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Thanksgiving Day Picks: Texans and Patriots look to gain holiday momentum in the AFC

Doug Farrar
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J.J. Watt and the Texans defense will be looking for a few more stops on Thursday. (Getty Images)

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions

The Texans' usually excellent defense got a major wake-up call last Sunday, when they allowed 37 points to a Jacksonville Jaguars offense that had not scored more than 23 points all season. That Chad Henne replaced Blaine Gabbert certainly helped, but now, the Texans must face a far more consistently explosive offense in the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford has overcome many of the mechanical issues that plagued him earlier this season. Only three quarterbacks -- Henne, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning -- have thrown for more than 300 yards against the Texans, but Stafford certainly has the potential to replicate that feat. Lions center Dominic Raiola is impressed by Houston's defense, especially defensive tackle J.J. Watt, but he's nor fawning, and Detroit's offensive line will concede nothing, even though veteran left tackle Jeff Backus may have to end his impressive streak of consecutive games at 187. A hamstring injury has kept Backus from practicing this week.

"He's having a big-time year, but, whatever ... bring it," Raiola said of Watt.

Watt's response? "Just watch the game and find out."

When we watch the game, we'll expect to see a big rebound effort from Houston's defense. Wade Phillips is not one to stand on a bad performance. On offense, the Texans will continue to riddle defenses with their power zone running game, and the boot action passing options it provides. The Lions will be hard-pressed to counter, and the Texans should be able to retain their place at the top of the AFC's playoff race.

Pick: Texans 37, Lions 24

[Related: Explaining why the Lions play on Thanksgiving]

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys

As we detailed today, the Redskins' offense is really rounding into shape with a tremendously versatile run game, and the best shotgun passing attack in the NFL -- when everything is coordinated, and Robert Griffin's receivers can catch the ball. Mike Shanahan's team struggled with three straight losses before their bye, but a rebound blowout over the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday set things right. Griffin has never faced the Cowboys' defense, and this might be the best matchup of all the games all day.

Rob Ryan throws a huge number of fronts at opposing offenses, and RG3 will have to deal with schemes he's not seen all too often. The only time Griffin's faced a defense that operated predominantly out of the 3-4 all season was in the Redskins' 27-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, when that offense looked off-kilter all day. If the Redskins' struggling defense can't set itself straight and Dallas' inconsistent offense keeps it together, it could be a long day for the visitors in Big D.

Pick: Cowboys 28, Redskins 20

[Related:The 2012 NFL All-Turkey team | All-Thanks team]

New England Patriots at New York Jets

The Patriots returned two of Andrew Luck's passes for touchdowns in a 59-24 blowout last Sunday, and with Aqib Talib now on board, the New England pass defense has trended up in a major way. A year ago, the Pats ranked dead last in DVOA, Football Outsiders' opponent adjusted efficiency metrics, against #1 receivers. This season, they're seventh. Of course, that might not matter as much against the Jets, who always seem to key it up for New England's defense, even with the Jets' iffy-at-best passing game. When these two teams met in Week 7, Mark Sanchez threw for a season-high 328 yards, and he's coming off a reasonably efficient performance against the St. Louis Rams, in which he completed 15 of 20 passes against the Rams, and seemed to get back on track after a few subpar outings.

Tom Brady still has a lot of weapons at his disposal, but with Rob Gronkowski out with a broken forearm and Aaron Hernandez quenstionable to play, that vaunted New England offense could be more one-dimensional than Bill Belichick would like. The Pats could counter by doing what they did early in the season, spreading defenses wide with formations and running right up the gut. The Jets are allowing 4.5 yards per carry this season, which sets things up nicely for the Pats' rushing rotation. That Week 7 game went to overtime with an eventual New England victory, and we see a similarly close outcome this time ... with the same result.

Pick: Patriots 32, Jets 21

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