While the Dallas Cowboys prepare for another national TV game amid questions about coach Jason Garrett’s future, the Buffalo Bills just want to keep rolling toward the playoffs on a bigger stage than usual.
Never mind that Dallas is technically in a better postseason position for now than Buffalo, which is playing on Thanksgiving (1:30 p.m., CBS) for the first time in 25 years in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys (6-5) still haven’t beaten a winning team, and the Bills go into Thursday with a much better frame of mind.
“I’d say it’s an opportunity for us to take a step, another step this season as a football team,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “So, it’s important … getting rest and prioritizing what and how we want to do things this week and also being grateful for Thanksgiving and all that we’ve been blessed with as well.”
The short week is a blessing for the Cowboys after owner Jerry Jones ripped the coaching staff following a 13-9 loss at windy and rainy New England.
The fallout has turned Dallas’ annual Thanksgiving game into a replay of a prime-time home game against Philadelphia in October. The Cowboys blew out the Eagles to regain sole possession of the NFC East lead as questions swirled about whether a loss might get Garrett fired going into the open week.
The Cowboys don’t get extra time after playing the Bills (8-3) because another Thursday game at Chicago is next. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people wondering if Jones’ frustration over falling short of expectations could force the dismissal of Garrett early in the final year of his contract.
“You defend yourself by winning,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. “That’s how we defend ourselves. We’ve got to go out there and prove (Garrett) right. He believes in us. We still believe in him.”
Dallas still leads the division by a game over Philadelphia, which means it is in line for a home playoff game. Unless they overcome a two-game deficit to the Patriots in the AFC East over the final five games, the Bills will have to play a wild-card game on the road.
Buffalo, though, has won two straight and is 5-3 since a 3-0 start. The Cowboys also won their first three games following a preseason of Super Bowl chatter, but are 3-5 since.
“I don’t think any of our guys are looking ahead at the games following this game,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “It’s really about this Thanksgiving Day game. It’s so, so important to us and that’s where our focus is. This game has huge, huge implications for our team.”
The New Orleans Saints can settle a score when they visit the Atlanta Falcons (5:20 p.m., NBC).
The Saints (9-2) also can clinch their third straight NFC South title by beating the Falcons (3-8). That’s the more important motivation.
“Everybody in this locker room has that on their mind,” said Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins of the three-peat goal.
The Falcons shocked the Saints 26-9 on Nov. 10 in New Orleans. It was the Saints’ only loss in their last nine games.
“We didn’t play good football last time,” said Saints linebacker Demario Davis. “We didn’t stop the run well. We didn’t get off the field on third down. We didn’t create turnovers, weren’t good in the red zone. We’ve got to get better all the way around, for sure.”
The Falcons know they can’t expect the same results, especially when facing an offense led by Drew Brees.
“You know Drew. He’s the type player, if you got him with a disguise the first time, if you beat him with a certain coverage the first time, you can’t just try to bring that out there and do it again, because he’s a guy who is always studying,” said Falcons safety Ricardo Allen. “… He’s not going to be fooled too many times.”
The impressive showing at New Orleans was the first of two straight wins in which Atlanta did not allow a touchdown, raising hopes for a second-half turnaround. Instead, the Falcons returned to their losing form in Sunday’s 35-22 home loss to Tampa Bay, regaining sole claim to last place in the division.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s task of evaluating coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff has been complicated by the team’s inconsistent play.
The two straight wins followed Quinn shaking up his coaching staff in a bye week. Most notably, Raheem Morris moved from wide receivers coach to the secondary. Morris and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich are calling the plays on defense, a duty Quinn held as the self-appointed defensive coordinator to start the season.
The rematch with the Saints may help Blank and Falcons fans conclude if meaningful fixes have been found to problems that led to a 1-7 start.
Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been erratic this season, and he recently had a minor injury issue. The Detroit Lions would love to have such problems.
It’s not clear who will be taking snaps for the Lions (3-7-1) when they face the Bears (5-6) in Detroit (9:30 a.m., Fox 28). Starter Matthew Stafford – who hadn’t missed a game since the 2010 season – will be sidelined a fourth straight game with back and hip problems. Backup Jeff Driskel has been decent at times, but now he’s dealing with a hamstring injury. So it’s possible the Lions will turn to David Blough, a rookie quarterback who has never played in an NFL game.
Stafford was ruled out for Thursday’s game, and Driskel was listed as questionable Wednesday. Coach Matt Patricia said the team has tried to keep Blough prepared.
“We’ve put him in certain situations. We have different team periods throughout practice normally when we’re out there,” Patricia said. “We like to take those different kind of chances during the week to mix up some of the huddles, and who is out there and who is not. We do it really at all positions, and certainly, Blough is one of those guys that it’s important for us to do that with, too.”
This isn’t an ideal way for the Lions to enter their annual Thanksgiving showcase, but it’s an accurate portrayal of where the franchise is right now. Detroit has lost seven of its last eight games and is coming off an abysmal defeat at weak Washington last weekend. Patricia appears headed to a second consecutive losing season since taking over as coach – a loss to the Bears would assure that.
Chicago isn’t in good shape either, even after beating the New York Giants over the weekend. Trubisky is averaging 5.8 yards per pass attempt, the lowest mark of his three-year career. The Bears did beat the Lions 20-13 on Nov. 10 in Detroit’s first game without Stafford, but a four-game losing streak prior to that win left Chicago in a hole.
Trubisky had to deal with a hip pointer in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams two weekends ago, but he played last weekend.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to get back to .500, and the only thing you can do is, let’s put together that one game where it feels really good, where all three phases are playing well,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “We can’t control two weeks from now. We can only control this game. That’s kind of the mentality we have.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.