Nine things to watch for in Thanksgiving Day games

Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch each had the strength to come through during a key moment and contribute to their teams during Week 9.

Thanks to those strong performances, each player is up for Castrol EDGE Clutch Performer of the Week honors. Here’s a deeper look at the significance of those conquests.

Lions fans are used to seeing the best wide receiver in the NFC playing in this game, having watched Calvin Johnson tear up defenses on the holiday for years. Now, however, they’ll be playing against the man with that distinction. Adam Thielen has had a monster, breakout year for the Vikings, leading the conference in receiving yards with 916. He’s also tied for fifth in the league in catches with 62. Only Steelers great Antonio Brown (1,026) has more yards than the Vikings’ wideout. Watching how the Lions contain Thielen, who’s coming off three straight games with a touchdown, with Darius Slay and other cornerbacks will be some of the most fun matchups of the day.

Case Keenum watch, as Teddy Bridgewater looms healthy on the sideline, won’t take a day off regardless of the holiday and regardless of how well the fill-in QB has played this season. Keenum has been very good standing in for the injured Sam Bradford and the previously injured Bridgewater, throwing for 2,194 yards, 12 touchdowns to just five picks and posting a 93.7 passer rating for the NFC North-leading Vikings. Still, Keenum’s leash doesn’t appear to be a long one with the more explosive Bridgewater ready to take back the reins. If Keenum falters with early turnovers or bad play, all eyes will be on coach Mike Zimmer and how long it takes for him to go back to the QB the Vikings had planned to be their franchise quarterback before a devastating knee injury in 2016.

Christian McCaffrey leads all RBs in targets (50) and receptions (37) this season. With the Panthers run-blocking woes continuing, expect McCaffrey to see a boatload of targets out of the backfield again. Carolina hasn’t given the shifty rookie much work as a between-the-tackles runner, but he’s been deadly in space. Chicago’s defense has been underrated up the gut and done well against pass-catching backs this season, but McCaffrey should feast nonetheless. With injury concerns for Kelvin Benjamin (knee), Cam Newton will look to his rookie in what could be a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

Will the Bears be able to continue hiding Mitchell Trubisky behind a dominant running game against Carolina’s stout front? Jordan Howard set career highs in carries (36) and rush yards (167) in Week 6 against Baltimore. With Trubisky in the lineup, Howard has feasted on stretch runs, getting to the edge and exploiting the second level. John Fox’s run-at-all-costs mentality will be tested against the Panther’s fifth-ranked rush defense (83.3 rush YPG). Carolina hasn’t allowed a single running back to rush for more than 67 yards this season. With Luke Kuechly ruled out, however, the Bears rushing attack gets a slight reprieve. If Howard is stymied early, will Fox let his rookie quarterback rip it around the park?

The matchup to watch Sunday afternoon is Mike Evans versus Patrick Peterson. The duo went head-to-head once before in Week 2, 2016 (40-7 Cards win). When covered by Peterson, Evans had 49 receiving yards on nine targets with four receptions, a touchdown, and one interception against. We say it each week, but at some point Jameis Winston will connect with DeSean Jackson. Sunday feels like the perfect time to bust out. Justin Bethel has been picked on opposite Peterson, and the Cardinals gave up a bevy of big plays last week.

 

How much does Adrian Peterson have left in the tank? Sure, he got few carries in New Orleans, but on most of those he still looked like a violent runner with juice. The question is whether his 32-year-old body can handle an increased workload. Arizona will install him as the early down runner (Bruce Arians said this week that All Day won’t play on third downs). With all due respect to Chris Johnson, Peterson can’t do any worse than the Cardinals running game has since David Johnson went down. If the Bucs are still dealing with injuries in the middle of their defense (Kwon Alexander is out; Lavonte David questionable), Peterson could find daylight behind a heretofore struggling offensive line.

Washington signed Brian Quick following five seasons spent with the Rams. Quick had a career-year this past campaign, snagging 41 balls for 564 yards and three scores.

He joins fellow offseason acquisition Terrelle Pryor as new toys for Kirk Cousins. Quick measures up at 6-foot-3 while Pryor stands at 6-foot-4, posing as much bigger targets along the outside compared to last season.

After Washington selected a running back in the draft and reportedly demoted another this offseason, it’s fair to wonder who will be toting the rock in D.C. full-time. According to Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, it depends on the day and the drive.

Cavanaugh was asked Thursday whether Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson or rookie runner Samaje Perine will be the primary tailback come September and while the OC indicated Kelley has earned the starting job, that doesn’t mean he’ll keep it.