2011 NFL Thanksgiving in Dallas, Detroit and Baltimore

The second most important tradition on Thanksgiving is football. Turkeys come first. As usual, we’ll see the Dallas Star big on our TV Screens this Thursday, as they host the Dolphins. The big surprises this thanksgiving are the Lions, with a 7-3 record and a chance to open the NFC North race and the San Francisco 49ers, with their shocking 9-1 record taking on the Baltimore Ravens in a Harbaugh derby.

Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys

Two teams on a three game winning streak. One, the Dolphins, now 3-7, with a slight hope of somehow finishing this season above .500, or near that as possible. The Cowboys? From a shattering loss in Philly came a rise with a lot of help from a soft schedule – home wins over the Seahawks and the Bills before enjoying their second overtime win of the season, beating the free falling Washington Redskins.

Dallas’ only loss at home this year came on the first Sunday of October, a 34-30 heart crusher against the Lions. One of those games that raises the big doubts over Tony Romo’s ability to win, especially in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins have had their share of quarterback problems this season, but it seems Matt Moore, who threw for 3 TD and finished with a 133.3 QB Rating last Sunday, is doing well and has a promising future.

The running game will be the key. The Cowboys shouldn’t settle for the Romo-Witten combination, but pound through DeMarco Murray. He’s averaging nearly 135 yards per game his last five outings, and will open up things for the Cowboys. The Dolphins will look to force Dallas into an aerial game. Their ground game doesn’t promise much. Dallas had the best run defense in the league until LeSean McCoy ran all over them.

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

Finally, the thanksgiving game in Detroit is more than just another chance to make fun of the Detroit Lions. Over the last three seasons, the Lions have entered their Thanksgiving showdown with a combined record of 4-27. They’ve lost seven straight on the holiday game, twice to the Packers.

Green Bay? Still perfect, 10-0. Aardon Rodgers with his 31-4 TD-INT ratio couldn’t be doing any better, and Packers keep winning despite their defense, but it’s not entirely true. Yes, that defense is ranked 30th in the league, which sounds like a field day for Matthew Stafford. But… Stafford has thrown six interceptions in the last two weeks. The Packers lead the league with 19 interceptions. Usually coming late, to make that final play that closes out games.

Still, a big chance for Detroit might be Rodgers, or his protection. He’s been sacked 25 times this season, while the Lions have racked up 27 sacks this year. You can’t be too blitz-wild with Rodgers’ arm, but the Packers’ inability to run the ball will have to hurt them at some point.

San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens

Somehow, without an explanation, the 49ers arrive at this game in Baltimore with a better record than the Ravens. I think the Ravens are the best the AFC has to offer, but they’re 7-3 in a very tight divisional race with the Steelers. The 49ers? They’re 9-1, with their playoff spot, a first since 2002, pretty much a done deal.

How do they do it? Smart football. Alex Smith won’t win any MVP awards in his career, but Jim Harbaugh’s made him cut back on turnovers – only four this season, while throwing 13 touchdowns. His career numbers before 2011? 51-53. Having a fantastic defense led by Patrick Willis doesn’t hurt.

The Ravens, obviously, have a great defense. This game will be decided on who is more physical, who manages to get his running game going (Frank Gore vs Ray Rice) and the ability to mix it up. Joe Flacco took a lot of heat during the first half of the season but his offense is looking a lot better these past three weeks, since beating the Jags on a Monday Night Football Uglyathon.