Thanksgiving Betting Preview: Odds, trends, picks for Texans-Lions, Washington-Cowboys

Thanksgiving Betting Preview: Odds, trends, picks for Texans-Lions, Washington-Cowboys

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! There’s nothing quite like this holiday, as it combines so many amazing parts of life: Family, friends, food, and of course, football! This has been one of the most turbulent years in modern American history, so it’s wonderful to be able to get back to the familiar traditions of Turkey Day. Of course, COVID-19 had to rear its ugly head at least a little bit, pushing the Ravens-Steelers Thursday Night Football game back to Sunday afternoon. That leaves us with a Thanksgiving Day doubleheader, starting with the Texans-Lions at 12:30 p.m. ET and concluding with Washington-Dallas.

As always, BetQL will have comprehensive analysis, up-to-the-minute line movement, and expert picks and predictions for these two games as well as the 14 other games this holiday weekend. The BetQL Best Bet Model has been hard at work, projecting halftime and full-game scores for this full Week 12 slate, listing each bet with confidence ratings indicating its favorites.

As the Thursday Night Football game has been moved, we at BetQL have decided to provide our official previews and predictions for the two other Thanksgiving games instead. We hope you enjoy, and we wish you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday with your loved ones. May your bet slips bring you as much joy as the first bite of your Thanksgiving meal!

Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6), Ford Field, 12:30 p.m. – HOU -3 (-170 ML), O/U 51

For better or for worse, Detroit has been a fixture of Thanksgiving football in just about every year since 1934. Consequently, there have been a lot of bad Lions teams displayed on television sets throughout the majority of the last 86 Turkey Days. This Matthew Stafford-led version is far from the worst, but it’s underperforming to say the least.

Injuries have ravaged the Lions’ chances to contend for a playoff spot in the crowded NFC North. Now it hosts a Deshaun Watson-led Houston Texans squad that has been playing vastly better as of late than its record suggests. In fact, the Texans come into Detroit as -3 road favorites (-170 ML), with the over/under currently at 51 total points.

Texans Outlook

With former Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins now dazzling the world for the Cardinals—thanks to a puzzling move by then-GM and head coach Bill O’Brien, who got fired in October after Houston started this season 0-4—Watson is now the big star in Texas. The quarterback has played inspired football since O’Brien’s departure, thanks in large part to the leadership of the longtime, well-respected Romeo Crennel as Houston’s interim head coach.

If the Texans had any semblance of consistency defensively, they would probably be competing for a Wild Card position right now. They have won three games since O’Brien’s firing, thanks in large part to Watson’s offensive brilliance, and at least two of their last three losses have been due to defensive breakdowns (their third was simply due to having an inferior running game than the Browns in heinous Cleveland weather).

Take a look at Watson’s stats before and after O’Brien’s termination.

Watson in Weeks 1-4 (four games), with O’Brien:

98.8 average QB rating, 1.5 passing TDs per game, zero games with over 300 passing yards, three total interceptions, 16 sacks, 14.5 rushing yards per game

Watson in Weeks 5-11 (six games), without O’Brien:

114.08 average QB rating, 2.3 passing TDs per game, four games with over 300 passing yards, two total interceptions, 10 sacks, 35.1 rushing yards per game.

Needless to say, things are getting better offensively. Watson has established a great connection with veteran wide receivers Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks, who each have 47 catches on the season. Fuller has 708 receiving yards (15.1 yards per catch) and a team-leading six TDs, and he’s caught nearly 70 percent of his targets. Cooks has found his role in the slot, catching three TDs and racking up 634 yards of his own. Veteran receiver Randall Cobb, who just hit the IR with turf toe, was replaced capably last week by Keke Coutee, who caught his first score of the year in a big 27-20 win over New England. Trusty tight ends Darren Fells and Jordan Akins have been beyond serviceable, hauling in a combined 79 catches and four TDs. The tight end tandem has a combined catch rate of 81.9 percent, and a combined yards per reception average of 13.5.

But that rushing game and that defense… woof. David Johnson, the big catch in O’Brien’s insane Hopkins deal, averaged 51 yards per game on the ground before a bad concussion landed him on the IR. His backup, Duke Johnson, has only a 2.8 yards per carry average.

As for Houston’s defensive struggles, let the numbers do the talking. The Texans have allowed the second-most total yards in the NFL this season. They rank dead-last in rushing yards allowed, takeaways, interceptions, opponent yards per drive, and defensive time of possession. They rank 21st or worse in every defensive counting category, and 28th in third-down conversion percentage and opponent first downs. Take away the 10-7 loss in the polar vortex in Cleveland, and Houston has given up an average of 33.8 points in defeat.

Lions Outlook

As bad as things might seem for Houston’s defense, the big picture might be even worse for Detroit. The Lions have lost all three matchups with NFC North opponents. They just got destroyed by a former XFL QB (P.J. Walker) and a Christian McCaffrey-less Panthers squad. They only have a three-point win over Washington to be happy about over the course of their past four games, and they have been outscored during that 1-3 stretch 122-71.

Veteran QB Matthew Stafford, perhaps the unluckiest QB in pro football over the past decade, has been battling through a torn ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand. His best receiver, Kenny Golladay—the league-leader in TD catches last season with 11—missed Detroit’s first two games with a hamstring injury and today will miss his fourth consecutive game due to a nagging hip injury. Breakout rookie back D’Andre Swift, who has averaged 6.0 yards per touch and scored six times, missed the Lions’ last game with a concussion. Veteran receiver Danny Amendola, banged up all season, will miss his second straight contest with a hip injury.

Got all that? Well, let’s look at the bright side. Marvin Jones can make plays all over the field when his QB has the proper digits to get him the ball, and he has five TDs on the season. Second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson also has five TDs, and has caught 66.7 percent of his targets. Marvin Hall remains a big play-maker down the field, with a whopping 18.3 average yards per reception. And Adrian Peterson has been as solid as a 35-year-old NFL power back can be. But man, does this team need Swift active today to be able to compete.

The Lions just have not found their identity defensively. Matt Patricia’s squad has given up the fifth-most points, the sixth-most total yards, and the eighth-most generous third-down conversion rate. Detroit ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed, 31st in first downs allowed, and dead-last in rushing TDs surrendered. So, if you want offense, you’re probably going to enjoy the early game this afternoon.

Texans-Lions prediction

These defenses both stink, and these offenses seem to be going in two different directions. With Stafford still not able to give two thumbs up (so to speak), and Golladay still missing from the Lions lineup, it’s hard to shy away from the Texans on the moneyline with the way Watson has been playing. The BetQL Best Bet Model agrees with one-star confidence that Houston will take the game, but it lists a four-star rating on Detroit covering the +3. It also loves Detroit +2.5 at the half, projecting with a full five-star rating that the Lions will at least go into halftime down by one or fewer points. This seems like a game that will easily hit the 50s in total scoring, and the Model agrees with two-star confidence that the OVER is the play at both halftime (O/U 25) and on the final score (O/U 51). We’ll take the Texans 30-28 in a Turkey Day barnburner.

Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7), AT&T Stadium, 4:30 p.m. – DAL -3 (-150), O/U 46

This NFC East clash serves as the second-half of the double-header kickoff for Week 12, and the winner will ascend to the top of the division. And somehow, both teams enter the contest with just three wins on the entire season. Between the 20 games these two squads have combined to play, seven different quarterbacks have started. If that situation doesn’t sum up the wacky year that is 2020, I don’t know what will.

But one thing’s for sure, a Jerry Jones Cowboys squad will find a way to entertain the masses on Thanksgiving. Jones and head coach Mike McCarthy were probably thrilled to have backup Andy Dalton back to full health last week, just his second full game in the five games since stud QB Dak Prescott broke his ankle. “Red Rifle” and Dallas stars Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper joined forces, helping break the Cowboys’ four-game losing streak with a huge 31-28 home win over Minnesota. Meanwhile, Comeback Player of the Year candidate Alex Smith led Washington to a big win over the Bengals, after Cincy lost star rookie QB Joe Burrow to an ACL/MCL tear. The win was Washington’s first since beating Dallas in Week 7, and just its second victory since the opening week of 2020. The Cowboys are -3 favorites at home, and just -150 on the moneyline, while the over/under has settled at 46 total points. 

Washington Outlook

Washington has been one of the more resilient teams in the NFL this season, and the franchise has new head coach Ron Rivera to thank for changing the culture around the team. It has easily been the surprise defense of the season, ranking in the top ten in a myriad of defensive statistical categories. And it has somehow managed wins by three different starting quarterbacks this season, not an easy task for even the most experienced squad.

Rivera started with second-year QB Dwayne Haskins, who won Game 1 of the season over Philly but gradually began to implode after that. After three-straight losses by Haskins, “Riverboat Ron” turned to Kyle Allen, who looked promising. Allen lost to the Rams, then nearly beat the Giants in a 20-19 heartbreaker, then beat the Cowboys in Washington’s first matchup with them. But in Washington’s second meeting with the Giants, he suffered an awful ankle injury that reminded many of Alex Smith’s gruesome leg break in Washington two years ago.

Enter Smith, whose opportunity to lead the franchise has come full circle and, bizarrely enough, come at the unfortunate expense of another QB’s leg (enough with the storylines, 2020!). Smith has been steady at the helm since taking over, winning last week against the Bengals and losing the previous two games to the Lions and Giants by just a field goal. Although he threw for 325 yards, he threw three picks in the loss to the Giants, most likely ill-prepared to walk into the lead role right then and there. Since then, he has been a steady and focused game-manager, getting the ball out quickly and leaning out his three best play-makers: wide-out Terry McLaurin and running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.

McLaurin, still just 25 years old, has scored three times and accumulated 871 receiving yards, over three and a half times the yardage of Washington’s second-leading receiver (Cam Sims, 13 catches for 235). McKissic is a textbook receiving back—think New England’s James White—and he’s Smith’s favorite target. The 27-year-old vet has 44 catches on 66 targets this season, and he caught 16-of-29 for 108 yards in the first two games Smith took over for Allen. But Gibson looks like the real head-turner in this offense. The rookie has dazzled with his elusive moves, great vision, and tremendous burst. He averages 4.5 yards per carry and 7.9 yards per reception, and he’s caught 27 of his 32 targets (84.4 percent). He is the future of D.C. football, and if his ankle is OK today, he should see the field for much more than the 53 percent of snaps he saw last week.

This Football Team has shown it can win without a name (and with three different QBs). With great coaching, a smart veteran QB, and a few play-makers, good things can happen. And with a top-ten defense, this squad has as good a chance as any to come out of its division. Washington gives up the fewest passing yards, the second-fewest first downs, the sixth-fewest total yards, and the ninth-fewest points. It ranks in the top five in opposing red-zone TD percentage, and in the top ten in opposing third-down conversion percentage. Cornerback Kendall Fuller leads its strong secondary, with four of its nine interceptions and seven of its 29 passes defensed. Defensive end Montez Sweat heads up a strong pass-rush, racking up six of its 32 sacks on the season. And linebackers Jon Bostic and Kevin Pierre-Louis continue to gobble up tackles, with 121 between them. This squad mean business, whether naysayers give them credit or not.

Cowboys Outlook

Of course, the Cowboys never want to be counted out of the race, either—and they will be looking for vengeance in this one. The last time these teams met, the aforementioned Bostic led with his helmet into Dalton as the QB was sliding down following a sneak. The linebacker absolutely eviscerated Dalton, who had to be carted off the field and ultimately missed time with a severe concussion.

With Dalton back and a quality win over the Vikings under their belt, Dallas should be raring to go in its annual Thanksgiving home game (a tradition since 1966). Ezekiel Elliott looked as good as he has all season against Minnesota, rushing 21 times for his first 100-yard effort of 2020. He and backup Tony Pollard have looked like a great 1-2 punch with Dalton under center, thriving without opposing defenses stacking the box each and every play. It helps that Dallas has also regained some strength on its injury-ravaged offensive line.

It also helps that Amari Cooper has started to heat back up in the passing game. The veteran has caught 11-of-13 targets the past two weeks for 148 yards, and McCarthy has even worked him into some reverse handoffs. Now if Dallas can get fellow receiver Michael Gallup going—and get rookie wide-out CeeDee Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz back to at least 75 percent of the productivity they were enjoying with Prescott—this offense could be ready to make some noise in the second half of the season.

Of course, the Cowboys’ defense will have to come along for the ride, and try to overcome whatever demons it has suffered from to this point in the season. No team has allowed more points than the 31.8 Dallas opponents average. The Cowboys surrender the most passing touchdowns and the second-most rushing yards. They have the third-fewest interceptions and fourth-fewest takeaways. They rank 27th in red-zone TD percentage, and 29th in third-down conversion percentage.

But maybe there’s hope. Cowboys opponents have averaged 25 points per game the last four games, as opposed to 36.3 in their first six. And Dallas has forced six turnovers in its last three games, after managing only three takeaways across its first seven. It all goes back to the line of attack, on both sides of the ball. If its o-line can keep Dalton upright and create some holes for Elliott, and its d-line can mount pressure on Smith and make him uncomfortable, Dallas should be able to continue its second-half push for the playoffs.

Washington-Cowboys prediction

The Cowboys will exact revenge on Washington, and in a major way. The BetQL Best Bet Model agrees, putting a two-star rating on Dallas -3 and a four-star rating on the Cowboys -150 moneyline. The Model also loves the home squad at the half, putting a full five-star confidence level on Dallas both on the moneyline (-145) and against the spread (-1.5) at the break. This may be boring, but hey, boring can be good when it makes you money. Don’t quote us on the OVER, because we don’t like the volatility of these offenses enough to bet on the total. But if I had to provide a final score or go without pumpkin pie, I’d say Dallas 30-23 in a get-right game.

You can find all updated lines, odds, spreads, and NFL picks at BetQL!