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Family, food and football. These three staples arguably make up the very fabric that holds our country together. Or so I'm told.
This Thursday, we get to celebrate all three as we prepare for another exciting day of Thanksgiving Day football. The Thanksgiving festivities took on a new tradition a few years ago when NBC joined the fold to host the third and final game of every Turkey Day -- which has obviously become my favorite game to watch -- as a good company man.
The Vikings and Patriots will close out the holiday when they square off this Thursday evening.
Now sitting at 8-2 on the season, Minnesota is on a short week to rebound from a devastating 40-3 loss suffered at the hands of the Cowboys, as Kirk Cousins and company were unable to get anything started in one of the more embarrassing losses of the week. The Vikings were out-gained 458 to 183 in total yards, while converting just 1-of-11 third down attempts. All-world wide receiver Justin Jefferson was of little help to Cousins, as the two connected for 33 receiving yards on the day. Cousins finished with 105 passing yards while completing 12-of-25 passes. If the Vikings were hoping to convince naysayers of their dominance, they did little to support their argument on Sunday.
One of the better defenses in the league, the Patriots rank first overall in defensive DVOA (-19.7%) and passing DVOA (-27.5%). Their rushing DVOA is close behind at 12th (-9.0%). In other words, they have a good chance to make life very tough against a Vikings team that had less than 200 yards just a few days ago. New England's offense still needs to figure a few things out, but their defense is officially in midseason form.
Before we jump into some of my favorite plays of the week, don't forget that Thursday night's matchup between the Vikings and Patriots is free to watch on NBC, so be sure to tune in. And don't forget to play SN7 on the NBC Sports Predictor app, which is FREE, and offers you a chance to win or split a $100,000 guaranteed jackpot! The app offers other free-to-play games, including contests for the Premier League, MLB, NASCAR, IndyCar and College Football. Download it now and enjoy!
Justin Jefferson Receiving Yards
As previously mentioned, the Patriots are quickly emerging as one of the top defensive units in the league. Their league-best DVOA is a direct product of their ability to shut down opponents' passing games -- diminishing god-like receivers to mere mortals on their way to a dominant victory.
If you're looking at this cast of characters, you're probably not surprised to know that the Patriots managed to have solid days against these offenses. Shutting down Zach Wilson and Garrett Wilson in Week 11 isn't exactly challenging. If you think that's easy, then I can only imagine what you think about the Pats smothering the duo of Sam Ehlinger and Michael Pittman. All very fair.
Per Pro Football Outsiders, the Patriots are allowing the 12th-fewest receiving yards per game to opposing WR1s (61.1) and rank fourth in DVOA against said receivers (-24.6%). Bill Belichick is known for taking away a team's No. 1 offensive threat, which would put the target squarely on Jefferson's back.
Jefferson has already gotten to 1,000 yards on the season (72-1093-4), as the third-year receiver continues to make his case for the best receiver in the league. He's gone for 100+ yards in six of 10 games but was locked down by not only the Cowboys (3-33-0) last week but also the lowly Lions (3-14-0) in Week 3.
If teams like the Lions and Cowboys can hold Jefferson to 47 combined yards, I won't write off the possibility of Belichick finding a way to do the same. The lowest number on this game for Jefferson is 80 yards or fewer. I'll go out on a limb and bank on Jefferson underwhelming in a primetime spot.
Pick: <80 receiving yards
Mac Jones Passing Yards
To say Mac Jones has struggled in his second season as the Patriots' starter would be putting it nicely. After a strong rookie campaign in which he threw for 3801-22-13 while completing nearly 68% of his passes, Jones was expected to take a step forward in 2022.
Instead, he's on pace for 2,772 yards, eight touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, while ranking near the bottom of the league in yards per attempt (7.1) and big-time throws per PFF.
The Vikings' defense should have opportunities to pressure Jones on Thursday night -- something Jones has struggled with this season. Per PFF, Jones ranks 28th in the league in completion percentage when facing pressure (45.2%) and is second in interceptions thrown (5) when under pressure, keeping company with guys like Matt Ryan, Davis Mills, Justin Fields and somehow, Patrick Mahomes.
The Vikings are tied for 16th in the league with 26 sacks and rank 12th in adjusted sack rate. EDGE rusher Za'Darius Smith has made the most of his first year with the team, currently ranking seventh among EDGE rushers in PFF pass-rush grade (86.3), fourth in total sacks (9) and first in quarterback pressures (56).
Smith was listed as a limited participant on Monday's estimated practice report but has played in each of the team's first 10 games to start the season. Barring an unexpected setback, I'd expect him to be on the field Thursday night and wreaking havoc on Jones and the Patriots' offensive line.
New England ranks 31st in the league in neutral pass rate (50%) and is 30th in seconds per play (30.1). Considering the low pass rate, the slow pace of play and the fact that Jones has struggled against pressure this season, I expect him to be on the lower end of passing yards in this one.
Pick: 180-209 passing yards
Total Points in the Game
The over/under for this game currently sits at 42. Between these two teams, the under is a combined 11-9. In Thursday night games this season, the under is a combined 7-3 -- which is unsurprising given the short week teams have to prepare for the game after just playing on Sunday.
Interestingly, the under has gone 7-4 in the Patriots' last 11 Thursday games dating back to 2013 and is 3-0 when the Pats play on the road on Thursdays.
If Belichick's defense can put on another impressive performance this week, the under for this one feels like a good bit. I'm already low on New England's offense finding points on the road and believe the Pats' defense has enough to slow a Vikings team led by Kirk Cousins -- whose struggles in prime time are also well-noted.
Pick: 0-43 Points