Football is one of the longest-standing Thanksgiving traditions in many households. In between an over-hyped parade and a gluttonous diner with angry relatives, we get to punctuate the year by watching John Madden reward a bunch of hard-working football players with a freaky six-legged turkey. Or at least, that’s how it used to be. But while the Turkey Leg Award might no longer exist (nor does, hopefully, the Turducken Award), watching football on Thanksgiving is a tradition that precedes John Madden by quite some time and will likely live on for as long as the sport is played. So in the spirit of tradition, we’d like to offer you previews for each of the three 2015 Thanksgiving football games we’re currently looking forward to watching with our closest friends and family members.
As is the case every year, the 2015 Thanksgiving football schedule will include home games at Detroit (a tradition since 1934) and Dallas (a tradition since 1966). These two teams will be playing Philadelphia and Carolina, respectively. Capping off the 2015 Thanksgiving football schedule as this year’s rotating host team will be Green Bay, as they gear up to face Chicago. The result of this schedule is that the NFC will be represented by three teams from the NFC North, two teams from the NFC East, and one team from the NFC South. We covered all of these teams in our recent midseason report, but we’ll try and present you with some new information as we prepare you for a fun-filled day of feasting and football.
And before we forget, Happy Thanksgiving!
12:30AM EST – Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
Thursday’s schedule begins with Detroit’s home game, pitting the Lions against the Philadelphia Eagles for a match-up that promises little excitement outside of the chance to see which team gives the worse performance. With the Eagles currently third in the NFC East with a 4-6 record while the Lions are 3-7 and dead last in the NFC North, the results of this game aren’t about to strengthen anyone’s playoff bid by a whole lot.
It would be easy to favor the Eagles in this game for a number of reasons. Aside from their slightly better record, there’s also the fact that they’re mostly undefeated on Thanksgiving. That “mostly” comes from an issue regarding Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision to change the date of Thanksgiving in 1939. FDR decided that having it on the fourth Thursday of the month instead of the last Thursday (as it had been since the 1800s) would boost retail sales by leaving more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Eagles won their Thanksgiving match-up that year, but they lost on the last Thursday of the month the following year. Not only did they lose, but they were shut out. This is important to note, as Pennsylvania decided to go back to the old Thanksgiving date that year. Even so, a 5-1 record for Thanksgiving isn’t bad, especially when it would still leave them with a cumulative score of 137-51 across all six games.
The major issue facing the Eagles at the moment is that they have pretty much no idea who their starting quarterback is going to be. Or if they do know, they’re doing a stellar job at keeping it quiet. Sam Bradford experienced mild symptoms of memory loss after suffering a concussion in his last game. And while he’s cleared concussion protocol, his shoulder might still be a bit too sore for him to deliver much of a performance. There’s a good chance that he’ll be replaced by Mark Sanchez, but Sanchez claims he has no idea if he’ll be starting on Thursday or not. It could be a ruse to keep Detroit in the dark, but it’s not much of one considering that Bradford and Sanchez have virtually the same QB ratings and touchdown-to-interception ratios as starters for Philly. Sanchez actually has slightly higher stats, but the difference is negligible. He also has twenty more passing yards per game, but that’s really not a significant improvement over Bradford.
The biggest 2015 Thanksgiving football news to come out of Detroit is that CB Darius Slay can’t stand turkey. It’s a disease with which all Detroit corners seem to be afflicted, seeing as Nevin Lawson can’t stand the bird either, and Quandre Diggs rejects all Thanksgiving food in favor of Cajun food. We like Cajun food, but we do have to worry about the Lions and their lack of interest in traditional Turkey Day feasting. It’s a good thing there’s no more Turkey Leg Award, because we can’t see this year’s Lions trying too hard to win one. DE Darryl Tapp is the one guy with his head on straight, enjoying turkey as long as it’s deep-fried.
On a much more serious note, we really don’t love Detroit’s chances in this game. Not that everyone agrees with us. Bleacher Report points out that the Vegas lines are a bit skewed, neglecting to give the Lions extra points for home-field advantage. They also believe that Philly’s defense is faltering (which is true) and that Detroit has a stronger secondary (which is also true). But while turkey-haters Slay, Lawson and Diggs have done an excellent job of shutting down their opponents, Detroit’s two recent wins could’ve been turned over on a single possession. Their offensive showing has been weak, and we don’t think Philly will have too much trouble overcoming it.
This is something of an even game, but it’s just too easy to lean toward the Eagles on this one. Chalk bettors shouldn’t even give Detroit a second glance.
4:30PM EST – Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys
This is one that a lot of people are looking forward to, and we won’t be surprised if it gets higher ratings than any other game on the 2015 Thanksgiving football schedule. The Panthers are 10-0 and at the top of the NFC South. The Cowboys are only 3-7 and dead last in the NFC East, but that’s with one important distinction—in games for which Tony Romo has played quarterback, they’re currently undefeated.
In some ways, that’s not really saying much. It’s only three wins, right? And no matter how many wins they had, it’s hard to make a team look good when they’ve only just come back from a seven-game losing stream. Then, you have to consider the fact that Romo’s often not too good in the clutch. He’s been out since Game 2, so it’s hard to tell what effect that will have on him. He’ll either play the tail end of the season with the strengths he normally displays at the beginning, or he’ll falter like he usually does and let the Cowboys down when they need him most.
But regardless of how Romo plays out the rest of the season, Vegas has put Dallas as 1-point favorites over Carolina. Coach Jason Garrett told Fox Sports that having Romo back helps to “spread the burden” by taking some pressure off of everyone else. And even when Romo was something of a laughingstock, he has previously demonstrated an ability to take down undefeated teams. He’s beaten two 9-0 teams, one during the fourth start of his career and one in 2009 when the Cowboys weren’t in half as decent shape as they’re in now. Not only can he help the Cowboys beat Carolina, but he can keep winning and bring the Cowboys to the playoffs.
Of course, not everyone is so interested in Romo right now. The main thing on some people’s minds when it comes to the Cowboys is the question of why their Color Rush uniforms for this Thursday have almost no color in them. We aren’t saying they’re bad uniforms, because they’re not…they’re actually pretty nifty. And the Cowboys have often been fans of wearing white for home games, as odd as that is. But the whole point of the Color Rush uniforms is that they’re supposed to look a little different. These don’t. Carolina’s uniforms are at least a nice light blue, but we’d have figured Dallas would be wearing a much darker shade of the same. Either way, there are some who believe that neither team should be wearing Color Rush uniforms for Thanksgiving, even if they have been a staple of Thursday Night Football over the past few weeks. And while they won’t ruin a game for colorblind viewers (which happened with the green and red uniforms worn in the Buffalo Bills/New York Jets game two weeks back), they’re still a strange distraction from a game that should be hyped for entirely different reasons.
Even though we have some doubts about Carolina’s chances in this game, their uniforms aren’t the only colorful thing about them. As much as we can say for Tony Romo as a quarterback, there’s also a lot to be said for Cam Newton. While Newton’s somehow been drawing a lot of criticism in what has so far been an undefeated season, a lot of that criticism seems to be generated by people who have something against him for his ego. Let’s face it, touchdown dances are annoying and people hate football players in flashy clothes because they remind us how little we make for our own hard work. But on the field, Newton is one heck of a hard worker, and his game as actually been improving as of late. We mentioned some concerns about their defense in our midseason report, but their game against Dallas isn’t going to be a highly defensive one. This is a battle between two teams with great offensive capabilities under the leadership of talented quarterbacks. It’s going to be a fun game to watch.
Our guess is that Dallas is going to win this one, but it might not be for a lot. So if you’re betting the spread, expect very slim chances of a push.
8:30PM EST – Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
The final game on the 2015 Thanksgiving football schedule is between Chicago, currently 4-6 and third in the NFC North, and division leaders Green Bay, who are currently 7-3 after only winning a single game since their undefeated season was halted in its tracks. Seeing as this is one of the oldest rivalries in the NFL, it’s safe to say that both teams will be giving it their all in this one.
The fact that Green Bay suffered a streak of three losses as soon as their winning streak ended may have some cheeseheads a bit worried. But we should note that only one of those losses was suffered at Lambeau Field, and they could have turned it around with just a single touchdown. In short, their home-field advantage is still fairly intact. It’s also important that the pressure of that three-loss streak was the very motivation that inspired the Packers to turn things around. In their first win in four games, RB Eddie Lacy ran 22 times for 100 yards and WR James Jones caught six times for 109 yards and one touchdown. Clay Matthews also demonstrated his strength as a linebacker, netting six tackles. In fact, both offense and defense as a whole were pretty strong, managing to net 30 points and six sacks over the course of a game that most people expected them to lose. And considering their opponents in the 30-13 win were fierce rivals the Minnesota Vikings, the victory must have been a sweet one.
So Green Bay just notched a victory in a rivalry they’ve had since 1961, and they’re moving on to face a team they’ve rivaled since forty years before that. Since the start of their rivalry in 1921, the Bears have managed 93 wins while the Packers have only managed 92. If Green Bay wins, they’ll officially be tied. For both teams, this game is about tradition. Although the sense of nostalgia is going to be a bit stronger for Green Bay, since former quarterback Brett Favre is returning to see his jersey retired. Even viewers who don’t particularly root for either team should be able to appreciate the sentiment of this game.
While Green Bay might be experiencing a return to form, Chicago is gaining their own edge as RB Matt Forte returns from a knee injury that kept him out of the last three games. Forte has more yards from scrimmage (12,198) than any other back in the NFL, and he’s managed to gain 150 yards from scrimmage in 25 separate games. And while Chicago may have suffered a disappointing 23-31 loss in their season opening home game against the Packers, Forte racked up 141 yards and a touchdown in that same game. With Forte back on the field, the Bears have definitely got some added offensive power on their side.
Unfortunately, Forte won’t be enough to save the Bears on his own. Jeff Dickerson, ESPN’s Bears reporter, notes that Chicago has been “consistently average” for the bulk of the season. They specifically aren’t doing too well in the red zone. They did have a recent win where they racked up a total of 37 points, but their highest-scoring win before that was only 22 points. It’s also worth noting that each of their first three wins could have been turned around with a single field goal by the other team. This indicates some problems with their defense, but they do appear to have been working on that. They’re starting to get more sacks, and Dickerson doesn’t see Packers QB Aaron Rodgers throwing too many touchdown passes in the first half of this 2015 Thanksgiving match-up. Either way, since this is the first time the 94-year rivals have ever played a Turkey Day match against each other, it’s going to make history for one team or the other.
We’re leaning toward Green Bay on this one, but rivalry games can bring the best out of some teams. Chicago has the potential to turn this game into an upset. You’ll want to fight off that tryptophan-induced coma (which should be easy, since it doesn’t actually exist) and stay awake for what we can only hope turns out to be a real nail-biter.