A Complete Viewer's Guide to Thanksgiving Day in the NFL
Is there anything better than football on Thanksgiving? This has to be the most American tradition of them all. Feed your face with all sorts of different helpings, drink a beer (or five) and then plop down in front of the television to watch the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions play.
Last Thanksgiving brought an added element to the table when the NFL scheduled the San Francisco 49ers to take on the Baltimore Ravens for the nightcap. Beyond being a matchup of two of the best teams in the league, it pitted two sibling head coaches against one another for the first time in the history of the sport.
This turkey day will see the New York Jets take on the New England Patriots. Though this might not be a sibling rivalry, it pretty darn well feels like it.
With that in mind, I am here to present to you the complete viewer's guide to Thanksgiving football and what impact these games could have on the landscape of the NFL.
Houston Texans (9-1) at Detroit Lions (4-6)
When: 12:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Entertainment: Kid Rock halftime performance; Alto Reed national anthem
The last time these two teams met, it was under much different circumstances. Detroit was in the midst of a 2008 season that saw it go 0-16, while Houston continued its mediocrity by finishing the season 8-8.
They now meet on Thanksgiving in Ford Field in a matchup of two playoff teams from a season ago. Houston sits with the best record in the National Football League, while the Lions are all but out of the postseason race after a disappointing 4-6 start to the season. This game is huge for a multitude of different reasons. Let's take a gander at what the early game has to offer.
Simply put, Detroit is in must-win mode the remainder of the season. It currently sits two games back in the NFC playoff picture with five teams separating it from the No. 6 seed in the conference and just six game remaining.
A loss here means you could pretty much put a fork in any hopes of Detroit returning to the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Despite picking it up recently, Matthew Stafford is having a down season after setting the world on fire in 2011. The talented quarterback is on pace to throw for nearly 4,800 yards but has only 12 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. It seems that slow starts have afflicted the former No. 1 overall pick more than anything.
Houston—currently 9-1—is coming off a lackluster performance, at least on the defensive side of the ball, against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. It gave up over 450 yards and 37 points to a Jaguars offense that came into the game dead last in total yards.
The secondary was shredded by a mediocre veteran quarterback and a rookie wide receiver who had looked like a bust prior to the game. Chad Henne threw four touchdown passes, and Justin Blackmon put up a whopping 236 receiving yards.
No, it wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination. It took stellar performances by both Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson to win in overtime. Schaub put up a franchise-record 527 passing yards and five touchdowns, while the Pro Bowl receiver tallied 14 receptions for 273 yards and a touchdown.
Needless to say, this type of performance will not fly against better competition moving forward.
Keep an Eye On
Detroit cannot afford to get off to another slow start against a Houston team that has to be upset about its performance last week. Matthew Stafford needs to click early and often with Calvin Johnson in order for the Lions to pull the upset and keep their bleak postseason hopes alive.
Mikel Leshoure put up 84 yards on 19 rushes against the Packers last week. He needs to create some balance on offense in order for Stafford to find seams in the Texans secondary. So expect a nice mix of pass and run early on here for Detroit.
On the other side of the ball, Detroit is facing a Texans pass offense that literally destroyed the Jaguars on Sunday. I am not too sure how it is going to hold up against Andre Johnson on the outside. Chris Houston has been injury plagued all season and should get the difficult task of lining up against Houston's No. 1 wide receiver.
In reality, this game is going to come down to the play of the offenses and the passing games. Houston is seventh against the pass, while Detroit is eighth in that category. These units will be going up against quarterbacks that have a combined 5,500 passing yards this season, which should make for quite an entertaining matchup.
Final Prediction: Detroit Lions 31, Houston Texans 27
Yes, I am calling the upset here. Houston nearly became the first 8-1 team to lose to a one-win team since 1986. While teams are allowed to have down games during a season, that takes playing down to your opponent to a whole new level. The Texans now need to take on a much better offense with just three days to fix those defensive issues.
I fully expect Detroit to come out and play inspired football with its season on the line. Look for some early shots down the field against a Texans secondary that was shredded by Chad Henne and company last week. It will be a high-scoring affair to start a full day of Thanksgiving football.
Washington Redskins (4-6) at Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
When: 4:15 p.m. ET on Fox
Entertainment: Kenny Chesney halftime performance; Ann Wilson national anthem.
In yet another game with playoff implications, these two heated rivals battle on Thanksgiving for the seventh time. Dallas won the six previous meetings, most recently 27-20, back in 2002. Washington sits one game behind the Cowboys for second place in the NFC East after destroying the Philadelphia Eagles by the score of 31-6 last week.
Meanwhile, Dallas could pull to within just a half-game of the Giants with a win this afternoon. Needless to say, there is an added sense of importance for one of the best rivalries in the history of the National Football League.
At 4-6, Washington needs a win in order to keep its slim postseason hopes alive. Robert Griffin III is coming off a performance that saw him complete 14 of his 15 passes for a total of 200 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 84 yards.
In the process, he became the first quarterback to compile a perfect quarterback rating (minimum 10 attempts) since Tom Brady. Interestingly enough, the New England Patriots quarterback accomplished that feat on Thanksgiving Day 2010.
RGIII now ranks No. 1 overall in fantasy points and is currently on pace to nearly eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark from the quarterback position. In total, the rookie has compiled nearly 3,000 total yards and 18 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions through 10 games. Needless to say, he is surpassing what Cam Newton did as a rookie last season.
Meanwhile, Washington's defense leaves a lot to be desired. Its pass defense ranks 29th in the NFL and has given up 20 touchdown passes in 10 games. Complicating the issues even further for Washington is the fact that Tony Romo is coming off three consecutive stellar performances.
Romo has thrown for nearly 850 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games since a Week 8 meltdown against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys, who have now won two consecutive games for the first time since November of last season, can cement their status as legit playoff contenders in the NFC with a win this afternoon. It will all depend on Dallas being able to actually protect Romo in the backfield.
The Cowboys offensive line has been beyond horrible for the most part this season. If Romo has a chance to see the field and find lanes, he should be able to eat a lackluster Redskins secondary apart.
Keep an Eye On
The big matchup here will be Jason Witten going up against a Redskins defense that tends to struggle covering opposing tight ends between the hashes. The six legit tight ends that Washington has faced this season have combined for 39 receptions, 422 yards and five touchdowns in five games. Look for Romo to go to Witten early and often in this one.
If successful, that will open up passing lanes on the outside for the likes of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
Dallas will look to put the ball in the hands of the rookie quarterback and create a one-dimensional offense. While that might make some sense in the grand scheme of things, RGIII is so far above where he should be at this point in his career that this type of scheme could actually come back to haunt Dallas.
The Cowboys do rank sixth in the league against the pass, and they have only given up 11 touchdown passes in 10 games. That is pretty impressive considering that they have gone up against Eli Manning (twice), Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman, thus far.
It isn't all gravy for the Boys' secondary. Morris Claiborne has struggled more than any rookie defensive back in the NFL over the course of the last few weeks, and he should be picked on a great deal by Washington. Expect RGIII to look to go over the top against the rookie from LSU.
Final Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 27, Washington Redskins 17
How much longer can we expect two rookies, RGIII and Alfred Morris, to shoulder the load in Washington? I just don't see them being able to go into Dallas on Thanksgiving and defeat a Cowboys team that is coming off two consecutive wins and is right in the thick of the NFC playoff race right now.
In the end, Romo should win his sixth consecutive Thanksgiving Day game and put Dallas in position for a late-season run at the NFC East.
New England Patriots (7-3) at New York Jets (4-6)
When: 8:20 p.m. EST on NBC
Entertainment: Lenny Kravitz halftime performance, Newark Boys Chorus national anthem. New York will also honor the 100 first responders of Hurricane Sandy during the game.
The last time these two teams met, they played one hell of a game, with New England coming out on top in October by the score of 29-26 after Mark Sanchez coughed the ball up in overtime. Since that meeting, New England has gone on to win three consecutive games while the Jets won last week against the St. Louis Rams to avoid a fourth consecutive loss.
Interestingly enough, that earlier game represented a battle for first in the AFC East. Fast forward a few weeks and the situation couldn't be any different. New England possesses a three-game lead in the division.
While none of us realistically expect the Jets to contend for a postseason spot moving forward, a loss here would pretty much send them packing for the final five games of the regular season. A win by New England would allow it to keep pace with the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens in the race for the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the Houston Texans.
It looks like Aaron Hernandez will be able to play in this one. That is huge news for a Patriots offense that is going to be missing Rob Gronkowski for the next four to eight weeks after he suffered a broken left forearm last week against the Indianapolis Colts.
Not that New England really needs either in order to exploit what has been a surprisingly soft Jets defense. While they rank fourth in the NFL against the pass, Brady has had his way against this unit recently.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback has thrown 16 touchdowns compared to five interceptions against the Jets in his nine games dating back to 2007. New England is 7-2 in those nine games.
Equally as important is recent success. The Patriots are averaging 42.5 points during their current four-game winning streak.
Sanchez did have one of his best performances in recent memory against the St. Louis Rams last week. He completed 75 percent of his passes for one touchdown and zero interceptions in the Jets' 27-13 win over the Rams.
That being said, the enigmatic quarterback has been beyond inconsistent throughout the 2012 season. He has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in half of his games this season and possesses a pedestrian 73.4 quarterback rating.
Sanchez could build off the success that we saw last week going up against a 28th-ranked Patriots defense that has yielded an average of 324 passing yards over the last two games.
Of course, New England has done a tremendous job forcing turnovers during its four-game winning streak, with 11 takeaways during that span. If Sanchez, who is turnover-prone, falls in line with what we have seen recently, this could be a long day for Rex Ryan and company.
Keep an Eye On
I really want to see if Sanchez is able to limit mistakes against what has quickly turned into a ball-hawking Patriots secondary. If he is able to do that, New York could easily remain close in this one. If not, we could be looking at a decisive New England victory.
On the other hand, Brady takes a ridiculous four-game stretch that has seen him throw 11 touchdowns compared to zero interceptions into this matchup. He is, however, going up against a Jets secondary that, as I noted before, ranks fourth in the NFL against the pass.
Another aspect to look at is Stevan Ridley, who struggled last week, lining up against a weak Jets front seven. The second-year running back ranks seventh in the NFL in yards and will be facing a defense that is yielding over 140 rushing yards per outing. If Ridley can help create the balance that has become commonplace on offense for New England, this game really shouldn't even be that close.
Final Prediction: New England Patriots 37, New York Jets 17
I don't see how this game is really going to be that close. New England will be able to utilize an improved rushing attack to open up Brady and company through the air. I am expecting Ridley to have a huge game on the ground and create the balance that makes the Patriots offense nearly impossible to stop.
New England should also be able to force a couple key turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. Aqib Talib, who returned an interception for a touchdown last week in his Patriots debut, will be a key player on the outside in this one. Not much more to say about this one.
Galloping Gobbler (MVP): Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
All-Iron Award: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Madden Thanksgiving Player of the Game Award: Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
That's about it for me here. Have a great Thanksgiving and be safe.
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