NFL on Thanksgiving: Deshaun Watson, D’Andre Swift, Terry McLaurin and Andy Dalton in spotlight

It is just about time for some Thanksgiving football, and although one game is off the schedule due to coronavirus, we still have two Thursday games for UK-based fans to watch without having to take Friday off!

With the news that the Ravens-Steelers AFC North clash has been moved to Sunday, we are left with the Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6) at 5.30pm followed by the Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7) at 9.30pm – both live on Sky Sports.

Who are the players to look out for? Who is set for a big day? We have picked out some names below…

Houston Texans

Clearly, Deshaun Watson is the star of the first game. In his fourth year, Watson is on track for his career-best completion percentage (68.9) and quarterback rating (108.6) but because of his team’s record, is not garnering the attention he has in his first three seasons. Make no mistake, he is still a star.

Watson’s top target in the Bill O’Brien era, DeAndre Hopkins, was an elite playmaker as the team made the postseason in five of the last six seasons, but playmakers are exactly what the Texans have been missing this season. Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks have 47 catches each, with 708 and 634 yards respectively, but they don’t offer the same outlet. However, against Detroit’s eighth-worst passing defense, they could have some success.

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One player who should have a great day is fill-in running back Duke Johnson with David Johnson still on Injured Reserve. Detroit allow a massive 139 rushing yards per game (third-worst in the league) and the opportunities should be there. The real question is: can he take advantage? On his 40 attempts over the last three games, Johnson has managed just 110 yards (2.75 average).

The less said about the Texans’ second-worst defense the better, but JJ Watt is still doing his best to disrupt the game. Last week against the Patriots, he became the first defensive lineman ever to have four passes defended and one tackle for loss in a single game. He won’t give up.

Detroit Lions

I mentioned the Lions’ porous run defense, but guess what? Houston’s is even worse! They give up 159.3 yards on the ground per game – dead-last – and Detroit do have the talent to take advantage. After a slow start to his rookie campaign, second-round pick D’Andre Swift has started to come into his own.

In Week Six, he ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns. In Week Nine, he had a 97-total-yard outing, while in Week 10, he totted up 81 rushing yards, 68 receiving, and a TD through the air. However, he did miss last week’s game due to a concussion and is listed as questionable for tonight. If he is out, an underwhelming combination of Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson will carry the load.

Ultimately, you should be keeping eyes on head coach Matt Patricia and the performance of his team. His first season saw Detroit finish 6-10 and fourth in the NFC North. Last year, 3-12-1, fourth again. Well, now they are sitting at the bottom again and coming off a shutout loss to Carolina. Does this team have any fight left or is Patricia’s time up?

Washington Football Team

The story of the moment in Washington is clearly Alex Smith‘s miraculous return to the starting lineup. After almost losing his leg – and life – after his injury in November 2018, the comeback is real. He threw for 325 yards on his first start, 390 in his second, and led the team to a tough win last week. Washington are in the mix, and if Smith can help them win the East, it will be one of the great NFL stories this season.

He will need some help, but young playmakers Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin will certainly be able to give it to him.

Rookie runner Gibson was a mysterious prospect – with only 33 rushing attempts in college to his name – but has thrived as the season has gone on. Over the last four weeks, he has 287 rushing yards (on 55 carries) and five touchdowns. Smith will lean on him down the stretch.

On the outside, Washington have one of the must underrated receivers in the league in McLaurin. He has the fourth-most yards this season (871) without the benefit of having any kind of consistency at quarterback. An outstanding route-runner with the toughness to go up for contested catches and break tackles, he will become a more-known star as soon as Washington can have some success.

Defense could be where this team wins the division. They have the league’s best passing defense, allowing just 195.4 yards per game, and it starts upfront with a whole defensive line of first-round picks including 2020 No 2 overall Chase Young.

Also watch out for seventh-round rookie Kamren Curl, who has stepped in admirably after Landon Collins was lost for the season. Curl has 29 tackles, two sacks, two TFLs and four QB hits in the last three games.

Dallas Cowboys

With the most favourable remaining schedule in the division and three more NFC East games, the Cowboys have a great shot to make a late surge for the playoffs. But can they bring it all together?

They have the best skill-position talent, with Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup at their disposal. Will Andy Dalton be able to get the most from them?

Early in his career, Dalton had great success in Cincinnati. He had five straight winning seasons to start his career. He’s been to three Pro Bowls. But at 33, he’s never won a playoff game despite getting there four times. The Cowboys need him to step up to stand a chance and he did last week against Minnesota, with a three-touchdown performance in a win. He is the key to the remainder of their season.

Like the two teams in tonight’s early game, Dallas have their struggles on defense. They split the Texans and Lions to allow the second-most rushing yards per game (153.8), and have allowed a league-worst 31.8 points per game. If you want to know how not to play defense, watch the Cowboys closely!

Watch Thanksgiving NFL live on Sky Sports from 5pm with Houston at Detroit at 5.30pm and Washington at Dallas at 9.30pm.

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