NFL Thanksgiving Matchups Preview

Eric Evans@ericjrauCorrespondent INovember 21, 2012

NFL Thanksgiving Matchups Preview

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    Football has become as important to Thanksgiving as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade or sitting outside shopping plazas for 12 hours to get cheap Christmas presents.

    Within the last few years the NFL has expanded its Thanksgiving football coverage to three games, keeping the traditional Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys game, while also giving us a Thanksgiving night game to watch while we all sit on the couch and try not to fall asleep from all the turkey we've eaten.

    This year's Thanksgiving matchups are pivotal to the season's playoff race, in that all are elimination games for at least one of the teams playing in each game.

    So let's take a look at the three matchups that we will all be feasting on come Thanksgiving Day. 

Houston Texans vs. Detroit Lions

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    Both teams are coming off of tough divisional games last week. Houston managed to sneak out of Jacksonville with an overtime win, while Detroit was not so fortunate; losing in the fourth quarter to the Packers at home.

    For Houston, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson are coming off of stellar days. Schaub threw for 527 yards on the day while Johnson pulled in 273 of those yards receiving. Those totals were career highs for both players.

    While things were great for Houston on the offensive side of the ball, there were some unusual struggles on the defensive side of the ball.

    Houston has had one of the top rated defenses in the league this season, however the Houston defense was slashed by the usually inept Jacksonville offense for 37 points and 458 yards. Houston struggled particularly against the pass, giving up 372 yards through the air on just 18 completions.

    Houston's defense for the season has been one of the more stout. It's allowed just 18 points per game and 299 yards of total offense, both statistics rank fourth in the league.

    For Detroit, quarterback Matt Stafford's accuracy problems continued last week against Detroit. Stafford completed just 17 of 39 passes (43 percent) for 266 yards. Stafford has thrown just 12 touchdowns this season in 10 games while also throwing 10 interceptions.

    With Detroit ranking near the bottom of the league in rushing, the Lions are dependent on Stafford being more efficient with the football. The Lions are currently leading the league in passing, however they are near the middle of the league in scoring. Stafford has yet to throw a touchdown this season while his team is leading in a game.

    The Lions (4-6) are currently three games back in the NFC North division. This game is a must win for the Lions if they are to have any aspirations of making the playoffs this season.

    Houston (9-1) is looking to maintain its one game lead for best record in the AFC Conference.

Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys

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    Both the Redskins and the Cowboys are coming off of Week 11 wins. The Cowboys won an exciting overtime game against the Cleveland Browns, 23-20. The Redskins are coming off of one of their most convincing wins of the year, a 31-6 thrashing of the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin is coming off of perhaps his best game of the season, going 14-of-15 for 200 yards and four touchdowns, while also adding 84 rushing yards to his totals.

    The Redskins defense is also coming off of one of its better games this season. The defense allowed just 257 yards and forced three turnovers while not allowing any touchdowns.

    For the Cowboys last week it was a tale of two halves. The Cowboys were unable to put any points on the board in the first half against the Browns before getting things together in the second half and rattling off 20 points, including 17 of those points in the fourth quarter.

    The Cowboys were led in the second half by a career day from Dez Bryant. His 12 catches for 145 were both career highs. One of those catches resulted in a crucial fourth quarter touchdown catch. Quarterback Tony Romo had a very efficient day for the Cowboys on Sunday, completing 70 percent of his 50 passing attempts. 

    This Thanksgiving day matchup is a playoff game of sorts for the Washington Redskins. This is a must win for them if they hope to stay in the playoff hunt. This game is equally important for the Cowboys as they try to catch the Giants in the NFC  East, as well as stay in the hunt for a wild-card berth.

New England Patriots vs. New York Jets

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    While the Jets and Patriots are both coming off of wins in Week 11, the Patriots might be thinking more about the loss they suffered this week.

    The Patriots will be without Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for the next four-to-six weeks after suffering a fractured forearm at the end of last week's game to the Colts.

    Gronkowski, the league leader in receiving yards and touchdowns among tight ends is a big part of the Patriots offense. He is the only player with more than three receiving touchdowns for the Patriots (10) and is second on the team in catches and yards.

    To help fill the void, the Patriots are hoping to have tight end Aaron Hernandez back on Thursday after missing the last several games with a high ankle sprain. While Hernandez is incapable of the kind of production that Gronkowski brings to the table, he does give the Patriots that same type of big, fast target that can spread the field.

    The Jets got their first win in a month last week with a 27-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Quarterback Mark Sanchez completed more than 70 percent of his passes for the first time since Week 1.

    While the offense has struggled mightily this season, the defense has done a good job of holding things together without team Captain Darell Revis. Although it is not the dominating defense it once was, they have managed to stay near the middle of the pack in points allowed.

    The Jets will need to run an efficient offense this week to have a chance to keep up with the high powered Patriots attack. Mark Sanchez will have to complete a high percentage of passes, while the running game must be effective in order to control the clock. 

    While the Patriots (7-3) are cruising along with a three game lead in the AFC East, this is a must win game for the Jets (4-6) in order to stay in the hunt for a wild card spot. The Jets are currently sitting two games back for the final wild card spot.