Give Thanks For Delicious Football Matchups

Football, turkey and pumpkin pie. The holiday tradition continues with this year's matchups, including two division rivalries. Green Bay takes on Detroit, the Raiders battle the Cowboys, and the Steelers take on defending champions, the Ravens.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. And Thanksgiving means family, turkey, maybe a stint on the couch and, of course, some football. Last year, the NFL's three Thanksgiving games averaged 25 million viewers and this year, millions are expected to tune in again. NPR's Mike Pesca is with us to talk about this three-course feast. Hey there, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.

CORNISH: So let's start with one of the big traditional games, right, the Detroit Lions. This year they face the Green Bay Packers and the Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers is going to sit out his fourth game due to injury. That's got to hurt, right? But how much?

PESCA: And that is, in fact, why he's sitting out. They're a great team. They're on their way to the playoffs. The Packers are one of these teams in the last few years no one is writing them as a Super Bowl favorite, but they very well could be. But that's when Aaron Rogers is there and without him, they've really crumbled and they show that I think he's the most important guy to any team.

I mean, you'd hate to take away Tom Brady. You'd hate to take away Peyton Manning. And those are the great quarterbacks. That was the conversation since those two quarterbacks played last week. But if you look at the numbers, Aaron Rogers, since he came into the league, is every bit, probably better, than those two guys.

I mean, my favorite stat about Aaron Rogers is he's the only quarterback in NFL history, who, with the requisite number of throws, has thrown less than 2 percent of his passes for interceptions. And since he is a go-for-it guy, a big play guy and he's not just dinking and dunking, it shows how great he is. Okay. Let's get past that Aaron Rogers thing. Let's talk about the Lions.

They're 6 and 5. They're coming off a loss, too, a pretty bad team in Tampa Bay, but still, without Rogers, you'd have to think the Lions are the favorite. With him, and it very much looks like he won't play, you'd have to favor the Packers.

CORNISH: Now the other team that plays everything Thanksgiving is the Dallas Cowboys and they're going to host the Oakland Raiders. What do we need to know about this matchup?

PESCA: It's not the Raiders aren't very good, that the Cowboys are really great at home, that Tony Romo only has one loss on Thanksgiving at home and the Raiders are a 4 and 7 team coming into a tough situation because they're on the road. They're travelling east. They have a short week. It looks like the Cowboys have the advantage in this one. By the way, we should say, I think the Lions and the Cowboys have a great advantage always playing on Thanksgiving.

They know how to do it. They're used to it and they always host the game. So if I was a team, I would always want to host a Thanksgiving game, too.

CORNISH: And Mike, Thursday night features a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. This is at night, in Baltimore, in the cold. I don't really understand this. Couldn't they play during the day, you know, when it's a little bit warmer?

PESCA: Well, it's to get ratings and the NFL thinks more people will want to watch this game than any other game so they put it in prime time. And it's logical. These two teams, they always are slug fests. You know, you could give them a helium football and let them play on Venus, the score will be 13 to 10 going into the fourth quarter. In fact, of the last eight regular season games between these two teams, five have been decided by just a field goal.

And the weird thing is, even though this is the most highly anticipated game, these are the two teams that don't have a winning record, but that's just how strong the Raven-Steelers rivalry is. That's just how strong football is on Thanksgiving. In fact, I'm going to throw a stat at you. You know, you said 25 million, on average, watched last year, but we can't strip out those stats to find out how many different individuals watched some part of a football game.

And when you add in the high school games, when you add in the college games, it's quite likely that more than 50 million Americans will be watching some football game and only 45 or 46 million turkeys are served. So if you compare watching football to number of turkeys served, football is winning on Thanksgiving.

CORNISH: Okay. Mike, skeptical of your math, but not your enthusiasm. NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca. Thanks so much.

PESCA: The math is sound, Audie. It's sound.

CORNISH: Bye.

PESCA: Bye.

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