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Thanksgiving Day is synonymous with football and turkey. This year, it may be known for just the turkey.
When the N.F.L. announced its schedule this spring, the slate of Thanksgiving games was supposed to offer some intrigue alongside the traditional contestants. Now, because of injuries and poor play, Thursday’s games are between six teams who each lost their previous game.
The electric rookie quarterback Justin Fields was expected to lead the Chicago Bears against the Detroit Lions, while Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys were sure to play in a shootout with the visiting Las Vegas Raiders. All that excitement was projected to serve as an appetizer for the prime time matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the resurgent Buffalo Bills. Instead, backup players will decide much of the outcome in the diet version of the N.F.L.’s Thanksgiving Day games.
All times Eastern.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m., Fox
With few exceptions since 1934, the Lions (0-9-1) have played on Thanksgiving annually, a fact that gives the N.F.L.’s lone winless team a chance to reverse a season of poor play, poor coaching decisions and bad luck. The Lions have been competitive against strong opponents — four of their losses have been decided by one score, and the others were tight in the first half before Detroit deteriorated. The football axiom goes, “good teams find ways to win those games,” and to this point, the Lions have not.
Quarterback Jared Goff missed last week with an oblique injury, meaning Tim Boyle could make his second career start, though Coach Dan Campbell said Goff is “leaning” toward playing.
Justin Fields, the quarterback the Bears (3-7) drafted in the first round this year after trading up, will be on the sideline with a rib injury, forcing the veteran Andy Dalton to start. That’s hardly the best scenario for Coach Matt Nagy, who this week had to answer questions about the team’s rumored plans to fire him on Friday.
With few stars on either team and both squads facing serious injuries, it may be best to not rush the finishing touches on dinner for the sake of trying to watch this one.
Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m., CBS
The Cowboys (7-3), have also traditionally played on Thanksgiving, and like the Lions, they are banged up. Dallas, which averages 29.3 points per game, the third-most in the league, could be without its top two receivers. Amari Cooper is still on the Covid-19 list and the second-year wideout CeeDee Lamb is in the concussion protocol, though the team is optimistic he can play.
Coming off a loss to Kansas City in which he had season lows in touches and yards, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott said, “I think it will be a point for us Thursday to get that run game going.”
The Raiders (5-5), once considered one of the N.F.L.’s top teams, have nose-dived, losing three straight games as other controversies engulfed them. Weeks after Jon Gruden resigned as head coach in October after The New York Times reported on racist and homophobic emails he sent before joining the team, the Raiders released their 2020 first-round draft picks, Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette, for separate off-field incidents.
Quarterback Derek Carr has struggled to adjust without Ruggs, who commanded defensive attention as a speedy deep threat, and Las Vegas’s offense has not scored more than 20 points in a game during the skid.
Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints, 8:20 p.m., NBC
The Bills (6-4) were once thought to be Super Bowl contenders who were building on last season, when they appeared in their first A.F.C. championship game since the 1993 season. Buffalo can still be one of the better teams in the conference, but it has lost two of its last three games to inferior opponents, and ceded the A.F.C. East division lead to the New England Patriots. Losing to the Colts last week pointed out the Bills’ concerning problems with penalties, risky decisions by quarterback Josh Allen, and a top-ranked defense that atypically gave up 264 rushing yards.
The Saints (5-5) were expected to regroup after quarterback Drew Brees’s retirement this off-season, but New Orleans has been unbearably inconsistent because of ravaging injuries. The top receiver Michael Thomas, who was expected to miss six weeks, instead is out for the season and Brees’s successor, Jameis Winston, tore an anterior cruciate ligament in Week 8, leaving journeyman Trevor Siemian in charge of the offense.
The team has lost three straight games, and over that span has been beset by even more injuries to offensive playmakers. The versatile running back Alvin Kamara (knee) will not play on Thursday, and his backup, Mark Ingram, is also recovering from a knee injury. Tight end Adam Trautman (knee) was placed on the injured reserve list.
Both teams are on a downward skid, but this game is more important for the Saints. A loss would decrease New Orleans’s chances of reaching the postseason to 44 percent, according to the Playoff Simulator. Maybe they’ll play like it.