Thanksgiving Football Preview

Renee Montagne talks with NPR's Mike Pesca about Thursday's NFL games. There are three games, spaced out so a fan won't be without football for more than an hour from noon to midnight.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Thanksgiving means NFL football. And like that feast, the NFL avoids any semblance of portion control. Today, there are three games spaced out so a fan won't be without football for more than an hour, from noon to midnight. NPR's Mike Pesca is here with a preview.

Good morning.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

MONTAGNE: The first game matches the New England Patriots with the Detroit Lions. Now, Detroit hasn't had a winning season in ten years and the Patriots haven't had a losing season in ten years. So does this mean the game will be a mismatch?

PESCA: It might. You never know. Detroit has not held up its end of the bargain in terms of preventing mismatches. But here's why I think this game could be intriguing.

New England was supposed to not be so good this year. Why would people say that? They are New England, their coach is Bill Belichick, their quarterback is Tom Brady, they're just really a smart football team and they've been playing better as the season goes along. So they come in as a very good team.

Now, Detroit's record is bad. It's three and seven. But there is finally, for the first time in a long time, legitimate hope in Detroit. They've been playing competitive games. This game sold out faster than any Thanksgiving game since 2007. So it's that the people are backing the team. And the main reason for that is the Lion's number one pick, a lineman named Ndamukong Suh.

Now, I implore you, if you have any interest in this sort of thing, watch the game and watch that mass taking up room in the middle of the Detroit Lions defensive line. He's a large but fast man. I would watch the game to see how Ndamukong Suh puts pressure on the New England Patriots line, harasses their quarterback, causes havoc for the Lions on defense.

MONTAGNE: The other team that plays every Thanksgiving is the Dallas Cowboys. And like the Lions, they're not doing well. They've only won three games. What does that mean for their match up with the defending Super Bowl champion Saints?

PESCA: Again, we would think that this might be a mismatch. But here's a reason why this could be a competitive game. Since the Cowboys fired their coach Wade Phillips they've won both their games under interim coach Jason Garrett. And they won in the ways that the Cowboys were supposed to be winning all year, which is scoring 30-some odd points a game.

Somewhat lost, this season, has been that the New Orleans Saints, although a great story last year, haven't been as good. Last week, however, Drew Brees, their quarterback, had one of his best weeks as a quarterback this year. He threw for four touchdowns.

So we could see a very high scoring and very entertaining game. Or, it could be a blowout.

MONTAGNE: And now to the third game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets. Is that worth staying up to watch?

PESCA: Well, for me it is, you know. But the Jets are - they have the best record in the AFC. They're tied with the best record in football. They're not as good as their record indicates. But they are as exciting as their record indicates.

So even though the Cincinnati Bengals come into this game as a beleaguered and bedraggled team, you know, why not just expect that the Jets are going to let Cincinnati take a late lead and either win in overtime or come back at the end.

The Jets have proven to be an exciting story off the field and a team that you just want to watch if you like last minute excitement in football.

MONTAGE: And, Mike, you know, I was wondering, do teams see playing on Thanksgiving as a perk, or, as really, you know, a crummy way to spend the day?

PESCA: Oh, they hate it. Except for the teams like Detroit and Dallas, who constantly host the game. So they that they've been able to build it into their schedule. But it's a weird thing. Teams like a full week of preparation. So if you make a team play Thursday, after they just played on Sunday, it shortens their schedule.

Now, it would seem that every coach would say, well, it shortens the other guy's schedule, too. But every coach thinks they're the smartest one out there. So they think that if their schedule was shortened and they have less time to prepare, it'll hurt their team more.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thank you for being with us on this day - this Thanksgiving.

PESCA: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Pesca.

(Soundbite of music)

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