Thanksgiving Day football is sacred. It’s a break from family gossip, your aunt digging into your dating life, and trying to explain to your grandma how to use the iPhone she clearly has no need for. We get an excuse to get away, avoid doing dishes, sit on the couch and fall asleep with a beer in your hand. If you’re lucky, maybe you have a family member that knows a thing or two about football to talk to. And if you’re not that person, here’s something to make your dad a bit more proud of you.
This Thanksgiving Day we are surprisingly blessed with three games on Thursday that all have playoff implications. The schedule makers may not have seen that coming – particularly with the early Minnesota-Detroit game – but they got this week right. Here is a look at some of the more intriguing positional matchups within every game on Thanksgiving day.
Top Positional Matchups for Thanksgiving Day Football
12:30pm (ET): Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions
Theo Riddick vs. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks
When healthy this season, Riddick has been a matchup problem for just about every defense. Riddick has four games this year with seven or more receptions and has had double digit carries in six of the eight games he has played in. While not the stereotypical between-the-tackles running back, Barr and Kendricks will be seeing plenty of coverage on Riddick when he gets out of the backfield.
This game will really test their coverage skills. Minnesota is the only defense able to keep Riddick under four catches, when he had one in their first matchup. However, he racked up 70 yards on the ground in that matchup, his season high. Riddick is one of the most fun to watch backs in the league, and it will be interesting as to how Minnesota tries to slow Riddick down, in their second matchup.
One year removed from finishing third in the league in sacks, Ziggy Ansah has zero through the first ten games this year. The defensive line as a whole for Detroit is underwhelming – currently ranked 24th in stopping the run and 16th in rushing the passer according to DVOA. However, they are getting a great matchup to turn things around, as the Vikings offensive line has been porous this season. Due to injuries, second year player T.J. Clemmings will be making his second NFL start at right tackle. Ansah needs to get going, and this is a great matchup for him to right the ship.
4:30pm (ET): Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys
Kirk Cousins vs. Dallas’ depleted secondary
Morris Claiborne is unlikely to play yet again this Sunday dealing with the fact that he has legitimately “torn a piece of bone off” of his pelvis. Regardless, the Dallas defense has been playing much better than recent years, even without Claiborne. But Kirk Cousins is really feeling it right now. Sunday he was simply making spectacular passes and reads against Green Bay, looking like possibly a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers. Dallas is on a roll, but they’re going to struggle to control the Redskins passing offense that has a ridiculous amount of talented pass catchers.
Dallas’ O-line vs. the Washington pass rush
The Cowboys’ offensive line is getting a ton of accolades and attention – and deservedly so. They’re giving rookie quarterback Dak Prescott a ton of time to make smart decisions, and opening up gaping holes for Ezekiel Elliott to run. However, the Washington defensive line has done a tremendously underrated job of getting after the passer. They currently rank fourth in DVOA at rushing the passer. If Ryan Kerrigan and company can get after Prescott, then maybe they can make Dallas one dimensional.
8:30pm (ET): Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore does not age. The guy is 33 years old and in his 12th NFL season. Coming into this week, Gore is 12th in rushing and 8th in carries, and hasn’t missed a game all season. In fact, he hasn’t missed a game since the 2010 season! The Colts also rank a shocking fifth in rushing DVOA. With Andrew Luck in the concussion protocol, Scott Tolzien is expected to start at quarterback for the Colts. Indianapolis is going to need to be able to run the ball to even stay in this matchup. On the Steelers’ side, Ryan Shazier has developed into a great linebacker. While the Steelers are right around the league average on defense, the 24-year-old has been great against the run this year. If Shazier can lead the Pittsburgh defense in stopping Gore, it should be a long game for Indianapolis.
This one is going to be fun. If the Colts have any chance of slowing down the talented Pittsburgh offense, Davis is going to need to be able to keep Antonio Brown to reasonable numbers. While Davis has been battling injuries this year, he is still well regarded as a top 10-15 shutdown corner in the league. No one is expecting Brown to be shut out of the game – only twice this year has he been held below 60 yards receiving. But if Vontae Davis can hold him below 80 yards and keep him out of the end zone, that would be a huge deal for a Colts team that is going to have to keep this from becoming a shootout.
Bonus Matchup to Keep an Eye On:
Michele Tafoya vs. Thursday Night Winners vs. Turkey
Every year the NBC crew sits down after the Thursday night game with the winning team and Michele Tafoya attempts to interview players while they dig into turkey legs. This is always one of the more entertaining postgame segments of every season. Most likely potential matchup: Le’Veon Bell, Big Ben, and Antonio Brown with Tafoya. Most entertaining potential matchup: Frank Gore and T.Y. Hilton with Tafoya.