Headline of the game: Deshaun Watson is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL
The two defenses at the bottom of our opponent-adjusted defensive rankings kick off Thanksgiving football in a potential shootout matchup. And as a whole, these could be the two most underwhelming teams in 2020, as they have lost the sixth (Lions) and seventh (Texans) most Elo overall points this season.
The line movement has pushed the opening +1 spread out to the key number 3 behind 71% of the cash and 63% of the tickets on the Texans. The Lions look to be on the verge of firing Matt Patricia after an offensive performance that made the Panthers' defense look good for just the second time this season.
Right now, 56% of the cash and 66% of the tickets have been on the over, which has caused the number to move up half a point from the open. The question becomes whether the Lions anemic offense can finally put forth a quality performance against the worst secondary in the NFL. Our predictive models (PFF Greenline) don’t necessarily see that playing out, with a slight lean toward the over, but it's nowhere close to finding enough value to make it a viable betting option. Betting options exist on the spread and total, but with that market continuing to move, make sure to monitor Greenline as we approach game time.
Johnson still commanded five targets in Week 11 — tying a season-high — and Deshaun Watson missed him on a deep target that would have resulted in a big play.
The Lions have allowed the second-most rushing yards and the most targets to the RB position over the past five weeks, so I think we should see an uptick in pass-game usage for Johnson, especially with Randall Cobb sidelined. He played a season-high in snaps (albeit only three) from the slot, and that trend could continue now that Cobb has been placed on IR.
Jordan Akins also falls in the tight end streaming radar this week. He balled out in Week 11 — six targets, 83 receiving yards — and from Weeks 7-10, the Lions gave up production to teams that work tight ends in the passing game. They allowed the third-most targets, fifth-most catches and the fourth-highest passer rating (133.8) over that period.
The Lions’ offense looked lost without key offensive personnel, as Matthew Stafford failed to lead his team to any points for the first time in his 11-year career. His 5.4 yards per attempt was by far the worst of the season, so this needs to be a get right spot for him against a Houston Texans defense that ranks 31st in yards per attempt allowed (8.4) since Week 6.
Marvin Jones Jr. should be in starting lineups regardless of Kenny Golladay’s availability. He leads the team in targets over the past three weeks, and the Texans rank 31st in yards per targets to WRs the past five weeks.
Jones was also on the unfortunate end of an illegal formation penalty that wiped off a 51-yard touchdown pass from Stafford, which explains his meager showing of four catches and 51 receiving yards in Week 11.
Oct 11, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) attempts a pass against the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter at FedExField. Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Headline of the game: Which backup quarterback gives his team a better chance at winning the NFC East?
With both of these teams coming off Week 11 victories and the Philadelphia Eagles continuing to struggle with Carson Wentz at the helm, this game — like almost all NFC East games this season — carries significant importance when it comes to the playoff picture. It will largely come down to which reserve quarterback can orchestrate the best performance.
Alex Smith and Andy Dalton are now both over 200 offensive snaps on the season. Smith has earned a PFF grade of 65.7 for his efforts, while Dalton sits at 59.5 — hurt by a dreadful two-game stretch in Week 6 and 7 in which he didn’t clear a PFF grade of 55.0.
Dalton did look better this past week against an exploitable Vikings defense, however. The question on Thanksgiving becomes whether he can carry over some of that momentum against a Washington defense that ranks fourth in the NFL in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play.
Smith will have a slightly easier time of things against Dallas, and his play is also on the rise — coming off a season-high 73.3 overall grade in Week 11 against the Bengals. It might not be the best product the NFL has to offer, but the stakes should add some intrigue to this game.
Bettors are quickly piling onto the Cowboys after their most recent performance, with this spread moving from a pick ‘em out to +3. The cash and ticket percentages on both the spread and moneyline have been completely one-sided. This could be a slight overreaction to their most recent performance, as our predictive models lean toward Washington. Further line movement is required to make the Footballers a viable play on the spread.
The total has dropped one point from the open, which doesn’t fit into the narrative that bettors were buying into Dallas because of their improved offense last week. The cash and tickets lean with the market movement, as both offenses rank in the twenties in our opponent-adjusted grades. PFF Greenline indicates that this could be a spot to fade, as both coverage units have struggled through recent performances.
The last time these two meet, Antonio Gibson had his first 100-yard game of the season. He rushed for 128 yards on 20 carries and added a rushing touchdown for good measure. The rookie running back should be able to duplicate his performance versus the Dallas Cowboys, who have allowed the second-most rushing yards to RBs this season.
Among running backs with at least 100 carries, Gibson has a PFF rushing grade of 82.1— seventh-best and second to only James Robinson among rookie RBs.
Tight end Logan Thomas was able to post a solid fantasy outing in Week 7 versus Dallas — four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown — but the QB change to Alex Smith has hurt Thomas’ production. He has just a 14% target share, a 7.3 aDOT and just one target inside the 10-yard line with the established veteran as the team’s signal-caller.
When Kyle Allen was under center, Thomas saw a similar target share but earned a 10.2 aDOT and saw two end-zone targets. His upside has been sapped, making him a less enticing tight end option.
Since returning from the bye in Week 9, the Washington Football Team has not been the same strong defensive unit at stopping the run. They rank 29th in yards before contact per attempt allowed (1.9), 24th in explosive run play percentage allowed (15.3%) and 23rd in yards per attempt allowed (4.6).
Those numbers rank worse than how the team started the year: 18th in yards before contact per attempt allowed (1.6), ninth in explosive run play percentage allowed (10.9%) and 13th in yards per attempt allowed.
This bodes well for Ezekiel Elliott, who is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season. Elliott posted his worst fantasy performance of this season the last time these teams played (6.10 fantasy points), but the OL was in utter shambles in that game (no Zack Martin) and Andy Dalton got hurt.
Last week, the team reshuffled the OL; Terence Steele was wisely benched (46.9 PFF grade), Martin moved from right guard to right tackle and Connor McGovernstarted at RG. That change resulted in the team finishing the week as PFF’s fifth-highest graded run-blocking unit (73.2). Running to the new and improved right side of the line proved successful.
The Cowboys averaged 7.2 yards per carry running up the right side of the formation. Washington has allowed the third-most rushing plays of 10-plus yards from runs directed from the right.