Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Well, maybe it is a little early but it is never too early to look ahead at one of the best things about the Thanksgiving holiday…FOOTBALL! The 2017 Thanksgiving NFL schedule features three match-ups that are sure to be explosive. All three featured games have either a major rivalry or pit two storied franchises against each other. Here is a preview of each match up and the history of the two teams involved.
RIVALRY ALERT- Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Nov. 23rd at 12:30 pm EST on FOX
Ford Field- Detroit, Michigan
Fresh off of a Week 4 loss to the Lions, the Vikings have now moved to 71-39-2 all-time against the Detroit. At first glance, this doesn’t sound like a recipe for a inter-conference rivalry but the numbers can be deceiving! In fact, of the total number of points scored (MN- 2402, DET- 2076) comes out to an average loss margin of just 9.5 points. Hardly blow out by any measure.
The Lions/Vikings rivalry stretches back decades and began in 1961 when the Minnesota Vikings joined the league. Until famed Vikings coach Bud Grant joined the team in 1967, the Lions led the head-to-head series 3-8-1. Throughout the 1960s, the Lions posted a 9-7-2 record against Minnesota. In the 1970s, during the era of the Purple People Eaters in Minnesota, the Vikings took control of the rivalry and have not given it back. In the respective decades to follow, the results are as follows:
Coming into the 2017 Thanksgiving game, the Lions have won three straight games over the Vikings. On Thanksgiving Day, the all-time series stands at two wins for the Lions and two for the Vikings– the most recent meeting being last year and was a Lions victory. Through week 5 of the NFL schedule, both teams stand at 3-2 in the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings have lost some key players to injury this year, most notably Teddy Bridgewater (retroactive to last year’s knee injury), Sam Bradford to a knee injury (listed as questionable for week 6), and rookie running back Dalvin Cook who tore his ACL in week 4 and is out for the season.
The Detroit Lions have also had some injuries this season. For week 6, quarterback Matthew Stafford was listed with an ankle injury but did fully participate in practice. Guard T.J. Lang did not practice and is questionable. Linebacker Paul Worrilow suffered a sprained MCL and may be out for 2-4 weeks, which may affect the Thanksgiving game for the Lions. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was placed on the inactive reserve list as he must undergo season-ending bicep surgery. A 12-year veteran of the NFL, Ngata has contemplated retirement before and the severity of this injury may hasten that decision.
The 2017 Thanksgiving NFL schedule will see the Vikings and Lions play each other in week 12. Both teams will have a bye week and play against the Green Bay Packers before they meet on November 23rd. A lot can happen between now and then! No matter where these two NFC North teams find themselves in the standings by then, history has shown us that their Turkey Day showdowns are always entertaining gridiron competitions. This year will be no different.
OFFENSE ALERT- Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys
Nov. 23rd at 4:30 pm EST on CBS
AT&T Stadium- Arlington, Texas
The 4:30 pm game airing on CBS sees the numbers 6 and 7 ranked offenses in the NFL going head to head– the Dallas Cowboys led by QB Dak Prescott and the Los Angeles Chargers behind RB Melvin Gordon.
Unlike the Minnesota-Detroit match up or the Washington-New York tilt, the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers rarely, if ever, play against each other. This will be just the 11th meeting between these two teams. The Chargers will be playing their first Thanksgiving Day game since the 1970 merger where as the Cowboys are no stranger to playing on that day with a stellar 29-18-1 record. That does not bode well for the newly planted LA Chargers.
The 2017 campaign for the LA Chargers has not exactly gone as planned. Week 5 saw the Bolts win their first game of the season. Despite having the 7th ranked offense, the Chargers are struggling with the 26th ranked defense in the NFL. Even though they’re putting plenty of points on the board, they’re also giving up quite a bit. They are currently in last place in the AFC West with a 1-4 record.
The 2017 Cowboys aren’t exactly dominating the competition either. Currently in 3rd place in the NFC East, Dallas is 2-3 and has lost 2 straight. Again, they’re in the top six ranked offenses but their defense trips over the goal line at 21st in the NFL. Not a great recipe for success. Thankfully for the ‘Boys, the New York Giants are also in their division…but we’ll get to that.
This mid-afternoon Thanksgiving match-up will feature the high-flying receiver Dez Bryant for the passing game and RB Ezekiel Elliott to carry the ground game. QB Prescott has been playing very well this year, much better than the team’s record would indicate. NFL sophomore Prescott touts a 93.1 QBR and is completing 62.6% of his passes in 2017 while throwing 11 touchdowns with 4 interceptions through week 5.
The Chargers feature RB Gordon, wide receiver Keenan Allen, and Phillip Rivers under center. At his current pace, WR Allen is projected to have over 1,200 receiving yards this season with three touchdowns. QB Rivers has thrown for nearly 1,400 yards this far this season but is completing less than 60% of his passes. He is, however, projected to throw for over 4,000 total yards. If he does, it would be the 9th time in his career.
The Cowboys/Chargers game will undoubtedly feature plenty of offense but will more than likely leave us wondering if the defense was even on the field. That being said, it should be incredibly fun to watch the shootout!
RIVALRY ALERT- New York Giants at Washington Redskins
Nov. 23rd at 8:30 pm EST on NBC
FedEx Field, Hyattsville, Maryland
The evening game stacks the New York Giants against the Washington Redskins. This rivalry has been hot since 1932 and is easily the oldest rivalry in the NFC East. New York leads the all-time series with a record of 99–67–4 but Washington has won two of the last three meetings between the two teams. Here is a quick breakdown of one of the oldest rivalries in the league:
With such an extensive history between the two teams, we’d be better served to deal with the present as the facts and figures of over eight decades of football games would be overwhelming to say the very least.
Currently, the Redskins have a 2-2 record through week 5 (they had a bye in week 5). Washington has the 3rd ranked defense in the NFL but just the 26th ranked offense. It is said that offense wins games, defense wins championships…but you need to win games to get to the championship. That being said, Redskins QB Kirk Cousins is having a great year. He currently boasts a 107.6 QBR (league average is 87.5 right now) and has thrown just one interception this year. He is also completing over 66% of his passes. That is about where the good news ends for the Redskins offense. Their defense, however, is stopping other teams in their tracks and has allowed just 1,245 total yards thus far (through week 5). Only the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins are better.
The New York Giants hit rock bottom in week 5 of their 2017 season. Not only have they fallen to 0-5 but they lost their star WR Odell Beckham, Jr. to a season-ending ankle surgery after he fractured his ankle against the Chargers. The Giants are ranked 28th in total defense and 14th in total offense– and that was before losing Beckham. The word out of the Giants’ camp is that the offensive line isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. However more and more armchair quarterbacks are starting to point the finger at Eli Manning. Lackluster play calling, lack of execution, etc. have the NY offense looking nothing like it did in 2011 when they won the Super Bowl.
How does this play out on Thanksgiving Day? Look for Cousins to pick apart the Giants’ defense with his precision. The Redskins’ defense will frustrate the milquetoast offense of New York. The Giants need Manning to be at the top of his game for anything good to come of this dumpster fire they find themselves in. The Redskins need more offensive weapons than just Cousins, look for his supporting cast to step up.
HISTORY BONUS- Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys
Nov 26th, 1998
As a Vikings fan, there is nary a Minnesotan that doesn’t remember the historic season of 1998…much less the epic Thanksgiving Day battle between the Vikings and Cowboys. The 8-4 Cowboys played host to the 11-1 Vikings in a Turkey Day shootout of high power offenses. Minnesota was the top ranked offense in the league, Dallas was ranked 9th. The respective defenses were both in the top ten as well, Dallas at #3 and Minnesota at #6. Basically this was a powerhouse game.
The Dallas Cowboys 1998 roster was anchored by future Hall of Famers in QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith, and WR Michael Irvin. The 1998 roster of Minnesota Vikings consisted of rookie WR Randy Moss, future Hall of Fame WR Cris Carter, and 1998 NFL Passing Rating Leader Randall Cunningham. Even the most casual football fan knows this cast of players.
Troy Aikman torched the Minnesota defense for 455 passing yards and one touchdown. 137 of those yards went to Michael Irvin. Smith rushed for just 44 yards in the game but scored three touchdowns. Cunningham aired out 359 passing yards en route to a 111.5 passer rating. He threw for four downs– three to Moss and one to Carter. The Moss/Carter duo combined for 298 receiving yards and each had catches of over 50 yards. To this day, Randy Moss’ touchdown catch still defies explanation.
The Vikings led the whole way but the Cowboys never really went away. Below are the scoring plays, courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Ultimately, Vikings went on to post a 15-1 record in the regular season. The Cowboys finished at 10-6. Both teams went on to the playoffs. Dallas was bounced in the first round and the Vikings went on to lose in crushing fashion in the NFC title game. Another game Minnesotans still remember…along with a place kicker named Gary Anderson.
The complete 1998 Thanksgiving game between the Vikings and Cowboys from the NFL YouTube archive has been embedded below if you’d like to relive the glorious offensive shootout. Spoiler alert– the Vikings win 46-36. Enjoy one of the most fun games to watch as a Vikings fan!