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NFL Thanksgiving Storylines: Will Patriots’ dominant defensive streak continue?

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American Thanksgiving is upon us, and this year it brings a trio of football games worthy of the holiday.

Of the six teams suiting up Thursday, five have a winning record and are currently in the playoff picture and the sixth – the Lions – enter the day on a three-game win streak for the first time since 2017.

Here’s a storyline to watch for in each game of Thursday’s triple-header.

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Bills (7-3) @ Lions (4-6) | Thursday 12:30 p.m. ET

For the second time in five days, the Buffalo Bills are suiting up for a football game in Detroit. The Bills were victorious as the “home” team at Ford Field against the Browns last Sunday, a game that needed to be relocated as a massive snowfall hit Buffalo.

Despite the uncertainty, relocation, and lack of proper practice time due to the weather, the Bills were victorious against Cleveland and actually looked right at home on the road as Josh Allen & Co. rebounded from back-to-back losses against the Jets and Vikings to get back on track.

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Allen looked a lot more comfortable against the Browns, putting up a much cleaner game after some rookie-like interceptions against Minnesota and New York.

If the Bills are to build on that bounce-back win and halt Detroit’s three-game win streak, they’ll need to bring the same effort on run defence that showed up against the Browns. Buffalo’s run defence hasn’t been great this year, but managed to hold Nick Chubb to just 19 yards on 14 carries and kept him off the score sheet for just the third time this season. The only running back with more rushing TDs than Chubb this year? That’s Jamaal Williams, who’s having himself a season for the ages. If the Bills can shut down Williams, who leads the league with 12 ground TDs and is coming off a hat trick against the Giants, Detroit will have no choice but to rely heavily on quarterback Jared Goff – and against Buffalo’s pressure and pass defence, that doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for victory.

The Lions head into this one with three consecutive wins for the first time in five years.

Giants (7-3) @ Cowboys (7-3) | Thursday 4:30 p.m. ET

Here’s a sentence we didn’t expect to write this season: The NFC East is the strongest division in football. All four clubs are currently above .500, and for the first time in too long we’ve got ourselves a meaningful divisional matchup worthy of its Thanksgiving billing.

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If you watched last week’s Lions win over New York, you saw a textbook formula for how to beat the Giants: shut down Saquon Barkley, and Daniel Jones will look after the rest.

That sounds harsh, considering Jones has put up some really strong performances this year, leaving last year’s habits (mostly) behind. But against the Lions on Sunday, he started to look like his old self – and that should make New Yorkers nervous. After delivering six straight pick-free games (and just two interceptions all season) Jones gave up two INTs against Detroit. Against one of the league’s best defences in Dallas, he’ll need to be at his best under pressure – a lot of pressure.

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As for the home team, after a disappointing finish and wasted opportunity in Green Bay, Dallas was about as dominant as you can get against Minnesota last Sunday, delivering a 40-3 final score that leaves zero questions about their resilience. We can question, however, whether there will be a second act for CeeDee Lamb, whose two-score, 150-yard breakout game in Green Bay felt like a small victory despite the final score. All four of Dallas’ touchdowns against Minnesota came from their dynamic running back duo (Ezekiel Elliott had two scores on the ground while Tony Pollard caught two TDs).

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The first meeting between these two teams, a Week 3 Monday Night game featuring Cooper Rush at the helm, resulted in a 23-16 Cowboys victory.

Patriots (6-4) @ Vikings (8-2) | Thursday 8:20 p.m. ET

In two November games heading into Thursday’s Thanksgiving matchup, New England’s defence has allowed only six points, holding opponents to just a single field goal each and limiting quarterbacks to a combined 180 yards through the air. This unit has been leaving a trail of turmoil in its wake that extends beyond the final whistle.

One day after soundly defeating the Indianapolis Colts 26-3, head coach Frank Reich was fired and Jim Irsay announced Jeff Saturday as his replacement. Two week later in New York, after shutting down Zach Wilson, the second-year QB was benched. (Wilson didn’t exactly do himself any favours post-game, dismissing the notion he’d let his defence down after the group held New England to just a single field goal all game.)

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It’s enough to make you wonder what fate awaits the Vikings. Kidding, of course – at 8-2, surely seats are cool in Minnesota – but this New England defence is clearly no joke. Opposing quarterbacks have been held to a league-low combined 55.7 completion percentage when facing the Patriots, averaging just 5.8 yards per attempt – that ranks New England fourth best in the category.

Like New England’s previous two opponents, Minnesota was held to just three points last Sunday against Dallas, their most dismal offensive effort of the season. The loss renewed the questions that plagued Minnesota throughout the first half of the season – are they really as good as their record indicates? Can they win under pressure? – and once again cast doubt about whether the Vikings are in fact as strong a contender as the standings state. Their wild overtime win over Buffalo earlier this month, which required a little help from the football gods, temporarily laid those doubts (mostly) to rest.

Both of Minnesota’s losses this season have come against NFC East heavyweights led by dynamic defences. In Week 2 against Philadelphia, Minnesota put up just seven points – their lowest total until Sunday’s three-point performance against the Cowboys’ own stifling defence.

The other factor here, which cannot be ignored: Prime time. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has earned himself an unfortunate reputation for being unable to step up when the spotlight shines brightest (a theme that continued in that Week 2 Monday Nighter against the Eagles, bringing his MNF record to 2-10) and while his 3-4 record on Thursdays isn’t so dismal, it’s still a story to watch when Cousins hits the field under the lights on Thanksgiving night.

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