Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Thanksgiving Essentials

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All three Thanksgiving Day contests will be played in closed structures, and the weather in Dallas is expected to be nice enough that they may open the roof, so there will be no mention of weather below. May your turkey be as delightful as the conditions. Enjoy the day. Here's a preview of what variables to be aware of in Thursday's tripleheader:

Chicago (-3/43.5) at Detroit, 12:30 p.m. ET, CBS: The Bears (7-3 SU, 7-3 ATS) appear to be taking the cautious approach with prized second-year starting QB Mitch Trubisky, who injured his right shoulder late in Sunday night’s 25-20 win over the fading Vikings. Although there’s a belief that he could play if Chicago wanted him to, the team is hoping that taking a week off will help him heal for the stretch run. That doesn’t mean they want to win this Thanksgiving Day opener any less than if they were throwing him out there. Defeating Minnesota gave the Bears a huge edge in an NFC North it leads by 1.5 games over the Vikes and by 2.5 on the Packers. The Lions (4-6, 5-4-1) are bringing up the rear, which makes this game a must-win if they realistically plan to make a run at the playoffs over the season’s final six contests.

If Trubisky indeed sits this out, Chase Daniel will make his first start since 2014, where he took the field for the Chiefs in place of Alex Smith, who missed the regular-season finale with a lacerated spleen. He’ll be making just his third start of a 10-year career that has seen him sit outside of a snap here and there in stops in New Orleans and Philadelphia since his three-year tenure in Kansas City. Daniel has thrown one pass outside the preseason in the past three seasons and comes in 51-for-78 for 480 yards over his decade in the NFL, owning a single touchdown pass and one interception.

Daniel has decent wheels and can make plays with his feet, but he’s not the athlete Trubisky is. The expectation is that the offense will consist of short passes that will get the ball in the hands of playmakers like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller, who has really come on of late. With running backs Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard available in addition to tight end Trey Burton, the Bears have plenty of healthy weapons. Only lineman Kyle Long (foot) and backup tight end Adam Shaheen (concussion) are sidelined for a Bears offense that has helped the ‘over’ cash in six of the team’s last seven games despite one of the league’s sturdiest defenses.

Chicago has surrendered 22 or fewer points in each of its last four games and seven of the past nine and lists only LB Aaron Lynch (concussion) as sidelined. The Bears lead the NFL in turnovers forced (27) and interceptions (18) as they take aim at Matthew Stafford and the Lions for the second time inside two weeks.

Khalil Mack returned from an injury in Week 9 and had two sacks of Matthew Stafford in a wire-to-wire win that featured six Bears sacks and three takeaways. Even facing a backup quarterback, if the offense can’t protect the football better than it did on Nov. 11, the Lions have no chance at a home upset.

Stafford has lost his favorite receiver, Golden Tate, to a trade, and his next most experienced target, Marvin Jones, Jr. to a knee injury set to keep him out of this game. Kerryon Johnson, the biggest bright spot in what’s otherwise been a disappointing first season under Matt Patricia. Without Johnson, the Lions will have to divide snaps between Theo Reddick, LeGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner, who all have varying strengths and carry major limitations when compared to what Johnson offered. Tight end Michael Roberts is questionable, so Stafford may be scrounging for weapons.

If this ends up being a case of Patricia trying to confuse Daniel by taking advantage of his limited preparation time, he’ll have DE Ziggy Ansah and corner Darius Slay in the mix to aid the cause. Defensive tackles Damon Harrison (shoulder) and A’Shawn Robinson (ankle) also look like they’ll go, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check prior to the early kickoff.

The Lions have won nine of 11 in this series and haven’t been swept since 2012, so we’ll see if they show some fight here. Detroit has won four of five Thanksgiving home games but fell last season, 16-13, against Minnesota. It hasn’t dropped consecutive Turkey Day games since 2012, so that might be a theme.

Washington at Dallas (-7/40.5), 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX: The parade of career backups making their first start of the season continues with Colt McCoy taking the field for the Redskins (6-4, 7-3). This move is expected to be for the duration of the season since Smith suffered a compound fracture in breaking his fibula and tibia in a 23-21 loss against the Texans.

McCoy will be backed up by Mark Sanchez, who will be extending his streak of spending Thanksgiving even years on the sideline at AT&T Stadium to three after being out there in ’14 and ’16. In ’12, he was out on the field becoming the butt of jokes through the rest of time with an ill-timed fumble. It would be wild if he makes an appearance this season.

If all goes according to plan for Washington, this will be McCoy’s show throughout, hopefully with him taking a knee in victory formation. Winning would pad the team’s NFC East lead to two games over the Cowboys (5-5, 4-4-2) and 2.5 over the defending champion Eagles, who host the Giants on Sunday.

Pulling off an upset here wouldn’t just take an immense amount of pressure off McCoy and this transition the team has been forced to make in a matter of days before hitting the road, it would give the ‘Skins a chance. They’ll play in Philly to open December and still have to play at Jacksonville and Tennessee against defenses that have proven they can lock up an opposing passing game.

McCoy threw for a score in last week’s loss and led a pair of scoring drives, so he’s much further along than Chicago’s Daniel. The former third-round pick started the first 21 games of his career for Cleveland and and threw 20 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. He’s started in four of his eight games with Washington since signing there in 2014 and beat the Cowboys in his first start, so the 32-year-old should be able to handle the spotlight in Arlington.

If he succeeds, it will have to be without RB Chris Thompson (ribs) and WR Jamison Crowder (ankle), who remain sidelined. Top receiver Paul Richardson (shoulder) was lost for the season at the beginning of the month, so McCoy will be without his most talented pass-catchers like Smith has been the past few weeks. He does however have great familiarity with Josh Doctson and Maurice Harris since they put in a lot of practice time in, so that could be something for Dallas to be concerned with.

The Cowboys have surrendered 20 or fewer points in five of the last six games and rank 10th with 28 sacks. Washington hasn’t scored more than 21 points since Sept. 23 and has fallen short of that figure in seven of nine. McCoy will need to lean on Adrian Peterson, who has struggled since closing October with a 149-yard game against the Giants. In three November contests, the veteran running back has gained just 136 yards on 41 carries and has really lacked explosiveness. We’ll see if the native Texan can rebound in a matchup that really boils down to how much fight the ‘Skins have in them as they fight an uphill battle from a continuity standpoint.

It would help matters if left tackle Trent Williams can return from a shoulder injury. Fellow tackles Morgan Moses and Ty Nsehke should play, so the offensive line should be improved as they try and keep the new starter clean. The Cowboys also have some uncertainty up front with Tyron Smith (stinger) questionable. Center Travis Frederick remains out with an illness. Linebacker Sean Lee is also still sidelined due to a hamstring injury while defensive lineman David Irving has been ruled out with a bum ankle. Defensive linemen Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins are questionable.

Washington won in Week 7, posting a 20-17 result thanks to 99 rushing yards from Peterson and a Preston Smith fumble recovery in the end zone, one of many plays he’s made on that side of the ball. Ezekiel Elliott was able to gain just 33 yards on 15 carries and caught two passes for nine yards. Since that loss, he’s compiled 500 yards of total offense, making 17 catches and running for 334 yards. Dallas has won eight of 11 in the series and will be looking to avoid being swept by the ‘Skins for the first time since 2012. The road team is 7-2 ATS over the last nine meetings.

Atlanta at New Orleans (-12.5/60), 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC: The Saints (9-1, 8-2) were almost certainly rooting for the Chiefs in Monday night’s epic fireworks show since a Rams loss would’ve given them a commanding lead in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC. As things stand, they would host a conference championship game if they win out and stay ahead of L.A., but a difficult schedule awaits that includes three straight road games at Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina. They close out the season hosting the Steelers and Panthers, teams likely to be wrapping up playoff berths, so it’s very possible that this game against the Falcons (4-6, 3-7) will be the final time we see them favored by so many points.

That’s pretty ironic considering the history between the teams as fiercely competitive rivals and the fact that they played to a memorable 43-37 overtime result just two months ago in Week 3. The teams traded the lead four times in the fourth quarter before the Saints evened it up and ultimately won in OT. Brees ran it in for both the game-tying and game-clinching scores. Matt Ryan threw five touchdown passes. Rookie Calvin Ridley caught three of them. Alvin Kamara made 15 receptions.

So, yes, the total here is 60. Given what we saw in Monday’s 54-51 explosion, it seems logical despite being the second-largest of the season. The Saints scored 40 or more points for the sixth time in Sunday’s 48-7 rout of the Eagles and only saw that game come in under the posted total due to Philadelphia’s ineptitude. Atlanta has sputtered some of late but has still topped the 30-point mark five times this season. Three of the past five meetings have produced at least 70 points.

Atlanta ranks 29th of 32 teams in surrendering 284 passing yards per game and ranks 27th in points allowed (27.0 ppg). Hopes that top linebacker Deion Jones would be able to return from a foot injury suffered in the Week 1 Thursday night opener were dashed when he was ruled out on Wednesday. Corner Desmond Trufant and LB De’Vondre Campbell are expected to play through thigh injuries. NFL interception leader Demonate Kazee and fellow corner Robert Alford are questionable.

The Saints will have most of their team intact. Tackle Terron Armstead has been ruled out due to a shoulder injury, but tackle Andrus Peat, center Max Unger and guard Larry Warford should all play. Rookie WR Tre’Quan Smith, who caught 10 passes against the Eagles, is questionable with a foot issue, while impressive first-year DE Marcus Davenport is dealing with an injured toe.

The Saints are looking for their third straight win over the Falcons for the first time since 2012. They’re chasing their first season sweep of Atlanta since ’13 and need to put in serious work to increase their run of consecutive covers to nine. The streak began in the OT win, as New Orleans was a 1.5-point underdog.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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