Thanksgiving Football Preview

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NFL games on tap Thursday include the Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving match-up. This year, Dallas faces the Oakland Raiders in Jerry Jones' spectacular new stadium in Texas. The Detroit Lions play their traditional holiday game — this year against the Green Bay Packers. And the New York Giants visit the Denver Broncos.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Thanksgiving is a time for feasting and family and of course football. NPR's Mike Pesca is with us to look at today's traditional games on Thanksgiving Day.

Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

INSKEEP: The Cowboys play every Thanksgiving, this year against the Oakland Raiders.

PESCA: Right. So if you want to analyze this game, the Cowboys are a good team. They stand at 7-3. They might make the playoffs. They probably - I don't know, we'll say they probably will. So we come into the game with the Cowboys as a good team, but the Raiders as a team with a bad record but just horrible karma around them. Their quarterback, Russell, has been benched. He was a terrible draft choice. Their coach was accused of beating up an assistant coach and a local D.A. looked into it and didn't press charges.

None of this has any impact on who's going to win the game, but it's kind of a fascinating match-up between a team on the rise in terms of the Cowboys being the most valuable franchise, and the Raiders actually are the least valuable franchise in the NFL.

INSKEEP: Well, it's good that you mention all this because it will make Detroit Lions fans feel good to be Detroit Lions fans.

PESCA: It's a weird thing. Detroit, because they went winless last year, they're the most feel-good 2-8 team you can imagine. And last week they pulled out a victory against the Cleveland Browns that had everything you wanted. It was high scoring. There was a penalty at the end. The injured quarterback came off the bench and said let me throw the ball even though my shoulder might be dislocated.

The only bad thing in the victory against the Browns was in the post-game press conference the Lions' head coach, Jim Schwarz, who is a smart guy and graduated with an economics degree from Georgetown, quoted John Steinbeck as saying it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PESCA: And as we know that was Charles Dickens. Now...

INSKEEP: Maybe Steinbeck said it also. He may have...

PESCA: He said it - he said it shorter. The Lions play the Packers. And the Packers have the better record. They're 6-4. And yet they have injuries on defense. And if I were a Packer fan, I probably - and, hey, far be it from me to get into the cheese-encrusted head of the Packer fan, but it's hard to feel so good about your team when your ex-quarterback, Brett Favre, is tearing up the league with a 9-1 Minnesota team and could possibly take his team to the Super Bowl.

INSKEEP: Okay. So the Cowboys play the Raiders. The Packers play the Lions. And there's a third game, the Giants against the Broncos. And we should mention also, Mike Pesca, there's a couple teams not playing today, but there are two teams still undefeated on Thanksgiving in the NFL.

PESCA: Right. The Saints and Indianapolis Colts, who have just consistently fielded the most skilled teams over the last few years. And their quarterback, Peyton Manning, is absolutely fantastic. And he doesn't really have great wide receivers to throw to. He doesn't really have a great running back. But he alone has seemingly willed this team into victory after victory, many come from behind. And the Colts are indeed the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The weird thing, as good as the Colts have been, the Saints are, you know, a historically terrible team. But they have another great quarterback, sort of the diametric opposite of Peyton Manning, who's a tall guy in the quarterback mold. If you had to make a quarterback from scratch and say who's the perfect quarterback, it would be Manning. If you said, well, who would you never want to be a quarterback, it would be the short guy name Drew Brees. But he's so skillful with the touch he puts on passes. Drew Brees has helmed that offense, which is the best in football.

I just looked at the odds in Las Vegas. The Saints are the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Of course everyone says, yeah, but they are the Saints. They might find a way to screw it up. Who knows? So far they haven't this year.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll have to wait until the Super Bowl to find out who will reap what Charles Dickens would call the grapes of wrath. Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: Yes.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mike Pesca.

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