NFL Schedule 2012: Previewing Cowboys, Lions Thanksgiving Day Games

Eric BallFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 20:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys passes the ball in front of  Brian Orakpo #98 of the Washington Redskins  at FedExField on November 20, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Don’t forget to say thanks to the NFL scheduling gurus while chowing down on Thanksgiving Day this year.

This year’s Turkey Day games fall on Week 12 of the NFL slate, which guarantees playoff talk will already be in full swing. Judging by these contests, I have a feeling all three will have some sort of playoff implications on the line. Two of the games are some of the fiercest rivalries the sport has to offer.

Follow along as we preview all three juicy matchups.

(Click here for complete Week 12 schedule)

 

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions 12:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Two playoff teams from a year ago clash when the Texans go out of conference to face an up-and-coming Lions team.

BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 15:  Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore won 20-13
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The Texans are fresh off their best finish in franchise history, a season that included their first-ever playoff win. The Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but the New Orleans Saints promptly destroyed them.

2012 brings sky-high expectations for both teams with very contrasting styles.

Houston is built on the power-running game of Pro Bowler Arian Foster and backup Ben Tate. Foster is the catalyst to a passing offense that thrives when both Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are healthy.

The Lions will have to focus on using their premier defensive line to stuff the line of scrimmage and attempt to keep Foster from getting into the open field. Detroit better beef up their secondary through the draft if they plan on slowing down Johnson, however.

Speaking of Pro Bowl receivers named Johnson; the Lions have one of their own in the great Calvin Johnson.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07:  Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass for a touchdown in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints during their 2012 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2012 in New Or
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“Megatron” is the heart and soul of the Lions' offense, and the Texans have to contain him to limit the opportunities for a Lions offensive attack that is rather one-dimensional. In 2011, the Lions were 29th in rushing, averaging only 95.2 yards per game.

If star cornerback Jonathan Joseph is able to at least minimize the impact of “Megatron”, I like Houston walking away with the road victory.

 

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys 4:15 ET, FOX

The old saying “you can throw the record books out when these two play” really does apply to this rivalry. The NFC East foes have won a combined 27 division titles and eight Super Bowls. They are the two wealthiest franchises as well.  The Cowboys lead the all-time series, 62-40-2, and Dallas currently has a three-game winning streak against the Redskins. Last year, the ‘Boys won both games by a whopping five points combined.

Who knows how Washington's likely first-round pick, Robert Griffin III, will be playing entering Week 12, but there is no doubt he’ll at least keep this game a nail-bitter until the very end against an aging Cowboys defense that will struggle against athletic QBs like RGIII.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 01:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys drops back against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

With an underrated defense and a coaching staff with a strong sense of urgency, the intensity on the Redskins' sideline is going to be something to watch.

That’s not to say the Cowboys won’t match them in the intensity category.

Time is running out for Tony Romo, and beating their biggest rival at home is going to be a must. Finding a hidden gem in running back DeMarco Murray helped balance an offense that dealt with a plethora of injuries in 2011. The pressure is going to be heavy with the entire country watching, and you know how that can end for the sometimes-shaky Romo.

With the bright lights and mounting pressure on Romo’s shoulders, don’t be shocked to see one of the big upsets of the week in Dallas.

 

New England Patriots at New York Jets 8:20 ET, NFL Network

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14:  Shaun Ellis #94 of the New England Patriots sackes Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Speaking of rivalries, few can currently match the intensity and recent history of Pats-Jets.

The AFC East foes have finished in the Top 2 of the division for the last three years, with the Pats taking home the division title each time. But when they met in the 2011 postseason, it was the Jets that registered the road win and berth into the AFC Championship Game.

This year, the Pats are expected to be contending for another Super Bowl, with the majority of the team returning after winning the AFC last year, while the Jets are quickly turning into some sort of circus sideshow.

Will Tim Tebow be starting this game? He was 8-5 against the league last year, but 0-2 against the Pats. New England stayed at home when he scrambled, and it forced the shaky thrower to turn into a pocket passer.

If Mark Sanchez is still the starter (unlikely, right?), then the Pats will crank up the pressure and force him to make quick decisions that have historically led to turnovers for the “Sanchize."

Can all three road teams come away with a win on Thanksgiving?

It looks like the home cookin’ isn’t going to taste very good for the three home teams on Turkey Day.