Can you believe it’s Thanksgiving?
Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather, or the absence of NBA games that were supposed to have already started, or that I haven’t heard a whole lot about this year’s Black Friday mega-deals, but it sure seems like Turkey Day snuck up on me this year.
Of course, you are probably almost as excited about watching an entire day of football as you are enjoying the best (and likely biggest) meal of the whole year and the company of loved ones.
Like cooking out and baseball on July 4th, and college football (and hopefully not too much of a hangover) on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and NFL football combine to make one of the greatest days of the year for sports fans.
This might be the best Thanksgiving football schedule that I can remember.
Packers @ Lions 12:30p.m. TV: Fox
NFL football on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit is a tradition that goes all the way back to the 1930s, but over the last decade the Lions have been out of the postseason race by Turkey Day.
This year is a little different.
The much-improved Detroit Lions will take on the red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the first of three exciting games scheduled on Thanksgiving Day.
Adding to the excitement of this game, the Packers come to Detroit as NFL’s only undefeated team left in the 2011 season, and they are the first unbeaten team to play on Thanksgiving in 50 years.
But this game will be no cake walk for the Pack.
This game is one of the most anticipated games in Detroit Lions football history in almost a decade, and the Lions come into this big Week 12 game with confidence.
Last year the Lions beat the Packers at Ford Field, after knocking QB Aaron Rodgers out of the game early. You can bet Lions DT Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit defense will be up for the challenge.
The pick: Lions in a shootout 37-34
Dolphins @ Cowboys 4:15p.m. TV: CBS
Just a few weeks ago, this game might have seemed like a dud, but the Dolphins have surged to 3 straight victories, including this past week’s 35-8 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills.
Once considered the frontrunners in the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes, the Dolphins are showing signs of life and competing every week behind quarterback Matt Moore and Reggie Bush, who is starting to resemble the Reggie Bush of years past.
Dallas comes in at 6-4 and tied for the NFC East lead. Say what you will about the Cowboys’ postseason failures and Tony Romo’s lack of clutch play, the fact is that Romo and his team are dominant in November. In November, as a starter, Romo is 18-2 with 49 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions in his career.
The Dolphins are going to come back to earth sometime, and I expect that to be now. On a short week, traveling to Dallas, Miami will struggle in all phases, and I see Dallas rolling over them and staying atop the NFC East.
The pick: Cowboys 27-16
49ers @ Ravens 8:20p.m. TV:NFL Network
Yours truly will have a first-hand front row seat for this one. The Brothers Harbaugh square off against one another for the first time as NFL head coaches, with Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, a surprising 9-1 and the runaway leader of the NFC West traveling to face John Harbaugh’s Ravens, who are tied for the AFC North lead after beating the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
These teams are built similarly, with punishing defenses (the 49ers are 1st against the run, the Ravens are 3rd) and elite, multi-purpose running backs (Frank Gore and Ray Rice). The winner of this game will likely be the team who is able to have more success running against the other’s front 7.
Of concern for the Ravens is getting Rice consistent touches. This season, Rice has averaged just over 14 carries per game, which for a star back is not nearly enough. He is a valuable part of the receiving game too, with 51 receptions, but the Ravens need to find a way to establish Rice early and often.
The Ravens’ game plan lately has been a pass-heavy attack, but Joe Flacco is not Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees; he is not the type of quarterback who can give his team the best chance to win by consistently throwing over 35 times per game.
I think the 49ers will be able to run on Baltimore, especially if Ray Lewis were to miss the game (he is questionable currently with a toe injury that forced him to miss the Cincinnati game). As long as Alex Smith is able to play conservative, mistake-free football like he has done in the first 10 games this year, I think the 49ers win.
However, I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Alex Smith will be able to play conservative, mistake-free football for four quarters against the Ravens defense. Ray Lewis’ playing status changes things, but it doesn’t change the fact that Alex Smith must avoid the big mistake. I think the 49ers will give the Ravens all they can handle but in the end, it’s the Raven defense that makes the big play to gain victory.
The pick: 17-13 Ravens