Decision time: Dishes to savor, sides to forget on Turkey Day
Turkey Day is almost here and, thankfully, there are three NFL games on the menu. That should make it easier for you to a) ignore the parade, b) avoid family conversations, c) hide from bad cooking or d) skip the annual tackle football game with your out-of-shape friends.
First, let's look back at the most memorable Thanksgiving performances:
1925 -- Chicago Cardinals 0, Chicago Bears, 0: No fantasy points to distribute here, except to the defenses, in this scoreless tie between crosstown rivals at Wrigley Field. TV ratings must have been through the roof.
1929 -- Chicago Cardinals 40, Chicago Bears 6: Cardinals fullback Ernie Nevers was the player to own in this game, rushing for six touchdowns (still an NFL single-game record). Take notes Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.
1976 -- Detroit Lions 27, Buffalo Bills 14: Back when O.J. Simpson was just a football player, the Buffalo running back scampered for a then-NFL record 273 yards -- in a losing effort. That sounds about right for the unfortunate Bills.
1993 -- Miami Dolphins 16, Dallas Cowboys 14: Ten months after his showboating fumble in the Super Bowl, Dallas defensive tackle Leon Lett cemented his brain fart legacy. With the game seemingly over following the Cowboys' block of a field-goal attempt with 15 seconds remaining, Lett revived the dead ball by sliding into it, allowing the Dolphins to recover it with three seconds remaining. Miami used the mulligan to kick a 20-yard game-winning field goal.
1998 -- Minnesota Vikings 46, Dallas Cowboys 36: In Randy Moss' first stint with the Vikings, the rookie caught three passes against the Cowboys, all for touchdowns, and finished with 163 receiving yards. Too bad we won't see Moss on Turkey Day this year since he flew south to Tennessee for the winter.
What can we expect this Thanksgiving? We'll see three really good teams against three really bad teams as each matchup contains a perfect symmetry of mirrored records. Here's a breakdown of the fantasy implications, including those worth starting (not-so-cleverly called Pilgrims) and those worth benching (Turkeys, of course):
Tom Brady was efficient (19-for-25, 186 passing yards and two scores) in Sunday's win over the rival Colts. He'll carve up an average Lions defense quickly so he can get home to dinner with Gisele and Baby Ben. That bodes well for his most reliable targets, WR Wes Welker and WR Deion Branch. The Patriots' tight ends take turns each week finding the end zone, so good luck picking a winner. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis has established himself as the lead Patriots back the past two games (averaging 4.7 yards on 39 carries) and is a solid start in flex positions. RB/WR Danny Woodhead, "The Little Engine That Could", totaled 91 yards and a score against the Colts, but he's not consistent enough to start.
There are fantasy points to be had with the Lions despite their record. WR Calvin Johnson, a must-start each week, has 10 TDs this year. He has shown a nice rapport with QB Shaun Hill, who is averaging 306 passing yards in two games since taking over for injured starter QB Matthew Stafford. The Patriots have allowed a juicy 398.4 passing yards per game this season, so get WR Nate Burleson and TE Brandon Pettigrew into your lineups. But I would abandon the Detroit running game by sitting a banged up RB Jahvid Best (turf toe) and his ho-hum replacement RB Maurice Morris.
The Cowboys have responded well to Wade Philips' firing with back-to-back wins, and despite having no shot at the playoffs, they could give the Super Bowl champs a decent fight. Don't count on a huge game from their resurrected QB Jon Kitna, however, as the Saints defense has allowed only 186.3 passing yards per game this season. WR Dez Bryant has been Kitna's preferred target and is worth a start while WR Miles Austin is making the most of his limited opportunities with two catches for two scores against Detroit on Sunday (and if you believe in Thanksgiving traditions, Austin had seven catches for 145 yards and a score last year against the Raiders). RB Felix Jones has been more involved of late but he still doesn't have a rushing TD this year and he is nursing a bruised hip. TE Jason Witten won't reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark again this season but he's a solid start each week.
On the Saints side, QB Drew Brees had his best game of the year Sunday against Seattle with 382 yards and four TDs. Two of them went to WR Marques Colston, the only consistent receiver in New Orleans this season. WR Robert Meachem enticed fantasy owners again with two scores of his own, but he'll likely return to obscurity this week. Same story goes for WR Lance Moore and WR Devery Henderson. The Saints' running game is a mishmash of hobbled RB Reggie Bush (fractured fibula, missed eight games) and RB Pierre Thomas (torn ankle tendon, seven games). RB Chris Ivory made a case to keep the starting role with 99 rushing yards and a score on Sunday. He'll have value if Thomas and Bush remain injured.
The Bengals will try to recover from Sunday's second-half collapse to the lowly Bills that ended in a 49-31 loss. QB Carson Palmer threw a pair of TD passes again, one each to WR Chad Ochocinco and WR Terrell Owens, but Palmer was also picked off twice. Expect "Team TOcho" to celebrate TD catches Thursday in a primetime matchup against Jets cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Darelle Revis. Despite its reputation, New York has allowed a healthy 14 passing TDs this season. RB Cedric Benson finally had an impact Sunday with 124 rushing yards and a score, though his costly fumble led to a Buffalo touchdown. He'll likely struggle against the Jets rush defense, which is allowing only 90.3 yards per game this season including only six rushing touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Jets have had lady luck on their side. Sanchez led another comeback effort Sunday against Houston while WR Santonio Holmes again played the hero (seven catches for 126 yards and two scores, including the game winner). WR Braylon Edwards also chipped in with 86 yards and a touchdown. RB Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson shared carries fairly evenly but amassed only 78 total rushing yards, though Tomlinson had a bigger impact as a receiver with seven catches for 71 yards. TE Dustin Keller has disappeared of late (five receptions for 32 yards the past two games) and he hasn't found the end zone since Week 4.