Thanksgiving Primer: Panthers, Packers seek to cement playoff bids

The Philadelphia Eagles will attempt to salvage their playoff bid when they travel to Ford Field to face the Detroit Lions.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s offense is the subject of nationwide scrutiny, and running back DeMarco Murray is drawing the ire of teammates for a perceived lack of effort. With Sam Bradford, Jason Peters, and Jason Kelce listed as questionable, an injury-ridden Eagles offense may not be able to take advantage of the Lions’ 29th-ranked scoring defense.

Although the Lions are riding a two-game winning streak, they’re not without injury woes of their own. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is likely to play through an ankle injury, and the Eagles will likely deploy cornerback Byron Maxwell against former teammate Golden Tate. On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions will likely be without their two top cornerbacks, and Jordan Matthews could be in for a field day against Nevin Lawson or Quandre Diggs.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions

Abdullah’s rookie season has been wildly inconsistent, but he leads the Lions’ ground game with 284 yards and a touchdown. Against an Eagles’ run defense that’s surrendering 128.5 yards per game, Abdullah may be in line for his best game as a pro. If Abdullah can set the pace for the Lions against an underwhelming Eagles’ unit, the Lions could make a late push for respectability.

Did you know?

Philadelphia holds a 16-13-2 head-to-head historical advantage over Detroit.
In their last matchup, the Eagles won 34-20 in December 2013, when LeSean McCoy rushed for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys

With the Carolina Panthers aiming for the NFC’s top seed, and the Dallas Cowboys looking to remain alive in the playoff race, Thursday’s game could prove to be pivotal for multiple reasons.

Cam Newton is defying what it means to be a conventionally successful quarterback, completing 56.9 percent of passes. However, with 26 combined touchdowns against 11 turnovers, the 26-year-old is an undeniable MVP candidate, and is spurring the Panthers’ offense without a legitimate No. 1 receiver.

Tony Romo’s unbeaten streak may be coming to an end against the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense. Carolina is ranked third in sacks, tied for first in fumble recoveries, and its ferocious pass rush will need to be at its best against Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, who is coming off his worst game of the year.

Player to Watch

Kawann Short, DT, Panthers

Short is making a strong case for All-Pro consideration with 36 tackles, six sacks, and a forced fumble. Short was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October, and is a tremendous asset in run support. Although Josh Norman, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis get the headlines, Short won’t remain relatively anonymous for long.

Did you know?

Dallas is 9-1 against Carolina historically.
The Panthers’ only win against the Cowboys was Jan. 3, 2004. Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is the lone starter that remains with either club.
This is the Panthers’ first Thanksgiving appearance.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers could stifle the Chicago Bears’ slim chances at a playoff birth Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery are listed as questionable, and if either can’t suit up, the Packers’ eighth-ranked scoring defense gains a marked advantage. Jeremy Langford stepped up admirably in Forte’s absence, and the rookie could be tasked with commandeering the offense once again.

Aaron Rodgers is sporting nearly an 8:1 touchdown/interception ratio, but the reigning MVP has completed just 61.7 percent of his passes this season. Although Rodgers’ accuracy is declining, linebackers Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston have the unenviable goal of slowing down the league’s best quarterback.

Player to Watch

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Packers

Clinton-Dix leads the Packers in tackles, and is showing flashes of stardom in his second year. The Packers’ safety will be tasked with taking away the Bears’ deep routes Thursday evening, and his coverage skills are blossoming. With the Bears’ offense facing numerous injuries, Clinton-Dix could be in for a starring effort on the national stage.

Did you know?

The Bears and Packers played an NFL-record 189 times. Chicago holds a 92-91-6 advantage.
Green Bay defeated Chicago 21-14 in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. Jay Cutler suffered a sprained MCL, while the Packers went on to capture Super Bowl XLV.

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