What to Expect from Thanksgiving NFL Games
by Robert Ferringo - 11/21/2006
Who knew that the History Channel had a sense of humor? Not I, but those closet sex fiends and desperate revisionists are responsible for my new favorite commercial. It features a girl in elementary school at her class play. She's dressed as a Puritan and is talking about the first Thanksgiving to an audience of disaffected and apathetic parents.
"And when our crops failed, we stole food from the Indians and robbed their graves," she says. On stage, her contemporaries are running around looting mock Indian dwellings and practicing a slaughter while the adults in the audience are confused and yawning, most likely thinking about their mortgage rates, secretaries and hidden checking accounts.
Our wily female narrator also knows to end with a laugh, stating, "And then they all ate turkey and watched football." That final line drew a roar of cheers and applause from the crowd.
The commercial is a true celebration of two American institutions: grave robbing and exploitation. Just kidding. What I really meant was gluttony and wrath. But beyond that the commercial is just another illustration of how deeply ingrained in the fabric of our shared American consciousness that football really is. It's our future and our past, and now it's to the point where even non-football fans would have a hard time imagining Thanksgiving without it.
The Puritans would have loved football. They would have played the game the Right Way, without end zone celebrations or artificial turf. No injury timeouts or complaints about missed calls. It would have been pure pain and suffering - and they would've relished every moment. They would've played three games a day, for six consecutive days, before resting on Sundays to celebrate The Lord and Vince Lombardi. Their seasons would be year-round, and the Champion would be the last team alive to claim the crown.
But the Puritans lost, and in their stead we will enjoy our Thanksgiving meal with Terrell Owens and Joey Harrington. We'll welcome them into our homes and invite them into our family for a few hours in the hopes of entertainment and profit. It should be a jolly good show.
Here's a breakdown of the three games that will serve as decorations on Thursday while we gorge and gamble and give Thanks that we don't live in Rwanda:
Miami (-3) at Detroit
For an appetizer: Revenge.
We're leading off with the Joey Harrington Reunion Special. Should be fun for the whole family. And even though neither of these teams is going to the playoffs, pride and bitter feelings can be powerful motivators.
The Lions are credited with starting the tradition of football on Thanksgiving back in 1934 as a way to compete with the Tigers. They've responded to their annual rite of Fall by going 33-31-2 straight up. Also, Detroit is 1-4 both SU and against the spread over the past five years. Their starting quarterback for four of those previous five contests: Joey Harrington.
Harrington was blamed for single-handedly submarining the Detroit franchise early in this new millennium, and now he's at the controls of a team making what is suddenly becoming a predictable second-half surge. I always felt he was unfairly scapegoated for his work in the Motor City. He was surrounded by little talent and even less coaching, and guys like "Bust" Bailey, Chuck Rogers and Mike "No, The Other One" Williams were much bigger washouts then Harrington.
And don't think that Joey won't have a large chip on his shoulder on Thursday. He's playing with a group of gruff veterans now - most of them castoffs and second chancers themselves. I think the Dolphins, who are 6-1 ATS since the start of 2003 on the road against the NFC, will play hard for Harrington. He has salvaged their wretched season with his savvy play and guided the Fins to three consecutive SU and ATS wins.
The AFC has absolutely been dominating the NFC over the past five weekends, posting a 16-4 ATS mark over that stretch. Frankly, it's been embarrassing. Bottom-feeders from the AFC have been winning outright as double-digit dogs over some of the better teams in their counterpart conference. I think Miami has all the incentive and all the momentum here - so naturally the Lions will win because it's the least likely and sub-logical conclusion.
Tampa Bay at Dallas (-11)
The main course: America's Team.
I'm going to say that this will be the sloppiest of the three Thursday games. Yes, even worse than the Miami-Detroit debacle. And mark this as the day the World meets Bruce Gradkowski (and maybe wish they hadn't).
This is Tampa's third game in 11 days. After getting worn out in Carolina two Mondays ago the Bucs managed to kick Washington while it was down. Now Tampa Bay will stroll into Big D to take on the Cowboys fresh off their not-so-stunning win over Indianapolis on Sunday. (Anyone who read my column would have known that Dallas completely fit the profile of The Team To Defeat The Last Unbeaten).
It will certainly be interesting to see how Dallas responds after such an emotional victory. Naturally, everyone and their sister will be lining up to throw their money on The Boys. But this is a spotty and inconsistent team - capable of Greatness one week and Total Ineptitude the next. However, if they do manage to gut out a win it would be their third straight and four out of five. Hello bandwagon!
Their win and cover against Indianapolis was the third time in four games that Dallas has paid out. Now they welcome a Tampa team that they've beaten in Big D on three of the past four occurrences.
The Bucs have pretty much been a disaster on the road. They are 1-3 against the spread this season, and are 6-14 ATS since the beginning of the 2004 season. As if that wasn't enough, since winning the Super Bowl to cap the 2002 season Tampa Bay is 3-12 ATS away from home against non-divisional opponents.
To be fair, the Bucs haven't been getting completely routed on the road this season. Their average margin of defeat is 10.5 points, which isn't terrible considering they're just 3-7 overall. In their three road ATS losses this year they've been on the verge of covering before the backdoor was slammed in their face. In all three they were within 6.5 points of beating the spread. That doesn't sound like much, but it's just one fluky or "meaningless" late-game play away from cashing in.
I would expect Dallas to bounce back from short rest a bit better this weekend because so many of their key players are young, compared to weary Tampa Bay. However, the Cowboys are shackled with a cumbersome number here and I'm not sure that there's value in this spot.
Denver at Kansas City (8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 23)
And for dessert: The Rivalry Game.
Man, how pissed off are bettors and fans going to be when they realize they can't watch this game, which is being broadcast on the NFL Network? For most people it won't be that big of a deal. They'll be too drunk/fat/irritated with family/sleepy to gear up for this showdown. But for ravenous gambling addicts like me, the prospect of not getting to watch this divisional blood feud is enough to make me forego mom's cheesecake in favor of some beer nuts as I spend the day down at a dive bar with great satellite reception.
Kansas City is a bit wobbly right now after accepting Trent Green back under center. They held off Oakland last week in Arrowhead, but it wasn't nearly a win befitting their stature. They didn't cover, and they needed Aaron Brooks to bail them out by being Aaron Brooks just to win outright.
The Chiefs have owned Denver in Kansas City, posting an impressive 5-1-1 ATS mark against the Broncos since 1999. Also, the host in this series is a whopping 8-2-1 ATS and the Chiefs have an opportunity to ambush a shell-shocked team coming off a bitter home loss. A win here would also give K.C. the inside track to a possible Wild Card berth.
Denver is a bloody mess after their monumental collapse against San Diego. The Broncos - aided by a vintage Jake Plummer meltdown in the last six minutes - allowed the Chargers to become the first team EVER to win back-to-back games in which they trailed by 17 points. Now they're leaving home and headed into hostile territory to play a game that, if they lose, could precipitate a fall from first place to third place in just five days.
All things considered, the stars are aligned for the home team. But it is Thanksgiving. And as our Puritan grade schooler reminded us, that hasn't always meant good times for Native Americans.
Carpe diem, my friends. And good luck.
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