November 21, 2018 - by Seth Trachtman
With NFL Week 12 kicking off on Thanksgiving tomorrow, here’s a stats-driven preview of three of this week’s biggest games.
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The second game of Thanksgiving features a matchup that could ultimately decide the NFC East. Washington was already having injury issues before losing QB Alex Smith for the season last week, and they visit the Cowboys as big underdogs with QB Colt McCoy under center. Now in his fifth season with Washington, McCoy did complete 6-of-12 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown in relief of Smith vs. Houston, and he has a respectable 98.6 Passer Rating in limited duty with the Redskins. Still, Washington is only scoring 19.7 points per game (sixth worst in the NFL), so further losses on offense aren’t helpful. The team can’t get much worse than the 6.2 yards per pass that they’ve averaged this year, so the biggest difference here could be turnover risk, as Washington allowed less than one giveaway per game due in large part to Smith’s conservative play. Dallas has been great against the run this year (3.7 yards per carry) but remain without LB Sean Lee, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we see a heavy dose of RB Adrian Peterson to protect McCoy in this contest. Peterson had 24 rushes for 99 yards in the first matchup, a 20-17 win by Washington on October 21.
Dallas has turned their season around with consecutive road wins, with the offense finally starting to click after the acquisition of WR Amari Cooper. The offense still runs through RB Ezekiel Elliott, with the team averaging 4.9 yards per carry (fourth best), but the addition of Cooper has softened defenses’ focus on Elliott and allowed him to run wild in consecutive games. Offenses have generally attacked Washington’s secondary, which is allowing more than 261 passing yards per game, but Elliott has also been more of a threat lately in the passing game. Washington did a great job holding Elliott in the first matchup, though, as he rushed for only 33 yards on 15 carries. For what it’s worth, Dallas is 30-19-1 all-time on Thanksgiving, but have lost three of their last four Turkey Day games.
Head to Head: Washington won the first matchup at home 20-17 in Week 7. The Cowboys had won the previous four games, dating back to 2016.
Point Spread on Wednesday: Dallas -7, after opening at -7.5
This game has huge Wild Card implications, as both teams currently have just under a 50% chance to make the playoffs. Seattle is coming off a huge 27-24 win over Green Bay on Thursday Night Football, but they are just 2-3 on the road this season. The story of Seattle’s offense continues to be their run game, running the ball a league-high 51% of the time and averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Rookie RB Rashaad Penny has started to get involved over the last two weeks, with a combined 154 yards on 20 carries, and RB Chris Carson also played well last week (17 carries for 83 yards) after returning from injury. The running game has still failed to protect a sub-par pass blocking offensive line that has allowed QB Russell Wilson to get sacked on 10.32% of dropbacks, second worst in the league. Fortunately for Seattle, Carolina has struggled to get to the quarterback (5.97% sack rate), so Wilson could actually have time to disperse the ball to WR Doug Baldwin and company.
The Panthers have suffered consecutive losses, including a frustrating 20-19 loss at Detroit last week. Like Seattle, the Carolina running game has been very effective this year, averaging 5.0 yards per carry (third best) mostly between RB Christian McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton. That’s likely to be a major area of emphasis this week against a Seattle defense that has allowing 4.8 yards per carry this season. Carolina also enters the game undefeated at home this season at 5-0, and have scored 31 or more points in four of those five games. Much of that success has been due to their Red Zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown on 73.5% of Red Zone opportunities (third best), and fans are hopeful that trend can continue after PK Graham Gano missed two critical kicks last week.
Head to Head: Seattle has won six of eight head-to-head since 2010, though the Panthers have won two of the last three games.
Point Spread on Wednesday: Carolina -3.5 (+101), after opening at -3
These two NFC North rivals played to a 29-29 tie in Week 2. The stakes are high for the rematch, with both teams clawing for a playoff spot after tough Week 11 losses. The Packers lost a 27-24 heartbreaker at Seattle last Thursday, and have just a 25% chance to make the playoffs after losing three of their last four games. They’re now 0-5 away from Lambeau Field and struggling with a banged up secondary. Still, QB Aaron Rodgers seems to always give Green Bay a fighting chance, and the running game has been terrific overall (5.1 yards per carry), especially since RB Aaron Jones returned from suspension. The Vikings have been elite at stopping the run (3.6 yards per carry) and rushing the passer (8.84% sack percentage), yet they’ve still allowed 22.9 points per game.
A challenge for Minnesota this year has been their inability to take care of the ball, ranking eighth worst in giveaways (1.6 per game). QB Kirk Cousins threw a costly pick-six last week at Chicago, and the team has routinely been forced to throw the ball due to an ineffective running game that averages only 4.0 yards per carry. RB Dalvin Cook wasn’t able to solve that issue at Chicago last week, but he has a better shot against a Packers defense that’s allowing 4.6 yards per carry. Cousins was the offensive star of the first matchup, completing 35-of-48 passes for 425 yards and four scores in 70 minutes, but his numbers have stalled lately, averaging only 251.8 passing yards per game over his last five contests with only one 300-yard game.
Head to Head: As mentioned, this season’s previous matchup (Week 2) was a 29-29 tie. Prior to that game, the Vikings had won four of five.
Point Spread on Wednesday: Minnesota -3.5 (+106), after opening at -4
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