Even the players will be in their easy chairs.
‚I remember watching Thanksgiving games as a kid,” says Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. ‚Even in high school and college, and now in the NFL, you practice, you come home and you watch Thanksgiving football.”
That active youth lifestyle will be an emphasis by the NFL in its three Thanksgiving games. The nationally televised contests will include PSAs on the NFL’s ‚PLAY 60” campaign, a health and fitness effort aimed at getting kids to be active for at least 60 minutes a day. Local youth teams will lead the home clubs onto the field in ‚PLAY 60” jerseys.
Then it’s Turkey Day NFL football, with playoff scenarios involved:
TENNESSEE TITANS at DETROIT LIONS
Fans will see two of the top rookie rushers in the league in Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (second among rookie RBs with 833 yards) and Detroit’s Kevin Smith (fourth with 599 yards). Smith has consecutive games of 96, 112 and 86 yards. The 10-1 Titans are smarting from their first loss to the Jets last week. ‚It was a great run,” says Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher. ‚We’ve got to win our next game.” With a win and an Indianapolis loss, the Titans take the AFC South.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS at DALLAS COWBOYS
The final Thanksgiving game in Texas Stadium, where some of the most memorable NFL games on the holiday have been played (Cowboys Thanksgiving record in the stadium: 21-14). ‚Boys look like they’ve regained their early-season swagger. Seahawks will have to bottle up WR Terrell Owens, who comes off his second-best career yardage day – 213 yards on seven catches. ‚He’s still got it,” says Cowboys QB Tony Romo.
ARIZONA CARDINALS at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES:
The QBs are riled! And that’s not good for the DBs. The Cards‘ Kurt Warner, after Arizona lost to the Giants on Sunday, says ‚we can play with anybody if we eliminate the mistakes.” A win and the Cards capture the NFC West. QB Donovan Mc Nabb, benched for the first time in his career Sunday, is still the starter. ‚Sometimes you have to step back to step forward in a positive way, and Donovan will do that,” says Eagles coach Andy Reid.
The rest of the Thanksgiving weekend schedule? It’s packed with key games. Some of them:
NEW YORK GIANTS (10-1) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-4)
A lot has happened since September!
Mostly good things. In that first game of the ’08 season on that steamy September 4 Thursday night, the Giants‘ defense pretty well handled the Redskins, limiting them to 209 total yards and only three of 13 third-down conversions in the NFL head-coaching debut of Washington’s Jim Zorn.
Now, two months later, both teams are in good stead. The Giants tie Tennessee for the best record in the league (10-1). The Redskins are tied for second in the NFC East with Dallas.
In the late November cold of FedEx Field, the run game could play a big part. The Giants rank first in NFL rushing and
800 POINTS!: A total of 837 points — more than 50 points per game (52.3) – were scored in the 16 games of Week 12, the first 800-point weekend in NFL history.
hope to get the league average-per-rush leader (5.4) Brandon Jacobs (knee) back. The Redskins sit third in the league in the category, thanks primarily to NFL rushing leader Clinton Portis (1,206 yards). Thing is, these two units will go against top-10 rush defenses (Giants, No. 6; Redskins, No. 7).
NFC Feast: The Giants and Redskins play in the winningest NFL division, the NFC East, with a .670 winning percentage.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-3) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-4)
It’s payback…it’s protection…it’s going for the record.
This game has a lot of scenarios.
First off, the AFC North-leading Steelers want revenge for a 34-13 pasting by the Patriots a year ago in New England when Tom Brady threw for 399 yards and WR Randy Moss posted seven catches for 135 yards.
But things, of course, have changed in a year. Now Matt Cassel’s at QB for the Patriots and in each of his last two games has thrown for 400 yards (one more than Brady has in his career). Cassel can set the NFL consecutive record in the category with another 400-yarder this Sunday. Thing is, he goes against the toughest defense in the NFL that leads the league in overall, passing and rushing defense.
And he also faces marauding LBs James Harrison (12.0 sacks) and La Marr Woodley (10.5), the only two players from the same team in the top five in NFL sacks. Cassel, who played mostly out of the shotgun last week against Miami, has been protected well recently by his OL, going down only six times in the last four games.
CHICAGO BEARS (6-5) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-5)
A classic NFC North battle for first?
Well, yes, it is a fight for first place in the division, but the last time these two met (October 19), they set the series record for most points in a game (89 in a 48-41 Bears win). The teams totaled 766 yards. So much for the ‚black-and-blue.”
Of course, with the two main running backs the teams boast, you could expect a grind-it-out game. The Vikes‘ second-year man, Adrian Peterson, is second in the league in rushing with 1,180 yards. Three spots behind him is the NFL’s leading rookie rusher, Chicago’s Matt Forté, with 909 yards. Forté is on pace (1,322 yards) to break the Bears‘ rookie rushing record of 1,183 yards set by Anthony Thomas in 2001.
It won’t be easy to add to those numbers Sunday night. Forté confronts the league’s second-toughest rush unit and Peterson the fifth stingiest.
It’s not a playoff-scenario game, but it will sure seem like one. ‚You could say this is the biggest game we’ve had in the division in a long time,” says Bears head coach Lovie Smith. ‚They’re a good football team. They’ve been playing well, especially here of late. We know them well. They know us well. Should be a heck of a game.”
Nostalgia time: With a win, the Bears will register their 700th franchise victory (regular and postseason), the most in NFL history…the Vikings will wear their classic purple jerseys of the 1960-70s.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-7) at HOUSTON TEXANS (4-7)
The Texans play their first Monday night game ever against a Jaguars team that is 7-4 lifetime on the night. ‚Everybody in the NFL will tell you Monday night is something they look forward to,” says Houston coach Gary Kubiak. ‚You play in front of your peers. It will be exciting for Houston. We play a team that gives us fits, so we have to be ready to go.”
The AFC South-rival Jaguars certainly gave the Texans – who have won seven of their past eight at home – a fit on September 28 when they topped them 30-27 in OT on a field goal set up by two completions by QB David Garrard. Monday night viewers should watch for some players who do not get national attention such as tough Texans RB Steve Slaton, the NFL’s No. 3 rookie rusher (774 yards) who is only 5-9 and 201 pounds (‚He does a great job of staying low,” says Texans QB Sage Rosenfels)…Houston WR Andre Johnson, who leads the league in catches (81) and receiving yards (1,071) even though he’s constantly schemed against…and Jaguars second-year LB Justin Durant, who ‚is in the Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay) mold,” says FOX analyst John Lynch.
Start of something big: Last Monday night game in Houston was on November 21, 1994 (Giants 13, Oilers 10), the debut of Houston’s interim head coach Jeff Fisher — now the NFL’s longest-serving head coach.