Who will feast this Thanksgiving?

Quarterback Mark Sanchez fumbles the ball off of Brandon Moore’s bottom on 2012 Thanksgiving night. This play is renowned for being called “The Butt Fumble.”

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Quarterback Mark Sanchez fumbles the ball off of Brandon Moore’s bottom on 2012 Thanksgiving night. This play is renowned for being called “The Butt Fumble.”

Since 1934, the NFL has held a football game on Thanksgiving, with the exception of 1939-1944, due to World War II.  The first ever Thanksgiving clash was between Detroit and Chicago, and there have been 148 NFL games played on Thanksgiving since. As of 2021, this game is not only a Thanksgiving tradition, but also a popular date on the NFL calendar. 

Every team, besides the Jacksonville Jaguars, has participated in an NFL Thanksgiving game during the Super Bowl era from 1967 to the present day. This Thanksgiving will be the 14th year that there will be three games played, with each matchup having its own tradition and/or NFL playoff significance. All of the teams are coming off a loss, so who will bounce back on Thursday?


Chicago Bears (3-7) at Detroit Lions (0-9-1) at 9:30 am (PT)

This game is considered an NFL classic, as it is the most played matchup in Thanksgiving history and was the first ever Thanksgiving NFL game. It will be the 37th all-time meeting between the Bears and the Lions, and the Lions’ 82nd Thanksgiving game of all time—  the most in the NFL. These two teams have played countless competitive games, including the first ever Thanksgiving overtime game in 1980, where the Bears took the opening overtime kickoff all the way for a touchdown to win the game. 

Besides its traditional significance, this game doesn’t matter a whole lot in the playoff picture. The Bears are a couple games out of the 7th seed, while the Lions are fighting to get a single win. The first round rookie, Chicago quarterback Justin Fields, could be worth watching if he is able to recover from his bruised ribs that he suffered on Sunday. He will likely be a game-time decision. The last couple of games the Lions have kept it close with the help of D’Andre Swift, who has averaged 5.6-yards per carry on 47 carries in those two games. The Bears run defense has allowed 122-yards on average per game this season. With Detroit holding home-field advantage and the possibility of Justin Fields being out, It will be interesting to see how close this one will be.


Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) at Dallas Cowboys (7-3) at 1:30 pm (PT)

In the Cowboys 54th appearance on Thanksgiving, they will face the Raiders. This will be the third Thanksgiving meeting between these two teams, the Cowboys won the previous two meetings. The Dallas Cowboys are 31-21-1 all time on Thanksgiving, and have participated in Thanksgiving games in all but two years since 1966. Dallas have had a great deal of up and down games on Thanksgiving—  such as Leon Lett’s botched fumble recovery in 1993, giving up monster receiving games to Randy Moss in 1998—  but the Cowboys have also beaten their arch rival, the Washington Football Team (then Redskins), eight out of nine times. 

The Cowboys and Raiders are a part of the playoff picture. The Cowboys are in a tightly contested battle for the first seed in the NFC with the Green Bay Packers (8-3), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3), Arizona Cardinals (9-2), and Los Angeles Rams (7-3). After starting the season with a 6-1 record, the Cowboys currently are trying to find consistency after two games out of the last three where they couldn’t move the ball downfield and failed to score a touchdown in the first three quarters vs. Denver.

Entering this matchup, the Raiders are on a three-game skid, with seven turnovers combined in those games. Although because of their 5-2 start, they are still in the wild card race, and are only a game out of the 7th seed. Despite this, because there are eight teams with five or six wins in the AFC, there is little margin for error for the Raiders. This game could produce offensive fireworks as both teams are top five in passing yardage and top ten in total yardage overall. 


Buffalo Bills (6-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-5) at 5:20 pm (PT)

In the 14th ever primetime Thanksgiving matchup, the Saints will host the Bills. In the Bills fifth ever Thanksgiving game, there will be some playoff implications on the line. Despite it being an out of conference game, both teams are in the thicket of the playoff race. After coming off a big loss to the Eagles to go to 5-5, they are maintaining the 7th seed but have eight teams with five or four wins behind them contending for the sixth and seventh spot in playoff seeding. Meanwhile, the Bills are in a division fight with the Patriots, and are a half of a game back from the Patriots.  

These two defensive units are top ten in yards allowed and the two teams combined have gotten 38 takeaways. Against top running backs Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor, who both are top five in rushing yardage, the Bills gave up 143 rushing yards to Henry and 185 rushing yards to Taylor. Although four-time pro bowler running back Alvin Kamara will not be coming back from a knee injury, the Saints should try to expose Buffalo’s weakness by using nine-year veteran Mark Ingram.

This game has no traditional significance as these teams barely ever play on Thanksgiving, let alone playing each other. The two teams have only played each other 11 times throughout the existence of the NFL. This is the Bills’ second NFL Thanksgiving game in three years, while the Saints also played on 2019 Thanksgiving, where they defeated the Falcons in primetime. 

The NFL on Thanksgiving has had many signature moments and games over the years. Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble and Randy Moss’s domination are just a few of the iconic Thanksgiving football moments, with many more sure to take place in the future.

Get a turkey leg, a plate of mashed potatoes, and a bowl of stuffing, this NFL Thanksgiving should be another one to remember!