NFL Thanksgiving game storylines: Can Cowboys hand Panthers their first loss?
2:08 | NFL
NFL Thanksgiving game storylines: Can Cowboys hand Panthers their first loss?
Wednesday November 25th, 2015

Is Thanksgiving turning into an all-NFC affair in the NFL? This will be the second consecutive Turkey Day to feature six NFC teams in action, and that’s the only two times the NFC has dominated the holiday since the 1970 merger created the current conferences.

And another Thanksgiving football item worth noting is that this already will be the 10th season of the NFL’s triple-header schedule on the holiday, making us wonder how we ever celebrated without it before 2006.

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I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day tradition, but I’m sure those people exist. Without further ado, here are my three favorite memories from the games we’ve watched while enjoying those always sizable helpings of food, family and football:

1. Leon Lett plays in the snow in Dallas, circa 1993. The Cowboys had the game against Miami won, then big Leon decided to pick the ball up. Disaster ensued. The Dolphins, with Steve DeBerg at quarterback, beat Jimmy Johnson’s defending Super Bowl champions, 16–14. One footnote: That was the last game the Dolphins won that season, and the last one the Cowboys lost.

2. Bob Griese throws six touchdown passes against St. Louis in 1977, while wearing those hideous glasses. I grew up a Dolphins fan in St. Petersburg, Fla., and I remember that game vividly because of how goofy Griese looked in those monstrous specs. It was one of only two years since 1966 that Dallas didn’t play host to the non-Detroit Thanksgiving Day game (the Cardinals had the game in 1975 and 1977), and the Dolphins rolled 55–14 behind that onslaught of scoring passes.

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3. Clint Longley comes off the bench in Dallas to bomb Washington in 1974. The Cowboys’ little-known and seldom-seen backup replaced a woozy Roger Staubach early in the third quarter and proceeded to lead Dallas to an improbable 24–23 comeback win, hitting Drew Pearson on a 50-yard scoring strike with 35 seconds remaining. Longley, 22, was out of the league in a little more than three years, having ensured his departure from Dallas after landing a blindside punch to Staubach during the Cowboys’ 1976 training camp.

Here’s hoping for any play, outcome or performance that stands the test of time and memory in Thursday’s slate of EaglesLions, Panthers–Cowboys and BearsPackers games.

Last week: 9–5; Season: 101–59 (.631).

Best pick in Week 11: Tie, Detroit 24, Oakland 19 (Actual score: Lions 18–13); Baltimore 23, St. Louis 20 (Actual score: Ravens 16–13).

Worst pick in Week 11: Philadelphia 20, Tampa Bay 17 (Actual score: Bucs 45–17).

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Don’t take the over in this one. The Lions have topped 18 points just twice all season, and are coming off an 18–16 win at Green Bay and an 18–13 victory over the visiting Raiders. And they’re the hot team in this matchup. In Philadelphia, the wheels appear to be coming off, with the Eagles sputtering to just 19 and 17 points in consecutive home-field losses to Miami and Tampa Bay, two long-time stragglers who were not supposed to create problems for Chip Kelly’s scientifically crafted team.

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In his roughly five quarters of action replacing the injured Sam Bradford at quarterback, Mark Sanchez has already tossed four interceptions, and if he starts again Thursday for the Eagles, it’ll mark a third anniversary of sorts of the “Butt Fumble,” the slapstick play that essentially came to define his roller-coaster-like Jets tenure. It was on Thanksgiving night 2012, in a 49–19 loss to the Patriots, that Sanchez entered into the Sports Blooper Hall of Fame, and I’m sure we all recall exactly where we were when that memorable moment unfolded.

After losing 11 times in 12 years on Thanksgiving from 2001 to 2012, Detroit is actually on a two-game winning streak on the holiday, routing the Packers and Bears the past two years. The Lions don’t have as much to play for as they did in those seasons, but at least they’re responding to the recent coaching and front office changes in the organization and making a decent run at saving head coach Jim Caldwell’s job. At least I think that’s what they’re doing. These are the Lions, and they move in mysterious ways.

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Yes, Tony Romo is back and the Cowboys scraped out a win at Miami, proving that Dallas isn’t dead and buried in the woeful NFC East. But don’t go printing playoff tickets just yet, Jerry, because your ’Boys are simply horrible at home. Dallas has lost four in a row at AT&T Stadium, is 2–7 in its past nine regular-season home games and has gone just 5–10 in its own stadium since a 2013 Thanksgiving Day victory over Oakland. And Romo certainly wasn’t missing for all those games.

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Dallas is 3–3 overall on Thanksgiving since its new stadium opened in 2009, but those wins have come against the Raiders (twice) and Dolphins, two perennial losers. Whenever the Cowboys have faced a good team on Thanksgiving of late, they’ve gotten beat, losing by 23 points to Philadelphia last year, 38–31 to a Washington team that was rolling to a division title in 2012 and 30–27 to the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in 2010. And this just in: Carolina is pretty good, with that 10–0 record and 14 consecutive regular-season wins to back it up.

The Cam Newton-led Panthers have morphed into an offensive machine, averaging 34.3 points in their past four games, and I can’t see Dallas matching that kind of output against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Cowboys will keep it interesting and give Carolina its first real scare since an overtime win over the Colts in Week 8, but I’m not buying the Romo-fixes-everything theory in Dallas.

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The Packers got their act together in the nick of time on Sunday in Minneapolis, while the Bears let a winnable game slip away at home against Denver, with Jay Cutler reverting back to his critical turnover issues of recent seasons, throwing an interception and losing a fumble in the fourth quarter. So with the NFC North standings returning to a little more familiar look this week, it’s impossible not to foresee a fairly comfortable win for the Packers, who have captured 13 of 16 meetings with Chicago since Aaron Rodgers took over as Green Bay’s starting quarterback in 2008.

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Rodgers usually enjoys a field day picking apart the Bears’ defense, and he’ll be extra hyped for a big game with Lambeau Field poised to welcome back Brett Favre at halftime for his jersey retirement ceremony. That’s a moment that has been years in the making, but the old wounds have largely healed, and the Packers know how to do it right when it comes to saluting their history. After a loss at home to Detroit and a win on the road in Minnesota, Green Bay will continue its four-game run of division games (at Detroit next Thursday night) with another beatdown of the Bears.

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