Ah, Thanksgiving – a day of good food, great company and, well, usually decent football. The games on Turkey Day aren’t always the best or the most exciting, partly because the perennially uninteresting Lions are always guaranteed a spot on the Thanksgiving slate.
Fortunately, we’re here to change that. This year has one of the all-time best schedules for Thursday’s action, and it got us thinking: What are five games we’d love to see every Thanksgiving if no schedule-making rules applied?
Here’s what we came up with, pitting rivals against each other with a good balance of both offense and defense.
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Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Arguably the best game of 2016 came when the Cowboys traveled to Heinz Field to take on the Steelers. It featured seven lead changes and that “I can’t turn away” excitement down the stretch that truly made it one of the top regular-season games in recent memory.
Now imagine seeing that sort of action between two of the league’s most iconic teams each and every year whilst stuffing your face with turkey. The Cowboys-Steelers rivalry goes back to the ‘70s, when both franchises were powerhouses. It continued into the ‘90s with a third Super Bowl matchup, and while the Cowboys haven’t had the success of the Steelers since the turn of the century, the rivalry is still very much alive. Though Cowboys-Redskins is certainly a great matchup to feast on, few pairings carry the weight of Dallas-Pittsburgh. This would make for a fantastic primetime matchup for years to come. Dak Prescott-Ben Roethlisberger. Ezekiel Elliott-Le’Veon Bell. Dez Bryant-Antonio Brown. The trios don’t get much better than that.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals
From a high-powered game in Dallas-Pittsburgh to one filled with defense and hard-hitting players. Though Arizona may not be very good this season, it's typically among the best teams in the NFL. The Cardinals have won double-digit games in each of the last three seasons, which is particularly impressive in the always-challenging NFC West. The Seahawks, on the other hand – well, you know what you’ll get with them. They’re the most physical team in football with the best defense over the past few years.
This game wouldn’t be a shootout like Cowboys-Steelers, but that doesn’t mean it’d lack excitement. Both teams have good offenses led by Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer, respectively. Wilson, when healthy, is incredibly exciting to watch, as is David Johnson with his versatility in the passing game and on the ground. Receivers might have a hard time breaking open on either side with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu roaming each secondary.
So just how evenly matched are these two squads? They’ve split the all-time series 17-17-1, going all the way back to 1976. The Seahawks, however, have gone 5-2-1 against the Cardinals since December 2012.
Just don’t expect the kickers to make a game-winning field goal in overtime – that won’t happen.
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New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
Ever since Peyton Manning and Tom Brady took over as starting QBs for the Patriots and Colts, respectively, this has been a must-see rivalry. These teams have met five times in the playoffs since 2004 as both have had an inordinate amount of success in the past 15 years. Though Manning is no longer in the picture, Andrew Luck is – and he’s just as exciting to watch.
Brady has dominated his young rivalry with Luck – 3-0 all-time – but the two teams are often evenly matched. Both have explosive offenses with hard-nosed running backs, in addition to two quarterbacks who can push the ball downfield with the best of them. Add in the bizarre occurrences like Deflategate’s birth and the Colts’ horrendous fake punt attempt, and you simply never know what you’re going to get with Colts-Patriots.
Besides a riveting game, of course.
Luck isn’t going anywhere, and Brady hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down, ensuring quarterback play will be in good hands for years to come. And when Brady does retire, Jimmy Garoppolo won’t miss a beat (assuming he’s Brady’s heir). Heck, even Bill Belichick admitted the transition from Brady and Garoppolo in practice is seamless.
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New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Redskins are the tough-luck losers in this scenario as they’d be left off the Thanksgiving slate. Instead, we’d get Eagles-Giants – two teams that aren’t fond of each other. Giants lineman Justin Pugh explained earlier this month why he doesn’t like the Eagles despite being from Pennsylvania.
"I just don't like Philly, to be honest," Pugh said. "I'm from there, and every time I go back there I don't get treated right, from my hometown.”
This rivalry goes all the way back to 1933 as the Giants are 85-80-2 against the Eagles all-time. For as many games as they’ve played, that’s a pretty even split. The Eagles have owned this matchup of late, winning four of the last five games. That can change in a heartbeat, however, with the Giants winning their last meeting.
What makes this matchup so intriguing is the balance of talent on both sides. The Giants are stacked at wide receiver with the polarizing Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard, while the Eagles have the up-and-coming rookie in quarterback Carson Wentz. Seeing Wentz and Manning duel it out for years to come would certainly be exciting, despite each quarterback’s flaws.
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Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals
This rivalry doesn’t necessarily carry as much weight as Bengals-Steelers, but with Pittsburgh playing the Cowboys in this fantasy of a Thanksgiving Day, Cincinnati draws the Ravens. That’s not to say this wouldn’t be a fantastic game, though. These two teams do not like each other. Ravens defensive back Jimmy Smith had this to say last year, backing up that notion:
"Is the rivalry switching? I don’t know. I don’t know, because I kind of hate the Bengals."
Rivalries aren’t all about hate, though – especially when Thanksgiving is all about family and being kind to one another. These two teams are just evenly matched. They’ve split their 40 meetings 20-20 despite the Bengals winning each of the last five games.
Quarterback play would be, well, not “elite,” but that’s OK. This game would be about hard hits, trash talk and an all-but-certain close finish down the stretch. Six of the last seven games between them have been decided by one possession, essentially ensuring that the game would be exciting in the fourth quarter.