Thanksgiving Football Preview

Football games come after the turkey for many Americans. Host Renee Montagne talks to commentator John Feinstein about the array of Thanksgiving weekend games.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

For many Americans, including my father, my brother and all my male cousins, Thanksgiving is as much about watching football as it is about time with family and eating turkey. Today's two NFL games are critical matches and they begin one of the busiest sports weekends of the year. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now to sort it all out. Hello.

JOHN FEINSTEIN reporting:

Good morning, Renee. Happy Thanksgiving.

MONTAGNE: You, too. Happy Thanksgiving to you. And now it isn't always the case on Thanksgiving but it turns out that both of today's NFL games have playoff implications.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah, frequently the Thanksgiving games are dud games that people watch just because it's Thanksgiving and it's a tradition. But that's not the case today. The Atlanta Falcons play in Detroit in the first game. The Falcons, some people thought, could be a Super Bowl team this year, but they've lost two straight games. They lost a couple of weeks ago, a bad loss to the Green Bay Packers at home. So even though the Lions are only 4 and 6, the Falcons have to win to keep their playoff hopes in good shape today. And in the second game, you've got two teams that are playoff contenders. The Denver Broncos aren't getting much attention at 8 and 2 because the Indianapolis Colts are undefeated, but they're right there in the AFC. And the Dallas Cowboys are in a wild three-way race in the NFC East tied with the New York Giants for first place. So both those games are really important games as we sort of turn into the stretch here in the NFL.

MONTAGNE: And that leaves 13 games for the weekend...

FEINSTEIN: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...including the Indianapolis Colts trying to remain unbeaten.

FEINSTEIN: Exactly. And virtually all those games, pick 10 of them, involve teams who are still in playoff contention. Colts, as you mentioned, undefeated at 10 and 0, people are starting to talk about the 1972 Miami Dolphins--can they match the only undefeated team in NFL history? I think it'll be difficult because the pressure ratchets up every week, but they did a great job against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, and they play Pittsburgh this week. Pittsburgh hoping to get Ben Roethlisberger, their starting quarterback, back in the lineup. He's been out for three weeks.

MONTAGNE: So let's turn to colleges. Aren't there some key games this weekend, in fact, beginning tonight?

FEINSTEIN: Well, West Virginia-Pittsburgh, one of the great traditional rivalries, the so-called backyard brawl, is tonight. West Virginia has a chance to be in a BCS bowl, which is big, big money, so it's a huge game for them. Pittsburgh, which started 0 and 3 under Dave Wannstedt, the old Miami Dolphins coach, has a chance to get in a bowl if they can pull an upset tonight. And then Texas, which is supposed to play the national championship game against Southern Cal, if they both win out, they play tomorrow against Texas A&M, a chance for Vince Young to show if he's a Heisman Trophy candidate. And then a bunch more traditional rivalry games on Saturday.

MONTAGNE: And that Heisman race, when will it and also the BCS bids be decided?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the BCS bids will go out December 4th, after all the big conference championship games on December the 3rd. I think the Heisman race was decided last week when Reggie Bush of Southern Cal just had such a great game against Fresno State, mind-boggling--500 yards in total offense, but Vince Young of Texas and Reggie Bush's teammate Matt Leinart, who won the award last year, still have a couple more games to show the voters that they are deserving, too. So it's a three-way race.

MONTAGNE: And, John, let us not forget basketball. The first big weekend for college basketball is this weekend.

FEINSTEIN: Thanksgiving weekend, you've got all sorts of tournaments. You've got Duke playing in the--the number one ranked team playing in the preseason NIT. There have already been upsets and it's always a fun weekend to go back and forth from basketball to football. That's why we jocks, like your family, look forward to Thanksgiving so much; that and all the eating, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, the eating. Ah, yeah. Well, thanks very much, John.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: John Feinstein's new book is "Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL." This is NPR News.

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