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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 at 5:16 PM

We’re less than 24 hours away from the start of a five-day feast of winning with my Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot. When we watch the games we’ll be rooting for our bets like anyone else. But something that separates savvy handicappers from regular fans is that once our plays are released we have to move back into evaluation mode. There’s more moneymaking opportunities ahead with all of these teams in December. With that mind, here are some key things to watch in twelve of this weekend’s biggest games…


Vikings-Lions (12:30 PM ET, CBS): The front seven of the Detroit defense is porous. If they can’t stop the run against a Minnesota team that’s missing Adrian Peterson, can the Lions be expected to do anything more than maybe win a weak division? On the flip side, if the Vikings can’t run the ball in this game, just how far can one great receiver in Stefon Diggs really carry this offense?

Redskins-Cowboys (4:30 PM ET, Fox): This is a tough one to read too much into. If Dallas struggles you can reasonably say they were due for a letdown. If Washington struggles it’s equally fair to write it off to a road game on a short week coming off a Sunday Night game. But it will be interesting to say if Ezekiel Elliot can name his rush yardage total against this weak ‘Skins rush defense. And if Robert Kelley’s quiet emergence as the lead back in Washington continues.

Steelers-Colts (8 PM ET, NBC): There’s a real possibility of a big-time battle in pass protection between Colts’ offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo and Steeler outside linebacker James Harrison. If Pittsburgh adjusts and flips Harrison to the opposite side, we’ll find out of if anyone else on the Indianapolis offensive line can give Andrew Luck time to throw.


Washington-Washington State (3:30 ET, Fox): Washington State’s defense has made admirable strides this year. The test they face here—Jake Browning throwing the ball for Washington and Myles Gaskin running it, will be a big challenge. We’ll find out how far the Cougar D has come .

Nebraska-Iowa (3:30 ET, ABC): The Nebraska defense against the Iowa offense is a mismatch. But Cornhusker quarterback Tommy Armstrong has too often been unreliable in games where he’s needed most. Can we trust him to manage the game in a spot where if he simply does that his team will win?


Michigan-Ohio State (Noon ET, ABC): What a battle this one promises to be! On the Michigan side, it’s all about athleticism. We’ll be watching how they match up on the edges, both in pass coverage and defending the outside run. If the Wolverines win, the speed issue will go a long way to telling us how they might fare against Alabama. With Ohio State, can an offense that’s had problems at times, getting any blocking consistency against that Michigan front seven?

Auburn-Alabama (3:30 ET, ABC): Don’t look now, but Auburn has Top 10 defensive unit nationally. Alabama has clinched the SEC West and a loss in this game probably doesn’t knock them out of the Playoff. But if they struggle offensively in any circumstance it would be a sign of vulnerability for college football’s top-heavy favorite.

Florida-Florida State (8 PM ET, ABC): Florida is going to play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game next week and they’ll get a good chunk of points. That won’t do any of us any good if the Gator offense can’t score. And if they can’t score against the underachieving Seminole defense, why should we expect more against the Tide?


Cardinals-Falcons (1 PM ET, Fox): Matt Ryan is playing the best football of his career and has a real shot to cash in what are currently 6-1 odds to win the MVP award. He’s going against a defense that’s really good and a team in Arizona that’s fighting for its life. The knock on Ryan and the Falcons has been their ability to perform in big games and seeing how this offense handles a talented and desperate defense will at least provide an early clue on how this year’s Atlanta team will fare when it matters most.

Panthers-Raiders (4:25 PM ET, CBS): If you like watching big battles at the point of attack, then the clash between the Oakland offensive front and Carolina’s defensive front seven is going to be a real treat. There’s excellence up and down the board. On the flip side, it’s fair to wonder if any Carolina offensive tackle can lay a hand on Khalil Mack. If Cam Newton is going to re-find his MVP form, it’s never been more necessary than this game that most of the country will see.

Chiefs-Broncos (8:30 PM ET, NBC): If Trevor Siemian were ever going to have a big night, this has to be the spot. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are more than capable of lighting up the weak Kansas City corners. If Siemian can’t put up numbers here, should we ever expect more against a legitimate playoff team?

MONDAY Packers-Eagles (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Green Bay’s secondary is battered and coming off a terrible performance on Sunday night in Washington. The Philadelphia receivers leave a lot to be desired, so this is another case of finding out which position group can step up in a spot where they can have a good game. Just as important is to monitor the effort and enthusiasm level from the Packers, who have often looked on the verge of mailing it in.

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