By Don Banks
November 21, 2012

Can't imagine Thanksgiving without pro football on TV? Me either. This will already be our seventh year with the current Thanksgiving triple-header format, but it's really not a novel concept. As recently as 1967-69, there were four games played on the holiday, with the traditional Detroit and Dallas games holding up the NFL banner, and the soon-to-be-extinct AFL playing a pair of games as well (one in Kansas City each year, and one rotating host). All were televised, although not in four separate time slots. You had to use the clicker.

But even that's not the record when it comes to a Thanksgiving football feast. The NFL played six games on the holiday in both 1920 and 1926, and had five-game schedules in 1922-24. Those were the formative stages of pro football, of course, the pre-TV partners era. Shoot, Pat Summerall didn't even know which end of a mic to speak into yet.

There's more to the marriage of pro football and Thanksgiving Day than you might recall. I'm old enough to remember the two years in the '70s when Dallas didn't get the host duties for the late afternoon game. The St. Louis Cardinals in their exciting Don Coryell era were tabbed, but got clobbered by the Bills in 1975 and the Dolphins in 1977 (the game in which a newly bespectacled Bob Griese threw six touchdown passes in three quarters).

And there's plenty more Thanksgiving NFL memories to rummage through every year at this time. Like Clint Longley's 1974 comeback against Washington in Dallas, O.J. Simpson's 273-yard rushing day in Detroit in 1976, Dave Williams' 95-yard walk-off overtime kickoff return touchdown for the Bears against the Lions in 1980, Leon Lett in the snow in Dallas in 1993, and rookie Randy Moss' three-touchdown destruction of Dallas in 1998. Even Phil Luckett's coin toss flub in Detroit earlier on that same day in '98 deserves to be in there somewhere, in the slapstick department.

Thankfully, Thanksgiving and pro football just work together, helping to make the holiday part of what it has become over the years. Food, family, and football on the fourth Thursday in November. They really are inseparable at this point. Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1 Houston <a href=Texans" title="Houston Texans">
Last Week: 1
Every AFC Super Bowl contender had to take heart from seeing the vaunted Texans defense lit up by the likes of Chad Henne and the previously woeful Jaguars offense last Sunday. If the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC does go through Reliant Stadium, it's not as intimidating a visiting venue as it once seemed this season. Houston now heads off for a three-game road trip that includes a pair of nationally televised spotlight games: at Detroit on Thursday and at New England on Monday night in Week 1.
2 Atlanta <a href=Falcons" title="Atlanta Falcons">
Last Week: 2
The loss in New Orleans was less concerning than the butt-ugly win over Arizona. The Falcons finding a way to win a game in which Matt Ryan throws five interceptions and no touchdowns is resourceful, I suppose. But if Atlanta doesn't put together a strong showing at Tampa Bay this week, questions about whether the Falcons have already played their best football this season will surface. And that kind of talk can spoil the holidays.
3 Green Bay <a href=Packers" title="Green Bay Packers">
Last Week: 3
The Packers' re-shuffled offensive line got manhandled at times by Detroit's defensive front, and that's not the development you're looking for if you're Aaron Rodgers and heading into the Meadowlands to take on the Giants. New York's pass rush has been streaky this season, but Rodgers no doubt remembers the four sacks and constant pressure he endured in the Giants divisional-round playoff upset in Lambeau last January. Keeping No. 12 clean is Green Bay's top priority. That's why the Packers might want to consider signing a new blocker this week, a guy by the name of Max Protect.
4 49ers">49ers/">49ers_50.png" alt="San Francisco 49ers" title="San Francisco 49ers">
Last Week: 5
49ers/">San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1)
Alex Smith has a new headache to contend with this week, and it has nothing to do with the concussion he suffered against the Rams. If you're Smith, Colin Kaepernick's boffo starting debut opened up an annoying new topic of conversation in San Francisco, and even 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh waded right into the QB controversy that could complicate his team's Super Bowl plans. But there's no putting the Genie back in the bottle now. The Smith versus Kaepernick debate is on.
5 Denver <a href=Broncos" title="Denver Broncos">
Last Week: 6
Broncos linebacker Von Miller, last year's defensive rookie of the year, hasn't experienced anything like the sophomore slump issues endured by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, last year's offensive rookie of the year. With 13 sacks in 10 games (second only to the 49ers Aldon Smith), the consistently disruptive Miller might just add the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award to his trophy case in his second season. Not to mention make it 2 for 2 in terms of reaching the playoffs.
6 New England <a href=Patriots" title="New England Patriots">
Last Week: 7
The loss of Rob Gronkowski for at least a month won't be devastating unless he's limited and not his typical productive self in the playoffs. But let's not overlook the ridiculously versatile weapon that Julian Edelman emerged as in the blowout against the Colts, returning two punts for 117 yards and a touchdown, catching five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown and rushing once on a reverse that went for 47 yards and a near touchdown. His 222 all-purpose yards make a strong argument the Patriots will be able to survive quite nicely until Gronk returns to form.
7 Baltimore <a href=Ravens" title="Baltimore Ravens">
Last Week: 8
Winning in Pittsburgh is getting to be old hat for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, even if two of his three straight victories at Heinz Field came without Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers lineup. Baltimore's feat of 12 consecutive AFC North victories is an impressive two years' worth, but now let's see if John Harbaugh's team can handle a West Coast trip to San Diego, where the Ravens got blown out last December.
8 Chicago <a href=Bears" title="Chicago Bears">
Last Week: 4
Yes, the Bears' last six quarters of play vividly shows us all again how much Jay Cutler means to Chicago's chances of winning. But let's not discount the possibility the Bears' 7-1 start was a bit of a mirage, too. Chicago has beaten just one team that currently has a winning record, and that came in Week 1 against the Colts, before Indy started to look like a playoff contender. Cutler is clearly missed, but I'm not sure he would have made much of a difference in the shellacking in San Francisco.
9 Seattle <a href=Seahawks" title="Seattle Seahawks">
Last Week: 12
The Seahawks, just 1-4 away from home, desperately need to get past their road issues and rack up a victory this week at Miami, building their first three-game winning streak of the season. It's the mother of NFL road trips in terms of the continental USA, from Seattle to Miami, but the Dolphins look ripe for the taking. They've lost three in a row, are just 2-2 at home this season, and Ryan Tannehill is looking much more like a rookie quarterback of late than the Seahawks' Russell Wilson.
10 Tampa Bay <a href=Buccaneers" title="Tampa Bay Buccaneers">
Last Week: 13
No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Bucs are ahead of schedule under rookie head coach Greg Schiano. It's probably going to take 10 wins to make the playoffs in the deep NFC this season, and Tampa Bay might fall just short at 9-7. But if the Bucs can steal a road win at either Denver, New Orleans or Atlanta in the final five weeks, it says here they'll find their way into the postseason for the first time since 2007.
11 Pittsburgh <a href=Steelers" title="Pittsburgh Steelers">
Last Week: 9
Strange days in Pittsburgh, and for once we're not talking about those ridiculous throwback uniforms. Plaxico Burress is back in black and gold, and Charlie Batch is back in the starting lineup. It could all but double as old-timers day for the Steelers in Cleveland this week.
12 New York <a href=Giants" title="New York Giants">
Last Week: 10
Eli Manning says he has some zip back in his arm after the bye week, and that's a roundabout way of admitting something was amiss with his moneymaker during his recent mini-slump. It's a good thing, too, because the Giants are going to need an accurate and effective Manning to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' high-octane passing game Sunday night at MetLife.
13 Indianapolis <a href=Colts" title="Indianapolis Colts">
Last Week: 11
Steady, Colts fans. This overachieving team wasn't quite ready to go into New England and beat Tom Brady and Co. But that doesn't mean the playoffs aren't happening. Indy has Buffalo at home this week, followed by a trip to Detroit and a home game against Tennessee. Even with two games against Houston remaining, 10 wins and a wild-card trip are not a far-fetched dream.
14 New Orleans <a href=Saints" title="New Orleans Saints">
Last Week: 15
I'm convinced the Saints can win their three remaining home games against San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Carolina. But they'll probably still need to capture at least two of their road games, at Atlanta, at the Giants and at Dallas, in order to make the playoffs. In the end, that's probably one hurdle too many, and that's why their Week 3 overtime loss at home to Kansas City was the kill shot that could not quite be overcome.
15 Minnesota <a href=Vikings" title="Minnesota Vikings">
Last Week: 14
The Vikings being in the NFC playoff hunt on Thanksgiving weekend was predicted by absolutely no one, so it's all gravy (and a side of mash potatos) in that respect. But, alas, the party is almost over in Minnesota. Two games against the Bears, two games against the Packers and a challenging trip to Houston in Week 16 means the Vikings might top out at 8-8 in their 2012 incarnation. No shame there.
16 Dallas <a href=Cowboys" title="Dallas Cowboys">
Last Week: 16
Even when they win, the Cowboys are a calamity. But I will say Dez Bryant is starting to show up and be the clutch playmaker Dallas so desperately needs, since every one of its games seems to go down to the wire. If the Cowboys ever needed to develop a true homefield advantage in their whiz-bang four-year-old stadium, it would be in the next two games against the 4-6 Redskins and 3-7 Eagles.
17 Cincinnati <a href=Bengals" title="Cincinnati Bengals">
Last Week: 19
The return of Carson Palmer to Cincinnati this week should bring out the best in the Bengals against visiting Oakland. You know Marvin Lewis wants this one. To say nothing of Mike Brown. Since Palmer checked out on the Bengals, they're 14-13, including a playoff trip. The Raiders since Palmer got to town? Just a measly 7-13, with no sign of the postseason in sight.
18 Washington <a href=Redskins" title="Washington Redskins">
Last Week: 25
Forget the 4-6 record. The Redskins have to focus like a laser on the fact they're just two games out of first place with six to play. Here's the bottom line: That's closer to first place than 11 teams are in the AFC, and seven more in the NFC. And with four division games remaining, Washington is not out of the NFC East picture whatsoever. An 8-8 first-place tiebreaker could easily wind up deciding this division.
19 Tennessee <a href=Titans" title="Tennessee Titans">
Last Week: 22
The Titans aren't on anyone's radar screen in the AFC playoff race, but with four division games left, including a pair against the last-place Jaguars, Tennessee could still make some noise in the AFC South and at the very least finish on an upswing heading into 2013. Mike Munchak's further employment may well depend upon just that scenario.
20 Detroit <a href=Lions" title="Detroit Lions">
Last Week: 17
I remember how much grief I took last year from Lions fans when I named Ndamukong Suh to my midseason all-underachievement team. I may have been a bit ahead of the curve on that call, but others have since come around to concur with my assessment. Since his monster rookie season of 2010, Suh has not been the same dominant and disruptive player. No matter how much the Lions coaching staff attempts to cover for him.
21 Miami <a href=Dolphins" title="Miami Dolphins">
Last Week: 18
The Dolphins at least have something to build on with that defense. Miami is allowing just 20.5 points per game this season, and only two AFC teams (Houston and Pittsburgh) have surrendered fewer. The problem is, only two AFC teams have scored less than the Dolphins' 18.7 points per game (Jacksonville and Kansas City). Miami needs to hang the "playmakers needed" sign on their door come January, and leave it there all offseason.
22 New York <a href=Jets" title="New York Jets">
Last Week: 27
That wacky Bart Scott, he had the second-worst idea to originate in the Jets organization all year with his lame postgame media boycott of sorts in St. Louis. Anyone want to guess what the worst idea in the Jets organization was in 2012? Here's a hint: It arrived with great fanfare, but has since been relegated to mostly standing around and waiting for the punt team to take the field.
23 Buffalo <a href=Bills" title="Buffalo Bills">
Last Week: 26
I'm not predicting it mind you, but if the Bills can find a way to win this week at Indianapolis, they could make things a bit interesting for themselves down the stretch in the AFC wild-card race. Buffalo plays four of its last five games at home, against some beatable opponents in the Jaguars, Rams, Seahawks and Jets. Throw a Week 16 trip to Miami in there and it at least has the makings of a seven-game season-ending winning streak and maybe, just maybe, that long-awaited return to the playoffs. Wouldn't that be something after the way 2012 was going in Buffalo?
24 San Diego <a href=Chargers" title="San Diego Chargers">
Last Week: 21
The Chargers' strong start in 2011 (4-1) was washed away by a six-game midseason losing streak. The Chargers' strong start in 2012 (3-1) was negated by losing five out of six in midseason. And that's the only difference San Diego ownership realized by deciding to bring back both Norv Turner and A.J. Smith for another year on the job. Was that Week 9 home win against Kansas City really worth it?
25 Arizona <a href=Cardinals" title="Arizona Cardinals">
Last Week: 23
Could there be something to the idea of the Curse of Kevin Kolb? I think I just made it up, but you have to admit, there might be some fertile ground here to explore. Since the Eagles and Cardinals swung their big deal in late July 2011, the franchises are a combined 23-29, haven't sniffed a winning season, and can't seem to find and field a productive or healthy quarterback for the life of them. Be it Michael Vick, Vince Young, Nick Foles in Philly, or Kolb, John Skelton or Ryan Lindley in Arizona, the quarterback position has bedeviled the Eagles and Cardinals in 2011-12. It's a case of killing two birds with one big trade. Not to mention perhaps getting two head coaches canned in the process.
26 St. Louis <a href=Rams" title="St. Louis Rams">
Last Week: 20
The Rams defense has turned into the anti-Bears, going five games now without forcing a turnover. In a related development, the Rams are 0-4-1 in that span. St. Louis has been trying to punch out of its weight class for a while now, but getting back into NFC West play this week (where they are 2-0-1 this season) at Arizona should help snap Jeff Fisher's team out of its stupor.
27 Philadelphia <a href=Eagles" title="Philadelphia Eagles">
Last Week: 24
I always find it bemusing to hear players who talk so passionately about how much admiration and loyalty they feel for their embattled head coach, but then go out on game day and all but mail in another feeble effort on his behalf. That's the actions-speak-louder-than-words stage we're at in Philly, where everyone knows Andy Reid is as good as gone, but nobody's doing anything about it.
28 Cleveland <a href=Browns" title="Cleveland Browns">
Last Week: 28
Almost doesn't count in the NFL, but Cleveland isn't too far away from being a pretty decent team. The Browns had both the Ravens and Cowboys beat in their past two games, and somehow found a way to lose. If Cleveland can get after the 53-year-old Charlie Batch in the pass rush the way it did Tony Romo (seven sacks and a ton of pressures), an upset of the Steelers on Sunday could be in the offing.
29 Carolina <a href=Panthers" title="Carolina Panthers">
Last Week: 30
The Panthers have become absolute masters of the late-game meltdown, losing fourth-quarter leads in five of their past six losses. The Bucs made Carolina's defense look like it was at a walk-through practice on the overtime-inducing drive, going 80 yards in seven plays in 50 seconds, without a timeout. For a defensive-oriented head coach like Ron Rivera, that kind of collapse could prove to be the final nail in the coffin in terms of his shaky job security.
30 Oakland <a href=Raiders" title="Oakland Raiders">
Last Week: 29
At least at one point in the past two seasons, in 2010's 8-8 under Tom Cable and in 2011's 8-8 under Hue Jackson, the Raiders have had reason to dream about the playoffs becoming a reality. There has been no such flirtation this year under rookie head coach Dennis Allen. But Oakland has to get that defense fixed, and it has to find a quarterback who can give it a chance to win. Carson Palmer has become that guy who's just good enough to get you beat.
31 Jacksonville <a href=Jaguars" title="Jacksonville Jaguars">
Last Week: 32
Good call, Mike Mularkey, naming Chad Henne as the team's starting quarterback for this week's game against Tennessee. But talk about your no-brainers. It's a move that's probably six or seven weeks late. And don't tell me the Jaguars should play Blaine Gabbert if he's healthy, because they have to find out if he's their franchise quarterback or not. They may not admit it, but I think they already know the answer to that one.
32 Kansas City <a href=Chiefs" title="Kansas City Chiefs">
Last Week: 31
A seven-game losing streak. Frustrated fans dressed in black as a protest. A plane towing a banner calling for his dismissal. I don't know how Scott Pioli survives the level of frothing discontent that prevails in Kansas City these days. Does he even want to? If not, I can understand why.

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