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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 7:42 PM

Happy Thanksgiving! We have four games on the holiday football card Thursday…and three have the potential to be real classics. And, even Miami-Dallas could get interesting because the Dolphins have been playing competitive football in recent weeks. On paper, this is shaping up as one of the best Thanksgiving schedules in YEARS!

And, since we handle the “on paper” stuff here in the NOTEBOOK, it’s going to be a lot of fun to write about!

To fit everything into the standard parameters have had to condense our preview data just a bit. We’ll still focus on Drive Points (those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more), third down conversions, and turnover differential. But, instead of talking about each category one at a time, we’ll run the full stat line on each team…then discuss the keys that jump off the page. It’s really a shame that games like Green Bay-Detroit and San Francisco-Baltimore didn’t fall on a Sunday or Monday Night. Either is deserving of full-blown coverage.

But, we know you have places to be and food to eat…so we’ll try to make this an intense but delicious appetizer for your football feast. Don’t forget that JIM HURLEY’S 26TH ANNUAL TURKEY SHOOT is available online for just $100. You can also sign up in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure you take care of business before the earliest kickoff to get full value.

Games are presented in schedule order…

GREEN BAY AT DETROIT

Green Bay: 20.7--14.5 drive points, 51-43 third down pct., +12 turnovers

Detroit: 14.2--7.4 drive points, 30-29 third down pct., +9 turnovers

Clearly the big clash in this one is the very potent Drive Point offense of Green Bay (20.7) vs. the very stingy Drive Point defense of Detroit (7.4). Whoever rules that tug of war will probably win the game. Note that Detroit does have a chance top lay keep-away from Aaron Rodgers with a 14.2 offense on Drive Points facing a 14.5 defense that’s known to play soft on third downs. The Lions have struggled offensively on third downs this year (30%)…but they usually don’t face opponents to are this passive when a drive is on the line.

Green Bay is the better team by quite a bit in our most important indicator stats, and deserves to be favored. But, a fired up home dog (a defensive dog at that) could certainly inflict the first loss of the year on the Packers given the texture of the data. And, whoever inflicts their preferred style into festivities will probably drive the Over/Under winner as well. If Detroit can’t stop Green Bay, we’re going to have a wild shootout. If Detroit does stop Green Bay and play keep-away, then that very high Vegas total may be out of reach.

We can’t remember looking forward THIS MUCH to a game in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day!

MIAMI AT DALLAS

Miami: 10-6--10.4 drive points, 31-37 third down pct., -6 turnovers

Dallas: 13.9--11.0 drive points, 40-41 third down pct., +6 turnovers

Dallas has had a nice little run of late, but they don’t have the stats of a dominant team by any means. Plus 2.9 in Drive Point differential is good, but not great. That’s a poor third down differential for a contender. It’s nice to be +6 in turnovers…but can you count on that continuing with Tony Romo in the pocket? The Cowboys have a chance to develop into a playoff force, but they don’t currently have the numbers of a team you can trust to win three straight games vs. playoff caliber opposition. 

Miami’s been competitive for many weeks now even when they lose. But, don’t let last week’s 35-8 win over Buffalo fool you. The offense didn’t do much (just 242 yards and 4.3 yards-per-carry). The Dolphins did repeatedly cash in short field opportunities. If they DON’T get those, it’s hard to see them pulling the upset here accept in a defensive struggle.

JIM HURLEY will be working very closely with his on site sources here to get a read on the Dallas mindset. If the team falls a bit flat after the overtime divisional win in Washington, then an upset call with a defensive dog might be in order. But…if the traditional “Ryan Defense” brings full intensity, Miami’s going to have a lot of trouble getting much on the board. Information will mean everything here, and will result in a strong side or total play (maybe both!).

SAN FRANCISCO AT BALTIMORE

San Francisco: 9.4--9.2 drive points, 32-34 third down pct., +17 turnovers

Baltimore: 12.2--8.5 drive points, 39-32 third down pct., +3 turnovers

It’s telling that San Francisco has the stat profile of a .500 team that’s been very fortunate with turnovers. They play very conservative ball and try to win with mastery of the risk/reward ratio. Thus far, the 9-1 record celebrates their efforts. Just don’t be fooled into thinking this is a juggernaut because of that gaudy record. San Francisco is just the latest grinder team having a hot run. They will have a puncher’s chance in the playoffs because of their physicality. They’re likely to be overseeded in terms of true Lombardi Trophy potential.

Can the Niners grind at Baltimore and win, given the Ravens 8.5 mark on Drive Point defense, and stellar 32% mark on third down defense? Tough to make that work unless Joe Flacco is having a bad turnover game. Since he’s become prone to having those…anything could happen here!

If our sources are suggesting the defenses will be fired up (far from a sure thing in a short week…in a non-conference game…right after both teams won divisional home games), then we’ll think seriously about the Under giving those stat lines above. The raw stats suggest a 13-10 type game, but raw stats often go out the window in unique scheduling spots like this. We’re definitely looking forward to this Harbaugh Family Reunion as fans. JIM HURLEY will make sure you get the right play so you can win while you watch.

TEXAS AT TEXAS A&M

Texas: 48th on offense, 10th on defense, 9th schedule

Texas A&M: 6th on offense, 76th on defense, 3rd schedule

We switch now to the key college stats for the final preview. As we mentioned last week when we studied the Big 12…we think Jeff Sagarin’s strength of schedule data is overrating the conference just a bit. They all look like they’ve played brutal schedules since they all play each other (plus Texas A&M had to play Arkansas). Give them credit for the schedules, but keep it in perspective.

It’s important to note that Texas has been inconsistent on offense in a fairly predictable way. They pound bad defenses, but can’t do much within their size class. That was compounded when their superstar running back was lost for the season early in the Missouri game. They’ve barely found the end zone since then. What does the 76th ranked defense of A&M mean in THAT context?

Kansas State’s defense ranks 77th, and shut down Texas

Missouri’s defense ranks 80th, and shut down Texas

Remember that Big 12 defenses rank worse on defense nationally than they really are because so much fast-break football is played in that conference. In bowl games, many Big 12 teams will probably play 20-30 spots better than their defensive rankings vs. non-conference opposition. That doesn’t matter here though. Texas just got shut down by the number 77 and 80 defenses in the rankings, and are now on the road against number 76.

Clearly the Horns will have to solve their QB dilemma in order for us to consider the dog here. We’ll be checking the weather forecast to see if conditions will help an Under play out given those last two Texas yawners since the unfortunate injury. There will be a lot of media hype about this storied rivalry possibly coming to an end. We agree that’s a big story. But, what happens in the trenches is going to have a much bigger impact on who wins and covers than anything that happened in any administration boardrooms several weeks ago.

That wraps up our Turkey Day preview briefs. WINNERS ARE JUST A FEW CLICKS AWAY! Again, you can sign up for the full FIVE DAYS of the TURKEY SHOOT for just $100 here at the website or in our office at 1-800-323-4453. If you’re doing any travelling the next few days, be sure you bring your laptop so you can take care of business quickly and easily. We’ll be back again with you here in the NOTEBOOK on Friday to crunch the numbers in the Arkansas-LSU game that’s suddenly gained monstrous importance in the BCS picture.

BEST WISHES FOR A GREAT HOLIDAY from everyone here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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