After losing their lead against the Packers
, the Lions
have no more room for error. (MSA/Icon SMI)
If you were to put your foot down and argue that Thanksgiving is the best of all holidays, I would have a hard time proving you wrong. What's not to like? A day off work, carte blanche to stuff your face, quality time with family (though, granted, that last one might be a negative for some).
Oh yea, and football. All day.
This year's Thanksgiving Day slate (Houston at Detroit, Washington at Dallas, New England at the Jets) has the potential to be thoroughly entertaining -- and all three games are on network TV, a bonus for those without the NFL Network.
The playoff implications are heavy on Sunday and Monday, as well, a mixture of teams trying to put away division titles and those clinging to life in the race.
Which teams are most in need of a victory? We take a look in this special, Thanksgiving-themed version of the Must-Win Watch:
• Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4, at Cleveland); Indianapolis Colts (6-4, vs. Buffalo): The Steelers and Colts find themselves in the same boat -- or, at least, matching boats headed in the same direction. They both lost last week, Pittsburgh to Baltimore and Indianapolis to New England, meaning that a division title might be a pipe dream.
However, the Steelers and Colts still hold two-game edges on the rest of the field in the AFC wild-card race. Pittsburgh might be in a tougher spot Sunday, on the road with its third-string QB (Charlie Batch) against a scrappy Cleveland team. Losing is not ideal, for the Steelers or the Colts, but the fallout of such an outcome would not be devastating. Holiday desperation level: "Guess I'll have to go back for seconds, I ran out of room on my plate."
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4, vs. Atlanta): Four straight wins has Tampa Bay in the heart of playoff contention, but a trying finish awaits (at Denver, Philadelphia, at New Orleans, St. Louis, at Atlanta). Still, the fact that the Buccaneers have two games left with the Falcons -- who lead them by three games in the NFC South -- means that the division remains up for grabs, at least for the moment.
Even if the division slips away, it's imperative for the Bucs that they hold serve at home over the final six weeks. Holiday desperation level: "We only have pumpkin and apple pies. The store was out of cherry."
• Minnesota Vikings (6-4, at Chicago): The Bears could use a win, too, following back-to-back losses. And these two teams meet again in two weeks, in Minnesota.
The Bears, though, still have a 7-3 record; Minnesota sits a game behind them and the Packers in the NFC North, right on the edge of the wild-card race. With two games left against Green Bay plus those two against Chicago, the Vikings control their destiny -- but only if they get the job done Sunday. Holiday desperation level: "You'll have to sit at the kids' table, there isn't any room left at the adults' table."
• New Orleans Saints (5-5, vs. San Francisco): Kudos to the Saints for leaving that 0-4 start behind them to get back to .500. Their real challenge begins now.
The Saints close with this: San Francisco, at Atlanta, at the Giants, Tampa Bay, at Dallas, Carolina. Are there four or five wins in there, which would give New Orleans a shot at the playoffs? Holiday desperation level: "Shoot, we forgot the crispy onions for the top of the green bean casserole."
• Cincinnati Bengals (5-5, vs. Oakland): Two straight impressive performances in blowout wins over the Giants and Chiefs brought the Bengals back to life. They should stretch their run to three Sunday against the crumbling Raiders. A loss would stand as a major setback, what with road trips to San Diego, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh looming, plus home games against Dallas and Baltimore. Holiday desperation level: "We couldn't find fresh cranberries, so we grabbed a can of cranberry sauce."
• Washington Redskins (4-6, at Cowboys): Two of the road teams Thursday, Houston and New England, sit cozily atop their divisions -- the Texans living in such luxury that they can be the first team to clinch a playoff spot, with some substantial help this week.
The third team leaving home on Thanksgiving, Washington, is not living life so easily. The Redskins did stay in the hunt with a clutch win over Philadelphia last week and could climb into second place in the East with an upset victory in Dallas. Given that they host the Giants in Week 13, that would set the table for some excitement in the nation's capital.
The NFC East winner might finish 9-7 -- that's the record the Giants won the division with in 2011. First thing's first for the Redskins, though. Can they get a win in Texas? Holiday desperation level: "Beer's tapped, but there are some wine coolers in the garage."
• Thanksgiving Day home teams (Detroit, Jets, Dallas): The situation is less dire for the Cowboys (5-5, one game back in the NFC East) than it is for the Lions and Jets (both 4-6). Both of those teams face three-game climbs in their respective divisions -- Detroit sits in last in the NFC North; the Jets technically in last, too, tied with Buffalo and Miami for second.
Dallas still has another game with its holiday foe, Washington. But having already completed their season series with the first-place Giants, the Cowboys have very little room for error.
As mentioned above, it is very possible that at least one 9-7 team sneaks into the playoffs, but the Lions and Jets have to approach Thursday -- and every game beyond -- as a do-or-die situation. A Jets win also would leave the door ever-so-slightly cracked in the AFC East. A loss and ... well, there won't be much left to play for but pride. Holiday desperation level: "Oh no! We're out of stuffing and mashed potatoes!"
• All other six-loss teams (Arizona, St. Louis, Tennessee, San Diego, Miami, Buffalo): Miami and Buffalo are in the same spot as the Jets, three back of the Patriots in the AFC East and two out of a wild-card spot. Neither has an easy task this week -- Miami hosts 6-4 Seattle, while the Bills visit Indianapolis.
St. Louis is a six-loss team in name only, the Rams' Week 10 tie meaning that the best record they can reach is 9-6-1. That mark would beat out any 9-7 teams ... but would not help against 10-6 squad. The Cardinals' situation is not much better at 4-6, considering their six-game skid and unsettled QB situation. The two NFC West foes meet in Arizona, so someone probably will have a seventh loss (or a useless tie).
Both Tennessee and San Diego can forget about their respective division races. Even wild-card contention seems far-fetched, but the Titans have a winnable game in Jacksonville this week, and San Diego will be hosting a beat-up Baltimore team.
The odds are against everyone here. Holiday desperation level:
"The turkey is on fire."