Thanksgiving Day is upon us, which can only mean one thing (for the purpose of this exercise, we're ignoring things such as binge eating, awkward interactions with family, reckless alcohol consumption, and stabbing strangers for discounted electronics): three times as many NFL games this Thursday! With these additional mid-week games come additional chances to build your bankroll before Sunday. Let's break down the three Thanksgiving football games from a bettor's perspective.
Home teams are in CAPS, with spreads and betting trends from SportsInsights (as of midnight on Thursday), and DVOA metrics are from Football Outsiders. The spreads listed, by the way, are not my picks. They are just the points for or against the road team.
Green Bay Packers (+6.5) vs. DETROIT LIONS – 12:30 p.m.
Green Bay's offense has suffered, as expected, since the loss of Aaron Rodgers. Their yards per play average stands at second in the NFL at 6.26 yards per play, but with the combination of Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn leading the offense, they could only muster an average of 5.6 yards per play in last week's tie against Minnesota.
The Packers average 7.80 yards per pass attempt but, in Flynn's action last week, they barely broke six yards per pass attempt. Nobody was expecting Green Bay's reserves to match the productivity of Rodgers, but Flynn's 6.06 yards per attempt average equals the Miami Dolphins' season average, which is good for 27th in the NFL. Detroit, meanwhile, is seventh in the NFL at 7.29 yards per pass attempt, with their full arsenal at their disposal.
Despite the dropoff in production in the passing game, the Packers are averaging a more than respectable 4.8 yards per carry, which will be tough to replicate against a Lions defense that is allowing 3.8 yards per rush, seventh best in the league.
In the first meeting between these two teams this season, the Packers rushed for 5.5 yards per carry. That number, however, was skewed by a 67 yard rushing touchdown by Randall Cobb. Taking that run out of the equation, an especially practical idea since Cobb is on injured reserve, the Packers rushed for 3.5 yards a carry.
Many remember that the reason Matt Flynn was handed a couple of ridiculous contracts was his performance as a Packer against the Lions in a meaningless regular season game at the end of the regular season in 2012. He will have to have a good game against a Lions secondary which is ranked 27th in DVOA against the pass.
Detroit's biggest strength is their passing game, which is convenient given just how much the Packers have struggled against the pass this year. Green Bay is ranked 29th in DVOA against the pass, which means that the Lions should be able to put up some points. The outcome of this one will rest on whether or not Flynn can keep up with them, which is difficult to evaluate based on such a small sample size.
Oakland Raiders (+7.5) vs. DALLAS COWBOYS – 4:30 p.m.
Darren McFadden is slated to make his triumphant return to the Raiders offense in this game, which may further expose Dallas' soft run defense. The Cowboys are allowing a league worst 5.1 yards per carry, are 31st in DVOA against the run, and are taking on a Raiders team that is first in the league in yards per rush with 4.9 per carry. That is a potentially lethal combination.
These factors have been noted in the line movement for this game. Despite 62% of bettors being on the Cowboys, this line has moved three full points from Cowboys -10.5 to Cowboys -7.5. While McFadden's return may have something to do with that, that drastic a movement screams that sharp money is on the Raiders.
Dallas has only won by this margin twice at home on the season, against the pathetic St. Louis Rams and Washington. While it is entirely possible that Matt McGloin will play as poorly as those teams played in AT&T Stadium, to pick against the Raiders would be to blatantly ignore a lot of betting trends, which is the opposite of how you win money in sports betting. The extra half point is such a nice luxury, by the way, if your sports book has it.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5) vs. BALTIMORE RAVENS – 8:30 p.m.
Chances are you will be passed out on your cousin's recliner after eating approximately 90,000 calories and washing it all down with as much booze as can be physically ingested without rupturing your stomach, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some money to be won here.
Baltimore's offense is downright depressing this season, ranking 31st in total yards per play (4.54), last in yards per rush (2.90), and 30th in DVOA (-20.00%). Luckily, they run into a Steelers offense that isn't much better. Pittsburgh is ranked 30th in both yards per carry (3.30) and rushing DVOA. This means that the Steelers will have to rely on their pass offense against a Ravens defense that held them to 145 yards passing in their Week 7 matchup. With the over/under for this game set at 41, you can assume that a low scoring game is in the cards, with the outcome likely being decided by one possession.
Pittsburgh's two road wins this year have come against the Jets and Browns, both of which look less impressive with each passing week. Baltimore, meanwhile, is 4-1 straight up at home and an impressive 5-0 against the spread. This includes a three point win over AFC North leading Cincinnati, which would have been a seven point win if not for that ridiculous Hail Mary where James Ihedigbo tipped the ball directly to A.J. Green.
Since 2009, six of the last eight games between these two teams have been decided by three points exactly. This makes the 2.5 point spread nerve wracking for Steelers bettors, since a three point win by Baltimore would result in a loss.
Enjoy the games, and have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, everyone.