What to Expect from the NFL Thanksgiving Day Matchups

Derek RobinsonContributor IIINovember 24, 2011

What to Expect from the NFL Thanksgiving Day Matchups

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    For football fans, Thanksgiving Day is a perfect storm. Whether you love spending the day with family, chowing down on turkey and other dishes, watching football all day or simply having the day off from work, it is the only Thursday of the year that we can totally and completely have a blast.

    If you're reading this article, I'm sure your love for football somehow figures into the equation for why Thanksgiving is so great.

    In the past, we have had to deal with the lowly Lions essentially guaranteeing at least one horrible football game on this holiday. But with a blossoming offense and a revamped defense, the 7-3 Lions fit the bill as the best chance at stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

    Can the Cowboys continue to get the wins, or will they fall at the feet of the suddenly hot Miami Dolphins? Are the Niners as good as their 9-1 record, or will Baltimore slap them in the face with a reality check?

    Here's what to expect from the three marquis matchups we have on our Thanksgiving plate.

Can the Lions Spoil Perfection?

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    12:30 p.m. - Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

    The Green Bay Packers are the best team in football. There is no questioning that. But will they run the table and go 16-0?

    The Detroit Lions are standing in their way, and this Thanksgiving matchup represents the best chance of Aaron Rodgers and his Packers losing a game. Put your upset alert on high.

    When they play their best football, the Lions can get to the quarterback and prevent an opposing offense from marching down the field in rapid succession. That's something no one has been able to do against the hands-down MVP front-runner taking the snaps for Green Bay.

    In order to beat them, you have to slow down the offense. Detroit has the personnel to do so, particularly in their front seven.

    Still, we know that Rodgers and his offensive machine will put up points. An equally important question to consider is whether or not Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense can keep up with Green Bay in a shootout.

    In a nutshell, I believe they are a team that can do it. The Packers do have a few weaknesses, and their secondary is one area that can potentially be exploited. Inexperience coupled with injury just might open the door for a guy named Calvin Johnson.

    Johnson is poised for a breakout game after catching none of Stafford's five touchdown passes last week.

    If the Lions' defensive line can get penetration and if the Stafford-to-Johnson connection is back to its finest form, Detroit might be able to celebrate Turkey Day having beaten the best of the best.

Can Miami Stay Hot?

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    4:15 p.m. - Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys

    Who saw this coming? After starting the season 0-7 and appearing to be on the fast track to locking up Andrew Luck as their franchise quarterback, the Miami Dolphins have rattled off three straight wins in convincing fashion. Does it continue against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving?

    It will take quite the effort. Dallas, too, has won three straight games. They have found a star in DeMarco Murray, and they've always had a star in DeMarcus Ware.

    The Dolphins have been an admirable story the past three weeks, and Reggie Bush has emerged as an impact player once again. Still, those three recent victories have come against the likes of Kansas City, Washington and Buffalo.

    None of those teams have as well-rounded an offense or as polished a pass rush as the Dallas Cowboys have.

    Miami is a team that always puts forth a strong effort. They always give their best shot under head coach Tony Sparano. They should come out strong, and they may even capitalize on some Cowboys' mistakes in the first half.

    Ultimately, though, I wouldn't expect the Dolphins to hang around for too long. The streak ends prior to Thanksgiving dinner, so long as the Cowboys don't choke on their own food.

Are the Niners the Real Deal?

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    8:20 p.m. - San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens

    Holding the second-best record in all of football, the San Francisco 49ers have looked like a far cry from the team that many believed could find themselves in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes by season's end. How will they fare against one of the AFC's elite teams in the Baltimore Ravens?

    Let's just clear one thing up. The Niners are definitely for real.

    This defense has been exceptional all season, and they are anchored by two phenomenal linebackers in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. It has been a defensive unit that clicks as a whole, operates in unison and seemingly never breaks.

    Offensively, they have relied on their consistent running attack to move the chains and wear down defenses. Most notable, though, has been the improvement in the passing attack. It has been remarkable to see Alex Smith play mistake-free football this year, and that is a huge reason that the 49ers are in the position that they find themselves in today.

    Those mistakes will have to stay in the parking lot this week when they enter the stadium in Baltimore.

    While the Ravens have not been the most impressive team at times this year, they are certainly capable of physically dominating a match-up with virtually every team in the NFL. If San Francisco makes mistakes, the Ravens will quickly capitalize on those miscues and send the Niners home with their second loss of the season.

    The Ravens will need to minimize their mistakes, as well. Throughout the course of this season—between these two squads—it has been Baltimore that has made the greater number of errors.

    Look for this game to come down to a critical miscue by one side or the other. It should be a defensive grind, and I expect the Niners to make a statement telling the league they mean business this season.