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2022 NFL season: Six things to watch for in Bills-Lions, Giants-Cowboys, Patriots-Vikings during John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration

Thanksgiving traditions are like no others: family, turkey and bemoaning the struggling Lions during the early-game window.

Except this year, you suddenly can't do that. It's time to break tradition, we say.

Winners of three straight games, the Lions are suddenly pretty warm, taking down the Packers and Bears and shocking the Giants in New York in Week 11 to keep the hope of a winning season alive. And though the Bills know all about winning in Detroit (more about that below) and are unbeaten in Thanksgiving games, they had lost two straight before holding off the Browns to cap a wild last week.

The early game of the John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration sets the table for what should be an entertaining and important trio of contests.

The Cowboys and Giants meet in Dallas in the middle game with matching 7-3 records. This one figures to have a big say in how the NFC East will shake out, and though the Cowboys will feel pressure to win, the Giants badly need to steal one here after Dallas beat them (with Cooper Rush at quarterback) back in Week 3.

And for the nightcap, we have a really interesting battle of non-conference opponents with the Patriots heading to Minnesota to face the Vikings. Prior to Sunday, it had been a gilded season for the Vikings after an 8-1 start, but the 40-3 home loss to the Cowboys raised some big questions about the viability of this team making noise in the postseason.

With such a respectable group of games on Thursday, the only remaining question is: When will dinner be served? Make sure your Thanksgiving host reads these previews before making a final decision on that.

Here's six things to watch for from the three games during the NFL's inaugural John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration:

Buffalo Bills
2022 · 7-3-0
Detroit Lions
2022 · 4-6-0

  1. Can the Lions rumble their way to an upset of the Bills? Since the early season injury to D’Andre Swift, it has been Jamaal Williams who has carried the load in the backfield for the Lions. He’s now on pace for more than 1,100 rush yards and already nearly as many touchdowns (12) this season as he’s had for the remainder of his career (13). Last week, he scored three times on red-zone carries. So there’s little mystery who is getting the ball when the Lions crash the red-zone party, and they’ve been very good down there this season. Swift has returned to the lineup, gradually receiving more work with each game and also scoring in the win over the Giants. But in a short week, it’s hard to know what all he can offer while still managing a tender ankle. The Bills largely have been good defensively this season, but if you look at a few games in particular -- the Packers certainly and even the Jets game -- certain opponents have had success running the ball against them. Look for the Lions to ride Williams, whose roughshod running style also could harass a Bills defense that played 75 snaps in Week 10 and 83 more on Sunday.
  2. Bills come back to “home” stadium where they won Sunday. In a travel week unlike any other, the Bills received word that epic snow squalls were headed their way. Their Week 11 game was moved in advance to Ford Field, and yet the Bills barely made it out of town in time before the snow hit in Buffalo and the game against the Browns started in Detroit. Beating Cleveland was a big challenge considering the Bills had lost two straight and Josh Allen didn’t look the same as he did during his early-season MVP form. And yet the Bills decided to head back home for a few days before returning for the early Thursday kickoff. Every game is crucial down the stretch for the Bills as they attempt to fend off the Dolphins, Jets and Patriots for the division crown -- and Buffalo heads to New England for a massive game next Thursday. This stretch of the season will be a big test for head coach Sean McDermott and his championship-caliber roster. They’ve been through the ringer a bit in recent weeks, and taking care of business against the Lions prior to three straight AFC East games will go a long way toward showing they are still capable of making a long run in January.
New York Giants
2022 · 7-3-0
Dallas Cowboys
2022 · 7-3-0
  • WHERE: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
  • WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET | FOX, FOX Deportes, NFL+

  1. Cowboys get back on track ahead of big divisional matchup. For all the reasons for Cowboys fans to be dismayed about their team in the loss at Green Bay in Week 10, Dallas’ statement victory over the Vikings on Sunday appeared to wash all those Wisconsin sins away -- and then some. It’s not overstating to suggest this was the biggest win of the Mike McCarthy era in Dallas and the Cowboys’ most important regular-season victory in at least a few years. It was notable in that it was a complete victory in all three phases, with Dak Prescott and Tony Pollard shining on offense, Micah Parsons leading a swarming defensive effort and Brett Maher and Co. delivering in the special teams department. In the first meeting against the Giants, the Cowboys struggled early with Cooper Rush under center and the defense struggling to contain the Giants’ run game. But the Cowboys dominated the final 20 minutes of the game. And now Dak’s back. Prescott has won nine straight games against the Giants that he started, with a 20-3 TD-INT ratio (and a receiving TD) in those meetings. And though he has thrown three picks since returning from injury, Prescott has largely been accurate and shown that his athleticism is back. The Giants will have their hands full.
  2. Pivotal game for injury riddled Giants. The Giants will arrive in Dallas as a team that must stop the bleeding. They’ve lost two of three games, which is hardly a catastrophe, but the injury situation is threatening to get ugly. This will give us a very good view of the coaching prowess of Brian Daboll and his staff. The Giants will be without cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson and Fabian Moreau, which will hurt when it comes to stopping wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Expect Dallas to try to pick on the likes of Cor’Dale Flott, Nick McCloud and Rodarius Williams whenever possible. The other two positions where New York might be shorthanded are at wide receiver and on the offensive line. Amid a career game last week, rookie wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson suffered a torn ACL, which was a huge blow. Is Richie James (questionable, knee) healthy enough to step in for Robinson? Tough to say. Three blockers (center Jon Feliciano, left guard Josh Ezeudu and right tackle Tyre Phillips) are dealing with neck injuries -- Phillips is questionable, while the others are out -- and rookie Evan Neal will be sidelined yet again due to his knee injury and an illness. That’s a frightening prospect going up against the Cowboys’ lethal pass rush.
Minnesota Vikings
2022 · 8-2-0
  • WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
  • WHEN: 8:20 p.m. ET | NBC, Telemundo, NFL+

  1. The Patriots still can’t score many points, but can they win? It’s becoming pretty clear that New England’s formula for winning games involves ball control on offense and letting its vastly improved defense do the heavy lifting. In the Patriots’ six wins, they have five offensive turnovers; in their five losses, they have turned it over 12 times. Mac Jones still looks like a guy who is grinding away out there, having withstood the whole Bailey Zappe saga, but little has come easy for the Patriots offensively this season, at least when Rhamondre Stevenson is not involved. The good news is that the Vikings’ defense has allowed more than 416 yards to opponents in half their games this season, including each of the past two, and Minnesota remains banged up on defense. The Patriots likely must shuffle their offensive line again with David Andrews hurt and the unit underachieving as a whole. But this is an opponent they should be able to move the ball against if the turnovers don’t become an issue.
  2. Kevin O’Connell finds his Vikings at crossroads vs. the coach who drafted him. At 8-2, the Vikings remain in tremendous shape for a playoff bid and a division crown. But they’re suddenly being questioned as a true contender following a string of close wins and two pretty revealing losses to the cream of the NFC in the Eagles and Cowboys. O’Connell has mostly pulled all the right strings in his first season as coach, but now he’s in need of another statement victory after his team was embarrassed at home just four days earlier. Bill Belichick might be 0-2 against first-year head coaches this season, but he’s made a career out of feasting off of them in the past. Belichick drafted O’Connell as a quarterback out of San Diego State in 2009 before cutting him the next year, and while that limited exposure likely won’t help from a game-planning standpoint, you can be sure that Belichick doesn’t want to be upstaged by his former player. After hearing Belichick loftily praise Justin Jefferson this week, you can be sure the Patriots will sell out to take him out of the game as much as possible. So who steps up? The best bet might be Dalvin Cook It’s easier to run against the Patriots than throw against them and Cook averaged 9.3 yards per carry against them in a 2018 game.