CLOSE

SportsPulse: In a one-on-one with USA TODAY Sports, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley opens about heading back to Dallas for Thanksgiving and reveals how 'weird' negotiations were with the Cowboys during his free agency. USA TODAY

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Thanksgiving signifies the return of a host of traditions — including a healthy serving of football.

Here's everything you need to know about Thursday's three NFL games: 

Chicago Bears (5-6) at Detroit Lions (3-7-1)

Time: 12:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: Fox

Stream: NFL Game Pass, FuboTV

Line: Bears -2.5

Three keys to the game:

1. Trubisky taking care of the ball:  The Bears are at their best when quarterback Mitchell Trubisky makes smart decisions and avoids forcing throws into tight windows. The problem is that Trubisky has been susceptible to stretches of carelessness. It has often led to turnovers or drives stalling out and has hampered Trubisky from moving the chains or generating big plays. Trubisky’s season-high for passing yards was 278 and was reached Sunday against the Giants. But the Lions rank 30th in the NFL in passing defense, allowing 275.5 yards per game. This presents a chance for Trubisky to put up big numbers.

2. Lions' rushing attack:  Undrafted rookie QB David Blough will make his first career start for Detroit, so the ground game will be critical for the Lions. With starting running back Kerryon Johnson recovering from a knee injury on injured reserve, Detroit’s rushing game had been struggling. Then the team signed Bo Scarbrough to the active roster. In two games, Scarbrough has 153 yards and one score on 32 carries for a solid 4.8 yards-per-carry average. His production has helped Detroit sustain drives and possess the ball for longer. Chicago has a stout rushing defense, however, allowing just 96.8 yards per game. 

3. Kickstart:  Another issue the Bears have faced this season – it’s a carryover from last season, really – is inconsistency in the kicking game. Eddy Piñeiro has been better than previous kickers Chicago has used, but he still hasn’t been consistent. Over the past five games, Piñeiro has missed four of his nine field goal attempts and has missed two of seven extra points. Four of Chicago’s last five games – three of which have been losses – have been decided by one score. And in close games, accuracy in the kicking game could prove to be the difference.

Buffalo Bills (8-3) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: CBS

Stream: NFL Game Pass, FuboTV

Line: Cowboys -6.5

Three keys to the game:

1. Strength on strength:  Dak Prescott must be happy he’s not facing Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore again, but the Bills are still a very challenging secondary. They rank third in the league in passing defense, allowing just 184.3 passing yards per game. The Cowboys, though, lead the NFL in passing offense (303.5) and passing yards per play (8.37). Look for Amari Cooper to try to have a bounce-back game after he was held without a reception on two targets against the Patriots. If he doesn’t, Dallas may be in trouble.

2. Checkdown Charlie:  Bills quarterback Josh Allen has steadily improved in his second season as Buffalo’s starter. From his rookie season last year, Allen’s completion rate is up to 60.2% from 52.8%, his passer rating is 18 points higher (85.9 to 67.9), he has five more touchdowns and four fewer interceptions, and he has already surpassed last season’s passing yardage total (2,074) by 286 yards after starting 11 games both this season and last. Allen is still running the ball quite a bit, but perhaps the biggest reason for his development has been a smart and calculated approach to taking advantage of checkdown passes that have helped keep the chains moving. Adding Cole Beasley has helped in this respect, and the former Cowboys slot receiver could be pivotal against a defense that can be overly aggressive at times.

3. Situational smarts:  The Cowboys have been plagued by conservative approaches in several critical situations. Coach Jason Garrett has come under criticism for kicking a field goal against the Patriots last week when they faced a fourth-and-7 from the Patriots' 11-yard line. Against a Bills team that has a stout defense and an offense that has fared well rushing the ball and operating inside the red zone, the game may come down to the final minutes — and another critical decision.

New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-8)

Time: 8:20 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Stream: NBC Sports app, NFL Game Pass, fuboTV

Line: Saints -6.5

Three keys to the game: 

1. Ground game:  In the Saints' two losses this season – Week 2 against the Rams and Week 10 against the Falcons – they averaged just 54.5 rushing yards. In their nine victories, they’re averaging 120.4 rushing yards per game. While that’s not among the league’s best totals, New Orleans relies on the ground game to sustain possession and keep drives moving. The Saints rank third in time of possession (32:33). Wearing defenses down is a trademark of New Orleans’, and in the Week 10 loss against Atlanta, the Saints possessed the ball for just 26:14. In that game, the Falcons limited the Saints to just three conversions on 12 third-down attempts. That, in large part, was because the Falcons stuffed the Saints on early downs, resulting in third-and-longs.

2. Red zone:  Another area Atlanta dominated New Orleans in was red zone defense. The Saints had three trips inside the 20-yard line, but New Orleans didn’t score one touchdown and had to settle for three field goals. That, too, was a similar trend from the Week 2 loss, when New Orleans didn’t convert its only trip into the red zone. The Saints have been surprisingly weak in the red zone this season, ranking 22nd in the league by converting just a little more than half (51.22%) of trips. For the Saints to become more dangerous as the playoffs near – New Orleans can clinch the NFC South with a win and become the first team this season to secure a postseason spot – improving in this area is essential. Going up against a Falcons team that ranks 25th in stopping teams (60.98%) inside the 20, New Orleans has a good opportunity to work on it.

3. MVP candidate Michael Thomas?  If there’s one word to describe Thomas’ game, it’s consistency. He leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,242) by 171. He leads in receptions (104) by 23. He’s tied for seventh in touchdowns with six. Despite frequently drawing the opposition’s top cornerback, Thomas simply produces, and especially in big moments. Just go back to Sunday’s 34-31 victory against the Panthers. With the game tied New Orleans facing a third-and-6, Brees found Thomas for a 24-yard, back-shoulder completion down the right sideline that helped set up the game-winning field goal. Thomas did have a big day when the Falcons upset the Saints a couple of weeks back, but they kept him out of the end zone. Their chances for another upset increase significantly if they can replicate that.

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE