a three-game skid heading into Thanksgiving following Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. Overseen by interim coach Rich Bisaccia, they are ranked 10th on offense and 16th on defense.

Dallas failed to reach the end zone in their Week 11 loss to the Chiefs, but they remain the league’s No 1-ranked offense with 418.1 yards per game as well as the third-ranked scoring offense while averaging 29.3 points. They also sit 18th in total defense with a fourth-most 19 takeaways, eight of which have come via Trevon Diggs interceptions. Mike McCarthy’s side are 7-3 and looking playoff-bound at the top of the NFC East.

The best of the action from the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 of the NFL season

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The best of the action from the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 of the NFL season

The best of the action from the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 of the NFL season

Ones to watch

Darren Waller arrives having produced his 12th career 100-yard receiving game in Sunday’s defeat to Cincinnati, marking the third most by any tight end since he made his debut in 2015 behind Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski. Fans have been pleading for more targets for their star weapon, and the Raiders would be wise to answer those calls. Yannick Ngakoue has, meanwhile, revived his reputation as a recognised disruptor off the edge with a team-high seven sacks on the year.

As for Dallas, it is impossible to take your eyes off Micah Parsons right now as he marches towards Defensive Rookie of the Year. Two more sacks against the Chiefs on Sunday took his tally to eight so far this season, during which injuries to Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory have seen him spend time as both off-ball linebacker and on-the-line pass rusher.

Key to the game

Here comes a test of Dallas’ depth as Dak Prescott leads an offense that could be missing both of its star wide receivers in Amari Cooper (Covid) and CeeDee Lamb (concussion), the latter of whom still notably has a chance to play. Tony Pollard has proven a more than useful explosive pass-catching option out of the backfield in complement to Ezekiel Elliott, while Michael Gallup should inherit the bulk of the targets having returned from injury to play in just his second game of the season at the weekend.

The task for Las Vegas will be replicating what the Chiefs’ defense was able to achieve in suppressing the league’s most productive attack. Maxx Crosby and Ngakoue are contenders to match the pressure applied by Chris Jones up front, and high IQ rookie safety Tre’von Moehrig can set the tone in helping cut out the chunk plays.

What both teams are saying

Raiders defensive end Yannick Ngakoue: “In football, it’s going to be ups and downs. Unfortunately, these past few weeks we haven’t gotten it done as a group, as a team. But, at the end of the day, you’ve got to keep working. It’s part of the game. Adversity is going to come; it’s just all about how you respond.”

Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia: “We’ve been fighting. Fighting to me comes from the soul, and it’s the heart of a man. I don’t see those issues on tape. I feel like we’ve done a good job of battling. I don’t see the fight or the will of our team or the will of the individual men in there being an issue. I don’t see an issue in our effort or our ability to compete until the bitter end, but everyone has their take on it.”

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott: “I’m not worried about how this team is going to respond [to the Chiefs defeat]. As long as I’m a part of this team, quarterbacking this offense, that’s the least of my worries is how we’re going to respond. We’re a resilient bunch. [The Chiefs] and their atmosphere got the best of us. It’s part of the game. We’ll be better because of it.”

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott: “I think running the football has to be important to us. I think it helps this offense. We’re a better football team when we can run it well. I think it will be point for us Thursday to get that run game going.”

Buffalo Bills @ New Orleans Saints – 1.20am

Form guide

Having fallen to an opening-day defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bills (6-4) underlined their widely-anticipated Super Bowl credentials with a four-game winning streak, including shutouts against the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans as well as a statement victory over the Chiefs, before losing three of their next five, the latest being Week 11’s 41-16 defeat to the Jonathan Taylor-inspired Indianapolis Colts. They boast the NFL’s No 1-ranked defense and No 5-ranked offense, while having the second-best turnover differential.

The Saints (5-5) come into Thursday having lost three straight games for the first time since 2016 after suffering a 40-29 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. New Orleans had started the season strongly with wins over the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only for their victory over the latter to come at a cost as quarterback Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Trevor Siemian has started under center in each of the last three outings, for two of which do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara has been missing in addition to the season-long absence of star wide receiver Michael Thomas.

The best of the action from the clash between the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills in Week 11 of the NFL season

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The best of the action from the clash between the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills in Week 11 of the NFL season

The best of the action from the clash between the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills in Week 11 of the NFL season

Ones to watch

There is an argument for Stefon Diggs having not been nearly as prolific as might have been expected through the opening 11 weeks, though he remains Josh Allen’s most dangerous target and enters Thursday with a team-leading 60 catches for 773 yards and six touchdowns, five of which have come in his last five games. While the Bills’ run game may not be as sophisticated as that of the Eagles, keep an eye on the rushing threat of Allen and running back Devin Singletary against a Saints defense that struggled to contain Jalen Hurts and co on the ground.

The audition for value beyond Kamara and Thomas remains ongoing for the Saints, Deonte Harris currently leading the team with 26 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns, while Marquez Callaway has played his way into a role with 26 receptions for 372 yards and six scores. With tight end Adam Trautman a new addition to injured reserve and running back Mark Ingram nursing a knee issue, the Saints’ offense looks awfully slim. Cue a busy day for recently and handsomely-paid Taysom Hill. Should Kamara be fit to go, he is the Saints’ offense.

Key to the game

First and foremost, take care of the football; the Bills turned the ball over four times against the Colts on Sunday while the Saints were guilty of three giveaways, including a pick six, against the Eagles. With Siemian’s options limited, it is on Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport to lead the fight off the edge for the Saints’ defense and make Allen uncomfortable behind an offensive line that has failed to convince all season.

Brian Baldinger joins Inside the Huddle to look at the battle for supremacy in the AFC East, with the New England Patriots 'juggernaut' overtaking the Buffalo Bills

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Brian Baldinger joins Inside the Huddle to look at the battle for supremacy in the AFC East, with the New England Patriots ‘juggernaut’ overtaking the Buffalo Bills

Brian Baldinger joins Inside the Huddle to look at the battle for supremacy in the AFC East, with the New England Patriots ‘juggernaut’ overtaking the Buffalo Bills

What both teams are saying

Bills quarterback Josh Allen: “You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You can’t let one week affect another week. It’s very fortunate we have a Thursday night game and have to turn our attention to the next opponent.”

Bills tight end Dawson Knox: “We’ve seen how resilient we are. We know that offense, defense, special teams, we’ve got the parts that we need to succeed. I think it’s good to have a game coming up quick so we can get that bad taste out of our mouth.”

Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian: “The train is moving. We’ll be ready to play Thursday. The urgency is high right now is high, for sure. We know exactly where we’re at. We have to string some [wins] together, but it starts with this Thursday.”

Live coverage of the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day action begins on Sky Sports NFL from 5pm, before the Chicago Bears take on the Detroit Lions (6pm), followed by the Las Vegas Raiders at the Dallas Cowboys (9.30pm) and the Buffalo Bills against the New Orleans Saints (1.20am).

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