Two teams having very disappointing seasons but still in the hunt for a playoff hunt, as weird as that sounds, the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions will kick off the NFL on Thanksgiving schedule.
The Eagles are coming off a terrible loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, giving up 45 points and falling to 4-6. Suddenly the Chip Kelly project seems to be on the rocks, and into his third season since leaving Oregon for the birther lights but harsher critiques of the NFL, he’s probably feeling the heat of the seat he’s on for the first time, facing a second consecutive season of missing the playoffs, which would be more painful because of all the control he got over personnel decisions over the offseason.
Things are changing for the Lions as well, but winning two games in a row and climbing up to 3-7 puts them in a rare good mood as they hit Thanksgiving Thursday. The Lions have been keeping this tradition since the 1930’s, but in recent years it has been filled with some embarrassing losses. Most of this season has been that way, but finding some consistency across the lines and improved play and focus on the running game suddenly make the Wild Card spot a less than impossible dream.
The key for the Lions will be running the ball, winning each time they ran the ball more than 20 times. Ameer Abdullah might be a fumble machine (and that’s dangerous against Philly’s risk taking defense) but more workload for him usually means a better game for the Lions, who also use Theo Riddick in short passing situations (leads all NFL running backs in receptions) or can go with Joique Bell, preferably sparingly. The Eagles 3-4 defense has a strong front seven, but they’re usually exhausted due to the offense taking things quickly, for better or worse, and struggle in stopping the run over the entire course of the game.
The big difference for the Eagles will be if Sam Bradford is playing or not. He does throw an awful lot of interceptions, but he fits the Kelly system a lot better than Mark Sanchez, whose NFL career is running on fumes at this point considering how bad the Eagles have looked this season when he’s taken the field. The Eagles love running play-action even if their running game isn’t the threat it was expected to be, and against the Lions defense that can mean some big plays downfield.
Prediction: The Eagles with Bradford are the better team, and as long as they don’t turn the ball over too much should be able to put up enough points on the board. If the Lions manage to make this a slow game and stay away from losing the ball, it’s theirs for the taking. Sanchez on the field? Big advantage for the Lions.