The Professor’s NFL Thanksgiving Special

The Professor's NFL Thanksgiving Special

As the NFL continues to insist on having the Detroit Lions on the Thanksgiving Day ticket, NFL fans should first and foremost be thankful for the fact that the NFL at least added a third game to the slate. Chicago at Detroit is a lackluster way to kick off Thanksgiving but the later games (Las Vegas at Dallas, Buffalo at New Orleans) feature four teams in the playoff race even if the card lacks a heavyweight matchup. DraftKings has some of their prop bets ready to go, so The Professor will give you some bets to target along with a breakdown of the matchup to get you ready for all three games on the NFL’s Thanksgiving slate. Spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (CHI -3, Total 41.5)

The player who would have been center stage for this game will be on the sidelines, as the knee injury Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields suffered last week will keep him out of this contest. Fields looks like a rookie at times but he brings a different level of excitement to the game with his explosive playmaking potential; he’s not there yet, but what Fields has shown so far this year should have potential candidates lined up if Chicago makes changes to the front office and/or coaching staff this offseason.

Fields’ absence leaves Bears receiver Darnell Mooney and Lions running back D’Andre Swift as the two most exciting players in this game. Mooney is an emerging star who can use his speed in a variety of fashions; last week, he split two defenders in the process of turning a bubble screen from Andy Dalton into a sixty-yard touchdown, and he has shown a knack for getting open deep. Swift’s situation has some similarities to the one running back Todd Gurley endured with the Rams (and quarterback Jared Goff) before Sean McVay became the head coach; Gurley’s talent was obvious, but the group around him prevented him from producing consistently. Swift’s yards-per-carry average is up to 4.1 after last week’s 57-yard touchdown run, a season-long carry that almost allowed Detroit to steal a win with Tim Boyle at quarterback, but Swift had been at 3.2 two weeks earlier, a ridiculous number for a player with his talent.

Andy Dalton did capitalize when Marquise Goodwin broke free against zero coverage to give Chicago a lead late in the Baltimore game, but it was a generally uninspiring relief performance from the Red Rifle. For NFL fans looking to spice up the matchup between Dalton and Jared Goff/Tim Boyle, D’Andre Swift’s over/under for longest rush is set at 13.5 yards, with a price of -130 for the over and -105 for the under. The Professor will take the over for Detroit’s dynamic back, who should get plenty of opportunities to break one loose.

Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys (DAL -7.5, Total 51)

The Cowboys are set to play this game without their top two receivers, CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, but as the Atlanta Falcons found out two weeks ago, the fact that the Cowboys are coming off a bad loss doesn’t necessarily bode well for their next opponent.

Dallas had a disappointing performance against Kansas City in several areas, but one bright spot was rookie defender Micah Parsons, who continued his dominant rookie season. Parsons wore out Chiefs right tackle Andrew Wylie and faces another favorable matchup in Raiders right tackle Brandon Parker on Thanksgiving. Parker is a fourth-year veteran who is best suited to be the backup “swing” tackle on an NFL roster, but he has was forced into the starting right tackle role when the Raiders moved rookie Alex Leatherwood to guard after Leatherwood’s struggles early this season. Parker is particularly vulnerable against speed rushers; given that Parsons is one of the quickest rushers in the game, Las Vegas should prioritize getting Parker help when Parsons lines up over him.

With or without his receivers, Prescott should rebound from last week’s performance. It is hard to have the same confidence for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who got off to a rocky start last week when he failed to capitalize on an early strip-sack by the defense. In the end, Carr only managed 13 points against a Bengals defense that had struggled in recent weeks, and he faces a more talented unit in Dallas.

The Cowboys should right the ship this week; with receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb sidelined, receiver Michael Gallup and running back Tony Pollard should have significant roles in this game. Gallup is +150 and Pollard +175 as a TD scorer. The model has Gallup at a mean projection of 0.6 receiving touchdowns and Pollard at a mean projection of 0.4 combined touchdowns; The Professor will take Gallup to score but either is a reasonable option.

Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints (BUF -5.5, Total 45)

The Bills are reeling after Jonathan Taylor scored five touchdowns for the Colts in a loss that dropped Buffalo behind New England in the AFC East race. Buffalo had appeared to be the AFC’s top contender when they blew out the Kansas City Chiefs, but between their loss to Tennessee and last week’s debacle against the Colts, the Bills have fallen back to the pack.

New Orleans will attempt to implement the same type of run-heavy approach that Indianapolis used last week; the Saints would benefit if running back Alvin Kamara, who was the first player in seven years to score five touchdowns in an NFL game when he accomplished the feat in late 2020, can return for this game. Mark Ingram has done a solid job in his absence, but an already thin group of New Orleans pass-catchers will now be without tight end Adam Trautman, who had developed something of a rapport with quarterback Trevor Siemian, so the Saints can use all the help they can get. Perhaps Siemian rebounds this week, but Bills safety Micah Hyde, who is putting together a case for All-Pro consideration this season, will be one of several Bills secondary players looking to make a big play after the pick-six Siemian threw to Eagles cornerback Darius Slay last week.

There is a strong contrast between the finesse Buffalo offense and the physical New Orleans defense; among other things, New Orleans is known for their oversized physical freaks at defensive end (Cam Jordan, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Marcus Davenport) and their physical slot defender, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who has the cover skills of a corner, the dimensions of a safety, and the disposition of a linebacker. The key matchup may be between star Bills receiver Stefon Diggs and top Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore; if Lattimore follows Diggs and can handle him without extra attention from a safety, New Orleans has the secondary depth to match up with Buffalo’s deep receiving core, and linebacker Demario Davis should prevent the Bills from having too much success on the ground.

This game may be lower scoring than some expect, though the falling total for the over/under indicates some NFL bettors are on to that idea. DraftKings has an interesting weekly special for Josh Allen to have a banner day; he is +650 to throw for 299.5+ yards, run for 39.5+ yards, throw for 2+ TDs, and run for a TD, but that’s a tall task against this Saints defense; The Professor will point instead to Josh Allen as a TD Scorer at +190 (passing TDs excluded). The model has Allen at a mean projection of 0.4 rushing touchdowns, which offers solid value given the break-even win rate of 34.5% for +190.

DFS Notes

Thanksgiving offers a twist on Thursday DFS, with three games instead of the usual one. If running back Alvin Kamara is back it will add star power at the running position on a slate that is short of big-time receivers outside of Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs; with Cowboys receivers CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper out, Raiders tight end Darren Waller would be the second-highest priced receiver if he played that position.

The quarterback group is highlighted by Dak Prescott and Josh Allen; picking the low-cost quarterback who will hit is a difficult task. Andy Dalton, Jared Goff, and Trevor Siemian are unlikely to produce big games regardless of their matchups, while Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense have been fading over the past month. Dalton has some big-play threats at receiver, so The Professor would lean to him as the low-cost quarterback to build around, but he will take a different approach when he builds a Thanksgiving FanDuel DFS team in his appearance on Razor’s RedZone, which you can check out HERE.


This article previewed the NFL’s Thanksgiving Slate. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.