Penthouse Picks

NFL Watch List Week 12


You’ve probably noticed that the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys are Thanksgiving Day fixtures on the order of turkey and cranberry sauce. The Lions have taken the field every Thanksgiving Day since 1934, and the Cowboys have been suiting up on Turkey Day every year (except two) since 1966.

How, you may wonder, did these traditions start? Are they the stuff of NFL folklore? Was Jim Thorpe or Curly Lambeau involved? Were there raccoon coats, straw boaters, and stogies? No, not really. Both traditions essentially began as marketing gimmicks.

The Lions launched their customary Thanksgiving game at the behest of owner George A. Richards, who was looking to move his club out of the shadow of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, which dominated the city’s sports scene at the time. He hit upon the idea of a Thanksgiving Day game and, as the owner of a large radio station in town, convinced NBC to broadcast it on 94 stations across the country.

This publicity, and the fact that the inaugural tilt was a quality matchup between the first-place Chicago Bears and the second-place Lions, made the game a roaring success. The Lions sold out their stadium, and even though they lost the game, the tradition took root; they’ve been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

The NFL somewhat tentatively presented the Cowboys an opportunity to play on Thanksgiving in ’66. The league was skeptical that the people of Texas would turn up at the Cotton Bowl on a national holiday, but Dallas general manager Tex Schramm, the man who created the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, knew a marketing opportunity when he saw one. And he saw a chance at national exposure and the first step toward making the Cowboys America’s Team. He agreed to the game, 80,259 fans showed up, Dallas beat Cleveland 26–14, and the league’s second Thanksgiving Day tradition was in place.

Since then, the NFL added a third game with rotating opponents because hey, why not have nine or ten hours of football simmering in the background while you sink into a tryptophan-induced slumber?

Here’s the Turkey Day lineup, and a couple of other choice cuts from Week 12.

Thursday, November 26

Philadelphia (4-6) at Detroit (3-7)

Believe it or not, the Eagles are right in the thick of things in the victory-challenged NFC East. They’re tied with Washington for second place and just a game behind the first-place Giants. This one means a lot to them. The Lions, on the other hand, will be playing for pride—and Thanksgiving Day tradition.

Carolina (10-0) at Dallas (3-7)

Don’t let the records fool you: This one might just be a decent game. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo returned to the team last week after missing seven games to injury, and promptly helped break a seven-game losing streak. They’re not out of the playoff race, and should be fired up to show they’re playoff-worthy against the best team in the NFC.

Chicago (4-6) at Green Bay (7-3)

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers halted a three-game skid with a big win at Minnesota last week. The Vikings have a tricky game this week at Atlanta (6-4), potentially opening the door for the Pack to reclaim the NFC North lead with a win over archrivals Chicago.

Sunday, November 29

Pittsburgh (6-4) at Seattle (5-5)

Here’s a matchup of former Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks, one chaste, one decidedly unchaste, whose teams are both battling for their playoff lives.

New England (10-0) at Denver (8-2)

The Patriots lost receiver Julian Edelman to a broken foot on November 15, and last week Danny Amendola, who’d been stepping up well in Edelman’s absence, left their win over Buffalo with an injured knee. He was listed as week-to-week as of this writing. Will these setbacks open the door for the Broncos to knock New England from the ranks of the unbeaten? Probably not, but it should be entertaining to watch Denver and young QB Brock Osweiler, last week’s AFC Player of the Week, give it a shot.